Wednesday, 28 May 2014

St Jean de Luz to Zarautz – 22nd May - One we will never forget!

Still on catch up - 3 posts today, for chronological order read Valladolid to San Sebastian to St Jean de Luz, then St Jean de Luz first.


Well I can only sum up this day as one of mistakes – too many.  No pictures today, no time to take pictures, just text – sorry it’s so long but it felt like a very long day - one of our shortest journeys ever and one of the longest.

We set off from out of the campsite with no problems – that’s about as good as it gets.

This was meant to be a short hop of less than an hour to Zarautz, just the other side of San Sebastian but felt like it took a month.

Just for a change we didn’t need to get LPG – even though we were now on reserve.  The nearest LPG station was in San Sebastian but we’ve done 90 miles on reserve before however I wasn’t sure actually when it had gone onto reserve.  Still we had half a tank of petrol so it didn’t matter if we used a bit – mistake No 1 – explanation further on.

Mistake No 2. I clipped a curb getting out of St Jean de Luz, it was one of those that just stuck out on a roundabout on a narrow road.  It was quite a clip and it sounded like everything in the van had bounced about 2 feet in the air.  Well you get used to what I call “settlement noises” as all the things that have been shoved into cupboards settle into a place and stop rattling, but this was quite a bang.  A little further down the road I thought I could hear a cupboard door opening and banging shut again.  Iain assured me that he had shut all the cupboards properly but I was convinced I could hear things dropping into the sink. A quick check revealed that the bang had caused the catch to open and indeed this was the banging noise.  No damage done, cupboard closed and on our way, but this had unsettled me.

We picked up the motorway and headed off.  I didn’t feel comfortable when we approached the toll booth but got through ok,  I just wasn’t feeling confident today and said so. I forgot to mention that I had cut up a log lorry a couple of days ago just outside San Sebastian and it had upset my confidence quite a bit.  When overtaking, I usually try to do so on a straight section of road, I pull out, get my line right and then go for it foot hard down.  I had become quite confident recently and even managed to overtake 3 lorries in one go a few days before, very successfully with no wobbly legs. However, when doing lots of ups and downs, if you are stuck behind a lorry you can be going very slowly on the ups, which makes it easy to overtake but it takes a long time.  If you wait until you start to go down then they start picking up speed and you have to go even faster to overtake.   Well when you are going around the mountains there are a lot of ups and downs and bends so unless you want to go at 40mph on all the ups you have to pick your times.  It was on an up at 40mph that I decided to take on the log lorry.  I pulled out but didn’t realise until I was committed that there was a right-hand bend coming up.  I just got the line totally wrong and came across too close into his lane.  He was not a happy bunny.  Lots of hooting and quite a loud shout from Iain and I moved over to the left very quickly.  Iain said after that the poor lorry driver had had to move over onto the hard shoulder to avoid me. Again no harm done but this was really the closest shave that we had had.  Now it sounds like my driving is terrible, well it’s not, it’s just that I’m driving a wide truck and unlike when driving a car, you have very little margin for error. I take my hat off to the long-distance lorry drivers that do it for a living. But it had shaken me and my confidence quite a bit.

Back to the journey, shortly after joining the motorway the SatNag became the SatNaff.  It had no clue where we were and thought we were in the middle of a field.  I always get nervous when this happens fairly near to where you want to go as you can go miles past a junction without realising it. The journey had seemed so simple when we programmed the SatNag so didn’t do the necessary cross checking with the map.

Anyway in a panic I decided to take the exit to San Sebastian – mistake No 2, especially as I was on the road to Bilbao and we weren’t going far from Bilbao. The SatNag soon realised that we were going the wrong way – and nagged and nagged.  Anyway it wanted us to go alongside the river for about half a mile and then turn left and left again to come back parallel to the way I was travelling. I had a view of the SatNag and couldn’t understand why it wasn’t telling me to turn left earlier,there were plenty of interconnecting roads.  Then we saw a sign post to turn left that looked hopeful but the towns mentioned couldn’t be found on the map (we really must get a better map next year) so Iain said we should follow the SatNag – another mistake. When the  SatNag finally wanted us to turn left it was a “no left turn”.  Then it re-programmed and wanted us to go a lot further down and cross the river and come back up the other side –but that really didn’t feel right.

So I took a left a bit further along and this unfortunately brought me into the city centre. Lots of narrow roads and “wing mirror in” times. However there were signs back to the motorway so at least we were heading out of San Sebastian.  I still (for some unknown reason) had it in my mind that I should not be on the motorway, so when the SatNag finally said – Keep Left – I could see that that would take me back on the motorway and for some other unknown reason I “kept right”.  So here we were again, this time going under the road bearing left, when we should have been on the road above bearing right.  Ok, keep calm, find somewhere to stop and then re-assess.

The SatNag was doing it’s best “turn around where possible” and we came up to a roundabout.  And of course it was another one of those London Underground sorts, but I was ready for it this time.  I politely asked Iain to stop shouting at me as I was doing my best and he informed me that he was also doing “his best” to stay calm. Safely around we headed back into San Sebastian to find the correct route out. Back to a roundabout that we had seen before, so around the roundabout and back to the point where the SatNag had said “Keep Left”, this time, although it took a bit of arguing I did “Keep Left” and we joined the motorway that we had previously left about half an hour earlier.

Stress levels had risen dramatically but at least we were back on the right road – for now – and that was just the warm up for what was to come. We had now been to San Sebastian 3 times and still hadn't seen the place.  I never want to go there again.

It was only a few junctions before we were to pull off so we didn’t really have time to recover.

Then we had to follow the SatNag to Zarautz.  We pulled off at the correct junction and that’s when it all went wrong. Crossing a roundabout I noticed some signs to some campsites but we did not recognise the names of the sites so we blindly followed the SatNag.  In fairness Iain was also following the directions in the ACSI book. We turned right at the roundabout and the SatNag then said to turn left.  BUT THE JUNCTION WAS CLOSED. Of course I had to go past and we heard the dulcet tones of  the SatNag’s  “Turn around when possible”.  Do you think I could find somewhere to turn around – not a chance.   Not only that but the road was getting narrower and suddenly we found ourselves on a 7% descent. One narrow lane each way and lorries coming in the other direction.  And with a sharp hairpin bend half-way down, with no extra space to be found either side. Terrified but safely, we reached the bottom and found ourselves on the outskirts of a town called Orio. 

I pulled over to the harbour area to the left and just stopped and turned off the engine to rest and recouperate.  By this time I was on the verge of tears and this was the first time I’d been that bad since France last year.  So I turned off the engine and said – “time to calm down”. We were only 3 miles from the campsite.  

Now what to do next.  There was a road alongside the harbour which was going in the right direction and that’s the way the SatNag wanted us to go, but I said to Iain that  whilst not being far from the campsite, I knew that the campsite was at the top of a hill, so it was likely that if we could get up there it would be a very steep hill the other side of the bridge we could see, probably with a narrow road.  Whatever there may be no way to turn around.

The choice was fear of the unknown, or fear of what we had just experienced. The only option was to go back up the way we had come down. So feeling brave I swung the motorhome around and we headed back up the 7% incline, with a huge lorry following us.

Now, did I mention that hairpin bend before? – coming down we were on the outside, but going up we were to be on the inside – at least we couldn’t drop off the hill from this side. However when approaching the hairpin bend, I slowed right down to be in total control of this large heavy machine and as I applied my brakes and I thought they felt really spongy.  I put my foot down hard and they were really really spongy.  OMG I realised that I had no brakes.  OMG I realised  that was because there was no servo assist – OMG that was because the engine had stopped – OMG that was because wait for it - we had run out of  LPG!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  and it hadn’t clicked over to petrol but had cut out.

So here we were, stopped right at the apex of the bend, with a huge white lorry bearing down on us, or bearing up on us.  I quickly put the hazard lights on and set to what to do next.  I put the motorhome into park, applied the foot brake (handbrake on a car) and took a deep breath.  I turned off the ignition and then turned it back on and hey presto the engine started, it always starts on petrol  anyway.  

Now I just had to do a hill start on a 7% incline around a hairpin bend. I wasn’t sure how close the lorry had stopped behind us and knew that drive would still cause us to roll backwards a bit before I could get the revs up – so it was a handbrake start for me or alternatively a two footed start with one on the brake and one on the accelerator.  I don’t drive two footed so chose the handbrake start which I’d only actually had to do once before and not under such pressure.  The lorry driver was another not very happy bunny, blasting his horn at me,  but this time it was not my fault.  I managed the handbrake start without running backwards and off we went again.

Back to the roundabout that I’d turned right at and took the first exit which was the one signposted to the right campsite all along.

We knew that the campsite was at the top of a hill and was a terraced site (learned our lessons at Playa de Aro) so we knew that we still had more to come.  The hill was nothing though compared to what we’d just been through.  Even though there was a huge drainage ditch on the near-side I could do anything by then, this narrow road felt a mile wide.  Up into the campsite, we stopped at reception.  Iain asked me how long he should book in for and I said FOREVER.

The terracing wasn’t too bad and a very nice man guided us to our pitch on his little three wheeled scooter.  I parked up got out and Iain poured me a very large glass of wine, it was some time later before we could laugh about it or was it just hysteria taking over.

Why do we torture ourselves like this? Are adventures supposed to take you to the emotional limits? It should be so nice just travelling around enjoying the scenery and exploring some lovely places.  I just seem to live every journey in a state of terror.

Anyway we’ve booked in for a whole week – should be time to relax and prepare ourselves for the next journey, or will time simply heal the pain and we’ll actually forget how bad it was.

I must admit thought that writing this and talking through it with Iain we have been laughing at how ridiculous the "Day to Remember" turned out to be. 

Our first stop when we leave here will be to get LPG and where will we find it - you guessed it - San Sebastian.

When choosing a route we always avoid wiggly roads where possible, that always means a narrow road with sharp incline or descent, normally with a big drop on one side and a steep cliff the other. I thought I'd share with you an image of the road to hell and back.

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