Meet At The Trailhead, And Caravan In From There

One of the cardinal rules of our hobby is that you always ride in groups. Never go off road alone. The extra vehicle(s) can be used to transport you out in case of an emergency, and can also be used for recovery and towing, even provide spare parts in a pinch.

Knowing that they intend to go with a group, many people wonder: Does it make sense to meet at the trailhead or caravan the way down?

My suggestion is to meet at or near the trailhead, and go in as a group from there.

There are a number of reasons for this.

First, you can’t coordinate your pit stops very well. The various drivers and riders need breaks at different times. Some people can withstand a couple hours on the road. Others need to pull off every 30 minutes or so. It’s not just bathroom breaks, either. Some people get a sore butt sooner than others, or simply want to grab a bite to eat.

Now factor in the gas stops for larger vehicles or those towing something. Those drivers need to pull off more frequently than others. All these factors are compounded the longer the drive is. A two-hour drive is one thing. Imagine going from El Segundo, CA to St. George, Utah. You’re talking more than 270 miles. That’s about five hours on the highway, including any stops.

Drivers aren’t always able to leave at the same time, either. Some are ready to shove off at the crack of dawn, while others may not be able to leave until noon. Still others have to work all day, so they’re looking at more like a 5:00 departure.

Another factor to consider is your speed. The guy at the back of the pack typically needs to drive 5 to 10 mph faster than the lead vehicle. This is especially true in hilly or high-traffic areas. Heavier vehicles and those towing something often slow down as they start up a hill. In heavy traffic you’re always dealing with other cars darting in and out of your lane. The trailing vehicles are constantly adjusting their speed, and have to speed up at times to make up ground.

As a result, the lead driver must make sure his speed never exceeds the posted limit, or the trailing car may find itself going way over the speed limit at times.

In addition, some vehicles get maxxed out at higher speeds, especially when forced to gear down for a hill. Others start shaking at highway speeds. It’s always best for each driver to set his or her own speed. Driving independently allows them to do that.

Finally, caravans tend to encourage a “follow the leader” mentality. The lead driver, having done all the route planning, is the one concentrating the most; the rest of the pack just follows him. Imagine what happens if the lead driver gets lost or misses a turn. Everyone is driving around like a chicken with its head cut off.

The following steps will help ensure that you and your group get to the trailhead on time and in good spirits.

1. Select a meeting place at or near the trailhead. Truck rest stops, chain restaurants, and gas stations with convenience stores are great choices. Your riders can gas up, use the restroom, and grab any last-minute provisions. Plus, the parking lot is usually large enough to accommodate several vehicles at once.

2. Provide the address—sometimes it’s just the intersections of highways X and Y—and, if possible, GPS coordinates and driving instructions. Let the other drivers find their way. Many will prefer the chance to travel at their own pace.

3. Pick a time that’s best for everyone. Poll your group, then give them enough time to make any arrangements. For longer distances some drivers will want to stop at a motel along the way. This is a good time to suggest that all drivers gas up before stopping for dinner or the night. Too many people put off that important step, only to realize the next day that they’re short on fuel. Gas up while you’re still in the mood.

Caravanning is best left for off-road driving. Let your drivers find the meeting place or trailhead on their own terms. It’ll make for a better start to your off-road adventure.
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