For a really buried ATV, there's no question that a winch is going to be a big help. It's a good idea to have at least one winch along on any trail expedition. Don't count on using your own winch if you're the one who's mired-it's frequently unreachable due to mud or snow or simply facing the wrong direction. As a rule of thumb, the winch on a free vehicle will be used to extract the stuck machine. When possible, it's important to anchor the pulling machine when using a winch. This will direct maximum power to the cable to complete the tow-out. You can anchor the machine just by nosing it up to a tree or stump and running the winch cable past it, or you may first need to hook up the winching ATV to a solid object with a tiedown. Since the stuck vehicle is already by definition anchored, you'll need a better anchor on the towing machine, or else nothing is going to happen-nothing good anyway. I've used a line of four ATVs linked together in series like a freight train to get enough of a proper anchor before winching.
But winches aren't always the answer, or they aren't always available. That's when you use your free machines to tow out the stuckee. While a strong rope will do in a pinch, a real tow strap is far better to use. It's light and easy to carry and usually has ready-made loops or hooks to make towing easier. Experienced backcountry riders carry two straps on each machine. Two means pulling a quad that has gone far enough off the trail to require hooking several straps together to get enough reach. However, there's another important reason to have an extra tow strap-hauling a dead ATV up or down a steep hill. The multiple straps allow hooking two or more towing quads together, like a train that has two or three locomotives. It's amazing how much power several ATVs pulling can generate. Conversely, two hooked in tandem provide more brakes for steep descents.
Please remember that when vehicles get stuck that's often when trail damage occurs. Old-time Jeepers used what they called pioneer tools to get themselves unstuck. They carried axes, shovels and Hi-Lift jacks, and often they literally made a new road to get clear of a mud hole or obstacle. Today, our forests see a lot more use, and if everyone tried this slash-and-burn method of extraction, then every hillside would look like a war zone. You got yourself into that mess; try to tiptoe out without making a scar that's going to last 10 years.
Whichever situation you find yourself in, remember to use your imagination-it's always your best tool when things go wrong in the dark timber! Maybe next time we'll visit the remaining, less-likely problems, such as losing your ATV in a runoff-swollen mountain creek; having a sudden crankshaft explosion when climbing a rocky pass; or holing a final-drive housing on a piece of 100-year-old angle iron. All of which actually happened on my last adventure! And that was just on day one!
Get your machine ready for anythingNext weekend is the big ride. You've planned for this trip all year: finding that incredible area you've never ridden before, checking the topo maps and arranging vacation time. Your ATV is all dialed in-at least it was the last time you rode it-but in the back of your mind you know you've got to take this ride a little more seriously than your average weekend jaunt. This trip will be an extreme adventure, so everyone and everything has to be totally prepared. During a deep-woods excursion, equipment failure won't just ruin your vacation-it could possibly cost you your life.
In situations like this, a master checklist, something to remind you of every item that needs to be eyeballed before departing, is a must. Even professional guides who spend their whole summers on the trail still use a written checklist to remind themselves of crucial tasks. So here is ATV Rider's adventure checklist of all items that need to be in top shape before you take to the trail for your extreme adventure ride.