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By: Jason Giacchino
Email: offthepegs @

March 2008 - Off The Pegs

Riding Shotgun into the River

It was one of those rare 50-degree days in late January that was being spent (like most days) hunched over the computer keyboard at my grandfather’s house with a stack of research awaiting my attention.  I don’t know about you, but my train of thought has the annoying habit of derailing at the slightest sign of distraction. Examples include an interesting report on the news playing in the background, my grandfather’s cat (Sinbad) looking for a little attention, the allure of grabbing some pretzels from the kitchen, sipping coffee, or even, if all else fails, studying the weather outside through the picture window. So you could imagine my surprise when my grandfather’s neighbor from across the street (Andy) swung open the front door with a whoosh when I was supposedly hard at work.

“Get your shoes on,” he said through a grin that is usually reserved for individuals who discovered that they had just won the lottery.

“What’s going on?” I asked pushing the cat aside.

“Just get some shoes on and come out here.”

I obliged and followed him out into the driveway where a clean olive green Arctic Cat 500 4x4 Auto purred quietly.

“Hop on,” Andy said mounting up. “I ordered the two-seater so my wife and I can go exploring together.”

The ground was an interesting mix of residual slush, isolated plates of ice, and mud.  Gooey mud, black mud, mud mixed with snow, even flowing mud surrounded the still sparkling machine I was climbing onto.

“Are you sure you want to take it out in this?”

“Ever hear the expression ‘it ain’t purdy till it’s dirty?’” Andy fired back over his shoulder.

“Good point.”

His new 500 launched effortlessly across the street and down the steep dip leading onto Andy’s trail network. The smooth-sounding exhaust note was nearly drowned out by the thumping of fenders catching gobs of mud being flung from the deep knobbies beneath us.

“So you picked up a quad,” I said as we turned onto a stretch of trail running parallel with the New York State Thruway. “I didn’t even know you were in the market.”

“Yeah,” Andy responded, “I looked at my 2004 Yamaha Star sitting out in the garage collecting dust and figured maybe the local dealer could talk me into a trade.  It didn’t take much convincing once I found this on the floor.”

With that he got on the throttle pretty hard and we paced the parallel-running traffic for a good fifty yards.  Now I don’t know about you, but if there’s one thing I’m not a big fan of it is riding shotgun on an ATV--even if it’s made for such activity.  Blame it on the lack of control, the abnormally rearward body positioning, or the simple lack of room to slide around if you must.  Whatever the reason, I feel much better about test rides when seated directly behind the bars.

Nerves aside, we seemed to be making light-work of the less than favorable trail conditions without so much as having to engage the four-wheel drive (maybe having a person’s weight directly above the rear wheels isn’t such a bad idea after all).  The stiff suspension flexed and bounced us through the slop right up until we came upon a water crossing that could have been tiptoed across in the summer months.  But low and behold, all of the recently fallen snow had melted (or was in the process of melting) which had the normally tiny stream overflowing along its banks.

“Think she’ll do it?” Andy asked.

I took the opportunity of surveying the water up close as an excuse to hop off the idling quad.  I would estimate the width of the creek only to be somewhere around seven or eight feet across, but the water within was stained a chocolate-milk brown (remember all that mud I was telling you about) and swirled on the top with small white eddies.

“Um, no,” I called back about twenty microseconds too late.

With a tremendous splash, Andy piloted his new machine nose-first into the rapidly moving water.  His front rack vanished instantly while the rear wheels slowly left the ground.  Fortunately the water-level stopped just shy of his handlebars, which were now doubling up as floorboards for a clearly panicked Andy.

“Uh oh,” I said trying to be supportive.

Just then his 500 stalled.

“I’ll go run to get my tractor,” Andy said as he jumped from the side of his new toy. “Stay here and make sure the currents don’t drag it away.”

“No problem.”

I’ll be honest here. If the currents did start taking his quad with them, I don’t imagine there would be much I could do in the way of stopping it aside from perhaps yelling something to the effect of, “Andy, hurry up with the tractor!”

Fortunately, after a gentle tug, his Cat fired back to life with a mere tap of the e-start button.  There was an unspoken sigh of relief between us, and I returned to my seat on the rear of the quad.

“No, you take her back,” Andy said from the tractor seat. “I’ll follow you.”

When I returned to my grandfather’s place, the odometer displayed a meager 1.7 miles.  I concluded that this machine is going to have a hard life.

“I guess now it’s ‘purdy enough’ for you?”

“Nah,” Andy said, “You can still tell that it’s green.”

I waved goodbye after complimenting him on his new purchase; and as much as I would like to tell you, I got quickly back to work, poured a cup of coffee, and watched as my shoes turned to stone thanks to the mud they had managed to gather on our little excursion.  I know Sinbad wasn’t complaining.

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