Off-Road Driving School | Saves Drivers Money & Saves Lives

After spending so much time on the trails this year, I’ve seen a huge need for a proper off-roading school in my region. Unfortunately, I’ve come across many 4×4 drivers who lack the skill that they would like to have, and as such they struggle on the trails. I have also seen drivers spend tens of thousands of dollars on upgrading and modifying their vehicles to compensate for their lack of skill and knowledge to get them over the same obstacles that skilled drivers can tackle with stock vehicles. I’ve also seen quite a lot of drivers suffer ‘trail damage’ from hitting trees, rocks, etc, or sustaining mechanical failures because they damaged components due to poor off-roading techniques.

I’ve also come across some dangerous recovery practices, that have the potential to cause damage to vehicles, or serious injuries, or even death. Unfortunately, lack of training or knowledge, means people often use the wrong equipment for a given recovery situation, or they rush the process, which creates dangerous scenarios for those involved, or even standing nearby.

With all this in mind, I’m pleased to announce that I am starting the “Get a Grip Driving School” in Ontario, Canada. This school will focus on teaching the basics of off-roading, as well as provide a Recovery Clinic to teach people how to do safe recoveries.

Not only will this help create a more enjoyable experience, and improve safety, but it will also save people a tremendous amount of money in repairs and unnecessary upgrades, as well as less damage caused to the environment.

To learn more, please visit the “Get a Grip Driving School” website.

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Improper Load can cause Lethal Trailer Sway

Having towed trailers of various sizes for years, I’ve know this for a long time. But most people who purchase an RV Travel Trailer have no clue about the dangers of towing them. How you load your trailer is hugely important, and failing to distribute the weight properly is not only dangerous, it can have fatal results. Every Spring, millions of campers hit the road with their travel trailers towed behind them unaware of the looming danger. Weight distribution is a big factor.

If the distribution is off, all it could take is a big gust of wind, passing transport truck, or an uneven dip in the road to initiate trailer sway. Not being properly equipped, or not knowing what to do, can not only make it worse, it could cause a serious crash.

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Haliburton Forest Wolf Centre – Wolf Pack and a Howl

If you’ve been following me for a while you know that I love animals, and I love taking pictures of them, especially in the wild. One of rarest animals to find in the wild is one of the many species of wolf. They may see you, but seeing them…good luck with that. There are however a few places in North America where you can find wild wolves in containment. One of which is in Ontario, and only a few hours from where I live. Haliburton Forest is a privately owned and operated forest, and they do a pretty good job at it. I was there several years ago to do some dog sledding, but alas that is no longer offered. They do still have their Wolf Centre, which is something I’ve wanted to see for many years now. Finally I got the chance.

The centre has on site six wolves but they don’t always come to the viewing area to satisfy the curiosity of us nosy humans. The most fortunate of visitors might see one or two wolves during their visit. I was very fortunate to have five of the six come hang out near the viewing area, for a very long time too.

Just like the one-way mirrors found in a police suspect identification room, the visitors can see the wolves, but they can’t see us. They can however hear us talking, and apparently even smell us through the glass (or perhaps through the seams in the window frame). Its obvious though…they know something is on the other side of the mirror. That’s what they see…a mirror.

One of the young ladies who guided us around has been working there for many years and every time there was a change in the pitch of her voice, or when she laughed, one of the wolves cocked his head toward the glass. He knew her voice well apparently. It’s just one of the things that I noticed about how inquisitive these animals are. I knew that already, but it was neat to actually observe it in person.

Now obviously the wolves are the main feature that everyone wants to see, but the education centre has a lot of information to offer, with displays showing various stuffed wildlife, skulls, history of the area, etc.

Wolves have been nearly extinct in central and southern Ontario for a long time but there are a few packs in the wild that recently made a come back. That happening naturally has always been difficult because wolves have a really low success rate when it comes to hunting. They only have a 10% kill rate. As a comparison, wild Lions in Africa have a 25% kill rate. As said earlier, these animals are very elusive, and they’ve been hunted extensively, so finding them isn’t easy. Farmers have always considered them a nuisance predator because they loved attacking chicken coups, and cattle.

Actually wolves have been completely eradicated in the UK, largely due to the help of a dog that’s aptly named the Irish Wolf Hound. It’s literally what they were breed for…hunting wolves.

They have always been, and still are, very misunderstood animals, and feared. But to learn more about these animals, I would encourage you to visit the Wolf Centre, and talk to the staff. They even occasionally arrange to do a wolf howl. Now, our guides attempted to get the wolves howl while we finished our hike through the woods but they didn’t reply. However, after we returned to the centre, one of them started howling, and I was lucky enough to not only hear it, but also see it right in front of me just 10m (about 30ft) away.

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CampNL 2023 by OF4WD

CampNL just saw it’s 19th year, and although I’ve known about it for about 10 years, this was the first year that I could attend. It was one hell of an event. Each year the Ontario Federation of 4WD Recreationists (OF4WD) host this event with it’s small army of volunteers.

Like many others, I arrived at the venue on Thursday to setup my campsite, which included my new travel trailer, and my usual canopy to store all my stuff. This was the first of three nights at the Kinmount Fairgrounds of which would serve as Basecamp for hundreds of like minded off-roaders.

The organization was absolutely top notch. From registration, to meals, to trail guides, sponsors, and donations to the event…everything was damn near perfect for an event of this size. Okay sure, they’ve had many years of experience putting on this event, but one would still expect a couple snags here and there. Okay…the zip-up hoodies hadn’t arrived Thursday night as expected, but they were there the next day and handed out to those who had ordered the. Hardly a big deal.

Friday was the first of three days on the trails of which you had to register for the night before, and boy did spots fill up fast. I had chosen a trail not ordinarily available (due to it’s proximity to private land) called Norland (it ran right beside the town or Norland). They really should have called it Pinstripe trail though because it was rather over grown. Other than the minor scratches from overgrown bushes and branches, it was a rather nice trail. Unfortunately one of the guys from our group suffered an exploded U-Joint leaving him with only 2WD. It wasn’t a big deal but he did need to be pulled up some of the steeper hills.

The rain throughout the day had certainly made the trails far more difficult than everyone was expecting. All of the groups were expected back at Basecamp in time for dinner around 5pm, but one unlucky group had a really rough day…and night. They didn’t get back until 1am, and many rigs suffered a wide range of damage, including three blown winches, a broken axle, window, damaged U-Joints, doors, and damaged A-Piller. I was very fortunate that I hadn’t chosen that trail for Friday, because without my medical supplies, I would have been in deep trouble.

Saturday was a different trail…Gooderham. This was a trail that I hadn’t done yet this year so I was looking forward to it. I didn’t realize when I signed up for it though that it was being catered towards Newbies. I actually found the day quite frustrating for a few reasons. I’ve personally hosted a few Newbie Runs but this one was especially slow. One of the contributing factors was that, in my opinion, Newbies shouldn’t be on a level 3/5 trail. Most of the attendees had jacked up rigs, with larger than stock tires and lift kits that provided extra ground clearance, but they still managed to get hung up on some of the obstacles. I don’t blame them though, they didn’t have the experience to tackle such a hill. The organizers just should have never selected that trail to begin with.

The other frustrating part was the lack of communication. We shouldn’t be sitting on the trail idling for over five minutes at a time with no idea as to why. This is when radios come in handy. Unfortunately, the trail guides are still using CB radios, which don’t really do the job. You can buy a pair of FRS/GMRS radios for $40 now, and they are far superior in every way over CB radios. When the trail guides can’t even talk to each other because they are too far apart, there is a problem. It’s one that can be easily remedied though, and even most of the attendees showed up with their own FRS/GMRS radios because most off-road clubs use them now.
As it would turn out, I would end up doing the same trail a week later with a similar sized group. And even with having to do full winch recovery of a truck that got stuck in in a mud hole, our pace was nearly twice as fast.

Once back at Basecamp, and putting aside the frustration of the days events, the groups started trickling back in. The rest of the night was chock full of games, a huge feast (everyone says it was quite good), prizes, and a campfire that kept a lot of people socializing late into the night.
Important note…thanks to the efforts of all the volunteers, sponsors, and the attendees, the OF4WD was able to donate $100,000 to the Haliburton Hospital Health Foundation (HHHF). Well done!

With Sunday being our last day, I had decided on a trail that I know well…one that was quite chill, and not overly difficult…Pencil Lake.

I was happy to see that my trail guides from Friday, and some of the other attendees from Friday, had also signed up for this trail. We made excellent time on the trail, stopped for a few photos, and made it to the main feature The Wall. It was here that I was able to put the drone up and get some aerial shots of the area, and some of the other drivers tackling the steep incline. I opted to avoid the climb, because I didn’t want to push my luck. Especially since so many other people had suffered various degrees of damage already over the weekend, and I wanted to end the weekend without any mechanical drama.

Once again, a huge shout-out to all the volunteers, and the sponsors without whom this event couldn’t happen. I even won a full set of metal fender liners from Rough Country that were donated by Deleyes Automotive and Performance from Simcoe, Ontario.

All-in-all, it was a great event, and I met a lot of great people. Hopefully I’ll meet up with some of them again, without having to wait for the next CampNL.

If not, we’ll all see each other again at CampNL 2024.

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From Camping in a Van to Camping in a Travel Trailer (aka Caravan or RV) | New Adventures Await

In 2022 I was fortunate enough to have travelled across most of Canada and I did it in a 2001 VW Eurovan that I called “Moose”. If you’ve been here before, you’re probably well aware of that adventure as I drove from Toronto, to Vancouver, up to the Arctic Circle, and back home to Toronto again. If you want to read that tale, click here and scroll back to the beginning.

Camping and sleeping in the van was good, but it was a bit cramped. Moose was also showing it’s age and it had served it’s purpose. It was also time for something more reliable and the opportunity arose to get one of my dream vehicles…a Jeep Wrangler 4dr. I’ve wanted one since I was in highschool and I always wanted to get into offroading. But this presented a problem…now I would be sleeping in the Jeep while camping. Now before you say “What about a tent?” That’s not really a solution either. I’ve done my time in tents (even in tiny hooches while in the Infantry), and now at my age, combined with some physical limitations, crawling in and out of a tent isn’t any better than sleeping in the Jeep. At least I can start the Jeep at night to warm up on those chilly evenings.

I’ve always loved the idea of a motorhome, perhaps a Class-C, but then I would have to insure and maintain two vehicles, and those things aren’t cheep. Even used ones are a crazy amount of money since the RV market exploded due to the Covid-19 spike in demand.

The RV market has been growing rapidly year over year for the last 10 years due to the Boomers looking to travel more in their retirement, and due to the tech savvy Millennials who like to travel and are able to work remotely. Then Covid-19 came along and locked down the planet. No more travel of any kind. By land, sea, or air…it all just stopped.

So as soon as the restrictions for ground travel between cities eased and camp sites reopened, there was a huge spike in demand for RV’s of all shapes and sizes. It’s really all that people could do for vacations…go camping. Now that the Covid restrictions are all but over…the demand for RV’s is still high. I guess people discovered something that I’ve known all my life…camping is awesome.

Since I’ve always wanted an RV of some sort, and since camping in a tent, or in the Jeep is rather difficult, and even painful, it was time to make it happen. Let the shopping begin and ohh what a pain that was. I was originally just looking at the used market but they were still so expensive. If it was a reasonable price, then it was either really old, or it was in rough shape. I was also limited to ones with a GVWR of less than 3500pds (ideally less) because that’s the max tow rating of my Jeep.

I’ll spare you the boring details of shopping around, financing traps, and the shifty sales people and dealerships. Eventually though, I came upon Bella Vista RV and spotted some tear-drop style travel trailers in their lot as I was driving by. These caught my attention big time. I knew right away that they would be light enough for me to tow with my Jeep. After looking around at the various models, I went in to talk to a sales person. I was happy with the conversation and decided to discuss terms on a new Braxton Creek Bushwhacker Plus 17FD. It’s more than I wanted to spend but I really wasn’t happy with anything I had seen after months of searching. This one was new but still reasonably priced (considering the inflated market). I was introduced to their finance guy and we worked out some details but it was a big purchase and I needed to think it over. Over the next several days and several messages back and forth a deal was made.

I’m now the proud owner of a new travel trailer.

My first trip was for an RC race weekend, and this would be the shake-down trip for some bigger trips to come soon after. It went great! Everything in the RV worked perfectly except for the screen door which doesn’t seem to have been installed properly. No surprise there really. RV’s in every price range, from $10k to $1m, all suffer from shotty workmanship. The industry needs a serious kick in the ass. A friend of mine had purchased a new motorhome a few years ago for over $230k; he barely used it and after just a handful of trips, several of the systems and features stopped working (slide out, fridge, plumbing, and electrical problems). Hopefully I will be spared any major issues with a simple travel trailer that doesn’t have any slides or other complicated systems. I’m sure some issues will pop up though.

For now though, It’s already allowed me to get a good nights sleep while camping, provide AC to spare me from stifling heat, shelter from torrential rain storms, and a comfortable place to watch movies on my laptop…and that was all in the first weekend.

I’m going to enjoy every minute of my new travel trailer.

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