There is no way of sugar coating it. Day one sucked. However, day two of the 24 Hours of LeMons “Retreat from Moscow Rally” started off with high hopes. We woke up slightly hung over and got to work bringing everything back to the Volvo that we took out of it. We brought a lot of tools, you know, just in case. So it took some time. Nick was taking out the equipment as I used the facilities to get ready. I got out of the shower to a text message. Nick was telling me that Finnegan was up against our car doing some sort of Roadkill extra. I was bummed that I missed it, but it allowed Nick to get his toolbox signed by Freiberger, and at the very least my car would appear in the background. So spirits were high, as were hopes of a smooth day.
I came out of the hotel to a VW bug on a Miata chassis doing donuts in the parking lot. As it departed, with support vehicles tailing, I took a moment to appreciate just how ridiculous and awesome this experience was so far.
Even though we knew that we were pretty far behind the Roadkill guys, we decided we should try and catch up. I had a text exchange with Dusty Ventures and Stef Schrader of Jalopnik. We met up at the first checkpoint. The fully prepped Porsche 944 rally car they were driving had suffered some sort of tire malady that needed to be repaired in the early morning before they were able to get on the road. After meeting up we cut through some of the most gorgeous countryside I’ve ever experienced. Witnessing the splendor of nature on those great driving great roads while tailing a cool 944 — all the while talking about balls and assholes on the CB radio — was definitely a highlight of the trip.
We were cruising through amazing scenic villages and small towns in West Virginia. We reached checkpoint four and coincidentally met up with a lot of other LeMons rallyists as we got out to take the picture required to get points.
Now this is where I have to do a quick aside. I’m a big superstitious idiot when it comes to cars.
I think love is what keeps the car going. I think that there is an energy, or whatever you want to call it, around vehicles. If you don’t treat them right that energy can bite you in the ass. Nick is a very skilled mechanic. He believes that if you do your preventative maintenance — take care of this, take care of that — you will have no issues. I had driven this Volvo for two years with very little issue. The first time it actually broke down and was on day one of this rally. So whenever Nick called the car a “turd” I would berate him, jokingly… most of the time.
Don’t say that! The car is going to hear you and something bad is going to happen!
While he was inside talking with the locals (which is a gift of his that I don’t have) he apparently called the car a turd one too many times for the Volvo’s liking. We started the car back up and it sputtered and died just like the day prior. Spirits were still high, and it seemed to be a simple fix — clean out the distributor, put it back together, and we will be on our way. Right.
Don’t listen to him baby, he doesn’t know you like I do.
With that “fixed,” we then proceeded to get back on the road the wrong way. As we turned around, there was more coughing from the engine. We broke down on the side of a mountain, and of course it was snowing. A local offered some help, but we got the distributor cleaned again, and went into town to browse the parts store hoping to pick up some bits to fix what we thought was wrong with the distributor. The blue Volvo died yet again in the parking lot of the auto parts store, and I had a sinking feeling that something really bad was wrong the car.
Dammit Nick, this is all your fault, she heard you!
Of course this local auto parts store was unable to get the parts we needed. They didn’t even have spark plug wires in stock for fucks sake! Not realizing the extent of how screwed we were, we decided the best bet was to backtrack to an auto parts store that had the parts we needed in stock and hope to limp to Asheville. Upon reaching the split where we could either head to Asheville or limp to the auto parts store I made the fateful decision to just try and make it to Asheville. You know, because the car was running so well.
50 miles later.
Night had fallen and we were on the side of the road again. Fortunately, I was able to get the car up into the parking lot of the gas station so we’d at least have some warmth and light while we try to clean out the distributor once again. Still unaware that I by fixing the issue we thought was wrong, we were only making it worse. I cleaned off the points, again, got the car back into working order, and proceeded onto the interstate.
30 miles later.
We were heading up the mountain and it started to sputter and spit and then it died. Again. We managed to break down behind a semi tractor-trailer recovery rig. I hopped out of the car trying not to kill the battery just in case it wasn’t being fully charged. We used some flashlights to indicate where we were to on-coming motorists. The recovery rig pulled around behind us to add some slight level of safety to what we were doing. At this point I was coming to grips with the reality that this was going to be an every-half-hour routine where we would get out of the car, clean off the distributor cap and rotor, and get back on the road. While talking with the wrecker driver Nick got some information about where we were. He said that if we had to break down again we should try not do it in the upcoming town of Burnsville. We were to break down in the town following. Two towns over, got it. I got the car running again, hopped and made haste to try and make Asheville.
5 miles later.
Dead, so very dead in the water. OK, dead in the snow. I was freezing. All day my shoes had been soaked with moisture from the snow. The heater in the car worked, just, but it couldn’t keep up with the encroaching night mountain cold. I was miserable. I got out of the car. I needed to get it running. I had to!
I had to prove it wasn’t a turd!
That I could keep up with Roadkill.
That I wouldn’t be defeated!
I desperately needed the car to work.
We already had a hotel booked and if I could get it running we could make it there.
Then we could get the parts we needed.
We needed to get it running!
It just wouldn’t work. I cleaned and cleaned and it didn’t matter. Something else was wrong with the car. We had limped on some 100+ miles by shear force of will! I felt like a pet had died. Grief mixed with anger and even though it was dead, I wanted to kill this car. I felt like I was letting Nick down. I must have looked like a madman. I kicked and punched and swore and cried. I was a flood of emotions. I just didn’t want it to end here, like this, on the side of the road. We were right next to the sign “Burnsville” — the town we were warned not to break down in, for reasons unknown.
We pushed the car down the off ramp. About half a mile later we were now pushing with the help of a local who jumped out of his truck to assist. We got the Volvo into a shuttered diner next to a gas station. We could only see about a quarter mile down the road. Thankfully in view was the only hotel in this small town. A nice local took pity on us and helped us get our tools and equipment over to the hotel in the back of his Ranger.
Burnsville doesn’t seem so bad. So far.
After checking in we attempted to partake at the local drinking establishment, but upon getting closer we decided the place was sketchy as hell. There were two meth enthusiast-looking fellows outside, and girls of questionable age inside. So we turned back with plans to drink some brews in the room. One of the enthusiasts decided he was gonna try and be our friend, and by friend I mean he tried to instigate a fight because we turned around and were walking away. Thankfully that never happened and we drank warm craft beer in our room. I was still talking of ways to get back into the rally.
Little did I know, the next day would not be nearly as fun.