We have a chance to test this as we approach a 45-degree slope that would be treacherous on foot, never mind in a one-tonne metal box on wheels. I switch into the low gear ratio and ease my foot off the clutch. The result is frankly amazing. I’m barely squeezing the accelerator, but the high-pitched turbo starts to purr and we surely ease up the slope backed by a huge surge of power.
The feeling at the bottom of a towering hill can only really be compared to that wave of trepidation as you edge backwards towards a precipice when abseiling. I am effectively putting my safety in the hands of a 2.5-litre engine. However, once the moment of fear passes, I’m left with the adrenaline rush of being immersed in a sensory experience far removed from that of everyday life. Unless you drive to work through the local wildlife sanctuary, that is.
Soon after comes the first stoppage of the expedition. Bliss For Brides have taken a major wrong turn and ended up stalled in the middle of a river. One of the Land Rover techies in the head car takes this opportunity to explain that the doors are not designed to be watertight for eventualities like these, the logic being that you don’t want the car to float, because that means no traction. At the side of the river, warm and dry, we agree that this makes perfect sense. Less impressed, however, is the driver from Bliss For Brides, whose feet are now completely underwater in the footwell of his car, as he waits for someone to tow him out of the drink.
The skills required for hazard-free all-terrain driving belie its macho reputation. Most of the time care and anticipation are the most useful techniques. You quickly realise that traversing ditches and deep ruts is only really comfortable at very low speeds. Anything more and the violent rocking of the car threatens to propel you into the roof like an ejector seat. By the time I’d worked out that speed was the enemy, I’d already managed to obliterate the left-hand wing mirror with the help of a particularly stubborn tree branch. I was afraid that I had unnerved my co-driver, but Keron from the FTjust smiled and said: “I say, old chap, mind the paintwork will you!”
Going down steep slopes requires switching down into the low gear ratio. This allows you to descend using the low revving engine as a brake, with only minimal assistance from the brake pedal. Using engine braking going downhill means you maintain a steady rate of descent. Using the brakes only, as I discovered too late, leads to the kind of stop-start jerking suitable only for learner drivers in empty car parks on Sundays. As I edge down a particularly steep gradient the seat belts prove particularly valuable – they hold me into the seat while gravity tries to force me into an unscheduled meeting with the windscreen, now inches from my face.
The next hazard blocking the convoy’s progress is an unusually rocky section of river bank. It requires us to utilise the steel sand boards attached to the sides of each vehicle’s roof rack. With the help of a few small boulders and some loose gravel, these are used to level out the gaps between the rocks, where at present the Land Rover’s wheels are bottoming out and spinning on air.