Life Lessons from Off the Road


Last weekend I was riding in my son Scott’s Jeep. He was heading into a big mud puddle of unknown depth. Naturally he was very anxious about driving through the puddle as we were in his very nice XJ Wagoneer and we were alone.

As he entered the puddle to check the depth and bottom conditions he felt it start get squishy. I realized that his indecision was about to get us stuck.

It was at this moment that I realized an important lesson in life. When you are heading to any obstacle in life, you need to make a decision and commit to it. Either you go into the puddle committed to get to the other side no matter what or don’t go in at all.

Approaching a puddle of unknown depth with too much speed can be disastrous as well. One of my wheeling partners demonstrated this technique in Harlan, Ky once. However, in his case, he had plenty of support to get his Jeep out of the water and running again after he sucked water into his engine.

When attacking any obstacle in life you must approach with enough momentum to carry you safely through. However, you must also use good judgment so that you don’t overshoot your target or incur damage from proceeding too fast.

When I was building my first race car for autocrossing, I was very disappointed to learn that a suspension setup that was good for autocrossing made the car way too twitchy to enjoy on the street. If I wanted to build a competitive car for racing, it was going to have to be trailered to the track. It would get very little use between races. I was going to have to make a huge commitment to build the car I wanted to race.

Rally racing demanded an even greater commitment. Not only did my Jeep have to have a roll cage and lots of other safety features that rendered it useless for street driving, I could not make the modifications I wanted to make due to class rule restrictions. I also had to get a reliable tow vehicle that would haul a whole race team across the country.

Travel time alone amounted to a huge commitment with rally racing. Not to mention the ever increasing entry fees. The need to buy a head and neck restraint was a bigger commitment than I was willing to make since two of them would have cost more than the race car itself.

Making the commitment to convert my race Jeep into an off road Jeep was not easy for me. However, once I made the commitment, I have been able to enjoy my investment much more than I ever thought possible.

Click here to read about how the RallyJeep was converted to Scuffy the off road Jeep.

When driving off road, you have to be committed to getting through no matter what. You have to be committed to allowing for body damage. If you have a vehicle you are not willing to dent, don’t take it off road. Dents and scrapes are part of the game. That is why I built Scuffy, because I was not willing to bang up my daily driver.

Having a dedicated off road truck makes the commitment much easier. Dents and scratches are seen as battle scars or marks of honor rather than degrading like they are on a street car.

If you approach an obstacle without commitment, you are more likely to fail. To get up a step muddy hill, for example, you have to approach the bottom with enough speed to generate momentum needed to carry you to the top. You can’t timidly ease into it and then accelerate as you feel better about the climb. Trying to power over the top is a good way to end up on your top as I saw at the extreme rock crawling competition.

The pro rock crawlers call it a deceleration climb. They commit to the climb, generate momentum and then use just enough power to the wheels to keep the truck climbing without spinning or tipping it backwards.

I also saw how commitment was needed on the descents. Those who crawled up to the absolute edge and tried to ease over were pitched sideways as one tire lost traction before the other. They ended up cart wheeling down the cliff. Those who committed to the fall were able to travel straight down and land on their suspension to absorb the bumps and bangs and drive off the course.

I often like to walk a trail before I commit to run it. This helps me assess the obstacles and help me decide if my truck and skills are sufficient to the task. Knowing the skills of those with me also helps me know what level of commitment I am willing to make.

The Mason Jar trail in Harlan, Ky requires a great deal of commitment just to enter the trail. You either have to cross a house sized boulder or maneuver through a narrow off camber bypass. Once past these, there is no good way to turn around, you are committed to running the trail.

In life we are faced with obstacles all the time. If we stay timid and try to avoid any damage, we will be stuck in the safe and boring ways of doing things. If we want to seek adventure and riches, we have to be willing to accept a few bumps and dents along the way. Those who are not willing to make a commitment and be willing to suffer the potential consequences will have to be content to stand back and watch the other more adventurous people reap their rewards.

Anyone who has ever achieved a goal has had to take a risk and make a commitment. Commitment keeps you moving toward your goal despite the consequences. Just like getting to the other side of a mud puddle, if you want to make it through a sticky situation in life or business, you have to begin with momentum.

In life, like off road, commitment means having the momentum to carry through. You may get some dents and scrapes along the way, but if you have made the commitment to achieve your goal, the journey will be just as exciting as actually achieving the goal.