Green Lane leaders
Guidelines before departure.

So you have now got your group together at the meeting point.  What sort of information do you now need to acquire in order to assess the suitability of your group and their respective vehicles for the proposed routes you have chosen?

Start with the basics.  Ensure that everyone in the group, including people you have taken out before, have done some basic preparatory checks such as fuel (you may not be able to buy any where you’re going on a Sunday), oil and water levels. Do they have the jack, wheel brace and a spare wheel?  Can they find the locking wheel nut spanner?  Whilst you are still in civilisation you can easily rectify these problems, but thirty miles from nowhere it may prove to be a different story altogether.   Has everyone got a means of communication if they are parted from the group?   Does everyone know your mobile phone number?  Has everyone got enough food and water for the duration of the trip?  Finally is everyone prepared for the weather?  Dependant on time of year, the correct clothing and footwear can make the difference between being comfortable and miserable, surviving or not!

Have you got a comprehensive first aid kit in the event you are faced with an unexpected injury and a fire extinguisher?

Remember the adage of the six p’s.  Proper Planning Prevents Pretty Poor Performance!  Use your own previous experience to put some forethought into the trip.  What has gone wrong on previous trips, can you avoid it, but more importantly can you now deal with it if it were to occur again?  What equipment did you wish you had taken with you, but left at home?  Are your maps up to date?  Is your phone charged and the charger in the vehicle?

 

The things that will inevitably limit where you eventually go are;

  1. The type of vehicles in the group.  Are they nice and shiny or well prepared off road vehicles or a mixture of both?
  2. What tyres are they wearing?  This will have a bearing on the route surface you intend to use.
  3. How much ground clearance has the smallest of your groups vehicles got?  A vehicle on 33” Simex tyres is obviously going to cope with terrain that a Freelander will obviously not.
  4. How experienced are the rest of the group?  Everyone wants a challenge, but would it be too great for a novice for example?
  5. Do all the vehicles have suitable recovery points fitted?  If not do you have an alternative method to recover them if it      were required?
  6. Will any of the vehicles suffer bodywork damage from overhanging foliage, rocks or other natural obstacles?  Is this a problem for the type of vehicles you are leading today?  
  7. What recovery equipment are you carrying and what have others in the group brought with them?  Is it of a suitably       rated quality to consider its use if it were necessary?
  8. Which members of the group are likely to be able to assist you in any way?  Someone on the back door would be a      good example or others who could assist with a recovery if it were required?
  9. Do all your drivers understand how their individual vehicle works and what all the knobs and levers are for?

 
Whilst doing your initial assessment of the group and its vehicles you should be specifically checking approach and departure angles and the ramp break over angles, as well as the available ground clearance of all the vehicles in your group.  For those of you unfamiliar with these terms, I have detailed them below and included an illustration to demonstrate them to you.
The approach angle is the angle between a point on the bottom front edge of the front tyre to the lowest most forward point on the vehicle measured against flat ground.  If the angle of the terrain is steeper than the approach angle of the vehicle, the front of the vehicle will hit the ground rather than ride over it. 

brake over details

The departure angle is the angle taken from a point on the bottom rear edge of the rear tyre to the lowest most rearward point at the rear of the vehicle measured against flat ground.  If the angle of the terrain is steeper than the departure angle of the vehicle, the rear of the vehicle will strike the ground on the way down potentially causing damage to the chassis and bodywork. 

The ramp break over angle is the angle measured from the centre of the vehicle to the forward most point of the rear set of wheels and the rearmost point of the front set of wheels measured against flat ground.  This is the point, past which the vehicles will high centre if any attempt is made to drive the vehicle over terrain with a greater angle than this.  Once again there is potential to damage the vehicle chassis, running gear and bodywork.  See the illustration above for further clarification.

If you are now happy to take your particular group into the routes you have initially planned have you considered how you would affect a recovery on a vehicle in the group with no specific recovery points attached to it?  Remember that some members will turn up in standard factory vehicles with little or no modifications to them especially the later models with traction control and terrain response systems.  They are good, but not invincible and may need recovering at some point.  Vehicles don’t drive into trouble!  Their drivers however often do!

Before you actually depart ask if the drivers in your group know how everything works.  You will be amazed at the number of novice drivers who do not really know what all the little knobs and levers are actually used for.  The trick is to identify those who may not know and give them a ‘Refresher Course’ before you depart and before they actually need it.  A good example is freewheeling hubs.  I once encountered two ladies who were trying to push their Land Rover across a muddy field whilst a teenage girl was driving.  When I went to offer some help I found only the two rear wheels were driving and they had no idea why.  They had engaged four-wheel drive to no avail.  When I showed them the freewheeling hubs and how to engage them, they drove out with no further input from the ladies muscles.  Slightly embarrassed they thanked me and drove home.  But you take the point, if novices have never been shown they will not know.

Brief them on the countryside code of conduct and what you are intending to do today.  Give an outline of the route you will take, the terrain you are expecting to encounter, how many stops you will make for refreshment, sightseeing, fuel etc.  What the procedure is if they are separated, breakdown or become stuck.  Explain that you will stop periodically to give further help and instruction when the going gets tough and ensure that everyone is happy to ask for help if they require it.

Guide them as much as you can.  Many won’t know the actual capability of their own vehicles.  Gradients, ditches, deep mud, water etc will daunt many for the first time.  If you stop prior to driving these obstacles and get out to explain the techniques you are going to use and why they work, this will instill far more confidence in the rest of the group.  Also take the time to make sure they understand these principles and techniques. This applies even to groups with only one novice driver; they still have to learn, just like you did!!

By doing the preparatory work you will have identified and dealt with potential problems before you have even left the meeting point.  Furthermore you group will now be far more confident to travel with you because they have seen your pre event planning in action.  This will in turn give them far more confidence in your abilities as group leaders and consequently will make them more relaxed and confident themselves.  Relaxed people make fewer mistakes and learn far more.