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Life on the rocks

Chewsville couple goes off-road for risky rock-crawling competitions

Chewsville couple goes off-road for risky rock-crawling competitions

October 23, 2005|By JULIE E. GREENE

julieg@herald-mail.com

EMMITSBURG, Md. - Doug Bigelow is sitting in a vehicle on a rock pile at least 30 feet above a rough dirt path in the middle of the woods while his wife, Katrina, stands almost 7 feet below him on a short rock ledge he cannot see, telling him to drive the vehicle over the edge - that he can make it.

Then he does it.

And he makes it with an adrenaline rush.

This is what Chewsville couple Doug and Katrina Bigelow do during their weekends seven months a year.

It's called rock-crawling, and going into the Weerock Grand Nationals in Columbus, Ohio, this weekend Doug Bigelow was ranked third in the nation among amateur drivers in the super-modified class.

Bigelow gives all the credit for his success to his wife, Katrina, who supports him and is his teammate and spotter on the obstacle courses his moon-buggy-style vehicle climbs over and off of during competitions.

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"I tell everyone this is the only time I get to tell my husband how to drive," she says.

What makes him do it?

"It's the competition. I love to compete," says Bigelow, 29, who played football at Boonsboro High School (class of '94) and in college. "The other side of it, it is an adrenaline rush. To see what happens. ... The crowd's going nuts and cheering because you just came off a ledge you wouldn't walk off, let alone drive your vehicle off."

The Bigelows are finishing their second year competing in a sport that is still fairly new, yet has gotten national media attention on ESPN2 and Spike TV.

Rock-crawling evolved about seven years ago from off-roading in vehicles such as Jeeps and Suzuki Samurais, says Kyle Knosp, founder of the Northeast United States Rockcrawling & Off-Road Championship or NEUROC. NEUROC is the sanctioning body for the NEUROC Series in which Bigelow competes.

Basically, the sport began from people four-wheeling. One says, "I can drive over that," and another responds, "Prove it," Doug Bigelow says.

The goal is to navigate a 30- to 40-yard natural or man-made course, driving over obstacles pointed out by gates or cones, as fast as possible. An obstacle could be driving over a huge rock or off a high ledge. There is usually a time limit of 8 to 10 minutes, Doug Bigelow says.

Penalties, caused by such things as hitting a cone or backing up, cause points to accumulate, and teams win with the lowest score.

A spotter guides the driver through the course, pointing out which way to turn and piling up rocks to give a tire leverage when the driver gets stuck.

This is Katrina Bigelow's job, which also requires trust for there are times when she has to pile those rocks up while the about 2,500-pound dune buggy-like vehicle is perched overhead on a steep decline and her husband is waiting to hit the gas pedal in a race against the clock.

Getting started



Bigelow researched rock-crawling after hearing about an off-road park, Paragon Adventure Park, near Hazleton, Pa. In an Internet forum, he learned the rock-crawling sport was looking for volunteers and judges, so he and Katrina signed up.

"I was pretty excited about it," says Katrina Bigelow, 27. Both were involved in competitive sports at James Madison University, where they met. He was an All-Conference middle linebacker and she was an All-American field hockey player.

While in college they often went off-roading in George Washington National Forest to look for fishing spots.

"Our joke is we spent more time out in that national forest than in the classroom," she says.

While serving as judges in 2003, Doug Bigelow saw Bryan Whaley roll five or six times off a huge hill, yet his truck was not damaged.

"That's the guy I want to build my truck for me," he recalls thinking.

Bigelow is now on his second rock-crawler, which he estimates cost about $26,000 to build. The couple's investment reaches about $35,000 when repairs are included.

Knosp estimates there are about 200 to 250 people nationwide competing in rock-crawlers.

Bigelow says there are 10 to 15 moon buggy-style rock-crawlers in U.S. competition.

Bigelow can pump up the front or back suspension to clear a rock and lock the rear brakes so he can pivot the vehicle to make a sharp turn.

"It's not natural to do the things we do," he says.

It's risky; support helps



While Bigelow would like to make rock-crawling a career, he realizes it's easier to make a living in the real estate business. He is director of sales and marketing for Beltway Title and his wife is a Realtor.

The couple recently bought 18.5 acres west of Emmitsburg in northern Frederick County, Md., on which they plan to build a home and where Bigelow recently demonstrated his rock-crawler.

The sport isn't all fun and often is too much for Bigelow's mother, Ginger Bigelow, to watch, he says.

"We think it's exciting. We think it's a challenge to him and we support him as much as we can. Do we think it's dangerous? Yes, we do. Do we worry every time he goes up there? Yes, we do," says Bigelow's father, Bill Bigelow of Boonsboro.

What was his reaction the first time he saw his son rock-crawl?

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