I went to Somogybabod in Hungary to witness the 30th edition of the largest off-road festival in Central Europe. This is what happened during taking on a few kilos of mud.
“By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
Genesis 3: 20
It’s all about the struggle.
I mean it has to be about the struggle. I cannot interpret it in any other way. Why would anyone build an off-road truck, drag it across Europe, blow some of the family savings at a weekend where one could get the experience of being shit-faced, trying to get the 4x4 on a vertical wall, spending seemingly endlessly long minutes - if not hours - trying to get it off where it was stuck, sticking those mud-covered legs out of the engine bay to get the damned thing restarted in the torrential rain, then repeat all this the next day, then the following one to finally pack everything up and haul all that jazz back to the other side of the continent?
Because that’s what men do: trying to make things work in our lives. If it’s working just fine, we find other struggles to deal with. Or just eff up the existing one - the father of many divorces.
So yeah. It is difficult to find another get-together of men trying to do manly things that is so pointless in its manliness. I am probably one of those who define themselves less than manly, whose testosterone-balancing acts are exhausted in successfully drilling a hole in the wall to hang up a guitar or something.
That said, I was somewhat curious what this annual off-road thing was all about that kept returning for the 30th time in my neighborhood - less than 25 miles from where I live - yet I never got to experience it.
A bit of context then, just for kicks.
Somogybabod (pronounced closer to ‘shomodbabod’ - it’s a bit difficult to explain non-existent phonemes to the English language) is situated in the North-East of Somogy county, in South-West Hungary. This used to be a land of some real Game of Thrones-like of stuff over a thousand years ago, formerly owned by a Khal Drogo-kind of figure, plotting a charge for the throne in the name of ancient religion against the favoured, state-founding future Hungarian king. His failure meant Hungary was born and Scotland gained a saint (now there’s a cliffhanger for you).
By terrain it is very much like Southern England - as former Jalopnik-writer Péter Orosz explained it to me while discovering the secret race track of Budapest - and after having lived in the South-West of England, I can testify to that. I would even go so far that it has a hint of Wales as well.
What does all this nonsense mean?
Well, you got hills. Not big ones, but annoyingly many of them - requiring some significant earth-work at larger constructions - which makes the area ideal for some off-road action. Because hills have elevation, hills have grass and hills have mud flowing on the side when there’s no grass on them any more.
The buzz is instantly there when you get to the village where small Toyotas mix with purpose-built turbodiesel monsters cruising on the main road or just getting towed to the spot. That brown slush is just flowing down the mountain and you try to swim upstream to get anywhere near the real action.
It’s the cigarette-blended smell of beer, pork chops, some idiosyncratic use of language, the pumping music, the roar of V8s and the whistle of turbos and it’s...
...it’s organized chaos...
Man and machine might have never come together in that sort of unity before. Literally. There’s always a 4x4 to run you over and there’s always a 4x4 to drag out from the mud by manpower, as if you were parachuted into the largest congestion of non-English-speaking rednecks. My very first thought was “there’s nothing happening here, actually, but that nothing is happening very intensely”. The ‘wailing wall’ is virtually open for everyone who were able to get up to that spot already - which was made easier by the previous day’s sunshine, but that’s about to change.
Meanwhile, people are flocking in and I’m clenching fingers around my 1.5-litre beer bottle, getting a good laugh at some people - wasted with obscure beverages on the inside and wasted by mud on the outside - when an old bloke stands right in my face. “That was a helluva climb, my lungs are wasted, could you spare me a few drops of your beer?” Her steaming-hot daughter (?) bursts out with laughter, so I say “sure, go ahead”. “Thank you, my dear sir.” he mumbles as he almost swings the bottle around his head. Still, don’t get any more smiles from the girl. Dammit.
As the excitement of seeing some BMW-buggies kicking some mud dies down and gets a bit repetitive, I decide to pay a visit to ‘the wallow’ where the manliest of manly things happen. Getting there is a challenge by itself, the edge of the nearby crops field is already destroyed due to the traffic across it as the regular ‘road’ is completely wasted. There’s an unusual tug-of-war game going on between an ancient Mercedes Unimog and a Jeep with a foreign licence plate. The Unimog wins without trying really hard, but then it is stuck in the small lake, stalling the engine. The roof hatch opens and the guy inside gives a shout to the small crowd: “Does anybody have brake cleaning spray? How about some deodorant? Girls, what about you? You don’t carry any in your purse? OK, how about some cigarettes, then?”
By that time, the rain is all-consuming. Some guys from the local forestry watch the events unfolding, having nothing else but a T-shirt on top. Yep, they know that struggle those in the pond are experiencing. That’s part of what they do every day in their Lada Nivas. Finally, heavy artillery is brought in, and a truck with actual weight has to pull them out. The Unimog still won’t start, though. Power cables are prepared and the V8 Jeep comes over for help. One of the Merc guys goes “Oi, how do you say ‘battery’ in German?” “It’s ‘battery, bitte’” someone shouts. Then tractors starting to roll in without any effort that sort of kills the macho image of these off-roaders and that’s when I decide to go back to the main action. It’s a bloody nightmare. The roads got so wet that trucks are towing each other out of ditches and holes on the way to the wallow. What would usually be a five-minute walk under normal circumstances ends up being over half an hour.
Back at the wailing wall Range Rovers get stuck, quad bikes buzz around, people do waterskiing in the mud while getting towed by trucks. The madness and mudness is relentless. People sliding into the pool, then unable to get out. 4x4s getting stuck in mud downhill, beer spilled, music pumping, the whole nine yards, but everyone is having a great time in this less-than-pointless festival of struggle.
Because this is what it is all about. People could have chosen to stay home, but they chose to get covered in dirt while walking or driving from A to B. It’s the annual struggle they came here for. Not necessarily to get somewhere, but to try and get somewhere. At least trying without too much risk involved other than trying not to kill themselves or anyone else in the process.
Reaching out for something you’ve got to feel
While clutching to what you had thought was real