In Part 1, we talked about the value of giving your kids the right kind of indoctrination — the 4×4 kind. We covered 4×4 events, getting them an RC rock crawler and wrenching! Now let’s get on the trail…
4. TAKE THEM WHEELING
I realize that at first, you may think, “Well…DUH!” when reading the title of this particular step, lots of people take their kids wheeling; but there is a guaranteed way to do it. Many people TAKE their kids wheeling, but they do not INVOLVE their kids in wheeling. I have seen my fair share of kids in back seats of Jeeps on the trail, car-sick from all the bouncing, and a look of “I wish my phone had service” on their faces.
“My boys and I headed out to go wheeling in the wagon.”
My kids began running the Rubicon trail with me while they were still in car seats and diapers, but as soon as they could walk, I got them involved. I had them spot for me. Yup. You read that correctly. I had two little boys spot me in my rig down the trail.
My sole direction to them was to make sure I put my tires on the rocks and to say “turn driver” or “turn passenger” instead of “left” and “right” Even if I knew they were taking me on a bad line, I would follow their directions. Once they figured out that they were in charge, and that dad had to do what they said, they were sold. Whenever we passed by someone else on the trail, and those people saw a 3rd grader and a 1st grader guiding me, nearly every single one of them gave my boys some type of positive reinforcement. All the “thumbs up” and “Great job, guys!” from all the other people on the trail, sold my kids even more on the spotting job. Now they were not just riding in the back of my Jeep; they were actively taking part in getting me down the trail. So much so that it was damned near impossible to get them back in my rig. Another considerable advantage of this is that they started learning what a good line is and what is a bad one.
“This waiting for recovery stuff is really fun, Dad!”
Many times when people go trail wheeling, they kind of forget that their kids are in the back seat unless those kids are a pain in the ass. One thing you want to do is to take a lesson from my close friend Kris. Whenever my boys and I go wheeling with Kris and his kids, Kris is always making sure that we take “kid breaks.” What he means by a “kid break” is to stop reasonably frequently and let the kids do stuff that is fun for them.
“Logan did a little bit of target shooting during this Nevada wheeling trip.”
On the Rubicon, we may stop at Spider Lake and have them jump off some of the smaller cliffs into the lake. When we get to Buck island, we let them swim in that lake too, or we may go fishing. In Rubicon Springs, the kids go crawdad fishing, swing on the rope swing, and slide down the natural water-slides created by the Rubicon River flowing over the mossy granite. Taking these little breaks for the kids not only ensures that they have a great time wheeling, but that they now have memories that will last a lifetime.
“Put up that tent kids while I consume this adult beverage!”
In camp, we get the kids to help unload the rigs, set up the tent, build the fire-pit, and collect dead wood for the fire. While your kids may complain the first time or two, after a few trips of doing this and understanding that they are part of the entire wheeling adventure and not just passengers, they will begin automatically doing this without you even telling them to.
“My son Logan getting involved in the Little sluice box years ago by passing out literature. It is hard to imagine that he is now almost 6′ 3.”
“After a long day of spotting for dad and then unloading the rig, the boys cool off in a waterfall in Rubicon Springs.”
Always remember that the goal of taking your kids wheeling is about creating positive memories that they will forever cherish. With that mindset, your kids will love wheeling. But if you REALLY want to get your kids involved:
5. GET THEM BEHIND THE WHEEL
In most states, kids can drive designated Off-Highway Vehicles (OHV) as long as they are big enough to reach the controls and have an adult in the vehicle or monitoring them. This is how kids can ride dirt bikes before they have a license. In California, for example, this means a “Green Sticker” vehicle that is designated as an OHV.
“Drive it like we stole it, Son! Because we kinda did….”
What many people do not know (including some at the Department of Motor Vehicles), is that you can dual-register your daily driver Jeep for street use AND OHV to allow kids to drive it in designated OHV areas. (double-check your local laws for your state, but I am reasonably sure this is the case everywhere)
“Fire this thing up for me, dad! Casey will not mind!”
Start small. Get your kid a “Powerwheels” Jeep when they are little. All of my kids had one. I would wrap rubber around the plastic tires to get a bit more traction, and they would wheel those all over the yard. When your kids then get big enough to reach the controls in your actual jeep, put it in 4low and have them crawl it around. Being in 4low makes sure they will not go too fast, and it is also a VERY good way to teach kids how to use a clutch and get the feel of how it grabs when it engages. (My two oldest could drive manuals by the time they were twelve)
“Peyton’s Willys addiction all started when he first drove Sammy’s rig.”
Start on regular flat ground so they can get a feel for the throttle, especially while the vehicle is in 4low. Once they are comfortable with that, get them in the rocks on a relatively easy section of trail. For my kids, this was the gatekeeper on the Rubicon. You don’t want them attempting some horrendous and dangerous obstacles like Backdoor until they are ready for it.
When they are on the trail, and behind the wheel, they will be just as nervous, if not more, than you are. The big thing here is not to get yourself stressed out and start yelling at your kid. Be patient with them. If you are calm, they will be calm. Don’t be the grumpy dad that is giving a lecture. Have fun with it, smile, and tell your kid that it is OK if they make a mistake.
“It takes a village. Chick spots my 17-year-old son up Soup Bowl.”
Walk along with the rig spotting them, and continuously give positive reinforcement when they do good. When that rig first grabs rubber and inches over a decent obstacle, you will see the smile on your kid’s face light right up. Make sure you take a picture to capture that memory for both of you. Once they get it down a little, lay off on the spotting and let them pick their own lines. Let them make mistakes and pick the wrong line occasionally; obviously you don’t want them to roll your rig, but many times failure is the best teacher.
Make sure that when you do let your kid wheel, that it is the right time to do it. If the trail is busy and you are holding up other people, your kid will get too overwhelmed, and you are ruining the day for others. Kids also get a little too flustered if there are too many eyes on them or more than one person giving them directions.
“My boy and me on the Rubicon.”
As I proofread this article a few times, I started thinking, “Man, it sounds like all I am doing is bragging about my kids.” I guess I am. If years from now, they are taking their own kids on camping and wheeling trips across the Rubicon and the like, I will consider my life a success. I am really proud of the young men my three boys are becoming, and it is awesome that the four of us share the same passion. I hope that you follow all these steps with your own kids so you can also form a similar bond in your family and give your kids memories that will last a lifetime.