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Etiquette On The Trail

There comes a point in everyone's life when that last trail ride just didn't turn out to be the kind of fun you expected. Whether it due to a difficult mechanical failure, a personality clash with another driver or drivers, inclement weather, or a vehicle/driver that was not capable of completing the trail without constant assistance. You can't do much really about the weather and even a well maintained and set up rig can have an unexpected mechanical failure, especially when wheeling in extreme conditions like deserts and rocky areas.

However, under equipped vehicles (or drivers) and personality clashing can many times be avoided with some well thought out planning and by demonstrating simple trail manners. Listed below are some comments and ideas shared by outdoor leaders that we believe will make all of us better off-roaders, be it drivers or trail leaders.

For The Drivers:

1. First and foremost, be respectful if not generally courteous to all the other folks you are sharing the trails with. That goes for all folk that are in your own group as well as others you may find on the trail. We all enjoy off-highway travels, the off-roader's, ORV'ers, mountain bikers, motorcyclists, hunters, campers, and hikers all alike... we need to share the trails and foster good will with each other.

2. When traveling on the trail, do be sure to keep the driver behind you in sight. By doing so, the next driver will know which turn you took and you will know if he/she is experiencing any trouble. When everyone in the group follows this procedure, the trail leader will know if he/she is going at the proper pace. Some people refer to this as the "rubber band" method. The group stretches out in the open areas and tightens back up in the twist and turn parts of the trail.

3. Be prepared, and by that we mean with the minimum items you need for a successful run. Some of these items depend on the terrain you are traveling in and the capability of your vehicle, (we will have another blog on this in details soon). I would not personally think of hitting the trail without a properly maintained nylon snatch strap and adequate tow points (shackles or hooks) on both ends of the vehicle. DO make sure you do NOT get the straps that have the hooks on the ends. Your strap should have a loop at each end. Keep it in a handy position safely inside the vehicle. Waiting for someone to unpack their Jeep to get to the strap is a simply a waste of good trail time. Worse yet, waiting for someone else to unpack their rig so they can get out their strap and pull YOU out of the stuck situation!

4. Maintaining communications while on the trail keeps everyone informed as to what is happening. If you need to stop, announce it on the CB or FRS. Take advantage of the opportunities when the group does stop (nature break, getting refreshments or something cold to drink, etc.). Keeping everyone informed makes for an enjoyable ride.

5. This is one I hate to see happen... running over the tow strap or the winch cable. Make sure that when someone is giving you a strap up the hill, or a winch pull over that obstacle, you don't overdrive the strap or cable. I once heard of someone coming upon a 1/2 ton Chevy 4x4 who was unable to make it over a ledge, (He kept hi-centering himself.) someone pulled him off the ledge and got him off to the side of the trail. After they went up and over the ledge, they strapped him over the ledge after he hi-centered again. As he was wildly spinning his open diff front tires, he got on top of THEIR strap and proceeded to put a nice set of friction burns in several spots. (remember item #3.)

6. Make sure your rig is ready for the trail. If you noticed that your u-joint is wobbling around, do yourself and your friends a favor and replace it before you go on the trail. Get familiar with the bottom side of your vehicle and spend a few minutes well before and shortly after each run under the rig. Check your fluids (engine, trans, frt/rear diffs, t-case, radiator, battery, brake, etc.) at home and always carry extra fluids. We aren't saying you need to bring along a complete change for everything, but if everyone brings a couple of quarts of engine oil, a quart of ATF, a quart of gear lube, etc., no one should be left on the trail because of a lack of fluids assuming one can get the broken item to stop leaking.

For The Trail Leader:

1. The trail leader(s) needs to have a short drivers meeting right after everyone is aired down, disconnected, etc. I believe that the leader, at this time, sets the "tone" for the ride and helps ensure that everyone starts out on an even playing field. This kind of meeting format is a carry over from many industrial setting type jobs, called a tail board meeting. The participants (workers, drivers, makes no difference) are briefed on what to expect, and "rules" you like to adhere to (the rubber band concept for instance), and comments on what to expect, when to expect it, etc.

2. Encourage responsible use of the CB... "I need to pull over for a rest stop", etc. Good communication is vital in a trail ride, with this, keep most chatter to a minimum. Those not knowing what is going on is frustrating to everyone. I personally do like the newer FRS radios. These handheld or mobile FM radios have much better clarity than the AM type CB radios. They are not prone to ignition noise interference and when the "skip" is in on the CB radios, FRS radios are never bothered by it. If you have a favorite trail buddy who loves to constantly chatter, I would strongly recommend getting a pair of FRS radios. You and your friend can talk up a storm while leaving the CB channel available for the more formal (OK....maybe it is not that serious) communications.

3. Personally we agree with and like to stagger the stock and built up rigs. It makes it easier to supply assistance (such as a strap or winch effort) to the vehicle behind you. A couple of times, significant shuffling had to be done to get a more capable rig back to a troublesome spot in the trail to provide assistance to another vehicle. By staggering them, you should never have to shuffle but one position in the line up, unless a winch is required and there is but one lucky vehicle in the group.

4. Another point we think is helpful, trail permitting, is for the leader to stop at a bypass for an upcoming obstacle, when possible. Many times, the bypass turn off is quite close to the obstacle. At this point, drivers can walk up to the obstacle, check it out, and make their decision, examine possible lines, etc. If they have no intention of doing the obstacle, they can take the bypass and NOT have to shuffle their way back through the group to get to the turn off.

5. Although often times forgotten, I myself now try to remember to bring a spare CB (a handheld version with a 12volt power point power cord). For the possibility of a failure to have or a damaged CB while out on the trail, this is a simple way of insuring that all will be involved. Some keep a pair of FRS handheld radios in their center consoles. These have come in handy on a few occasions for those folks that have not yet gotten a CB. Despite they may not hear the conversations on the CB's but they can stay in touch with a lead vehicle and so can be kept aware of what is going on.

We hope that this helps a bit more in providing a good starting tone for you. Keep an eye out for our "Etiquette On The Trail - Trail Rules" where we go over some of the finer details of when you meet other groups in the sense of right-of-way and preserving the land use within #treadinglightly thoughts. In the interim, #getoutdoors and enjoy the #overlandlife .


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