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Stupid Stuff We’ve Done While Wheeling And The Lessons We Learned

Posted in News on May 28, 2015
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Photographers: Four Wheeler Archives

Have you ever done something stupid while wheeling and walked away even though you shouldn’t have? It’s a broad question that’s open to interpretation and we posed it to the Four Wheeler Network staff. Some staffers responded with stories of times they walked away from their stuck 4x4 when they probably could’ve figured out how to un-stick it; one tells the story of when he should’ve walked away from a situation and thus avoided a rollover; another tells of breakage that forced a long walk; and others tell stories of miraculously walking away from off-road blunders that could’ve ended up much worse. No matter how the question is interpreted, there are lessons in each story. Have you ever done something stupid while wheeling and walked away even though you shouldn’t have? If so, tell us about it!

Ken Brubaker, senior editor, Four Wheeler:
“Whew, I’ve done many stupid things while wheeling. Like the time I didn’t fasten my seat belt for a short jaunt in the pasture, stuffed the front end of my Scout into a creek bank, and crammed my head into the windshield. I walked away, but straight to the ER for stitches. Could’ve been worse. Always wear a seatbelt, no matter how short or slow the drive. Another time that could’ve ended badly, but didn’t, was a romp in a rental Blazer in Dumont Dunes, California, which resulted in getting stuck in the sand. The place was deserted, hot, I had no idea where I was exactly, was low on water, had no cell service, and it was late in the day. I put my wife and me at risk. I had to leave my wife alone to look for help and after walking for a while I flagged down a passing K5 Blazer and got pulled out. It was an undramatic end to what could’ve been bad. Always wheel with extra supplies and reliable communication.”

Matt Emery, editor, Dirt Sports + Off Road:
“I’m not sure that this counts as being so terrible that we were in too much danger, but walking was part of the package. A buddy and I had been tooling around the hills near Castaic Lake in my Baja Bug. My dad had worked for the Edison Company and I had access to a special key that unlocked virtually every gate we came across. While back in the boonies, the flywheel sheared away from the crank (I hadn’t yet upgraded the number of pins that held in in place). So there we were, on a road that we shouldn’t have had access too, broken down miles from anywhere. And since we had driven it there, we couldn’t just walk back to the truck and go get it. We did have to walk to a phone though, which was about a 10-15-mile hike back to the nearest town where I had to call my brother, who had to bring the towbar and his Toyota Land Cruiser, to come get us. All in all, a bad day.”

Christian Hazel, editor, Four Wheeler:
“The year was late 1990-something and I was a wet-behind-the-ears staffer at 4-Wheel & Off-Road magazine. We were in the middle of nowhere, close to Ocotillo Wells conducting our annual 4x4 of the Year testing. My boss at the time, Cole Quinnell, was out in front leading the way down dusty washes and seldom-used dirt trails at a breakneck pace. I was still in my 20s, and therefore still thought I was immortal. The wisdom of age and countless mistakes hadn’t yet led common sense to overcome ego and I willfully (and stupidly) followed second in line right behind Cole’s bumper. It became fairly apparent that his driving skill outclassed mine, but when you’re young and dumb skill is often overridden by bravery and a heavy throttle foot. As I blindly followed at 40-ish mph in a brown-out of Cole’s dust my field of vision suddenly became clear. And what I saw I didn’t like at all. The dry wash we were driving in made an abrupt turn to the right, but I didn’t see that. What I did see - directly in front of me - with no time for braking or evasive maneuvers - was the nearly vertical 2-foot wall of the wash, which I proceeded to launch off of Clark Griswold-style. I had enough time in the air to think, ‘Boy, I’m gonna get fired for this. I wonder if this thing will nose in. If I nose in it’ll probably endo and land on the’ – BANG! Just before I could finish the thought the completely stock vehicle I was piloting harshly augured back to Earth. I bounced about three or four more times, brake pedal almost pushed through the floorboard as the ABS system whizzed unconfidently and spastically. With each reentry I was sure the airbag would blow out of the steering wheel in my face, but it didn’t. Before I knew it, I had come to a stop. I exited the vehicle, expecting to see body cladding, dented sheetmetal, and a bent frame. I was literally shocked and amazed to see the vehicle I was piloting didn’t even get scratched. I hopped back in, found my way back to the wash, and – very carefully I may add – caught up with the rest of the group, which by that time had passed me by without noticing my impromptu pit stop into the radishes.”

Ali Mansour, technical editor, Jp:
“This is an easy one. It was the night I rolled my Ranger. There was a Cherokee broken down in the middle of the trail, just before the best obstacles the OHV area had to offer. Since there was a bypass, our group was able to easily scoot around the broken XJ (after offering to help, of course). I was anxious to get some wheeling in, so I decided to drop back into the tough part of the trail once the bypass forked back onto the trail. My night vision isn’t the best, which should have been my first sign to forget about the ledges and hit them in the morning, but I decided to give it a go. Unfortunately, I dropped the nose of my Ranger into the darkness and over it went! We righted it in pretty quick order, but the damage to the roof, hood, fenders, cab, and bedside was already done. Sometimes, it's better to walk (or in this case drive away) and come back with a fresh set of eyes in the morning!”

Verne Simons, tech editor, 4-Wheel & Off-Road:
“Have you ever done something stupid while wheeling and walked away even though you shouldn't have?" One that comes to mind was in Moab, Utah, on the Hell’s Revenge trail. It was several years back and getting toward the end of the week. I was in my tan ‘49 CJ3A and for whatever reason decided to give escalator a shot. I walked the obstacle first and talked to two of my buddies who knew the line up the climb. The line is just to the right of the hole in the first big climb, and you’re best off staying to the right well before this to keep your tires (especially the rear) in the right place and out of a deep hole. That sounds nice, but it didn’t work, and the rear of my flattie slipped left and into the hole. I knew that this could end up badly, but I could not back up to get back on the line. So I did what I knew was dumb and put the old girl in First, thinking I might be able to jockey the rear end over by going forward and then back. For reasons I still don’t understand the old Jeep got magic traction as I started forward and started to climb. I was amazed, but stuck with it, and the Jeep drove right out of the hole. It didn’t seem possible, but it worked.”

Fred Williams, editor, 4-Wheel & Off-Road:
“I have had to walk away from my 4x4 a couple times. And looking back I think there was a way around these hikes, but I’m glad I took that walk of shame because I learned more from that then had I not gotten into that situation. Once I was at a summer camp working on the maintenance crew and we took the maintenance Jeep out for a spin in the woods along an old logging road. We (myself and one of the other teenage maintenance guys) thought the old CJ-5 would go anywhere, and in truth it probably would, but just not with us behind the wheel. We backed it into a ditch and having little experience with the Jeep or with off-roading we just stood on the gas pedal and the poor open diffs left us high and dry, and stuck in the ditch with two tires spinning. A little brake modulation, some pushing, and maybe less throttle and more skilled driving may have got us out of that predicament, but instead we walked back to camp. Had to tell the boss we had goofed, and then find a local with a truck to come pull us out. We shouldn’t have had to walk away, but we did, and from then on I learned a lot more about four-wheeling and what to do when it sends you into a ditch. There’s always a way out, and you’ll figure it out on that long walk home.”

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