Fish swim, bees buzz, Jeeps go off-road. And that's exactly what the Jeep is doing in this scene. I'm proud to announce that me and the Jeep have graduated to the next grade of off-road school. But believe me, summer school was no walk in the park.
It was instead a ride in the off-road park. Yes, there are such things. Here in the northeast, public land open to off-road wheeling almost doesn't exist. That has stunted my education. I have to wait for a good snow storm, a field and friendly farmer, or a trip to a beach that issues 4x4 permits. Real trail runs are quite rare.
But my friends found this off-road park a few hours drive from home, and surprised me with a weekend trip. Think of an off-road park as a regular amusement park with long legal waivers, a bring-your-own-ride policy, and a whole lot less maintenance.
When I found out we were going, I was very excited. This would be great! Off-roading in a controlled environment, marked trails for each level of vehicle and driver, a relaxing day where one could cruise easy or choose to up his game on a more difficult run.
Our first step was to sign our waiver forms and get our park membership cards. No problem. Legal forms are always written in scary worst-case language. Wrecked vehicle, injury, death, alien abduction, blah, blah, blah... So we signed, got our cards, and were briefed on park rules. We were also given a collection of local business cards for towing companies, mechanics, taxis, hospitals, and behavioral therapists. Nothing to worry about, just standard precautions.
We also got a park map showing all the trails. Green for easy, then blue, then red, and finally, for extreme rock crawling, black. Great, we'll start with the green trails, there's plenty of those! The park office then showed us where some sections of green trails have been "upgraded" to blue. We asked what they do to upgrade a green trail to blue. The answer was, "Nothing, they upgrade themselves." What a great business model... your park gets better by letting it deteriorate naturally. Ok, we'll watch out for those sections.
Just outside the park office we saw what they call the "Camp Course". This is a series of natural and man-made rock piles, some reaching 20 feet or higher. A competition was under way with all types of Jeeps, modified trucks, and buggies crawling up and over giant boulders. What I should have realized at this point was that the people on the Camp Course are the same ones that determine which trails are green, blue, red, or black. We were soon to face an issue of differing perspectives. What really is a "green trail" to you?
Our plan was to hit a nearby green trail leading to a picnic area inside the park. Woo Hoo! Picnic! Our group included my semi-stock Jeep (I bumped it up a tire size), a Jeep Sahara, and a Toyota FJ with a 3-inch lift. Nothing it seems that couldn't handle the bunny-run.
Within the first 50 yards we hit a patch of unyielding, sharp, jagged rocks. Whoa! This is the easy stuff!? We were bouncing like a 747 in a thunderstorm. I was trying to pick good lines through it, but the rocks had other plans. I heard metal smacking the underside of the Jeep, not unlike the sounds my grandfather heard slugging-it through Italy with General Patton. Oh, man, this is going to cost us big! I got out and did the first of many checks under the Jeep. Just then, a park veteran drove by and said, "It's too early to be looking under there." True, I thought, but I was looking anyway. This was my ride home.
We kept going, and came upon a series of murky water holes with submerged pointy rocks. We'd get through one, just to get to the next hole with deeper water and pointier rocks. My friends reminded me that from inside the Jeep the rocks look bigger. They're from Colorado so they know rocks, and they were right. I could see my friend's Jeep ahead, and it was able to clear most of the rocks just fine. But this was my first real day at school, and everything was new and bigger than reality.
The pointy water holes made the picnic area seem real far away, so we switched to some more-greener trails on another side of the park. These trails also had water holes and rocks, just not at the same time. I found that to be a positive game changer.
Overall, it was a great day. We all had a good time. Nobody had to be towed out, airlifted to the hospital, or made subject of a YouTube crash video. And the worst damage any of us suffered were a few scratches on some wheels. I'd definitely go again, but maybe with some bigger tires and a slight suspension lift. Phone lines are open, so make your donation today to the Lift-My-Jeepathon ;-).
But the real lesson here is to never take for granted the difficulty rating applied to any activity, be it an off-road trail, hiking path, ski slope, corn maze, or whatever else. Go out and do what you enjoy, but first find the people that rated the course levels, and ask, "What exactly does 'green trail' mean to you?"