A Winter Wonderland; And A Major Breakdown.

Posted on Posted in Journal, Journal & Musings, OptingOut!

I am just over three weeks into my new life as a nomadic van-dweller now, and I have encountered the first major challenge as well as the first major highlight of this lifestyle.

Ten days ago, with the forecast having been for wintery showers ( a rarety of sorts here in Ireland ), I decided to overnight at altitude, or what passes for “altitude” here. And I was promptly rewarded – the following morning I awoke to heavy snow showers, and a winter wonderland !

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Now, to many of you readers this may not seem particularly special, or even look especially severe, but it has to be remembered that here in Ireland, actual snow is rare due to the moderating influence of the warm Atlantic, which makes our winters wet, windy, but generally mild. This has been the first proper snow since 2010, and came as a very pleasant surprise ! I took full advantage of this winter wonderland, and spent the day just aimlessly wandering the forests and hills, enjoying the beauty and serenity of the woods covered in snow. It was beautiful, and I felt completely at peace, more so than I had in a long time before. It was just one of those very special days that stays with you afterwards !

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To me, this is a huge part of what this lifestyle is about – allowing yourself to be close to nature, and feeling in awe again about the sheer majestic beauty of the earth; it is about collecting moments and memories. And sometimes, there are true discoveries to be made – when I roamed the woods that day, I decided ( for no reason other than curiosity ) to follow one especially pronounced trail of deer tracks into the woods, only to stumble across a megalithic structure of some sort ! I am unsure as to what this is, as I am not an expert on these matters, nor was this marked on any of my Ordnance Survey maps, but it does look somewhat like a tomb to me :

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This came completely as a surprise, as I was not expecting anything like this outside well marked trails; and realistically, what are the chances of just stumbling across something like this by accident ? But it happened, and I spent an hour or two exploring the site, and meditating in the cold while sitting on top of the tomb. Again, this is a moment and memory made, and not one easily forgotten.

The day was cold by mostly dry, apart from some heavy localised snow showers; however, things began to take a turn for the worse once the sun went down. The wind really picked up, and heavy snow began to fall, turning the whole thing into a blizzard-like scene. At that point I became somewhat concerned, as I was parked up in a fairly exposed spot, and the Event Horizon was really moving and rocking about in the strong winds; also, the snow stuck on the ground, so I was a little worried about getting stuck up there in those hills. At last I decided it would be better to find a more sheltered spot at lower altitude, so I got moving at a snail’s pace down some narrow, winding back road. This was really a little bit nerve-wrecking, because visibility was very low, and I definitely felt the strong winds – but I got her down safely, and parked up in a sheltered forest road in a remote woodland. The night was cold, but uneventful, and I slept well after the previous day’s explorations.

The following morning was probably the coldest I have had thus far, with the thermometer reading a freezing -6 degrees in a biting wind, and even the inside of my camper being below zero. Thankfully, it turned out that the water in my tanks and lines had not frozen ( why ? I have no idea ! ), so I got the old lady warmed up, and enjoyed a steaming cup of Joe watching the sun come up over the frost-covered trees. It was rather beautiful !

Nonetheless, I had a family commitment to attend to, so I got myself washed and dressed, swung into the saddle, heated the glow plugs, turned the key, and…

Nothing.

She wouldn’t start. The engine just kept turning over as she always does, but didn’t fire. Repeated attempts at cranking got me nowhere, so I popped the bonnet and checked the usual stuff – battery, oil, diesel “bulb” for pumping fuel, etc. Everything checked out, no obvious issues here. But still she wouldn’t fire.

The obvious suspect here was the frost, so I gave her several glow plug cycles to make sure the combustion chamber is really hot, but to no avail. Still no attempt at firing. Desperate, with a strong suspicion that I have bad glow plugs, I tried an old trick to get frozen Diesel engines to start – I boiled a kettle of water, and poured it around the injectors and glow plugs; this got that part of the engine block nice and warm, but again to no avail.

I was dead in the water.

Luckily, I opted into breakdown assistance cover when I took out insurance for the Event Horizon, so, reluctantly, and for the first time in my life, I picked up the phone and put my insurance company to some use. Long story short, the roadside technician who eventually showed up couldn’t get her to fire up either, so the old lady ended up on the back of a towtruck like a beached whale, and before I knew it I found myself stranded in the yard of my local mechanic.

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Now, to be fair, my mechanic is a very busy man, on account of his being well known locally for the excellent work he does in getting even hopeless cases back driving on the roads. Paradoxically, his having such a good reputation now presented a problem for me, because he was up the walls, and completely booked up for most of that week. For me that meant getting stranded in his yard, as I had nowhere else to go, while having to worry about just what was wrong with my engine.

I must admit that this was tough – I have always been a “worrier” by nature, and prone to tossing around worst case scenarios in my head, so just sitting there not knowing what is going on wasn’t easy at all. Besides, this yard was pretty much the opposite of those places in remote, beautiful nature which I usually seek out – it was dirty, muddy, loud, noisy, and smelly. The traffic on the main road next to where I was parked never stopped, not even at night, and there were bright neon lights that made it hard to sleep, even with curtains drawn. The only upside was that there was a fresh water tap readily accessible, so I didn’t have to worry about running out of water.

Eventually she got towed into the workshop, and, after several hours, the diagnosis came back, and it wasn’t good – a broken diesel injector pump. The problem was that the Event Horizon is 27 years old, and that particular pump hasn’t been used in well over a decade, and wasn’t to be had from any local parts supplier for love or money. Of course it had to be that part – pretty much all the rest of the engine is bog standard, except for the diesel pump; Murphy’s Law strikes again. I was stuck.

It took exactly a week, and I have no idea how he did it, but in the end he really did find a spare one – salvaged from an old bus with the same engine, on a local scrapyard. Man, you are brilliant 🙂 Fitting it took the better part of a day, and, by his account, was an absolute nightmare – which I readily believe, just looking at it inside my engine compartment, with all those wires and pipes snaking around it. It actually looks evil, like some sort of demented steampunk contraption.

But I was happy out – I was back on the roads, and she purred along like a kitten again ! This having been late afternoon, I decided to take things easy and park up at a small train station in the next village, which has a spacious and safe carpark. I shut her down and fired her up a few times, just to be sure, and just to regain some trust into my old lady. All was well. I slept soundly that night, for the first time in a week !

The next day I was planning to move on to some local lakes in order to take my first shot at fishing, so I saddled up, turned the key, and…

NOTHING !!!!

The same thing again – she turns over, but doesn’t fire. Disappointment and trepidation sank in like a rock, and I immediately phoned my mechanic, who ( bless him ! ) came straight down in his truck to see what’s going on. It was quickly established that the new diesel pump worked just fine, and he got the engine to start and run straight away using ether spray; this time it would appear that the glow plugs are at fault, so he gave her four new ones right then and there, but to no avail – they don’t seem to be drawing any current, so straight after a faulty diesel pump I now have a gremlin in the electrics too ? Talk about bad luck !! Unfortunately the previous owners messed with the wiring big time – trust me when I say that it is like a snakepit in there, and even a seasoned mechanic with 20+ years of experience under his belt was left scratching his head. No easy fix to be done, this will require surgery again, this time of an electrical nature.

So that is where I am right now as I am writing this – stuck again in the mechanic’s yard for the second weekend, in the hopes of him being able to fit me in early next week. Again the mud, the noise, and the light. Again, the feeling of being helpless in the face of breakdown. Chances are this is probably something minor – like a broken wire or a blown fuse, preventing current to flow to the glow plugs ( just my own theory ) -, yet still it is something I am powerless to fix myself, as I don’t have the expertise or experience. I tried of course, and took a multimeter to it in the attempt to find where the fault is; but whatever the previous owners did, they made a mess of it. There are wires of different types, sizes and colours willy-nilly spliced together, and held in place with duct tape and superglue; it’s an absolute mess, and impossible to sort out for a newbie. I’m afraid I have to rely on my mechanic again.

While it is easy to despair in the face of this helplessness – I live in the Event Horizon after all, and have nowhere else to go – there is an important lesson to be learned for any nomadic van-dweller : expect the unexpected, and learn to let go. When you depend on any piece of engineering, be it a vehicle, a household appliance etc etc, things will go wrong eventually – it is an inevitability. Every mechanical and/or electrical device has a limited lifespan, and it has fail points – there will always be breakdowns. The best we can do is try to prevent them with regular maintenance, and accept them with good humour when they happen, because that is an aspect of the nomadic lifestyle that is outside of our control.

When this first happened, I initially reacted with disappointment, anger, despair and trepidation; however, as the days went by, I came to the realisation that it is pointless to let yourself be so negatively affected by something you can’t control. When you choose to give up the relative security and comfort of a settled life, it is foolish to expect every day to be brilliant and filled with joy – things will go wrong, be they mechanical breakdowns or whatever else, and the best way to deal with that is to turn it into a spiritual exercise of letting go. So that is what I am doing now; after having shut myself off, brooding about my bad luck, I have now actively confronted my emotions on this subject – so if you were driving down the main road in my local area, you might just spot a bald guy sitting in meditation, or doing yoga poses, on a small piece of lawn right next to a mechanic’s yard and a service station, with all the noise, lights, sounds, smells and disturbances going on around him, and all those people gawking and giggling as they buy their overpriced coffees and gag on their highly processed sandwiches. Because you know what ? Life is never perfect, there will always be challenges and setbacks, and the only way for us to deal with them is to remain focussed on the bigger picture.

And so I practice letting go, as I wait for what next week might bring. I hope of course that this will be an easy and quick fix, but even if it turns out not to be, I will find ways to deal with the situation, and one way or the other, I will roam on – there is no doubt about this in my mind whatsoever. Every challenge I face and overcome just makes me stronger and more determined, and that is how you grow, not by getting lost in the comfort on the senses.

And do you know something else ? Even after just three weeks, there is not a doubt in my heart at all that I did the right thing – leaving behind all the useless nonsense, and hitting the road. Never again would I ever want to be trapped in a big house, or by fancy mod cons; I am more happy than ever now, having just what I need, and not more, despite the challanges and occasional discomforts; hell, not just despite, but precisely because of them ! I am free now; even when stuck in a mechanic’s yard.

Roam on, people, and never allow yourselves to stand still ?

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