The In-Laws' First Offroad Trip
August 1, 2017
Because my wife has five sisters and one brother, I have six brothers-in-law on her side of the family. They are all good guys (well, except for one who nobody can stand, but we never have the nerve to tell him), and we enjoy getting together from time to time for a friendly game of poker or to burn a few steaks on the barbecue. They all live in Nebraska where there aren't as many exciting off-road trails on which to skid ATV tires across mountainous terrain as we have here in the Western states. That means that whenever they come to visit me I have to borrow a few quads from my friends with all sorts of promises that we'll pay for whatever we break. Notice I didn't say if we break something, because if is not an option. We always break something. You see, my brothers-in-law are much better at charring steaks on the barbie than they are at riding off-highway vehicles.
For our first offroad trip I selected a trail containing varying degrees of difficulty, but nothing that required technical riding skills. I decided to put everyone through a short training course and allow them to practice awhile first. Some of them had experience riding motorcycles, so I took some time to explain the difference between having four aggressive tires beneath them. One of the most important tips that I shared was to resist the urge to put their foot down when cornering or tipping sharply to one side. The larger, wider ATV tires will roll over a rider's foot and crush their ankle faster than a Hollywood starlet can ruin her career.
Everyone gained confidence during the training session and all were soon zooming back and forth on the gravelly practice field we were using. Thirty minutes later we topped off the gas tanks and I made a final check to ensure everyone's gear bags, fuel cans and other ATV accessories had tight straps around them so they wouldn't fall onto the trail where the ATV tires of these newbies could crush them. Safety check complete, we strapped on our helmets and motored up the trail. I was in the lead to set a safe and comfortable pace while my longtime and reliable friend, Jay, rode drag, bringing up the rear of our neophyte column so that we didn't leave any stragglers behind.
We stopped every few miles to let everyone catch up and to enjoy the scenery. Flatlanders from Nebraska don't often ascend to an elevation of 11,000 feet and experience a high mountain conifer biome very often, so they needed opportunities to take it all in. We crossed over a mountain on a series of trails that offered a nice variety of steepness, ruggedness, and beauty. After a three-hour drive, we descended the mountain and stopped for lunch at the world famous Big Rock Candy Mountain, which today consists of a campground and a restaurant. As we approached the highway leading to the restaurant, I reminded everyone that ATV tires are low pressure and will handle differently on a paved surface. Everyone heeded my warning, even Milt and Kelvin who had both been riding more aggressively as the day wore on.
Once we had filled our bellies with delicious burgers and greasy french fries, the crew made preparations for the return journey. This time there were a lot of questions, "Can I do a wheelie with a four-wheeler?" "Is there a place we can climb over boulders?" "Can we go off-road?" "Are there any sand dunes around here?" "Why don't we go faster?" All of the questions indicated the guys wanted to add more thrills and excitement to the ride. Jay and I deliberated over the possibility and decided that everyone was doing well enough to up the fun-factor just a bit.
I did my best to answer all of the questions,"No you can't do a wheelie with a four-wheeler. Some people can, but not you." "Keep all four ATV wheels on the ground, especially you, Kelvin!" "Yes, there is a place we can climb over boulders, but we're not going to, you're not ready for that." "As for off-road riding and sand dunes, there is a place that we can do both and even though we haven't got the right tires, like the ITP Sand Star or the GBC Sand Shark, we can still have a whooping good time riding on sand." and finally, "Yes, we will go a little faster, but everyone needs to be very careful."
On the way back over the mountain we freshened the pace quite a lot and the boys from Nebraska were in heaven. They bounced against side hills, mock raced one another, slid around corners, and tore up the dunes, which were actually an expansive area of tailings from a nineteenth-century gold mine, but these boys didn't care. Finally, after hours of off-highway vehicle bliss in the mountains, we began the long, slow descent to the trailhead from which we began our day.
All was going well until the Kawasaki Kelvin was on stopped running. We couldn't get it to start, so the always-prepared Jay hooked up a tow strap and pulled him back via a road rather than the trail. Since Bert was the best rider, I assigned him to ride drag behind everyone else to render whatever assistance he could, should there be a problem. It was a big relief to me when we all met up at a clearing just below the steepest parts of the trail, "We're home free now," I thought to myself.
Boy, was I wrong, for a few miles later when I stopped to let everyone catch up, no one came. It took only a mile of backtracking to find Milt splayed flat on his back in the middle of the trail, his ATV laying on its side, the engine amazingly still running, and the wheels spinning faster than a politician caught taking a bribe. He obviously had veered off the trail and hit a tree, a collision that immediately brought the ATV to a stop and sent him tumbling pants over teakettle. Shockingly, Milt only suffered a few cuts and bruises, but no broken bones or internal bleeding or any of the things that initially went through my mind. We were even able to get all four ATV wheels back on the ground and drive it off the mountain. Of course, once we knew Milt was ok, we made him drive the wrecked machine so the rest of us could still have fun - that's just how manly men roll.
When we arrived home two hours later and broke the news to Milt's wife Kassi, she cried like a baby before slugging him for causing her so much worry.
All new riders should take an off-highway vehicle safety course, practice with friends, wear safety gear, and ride within their limits. Everyone should take the time necessary to develop good riding skills before attempting difficult trails. I wouldn't trade this trip and the memories it gives me for anything in the world. And, at the same time, I'd never do it again. Whenever you ride, do so safely, and take along a few Nebraskans, because they will surely give you a great story to tell.