Four-wheeling is best enjoyed in groups. (Indeed, I stress group outings for safety reasons.) At times you will be a participant. Others times you will want to be the Trail Leader. You’re proud of your skills and want to showcase the trails you enjoy exploring.
Being a Trail Leader isn’t a particularly difficult task. But it does entail many responsibilities. In 10 Qualities of a Great Trail Leader, I touch on the role mostly from the technical side.
This article takes the guests’ perspective. Specifically, how to ensure that your guests enjoy the best trip possible. (Note that I don’t use the word “customer.” These people don’t pay to participate.) Certain aspects are beyond your control. But many others can be influenced by you.
To be a guest-focused Trail Leader, you must keep their interests first and foremost. Provide an experience that you’d like to have if you were a guest. Here, then, are my tips for being a guest-focused Trail Leader.
1. Greet arrivals promptly. Newer riders, especially, tend to feel a little out of place. Approach as quickly as you can, and greet them warmly. Discuss a few of the trip details (when the meeting will start, where the bathroom is, and so forth). If you’re involved in a conversation, pull away for a minute or so to greet the guest. Try to start everyone’s trip on a good note.
2. Don’t abuse your position of arriving first. Let others select the campsites, parking spots or other prime locations. This could be near or far from the bathroom. Or one which offers the best stargazing possibilities. Let guests pick their camp spot first.
Incorporate bathroom breaks (10-100s) during the day. Have one within about 45 minutes of a meal. All that coffee and other liquids consumed will need an outlet. If you can find a campsite with a pit toilet, you’ll be the hero of the hour.
Emphasize that guests can take a bathroom break whenever they need to. Tell them to call on the radio if they need a pit stop. Then quickly find a suitable location. Keep in mind that some guests take their 10-100 break during a scheduled sightseeing stop.
Four-wheeling can be arduous at times. But it need not be grueling. After all, you’re not running an endurance course. Frequent bathroom breaks aid in the comfort level.
4. Allow time for hobbies. Guests generally like to take pictures. Others may be interested in the unique plant or animal life in the area. Within reason, give them time to explore their passions. Set a time frame, though, so you can stay on schedule. Let your guests spread their wings a bit while stopped at a location.
Ask them to take a radio with them whenever they get out of the vehicle. That way, you can let them know when it is time to go. Or god forgive, they get lost you have some chance of finding them.
This flows somewhat from point #2. When you provide guests a little freedom from the schedule, you help ensure they have a more pleasurable experience. Take breaks, take pictures, enjoy.
Don’t force yourself to stay on your itinerary. Manage the time well and be willing to make adjustments. If you’re running late, skip one or more lesser stops.
Avoid obstacles that could cause problems or otherwise slow you down. Judge the difficulty of an obstacle you just went through. If it was difficult or risky, spot everyone. If it is challenging but does not require spotting, drive through slowly. Then stop and wait for the entire group to clear the obstacle. Keep a close eye on the clock and your guests’ driving abilities.
Guests like a challenging ride, but keep it fun and on time. Along those lines, if you sense that drivers are fatigued or losing interest, try to find a camping area. Give them a break so they’ll be refreshed for another day.
6. Make prudent decisions. If the weather turns ugly, help the other drives cope. Should one or more vehicles suffer breakdowns, think hard about whether to continue. It’s OK to seek input from the group, but the decision must come from you, the Trail Leader. Don’t jeopardize life or vehicle simply to visit an interesting location.
7. Let them discover. Stifle the impulse to gush on the radio about the awesome sight just around the corner. Let your guests experience it first. Recall how you felt the first time you encountered incredible scenery or a historical landmark. Give your guests the chance to experience that “Christmas morning” feeling. But feel free to fill in the details and point out “stuff” easily overlooked.
8. Share your knowledge. Act like a mentor. Patiently show guests how to pitch a tent, tie the perfect knot, set up their campsite…whatever they need help with. This gets back to the tone you set at the beginning. If you came across friendly and helpful, your guests will feel comfortable asking those basic questions.
Be a tour guide, also. Provide fascinating details about the land formation, ghost town, or cave you are visiting. Try to go beyond what is found with a quick Internet search. If you can arrange to meet with a local authority, that’s even better. Imagine what an old timer or conservation warden could share about that ghost town, mining encampment, or wildlife.
9. Be a courteous listener. Everybody loves to talk about their improvements, inventions, and gadgets for the vehicle. And how they organize their campsite and equipment. Even their hobbies. Resist the temptation to jump in and “one up” the comment. Show genuine interest and enthusiasm for what the person is saying. Just sit back and enjoy the information.
Listening could be much broader. Be sensitive to how they’re feeling about the trip. Feel free to change the schedule based on what you’re told or overhear. Remember: It’s not about you. It’s about them.
All of what I offer here is common sense. As the old adage says, treat others as you would like to be treated. When you invite others to partake in our wonderful hobby, do your best to make it the best experience for them. They will enjoy themselves. And you know what? You will, too.
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