I once visited this 5-star safari lodge in Namibia… the sort of place that had Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie on their guest list. I was on assignment at the time, driving a Land Rover Discovery 4 and exploring the northern territories of the country.
Heavy rain had fallen just days before, and the area was a skidpan of mud and silt. I was travelling with a close mate of mine and we were both dressed for the occasion. I had kept a pressed shirt and trousers in a separate bag, very different from my usual dusty shorts and khaki shirts.
Our borrowed Discovery 4 blended in well when we arrived at the lodge’s 5-star entrance gate. The uniformed guard greeted us with a big smile, followed by a stern warning that rain had caused serious damage to the off-road track leading to the lodge. He then told us that we should park our vehicle there (at the entrance gate), as one of the game-viewing vehicles would transport us the rest of the way.
I looked at the poor chap as if he had just spat the worst possible insult. I then politely declined his offer.
I was anticipating some pushback from the guard, but instead his grin widened, and he cheerfully handed me an indemnity form. I printed my name, and signed, and switched the Disco into low-range. Next to me, my mate’s expression said, “Dude, are you sure about this?”
Several kilometres down the track, we came to a deep-water crossing. The Land Rover ploughed through as if idling through a car wash. What had the guard been so concerned about? The road was a piece of cake.
Then, we hit a cross road…
On the right: a large puddle of clean water with a visible substructure.
On the left: A churned up stretch of mud about 10 metres long.
Both tracks converged further down the drag, but the left looked too darn fun to pass up… and we were running on mud-terrains. “Why the hell not?” I thought.
I gave the Disco’s torque-churning engine a solid kick in the throttle. Mud and grass flew past our windows as we goofily grinned like Harry and Lloyd in a Dumb & Dumber sequel.
Then, the Disco fell into a muddy abyss.
My first thought was, “Stop! Don’t do anything. Just open the boot and get the recovery tracks.” Then I remembered the debate I’d had with myself prior to leaving on this trip…
“Would recovery tracks really be needed in a country that’s mostly dry and compact? Did the tracks really justify filling the much-needed packing space when I still had another two cases of beer to cram in the back?
Hmmm. Beer or tracks, beer or tracks…?”
Well, it wasn’t the first time (and won’t be the last) that beer had screwed me over. And so, we began our desperate descent into the sort of downward-spiralling situation that can only get worse when you have no tools, no plan, and no clue.
To this day, I can’t decide which of these two events marked my lowest point:
- Watching a group of well-dressed tourists potter through a puddle of clear water on the back of a game-viewing vehicle. Or…
- Having the lodge’s manageress find us wallowing around in mud and animal shit, completely topless as if we were auditioning for a badly scripted Magic Mike remake − the non-ab version. “Er…Hi, I’m Grant, the journalist.”
What. A. Plank.
In the end, it took two Land Rover Defenders to pull us out. I’m convinced we’d slipped into some sort of previous-use wildlife mud bath. The more we tried to free ourselves (without the right tools), the more we got stuck, and stuck, and stuck.
I learnt many lessons that day, starting with:
- Always pack the recovery tracks!
- Never take unnecessary risks off-road, and…
- An indemnity form should never be followed by cocksureness.
I wish I could tell you that these lessons have stuck, but it wasn’t very long after that I found myself hanging belly-up in a Jeep, in the middle of suburbia on a Saturday night. But that’s a tale for another blog.
In the meantime, I thought it relevant to include my take on the Maxtrax product. Over the years, these recovery tracks have saved my bacon many, many times, and although they may be costly, I believe they’re a worthy consideration.
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By Grant Spolander