From the earliest age we are told by our mothers, “Don’t play in the mud!” yet we are drawn to it. Did you ever wonder why? The answer is simpler than you might think. There are all kinds of mud; soupy mud, clumpy mud, sticky mud, smelly mud, swampy mud but it’s a basic fact that playing in mud (of any type) is just plain fun! Those who have given in to this guilty pleasure surely have one up on the rest of us…er, the rest of you!
What’s it like on a four wheeler off road? It’s both exhilarating and terrifying. Your circumstances change five times a second, and I don’t know of anything else that better exemplifies flying by the seat of your pants. When you’re in a mud hole it can be bone-jarring and tooth chipping-ly rough. You drive blindly ahead at full throttle even though you have no way of knowing where you might drop off deeper than you can handle. Maybe I should point out, this doesn’t always work out alright; getting towed out after your motor got swamped is a common occurrence and back-woods atv’s often employ an add-on winch to get them out of trouble. Pushing the edge of the envelope seems to be the name of the game, but if you want to play the game very long, know your limitations.
Some see an ATV as basic transportation in the woods, and there’s no denying that it’s good for this. Many a hunter has found it takes you where conventional means, even a horse, can’t. Fitted with racks and lights, it makes the otherwise pedestrian back-woodsman a long ranger. Some deer hunters don’t even know what it’s like to drag a deer since the advent of ATV’s.
Off-roading has many forms. Some take the same vehicle they drove to work on Friday, and off-road the family truckster in 4wd on Saturday. Some have a dedicated “Mudder” or a highly modified vehicle for jeep rodeos, while some strap the dirt bike in the truck and take off to local tracks like Moto 60 near Vermillion to chase weekend kicks.
Off-roading can be as simple as riding the fields and hollows around a farm or as elaborate as visiting a destination off-road recreation park like Southington Off-Road near Ravenna. There you’ll find an entire sub-culture that camps around these tracks and flocks to remote areas with cult-like loyalty and diligence. The crowd can be as varied as young folks hanging out, family camps or even empty-nesters trying something that they always wanted to do, once they had the time.
Break-downs are common, the equipment gets ridden hard and things snap, but just as common is to see a complete stranger helping somebody navigate a repair. The friendliness and sense of camaraderie around these events was startling yet it gave me a redeeming sense about man helping his fellow man.
You’ll find spots deep in the woods where light can’t penetrate the canopy and the wind doesn’t whip, so the water never dries up and the ground is always muddy (even in a drought like last summer). These spots will come up on you suddenly when your front wheel dips, the whole machine leans and half a second later everything goes a sticky, stinking brown to black as you know, just that fast you’re stuck and you’re going to have to get out.
A tie rod bends, a boot splits, a bearing burns up, it happens as a matter of course. They have an expression out here, it’s almost a cliché, “If you ain’t breaking it, you ain’t riding it!”
On an ordinary back road, you’re bound to come up against some challenges; a downed tree, a steep bank, a tight turn, a muddy crossing. At an ATV park, you’re certain to come across such challenges at every turn. A banked curve, a fishtail that goes just a little too far, too hard, the other way, it’s all part of the ride in the dirt. They were put there for your enjoyment, after all. This is no Sunday buggy ride through the meadow. Get off road, get outdoors!