The Columbia Adventure Academy is fastening their seat belts to enter some of the most challenging terrain a car can face.
Most people visiting or living in the UAE have at least once done one of the commercial desert safaris to get a first taste of the desert. With the last adventure Academy in December, we wanted to give our participants a little bit a different taste of dust and sand. We joined up with the Italian photographer and passionate off-roader Luca (@lucagoesoffroad) and with one of the biggest off-roading clubs in the UAE the “Ultimate Jeep Club” which is formally known as “JK Fun Club’ (@ultimate_jeep_club). Mohamed al Rayes from the club, put together a team of 4 experienced drivers (Marie, Zainab, Ahmed, Rayyes and Hamdan) and himself to give the academy a firsthand experience of off-roading from the pros. It was great that we also had two lady drivers to show that off-roading is not a male domain and that in most club’s women are equally welcome. Looking to the cars, you could see that especially for Jeep drivers off-roading is a lifestyle and their cars are modified and personalized to different extents. For us, the car make was not of importance but bringing together Luca with his Toyota FJ Cruiser and the pure Jeep Club showed how much each of them was loyal to their car and brand. Each side was expecting the other side to get stuck since every owner was convinced that they drive the most capable off-roading car. But quickly this was put aside and all agreed the most important component is the driver, his experience and skills and quickly the love for the desert and off-roading made the FJ and Jeep drivers friends!
We split up the group and assigned to every car two participants. The weather forecast was not good for this Saturday in December with rain and thunderstorms forecasted. When we left Dubai the skies were bright and temperatures pleasant. On our drive to the desert on towards Maleaha and Fossil Rock, the sky got darker and darker and as soon as we stopped for our briefing and to deflate the tires, it started to rain. The briefing was cut short due to the weather and a delayed arrival after we got caught up in traffic because of the opening of the new Dubai Zoo. With slight rain and colder windy conditions, we all wished we had some Columbia jackets with us to keep us warm. So the only way left to get warm was to get an increase in the adrenaline levels and get the participants excited especially Syed and Mohamed who were joining Zainab in her open jeep. Our first stop was on top of the dunes a very popular spot for off-roaders since you can cross the rock phase from one side to the other with a steep descent on the side towards Maleaha. Luckily the rain clouds passed and we had amazing views from up top towards the mountains on one side and the dunes on the other side. The crossing of the ridge is a bit tricky and if the cars are not lifted to provide enough clearance it requires careful maneuvering over the rocks to not damage the car. Ahmed, who is also the safety instructor in the Ultimate Jeep Club was the guide who supervised each car to get through the obstacles. Sometimes it is important to have one person outside the car to be able to see all four wheels, the surface and the clearance and where the wheels have to go to ensure a smooth passage. The driver inside the car has very limited sight what is going on around and under his car, so he has to trust and rely on the judgment and instructions of the guiding person. Since we were driving with the pros, the crossing was smooth without any delays or damages.
The next destination was a popular rock formation in the shape of some camels and therefore called camel rock. It needs a bit of imagination and the right angle to see the camel(s) in the rocks but it’s a great place to stop and take some photos. There is also a big sand bowl so that the drivers could show off some dune driving skills like drifting the dunes which is recommended only for experienced drivers since it can lead to a car rolling over if done wrong. To be able to make it to the final stop and watch the sunset, we had to continue crossing through the desert towards the area of Al Bedayer. The big dunes here directly on the E44 are most likely the busiest dunes in the area. Especially on weekends cars gather up on the long ascent to the top of a big dune, just to see who can make it up on top. It is quite a spectacle to watch, noisy and crazy with cars going up or down without a break. We just passed the area to reach the high point and highlight of the day. Our final destination was the top of a small mountain which can only be accessed on a steep, rocky and washed out a road through an old quarry. We were lucky that it did not rain here since it would not have been possible to get up the rocks when they are wet, it would have been too slippery and too dangerous. With this in mind, we were all looking to the dark clouds and the lighting in the distance because it is equally dangerous to go down the way when it’s wet or in the rain as it is to get up. With some optimism, we were just hoping the clouds will move slowly and give us enough time to see the sunset with amazing views over the desert landscape and to get down safely. The thunderstorms and big clouds only added to the incredible views we had from up top and made the perfect finish for a great afternoon of driving through the desert with the pros. One participant asked at the start of the event why he would not be allowed to drive and we explained that it would be the personal cars of the drivers and they would not entrust their car to a stranger without knowing their driving skills but after the event, the participant understood, that this was advanced driving and not something you can do right from the start. But even as co-drivers you can learn a lot and of course, you get exposed to the passion and love for off-roading by the driver and this is what the Adventure Academy is all about, get a real taste of adventure!
Just after inflating the tires at a station in Al Bedayer the heavens opened up and it started pouring down and we all felt pity for the 3 guys in the open Jeep since the rain cover was left at home and they were exposed to the elements on their drive back to Dubai. But even this did not change their mind of a great afternoon and an amazing experience. And maybe they will carry to the next adventure a rain jacket from Columbia since even in the UAE you can be surprised by rain. It’s rare but it does happen!
To see the video from this and our other events check out our Facebook and Instagram page as well as www.facebook.com/columbiame and Instagram: @COLUMBIASPORTSWEAR_ME ■
The next adventure will take place on 28.01.2018 and we will take a group out on the ocean for a very different experience. To sign up please visit: www.columbiaacademy.ae
Words + Photos by: Daniel Birkhofer