After spending less than 24 hours at some resorts in the Antalya region of Turkey, I may have been too relaxed on my drive back to Ankara. While singing along to Jimmy Buffet and cruising, the road quickly turned from pavement to cobblestone to dirt, and the only civilization I encountered were tiny villages where every soul stared at me as they moved wheelbarrows and oxcarts out of the road so my car could pass.
Obviously I had taken the wrong turn, and I probably did that a while ago. I still had GPS and phone service, and after checking the route on the TomTom, I had two choices: backtrack, which would add 2-3 hours to my trip, or continue on with the current road, which was called “unnamed.” How many times will I have to repeat this lesson about unnamed roads on the GPS before I learn not to take them?
I never want to lose time on the road, so, with my hands at ten and two, I continued up into the mountains. I thought I had enough gas and daylight to get through any mountain pass – in my previous experience, you can’t go that far in Turkey without encountering people and therefore, help, if you needed it. Now I know that maxim does not apply to tractor roads that wind through the mountaintops of Central Anatolia. As the road worsened, I encountered rocks, boulders, fallen snowcaps, really deep ridges, a few streams to cross, and precarious edges. Oddly I was listening to the Little Match Girl Passion, which is a weird operatic rendition of the tale and sad and crazy and rising at the same time – needless to say, it’s not really good road trip music and probably fueled some of the crazy thoughts going through my head.
At this point, I just thought that something would happen to the road, like it would end at a cliff, or off a cliff, or a stream would block my car’s passage and I would have to turn around and therefore lose time.
Then I imagined acts of god: that the rain would pick up and a terrible mudslide would send me over the edge of the mountain, or a snowcap would fall on my head.
Maybe breathing some fresh air and a bathroom break would be relaxing, I thought, so I pulled over by a nice rock and planned to chill for a few minutes. But my transmission wouldn’t budge from the Drive position. Now I had a new kind of problem, and this time it wasn’t just in my head. Uh oh. My car has triptronic, which means that you can pretend you’re driving the car in manual if you want some control in random situations, like a crazy mountain pass in the middle of nowhere – perfect! I tried every which way to get the car out of Drive, but no luck.
Thanks to years of staring at electrical diagrams in my nuclear power jobs, I knew that there was probably an interlock that prevented me from starting the car if the gear wasn’t in Park, so my Number 1 Rule was under no circumstances should I turn the car off.
Because the road was so narrow and I could no longer reverse my car, I put the car in 1st gear, and hoped for the best as I continued along the pass.
The GPS said I had about 30 more miles on this road, but I had no idea what that meant in terms of terrain. I also no longer had phone service, so I couldn’t get a friend to google what was wrong with my car.
My mind raced with checklists.
How much gas do I have? Nearly 1/2 tank, which is normally plenty for driving around in Turkey. Would it be enough now?
Do I have food? Yes, a few Clif bars, an apple I stole from the hotel, a bag of nuts, and along with a case of water in the trunk, I had seen plenty of spring fountains along the road – a nice, comforting public resource found all over Turkey.
Do I know where I am? Somewhere in central Anatolia, definitely in some mountains, but that’s about it. This was only a half consideration, since I could only drive forward, and there was only one road. My ignorance would only be a real problem if something else happened to the car.
My car problems overrode the bathroom break earlier, and I finally decided to pull over, put the car in 1st and put on the Emergency Brake to get a little relief. That was lucky timing, because another few minutes down the road I saw a bunch a sheep and six very aggressive dogs who jumped all over my car. I don’t know if they would have been friendlier if I was on foot and less menacing, or if they would have attacked me while I was squatting on the edge of the road. But I didn’t even really care about the dogs – I was so happy to see signs of people!
Another hour and a few more dogpacks and I was in the town of Çay. I asked for directions to any big road, and quickly got directed onto the road to Ankara! Since I was also back in the land of cellphone reception, I called a friend to verify if my car had some kind of interlock. Eventually, after consultation with a mechanic in Washington, I knew that my worst option was to turn off the car. I had about three hours left, and probably enough gas, so I kept going. I don’t remember my nerves being so frazzled! Luckily with the help of friends keeping me phone company, I made it all the way back to Ankara, and parked the car in front of my building, outside the gate, and crashed (in my bed).
This is my route:
If you click on it you can zoom in on the satellite imagery of the mountains.
A mechanic came to verify that the car couldn’t be started, then set up the tow truck. About 24 hours later, they brought the car back. The release pin on the transmission was broken, which explains the locked gear. They weren’t sure if it was from the car being jostled on the bumpy road, or just bad luck. They couldn’t find anything else wrong with the car, and I hope they’re right. We have a pretty big road trip planned for the summer, and repairs are never fun!
Of course I haven’t learned my lesson. Now that I know the mountain pass exists, I want to go back and explore it – maybe not so close to sunset, and definitely with a friend and better planning. I was a little shaken once my transmission locked that I didn’t stop to take any pictures, and frankly, it was beautiful up there!
Even with a 1500 TL repair bill, I still feel I got off very lucky. I was smart enough not to turn off the ignition when I realized the transmission was stuck, and prevented myself from getting stuck on a mountaintop, alone, without adequate gear as night fell. I also had enough gas to get all the way home, which saved me from chancing a random mechanic who may or may not be able to work on my car and having to stay somewhere on the road while waiting for my car. And, now I know a great place to take a Sunday drive.