Off-roaders doing more than having fun

February 04, 2002|By RICHARD MYERS, Sports Editor

OCOTILLO WELLS — More than 1,000 off-road enthusiasts gathered here over the weekend for some downright dusty fun as well as some downright serious business.

They came from all over Southern California to participate in more than a dozen off-road activities while at the same time raise money for a worthwhile charity. Preliminary estimates revealed the Off-Road For Hope IV raised more than $50,000 for the Muscular Dystrophy Association.

"The first year they held it, they raised $18,000," said Scott Erickson, San Diego district director for MDA.

Proceeds jumped to $36,000 the next year and $50,000 last year, he noted.

"So if we can raise $60,000 to $70,000 this year, that would be absolutely great," Erickson added Saturday afternoon.

The fun at the Ocotillo Wells State Vehicular Recreation Area started Friday night with a Sunset Poker Run and continued Saturday with more than a dozen excursions into the desert northwest of El Centro. The event concluded Sunday with a rock crawl competition.


The off-road enthusiasts weren't the only ones enjoying themselves as they teetered over rocks and sandy washes. It's become a custom every year to take kids with muscular dystrophy out for rides as well.

"We take whoever wants to go," said Phyllis Enoch of the California Association of Four-Wheel Drive Clubs Inc. "It really just depends upon how they feel."

Some of the kids can handle the jostling and bumpy ride while others can't.

"You should see their smiles," Enoch said of those youngsters who are able to withstand a little pain for a lot of four-wheeling fun.

Enoch pointed across the desert floor to two young girls perched on a special seat the back of an all-terrain vehicle.

"Their dad built that especially for them," Enoch said of 7-year-old Linsey Wehner and 4-year-old Amy Wehner, the San Diego MDA chapter's goodwill ambassadors. "They love it out here.

"Every time they stop for just a moment. they are always telling their dad to keep going," Enoch said.

The two little girls symbolize what the weekend was all about — good, clean four-wheeling fun and MDA awareness. One look at the girls would melt someone's heart, tug at their wallets, bring a tear to one's eyes.

"The kids really enjoy it," Erickson said of the special children given rides over the weekend.

Then again, so did everyone else.

"It's a fun, fun sport," said Corona's Vicki Warren, as she staffed the American Sand Association booth, one of more than two dozen vendors who participated in the charity event.

Warren said she and her husband and their two sons, ages 15 and 13, head to the desert every other weekend during the six-month season to ride in the sand.

Off-Road For Hope IV had something for everyone.

"If you want to go fast, if you want to go high or if you want a challenge, we have it," Warren said.

Friday night's Sunset Poker Run took participants along a marked trail. At checkpoints manned by different off-road clubs, drivers had to perform a certain task and retrieve a playing card. At the end of the ride, the driver with the best poker hand won.

Saturday's activities included 13 different runs.

"Some were scenic, some were historical and some were real challenging," Enoch said.

There were runs for four-wheel drive vehicles, runs for motorcycles and runs for ATVs. They ranged in degree of difficulty from easy to moderate to extremely difficult.

There was a special 120-mile dual sport motorcycle run on both street and dirt. There was a desert roundup that included games such as desert bowling and golf. And there was even a mystery run, in which participants had to solve clues to find out where to go next.

None of the runs was competitive in nature.

"We don't race," Enoch said.

In fact, going slow was more the norm, especially on the more extreme challenging runs.

"Some were going as slow as 2 mph," as they negotiated rocky obstacles, Enoch said.

The real rocky fun came Sunday during the rock crawl. That event was the only serious competition of the fun weekend, as four-wheel drive vehicles tipped and leaned from one side to another as they bounced over large boulders.

In addition to enjoying some good clean (dusty) fun and raising money for a good cause, there is another reason Off-Road For Hope IV has proven to be so popular. It gives off-road enthusiasts to showcase their passion in a positive way.

Often off-roaders are cast in a negative light, Warren said.

"The Off-Road For Hope event is a prime example of the spirit and drive of the true off-road devotee," she said.

In addition to the off-road activities, there were more than two dozen groups at the event offering information about products and clubs. More than 100 companies donated more than $50,000 for prizes for a raffle Saturday night to raise money for MDA.

"Everyone comes together for a good cause," said Erickson.

"This is the biggest off-road fund-raising event," Enoch added.

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