Sunday, November 16, 2008

Road Adventures in Sweden

The last 24 hours or so have been less than stellar. Mostly because I am an idiot. But also because I am the world’s strongest man. And right now as I look out the window I can see snow on the ground. I tell you this not because I think people are really interested in my view, but because as a general rule snow makes me very happy. And also because it makes me feel just a bit less like an idiot.

Sweden makes you change your tires during the summer and winter. Winter or studded tires during the winter and normal tires during the summer. The idea is that studded or winter tires will keep people on the road. Of course, each winter it seems that a debate comes up about studded tires because they tear up the road which isn’t good for the road or the environment. Fair enough. Either way I just have regular winter tires. By December 1st I need to have those things on.

So this weekend I drove down to Skåne where my tires are kept because I have very little space and a very helpful family. By the time I got to Skåne and began taking off my tires I realized that about six months ago I was clearly the strongest man in the world. That strength seemed to have left me though. I have managed to change quite a few tires. Especially since moving here to Sweden. Once with near disastrous results, but for the most part I have done well. But I have never had to work as hard as I did last night to get the damn bolts loose on all four of my tires. It was ridiculous. I was yelling in the garage. Swearing. Grunting. Sweating. Slipping on oil and water. I was pissed.

Finally, I decided I just wasn’t going to be able to do this without some help. So I scared up a long hollow steel pipe, which I put on my tire iron to give me a little leverage. And the whole process began again. It was ridiculous. I was yelling in the garage. Swearing. Grunting. Sweating. Slipping on oil and water. I was pissed. But finally each bolt gave way. And I was able to change my tires.

I learned a valuable lesson. Being the strongest man in the world carries with it some sense of responsibility. Don’t tighten the tire bolts so tight that you can’t get them off.

The rest of the evening passed without incident. Probably because I was spent and had nothing to give to even begin to create an incident.

But this morning the real fun began. I found myself up and about early in the morning. I started driving very early, without any breakfast in fact. I drove around a bit hoping to find someplace that was open at 7am on a Sunday. I was disappointed to remember that I was in Sweden and Sunday mornings aren’t exactly the best time to be looking for open businesses. But I was not to be deterred. So I took the back way while heading to E-4. Now this is a drive I have made plenty of times. I have made it in the dead of winter in the dark and I have made it in the middle of the summer with the sun beating down. But today was different. Because somehow I decided to throw caution to the wind, ignore past experience, and get onto E-6. Which is not where I need to be. I know that. I have always known that. But there I was. So I turned around having wasted about half an hour. And all the gas that half an hour entails.

Finally on E-4 I saw a sign for Burger King. I was still without breakfast. I pulled over. Burger King would not open until 10. Damn it. I stopped in at the gas station and bought a cinnamon roll instead.

And then I continued on. As I drove through Småland I noticed that my gas was getting low. No problem. I was nearing Jönköping where I could get gas and something to eat. Then my gas light came on. No problem. I was 60 km away from Jönköping, the gas light meant I had about 10 liters of gas left. I know this because I checked my manual. Which happens to be in French. Lucky for me the number 10 is still the number 10 in French, and liter is still liter. So I figured it out. Ten liters of gas in my old tired car means about 100 km of driving. I was going to make it without any problems. I was wrong. Turns out that half hour of wasted gas was going to bite me in the ass.

My car started sputtering about 10 km outside of Jönköping. The check engine light came on. Shit. I started pulling over and in the process downshifted despite driving an automatic. That seemed to do it. I was back in business. So I kept driving. It couldn’t be my gas. I should still have about five liters left. Plenty to get me to town. I am an idiot. So I drove past two more gas stations on the outskirts of town.

And the car started sputtering again. This time downshifting did nothing. Except slow me down. Which wasn’t good because I had a ways to coast if I was going to get where I needed to be. I managed to coast off to an exit and pull over. Emergency lights on and out I got. And I started walking. Because while I am an idiot. And I am stubborn. I have limits. I was out of gas. I had to be. The alternative was so much worse that I had convinced myself that I was out of gas.

I really did not want to spend my Sunday in Sweden’s Bible belt so I kept walking. I followed some signs to E-4 N. Because had I been driving that’s where I would have gone. And I know there are gas stations along the road. So I kept walking. I called my brothers in hopes that they would be awake early on a Saturday night/Sunday morning and answer. CBCC did. He started checking maps and searching for gas stations in my area. And I kept walking.

Now I mentioned that I can see snow on the ground here in Stockholm. Well, it was raining near Jönköping. As I walked the rain stopped. Instead I was assaulted by pea sized hail. And the wind was relentless. But I trudged on. All the while CBCC was trying to find me on a map and search for gas stations in the area.

Finally though, there it was. Flapping in the wind. The flags of OK Q8. A gas station. Shit yes. I was going to make it. I thanked my brother, told him if I needed to I would call him back. As I approached the gas station my heart sank. There was construction. Two front-loaders blocked my view of the gas station. No worries. Maybe they still had a few pumps open. As I got closer I realized it didn’t matter. It was an unmanned gas station. I didn’t have a gas can with me. I needed a manned gas station if I was going to make this work.

So I kept walking. I could see more gas station flags flying up ahead. Three more in sight. I was feeling good. I shouldn’t have been. All three were also unmanned. At this point I decided I’d had enough. Instead of walking further I turned around. I had seen a hardware store that had just opened for the day. I walked in and headed for the gardening section hoping to find a gas can near the lawn mowers. I did. For 459 SEK. For a four liter gas can. That’s over $50. I turned around and walked away. I went and found someone who worked there and asked if they sold cheap gas cans. She said no. And directed me back towards the expensive gas can. I went back to it. I stood in front of it. But I couldn’t bring myself to spend that kind of money. I turned around and started to walk out when genius struck me. As we have already established, I am an idiot. But sometimes strokes of genius surprise even me. I bought a watering can. It was big, thick, black plastic. I figured it could handle being a gasoline container. And it only cost 169 SEK.

So out into the cold I go with my big black watering can. And I fill it with seven liters of gasoline at one of the unmanned gas stations. And I start walking back. Over a mile I walked with seven liters of gas. Seven liters of gas is surprisingly heavy over the course of a mile. I made it to my car though without any problems. Aside from some gas sloshing onto me, but that was a small price to pay.

I started the slow process of filling my gas tank with a watering can full of gas. By the time it was all said and done I probably managed to get about five of the seven liters into my car. I was ready to start my car. So I turned the key. And it didn’t start. Shit. Damn it. Shit. I got out. Lifted the hood. And checked my engine like it told me to. All the hoses were in place, battery looked good and had water, all my fluids were fine.

I tried to start my car again. Nothing. This time I decided that I would try to start my car and give it a little gas in the process. I turned the key and put a bit of pressure on the accelerator. And the car roared to life. And by roared I mean coughed, sputtered, and then settled into a dull moan. But it was alive. My gas light was off. Meaning one of two things. Either I had at least five liters of gas left in the tank or that my gas light/manual is a liar. My check engine light was still on though. Oh well. I had checked the engine. It was still there.

I got in the car and drove to the nearest gas station. I now had a full tank of gas and a glowing check engine light. I was ready to make the three hour drive from Jönköping to Stockholm. I started driving, all the while warily eyeing that check engine light that was taunting me. After about 50 km it turned off. And I drove on with a sense of relief. Because despite me being an idiot, I was going to get home.

And then it started snowing. Which clearly redeemed me, my decision to change to my winter tires this weekend was the right one.

Welcome to Sweden. Where even idiots can get lucky.

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  1. WOW!! WOW!! Did you not learn anything from your mother who ALWAYS fills when gets to quarter of a tank????
    Pretty good that your brother was up way back in the USA, to help you!!! Do they have anything like Triple A in Sweden for roadside help?
    Glad you got home!! What an adventure!!
    Did anyone stop to ask if you needed help?

  2. well since I know my mother never reads this blog and would never comment anonymously I feel safe in saying that my mother might be a little bit nuts when it comes to filling the gas at a quarter tank.

    and its true, it was helpful having CBCC pointing me in the right direction.

    Id also like to point out that this is really only the second time Ive ever run out of gas. except for back in high school when my fuel injector would overheat and just stop pumping gas, which doesnt count because I had plenty of gas it just didn't get to where it needed to be. so only two times in eight years of driving. granted, both of those times have been here in Sweden. which clearly means it is the cars fault. because Im obviously not to blame.

    CBCC joked that I since I have been a member of triple a I should call them and try to get them to help me. the yearly fee should definitely cover any sort of transatlantic assistance they could offer.

    I feel like with all the taxes paid here in sweden though htat there should be some sort of government subsidized roadside assistance. but I dont know

    and no, no one stopped to ask if I needed help.

  3. Some thing to think about for the future: Put some "copper paste" (koppar pasta) in the bolts when changing tires. This will make them more friendly to work with the next time :-)

  4. I must admit that I've been there & done that. Sometimes things are not willing to go right, i.e. according to your will! I was about your age, when I ran out of oil in engine and the motor collapsed. There was nothing to be done. A new used motor costed about 1000 euros and, boy, was I mad. The oil light never warned me, so I didn't see it coming. And I was in the middle of nowhere. Lucky for me, the car stopped at the motel where I spent a night. This was before mobiles were common toys. I still get a headache when I think of my idiotic trip to Eastern part of Finland, and the money it cost me eventually!

    Look on the bright side: you got a marvellous entry for your blog :) If you want to have a sequel for it, just water your flowers with your watering can, LOL!

  5. @anders - some excellent advice. I also made sure I didn't tighten them quite as hard as last time and then checked them again after having driven for a while and gave a quick tightening turn. hopefully that will make my life a bit easier come spring.

    @smek - good times with cars huh? but I must say... I will never forget walking to town getting pelted by hail while talking to my brother.

    and you're right, it definitely gave me something to write about.

  6. Hairy,

    What a hoot! (Now that it's over).

    You're a gifted story teller; and, like me, you apparently learn hard but learn good.


  7. @ron - thanks... it is pretty funny now looking back. it was obviously less entertaining as it was taking place.

    but I definitely learned a few things.

  8. Well,
    if I remember correctly we did use the steel pipe puttin' the summers tires on.. -so I guess it only made sense that you needed a steel pipe to take them off...;-)... But I do feel sorry for you ending up without gas in what could only be described as the badlands of southern Sweden....there's very few signs of civilization between Örkeljunga and Jönköping./Bengt

  9. you're exactly right. and now I know. the steel pipe just isnt necessary.

    I must say though that this was ridiculous. I just dont remember tightening them that much with the steel pipe those months ago.

    it was a learning experience though. and that counts for something I suppose.

  10. Buy yourself this thingy
    It will help you tighten the bolts precisely. Tighten them too much can be dangerous and is bad for the bolts and the wheel.

  11. Enjoyed that story. You're a good writer and storyteller.

  12. thanks! glad you enjoyed it. because I sure didn't. at least not at the time but looking back it was pretty ridiculous.