How I got Started in Off Roading

Low-Range, An Off-Road Journal that is a bi-monthly publication.

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I got into four wheeling by necessity. When I was growing up my father and I would load up the Chevy station wagon go to upstate Maine for a week of fishing at a very remote lake. How remote?  15 miles of logging roads, and that was just to get to a paved road, "TOWN" was only a mile down pavement. However town consisted of a one room schoolhouse, if you wanted a store that was 40 minutes away.  We saw bear, moose and mountain lion, and northern lights. In the middle of the night we would be awoken by the wailing of loons calling each other across the lake and timber wolfs howling. From the water's edge if you look due north you can see Mt Katahdin and due west of camp are two islands that the sun sets between! We would stay there and fish for a week. The lake has three cabins at the other end, over a mile away. If we saw one other person while we were there we would've thought "we had been peopled"!  I loved how isolated we felt at this lake.  As the years passed I started to go up on my own in my BMW 2002 and then later in my Volkswagen Rabbit.  As the logging operations move to other areas of Maine the roads started to deteriorate from lack of maintenance, what had been a double wide, 70 mile an hour dirt road was now not only a single lane but also had branches and occasionally trees across the road not to what years of rain and neglect can do to a dirt road. At one point it took me two days to get that 15 miles. There were beaver dams flooding the road, bridges that had rotted out (I re-built a bridge).

One time we ran into some kids who were coming out with two Ford 4x4 pickup trucks and one dune buggy.  I asked them for directions to East Branch Lake.  (Now I know that I have let down the men of this world by asking for directions, however you must understand that when you go out there only once a year the roads can change significantly in a year. They can add new roads, they can change the intersections so that logging trucks can get around them. It's quite easy to miss a turn). They said that's where they were trying to go, and they couldn't get through!  We said thanks and went on our way. We set up camp at the next interesting part in the road, where a stream had run down the road and left behind only soccer balls.  We got to the lake about 10 o'clock the next morning. I certainly didn't see any great advantage to having four-wheel drive like they did, I mean after all I got there and they couldn't.  I ran into them on the way out and it turns out they where trying to go to a different lake.

One thing I did learn from those years was where to place your tires.  If you didn't place them in the right place it was very easy to drag the bottom of the car across whatever was the obstacle, rock or dirt it didn't matter.  I still took my exhaust home on the roof of my car many times!!  I spent quite a bit of time with the shovel, a fulcrum and a come-along. I learned that using too much power or momentum usually only got me stuck further into the problem.  If I hadn't picked the right line instead of stopping when I first grounded, with too much speed I would drag the bottom of the car all the way to the middle and now I was really stuck.

I always did make it to the lake, I started to look forward to the trip down the dirt road, to see what obstacles I would have to overcome. It made the beauty of the lake all that sweeter.

While I dearly love being in Maine the eight hour trip to get there was too long for weekend camping trips, I started looking closer to home for remote camping sites.  I found such a place only three hours away near Somerset reservoir in Vermont.  Then one fateful day I was camping there on the other side of the small stream.  While camping we got a lot of rain, what had been a small stream only halfway up my shin and no problem crossing in my Rabbit was now a torrent well above my knee.  I decided it was pretty foolish to try and drive across the stream.  Not only was I afraid of stalling the motor halfway through I was afraid that the Rabbit would get washed down stream. So we started to hiked into town, got a ride from a nice Vermonter, and called my sister to come and pick us up I figured I'd come back to get the car the next weekend, by then the stream would have had a chance to go down.  I called the local police and told them where I left the car, there was about 10 seconds of silence on the other end, the officer said, "hunting season starts this week if you want to have a car left you better get it out of there  before hunting season opens". When I got home I called my friend Ron who had a Ford 4 X 4 pickup truck. He drove me up the next day to help me get my car to the other side of the stream.  When we got there my car was still in fine shape. I took everything out of the car and put it in the back of the pickup truck. The water was deep enough and swift enough that I was afraid of having my car washing down stream, so the plan was, (this was my plan) that as I entered the water I would open the car doors so that the car would sink instead of floating and getting washed away.  We tied a rope from the front of the rabbit to the back of his truck. I figured that if the engine stopped running, he could pull me out.  As it turned out I was able to drive all the way across and out of the stream under my own power.

Ron said as long as we are here let me show you what a four-wheel drive can do.  Well to make a long story short two weeks later I was the proud owner of a 10-year-old Ford F150 4x4!  When I showed my girlfriend my new toy and explained how wonderful it was going to be and all the new remote camping sites we'll be able to find "She said you're only going to get stuck further and deeper in the woods!" Boy was she right!

That was 19 years ago! I am still amazed at what I can do with a 4x4. I am still learning (and getting stuck) I still love to find interesting and beautiful places, the harder they are to get to, the better I like it, the more remote it makes it feel.  In future installments I hope to take you to some of these places.  For the most part I won't be talking about how deep the mud hole was or how big the rock was, it's more about the adventure.

So what to call this column…. When I was growing up whenever we went on a trip we would Shout “hier gehen wir “ We pronounced it “Hi De Game-er”  which we thought meant, “we’re off again” or “here we go”.

So… Hi de Game-er!!!

Chris Schuch

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