Adventures in Unpreparedness: Letting the Spirit of Adventure Override Common Sense - ITS Tactical

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Adventures in Unpreparedness: Letting the Spirit of Adventure Override Common Sense

By Rob Henderson

Rob’s Jeep

I’ve always been a big fan of the outdoors and have recently become more interested in the Overland Community. Taking a trip with nothing but a good 4×4 vehicle and the supplies inside it really interested me, so I started combing the net for a good vehicle. After purchasing a 1995 Jeep Wrangler, I felt like I was finally ready to tackle the outdoors. The Wrangler is a great vehicle, but one of its faults is the lack of any large lockable storage areas. For this reason, I wasn’t keeping my standard vehicle bag in it that contained a change of clothes, food and water. I had thought about buying or building a locker, but just hadn’t gotten around to it yet.

Make Your Own Roads

On the way to work one morning, I saw a trail leading off the highway that looked ripe for exploring and after the day ended, I headed over to explore it. I pulled confidently off the road knowing that my Jeep could handle whatever came its way. After traveling down the dirt trail about 1/16th of a mile, I saw a large retaining wall with a fence around it that looked like the end of the trail. As I turned around to leave though, I saw some tire tracks running behind the wall. Of course I had to check it out and drove behind the wall, discovering a small vehicle path that ran down to a lake. The trail took me right to the edge of the lake and with the sunset casting its light over the lake, I couldn’t help but take some vanity shots of my new 4×4 toy. I tempted fate by posting one of the shots to Instagram with the caption, “Make your own roads.”

As I was getting ready to head out and meet up with someone for dinner, I decided to take one more pass at driving over the dirt around the lake shore. Since I knew the tires I had were “mud tires,” I figured that I should take a pass through the mud and chose a spot just off the edge of the lake where the mud looked shallow. I lined myself up with the muddy area and got a running start, but unfortunately for me, the mud in that area was much deeper than I anticipated and I found my four wheeling adventure brought to a sudden halt. Not able to move forward, I put it in reverse and heard the tire spin in place. This was my first moment of panic. I had driven my new toy into the mud and was now unable to move.

Rob’s Jeep

A “light” clicked on in my head as I realized I had forgotten to engage the four wheel drive. Ah four wheel drive, the ultimate in traction control. After turning on four wheel drive, I knew that I would confidently pull out of the mud. Except that I didn’t. Despite multiple attempts in Low and High, the Jeep sat stuck in the mud and with every push of the accelerator, more mud was flung everywhere. As the sun descended in the sky, I began to weigh my options.

Note: I should mention at this point that I don’t carry a lot in my work bag other than my laptop, book, flashlight and charging cables. Since it was the end of the day, the water bottle I keep with me was empty as well. I realized that I was going to be forced to use what was around me to try and get unstuck, since I also didn’t have any supplies in the Jeep.

Maybe Follow “Some” Roads

My first thought was to put something underneath the tires to give them a bit more traction. I stepped out of the vehicle to grab some rocks and found myself up to my knees in mud. At that point, I was really wishing I had a pair of waders with me. When the rocks were unsuccessful, I thought of calling a tow service and being a AAA member, I knew that I could get a wrecker sent out. The problem was that a wrecker couldn’t get past the retaining wall to my location because it was too narrow. The sun was almost completely set and my phone was running out of charge. I kept meaning to stick a car charger in the vehicle but just hadn’t gotten around to it. All out of options, I called the only person I thought would have the equipment to possibly drag me out of the mud.

I’ve been following along with all of the modifications that Bryan has been doing to his FJ and I’m a big fan of the look of the FJ’s and think his has looked better with every mod he’s done. The thing is, I’d been viewing a lot of the modifications as cosmetic and didn’t see them for how useful they really are. I called Bryan to tell him what I’d done and asked him if he could come help me out. He told me he was on the way and I sat down on the dirt to wait.

It was during these twenty minutes or so that I really started to analyze the situation. I’d driven off the main road and down to a place I’d never been, in a vehicle that I hadn’t been driving for long and without any supplies. I felt like an idiot for not having something as basic as water or a change of clothes and I’d let my spirit of adventure override my common sense. Not having someone with me that had been off-roading before was another huge mistake and I now understand why people push the rule of, “always take somebody with you.” I also mentally started making a list in my head of things that would have been nice to have in my situation. I would’ve logged the list on my phone, but since I didn’t have a car charger I didn’t want to run the battery down any further.

Rob’s Jeep

Once Bryan arrived, he positioned the FJ about 25 feet in front of the Jeep and pulled out his recovery bag. In the recovery bag he seemed to have everything you could ever need to pull or push anything anywhere. He also showed me the shackles he used on the FJ to connect the recovery straps and I saw how useful those would be in a recovery situation. I didn’t have a dedicated recovery point on the Jeep, but using some tree straps and a snatch strap, Bryan was able to pull me out of the mud by connecting directly to the frame. The whole recovery took about 10 minutes and I took notes all the way noting the equipment and techniques that were being put to use.

When I got home and cleaned up a bit, I started writing down all the items and lessons from my mental list. The list started with finding a way to permanently store items in the vehicle so I’d be prepared in the future. That weekend I picked up some material from the hardware store and built a simple locker in the back of the Jeep. The locker is definitely not going to keep a determined person out, but it should resist the casual snooper. In the locker I’ve added a change of clothes, med kits, tools and other basic supplies. I’ll continue to add things as I go, but I’ve also started doing more research on off-road driving and safety precautions so that something like this won’t happen again.

During my situation I was never very far from civilization, but it definitely made me realize how unprepared I was and I’m glad that it wasn’t a more remote location. I’m also very grateful that Bryan was available and had the equipment and knowledge to come pull me out of the mud. He didn’t charge me a dime and I suffered only minor ribbing the next day in the office. While I’m really eager to hit the trails again, I’ll be waiting until I have another person to go with and feel confident in my techniques and supplies.

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  • Davis_45

    So are you going to be coming out to Overland Expo West next year then?

  • Jeff House

    Too funny.  VERY similar story in my 09 JK.  Had the ‘ oh hey I have a jeep and can go anywhere’ moment and headed down a fire road that ran parallel to some high tension power lines.  Pretty basic stuff for a mile or so, then got a bit trickier and narrow.  Came upon a small dirt mound that separated the road from a hill on the other side of a small stream.  We were 4 wheeling now!  Water and rock and such!

    I got out and eyballed the mound, consulted the navigator (wife) and had the kids get out to spot me.  4 low and away we go.  

    Promptly high sided the jk and 100% friction locked her…frame to dirt. Both front wheels off the gournd and back wheels a’ spinning.  Crap.  Similar to the story, no rescue bag, no possible way of assisted recovery and it was getting dark.  

    Luckily the spawn found a piece of rebar in the woods surrounding the trail.  I spent a solid hour and a half digging.  We also put some traction under the back tires and was eventually able to rock the jeep off the mound with the bride working the clutch.

    The next day I went out and bought a rescue loop for the bumper, straps, manual come-a-long and an entrenching tool.

    Lessons learned.

  • w6zip1

    The latest Recoil magazine e has good article on off road 101, most notable to me was rule #1, stay light!
    I love Expedition Portal and ITS, keepin’ it in perspective!

  • JoeDoe1

    you also forgot a very important rule as well. IF YOU DO NOT HAVE PERMISSION TO WHEEL YOU ARE TRESPASSING, and are making other 4×4 enthusiasts and owners look bad.

  • Nessmuk68

    Great story –“Experience is the best teacher” as they say…My wife has always thought I’m a little crazy because I ‘kick into gear’ whenever we have a breakdown, emergency or any similar ‘situation’ that I think makes 90% of the population start slamming the dashboard in anger or stare into the distance in disbelief and numbness..  A ‘sick’ side of me loves this stuff..  even better when prepared ..awesome learning moment when not fully prepared.  Then there’s the time (wise age of 16) I got my Dad’s Wagoneer stuck in the middle of a farmers muddy field at 2 AM.. That was a lonnnnggg night.  Made it to the car wash by 7am and he never found out ( or did he?)

  • Josh

    Get a winch.  I had the theory that with a Jeep I would never get stuck like I did in my pickup.  Granted the Jeep is a lot lighter than the old F250 my dad give me, and doesn’t sink into the mud as deep, but I can still dig myself a hole, as I have found out.  I had my Jeep almost a week before I took it off road.  I was not expecting to get stuck after all the mighty Jeep never got stuck in WWII.  In my 19 year old mind my Jeep was indestructible.  I was home on leave and scouting hunting locations.  I got stuck and stuck bad, up over both axles, up over the rocker panels and holding the bottom of the doors closed.  I did a dukes of hazzard out the window and immediately found myself in mud up to my knees.  It was cold, and getting dark quick.  Thankfully I was only about 6 miles from home and was wearing combat boots so I didn’t lose my shoes and my feet were fairly dry.  So I double timed home and got my F250.  I remember when I was a kid seeing my dad pull trees up with that truck, so I should have no problem pulling my Jeep out.  I went out there pulled out my tow strap, connected my truck and my Jeep and pulled.  The tow strap finally snapped.  I got all pissed off and gunned it.  I dug myself a hole in my truck.  With no other option I double timed home again (this was before cellphones.)  I got home and woke up my dad and asked him if he could help me get my jeep unstuck out of the mud, he said to use my truck, I told him I did and got it stuck too.  He got up and went out there in his brand new 98 F250 with his tow strap.  The plan was to pull out my truck and then pull out my jeep.  The ground had frozen solid and he couldn’t get enough traction.  So we went home and said we would come back out in the morning with the tractor when we had better light. 
    We set out the next morning with my grandfather my dad me and the tractor.  I rode out there with my grandpa and told him that the Jeep was junk, it could get stuck anywhere and was nothing like they had in WWII, he said yes it is, they got stuck all the time.  In fact they kept a length of rope coiled on the front bumper for just this occasion.  He said they pulled it out with people power, or another vehicle if they were lucky, but I could just use a winch.  The tractor pulled my truck out with ease, but we (by we I mean I, there were 2 chiefs and one indian) had to dig out my Jeep out of the frozen ground.  I loaded my jeep onto my grandpa’s trailer and we went back home.  I spent a good portion of the next day washing vehicles, and then I went and got a winch for my jeep. 
    I have used that winch several times, and have never been stuck again.  I still have that old 95 Jeep and every time I see that winch on the front of my Jeep I think back to that day when it took 3 generations of Marines to get me unstuck, the wisdom my grandfather imparted on me that day, and how much I miss him.

    • MattBowyer

      @Josh Winches are great, with the one caveat that you need something to winch from. With the look of that mud he might well have struggled even with a ground anchor.

    • MitchellCottew

      @Josh That is a REALLY cool story

  • KJ4BNE Georges

    Dear Rob,    Can we get an article with pictures on your homebuilt locker? I’m looking for a jeep myself, and would love to see how you did it and how it compares with my ideas…

  • Zabrewolf

    Rob you tried, you survived, you learned from it.

    Maybe your off-road partner should be Bryan, sounds like he has skills and he seems willing to share.

    Thanks for sharing the story. I’d also like to see what your home made jeep box looks like. I’m always open to new ideas.

  • George

    Awesome that happened to me one night i was a few beers to many the ol’ lady decided she wanted to take my Duramax out and wheel out by a lake in southern Oregon. Needless to say shes doing broadies and I’m laughing my ass off sitting in the passenger seat.. Then out of no where as I’m flipping thru my cd case to find some new tunes we come to a sudden halt. Well she got to close to the edge of the lake and sank it up to its axles… She thought she could just smash it out and burried my lifted 9500lb  truck to the doors. Well THANKFULLY dad was still at work getting of night shift. Called him up he came and got me took me to the cummins and came back got stuck soon as I got off the main road in the cummnis. I reached out to a few fellow jeepers in my club and bam a XJ showed up.. At that point I had my maul and was destroying trees trying to get the cummins out. My friend showed up w a 4k Jeep Cherokee and tugged on my cummins and bam out it went.. So we had a laugh and drove over to my Duramax took prob 10-15 full throttle slams w about 100 ft of tow straps chains and cables and she finally broke loose.. Needless to say I had to replace the ECU and turbo as my EGT’s were up so high it fried it! haha however I got it out. Pride 0 Jeep 2..
    Shortly after I sold both and got the same year make and model jeep that pulled me out and have been driving it since.. Just broke 200K love that thing!!!

  • JohnM89

    Great! Thumbs up for good friends.

  • Is there a special shackle you used (in the picture) to connect the two straps? I am not very educated as far as off-roading, but it seems like the shackle, if metal, could be dangerous if a strap broke. Is there a certain kind or type to get other than one that will more than handle the load?

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