Trucks and Jeeps, mud-tires and lift kits, CB antennas and Black Oak’s LED lights mounted to give us daylight after dark… we all pride ourselves in our vehicle’s off-roading appearance, and thus unfortunately can be subject to the stigma associated with both property and wildlife destruction. All over the country there are countless places that have tightened the belt on our use of public lands due to the poor decisions of off-roaders before us.
This is a tough reality we face every time we arrive at an old favorite trail that now has a locked gate across it. Though I doubt Ghandi intended his words to be used for our community, “[we] must be the change we wish to see”. Now more than ever it is up to us to make the right decisions each and every time our tires leave the pavement and turn onto those dirt roads we crave. Responsibilities off-road include the marketable – and effective - phrases like Leave No Trace and Tread Lightly, both aimed at reminding us to respect the land we are on and leave it in the condition we found it for those that will come after us. Some of the easiest things to target in order to ensure our continued access to these places include staying on the trail, limiting excessive tire-spin, and carrying out all our trash.
One of the greatest parts of building trucks and Jeeps for travel off the beaten path is the variety of unknown challenges that we can encounter. When you’re on a trail and your vehicle isn’t performing as you’d hope, whether the ground is too wet for your tires or the rear axle isn’t locked, this is a prime example of a time to stop and use a tow strap or winch to move yourself out of the current spot instead of sitting on the gas pedal hoping the tread will catch and get you out under your own power. It always seems that the most damage off-road occurs from people forging their own “go-arounds”, or alternative paths to the actual trail, where they encroach on and even destroy otherwise untouched plants and wildlife. Beyond the risk of damaging the environment you’re also very likely to be rolling your wheels onto private property, causing landowners to contact law enforcement and close down trails. A lot of the fun in being off pavement is to test our skills as drivers and test the capabilities of the vehicles; use moments you can’t conquer the terrain to utilize that winch or rely on your friends to move further up the trail, while staying on the beaten path and leaving the surrounding forestry untouched.
LEAVE NO TRACE
A common phrase in the hiking & outdoor adventure community, Leave No Trace is one that should be equally respected when you’ve got your vehicle off pavement. Whether it’s tire tracks, campsites, or even restroom breaks, it’s important to always ensure you’re leaving the great outdoors in even better condition than you found it. In its most simple form, Leave No Trace can just be using a trash bag to pick up wrappers, cans, and all kinds of other remnants (vehicle parts included) from the woods. If you’re lucky enough to be out on an overnight trip, it’s also hugely important to clean up scrap food and anything with a scent from your campsite. This is a great opportunity to make use of those bright LED flood-lights you’ve put on the truck and ensure that there’s nothing lying around that might attract raccoons, deer, or even bears.
A LASTING IMPACT
While it’s not the easiest thing to do, it’s wise to research ahead of time to ensure your route will take you on public land and not private property. If there’s no way to avoid the latter, it’s your responsibility to contact the landowners and ask for permission to cross over their property. The last thing you want to have happen is to be on your way home after a great day of wheeling and be pulled over because someone saw you trespassing on his or her land… I’ve been there, but thankfully had documentation showing the “unmaintained” state road I was driving on was in fact legal for me to be on, and the officer let me go without further discussion. If I hadn’t taken the time to do the research and print those maps, the whole situation would have gone another way. If you don’t have the time to do the research, I highly suggest joining a local 4WD club. Not only do you meet a community of local people with common interest, you also gain access to maps and trail runs that are established by people knowledgeable of local trails and regulations.
It’s easy for so-called “tree-huggers” to label a vehicle with large tires and dried mud on the quarter panels as a method of environmental destruction. Each and every one of us has the power to change that perception, to clean up the trails and campsites even when the mess isn’t always our own, and to operate responsibly when we’re off the pavement enjoying ourselves.
Author Ryan Mckee - 2180 Miles