I RECENTLY drove down a little-used track that was slowly being reclaimed by the bushes and shrubs that once resided in its fertile soil.
It was initially a little tricky trying to avoid some overhanging ‘scratchy’ trees, but the first couple of hundred metres didn’t present much of a challenge. Then, as the density of the foliage increased, the track itself started to deteriorate under the vehicle’s tyres, with hidden washouts and fallen rocks strewn across our path.
As we rounded a bend, it became abundantly obvious we couldn’t proceed. Originally cut into the side of a very steep hill, a substantial landslide had now made the track completely impassable. There wasn’t enough space to safely turn around; I’d have to reverse back up the treacherous track.
My usual co-driver on such adventures wasn’t in the passenger seat; he was about 300m away on the other side of a ridge operating a UAV that was filming our lack of progress. Instead, his 17-year-old son Timbo sat beside me, making jokes about his “years of experience” of off-road driving.
“Well, Timbo, it’s time to prove your mettle,” I thought, as I instructed him to jump out and direct me back up.
I’ve worked with Timbo’s old man for more than a decade; I do the driving and he takes the photos. Over the years we’ve managed to safely put some four-wheel drives into some very extreme situations, all in the name of chasing that ‘perfect’ shot. In doing so, we’ve developed a pretty good system for manoeuvring vehicles in tricky spots, through a combination of hand signals and talking on the UHF. In fact, we’ve done this successfully so many times now I no longer need to watch where I’m going at all; I just keep my eyes on his hand signals and listen for his instructions over the air. Basically, I do as I’m told.
Now young Timbo loves his four-wheel driving. He gets behind the wheel of his dad’s rig whenever he gets the chance, then as soon as we stop somewhere to set up for a shot he’s up on the roof rack grabbing his RC crawler out of the gear bag and driving it up some mountain somewhere ’til it’s time to press on to the next photo op. Like his dad, he seems to have a knack for off-road driving.
Bearing his enthusiasm in mind, I thought he’d make a pretty decent navi, regardless of his limited experience. Preparing to back out of our current tricky predicament, I double-checked the position of the mirrors, engaged reverse, glanced at the reversing monitor and awaited Timbo’s instructions. Nothing.
“Timbo!” I called. “You ready?”
He stood there, motionless, not quite sure what to do.
“Mate, I need you to tell me what’s behind me,” I said. “Just let me know if I need to turn left or right and keep an eye out that I’m not going to back into anything.”
“Okay, back her up, she’ll be right,” he mumbled, not inspiring much confidence.
I reckon we’d reversed about 50m when I noticed the right rear wheel was about to fall into a massive washout. I hadn’t heard any “left-hand down” calls or seen any hand signals at all, despite the fact Timbo could easily see the hole in which I was about to fall.
It was as though he was frozen with fear.
I jumped out of the vehicle and had a quiet word with him. “Mate, all I need you to do is tell me to turn left or right,” I said, but he implied that he wasn’t at all confident issuing those instructions. This made me wonder what I’d feel like as a 17-year-old kid, directing a vastly more experienced (read: much older) four-wheel driver back up a track that we should probably have never driven down in the first place. Was it fair of me to place such a burden of responsibility on this young bloke?
Regardless of the rights or wrongs, we had to somehow get back up the track. We went for a wander on foot and eventually agreed upon a suitable spot to turn around. Tim assured me he wouldn’t let me drive over the precipice to a horrible, fiery death and, eventually, we managed a reasonably safe 30-odd-point turn and made our way back to the main track.
“He’s pretty handy with that RC crawler,” I told his old man. “I thought he’d be a good navi.”
“Have you seen how many times he’s crashed that thing?” laughed his dad.