Off-road adventures vary greatly, depending not only on the difficulty of the terrain and the type of obstacles you face, but also according to the feel a place exudes. Crossing wide open stretches of rock in southern Utah is a completely different experience than crawling through deeply carved canyons in New Mexico. So when Jim Oostdyk invited us to join him and the crew from OK 4 Wheel Drive in the Catskill Mountains of upstate New York, we were intrigued. We had never been four-wheeling in the Mid-Atlantic states, and we were eager to find out firsthand just what the local terrain offered, what kind of obstacles we could expect to overcome, and what the place would feel like through the soles of our shoes and the rubber on our wheels.
For those who have never ventured to this part of the country, the landscape is still heavily forested. Highways wind like ribbons through vast stretches of woodland, giving you the impression that rather than cruising the open road, you are really navigating an undulating river toward points unknown. In short, the place itself invites exploration; the dense expanse of trees that rise up scant feet from the roadside beckons. You can almost hear the hapless adventurer saying, "You know, let's just go take a quick look."
When we caught up with Jim Oostdyk in Monticello, New York, he was busy registering the hundred or so four-wheelers who had come out for Fall Krawl 2000. He seemed to be on a first-name basis with many of the drivers, which, we came to discover, was because so many of the rigs in attendance had been through his shop in Stewartsville, New Jersey, at one time or another.
As we set out to hit the trails, the weather couldn't have been more perfect. The sky was clear, the air was brisk, and there was absolutely no chance of rain, which meant the mud would be manageable. Probably. In these parts, mud can prove to be as much an obstacle as any cluster of rocks; the kind of mud that sits thick and heavy in deep pits that can trap the unwary and inexperienced. Sound like fun?
No sooner had we turned off the road to begin the Gilroy Hill Trail than we were faced with the day's first obstacle: a long, deep mud pit. One after another, the rigs blazed through the muddy center, relying on momentum to carry them through the worst of it. At the lowest point, mud would rise as high as the rocker panels, sucking at the axles and skidplates, and reducing steering input to almost nothing. Here, you went through fast or not at all.
As we wandered along the trail, taking in the tall, canopied trees and the dappled sunlight falling on the forest floor, we realized that the terrain was deceptively mild. We could amble along for 10 or 15 minutes with only simple obstacles to overcome and then be faced with a real challenge, seemingly out of the blue. One such obstacle required that we turn directly up the face of a steep hillside that was covered with loose gravel and stretches of slick mud. At first, it looked like Low gear and the right amount of throttle would take us the 100 feet or so to the top, but about a third of the way up we encountered a small, slick step that was impossible to get around and extremely difficult to climb. Traction was almost non-existent, and to stop was to simply slide back down. More than half of the rigs had to winch themselves up the last half of the hill, although always to cheers from the other drivers.
The following day we decided to tackle the White Lake Brooke Trail, where there was less mud to contend with but far more rock outcroppings that rose up frequently to challenge driver skill. Two in particular proved to be very challenging, as well as a lot of fun. The first didn't look too bad on initial inspection because the obstacle was only about 3 feet tall. But in order to negotiate the rocks, you had to put the passenger-side wheels on top of the outcropping without pushing the driver side into a very large tree. With about 6 inches to spare either way, getting through unscarred took a lot of finesse and patience.
Just short of the trail's end, we tackled the most difficult passage of the day. After climbing a series of steep, moss-covered steps, we arrived at a small mountain of boulders that rose maybe 20 vertical feet. The first 10 feet weren't too bad and simply required a very steep but straight climb up the rock face. Then, as you crested the top, a sharp right left you off camber with the front passenger side in the air. This left more than one driver exclaiming as he or she waited for the frontend to settle back to earth so they could continue. This section would have been far more difficult in wet, rainy conditions, but even dry it took steady nerves and good brake and throttle control.
At the day's end, everyone gathered once more to share new experiences and discuss challenges overcome. And, as always, there was a sense of accomplishment and anticipation for next time. For those who have never four-wheeled in New York and the surrounding countryside, it is an experience all its own. And one we'll look forward to again next year.
For More Information If you would like to learn more about next year's Fall Krawl, contact: OK 4 Wheel Drive, Dept. 4WDSU, 2621 State Rte. 57, Stewartsville, NJ 08886, (908) 454-6973, www.ok4wd.com.