Monday, April 28, 2014

Mini Cooper road trip day two, the nuts bit

Continued from Day Two. We rolled into a parking place in St Beauzély and Ade took a peek under the bonnet. It didn't take him long to notice that hidden away under the air filter was a plate held in with three nuts and bolts, but only two were there. The clunking sound left him with no doubt that the missing nut had been sucked into the engine head. The only option, if we were to get Gizmo running again, was to perform major roadside surgery and strip the engine down to find and remove the debris and hope the damage it had caused was minimal. Obviously when I say 'we' I mean Ade (my hero), but I was chief nut and bolt holder, spanner fetcher, umbrella stand and kitchen roll dispenser so all bits could be dried before reassembly. 

French Village Diaries mini cooper road trips nuts
Nut debris - ouch!
I have now seen bits of a car engine I never knew existed and can't quite believe just how many pipes, hoses, nuts, bolts, wires, gaskets and bits fit into such a small engine bay and how many of them needed to be removed in the correct order to get to the bit we needed to get to. This procedure took about two hours in a village high up in the middle of nowhere in the pouring rain - where oh where was the sunshine of yesterday when we needed it most.

My hero, who was not only well prepared with a boot full of tools and a head full of knowledge, but also kept calm enough to logically think the problem through, did it -  Gizmo fired into life once more, although Ade still has the scars from the scratches and blisters earned that day.
French Village Diaries mini cooper road trips nuts

A perfect Mini covered workshop
We made it into Millau (about an hour from Meyrueis where we were headed) and found a handy Mini-sized covered workshop in a supermarket car park to make some further checks as although running we had a stuttering, lumpy engine rather than the meaty, throaty roar we are used to. Like our old cat whose legs are slightly bowed and who climbs the stairs slowly and cautiously, Gizmo too struggles a bit more than he used to. Ade had spent many hours working on him prior to setting off to ensure he was in tip-top condition but maybe with this road trip we were expecting too much of him.

We were tired, cold, damp and hungry and with evening approaching we both felt carrying on would be unwise. We sought refuge in a Campanile hotel that we could see from the car park where we gratefully made use of a warm room (with radiator to dry out the ECU), a bath, a restaurant, a clean bed and most importantly wifi; to catch up with news from home, research further the engine problems and unfortunately cancel all remaining hotel bookings.

We do have breakdown cover via our French car insurance, but we knew we were unlikely to be able to get hold of a Mini specialist on the Easter public holiday weekend to help us fix him. It was far more likely that Gizmo would have been towed to a local garage where he would have sat outside waiting for someone to look at him on the Tuesday and more than likely decide a new engine the only fix. We would have been given assistance to get home (or a hire car to continue), but for us, abandoning the car (who has been with Ade for twenty years) was not really an option.

Following a bit of spark plug adjustment Gizmo was running a bit better on Monday morning and with our hearts as heavy as the thick cloud shrouding Millau, we set off on a direct north/west course for home. There is something quite frightening when faced with the possibility of being stranded and unable to get home safely, but each kilometre driven was progress and as Gizmo warmed up, so did the weather. It was soon obvious that stopping and starting was more of a problem than foot-down driving so we ignored our morning coffee needs and munched through the kilometres passing by towns like Rodez, Figeac and Sarlat where we would normally have stopped. The further we drove the more it began to feel like getting home in one day was a real possibility.

The Dordogne redeemed herself from the cloudy uninspiring place we had driven through on Saturday afternoon and was bathed in sunshine, her quiet roads lined with pretty chateaux and attractive towns and villages. To stop a while would have been nice, but our mission continued and crossing the border into Poitou-Charentes was quite emotional. I was immediately struck by how colourful our special region of France was. The fresh bright greens of spring, the vivid yellow of the colza/rapeseed crops and the dark earth of the fields recently sown with sunflowers. We may not have mountains and gorges, but the rolling hills of the south Charente felt very welcoming and on a road we had not driven before we could see in the distance the castellated skyline of Villebois-Lavalette looking like a mini Carcassonne and enticing us enough to promise we will be back to visit it soon.

Sometimes in life it is not the places you visit, but the people you are with that matters and I'm so proud of what Ade was able to achieve and rescue us from the mountain. We picked ourselves up and carried on, albeit in a different direction, but it did make us realise how much Poitou-Charentes still has to offer.