There are certain things in life that I have a very uncomfortable relationship with. You know the kind of things I’m talking about – mostly technological innovations that are supposed make your life easier, less complicated, more efficient but very often end up doing the exact polar opposite.
And on the whole I’m very happy to embrace whatever newfangled tech that life throws at me and if I’m being honest, anything that gives me an easier life is a nailed on winner in my books. But there are always exceptions.
When it comes to maps I’m a little bit old school. I used to love the challenges of orienteering when I was younger. Hill walking with nothing more than an Ordnance Survey map and a compass was a particularly satisfying pastime as well. And touring the glorious countryside of Scotland with the ubiquitous AA Mapbook was always a joyful venture of discovery. Knowing my north from my south and my east from my west might on the face of it seem like a strangely satisfying ability.
But honestly, I’ve met folks who thought Manchester was south of Birmingham and Edinburgh was west of Glasgow. And for that, if we ignore the perpetrators’ innate stupidity, I firmly blame the cult of the sat nav.
I really do miss proper maps but fully accept the almost life-changing ease and convenience of sat navs – and in particular that trusted friend of globe trotting rally reporters, Google Maps.
And up until Rally Sweden, me and Google Maps had a fairly decent kind of relationship. Always there when I needed it, and generally the pretty reliable sort. And that was more than good enough for me.
But then Sweden happened and all that changed.
It was the Tuesday before the event and myself and our intrepid marketing director Trevor were planning a bit of a recce of the revised stages. Being moderately prepared we actually had a copy of the drivers’ recce schedule so roughly knew where and when they would be at certain stage starts. I say moderately prepared because much as we had the schedule to hand, we didn’t actually have any rally maps. No problems, we had Google Maps – as mentioned earlier, the saviour of this globetrotting rally reporter.
And so our not so epic adventure to the start of the Hof-Finnskog stage began.
It all started out so well. Being the kind of prepared types, both myself and Trevor entered our destination into Google Maps and compared results. Fabulous – they both matched (surprisingly) so off we headed across the snowless, ice free countryside of Sweden.
I’m going to blame Trevor for what happened on that fateful morning but before I get to the story I have to put my hands up and say I should have been more assertive. I know these stages, I know the countryside, and I should have known the way there. But that’s as much an admission guilt as you’ll get from me. Trev is the boss and as such he was in charge of getting of us there. As they say in America – Period!
So as we turned off the main road onto a side road I had a fleeting moment of concern. I was sure we were turning way too early but having consulted both sat navs which were still, surprise surprise, in complete agreement with each other, we pushed on.
At this point I was driving. But a mile or two up the road conditions started to deteriorate. We were by now in Norway and there was plenty of snow and ice on this road. Actually, it wasn’t really a road, it was now a track, we left the road behind about three miles back.
Conditions were now so testing that I was feeling a little uncomfortable in my abilities to deal with them. And so once again I turned to the boss. If you’ve read our adventures from Monte Carlo you’ll know that our Trev is bit of a mountain man. He was born in a snowdrift and seems to have lived half his life either in the snow or soaring above it. Yeh, he really was once one of those certifiable nutters who throw themselves off ludicrously high ski jumps.
“Look, this is all getting a little hairy Trev, I’m not sure about driving in these conditions,” was my somewhat timid reaction to sheet ice and ruts that were deep enough to swallow a small cow.
“Nonsense,” came the response. “Move over, I’ve driven way worse than this back home.”
And with that I relinquished all driving responsibilities to Trevor the mountain goat. Now we need to remember that Trevor drives possibly the biggest road legal pick-up truck you can get back home in the States. Our Toyota estate bore very little resemblance to Trev’s go anywhere four wheel drive Dodge Ram. But that didn’t stop Trevor from pushing on down the every deteriorating track.
Google Maps says it’s this way, so this is the way we’ll go. Oh the sheer folly of it.
And so after a couple of fairly dodgy hills that Trev pushed the little Toyota up and held on tightly as it slipped and slided its way back down, the blindingly obvious happened. We got well and truly stuck.
Attempting to the push the Toyota through a wash away in the road and jump it Ken Block-style over the rather pronounced hump on the other side was a challenge too far for our intrepid little motor. To be fair to Trev, it was a valiant effort. He almost made it, and with another 150bhp and two feet of clearance we might have done.
But we didn’t, and we were well and truly beached seemingly in the middle of nowhere.
And so began a concerted and increasingly frantic effort to extricate ourselves and salvage our day.
What do you do first in these situations? Of course, rev the nuts off the car and hope that somewhat miraculously and completely against the laws of physics, you’ll find some traction. Obviously that didn’t work.
The car’s beached and the front wheels are actually not in contact with anything remotely grippy. I know, we’ll jack it up, I’ve seen that done before, and somehow it works. But one again technological advancements scuppered my cunning plan. Whoever though that run flat moose is an appropriate substitute for a spare wheel and a jack needs shooting.
To plan B then. If there’s nothing to grip onto then we have to find something to jam under the free-spinning front wheels and free ourselves that way. Pine branches were lopped off the abundantly available trees and jammed under the car. This was bound to work. No. All that resulted was a whole lot of tyre and pine smoke and a barrage of pine needles flying through the air like deadly missiles.
Plan C was similarly cunning. I mentioned the wash away that Trev and the flying Toyota crossed on the way to the beaching. Well it was full of gravel. But also ice cold water. No worries, I’m a team player and was happy to take one for the team so rolled up my sleeves and started scooping handfuls of gravel from the stream. Trev was patiently waiting in the driver’s seat, right foot poised and heavy. I’m sure you can work out what happened. Yeh lots more wheel spin accompanied by flying projectiles even more deadly than the pine needles. And not an inch moved.
Plan D perhaps illustrates just how desperate our situation had become. As well as being beached we were also in danger of missing our rendezvous with Dirtfish’s chief correspondent David Evans. Now, we’re a tight little team at DirtFish with a range of complementary skills that seem to work well together.
Trevor is the ice cool risk taker. I’m the slightly more cautious voice of reason. And David, well he’s the warrior. Oops, apologies, slip of the pen there, David is far from a warrior but most certainly a worrier. The thought of having to call David and tell of our predicament drove us to to ludicrously desperate measures.
I’d spotted a solid metal towing hook while trying to locate the jack in the trunk of the car – perfect for the job I had in mind. I was going to chip away at the impenetrable ice base with the hook until I hit solid ground. Genius, I know.
Now, anyone who’s watched that magnificent movie The Shawshank Redemption will know that Tim Robbins’ character tunnelled his way out of his prison cell with nothing more than a rusty old spoon. But that took him 19 years! I suspect it would have taken me even longer with my towing hook. So hardly having scratched the surface I gave up.
But then the real moment of genius struck me. Any person that has ever spent any time in snowy regions will know the remarkable snow-melting abilities of talking a pee. That was the answer: we’re going to melt the offending ice by peeing on it. I went first, but peeing on demand is never easy and to be honest, it was a fairly pathetic effort. Trev extracted himself from the driver’s seat for just long enough, as I politely looked the other way, to relief himself also. He fared little better than I did. Plan E was also an epic fail.
OK, we’d now been stuck for well over an hour and it was time to swallow our pride, accept our total embarrassment and call in the rescuers.
But who do we call? Well we’d stopped for a quick coffee on the way to our mornings’s nadir and so Trev decided to call the coffee shop. And so followed a very start-stop conversation with a Norwegian coffee shop owner with Trev doing his best to explain our predicament and most importantly our location. Bugger all chance of this happening was my initial thought. Saying you are on a track, in the trees by a lake, could be just about anywhere in Norway!
Trev was very confident that they knew where we were and that the cavalry was on its way. Apparently that’s how things work in rural America, everyone helps out when needed, so why wouldn’t it be the same here? As I said, he’s a confident chap our Trevor.
While we waited for the brother of the coffee shop owner to somehow find us, it struck me that we were deep in the heart of wolf and bear country. No problems declared our intrepid leader, I once fought off a mountain lion that attacked me back home! OK, so he might have said bobcat, but to this slightly ignorant and easily impressed Scots lad from Dundee, bobcats and mountain lions are as near as damn the same thing. My respect for Trevor went up more than a notch to two.
And that it happened. Over the crest of the snow and ice-covered hill appeared the glorious site of a battered old red Volvo estate. The cavalry had incredibly understood where we were enjoying the delights of the Norwegian countryside and had come straight to us.
The look on his face said all we needed to know. Yes he was happy to help, but what were we thinking? When he did speak he only said two audible words – “Tractor track”. He may have muttered the Norwegian term for half-wits under his breath.
Tow rope firmly attached to the towing hook that had previously been so ludicrously abused, first gear engaged, right foot gently caressing the gas, and the brother of the coffee shop owner, Olaf, dragged us off our icy mound and up the hill. My admiration for Volvos and Norwegian’s called Olaf hit stratospheric heights.
The moral of this rather long and depressingly lacking-in-common sense story is never blindly trust a sat nav. And always trust a friendly Norwegian called Olaf. Oh, and never underestimate the mountain lion fighting capabilities of your colleagues.