One of my character flaws is that I am not an eternal optimist. In my line of work, nobody calls me because things are going well and all's right with the world. People call me when the feces impact the oscillator.
If I see my glass half empty, I figure it is time to start looking for my waitress for a refill. Perhaps this flaw is why I like to ride my ATV occasionally.
An ATV is a wonderful vehicle for the outdoors person. You can carry lots of equipment and get farther into the backcountry, in less time, with the greatness of ease. From the remote location your ATV took you, hiking, fishing, hunting and scores of other activities can be had, albeit farther away from civilization.
This can also spell disaster. An ATV is a mechanical object, subject to failure. Failure will come at the furthest end of the trail, at the most inopportune time; according to my friend Murphy of Murphy’s Law fame.
With these thoughts about ATV riding in mind, we must become very self-sufficient. Self-sufficient, in this case, means the ability to get out of any pickle we seem to arrive in.
First off, and it should be without saying, carry a survival pack for yourself and anyone with you. This kit should contain all the items necessary to survive in the event your machine breaks a leg and leaves you stranded. Extra food, water and emergency first aid supplies should be the most important items, along with extra clothes and rain gear for weather changes.
One really nice thing about an ATV is that you have the room to carry all the extra supplies and equipment. Mine has a toolbox on the back and a front hard case for clothes and other essentials.
I prefer the hard boxes to the canvas or nylon soft accessory bags. The soft bags seem to fill up with dust easier and don’t keep out the water as well. The soft cases may be more “packable” but the rigidity of the hard case protects better.
Before the season starts, a full service is in order for your machine. This service should include filters, fresh spark plugs and an oil change. Tires should be checked for safe tread depth and no visible age cracking on the sidewalls. All air filters should be cleaned, and/or replaced.
Remember that ATV tires need to be inflated to the manufacturer specifications shown in the owner’s manual. Do not inflate to the numbers shown on the sidewalls of the tires. Most machines require a much lower number than those shown on the tire.
Tires will go flat, you can bet on it. Carry a repair kit with you. The kit should contain a small compressor to work off your machine's battery, a few tire plugs and plug tools, and a low-pressure tire gauge.
You can ride a long way on a flat tire in a pinch. I have done it several times. Drive very slowly and avoid as many rocks as you can to avoid damaging the rim. Slow and steady is the secret to get the machine back home.
A word about batteries is in order. I think that motorcycle batteries are very undependable. I replace mine every two years. Not all machines have a manual pull cord for starting in the event of battery failure. For those, I recommend carrying a small jumper box.
The portable jumper box, or power pack as they are sometimes called, must be charged or it is as useless as a dead battery. I charge mine monthly and have yet to have a problem. Some people carry jumper cables. Cables are fine if you have someone else to get a jump from. If not, carry a power pack. You can charge a cell phone from one, too.
A tool kit is a necessity. Most machines come with a small emergency kit. I add to mine with a few better quality tools — things like a crescent wrench, vise grips, pliers, duct tape and zip ties. A good flashlight with extra batteries will help.
I carry a tarp with me also. If I have to crawl under the machine, a tarp keeps me out of the mud. The tarp can also provide some shelter in a pinch. Throw in a hundred feet of paracord along with the tarp.
The best accessory to have on your machine is a winch. This handy little “get you out” tool has saved my bacon so many times that I cannot recall. From stuck in the mud or snow, to being high-centered, the winch is a lifesaver.
Along with the winch, throw in a tow strap. You can use the strap to pull someone else out or wrap around a tree or log to attach your winch cable to. Strong nylon straps in the 10 to 12 foot length do not weigh much or take up any space.
You will want to carry a GPS, compass and maps. I like to plan my trip ahead of time and use the GPS and maps to “stay on course.” Most trails don’t have highway signs, so staying found is much better than guessing or getting lost.
Always start your trip with a full gas tank and carry an extra gas can with you. There are special ATV gas cans that take up less space and attach easily to machines. A couple extra gallons can save the day on those long trips, especially if you are prone to “detours” as I am.
I also carry a small ax and bow saw. You never know when you have to move a tree or deadfall. One of those folding shovels can come in handy, too, if you ever need to dig out.
This is just a minimum list of things you should carry along. Depending on the distance and duration of the trip, you may need to add a few things. If you ride in a group, everyone can “share the load” and not all carry the same tools.
A word about safety is appropriate before you take off. Helmets, gloves and eye protection are imperative. Clothing to provide adequate protection from branches and debris should be considered. I see too many riders in shorts and flip-flops on the trails.
Any DOT compliant motorcycle helmet will work. I recommend full coverage as it protects the face as well. A helmet will also help protect you from windblast, cold, noise, low hanging branches and flying objects.
Next consideration would be eye protection. Many helmets use a face shield and they work very well, especially if you wear prescription glasses. Goggles are another option and may be worn outside the helmet. Sunglasses are a poor form of eye protection as you may find yourself out after dark. Protecting your eyes from flying debris, insects, rocks and dust is very important.
Most of our Colorado trails are fairly narrow. There are many overhanging branches and limbs that you will brush up against while riding. These cause a hazard to your eyes as well as other parts of your body that are exposed.
I had a machine conk out on me on a trail above Lake City a few years back. I was 20 miles from my truck, most of it uphill. I started pushing my machine and figured I would arrive back at the truck sometime around Christmas.
Fortunately, a friendly rider came along and gave me a tow back to the truck. He really saved the day for me. I guess sometimes you can be optimistic and hope that help comes along, but with my usual luck, Murphy will be driving the truck. I will stay pessimistic and carry some gear with me instead.
Mark Rackay is a columnist for the Montrose Daily Press and avid hunter who travels across North and South America in search of adventure and serves as a director for the Montrose County Sheriff’s Posse. For information about the posse call 970-252-4033 (leave a message) or email email@example.com
For outdoors or survival related questions or comments, feel free to contact him directly at his email firstname.lastname@example.org