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Off-Road 101

by Brandon

March 27, 2022


Brandon is a software quality analyst for Garmin and on the board of directors for the non-profit organization Missouri Hunting Heritage Federation. In his spare time, he enjoys getting out on hikes with his wife, Sarah, and their two dogs, Gunner and Ember.

As mentioned in our first blog post, we are in no way experienced off-roaders. The only experience I (Brandon) ever had was driving around the fields on my grandparents’ property, and that’s hardly what I would call off-roading, as there’s no real obstacles except the occasional low spot that surprises you.

To start our story, and to help others that might just be starting out, I want to go over an experience that probably set us back a couple years in using our Jeeps to get out and explore places we normally wouldn’t get.  If you missed our first post, our first Jeep is a 2017 Wrangler Sport-S that we purchased back in early 2017.  A couple years after owning that Jeep, and finding out about the Badge of Honor program, I decided to try a nearby Badge of Honor trail that was rated fairly easy while we were out of town on a quick getaway. I’m not going to get into why I thought this was a good idea or where it was, but let’s just say that this outing almost killed any chance of using our Jeep for any other off-road activity. Admittedly, we broke the first rule of off-roading by going alone. If you take one thing from away from reading this, please remember that, for us at least, alone + no experience does NOT equal anything close to a good time. It did equal a terrible start to our weekend getaway, a new hard top, new rear passenger door, and a new rear fender flare on the Jeep. I can tell you all of those are not cheap to replace.

The damage done to the passenger side of DogJeep from our first trip. We crushed completely through the hard top and buckled the top of the door. We also needed to replace the rear fender and had some damage to the tub.

Given our first experience, if we were going to give this a chance again, we knew we’d need some sort of instruction. Luckily a local off-road group puts on a few “Off-Road 101” classes each year at the nearest OHV park. We decided to take advantage of that class and take both of our Jeep Wranglers so we would each have the maximum amount of seat time during the driving portion.

Sarah navigating up some rocks in our 2021 Wrangler Rubicon 4xe, eDogJeep, during the Off-Road 101 class at Kansas Rocks.

Along with us were a couple friends we met a few months prior, who were also getting into car camping/overlanding. We met up with them early in the morning and headed down to the class. The first few hours were spent classroom-style going over how a four wheel drive system works, the various configurations that the systems can have (such as lockers), a lot of the equipment used, how to drive off-road, and the very important concepts of Tread Lightly. The second half of the day was spent on the trails. Jumping back to our first experience, as you can imagine, we were pretty nervous about this part of the day. Most portions of this OHV park are pretty tight between trees. I think both of us had a lot of flashbacks that took us right back to getting pinned up against a tree during our first excursion. The instructor definitely pushed us outside our comfort zone as there were plenty of steep descents and climbs. At one point we were climbing a hill and could see nothing but sky.  That can definitely be an uneasy feeling the first time and it does help build trust with your spotter.  Our instructor did an awesome job that day with making the more difficult trails we ran a lot easier to navigate (and the post-trip expenses much less).  One of the most valuable things I took away from that class is a good and knowledgeable spotter is an invaluable tool to have on the trail. 

The original DogJeep (2017 Wrangler Sport-S) stepping up on some rocks at Kansas Rocks Off-Road 101 Class.

We both had a great time at the class and I learned more during those few hours than I could have imagined. I did wish we had more time devoted to how to determine the best line to take — definitely a reason for an “Offroad 201” for us! 

If you come away with anything from reading this, please know that there are classes out there to help you. We highly recommend them when you are starting out. If that isn’t an option for you, and you just show up to an OHV park like we did, at least find the camping area—most OHV parks have onsite camping—and just ask people if they want to hit a trail with you. Explain that you are very new and will most likely need a lot of help. In my experience, you’ll be surprised how quickly you’ll find someone that’s willing to jump in their vehicle, hit the trails, and help guide you safely. The off-road community has some of the nicest people that are willing to help out, even if they don’t know you.

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