The renown Dutch magazine on off-roading, 4WD Auto Magazine, regularly organizes beginners courses in off-roading. I enlisted for a one day training on a sunny November day on the off-road track in Oss.
Two trained instructors, Dick van Zijl en Loek NN, bantering friends and both experienced in off-roading on an international level, showed a good twenty people with twelve cars the first steps of off-road driving. Firstly theory in the instruction room of the track office building, where it was appropriately pointed out that off-road driving is about walking: walking the track for reconnoitering, walking the hill for looking what is behind such as a one mile drop, for walking the water brook to look for deep holes or big under-surface rocks. And all that walking is to be done by the navigator/passenger :-). Then the various technical issues were discussed, such as thumbs on the steering wheel, tyres, approach and exit angles of the cars, etc. Coffee, 'slagroomsoesjes,' and this theory took the first hour or so.
Then the next theoretical phase of the
course: screening the cars. Apart from my Discovery, there was one
other Discovery Series II, two older Discos, a Defender 110 and a 90,
a new and still shiny Nissan Patrol, a powerful 4.2TD Toyota Land
Cruiser leaving for Africa in a few months, an Opel Frontera with two
Scouts, a nicely restored 1954 Nekaf jeep, a Mitsubishi, and last but
not least a little Suzuki. Quite a nice assortment cars. Each car
was walked around with the group and the instructors, and all the
potential breakables were pointed out, e.g., the electrical connection
lower than the (low) towing point, and the wheel arches, sometimes
made from brittle hard plastic.
My car had too much electronic for the liking of the instructor: it
extends the potential of the car so much that when things ultimately
go wrong, they really go wrong! OK, so I must be reticent about what
I will tackle off-road or not. I wanted to be careful anyhow, as it's
our family car we depend on for daily kids-carrying and commuting to
work too. Finally, we went on the track.
The exercise to start with is on the beginning of the very first hill, about 25 metres driving from the off-road parking area. The story is that an ascend failed and you have to return down. Step one is to use foot brake and clutch, shift to backward gear, and let both feet come up simultaneously. Next step is to do the same but not use the foot brake but use the zero momentum on the highest point for gear shifting, and the last step was to fully turn off the engine, foot brake, R gear, both feet up, and then turn on the engine. The cars then comes down unexpectedly smoothly.
After that each car had his/her turn in the exercise (two rows, so it didn't take that long, the next exercise started from the top of that hill: down, approximately 20 metres, turn right, maintain speed in the mud down below, and up on the next hill. One instructor at the starting point, and one at the end point. Main action of the first instructor: 'go slow,' and main action of the second a frantic arm swinging for 'speed up.' Yet, we all came to the top without any problems, just a bit muddy tyres.
The track ahead was crossed perpendicularly by three ramps, normally used for motor cycle jumps, but now as a exercise in crossing ramps. The trick is here to drive on the extreme left side of the track, then on top of the ramp drive to the right side, and continue down the ramp on the right. Not a difficult exercise. After we all had done the three ramps, we hopped in the car and simply drove back in column: back over the three ramps, down the hill, through the mud, up the other hill which seemed so horribly steep while going down the first time, and down the gentle slope to the parking area: lunch. We apparently were so ravenous that we just took the track in a couple of minutes which took us nearly two hours with the exercises thrown in.
After lunch, soup and typically Dutch rolls with ham and cheese with milk for drinks, the course goes on. First several exercises on short steep hills for clutch and brake control, and plenty of discussion on choosing the right route upward and downward. Then the ignominious 30cm deep and 50cm wide ruts to cross without becoming cross-axled.
Driving off the field with the ruts, we look down on our left, and see that we are apparently 30 metres higher than surrounding area. And thank goodness our direction is not on the track going the left; that is for more advanced off-roaders, we guess. We go for something different: a grass track down a very slippery field is hardly drivable. The instructor Loek shows how to do it in his very well equipped Toyota, and needs all his efforts to get through. The Nekaf jeep gives it a go, and gets through too, but the next car is heavier and keeps sliding to some trees without getting anywhere near the right route. The others take a short-cut, only doing the slippery grass track without the mud/grass detour. Using the Traction Control fully, my car gets through that track nicely.
Because our cars have become a bit muddy, the instructors decide it is now time for a bath: in another field there is a track that just disappears half a metre under a very large water pool. Twenty metres further on the track becomes visible again. And in line we drive through. Easy, and not so very deep. The first ones jump out of the car for taking pictures. Gladly I hand my camera to one of the passengers standing-by, and go for a second round. After the first 13 cars have passed through the tracks has deepened somewhat and the water makes a very nice wave in front of the car. Very impressive. And very much fun. By all means, I go for a third round, and this time not holding back. The water splashing on the hood now shows that I had better not do more audacious things than this today.
Now we are getting the hang
of it, the next bit is more challenging. We drive in column
again to the other side of the tracks area and hold in line.
I'm quite at the end of the line, and I can't
see what we're going to do now. Every gets out of the cars for the
pre-exercise instruction. Weeeeeee, it's that 30m downward track that
we passed on earlier today. Scary. The instruction is easy enough:
drive down slowly, don't go through the big pool down there as it will
decrease speed, keep on the left of the track and increase speed,
and then drive back up that other track to the top. Another track?
We walk over to the top of the other track
and see that is equally daunting. Will cars of any make drive up
that hill? Nah, I don't believe it, but the first two cars do it
without any apparent difficulty. Most drivers are a bit reticent,
so I can easily take a turn. The Discovery with Hill Descend Control
on, in 2nd low range to be able to maintain speedy forward motion,
gets down there without a problem. That I feel like toppling forward
is just my lack of experience, still it feels very uncomfortable.
The 30 metres down there are sufficient to get to an acceptable speed
for the up-hill run, and the cars goes up and up and up -will it get
there- and up and up and YEEEES!!!! I hope that
it is common with the other drivers, but I feel exalted. The Nekaf
and the Suzuki are both a little short of breath for these long steep
hill climbs, and make it on the third try. Both get applauded. The
other make it like the Discovery with more or less similar grace.
The last exercise is about trial proper. The track between some 5 metre hills, is very muddy. The first bit is a good 30cm step that you have to take by driving your right side in the mud wall, where a trail will lift the front of the car up the step. Then the car will fall back from the wall on the track, and with sufficient speed you can get through. This exercise is potentially damaging to the car, so I agree with the instructor not to do this bit with mine. The other Discovery Series II does, but gets stuck so dangerously that the only way out is backwards, pulled by the instructor's Toyota. Only the Nekaf jeep, the Mitsubishi, and the high-powered Land Cruiser get through this one. Something gets wet under the hood of the Nekaf, and it has a starting problem.
Meanwhile it has turned dusk, and we drive in group back to the car park area and the track office buildings. En route, we come across the field with the water track, so we take that in our stride. Back in the building, we are presented with a very impressive certificate stating that we attended the 4WD beginners off-road course. On the road home again, I think that I'd better do some car cleaning in the near future.
Text and editing Copyright © 2000 Wim van Dorst
Photographs Copyright © 2000 Wim van Dorst, and some fellow trainees held the camera too