Tuesday, December 22, 2015 | Germany – Baden-Wurttemberg, Nitzenhausen | Win & Petra
END OF THE ROAD
THIS IS A STORY ABOUT OFF-ROADING FOR BEGINNERS
Once we had dinner with our friends Anne, Dieter, Christine and Ludger. Dieter was telling us how much he liked the off-road training he joined with his Suzuki Jimny and how much he learned. Only a view days later Win comes across an advert of MARKOM, a professional camp for off-roading. What a luck!
Spontanously he applied for an off-the-road training on a weekend in December which would work out perfectly with our plans to go ahead to France, Spain, Portugal and Morocco right after the training. We planned to spend the winter time in a warmer sunny region. At this particular time we didn’t know that in fact we would stay for some further months in Nuremberg due to business reasons.
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On Saturday morning the training for all participants starts with the theoretical part. Manfred, the instructor, explains several issues. What is a differential gear and how does it work? What do we know about slope angle and wading depth? How to drive along a steep slope and what has gear reduction to do with it? I’m happy to be allowed to take part in the training even if I won’t drive the truck myself through sludgy terrain today.
Very well prepared with profound knowledge and invigorated after a delicious lunch we go for riding. Every participant drives to the nearby quarry. Yesterday’s rain turned the extensive area into a sludgy terrain with perfect training conditions.
The warm up is to drive a curvy course between some cones. Nothing could be easier. Maybe with a bike, but we’re lost with our truck. However, it soon becomes obvious that communicating with walkie-talkie is unsuitable for that task. Because it is too imprecisely, left and right can be mixed up easily and the poor acoustics can cause misunderstanding. Correctly adjusted mirrors, the right position of the banksman (it’s me in this case) and precise, clear hand signals are much better suited here. The advantage of failure is that we can train our actions and can improve it.
Now the maybe greatest challenge for Win ist waiting for him. We’ve got to get in and out the cab again and again to adapt tire inflation pressure, to read the terrain, to check the ground or the position of the truck from outside. It’s the only way for the driver to decide for the right gear with or without gear reduction.
While this happens we’re walking with heavy boots on sludgy ground…
Those who know me, know how important it is to me having a neat car. Of course you can imagine the challenge for me to step into the cab with sludgy boots on brand new and clean foot mats. Meanwhile I agree that rubber mats have a right to exist.
But there is no time for sensitivities. The next exercise is waiting for me: driving uphill a steep slope.
At first I have to drive up just two third of the hill, stop, engage the rear gear and reverse downhill with gear reduction, no clutch, no brakes. Next step is to drive uphill right to the top. A straight hill and a straight trace but the truck drifts uphill to the left and the right. Now I should keep the tires straight. It’s everything but easy. Instinctively I try to counteract the sideways movement of the truck. Instructor Volker, the wise voice on the passenger seat, gave me the caring advice: „You see the letters MAN on your wheel? Just keep it straight so that you can read it.“ I understand the theory but it makes me feeling a bit frightened.
If you don’t keep the wheel straight you run the risk of driving the truck with full speed into the direction the tires are aligned to as soon they’re getting grip to the ground. In the worst case it’s the slope, a tree or a rock face but definitely it’s not straight uphill.
With the new exercise I am expected to drive downhill into the slope right after a narrow left turn. For a start I am using clutch and brakes. As soon as all tires are positioned straight in the slope I’ve got to remove my feet from clutch pedal and brake pedal just using the engine brake to drive downhill. Now it happens. During this maneuver I bring up the clutch pedal too fast, the clutch grips abruptly and suddenly there is a terrible smell in the air. The clutch can no longer be activated. And now? Will we be able to reactivate it? First experiments don’t succeed.
After the first „shock“ the problem is solved quite easily. MAN service hotline is informed. Volker, the instructor, tows the truck with his Unimog from sludgy ground to tarmac. Service technician Benny arrives an hour later and quickly diagnoses a bad damage of the clutch. Another hour later the towing service arrives and tows the truck to the garage only 15 km away from where we are. There we get a replacement car for driving to Nuremberg and within two days we can pick up our truck again clean, ready to go and equipped with a new clutch. Would it have been the same in the deserts of Morocco?
By the way the clutch didn’t break down due to the exercise I did the moment before it broke down. Experts say there already must have been something wrong with the clutch before. Trucks like this one are constructed especially for extreme off-road conditions and are able to resist a lot more. We’re happy that the clutch broke down here instead of in the middle of nowhere. So the repair wasn’t a big trouble and was quite comfortably done.
Anyway, we’ll continue with our off-road training. It makes sense to try buttons like those of differential lock or gear reduction to experience their effects and to use them when necessary. We now know about the importance of the proper tire inflation pressure when driving off-road. And we’ve learned that we can do much more with our truck than we’ve dared to do before. Things that can be very helpful during our journey.
Thank you very much to Volker Müller and his MARKOM team, to Benny the service technician, to RAPP towing service and to the service team of MAN in Neuenstein. Thank you as well to all participants of the off-road weekend and to Thomas, who took some pretty pictures of the event (please see the gallery).
It was wonderful to meet you all.