HIS instruction was simple: drive towards the sky. As the sweat dripped down my face and my mind shifted into focus, I knew I had to pull myself together. I don’t think I have ever felt my heart beating faster.
As I took a deep breath and visualised everything that could go wrong, I pressed the accelerator and drove up. I was in the driver’s seat of the Volkswagen Amarok TDI 4Motion and attempting to climb a steep incline to the heavens. All I could see were the clouds. And the two poles that were helping me align the 4×4 heading towards those clouds.
Once I had reached the top and exhaled, I had to slowly let the car dip and release the brakes for a smooth drive down.
This was one of the many awe- inspiring obstacles I had to tackle at the Sandawana training track outside Pretoria. A dusty dirt road led us to a course filled with rocks, dug-up holes, steep hills at various angles and a side hill that inclines at 45 degrees.
I didn’t quite anticipate just how nervous I would be until the process was explained to me. In two short hours I was given a mechanical breakdown of the vehicle and taken aback by all the information, but I was still keen to get on with the programme. It was also my first drive of an automatic vehicle. The hour-long drive was smooth and put my nerves at ease before we got to the training track. There, VW ambassador André de Villiers walked us through all the obstacles.
André says of the Amarok: “A brilliant piece of engineering.”
It was a different ball game once we had to do the obstacles. In one challenge, I had to take on the dug-up mud potholes with both the auto and manual Amarok. You see, there is some super technology in the Amarok that makes it not just tough nut but really smart too. This is the reason why getting over that obstacle was so easy. The manual 4×4 literally drives itself. All I had to do was put it in gear.
Watch: Andre De Villiers and his self-driving Amarok
I tried the same obstacle with the automatic. It may not have been as smooth, but the vehicle could pick itself back up after landing in each hole.
Sitting on my passenger side was the trainer of all trainers, DeVilliers, known for his prowess with 4x4s. He worked for the TFM group that designed the Casspir Mk 2 military vehicle. He was then head- hunted to work on the RG12 Nyala and has since been part of many other projects throughout Africa that can testify to his status as the king of 4×4. What mattered to me, though, as I sat in the driver’s seat, was that he knew everything about the vehicle – and he had also designed the training track.
When you think of dirt road challenges and muddy obstacles, a woman is not the first person who comes to mind. It’s always viewed as something the boys do for fun. I was pleasantly surprised at just how much I enjoyed it – and my girls would enjoy it too.
De Villiers explained that in 4×4-ing, the low-down torque from the Amarok’s diesel motor was needed for traction to take on obstacles. The Amarok engine is one of the best when it comes to a flat torque curve.
An obstacle that had my knees on full wobble was the drive along a side inclination that had me controlling the 4×4 at 30 degrees. Needless to say, the tech power allowed for a safe and calculated drive along the incline. I was breathless out of fear that the car would topple over – the less said about that, the better.
De Villiers showed us how the Amarok can drive along a 45-degree side slope! I sat in the passenger seat this time. While my life flashed before my eyes, his calm demeanour reminded me why he is not only the host of the most successful 4×4 series on kykNet – 10 seasons of Safari 4×4 Roetes – but someone who knows absolutely everything about the Amarok. Just
Just as I was pulling myself together, I was the passenger again as he took on the 41-degree slope. We stopped right at the point where I could feel the blood rush to my face, convinced this was the end for me. De Villiers showed me how even for an inexperienced driver (like me), the Amarok can help you if you allow it to. If you stall or lose your balance, the vehicle can immediately pick up your actions as the driver and “take over” the drive of the car.
It was then my turn to take on the lesser slopes. This was when De Villiers gave me the instruction to look to the sky. It sounded easy enough. Driving up that slope tested my trust of gravity, a slight resistance formed in my body. Once I reached the top of the steep climb, it was a slow drive to position the car and let it drive me down the hill.
A few more attempts and I was facing what felt like a true roller-coaster ride. It’s an experience I will never forget. Not only did it test the level of trust I had in myself, but it also allowed me to let go.
The Amarok is there to help you. You need to be comfortable in the fact that the car knows what it’s doing and you have to trust it. You have to let go and take chances and be able to challenge yourself.
After all of that, I think the boys’ club has definitely opened its doors to me. I gave myself a real pat on the back for taking on the off-road world for the first time and conquering it.