News Columns & Blogs

Wild Ride

When reporter Paula Horton and I accompanied the Peak Putters and the All Wheelers Off Road Club on a run at Juniper Dunes back in November, I was excited — not only because it sounded like a fun, hands-on type assignment, but also for the chance to redeem myself after a lackluster take at Sand & Sage Sports Car Club’s final autocross race of the season one month prior.

I’ve never been good at shooting vehicles in action. This might be due to my unwillingness to stand my ground so close to the action, but more likely because I’m not much of a gear head. I’m the kind of guy who can’t enjoy the oil change savings at Jiffy Lube because I’m easily suckered into all their suggestions.

Yes, that does look quite dirty...$11.99 to replace it? OK, I guess...

Thankfully, there was another facet to the club’s story besides just having fun out on the dunes. The clubs advocate responsible trail use, often cleaning up other people’s messes, so as Dave Walters took us out in his truck, I snapped a crappy mirror self-portrait, not knowing I’d have a chance at redemption later that night, and hoped there would be some stuff to clean up.

I shot some stuff from inside Dave’s truck of the other off-roaders, succumbing to my shameless overuse of the sun in this snap of a sand rail going by:

But my shots were all pretty boring, and while driving a truck on the dunes seems like fun, riding in Dave’s Ford F-150 wasn’t super exciting. Tim Booth offered to take me in his sand rail and I excitedly took him up on the offer. I went against their advice on leaving my camera behind, not remembering from my autocross assignment that vehicles always feel a lot faster and bumpier than they look. I started by snapping some more shots of other vehicles:

Which were pretty boring once again before concentrating my lens on Tim. My original intent was to use a slow shutter speed to have a blurry sandscape or vehicle whizzing by behind him, but with all the bumps and quick turns, I opted for a safer 1/160th sec., stopping down to f/10 to give me some focusing leeway because I couldn’t keep the camera to my face without it bashing into my glasses every other second. Adding to the difficulty was how the direction of light changed with each turn, making me adjust my exposure through educated guesses as I fully employed the “spray and pray” method before getting one I liked:

I really wanted to try and shoot a self-portrait, but it seemed too risky to hold my camera at arm’s length while we whipped and jumped our way around the dunes. As Tim sped up to what felt like would be a grand finale jump, I gripped my camera tight, tensed my breath as we crested the top. I saw the horizon drastically tilt and hoped we wouldn’t roll. After a surprisingly smooth landing, I nervously laughed despite my genuine enjoyment and thanked Tim for the ride.

I tried my best to clean the sand off my gear as the group took a break on top of a hill that serendipitously overlooked a rubbish pile likely left by underage drinkers and had some interesting lighting to work with, as well:

And when Don Healy’s tire popped a bead, I was able to show how the group helps each other out with on-site repairs:

Soon after, the group prepared to move deeper into the dunes, but not before more cleaning:

Where I got a shot that felt like a good closing image of Steve Richards dragging a bumper back to his rig:

I chatted with them and felt thankful that I didn’t stumble across one of the most common finds at the dunes — used diapers — before having to bid the group farewell. I’d made it out with my gear and self intact, funny considering my experience shooting volleyball later that night, but that just goes to show you what an unpredictable and fun job this can be sometimes.

Click here to read Paula Horton’s story.


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