After totaling my four-door sedan in a flood last year, I finally saved up to buy the vehicle I’d always wanted, a Jeep Wrangler. Although I live in Chicago, I didn’t want to be one of those Jeep owners driving only to work and back on paved highways. To become a true Jeep owner, I felt I needed to take my new set of wheels off the beaten path and give off-roading a try.
There are very few options for rugged terrain in the Midwest. But with a little online research, I discovered an off-road park called The Badlands in Attica, Indiana. The website boasted of 800 acres of off-roading, featuring everything from sand dunes to gravel hills to mud puts to wooded trails.
My boyfriend and I drove out to The Badlands recently to test exactly what my new Jeep could do. As we approached the Attica exit, the dark clouds were ominous and the scent of rain hung in the air. I couldn’t help feel like something foreboding was ahead of us.
Turning into The Badland’s entrance felt like entering an alternate universe. We waited in a long line of Jeeps, ATV’s, small monster trucks, and dirt bikes to check in with the registration office. The dusty air was filled with sounds of roaring engines and cheering crowds. We found a parking spot near the office and paid a $25.00 daily fee to enter the park.
I felt clueless as I drove my shiny new Jeep towards the trails. Dozens of hardcore vehicles that looked far better suited for this place whizzed past me, as my boyfriend gave me crash course on using four-wheel drive.
Halfway into one particularly steep route, I panicked when my Jeep became tilted almost completely sideways. After a good ten minutes of freaking out, the ever calm and collected he pushed me out of the driver’s seat and maneuvered the Jeep into a far more stable position.
Since the park closed at 5:00pm, we were only to get in a couple hours of off-roading. Honestly though, a couple hours for my first time was plenty. The constant jolts from driving over boulders and trees, as well as (what seemed to me as) death-defying cliffs were enough to send my blood pressure and nerves through the hard top.
I was glad to get out of the Jeep and check out the rest of the park. We walked over to a small concession stand under a sign simply marked “Food”. As we chowed down on some cheese fries, I couldn’t help but notice how he and I looked out of place among the crowd….me in a sundress and him in surfer shorts.
After our afternoon snack, we decided to check out one of the professional off-roading shows that were going on. On this particular weekend, The Badlands was hosting the Ultimate Motorsports Championship (UMC) Festival and the King of the Hammers (KOH) Qualifier Events.
The vehicles entered in the events included class A, B, and C trucks, stock and super modified UTV’s, and class and mini buggies.
We plopped ourselves atop of a dirt hill and watched one of the qualifier races for about an hour. As with most races, the most exciting part to watch were the accidents.
Fortunately, no one was seriously injured, but a couple vehicles tipped and rolled over throughout the course of the race. The crowd watched intently as emergency service rushed in and created obstacles for the other competitors as they barreled by.
From the competitive events to the people watching, spending a Saturday afternoon at The Badlands was one of the most unique experiences I’ve had. I learned that I have a long way to go to become a professional off-roader.
For now, I’m just happy that my Jeep proved itself among the well-experienced vehicles and that I’m a step closer to becoming at true Jeep owner.