For as much off-roading as Alex and I have done, we still have a ton to learn. That was no more obvious than when we spent a few days with renowned 4WD trainer Bill Burke last month. You see, Bill has easily forgotten twice as much about off-road driving as I’ve learned over the past 6 years. As (among other things) a Camel Trophy Veteran, trainer to enthusiasts, government organizations, OEM manufacturers, and regular contributor to various national publications, Bill’s credentials, if measured end-to-end, could likely surround the circumference of a Unimog.
So, when Bill casually asked if Alex and I would like to join in for a couple of days of corporate training in the Arizona Desert, the obvious answer was YES! What we were in for (and maybe didn’t appreciate until fully committed) was 4 very full days of technical off road driving and recovery.
There’s no way I can cover everything the we did and learned in a single post, so I’ll share a couple of things that I learned:
- Don’t look out the window at your tire: We all have bad habits; one of mine in technical off-road driving is that I like to look out of my window to check my front-driver tire placement. Bill was quick and early in the training to point out that relying on that tactic creates some “tunnel vision” that causes me to lose spacial awareness of the rest of the vehicle. Instead, I was encouraged (forcefully…) to trust my spacial awareness and line choice, feeling my line versus relying on that distinct visual confirmation unless I absolutely needed it. Not surprisingly, when I started giving up that crutch, nothing bad happened, and I actually drove tough obstacles more smoothly.
- Left Foot Braking-do it: This was probably my biggest technical take-away, and something I have not historically used enough. I did a whole post on it a while back (link), the basics of left foot braking are that you are able to better control the load on your suspension and drive “less jerky” when driving up and over obstacles, helping to maintain traction and prevent striking the undercarriage while compressing the suspension.
- Forget the winch damper: This one was a surprise to me, but makes a ton of sense. Winch dampeners typically only cover a small % of the exposed line in a winch pull, and are going to be completely ineffective in many instances where the line breaks on an area not covered. I expect someone is going to want to argue on this one 🙂
- Driving Bill’s Truck is AWESOME: Yeah, we like to poke fun at Land Rovers and their owners sometimes (mostly just Hosford). However, Bill’s ARB-locked 1995 SWB Range Rover is the real deal. I had the pleasure (and anxiety) of driving it through some fairly heinous terrain. The truck handled it extremely well, and once I got used to it, I found it to be a was a very confidence inspiring rig.
- Nearly Stock Toyota’s are still insanely capable: The corporate training group brought a mix of late-model Toyota 4×4’s mostly equipped with basic lifts, bumpers, and 31-33” tires. Despite some serious “stuck” situations and beating and banging on rocks, those trucks took all of the abuse, with only a couple of flat tires and one CV axle giving way over the course of the 4 days (the CV axle was a non-OEM replacement, by the way…). So for all of you guys with similarly equipped rigs, don’t be afraid of the tough stuff – if you can stomach some pin striping and a touch of body damage risk, your truck can go almost anywhere.
- There’s a Reason Bill’s Reputation Precedes him: Watching Bill work with a group of students, molding them through a mix of situational coaching, teaching, and skills-focused practice over the course of two days was illuminating. While Alex and I improved significantly in our own driving, the students getting 100% of Bill’s attention progressed leaps and bounds over the course of 4 days.
So yeah, it was an awesome experience. If you ever have the chance to attend a training or a guided trip with Bill, we highly recommend you jump on that! if you want to learn more – check out Bill Burke’s 4-Wheeling America. Thank you again, Bill, for everything.