My wife recently gave birth to our fourth child. I am not looking for a pat on the back or congratulations. I merely mention it because, like most things that touch my life, I tend to draw parallels to the world of wheeling.
It has been almost eight years since our last kid was an infant, and I guess in that relatively short time I began taking a lot of things for granted. After all, when your kids start handling the basic necessities of living by themselves, as a parent you tend to focus on bigger-ticket stuff like homework, baseball practice, extracurricular activities, and any of the other upper-level functions of which a young human is capable. But as I stood there at 3:30 a.m. changing my fourth or fifth diaper of the night, I realized the elemental basics of life were staring me right in the face with big blue eyes. The only thing this little baby did was breathe, eat, sleep, pee, and poop. It’s the place we all began. None of us hit the ground running, literally or figuratively. We all start at the same baseline and from there work up to higher functions. Evolutionarily speaking, it’s a successful formula. But as adults we often fail to launch from such humble beginnings. And that’s why it’s still funny to me when I see folks enter this sport whole-hog with a wildly built off-road rig having never crawled before they walked.
Cue the “back in my day” music. Like most old-timers I began wheeling with a leaf-sprung, manual-transmission, carbureted old clunker. It was a slow-roll into the world of wheeling, and the vehicle’s limitations dictated the level of my off-road participation. But it also matched my novice capabilities. Hardcore trails? Not on 31s and an engine hamstrung with a gluggy carb, bucko. In fact, it was a miracle if I could keep the stupid engine from barfing all over itself on steep climbs. To keep it going, I’d have to manipulate the brake and throttle with my right foot while feathering the clutch with my left. It was a unique balancing act, and most of the time the engine would just plain conk out and I’d have to clutch-in quickly and maintain vehicular control while I rolled back down to flatter ground to get the flooded engine to restart. And while that in itself was always a bummer because the diffs were open and it was only with divine intervention that I had made it as far up the trail as I had, what I didn’t realize then was that by continually taking these small stumbles and learning how to catch myself, I was becoming better equipped to avoid major catastrophes later in my wheeling life.
Baseline basics count for a lot. Sure, bad things can happen to anybody off-road, and pushing beyond our limits is par for the course in our hobby. But I am always struck by rollover videos in which the drivers highlight their inexperience by freezing up at the critical moment and failing to take any action to save themselves. Search YouTube for “jeep rollover” and what are you gonna see? Many times it’s a fuel-injected rig with front and rear lockers, big tires, a slinky suspension, and a person behind the wheel who doesn’t realize that simply by depressing the clutch or quickly slapping the auto into Reverse and stabbing the throttle you can save the day. To me, it’s like watching a toddler run across the room and trip on the carpet without ever putting their hands out. You only have to eat floor with your face once before your hands instinctively reach out to break your fall.
So, if you are out there wheeling a turd that barely gets you up the trail, good for you. Keep it up and build those skills. Crawl before you walk. Weenie wheeling, as my friends and I call it, is not only educational but fun. I don’t know. Maybe to highlight my point, we should do an Ultimate Adventure one year where you have to run a carb and open diffs and we impose a 31-inch tire size limit. Maybe that’s too far. Perhaps we’ll do a new event in addition to UA with those restrictions. What would we call it? The Average Adventure? Maybe this has legs and will walk. Or maybe not and we’ll fall on our face. Either way, let me know what you think. Until then, I am off to change another diaper ’cause #dadlife.