Austin is a truly great place, and our experiences there will not be forgotten. National Instruments looked after us really well, taking us out for drinks and food and culminating in the most delicious steak dinner any of us had ever had! The nightlife was incredible fun, and the general vibe we got was a world away from Texas’s international image of an ultra-conservative, gun-toting cowboy state. But, we had itchy feet. We were aching to get away and head onwards to our final goal of the world’s southernmost city, and we were also eager to start what felt like a new trip entirely. For the southern section of our route, from Mexico down to Argentina, promised to be an altogether much more exciting experience with a huge amount more unpredictability.
So on Sunday morning, our 41st day, we rendezvoused in the garage of the hotel and got all our equipment together. Everything was packed and the SRZero was ready to go, but the support vehicle was not; the battery was dead. It is an interesting observe that a battery and motor are needed to get a petrol engine going, and when that little battery is flat, that big lump of metal is useless (unless you have a hill handy, and you’re at the top of it!) Fortunately however, one of the hotel’s valets came down with his car and jump started our van, so finally we were able to get going.
The drive out of Austin was pretty hectic, especially in the SRZero where your head only comes up to the top of the wheels of most vehicles! The traffic was heavy, and it was getting difficult to drive as well as give coherent answers to the in-car interview Claudio was subjecting me to, but soon we were out of the city and on long, flat country roads.
Our goal for the day was Eagle Pass, a town 220 miles away and situated right on the border with Mexico. The aim was to get there early enough to charge up overnight and leave very early in the morning for the border, so we were pushing quite a pace to get there on time. The drive was beautiful; the last of the Texan countryside flew past us, the sky was blue and the sun bright. Soon we were turning off the highway onto a small road that was to take us the last 95 miles to Eagle Pass, and this is when disaster struck…
The first thing I noticed that was wrong while driving the SRZero was a loud click somewhere behind me on my left. I was a little concerned, but the car was still driving fine and I suspected it may have been a stone hitting the inside of the wheel arch or something. But a few seconds later, a loud bang occurred in the same place and I knew something was very wrong indeed. Luckily there was no traffic, and I was able to quickly pull over to the hard shoulder.
Upon taking off the rear bodywork, we found out what had happened, and it wasn’t good at all. The shock absorber, one of the last components we would ever have expected to fail, had snapped clean in half, and the car was now listing heavily to the left. Now, how on earth were we to get the car moving to Eagle Pass with a snapped shock absorber and without a spare? It was a Sunday evening and the chances of anything being open which could help us were incredibly low.
Nonetheless, we headed back to the last service station we passed, and asked for the number of the local mechanic. However, after several attempts at reaching him we still couldn’t make contact, so we decided to drive to the nearest village and try and find something, anything, that could help save the day. So, while Toby, Nik and myself were charging around the countryside trying to find help, Andy and Clemens were babysitting the car and sharing a rather intimate moment which can be seen in the appropriate video on our website!
After reaching Pearsall, about 15 miles from the breakdown site, Toby spotted what looked like a workshop on the side of the road. We pulled up to the building with the broken component in our hands and tried to find someone, but no one was around except a dog which looked inquisitively as we walked around. Our next attempt involved going to one of the nearby houses and asking if there was someone who owned the workshop nearby. It turned out that the man we approached was the owner, and he quickly agreed to help us.
After an hour or so of bashing, milling, grinding and turning, we had the top of our damper reunited with the bottom half. Sure, it was pretty crooked, but it was strong and we were sure it would do the job. 15 minutes later, we arrived at the breakdown site and quickly had the spring and damper back in the car. After dropping the car back down onto its wheels, we were relieved to see the damper take the full weight of the car, and other than the car leaning ever so slightly to the left, it looked pretty normal.
We still had 95 miles to cross, which we drove very gingerly at first to test the component, but as our confidence in our quick fix grew, we slowly brought the car up to the speed limit of 55mph. The car performed flawlessly and after 2 hours we arrived at our hotel in Eagle Pass. We could see Mexico from the road, and the possibility of having to drive into this potentially dangerous territory with a broken shock absorber was not incredibly appealing, but it was probably the only option we had if we were to make our deadline of getting to Mexico City in time. Nonetheless, this was an issue we were forced to address the following day when we could make phone calls to the necessary people. For now, it was time to get the car on charge and get some sleep.
Disaster averted…for now!