Under Ivan’s reign – 600km Bulgaria Offroad River Crossing for Beginners

Chapter Five

Under Ivan’s reign

Bulgaria Offroad for Beginners

The fine art of a river crossing

Full of enthusiasm, we set off in the direction of Bulgaria. Unfortunately, we didn’t get up to speed because something was up with Oleg. The loss of power let us roam around at a maximum of 60km/h. Pull out the manual, check the LN2 forum – it must be the diesel filter! At Lidl in the car park seemed a suitable place for a filter change. To be on the safe side, I called Benno from Basisfahrzeuge. He promised us “if we buy our truck from him, he won’t let us down with his knowledge”. Indeed, and this on the evening of his beloved wife’s birthday.

Cab lifted, filter changed, lines bled and on we go. Our problem, however, was not solved and will accompany us for a while. After a few more kilometres we stop on the hard shoulder. We pump up the cab again and start troubleshooting. Benno supports us by phone… but we don’t really get anywhere.

In the end, we came up with the idea of tightening the entire rod to the injection pump and thus shortening it. It actually helped a little. We won’t reach our daily target today, so we look for a reasonably quiet place to park. My thoughts turn to our current handicap – Benno is now having his birthday dinner with his wife. Arrived at the campsite, I tightened the train system again. We went to bed to discuss my solution with Benno the next day, as I am still very uncertain about the truck matter and always have the feeling of breaking something.

The next day I was able to present my solution and it was confirmed as good. Oleg’s automatic transmission now shifts even better than before.

The enthusiasm was back – off to Bulgaria!

Off-road for beginners – the river crossing

Ziss: Nothing now stands in the way of continuing our journey. And so we set off… Not knowing what to expect! After the border, we drove a good 140km into the country until we reached Stara Zagora, a beautiful reservoir with many small rivers. We were overwhelmed by the beauty of the place and unfortunately couldn’t decide which place to stay, there were so many beautiful options. We criss-crossed and crossed the first small rivers directly through the water. Three river crossings were great – everything relaxed – but then No. 4!!!

Shit, we are stuck in the river mud! We laughed at the beginning and I was optimistic to get ourselves out of the mess with shovels and sand plates. Shovelled and dug, positioned the plates for a good 2 hours. But all we achieved – we sank deeper and deeper into the predicament.

Only then did we realise – no chance without outside help!

Dream location at “Stara Zagora

The end of river crossing no. 4 – Ivan no. 1 with tractor no. 1

Jan went to look for help, I waited at the truck, it was about 16:00. Luckily he got a lift on the way to the village, otherwise it would have been a few kilometres on foot to the next petrol station. I was full of hope that we would be pulled out before the end of the day – I was an optimist. But in retrospect, even if I had known, pessimism would have been out of place.

Time went by, Jan quickly found a nice Bulgarian – Ivan 1 – who was willing to organise a tractor to help us. And not only that, they also bought us something to eat!

So shortly after 6 p.m. tractor no. 1 arrived with Ivan 1 and Ivan 2. We noticed, or rather understood, including our helpers, that tractor no. 1 was far too small, light and powerless to pull our 10 tonnes out of the mess.

To make communication easier, Ivan 1 had connected a buddy via telephone who spoke German, so we learned that tractor no. 2 was on its way. Unfortunately, the wire rope on tractor no. 2 broke, which Jan had attached with difficulty, lying in the water in his pants. Tractor no. 2 also failed. Meanwhile, it had become dark and tractor no. 3 arrived!

We all had to admit to ourselves that “no one was going to make it this night”. They wanted to take us home with them and were worried that we would starve. So much love and helpfulness – we are totally overwhelmed. Explaining that we would rather stay with the truck and have enough food with us. One of the Ivan’s explained to us that an even bigger tractor would be coming at 10.00 in the morning. We were in for the worst night of our journey so far. Oleg in the middle of the river, in such a bad position that we couldn’t even take a shower or use the taps in any other way – at least Jan had a last beer.

We started the day completely exhausted and without appetite. There was hardly any sleep to speak of in such an awkward position. We both had nightmares!

The crooked night of Stara Zagora – sleep was not to be thought of

At 10.00 a.m. one of the helpers from the evening before stood in front of the door, asked for our weight and told us that they were now preparing the John Deer. In the meantime, Ivan No. 3 came by and surveyed the situation to instruct the tractor driver. We asked him to try from the front today as we have strong towing cheques mounted at the front. When tractor no. 4 arrived, he also tried to cross the river and almost got stuck in the mud himself. Fortunately, he was able to free himself at the last moment and chose a way around the river.

In the meantime, we prepared the terrain as much as possible with shovels and salvage sheets. Some time later we were off! The tractor was loaded with additional weights in advance. Oleg was hitched up. One attempt after the other followed – unfortunately unsuccessful. Oleg did not move a single mm. During the night, the river washed away material from under the tyres and onto the axles. Ivan 3 phoned around to organise another John Deer in the same weight category. Communication was very difficult but somehow it worked out with Jan’s Czech.

Tractor No. 5 arrived, also equipped with additional weights. So the horses were harnessed – Oleg in tow and off we went! We were anxious for our luck and hoped that we would succeed. Ivan gave the signal – full throttle! Our Oleg started to move and dug through the masses of earth with the tractors right at the first attempt. I filmed diligently, but when Oleg dug himself out of the mess, I burst into tears for the first time.

Overjoyed, we were now worried whether everything had remained intact with Oleg! First, however, I was completely overwhelmed and hugged Ivan around the neck and couldn’t calm down at all. Jan asked what we owed him for the groundbreaking help, we had previously prepared 200€ to pay him and his masters as a thank you. He vehemently refused the money and asked for a Czech beer. To our shame – the last one Jan drank was the night before – so we could only offer a Radler which felt very embarrassing. Ivan enjoyed his Radler.

Without further ado, we got Oleg ready to ride. The one storage box was completely flooded. “We’re supposed to ride after him,” Ivan said “he’ll take us to a fountain where we can regroup!” The thrill was about to continue. Ivan drove ahead of us in his Hilux up a steep, narrow slope, with severe banking and trees on the side – full throttle was in order – our knees were shaking like aspen leaves.

Ivan our hero enjoys his cold Radler in front of the battlefield

When we arrived at the well, Ivan said goodbye. We began to scrape kilos of the clay-like, heavy mud off the chassis and clean what we could – then we went in search of a car wash.

Oleg seems to be fine, except that the ABS light has been on ever since. When we arrived at the car wash, we were shocked to discover that we had torn open the entire GRP box wall on a tree. We cleaned the car and hope that it will not rain until we find a DIY store to repair the GRP.

During the drive through the colourful Bulgarian autumn to the next campsite, the translator from the night before called us to ask if everything had gone well and if we were okay. Unbelievable, these Bulgarians!

On the same day we found a wonderful spot in the mountains above Sliven in the middle of a beautiful autumn forest. Dry everything out for the first time. Digesting the shock. Jan greased the moving parts for the first time – he cursed! And I was undocked by a wave of nausea for the next 24 hours.

Our “accident” threw us off track quite a bit. We stayed on the spot for a few days for the first time. The next DIY store was unfortunately in Turkey, according to Google. “It simply mustn’t rain! Until we have fixed the crack.”

With a heavy heart, we made our way towards the Turkish border. Too bad, we really liked Bulgaria scenically and would have liked to discover more of the country.

In human terms, it blew our minds. Bulgaria you are now deep in our hearts!