Monday, 2 January 2012

Bogged down and sweating

The last thing I want to do is to "dis" Tom and Danny, our leader and driver respectively. They are two of the greatest guys I have ever met, utterly charming, polite, hard-working, entertaining, highly-experienced travellers, very good drivers, excellent mechanics, great company, marvellous lovers probably, and able to control extremely diplomatically but firmly a bunch of individualists some of whom are more than twice their ages. With the possible exception of Marek who I doubt can be controlled by anyone alive.

They may be kids from my ancient perspective, 25 and 30 years old, but almost unbelievably mature, experienced and capable in every possible respect - except one. Like I said, I don't want to dis them - but I've got to get this off my chest. If they ever read this I hope they will understand.

Far be it from me to claim superiority on the subject of getting bogged-down motor vehicles back on the road - but not to put too fine a point on it this is a matter upon which I am effortlessly superior to almost anyone I know. I learned from the age of 12 to drive on the beaches of Somerset and Wales where numerous land speed records were set. At times in my father's 4.2 litre Jag, at up to 120 miles an hour. Later in my own cars I went back, perfecting high-speed drifting, handbrake turns, skid recovery, oversteering, countersteering, left-foot braking and so on. Those were the days - it's all been stopped now of course. We frequently got bogged down in soft sand and so I also had to perfect techniques for getting out. Sometimes in the face of an incoming tide, so there was no time to waste. Look, I could go on about my off-road driving in sand and mud, and the inordinate amount of expensive time I have spent driving in the Alps over several decades. Just accept that unsticking motor vehicles is a field in which I excel. I know that an old, heavy truck is qualitatively different, but the same principles apply.

I don't want to bug anybody by going into too much detail, but on the occasions when the truck got bogged down, some things mystified me:
- pushing on forwards and downwards into the sand or mire, rather than concentrating on reversing back up onto known firm ground
- using 10 man power of human muscle to assist the forward motion, rather than the 200 horse power of a helpful local's 4-wheel drive standing idly by
- digging and digging into the sand or mud so that the truck sank ever deeper. Digging through snow to find tarmac is one thing, digging down through sand to reach, well, more sand is another.
- when a tractor turned up on one occasion, allowing it to use forward gear to try to pull us out, rather than reverse so that at least its wheels stayed on the ground and the tyre treads were facing the most efficient way
- taking weight off the rear axle so that our drive wheels spun even more freely.
- applying excess torque to the drive wheels by revving hard in low gears and choking the tyre treads.
- when we once had the good fortune to get help from a 4-wheel drive lorry, moving the weight forward directly over the rear axle of the towing vehicle rather than back to benefit from the cantilever effect (it is basic physics). I feel particularly aggrieved about that one after being shouted down by my fellow-travellers when I tried to explain.

Look, I could go on (and on, and probably on) but what can you do at the time? There was one callow "expert" already irritating our grim-faced boys, who were doing their level best to get us out. Any interference was only going to infuriate them further and undermine their hard-won authority. Or maybe it was just cowardice on my part. Or maybe, with no deadlines, it wasn't really my problem. In any event I held my peace. And gnawed my knuckles.

I can't claim all the credit for my forbearance. When, with wide eyes and outstretched palms, I shared my doubts with Marek (20 years driving experience in Canadian winters) he silently signalled me to keep quiet. Pierre (another car-borne skier, and a wiser man than I) responded with: "Je n'ai pas aucune opinion, aucun avis".

Fair play to the boys, they got us out but only after hours of hot, sweaty and back-breaking work.

Good. I feel better for that. But maybe, now that the therapeutic effect has worked, I might just delete this tomorrow so as not to annoy two of the nicest guys alive.


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