Clogged Grass Screens and Elephant Paths

Just a kilometre or so back that I had to stop to clean it. Now, again. But I had no choice. Overheating the engine would quite simply be fatal. The midday savannah was flaming hot – probably over 40 oC – and the hard work of breaking through the bush in the loose sand quickly sent the temperature dial to the dreaded red area as the grass screens got clogged.

My irritation slowly built up. The double screens – one of about 2mm size at the front grille, and another, of about 1mm behind it – were doing their intended job, but this was tedious to the point of exasperation – stop, climb down, swipe clean front screen, unhook bonnet catches, open bonnet, remove (hot) inner screen, swipe clean with leafy branch, sweep out debris that got through into the screen cavity, replace inner screen, all the while listening apprehensively to the water boiling in the radiator…

I had to give the engine some time to cool down too. It was wasting a lot of time. I splashed some of my precious water through the front grille so the fan could suck it through the radiator. The rapid evaporation cooled down the engine quickly, but I realised that this was not going to be sustainable. It was probably irresponsible too.

You’re not being very efficient, the engineering mind told me. You should do better. Try to improvise a pre-screen, it said.

I devised a way to stretch two dish cloths I had with me in front of the grille. It was reasonably elegant but the fabric was too densely woven and it did not allow enough air through-flow.

Ok, what about creating a foliage screen by stuffing some leafy branches in front of the grille. There was little elegance in this, and it did not do much to reduce the screen clogging. Plus, it made cleaning the front screen even more tedious.

It was hot as hell and I was making painfully slow progress and the engineer in me was slowly becoming quite disgusted with his situation and his capacity to improve it.

Then, after almost damaging the inner screen in my irritation, I realised that I was being foolish. It was my own mind in its competitive mode that was putting all this pressure for efficiency and effectiveness on me. This was just the reality of driving through the veldt in late summer, when grass is in seed. “You’re not heading anywhere in particular in a hurry.  Take it easy. Go with the flow,” I told myself.

Later in the afternoon I came across an ancient elephant path. It was heading more north than the general direction of the pans I was aiming for, and it was a bit too narrow for the vehicle, but it would mean a lot less breaking through the thickets, and far fewer screen cleans. It seemed to be one of those (many) occasions when the bush told me, “Time to change your plans.”  Fortunately, I had arrived in a space where I could hear its whisper. I turned onto the elephant path. Who knew where in this vast bush it was heading? Suddenly the exasperation was replaced by that delicious sense of uncertainty and challenge that are the essence of adventure.

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