Sitting behind the wheel of his 1996 Jeep Cherokee XJ, Nu’man Rizal scanned the horizon. After making some unseen mental calculation, he reached down and switched the vehicle into four-wheel drive to better maneuver through the jagged terrain of the Sentul City Off-Road Park in Bogor.
The sturdy sport-utility vehicle roared to life. The passengers swayed from side to side as the vehicle crept along a rutted and treacherous track.
That afternoon, Nu’man and 20 other members of the XJ Owners Club Indonesia took several journalists along for their monthly off-road drive.
“We’re lucky that it’s not raining today,” Nu’man said with a smile. “When it rains, the tires slip and the jeep can get stuck in the mud.’’
However, the prospect didn’t seem to dampen his mood. If anything, the 45-year-old seemed to be looking forward to the possibility.
Nu’man, chief deputy officer of the commercial banking division of Bank Indonesia, is an aficionado of off-road driving. For him, the outdoor hobby provides an escape from the daily stresses he faces at the office.
“It’s so refreshing to be driving out in the open after working behind the desk for the whole week,” he said.
Along with the other members of XJOC Indonesia, Nu’man regularly explores man-made and natural tracks around Jakarta in his Cherokee.
“It’s very exciting,” Nu’man said. “Sometimes, we take our families to these gatherings. But we usually drop them off at the inn or camping ground first, and then head out to the off-road tracks with the boys.”
Currently, the club has 60 members, all of them men.
“It’s a brotherhood,” said Mairizal Zainuddin, founder of the club.
A civil engineer in Jakarta construction company, started the club in March 2010.
“The club offers a means of communication for Cherokee XJ lovers in Indonesia,” he said, adding that XJOC is affiliated with the Indonesia Offroad Federation, as well as the International Auto Federation.
Members usually exchange the latest information on equipment, spare parts, maintenance and safety tips via the club’s Yahoo and Facebook groups.
“The members grow very close as we all share the same hobby,” the 45-year-old said. “Twice a month, we get together in Parkir Timur Senayan [East Parking Lot of Senayan, Jakarta] for coaching clinics and driving safety classes.”
During the classes, senior members of XJOC usually pass on tips to the rookies.
“The new members should know how to operate all the functions in their vehicle, how to drive on different terrain and how to maintain their jeeps in a prime condition,” Mairizal said.
He was quick to emphasize that the club’s monthly drives were not a race. “The activity is aimed at encouraging a sense of togetherness among the members.”
Fun activities, such as collecting flags and treasure hunting, are usually held during the drives.
It may sound like a risky hobby, but members are quick to point out their emphasis on safe driving.
“Our motto is ‘as long as it is possible, do it as fast as necessary,’ ” Nu’man said. “That motto means that drivers need to take every precaution to drive safely, even though it may slow down the journey. Safety is of the utmost importance.”
But it isn’t all smooth driving. In April, it took XJOC members a day and a night to accomplish a 10-kilometer off-road adventure outside Sukabumi, West Java.
“There were 10 jeeps,” Nu’man said with a wistful smile. “And we all got stuck in muddy ruts along the track until dawn. It was so exciting.”
“Generally, off-road driving is not a dangerous hobby,” Mairizal said. “The drivers just have to prepare their vehicles and take the necessary precautions.”
Mairizal said the equipment that each driver needs to take along for the adventures includes a winch, a ratchet strap (a heavy-duty strap that can pull up to six tons), spare tires, D-ring shackles and portable, two-way radio transceivers.
“Walkie-talkies are necessary to maintain contact with other team members,” Nu’man said. “We may not get any connections on our mobile phones when we drive in the suburbs. With walkie-talkies, other team members can keep us informed if there are road obstacles ahead. They can also come to our rescue if our car breaks down, or the other way around.
During our ride, Nu’man made several stops and stepped out of his jeep to evaluate the state of the terrain ahead.
“It’s better to proceed slowly rather than carelessly,” he said.
During our trek, Nu’man drove his jeep between 20 to 40 kilometers per hour. He also kept about 30 meters away from the vehicle in front at all times.
“It’s important to keep a safe distance, especially during an uphill drive, in case the car in front of us slips and rolls back down,” Nu’man said.
After we finished our journey, we took photographs in front of the mud-splattered Jeep to document the experience.
“This is what I love about off-road driving,” Nu’man said. “There’s always a strong sense of accomplishment and togetherness among the members after each journey.”
XJ Owners Club Indonesia
Jl. Kenanga No. 36 (Veteran Bintaro) K-36
Facebook: XJ Owners Club Indonesia