Even though I was only six years old, the airplane ride at the carnival bored me silly after one revolution. The planes were darling, but why couldn’t I just take off and fly somewhere? After I got a bit older, the insufficiency of go-karts presented another disappointment on the course near home. The karts were speed-limited. What was the point if you couldn’t race?
Decades might have elapsed since then, but I had much the same reaction after finally getting to Moab for offroad driving. What an incredible scene it was said to be! And, indeed, the Jeeps and other 4x4s in town were a sight to behold. I was to tag along with a group of Land Cruiser enthusiasts that included a helicopter pilot, an attorney, a web designer, a retired airlines pilot, an IT support guy at an accounting firm, and the chief financial officer of a Jackson Hole resort. Their Cruisers were sometimes stock, sometimes heavily modified. There were interesting stories, like the guy from San Diego whose FJ40 was the first vehicle he had ever bought and almost 30 years later he was still using it. Meanwhile, a 30-year-old guy from Denver told the heart-rending story about being handed down his FJ40 from his late father, who had died of cancer. “He always wished he had something like that to remember his father by, so ‘Keep hold of it, and keep it running,'” was the parting message, the son said. He and a friend had driven from Denver in this thing, which had only a bikini top, and the early morning passage through the Colorado mountains in springtime had been a freezing ordeal.
The night before the run, I camped in my tent at Slickrock Campground, where many in the party were staying. Guys were rebuilding their differentials and tweaking their rigs, and I felt stoked about the next day’s adventure.
We set out on the Hell’s Revenge trail on a bright, windy morning. Rather, I should say, we set out during a sandstorm. At first I was in the rear jump seat of the bikini-clad FJ40 but soon moved to the front passenger seat of an FJ100. Or was it an FJ90? Anyway, it was fully enclosed. As much as I love bikinis, this wasn’t the day to be wearing one.
The trail took us over the tops of narrow fins of sandstone and up the face of an extremely steep dome and down the back of another. Featured obstacles were called Rubble Trouble and Tip-Over Challenge and Escalator. Even the stock rigs negotiated these without the slightest problem. One family from Houston included two young kids who experienced the excursion from their child safety seats in the rear.
The five-mile course ended with the option of driving onto Lion’s Back, a prepossessing ridge of stone. Having packed but a meager lunch of my own, I wanted to get back to town and find something to eat, so my lot was cast with a driver who headed directly for the rendezvous point, an ice cream stand down in Moab. Here, the wind was calm and the spring sun at least allowed me to take off my gloves.
Purists will probably say I could have had a more thrilling experience if the group had run Poison Spider Mesa or another of the extreme courses, but I was told Hell’s Revenge is a pretty good taste of the offroad pudding. If you had to do this type of driving in order to participate in the search-and-rescue of, say, a climber who had amputated his own arm with a dull and rusty knife after being pinned down for days by a capricious boulder, I’d be impressed. (Even more worthwhile if he had taken nutriment from a few scraps of his own flesh, having picked it away from the damaged limb.) Or if teams were racing each other on this course, I’d want to participate. Otherwise, it wasn’t much different from the airplane ride at the carnival.
The next morning, although I could’ve gone back out with the group on a different slickrock course, I hiked instead in Arches National Park, where I could pick my own destination, the Devil’s Garden section, and discover its mysteries. I had a most memorable good time.