Off road driving is all about two things; maintaining traction, and reading the terrain to do so.
So, lets take you on a 'virtual' green-laning expedition and see what we come across.
Its a bright spring morning, and you have arrived at a car-park, somewhere in the middle of no-where to meet some fellow 4x4 enthusiasts you met here on the 'net, who have offered to take you out on one of their runs. Within quarter of an hour or so, you have a full compliment of five vehicles who you'll be driving with today.
Before you set off, you need to know three things. Who's leading the run, who's tail end Charlie, and what position you should take in the convoy. Note well the leader and tail end Charlie. The leader is your guide for the day, and you need to follow him. Tail end Charlie is responsible for making sure that the group stays together, and closing any gates as the convoy goes through.
You may have a driver briefing before you set off. Leader & Charlie at the very least need to have organised things between them, but they may also tell you roughly where the route is going, about any points of interest along the way to watch out for, any pre-arranged halts for tea or lunch, or just a photo-opportunity etc. Some even go as far as giving you a programme, something printed up with a rough map, and some notes etc, to act as your in car guide to the run.
A lot of Green-Lane enthusiasts also use CB radio to keep in contact between cars. Let the leader know if you do or do not have CB. If you do, and the group will be using it, he should choose an open channel for you all. If not, he may want to give you some signals so that you can alert the others if you are getting into difficulty, of if you want to stop for a photo or call of nature of something.
If you are on one of 'Milemaster's runs, with Keith leading, and he gives you one of his programmes, don't get too worried if you have trouble following it! Keith navigates by Extra Sensory Perception, and is prone to making route changes on the hoof, depending on the prevailing conditions, the vehicles in his convoy, and quite possibly the number of magpies he has spotted along the way! But you are still guaranteed a good run.
OK, so you are about to peel out onto the black top. Stupid question, but its ten o'clock on a Sunday morning, and you have possibly just driven a hundred miles into the middle of no-where. You are about to drive even further into the wilderness, and could be driving for the next eight or ten hours before you see much sign of civilisation again.
You do have a full tank of fuel, don't you?
Hmmm, well, I've just checked with the leader, and today he has planned a lunch break at a services on the main road. There's a Little Chef, if you haven't brought sandwiches, and a petrol station, so you should be OK. But next time make sure that you can start the run with as close to a full tank as possible. Get there early if necessary and ask where the nearest petrol station is, then come back.
Right, come on then, we're moving. Count them out, and get in the line up, your in number three spot today, right in the middle. Ok, we're moving. Keep an eye on the leader, and watch his indicators, number two might not be watching, or be late responding. That's it, Ok, keep it tight, we want to try and keep the convoy together so watch the cars behind, and make sure they are with us, but don't let too big a gap grow in front, we don't want the convoy cut by traffic lights or filtering traffic.
That it, steady at this round about. We wont all get out together, but follow through, as best you can, if we string out too far, the leader will pull over to let us bunch back up, but we might have to live with a couple of cars between us here in the town, so keep your eye on the leader and number two, and make sure that you copy their indicators so that the guys behind know where we're headed.
Great, well, we on the main road out of town now, look, Leaders pulling over into that lay by to let us bunch back up. That's it follow him in. Pull over as far as you can, give the leader a clear view in his mirrors of what's behind us so he can see when we're all together. Great. Look we're moving again.
Right well, looks like we're heading off the main road and are about to find some rough roading. The first thing to do is to adjust your driving position. For normal driving on the road, you will probably adopt a position that is fairly relaxed and comfortable, but on the rough stuff, you need to get over the controls and adopt a loose 'seat of the pants' driving position, so that you have a bit more movement to let you roll with the vehicle's movement and not stab the accelerator or swing the steering wheel every time the car lurches or bumps. It affords you more control, avoids unwanted control inputs and helps stop you fighting the car. Another thing worth remembering is that bumps or ruts and things can 'snatch' the steering, flinging the steering wheel around. If that happens, you don't really want your thumbs inside the wheel where they are likely to get sorely bruised by the spokes.
Next, what type of transmission do you have? If you have an old series Land Rover, and have free wheeling hubs, if you intend to use four wheel drive, you might just want to stop, get out of the car and make sure that the hubs are engaged. If you have a fancy Free-Lander with traction control, this might not be a problem, but do a quick systems check any way. What buttons & switches have you got? Can you switch traction control on or off? Do you have hill Decent Control? What about Anti-Lock Braking? You don't want to be looking in the hand book NOW to find out what they all are and how they all work. If you have a defender or similar with permanent four wheel drive, well you have a choice of high or low range gears and diff-lock engaged or disengaged.Take a quick look around, and have a think. In the old SIII, its often prudent to engage low range gears straight away. This locks the transmission the same as engaging diff-lock on later models. It can risk wind up on harder surfaces, but unless seriously abused the transmission can stand a fair bit of it, and usually the going wont be so hard that any tension wont be spent on what loose there is on a typical trail.
Low range halves the final drive ratio, so you have a lot lower gearing for steep climbs, and rough work, and makes the vehicle a lot more responsive and gives you more control, but does effectively limit your top speed to about 30mph - not that this is generally a problem on a Green Lane.
Also, you can change up from low range to high on the move, but not vica-versa, so engaging it at that halt when you first turn off the tarmac, can make life a lot easier than finding you need to change down to low box, half way up a tricky climb, where you need to keep whatever momentum you have.
But it is a personal choice, its quite possible to get a long way using the lower gears in high range, and in a series Land Rover, using only two wheel drive, which can make steering more precise.
What do you mean I've lost you? What's wind up? Oh dear.
You did read your user's manual before you set out, and took some time to figure out what all the controls are for and how they work, didn't you?
Here, have a look at Low-Box Low Down - An introduction to the four wheel drive transmission.
Now, take a few moments to adjust your driving position, appraise yourself of the prevailing conditions, look around at what you can see of the terrain you are going to drive, and make whatever adjustments to the car as are necessary.
This may be as little as tilting the seat back up, or could include engaging FWH, attaching strops to recovery points in anticipation of needing to be recovered, letting air out of the tyres for increased traction, or adjusting load, luggage or equipment to lower the centre of gravity or stop loose articles bouncing about or hitting passengers.
Think about it. It might just be a thermos-flask of tea on the passenger seat, but if you hit a big bump, do you really want it bouncing off and getting tangled under your clutch & brake pedal?
Right, so you have adjusted whatever needs adjusting, stowed and secured everything that needs stowing & securing, made yourself comfortable, and selected whatever selectables are appropriate, and have started moving up the trail.
You are on hard packed earth, shallow ruts crossing a flat grassy field. The ruts aren't deep, and the going is firm. The first few pot holes you encounter have been filled with gravel, and its pretty much like driving on normal tarmac. Your first obstacle is a hill.
I'll describe it, the track has been following the edge of the field, with the hedge to your right. Gradually the track inclines, and disappears under a stand of trees, which prevent you from seeing just how long or steep the trail is, or what surface changes there are under the canopy of leaves.
Now, reading the terrain. What is the soil type you are on right now? Is it clay based, peat based or sandy soil? Clay? Are you sure? What is the landscape like? Is it mountainous or hilly? Is it a river valley or moor and heath? Is the region relatively flat, or rugged?
These give you clues as to what to expect.
If it is a river valley, chances are that the soil will be sandy, possibly gravely. Water will run off the hills towards the river. Has it been raining recently? Look at the base of the decent, are there any flat spots or puddles? Water runs down hill, and tracks make a convenient water course for run off. If there are puddles or flat spots, you could have sticker going further up. You might even have wash outs, tears in the surface full of gravel or muddy slurry.
If the trail looks particularly steep, or you are uncertain about what you might find up that hill, stop. Before it gets too steep, and go have a look, on foot, first.
Taking a few minutes to walk the trail before you commit your car to it is a lot less exhausting than trying to back up down a slippery ascent to have another go, or worse, try and get your car unstuck from where its lodged.
Right, now you know what to expect. What have you got? How much traction do you think you will find? Remember, its a climb, so you will need to find extra traction to over come gravity on the way up. Are there any turns in the climb? They can make things interesting, especially if you are relying on using a bit of momentum to help you get up.
OK, its your first time, lets talk you through it. The climb is in two stages. The first is straight up from the initial gradient below the trees. As you ramp onto the climb, the surface gets a bit loose. The earth is fairly dry and firm, but it has been washed by rain water, leaving a bit of slurry on the surface, and there is one short section that has been washed out and is a bit gravely. Half way up, the track flattens slightly and turns right, into the trees, before becoming steeper again. The turn is marked by gravel washed down from further up, where it becomes looser with more washed out sections, pot holes and loose stone.
Now the first thing is that you'll be tempted to think that you want to get a run and use momentum to get you up the climb, but remember momentum will only get you so far, and if it makes it more difficult for the terrain to effect a change on your progress, it also makes it more difficult for you to make change to the speed and direction of your progress.
A steady progressive climb, on the other hand means that all of the climbing force has to be found from pure traction, and there's a lot of that loose gravel about
Well, you have four wheel drive, and you have a lot more traction than you think. On this particular climb, you can actually get a fully laden long wheel base Land Rover up in second gear low range, with the power available from an asthmatic old diesel engine, without having to try and find some assistance from momentum. In fact, you could probably get a London Taxi with four fair paying passengers up it without any major drama, if you drove it carefully enough.
So, the first thing is to have some confidence and be aware of the abilities of your vehicle, and not over react to the conditions that present themselves.
Hit the climb with too much momentum and you will have to back off towards where the climb flattens out and turns, so that you don't skid on the gravel. But then you'll be faced with a steeper, looser climb that you will have to take with hardly any momentum assistance, and you'll find your wheels scrabbling for traction as you have to use more power to accelerate against gravity
Take the climb too slow, or too nervously, and you will get up the first section OK, and make the turn more easily. But again, faced with that second leg of the climb, you'll have to use more power to work against gravity, and will find the wheels scrabbling for grip as you go.
The best way to take it is smooth and steady. About 1/2 throttle & revs in second gear low box, will see you comfortably to the top without drama. You climb the first section nice and steadily, and make the turn at the top without throttling off or accelerating, just letting the wheels pull you along as steadily as they can, increasing the power gradually as the incline steepens, to maintain speed without loosing traction.
Right, so you have made that first obstacle, and come out of the stand of trees, and are faced with a decent. This is a nice simple one, the track goes straight down nice & flat with no kinks or bends. The only thing is that it is a bit rocky at the top, and half way down a spring breaks the track, to trickle down over the gravel as you go down, before collecting in large muddy puddle at the bottom.
Right, again, don't panic. The thing here is the loose surface, and that puddle at the bottom. Well, the hill is pretty gravely, so the chances are, that while the puddle looks muddy, it is probably full of gravel washed down by the water. If you want, get out, go down and test the dept and consistency with a stick. By my reckoning, looking from up here, I reckon that you have probably about half an inch of water, with maybe half an inch of thin mud beneath, and about four inches of good gravel under that.
So, the first moment you are going to have is as you go over the top and commit yourself to the decent. This is the scariest bit. On a climb, if you 'bottle out' you can come to a halt and roll back down the hill under gravity, and try again, or take a different route. At the top of a climb, you can go down, or go back, but once you are over, there is little opportunity to stop and back up.
So, low box, first gear. You can probably cope in second or even third, but its your first time, so lets let you feel what its like letting the engine work against gravity. Point the nose over, and give it just enough power to crawl over the top. You will feel the point of balance when gravity starts to take hold and pull more strongly than the engine, as you find it, just back off the throttle enough to keep the car moving, then as gravity takes over, come off the throttle all together.
STAY OFF THE BRAKES.
And let the engine hold the car back, but keep the wheels turning as you go down. Keep a loose grip on the steering and all will be well. As you get to the bottom, just let her ease into that puddle, and pull through. There shouldn't even be a splash.
See, no problem at all.
What could you have done wrong? Well, braking is not good. If you had gone over in two high a gear, and then tried to brake, then you risk braking traction by slowing the wheels more than the car, which would result in you sliding. Once you have started sliding on a decent, its very difficult to get it back, and probably the only way to do it is to try and out run the skid, by accelerating, which is a little bit scary.
The other thing you could do, would be to try and steer. Again, if you steer hard or suddenly on a decent, against the way gravity is pulling you, you risk a skid.
So the trick is to hold a low gear, part or closed throttle, and avoid any unnecessary steering or braking inputs.
And that puddle? Disappointing wasn't it? You expected a big splash or to get stuck, didn't you? Sorry, not on this run. Not yet, any way.
Right, well we've gone up, and we've gone down. We're back on the flat, but its getting sticky. The trail has descended onto a lower plateau, and it seems to be a bit wetter on this side of the hill. Its an average kind of mud, not that I have ever encountered such a thing, but this is just role play, innit?
So, the trail is skirting another field. Its muddy, but not a morass or peat bog, just a regular ploughed field. Only thing is, that that the track has been fairly heavily used and is well rutted.
Right, now ruts present you with a dilemma. Once you have your wheels in the ruts, its pretty difficult to get them out again, and, by dropping your wheels three or four inches beneath the nominal surface of the track you rob yourself of a big proportion of your ground clearance.
The first thing to dig in is likely to be your differential casing, after that, the tail overhang at the back when the front lifts up over a rock or out of a put hole.
Stop, and have a look around. If you have an adjustable tow hitch, it might be a good opportunity to lift it up to its highest position so that at least that won't dig in. Next, have a look for tell tale gouge marks in the middle ridge between the ruts made by other 4x4's. Flat scrapes are likely to be from steering guards or under body protection panels. Marks about 1/3 the way from either rut, with a shallow curve and a slightly deeper cut about an inch and a half wide at the lowest part, are diff pan gouges, left by the axle of other Land Rovers.
Have a quick think here. If you see such tell-tale marks, then other 4x4's have passed and got through. That isn't to say that they have not got stuck further up, but they have broken the trail here for you. Do you want to drive in these ruts? Quickly evaluate your ground clearance compared to others likely to have come this way.
If you have a short wheel base and big wheels you are probably less likely to get stuck than whatever made the marks, but if they are diff gouges, and you're in a Free-Lander, I wouldn't be so confident.
Any way, what choice have you got? Well you could drive off the ruts, possibly along side them. But, if this is on the field side, chances are that you would be driving on private land off the marked right of way. This is illegal, DON'T DO IT.
If you could straddle the ruts, so that one wheel was on the plateau between the ruts and your other wheel just to the side, then that is probably better, but again, you could be encroaching off the right of way.
In this instance though, the track is running along the edge of a field with the hedge on your left. If you straddle the near side rut, so that your near-side wheel is in that gap between rut and hedge and your off side wheels are on the plateau between the ruts, you should be OK
If you have the clearance though, there shouldn't be too much problem actually driving in the ruts themselves. And it can have advantages. If you straddle the ruts, you start to make new ones, and you will be riding on virgin mud. In the ruts themselves, you will often find that the previous vehicles have squeezed out all of the top mud, and found the firmer ground beneath. There might be the odd pot hole, but other wise it should be easier going than trying to straddle.
Don't try and fight the ruts though. Gentle touch on the steering and let the ruts steer the wheels like a slot car. If it is dry baked mud, chances are you won't even need to touch the steering wheel.
Breaking out of a rut though is difficult. If you try and steer out of them, when you turn the front wheels, the leading edge will grip one side of the rut and try and pull you out, while the trailing edge of the wheel will grip the other side of the rut and try and pull you back in. The net result being that you will carry on going forward, but with the car bucking about a lot, digging at the sides of the ruts.
To get out, if you must, you have to be gentle and steer very slightly to one side or other and try and bring the car up the edges of the ruts without digging, a bit like riding up the banking of a race track.
Other wise, you might stop and try shunting. Backing up and turning a little so that the rear axle is diagonal to the ruts and then coming forwards can often 'bump' one wheel up out of the rut, then with that one out you can get the others to follow.
Failing that you have the options of riding out the ruts, backing up, or going for a recovery technique. You can use a high lift jack to lift the front or back end of your car up above the level of the ruts, then use its inherent instability and a sideways shove to drop the car down off the jack a few inches to the side, out of the ruts. Bridging ladders/sand waffles are another technique, shovelling mud under them to build a ramp that you can drive the car up, out of the rut, or, through a rope recovery with another vehicle or winch to pull the car up out of the ruts.
But, that is pretty dramatic, and really only necessary if the ruts descend into something pretty unhelpful.
On our track, the ruts are not that bad. The Free-Lander in our convoy has chosen to straddle them, because of clearance, and is keeping to the hedge side, but the short wheel base series three, on 205 tyres has opted to go in and isn't having any problem, though is leaving a few gouge marks with his diff casing here and there.
So, on to the next tricky section. After descending from the knoll with the stand of trees and crossing the rutted field, it has passed through a five bar gate and turned right across a river.
Now the gate was a bit tricky, being a typical old farm gate, you had to lift it to get it open, and really couldn't open it all the way, so had to make a kind of double dog leg to get through. That needed a bit of shunting with the long wheel base vehicles in the convoy, and one of them almost slid sideways into the gate post in the middle of the manoeuvre, because of course the entrance around the gate was a bit of a quagmire churned up by the livestock gathering on their way to and from the milking parlour.
Any way, tail end Charlie closed it behind them, and now you are on a muddy bank, looking at a lot of water, with another muddy bank on the opposite side, and wheel tracks leading away to the near hills.
Right, this is not a problem. Except that you cant see what the surface you are going to drive on looks like under the water, nor how far down it is.
If in doubt, get out.
Just like the muddy puddle earlier on, go the edge and have a poke about, and establish how steep the drop off into the water is, how deep the water is and how soft the bottom.
In this case, the water is about nine inches deep at the deepest point, and we have a nice flat gravely bottom. The sides are a bit steep on the drop off, and a bit muddy, but not too slippery, and the climb on the other side is more gradual and gravely.
How well prepared is your vehicle for wading? This isn't deep, we certainly don't need to worry about not having a raised or snorkel air intake, and the standard breathers on the axles and clutch should be OK too - but have you checked the hand book to find out if there are vent points that need wading plugs? If so, do you need to fit them?
And, the next question, diesel of petrol? Petrol engines don't like water flying around the engine bay too much - has a habit of shorting out electrics, especially the high tension leads to the spark plugs, and sods law says that the ignition will cut out right in the middle of the river.
Diesel engines are less of a problem, especially the older mechanically governed ones, provided you don't get water down the air intake there isn't a lot that will stop one. But they do still have electrics, and the most common things to be effected are the alternator and starter. Quite often you'll wade in with a diesel thinking that you are impervious to water, only to find out that the water has dislodged a contact or shorted out the starter solenoid.
Right now, besides the river is not a good time to be wondering whether or not you should have done any water proofing to your engine, so before you set out, give it a good going over and make sure that all the connections in and around your engine bay are tight and secure If you want, give them a lick of WD40 as a moisture repellent, and maybe even a dollop of Vaseline to keep the worst water off them.
More serious water proofing, like a rubber glove over the distributor, or putting the ignition coil in a Tupperware are probably over-kill for this sort of water work, but if you are thinking of more extreme off-roading, might be worth a thought.
So, at the side of the river, have a quick pause, if you want get out and give the HT leads and dizzy a quick squirt with WD40, and if necessary or possible fit your wading plugs. If you have an electric fan, you might want to disconnect one of the leads so that it wont switch on and spray water around. If you have a mechanically driven fan, you might think about removing the fan belt. For this short crossing, the loss of water pump and charging for a few minutes shouldn't be a great concern, but its only axle deep, so you shouldn't really have a problem if you leave it on.
So, into the river. The actual crossing itself, really depends on the approach into the ford, and the exit on the other side. Theorists would suggest that you want to cross fast enough to just create a bow wave in front of the car to keep the worst water away from the engine. Typically that would mean crossing at about five miles an hour, but like I said, practically that might not be possible, so don't worry.
As with the hill decent, east the vehicle over the edge, you'll feel as the front is taken by gravity, but you'll probably stop dropping before the rears follow, so just keep it moving, nice and gentle, and let the back end follow in gradually, and keep moving. Don't pause after the front has dropped in and wait to drop the back in, or the water that you shifted as you went in will all rush back and swamp the engine bay. Just keep moving, not too fast, but once you have all four wheel in the water, give it a bit of throttle to get her moving, point her at the exit on the other side, and keep the momentum to help punch you out on the other bank.
Fording rivers is probably a topic in its own right, but the main things are, how deep is it? What's underneath it? And what is the entrance and exit like?
Provided that you have prepared your vehicle to cope with wading, by what ever measures are necessary, the water itself isn't much of a problem, except when it stops you from seeing the terrain below the surface.
In deeper or faster flowing water, it can put some pressure on upstream side of the vehicle that will try and push you down stream, so you may have to modify your route to give you a bit of side yaw, like an aeroplane crabbing into the wind. And it might reduce the available traction you have with the terrain beneath the surface, but otherwise, you should be looking at a ford in much the same way as any other obstacle, and reading the terrain for traction.
Most fords are generally shallow with a firm gravel base, and the track will cross there because the terrain suits a crossing. Deeper crossings tend to be quite narrow, and are really little more than a narrow brook or ditch. In the days before motor vehicles, these could easily be jumped by a walker or horse, or were narrow enough that the large wheels of a cart could effectively bridge them with perhaps a little man handling.
These days such narrow crossings tend to have had the approaches and exits graded, or at least worn away to some extent, making them easier to cross with a 4x4, and really can be treated as a largish ditch or rut, rather than a ford. If they are particularly deep or awkward, then you might need bridging ladders.
On this run, however, we wont encounter anything quite so difficult, but if our route did take in such an obstacle our doubtless leader would have packed his ladders on the roof-rack of his vehicle.
So, having successfully negotiated our water crossing, we are back on the trail, leading away from the river, up across the next field towards the hills.
This section is pretty much like the first before the river, except that there aren't the ruts. Now, with the going a bit softer, and no ruts to guide, the going is getting tougher.
We don't have a hard base at the bottom of a rut to provide good traction. The mud is continuous, so we don't have the opportunity to use momentum to blast through from one patch of firm going to the next. And even though we don't have any huge bog holes or climbs or descents, this is probably some of the most demanding driving we shall see today on your introductory run.
Now, mud is weird stuff. If you go too slowly, you will sink in and grind to a halt. If you use too much power, you will simply start spinning the wheels and dig in, grinding to a halt. So you have to be gentle. You need to get the car moving and keep it moving and not make any sudden or violent movements.
Now, just to make life interesting and keep you amused, there are a few things to worry about. The first one is that as we come out of this first field, we have to go through a gate-way.
Of course, that means that the first man through will have to stop and open the gate, which will be fun, as it means he'll have to loose then find again, all traction. And typically, that gate is in an even deeper morass than the rest of the track, thanks to the cows that inhabit this field and their twice daily trip to the milking parlour.
Now, as we are travelling in convoy, those of you behind, space out. First of all, remember you are balancing your traction and momentum very carefully here. If you are too close together and the bloke in front starts to go slide ways, you don't want to be so close that you have to steer around him or brake, or worse still give him a nudge.
Just like driving on a wet or icy road, give plenty of room. It also means that when the poor bloke at the front has to stop and open the gate, chances are you will be far enough back that it will be open, and he'll be moving again before you need to stop.
Or at least that's the principle. Practically, he's a bit stuck, and trying to get his car moving again, has slid side ways, so he has to shunt about a bit to get it pointing in the right direction again to make that double dog leg through the three quarter open gate.
Take heed and watch what the cars in front are doing. Note where the ground is softest, and use any time when you are at a crawl or stationary to pick where is firmest for you to stop if you have to, and what is going to be your smoothest line through the gate way, when its your turn.
Right, are we all through? Good. Last one through closed the gate? Run leader is a good way up now, with every-one leaving a good gap, and communication between the leader and tail end Charlie is helpful to keep things moving.
In this instance we aren't on group CB, which lets the leader give us hints and instruction on what to expect, or to tell tail end Charlie which gates need opening or closing. But they have a set of pre arranged signals, and here the leader is tying a plastic carrier bag to any gate that needs closing by tail end Charlie.
Any way, we are now following the edge of a field, with the open field to our right and the boundary to our left. The border is marked by a thin coppice of trees, covering a deep gully. Unfortunately, the gully has a well-weathered drop off, so rather than driving a nice flat field, the surface is banked, and in two directions. The ground rises in front of us and two our right, and we are on the edge where it starts curving away, before dropping into the gully.
For the most part, our offside wheels are about four inches higher than our near side wheels, and gravity is trying to pull us down the slope.
Its alright, we wont fall into the ravine. Those trees will stop us first, but finding enough traction to pull a tangled Land Rover, sideways out of those branches, could prove a bit tricky. Best we don't go there.
So, we are going forwards, and finding what viscous traction we can, which isn't much in this slippery mud, and the side slope is robbing us of more. First by putting more weight on the down side wheels, which gives less to give grip on the up side wheels. Secondly by increasing the load on the downside wheels, so that the extra traction they might gain from the tilt, is lost by the fact that they are sinking further and subject to more drag. And the whole time, some proportion of the motive force we can apply, is having to be used to constantly drag us up the hill to compensate for the sideways thrust gravity is exerting on us.
Its a delicate balancing act, and inevitably at some point we are going to start to slide. Now the classic way to combat a slide is to steer into the skid.
Which is all well and good, assuming a 'normal' car in 'normal' sort of circumstances. But the classic skid, normally starts at the back, with it trying to swing round and catch up with the front.
In this mud though we are just as likely to have the front decide its easier to go sideways than it is forwards and break away, as we are for the back to step out on us.
But the rule is still good. If the front starts to slide to our left, we steer to the right to try and claw it back. If the back axle starts to slide to the left, we steer to the left. But in either instance, we do it slowly and gently. We don't panic and brake, nor do we steer suddenly and or violently, and under no circumstances do we do the classic thing of throwing the wheel hard round and crossing our arms so we cant move anything any more.
As you take power off the wheels, they should bite and find some grip. You may sink, you may stop, you may get stuck, but power off until you find some grip and can get the plot back on track, or stop altogether, before you get it all out of shape and lost in that hedge.
Do NOT power on, and hope to scramble out of it. At best, you will just dig yourself a hole that is harder to get you out of, at worst, throw a lot of mud around and slide further and faster.
Now, without fighting the car, tease it out until you find some grip. If you have slid off course, don't worry too much about getting back on the course you were on. Find a new one. Try and follow the contours and gradients, read the terrain to give yourself the easiest path the one that demands the least power and steering to follow, and gives you the greatest margin from that hazard in the hedge.
If you have lost so much momentum that you cant get it moving again, or have got is so crossed up that you cant safely manoeuvre out and away from the hazard, don't panic, and don't start trying to drive yourself out. It isn't worth it.
There are other cars in our convoy. Make the vehicle as safe as you can, instruct any passengers not to open doors or get out unless instructed to do so, and not to start jumping around or trying to reach into the boot to get that flask of tea. You don't want any unnecessary movement starting the vehicle to slide again.
Now, if you have CB, let your fellow's know that you have a problem. First, if they haven't already realised, you want them to negotiate their way around you and not follow you into trouble. Second, you want some-one to come and help. If you haven't got CB, then you will probably have to get out of the car, carefully, and flag down your fellow drivers.
Some-one, preferably some-one with experience needs to take charge and decide what to do, now. If it is safe to do so, getting passengers out of the vehicle is a good idea. It lightens the load and gets them out of harms way while the dangerous work is done.
It also means that one of them can video camera your most embarrassing moments, and in return, you can try and spray them with mud from wildly spinning wheels as some-one tries to drag you out.
OK, so some-one has taken charge, and made a decision as to how best to recover you. Because you stopped before you got too stuck, they reckon that its shouldn't be too much of a problem, and the best thing they can do is a straight tow. By using another car at some distance, not on such slippery or sloping ground, they reckon that they should have enough extra traction to pull you straight and get you moving.
They also have some very rugged Mud Terrain tyres, so reckon that they have quite a bit of extra grip that most of the group lacks, but that's another matter.
So, the towing vehicle is carefully positioned, and a recovery rope stretched between that car and yours, and attached to good, secure recovery points, with appropriate cleats, shackles or hooks.
Look this is role play, alright, we don't need to actually loop three mismatched lengths of rope together and tie them around the axle casing, whilst wreathing about on our backs in the mud, because there's nothing else to solid enough to attach to, alright?
Alright, so the rope is stretched and the towing vehicle is in position. You are in the driving seat, with the engine running and first gear engaged, but the clutch in. You give the driver of the towing vehicle a pre-arranged signal, like flashing your headlights or tooting the horn, and he will start to pull you out.
First the towing vehicle will start to move, then it will gradually take up the slack in the rope, and then it will start to take some strain, and you will feel it start to pull against your car. All this should occur in a nice slow, progressive and controlled manner, with plenty of time for you to anticipate each phase.
Now it is your turn to start trying to find some traction, and easing out the clutch, gently. As the strain on the rope takes effect, so it should start to get you moving, with delicate clutch control, you should be able to balance the traction you can find with the strain on the rope from the towing vehicle.
This is the critical bit. If you start to apply power too early, you will start to dig in or slide. If you apply power too late, then the tow car is going to take all the tension in the rope and you are going to hold him back, possibly getting him stuck too. So feel the strain on the rope and go with it easing what power you can to the wheels in sympathy.
Now, as you get moving, and pick up a bit of momentum, so you should feel the tension on the rope relax. With a bit of luck, you should be back on good ground pointing in the right direction and able keep going without any more assistance from the tow.
However, we have another dilemma. If you stop to remove the tow-rope, are you going to get stuck again? If you don't stop to remove the tow rope though, are you likely to get out of shape again, and not just get yourself stuck, but bring the towing vehicle to an ignominious halt as well?
Before you start, agree with the driver of the towing vehicle what you are going to do. Never tow further than is necessary, and walk ahead to find a suitable stopping point if you have to, but it is probably better to stay attached to the towing vehicle, but on a slack rope than to get half unstuck, and then stop and have more problems restarting again.
Any way, that is the correct procedure for a nice straight tow recovery. In practice, it will rarely be a nice straight tow. In order to get you out of your predicament, the towing vehicle will probably have to pull at least parallel, but off set from your car, to clear whatever obstruction meant that going the way you were headed, wasn't a good idea. This means that the tow rope will be trying to pull you forwards and sideways at the same time. In this case this is actually helpful. The tow car is up hill from you and parallel to the way you are pointed. The diagonal tow-rope will try and pull you along and up the hill, which is what you want.
But, as soon as you start to move, gravity will be trying to pull you down, and like the weight on the end of a pendulum, try and swing you straight with the rope to hang at an angle from the tow car.
So, you have to use what traction you can find to assist the natural pull, and to some extent, follow that pendulum swing, and then go with it to trailer round back into line with the tow car. Not difficult, just a case of feeling your way around.
What you MUST NOT DO, is drop the clutch, or spin the wheels, because as soon as you do, what little precious traction you have will be lost, and you will be a dead weight pulling the tow car back down the hill.
So, like everything else, be gentle, be delicate, balance your traction and don't fight the tow, go with it, and work with the towing vehicle to get yourself out of trouble.
What do you mean 'some-one' doesn't reckon that they can get you out with a straight tow? Weren't you listening? You did what? Alright, alright, its your first time, every one is allowed at least one foul up. OK, so you left it too late, got it too crossed up and are now arse end into the trees. Well, it might have been worse. Cant quite see how, but I'm sure it could have been.
Well, what are we going to do? To pull you out with anything like a straight tow, would mean driving well off the marked right of way, probably placing the towing vehicle in the middle of the field and pulling from there.
We could always go ask the farmer, very sheepishly if he would mind us churning up his crops with a two ton Land Rover, or even more apologetically if he might not come down with his big crop-master tractor, that can literally uproot trees. But, I don't think it would be much use.
Three fields back the Land Owner is a great guy and loves to see 4x4's used for what they were intended. Even allows the local Land Rover club to hold a Road Taxed Vehicle trail on a bit of his land up the back. But the Farmer on this particular stretch of track is a real pain. He is a real bean counter, and has been trying to get the Right of Way across his land removed for years. He has a big chunk of woodland just over yonder, and rears pheasants there, and having a RoW so close makes it a real pain for him to keep poachers at bay.
So we are on our own, and you can bet that if he or any of his hands are in the area, they will be watching carefully and taking down registration numbers.
Right, well, what do we do? Well, there are a number of options. The first is probably to try using waffle boards or bridging ladders under the rear wheels to find some extra traction and get you at least out of the tree line. But we don't have any. We could try a winch, it would still need a straight pull to get you back up the hill. And well, it might be a start, given a roller fair-lead, or a capstan winch, the winch vehicle could be stood off at almost right angles on the track, and still manage to pull you at least some of the way up.
Question is, straight winch or drive assisted winch? That depends on the winch, the traction the wincing vehicle has, and the confidence of the bloke winching, both in his equipment, and you. If this is considered, take instruction, and if there is anything you are unsure about, ask.
A tangential pull straight from a winch vehicle will haul you up the hill to a point where you can drive out, or be safely towed out. If things are more difficult than that, well you are into the realms of using ground anchors and snatch blocks, and using stage pulls to haul you up, and line you up, and get you back on the chosen path.
Not impossible, but into the realms of a winching challenge, rather than off road driving. But, given the popularity of winches these days, it is quite easy to find a complicated solution using a winch, for what is fundamentally a pretty simple problem. You have too little traction. Can you find some brush wood to put under the wheels in substitute for a sand waffle?
Take note; apply common sense before technology!
So, vehicle recovered, and back on track. Its getting exiting now. Out of the mud, and onto the black top, because we have a couple of miles to the next trail.
Having fun? Look at all that gloopy mud on the tyres. Yup, its flying off the wheels of the car in front pretty good too. What a mess. Back off a bit. First so that you don't get so much mud off his tyres on your wind screen and can see where you are going. Secondly, because if he has mud all over his tyres, so do you, and neither of you are going to have as much grip on the tarmac as normal. Lastly, that is when you are on tarmac. All the mud off the leaders tyres and the car in front's tyres is currently being deposited on the surface of the road.
Oh, and the chances are, especially if you have disk brakes, there will be a nice film of gloopy stuff on them too. A couple of gently applications of the brakes to make sure that they are clear and working, might be a good idea. Oh, have you still got diff-lock engaged, by the way?
From here, we have about fifteen miles on tarmac. As the crow flies, its probably only three, but then that would be almost straight up the side of the valley. We are climbing up into the mountains. The route is sort of zigzagging in loops up the side of the valley, and we are having to make a tight turn at the end of each tack, as we leave one road and join the next. Long Wheel Base vehicles beware. Some of these turns are so tight, and on such narrow lanes that you'll probably have to shunt to make the turn.
Well, its been a long climb, but we are now at the top of the tree line, and above us is open moor land and barren rock. The lane we are on is sort of graded, and was probably once tarmac, but is so poorly maintained that grass is growing down the middle in clumps. Can see why it's here though, it leads up to that desolate little bungalow there. Beyond their gateway, look, the track starts to disintegrate completely into crater sized pot holes and ultimately a mud track.
Not to difficult to drive on, and the view from up here is pretty spectacular, isn't it? And its going to get better look. The trail dips and rounds the peak on our left, and climbs up the side of the next until we will be on the crest of this ridge. It follows the tops, going up and down a bit for about a mile, before dropping down the side of that tall peak up ahead. Most of the way is pretty firm, but as we drop into the dips between the peaks there is some soft going. Its a bit peaty and some of those patches of dark mud can be quite deep.
Well, our fearless leader has called a halt for a few moments for us to get out, stretch our legs and take a few photo's. Right, back to off road settings. Seat back up, low box engaged, etc etc.
Off again, and the first bit is the drop down and around this peak. The track is now fairly rocky, with tufts of grass in between and some loose gravel, but the gradient isn't too steep, and there's no need for a really low gear, 2nd low range is fine.
This is the 'scenic' part of the run, and the driving really isn't that demanding. We have done going up, we have done going down, we've done wash-outs and pot holes, and gloopy mud. There's nothing REALLY new here, except the peat pits, which are a bit weird, and tight boulders.
The first peat pit catches us a bit by surprise. Dead give away are the tufts of course bog grass, which we should have spotted way up; but as the trail seemed so undemanding we'd relaxed our concentration and forgotten rule number one:
ALWAYS READ THE TERRAIN
Our leader, of course, so accustomed to such hazards never even gave it a second thought and just went straight through.
Number two, saw the water lap number ones wheels had a moment, decided some momentum was needed and accelerated into the bog.... too late, his front wheels were already in it, and he has dug himself in.
Peat, is like a sponge. Its fibrous and squashes; and driving over it is a bit like trying to run on a thick foam mattress.
Walk, and the mattress will squash down where your feet are, and water will rise up to fill the hole; but you will keep moving.
Run at it, and you'll try and shove the mattress backwards as well as down, until your feet get tangled in the duvet, and you trip over and fall on your face!
Number two, is up to his door bottoms in water. His wheels are spinning like crazy, and all he is achieving is to tear the peat into chunks and wrap it around his axles!
Slow down, hazards on for number four and Tail End Charlie, to let them know you are stopping, and halt well ahead of the hole.
See, number one has spotted what's happened and is backing up.
Tail End Charlie, look is walking up to see what's happening. Stay put! Number one is going to be getting the strops out the back again. He's going to pull him out. Number one will need to drive the tow car. Number two, will need to drive the stuck car. SOME-ONE is going to have to get wet, wading around in that morass to try and get the recovery line onto something solid; probably the axle, that is currently six inches under water!
Yup, look, there you go, Number one's just asked Charlie to do the honours. See, he's grimacing as he kneels down to try and attach the strap. Yup. Knew he'd have to get down on his belly to get under and get that strap on! Hope the heater in his motor's a good'n.
OK, looks like he's out. Look at Charlie! Chaps dripping! What's he just say? 'Just take it steady?' was that? Good advice. That's exactly what we are going to do.
Second low; bit of speed, and just 'chugg' through nice and steady, and we shouldn't have any problem.
See, what did I tell you?
Right well, we can relax again now; see the trail is heading up a bit, towards that rocky outcrop. Still some peat pits along the way, see; the course grass gives them away. And looks like a gravel wash there; little streamlet, but that shouldn't give us any grief.
Right, well, this is the last bit before the lunch stop. Goings quite firm now we are up on the rock scree. We only have a few worries; one is that we are on a bit of a side slope, the other is that the trail is winding its way through or over some pretty large boulders.
But its the smaller ones that you need to be weary off. Anything bigger than a football, you are going to go over or round. Smaller than that, though and they can cause damage, hitting your axle casing or steering gear, or being dislodged by the wheel pressure and jamming in something.
Slow and steady, and easy does it. Yup, feels precarious when you're near side rides up a foot high rock, doesn't it; leaning on the drivers door you think your going to roll!
You wont. We're no where near the point of balance yet; when we have to fold the wing mirrors in to stop them bashing on the floor, then we can start to worry!
70% of the weight of a Land Rover is no more than three inches above the chassis; and provided we haven't significantly raised the CofG with a suspension lift or expedition roof rack or anything, it's remarkably low, and we shouldn't be in any danger of pitching over until we are at or beyond forty five degrees to the horizon!
See number two there? That bolder sticking out the side's giving him some gip. Gaps a bit narrow and he's chosen to ride the bolder, and put his nearside wheels up it. Only thing is he'd bellied out in the middle and the boulders riding his rock slider!
Maybe that's why he's done it! Test his accessories! We don't have them, and don't really want to risk any damage; so pick your line carefully; you want to 'jink' the car through the gap; shall I get out and guide you through?
OK, follow the hand signals; keep it tight to your left; I want you to get the near side right over as close to the bolder as you can, then you're going to put the nose hard right, to make the car 'wiggle' through the gap.
Good, hard right, slow, slow, OK, watch your tail, ease left, bring the tail round, keeping it as tight to the rock as you can. Good, OK, left down left down bring the back end round the rock, Careful, right down a tad, mind your tail on the fence post... easy does it, that's good.
OK, your tails clear, straighten the front up and bring her through.... that's great.
Thank you; didn't really want to have to walk home!
So, what do you think? Great isn't it? Stunning scenery, some taxing little sections to drive. And parts of the country you just wouldn't get to see from the motorway.
Looks like we're heading back onto the black top just up ahead. Remember what I said earlier about checking your distance and checking your brakes?
Think we're only five minutes from the Little Chef now. It's a late lunch. I'll be leaving you there. Rest of the run this afternoon, takes you up through the woods; it's all forest trails; they're nice easy going. Pretty firm, a few peat pits in places, and I'm sure if I know our illustrious leader and his penchant for wading, probably a couple of fordings; but you've done them now and know what to expect.
Well, you think you do. They're all different. Even the same obstacle can be different going in the opposite direction, or passing on a different day; that's what keeps it so interesting.
But, hey, you know what it feels like now, don't you? You've seen what your car can do, and found out what it cant, and its not so scary is it? Actually its fun.
So, I'll leave you to your sandwiches..... just remember, you need to fill up before you file out with the others!