All you non-four-wheeler riders, next time you pass someone with a four-wheeler hopelessly stuck in mud, don’t feel sorry for them. Four-wheeler fans do that on purpose.
Israel Hayes, with his wife, Jeanna, and two young sons, Chris, 6, and Alex, 2, makes four-wheeling a family affair, and going through mud isn’t just a side attraction, it’s a main goal.
“If you don’t have to winch it two or three times (on a trip) you’re not doing it right,” he laughed.
Caribou Hills is one main place he and his family ride, and while they could stay on dry trails, that’s not where the fun is. One big challenge is called the “Waterhole.” He said people go through, get stuck, and then laugh at each other.
His wife agreed. “We’re all about slow and muddy travel. I just love getting stuck in the mud.”
He said there’s a group, called the Caribou Cabin Hoppers, which gets together and rides four-wheelers in the summer and snowmachines in the winter.
“You can go up, cut loose, and not get in too much trouble,” he said.
Other places they go include the beach and Captain Cook State Park. In addition, they like to hop on their machines and go down to the local store. They may even ride to Ninilchik, get an ice cream cone, and then head back.
For safety, the kids have to wear helmets, and they use bungee cords to secure them to the four-wheeler. Their 2-year-old has a battery operated four-wheeler he uses around their yard and the 6-year-old is occasionally allowed to drive the big machine.
Jeanna said that while sometimes they’ll trailer to their destinations, often they leave from their house. That means they must travel through their subdivision until they get to a trail.
“We always travel really slowly along the side of the road,” she said.
Israel added that it’s just common courtesy to not kick up dust and make a lot of noise.
The Hayes lived in the Bush for five years where they used the four-wheelers for transportation, but since then, it is a family fun time. In addition, a group from his church will often get together with their four-wheelers for a men’s retreat.
Another group, called The Roughriders, is a loosely organized group of about 20 school administrators who get together, plan trips, and have parties, according to one member, Sarge Truesdell, who is the new principal at Soldotna Middle School. They take trips in Caribou Hills, the beach up north of Captain Cook Park, and will even travel to the Interior, like the Eureka area.
They have Roughrider T-shirts and give out a Roughrider of the Year award.
The question of where to go on a four-wheeler is better answered by where not to go. While four-wheelers give their riders a lot of fun, some consider them a nuisance. They are not allowed in the city limits of Soldotna at all except on private property with the owner’s permission, according to Soldotna police officer Marvin Towell.
Trailer it or push it,” he said.
In addition, they are not allowed on the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.
In Kenai, they are only allowed on unimproved right-of-ways, and the speed limit is 10 mph, with stopping for driveways required.
Four-wheelers are allowed on the Kenai beach, but only from the Spruce Street entrance and north, not toward the Kenai River.
Kenai Police Lt. David Ross said that each summer season the city hires four officers to patrol the beach during the dipnet season, but they are also on the lookout for four-wheeling offenders, especially before and after the dipnet season.
The borough is a little more confusing. The borough has no regulations regarding ATV use, so state trooper Sgt. Odean Hall explained that they use the state statutes, which basically say that ATV’s cannot be operated on the roadway except to cross at a right angle. A roadway is defined as a place where vehicular traffic travels. That includes subdivision roads and gravel roads whether they’re maintained by the borough or state or some other entity.
“Anything that is not a trail,” Hall said.
But enforcement of the law is ruled by common sense, he added. If a person is slowly riding the shoulder of a subdivision road, a trooper may talk to them, but probably would not cite them. Speeding and spinning brodies is another matter, and the offender probably would receive a citation.
He added that two other laws are often broken: every rider under 18 must wear a helmet, and no vehicles may cross a salmon spawning stream — a misdemeanor offense.