Epic trip home… (July 2008)

n549775618_1442437_5800.jpgHaving finally finished all my exams I was saying goodbye to Kosice for the Summer, but I chose not to catch the usual skyeurope flight home, this time I was going to drive! Darwin, my loyal friend and faithful travelling companion was flying over to drive home with me, landing at 12.25 in Poprad. I hurriedly departed Kosice at 11.30, I knew that I would be late, but I didn’t know how late I would actually be…

I cruised along merrily, dreaming about the long  3500km trip that lay before us, I was ripe for adventure, I wondered could Petrov (a.k.a. Beauty) possibly make it back to Ireland without breaking down? What a hero I would be! About 50kms into the journey I had my answer, and it was a definate no. With the epic adventure only in its infancy my greatest fear had came to pass, I had broke down on the side of the highway, the engine just faded away and stopped, and although it would try to start when I twisted the key, it simply wouldn’t go. I was confused, I had serviced the van only days before, yet here I was, broken down, alone, and by now my friend would have landed at Poprad, no doubt thinking to himself ‘where the fuck is he?’. We had not the foresight to exchange telephone numbers.

Then after some time she would start. I suspected dirty fuel, I changed the filter, I refilled the tank, and she would run great for a while, before breaking down again. I began to wonder how my friend would react, our much talked about potentially epic road trip may suddenly be transformed into a not so epic flight or train journey home. After breaking down 4 more times, I finally rolled into Poprad at 9.30 that night. Yup, it had taken me 10 hours to complete the first 100kms. It was going to be a long drive home indeed…

And what about Darwin??? I had rang the airport earlier in the day, to explain that I was having some engine troubles, but to be patient, and I would get there sometime. However, the information desk told me that Darwin had left hours ago, I was a bit shocked, where would he be?? It wasn’t too hard to figure out actually, there was an Irish pub in the town centre, this is where he would be waiting!

And that was the beginning of our trip. The next day we figured out the problem, the pivot pin on the fuel pump had somehow gone missing, we just stuck in a temporary screw and it worked! I had been in contact with Pandero, he tells me that Konsul and Treza are waiting for us in Zilina, I know he will soon fix all our troubles. They welcomed us like old friends even though I had only met them very briefly at Podmitrov, and not only did he fix the fuel pump, he also seen that the alternator pulley was shearing against the alternator body, and it would not be long before this would cause us trouble. He carefully packed the pulley system out with a washer, he said it will help, but he could not guarantee it would get us all the way to Ireland. Nevertheless, the engine had never sounded so sweet. Konsul had done a beautiful job, our confidence was growing, the road trip was back on! That night we slept in the forest, we left the curtains open, darkness enveloped us. As I lay there happily the fireflies soon illuminated the outside world, just like Tereza promised they would.

The rest of the journey went quite smoothly, we became accustomed to life on the road, stopping where ever we wanted, or driving for many hours to reach a chosen destination just so that we could stay there for a day or two. We tended to avoid all major cities. I find it quite difficult to navigate the crowded streets, always impossible to park, never happy to leave the van and all our belongings behind. We chose to get closer to nature instead, that’s the beauty about having your own transport, you can quite easily get to the mountains and national parks and perhaps sneakily sleep within for a night or two, always close to the nature, far from harm.

After Slovakia we chose a mountainous path, The Austrian Alps were spectacular, we spent a few days in the Hohe Tauren National Park, where we were blessed to see the marmots and the ibex, and drive on whats billed as one of the most scenic highway in the world, the Grossglockner Hochalpenstrasse. Germany was next to be conquered, we drove up through the Blackforest region which led us to France, time was becoming more precious now as we had a ferry booked from Boulogne to Dover. This is why we stuck to the motorways, and reluctantly paid the many toll’s.

As we docked in the UK we realised that the journey was coming to an end, I stayed at my sisters place in Kent for a few days respite before driving 500kms northwards to catch the Liverpool – Dublin ferry. This was to be my last big drive, the final test, I was almost home, almost a hero! But then, 70kms south of Liverpool, something sounded funny.. I pulled off the highway and lifted the engine lid, there were sprinklings of aluminium on the fan belt and surrounding areas, the inner half of the alternator pulley was shearing against the aluminium casing. I drove on for another few km’s, knowing that I might be doing harm, but also knowing that home was not far away, I just had to catch that ship. But it was no good, I pulled off the motorway again, just 50kms to go now, but I could go no further. When I think back I’m suprized we even made it that far, afterall we had drove 3300kms in less than two weeks, had chosen mountainous routes, oftentimes pushing Petrov to the maximum, something had to give. I disassembled the pulley arrangement, the inner one was beginning to disintegrate badly, the hole where the alternator shaft pushes through was completely worn away. Perhaps I just needed a few more washers to pack it out, but I must admit I didn’t even have any washers, I didn’t even have a spare fan belt, I was perhaps the most unprepared explorer of all time!

There was someone else broken down, they were members of the AA and were awaiting roadside assistance. I borrowed a few makeshift washers from this kind soul, but it was nothing but a futile effort, I couldn’t fix it. The AA man arrived, he seemed like a good guy, I approached him after he had finished with his customer. He took a look at my troubles, immediately he simply put the outside half of the pulley on the inside, and the heavily damaged inside half on the outside, and tightened it up. The arrangement was out of line and entirely off centre, but it worked! I asked him would this delicate arrangement bring me as far as Liverpool, he said it might, that was all I needed, I drove on.

We almost made it, with perhaps 10km remaining the jangling sounds became louder, the alternator warning light flashed periodically before me, but I refused to give in. I drove slowly, I hoped the coolness of the evening would help prevent my engine overheating. I desperately searched for the ferry port, I found a few, but none of them were destined for Dublin. At last I found it, I was going to make it after all! I stopped my engine and went into the office to ask where I could park for the night, the ferry wouldn’t depart until morning. The kind lady told me where best to park, and as I started my engine I noticed that the constant jingling had ceased, the dashboard alternator light shined permanently, that was it, the pulley had finally shattered, Konsuls warnings had come to pass!

The next morning I just had to drive about 100meters and board the ship, It was a happy moment, Ireland was just hours away. I made one phone call before departing, It was to Glenn, my welding boss and friend. I told him my tales of woe, he did not hesitate, he would be waiting for me with his jeep and trailer at the docks in Dublin, he would take me the final 100kms. We made it 🙂

1 Comment

  1. Duro

    great adventure and enjoyable reading Simon, thank you..

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