The fish in southern Louisiana got a much-needed break this month, since Mom & Boy were invited to go mudding with Northshore Golf Cars & Polaris for our adventure. Neither of us had ever been, but when the owner, Patrick Tadlock, told us to wear clothing we did not ever plan on wearing again, I knew it was going to get messy.
The boy kept asking, “Can I drive? Mom, do you think he will let me drive?” while my only question was, “What on earth am I going to wear?” Once we resolved those pressing issues, we met up with Patrick and his mechanic, Jason Tullier, on a very drizzly, overcast afternoon. With the two side-by-sides loaded securely on the trailer, we drove out to Canal Road in Gulfport, Mississippi, to begin our adventure. On the drive to the area, Patrick explained that Matthew and I would be riding with him in the Polaris Ranger Crew, a six-passenger UTV that is powerful enough to drive through just about anything, including deep, muddy water.
At the time, I could not imagine that water on the trails could be more than a puddle, so I was not too concerned. Jason would drive the second vehicle, a very sporty two-passenger Polaris Ranger RZR XP 900. The moment the boy laid eyes on that one, it was all over. I knew from then on I would be hearing about it daily, probably until Christmas. It had been raining off and on all morning, so the trails were a muddy, sloppy mess. In spite of that, I felt very secure as we climbed into the vehicles and drove along, getting slapped by tree branches, easily surmounting large rocks, steering through grooves, around stumps and through puddles.
Patrick expertly manipulated our vehicle on the trails without a pause. He told us he’s chosen this particular area to ride most often because the mud below the surface is hard, which allows the tires to grip, no matter what the weather conditions. He and his wife, Mandy, and their two young daughters, Madison and Morgan, enjoy this recreation at least a couple of times a month. “The girls love it,” he said, “especially when it gets deep.” I did not know it at the time, but I was about to see exactly what he meant by “deep.” Before long, we arrived at a clearing in front of a pond and stopped. It was apparent that other riders had used this space many times as a hang out, because there were aluminum cans and trash strewn everywhere.
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I thought for a moment of how sad it was that anyone would disturb the beauty of this area with litter, when they could just as easily clean up after each outing. I was trying to decide how many people it would take to sift through the mud and gather up all the cans when Patrick called for us to get going, and we got back into the vehicles. What happened next was truly astonishing, and an experience I will not soon forget. He drove the Ranger Crew right into the huge pond in front of us! Cold water began swirling around our ankles, up to our shins, and then touching our knees.
It felt like something out of a nightmare. In sheer disbelief, I grabbed onto the handles and looked at the boy, whose only response was, “Whoa!” As Patrick continued forward and the water level crept higher, I looked at him and said, “Are you kidding me?!” He calmly reassured us that his vehicles had been lifted, sealed, and modified to drive through water up to 6’ deep. It struck me suddenly that the man could be completely insane. In spite of my objections, he continued to inch forward into the pond, smiling as if he did not have a care in the world.
By the time the water was up to my chest, I was screaming and clutching, while the boy was standing on the outside of the cab trying to keep it from tipping over. It did not occur to me before that point to be afraid. Perhaps it was not so much fear as it was the inability to conceive of driving a vehicle almost underwater! The water began to recede after we made it through the deepest part, and then we were back on the trails. I wish I could say there was a huge sigh of relief once we got back on higher ground, but that feeling did not last long enough.
Every moment of the ride contained pit falls, huge rocks, deep grooves, and hidden stumps that threatened to tip the vehicle over at any moment. I noticed the boy had begun to position himself with one hand behind me, and one across the opening on his side, forming a kind of protective shield. Every time we hit a low-hanging branch, he would cover me with his body, and take the hit on his own back. With every rough jolt or sharp turn, he was checking to make sure I was safe and secure, as if that was his job. It made me wonder where this urge to protect me came from, and at what point in his maturing did he begin to see himself as the stronger of the two of us. I had the sense that this was important to him, this new role.
So I allowed it, and even enjoyed it a little bit. Seeing new sides of this boy as he grows into manhood is fascinating to me. Before long the path got a little easier, and Patrick asked Matthew if he was ready to drive. You would have thought he had given the boy a million dollars, with the way his face lit up. After they switched places, though, the boy suddenly got serious, and he took on a whole new position of responsibility in the driver’s seat. Patrick calmly talked him through the obstacles that were before us, and I watched the muscles tighten in his face as he listened carefully and tried to do everything just right. He checked the gauges, tried to keep the pace consistent, and shifted the wheels slightly according to Patrick’s directions.
He enjoyed that challenge for a while, but when the path got too treacherous, he was eager to turn the wheel back over to the expert. Patrick explained that for him personally, the best part of mudding is the technical aspect of manipulating the vehicle through the toughest terrain. It takes a certain amount of skill, patience, and control to avoid the traps and keep moving. When we arrived at what Patrick called a “20 minute hole,” we got out and watched as he worked the Ranger Crew through that obstacle in half the time. At one point he was almost completely sideways in the groove, submerged in water several feet deep, progressing forward almost at a crawl. He was teaching Matthew about accelerating, then sinking, then accelerating to work the tires into the ground to get traction.
The boy listened intently and observed everything. There is nothing like the classroom of an experience in nature to teach a young man valuable life skills. In the meantime, I asked Jason how often he came out here with his side-by-side. He said he and his fiancée, Jennifer, try to spend a day in the mud at least every other weekend. Jason has been a mechanic with Polaris for several years, and loves the vehicles and the business. “When I was younger, everyone had a Honda. That was all anyone in this area knew at the time. Now, all you see are Polaris side-by-sides. You can look on the interstate on a weekend morning, and count all of them headed to the trails.”
In the six years that Patrick has been with Polaris, he has watched the company grow tremendously. Polaris is now the #1 off-road vehicle in this area. Both Patrick and Jason agree this is a great family activity that everyone can enjoy. Patrick succeeded in getting the Ranger completely out of the mud hole, but not without a bit of damage to the vehicle. Thankfully, Jason was right there to do a quick repair, and within minutes we were back on the trails headed home.
Upon returning from several of our Mom & Boy adventures, we have been known to put our washing machine to the test, but this one wins the prize. We were both soaking wet and covered in mud, and we both had a fantastic time! If you are interested in Polaris off-road vehicles, you can stop by the store on the East I-10 Service Road in Slidell and check out their inventory. The professional and knowledgeable staff will help you find the perfect recreational vehicle for you.
You can also access the web site at www.northshoregolfcars.com, or call Patrick Tadlock at (985) 847-2561. Hours later, after we were clean and dry, I said a prayer of thankfulness for the opportunity to play with my child on this planet. It is through fun, challenging, and somewhat uncomfortable situations that we learn about each other and ourselves. Mom & Boy are both very blessed!