The N14 between Centurion and Randburg has turned into a battleground where legends are being made and egos are dented.
This battle between individuals with 4x4s comes as a result of the N14 receiving a facelift, which means that only one lane is currently open each way. On average, it adds around 40 minutes to what used to be a 35-minute trip between my house and the Leisure Wheels office.
I’d like to be bitter about it, but I’m actually thankful as that road was in desperate need of attention.
The battle between egos is massively entertaining and I’m going to miss it 18 months from now, when the road is finally completed.
The contest starts early in the morning, every morning, as drivers sit in line waiting for their opportunity to merge into the one open lane. It took the guys in their 4x4s about five minutes to work out that they could easily access the R114, which runs adjacent to the N14 and ends up in the same place. The only problem is the steep sand embankment and the badly corrugated gravel road you have to cross in order to get there.
On the first day, the diversion started with a middle-aged driver in a short-wheelbase Pajero. He came all the way from the back of the queue and approached the rather tricky incline with the kind of determination you rarely see on a cold Monday morning in Gauteng.
The Pajero completed the obstacle successfully, much to the delight of other guys in 4x4s sitting in the traffic. A few other drivers followed the example set by the Pajero man but, for the most part, those in their fancy 4x4s just sat there, patiently waiting their turn to merge.
I also declined to follow in Pajero’s tracks, partly because I didn’t know whether it was legal or not, but mostly because I was behind the wheel of my own Kia Picanto.
By next morning, it had become standard practice for every owner of a decent 4×4 to take the escape route. I was counting down the days until the delivery of a brand new Renault Duster long-termer for the Leisure Wheels stable, hoping I could do the same.
At this point the metro police had also started using this side route, which made it completely legal in my eyes.
As I sat there, day after excruciating day, I couldn’t help but notice a new level of bravado from my fellow road users. At first it was only proper 4x4s with low-range that headed up that slope. Then it was SUVs with all-wheel drive, and then even 4×2 bakkies. That’s when things got really interesting.
Most 4×2 owners don’t use their bakkies for anything more than crawling up the pavement at the local mall, and you could see as much from the way they tackled this new challenge. Those with off-road experience took it slowly, as one should, but the rank amateurs attacked that slope with a dangerous blend of anger and acceleration. The front wheels would make it, but the rear wheels would then bog down in the soft sand, unable to push the rest of the car over the top. This soon resulted in deep ditches forming on the embankment, and red faces behind the steering wheel.
Some people admitted defeat and rejoined the line, but a few guys stuck with it and eventually got through, on sheer tenacity. One would think that seeing a demonstration like this would put people off, but alas…
After two weeks of watching the spectacle every morning, I finally took possession of the Duster and could join in the fun. It powered up there like a champ, leaving the oke in the 4×4 behind me nodding in approval.
Perhaps my fellow short-cut enthusiasts had made it look too easy in the two weeks after that, because I drove up to the obstacle one morning only to find a queue had formed there as well.
It turned out there was a backlog of off-roaders waiting for two guys in a Mazda 323 to get over the embankment. The Mazda approached it at speed, but got stuck. The front wheels made it over, but that’s as far as they got.
After a few attempts, the passenger got out while the driver attempted another run. Another failed attempt later, they finally reversed the vehicle, but only to let a few annoyed drivers in 4x4s get through.
I was the last one through and when I looked in my rear-view mirror, I could see the Mazda crew preparing to have another go. I don’t know whether they made it, but I haven’t seen a hatch try it since. – Gerhard Horn