A long time ago we met an all-around nice guy named Jason Bunch. Over the years, Jason and his shop, Tri County Gear in Pomona, California, have helped us with so many projects that we've lost count. In that time we've also hit the trail with Jason, exploring innumerable 'wheeling spots throughout southern California. 'Wheeling with Mr. Bunch isn't a walk in the park. In fact, he typically picks the toughest trails he can find. It isn't just for fun, either, since you're usually forced in to learning something about yourself and your 4x4.
Jason frequently hits the trail with his usual band of 'wheeling buddies, but he also makes three or four trips a year that are dedicated to his customers. During customer runs, Professor Bunch leads the way, stopping after every obstacle to coach each driver through. Customers on their second or third trip need less assistance, but there's always a newbie in a somewhat stock vehicle who won't make it without a few tips. In the process, Jason's customers learn driving skills and recovery techniques, as well as how to read terrain and pick the right line. In the event of broken parts, some trips also lead to lessons in mechanical work, but for the most part Professor Bunch advises driving within your own and your vehicle's ability and saving your equipment. This from the guy you'd be paying to fix your rig if it did break. It goes without saying that Tri County Gear has a slew of repeat customers.
Driving skills are paramount to successful and safe 'wheeling, but knowing how to safely recover a vehicle that's become stuck or has rolled over is just as important. That's one of the reasons Professor Bunch picks difficult trails for his customer runs; trails that some of his customers might never attempt otherwise. You can watch and read about all the 'wheeling you want but learning by fire is the best way to go, especially when you have a skilled instructor a few feet away calmly providing instruction. You don't get white knuckles watching a rig attempt a difficult obstacle. Your mouth doesn't dry out and your legs don't shake like they do when you're staring at the sky with three wheels off the ground. Jason guides each driver into a potentially bad situation and then teaches each how to get out of it. Kind of a controlled chaos, if you will (although some may wonder how controlled it really is). A lot of the skill behind 'wheeling is knowing what not to do, and Jason is an effective instructor in teaching that.
Instances of getting stuck or breaking parts can almost always be avoided and picking the right line is key to doing so. This is where knowing how to read the terrain comes in to play. While some can look ahead and see every option others might see just one: drive straight. This usually won't get you through. Before a driver starts in to an obstacle Jason asks them where they think their tires should be and then will have them try it that way. After a few failed attempts the driver will place their tires where Jason tells them to and the driver will complete the obstacle in his first or second attempt. Not stopping there, Professor Bunch then quizzes the driver on the reasons behind the method that worked and the one that didn't. With enough practice most drivers can eventually see where they need to go and decipher the easiest way to get there.
Navigating 4x4 trails doesn't have to be difficult, even if you operate a mildly-built or stock vehicle. By knowing the capabilities of your vehicle and how to read the terrain, you'll soon discover more fun trails that may have at first seemed too difficult.