Offroad Extreme Winching Challenge Land Rover in the mud

Orawa 4×4 Challenge in Lipnica Wielka, Poland

2 am sees us pulling into the driveway of our rental home somewhere deep in the Polish countryside. We are absolutely shattered by our 21-hour journey…

…but without complaint – Dorota and Anno have been on the road for 34 hours and Wojtek is still en route!

It is a long road from the Netherlands to the far side of Poland bordering Slovakia and one of the Discovery 1 tow vehicles – pulling one of the competition cars – has developed some issues.

Getting there is already a challenge!

Firstly, the bearing for the tension roller wears out causing a thread on the fan belt to shear off, slicing the radiator pipe at the same time (yeah, it’s never simple is it?).

In Magdeburg (Germany), Wojtek and Anno are sent from one dealer to the next for the correct parts. Eventually successful, Wojtek fixes the car in about 20 minutes.

Then closer to the Polish border, the Disco blows a head gasket. Great! Not what you need on a few hours of sleep. Not to mention that interesting traffic fine at 1 a.m. for towing: your own trailer, the Disco and the trailer attached to the Disco. It was a couple of kilometres on the autobahn to a safe parking zone but the policeman had to check the rule book on that one.

By now, Wojtek is ready to flame the car in disgust. But sanity prevails (just). He organises two towing vehicles; one to tow the competition car, and another with a trailer for the Disco.

It’s agreed that we’ll continue while Wojtek waits the 5 hours needed for the drivers to come from Krakow to Dresden. Their ETA into Lipnica Wielka guestimated at between 6 and 7 am. Talk about cutting it fine, the race officially starts at 6 am!

“Zmagania Orawskie”

We manage to get about 3 hours of sleep by the time Wojtek arrives. The competition cars are unloaded. Broad smiles concealing darkened eyes. The guys head off to play in the mud.

Patrick is co-driver to Wojtek in Fulco’s Land Rover, and Marcel is co-driver to Anno in the Pink Panther. Mother Nature provides a superb battlefield. With weeks of non-stop rain and flooding in some parts, the ground is swampy with ravenous muddy trenches.

We are compensated with gorgeous sunshine and a comfortable mid-twenties temperature. The cameras are ready as Yurek and I hop in a Nissan Patrol. Clambering up the hills to get a roadbook, the marshalls stop us from going further.

Without knowing Polish … I have no idea why. So we drive back, park the car and take our all-terrain leg wagons. Should be doable, the race is happening a couple of km behind the house in the hills.

Countryside Battlefield

We catch a glimpse of both Land Rovers speeding off. The sun glinting on the windscreens. Yurek is infinitely patient with my stopping at every other bush, flower or tree to capture this gorgeous countryside.

A familiar grumble in the distance as the Pink Panther nears, giving me time to choose between video camera and camera. Always a tough choice!

We’re walking parallel with the dirt track. Chirping birds and the babbling river occasionally interspersed with big V8s and other Polish motors. Our Land Rovers are the only foreign entries.

Totally at home in the forest, Yurek keeps a consistent, quick pace to get us from one point to the next. Using hand gestures and basic Dutch, we communicate fairly well. My attempt to return with dry boots flies out the window when the river gets too deep. I take the plunge and feel chilly water seeping through my smart wool socks, hoping this doesn’t affect their ability to prevent blisters.

But it actually doesn’t matter … I’m loving this … the best cure for travel fatigue. We cross the river a few times more, stopping at various checkpoints. The local contestants love the coverage.

Eventually, we decide to head back to town and make our way to the main road. Yurek gets on the phone to organise a lift back. I see a hand-carved wooden sign saying “Lipnica Wielka 15 km” … wow, didn’t realise we’d walked that far.

A dodgy cambelt

I take a couple more snaps and we continue along the main road. Snow-capped mountains tower over fields that are toiled by hand, men and women alike. I get a phone call from Rob, who is in Holland, to say that the ‘Pink Panther’s’ cambelt has snapped and asked if I’d heard more, but there hadn’t been any phone signal in the bush.

Shortly after that I get an SOS from Anno and Marcel – they’re stuck at the last place we’d seen them … the phone cuts out before we could say more.

4x4s are roaring on the left hillside keeping cows and farmers amused. Yurek’s girlfriend arrives and I’ve never been so happy to see the backseat of any vehicle. What a relief for ’em aching hips.

We discover Wojtek is on the hill, so go and take a look. Great stuff. He and Patrick handle it like pros, using the ground winch to get them through the swamp at the bottom.

We make a rescue plan. Fortunately, Yurek knows where the Pink Panther is. We head back to fetch the trusty Patrol. It takes about an hour and a half before we reach the guys, who promptly curse us for taking so long! Geez, talk about ungratefulness! Hmph!

(Okay, I guess it was understandable … they have been there for 4,5 hours!) Yurek expertly tows the Pink Panther back to the house and then ascertains it’s not just the cambelt, but the valve rods have also twisted.

Einde Oefening! [Game Over!]

Those parts weren’t included in the myriad brought along, and being late Saturday afternoon, there’s no possibility of getting spares. What a pity! Pink Panther’s triumph in Poland lasted all of 30 minutes.

My feet sigh with relief as I slip my boots off and wring out my socks. I don my old Rockies and much to my hip’s dismay, we head back over the hill to see Wojtek and Patrick tackling more checkpoints. They attempt some very nasty challenges and succeed. All is good for the scoreboard. Patrick’s sons are delighted to see their dad in action.

Wojtek and Patrick head deeper into the trenches, and on our way back, we encounter other contestants tackling the same part … one bold fool doesn’t even have a winch! Trapped in a squelchy mess, the queue builds up behind him. We find our way to the organisers’ tent and enjoy some local nosh, washed down with a beer. Very welcome.

The end of a tiring day

My calves are major ‘owie’ and the cartilage on my right knee is threatening to evacuate. 30+ km in one day is a little too much. Somehow I make it back … A warm shower and half-hour doze give me a reprieve to face an evening of joviality, Polish sausage on the bbq and lots of beer (I was able to resist the vodka). We are blown away by the hospitality and relaxed vibe. As our 4×4 adventure was abruptly halted, we decide to visit Zakopane in the morning.

It’s our first time in Poland and we had no idea what to expect. But this is what I love about travelling. You leave with a certain idea in your head based on travel brochures, films, photos and stories you’ve heard, and then when you get there, your personal experience remoulds your impression. Simply fabulous!

A special thanks to Rob, Jasper and Fulco for letting us use their ‘play cars’ and also to Wojtek and Darota for inviting us and making us feel like part of the family. Marcel also appreciates the Land Rover owner insider’s tips he got from Anno. Thanks, everyone, it was fab!

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