Extreme Off-Roading – You Can Do It, Too!
You see them on reality shows, those crazy drivers and their jacked-up trucks on steep mountain inclines and rugged, rocky terrain. Give it a try, you’ll no doubt surprise yourself how capable you are!
By Holly Reich
MY NEW PASSION
From the very first time I navigated a Chevy truck across some muddy hills in Northern Virginia, I’ve been hooked on off road driving. Navigating the New Jersey turnpike or climbing boulders in Utah? I actually prefer traversing rugged territories to speeding along paved roads. Over the years, I have found my outdoor adventures to be both an empowering and a deeply Zen experience.
My trips with Land Rover have been the most remarkable. The escapades have been diverse: camping out in Mongolia’s Gobi desert, driving in a close convoy on a narrow 16,000 foot pass in Argentina, winching vehicles up sand dunes in the deserts of Las Vegas, and bumbling over black ice in Vermont.
WHERE TO LEARN
But before I took these extraordinary adventures, I needed to learn the tools of the trade. My first encounter with the Land Rover Experience Driving School took place on the 8,000-acre grounds of the Biltmore Estate Inn in Asheville, North Carolina, where the school was founded.
It was a crisp winter day and I was at the heated leather steering wheel of a $74,000 2007 Range Rover, dipping it head on into a rocky, hip deep stream. The vehicle tilted 33 degrees as we leaned sideways in a muddy ditch.
“It’s fine,” lead instructor Greg Nikolas said calmly. “Just turn your wheel hard and you’ll lift right out of there.” True, we did, but coming up fast was another stunt. We began a slow crawl down a steep and dangerously slick decline when Greg advised using an off road skill that went against all of my instincts.
“The technique is counterintuitive,” he explained. “Take your foot off the brake and the gas—yes, the brake and the gas! Put the car in 1st and let it go!” “Yeah, sure,” I thought. This wasn’t my first time off roading. But this made me nervous. I took a shallow breath, waiting for that off road enthusiasm to kick in. I felt unhinged. Apparently, he noticed.
“You don’t want to be scared,” he coached. “If you’re scared, you won’t process information correctly. Just trust and get into the Zen of the experience.”
FINDING MY ZEN
Zen Buddhism emphasizes moment-by-moment awareness and enlightenment through direct experience. I did my best, and it worked. I put my trust in the Range Rover’s capabilities. And yes indeed, the wheels gripped and the gears kicked in. Instead of doing an imagined slow slide to hell, I eased down that decline at a steady and measured pace.
The more time I spent off road driving in the woods that sunny afternoon, the more my mind entered into a meditative state. I actually slowed down my mind (and my heart rate) and appreciated the moment. Hearing the crisp crunch of branches beneath the tires, smelling that pungent combination of woods and mud, and taking in the damp, chilly air, it was all very clear.
PROTECTING THE ENVIRONMENT
Land Rover was a co-founder of the educational organization Tread Lightly! www.treadlightly.org, which aims to balance enjoyment of the outdoors with the need to maintain a healthy natural environment. Tread Lightly!’s Guide for Responsible Four-Wheeling encourages four wheelers to minimize their impact on the environment. Tips include: yield the right of way to bikes, horses, and hikers, keep noise and dust down, pack out what you pack in, stay on designated roads and trails or other areas open for use, avoid “spooking” livestock you encounter, and cross streams at fording points only.
HOW TO PREPARE
Off roading means you’ll be off the beaten path, away from civilization. While exhilarating, it can also be dangerous if you’re not prepared. Tread Lightly! offers the following tips:
• Know local laws and regulations, including which areas and routes are open for off roading.
• Carry the right information, maps and equipment.
• Be sure your vehicle is compatible with trail conditions.
• Travel with other vehicles, so if there is a medical emergency or if a vehicle becomes stuck there is a means of recovery.
• Let someone know your intended route and how long you will be out. That way, if you do not return on schedule, people will know where to look.
• Check the weather. It’s a huge factor since weather can change the trail and traction conditions. What was passable during a dry and sunny morning may not be during a rainy afternoon.
• Bring basic items like a shovel, pick, recovery kit, winch kit (if equipped), extra food and clothing based upon geographic location and weather.
Off roading is more than just a test of confidence and a Zen-like experience. It allows people to forge deeper into remote areas for hiking, and it’s a wonderful way to bond with family or friends on weekend camping trips. To quote a Native American proverb:
“We did not inherit the Earth from our parents.
We are borrowing it from our children.”
For more information on trails visit:
Federal Recreation Areas and Activities www.recreation.gov
US Bureau of Land Management www.blm.gov
US National Park Service www.nps.gov
For Land Rover’s Off Road Experiences visit: http://www.landrover.com/us/en/lr/experience-land-rover/driving-schools/driving-schools/