Editor’s Note: We aren’t talking about high school students getting ready to graduate here! Our friend Tom Severin is talking to you and I!
Four-wheeling is truly a family affair. Participants are highly encouraged to bring spouses, children, grandchildren, even grandparents along for the ride.
And while driving off-road requires certain skills, there are no age limits. As long as the person can competently maneuver a vehicle over the chosen course, he or she is free to hit the trails.
There are inherent risks in the hobby, along with others found while outdoors. Some of these risks have a greater effect on older drivers.
Some hazards encountered while four-wheeling
Tires are the number one problem on backroads and trails.
Let’s say you have a flat tire. It’s a hot day, and you’ve been driving for a while. You step out of the air-conditioned vehicle into the scorching sun. A routine tire changing can become on ordeal for an older person.
A typical 4WD wheel (tire and rim) can weigh up to 70 or more pounds. Some older folks will find it difficult to heft a wheel on or off the vehicle spare tire carrier. The human body naturally loses muscle and becomes less flexible as we age. Of course being older & smarter we use levers and pulley instead.
Also, people tend to get really focused when engaged in a task. It’s easy to overlook pain, fatigue and other warning signs. Not wanting to lose driving time, they push themselves. In the process they fail to take breaks, stay hydrated, or get out of the sun. It’s all go, go, go.
Deciding who is young enough to be rock stackers.
The result can be disastrous. Heat is bad enough; heat stroke and heat exhaustion are real hazards. The wild swing in temperature experienced when stepping outside the vehicle puts stress on the body. Factor in an advanced age and possible underlying health issues, and the person is in real danger.
Death Valley is a good example of a hot location (record worldwide high of 131 degrees). In the high desert, temperatures can hit 100 to 105 degrees. In the low desert, you’re looking at 115 to 120 degrees. That’s some serious heat. (And don’t start on that “But it’s only dry heat!” hooey. Trust me: anything above 100 degrees is hot. And dangerous.)
In addition to the heat, the outdoors offers a host of other hazards. You need to watch for dangerous insects, cactus and animals, even rocks or ruts to trip over. Falling down is a major cause of injury for older adults.
How to mitigate these 4WD hazards
The first step is a self-assessment. Start with your overall state of mind and body. Do you feel healthy and willing to go on that trip? If you’re just not up for it, don’t go. Similarly, if it’s a long and strenuous adventure, and you haven’t taken such a trip in a year or more, consider a shorter drive.
At the same time, be honest with yourself. As an older person, you just don’t have the strength and stamina you once did. You can still go off road. Just consider easier routes from now on.
Develop a stretching – and, possibly strengthening – regimen. This is good for the body overall and can help you while four-wheeling. Consult with a medical professional for your particular needs. Take a break every few hours. That right leg needs a break from the constant throttle modulation.
There is bound to be a repair at some point during the trip. Hand the young guy the tools.
Always travel with others. I’ve said this countless times over the years. You should never go four-wheeling alone. That’s especially true for an older person. You could get stuck, trapped in a rollover, or suffer a medical emergency, to name just a few possibilities.
Another passenger or driver can help you in a bind. That includes routine issues like flat tires, simple breakdowns and spotting. Plus, a four-wheeling adventure is more enjoyable with others around.
Another person can act as a health monitor (a spouse has a vested interest in this job). That person can remind you when to take breaks, grab some water, or get in the shade. You have to be particularly careful in hot environments and high altitudes.
Can you see well enough to 4 wheel?
Install a larger remote speaker, for your two-way radio so you don’t miss any cautions about an upcoming obstacle.
Wear gloves and long sleeve shirts when engaged in activities outside the vehicle. As you grow older skin loses tone, oil, and fatty tissue underneath skin so it bruises and tears easily. It is also why you feel the cold more.
Watch for natural hazards. Those include bugs, plants and wild animals. Diseases are present, including hantavirus, which is spread by mouse droppings.
Impact Wrench makes work easier
Use power tools whenever possible. A battery-powered impact wrench, for example, would be a big help for someone struggling to remove bolts, lug nuts, and such.
Finally, maintain proper hygiene. Pack sufficient quantities of soap, water, hand sanitizer and other cleaning supplies. Make sure everyone washes thoroughly after using the restroom and before preparing or eating food.
Four-wheeling isn’t just for young people. Older folks can enjoy the hobby, too. They just need to take some extra precautions before and during the trip. Don’t let Father Time keep you from enjoying the great outdoors.
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