Off-roading is a lot of things: challenging, extremely fun, diverse and potentially risky to name a few. Those of us who wheel know a lot about our rigs, our aftermarket exterior accessories and the trails we ride, but do we ever stop to wonder why we ride them? What got us hooked?
I remember, toward the end, my ex-wife said to me, “I don’t get it, why you spend all your time and money on that car just to go out and spend more time wrecking it with your redneck friends then come back, dirty and tired so you can spend more money fixin’ the thing again!”
Of course the first thing I did was gently explain that my baby was not a car, she was a thoroughbred Jeep, but that went about as you’d expect it to. The question made me wonder though, why do I love riding so much?
For a lot of guys I know, it’s all about the adrenaline and the bragging rights. They push their rig to the limit on tough trails and monster obstacles, loving every minute of it. It can be dangerous, and if something goes wrong, they’re in for a whole heap of trouble, but these guys wouldn’t love it without the risk.
Take 4Wheel Parts Team racer Brian Deegan, for instance. Starting out in motocross, he made the switch to short-course racing only after an extensive list of injuries, including 15 broken bones. In an article in Dirt Sports Magazine naming him 2013 Driver of the Year, he says that in his first short-course race, he rolled his truck five times. It made him question whether he wanted to keep wheeling – then he went on to win five titles in five years.
You don’t push like that for something you don’t truly love. You don’t put yourself through that for a job; you only do it for something you are so passionate about that you just can’t leave it behind, and that’s what I think so many people don’t get.
They hear stories like Brian’s and can’t understand why someone would race for a living. On the other side of that coin, I’m always being asked what the fun of off-roading is. From a distance, they tell me, wheeling looks like a glorified stroll through the woods.
So I tell them how much I love the quiet rumble of 4×4 engines idling in a rocky canyon. There are no freeways, no jobs and, most importantly, no calls from the ex-wife once you get far enough out there. It’s just you and a few chosen companions, relaxing and throwing back a couple of cold ones after a long day of rough terrain.
I only tried bringing the ex-wife with me once and it turned out to be a decision on par with marrying her in the first place. I have buddies, though, who gladly slap on a set of running boards for mom and off-road as a family.
Ultra4 Nitto Champion Jason Scherer said in an interview recently that he loves hitting the trail with his wife and two kids, getting deep into nowhere and setting up camp. My pal Mike Finch from 4Wheel Parts even built up his tow rig just so he can get away from the campsites and out into the wild.
Mike, Jason and I all wheel for the same reason: to get away from the blaring horns of real life and spend quality time with just the people you choose to spend time with – not all the people you are forced to spend time with every other day. Away from the television and the computer, where no one really says anything important, so you can spend real time together or simply hear your own thoughts.
That’s not all of us, though. I know a few, and I think we’re all a little like this, whose passion is the build. Of course the ride is a blast, but they’re in it for the weekends spent wrenching in the garage to get their new Jeep lift kits on or repair the starter they blew out mudding the weekend before. They want the best rig in the pack and they know what parts they need to make it so.
It isn’t about going fast, even for a lot of racers. It’s about getting to the places no one else can go, going over the obstacles the other riders wouldn’t even dare to touch, building the best rig and enjoying yourself with people you care about. That’s what separates off-roaders from drivers or sports car racers or hikers.
Some of us are adrenaline junkies and others are looking to escape for a while and get our hands dirty. Whether we’re doing it for the camping, the weekend mechanics or the thrill of the ride, I know each and every wheeler out there has those moments where you’re standing at the top of the mountain, setting up camp or unpacking a new part and you just stop and think to yourself, “This is why we wheel.”
CJ Bantam is a freelance writer in the off-road industry