Clintons Write Up On The Pyrenees 2011

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Clintons Write Up On The Pyrenees 2011 Empty Clintons Write Up On The Pyrenees 2011

Post  Kieran on Tue Oct 04, 2011 1:45 pm

Clinton has sent me his write up of the event from August this year.

This write up is brilliant....

Some years ago I had a big old dog, a mastiff, with which I went everywhere. He moved slowly and seemed to make an unnecessary amount of noise whilst not really doing very much, had a ‘distinctive’ smell and used to break things if he got excited.
To my lasting regret the dog has now gone but I do have a 300Tdi which has managed to fill in all the gaps for me. We too are great friends, despite and because of the 300’s obvious lack of manners and uncanny knack of embarrassing me just when I need it least. We go to all sorts of places together and the kids seem to get on with the thing just fine, which leaves me with one eye ever open to new opportunities for larks on the road.
So naturally, when I saw an advert for a ‘Pyrenean 4x4 Treasure Hunt’ I thought “Hey ho, that’s the very thing for us “ and with the start date being late August, it meant I could have my twelve year old son Sam sat next to me as navigating co-pilot. Two phone calls and a short e-mail later, we were booked up with Freespirit 4x4 Adventures and the home-wrecking search for passports got underway in earnest. A couple of weeks on and we were up and grouchy at an undignified hour and ready for the off. The 300 had been treated to a full service, new brake pads, uj joints and a quick once over with the sponge; which practically constitutes a birthday. With a hearty farewell to the girls yelled through the open window and a single blast of the horn (it should have been three blasts but the Landy blew a fuse at that point due to all the excitement, which I felt was forgivable) we were off, with 500 miles or so between us and our starting point.
We managed to keep the drama level set to ‘low’ for the journey through France, with Tom Tom providing the laughs as it confidently told us to “turn left now” into farm yards or reservoirs and the complete melt down of our 12v system providing plenty of opportunities for Dad to practice his French. An over-night on the edge of a crop field provided the perfect shake down for the forthcoming week of camping and another long days driving saw us chug happily into the pre-event camp site in a cloud of black smoke and inappropriate engine noise. We were just outside Lourdes here and already the mountains were providing a beautiful jagged backdrop and a suggestion of what we might expect from the forthcoming week.
Moments after our arrival at camp we had introduced both ourselves and the vehicle and I was quietly delighted as James, one of the event organisers and a few of the other participants, fell on the motor armed with tools and an enthusiastic desire to help and quickly got everything sounding a lot healthier within a few short minutes and even pointed out the problem with our split-charge system; a faulty but easily replaced relay, although this was not going to be repaired on this trip. Neither was the loose-bearing turbo but a tightening of hoses was soothing enough for our tired engine for now. After a round of hand-shakes and a few rounds of small beers we turned in for the night, feeling very comfortable about the trip before us.
On the morning of our first day proper, Kieran (the other event organiser) gathered us around to hand out the off-road directional instructions, about which he casually remarked that ‘we would all be familiar with the format’ and the group nodded sagely, myself and the boy included.
We feel it would be churlish to point out to everybody gathered that we had never seen anything like it before but it didn’t look all that complicated and I guessed we would pick it up, which turned out to be the case. As I am entirely new to these things I was yet to discover that everybody gets lost at various points during the routes and that is simply what was collectively termed as ’bimbling’ and was actively encouraged, though sadly no points were awarded for it or we would have romped into an unassailable lead within a couple of days. It turned out that the guys had sensibly arranged for us all to travel in convoy for the duration of the first day to, ahem, ‘refresh’ our working knowledge of this type of road map. It also gave everybody an opportunity to start thinking about our first days challenges; discover this particular fact, find these particular landmarks and most entertaining of all, plant a Freespirit sticker on the most original position and take a photo of it. This particular challenge was to be a feature of the week and saw stickers appearing on road signs, livestock and slow moving Spaniards.
We covered quite a distance on the first day and climbed the mountains that form part of the Tour de France route, on some of the most beautiful roads I have ever seen. In the height of the day, the mountains were peppered with cyclists scaling the peaks and I still have no idea how or why they do it, aside from the obvious attraction of being sweaty in brightly coloured Spandex. Some of these guys (and girls) were even over-taking the convoy on the downhill stretches, which brought about a frantic waving of out-stretched limbs from the 4x4s as team members tried to get a sticker on them as they shot past. We all crossed the border into Spain, gawping at the road signs that display bear and wolf and later some nasally-challenged braves even bought cheese from the road side vendors, before we headed into the off-road trails for the afternoon where we started about the business of crawling, bouncing and peering over the rim of precipitous trail edges that became the signature environment for the rest of the week. We were ready for the campsite at the end of the day but that didn’t mean that the river that alongside the site didn’t see some energetic frolics.
Surprisingly cold, those Pyrenean rivers...........
Day two saw the vehicles arriving one by one (no convoys today) at the bottom of a trail that was not so much a road up the mountain as a dried-up snow –melt ravine. I hoped the 300 was concentrating on something else when we heard the CB crackle into life with the words “we’ve gone wrong somewhere here guys.............there’s no way they would have sent us up here” . A Disco somewhere up ahead was having doubts. They had sent us up there though, and it was a brilliant trail. The boy and I arrived after a prolonged spell arseing about, driving up and down the river below but by the time we had slipped and gripped our way to the top of that route I had started to look at my Landy in a new light. I am no seasoned 4x4 fearless nutjob and the vehicle was loaded for a week’s camping (any idiot can be uncomfortable when camping I’m told, so we had the lot on board) but it did everything we asked of it and inspired many unnecessary climbs and ‘bimbles’ after.
The next couple of days saw the entire crew, which had now galvanised into a friendly homogenous lump, getting further away from the tarmac norm and stretching into the dusty peaks. In the mornings we could hear the distant tolling of the small brass bells that the cows wear as agricultural bling, as we crawled under the vehicles putting right that which the previous days driving had put wrong. The country became increasingly beautiful as the number of waterfalls and narrow passes increased with our altitude and the organisers had capitalised on this by enrolling those that wished into a white water rafting afternoon. This turned out to be a real eye-opener for the team as most of us considered ourselves too solid and well-balanced (fat) to be rocketed into the air like infants on a trampoline but countless dunkings in the river later had helped shape a different perspective. At one point our boat skipper steered us into the bank and said ominously whilst gazing into the middle distance, that if anybody was brave enough, they can jump off the bridge up ahead into the narrow channel of river that is just about deep enough to take the dive. His face was a picture when just about everybody lept from the two boats without discussion and headed for the bridge. Mad dogs and Englishmen, Skip.........
The following evening after a day’s roaring around the Spanish lake filled valleys, we were all bunched up together again and following the yellow 110 that the organisers drove up an insanely winding and un-railed mountain track toward a traditional restaurant at the summit. Once again the conversation over the CBs was of a doubting nature, as the general consensus was that nobody in their right mind would build a restaurant up here let alone make this trip for bite to eat. When we finally arrived the building was fantastic, all ancient timbers and enormous fireplaces. It transpired that this road is the smugglers route from Andorra into Spain and its these dubious fellows that help make up a profitable custom for the restaurant owners. We all settled into plates full of dried spicy meats and hilarious looking sausages, character-building cheese and tomatoes with everything. Nice food in a timeless setting.
I’m not sure what came over the team on the way home that night but eight 4x4s lit up everything they had and tore down that hazardous track as if the last team down were to pick up the tab. Sam sat quietly gripping the door handle and tried not to think about what he couldn’t see over the edge of the road. All very exhilarating and nobody complained when the Spanish police blocked off the bottom of the road, understandably assuming that something was amiss when they saw that lot roaring down the mountain. They quickly satisfied themselves that the group had not an ounce of contraband or common-sense between us and wearily withdrew.

The noise created by the vehicles on that particular hillside got me thinking about an un-fascinating fact I had read prior to leaving for the trip. It is said that the Pyrenees got their name after the great Greek hero Hercules, whilst lamenting another characteristic evening of drunken violence, bellowed out the name of the maiden Pyrene and commanded the surrounding geography to take up the call, which they duly did. I cannot say whether this is true or not but if that is all that is required to name a mountain range then perhaps a special mention is warranted of one our number, a pretty copper coloured 90 that with a little help from its racing exhaust, custom filter, chipped ECU and enormous inter-cooler, shook the hills and forests and seemed to inspire the mountain sides to sing back to it as it blew through like a small storm. The ‘Pyrenine-tees’ perhaps.
However you call them, the mountains are breath-taking, challenging, welcoming and wonderfully un-crowded. Our last day saw us 8000ft up and playing on a volcanic looking plateau with a gin-clear lake. Not all the vehicles made it up onto the top shelf up here though the 300 seemed to enjoy it enormously, popping its brake calliper pins in happiness before bedding down in an embarrassingly thin layer of silt. I’d been wanting to get those waffle boards dirty anyway.
After another round of photos, a farewell dinner and a small award ceremony where Sam and I won the wooden spoon (we celebrate failure in our family and the boy is tearfully proud of that spoon) it was time to think about our journey home and consider what father and son had learned from this adventure. We decided that there were three key lessons that we would return home with; that a Discovery 3 will go anywhere that a Defender will go, and then go a little further than that.
A mountain goat (if driven past with the appropriate degrees of proximity, velocity and exhaust noise) will spontaneously evacuate it’s bowels and fall over.
And lastly, that if you get the right number of similar minded people together in the right place with the right vehicles, you can have one the best weeks of your life. And that is a lesson well learnt back at our house.

Cheers Kieran

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Post  Marc on Tue Oct 04, 2011 2:42 pm

Not many words can follow that but one stands out...



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Post  BARCA on Tue Oct 04, 2011 3:40 pm


Glad I didn't embarrass myself by trying to write something like that. I can actually hear Clintons voice uttering some of the expressions

Sums up the trip beautifully and I will be showing everyone I have told about it.

Thanks Clinton and hope you and "The Mastiff" have a safe trip to SA.

Cheers cheers


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