Wednesday, June 13, 2007

World record 4x4 odyssey

Ladies and gentlemen, we have a new world record (at least I think it is), and two cases of industrial deafness.

Mrs B and I have just travelled about 700km from Massvingo in Zimbabwe (Fort Vic to you unreconstructed rhodeys out there) to White River in South Africa - in low range 4x4.

For the non diesel-heads out there, low range is what you put your four wheel drive into when you wish to negotiate raging rivers, swamps, deep sand or clinging mud. It's like a crawl-mode. It is most definitely not recommended for tar roads and there is even a sign in Tonka, our venerable (read old, noisy and slow-at-the-best-of-times) Series III Land Rover warning of dire consequences if the vehicle is driven in 4x4 on tar.

So why, you ask, would I do such a stupid thing? Necessity, of course. The purpose of this latest brief trip to southern Africa was to relocate Tonka from his home in Zimbabwe down to South Africa in preparation for an extreme makeover before our next big trip. On the top of the to-do list was fitting a new gear box and transfer box (attentive fans will recall past posts on the deteriorating state of the gear box).

Things were ticking (OK, chugging) along nicely until just south of Massvingo when Mrs B and I slowed for a police road block. Once we were waved through I put Tonka into gear - no, tried to put him into gear - and was met with a sickening crunching and grinding noise from below, and no forward motion.
The gear box was going through its death rattles. We pulled over at a service station (which, like most others in Zimbabwe had no fuel, just a throng of people sitting around with nothing to d0). I slid underneath in the hope that I would find something dangling loose, or a bolt half out (as is often the case with Tonka) but everything look scarily intact. No amount of bashing, hammer hitting or swearing would fix the problem (surprisingly all of these often yield results). This was an internal problem.

Doctor Roland, the South African Land Rover mechanic has a saying, which provides solace at times like this. "The Land Rover breaks, but it does stop." What he means is that while Tonka has had his little problems over the years he has never ground to a complete halt.

And such, fortunately, was the case. I found that by engaging 4x4 in low range, Tonka was able to move again, albeit with much whining. Much, much whining. In this mode he was capable of a top speed of 40kph.

Modern day torturers (or tactical questioners as they're sometimes known in today's PC defence forces) have known the value of noise for some time. Put a bag over someone's head and play unceasing, near deafening noise (anything - static, Eminem, or something really cruel, like Leonard Cohen) at them for a couple of days and any baddie will roll over and sing like a canary. Tactical questioners take note - put your terror suspects in a Land Rover and drive at 40kph in low range for five days. You'll be left with a jibbering, staring, drooling wreck who will do/say anything to make the noise go away.

Like me. And Mrs B. In the evenings, after driving for as long as we could (about 100-200km per day) we would stare blankly into space for the first hour, over our beers, waiting for the ringing in our ears to cease and our hands to stop shaking.

Fortunately, the last 300km or so of our trek to White River was through the majestic Kruger National Park, where the speed limit on tar roads is 50kph, so our top speed was not out of order. Unfortunately, though, we were so noisy that I think we were scaring away any animals in our path. As a result, game viewing was not up to our normal standards.

However, the Kruger has a way of soothing the most frazzled nerves and it was nice to be back.

Tonka's new gear box had arrived in South Africa from the UK during our journey but, as we boarded our flight from Johannesburg to Sydney, it was still stuck in Customs at Joburg Airport... the saga will continue.


Hann said...

I was just scratching my head and then realised that you are talking of Wit Rivier! right?
Still sounds like a great adventure to me! Bugger!!!

tonypark said...


Hann said...

he he he, you learned a new word?