The Inverse of Alexander: Istanbul to Athens

A Phyrgian king had bound a chariot yoke/And Alexander cut the Gordian Knot/And legend said that who untied that knot/He would become the Master of Asia
Upon arrival in Istanbul, we were interned in a VIP lounge at the airport while the government figured out what to do with us. Meanwhile, the gigantic Antonovs bearing the automobiles had been refused permission to land due to the snafu in Germany , leaving us stranded in Turkey while our cars sat hundreds of miles away, having been diverted to the next day's destination of Athens. While most of the rest of the Gumballers hopped a flight to Greece the morning after a party on the edge of the Bosporus, Michael Ross and Alex Roy had arranged for us to hitch a ride with Alikanur and Kemal of the Turkish Taxi team.

The Taxi boys had rented a Mercedes in London for the trip to Hahn, hopped the flight to Istanbul and then set out in a refurbished example of one of the many minibuses that dot the landscape of Western Turkey. The thing was a hoot, and what it lacked in speed, it made up for in range and comfort. But as the day grew later and Kemal still hadn't shown up, we decided to accept Jarod DeAnda and Fly's offer of a ride-along in two of the Volkswagen Sharan support vans.

Donated for the rally by sponsor Addison Lee, who planned to press the minivans into service as what we in the US would know as livery cars once Gumball was done with them, the Sharans arrived brand new. The van we picked up in Istanbul only had 2,000 miles on it. Roy, Ross, DeAnda and Fly piled into one van, while I hopped in with Gumball staffers Dan and Johnny. Since Alex had a route plotted, we let the Fly-piloted van take the lead, and let's just say the old boy set quite a pace. Once we got out of Constantinople-town, it was a 100-120mph dash across some of the bumpiest main roads I've ever encountered. At one point, the rear of the Sharan got so bumpy and light I was hoping that we weren't going to re-enact a diesel-powered version of Torquenstein's 2004 wreck in North Africa. Luckily, that didn't come to pass.

We missed the turn into the Turkish border crossing with the boys in the other van staring in disbelief as Dan braked hard through a red octagonal sign reading "DUR." We realized later that there were men with machine guns just down that particular road, and they must've wondered what in hell the crazy yahoos in a Fußballmutterwagen were up to. We spent 45 minutes at the checkpoint being sent around in circles before we realized that the problem was that the vans had been driven into the country by different people. Digging around, the Gumball crew came up with a list of approved drivers.

Hitting the road again, Alex realized that we were gaining on the Aytac boys in their Ferrari 456GT, the only other team besides Turkish Taxi and our Sharan convoy to make the drive to Athens. And in true Alex fashion, he devised a plan. At a gas stop, we all piled in to the mini mart to stock up on snacks. I fatefully discovered the coveted DAF banner. While ambling back to the van, treats in tow, Roy suddenly came flying out of the store with an armful of masking tape and commanded, "Johnson! I need your help!" Thus ensued a mass stickering of the Fly-piloted Sharan with makeshift Team Polizei livery. The plan was to catch up to Aytac, shadow them until they made a gas stop and then hammer forward to victory, arriving triumphant in Athens. It didn't quite work. The rain came down in falls as soon as we left the station, washing the Polizei VW of its haphazard markings. Aytac (both great guys, by the way), after swapping a Subaru alternator into their Fezza, put the distance on us.

Meanwhile, Johnny became enamored of the Dream Sandwich, a pseudo-sub that seemed to consist largely of bread. We made a final fuel stop about an hour or so out of Athena's fair city, where we fueled up on Greek pastries; once into town we paid a taxi driver to lead us to the Hilton. Cruising through a flashing yellow light (apparently, a said signal means something different in Greece than it does in the UK or US), we were nearly T-boned by a Skoda cab with no intention of stopping. We pulled in with a few miniscule bits of tape stuck to the Polizei Sharan while the DAF banner hung proudly in the rear of our vehicle. We bailed on the Hilton and headed for the airport Sofitel, so's to be closer to the cars in anticipation of their release the next morning.

With all of the smack that's been talked about the rich fucks in their expensive cars since the Macedonian accident, people tend to forget that part of the joy of these rallies is the sheer ingenuity they engender, not to mention the fun involved that doesn't necessarily have anything to do with speed. What's not wonderful about tooling through the mountains of Greece singing along with Dean Martin? Or scoring official patches from Turkish border patrol agents? Or stop signs that read "DUR?" I think anyone in those two vans would agree it was the most enjoyable day of Gumball; even if we weren't in the M5 — maybe because we weren't in the M5 — it encapsulated the anything-can-happen nature of a transcontinental rally. While some guys may sign up to drive fast and bone hookers at every stop, the thing I've appreciated most about rallying is the sense of instant camaraderie that develops; the shared wonder at seeing things we never thought we'd encounter. The Istanbul-Athens run? It was an absolute shining example of that.

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