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Would You Rather Go Wheeling or Wrenching?

Posted in Features on September 8, 2016
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Is it wrench to wheel or wheel to wrench? You can’t do one without doing the other. But doing the former often necessitates the latter. And doing the latter invariably leads to the former. Aw hell, let’s just say for most of us it’s both. We wrench so that we can go wheeling, and wheeling (if you’re doing it right) provides endless amounts of stuff to wrench on. Even if nothing breaks and needs fixing, you find stuff you want to modify—which means more wrenching. It’s a never-ending cycle, and if you’re like me you wouldn’t have it any other way. But if you got down to brass tacks and had to absolutely choose one over the other, which would it be?

I never really asked myself that question until I sat down at the computer a few minutes ago to write this column. If I can take you on a brief sojourn from the subject at hand, unlike many editors I almost never write my editorial column based on what’s “in this issue.” For me, my topics come from something earlier that month that’s stuck with me. My brain kinda writes it in the background while I’m sleeping or doing other stuff throughout the week. Those are usually the best because I don’t really have to think. It just flows out when I sit down at the keyboard. But there are those months when nothing has struck or moved me and I find myself just staring at a blank computer screen. What to do? Normally I just fire up the ol’ hard drive and row through my photo archives to see what ideas they conjure. This was one of those go-to-the-photos months. But as I browsed my photo library from the past 17 or 18 years, what jumped out at me wasn’t how grapes would win a fruit war against cantaloupe or how Hollywood should make an animated movie starring anthropomorphized versions of diesel fuel and gasoline. (“I’m diesel fuel. I’m even-keeled and surprisingly powerful for my size.” “I’m gasoline. I’m highly volatile and relatively unstable!”) No, what struck me this time was the disproportionate number of garage projects I’ve shot versus the number of trail rides I have on file. In reality, I’ve got probably 10 times more tech photos than trail photos.

So, here we are again, back on topic. It’s the off-roader’s version of the “desert island mixtape” dilemma. If you could only pick one thing to do for the rest of your life, what would it be: wrench or wheel? For me, I love the freedom you have in a 4x4 to explore the unexplored and tame the untamable. And when all the tumblers click and everything is working as it should there are those moments when you and your machine are one and you wish the trail would never end. On the other hand, fabricating a rollcage or making a shackle-reversal front suspension from scratch or configuring a weirdo drivetrain combination and hanging it in your chassis or getting that gear mesh pattern just right (that last one has always eluded me) mixes equal parts artistry, ingenuity, and mechanical ability. And when all those come together, the sense of accomplishment and the pride you feel are insanely satisfying.

Wrenching or wheeling? I think they’re like potato chips—you can’t have just one. If you do, you’re sorely missing out on the best part of the whole experience, irrespective of which side you picked. What do you think? Shoot me a line at and let me know where your true passion lies: in the garage or on the trial. And be sure to include high-res images so we can share them on our Instagram, Facebook, and (if we get enough of them) in the magazine!

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