A few years back I berated SUV drivers. SUVS are quite expensive to buy and maintain, have a higher centre of gravity so more likely to roll over and, since nobody ever really uses them for any actual off-loading, are pretty much pointless.
To have one as a daily drive for commuting to work and going shopping is like using a power tool as a doorstop. Yes, you can but it’s a silly thing to do.
Thing is though, people who drive SUVs don’t care because they’re inebriated with a feeling of invincibility that only an SUV can provide. In an SUV you can speed up when you see potholes, you can confidently wade into the flood waters when others stall helplessly.
Pavements are optional road limits and despite the horrendous driving dynamics, wheeling one is a powerfully intoxicating feeling. Which is why I got myself one soon after berating SUV drivers.
Unfortunately, I almost exclusively use it for my daily commute. All my memorably epic 4X4 expeditions have been in other 4X4s to push and review them for you dear reader. Yet, deep down, I don’t get that snuggly satisfaction because, as impressive as they are, I’ve got no skin in the game.
Which is why I was very excited to learn a group of guys were taking their 4X4s through what promised to be a challenging drive through the Ngong forest. We were to meet at 9:30am. Dead on time, as I was checking the vitals, I noticed a small leak on a radiator pipe, dripping onto the alternator.
The only auto shop open had the wrong ones. Silicone and rubber tape fashion a temporary fix as I call the organisers who assure me all participants are expected to keep Kenyan time, giving me an extra 30 minutes or so.
10:30am: Due to an embarrassing miscommunication I end up on the right road, then the wrong road and finally the right one again.
Thirty minutes later I meet up with the pack; A J70 Land Cruiser, two Prados, two Nissan Patrols, a Land Rover Discovery, a short wheelbase Pajero and two Suzukis; A heavily modified competition winning Sierra and my dead stock JLX Vitara.
We kicked off with a muddy water bath that left my face covered in Mother Nature, on account of not winding up my windows. Then a steep section generously garnished with rocks which we all handled with ease and then, a proper mud pit. That’s when everyone went mad.
It was as if we were explorers who happened upon a long lost artefact. Except the explorers were four-wheel drive pigs and the artefact in question, a pit of sticky mud.
Everyone drove in, one at a time. Every car, but the Sierra, on account of it being tremendously awesome, got stuck and then pulled out, drenched in embarrassment. And the process was repeated over and over.
The only other car that didn’t get stuck was the JLX, on account of not participating. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to because I desperately did. But I’d been cheap at the pump and had but half a tank to cover 33km, powered by a carburettor. I’d have to choose my battles wisely.
Like the swampy, and very slippery heaven that the guy in the Discovery had found and was drifting around in. When he finally got dizzy I took a turn at taking a few turns, and it was glorious. Until I noticed in the dizzying distance between the others coming. This gave me a chance to drive further ahead and take pictures of the silliness, and to reflect.
A yellow butterfly flew through the passenger window, past my surprised eyebrow and through the door. My nostrils filled with moisture rich air, thanks to the blooming greenery, as birds sung melodiously in the distance. The beauty of a proper 4×4 is that it will take you close to Mother Nature and nestle you in her bosom to better appreciate her majestic beauty.
Ironically, proper SUVS are big and heavy, and accordingly wield a big engine. It’s sometimes diesel, sometimes petrol but always inefficient.
They’re also the least aerodynamic this side of a commercial vehicle. These all add up to mean that we actively destroy nature, bit by bit, every time we turn the key. Four-by-four enthusiasts are, therefore, a bit like smokers. Everyone knows smoking is stupid.
Yet seemingly sane people, despite mandatory gruesome images on cigarette packs, still puff. With the incessant increase in the global popularity of SUVs, and our desire to save the environment, it’s clear we’re all off the rails. And I’m loving every mud bit of it.