06 December 2018 20:51
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"Here you notice that the vehicle has to work hard," says Mike Kammermann, shifting down another gear so that the truck can manage the steep ascent. The little roads all around the Klöntalersee in Switzerland's Glarus canton aren't exactly the worst terrain for running in the Axor-based expedition vehicle in readiness for the mega-tour that will kick off very soon.
Meanwhile, the starting shot has been fired: since 9 June, Mike and Andrea Kammermann are on tour as part of their "4-Xtremes" adventure, driving on roads that are often unpaved, unlike in their native Switzerland. The couple wants to advance right into Russia's far east before heading back to Switzerland. This superlative journey will stretch over eleven months and approximately 45,000 kilometres (see the info box for additional information about the stages of the journey and their most important destinations).
But back to the Klöntalersee, with its surface shimmering mysteriously between towering rocks – and back to the expedition vehicle. Which is based on an Axor 1829 with a 6.3-litre six-cylinder inline engine, eight-speed manual transmission with an additional crawler gear, engageable all-wheel drive with three differential locks and reduction gear. Built in 2007, the vehicle was previously owned by the German Bundeswehr armed forces.
As the most important modification to the truck, whose clock showed 72,000 kilometres at the time of acquisition, the Kammermanns had the diesel tanks replaced in favour of two extra-large tanks with a total fuel capacity of 800 litres. They enable a range of around 3500 kilometres between pit stops, giving the 4-Xtremes team a high measure of security even in sparsely populated areas.
In addition, the tanks, fuel lines and diesel filter are also heated. "Diesel freezes at minus thirty degrees and we will be experiencing considerably lower temperatures than that," Mike explains. Another change that only seems to be secondary: installing a secure and comfortable basket on the engine tunnel for Aimée, the two adventurers' ten-year old Belgian shepherd. "She's already been with us on previous travels," Andrea tells us. "Which is why it was absolutely clear to us that we'd take her with us this time, too."
Regardless of whether the couple and their four-legged companion stop off in the Iranian desert or in Arctic Siberia: life continues as normal in the 4.5-metre-long box body living area which the Kammermanns have had installed by Dutch supplier Bliss Mobil. The steel-frame body with its glass-fibre reinforced plastic sandwich panels is remarkable in every way: "The box is insulated very well against both heat and cold," says Andrea. But still, it features electric floor heating and a separate air conditioning unit. In addition, there is another heating system for emergencies, which runs on diesel stored in small canisters.
Show piece of the kitchen unit is the in-built two-ring hob. "They have the great advantage of not heating up the interior during cooking," Mike explains. A three-kilo washing machine ensures a clean wardrobe, and the flat-screen is used by Andrea, who works as a photographer, to edit pictures taken on the road. All devices in the box that consume electricity are supplied with energy via solar panels on the roof.
The energy storage units, two packages with a total of 16 lithium-ion batteries, are invisibly stored beneath one of the U-shaped bench seats. "Thanks to the solar power system, we have a self-sufficient system." And the entire technology is connected to a wireless LAN configuration which allows it to be operated using a tablet – this is truly de luxe camping!
How did the Kammermanns actually obtain their ideal mobile? "It was clear from the start that we wanted to have a Mercedes," says Mike. The proven high quality of the engines, transmissions and axles in vehicles that bear the three-pointed star spoke in favour of that. "Those are simply the components upon whose reliability we are especially dependent." Still, the outstanding supply of Mercedes-Benz spare parts throughout the world is at least an equally important argument, 32-year-old Mike explains. "Regardless of all the quality: in view of the enormous demands placed on the vehicle during the tour, the question isn't whether there will be some sort of defect, rather more like when."
In order to reduce the risk of breakdowns even further, the couple decided early on to look for a military truck, a vehicle with the reputation of being particularly robust. What's more: it had to be a truck which met the Euro IV emissions norm. That's because there is almost no suitable fuel for Euro V and Euro VI trucks available in the far reaches of Asia, and at the same time, important a Euro III truck into Switzerland would have proven costly for the Kammermanns.
With such a limited choice, a total of three years passed before the two found their Axor via an advert from a dealership in Fulda, as Andrea recalls. "We drove there in a cloak-and-dagger operation – and were lucky."
Stay tuned! Part three of the RoadStars series, and thus the first on-the-road report from Andrea and Mike Kammermann, will be published at the end of July. After which the two adventurers will most likely be reporting about their travel experiences here every month.
Photos: Alexander Tempel, 4-Xtremes
Video: Alexander Tempel
4-Xtremes – the tour of superlatives.