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Mud Bogging: Getting' Dirty
by Missy Sheehan + photos by Seth Freeman
Getting dirty is just part of the allure of mud bogging.
Most folks raised in rural areas aren’t strangers to getting muddy, and residents of Washington County and the surrounding region are no exception. As children who grew up playing on farms and in wooded backyards, we relished the feeling of squishing mud between our fingers and toes while making mud pies and running around barefoot. We often returned home after a day of play, covered head to toe in mud — much to our parents’ horror.
For some, this love of playing in the mud becomes a lifelong passion, and even a lifestyle, when it’s combined with thrills of motorsports in a union known simply as mudding, or mud bogging.
“Muddin’ is basically just a bunch of guys who go out with their trucks, or Jeeps, whatever they want, and just have a good time riding the trails, getting their trucks dirty, and seeing who can get stuck,” says Aaron Morningstar of Hagerstown.
Aaron bought his first truck at 16 and considers mudding to be part of his country lifestyle. “I don’t think no city boy would put their truck in the mud where we go,” he says. “It’s what we grew up on.”
Now driving a 2011 GMC 2500 — his work truck — Aaron goes mudding almost every weekend and says he likes to prove people wrong when they say he can’t take his truck through mud holes. “My truck’s not especially made for mudding — I don’t have big tires or rims like some people — but it does the job,” he says.
Sometimes the goal during a mudding session is to see who comes home with the most mud on their vehicles. “Other times it’s to see who comes home without breaking anything,” Aaron says. “You can pop a tire, I’ve ripped mirrors off, and you can break various hoses on your engine and whatnot,” he explains.
Admitting he prefers two wheels to four, Aaron and his friends also go mudding on dirt bikes and four-wheelers. “Sometimes it’s not getting mud on the truck, it’s getting mud on yourself and the four-wheeler,” he says.
Tearing It Up
Mitchel Kershner of Maugansville, Md., fears no mud hole either, even going so far as to take the top and doors off of his 1998 Jeep Wrangler when he goes mudding. “It’s pretty cool not to be able to see paint anywhere, inside and out,” he says. “At the end of the day, I’m covered in mud, head to toe.”
Mitchel admits that maneuvering through muddy trails and holes can “really tear up your vehicle sometimes.” To make his Jeep more reliable, he says he’s souped it up by lifting it, adding bigger, 35-inch tires and putting in a steeper gear ratio for more torque. “I get a rush when my Jeep surprises people,” he says. “It goes through holes everybody says it can’t go through.”
Since the Maryland Department of Natural Resources shut down the Green Ridge off-road vehicle trail in Green Ridge State Forest in 2011, Mitchel says it’s been hard to find places to go mudding. But he has some secret spots, including some mud holes at his hunting cabin and his friend’s farm.
Rausch Creek Off Road Park in Tremont, Pa., is another popular spot for local mudding enthusiasts. About a two-hour drive from Hagerstown, Rausch Creek offers almost 3,000 acres of trails perfect for mud boggers of any skill level.
Praying for Rain
Shane Householder of Hedgesville, W.Va., says the best time to go mudding is the day after it rains, when the mud is deep and sticky. “We’re like farmers. We pray for rain to make us some sloppy fun.” As for the best season, Shane says he prefers mudding in the summer so he can “take the top off and get dirty.”
With three Jeeps, a 1998 Cherokee and 1987 and 1991 Wranglers, Shane says he’s souped up his vehicles by adding details like a custom-built roll cage, competition-cut rear fenders, a Chevy 350 V8 engine, Turbo 350 transmission — and the list goes on — all to make them more powerful and durable.
Shane is also president of the Scrap Metal Off-Road club, which he and some friends founded out of a shared passion for off-roading, camping, and having fun outdoors. “It’s a good way to keep family and friends close doing the things we love,” he says.
An Equal Opportunity Hobby
Melissa Payne of Leesburg, Va., got her first dirt bike — a small 50cc — for her 7th birthday, and she’s been hooked on mud ever since. “The vehicles changed and grew over time,” she says, “but the basic idea is the same — go play in the mud and have fun!”
Melissa says she’s been attending truck pulls and mud racing events since she was a teenager and is now a member of West Virginia Mud Hunters Motorsports, a nonprofit organization that specializes in promoting and operating mud bog racing events in West Virginia’s Eastern Panhandle.
About a third of the WV Mud Hunters members are women, says Ricky Riner of Charles Town, W.Va., a founding club member who handles the organization’s social media. “A lot of them are the wives or girlfriends of the racers, but they race, too.” “This is an equal opportunity hobby,” Melissa says. “Everyone comes out to play.”
Though she has only raced in a couple of WV Mud Hunters events so far, Melissa says she is lucky to have some private property where she can play around on her 2008 Jeep Wrangler. “Along with loving trucks in general, and loving to get dirty, it’s the complete package, and the rev of the engine always gets me fired up,” she says.
Ricky says being able to splash the mud around and the challenge of trying to get through a deep mud hole is what first attracted him to mudding. After watching his father go mudding throughout his childhood, Ricky got his own SUV in 2004 and put big tires on it. “I started going off-road almost every single weekend — that’s where I got hooked pretty badly,” he says. “I had a lot of fun doing nothing more than getting a truck muddy.”
Now driving his grandfather’s 1975 Chevrolet K20 pickup truck, Ricky says racing is what keeps him passionate about mudding. “It’s the speed, trying to go faster and faster,” he says, “and with the different consistencies of mud, speed can be a very relative thing.”
To prepare his truck for racing, Ricky says he’s significantly lightened it by removing as much weight as possible, including most of the truck’s bed and interior. He also put in a high horsepower engine and tuned in the suspension. “All these things make you go faster,” he says. “The lighter the truck is and the more horsepower, the better chance you’ll stay on top of the mud rather than sinking down in it.”
Even after modifying your vehicle, Ricky says getting stuck is part of the game. “If there’s no threat of getting stuck then you’re not living life,” he says.
Competition Gets Dirty
Taking the sport of mudding to the next level, WV Mud Hunters has been hosting competition mud bog events at the Jefferson County Fairgrounds in Kearneysville, W.Va, since 2011. Ricky says the WV Mud Hunters events are more organized than casual, backyard mud bogs. “What we do is a very organized event,” he says. “We have eight separate classes, and everybody is competing within their class.” Rather than seeing who can get covered in the most mud, participants in these events race for the best distance or best time on the 175-foot-long track.
The WV Mud Hunters also have strict rules on safety and how to separate vehicle classes for competition. “It gives everyone a chance to be more competitive,” Ricky says.
With club members ranging from early 20s to late 30s, the WV Mud Hunters events appeal to people of all ages, and the group invites everyone around the Tri-State to attend. “We strive to make it fun for the whole family — for kids especially,” Ricky says. “And big trucks that are loud and sling mud just screams something that a kid would be into.”