NO WAY BACK

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One Imp, two guys, three continents and 14 000km in less than 40 days… sound impossible? It should have been!

Geoff Biermann and Terence Tracey planned to trek England’s most unreliable car, the Hillman Imp, across three continents in unforgiving conditions, through countries at war, in the space of just 40 days. Madness? Certainly. It seemed they stood more chance of falling pregnant than they had of achieving their lofty goal. Nonetheless they planned and prepped for this arduous trip and, in late March of 2013, they rolled out of Johannesburg – destination Coventry, England.

Their first breakdown occurred just ten metres into the journey as a result of a leak from the auxiliary fuel tank. This was a quick and easy fix, but they discovered another more serious issue at the same time: they had lost reverse gear. But with a stubborn refusal to allow anything or anybody to bar their progress, they chose to look at the no-reverse situation as a good omen. After all, with no reverse there could literally be no turning back.

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With no back-up and a mighty long road ahead, the two travellers were particularly nervous as they commenced their journey – and they were right to be, for several reasons. They had not managed to obtain their Sudanese visas, their final departure had been delayed by 10 days and the car that had been rebuilt by Terence still had a few problem areas, having never been tested. As if this was not enough to worry about, their shoestring budget was about R40 000 less than they needed…

They say that luck favours the brave and the pair of brave (if poorly prepared) souls took the old maxim to heart. The mayhem of the ribcage-crushing, body-squashing stampede at their very first border crossing served only to cement their resolve to succeed instead of hightailing it back to the safety of South Africa.

Red tape and presidential inaugurations, along with police controls and paper checks, were almost as bothersome as the bone-jarring potholed road surfaces they had to contend with. But it was “Hell’s Road” – the notorious bandit road in Kenya – that proved a much bigger hurdle than they had envisioned. Even in dry conditions it is extremely difficult to navigate and should only be attempted by the very best of 4x4 vehicles. Taking it on in the rainy season would be suicidal and completely irresponsible. But in spite of warnings by those in the know to stay put, the pair launched right out into the North Kenyan bandit-run road that with the rains had become a muddy sea. Day and night they plodded on, until sanity prevailed and they dropped Imp anchor for a few days to wait out the storms.

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An angel in the form of a stranded tour operator appeared and the Imp crew were soon back motoring north towards Coventry. The going was hard, slow and punishing, resulting in more delays while the front end of the Imp was repaired by the two inexperienced mechanics. The repairs were carried out at the Turbi Police station, their campsite for two days thanks to the hospitality of the Turbi Police.

The incredibly hilly topography of Ethiopia tested the Imp’s tiny power mill. In the stifling heat of Khartoum, a double engine removal, coupled with failure to access their funds, caused further delays as well as serious money problems. Complicated and vastly overbooked ferry and car barge arrangements to access Egypt tried their patience to the extreme. But this waiting game paled into insignificance when faced with the administration and associated delays in travelling through and out of the Pharaoh’s land to Turkey.

The resultant delays forced the intrepid pair to drive the final four thousand kilometres from Turkey to England non-stop. Exhausted but ecstatic, they arrived at the Imp 50 Celebrations in Coventry – a mere six hours before it ended! The two lads from South Africa were treated like royalty by their newfound friends in Coventry.

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For the full story, read the book No Way Back! Johannesburg to London in an Imp by Terence Tracey. Copies are available on request at R380 each excluding postage. Email stuart@classiccarafrica.com to get your copy.

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