"perhaps having an unwashed van heathen in your front yard is bad for business"

Sometimes it's okay to run on half cylinders. The French highway is not one of those places. But Bjornen doesn't understand these human troubles, because it's a van. And so as the sun was setting, 200km North of Bordeaux on the E3, my status as road user quickly deteriorated from a loaf amongst truckers to a camouflaged roadblock. A torrent of regretful thoughts filled my mind for the next 30km, the next available exit. I did contemplate taking an immediate exit via the highway bunding and ploughing through the hedge fencing, it is a 4x4 with serious underbody protection after all, and taking refuge in the corner of an unknown field until the safety of daylight. You see, trundling along at 40km/h on the flat and less than 20 when any sort of incline was presented by the highway would have been bad enough, but I was acutely aware of how poorly illuminated the rear of the loaf is. Despite previously switching out all the rear OEM bulbs, which had the illumination power of a microwave, with high power LEDs. I knew for certain that I had made a fatal decision when I chose military khaki green instead of the luminous orange alternative. Perhaps Dimitiri was actually looking out for my safety, continuously telling me that orange was the best. That was the only upselling that man tried to do, apparently the only thing he thought was a good selling point for the whole vehicle.

Window view

Fortunately, by means of running the hard shoulder with hazards flashing the toll booth of the exit ramp was now in sight. But curse those that designed the layout of that toll booth. The incline and lack of highway momentum was too much, several stalls and moving barely at walking pace it took several minutes to approach the booth.

“Oh no, I'm driving at this speed on purpose. I like to take in the sights, the dead of night is the best time to look at 10 lanes of asphalt.”

The service area immediately after the toll station is where I ditched the van, and spent the evening contemplating my next move. Not yet halfway through the first country of this global ambition, and the specter of failure had already struck. A night of restless slumber was spent under a sign declaring “Interdiction de dormir”, with a heady mix of diesel fumes and mocking roars of passing trucks.

Field

The parking restriction, like all other vehicular fines, didn't worry me in the slightest. You see, one of the few benefits of having Russian plates is a kind of diplomatic immunity to all forms of parking and speeding tickets. Not that speeding in a Bukhanka is a viable option should you wish to have a moderately long life, two wheel action is inevitable no matter how carefully you drive it is a question of whether that escalates to no wheel action. Sure sure, they can write down your number plate and name but where will they send the court summons when you exercise your right not to pay? And anyone brave enough to try to shackle the beast, would do well to understand that no chains can contain a man, not least one with a grinder and enough discs to dissect the titanic.

La Rochelle Port Forts

Dawn brought salvation in the form of an ugly grey silhouette just cresting the horizon, a little under 20km would deliver me to an out of town shopping complex. Rolling with nothing but willpower I joined the morning commuters on their way into La Rochelle, rush hour traffic quickly disappeared save two small reflections - serves those fools right who goes to work at 8am on a Friday? First port of call at the shopping complex was the unsuspecting supermarket toilet to unload a desperately anxious poo. Then to business. Top priority was to acquire an OBD2 reader, a magic device that facilitates communication between man and machine, Bjornen would be able to tell me why it has taken up the French tradition of striking.

“Misfires on cylinders 2 and 3”

A multitude of possibles could cause a misfire but acting on two cylinders at once the options are greatly reduced, unless the improbable failure of two independent parts occurred simultaneously. The most likely suspect, the ignition system - either the high voltage coils or the cables that distribute said voltage to the spark plugs. Switching over the two coils transferred the fault to misfires on cylinders 1 and 4.

Dusk at the garage

That afternoon I arrived at a local garage, a second opinion from a professional certainly wouldn't hurt. Additionally, it's quite difficult to order parts from Russia to shopping complex in France with the address of “The Green Loaf Parked in the Far End of the Carpark”, a fixed address would be required to not provoke a postal police investigation.

“Salut, mon voiture c'est mal. Écouter. C'est broom broom, ce n'est pas vroom vroom.”

A similar diagnostic check and they agreed with my prognosis.

“But Mr David, we can not find the parts in our system.”
“That's okay, I'll order them.”
“Okay, but what exactly is our role in this?”
“Oh yeah, can I just sleep here in my van till the parts arrive and I'll fit them and go?”

20 Euros, is what 5 days van-camping and a diagnostic ran me. Importantly I was permitted access to their shower, perhaps having an unwashed van heathen in your front yard is bad for business. So thank you Mr Frederic, your hospitality and understanding is still greatly appreciated.

Headland and fishing huts
Stilted fishing huts Fishing hut

During those 5 days of purgatory, La Rochelle and the surrounding area were thoroughly explored. Of note, beyond the picturesque nature of La Rochelle centre, is the estuary of la Sèvre Niortaise. The coast line is proliferated with these stilted structures each equipped with crane operated nets. Despite observing these in operation, it is still unclear how these actually catch anything, lest they rely on blind luck capturing all creatures who carelessly wander to the shore during high tide. Nevertheless, they make for interesting scenery. One of the key fruits of this estuary region is mussels and oysters, as well as several other bivalves. This new found diet of strictly bread, beer, and bivalves had a predictable effect accelerating my weekly bowel movements to something more on an hourly schedule.

Sunset and fishing hut
Heater installed Close call on radiator

Also during this time, I had an urge to remove the second heater radiator, located in the cab behind the passenger seat. This was now redundant as it only served to provide warmth to the rear compartment when the engine is running and warm. The diesel heater, installed during the interior construction, does a better job and can operate when stationary regardless of engine temperature. Even when the heating valve was shut there was noticeable heat transferred from the main coolant system to this interior radiator, which only exacerbates the lack of AC. What was initially planned to be a simple bypass quickly escalated as the coolant was revealed to be chocolate and the radiator drain plug was so firmly tightened the torx thread didn't stand a chance. Nevertheless, the bypass was completed and the radiator now available to repurposed for some bodge AC system.

Opened cab and work space Finished bypass
Savaged radiator plug Savaged radiator plug 2
Chocolate coolant Fresh coolant delivery

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