Off-roading advice from Jeep
It didn’t take me long after arriving in the UAE to decide I would buy the sort of car I would never have had the chance to own back in Blighty - a gas guzzler.
When buying my 4x4, I went down the quality and age scale so as not to be too precious when I tackled the dunes.
However, I have yet to head into the desert with it, worried I might never be heard from again, so I jumped at the chance to go to the Jeep Academy - a free half-day introduction to off-roading for Jeep customers.
Having been given the keys to a 2012 five-door Jeep Wrangler, I set off with expert Peter Gladstone, head of the Jeep Academy, to learn the finer points of desert driving.
You would have to drive a long way to find someone more qualified than Peter. He started off-roading in the UAE in the 1970s, driving a Land Rover.
Fully satisfied I was in good hands, we set off. Just five minutes after leaving Al Awir, we are already heading into the desert. After another five, we pull over for a briefing, in which Peter carefully explained, in layman’s terms, the concept of a four-wheel drive as well as the finesse required for “floating” over the sand.
I secretly promised myself not to be the sort of gung-ho driver that would betray my inexperience behind the wheel of this 3.6l Jeep but before I got the chance to test my vow, I was in the passenger seat of Peter’s Wrangler, being whisked over a mammoth dune and - even more excitingly - down the other side. The key, I learn, is to keep the wheels straight and to feather the brakes as you descend.
Peter says: “A little practice and guidance helps you understand the features of the car. Some people have driven for years off-road but they don’t actually understand what they are doing.”
Mental notes are being furiously made as we return to my Jeep. Sitting in the passenger seat, Peter takes me through some smaller dunes but before long we are practising on the earlier, bigger ones.
With the front wheels teetering on the edge of what I can only describe as a precipice, I find myself putting into practice the most important lesson Peter has taught me - as you go over, keep the wheel straight and if you start to descend sideways, do not panic turn.
Sage advice as I am able to feather the brakes and correct my decline.
I ask what the key to driving in the desert is. Peter said: “Momentum and floatation, you are trying to float on top of the sand, if you go too fast you will bounce the car and when the wheels come off the ground you have no traction.”
He added: “Get yourself up the dune only to the top as there is no point going further because then you’re airborne and as good as Jeeps are, they’re not designed for flying.”
So, what are the common mistakes?
“Normally it is when you get a bunch of guys out together,” said Peter. “If you are going to leave something behind, leave your ego at home. If you don’t make it up a dune but keep trying, you can really abuse the vehicle. At some point you have to say I’m not going to get up there, lets find another route.”
The rest of the day is spent practising my lessons, including gear selection. Peter says: “When done properly it can be a great day out. I’ve been out here 40 years and I still go out on my days off to do it. You see things like we saw today we, saw a sand gazelle and a fox and camels.”
I can’t wait to get out there again.