Faith in Focus

VICTOR'S OFF-ROAD ADVENTURE



"What is the difference between a man and a boy?" asked Dick, as we careened from pot-hole to pot-hole along the track. Victor contemplated, shrugged, before replying, "I can think of several differences, but I'm not sure which one you're looking for." "The cost of their toys," answered Dick with a smirk. As well he might.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. I had better go back to the beginning, the place where all stories start. This particular story begins with Victor Atallah's scheduled stop in Masterton, heart of the beautiful Wairarapa. Rev. Atallah had come to Masterton to speak in the Reformed Church, and we were hosting him for a half-day, a night, and another half-day. We had planned an address to the congregation in the evening, followed by a coffee-morning at our house the next day. Then off to Silverstream, after lunch.

The evening address was very well attended, but it was only a small group that gathered in our lounge-room the next morning. Dick was there too. That was our biggest mistake, letting Dick in the house.

Oh, he's subtle. I've got to give him that. You know the kind of person I'm talking about. The sort that makes a suggestion. A ludicrous suggestion. Something that's really over the top, and they know it. But they want it. So they put the suggestion as a joke. And if everyone laughs the idea out of existence, well, it was only a joke after all. Not a serious suggestion.

If, on the other hand, someone is foolish enough to bite.... Victor bit. "Victor, if you want, we could always take the coast road to Silverstream." Ha ha ha. Big joke. Everyone smiles. The coast road to Silverstream, yes, that's a good one.

Now Dick and I like to go fishing together. We often use lures. Dick knows all about lures. It's just a pity that there are some people who do not.

There's Victor, all wide-eyed and innocent. "The coast road to Silverstream? Is that good?"

Like a satellite dish in a tracking station swivelling to home in on the signal. Like a hunter whose eyes suddenly spot the deer and lock onto their target. Dick was rivetted. "You know if you really wanted to, we could probably organize it."

"Is it good?"

"Is it good? Some of the best scenery in the North Island! Rugged, beautiful. A place few New Zealanders get to go. You need a 4-wheel drive. I've got a land-rover..."

"I've got a land-rover." Those words are still reverberating in my skull. It is the stuff of which nightmares are made. I am still waking up screaming at night. My wife tells me I keep mumbling the words, "I've got a land-rover," "I've got a land-rover," over and over again.

I tried to find excuses. "How long will it take? We have to be in Silverstream in four and a half hours, you know." "What, it only takes three hours? Oh." "Is there any chance we'll get stuck? There is? Victor, we might get stuck, you know. Do you mind if we get stuck, Victor?"

Victor assured us that he did not mind if we got stuck, so long as we did not mind that he would not be getting out the vehicle. He had his clean, pressed suit to think about. If there was any digging or pushing or wading or swimming to do, Dick and I would be doing it. Honestly, I tried. But what could I do? The die was cast.

The route took us down to White Rock via Martinborough. From White Rock we would take the 4-wheel drive track along the coast to Cape Palliser. Then it would be back inland on real roads, plain sailing all the way to Silverstream. "A three hour tour." Wasn't there something like that in the theme song for "Gilligan's Island?"

I must admit the drive down to the coast quite exceeded my expectations. The road was good. The scenery was impressive - the Lord has blessed New Zealanders with access to some very beautiful country. The company was congenial. Victor is a gold-mine of information about the church-scene around the world. And Dick is a gold-mine of information about the countryside between Masterton and White Rock.

The drive from White Rock to Cape Palliser, well, that's a different kettle of piranhas. We appeared to be the first vehicle on the track after heavy rains. So we were definitely trail-blazing. In several places slides and wash-outs had covered or removed the track completely, sometimes necessitating its complete re-invention. Once or twice, the track veered dangerously close to the cliff edge, inviting foolhardy travellers to their doom on the jagged rocks grinning up at us from the maw of the sea below.

Dick is a real showman. He knows just how to build up the adrenalin. I particularly liked the way he pretended that the land-rover was threatening to stall. And the master-stroke when we came to the steepest part of our journey. Dick, ever ready with his gold-mine of technical information, tells us that this is just about the maximum slope a land-rover can handle without winches. The 89 degree ascent. Long and steep, covered in loose rubble. Where is Edmund Hillary when you need him? Winches? If it had been any steeper, we'd have needed ropes and crampons just to get ourselves to the top, let alone the vehicle. Maybe we should have set up a base camp. Hired a few Sherpas.

That was the point at which Dick calmly informed us that the land-rover was probably going to stall half-way up. Just like it did last time. The time when he had to roll all the way back down Mt. Everest again. Backwards. Oh, and had he forgotten to warn us about the crest of this crag, if by some miracle we should make it the top in one piece? No? Well, don't be scared when you come to the top and can't see the track any more. When it just seems to fall away into the abyss on the other side. There is still a track there, and Dick is fairly certain he can keep the vehicle on it when we go over the top.

Victor was amazing. He just sat there, impassive as the Sphinx. Well, he did say he wasn't getting out of the car. I had made no such vow.

I rode shot-gun on the back of the land-rover. It was wonderful. The liberating feel of an icy wind in your face. The liberating feeling that comes from knowing that you can abandon ship any time you like, much more easily than those trapped inside the car.

The main problem was that there was really nothing to hold on to on the back of the land-rover. Maybe you've never had the experience of clinging to the back of a land-rover speeding up a rocky slope at the maximum incline possible for such a vehicle? Maybe you've never ridden a bucking bronco or a wild bull at a rodeo, either. Liberating, definitely liberating.

After conquering this Matterhorn, the rest of the trip was "all downhill," as they say. We only got stuck once. It was only a half-hour delay getting across a sandy part of the track. Victor did break his vow at that point. He did get out of the car. But he kept the spirit of the law. He watched while we did all the work. The clean, pressed suit, you know.

Ah yes, the clean, pressed suit. We had come through the worst of the journey. The 4-wheel drive track had been left behind. We were on a real road now, even if it was gravel. I even remember making my usual joke to Victor, the one about New Zealand's black beaches. "Hey, Victor. What's the difference between this gravel road and the beach? None. There is no difference."

Maybe Dick was paying us back for that comment. Or maybe he was simply excited to be back on a road where he could open up the throttle on his land-rover again. Victor and I were celebrating our survival with a cup of nice, hot coffee from the thermos. That was when Dick hit the pot-hole. At full throttle. I left the seat, though fortunately the land-rover has a soft top. The coffee left Victor's cup. It completed its trajectory in Victor's lap. On his suit. That, you will remember, is the clean, pressed suit. The one he was wearing for his talk at Silverstream. The one which had caused him to vow he was not getting out of the car.

Victor looked at me. I looked at Victor. He said not a word. Impassive as the Sphinx. But in that silence, a thousand words were spoken. "Hey," pipes up Dick, "What is the difference between a man and a boy?"

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Victor Atallah was over an hour late for his appointment with Rev. Barry James. He was regrettably delayed, due to circumstances outside of his control. Due to two crazy men from Masterton who abducted him and took him on the coastal road from Masterton to Silverstream. That's the five and a half hour tour. Rev. James was very gracious about it. He always is.

Victor didn't seem too perturbed, either. In fact, I had the distinct impression he wouldn't have missed it for anything. After all, we had seen a part of God's great creation that we would not normally see. And we had been reminded that the Lord provides even ministers, with their busy schedules, with a variety of activities for our enjoyment and benefit. For our re-creation.

If anyone else is interested, Dick Kleinjan is thinking about running tours in his land-rover. He's thinking of developing it into a business, if there's enough interest. Off-road adventures. Hunting, fishing, sight-seeing. If you want to know more, contact Dick. Or Victor Atallah, c/o Cyprus.

Rev. P. Archbald (Masterton)

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Faith in Focus /NZ Reformed Church / gmilne@ihug.co.nz / revised October 97 / Copyright 1997