Overlanding lessons learned the hard way

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Jay McClellan

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During a recent solo overland trip on ORV routes and forest roads in Michigan's upper peninsula, my wife and I had an interesting experience and learned some valuable lessons I'd like to pass along.
  • Overland travel is great fun, especially after a heavy rain when there’s lots of water over the trails.
  • Appearances can be deceiving. For example, what appears to be 8 inches of clear water with a sandy bottom might actually be 20 inches of water plus a foot or more of muck.
  • That is too deep for an unmodified Jeep Grand Cherokee. Even if you have confidence and nice tires.
  • There are some experiences in life that simply have no equal. For example, the unique combination of shock, horror, panic and shame felt as one’s lone vehicle settles into a swamp many miles from the nearest road.
  • When stuck in deep water, there are several good ways to determine the water level relative to the vehicle. Opening a door is not a good way.
  • Mosquitoes can smell panic and they like it very much.
  • The 2019 Jeep Grand Cherokee features deep compartments under the seats that are designed to collect any water that might enter the vehicle. Somebody thought that mounting the vehicle’s batteries and electronic controls in those compartments was a good idea. It wasn’t.
  • MaxTrax recovery tracks are highly overrated and overpriced, until you need them. For example, when your Grand Cherokee is stuck in a swamp up to the tops of the wheel wells and filling with water.
  • It’s a good idea to carry all your recovery gear where it can be accessed quickly, and not buried under all the other crap you’re hauling, because you might need it in a hurry. For example, when your Grand Cherokee is stuck in a swamp up to the tops of the wheel wells and filling with water.
  • A hand-operated winch is not nearly as powerful as an electric winch, but it can make you feel powerful if you somehow manage to just barely pull the vehicle into the first teeth of your MaxTrax jammed into the underwater muck in which your tires are buried.
  • When a Jeep rises out of deep water, it’s amazing how much water comes running out. It’s even more amazing how much water is retained inside the frame and sloshes like a fish tank every time you stop and start. It will dry, but not soon.
  • The compartments in the doors are great for carrying things like books, maps, food and radios. They also hold water really well.
  • A Jeep might still be somewhat drivable when every warning light on the dashboard is illuminated. Lots of things won’t work but at least you’ll know that all the warning lights do.
  • If you are need of education, the trail will gladly teach you what you need to learn. Your tuition might get expensive.
What lessons have you learned the hard way?
 

Chuckem12

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If you can hear the alligator chirping....they are closer than you think....if you hear them grunting... you don't want to get into the water. Found this out one day when my younger brother and I went out on a trail in the everglades after a not-too-heavy rain storm. From that point on, I had a full sized spade shovel and something to place under the tires for traction every time I go off paved roads.
 

CR-Venturer

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Brilliant! Glad you got out of that harrowing experience with the good humor to share it :)

I recently learned that "corn snow" the slushy, patchy, granular snow condition found in the mountains in June when the melt is on, is very deceptive, nasty stuff.

The first few patches are shallow and you zip right through them, until you hit a patch that looks shallow like the rest, but is actually a foot and a half deep, resulting in your rig getting high centered with no traction on any of the wheels. I learned that one should always test the depth of the slushy melty corn snow.

I learned that a simple shovel is an amazing tool, and can work wonders in getting a vehicle unstuck.
 

Road

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During a recent solo overland trip on ORV routes and forest roads in Michigan's upper peninsula, my wife and I had an interesting experience and learned some valuable lessons I'd like to pass along.
  • Overland travel is great fun, especially after a heavy rain when there’s lots of water over the trails.
  • Appearances can be deceiving. For example, what appears to be 8 inches of clear water with a sandy bottom might actually be 20 inches of water plus a foot or more of muck.
  • That is too deep for an unmodified Jeep Grand Cherokee. Even if you have confidence and nice tires.
  • There are some experiences in life that simply have no equal. For example, the unique combination of shock, horror, panic and shame felt as one’s lone vehicle settles into a swamp many miles from the nearest road.
  • When stuck in deep water, there are several good ways to determine the water level relative to the vehicle. Opening a door is not a good way.
  • Mosquitoes can smell panic and they like it very much.
  • The 2019 Jeep Grand Cherokee features deep compartments under the seats that are designed to collect any water that might enter the vehicle. Somebody thought that mounting the vehicle’s batteries and electronic controls in those compartments was a good idea. It wasn’t.
  • MaxTrax recovery tracks are highly overrated and overpriced, until you need them. For example, when your Grand Cherokee is stuck in a swamp up to the tops of the wheel wells and filling with water.
  • It’s a good idea to carry all your recovery gear where it can be accessed quickly, and not buried under all the other crap you’re hauling, because you might need it in a hurry. For example, when your Grand Cherokee is stuck in a swamp up to the tops of the wheel wells and filling with water.
  • A hand-operated winch is not nearly as powerful as an electric winch, but it can make you feel powerful if you somehow manage to just barely pull the vehicle into the first teeth of your MaxTrax jammed into the underwater muck in which your tires are buried.
  • When a Jeep rises out of deep water, it’s amazing how much water comes running out. It’s even more amazing how much water is retained inside the frame and sloshes like a fish tank every time you stop and start. It will dry, but not soon.
  • The compartments in the doors are great for carrying things like books, maps, food and radios. They also hold water really well.
  • A Jeep might still be somewhat drivable when every warning light on the dashboard is illuminated. Lots of things won’t work but at least you’ll know that all the warning lights do.
  • If you are need of education, the trail will gladly teach you what you need to learn. Your tuition might get expensive.
What lessons have you learned the hard way?
.
This should be titled "Overlanding lessons learned the REALLY hard way"

Dang...impressive you were able to extricate yourself--and that you had recovery gear enough--and even more impressive you were able to write this up with a stellar sense of humor.

I bet next time you'll know to put on some boots, grab a long stick, and wade out into new crossings first to see if your eyes deceive you or not.

Well written!
.
 

Jay McClellan

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I bet next time you'll know to put on some boots, grab a long stick, and wade out into new crossings first to see if your eyes deceive you or not.
As a matter of fact, the most readily accessible item of safety gear I now carry is a pair of hip boots. They can accomplish what the biggest winch in the world cannot.
 
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Road

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My lesson was to test beach sand up near the dunes--on a saltwater beach usually safe for driving even my big-assed rig--before parking on it.

After unhooking my trailer I buried my right rear so deep, so quick, on a loosely covered-over firepit that my rear bumper was in the sand. I had to dig out not only the wheel, but the pumpkin and 2/3rds of the axle. I had a pretty deep pit dug, complete with side shelf so I could reach further under. All by headlamp and alone.

Thank god for long-handled shovels, my maxtrax, and folding Traction-jacks.
 

LostWoods

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Stubby shovels are good for emergencies, proper shovels are good when you know you will need one. Used to have a little Bond shovel off Amazon that served me well but I replaced it with a heavy duty Fiskars shovel earlier this year. Even chopping a bit off it to make it a bit smaller, the extra reach is welcome and the beefier blade it a lot better at digging out.
 

ThundahBeagle

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During a recent solo overland trip on ORV routes and forest roads in Michigan's upper peninsula, my wife and I had an interesting experience and learned some valuable lessons I'd like to pass along.
  • Overland travel is great fun, especially after a heavy rain when there’s lots of water over the trails.
  • Appearances can be deceiving. For example, what appears to be 8 inches of clear water with a sandy bottom might actually be 20 inches of water plus a foot or more of muck.
  • That is too deep for an unmodified Jeep Grand Cherokee. Even if you have confidence and nice tires.
  • There are some experiences in life that simply have no equal. For example, the unique combination of shock, horror, panic and shame felt as one’s lone vehicle settles into a swamp many miles from the nearest road.
  • When stuck in deep water, there are several good ways to determine the water level relative to the vehicle. Opening a door is not a good way.
  • Mosquitoes can smell panic and they like it very much.
  • The 2019 Jeep Grand Cherokee features deep compartments under the seats that are designed to collect any water that might enter the vehicle. Somebody thought that mounting the vehicle’s batteries and electronic controls in those compartments was a good idea. It wasn’t.
  • MaxTrax recovery tracks are highly overrated and overpriced, until you need them. For example, when your Grand Cherokee is stuck in a swamp up to the tops of the wheel wells and filling with water.
  • It’s a good idea to carry all your recovery gear where it can be accessed quickly, and not buried under all the other crap you’re hauling, because you might need it in a hurry. For example, when your Grand Cherokee is stuck in a swamp up to the tops of the wheel wells and filling with water.
  • A hand-operated winch is not nearly as powerful as an electric winch, but it can make you feel powerful if you somehow manage to just barely pull the vehicle into the first teeth of your MaxTrax jammed into the underwater muck in which your tires are buried.
  • When a Jeep rises out of deep water, it’s amazing how much water comes running out. It’s even more amazing how much water is retained inside the frame and sloshes like a fish tank every time you stop and start. It will dry, but not soon.
  • The compartments in the doors are great for carrying things like books, maps, food and radios. They also hold water really well.
  • A Jeep might still be somewhat drivable when every warning light on the dashboard is illuminated. Lots of things won’t work but at least you’ll know that all the warning lights do.
  • If you are need of education, the trail will gladly teach you what you need to learn. Your tuition might get expensive.
What lessons have you learned the hard way?
Learned just about the same thing back in the late 90's. One early spring, after a late snowstorm and subsequent melt, I was driving a Chevy Baretta (obviously "too fast for conditions") and slid off the roadway and into a ditch. The ditch was full of water.

I just remember looking at my buddy to see if he was Ok. He said something to the effect of "huh, this car must be water-tight, nothing's coming in". We settled down til the water was halfway up the door, and it did start coming in. We had to climb out onto the roof and call a coworker of ours (early cellphone days), who had a Chevy flare side pickup, z71. He drove over and pulled the car right out, and down to a mechanic.

We set the front of the car on the lift, and lifted a few feet, watching the water pour out. I half expected to see a fish, though it was too cold.

Once the water was drained, we drained the engine oil, ran the car, drained the engine oil again, ran the car...I think we did that 3 or 4 times.
After that, we used the shop vac to dry it out as much as possible.

You know? The thing ran after that. For months! But then the cold weather was approaching again and I didnt want to deal with whatever gremlins lay lurking in that electrical system. I liked my buddies truck so much, I went out and bought a used, 1991 Chevy K1500 Cheyenne single cab, short bed, 3 speed on the floor 305. That was a great truck. Wish I still had it.
 

Jay McClellan

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My biggest regret about going through that spot, other than the fact that I was dumb enough to actually do it, is that we were too panicked to pull out the camera and take a picture while the jeep was still in the water. But as soon as we got out my wife did take a quick shot of me standing in the water holding a MaxTrax vertically at the deepest spot, and I hadn't thought to measure it until just now. Up to that point on a MaxTrax is right around 36 inches so that's about how deep the back tires were. Fortunately we had enough momentum to get the front end mostly through and kept the engine high enough to stay running. A snorkel would have helped, but not nearly as much as better judgment would have.

WaterHole.jpg
 

CR-Venturer

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Great post! Thanks for sharing.

A key lesson: when there are no longer any tracks on the road - there's a good reason for that.
Discretion is the better part of valour, I always say.

There is a time and circumstance to push the limits and see what your rig is capable of overcoming. By yourself hundreds of miles from civilization is not that time or circumstance.

There have been many times where I've been "pretty certain" my rig could overcome a given obstacle, but the severe consequences of being wrong and the lack of backup or support have made me decide to leave it for another day.
 

Billiebob

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my test was a mile from home.
crossed the snowplow windrow and got hung up.
left front, right rear stuffed. right front, left rear hanging free and spinning.
way too embarrassed to call for help I walked around surveying the situation and climbed back in the Rubicon......

where I realized, LOCKERS, use them.... first time.... not even sure how they worked
locked front and rear axles, let out the clutch, and idled off the windrow.
everyone needs selectable front and rear lockers.
 
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John Bishop

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We had a saying among my friends a number of years ago when I did a lot of off roading; “Rocks good, mud bad, water is for drinking and boats.”

Mud is liquid sandpaper that gets into everything. I’ve had to replace several throwout bearings on my CJ because of mud, fun as it is. Know several people that hydro locked motors by going through too deep of water..
Do I still go off road? Absolutely! But it’s tempered with the risk factors I’m willing to take knowing potential outcomes.
 

Alanymarce

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Discretion is the better part of valour, I always say.

There is a time and circumstance to push the limits and see what your rig is capable of overcoming. By yourself hundreds of miles from civilization is not that time or circumstance.

There have been many times where I've been "pretty certain" my rig could overcome a given obstacle, but the severe consequences of being wrong and the lack of backup or support have made me decide to leave it for another day.
The case of which I was thinking was this one:

- 67 Km to cross the Biosphere Forest Reserve on an alleged "road"
- local advice (Forestry Ranger) - "no problem in that vehicle"
- 10 minutes in - a couple of vehicle tracks, a few motorbike tracks
- 45 minutes in - one set of bike tracks left
- an hour in - no more tracks
- an hour and a quarter - long section of deep mud, then a much longer section of deeper mud
- an hour and a half in - thunder from behind us, "road" deteriorating
- two hours in - only 11 Km to go to reach the river
- two hours and a minute in - tree fallen across the road, now the thunderstorm is approaching from behind
- four and a half hours in - tree removed from "road", now dark, starting to rain, continued into the growing darkness
- 5 hours in - arrived at river - beer and sleep.
 
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