“Did you hear that?! Ivan Stewart said that out of all the drivers he’s ever driven with, I’m in the top one percent! And if he had to do a Baja race right now, he’d be my co-driver! The biggest person in the sport said that about me!”
Let’s back up about three weeks.
When last we met, I introduced you to Andrew, a “Real Man trainee,” who seemed to be losing touch with his masculine side. You know how it goes: Boy meets Girl, Girl destroys Boy, Boy cheers himself up by watching Steel Magnolias. To make the crying stop, we’re spending each month introducing him to “Real Men” (and, yes, sometimes women), with the hope that their qualities, skills, views on life, career paths, and passions will help him rediscover his own manhood.
Believe me, a “man”-tervention was in order, stat.
Unfortunately, I stat-ly discovered my “man” speed-dial did not exist. I did the next best thing and decided to run with the first male email in my inbox. Andrew. Subject line: “See ‘The View’? That Barbara’s on Fire!” On to the next one. Cappa. He was four-wheeling that weekend and couldn’t help. Then it occurred to me that Real Men four-wheel, and Andrew had never driven off-road before. And since Four Wheeler is nearly 99 percent about that, it made sense to immerse him in our world. Plus, I think lately he’s been spending more time on the color scheme of his outfits than I do; a little dirt on the monochrome could possibly do some good.
This isn’t to say a 4x4 is a foreign concept to him; before the Prius, he had a Grand Cherokee. But, if the numbers were true, that most 4x4s are owned by people who never shift into 4-Lo, then Andrew was just another statistic. I suggested we start this stage of Real Man-ing him up by taking an off-road driving class.
Him: “A beginner’s class?! A Real Man doesn’t need a beginner’s class.”
Me: “OK...how do you put a truck in to four-wheel drive?”
Him: “I don’t know.”
Me: “OK...what does this hand symbol mean?” I made a spotter’s closed-fist sign for stop.
Him: “It’s like rock, paper, scissors, so that means rock ahead.”
And with that, we climbed into a truck of Real Men, a ’12 Toyota Tundra CrewMax, so that he could take an off-road driving class.
“Getting Started Off-Road Driving & Safety Clinic” is by far the most popular driving class offered from Badlands Off Road Adventures (www.4x4training.com). President Tom Severin greeted us in the parking lot to first put our truck through the standard United Four Wheel Drive Association’s safety checklist, then we duct taped our names to our chest and joined the other students in a classroom to learn wheeling basics via slide show, hands-on, and Q&A. Among those basics: How four-wheel drive works. Always take a buddy. Bring water. This is a tow strap. Sidehills. Rocks. Mud. Sand. Snow. Traction. Momentum. Clearance. I leaned over to look at the notes Andrew had been taking. “I think I need a skidplate for the Prius.” Also: “PSI, bitches.”
The hands-on section included a parking-lot demo to help understand how far ahead of your vehicle you can actually see while on the trail. But what was most interesting was the Q&A. Tom asked things like, “What’s your biggest concern about driving off-road?” (“damage to an expensive vehicle,” “rolling,” and “stuck forever”), but it seemed to me a bit like a couple students were focused more on which upgrades they would need rather than the driving techniques. One person in particular had a brand new JK and was already talking about swapping out gears, throwing on bigger tires, and pondering how much to lift—this, before he’d even driven the Jeep off-road to learn its—and his—weaknesses. In case you wondered, the guy with the Subaru Forester had no questions.
If you read last month’s Doomsday-themed “Are You a Real Man?” you know Andrew created a (bottled-water) drinking game around every mention of “salad” during our edible-plant survival course. This time, it was based around “locker,” which was another upgrade the JK owner was debating, as in whether to go with air. It was at this same moment I discovered Andrew’s threshold for classroom instruction was about 23 minutes and we were at the four-hour mark. He’s a doer, not a sitter, and was anxious to put his new-found knowledge to the test.
As if on cue, Tom had the group of Jeeps, the K5, our Tundra, and the Forester assemble for departure. He told every student to first look underneath their rig for the lowest hanging part, like the diff, so they would have awareness and not whack it. As Andrew and I got into the truck, I immediately asked, “Did you check for your lowest point?” “No.” “You’ll find it when you hit it?” “Yes.” Great. Next he’ll be saying, “That’ll buff right out.”
For the next two hours, we drove hillclimbs, descents, rocks, ruts, and off-camber roads, first with a spotter on a training course, then on an actual trail ride. Tom gave tips like “control the throttle for a smooth delivery when in 4-Lo. The extra torque and power take time to adjust to. I see a lot of on and off of the throttle initially instead of a smooth steady flow with power increased as needed” and “be aware of the front and rear tire positions.”
Andrew was proving to be a natural. He was thoughtfully picking the right line to compensate for the long wheelbase, delicately twisting the tires from side to side on hillclimbs to keep crawling, and taking obstacles at the perfect angle, coaxing the truck up and over without a bang. If this were a ballet, he would be a smooth, graceful dancer. Thankfully, it was not a ballet so he was not in tights. The other drivers also did extremely well; even the Forester managed to keep up with the group, despite hammering down almost always being the only option.
When the day was done and everyone was airing back up, that state of camaraderie familiar to a four-wheeling excursion was alive and well. We’d spent the day with Real Men who taught us that trying something new and breaking out of your comfort zone can lead to newfound courage and self-reliance. And the guy in the Forester demonstrated that a Real Man never gives up.
But then it happened. Andrew turned to me and asked, “Remind me the point of all this—why is four-wheeling fun?”
Hmmm. That was unexpected.
As we talked further, he explained that worrying about possible body damage took away from his enjoyment. “Although I got more comfortable driving, I didn’t want to risk trashing the truck. I can’t ever imagine taking a truck out on a trail and doing this for fun. And, I wasn’t challenged.” Also, the pace was too slow to maintain his interest.