Driving Day 66: Esquel to Sarmiento

As we had not driven yesterday, we were keen to get up early and do a massive leg in order to maintain a good contingency buffer so that we would not be at risk of missing the 15th November target date in Ushuaia. Our goal was Comodoro, 600km to the south east, located on Argentina’s Atlantic coast; if you look at a map, you will see that we were attempting to cross the breadth of this country in one day. In order to ensure that we had the range to accomplish this ambitious feat, we had organised a top charge in the town of Sarmiento some 440km from Esquel.

However, not a bunch of people to shy away from challenges, the entire team was up, packed, and ready to go at 6am despite the dark and cold conditions. Nonetheless, we were all yearning to hit road again, and with the van packed and just about to leave the car park, Andy and I jumped into the SRZero in order to follow. But this is where the day’s plan first began to unravel; the car would not start!

The standard procedure in such scenarios is to call Toby, who promptly emerged from the van with the laptop and Ethernet cable to allow him to connect to the car’s inboard computer and diagnose the problem. However, this didn’t seem to help either; the car remained lifeless, and the only thing he could glean from the diagnosis was a very strange error code concerning the way in which the computer handles its database. With none of us having the slightest clue as to how to fix this problem, we had only one option available; call for help!

Now, who do you call at 7 in the morning in order to help you fix a problem with a CompactRio controller? The answer is National Instruments, one of our most dedicated sponsors, who immediately responded to our call and went away to search their database to see if anyone had experienced a similar problem and the method they used to fix it. They had promised to call us back with an answer asap, so in the meantime we went and stood outside the cafe I mentioned yesterday, and pleaded with the cleaner to let us into the warm and comfortable interior!

Fortunately, our luck with National Instruments was better than with the cleaner (she wouldn’t let us in!) as they called us back very quickly indeed. They suggested that Toby do a complicated reintroduction of the database, and that this should work with luck. What this actually means, I don’t know, and if you have a burning curiosity to find out, I suggest you email Toby! But after completing the steps they mentioned, we were able to start the car as normal, and this was a big relief! Visions had been running through our head of being stranded and having to ship in our spare cRIO which is currently in Belgium…this would have delayed us for weeks!

Having now been delayed by an hour and a half, we thought we may as well have breakfast now, so we headed back to the cafe, indulged in coffee, waffles, and ham and cheese sandwiches, and headed off back into the Pampas. Despite the delay of around 2 hours, we were far from worried; the weather was absolutely perfect with not a cloud in the sky, and we had plenty of time to reach Sarmiento, charge, and carry on to Comodoro. In fact, the only slight worry was the remoteness of the journey; we were completing a 250km stretch of road without even a fuel station existing, so we had to stock up on jerry cans for the motorbike which has quite a limited range.

The drive began very smoothly with fantastic roads and spectacular scenery, and we were making excellent progress. However, for the second time in one day, we had something delay us and on this occasion the outcome could have been far more serious. I was driving with Andy at the time, and all of a sudden, I observed a large fracture in the road ahead, and I took action to prevent any damage this may cause to the car. Very smoothly, I applied a little bit of braking, and moved over to the right to avoid the obstacle…

Suddenly, just after passing the obstacle, the front of the car spun to the left, quickly followed by the back, which caused the car to end up going backwards off the road! Despite how surprising this was, instinct took hold, and I firmly pumped the breaks to slow the car, and managed the steering wheel to stop any further spinning. Fortunately, the car came safely to a stop on a slight slope of soft soil on the side of the road, and both myself and Andy were completely unharmed. I had no idea how this could have happened, especially as we were only travelling at around 35-40mph when the spin occurred, but the priority was to check that everything was still working, and to get the car driving again.

When I was in the car during the event I actually felt very calm, and it was only upon exiting the vehicle that I realised I was in shock somewhat as my legs were shaking! However, everyone was safe, the car wasn’t smashed (as it could have been if it had gone much further) so I put my thoughts to one side and, alongside the team who came rushing out the van to see what had happened, worked out a plan to get the car driving again.

The first priority was to get the car out of the soft soil, so we hooked up a tow rope between the front of the car and the van, and we hauled it back onto the hard shoulder. It was exceptionally fortunate that there was no traffic as this would have made the situation somewhat more precarious, but with the car back on a flat surface, we could assess the damage.

Firstly, we hooked up the laptop to run a diagnostic on the electronic systems, and we were pleased to see that everything worked perfectly normally, which is what we were expecting given the very soft stop. Next up we removed the front and rear body work, and we discovered that both the front and rear right shock absorbers had failed. This was hardly surprising given that it was about time for them to fail by our calculations, but what was surprising is the effect it had on the car; on both previous failures the car had continued driving perfectly straight.

Further inspection of the car revealed no other damage, so we got out our spare shock absorbers, and replaced the broken ones. Interestingly, they had failed in the exact same place and manner as the previous 2, so clearly there is a design flaw here which needs to be addressed by the manufacturer. With the suspension fixed again, we checked the alignment and ride height setup of the car, and did a few test runs up and down the road to see how it handled. The car felt completely back to it’s normal self, so we pointed our wheels in the right direction, and headed off!

The team had done a fantastic job in working together to get the car driving again, and our spirits had not been dampened. The whole experience had served to remind us of the dangers of driving in general, and we remained resolved to continue to drive carefully and to keep our focus up until the finish. It should be noted that we do actually drive very safely on the road at all times, and aside from this occasion and the light brush with the truck in Lima, both of which were not driver errors, we have had an incident free traversing of the Pan-American Highway…may it continue all the way to the end!

The delay did mean that we would not have enough time to have a top up charge in Sarmiento and then make Comodoro in good time, so we set a steady pace to Sarmiento without the added pressure of needing to get there faster. This turned out to be to our benefit as the road condition deteriorated rapidly, and our average speed was drastically reduced. Nonetheless, we avoided any big impacts, and arrived in the small town of Sarmiento with the strong evening sun on our faces.

Awaiting for us as we entered the town was a huge group of people eagerly anticipating the car’s arrival. This was organised by the town’s tourist office as this was the first electric car ever to pass through, and their keenness to see what it was all about was palpable! Interestingly, we came to a stop right by a monument of 2 horses which commemorated a Swiss man riding these horses all the way from Buenos Aires up to New York between 1925 and 1928; now this was a true adventure!

Anyway, as always, the car had to be attended to, so we were shown to our charging location which, amazingly, was inside the town’s cultural museum. This was a perfect place to charge, and the town had kindly organised for a guard to be stationed by the car overnight to ensure everything was alright. With this done, the tourist office was very keen to show us to their pride and joy; a park filled with life-sized dinosaur replicas! Apparently this area is famous for dinosaur fossils, and it does not take a big stretch to imagine these ancient creatures roaming the Argentinian plains.

This was very enjoyable, but before long we were in desperate need of food given our quite vigorous day, and so we were shown to a local steakhouse where we enjoyed a delicious grill of mixed meats. After this, we headed back to the hotel for a few hours of sleep before the next day which also required another early start!

Despite the topsy turvy nature of the day, the team was so excited! We only had 4 days left of driving until we reached Ushuaia, and we were more focussed than ever! We had had a close shave today, but everyone was still safe, the car was driving perfectly again, and the dream was still very much alive!

2 Responses to “Driving Day 66: Esquel to Sarmiento”

  • Elisabeth says:

    I’ve been really enjoying and looking forward to your blogs for so long now that I’ll be missing them soon… wish you all the best of luck for the last legs! Enjoy!

  • Charles H Schulmann says:

    Dear RGET ,
    it is really enjoyable to witness how you have adapted to the demands
    of the road and how you exercise versatile capabilities to the last
    minute challenges which inevitably occur . Furthermore , it is also
    remarkable that despite your great achievements you are not arrogant
    or stubborn to ask for assistance when the mission is in jeopardy .
    We raise our collective hats or is it caps , to you all as you
    reach your final destination , wishing you the very best from
    Ladysmith ( Kwazulu Natal ) South Africa , Charles and friends .

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