Only minutes in and we have a written-off vehicle! Which one? The Cruiser or the van?

Aside from capturing great photos and video, the number-one outcome of any photoshoot is that no-one is hurt and nothing is damaged. Having a bit of fun is always on the cards, but not at the expense of personal safety or destroying any mechanical component.

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Unfortunately, last month’s photoshoot of the Mountain Trail LXV Hybrid caravan certainly didn’t go to plan.

I met the van owners, Mountain Trail’s Nick and Heidi Edwards, in the morning, drove to the shoot location, walked the off-road path to be driven and explained how I wanted the van to be set up for the photos. After a little negotiation, Nick chose to tow his luxury Mountain Trail van thought the edge of the gently-flowing stream; I guess wanting to prove the van could handle it and, as he rightly pointed out, it would make for great photos.

After agreeing, I said, “Don’t go too deep, ‘cause I’m not sure how easy-going it would be with the van in tow”. Other than a little wheel spin from the almost-new 200 Series LandCruiser, that first run was perfectly executed and I got great video footage from two different cameras.

Time to change cameras for a few stills.

What happened next made me pucker in anticipation as to whether we would spend the morning rescuing the van from deep in the water, or in fact if it might wash down stream and we’d have to dive in to rescue the driver. If I thought I was crapping myself from the safety of the river bank, I can only wonder how the driver was feeling.

After that first successful run, Nick handed the Cruiser’s reins to a reluctant Heidi, who admitted feeling uneasy about tackling the river. To be fair and straight to the point, Heidi made a mistake, like we all do from time to time and ended up way too deep in the water, unable to gain traction to drive back up the bank.

To her credit, she kept her foot down to try maintaining momentum. I could see through my lens (from about 50m away) she was fighting the steering wheel left and right to help get the rubber to bight and move the combined Cruiser and van mass out of the water.

There were a few extremely tense moments where I thought Heidi would win the fight, but once the bow wave of forward progress had dispersed and her upwards-facing palms signalled defeat, the dread of a half flooded electronically-controlled modern 4X4 became reality. Both the Cruiser and van were sitting in at least a metre of water for around half an hour and no matter how good the door seals may be, there would have to be major problems ensuing from water ingress.

Heidi yelled that the water was up to her seat, Nick yelled… and yelled. Heidi yelled back and I… well, I just stood and gently pulled my undies out, returned the camera to my own vehicle and set about working on an extraction.

Now, like I said, we all make mistakes and that’s fine, but making them while out 4X4ing brings about its own dangers of being remote and not having outside help. That is why I always pack my recovery bag when off exploring either for work or play even if I think it shouldn’t be needed – you just never know when things will go pear-shaped.

To Nick and Heidi’s credit, they also carried recovery gear – recovery boards, winch, straps and shackles. Initially, we used my Runva 11,000-pound winch to attempt a slow retrieval. Considering the weight of the Cruiser and the van, plus they were both filled with water and the Cruiser had bellied out on the river gravel, I wasn’t overly confident on the winch doing the job – but we had to give it a go. Surprisingly that Runva managed to drag the whole show most of the way out of the deeper water, albeit with the Cruiser engine running and it did have drive… for a while.

Looking back at my dash-cam footage, it is evident exactly when the right-hand side CV let go, with a puff of smoke and steam wafting up from under the mudguard. It was at that moment that, instead of the bogged Cruiser being recovered, my Troopy started being pulled into the drink. I’m pretty quick at bottoming off in that situation knowing the weight game was totally against me. No front drive from the Cruiser was ever going to allow more successful winching given there were no trees or anything else substantial to anchor my Troopy to.

Once the winch had been removed and re-spooled, we figured snatching the stricken Cruiser and flooded van was our only hope. Now, here’s where things could go horribly wrong and potential life-ending mistakes made; trying to snatch all that dead weight in one huge pull would certainly break either the strap or other components. So, gentle half-arsed pulls would be the only way I was going to proceed with the stanch strap.

While I lost count of how many snatches were attempted, with each run the Cruiser and van was moving just a foot or two at a time – I was happy with that. After a couple of dismounts from my Troopy to check the strap, connection points, my vehicle position and Heidi’s condition – which was extremely calm… on the outside – we managed to clear the water and tow the whole set-up to a suitable position to finish, or start, the photoshoot as per how you saw it last issue. While I don’t totally understand the electrical workings of a modern 4X4, somehow the 200 Series would not initially engage a drive gear, no doubt caused by water in where it shouldn’t be. After some time and a few heated words, it grabbed a gear and could be moved.

Now, I’m not gonna preach about what should have happened, what shouldn’t have been done, but I can say this sort of incident is not unique. Nup, over the years of backing up photoshoots I’ve found my 4X4 being number one recovery option for sand and mud boggings plus, of course, I’ve got myself stuck and had to self-recover. I’ve even had a fellow photographer have to call an ambulance for a rolled vehicle that was being photographed – too much right boot and far too much yanking on the steering wheel!

I can’t stress enough to carry recovery gear each and every time you venture out into the bush, and possess the knowledge of how to use it all safely. There is no shame in getting bogged or stuck; there is if you just sit there without the relevant tools or knowledge of how to use them.

No, I’ll not go through all the recovery gear you should carry, that’s a whole other story and has variables, but I will say a first aid kit should be carried at all times just in case
the worst happens.

 

THE VAN’S DAMAGE

To its credit, the Mountain Trail LXV van did not cop one iota of damage. Sure, water entered the insides of the van and flooded the external storage compartments to the point the cups stored in the slide-out kitchen were filled with river water. Mind you this provided Nick and Heidi with a non-bubbly, slightly gritty drop with which to ‘cheers’ each other for their hard work. The pantry and fridge slide compartment filled with water, as did the storage boxes on the opposite side – aptly lined with marine carpet. While Heidi worked hard to sponge away most of the water for our photoshoot, once the van had been left in the sun for a couple of days there was no evidence of any misadventure.

Looking at the materials used in manufacturing this van – composites, aluminum, stainless steel and galvanised steel – there really isn’t any reason why the van should suffer from a dunking. Imagine though, if the frame or floor had been made from timber! Depending on the type, potentially, you’d be tossing the whole van into the rubbish tip. That’s a great plus for modern materials and manufacturing technologies and full marks to Mountain Trail.

 

THE 200 SERIES CRUISER’S DAMAGE

Unfortunately, the Cruiser didn’t fare as well as the caravan. In addition to the busted CV and the physical damage to the alloy rims, disc brakes and associated gear from the grinding of river stones, the water ingress killed the rest of the vehicle. Yep, water in the diffs, gearbox, lights, air-conditioning ducting, carpet, and into the rear cargo area as well as into the nice leather clad electric seats… seat heaters are a bitch when they get stuck in the ‘on’ position on a hot day!

After consultation with Toyota, they figured the work and money spent on repair would be overly high and would never return an ‘as new’ vehicle given the ongoing problems from water ingress. 120 big ones down the gurgler!

Nick, Heidi, you lost your vehicle, but your van stood the test as did your tempers on the day… after a handful of curse words, so well done.

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