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Driving Miss Daisy

By By Kate Swanson

First time behind the wheel of a side-by-side leaves editor muddy — and ready for more

When I was first asked to accompany managing editor Liz Keener on a demo day at High Lifter’s Quadna Mud Nationals, I’ll admit I was a little nervous. With previous experience limited to PlayStation 2 games like “ATV Offroad Fury,” visions of crashes and driver’s permit flashbacks were all I could see. 

ƒ The infamous “before the mud” picture. Kate, left, and Liz spent the day at High Lifter’s Quadna Mud Nationals, demoing new ATVs and side-by-sides.

ƒ The infamous “before the mud” picture. Kate, left, and Liz spent the day at High Lifter’s Quadna Mud Nationals, demoing new ATVs and side-by-sides.

But within minutes of approaching the gate of Quadna Mountain Park in Hill City, Minn., that unease was quickly remedied. The turnout was quite successful, and we eventually found a place to park amidst the other avid off-road fans. First we met up with Dave Auringer, vice president of sales and marketing for CFMOTO-U.S., a wholly owned subsidiary of Hangzhou, China-based CFMOTO, who went out of his way to make sure we had a ride for the day. Then we signed the mandatory paperwork, put on the helmet and goggles and hopped into CFMOTO’s new ZFORCE 800.

Feeling slightly like a bobblehead — my first time to put on a helmet, too! — and coated in sunscreen, I took the passenger seat and grabbed the bar for dear life. Trust me, I had heard about Liz’s side-by-side driving exploits! Despite the nerves, I couldn’t keep the smile off my face. Was I seriously getting paid to go something this cool? Somebody pinch me. Before I could hesitate any longer, we were off. Memories were made, countless laughs shared, and yes, I did eventually get into the driver’s seat.

What I learned:

1. Hand signs actually mean something

Within about three minutes of beginning our trek down the winding trails, we came across another rider coming from the opposite direction. As we pulled off to the side to let him pass, the man raised his fist in the air. I took this as a sign of solidarity; we had been included in the club that was ATV/UTV riding! I pumped my fist in the air and even gave a “Woo!” for good measure.

 Liz, left, and Kate couldn’t resist a selfie after a Polaris RZR 900 demo ride.

 Liz, left, and Kate couldn’t resist a selfie after a Polaris RZR 900 demo ride.

Little did I know that when passing, riders in groups would indicate how many in the party are left behind them by holding up fingers, or fist for zero. Therefore, my overly enthusiastic fist bump actually meant, “No one is behind us, and we’re really excited about it.”

2. It’s okay if you get stuck

One of my greatest fears heading into this day was embarrassing myself in front of seasoned riders. I dreaded being “that girl” who crashed into a muddy pile and had to wait for someone to come rescue me. Luckily, neither Liz nor I were “that” girl, but we did see a lot of people stuck.

‚ Powersports Business managing editor Liz Keener, right, and assistant editor Kate Swanson are all smiles after a successful day of side-by-side riding.

‚ Powersports Business managing editor Liz Keener, right, and assistant editor Kate Swanson are all smiles after a successful day of side-by-side riding.

I realized that you can’t take it too seriously, and everyone makes mistakes. When I finally got the guts to take over the reins for a bit,
I was going a whopping 2 miles per hour and pumping the breaks like a 15-year-old in an abandoned parking lot. But after a few minutes, I ventured onto the trails and mustered up the courage to gain speed.

Also, people not only support you when you make mistakes; they cheer you on when you get stuck. Liz and I pulled over at one point to spectate as a couple maneuvered their way out of a large muddy pit, much to the applause of the camera-happy crowd that had formed. All in all, you make mistakes. But those moments when I took a tight corner or gunned the gas through the mud made it completely worth any initial embarrassment.

3. “When in doubt, floor it”

This great advice came toward the end of our experience. After trailing along for a few hours in the backwoods and pausing to spectate an obstacle course race, Liz and I had finished Mud Nats without too much dirt (perhaps we didn’t need those spare clothes?). We rolled up to the CFMOTO truck feeling satisfied, if not a little too clean. A friendly suggestion from Auringer to drive around the obstacle course’s mud pit was too much of a temptation to pass up. I mean, who goes to Mud Nationals and comes home clean? So Liz and I piled back into the ZFORCE 800 for more fun.

When approaching a mud puddle of that size, Auringer advised Liz to speed up, so we wouldn’t get stuck, and not to mention get a free mud shower. The first run was a major success. The obstacle course had been opened to the public, and we waited around until the coast was clear. When the first wave of mud blocked my view, I was instantly thankful that I wasn’t driving. The mud was everywhere — in our mouths, on our clothes and collecting in pools on the floor — but it was awesome. Mud Nationals has definitely made at least one new fan, and I can’t wait until next year to do it all again.

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