For the past twenty years, the post graduate Zoological students of the University of Johannesburg that have earned their degree, but still have to do their practical year, come to me for a short 4×4 course.
They will need to use a 4×4 in order to get to the places where they will have to do their research for their final year’s studies. In the past the, lecturers received regular calls from the students, making statements along the lines of “I am stuck in Botswana in a river”.
Just a short practical course in the beginning of their final year has brought a lot of peace for the lecturers. On this course we give them a short basic theoretical lesson and then we go onto a real 4×4 route, where they get experience and learn the basics of off-roading.
This year we went on a route I last drove around two years ago. I knew it would be tough, but I had not known that the plants had grown so fast that we had to build roads at places. As a result, road building became part of the training.
The first section’s aim was to get them comfortable in the vehicle and learn the basics, like how to handle the clutch, throttle and steering. The very steep decent into a rivulet was extremely fun and everyone enjoyed the outing.
But then we went up the very steep mountainside with a lot of loose rocks. The main lesson here was: “rather retry than repair’’.
Nobody complains if you retry to get over a rock, but if you break the vehicle by overdoing it, repairs are expensive. We always say “rather do it over than to overdo it’’. Each student gets a chance to drive in every section of the route so that all of them get experience of everything that might wait for then during the year.
When we reached the top of the mountain, the worst awaited them. The “road’’ was built on top of the mountain, but if you made a mistake, the roll down into the valley would not be so much fun.
Here we learned that even the most experienced drivers will ask someone to direct them across the rocks when they cannot see over the bonnet of the vehicle, especially where we had to drive so very close to the edge, you just had to forget about ego and just trust the navigator.
Coming down the mountain was just as scary, but by that time the student, who were so scared of the steering wheel in the beginning, had enough confidence and we all got down safely.
In the valley with dense vegetation we had to pull fallen trees out the way and pack a few rocks into the ditches.
Nobody had driven that specific part of the route for the past two years and the bushes have closed the road in some places. We had to first walk and see if it would be possible to get through.
Even this part formed an important part of the training, because in research work the student might have to get to very remote places. We cleared the bigger trees and bushes, but the softer branches did not scratch the vehicles. The environment was so beautiful and the vegetation so green, that we felt sorry when we reached the end of the route.
The training was so successful that there was no damage to the vehicles and every student now wanted to buy a 4×4. They learned so quickly and enjoyed it so much and this is the only way to get them to remember the important lessons of 4×4 driving