I was cold. Shivering with every gust of wind that decided to blow through the thick fog. I didn´t think I would even be able to tell if there was a cliff in the next ten metres. And then my name got called out. And the adrenalin came rushing back in to my head.
As I climbed into the Thar, there was a spring in my step. All the exhaustion, aching calves and sleepy eyes had just disappeared. I mentally reviewed my notes. The drop on brakes in first, shift to second and gas it. Counter the movement in the slush as you go up the hill, steer left, then correct to the right and again steer left and don’t touch the cones.
And remember, don’t just punch it. Modulate. Don’t let the revs drop but let the tyres grip. Slow is fast.
For anyone who is thinking that I am trying to dramatize, please join me at the next Global Explorer course offered by Mahindra Adventure and you will know. The Mahindra adventure facility is nestled in the hilly slopes of Igatpuri, on the way to Nashik from Mumbai. The place becomes a Bollywood landscape in the monsoons and the pelting rains just add more green to the scene.
With absolutely no idea of what is going to happen over the next three days, I reached Mahindra Adventure on Friday afternoon. And because I hadn’t read the itinerary (bad decision), I turned up with a bunch of shorts while the rest of the crew and participants made sure they were all covered from head to toe.
Yes, we were going to off-road into the night because you know why? Day-time off-roading is for noobs. I wanted to shout out loud, and tell everyone that I am not even a rookie when it comes to off-roading but then I imagined what my boss would do to me for being an embarrassment (again?) and stayed quiet.
So, about the course. The Global Explorer training program is the most advanced off-road training program that Mahindra Adventure offers and after three days of grit and grime, I am truly impressed. And that is because it takes care of almost all aspects. While a prepped up car is one, there is a lot more to off-roading than that and the most important of them all is technique.
Manish Sarser and Selvin Jose, the able trainers, dumbed it down for us. With hardly any jargon, they made sure that we understood the basics. It all boils down to understanding the situation, understanding the obstacles and finding the easiest way out for the rig. And then came in the expert tip – know when to stop!
When you are out on your own, you are the best judge of the situation. So if you are stuck, it is imperative to understand where the limits of your machine lie and when to give up so that you don’t ruin your machine nor your health.
For the first couple of days, Manish and Selvin had zeroed in on some obstacles where we had to apply different techniques to get through the set courses. And if they thought it might become easy to traverse them, they would have their fun and dig the course up to make it even more difficult for us. Unless you push your limits, you would not learn. And what better place to push your limits than when you have expert instructors and recovery teams to rescue.
We did them all - long inclines, steep turns, articulations, water wading, step slopes, long slopes, winching etc. The instructors would give us a demo run, explain the science to us and allow us to run the course for us to experience the intricacies of each situation. And we were doing all of this in the dark. With limited visibility, it taught us the importance of recce. Off-roading is not about speed at all. It is about caressing your machine through the trenches in the smoothest way because that is the only way to get out unscathed, both you and the machine. You cannot stress enough on vehicle preservation unless you learn it the hard way and that is something no off-roader would want, especially on the nights like we had.
We also had theory sessions. The study material that was given to us had to be read thoroughly as we were going to have a test based on that. Though seemingly simple, you will be surprised to find the number of trick questions that can come out and then you realise how complicated off-roading is.
The next session we had was on on-site repairs, what to look for and how to repair/replace it. We changed the hub-locks, understood the torsion-bar setup for the front suspension to alter the ride height and got to see the vulnerable parts of the Thar up close. So the next time we are out, we know exactly how to place the car to avoid damage to critical components.
Finally, we had the much needed first aid session. Demonstrations on basic life support, how to read a situation, how to respond and what can be done to ensure that the wounded have the best shot at recovery were explained to us with demonstrations. While it may seem unrelated, proper off-roading as a sport is prone to injury, especially due to unknown surroundings and pumping adrenalin. And if you can ever help a dear one in any way you can, why not!
On the last day, we started in the morning to compete against each other in a series of tests. The first one was winching. We had to use the snatch-block to winch a stuck car out. A snatch-block is basically a pulley that allows you to multiply the pulling power. The trick here is to secure both the ends properly, ensure that the entire rig is locked and the people around are clear of any danger.
The anchoring should be done in such a way that it distributes the load through the chassis of the rig that is being winched out so that you do not let the axles behind. Also, the winch-cable might snap when forces of more than two tonnes come into play and the resultant whiplash is severe enough to destroy anything in its way and the human body is the weakest.
Next in, we had to build a bridge with logs and ratchet-straps to crawl over deep puddles. This too, is all technique and with the right equipment, it can be done in a jiffy. All you need is practice and deft touches when you are driving the car over it. Again, it does sound easy, but doing it in real life is a different ball-game altogether.
Finally, we had the cone tests. We had to stop and pick-up cones through tracks that looked impossible to complete even without the cones. And then you couldn’t get off the car for the left-side ones and couldn’t get your seat-belts off for the ones on the right side. So in all the muck, slopes and ditches, you had to position the car just right for you to pick up the cone and also make sure you do not get stuck. And as it would go, if you positioned the car only to pick up a cone, you would get stuck. And to top it off, all this had to be done in the specified time.
So, the onus was on to you to pick up all the cones or miss some and finish the course, because in spite of all the bravado, it was the points that would decide the winner. The final test had us reversing down a slushy slope while avoiding cones in the foggy, rainy night where the rear-view mirrors of the Thar are just as useless as my shorts for a night in the jungle!
All said and done, at the end of it, I came out as a better man. It is not that I would be able to win every competition that I would participate in. But it will surely give me a shot at it without damaging myself or my rig. And for that, I would always be grateful for those three drenched days at the Global Explorer program at Mahindra Adventure.