Voices

How to get a sports car out of the mud

An unexpected encounter with some soggy earth during a recent road trip was a reminder to always be prepared, but also, to make the best of what you’ve got…

…HOW DOES A sports car even get into the mud in the first place, you might wonder.

Of course, a winery was involved. Like most of the population of Canberra, we took advantage of the recent long weekend to head for the (slightly) warmer shores of the coast.

Hyams Beach, Jervis Bay, NSW. Almost certainly worth getting bogged .
Hyams Beach, Jervis Bay, NSW. – aka, the beach worth getting bogged for.
Hyams Beach, Jervis Bay, NSW
Hyams Beach, Jervis Bay, NSW. No mud in sight.

Once upon a time, the trip from Canberra to Jervis Bay meant a time-consuming detour via Batemans Bay, or a boring drive up the Federal Highway to then cut across through the (beautiful) Kangaroo Valley.

Fortunately, a lot of work has been done in recent years on the – previously treacherous – Nerriga Road way, which is proving to be a bit of a boon for the local tourism industry.

Previously a very uncomfortable dirt road for much of the way, the alternate route now fully sealed and offers a really enjoyable drive that turns the previous 3-4 hour journey into a very reasonable 2-3 hours.

If you’re coming from Sydney, a pretty drive down the coast will get you there in around 3 hours.

Our trip fortuitously coincided with the annual Shoalhaven Coast Winter Wine Festival, so we happily tagged along with a busload of friends who were visiting a few wineries.

With our plans still a little uncertain, however, we opted for the convenience of driving ourselves.

The Shoalhaven Coast and surrounds is one of my favourite parts of the worlds, and it’s a fantastic place to go for a drive. Think rolling green hills leading down to white-sand beaches, sweeping mountain views and lush expanses of dairy country.

Image courtesy of Shoalhaven Holidays

The countryside was looking particularly green and lush following a much higher-than-average recent spell of rain. Unfortunately, this rainfall proved to be our downfall.

First stop on the tour was the Silos Estate and Wileys Creek winery at Berry. It’s a fantastic spot that was putting on a great event for the festival, with food, entertainment and music.

The estate even has a Tesla charge point, and so had a display of Teslas on show as well.

Silos Estate, Berry. Images from the Facebook page at www.facebook.com/Silos.Estate
Silos Estate, Berry. Images from the Facebook page at www.facebook.com/Silos.Estate
Silos Estate, Berry. Images from the Facebook page at www.facebook.com/Silos.Estate
Silos Estate, Berry. Images from the Facebook page at www.facebook.com/Silos.Estate
Silos Estate, Berry. Images from the Facebook page at www.facebook.com/Silos.Estate
Silos Estate, Berry. Images from the Facebook page at www.facebook.com/Silos.Estate

Before we could reach that, however, we had to join a long line of cars – driven by a few increasingly irate drivers – queuing to climb up the steep hill to the main site.

Efforts by the winery team to manage the traffic flow – including buses as well as cars – meant we were (perhaps unwisely?) directed off the main road into a very slushy grassed area.

This was no concern for the many 4WDs and SUVs around us, but for my little Toyota 86, this is where the fear of getting stuck first struck us. I could almost feel our tyres sinking into the earth as we sat, waiting.

Luckily, thanks to some competent and careful driving by my travel buddy – taking it easy on the accelerator, feeling the movement of the car, and keeping up a nice steady momentum – we were able to get out smoothly when directed onward. Phew.

Things always go wrong when you start to relax, don’t they?

After nabbing a great parking spot at the top of the hill, we had to move the car again to make way for an incoming coach. Again, we lucked out with a good spot in the main grassed parking area, but noted it was pretty boggy around the edges.

When it came time to leave, I reversed out of our space but swung gently around to the right to allow a mini-bus to move into our spot (courtesy that would shortly pay off).

The ground where we reversed didn’t look too bad, but my mistake was pulling in too close to the car parked next to us.

When we tried to move forward, then came the dreaded sound of tyres spinning on mud.

An artist's impression of the parking area ... [stock image: unsplash.com]
An artist’s impression of the parking area … [stock image: unsplash.com]

If we had more room to move, we probably would’ve been okay. Unfortunately, our forward trajectory was matched – or even surpassed – by a steady sidewise slide toward the shiny silver Mazda on our left.

With about two inches of air between our paintwork and theirs, I had to accept the obvious.

We were stuck.

What I wouldn’t have given at that moment for a set of MaxTrax ramps, as used and recommended by PM’s own Robert Pepper.

And this was a good reminder to always be prepared – you don’t have to be driving a 4WD to find yourself in need of some good off-road gear.

Instead, we had to make the best of what we had, with the help of the lovely mini-bus driver who was keen to repay the courtesy.

Like many modern cars, my Toyota 86 has stability control, which is a great life-saving technology that helps correct skids even before you know they’ve started.

But – as I learned during my recent sand driving expedition – it can cause you problems on soft surfaces, where sometimes, you need to keep up that momentum. The stability control tries to stop any sort of sliding or skidding, which gets in the way when you’re trying to slide or skid out of a sticky situation.

Stability control can be disabled on the Toyota 86 by a press of the button marked ‘VSC’ (other vehicles will have a similarly simple push-button function), leaving the other electronics free to work.

Back to our situation, and I suspect this wasn’t the bus driver’s first winery-bog incident; he immediately set off in search of a block of wood that would provide both a wedge between the two vehicles, and also a counterforce for a bit of extra traction.

At the same time, my companion grabbed a few handfuls of (slightly drier) tan bark from nearby gardening beds, just to give the tyres something extra to grab onto.

Very slowly, and very carefully, we were able to crawl out of the spot with no damage to either vehicle.

My previously-clean Toyota was wearing an impressive layer of mud-splatter to add to its credibility, while I was feeling a lot more adrenaline than I usually like to experience when parking my car.

But we were out, and soon on our way to the next – much less squelchy – wineries

(Coolangatta Estate and Two Figs, if you’re visiting the area).

It just goes to show that, even on the most routine trips, you have to expect the unexpected. Kudos to the kind coach driver, my utterly unshakable travel partner, and to my Toyota for impressing me time and again with what she can do.

  • Andrew Riles

    Your experience is one I can relate to Jane…..my wife and I went to a wedding a couple of yrs ago where we had 100m of dirt to cover out of 1000km bitumen, so we took her Mazda3 instead of my 4WD…..it poured rain that weekend, resulting in a close encounter with a gate post on the now very muddy dirt section…..

    Have seen an interesting product called the ‘Zip, Grip Go’ on youtube which would have been very helpful for us at the time…..thinking very seriously about getting them to keep in the boot….

    • Jane Speechley

      I’ll go check it out on YouTube, thanks for the tip Andrew!

  • 86er

    Hi Jane – always enjoy your articles, including those written on that local Canberra blog… As a fellow 86 owner I also appreciate the issues around muddy surfaces (hooray for mechanical LSD!). Of course, I’d much rather push my 86 out of the occasional bog than be stuck with an SUV! Happy motoring!

Jane Speechley

Jane Speechley

Jane Speechley is an experienced freelance writer whose natural curiosity means she knows enough about cars to hold a decent conversation. While happily admitting her Toyota 86 makes promises her street driving can’t quite keep, she’s relishing the opportunity to review some of Australia’s most interesting new vehicles from an ‘everyperson’ perspective. She’s on a mission to understand and explain how all those features and gadgets actually impact upon your driving experience. http://www.charismaticcommunications.com.au