Category: Trail Etiquette

The Secret to Good Trail Teamwork

By Nena Barlow

This article originally appeared on fourwheeler.com.

When Ken Brubaker of Four Wheeler magazine, Jp’s sister publication, asked me to guide the first Overland Adventure, one of my biggest concerns was how to bring together a group that was going to be far more diverse than the usual all-Jeep run. With everything from rock crawling Wranglers to overland monsters like John Marshall’s U-600 Unimog, and a smattering of various off-road trailers, the vehicles and the experience of the participants were vastly different. We planned to travel from Wickenburg to Prescott and onward to Overland Expo in Flagstaff—via 260 miles of backroads over three days. What came of this eclectic event was a lesson in teamwork and camaraderie unparalleled in any other large groups I have led.

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How to Be a Good Trail Leader

By Nena Barlow

This article originally appeared on fourwheeler.com.

When people think about what is required to be a good trail leader, they often think of spotting skills; however, it’s much more than that. Trail leaders don’t just know how to drive their own rigs through some tough terrain—they also help others drive their rigs through it. And, most importantly, they properly prepare for the trip in advance with information, comfort concerns, and safety logistics to help the group enjoy the whole day from start to finish.

Good trail leading means starting with a plan. Beyond the date and time you are inviting the group to meet, provide information about the intended route, itinerary, pace for the trip, weather forecasts along the route, whether the group needs to bring lunch on the trail, if there are bathroom facilities or the participants need to plan otherwise, and any other special considerations people should be prepared for, like permit or entrance fees, gas stops and fuel range expectation, and if pets and children are recommended or permitted in the areas you are visiting.

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Take Your Dog on the Trail!

By Nena Barlow

This article originally appeared on fourwheeler.com.

Thinking of taking Fido with you on the Jeep run or backcountry vacation? Many of us consider our dogs as our children and travel everywhere with them. However, there are some special considerations for Jeeping or overlanding with pets.

Aside from the usual concerns about plenty of nature stops, food, and water, having a safe and secure place to ride in the vehicle is of special concern on rough and steep terrain. Many people recognize that all human occupants in the vehicle should be wearing seatbelts, but consider what happens to Fido when you start down a steep descent or bounce over a rocky crossing. We have seen dogs get launched off the back seat and actually crack the front dash components on impact—extremely unpleasant for the dog, I am sure. And since many of us like to take our top and doors off, it adds an extra level of danger to your fur baby. Consider the dynamics, but also consider your dog’s behavior. I had a dog who would launch himself out of the Jeep if he saw a rabbit, whether we were moving at 5 or 50 mph. We learned to travel with the windows on with him. Pet experts recommend that if you don’t travel with your dog in a crate, large dogs should be restrained in a doggy seatbelt harness, while doggy car seats are ideal for small- to medium-sized dogs.

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Cooperation for the common good

By Nena Barlow

This article originally appeared on fourwheeler.com.

It’s a human tendency to lump ourselves into groups. We are naturally attracted to groups of people who have similar interests and values. Jeep enthusiasts are no different. Along with the enthusiasm for the vehicle comes a shared interest in traveling the great outdoors in it, and a desire to see 4×4 trails and dirt roads kept open for exploration. But in our efforts to keep trails open we should remember that hunters, mountain bikers, motorcycle riders, equestrians, hikers, and many other outdoor enthusiasts (including, yes, UTV drivers) also have an interest in keeping 4×4 trails and dirt roads open. What is important to the future of public roads and trails is that all of us who use them learn to identify as the same tribe—one large group of people who really enjoy the outdoors and having access to beautiful public places upon which to recreate.

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Mud Rules: When And How To Drive Through It

By Nena Barlow

This article originally appeared on fourwheeler.com.

Driving through mud is fun. However, I have learned that the moment of fun is usually accompanied by many not fun consequences. In some parts of the country, mud is the primary form of wheeling because, well, that is pretty much all there is. I choose to tiptoe through mud as much as possible these days for many reasons, but it is important to understand the methods and consequences of dealing with mud.

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Respect

Easter Jeep Safari 2014 in Moab was bigger than ever. The weather was beautiful and many of the official trail runs were full to maximum capacity, making all the trails busy with both official and unofficial runs. Considering just how busy the trails were, I was impressed by how well most people cooperated and showed respect for both the trails and other users. MOST people.

There was one particular incident which set a poor example of respectful trail use. This incident involved a group of 4-wheelers whose leader insisted that they had the right to run any trail whenever and however they wished. They were attempting to enter a trail from the backside which was not only closed to the public for the day, but also a one-way only trail all week, regardless of Safari runs. There are eight trails that are closed on days during Safari that there is an official Safari run—ONLY eight, out of the 38 listed official Safari trails. When they were informed by the trail official that they would have to run a different trail that day, they waved him off and said “We’ll just follow behind you.” When the official again informed them that this would be illegal during Safari, they told him “We’re locals” (they’re not), as if that made it okay to be rude, disrespectful, and disobey the law. It actually took a phone call to the Sheriff to convince these guys to go elsewhere.

Contrary to the beliefs of some, the laws and etiquette of the trails are not imposed to inconvenience people, but rather to protect the trails so they do not degrade beyond all continued enjoyment. The eight trails closed during Safari run days are closed because they are one way in and one way out, or far too difficult to have groups safely pass each other without widening the trail. Most people would find trails far less enjoyable if they became giant dust bowls because the soil crust is crushed beyond all ability to support trees and shrubs and hold down the sand from billowing away. And we have all been on trails where there are far too many Jeeps and we spend much of our time parked, waiting to move through an obstacle. The rules are pretty simple to follow, and the Red Rock 4-Wheelers clearly post the information on their website and in the paper available for free all over town. In my opinion, if you are too lazy to research what trails are available, OR you just don't care enough about the trails or other users to follow basic etiquette or law, you are not a responsible trail user and you just shouldn't go.

Here’s the part that really bugs me—the offending party in question was a representative of a well-known 4x4 parts manufacturers. These are people whose livelihood depends on the existence of public trails. These are people who should be setting a glowing example of how to properly use a trail, respecting the laws and ethics, and all other users of the trails. There were MANY aftermarket parts companies in town, and I know that the vast majority of them take the time to acquire any required permits, check Safari schedules to plan their routes, and go out of their way to respect the environment and other users on the land. Fortunately, the incident in question seems to be a somewhat isolated occurrence these days.

Promote and support companies who respect the trails and all other users of the trails. Those are the companies who understand that, in order for our recreation AND their business to continue, we must care for what we have. If a company exhibits shameful conduct on the trails, I will choose to not promote or do business with them. I make a point of promoting the businesses which DO practice good trail ethics and etiquette. I encourage all of you to do the same.

Happy Trails!
NB

Speaking up on the Trail

A few years ago, I wrote an article about the social dynamics of groups on the trail--how sometimes in a sticky situation there are too many people shouting opposing opinions at the same time, and how at other times no one speaks up when they should. Recent mishaps with weather calls and recovery snafus have brought this topic back to mind.

Remember that, in most cases, it pays to take an extra few seconds to think things through, discuss circumstances calmly, clearly, and thoroughly. Unless, for example, someone's rig is on fire, or sliding out of control towards a cliff, there is usually no need for urgent action. Step back and explore all the options.

In a spotting situation, there shouldn't be a bunch of people yelling out all at once. Observers should communicate their concerns through the designated spotter.

Finally, and very importantly, a good trail leader should not be offended by someone in the group asking for clarification on a judgement call or recovery staging, BUT it's better to risk offending that person rather than risk personal safety or vehicle damage. As a professional instructor, I expect to be explaining what I see and the judgements I make all day long as a way to help others develop their own on-trail decision-making skills. Ultimately, you, the driver, are responsible for the "go" or "no-go" call for yourself, so, in my book, it is ALWAYS okay to ask for more information.

Happy trails!

Eliminate “Off-Road” Abuse!

That should get everyone's attention! 😀 What I am actually referring to is the overuse of the term "off road" as opposed to "off highway," "off pavement," or "4-wheeling." For as long as I can remember, the recreational sport of 4-wheeling has been called "off-roading," as in "Hey, y'all, let's load up the Jeep and spend the weekend offroading!" Somewhere along the way, the legal definition of "OFF road" came to mean when you are NOT on an established public thoroughfare.

As a group, those of us who engage in the use of unpaved roads and trails for recreation need to update our vocabulary to more legally accurate terms, and here is why: I frequently experience incidents where a mere misunderstanding of each party's definitions have caused unnecessary conflict and confusion.

For example, when a local Forest Service district announced they were considering eliminating all off-road use, the local Jeep club came unglued, until the fine print was reviewed, revealing that what was actually proposed was the elimination of allowing people to drive off of the established trails onto virgin terrain--our favorite 4-wheeling trails were not actually in peril (that time).

Another common confusion I encounter is in the Jeep rental business. We frequently have guests tell us "I'm not sure if my insurance covers me off road," to which we reply "That's fine since you aren't actually going off road today." Then we explain it: The legal definition of "off road" by land management agencies and insurance companies is "off of an established public thoroughfare." When a ranger or insurance adjuster says "off road", what they mean is "were you on a named and/or numbered, identifiably established trail?" Even trails like Smasher Canyon and Broken Arrow are officially-recognized public thoroughfares--legally, you are "ON road". 

 
Therefore, I have been trying to catch myself whenever I say "off-road" and changing it to "4-wheeling," "off-highway," "trail riding" or " rock crawling." I should also mention that the term "trail" in Forest Service-ese means hiking, so mindful of that, too. Sheesh! 
 
Bottom line: stay off of the topsoil, ask about the local rules, and don't be afraid to ask for clarification. 
 
Happy trails!

Enjoy the Trip!

This past Saturday, I ventured out onto Diamondback Gulch. It's a moderate Jeep trail in West Sedona that is not nearly as well known as Broken Arrow, Soldier Pass, or Schnebly Hill. In fact, on busy Saturdays, it's one of those trails you take because you know there will only be a few folks out there. But on this Saturday, there were countless tour Jeeps and three different 4x4 clubs on this mere 6-mile trail. What is usually a casual two-hour excursion was a harried 3-hour stop, wait, and back-up game.

With Spring Breaks starting all across the west this week, traffic snarls and manic visitors are the expected fare in tourism towns all over, both on and off pavement. This carries over onto even our most exclusive 4-wheeling Jeep trails. A few reminders:

  1. Safety comes first--no matter how late you may be to whatever appointment or next scheduled activity, it's never worth the safety of you or your family to hurry: stay calm, pay attention (no texting or taking pictures while driving), don't rush. There are way too many other harried people out there this time of year. Stay alert!
  2. Educate yourself--call ahead to your destination or next activity to find out what the weather conditions are, what road construction snarls you may be able to avoid, or what alternate activities or timing could better suit your needs to help you avoid peak traffic. Most business operators are happy to help direct visitors to a time frame that will be better for everyone. Some Jeep trails are busier certain days of the week or time of day. Some road construction snags can be avoided by alternate routes or different times of day.
  3. Have fun! Remember why you are out there--to enjoy the natural beauty of your surroundings, and share a fun experience with friends and loved ones. Plan some extra time in case of unplanned snags in your schedule--have snacks or activities for kids ready. Make the best of whatever situation you encounter. Keep everything in perspective and ENJOY your trip.

Happy Trails!

Don’t be the Guy Who…

Don't be the guy who drives a moderately challenging Jeep trail in 2wd and then brags about it.

Why not?

1. Many of our Arizona Jeep trails are heavily used, old, and highly scrutinized. Spinning your tires and revving your motor is not only disruptive to the enjoyment of other trail users (4x4's, hikers, mountain bikers, etc.) but also destructive to the road surface, and contributes to the unwillingness of land managers to keep trails open.

2. Using RPM's instead of gearing to pull yourself up hills is very likely to result in an overheated motor and/or transmission--if you are not aware, both are VERY expensive components of your vehicle.

3. It makes you look like an idiot. A 4x4 has gears specifically designed to tackle steep and/or rocky terrain. NOT using them is like using a screwdriver as a hammer, or using a toothbrush to comb your hair. Use the tool the way it's supposed to be used. If you like looking like a moron, by all means, entertain us, but PLEASE don't do it on OUR land--public trails are not your personal back yard--they belongs to all of us.

It boggles my mind when someone comes back from a moderate trail where we recommend using 4L, and they say "I did it in 2H (or 4H)!" like we should be impressed. This past weekend, we had several reports of a 2wd Ford pickup on Broken Arrow trying to get up several obstacles, having to rev the motor, and make multiple attempts to climb, whereas any SUV with 4L just walks right up. Rocks and dirt were flung for 50 feet, and people throughout the 4 mile trail could hear the roar of the V8 motor struggling.

What do you say when you encounter someone on the trail who is that blatantly ignorant and/or disrespectful?

First, I try to establish if they are having a mechanical problem, ignorant or just totally disrespectful. I try to give people the benefit of the doubt first by saying something like: "Is everything okay with your truck? It sounds like you are stuck in high range." And SMILE when you talk to them--that's important.

If everything is okay with the truck, I proceed: "You know, you are really tearing up the trail--if a ranger catches you, there are big fines for that. You really should be using 4L to avoid digging up the trail, not to mention overheating your motor or tranny. I think I speak for a lot of people out here when I say that I would like the Forest Service to keep this trail open, not to mention having to drag a dead truck out of here." At this point MOST people will get sheepish, and humbly say okay, to which I respond "Thank you so much--have fun and be safe!" with my biggest syrupy-sweet smile.

But what if you still get no result? Again, smile, say "Well, have a nice day_______(insert nickname of choice)" then get a photo of them, the truck, the license plate, the trail damage, and write down all the details of the location and the incident and turn it in to the Forest Service--they are very hi-tech now--you can email your info! At the very least, the moron in question will get a message asking to speak to them about the incident, and maybe, just maybe, they will think twice about acting like an idiot on our land next time.

May the morons on your trails be few and far between.

Happy trails!