36-hour endurance Test of men and machines

Quick review, we’ve landed, collected our four cars, performed emergency repairs on them. It is now Wednesday morning September 4th and we’ve just left Mooredale Motors with fresh repairs en route to Dover England. As we wind our way toward Dover, we managed to lose one of our cars, Rebecca; the Dolomite Sprint missed our exit.

We pull aside in our other 3 cars and wait for them to get back on track. We soon found that they were broken down with an overheating issue and were entirely on a different route, but they are up and moving, so off we go arriving at the Dover port and on the Ferry in plenty of time and with no further issues.

As we exit cars at the port, we begin to meet kindred spirits as they pull into the ferry lines with all manner of Triumph Cars. The sense of humor and sense of adventure that surrounds these cars is universal and international in scope. It is like meeting more GTA and VTR members, but for the accents, which only heighten the affect.

The Mule (2500 Estate), with Casper (2000 Mark 1 Saloon) in the background

At around 2 PM, we are back in our cars filing onto the Ferry. As we pull away from the port, we get a great view of the white cliffs that we’ve heard so much about, the weather is brisk, but the day is beautiful.

We gather at a bar inside the Ferry and get down to the business of purely enjoying our situation as it sinks in that we are actually doing this. Once off the Ferry in Calais France, we follow each other a short distance to our hotel, then off to explore on foot. We found food and fellowship returning to the hotel at about 9 PM where we began to share our Kentucky Bourbon with our new found friends. Yes the night before our 36 hour start of the 10 Countries Run 2013, many a foolish American with the dilapidated cars were to be seen swigging whisky and telling lies with a good many of the British contingent. Wise or not, it was fun!
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Rebecca, Flipper, The Mule and Casper, our trusty steeds at that hotel in Calais ready to roll!

Up and at ‘em the next morning, we have time to walk to a local patisserie or “pastry shop” where we feasted on wonderful breads, pastries, and coffee. We bought several loaves of bread, which turned out to be a wonderful idea. French bread would eventually help at least one very sleepy driver stay awake and it was a bit of that bread that was key to at least one auto repair along the way.

Soon we were off to the Holiday Inn where the drive was scheduled to start at 11 AM. We were among the early arrivals, but soon the lot was filled to capacity with Triumph cars. Everything from our own 1300 front wheel drive, “Flipper” to Heralds, stags and spits – many sedans that we rarely if ever see state side. It was great to watch them roll in and even more fun to look them over and compare notes. We had time to blank out our right hand drive headlight lenses with tape so as not to blind the left hand drivers in Europe, for now after driving right hand drive cars on the left side of the road, we would be driving right hand cars on the right side of the road. Apparently the European Union has a plethora of rules that would be learning to follow throughout our drive.

By 11 AM, we were off and running, the Americans among the first out of the parking lot due purely to the advantage of our parking position. We were off and running until about 2 miles up the road when we discover via radio that one of our brethren is missing. Montoya decided that 11:00 start time meant “ time to download ” in the men’s room. We pull aside while one car goes back to find him. We were humbled as car after car of smiling Brits wave at us shaking their heads and undoubtedly saying, “The Americans sure didn’t make it far”.

Soon we were off again learning to negotiate roundabouts and the proper way to signal an exit from them. It was smooth driving as we approached a retired Reims Race Circuit. It was really cool because the road we were on had actually been part of the raceway with grandstands on one side and the pits on the other.

We drove all night stopping at several state run oases throughout the night to get fuel, coffee, meets and cheeses. As gas stops go, the French really do it right. You can actually eat fresh fruits, vegetables and breads at each stop – it was a nice change from our fast food and gas station fare that we get in the states. We made numerous repairs at these stops.

Over heating was an issue with Flipper as the overflow tube was nothing but rotted rubber. Coolant could be pushed out of it, but only air would be pulled back in as it cooled at stops due to holes in the tube. Think about it like trying to suck water up a straw that has a hole in the side.

At one stop the Mule wouldn’t start. We had to push her front wheels up on a curb to be able to get underneath her. Testing the starter circuit, we found that the switch that prevented starting while in gear (Automatic transmission) was faulty. We bypassed it and ran a wire to the passenger side, which had to be connected for starting then disconnected while driving. Starting the Mule was now a two-man job.

We were getting exhausted and night was well behind us. We reached a check point at around 3 AM, in a grocery store lot where we addressed mechanical issues on the Mule and Flipper for about 2 hours before heading out again toward Nice and Monaco.

As the night wore on fatigue set in, but I found that that chewy French bread provided enough physical exertion to keep me awake and alert. It also gave me a quick carb energy burst and proved to be quite a good way to stay awake while driving.

Adding to the energy level was the opportunity to switch cars and car mates. We each got lots of time at the wheel in all four cars – each with their unique dash controls and handling personalities. The Mule drove like the family wagon in the 70’s should. It was a very pleasurable experience to drive her and know that it was the family car of its time. It was spacious and comfortable with tons of cargo space which she was chosen for. Flipper was a really nice surprise, you could tell that it handled well in its prime and still had a lot of heart left. The Dolomite was by far the most fun in terms of torque and handling it had a nice growl and she was fit for the challenge. The Mark 1 2000, Casper felt spacious and drove smoothly – more the family Sedan. It felt quite comfortable even in the back seat; I started to believe it was a large car until following behind, I saw a Toyota Prius pass Casper. Casper made that Prius look like a min-van. That was a shocker, how did they put so much space inside such a small car?!

As the sun came up on Thursday we would approach the French Alps, a wonder that I had never seen before. Our climb seemed endless; up hill constantly on very curvy roads, many with no guard rails. And the French drive like crazy people on these roads. It was death defying. Even tour buses rolling down hill toward us were taking curves like they were in a race. Add to that the fact that Americans who are not used to driving while seated on the right side of the car and driving in the right lane, tend to hug and even cross over the center line, and you have one scary ride in the French Alps. As a driver I encouraged my passengers to speak up if I was creeping toward the centerline and to stay alert to keep each other from doing something stupid. Nobody was sensitive to driving criticism because none of us wanted the trip to end badly, so climb we did. Every time we thought we were at the pass, we’d crest it to find that we had much more climbing to do.

The views were breathtaking – photos just don’t do them justice!

The Forgotten City high in the French Alps… absolutely beautiful…

This climb was very tough on our cars. All four cars struggled with overheating and we’d have to pull over and let them cool, adding water as we could, then off to climb some more. The scenery was beautiful. We were like school kids hardly believing that we were actually driving Triumphs in the French Alps. When we reached the Forgotten City, we stopped for a good long break and enjoyed the views. All along the road at that height were German gun positions still embedded in the mountains’ side. Could you imagine trying to get over that pass with cannons firing at you? It might have been even worse than trying to drive against that onslaught of crazy French drivers!

Once at the top, we had a long descent. Downshifting to save our brakes was the key to survival. We let our engine compression do the braking for us staying in mid rage gears. It took a great deal of concentration to both baby the brakes and control our speed as we came down the other side.

We stopped at a beautiful village on the way down the pass where we enjoyed fantastic treats from the bakery there. The scenery was beautiful and we loitered there for about 90 minutes savoring this gem of a place, one, which we knew, we’d likely never see again.

Next destination would be Nice where we would our goal was to swim in the Mediterranean Sea. Could we possibly make it that far?