If there is one thing that Francois Rossouw knows all about it is that terrible thing called man ego. Through the years, he has seen it at varying levels and knows what disasters it can lead to. The only thing that beats it, he says, is “woman ego”
We went to the desert once again. This time it was with a group that knew each another, and I thought we were all in for a pleasant time. I seriously misjudged myself.
On the first day or so, everybody was good friends, as though they were at home before embarking on the trip. But when the dunes got bigger, the picture started changing rapidly. An all-consuming fear of getting stuck developed among the friends and they became dangerously desperate and competitive to master every dune. Getting stuck was just not on the agenda. Getting towed out was totally taboo.
The situation became unpleasant, and I called the participants together for a talk, but it fell on deaf ears. Apparently they had a bet going to see who could last the longest without deflating their tyres. Eventually, things became just stupid, and I was worried about what was going to happen when we got to the really big dunes.
Then the unavoidable happened and the first vehicle got stuck at the bottom of a dune, just as the next dune started. The three passengers got out and started to push while the driver tried his best to get moving again. Then the spades came out, and the men were digging, pushing and praying that they could just get over the next dune until one of the other vehicles got stuck. It was obvious that they were trying everything to avoid being the first people to be towed out or succumb to deflating their tyres. They moved forward very slowly and eventually held up the convoy. The expensive whiff of clutch burning was hanging in the air.
I had to find a solution for this man-ego thing which, to this day, I still don’t fully understand. I called all the drivers together and suggested that all tyres be deflated to 0,8-bar, to get a level fighting ground. They agreed, as long as everybody complied.
I then walked down and deflated my Fortuner’s front tyres to 0,8-bar. The Fortuner literally jumped out of the loose sand and took off as though it had wings. This broke the ice, and I saw everybody letting down their tyres.
In a few minutes, though, I noticed some of the drivers checking their tyre pressures when no one else was looking. I just shook my head. This man ego thing has cost many people a lot of money, but trying stop it just doesn’t seem to work.
We had a very good friend, Heston Ferreira, who was extremely capable when it came to off-road driving. He loved to go first when we came to very difficult obstacles. Then he would motivate and psych up the others to have a try. And he mocked them if they were “chicken”. At the same time, however, he knew when to stop.
One day, when a group of 4×4 people came together at Tuinskloof near Patensie, Eastern Cape, Heston was there. When he conquered the newly made “Impossible Hill’’, everybody tried – over and over again. Heston had failed to disclose that his Isuzu was equipped with a front diff lock, which definitely is not standard.
The men tried all they could, but for the first time I saw that woman ego was even worse than the men’s egos. One lady was cheering her man on, and became very excited. He drove a standard Prado with highway-type tyres and just could not get up the hill. His wife shouted and cheered and urged him on, in vain. The driver said that if he tried any harder he would damage the car, but she insisted, even promising to buy him a new Prado. He had to get up, no matter what.
Eventually, we persuaded the bloke to throw in the towel. His wife was very angry, so much so that she refused to drive home with him that evening, and drove off with friends who lived nearby. I was so thankful that I was not the one who would have to sleep next to her that night!
That obstacle on Flip Fourie’s farm is now called Prado Hill. A year after the incident the same driver came back with a Prado fitted with suspension lift and a front diff lock. He drove up Prado Hill… without his wife being there to witness the feat.