Rescue Rangers

Stuck in the Black Sand

Car rental places warn against going into the highlands. Brochures and signs plastered in every city tell drivers not to leave the paved roads without a 4X4 vehicle, but of course we had to drive by the one idiot in all of Iceland who chose to ignore all these warnings. We’d been on the highway driving for over an hour when a distressed man flagged us down from the side of the road. Right away we could tell something was wrong.

To this day we are still unsure as to what country our foreign friend is from, but after much debate we are 99.9% sure he was Polish. It had been a long rainy night camping on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. With no tree’s to properly hang out tarps we were damp, cranky and looking for a hostel to spend the night. The last thing we wanted to do was follow this fool to his car and dig him out of the sand and mud pit he had gotten himself into. Being the nice Canadians we are, we ended up doing it anyways. It took a half hour of laborious grunt work before we realize that the five of us combined would not be enough to get this man’s car back onto the highway some 200 meters away. Mr. Poland had sure done a good job at getting himself stuck.

The wind picked up and rain began to fall as we attempted to flag down another good Samaritan on the highway. Even the second couple who stopped to help didn’t have the tow rope or vehicle power to haul this guy back to the paved road. It took 2 cars, 10 people and one set of winch straps before we successfully dragged the Polish mobile out from its sand trap. By then, Mom, Dad, Joey and I were soaked by the rain and chilled to the bone. My boots smelled of wet dirty dog and I could see Mom shivering in her sweatshirt and rain coat. The heat was cranked on full blast when we got back on the road in our hippy caravan. An entire hour of our car ride was dedicated to drying our socks, pants and shirts through the heat vents. The silver lining to our story (at least for Mom and I) is that we got a bottle of wine as a thank you from the Polish fool we rescued.

Getting stuck while off-roading happens to everyone. Tires spinning, sand or mud flying everywhere, forward progress halted I’ve seen it happen countless times. Should you ever feel the urge to take your vehicle off-roading like our Polish friend, here are some techniques to help you if you get stuck.

Lighten the Load:

This technique is by far the easiest and can often be successful if you aren’t too far off road. The idea behind this technique if ever your vehicle become stuck is to make it as light as possible. This means that all passengers need to get out, even if it means trekking through the mud. If you are lucky the decreased weight in the vehicle will be enough for the tires to plow their way out of your precarious situation.

Rock it Out:

If lightening the load doesn’t work, the next step is to try and rock your vehicle out. By going forward and backward hopefully you can either make progress forward or try to return from the way you came. To start reverse the car and gradually increase your acceleration in the hopes that your vehicle will inch backwards and the tires will connect with solid ground. Once the wheels start spinning out put your car back into forward and try going forward again. Repeat this back and forward motion until this method proves futile or you get yourself out of the rut. If you have passengers encourage them to help push in the direction you are trying to go. The extra muscles may be all you need to break free.

Add Traction:

Sometimes when you’re stuck on soft earth and your tires are spinning out, all you need is to get a little traction. By placing solid objects like rocks, branches or a board, under the tires you can get the needed grip to help your car inch out of its prison. When doing this, it is important to remember to accelerate slowly and steadily, keeping the car continuously moving once you start to move forward.

Self Winch:

The self winch technique can only be done if you have a winch attached to your car OR if you have a recovery strap on hand. To self winch yourself out you must first find a solid enough object (rock or large tree) to latch your winch or strap onto. Once this is done use the winch to slowly jack your vehicle out of the rut. For additional safety, if you have a blanket available use it to cover the winch or recovery strap for protection should the cable snap. If you successfully winched yourself out of the soft mud or sand, unhook the cables and slowly accelerate onto firmer ground.

Assisted Winch:

The assisted winch technique only works if you have a second vehicle like we did in Iceland. When all other techniques fail, the assisted winch technique is the last resort before calling a tow truck. The assisted winch technique essentially means that you tie a rope from one vehicle to the other and use the non stuck vehicle to gradually pull yourself out. When looking for a spot to tie the winch strap make sure to never use the bumper, axle or suspension as they can be easily damaged. For the assisted winch to work it is important that both drivers work together to simultaneously and gradually accelerate the vehicles towards firm ground. As a safety precaution cover the winch with a blanket for protection should the cable snap under tension.

Although never guaranteed to work 100% of the time, these car rescue techniques have been highly effective anytime Joey and I have gotten our car stuck in soft sand or mud. Since owning our own vehicle for the past 6 years, we fortunately have never needed to use a tow truck service.

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