I’ve always had an affinity for the rough-n-tumble 4×4 life, despite a complete lack of experience: the dust, the obsession with collapsible cookware, the chakalaka. Now I was going on a three-week off-road adventure, and I’d never been so excited.
I was finally on my way to realising a dream: becoming a woman with freckled arms and a dusty face who can swear in twelve languages, a woman as comfortable in a twelve-wheeler truck as she is casually beating the local badboy at pool in a dingy bar. (This woman can also drink Marlon Brando under the table, as well as the rhino he rode in on, without compromising her ripped six-pack. It was never going to be a practical goal.)
Nevertheless, it came as a nasty surprise to find that the actual driving part of this whole malarkey was as much fun as dropping your braaibroodjie in the sand. These are a few of my problems with the endeavour.
1. Constant vigilance
I’m a pretty good driver – in my normal life, in my normal car. But driving a tank with the turning circle of a comatose humpback whale is a different kettle of cetaceans. It involves calculating precise escape routes for each constellation of potholes, at speed if you have any hope of getting to your campsite before dark, looking for elephants on the horizon, trying to eat one-handed Niknaks, whilst remaining hyper-vigilant because at any moment an ostrich may attempt to spatchcock itself on your windscreen. And this is before you’ve even left the tar.
2. The misplaced romance
“Two roads diverged in a wood. I took the one less travelled by, and that has made all the difference.” Perhaps Robert Frost had an enemy of state on board, whom he was rattling for information. Perhaps he had some cream that desperately needed churning for that evening’s beurre noisette. Other than that, the main difference I can see is that the road less travelled is more likely to host a military roadblock. Moral of the story: never ask a poet for directions.
3. Water crossings
Humans have been doing water crossings for thousands of years, and we’ve actually managed to come up with a pretty nifty method for it – it’s called a boat. Cars have no business with snorkels. They should be returned to the garage with the beachbats. You know what I call a great water crossing? A bridge.
Your estimated time is like an oasis: the closer it sounds, the farther it is.
5. The technicalities
The whole point of 4x4ing is getting yourself into sticky situations. Yet getting yourself out of them involves a strange mix of disarming-a-bomb delicacy, highly technical information, things your Uncle Gerry told you one time, and black magic. Lower your tyre pressure, lock your wheel to the left, tap the winch twice, sacrifice a chicken to Saint Difflockius, and hope for the best.
6. The glorious isolation
The best thing you can say about 4×4 driving is that it can get you to some absolutely beautiful places. (Then again, so can the airport turn-off at the N2.) But there’s still the chance that after you’ve driven for six hours, long enough to be baked into your own person-sized mud pie crust, you’ll arrive at your super-remote campsite to find Frikkie van Tonder, your ex from high school, unpacking at the next campsite with his parents. Yes, they still hate you.
For some people, sand is the fundamental principle from which all holidays spring. Some people go for hundreds of kilometres to lie on sand, to play games on sand, to drink cocktails on the sand. But yet again, we have a fundamental misunderstanding between 4x4ers and sane people about what cars are for. Spending your time climbing sand, with a car, doesn’t make any sense. And then it makes that slippy, sloshy feeling when you go sideways down the tracks as if it’s actually water instead of sand… None of this is natural.
8. Dust is not Aromat
There are some things in this world that taste good on everything – cream, MSG, Tom Hardy. Dust, no matter how fine or richly coloured it is, just does not fit the bill.
9. It rattles your brains loose
This is my biggest quarrel with 4x4ing. After a few weeks, I must have shaken my brain out of its bracket because I found myself wondering, “but what happens if we go this way?” Not twenty minutes later, I considered climbing up a hill just to see what was on the other side. It was almost as if I was enjoying the journey, not the destination. And then we got stuck again and I came to my senses.