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May 2002 Trail Head - Editorial

Posted in Features on May 1, 2002
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I hate trail spotters. Especially unnecessary unwanted ones. It's a real bummer for me when I drive up to an obstacle and some guy runs out and tries to tell me where to put my tires. It's really almost an insult when you think about it. Do I look like I have no idea what I'm doing? My CJ-2A doesn't have a straight panel on it. So maybe they suspect I wouldn't have as much body damage if I was a good driver or if I had a spotter all the time. Don't get me wrong, if I ask for help, by all means let me know what you think. I guess I feel like they are stealing my glory. That's why I go off-road, it's a challenge. To me it's a one-man sport, not like hockey or football where a whole team is needed, just me behind the wheel. I'm not an excellent driver or anything, but I like taking the opportunity to learn on my own whenever possible.

Many people think that their spotter will be able to see something that they didn't. That's being lazy. I think all it takes to be a good driver is a great memory. You need to remember what the terrain looks like that passes under your hood line. Is that big enough to hang on a differential? What side is the differential on? Will that catch on my muffler? You should know your Jeep well enough to answer these questions whether you're driving down a trash-strewn highway or climbing boulders. I often see people put too much trust into the spotter rather than feeling out their Jeep. The driver should have a better idea of what his Jeep is able to do, when he needs to back up, and at what point it will rollover. You'll never be able to progress if you constantly depend on someone else to make these decisions for you.

I think all of these rockcrawling competitions should be held without spotters. It's gotten to the point where it's not about taking the best line anyway, just bash your rig through these two flags. Why do you need a spotter? Thankfully most sanctions have outlawed spotters hanging from the vehicle. That's dangerous on a regular trail ride. Throw in a timed event and cash prizes and it's an accident just waiting to happen. If you are allowed to have a spotter for these competitions he should have to stay in the vehicle. Or maybe it counts against you if you need one, like a handicap in golf. If you suck, you need a spotter. I mean, really, wouldn't you be a better driver than someone who needed a spotter if you completed an obstacle without one?

What really kills me is when one guy spots the whole group he's with. Not only does this slow things down but he often spots each person poorly, making sure everyone in the group has a ding in exactly the same quarter panel from the same rock. A friend of mine told me a particularly amusing story about a spotter who actually became irate with him because my buddy wasn't paying attention to him and didn't realize he was being spotted. Apparently he drove through without any problems anyway. Go figure.

Another part of the problem is the difficulty in telling someone that you don't want a spotter without sounding like an ass. I suppose you could just hop out and toss him the keys. Maybe he'll get the point. It might also be fun to pretend you're paying attention and nod as if to acknowledge his directions, but then do the exact opposite. After the second or third try he'll probably become fed up and walk away. Or maybe give him a look of confusion and ask him a question in a different language. Maybe in Spanish. "Tiene la chuga?" (Do you have any lettuce?). Actually, I think the next time I go 'wheeling and I come across an unwanted spotter I'll put on a blindfold and some earplugs. Then I'll give the obstacle a few tries and bash a fender or two. Although, not seeing the look on his face would be a bummer.-John Cappa

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