Day 6: Pushing peaks
Forgetting that we had crossed another time zone, our 8am alarm went off two hours too late. As a result, we were ditched by team OMJ and The Baked Potatoes who had left for the mountain pass with the intention of us catching them up. Due to our speed we didn’t foresee that happening anytime soon.
Boarding the lawnmower express, we set off to find the start of the DN67C across mainly empty motorways and flat tarmac. These were a breeze for the urban warrior but this was soon to change quite rapidly. As we approached one of the highest roads in the Carpathian Mountains, the incline slowly increased and views began getting better and better.
On the way we stopped off at Oasa Dam on the Sebes River to take some scenic photos, to ring our t-shirts out and to allow the car to cool down. On re-entering the wonder wagon we had our first major problem: flicking the ignition switch on and hitting the “unleash the beast” starter button, the 505cc animal decided it didn’t feel like roaring into life. We began to panic a little because bump starting the engine is not possible on belt driven continuously variable transmissions compared to normal cars.
With a knackered starter motor, the only way we could start the Ligier would be to make up a starting handle or cut a seat belt out to make up a pull cord that we could wrap around the crank pulley; similar to how you would start a chainsaw or lawnmower. We didn’t fancy those options, so began to troubleshoot the faulty starter motor instead. We tested the solenoid by checking for an earthing wiring fault and by listening out for a the telltale clunking sound when 12 volts were supplied. We heard the sound, but the pinion was locked up. After hitting it with a hammer, it began to engage freely and the beast fired up on all 2 of its cylinders. Panic over! For the time being at least.
We continued our climb up Romania’s Southern Carpathians mountains on the Transalpina pass which had now turned into a 10% incline. Crawling at 11mph, our clown cart was put under a huge amount of strain in trying to tackle the slope which is when Aaron came up with his genius plan. To give the Ligier the extra helping hand it needed, he decided to jump out to ditch weight to help push it up the hill. Microseconds after leaving the cabin he was on his arse using his head and elbow as a brake to stop him rolling down the hill and shouting out “don’t stop; we’ll lose momentum”. It turns out you can’t casually step out of a moving car and still expect to be standing afterwards. He was confused because it works in cartoons and how he imagined in his head. Luckily he escaped with only grazes and bruises.
Traveling at such a slow speed can be boring at times which is one of the reasons we fitted the dixie horns back in the UK. There are probably many more reasons, but we can’t remember what they are right now. Anyway, we decided to give them a proper exercise which the locals seemed to love as they cheered and waved at us while our rocket slug crawled past.
Just as the incline of the range started to further increase we were reunited with the sight of Team OMJ as we came around a sharp bend. They had overheated. Again. We stopped to catch up and lend a hand. This was lucky for us because as soon we got out of our wagon we suddenly realised that we had a gaping hole in the radiator with coolant leaking out on the road. We then carried out more inspections and found huge chunks missing out of the rear tyres where they had been rubbing on the rear axle frame.
In the blistering sun, we were considering putting the tents up to shield us from the heat and to carry out the repairs when it got a bit cooler, however we were advised by a local that this was not a good idea because brown bears would frequently stroll down from the mountain to see what they could scavenge. A quick roadside repair it was then! We hastily emptied the boot, got out the hacksaw, chopped the corners off the frame to create more clearance with the rubber tyre and epoxy puttied up the radiator.
Team OMJ had finished their repairs and we all cracked back on with the task ahead. All of 3 minutes later, Aaron was outside pushing as our blunder bus ground to a halt on the steep mountain side. Exhaustedly pushing what must have been 4km up a 10% incline with the help of Mikey from Team OMJ, we thought we were over the worst of it. Little did we know this was set to be just the warm up.
A passing motorist who was pissing himself laughing said that it was another 15km to the peak and it gets a whole load steeper. At this point we contemplated turning back around and handing over victory to the Transalpina. We were not ones to be defeated though. We loosened off the throttle restrictor and put the peddle to the plastic to gain as much momentum as possible, but the local man was correct; the further we got the more we struggled.
Aaron found himself pushing on and off again for another 6km. Feeling knackered and with a heavy hailstorms on the horizon a kind local in BMW stopped to ask Aaron if he needed a lift. Moving his child onto his lap whilst driving, he told Aaron to get into the passenger seat and dropped him at the top where James was waiting.
At 2,145m above sea level and hours of torturous crawling we had finally reached the peak. It was all downhill from here. We were told to get to the bottom of the mountain fast as a huge hail storm was about to open its doors, which, seconds later it did. Rolling down the mountain with wet and warn breaks we found a dodgy looking restaurant to take cover from the downpour with Team OMJ. Whilst sitting down waiting for some local food, we self-evaluated our day and realised that we’d taken all day to complete a journey that would’ve taken a normal car an hour.