Doing a 4×4 Off-road Training, or Not?

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As we were preparing our South East Asia adventure – as we called our trip when leaving in 2003 – Coen came up with the idea to do a four-wheel drive/off-road course.

I had no idea what four-wheel drive was, plus I had noticed in our recently bought BJ45 that it had three shifters, which looked quite intimidating. To learn how to manage those was reason enough to take a course. I was going to leave the Netherlands with at least a basic understanding of what comprised a four-wheel drive.

We had two options:

  • Doing a course with a group, which obviously would be cheaper than
  • Taking a private course.

Group Course or a Private 4×4 Training

Teacher Gerard of Adventure Experience
Hard to believe now, but at the time this looked scary…

That choice was easily made – by me. It was not hard to imagine us being part of a group, possible all guys, where everybody but I had some basic knowledge of car techniques, whereas mine was zero. Either I was going to be trampled underfoot, or I would hold up everybody else while the trainer would have to repeat his instructions/theory once more for this technique-ignorant participant.

Insecurity ruled, and so a private course it was.

In Waspik we visited a store called Adventure Experience. We not only checked out a roof-top tent, but went home with two jerrycans we would use to carry spare fuel and a camp stove called a stormkettle.

As we chatted with Gerard, the owner, we learned that he offered 4×4 off-road trainings. He could give us a private course in which we could practice with our own Land Cruiser. Just perfect. This was not a guy who pretended knowing how to properly drive a four-wheel drive; here was an experienced off-roader who in the old days had driven two Camel Trophies. We were going to be in good hands.

The Off-Road Training

It was an intensive, fun, and incredibly useful day. The first hour or two was spent on theory. Gerard had all the patience in the world to explain it to me in the simplest words and Coen had the patience to keep quiet. Bless them both. I learned basic terms like hubs, high gear vs. low gear, diffs, and the sorts. Little by little I started to understand how these parts were connected.

Time to put theory into practice.

Gerard walked alongside the Land Cruiser while we took turns in taking the wheel, both practicing the same challenges. The terrain consisted mostly of mud as it had rained cats and dogs during the past couple of weeks; the soil was nothing but thick, sticky, gray clay.

Even now, 10 years later, I remember a couple of basics that have helped us much on the road:

  1. When driving in the mud, just allow your car to steer itself into already existing ruts (if there are any) instead of trying to forcing your own course. This takes less effort and minimizes the chance to get stuck.
  2. Don’t use power; use technique. The Land Cruiser is like a turtle. Slowly but steady it will crawl uphill. Appreciate your first and second gear, and don’t unnecessarily burn the engine by trying going up on a slippery hill in third or fourth. It won’t work.
  3. On the terrain stood a board, put on a slant. Gerard challenged us to go as much on a slant as we dared. It taught us a couple of things: you experience it completely differently when sitting on the high or on the low side, and also the sensation (fear) was different for the driver (being in control) and the passenger (no control).
  4. This slant stretch was our most important lesson. Gerard pushed us to drive on more on a slant continuously, which we were afraid to do. However, the Land Cruiser handled it beautifully.
    We said, “The car will topple.”
    Gerard answered, “The car is doing fine. The fear is in your brain.”
    He was right.
    Lesson: Our brains (emotions/fear) are the limiting factor, rather than the capacity of the Land Cruiser.

How Did it Help the 4×4 Training us on the Journey?

Tricky situation in Greece.
Couple of hands helping us in Turkey.

We both remember our first muddy stretches in Greece, mainly due to landslides. There were some tricky moments (brilliant for testing a young relationship). But, like I said in our most important lesson: the realization that our fear tends to rule helped us to gather our wits.

It has been interesting to notice that throughout our journey we felt more comfortable driving in mud that in shifting sand. Until a couple of months ago we tended to avoid driving on beaches. No doubt this training, which focused on conquering mud, had much to do with that. For that reason we would advise practicing on a variety of terrains during such a training.

It took until Brazil, where you simply can’t travel without traversing some beaches and dunes because it would be a shame not to, that we started feeling comfortable with sand. Deflating the tires down to 1 bar turned out to be the main secret.

Have you done a 4×4 / off-road training? Do you think it was worth it? How did it help you on your journey? We would love to hear your stories below in the comment section.

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Thank you for your support — Karin-Marijke & Coen

2 thoughts on “Doing a 4×4 Off-road Training, or Not?

  1. Hello overlanders,

    It is centuries ago but I remember much of my Africa trip like it was yesterday. In 1988 and 1989 I travelled with a schoolfriend from Amsterdam to Tanzania and back with a BJ42. I had some previous sand driving experience from work in the Middle East. For me the driving in sand was less scary than the driving in mud. I guess you are right that what you learn first seems the easiest. In sand I have learned that you have to read the sand. I didn’t realize what this was untill I followed a Bedouin in a 2wheeldrive pickup through the dunes. He could get to the top of dunes where my 4wheeldrive could not go. Now I know you can see the hard spots in the sand and that steering and braking all can bog you down. Later in Zaire (Congo it is now) in the rainy season I learned how to handle the mud. Power is not important. Profile and groundclearance is.

    I’ll leave it at this.

    Happy travels.
    Ernst.

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