Tuesday, June 15, 2010


My wife and I are not big ORV (Off Road Vehicle) fanatics. We have, however, driven our 2003 AWD (All Wheel Drive) Honda Element out onto the beach at Ocracoke, NC a few times, incluing our most recent trip, when the photo at right was taken. We have driven out onto the beach enough times to know that we must lower the air pressure in the tires down to at least 20 psi or even as low as 15 psi, and to have a tow strap and a sand shovel in the car just in case we need to get ourselves out or be towed out. We never used the tow rope or the shovel, except to help dig other people of for other people to be towed out, until our most recent beach trip.

There seems to be an unwritten code of conduct for beach drivers. First, take responsibility for yourself. In other words, always have a sand shovel and tow strap in your vehicle. Second, if another driver gets stuck in the sand, do not immediately offer or render assistance. Allow the stuck driver enough time and attempts to get out so that they might preserve their dignity and self esteem. They could just free themselves without your help. If after a few attempts and a few minutes it seems that they are not making any progress or are actually making matters worse by becoming even more entrenched in the sand, then by all means walk over to them with your sand shovel in hand and offer to help dig them out and offer to help push them out.

Our most recent beach trip was the first time that we ourselves became stuck in the sand. Driving from NC Highway 12 onto the beach at Ramp 67, the sand seemed to grow deeper and softer the further we drove until, about two thirds of the way to the beach, we bottomed out and the front end of our Element, snow plow like, started moving sand and eventually became stuck. I climbed out of the car, dug out the front tires and removed sand from beneath the car with the intent of backing out, but the car would not move.

Eventually some good Samaritans from Ohio in a big honking 4x4 pickup truck drove up behind us. They helped me back up by pushing the front end of the car backwards as I slipped the manual transmission into reverse and slowly applied the gas. Thanks to their help I was able to back up into firmer and shallower sand and kept backing up all the way to Highway 12!

I regret I did not have any cold beer in the cooler in the car to offer these good guys. The few times I have helped dig or push someone out of their beach sand trap, more times than not, I have been rewarded or thanked with a cold one.

Back on the main road we drove south and successfully made it onto the beach at ramp 70 where the sand was both shallower and firmer than at Ramp 67.

Eventually the two buckeyes that had helped push us out, drove by and stopped to tell us that even in their big honking 4x4 with high clearance, they were not able to make it out to the beach at ramp 67. After they had pushed us out they had made it only a little farther than we had before they themselves backed out because the sand was even deeper and softer. My pride and self esteem were preserved with the news.

A few days later we were exploring sound side access points where we might go crabbing and perhaps launch our kayaks. We had successfully driven from Highway 12 to two sound side access points but while exploring a third access point once again bottomed out and became stuck in the sand. Even though we were less than twenty yards from firm ground I could tell that even deeper and softer sand separated our Honda from that firm ground and there was no use trying to drive forward. I tried digging us out so that I could back up but was not able to free us from our entrapment.

A local resident in a four wheel drive drove up behind us and helped me try to push our vehicle backward as my wife drove but our car remained stuck. When he offered to pull me out I broke out our tow strap, he hooked it up to his vehicle, and pulled us out of our little private sand trap to firmer ground, where I was able to turn the car around and head back out to Highway 12 in forward rather than reverse. Unfortunately I had no cold beer to say thanks.

Several days later we had our Element out on the beach and were enjoying the sand and surf when I noticed a four wheel drive vehicle had become stuck about forty yards away from us. The Passengers appeared to be digging sand from around the tires and one of them would occasionally climb back into the car and try to extricate it. After watching for several minutes and attempts I finally grabbed our sand shovel and tow strap and headed their way.

It turned out that the two men and women whose vehicle was stuck were not only from near Pittsburgh but were big Steelers and Pirate fans, in other words, my kind of people. They had been trying to dig themselves out using their hands and a child’s small plastic toy shovel. They had also bottomed out with sand up to the engine block. After digging awhile it became apparent that the vehicle was not going to move under its own power.

The driver of a nearby four wheel drive offered to pull thevehicle out, so I unwrapped my tow strap and hooked it to the frame of the stuck vehicle. The driver of the other 4WD hooked the other end of the strap to his trailer hitch and after two or three attempts was able to free the stuck vehicle, which drove a few feet to firmer sand, where I unhooked the tow strap.

The occupants of the extricated vehicle offered many thanks and a free place to stay if I were ever in Pittsburgh, but no cold beer.

Note to self: Add a cold six pack as the third peice of essential beach driving gear.

No comments: