I like to watch the Amazing Race. It’s one of my favorite shows. With each new episode the show’s producers must find interesting and compelling new challenges for the race’s contestants, tests of grit and fortitude that have included everything from diving off a 30-foot platform into frigid water to eating a live octopus.
I particularly enjoy those challenges that reflect the culture of the country the contestants are in. For example, when they were in Athens, Greece, birthplace of the Olympics, they had to compete in Olympic events, in Russia they had to drive snowplows, in India they had to race elephants.
In Season 8 the teams traveled to South Carolina and took part in something I had never seen before but which struck me as utterly consistent with people and culture of that region: mud bogging. As soon as I saw it I thought, I gotta get me some of that.
How to Destroy a $10,000 Vehicle
Mud bogging, to put it concisely, is driving a motorized vehicle through a mud pit and trying not to get stuck. A good mud bog will mire a vehicle in muck up to the frame and require such a delicate touch at steering and acceleration that only the most skillful driver can make it through.
Now South Carolinians love their motor sports. Most South Carolinians can name you the top five finishers in the Sprint Cup Series but would be hard pressed to tell you who won the Super Bowl. What’s more, they love rolling around in the dirt, which may explain why so many of them wear camouflage as a fashion statement. Mud bogging combines both of these passions with the added benefit that it’s noisy as hell and disturbs the wildlife. What could be better?
After a little research I found a place that fit the bill. Carolina Adventure World in Winnsboro, South Carolina is 2,600 acres of rolling, forested hills laced with 100 miles of dirt bike and ATV trails, many of them rutted with sloughs of mud. In addition, there is a drag strip, an enduro course, a rock crawl and a banked oval track. And one more thing: there is a mud bog.
I was disappointed, however, to discover that you are not allowed to drive the park’s rental vehicles in the mud bog. If you want to get a $10,000 vehicle stuck in the mud it can jolly well be your own.
However, this is not to say you are not permitted to drive the park’s rental vehicles in the mud. In fact, there is plenty of mud you can drive them in, some of which may cause them to get stuck. You are only forbidden to drive them in the competition grade mud bog set aside for accomplished mud boggers and others who are off their nut. This is a 1/10th mile oval track inundated with slimy clay-colored muck 5-feet deep. To drive a vehicle into this would be like driving into quicksand.
I was thankful the park forbid it, lest I surrender to the temptation. In this case I was particularly vulnerable to doing something foolhardy given the company I was with, the one person in my life who has egged me on to more acts of gross stupidity than any other, Randy Gray.
Gray’s Considered Advice
When I thought of who might like Carolina Adventure World, Gray lept immediately to mind. Gray likes motor vehicles. Gray likes to go fast. Gray likes swerving in and out between trees, hurtling down hillsides, and gunning up blind crests. When the gear check person warned us to be careful driving through mud sloughs because many of them were deeper than they looked, it was completely in character when Gray said, as soon as we were out of earshot, “Don’t worry about that. You won’t get stuck. Just give it a little more gas.”
I agreed, whereupon we signed liability forms that obligated us to purchase the vehicles at full price should we destroy them.
Gray rented a dirt bike and I rented an ATV. We strapped on our helmets and got ready to go.
Gray was concerned about my lack of gloves. “Where are your gloves?” he asked.
“What do I need gloves for?” I scoffed.
“You’ll see,” he said ominously and we waded into the endless labyrinth of trails that make up Carolina Adventure World.
Above Our Skill Level
I took it easy at first. I had driven an ATV before but it had been awhile and in any case I had never driven one down a narrow dirt path in a densely wooded forest, so I wanted to get the feel for it, lest I swing wide around a turn and collide with a tree. Gray, for his part, was rarin’ to go and took off like a shot, disappearing down the trail in a puff of dust like the Road Runner.
Fortunately, it was Friday morning and we had the place mostly to ourselves, which removed at least one hazard from the mix, but there were plenty of others. The trails were deeply rutted and strewn with roots and rocks. At many points they were so narrow you could not back up or turn around; and they were not well marked, so it was easy to get lost or find yourself on a trail that was above your skill level.
Like ski trails they were marked with green, blue and black blazes to designate difficulty. We had been told in no uncertain terms to stay off of the black trails, but most of the time we had no idea what we were riding on. To make matters worse, the trails routinely merged and split or fetched up into spidering intersections that provided no indication of which way to turn. Before long we found ourselves facing a daunting obstacle that brought us to a halt.
Gray was waiting when I arrived, contemplating it. “You want to go first?” he asked.
The trail disappeared into a long pool of viscous looking brown mud. We were deep in the woods, hemmed round by trees. The trail was one way, so there was no backing up. No alternative trail was evident. “Go ahead,” he said. “You won’t get stuck.”
“Why don’t you go first?” I asked, a slight whine rising in my voice, outraged at his smirking presumptuousness.
“Because if you get stuck, I can go for help,” he replied with cool logic, as if this was the only reasonable answer.
“Well, if you get stuck, I can go for help!” I shot back.
“You can’t turn that thing around in here,” he pointed out.
“I’ll figure it out,” I said.
“Oh, go on,” he said. “Quit being such a pussy.”
And then, in keeping with the script, which has been performed many times in the past, I relented, and Gray stood aside, arms folded, a satisfied look on his face, as I prepared to kill myself.
Making Our Engines Steam
I rolled up to it, plunged the nose down into the muck, and twisted back on the throttle for all I was worth. The back end slew around. The fat tires spun frantically. The vehicle dragged itself forward like something clawing its way up a wall. The engine grew hot and angry. The muck shredded torpidly away on either side. Then the wheels found purchase and the vehicle lept forward and I was free.
I emerged drenched in mud up to my knees. The vehicle was covered in it. Steam rose from the engine. I twisted around in my seat. “Your turn,” I called back.
Gamely, Gray took it on, plunging into the mire and grinding through it with a look of sheer determination. When he pulled up beside me, we were both laughing. “That was fun,” he said. “Let’s find another.”
From then on, the mud sloughs were no longer our masters, rather we were on the hunt for them, and we spent the better part of the day crashing through them, sending up curtains of spray, daring them to bog us down. At one point we came to a fast running creek and Gray blasted into it, half the bike under water, relying on the furious power of his bike to drag him through.
We became drunk on the power of our engines. I let go of my tentativeness and attacked, hurtling along the trails, the trunks of trees whipping past. We rode the dips and rises at such speed we bounced.
We flew over the crests of hills, tipped crazily around turns, clamored up rocky defiles. It was mad crazy fun leavened with generous helpings of adrenalin and testosterone, and when we were done we were covered in mud and only slightly wounded.
Gray had some bruises from falling off his bike and I had a weeping blister in the crotch of my thumb from twisting the throttle so hard.
“See,” said Gray. “I told you to wear gloves.”
It was a minor war wound and I wore it proudly.
Down and Dirty Fun
We rinsed off, changed clothes and headed back north, back to a place where most people regard motor vehicles as a means of transportation, where mud is considered a nuisance and racing through the woods is reserved for prey animals.
But if I ever want to get a taste of South Carolina again, I know where I’m going, back to Carolina Adventure World to rip around in the woods with a 686cc, liquid cooled, fuel injected beast between my legs. It’s down and dirty fun, an amazing race.
Check it out…
1713 Arrowhead Rd
Winnsboro, SC 29180
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All images by Malcolm Logan