Back to School.
I introduce a friend to the wonders of off road driving in a 58 year old Land Rover. Reproduced by kind permission of Land Rover World Magazine.
Like most adult children, my pal Richard has hankered after a Land Rover for years. Reasoning, with a spot of mans logic, that his children would love it and an old one would cost little. I suggested a days off road training in my 80 inch to fuel his enthusiasm. Our nearest off road play area is just outside Husband Bosworth in Leicestershire. Avalanche Adventure, I knew from my old trialling days, offers an excellent range of conditions from steep slopes to mud holes straight from the jungles of Guatemala.
I phoned Robin Sayer to book us in for a very reasonable £25 for the day. Robin suggested a weekday as we should have the place to ourselves. This suited Richard and I as our partners could join us, minus children, who would be at school. I refitted the roll cage to my 80 inch and checked all functions, then Jo and I drove out to the site to meet Richard and Sam. The weather was fantastic and, as it hadn’t rained for weeks, the site was hard baked mud, hence plenty of grip. Robin met us and described the terrain available, warning us not to venture into the mud holes in the woods as they were over a metre deep.
Failed hill climb.
As Richard was a newcomer to off road driving I ran through the routine of keeping thumbs out of the steering wheel, how to operate 4WD and the importance of using the torque of the engine, rather than high revs. First lesson was what to do on a failed hill climb. Starting off on an easy climb I encouraged Richard to let the Land Rover stall, hold it on the foot brake and assess the situation, before engaging reverse, keeping the front wheels straight, then reversing backwards using engine braking alone. With this cracked we progressed to more severe slopes as Richard became accustomed to using engine braking rather than the foot brake.
Next was side slope control. Negotiating a steep side slope is what newcomers always find the most worrying. They can’t believe the Land Rover is not going to roll over. It’s a great thrill to encourage someone to carry on, when they are ready to jump out! Again, we started on some tame slopes, but reassured by the presents of the roll cage and belts progressing to more severe ones with complete competence which even had my botty twitching!
After the dry weather deep water wading was not possible, but the one big puddle was about a foot deep so we covered the spark plugs with an old plastic sack and went for it. No bow wave but wet trousers from the splash as the brown water came up over the bonnet. This seemed a good time to break for lunch and join the girls in the shade of a gazebo, quench our thirst and indulge in a few sandwiches. Richard was getting the bug and Sam delved into the LRW small ads. in search of a possible purchase.
After lunch I thought we could do our best to chuck it all up again by trying engine braking when descending a steep hill. We tried a few easy ones to start with as Richard learnt to resist planting his foot on the brake pedal as I explained it would do nothing on a steep muddy hill. This prepared us both nicely for the steepest hill on the site. Richard drove to the edge and stopped to survey the scene. Leaning cautiously out of the sides we looked down a near vertical slope with a drop of about three Land Rover lengths, before it returned to the level in a gentle curve. The hill was so steep that had it not been so smooth there would be a real danger of going end over end, but without potholes and ruts and the easy run out I reasoned that it would be safe. I instructed Richard to keep the wheels facing straight down hill and not to touch the brake and, with our hearts in our mouths over we went. It felt vertical and caused us both to utter an expletive! As we bottomed out the front wheels were pushed right up into the wings and the rear wheels almost left the ground before all levelled out in the most gentle landing. It was so good we did it again just for the hell of it.
Mud a metre deep
Lastly, we thought we’d tackle the woods and took the trail in through a gap in the hedge. Entering a different World, we were in the cool of shady mature trees and the track was damp and muddy. The jungle conditions were a total contrast to the fierce sun outside as we picked our way over tree roots and through muddy ruts. Robin’s warnings long forgotten we drove into one of the mud holes and immediately became stuck in very wet mud that came up to the tops of the front wheels. We were at quite a jaunty angle and the rear wheels were still on dry land, but nothing like enough grip to reverse out. Once stuck it is best not to panic, but to get out and take a long, calculating, look at the problem and assess the best solution. After all, you’re not going to become more stuck by doing nothing. I thought we may be able to winch forwards through it, until I stepped in and the mud came up to my thighs. Maybe with lots of pulleys and snatch blocks we could pull ourselves out backwards? We tried in vain for an hour before phoning Knight in Shining Armour, Robin, who came along in his tractor and easily pulled us out with a ‘told you so’ grin on his face.
With that we called it a day, refitted the screen, cleaned the mud off the number plate and headed for home. Richard now firmly addicted to the pastime we know and love and after an hour and a half's jet washing my venerable 80 inch was back to its more usual retirement mode, but had proved it could still cut the mustard in the most challenging of situations.
Avalanche Adventure. 01858 880613 www.avalancheadventure.co.uk
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