Where’s Your Hangy-Downy-Thingy?

When I first became a desolate ranch wife, I was terrified to drive across a mud puddle in the driveway. Now, after 5 years of living down some of the roughest roads in America, I can apply lip gloss and hand Cheez-its to my kids while shifting into four-wheel drive and fording a flooded creek.

Since I haven’t always been confident about traversing challenging terrain and still don’t know how anything works under the hood, I put together an off road driving guide to aid and abet other like-minded folks in their rough country driving pursuits. I’ll use the proper mechanical terms if I know them, so don’t expect to find any here.

First, crouch down in front of your vehicle and identify its hangy-downy-thingy. For visual identification purposes, this is a prominent, round metal object located somewhere between the two front tires. It is sometimes referred to as a “pumpkin.” I don’t know its proper name or purpose, and you don’t need to, either. We only need to memorize its location so we can avoid banging it on large rocks.

I don’t need to speak the language to understand the meaning of this sign. I think I need one for my driveway.


Once you have identified your hangy-downy-thingy, you are ready to practice evasive driving maneuvers on dirt roads. Remain vigilant at all times to evade large rocks, massive pot holes, and the occasional oil pan from the last person whose hang-downy-thingy was too low for the road.

Dirt roads are comprised of various types of dirt that require various styles of driving, so it is imperative to know your bottom. Put down the hem of your shirt and quit looking over your shoulder – I’m talking about your road bottom. Is it made mainly of rocks? Good. Those drain well, so you’re unlikely to get bogged down.

Is your bottom soft and squishy? If so, try some Spanx. If your road bottom is also soft and squishy, you’ll want to have a little speed built up before entering the mud, and don’t even think about weakening in the middle. If your kids don’t throw up their hands and yell “Wheeee!” from the back seat, you’re going too slow.

To avoid getting stuck, you should know when to shift into four-wheel-drive. If you’re approaching a rutted stretch of road covered in water that looks more suitable for a canoe than a Jeep, shift into four-high. If you’re on a vertical slope so steep that all you can see through the windshield is blue sky and even the birds look short of breath, reach down for four-low.

When you return to civilization and pick up speed on the pavement, don’t forget to shift back into two-wheel drive, or your transmission will hate you. You can also stop thinking about your hangy-downy-thingy – as it applies to off road driving techniques, anyway.

I dearly love my ’95 Jeep, but this is totally my dream car. Forget about Suburbans and Subarus; Mama needs a Hummer.


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