DON’T LET UTV ADVENTURE TURN TO ADVERSITY

BEHIND THE WHEEL IN MUD AND SNOW. BEHIND THE WHEEL IN MUD AND SNOW.

Manufacturers are great at finding new places to explore and experience their new model-year UTVs. Kawasaki press guru Jon Rall is especially astute at hunting down new riding areas and putting on epic rides, like the Big Bear-Barstow-Vegas Teryx ride I wrote about recently. Rall had the UTV press out to West Virginia’s Hatfield-McCoy Trails in the winter of 2013-14, and a winter storm blew in while we were driving Teryx 750s. I wrote about the snow ride in the February 2014 issue of UTV Action, and what I learned about avoiding snow-laden branches and huge puddles on the trail.

I had a blast on that snow ride despite the bitter cold and freezing fingers. The flip side to the adventure coin is adversity, and any adventure can go bad at any moment. The trick is to maintain a good attitude and roll with the punches. I did that on the Teryx ride, and on another winter ride with a Teryx KRX1000 in February, 2020. Rall gathered a few members of the enthusiast press and AMA Supercross color commentator Ralph Shaheen to check out two new Hatfield-McCoy trail systems, right as the Covid-19 pandemic was hitting America. Again, Mother Nature provided plenty of moisture for the press ride, this time sleet and rain.

I’d rather ride in snow that dust and deep sand any day.

While we didn’t have snow-laden branches to avoid, I did put the techniques I had learned six years earlier to use, and the ride was epic once again. It didn’t matter one bit that I was soaked, because the trails and the KRX were so much fun. I’ve always loved riding in the mud, all the way back to my motocross days. Whenever it got muddy, all the guys in my class knew they were racing for second place. A good attitude brings good results, and I even won an Oklahoma state championship at a mud race. That KRX ride brought back great memories, and we warmed up after the ride bench racing and sippin’ shine.

Unfortunately, I can’t find the 2014 snow-ride photos. Here’s my Behind the Wheel column from February 2014, along with photos of the 2020 KRX ride. I hope they cool off your dog days of summer and help you have more fun when future adventures turn to adversity.

See how the right side is squatting? I juked the wheel to weight the outside and help the left tires float instead of sinking in and displacing more water.

 

WHEELING A WINTER WONDERLAND

 

Having grown up mostly in the south and spent the last 28 (now 37) years in southern California, I haven’t been blessed with a whole lot of snow days like they get up north. Shoot, winter wear in SoCal is a hoodie sweatshirt, shorts, and flip-flops, and I was totally unprepared for a snow storm when Kawasaki had us out in West Virginia for a Hatfield-McCoy trail ride in the new 2014 Teryx. Days before, Hatfield-McCoy had hosted Trailfest with beautiful days in the 60s, and the leaves were changing to fall colors. Descending into Charlton airport, we hit a cold front and flew through rain clouds. While I was stoked and looking forward to two days of West Virginia mud, I wasn’t prepared for the cold temperatures. I had brought my Teryx hoodie, a cotton jersey, RZ Mask, goggles, two pair of gloves, wrist brace and half “carry-on” helmet and absolutely zero rain gear.

On Day One, we drove from Pineville on the Pinnacle Creek trail system over to the Indian Ridge system and into Bramwell (on the Pocahontas Trails), and we shot photos along the way, all day. As we approached Bramwell, it started snowing, the temperature plummeted, and it snowed all night. As we set out back to Pineville on Day Two, there were 2-3 inches of snow covering everything. I had barely made it to Bramwell before hypothermia set in, but a hot shower handled that. How would I make it back to Pineville?

If you don’t have a passenger, skirt the left side of mud holes to keep dry. In the snow, hug right to miss snow-laden branches on the left.

Load up the layers: I put on a T-shirt, jersey and hoodie, then I stuffed the laminated map in my hoodie to block out the cold air against my chest. I put on the RZ Mask and helmet and used the goggle strap to keep the hood up; the right hand got a glove and brace, while the left (driving) hand got two gloves. Had I brought a balaclava, I would’ve been perfectly comfortable, and I warmed my fingers with engine heat wafting up from the range-selector slot.

Stay-dry scrub: Snow on the ground quickly melted into endless puddles, and I was second in line on the trail. I quickly learned a rhythm; as the Teryx in front would splash through a puddle, I would time it hit the water where it was most shallow, reducing splashes in the cabin. Also, I started doing the “Bubba Scrub,” where you quickly juke the steering wheel to place most of the vehicle weight on the outside tires, so the other side skims the water instead of dropping in and splashing up. This is the same technique I use to lessen impacts to either side of a UTV or ATV on the trail. Also, I didn’t have a passenger, so I hugged the right side of the trail to keep snow-laden branches off of me.

Wet-leave two-step: Branches and snow-weighted leaves also drooped down over the trail, and the lead Teryx would stop and ease under to dislodge as little snow as possible. When the roof passed under, the branches would return from the deflection like a pendulum, dropping down and towards me. I’d time that to hit the branch as it returned upward, and stab the brakes to drop the nose as I hit. This put most of the snow on the roof and not in the cab, but the right seat was covered in so much snow I made a couple of snowballs.

Normally, I drive with my thumbs on the nubs (10 and 2 o’clock), but in mud I grip the bottom of the wheel and warm my fingers on the hot air coming up from the range-selector slot.

Chemical hand warmers: Using the above techniques, I stayed dry all day long and had a blast driving 70 miles in mud, but my feet and hands were getting numb, so I put chemical hand warmers in each shoe and on the back of my left hand, under the gloves. Late in the ride, my fingers were getting numb, so I’d warm them with engine heat while waiting at each turn on the trail for those behind. Cold ears were another easily-solved problem – don’t forget the balaclava!

Water-bar wheelies: I haven’t figured out a scrub for water-bars yet, as they’re usually so uniform you hit them straight on. At Hatfield-McCoy, a large puddle was hidden behind most water bars, and I’d watch the lead Teryx for a clue as to how deep the puddle was (panic braking, size of splash) and key off of that. On the worst bars, I’d brake hard leading up to the ramp face and then gas it hard to help the front end wheelie over the puddle, being sure to let off as the rear end hit the ramp, to lighten the impact and help the rear rebound over the bar. It worked, for the most part.

I love playing in the mud so much, one of my first nicknames was “Pigpen.”

Keep your wits about you: Being comfortable lets you concentrate on the trail and tackling the obstacles as they come. If you get wet, cold and miserable, the mind freezes up, and you start making mistakes. With the high-sides on most Hatfield-McCoy trails, a mistake could be very costly! Besides being under-prepared for extreme weather, I came through the winter wonderland ride pretty much unscathed, except for a wet right foot. I hit one puddle way too fast, and a wave of water came through the hole in the “firewall” for the Teryx throttle cable and soaked my right foot.

When snow falls, we head for The Maze, and the traction is great for a week!

You know what? It was like a badge of honor for two days of epic West Virginia mud riding! I may never wash that foot again….

 

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