Welcome to the first part of our off-road driving tutorials, here to help you safely explore the world off the beaten track.
If you are bound to explore the world off the beaten track, chances are you will be confronted with off-road driving. One activity that shouldn’t be improvised or taken lightly. Off-roading demands skills and experience, not just to stay out of trouble, but all too often, get you out of trouble !
(This following series of posts on off-roading will focus on 4wheel-drive vehicles, not motorcycles. My experience with dirt bikes being too limited to pretend give anyone advices. Also, I can’t claim to know every tricks in the off-road driving book, but at least I can lay out the basic elements you’ll need to start enjoying your trips in a safer manner.)
Before getting into driving, let’s focus on the importance of physical and mental preparation, the fundamental logistic research and technical knowledge required before you even start your engine. To some, it may sound obvious, and many will want to skip it to move on directly to the driving skills. But unfortunately, too many of those impatient drivers are the ones we meet along the trails stranded or in serious troubles. There are no short cuts to success.
How to avoid troubles ? Be prepared !
On the surface, sitting in the comfy air-cooled interior of a modern off-road vehicle doesn’t look very physically demanding. And you’re right, it isn’t… If, you have a perfectly working car, if, driven under no stress on well maintained trails, if, under cool climates. But really, if adventure was safe and comfortable, would anybody care for or seek such endeavors ? If leaving the beaten track was a comfy affair, would there be any glory in pushing your limits, or any emotional rewards in putting yourself at risk ?
Instead, it is the understanding of the potential danger you’re exposing yourself to, and hopefully overcoming, that makes exploring so accelerating ! The idea of going places most will never dare reach, that makes all of this special… yet challenging. But it, among many other reasons, commands you be physically capable of enduring the beating, the adversity, the potential hardships. Do not under-estimate the risks, thinking all will be just fine. Trust me, there will be many occasions along the way you’ll find brutal if not acclimated and ready.
Now, I’m not gonna tell you what being physically prepared means, or how to prepare yourselves. But think of it this way: Having to dig yourself out of a sand stuck in the Arabian desert under a 50° C blazing sun is just one example of the many situations you could be faced with. (One that will most likely happen to you if you choose to follow my up-coming Oman trail guide.) And one that could kill you if you didn’t take your physical preparation seriously. No matter where you go, you must be sufficiently fit to survive any potential physical activity performed in harsh and unforgiving environments.
Anyone who has ever watched a survival type tv programs knows how the mental strength can carry you through hardships. As a matter of fact, if your head can’t think clearly when under pressure and your foolish decisions put you in much greater troubles, what’s the point of being physical prepared ? Even though exploring the world isn’t standing high on adrenaline junkies to do list, it may put you under serious stress every once in a while. Be ready to reach out of your comfort zone now and then. Know yourself, your limits, observe, always take your time, and trust your judgement.
Know your way.
Learn as much as you can about where you are going, how to get through in the safest way, and plan accordingly… Study maps, google earth, and anything else you can get your hands on that will allow you to get a sense of the potential obstacles and related escapes you may encounter and need. You should almost have it all memorized; the paths, the points of interests, the gas stations, the supplies stores, diversions, etc… So you do not rely entirely on your GPS, and are able to “improvise” on your own.
Be technically savvy.
At times your life will depend on the reliability of your vehicle. Breaking down in the middle of a snow storm somewhere in the Caucasus mountains can spell like REAL trouble.
So make sure your truck is in good working order before leaving. Have it checked by a professional mechanic, and perform all due required services. To keep it in good order during your trip, drive it with caution at all times. Your car breaking down on its own is unlikely, the odds of you breaking it by reckless driving, are unfortunately much higher. In case something is to happen, you must know how to diagnose the problem, and have the parts and the skills to fix it on the spot. AAA has its limits, don’t think you can depend on it !
Again, it all may sound easy, if not obvious, but it ain’t ! It will take many hours in a gym, many hours on google earths, many more learning about your car with competent mechanics. The good news ? All of it is fun and fulfilling. Enjoy !
Next article, the right kind of vehicle. Stay tuned !