On Levers

In a different life I was into 4×4 “rockcrawling”. Rockcrawling is to driving on dirt as gulping tequila is to sipping wine.

I wasn’t a great rockcrawler. My repair and maintenance budget was roughly zero. Talk about a major buzz kill. I was out of my fiscal league and knew it. I found myself fretting over sidewall damage in places where I should have been grateful that my truck (and its driver) weren’t fused to the rocks at the base of a cliff. When damage is an instant budgetary implosion how are you to enjoy a “sport” which tends to batter machinery?

What was I thinking? I have no idea. I can tell you what I learned. Playing a motorsport you can’t afford teaches you to drive conservatively. My irrational insistence on driving nearly impassible terrain without any damage led to what I call “the lever theory”.

My truck had upgrades that were more or less engaged by “levers”. (I’m over simplifying here. Go with it.) One “lever” for low range, one for 4×4, one for rear lockers, and one for front lockers. Pretty studly eh? I got in the habit of using just exactly as many “levers” as I needed and no more.

Usually I’d stick with 4×4 and low range… you need that just to ditch the crowds and get to the fun challenges. Most obstacles could be handled in that “mode”. I’d gingerly glide, churn, inch, whirl, and lurch over them. Great fun!

If things got a little hairy I’d engage the rear differential lock and be glad to have it. Rear differential locks are awesome! You can do so much with them. It’s like magic. Usually that would do the trick.

Suppose all hell was breaking loose? Maybe I couldn’t get enough traction to surmount a big rock and there was no way around or maybe I was careening dangerously toward the nearest “canyon of doom” and my life was flashing before my eyes. As soon as I decided taunting physics was about pound me into the dirt I’d hastily add the front differential lock. Once the fronts were locked I’d essentially engaged every mechanical advantage I owned. When I flipped that last lever it was “go time”, there was nothing else to save me, and I got real serious real fast. (No I didn’t have a winch. Shut up and reread the explanation of my budget.)

Having reserved “full lock up” exclusively for the biggest, baddest, truck mangling, radiator smashing, deathtraps I’d marvel at what I could do once it was deployed. I’d curse, squeal, laugh, and shriek while driving like a madman. I (almost) always made it through and never landed on my roof. Not bad for driving over things which sane people wont hike through. It was great fun; though a little nerve wracking.

As soon as I got past the obstacle in question I’d disengage the differential locks and revert back to being a “mere 4×4”. I always felt more in control when I had a lever in reserve.

A lot of the guys I rode with would engage their lockers right away. Even on the little challenges. When they were “locked up” they could zip over rocks with far less concern for lines and angles than I needed.

I felt this was unwise.

Sometimes, in rockcrawling as in life, what looks like a small challenge is really a big challenge in disguise. Because God has a sense of humor you might not find this out until you’re in the shit. This is when I had an advantage. Since I (usually) hadn’t engaged all my levers, I had an ace up my sleeve. It also meant I was less likely to drive into something brutal without knowing it’s true nature. A slip of the tire here, a lurch there, gravity kindly offers hints when you’re doing something stupid.

I insisted I was “on to something”. Holding some advantage back in the easy stuff gave me a stronger position for the tough stuff. That became my lever theory. Time for a Curmudgeonly Gem of Insight:

“Don’t deploy your last lever until you really need it. Keep it in reserve. When you absolutely need it, be honest with yourself that you’re ‘all in’, and act accordingly.”

Some people study philosophy. I drove a truck over rocks.


P.S. My description might make it sound like I gleefully pounded into things that merited full lock up and only engaged when things went south. Good drivers know this is a dumbass move. I do too. If, after careful consideration, I knew an obstacle merited full lockup I entered it in full lockup. Indications to the contrary are more about my crappy writing than my crappy driving.

About Adaptive Curmudgeon

I will neither confirm nor deny that I actually exist.
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5 Responses to On Levers

  1. Wolfman says:

    Pop always told me that four wheel drive was for getting out, not getting in. It took a while before I understood, but its much the same philosophy- if you can do it in two wheel drive, you can make it back out with fourwheel drive. Same with tire chains- if you put them on to get IN, you’ve got no reserve ability when it comes time to head home, and you’re REALLY REALLY far from help.

  2. KaptainK says:

    Another reformed rock-crawler here. I was running a 93 Toyota pickup, straight axled and locked front and rear on 39s but after buying a house and land it just wasn’t in the budget anymore. Oh, and breaking expensive parts on every outing got old pretty quick. I still get out trail-hopping from time to time but its not the same.

  3. Roger says:

    I have been doing towing and recovery in Michigan since 1992. Every winter I get to recover dozens of knuckleheads who can’t believe they spun out in 4 wheel drive. No amount out of talking will convince them it is a mechanical advantage not magic.
    My boss rides with me in the winter, because he is a non-driver. It seems like a continuous chant with him “Are you locked in?Are you locked in?” Shut up and let’s have some fun!!

  4. NotClauswitz says:

    Went rock crawling many years ago one full-moon night with my cousin – out on Heavenly Valley ski resort slopes: stones and logs. He was driving my Aunt’s borrowed Grand Wagoneer – very-very-very slowly over every boulder. Slowly. He turned off the lights when another vehicle with funny lights on the roof seemed to be approaching, and we made our escape in the dark – I’ll stick to dirtbikes that can thread between rocks, sometimes. The 2A is a lever we must very sparingly invoke or use at the last possible opportunity.

  5. PJ says:

    I used to go exploring in my VW Passat TDI, just a front wheel drive car. Always had chains with me. Sometimes I’d drive up into the mountains until the snow got too deep and couldn’t go any more, then my son and I would play in the snow. The chains were put on to turn around and leave.

    Also remember living out on the lake, where kids would come drive their 4WD’s any time it would snow out there. I had a Geo Metro with studded tires up front. The next day driving to work, I’d usually see one or two macho trucks in the ditch, often rubber side up.

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