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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.)

Photo by Tyson Jopson.

 
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

THIS IS NOT NATURAL.

THIS IS NOT NATURAL.


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.

 

4. ETAs

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.

 

7. Sand

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.



  • Ah, thanks for the chuckle, Kati. The big question is: would you do it again?

    • Kati Auld

      In a heartbeat! (Don’t tell anyone, though.)

  • Egbert van Tonder

    My 1st 4×4 trip was up to the Kunineriver,over the vanZyl’s pass down to Puros (desert elephantes} and back to Cape Town. What a wonderfull trip, nothing to beat it. I would love to do it again, but time has marched on, so nou it is only the memory —-.

  • Pat Delich

    What a hard case girl,good on ya.

  • Kati, I would love to take you on and tell you how wrong you are and to stop being a wussy city girl but the problem is that I agree with too many of the points that you make so I cant.

    I will say though that the moments / days where one ends up in some remote camp under huge African skies and its just the people you came with and no other human for miles around more than compensates for the above listed complaints. I hope that you will press on and overland again.

  • Debbie Cooper

    Love it. It’s a bit like camping – spending an awful lot of money to leave your comfortable house and bed and live like a homeless person, sleeping on a dodgy mattress in a rain-soaked tent. Of course, this is what we do, every chance we get (in a 4×4, on an unmarked track)

  • Janine

    Everything you said is true …. and I cant wait to do it again!!

  • Hennie Lacock

    Afrika is nie vir sissies nie 🙂

    • Jy kan dit weer se Daar is 2 soorte vrouens ,,1. die een wat hou van wit lakens.2.Die ander geniet ALLES wat daar is om te geniet in die lewe.
      Algemeen;; LIVE LIFE !!!!!!

  • Brilliant. You’ve given us the hard facts and although you’ve invaded manly space and made fun of it, this has got to be the best laugh I’ve had in a few months. Thank you. I would pay to see you go camping. 😀 😀

  • Chris Pretorius

    KATI , IT IS Chris Pretorius AGAIN (Hippos – Sabie River Sun) , never ever did I read something , about 4 x 4 driving, IN MY LIVE , LIKE THIS COMING FROM YOU , IT WAS SO FUNNY , I HAD TO GO AND PUT ON ANOTHER UNDER-PANT…………especialy this part ; ” but driving a tank with the turning circle of a comatose humpback whale is a different kettle of cetaceans”
    MENSIG , JY HET MY DAG GEMAAK !!!!!!!!!!!!, DIE VET WEET !!
    Ek (ons), hoop jy hou so aan om jouself te geniet !!!!!!!!!!!
    Soet Wees !
    Chris.

  • Well what do you expect? You did it in a Toyota, yuck

    • Kati Auld

      Ryan, you take that back! Land Cruisers are gods among cars.

      • So true, even if they do have a hard ride and the turning circle of a Sherman Tank…

  • Dirk

    Shame poor girl would rather stand in a qeue at the airport to get transfered from A to B, miss everything on the way and hand her fate to a gameviewer driver on the back of the vehicle in the dust.
    But she is entiteld to her view wich is obvious.
    On 2nd thought, fishing for reaction.
    She need a trip with people that enjoy the outdoor luving.

  • Hi all, I am a novice 4x4er and my main claim to 4×4 fame is driving half way up the Sani. Your gripe scares the hell out of me and makes me want to check out the facts “Close up and in Person”
    Noel

  • Adele

    My husband and his friend would disagree. If he gets stuck, he sees is as a challenge and enjoys it. At an uneventful trip he actually says it was great fun but would have love some mud.

  • Nice writing – especially your way of camaflouging your love for the bush and the outskirts with loads of irony and witty humour. Great read – thank you!

  • Tommy Henwood

    Nobody really enjoys 4×4 trips while it is happening, they only enjoy them a week after they get home and over a few beers tell their friends all about the experience. Time heals a lot, and like a fisherman’s fish the facts change with time

  • Brett

    Toyota??? Try o||||||o

  • Wayne Williams

    Brett and Ryan, Brand bashing should be left for the 4×4 forums even if you swear by Jeep 🙂
    The fact that you can get to places that you can’t with a standard car is what this is about.
    Awesome write Kati

  • George (Avid 4×4-er)

    I can diagnose a severe case of 4×4 outdoor withdrawal symptoms from a distance of 1000 meters and by golly this is finitely one!! This 4×4-ing is definitely getting under your skin Kati, so beware because it can become fatal and is quite contagious (for fatal read expensive). I agree with Wilhelm Weber about camouflaging (your article definitely cannot be read at face value) your love for the bush in a witty way. This reason for this writing style is actually the psychological effect that occurs as you are trying to get to grips with this new found passion that you think is “the worst” and that which your brain is trying rationalize. It’s like the first sip of that whiskey on the rocks where your taste buds want to reject your tongue. The only remedy I can prescribe for your “serious” condition (this mental state) is more 4×4-ing!!!

  • Leone

    How delightfully funny!