ARB Overland Driving Course – Naches, WA

ARB Overland Driving Course – Naches, WA

This isn’t a trail run perse, but was a really great opportunity to learn some new things and put all skills needed for safe overland driving to the test. The format for the class was a one day, 3 hours in the “classroom” and another 8 hours putting it all to use. The class was taught by Chris Wood, ARBs Western Region Sales Representative and Assistant General Manager. Chris is a certified trainer with the International 4WD Trainers Association and brings over 23 years of experience to ARB’s program.

Chris welcomes drivers of all experience levels and promises to sharpen the skills of both the novice and seasoned off-road-er. This class is put on FREE of charge to participants. There is no hard sales pitch for ARB products, but you get to see alot of them in action. I attended with members of our local TLCA chapter, the South Sound Cruisers and some other area FJ Cruisers owners.

Staged at Jacks Picture by OlyWAFJ

Whistlin Jacks LodgeBefore heading out from Whistln’ Jack Lodge on Hwy 10, every vehicle under went a safety inspection. Items checked were the basics like steering components, brakes, safety gear, first aid kit, fire extinguisher, lights, tires and leaks.

Our first assignment, on the way to the classroom, was to back 1/3 of a mile up a logging road. I know, it doesn’t sound like much, but if you have never backed up more than out of a parking space it can be quite a challenge. 1/3 mile is a long way in low range reverse, then through in some corners and steep down hill and you have an interesting challenge.

Our Second task before arriving at the classroom was to practice our backing technique again, but up a step slope onto the trail, around a tree with a steep soft edged slope on the other side. We then continued to back down the ridge trail to the classroom parking area.

backing up

Picture by OlyWAFJ

The term classroom is used rather loosely here. We were in a small clearing beneath several tall Ponderosa Pines and a few smaller firs. It was a nice level shady place were Chris went over the basics of four wheel driving and being prepared for overland travel. It was a rather detailed session, but here are a few important high lights.

  • Are you fit for the trip? It can be a long day on the trail. It can be a lot of work to extract a stuck vehicle. It can be a long hike out should your vehicle become disabled.
  • Vehicle inspections.
  • Vehicle familiarity.
  • Recovery points, under-body protection and tires.
  • Travel plan, does any one know were to start looking if you don’t come home?
  • Packing for the trip. You always plan on the trip being longer than a day. Do you have enough food, water and shelter if you have to stay the night? What about a comprehensive first aid kit.
  • Safety and Survival.
  • Basics of the 4wd vehicle.
  • Vehicle recovery – evaluate the situation
    • Straps
    • Winches
    • Jacks (do you know the right way to use your HiLift?)
  • Driving – what to look out for and how to act around other users. The last part is very important to the survival of our sport. See the BlueRibbon Coalition web site for more info.

Class room parking
Picture by OlyWAFJ
After the classroom, we set out on the Clover Springs trail, #696. This is a beautiful drive along the northern edge of the William O Douglas wilderness. During recent thunder storms, a series of small fires were started in the wilderness. Through out the day we could see the smoke rising on not so distant hills. Being a wilderness area though, they have a let it burn policy that really helps improve the health of the forest.

After several steep climbs and drops we reached our first major task. We had to recover from a simulated “failed hill climb”. In this exercise we had to stop half way up a steep hill with rather loose footing. We then had to back down the hill around a tree and a turn in the trail. Now we could see the importance of the days first task. Every one completed without any problems and we moved on.

failed hill climb

Picture by OlyWAFJ

Our next exercise was a recovery drill. If you had a winch, you had to self recover (while anchored to the vehicle infront of you). If you didn’t have a winch, you had to do an assisted recover with a strap. It was easy to see how important it was to apply a constant amount of power from the stuck vehicle regardless of the recovery method used.

Recovery excercise

Picture by OlyWAFJ

Everyones favorite exercise was the spotting commands drill. Chris believes that the student REALLY pays attention if they have to spot their own vehicle, so that is what we did and it works. There was just one small (overlooked in previous discussion) condition of this exercise. The driver (of your vehicle) was going to have their eyes closed and be given you signal from a “co-driver” in your passenger seat navigating through a cone course, up hill over uneven terrain with you trying to tell them with hand signals which way to go to miss the obstacles and the cones. Like all the other exercises, it was ok to opt out if it was beyond your comfort level. It was a very strange sensation driving a very slow moving vehicle over uneven terrain with you eyes closed.

That was the end of the training. The rest of the day was a pleasant trail ride out to clover springs and the FS road down Whistl’n Jack Lodge.

Along the way home we had the opportunity to put some of the skills covered in the class to a real world test. The FJ Cruiser traveling infront of me was pitched sideways off the trail when the back of his truck slid off of a rock in loose soil. Chris setup the recovery using my winch and the winch from the truck in front. With a little bit of pulling from both ends, and driving backward then forward in 2wd, he was soon back on the trail.

Picture by Victor

picture by Victor

Our second real recovery was when Chris took a very loose steep hill. With just 20 feet to go, all wheels started spinning and he dug himself into a spot. Two of the FJ Cruisers went around the bypass (which was only a little better than the main hill) and with both of them for the anchor and some liberal winching, We were again soon back on the trail. Once I got to the top (using the bypass of course) I noticed a line running up the hill between Chris’s tire tracks. It had been hard to see in the loose silty hill, but the ruts were just deep enough for the differentials to be dragging. That certainly didn’t help in his hill climb attempt.

Pictures can be seen at my Gallery and on IH8MUD.com

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