Walk it first.
If you can’t negotiate mud, sand or other obstacles on foot, it’s highly unlikely your vehicle can make it. It’s critical to check out a water-covered route: Unless you’ve seen another vehicle go through it, you can’t be certain it doesn’t hide a huge hole.
Be willing to walk back.
Never tackle a questionable obstacle unless you’re able to walk back to where help awaits. If you’re going off road, your cell phone will be useless. Even if there is coverage, there’s nobody to call unless you’ve made a prior arrangement. The road-service tow-truck driver won’t leave the pavement, the farmer with the tractor might not be home, and the guy in the SUV you wave down on the highway may not be able or willing to help. Not all SUVs have four-wheel-drive and a tow strap.
Re-tire to succeed.
Even the most technologically advanced four-wheel-drive system can’t make up for tires that are not meant for the job or lack adequate tread depth. Some original equipment tires on SUVs and pickups can’t conquer anything more rigorous than wet grass. Also, even the best mud tires become useless off road well before they run out of tread.
If you’re planning to regularly travel the road less paved, bring along some things that’ll help you out of small jams: a hand winch (a.k.a. “come-along”), tow strap, high-lift jack, shovel, some wood blocks, and a first-aid kit. If you’re going further than you can walk out, bring enough stuff (extra clothes, water, sleeping bag) to survive until somebody finds you.
Tell somebody where you’re going and when you expect to be back. At least they’ll know when and where to start searching.
I got out of that ancient incident unscathed, largely because within a short hike there was a tractor with the keys in it and a long chain. Bringing along some luck never hurts.
About the Author
Mac Demere is a writer, vehicle tester and race driver who competed in the NASCAR Southwest Tour and Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona.