The number one enemy of any road is water, particularly when we’re caravanning or four-wheel-driving on dirt roads and access tracks. And when water makes tracks boggy, you can easily get into a spot of bother. All it takes is to be driving to your favourite campsite or scouting for a new fishing spot, and you can find yourself with that unfortunate sinking feeling followed closely by the splatter of mud from your rig’s spinning tyres.
What you may not have realised during drier times is that the track you’re using actually spans a catchment basin. By this, I’m talking about an area where the surface water from rain, or melting snow from higher ground, converges into a localised area at a lower elevation. Here, run-off sediments tend to settle and, in doing so, create road sub-surfaces that are less compacted. These surfaces can become saturated and – when the water can’t escape – lose their strength and capacity to support your vehicles’ weight.
Alternatively, you may simply find yourself on a track in an area where the natural road materials just don’t respond well to rain. While you probably knew you shouldn’t be here after a downfall, fate sometimes conspires to place people and their rigs up to their axles in brown gloop.
These days, caravanners and four-wheel-drivers are probably carrying the kit on-board to get them back onto firm ground without too much effort. Whether it’s a snatch strap recovery from a mate’s vehicle, the use of the winch, or a set of traction boards, there’s really no reason to wallow in the mud for too long. But, next time you’re congratulating yourself on your recovery skills, take a look behind your vehicle and ask yourself, what sort of mess are you leaving behind? Chances are, the track’s now gouged by your vehicle’s tyres as they’ve ground through the road surface looking for traction.
Perhaps no-one else will venture this way again soon. If they don’t, the least harm you’ll have caused is a bunch of ruts that will fill with rain water and become a mozzie breeding ground. More likely, however, someone else will want to come down the track behind you – whether tomorrow, next week or next month. So, do you want your rut to leave a scar in the road that will expand with the next downfall and, ultimately, develop into an erosion gully? You might think that our fellow travellers will enjoy the ‘challenge’ of navigating your man-made obstacle. You may be wrong. And perhaps you’ll also risk a road closure if the road owner has to remediate the area.
SO WHAT SHOULD WE DO?
The simple answer is, fill in your ruts!
Chances are that the soft mud that your tyres have just spattered up your duco and across the track’s surface can be easily moved back to where it belongs. And there’s no doubt it will take you less effort to do this directly after you’ve recovered your vehicle than it will for the poor person who turns up two days later when the mud has dried into hardened clay.
So consider carrying gear that will help you restore tracks if you accidentally mess them up. Options might include carrying a shovel or an old army entrenching tool that can be used as a hoe or shovel.
What you’re looking for is a tool that will make it easier to drag the soil back into the rut. At a pinch, a stick or a firm piece of cardboard can help tidy up the road surface. After all, the next user could be you. It’s also a good idea to lay sticks and stones across the restored area. This helps stop erosion and it also lets the next traveller know that there might be soft ground ahead.
It provides a traction aid that may assist the driver negotiate the area, too. For really damaged areas (or in an emergency situation), consider making what’s called a ‘corduroy road’. This involves laying sticks transversely, then laterally, then transversally again, over a boggy area. Although the mud will squeeze between the three layers while the surface is wet, the sticks will offer traction. When the surface dries out, the sticks and stones will bed into the road surface, helping to make it stronger in the longer term.
At the end of the day, recreational outdoor travel sometimes requires us to get out of the rig – and to get into a rut. With a decent shovel and some care and attention, the muddy mess we make today doesn’t need to become someone else’s problem tomorrow.
Do you know what to do if your caravan got stuck in sand or mud? We take a look at what you should do when your caravan gets bogged.
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