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Dirt Clowns: 4xForward

Posted in Features on February 1, 2017
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I have a buddy in construction. He works with other construction guys all day in the blazing sun. These dudes aren’t sissies: digging by hand with shovels, building concrete forms by hand, lifting heavy stuff, putting heavy stuff down, cussing, spitting, drinking coffee from a Stanley thermos—it’s a manly business. But despite all that workplace testosterone he’s afraid of clowns. Like no-fooling, deathly serious, really afraid. That scary clown from the movie It? It’d probably make him wet his pants. Some dude emerging from the bushes with balloons and a rubber knife trying to make a viral video? He’d probably scream and run the other direction. Ronald McDonald at a children’s party? He’ll mow him down bolting for the egress in a cloud of dust and motion that’d make the Warner Bros. Road Runner envious.

But not all clowns paint their face white and wear lipstick and eye makeup rivaling a demented French mime whore. Some clowns are just good-natured dudes who love what they do and refuse to take anything too seriously. And as I sat at my computer this morning flipping through 2016 Ultimate Adventure photos, I realized I’m fortunate enough to work a few really great ones.

Petersen’s 4-Wheel & Off-Road Editor-at-Large Fred Williams can be a hoot. When he’s not jumping in the air for an Instagram selfie (did Toyota ever copyright that move, by the way?) or thrash-building some project vehicle on three hours of sleep and half a shipping container of Columbian coffee, Fred is normally out on the trail not taking himself or life too seriously. Trail jam ahead? No worries—let’s try to go around. Can’t get around? No worries—let’s sit and tell stories. No more stories to tell? No worries—let’s just hang out in the shade and scratch a trail dog behind the ears. A day on the trail is nothing to ever get riled about. Fred gets it.

Or my longtime buddy, 4WOR Technical Editor Verne Simons. Verne is one of the most intelligent people I know, and he’s as quick-witted as he is dirty. And Verne usually gets pretty filthy on the trail because, you know, trails are dirty places. If ever Pig Pen sprung to life from the pages of a Charlie Brown comic strip and met Verne he would probably say, “Man, you are one dirty dude.” But if you want to listen to a highly enjoyable story with old-fashioned exposition, plot twists, and anecdotal relevance culminating in an always-humorous climax, all told in a soothingly lazy Southern drawl, Verne is your guy. And if you ever need somebody to dive under a vehicle to diagnose, fix, or just tighten some stuff up, Verne is first to hold out his paw for a wrench no matter how much dusty, oozy slime, or grease may get on his clothes. It’s all perspective, man. Off-roading isn’t about taking your Indiana Jones hat, titanium coffee mug, and North Face fleece for a drive through the country. Just being around Verne reduces my stress level.

And then there’s former 4WOR Feature Editor and current 4WOR tactical cameraman Harry Wagner. Harry is about as organized as Verne and Fred are laidback. But despite an OCD level so advanced that he lines up all his fork tines in his silverware drawer and orients all the retaining screws in his home’s electrical outlets the same way, once you get Harry out on the trail he is in his element: a total outdoorsman with a scary knowledge of trail systems and an infectious love of off-roading. Can’t make it to our planned destination? “That’s OK. We can camp here in this depression next to the river that used to house a steam-powered donkey engine back in the 1890s. Hey, there’s a good place to hang my hammock!” Off-road, Harry is all about the adventure, not the destination. Why get riled when things don’t go as planned? Just kick back and enjoy the moment.

Why am I pointing this stuff out? Because, at the end of the day, I wanna be around 4x4 people on the trail who love and enjoy what they do and whose attitudes reflect the joy they derive from doing it. I see too many “hardcore” competitor types who use their day on a recreational trail as a measuring stick for how awesome they are. Or worse, how unawesome everybody else is. And don’t even get me started on internet trolls who only live to point out perceived deficiencies in every off-road image somebody posts. “That sucks, that’s lame, my XYZ trail booger can do better.” To paraphrase Uncle Ron Burgundy, why don’t you go back to your bridge on Troll Island? I don’t wheel for ego. I don’t go out to show how manly I am. I don’t need audience support to validate my 4x4 adventures. And I’m guessing if you’re reading a magazine like this, you don’t either. I’m guessing you’d rather go wheeling with a bunch of clowns. I know I would.

—Christian Hazel

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