It’s Sunday and still two days before I would learn what mud really is. I don’t know where I am exactly, but I can tell you this: It’s a paradise of muck and sand, rocks and roots, hills and ruts. For an hour — or maybe three — I’ve been bouncing and weaving, slipping and sliding, splashing and spinning through this city of dirt.

It’s a mudopolis out there.

I’m on my Suzuki dual sport and I’m lost. I came up one rutted road which led to two others. I took the left one and then crashed onto a trail off to the right. I floored it through a long mud hole and saw frogs leaping to safety.

I stood on the pegs and roared up a rocky hill, startling a giant bird that may have been a pterodactyl. I weaved around roots and stumps and then was faced with another dirty choice where that road let to two more.

Down a sharp slope where rocks poke through the soil like knuckles. Through an average puddle with deceptively deep mud that wanted to suck me down beneath the  brown water. Between two trees, over a fallen log and into a sea of brown pine needles.

For me, this was the end of the road. This road, anyway. At the end of it, the trees gave way to a sprawling bog that nobody is going to cross without a boat. I shut off the engine and listened to the sound of it ticking as it cooled, the Suzuki version of panting after a rugged ride.

Birds chirped. Frogs groaned. I could smell baking mud on my muffler, the green aroma of the bog and the sweet scent of a recent campfire. Off in the distance, a beaver dam sprawls 60 feet long and 7 feet high.

Heaven, as it turns out, is located on 400 acres off College Road in Lewiston.

Like I said, I don’t know where I am exactly, but I can tell you the name of the property on which I’m sitting. It’s called All Wheels Off-Road Park & Tenting, a place known only to those types of people who possess an earnest desire to get their beloved machines as filthy as possible — people who will spend long afternoons trying their hardest to become hopelessly stuck in the mud.

If you don’t ride off road, you don’t understand.

This Six Flags of all-terrain fun is owned by Don Arel and his family. To those who ride a four-wheeler, three-wheeler, dirt-bike, dual purpose, Jeep or other form of dirt-craving vehicle, Don is a hero. This expanse of woods is his property, but he had the land logged and opened it up in 2006 to people who love this kind of bumpy, filthy riding.

“It took a year to log it,” says Arel. “From April to April just cutting trail after trail.”

The result is terrain so diverse you might find yourself riding leisurely one moment, buried up to your hips the next. There are more than 50 trails out here and some might be next to impossible to pass no matter what kind of monster vehicle you are driving.

“I still haven’t been on all the trails yet. There are a couple that almost nobody can make it through,” Arel says. “Almost.”

To many of us, it really is heaven. When you’re at All Wheels, you don’t have to squint at signs posted next to every trail to see if you are welcome here. You don’t have to dig out maps and law books to see what the current rules are regarding power lines and state owned land.

Don’s philosophy on the subject is simple, and posted on the park Web site for all to see:

“The state of Maine has made and changed so many laws now causing everyone to lose privileges to all the good trails in the mud season, needing written permission to cross properties. There is just no place to take your new or old toy out to ride, test, or even wreck.

“We have 400+ acres to play, tent, and have a good old time. Bring anything you want, ATVs, dirt-bikes, trucks, go-carts, etc. We are a great group of people all looking for the same thing. A great time in the outdoors! Getting down and dirty is our middle name!”

The Arel family does not discriminate. Whatever you’ve got with two wheels, three wheels, four wheels or eight (I’m pretty sure Don wouldn’t turn you away if you showed up at his park on a pogo stick and, frankly, I’d be surprised if no one has tried it yet) you can put it to the test against the terrain at this off-road park.

All summer long, people show up with their Jeeps, their four-wheelers, their tow trucks, dirt bikes and mutant vehicles that have been modified in freakish ways to take on the toughest terrain. It is a place where there is no shame in flipping your rig onto the roof, rolling it down a hill or burying it up to the roof.

If riding off road was easy, would any of us do it?

At the same time, many come to ride all day and then camp at night. When the ride is over, they want nature and there is plenty of it in mostly untouched form on the Arel property.

“We’ve got moose up here,” Arel says. “We’ve got hawks, fishers, coons. … We let them have their areas and just make our trails around them.”

With 400 plus acres of land, the Arels could have mowed it all down and sold off lot after lot for building.

“That’s what everybody else seems to be doing,” said Arel’s son John, whose backyard is a playground forest. “There are subdivisions everywhere. We don’t need one here.”

I’m here to tell you. The best spots for off-road riding have been gobbled up by private landowners who don’t want ATVs anywhere near their property. Or those spots are owned by the city or state, which don’t want ATVs anywhere near the property. There are giant signs along massive stretches of land that warn us away.

Arel and his wife, Celine, (she drives a modified dump truck they say has yet to get stuck anywhere) recognized that riders need a place to go where they are welcome.

“Nobody wanted skateboarders all over the place in downtown Lewiston,” Arel said, “so they made a park for them.”

Same concept.

And that’s why I came out here to the end of Old Farm Road, off College. Because both my bike and my soul like to leave the pavement now and then and get back to the earth.

The subterranean earth, as it turns out.

Two days after my confidence boosting ride to the beaver dam, Don Arel decided to give me a mud tour of his own. He went out in a massive truck called a Unimog, a German military rig made by Mercedes. Lovely and talented photographer Amber Waterman got in back with a video camera while her dashingly handsome friend Eugene went along to make sure she would not bounce out of the rig.

It was clear at once that their main ambition was to watch me get stuck and flounder around in the muck like a an overturned beetle.

For an hour or more, I watched Arel’s big machine lumber into and out of mud-hole after mud-hole, the big machine bouncing and grinding through water and muck, the tires disappearing at times into the earth.

I wanted no part of it, really, but dutifully I followed.

Let me tell you this. I have been in some serious muck with my Suzuki over the summer, but nothing like this. By the second hole, I found myself waist deep in water and mud. Beneath my feet there was no solid earth at all. With by boots, I paddled at the water and trusted my tires to find purchase enough to pull me through.

By the fourth hole, I wanted to surrender, but pride (and the familiar notion that I was lost again) would not allow it. I rode into an ocean of mud, littered with rocks and logs, and felt myself sinking down and down and down until I thought I might arrive shortly in China.

Through the mud and then up sharp hills with tires slicked by grime. Down another hill and into another mud-hole so immense, it should be deemed a lake. I sunk but never stopped, credit to the Suzuki DR650 more than any skills that I possess.

And oh, the feeling of invincibility that comes with conquering a patch of ugliness you did not expect to survive at all. Oh, the power of facing the worst and coming out the other side without ever having to call for a tow strap.

“I tried to drown him,” Arel admitted when the ride was over.

But I’m wise enough to know that Arel’s Utopia of Slop has even nastier stuff and that sooner or later, I’ll go down like everybody does if they challenge themselves enough. Because the landscape is forever evolving at All Wheels. Holes get deeper and ghastlier with each new attempt at crossing. Ruts that were here yesterday are over there, tomorrow. Rain keeps adding to the soupy mix.

In other words: the jackpot. For many, mud is therapy and you won’t find any better than at this muddy oasis.

“Life’s too short,” Don Arel says. “You’ve got to go out and play in the dirt.”

Mark LaFlamme splashes through a small puddle at All Wheels Off Road Park and Tenting in Lewiston.

What: All Wheels Off Road Park & Tenting
Where: At the end of Old Farm Road, off College Road, in Lewiston
When: Always open, day and night. Leave a $10 donation on your way in.
Why: Because mud is therapy.
On the Web: www.myspace.com/lewiston4x4 and www.allwheelsoffroad.com
Other stuff: Search for All Wheels Off Road Park on YouTube and you’ll find some good stuff.

The name game

With more than 50 trails and countless mud holes at All Wheels Off-Road Park, naming each is tricky. Some rough spots have earned their names through the most notable and hilarious things that have happened there. Park owner Don Arel has another naming convention in mind: “There are some areas where I figure, anyone who can make it through, we’ll name that trail after them.”

There it is: an excuse to get filthy. Stake your claim to immortality and get your name added to a list that includes the following:

Cadillac Hole: So named after some fool tried to cross through it in a Caddy. He didn’t make it. The car sunk and was left there. “For a while, other riders were going right up over the top of it,” says park owner Don Arel. The big car was hauled out and now it’s a good sized mud hole that can be challenging to plow through. Most try it with some form of ATV. Want to take a run at the hole in your luxury car? Go for it.

Jeepzilla: It wouldn’t be an off-road park if there wasn’t a Zilla in there somewhere.

Busted Tie-Rod: I’ll bet you can figure out how this spot earned its name.

Masshole: Another mud hole named for the person who first got famously stuck in it. In this case, a dude from Massachusetts. It might sound like a disparaging term, but getting a trail or hole named after you at All Wheels is an honor, especially if you traveled hundreds of miles to get here. “Actually, most of our regulars are from out-of-state,” Arel says. “Trails are being closed everywhere.”

Six-by-Six: Just a dinky mud puddle with those dimensions. Go on. Ride through it. How deep could it possibly be?

Greene Town Line: If you lived in the middle of the woods in Greene, you’d be almost home by now.

All Wheels Off Road Park and Tenting owner Don Arel stands atop “Big Daddy,” 150 feet above his home on Old Farm Road in Lewiston. “You’re looking at Greene out there,” said Arel of the view. “We’re as far out of Lewiston as you can get.”

Mark LaFlamme splashes through a small puddle at All Wheels Off Road Park and Tenting in Lewiston. The park features 400 acres with over 50 trails that are constantly changing due to weather and use.

Covered in mud but beaming from ear-to-ear, Mark LaFlamme talks with Don Arel, not pictured, about his foray into a rain soaked All Wheels Off Road Park in Lewiston.

The view from “Big Daddy.”

Don Arel and his dog, Curley, hitch a ride on his wife’s, Celine’s, modified dump truck.


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