Something we see over and over again in the four-wheeling world are mishaps at the places one would least expect it. We get through a nasty obstacle, breathe a sigh of relief, and then get stuck on a small rock we didn't even notice. Or we spend all day on a grueling 4x4 trail, get through without a scratch, then on the way home, slide off of the gravel road into tree. Or we just head out without much thought on a trail we have done dozens of times, don’t check the weather, and get stranded on the wrong side of a wash during a flash flood.
The common thread? We let our guard down after the perceived threat is past. The solution? Don't take anything for granted—keep your guard up until everyone is safely home on the couch. The following are a few things to think about before, during, and after your trip to help keep everyone safe.
A little preparation before your trip can go a long ways toward averting disaster. Research your intended routes for the latest trail conditions, status, and weather forecast. Talk to the land management agency for the area and a local club or 4x4 shop about the most current trail conditions. Think through the course, length, and severity of your excursion, and choose your gear accordingly.
Aside from alcohol consumption, mental and physical fatigue is the single biggest contributor to accidents on the trail. Be realistic about how many hours you can spend bumping along behind the wheel or scouting on foot in the expected temperatures and conditions of the trail, and still stay sharp. Extreme heat and cold wear you down faster. Combat these by staying well hydrated and carrying both sweet and salty snacks. Pack extra clothing for a variety of conditions. Stop for breaks at regular intervals—this helps keep you sharp as well as gives you a chance to enjoy the scenery.
Traverse the whole trail with humility—give your attention to every foot of the trail. Be extra cautious when parking vehicles. Don’t park on blind corners where a dirt bike might not see you until it’s too late. Pay attention to the location of rocks, trees, and ledges around your vehicle so that when you get in to leave, you can avoid driving onto, into, or off of them. And don’t forget to actually put the rig in Park with the emergency brake on! This happens more often than you might think.
Have an escape plan. This means as you travel, make a mental note of the wide spots, the landmarks, and hills that you may have to climb instead of descend if you have to return the way you came. Never be too proud to call it a day and turn around. When you are hungry, cold, and tired, it is tempting to rush just for the sake of getting through. Be mindful of this and remind yourself to be patient and thorough. Don’t fall into the trap of “I’m sure it will get better soon.”
When you do reach pavement, never bypass the few minutes it takes to look over your rig, tie everything down properly, air up your tires, etc. before heading out onto the highway. Something coming apart at highway speed is disastrous.
Once you are safely home, use what you learned on your trip to help you be even better prepared for the next outing. Make notes on your pre-trip checklist now because you will forget them in a week or two or whenever your next excursion will be. Oh, yeah, and have a pre-trip checklist.
A Sample Checklist
Ibuprofen, Imodium, Anbesol
Space blankets/rain ponchos
First Aid kit
Batteries: AAA, AA
Chargers: phone, gps, camera
Sockets, wrenches, 18 mm, 19 mm, 21 mm, 22 mm, 36 mm
Large adjustable wrench
Plier set: wire cutters, vise grips,
Baling wire, duct tape, zip ties
ATF-4 (4), 5W-20 motor oil (4)
Radiator stop leak (2)
Air Compressor, air hose, tire chuck
Fuses, electrical tape
Tire Plug Kit, Rubber Cement, Plugs, Valve Stems& Cores
Tire Gauges, Air Down
Drain Hose (5ft, Water, Gas), funnels
Tire Jack, Lug Wrench, Wheel lock Sockets
Winch accessories: tree strap, bow shackles, chain, snatch block
Winch remotes (check for match)
20-30’ recovery strap, bow shackles
Spill Kits, dust pan/broom
Jack accessories: jack-mate, lift-mate
Spatula, tongs, spoon
Can opener, wine/bottle opener
Knife, cutting board
Matches, lighter, oven mitts
Coffee pot, pan, pot w/lid
Salt, pepper, garlic, soy sauce
Vehicle Registration & Insurance
Maps & Atlas, compass, GPS