I learned a few lessons on our recent trip to Namibia with a selection of SA’s best double cab bakkies.
First and foremost, you should always fill your tank when the opportunity presents itself. Our managing editor, Jannie Herbst, had warned us on the first evening that there were no petrol stations on our route the next day, so we should fill our tanks in the morning. I decided that half a tank was probably enough and my trip computer said I had more than enough range for the Divorce Pass, and then some. So, instead of waking up early to fill the car, I snoozed for another 15 minutes.
The Isuzu KB I was driving started coughing about 30km short of our destination and 5km later, it died. As if that wasn’t bad enough, I had to communicate my misfortune via radio, which meant that every other car could hear the most shameful announcement I’ve ever had to make. Trust me when I say that you don’t want to be the “chop” that runs out of diesel, especially when you are a so-called motoring writer who should have known better.
Unfortunately, that’s not the only time my self-esteem was dented during our epic adventure. There’s nothing that damages a man’s ego quite as thoroughly as dune driving.
If I remember correctly, I was the second person on the trip to fall victim to the Namib’s unpredictability. The first casualty was a Hilux, but as we would learn over the following two days, getting stuck had very little to do with the cars. It was all about the driver and his/her willingness to commit to the art of dune driving. It’s so very different to any other kind of driving and you really have to force yourself to do something that simply doesn’t come naturally when you’ve been driving on many types of surface for more than ten years.
I had two big problems, the first being an inability to judge when I needed to remove my foot from the throttle. You have to keep it planted to reach the top, but you need to lift it at the right moment, to ensure that you don’t ramp the car over the edge. I eventually understood the sand’s resistance enough to tap off at the right time to get over the edge but, psychologically, it’s a whole different game.
It’s fine with the smaller dunes, but it’s a lot more difficult to push yourself over the edge when you don’t really know what’s on the other side. Our tour guide usually announced that we had a “steep one” coming up, but even that doesn’t prepare you.
You start by powering up the dune, lift off at the right time while hoping the car reaches the top and then there’s nothing but blue sky in front of you. The car then pitches forward and suddenly you are faced with a slip face that seems as though it’s never going to end.
Your first instinct is to brake, but as soon as you do that the car starts sliding sideways, which will inevitably lead to a world of pain and flying metal. As Isuzu’s product communications manager was a few cars ahead of me, I really didn’t want to announce a smashed KB over the radio!
It’s an interesting and humbling game that you play with yourself, and it’s something even the experts get wrong sometimes.
When our tour guide, Eben Delport, came on the radio and asked for the recovery car, I felt less ashamed about getting a KB buried up to its belly a few hours earlier.
If there’s a lesson in all of this, it’s that we should never be content about our driving ability, or refuse to accept that someone, somewhere might still be able to teach us something. I can’t even begin to remember the number of times one of the drivers in our convoy made fun of a stranded car, only to get stuck minutes later. Murphy can be a cruel, heartless son of gun!
In closing, I’d like to offer a piece of advice given to me by the driver of a bakkie that didn’t need a recovery the entire time we were there. He just quietly stood and watched as the various drivers attempted numerous dunes and then chirped each other over the radio.
“Wait until the trip is over,” he said, “and then you can start bragging without the fear of getting stuck on the very next dune”.
That’s great advice for any kind of off-road activity. Wait until you’ve completed every obstacle successfully before you pat yourself on the back, or else Murphy might sneak up and bite you in the bum.