Learning from Your Mistakes
"And bad mistakes, I've made a few. I've had my share of sand kicked in my face, but I've come through." That's from the soundtrack to the movie, Revenge of the Nerds. It's a catchy tune. In fact, I think Queen did a cover of it. Anyway, it's a fitting analogy for your average off-roader in general and Jeep enthusiast in particular. I can't for the life of me count how many bad mistakes I've made either in the garage or out on the trail. From harebrained buildup plans to injuring oneself to busting parts on the trail, off-road Jeeping is a learning experience. And like any 3-year-old toddler, we Jeepers learn best from our own mistakes and emerge stronger because of them. But that's where the sermon ends. Instead of pontificating upon the point further, I'll share some of my favorite foul-ups.
One of my new-to-off-roading coworker friends was with us at TDS Desert Safari several years ago. We were winding down the night and after pouring an 18-pack into his 12-pack frame, he asked me for some water before hitting the sack. Instead of getting up from my chair, I lazily pointed to the ARB 'Fridge Freezer in the back of my flattie and thought no more of it till the next morning. Apparently he'd never heard of such a device and proceeded to do me the kindness of filling my "empty cooler" with ice water. The next morning I found my trail grub floating in a soup of melted ice, dissolved cardboard, congealed bacon fat, pieces of sandwich bread and lettuce, and other untold nastiness. I just laughed and cleaned it up as he snoozed away, probably with thick black Sharpie eyebrows permanently drawn on his face. To this day, he suspects I was mad about it, but I never was. In fact, it struck me that as drunk as he was, replenishing my cooler ice from his own supply just showed what a nice guy he was at his core…and how waterproof and durable an ARB 'Fridge Freezer is!
In the summer of 2003, I was welding a tranny tunnel back in the floor of my flattie the day before I was supposed to drive it on our "Jp Mayhem" event from Las Vegas to Sturgis. In a huge rush, I didn't remove the years of accumulated paint. As I made small stitch welds from underneath, I periodically popped up, tossed my welding helmet, and blew out the burning layers of (probably) lead-based paint. With no thought of laying a wet towel on the interior, I continued like this until, completely fatigued, I caught the ragged, rusty, sharp bottom of my DJ's door with the side of my head—hard. I can't remember how many staples they used to cinch the gash closed, but I did get to remove them myself a week later in a hotel room in Moab, Utah, while my wife and buddies watched.
Forest, Forest Bump
Have you ever planned something for the longest time, only to have it fall apart in the moment that should have been your greatest triumph? I drove my '85 Ramcharger for over a decade with axlewrap-inducing factory blocks under a set of aftermarket rear lift springs. After much lusting, planning, and saving, I finally had custom long-travel packs built that omitted the factory block without losing any lift. You know, the kind of long-travel springs that require longer shackles to keep the leafs from binding and bending? The kind of longer shackles I didn't have the foresight to install? And rather than gingerly flexing and testing my new suspension to make sure everything was okay, I took off all Rod Hall prerunner-style down a mogul-strewn wash. Sure enough, I bent the main and second springs of my fancy, expensive springs. The good news was that the spring company was happy to make me new replacements…at full price.
And that's the way it's gone and will continue to go. I'm not one of those guys who refuses to admit my mistakes. I make a lot of 'em. Sometimes they're embarrassing, sometimes they're funny, and sometimes they're pathetic. But each time I embrace 'em. You just gotta learn from them and then move on—because to me, the only inexcusable mistake you can make is to not learn from your mistakes.