Fatigue is Nothing to Yawn At

My Sand Clinic on Aug. 18 reminded me of a very important fact: fatigue is common in off-road driving and must be taken seriously.

The clinic was designed to last several hours longer, but by 2:30 I could tell the drivers were bushed, so I called it quits. Better that than to risk damage to vehicle or, worse, injury.

Off-road driving“even on sand“is incredibly intense. You’re so focused on the course ahead that even after an hour you can feel the tension. Each rock, rut, stick, or cliff represents a challenge and requires your full concentration. Driving for several hours can really wear you down. Fatigue sets in, and you lose focus.

The rock or stick you saw in the morning is missed in the afternoon. You could easily puncture a tire or get your differential hung up on a rock. You also risk getting stuck in a rut or backing into an overhanging rock wall.

Another problem, surprisingly, is over-confidence. This can lead you to take risks you otherwise wouldn’t have. During a clinic in March 2006 our group encountered a rollover on the trail. Turns out the driver took a slick and muddy downhill trail much faster than he should have. Not thinking clearly, perhaps brought on by over-confidence, he hit the breaks improperly at one point, causing an understeer situation. He lost control and flipped the vehicle. Fortunately, everyone was belted in and was able to climb out.

You’ve got to pay attention every moment your vehicle is in motion. But it becomes increasingly more difficult to focus as you become tired.

A lot of bad things can happen at that point. The key is to recognize when it’s time to quit. Go home or back to camp and relax. Save yourself and your vehicle for another day. The terrain isn’t going anywhere, but you are if you push yourself. And where you’ll end up is some place you’d rather not be.

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