Dirtbag Diary - Le Van De Calamité | Episode 3

Mountain Biking Magazine



Dirtbag Diary – Le Van De Calamité | Episode 3

We didn't think life on the road could get much worse for young Ben Winder, but it seems he's having more than his fair share of bad luck...

Le Van De Calamité

We have arrived already at Dirtbag Diary Episode 3, the third stop since embarking on this journey around the European riding and race scene.

The first part of my trip was pretty flat out, heading to loads of different races all across Europe. It was pretty full on and quite often didn’t give me a chance to appreciate the locations that I was out in. Now though I definitely have at least a little bit of time to be playing around on my bike (with a little relaxation time thrown in), and a couple of adventures in the pipeline. Here’s what’s been happening over the last couple of weeks in the world of one Alpine Dirtbag.

Le Van Saga

Well, it has to be said that sometimes life just doesn’t go your way. You’ve got to be able to take the good with the bad, and let’s just say I’m looking forward to reaping in a whole lot of good sometime soon (surely I must be overdue some luck?)! Over the last few weeks I was hit with a spate of bad luck, starting in Les Deux Alpes with the lost van key (read about it here, it’s quite a tale), which was the beginning of an on-going project known as Mechanical Issues and an Immoveable Van.

Like a lost fisherman, I was searching for the quay

The saga opened with spending a long time in Les Deux Alpes hoping to receive a new key “within a few days”, and also still hoping to make it to the EWS in La Thuile.

I had been fortunate to find the most Italian French mechanic in the area. Each morning I would ring Philippe and he’d reply with, “I no have your key”. Eventually, nine excruciating days of hanging around by the side of the road in a muddy puddle unable to leave my unlocked van later, he told me he’d received the key and was coming to tow me to his garage. On the back of a tow truck wasn’t how I was hoping to leave Les Deux Alpes, but it felt good to be on the road again.

I finally arrived at the garage after a pretty interesting drive in a beat up old tow truck, where Philippe’s punch line in this drawn-out joke was, “I still no have your key.” He told me I had to go away for an hour and wait for the key to turn up, which left me slightly worried that I’d never see him or my key again. Luckily when I returned after an hour, the key had finally arrived and Philippe was in the van coding it. I felt a sigh of relief, as everything seemed to finally be working out. Inevitably this sensation was short lived. Philippe walked over to me shaking his head and looking at the key, and told me he was unable to code it.

And the van saga continued.

Back onto the tow truck, this time to a Fiat dealer. As I left Philippe and the garage I paid up for the key and the lift, a mere 400 bucks… Ouch. Arriving at the next garage, no one spoke any English (plus my minimal French isn’t exactly anything to boast about), but that didn’t really matter, all that had to be done was code the key and I’d be on my way.

WRONG. As it turned out the key still wouldn’t code and the mechanic told me there was an issue with the key, and that he needed to order a new one that wouldn’t arrive for another week. Not a happy Ben. I hit the bottle – just one though as I was on minimal funds by this point.

Despair, Morzine and beers

After two demis I headed back to the van to cry into my steering wheel. Sat in the driver’s seat just turning the ignition on and off. After about 10 on and offs I noticed that the anti-theft light wasn’t lit up anymore, I turned the key fully and Chalet Ducato burst into life. Sat there in disbelief and a whole lot of FUCK YEAHs I drove directly to Morzine, whooping and hollering with big, deep, hearty American-style PUMP all the way there. I was running on vapours by the time I arrived at Morzine’s supermarket car park pikey camp (where a huge number of World Cup racers had gathered in various battered roadtrip vehicles) because I wasn’t sure if the van would start up again if I turned it off.

The key wasn’t fixed, but it wasn’t entirely broken either. To get it to work I had to sit in the van turning the key until the anti-theft light went off, which could take anywhere between 5 and 30 minutes, pretty fun really. The following day I headed to a Fiat Dealership to work out what was wrong with the key, as it transpired (after much head scratching) there wasn’t an issue with the key, the van had received a repair (read: ghetto fix) on the ignition barrel, which wasn’t allowing the key to code. As soon as the dodgy repair was sorted the van started perfectly straight away. So after pretty much two weeks of key issues, I was finally free and on the road again. Happy days! And oh-so short lived.

Three days of freedom

So it was back to Morzine to begin the fixed van celebrations of multiple lake swims, getting fully involved in Morzine nightlife and the occasional bike ride. This escapade continued for about three days, until disaster struck once more. Driving along the engine just cut out, no warning lights, symptoms or anything. Cock.

After quickly looking under the hood and realising my extreme lack of mechanical know how, I decided my best bet was to call the RAC out… “I’m sorry Mr Winder, you’ve called us out too many times this year and there isn’t anything we can do, bye.” Luckily I had a friend on standby who was able to tow me back to the pikey camp in Morzine, so I could try to work out what was wrong with the old girl. After about a couple of days of putting it off, waiting to see if it would somehow fix itself, I decided to call out a mechanic and find out what was wrong with her.

Au revoir Ducato

A parking ticket appeared on my windscreen telling me the van had to be moved or it would be towed away, so I managed to get another friend to quickly tow me to another car park, where the pikeys had reconvened. A few days later (no rush mate) the mechanic drove out to see what the problem was, my heart started beating quicker and quicker as he started looking for the cam belt. He then pulled out a little shred of the old one… he looked at me and said, “Zees ees not going to be cheep, eet ees broken.”

He wasn’t lying. 1500 euros to get it fixed out here apparently. So now I’m stranded in Morzine trying to come up with a plan to not have to spend 1500 euros on this van to get it fixed (I have priorities you know – beer and bikes come first)…

It’s not all bad

I’ve also had an amazing time over the last couple of weeks, even with the van saga going on, mainly because there is such a good group of people out here in Morzine, there’s been rad riding, lots of cheese, lots of beer, lots of cheese, lots of beers and cheese, and just general good times. I’ve met some pretty funny people and also been filming a new video with Eddie Enduro Masters, which will be coming out shortly. I could be stranded in a worse place that’s for sure.

Big love to Riders Refuge for giving me somewhere warm to sleep and a decent feed out in Morzine!


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