My Off-Road Experience: Lessons Learned
November 1, 2017
• Lesson #1 Only carry what you need.
• Lesson #2 Make sure you have all valuables out of your machine.
• Lesson #3 Make sure you have all important numbers in your phone before leaving.
• Lesson #4 Have two or three ways to light a fire.
Editor's Note: The story that follows explains how these lessons became crucial for Tonya and her husband.
My husband and I recently purchased a UTV as we wanted to be able to spend time together and experience new things together. We had taken it out for a few rides and had a great time, but thought the trails we had gone on were way easier than we anticipated.
It Started Well
We did a few easy and moderately rated trails that we could have done with our car. We decided to try a new trail: Sunflower Mine Trail. We researched the trail, learning that others had taken vehicles built for less difficult terrain than our UTV.
We figured if they could make it, we would have no problems. We travel from Phoenix to just past Sunflower, Ariz., on the Beeline Highway. There is a little trail that cuts back to the west with a parking lot.
We parked our truck, unloaded the UTV, got our supplies ready, and we were all set for a great day of exploring.
Then The Doubts Begin
We downloaded a map of the trail we wanted to follow from the Web site with the reviews we had read. There was a sign posted "Road Closed: Bridge Out Ahead". We noticed the map did not follow the trail that led to the closed bridge, so we backed up to follow the trail on the interactive map.
As we continued down the trail, we found a spot in the trail that was difficult to pass, but we made it. After we got through, the trail widened and flattened back out. We thought we were good to go, since it was a loop we knew we wouldn't have to go back through the rocks we had just passed. Gosh, were we wrong!
We were determined to make it to the Sunflower mine; after all, a bunch of other people had said the trail was pretty easy. The farther we went, the crazier the trail got. Keep in mind we are fairly new to off-roading in Arizona.
We were getting really close to the mine on the interactive map, so we kept moving forward. There were times I had to get out of the UTV and guide my husband as to how to maneuver through the rocks and ruts in the trail that cut back and forth. The ruts were made from rain running down the trail.
Enter Large Boulders
We got to the bottom of a hill and followed the trail to the left. We stopped when we saw some large boulders in the trail. We backed up and looked to see if there were other trails we could take because we were unsure we could make the turn through the boulders.
We discussed how we did not want to have to go all the way back up the steep mile long hill we had just come down. We also looked at all of the maps we had with us, to see if another trail was there, only to discover the trail we had taken was not on any other maps, except the one we had downloaded.
We decided to walk down the trail to see if there was a way for us to get through the boulders. We decided on a strategy to attempt it. I once again stood out front and guided him how to angle the tires to maneuver over and through the rocks. We made it through unscathed! About 100 yards later we ran into another obstacle, where we again had to figure out how to maneuver the UTV through to continue down the trail.
We quickly realized the trail was getting more and more difficult. We decided to walk further up the trail to see if it was even worth continuing, after all I had spent most of the last hour out of the UTV rather than riding in it.
After much discussion and deliberation we decided that we were going to turn around, as much as we hated the idea of turning back & going back up the hill we knew that would be better than continuing on and getting stuck. We found a place to turn around and carefully planned out how to get back through the boulders, after all it is completely different when coming form a different angle.
Needless to say, all of our skills were not quite enough. We made it over the first few boulders and as we were trying to maneuver around the last one, the passenger front tire of the UTV went up into the air, hung there for what seemed like 5 seconds, and the whole UTV rolled over onto the driver's side with my husband inside it.
Thank goodness he was not seriously hurt, only a few bumps and bruises. We immediately got him out of the UTV, while it was sitting on the drivers door and started to look at the vehicle to see what we could do. We were in the very bottom of a ravine, miles from civilization, and had not experienced this before; however, we had done lots of reading.
We took the toolbox, cooler, spare tire and jack off the back of the UTV to remove as much weight as possible. We found a place to fit the jack under the back frame and tried to jack it up, to see if we could upright it, this was an ordeal in itself, as the UTV was flat on the drivers door.
We got it jacked up a ways and realized that was not far enough, so we rolled the spare tire under the frame, lowered the jack, put flat rocks under where the jack was & tried to lift it up some more. We attempted to lift/push the UTV back over onto its wheels. We quickly (after about 90 min. of work) realized we were not going to be able to do this on our own. We decided to leave the UTV where it was & head for cell phone service. We walked away, leaving it like this.
We were unsure of exactly how far we would have to go in the other direction to get phone service, but we remembered we would have service at the top of the hill we had just came down. My survival skills kicked in. I declared we were not leaving any food or water in the ravine.
I proceeded to carefully remove all the snacks I had packed along with anything else we deemed important out of the UTV. We organized what we were taking with us and started walking.
We quickly learned Lesson #1 Only carry what you need!
We decided the cooler was to heavy with 2 frozen gallons of water, 2 apples, a gatorade, & ice in it; so we each carried 1 gallon of frozen water, and we added the apples and gatorade to other bags, leaving the cooler behind on the trail.
Lesson #2 Make sure you have all valuables out of machine.
Mike discovered his wallet was still in the UTV, so I went back down the hill, thank goodness we had only made
it about 200 yards, to retrieve the wallet. Mike ate his apple so we wouldn't have to cary that any further & finished his drink. We continued to hike up the side of the mountain for about one mile, or a little over,
and over 500 ft in elevation; stopping several times along the way to rest and check for cell phone service.
We would come to a place where we thought was the top of the hill only to discover it was just another turn in the road. We hit a few spots where we would have one bar, but not enough to call anyone, and then we started hearing large animals off to our right. At one point we remembered we had read somewhere to save Joe's
number from Arizona 4X4 Offroad Recovery in your phone, because he would come get you anywhere in AZ.
We began searching our contacts and realized either we didn't add his number, or during a recent update,
it changed several of our contacts.
*Lesson #3 Make sure you have all important numbers in your phone before leaving.
Luckily we found his number on a webpage, I just happened to have opened on my phone prior to leaving that morning.
All in all it took us about 3 hours to hike from the ravine to the top of the hill to get cell phone service. As soon as we got service I called Joe from Arizona 4X4 Offroad Recovery! I explained to him that our UTV was on its side in the bottom of the ravine and described the spot we were at, which happened to be where 3 trails intersected.
Joe knew exactly where we were and told us to stay put and build a fire. It was 6:15 but it would take him a few hours before he could get to us. He also made sure we had food & water before getting off the phone with me. I was very exhausted but comforted to know that someone was coming to get us. Then I turned around, to find a RIP sign staring back at us!
Small panic attack set in again. We began to gather lumber from downed trees and branches around us before the sun fully set. I began to pile small kindling up, since I am the fire bug in my family, and get ready to start the fire just before it got dark. Mike said he had a lighter in the bag we had carried up the mountain. Afraid we didn't have enough small kindling, and me being the girl, grabbed the roll of toilet paper I had kept in a zip lock bag to roll up and light the fire with.
I carefully placed the small bunch of toilet paper under the kindling and dried cypress pieces, held the lighter
under a corner of the tissue paper, click, Click, CLICK went the lighter. It was out of fuel! Mike was positive it had fuel so he shook the lighter and attempted to get it lit. I began thinking about how we were going to get the fire lit before the sun finished going down. I remembered I had a survival bracelet that I had clipped to the strap of my purse, so I grabbed that. I had never used it before, or any flint & spark device to start a fire; but I had watched videos and watched my oldest daughter do it before. I figured if she could do it so could I.
I began to scrape a pile of flint. I figured I would need a fairly big pile so I didn't even try to get a spark. The next thing I knew the flint sparked and the toilet paper was on fire! I moved it over under the kindling as fast as
I could, making sure to place it by the pieces of dried cypress. They sparked to life quickly. I was very cautious, as I was afraid it would go out after everything we had just been through I thought of the tiny fire as my life
Lesson #4 Have 2-3 ways to light a fire.
Luckily for us the fire stayed lit. We waited patiently for Joe to get to us, which seemed like it took forever while we listened to the wild animals move in closer before stocking up the fire with more wood again. We watched the sky grow darker, the stars begin to light up, and joked about how we were having a romantic night of camping under the stars.
We were camped out on the top of the mountain for about 3 1/2 hours before we were rescued. If you ever need rescuing from a trail, call Joe Ohsuch with Arizona 4X4 OffRoad Recovery (602) 697-8306, they go anywhere and can save your bottom end in a bind!
Joe drove us all the way out to our truck and trailer and sent us home after making sure our nerves were okay to drive! I have learned many lessons from this venture.
I even learned to double check my insurance policy when purchasing a new vehicle, after all my insurance company wrote my policy wrong and they were not going to pay for the recovery of my UTV. Needless to
say the squeaky wheel gets the grease and they discovered their mistake, sadly my UTV is totaled due the the frame damage from landing on the rocks.
Please learn from me and be prepared!
Caption: After our UTV was uprighted