Looking for a special gift for their son, Brandon, who was five at the time, Carmen Hudson and her husband, Dean Lehoux, decided upon a child-sized quad; they felt this would make him feel special, riding along beside his dad. When Brandon went out for his first time on a mountain trip with his dad, Hudson was nervous, so she climbed onto the back of her husband’s quad and has never looked back.
“I quickly discovered that it was a great way to spend time as a family,” said Hudson, “and I knew I wanted to ride on my own. I’m not typically one of those ‘girly girls’ that just goes along for the ride.”
Starting out slowly
The learning process was a relatively easy one for Hudson, simply because she and Lehoux were already taking things slow and easy so that their son could learn. Hudson and Lehoux live in Medicine Hat, Alberta, and frequently travel to the Crownest Pass to ride. Hudson said that with little off-roading and by sticking mostly to the trails and the relatively safer areas, they were gradually able to build up to steeper hills and narrower trails.
“You slowly just work up to scarier and more challenging terrain,” said Hudson.
For Hudson, now into her 10th season of ATVing, riding is more than just a chance to spend time with her son, now 15, and her husband; it has also been a way for her to see scenery she said she would never have seen otherwise.
“I absolutely love being outside,” said Hudson, “and by heading out quadding, you get to be in nature and experience and see things that you wouldn’t see every day. You can see them in pictures, but when you’re standing on the top of a mountain and looking across thousands of kilometres of beautiful terrain and breathtaking vistas, you can’t beat that.
“And getting to spend time with your family away from the cellphone and the video games and the computers is simply wonderful.”
So much terrain to explore
Staying within their comfort zone in and around the Crowsnest Pass and nearby Fernie, B.C., the family will typically head out in the morning from the staging area near Corbin. They’ll usually travel for a couple of hours before stopping for lunch and a few pictures at a trapper’s cabin or snowmobiler’s warm-up shack, then it’s off they go again—they usually cover up to 50 kilometres in a day—before turning around and heading back to the staging area.
“We always have a goal in mind before we head out,” said Hudson. “Sometimes it could be something like to get to the top of Seven Sisters, or get to the Notch—but sometimes you get sidetracked and you just discover an area that you never thought and you didn’t even know was there.”
Finding the right power zone
Hudson rides her own Yamaha Grizzly 700, chosen for its ability to back up and its power steering; after starting out on a 400, Hudson loves the added power she now has and her machine’s ability to both climb steep inclines and power through deep, muddy terrain—the muddier the better.
“You haven’t quadded until somebody has to be winched out,” laughed Hudson. “It’s so much fun! I know it can really suck when you fall in the mud, but when you’ve got the picture after and you can look back on it, it’s so great. I always have a filthy, muddy face—always.”
When you need a friend
Riding as a woman isn’t always all sunshine and mud, said Hudson. There are also plenty of times when choosing the power of the 700 means she also faces some difficulties.
“Those machines are heavy,” said Hudson, "which is why I’ve got power steering to drive it. But when I have to almost sidehill it—which means you’re on such a narrow path that you have to stand on one side and kind of lift your machine up—it’s very hard, and I’m just not physically strong enough to move a machine like that. I can move Brandon’s machine because it’s lighter and it’s smaller. But mine is so big and so heavy that there are situations where Dean has to help me.”
Still, despite some of its challenges—and despite a scare when Hudson said she saw her son teetering precariously over a cliff’s edge for one heart-stopping moment—Hudson said spending the three hours to drive from their home in Medicine Hat to their favourite mountain spots is well worth the effort.
“Even if you get out for only a two-day weekend, where you go out all day Saturday and then go for a quick dig for three hours on a Sunday just to get some more time in, you know what? It’s always worth it," said Hudson. "It’s always, always worth it.”
Knowing who's boss
For those women like Hudson who initially get into the sport simply as a way of connecting with their family but who are now looking to take it to the next level with a machine of their own, Hudson has this advice.
“Start easy," she said. "Start by the staging areas, and stay on the trails or the logging trails or whatever until you understand just how powerful the machine really is—because the machine is the boss; the machine can do damage to you. So you need to know your machine, and you need to know how it’s going to react to situations. Then, once you’re comfortable on the machine, the sky’s the limit. Don’t be afraid to stand up on your quad or whatever you need to do to shift your weight around so that you’ve got control of that machine at all times—and above all, don’t be afraid to go out and get dirty, because that’s the best part.”
In 10 years of riding deep into the mountains, Carmen Hudson, her husband, Dean Lehoux, and their son, Brandon, have seen a lot of amazing sights, but none so amazing as the one they witnessed on one of Hudson’s first times off-roading.
“We started down in Corbin,” said Hudson, “and we just dropped off this road and into the bush, where we came upon this magical place I called the Enchanted Forest because I’ve never quite seen trees like that or colours like that in my life. I remember it was Brandon’s first time crossing a river and his first time climbing to the actual top of a mountain—and there was evidence of bears and other wildlife—so we kind of got to experience everything you could experience all in one day in that one trip. It was so beautiful. I remember the way the sun sparkled the dew on the trees; it was surreal, almost fake—like a picture.”
Now, nearly 10 years later, Hudson still looks to recreate this moment every time she goes, but it’s never quite the same.
“It was just so magical for me that first time, and I was just so in awe of how beautiful it was,” said Hudson. “I’ve never quite been able to recapture that exact moment. Every single day has a moment that makes it special and fun, but that day was amazing.”