A slightly different day today as I went off-road driving for the first time. I was phoned up at short notice earlier in the week, someone had dropped out of the course. It’s part of my work as a volunteer ranger and will mean that I can drive the land rovers when out on tasks.
It did mean an early start, as the off road centre was in Kent but I linked up with another volunteer who lived just up the road in Lewes. Starting early meant we were ahead of the traffic and got there in good time. In fact such good time that having found the place, we were all set to go and get a coffee somewhere - although in the depths of Kent's orchards there weren't going to be too many Starbucks around. However, one of the staff turned up and let us in to the centre to wait in the warmth as it wasn't the warmest of days.
Well, centre sounds slightly glamorous it was a large warehouse with the workshop underneath where there was much hammering and welding going on and an upper level with the classroom, toilets, a small kitchen and offices. This was a 4-wheel driving course, would did you expect. We had to wait while the coffee machine heated up and there was a log burning stove, which once it got going, warmed the place up, along with supplies of coffee, chocolate or whatever combination you chose from the machine.
The rain from the previous few days made the 4x4 course extremely muddy! Firstly, we talked through the mechanics of 4-wheel driving - diffs, gears and learning even simple things, such as the fact that the engine drives the wheel with the least resistance - that's why they spin - on ice, mud or in the wet. Then it was out to put it into practice, in a fairly battered but working Range Rover. There were only three of us on the course which gave plenty of opportunity for driving practice, taking it turns to drive round the course and get used to the gears and the fact that even without your foot on the accelerator the engine still drives the vehicle forward - even on a slope.
Back into the classroom for more about safety, stopping and starting on a slope and the importance of momentum. Lunch was followed up with more hands-on practice this time in the mud and a variety of hills, slopes, mud, ruts and ditches, all the time avoiding the trees, which got pretty close as the range rover lurched from side to side, in and out of the trees, along the ruts and over the bumps. I only touched one small tree! It’s amazing how steep a gradient these vehicles will go up ... and down and the temptation to keep your foot on the brake, as you head down what feels like a ridiculously steep slope - results in a sharp reprimand of "Foot OFF the brake!". This is what they were made for – not driving to and from the nearest supermarket.
All in all a great day out but you're safe for the moment as I won't be allowed out on the road until I've completed the on-road and defensive driving part of the course.