Catrina Stewart is ready to take on the dirt after she’s put through her paces in a 4WD training course.
I’ve never slalomed in a car before, but I’m about to do it. In reverse. First, Mario wants to check something. “Can you reverse?” he asks. “I think so,” I say. The most difficult thing I’ve ever had to do in reverse is parallel parking, and it’s not my strong suit. But here we go. In reverse. Through a slalom course. At speed. As we screech to a halt the other side, Mario says, “Only four cones down out of six. Not bad.”
Next up is the hill. It’s the kind of hill I’d probably avoid if I was driving it without Mario. I push the car into low ratio, and off we go. No feet on the pedal. The car just goes. Incredible. We stall at the top, but it’s intentional. And we’re off – into a reverse stall procedure.
I’ve driven a four-wheel drive car for four years now. But I’m one of those who rarely take it off a gritty dirt road. And frankly, I’ve no idea what this car can do. It’s nearly 20 years old, and I’ve been pretty rude about it these years of owning it. But as it tops the crest of the hill without any input from me, I find myself giving it a grudging respect.
On a daily basis, instructors at the Glen Edmunds Advanced Driving School in Ongata Rongai put drivers through a rigorous set of obstacles. Their clients might comprise a ladies’ team preparing for the Rhino Charge, or an ambulance driver practising their slalom skills that come in handy on Nairobi’s gridlocked roads. Most drivers, says Edmunds, drive at 30 percent of their capabilities. By the end of a typical course, it’s more like 80 percent.
I abandon my car for the centre’s Nissan Patrol, and we move on to winching. It’s like changing a tyre. I know how to do it in theory – I just hope I never have to put it into practice. We try hefting up the car with the high-lift jack. Before the wheel is even off the ground, I’m gasping with the strain of it.
Then the mud. But Mario’s disappointed. If only it would rain. “Driving in the mud is terrible,” he says. “Terrible fun.” As it is, the car slides and skids through the mud obstacle with no real difficulty, but I wonder how we’d cope after the rains.
We finish with the bump, but it’s no ordinary speed bump. I get the car’s underside stuck on top, leaving two wheels spinning in thin air, and Mario asks me how I’m going to get it out. Push it, I reply, at the same time knowing a feeble push from me would make little impression on the Patrol. Instead, Mario wedges a flattish stone under the rear wheel, giving me purchase where before the wheels had none.
After a day’s training, I feel ready to take on the worst roads Africa has to offer. But, for now, the closest I get is the pot-holed dirt road leading me back towards Ongata Rongai.
A 4WD training course with Glen Edmunds Performance Driving School costs $250, comprising a theory course followed by a day’s practical training. www.glenedmunds.com
[Photo Courtesy of Brain Siambi]
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