Baltic Sea Circle II: Not first, but still a win!

I recently reported on the Daimler Blog about an adventure that my father and I had planned. Back then we self-confidently named this adventure our personal Mona Lisa.

Today, two months after we reached the finish line, a thin veil of forgetfulness has slightly blurred our memories — so I’d like to single out the striking details from the background and describe them.

But first, I’d like to give you an overview of our trip — our Big Picture!

My father and I participated in the Baltic Sea Circle 2018 rally from June 16th to July 1st. As we drove along our 8,200-kilometer route around the edges of the Baltic Sea, we had lots of small adventures. In our individual ways, both of us had left our comfort zones and given up some of our old habits. How did this come about?

In my first post I reported that I cut off my long locks and got a more streamlined haircut. I knew that during the rally it might be difficult to recharge our cell phones, and that meant we would certainly have no room for a 3,000-watt hairdryer or other fancy accessories. In short, we wanted to own this rally and give it our best shot — and we succeeded!

Carselfie in Lithuania

The preparations

I initially thought we would not have any problems due to a lack of space. That was partly because we already had a bed in the form of a roof tent on top of our vehicle. Besides, there were only two of us traveling in a gigantic station wagon. This assumption of mine was reinforced by the memory of our six-week vacation in Turkey, which involved five of us (!) driving down there in an Opel Kadett station wagon in the summer of 1989. I don’t know if my memory was playing a trick on me or if my mother was simply an artist when it came to packing, but back then we had the feeling we were taking along everything we needed.

Well, as we all know, things always turn out differently than we expect. When I started to load the car with my father’s things, I was amazed at the number and size of his bags. When he started to enthusiastically present the assortment of daily necessities my parents always take along on their travels, I realized that we might not be using our car’s rearview mirror after all.

Everyone defines adventure in his or her own way. My parents, for example, considered it important to take along a kerosene lantern for dark nights. After they proudly showed me their kerosene lantern, I knew that my USB-rechargeable camping lamp with infrared remote control and an eight-hour lighting duration was no longer the star of the show. At that point I wasn’t even sure whether we would need artificial lighting, because after reaching a certain latitude we would have the midnight sun as our constant companion. Even though some of the kerosene leaked out into the car during the rally — we hadn’t secured our cargo properly — taking this kerosene lantern along was absolutely the right thing to do.

Dad with his oil lamp in Sweden (Löderup)

…and off we go!

We left for Hamburg on June 15 so that we’d be well-rested when we drove our V8 to the starting line at the Fischmarkt in Hamburg the next morning. Our starting number was 39! That was really a good position to start from. We told ourselves, “We’ll be almost the first ones to leave the starting line! This E-Class model with a displacement of 4.266 liters used to be the cutting edge of the self-confident, mass-produced interpretation of driving pleasure before AMG took over the job. With this car plus our finely honed navigation skills, overtaking the 38 cars ahead of us will be a piece of cake.”

How wrong we were! When our team was finally called out and we cautiously rolled out behind the other cars, at first there were no cars to be overtaken. We were glad to be able to follow someone. But we soon had to leave this safe position. First intersection: We had the impression that a third of the cars were turning left and another third were turning right — so we drove straight ahead. Second intersection: One third right, one third left. Third intersection: One third left, one third right — so we followed the car ahead of us onto a three-lane street in Hamburg. We’ll never know whether that car had gotten lost or was carrying out a brilliant plan of its own.

The roadway very soon narrowed down to one lane because of a construction site, and a short time later it led us into a traffic jam. As a result, we finally lost sight of the rally participant who was driving ahead of us. Actually, we had already felt lost when we switched on the engine. I was surprised when my father eventually asked me, “Where did all the other cars go?” I was able to answer this question about three hours later in Denmark.

Barbecue in Lithuania (Kalvarija)

As we drove into a rest area, we could already see various other teams from afar. Let me try to describe that particular situation as authentically and subjectively as I can: We drove into that rest area with a feeling of belonging that you normally see only in American trucker films. I gazed at the other teams through my sunglasses with a slight sense of overconfidence and casually greeted them with a wave of my arm, which I was casually dangling out of the side window. My coolness lasted only until I took a closer look at the starting numbers of the other cars.

For your information: Every car participating in the rally has its starting number visibly displayed on a big label pasted to its side. In the rest area we, the father-and-son team with starting number 39, drove past cars that had much higher starting numbers. I abruptly stopped waving as we parked next to a rally participant with a number in the middle two hundreds who was just pulling out in order to continue his drive.

A tent on the roof is better than a mattress in the trunk

At the start of the rally, we decided to use a roof tent. That slowed us down quite a bit when we were driving, but when we were camping it turned out to be a blessing, because we could set the tent up anywhere. This enabled us to camp in breathtakingly beautiful spots, for example in Scandinavia, where you can pitch your tent anywhere.

In Sweden we set up our tent in a wooded area on a hill (on which a small family of elks was grazing — if we had seen the elks right away we would certainly not have spent the night there). We also camped on our “private lake” in northern Norway and along fjords on the North Sea in strong winds, driving rain, and a mild outdoor temperature of 5°C.

Stop in Norway (Storslett) with the tent on top of the car

A generation change

At the beginning of the rally, both of us naturally felt some uncertainty as to whether and how this trip would go down in the history of the Ercan family. In retrospect, the trip was an absolute success. Each of us managed to surprise the other in his own way. Here are two short examples:

During our drive to St. Petersburg in Russia, we stopped in a small town along with two other teams at about 10 p.m. in order to figure out where we could set up our tent for the night. While my father looked after our car, I discussed the possible options with the other two teams. We had given up trying to ask for help, because none of us spoke Russian. Suddenly we heard two elderly ladies calling something out to my father in Russian and him calling something back, presumably also in Russian. The two ladies called out an answer, all of them laughed, and the conversation was over.

At that point one of the other drivers asked me, “Does your father speak Russian?” Although I was puzzled, I answered calmly, “Apparently.” Meanwhile, I remembered something that had happened two days before. I remembered the first, second, third, etc. time I ordered coffee at gas stations in Russia. I had had to use dramatic gestures in order to order coffee with cream for my father. And now my father was having a little chat in Russian? “I don’t believe it,” all of us were thinking to ourselves with a chuckle.

Later on, my father explained to us that he had once worked with lots of colleagues from various countries and that he had made a few friends who taught him a bit of Russian. Incidentally, an almost identical scene took place in Poland. At that point our journey was almost over, but just to be on the safe side regarding future projects, I asked him what other languages he had a smattering of. “English,” he answered!

Lucky charm from Sweden

We stopped for two days in St. Petersburg so that we could get a good impression of the city, which was just then in a World Cup fever. On the first evening, we had an unplanned meeting with other rally teams in a nice hipster bar, where we watched a World Cup game on television. After that I wanted to quickly escort my father back to our hotel and then return to the bar. I walked out into the street and tried to wave down taxis for about five minutes, without any success.

I had attracted the attention of other rally participants who were standing outside the bar, and the next thing that happened was that someone standing behind me loudly shouted, “TAAAXI!” and a black E-Class pulled up beside us immediately. I thought to myself, “That voice sounds familiar somehow…” And then I noticed that my father, who had a few minutes before been standing at the edge of the street looking exhausted, was determinedly walking toward the taxi he had just hailed.

In the age of mytaxi, we’ve obviously forgotten how people used to hail taxis. The taxi driver was from Azerbaijan, and because Azerbaijani is closely related to Turkish, the three of us were able to have an interesting conversation about Russia, E-Class models, and politics. It was a good mix :-)

Team Father-and-Son at North Cape

Driving downwind toward the sun

Our gasoline-driven rear wheel drive station wagon was our faithful companion throughout the entire 8,200-kilometer rally. That car was like a chameleon. In Sweden it was a serene family station wagon, in Norway a robust all-weather vehicle, and in Russia a sports car for the modest yet self-confident man. My father originally wondered whether the car wasn’t too powerful for our needs, but his skepticism vanished after just a few kilometers. In fact, he developed an enjoyment of driving that I hadn’t seen in him for a long time.

Sunshine by the sea

Normally he drives his GLK 220 through the streets as stolidly as a bus driver, but during this trip everything was different. Both my father and I developed an ability to seek out risky situations that in most cases we could — of course — only get out of by stepping on the gas. The dramatic clicking of the kick-down switch and the sporadic flashing of the ESP indicator light emphasized the seriousness of the situations that made these drastic measures necessary :-) To put it another way, at times we were riding a whole lot of runaway horses.

If we include the drives to and from Hamburg, we covered a total distance of about 9,950 kilometers. On this journey, our car (which now has total mileage of 495,000 kilometers) needed one liter of oil (!!!), and its average fuel consumption was 10.13 l/100 km. In my opinion, these are excellent figures, and I would like to put them on the record here in honor of the 210 model series, the M113 engine, and our products.

Conclusion

After the rally, when we were already driving home from Hamburg, we unfortunately ran out of gas just outside Heilbronn. This happened because the fuel gauge was probably defective — and we had thought throughout the entire rally that our car had a gigantic gas tank! We pushed the car off the road and stopped on the shoulder.

Fortunately, we still had our gas canister, which we had not had to use even once during the previous 9,900 kilometers. We filled the tank with gas, got into the car, and raced away from this risky situation with squealing tires, into the sunset. Even this small and avoidable event contributed to the fact that we had made a fantastic journey. After all, a good wine doesn’t consist only of sugary-sweet grapes!

In Hamburg at the fish market after passing the finish line

My father and I had the feeling that we had worked together as equals and bonded even more closely. The fact that my father had developed self-confidence also confirmed my feeling that this had been a worthwhile venture. On the same evening that my mother welcomed us home, my father expressed the wish that he and my mother could use this car to drive to Turkey one last time… This road trip of my parents was something my father had been dreaming of practically forever. Even now that some time has passed, it still seems as though my father fell into a fountain of youth during the rally.

As for me, I’m simply glad we made this trip. I’m sorry to say that both before the rally and during it, other participants often told me, “I could never do this kind of thing with my own father.” On this topic, all I can say is that, first of all, it doesn’t have to be a giant adventure and, secondly, a father-son relationship is much more durable than most of us assume — especially in a desperate situation. That’s why I can only encourage everyone who is seriously thinking about having an adventure with a member of his or her family or a long-forgotten friend, to go ahead and do it!

The next adventure I’m planning to have is a trip on a houseboat in the Baltic Sea next year. If you want to find out whether we actually make this trip, you can follow us on our Instagram channel or on Facebook. There you can also find lots of photos and anecdotes documenting our experiences :-)

In conclusion, we want to express our warm thanks to the colleagues who supported our donation campaign (in some cases anonymously). Thanks to your strong support, we collected about €1,500 in donations for three charitable projects. For all those who also want to make contribute, the donation campaign is still going on. If you want to be a member of our charity program, you can make your donation by using the following link.


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Ilhan Ercan started his career with Daimler after his studies in 2009. Since 2016 he is the contact Person for Daimler Trucks Powertrain for engineering topics.

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