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There's More to a Great Day on the Trail Than Just Driving on the Trail

Posted in Features on January 9, 2019
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Kids. They don’t know nothing. As a burgeoning grumpy old man I can say such things because when I first started in this job as an off-road automotive journalist 20 years ago I thought the best day wheeling involved only doing actual wheeling. For a while in those early years, Rick Péwé (current editor of Jp magazine) was my boss for a while. When we’d hit the trail together I’d drive my fully prepped and readied off-road rig out to our meeting point and was always amazed when Rick would show up with some jalopy of dubious mechanical stature on a trailer, leaking fluid, showing cracks in the drivetrain components, requiring some weird key jiggling ritual to start, or suffering a locking wheel brake cylinder. We’d get partially into the trail and some issue would arise. Rick would gleefully exit the Jeep, bust out the tools, and settle in for a good, long trail repair while I crawled out of my skin wanting to get on with driving.

But then something happened. I started seeing where Rick was coming from. Nowadays some of my favorite trail days involve not only running tires over trail obstacles but also overcoming situational obstacles.

It’s always less stressful when the trail problem you’re trying to overcome isn’t yours, so those are the ones I tend to fondly remember. I’ve welded up a lot of shock mounts or shackle hangers and engine brackets on the trail. I’ve snatch-blocked and winched flopped or rolled rigs onto their wheels. I’ve tugged and towed nonrunning rigs over obstacles and up mountain passes to the trailhead, and I’ve rigged and MacGyver’d stuff together to unbreak the broken and move the immovable. Each field fix is a test of man, machine, and situation. I’ve grown to love it.

The weirdest field fix I’ve ever had happened recently while I was out testing with a bunch of Four Wheeler Network coworkers during our annual Four Wheeler of the Year and Pickup Truck of the Year competitions. We were on a trial in the California Sierras and came upon a visitor who had come to America for a three-month bird watching expedition. He was three weeks into his vacation when his newly purchased camper slid out the back of his shortbed Tacoma on a steep climb. He was hosed. Flat-out hosed, but lucky for him 12 hardcore off-roaders were literally right around the corner.

In all, it took us less than an hour to finagle his 900- or 1,000-pound camper back into his truck. We backed up his Tacoma, chocked up the camper with trail boulders, and managed to walk the heavy unit up so it was leaning on the tailgate about a third of its length. Then, with freelancer John Cappa and myself in the bed pulling down and the rest of the crew lifting from behind, we cantilevered the camper up where it belonged. We straightened the bent turnbuckle, cinched down his hardware, gave him a ratchet strap for safety until he could make it back to a proper camper installation facility, and then broke for lunch.

Nobody complained that we had to abort our trip to the summit. That would’ve been an adventure. But it was also an adventure helping out a fellow off-roader, overcoming trail challenges, and making what was a bad situation into a good story to tell around a future campfire. In the end, off-roading is as much about that as it is actually driving the trail. Once you get that, I think the enjoyment level goes way up. After all, just like any on-road trip, it’s not always about the destination—it’s about the journey.

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