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Firing Order: Getting Stuck in the “Easy” Stuff

Posted in Features on May 22, 2018
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The first time I saw a rockcrawling competition was many years ago in New Mexico. I think it was in the late ’90s. Being from northern Illinois farm country, I had a fair amount of four-wheeling experience but had never witnessed anything like crawling rocks. I was transfixed by the 4x4s as they climbed the waterfalls and ledges. Back then, the majority of entrants were moderately modified Jeeps. It was fascinating to watch the rigs climb what appeared to be virtually insurmountable obstacles and they seemed to defy gravity. It was a vivid and extraordinary example of how capable a 4x4 can be.

Meanwhile, I sometimes get stuck in farm pastures. What should be a total non-event has occasionally left my rig helpless. Yep, some of my most embarrassing stucks have been in pastures that look docile and harmless. This unassuming terrain has left my 4x4 spinning its wheels more than once, and I’ve had to take a walk to fetch a tractor or another 4x4. How in the world can my rig, which has carried me over much worse terrain, get stuck in a pasture? What’s up with that?

One time my big K5 Blazer with mud-terrain tires had to be rescued by a tractor from a simple off-camber sidehill. I had been out exploring the pasture looking for fence damage along a creek after a heavy rain. I got too close to the angled terrain near the creek and the Blazer slid sideways down a mild angled embankment. No big deal, I figured. Well, between the angle, wet grass, and muddy soil, the truck, even with its grabby tires, couldn’t pull itself out. The stuck didn’t look bad at all, but the rig had nowhere to go and was going nowhere.

Another time I was in a pasture in my Scout, traveling through a slippery section near a bunk feeder. It was late winter with temps hovering just above freezing and there was a thin coating of mud on top of frozen ground. The mild angled upslope turned into a comical exercise of trying to gather momentum while wildly sawing the steering wheel in an effort to pass between two fence posts without sliding and rearranging the sheetmetal on my rig or destroying the fence posts. I was mostly successful. (Tip: If you’re going to destroy a fence post, do it in the summer. Fence posts are much easier to replace when the ground isn’t frozen.) On a related topic, there’s nothing like the smell of burning cow manure on a hot exhaust system. I could probably write an entire column on the subject of hot exhaust farm odors. Maybe someday.

Snow in the pasture has hosed me more than once. Not long ago I was exploring a pasture in the dead of winter in my stock Tracker. There were a few inches of snow on the level with drifts scattered about. Very cold, too. Long story short, the snow hid a long ledge that ran the same direction I was traveling and I drove up on it. The Tracker’s underbody had hooked the ledge and the little rig simply came to a stop. It looked like I had parked it there. There was hardly any angle to the terrain, but that ledge was like a magnet and the tires simply couldn’t get enough traction to pull the rig out. Attempts to get the Tracker dislodged were in vain. It was an easy recovery; it required more of a light tug than a yank.

When I think of the terrain I’ve wheeled over the years it seems silly that I’ve been stuck in seemingly harmless terrain. But I think we’ve all been there. Angled, dry slickrock isn’t a problem, but take the same angle and put some mud, snow, or ice on it and it becomes a completely different animal. The same 4x4 that can climb a waterfall or blast through mud can find itself on the end of a strap or winch cable on terrain much less menacing when conditions are right.

Have you been in a situation where the terrain looked harmless but your rig got stuck? Maybe the recovery was easy, or maybe it was migraine-inducing. Either way, send an email to the address below and tell us about it. And please include a photo of the quandary if you have one. And don’t underestimate farm pastures.

—Ken Brubaker
ken.brubaker@fourwheeler.com

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