I consider myself a reasonably good driver. After all, I have been a legally licensed driver for 45 years and, if you add two years for being licensed to ride a 50cc motorcycle at the age of sixteen, that brings the total to 47. But, as I had started “borrowing” my mom’s car for illicit moonlight flits around the sleepy suburbs of Lakefield in Benoni a little earlier than that, I suppose it’s fair to say that I have been on the road for just shy of half a century.
In all that time, I can only recall four occasions when I got a vehicle stuck to the point that I needed assistance to free it – and they were all wickedly embarrassing.
In the original article that I wrote for this issue, I went into some detail explaining how, on several occasions I had ended up in desperately embarrassing situations due to fundamental miscalculations of my driving skills in inclement conditions. As these incidents often involved bona fide A grade South African celebrities who would probably not want the details of these ridiculous events made public, I am rather grateful to the layout team who decided to hack this piece to fit the paltry space allocated to my potentially award-winning missive. (I am sure that I will get over it in time…)
Luckily, over the years, I have become more adept at avoiding a repeat of this type of event. I have lived and worked in wild places where four-wheel drive was mandatory, and I am confident in my ability to keep an off-road vehicle moving in the right direction no matter what the circumstances. That’s why I feel particularly embarrassed about what happened just off the beaten track in Ballito the other day.
We have a particularly antisocial German Shepherd that we prefer to exercise away from other dogs. Since the beginning of lockdown, we have been walking him on a tract of land next to the M4 that is currently being developed. There is a network of tracks that are fairly easily navigated in the Jeep Wrangler that our furry friends enjoy travelling in, but you need to be aware of varying conditions depending on the weather.
It had rained heavily for days before we set off with the dogs on our regular Saturday morning jaunt and, as I had done the route many times before, I wasn’t really concentrating on the condition of the track. If I had been, I might have noticed that the rain had washed a deep drift of mud down the slope that I had to cross to reach our intended destination. To make matters worse, there were some deep erosion channels across the track that I had to swerve sharply to avoid. The swerve was partly successful. I avoided hitting the worst of the dongas, but the Jeep was now further down the slope where the deepest mud had accumulated. A frantic shift to low range did little to help. The forward motion of the vehicle slowed and then it ground to a halt as the wheels dug in up to the chassis and there we were – firmly stuck in the mud. The dogs were absolutely loving it and Sue tactfully took them for a long walk while I tried to work out a way of getting out of this predicament. There are many 4x4 marques currently on the market and each has its own allure. But there is nothing to touch the bond that exists between Jeep owners. They say it’s a Jeep thing and despite the truly awful support that the brand generally receives from its dealerships in South Africa, those who own them, generally love them. There’s even a special Jeep wave – a subtle raising of the thumb, index and forefinger of the right hand on the steering wheel – as I said, it’s a Jeep thing.
That’s why I knew that I could call on the guys in the local Jeep club for help. Albie de Wit was at a birthday celebration, but he made a call to Charl Lensley, president of the Ballito Jeep Club and the rescue was on. I gave Charl vague directions to my patch of mud and, true to form, he dropped everything and hit the rescue trail. Never in my life have I been so happy to see that bright yellow jeep approaching from a distance. It was like the scene in the Westerns when the cavalry arrives. Charl and his assistant performed a textbook recovery, the video of which is available on our Life & Style Facebook page which makes it look effortless. It’s amazing what experience and technique can achieve.
Charl is a gentleman and although he said all the right things, he couldn’t quite conceal his amusement at the way I had so totally and absolutely cocked up a lovely Saturday morning. Sue was wonderfully supportive but also hugely amused at my total and utter embarrassment. And the dogs…well, they loved every minute of it and can’t wait to get stuck in the mud again. I hate to tell them, but it’s never going to happen!
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