Boomers who are just beginning to have trouble with hips, knees and backs have embraced the concept of travelling the backcountry mounted on powerful iron steeds sporting four large knobby tires.
These rugged, all-terrain vehicles, called quads, are the land-locked equivalent of personal watercraft, or snowmobiles that can tackle mountains. They all exhibit the same traits of raw power, speed and a masculine image. How could I resist my first opportunity to try one out? Since I have always ridden large motorcycles, I felt somewhat superior to anyone who rode around on four large wheels. What a surprise!
My introduction to quading was a lesson in “how not to.” You might think a man of 70 would have more sense than to get on one of these machines for the first time and ride straight up Texada Island’s 1,745-foot Mount Pocahontas. Not so. Mountain goats would tread carefully on the trails we travelled. My friend John, 26 years my junior, has convinced himself I am about 53, and treats me accordingly. When he casually suggested we take his quads and beat the 4x4s to the top, my ego kicked in. “Of course!” Little did I know that, with those two words plus my already damaged spine, I had condemned myself to a world of pain long after the ride.
The goal was honourable enough - along with other volunteers, to help erect a small building on the mountain’s peak, in which to house our island’s new Internet wireless system equipment.
The learning curve was steep. What I thought was going to be a leisurely ride up winding country roads to the peak, turned out to be the equivalent of “riding the bull” in a country and western bar. John didn’t tell me the smooth road I assumed we would travel was off-limits to ATVs. Driving a quad requires balance, a good degree of strength, and huge gobs of luck, if you are a beginner like me.
The reality of travelling cross-country up mountain trails was a joy for John, but soon became a veritable nightmare for me as the steep trip unfolded, and my back did the same.
Narrow, rocky outcrops, wet gullies, and upward slopes with rolling stones jarred my spine, and rattled my brain. Crossing a swamp on a quad-wide bridge, I was waiting for a wheel to drop off into the murky water. All the while, we climbed to higher elevations with gearboxes howling.
I asked Zan Boyle, President of Vancouver Island’s Duncan ATV BC Chapter why the sport was catching fire with baby boomers. “It appeals to adventurous spirits who want to get off the beaten track,” he says. “Seventy-five per cent of our 110 members are seniors. There are clubs in Ladysmith, Nanaimo, Port Alberni, Courtenay-Comox and Campbell River.”
Is quading safe? It is as safe as you make it. A safety-training course before you attempt quading is a good start. An experienced quader like John had no problem on the same route that caused me stress and physical discomfort. Statistics show that the majority of serious accidents occur with children, who are fearless. They have great reflexes, but may lack judgment or the strength necessary to guide the larger machines. The second category, the one that I fall into, would be the inexperienced adults, who try too much too soon, without proper training.
British Columbia is currently the only jurisdiction in North America that does not have legislation for the use of off-road vehicles on public land. “B.C. is known as the Wild West of off-road motorized recreation,” writes Larry Pynn in the *Vancouver Sun*. But that is about to change.
The economies of Vancouver Island, the B.C. Provincial Government, and Canada are given a billion dollar combined boost annually from the ATV industry. B.C. is seeking to protect their investment by bringing in new safety regulations over the next two years that will also cover quads. ATV.BC was one of a group of All Terrain Vehicle organizations instrumental in helping develop the regulations for the off-road quading community and will help to implement them.
“Safety and training are important issues for the organized clubs in B.C.,” says Zan, who is a Canadian Safety Council ATV Instructor. “All new club members are encouraged to take a safety course when joining a club. Safety training and the type of quad you ride are of paramount importance. There are beater and Cadillac quads. Some of the older machines had low horsepower, and a solid rear axle with very limited wheel and suspension travel. You could bottom out easily, and it’s definitely a lot harder on the body. The newer machines have fully automatic transmissions and four-wheel independent suspensions with ride preferences that can be dialed in. They have become pretty plush. I ride my quad all day, and can still walk when I get off,” he says.
Quading is just not confined to the recreational aspect. Senior RCMP Officer Ted Boeriu, who heads up the Vancouver Island Integrated Road Safety Unit out of Courtenay, is also a qualified Canadian Safety Council ATV Instructor and trains the Force's selected quad team members in a six- to eight-hour course.
“It’s a physically demanding day,” says Boeriu. “The course includes hands-on training and consists of hard riding without speed in a confined area. The operators learn what it feels like having two wheels off the ground when going around a corner. By the end of the morning, you’re going to feel it in your shoulders, arms and legs.”
The RCMP’s quads are used mainly for drug interdiction, the Emergency Management Office, and search and rescue in the backwoods. A good example is the search and rescue of two lost teenage Duncan hikers rescued in September 2009 from Heather Mountain. Qualified Club members from the Cowichan Valley ATV Club found them after being called in by the RCMP.
Is riding a quad in the outback fun? You betcha! Will they take you places you would normally never get to see? Another resounding yes! Is it a form of exercise? Straddling a heavy machine with loads of power concentrates the mind and uses muscles in your body you weren’t aware you had. But remember, some initial safety training is a good idea. I suggest you do as I say, not do as I did.
MARCH 2010 SENIOR LIVING MAGAZINE VANCOUVER ISLAND
For more information on ATV Clubs, visit www.atvbc.ca
For more information on safety training, visit www.bcatvtraining.ca with links to Work Safety BC and the Canada Safety Council.
Gary Grieco is a freelance writer, avid reader, sailor and motorcyclist. He is a family man who married his childhood sweetheart. All during his careers in big business and real estate, he pursued his passion for writing.
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