You Gotta Try This!

Categories: Gatherings 

It’s a rainy day in Michigan. I’m parked in the mud in a Jeep® Wrangler Rubicon, a vehicle whose capabilities I currently consider well above my driving ability. I’m on an off-road course at the Silver Lake Sand Dunes Jeep® Invasion and my stated purpose for being behind the wheel is to drive’s camera crew and their equipment around the course to film the event. But also, I just want to try it. It’s my first time off-road – and by off-road, so far, I mean that I drove up the dirt track to the course’s first obstacle.

The obstacle looks like a wall of dirt. I mean, from my uninitiated point of view, it looks like a 90-degree angle with a foot of mud clinging to it in defiance of the Earth’s gravitational pull. But I’ve seen vehicles get up it and, apparently, it’s what I’m meant to do, so I take a deep breath, grip the steering wheel and say “ok.” To which Jon, our Senior Video Editor, whose very valuable life is currently in my inexpert hands, replies “Is it in four-wheel drive?”

I look at the levers, dials and buttons for a clue. “Um…”

“Here,” he says, pointing at the correct lever. I pull at it. Nothing.

We both start an online search for how to do this and simultaneously shout, “Oh, it has to be in Neutral.”

We drop it into 4WD and I step on the gas. Nothing. ‘Cuz we’re still in Neutral. I sheepishly shift into Drive (something I actually know how to do) and pause.

When I picked up the vehicle, I told them I was a beginner. I asked them a hundred times if it was okay to take it off-road. I told Emily, who worked on organizing the event, that I was driving a stock Wrangler Rubicon and I was a beginner. I asked Derrick Meyers, the event’s trail master. Could I take a stock vehicle on the trails? Could a beginner handle it? Everyone said it was fine.

I had my doubts.

So, I’m staring at the wall of mud. We’re in 4WD. I’ve seen a bunch of other vehicles go up it. There seems like nothing to it but to step on the gas. So, I do. And the Wrangler dashes right up the hill. Now I’m looking at the Wrangler’s hood and just past it – nothing but trees. The trail turns sharply at the top! I turn the wheel hard and we churn through the mud, around the corner and up onto a twisty, bumpy incline.

Ohmigod! I’m doing this!

When the mud finally stops flying, I find myself grinning ear to ear and reflecting on words of wisdom from Meyers: “The vehicle will teach you how to off-road.”

Amazingly, this is 100% true.

Also true: After one muddy hill, I’m completely hooked. I want to know what else this remarkable machine can do. Fortunately, we need lots of footage, so I get to drive around and around the increasingly sodden, rutted course, letting the Wrangler teach me how it’s done.

Abby, one of our colleagues, wants to try “the bumpy part,” but not the wall of mud. So, I get it up the hill (I’m an old pro by now) and she slides into the driver’s seat for the next few obstacles. When we come around to the hill again, I say, “You do it. This morning, I had never driven a vehicle off-road before and I did it. You can do it.”

And she does. If her grin is any indication, she’s hooked too.

Truly, it’s an incomparable thrill.

As Abby drives, I’m thinking about something else I hear from experts, which is that most Jeep® 4×4 owners don’t know what their vehicles can do, think it’s really hard to do it, and believe that off-roading requires all kinds of expensive modifications.

All I can say is that if I can do it, so can you. And it’s so much fun! Here are a few tips to get started:

  1. Find an easy spot to start – There are lots of off-roading spots that are easy to drive and don’t require special equipment. Not all trails are dizzying mountains of giant boulders. Many are unpaved county roads and the like.
  2. Reach out to your local 4×4 club – Their members were beginners once. They love off-roading and enjoy sharing that love. Generally, they will be happy to answer your questions and help you get started. Also, they know where you can off-road.
  3. Join a Jeep® Jamboree event – They ride some of the country’s most scenic trails with expert guides who help beginners get trail-ready and provide instruction and assistance on the trail.
  4. Visit regularly – In addition to stories and videos on how-tos, Jeep® Brand vehicle and owner stories, and events, we’ll be adding articles and videos on off-roading basics. In the fall, we’ll launch an interactive map of events, clubs, trails and off-road parks.

Postscript: When the day ended, the shiny white Wrangler was coated in at least half an inch of mud. I’ve never been prouder. The mud all came off at the car wash, but the memories stuck, and right now, I’m smiling just thinking about it. I can’t wait to get back out there! Who’s in?

Share This Article

1 Comment


That sounds like a lot of fun. I want to try it