Bob said he had to get back. We were two days into a 3 day trip through the Mojave Desert. He assured me that he knew the way back. At one-point Bob arrived at a river crossing. He had crossed it several times in the past. Normally it was only 8 to 12 inches deep. It wasn’t that day. The water was about 24 inches deep and running strong. Bob tried to cross but got stuck and flooded his engine. After retrieving most of his gear, Bob set up camp along one bank. Thankfully, another vehicle came along about two hours later. They towed his vehicle to the highway where Bob called AAA.
He donated the vehicle to a charity a few weeks later!
This incident serves as a reminder of the danger of four-wheeling alone. As a regular reader of these articles, you know I advocate driving in groups. Yet there will be times when you want to go it alone. (Or end up that way; more on that in a bit.)
Let’s review the pros and cons of four-wheeling alone.
Why you shouldn’t go four-wheeling alone
For starters, four-wheeling alone can be, well, lonely. No one to talk to. No one there to share experiences and good times with. Campfires and cookouts just aren’t the same without a buddy (or several buddies). You roll into your sleeping bag early! And picture those magical sunrises and sunsets. They’re made to be enjoyed with company, aren’t they?
Then there are the driving issues. If you get lost, you’re on your own to figure it out. Suffer a breakdown? You better be good with tools and have some spare parts. In addition to a broken axle or other part, you can run out of gas, encounter a dead battery, or a host of other issues.
If you’re part of a group, chances are you can get the necessary help with repairs or a recovery. Believe me: Recovery is a lot more difficult when performed with just one vehicle by one person.
Spotting is a challenge, too. It’s up to you to negotiate around those rocks or over that rutted trail. Backing up on a shelf road around a curve is a nail-biter. Heck, it’s challenging even with help.
What happens if you’re hurt? If it’s minor, you can deal with it and move on. However, trauma, heat stroke, a heart attack, snake bites, and the like can be life-threatening. Have you thought of how you’d handle such situations?
How you could end up alone on the trail
Perhaps you always intend to go out with a group. You could still end up alone. How?
1. You start out with a buddy but he gets into trouble. Your buddy stays behind with his vehicle while you go for help.
2. You’re at the trailhead waiting for a buddy but he doesn’t show up. You decide to head out anyway (didn’t you get up at 4:30 AM and drive 90 miles. The trail is right there. Wait until you tell your buddy what he missed!).
3. You’re driving down the highway and you see a trail that just begs to be explored. Keep in mind those trips can be risky. You may not even have the proper gear and supplies with you.
You’re out with a group for several days. Everyone goes home (either early or as scheduled), but you don’t. You want to continue. Your spirit of adventure keeps you driving and exploring on your own.
Four-wheeling by yourself is enjoyable and doable
Now let’s consider why four-wheeling alone is not only possible but beneficial. It is very educational and great for building confidence. My friend goes off-road by himself all the time. He loves it. In fact, he tells me that some of his best 4WD experiences occurred while he was on the open trails by himself.
Here are his reasons for hitting the trails alone.
Liberating: You’re not beholden to others and their needs. You go on your time, drive where you want to, and set your own agenda. You can get up late, start late, and set up camp where and when the mood strikes you. If you don’t get to all the sites you thought of in the morning, it’s no big deal.
Similarly, you can pick the trail difficulty based upon your mood. Perhaps one day you just want to take a leisurely drive down an easy dirt track. And if one day while driving the highway you get the urge to hit a trail, you can do that, too.
Gain confidence: Pushing yourself and solving a difficult obstacle build confidence. You learn faster when you solve problems yourself.
Alone with your thoughts: It’s just you and the great outdoors. Those drives provide time for self-reflection, and have a therapeutic quality to them.
Important mitigation reminders about four-wheeling alone
Let’s review the basics to ensure a successful trip.
- Assume all technology will fail. Have maps and back-up on back-up communication gear. That can include ham radio, a SPOT tracker, personal locator beacon, or satellite phone.
- Tell people where you’re going and when you expect to return. Don’t deviate from the route. (Yeah right!)
- Bring proper gear and sufficient supplies. Remember the recovery gear, spare parts, food and water, and camping gear. A winch and Pull-Pal are useful, too.
- Stay on a familiar trail. Save the group trip for scouting new or more difficult trails.
- Drive at popular times. You’re more likely to encounter others who could help you if needed.
Should you go four-wheeling alone? I don’t recommend it!
But doing so builds your skills and confidence level. Plus, someday you may have no choice when going for help.
As with any other 4WD trip, make sure you and your vehicle are prepared for the adventure.