My Girl: Gettin' After It!!

My Girl: Gettin' After It!!
My truck on her maiden voyage in Moab 2012

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Catching up...the the beginning(?)

That's all that's left of the proud banner.

I took the flag down in South Dakota after leaving Mt. Rushmore. I didn't think there would be anything left of it by the time I returned to Maryland otherwise. All told, I drove 5,240 miles (including the never ending journey to Loudoun County to drop off Sean).

Who is this "Sean"?

Well, the return leg, I was joined by my buddy and bandmate Sean. He flew out to Denver so he could ride back with me. So I left Moab Friday night at about 9:45 PM to start heading to Denver, which is about 6 hours away. Originally, I had thought to just leave at 4am. However, if for some reason I was tired or got held up, I didn't want to chance being late to the airport by 10:10am. It worked out better that I had packed up my campsite prior to the raffle. I won nothing and was extremely jealous watching others win prizes that I 'needed'. I should have purchased more raffle tickets. I only bought one. I instead watched people win multiple times. So if I return, I know the strategy. Go for broke...and hopefully don't end that way :)

So here are some pics of the final 2 or so days on the road racing back across country to beat Memorial Day traffic.

So this was not a planned stop. It wasn't even on a planned route. Sean had asked if we could go to Mt. Rushmore. It was about 6 hours North out of my intended way, but I also had about an extra half day that I didn't have on the outbound leg; so, it seemed like we could head north. Plus, the diversion was going to take us through Wyoming and South Dakota, and I had never visited either previously. Well, along the way to Wyoming is Ft. Collins, CO. And they brew Budweiser there. I passed it. And I drove about 5-7 miles contemplating taking the tour. So we busted a slightly less than legal highway U-turn and sped back to the brewery for a tour. I took off the Kentucky shirt after this photo. We always had a rule that we weren't to go drinking in our cheer paraphernalia. I thought the same courtesy should apply here. I didn't have another picture from the outside though; it would be weird to suddenly see the carriages below and not have any other leading context. So...there you have it.

Same day, different shirt. The stables smelled like Clydesdales...although the horses were actually on tour. Someone should bottle that smell. I would wear it.

I've done brewery tours before, but these cisterns are truly immense. They go like 18 feet below the floor surface. Or maybe it was 8. Something with an "8" in it. And this was just the 'new' side as of 2002. There was a whole other standalone brewery constructed in the 80s to which this is adjoined. So they doubled their capacity in 2002. Immense.

This is Sean. We can't use his last name because he is a school teacher and anytime a school teacher tries to live a normal life, it creates controversy. Like there's this lady who is a model in her spare time and the parents are all up in arms because she's like 35 with rock hard abs and a smoking hot body...according to the DJ on the radio. Well, Sean is no model, but that's him.

We weren't the only mid-day samplers.

They've got a few new lines of fruit-infused brews. I also ate some pretzels and kept repeating the line from Seinfeld, "These pretzels are making me thirsty!"

Going to class up my own bar to look something like this maybe.

We missed the Welcome to Wyoming sign. It was off to the right and I was in the center lane and couldn't get over to the shoulder in time. We were trying to find a Taco Bell because we invariably eat Taco Bell when we hang out. Not that Sean needs it. He kept ripping the raunchiest farts on the drive and I was afraid he was going to burn out the servo motor on the passenger window. So I put the child locks on him...and then we ate Taco Bell. Not very well thought out on my part. Anyway...along the way to find the Taco Bell, we saw this sign. It contained "Welcome" and "Wyoming" so I figured it would suffice.

These were a part of a series of time-delayed shots the camera was taking. It didn't previously do this, but on this trip, for some reason, I must have activated some obscure setting 'cause now it does this. And it is hard to tell when it is done taking shots. The last is funny because I yelled at Sean for something, and he's all like 'C'mon. Whattya want from me?!"

The South Dakota sign was right there near the Buffalo Gap sign. From a distance I thought the Buffalo Gap sign was the SD sign so that's why I stopped short. And it looked better than the SD sign so I thought to take it as well. We were starting to pretty much have the same poses for all the signs; so, I suggested a Hi Five. Because that's original. My truck is a really great photographer. Thanks, Veronica.

So there was a pretty intense fog that rolled in, or that we rolled into, not far into South Dakota. It would occasionally break up as  we gained altitude, but it was inconsistent. Sean feared we might not actually be able to see Mt. Rushmore, but I encouraged us to push on. Sometimes it's about the journey, not the destination. That really had been the motivation behind the trip. I set out thinking, "Heck, I could probably wheel here just as good as in Utah (WRONG!), but I'm more interested in what one sees along the way."
So we pressed on.

So not only was I wrong about the quality of wheeling (so intense in Utah. Man o Man), but my optimism about the trek not having been a waste was also wrong. I have no regret in going. It was kind of a let down to get up there and not even see the thing. I really just wanted to get the sense of scale of how big the carvings are in real life when you stand there looking at it. But it wasn't a tremendous loss. As I said, we got to travel through some interesting parts of Wyoming and South Dakota along the way. Sure, the soda machine is as close as we got, but had we not been heading that way, we'd have never passed through Ft. Collins. And that brewery tour was really fun. I have to figure out a way to make a brewery tour road trip. The only problem is trying to figure out how not to be totally smashed if we visited more than one brewery in a given day. In Vermont, for example, that would be a problem. I know of at least two (Magic Hat and Harpoon) that are easily within a half day's drive of one another. Probably have to get a hotel in the area or have a DD travel with us. But what sort of wet wash cloth goes on a brewery tour and doesn't drink? Another challenge is that the tour hours tend to be a limited window which coincide with one another. So you'd be hard pressed to maybe hit the very first tour at one place and then high tail it over to catch the last tour of the day at another brewery if they were say 4 hours drive from one another. I'll figure it out.

So that fog turned into rain, turned into lightning, turned into foggy HAIL lightning. It was only a short burst or two with the hail. But all I kept thinking about was golf ball sized dents all over Veronica. Protecting the roof would be pretty easy with the rack I have installed. I could just fit a piece of plywood in there. It would really just be the hood and windshield that I'd have to protect if I couldn't get under an overpass or something to park to ride out a really bad storm.

We made it to Sioux Falls, SD that night to bed down in a rest stop. Actually, we were maybe 20 miles outside of Sioux Falls. I took that trajectory to set us up to head South by Sioux City, Iowa so we could make a quick diversion into Nebraska to visit Omaha. I had wanted to go to Lincoln to visit University of Nebraska. I learned, however, from my whole little trip into Boulder, CO on the outbound trip that these mid-Western campuses are absolutely dead on a Sunday morning...especially now that the semester had ended. So it just wasn't worth the trek in to pose by myself or pose with Sean in front of some closed academic building. Or to hope that the gates to the football stadium weren't shuttered and locked like they were at Boulder. Plus the bookstore was closed. So we went into Iowa, left briefly, and then dipped back in. I was talking a lot about Nebraska, but the chronology still makes sense with this photo as we touched Iowa twice in pretty quick succession.

Far left is the Nebraska sign. No stopping here on this bridge. No shoulder available.

Originally, I tried to go to the Old Market area of Omaha to find a gift shop, but most everything was closed there except for a coffee shop. I found a kindly older gentleman and asked his advice and he mentioned "Husker Hounds". It definitely sounded like pedophilia, but Sean looked it up and it was legit. So we got back on the highway for a quick route to the far side of town. This store was AMAZING. It made me wish GW had a bit more school spirit...and maybe a football team. But then again, we do have a bit more going on than Omaha. I guess we'd be entirely too spoiled if we had this great city AND great spirit. But I liked the feel of Omaha for the brief period we were there. I'd like to come back to some of these places and spend more time doing more than just shopping for keepsakes. For now though, due to time and funding constraints, these visits are more like rolling scavenger hunts.

Although I could have spent forever in that store, we had about a 4 hour drive if I recall correctly to get over to Iowa City. I had hoped to link up with the cheer team there, but I guess I was too late confirming my itinerary with the coach. It probably worked out in a way. We got there 2 hours later than I had anticipated. I thought we'd get there at 2pm and it was closer to 4pm. Really liked what I saw of their campus. Very traditional with beautiful landscaping and this body of water right behind us as you enter campus.

I liked all the wildflowers growing near the Illinois sign. Probably should have stopped to photograph them more closely. Then again, its not the safest stopping along the side of 2 lane highways with trucks bearing down. Also, more than a few times, tractor trailers would start pulling in behind us. I think on some of the more desolate stretches, it must have looked like we were stranded. We generally just got back in the truck and kept driving. The drivers never got out, nor did they try to reach me on the radio or say anything derisive to another trucker about us 'idiot city guys' sending false alarms by stopping on the roadside. So I'm not sure what it was. Unless it was just coincidence that the shoulders were especially wide in these areas and made for good stopping points for them as well.

I already had pictures of the signs for Indiana and a few of the other states on the return; so, I didn't take them again. We stopped in Indianapolis for the night. We went to a KOA campground and bought showers for $5 a piece. I had thought about staying at a budget motel and splitting the costs, but after I relayed to Sean my experience at one national chain on the way out, he wanted no part of it. The room itself seemed decent. My main issue was that at some point someone had urinated and not flushed the toilet. So it just seemed like although the room looked clean, it really wasn't. Like "Did they change the sheets or just make up the same dirty ones?" It just kind of compromised the whole feel of a clean rest place away from home. So I slept on top of the covers. And even at the budget rate, it just doesn't make sense to spend 40+ just for a shower and to sleep marginally more comfortably than I would in the clean cab of my truck. So we did that again in Indianapolis after the campground shower. The pic above is what my truck looked like as soon as I pulled in home. The "Get Some" got partially washed away during the hail storm when I had the wipers going furiously. The flag literally ripped itself apart at highway speeds near 90 mph. The stated rate/limit got as high as 80 if I recall...and I generally tack on +10. The first time I encountered 55 again, I didn't even know how to do it. It felt like I was in idle at that point.  Up close you can see some of the bug carnage that is on the front of the truck. Mind you, this is after one car wash on the outbound leg, and a torrential downpour. These things were exploding all over the front of the truck. Just disgusting.

So, I'm back, and I've done a full day at work. It wasn't too bad adjusting back. I saw a lot and learned even more. 

Sean was a bit upset because I didn't let him drive. When I originally set this up, I was intrigued by the challenge of being able to make the driving in the time frame as a solo traveler. It was nice having accompaniment on the return trip, but I still wanted to test the challenge of living on the road. Also, I'm very protective of the truck. If I mess it up, then fine. That's my fault. But I couldn't conceive of how I'd respond if we got into an accident, say, and someone else was driving. Whether it was their fault or not. I would always be thinking, "how would I have responded if I was behind the wheel?" So I just wanted to do the driving. 

This definitely isn't the end of this blog; just the end of this trip. I'm already thinking of what the next Trek might be. The first challenge though will be reconciling the expenses from this one and paying down some of the debt I incurred. I had hoped to defray some of it through additional sponsorships.

I'd like to once again thank That dual battery system I set up using the donated Yellow Top Optima was clutch in that camp ground. It was a last-minute booking and didn't have power hookup. The only way I was able to consistently log on to post updates and charge my phone to stay in contact with loved ones was because I had that strong battery in the rear of the truck. The inverter I hooked up to it has a low battery alarm if the voltage drops below a certain threshold. Well, I couldn't tell you what that alarm sounds like because I never heard it. I'd be up half the night running a laptop and charging my ipad and iPhone, sometimes while intermittently running my 'camp lights' that I have mounted on the self-fabricated rack. It never was an issue. I even bought a portable compressor for airing my tires back up at the trail head. I connected it directly to the battery for inflating all four tires; the battery always bounced back. The only thing I didn't get a chance to do was to run tools like my impact driver or drill. I'll probably run some tests on that now that I'm back. But other than that, I've got a pretty good setup overall. Just a few tweaks and enhancements I'm eyeing once I get my money right.

So stay tuned. More adventures to come hopefully in the near future.


Friday, May 25, 2012

Tourist day and some stuff from yesterday

Well, a bummer from this post update is that it took my entire meal to upload the 10 or so photos I wanted to upload. I go to select one to place it and the program kinda stalls. So I hit 'Refresh', and now all of the pics that I had uploaded have been cleared. Boo.

Hopefully they load faster now...

Ok, back on track.

This is an example of how overbuilt a rig has to be to take on a Red Trail. My girl does NOT qualify.

A shot from the secondary meeting place at the trail head. There were like 23 trucks geared up and ready for this challenging run through Hell's Revenge.

The first challenge is literally right out of the gate. I don't know what the official name is, but I think of it as a Serpent's Spine. Narrow track oscillating up and down with steep dropoffs to either side. The photo doesn't quite do it justice. As a passenger, I was able to lean forward and angle the camera such that the roadway was visible. But from the driver's perspective, all you see is your hood and blue sky. I suppose you can see the rig in front of you and hope that they are taking the right line or that you are on that same line.

Just a shot of the convoy. Eric elected himself Tail Gunner, so we brought up the rear. On the easier trails, it is more of a formality. On these red trails, it quickly became apparent the importance of having seasoned wheelers interspersed throughout the convoy. A few calamities struck our group on this day.

At first it seemed like folks were stopping for a really long time to take photos. This guy's tire separated from the rim and quickly lost air. The group lost an hour struggling with getting him back off the ledge an in position to either reseat or replace the tire. They tried for a while to reseat before ultimately just swapping in the spare.

Hell's Gate. Doesn't look like much in this photo, but it is a wedgie that descends nearly straight down and around a small mesa.Driver has to scale down this path, and then return back up an even more challenging climb around the bend.

Brutal took his Frontier down and up first, followed by the Blue Beast Xterra. I missed Brutal's descent and just witnessed his climb back out. I had the time to follow both the descent and the resurrection of the Beast. Rear locker is absolutely mandatory. Ideally a SAS (solid axle-swapped) vehicle should run this. An independent front suspension (IFS) can do it, but the margin of error is significantly less.

At this point, he was home free on the ride down. I think I got video of him heading down and maybe some of him emerging.

Final convoy shot.

That wraps up yesterday.

Today wasn't quite so visual. It's about 230PM here.
I woke up and went for a workout at South Town Gym. Then I went to a cafe for a smoothie while I awaited a massage appointment. And now I've just finished my first meal of the day, brunch. The raffle is tonight. I'd like to see if I can score something. Otherwise, I'll probably start heading out of town this evening and nap somewhere between here and Denver. In Denver, I'll pick up Sean. Not sure how the rest of this is going to go. I'm sure he'll want to drive, but he only drives little baby cars. I've not seen him behind anything larger than a Mini Cooper, which were made very cool by the movie Italian Job, but he didn't get the sport-tuned suspension. See what I mean :)

I mean, I even have a sport-tuned suspension...and it's a truck. Well, I guess technically off-road tuned. But offroading is a sport. Alright, I've probably over-stayed my welcome at the diner. I'll have to figure out what to do with the rest of my time. I think I've already stopped in just about all of the shops here in town.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Full update tomorrow...

Rode along with Eric through Hell's Revenge. The trucks that run the red trails are sick. I took a few pics. Have to be honest though, when you're not driving I don't find it all that exciting. There are definitely some tense moments, but generally I just found myself thinking, "he's a pretty good driver; we'll get through it". I'll do a full update tomorrow at breakfast. I'll plug everything in and get good and charged up. Pics will follow.

Don't call it a comeback!

So today was a much better day. This is the second half of my successful climb. This formation doesn't have a name. There was a bypass. And the tail gunner suggested that I take the bypass. I paused at the fork in the road, and everyone assembled along the edges of the obstacle looked on as if to say, "C'mon, brother. You can do it." As soon as I cut my wheel towards it and answered in the affirmative, there was a cheer. I got up the first portion with no problem. And I swelled with confidence. About halfway up I got hung up. Tires squealed a bit. Pause. Tried again. Metal clanked off rock and the smell of burning rubber filled the cab. I knew to back off, take it easy. Drive shafts get snapped this way when there's a sudden gain of traction. I backed up a little bit. The guys threw some rip rap beneath my rear wheel to give me something to push off of. They also took down my flag which was on the verge of colliding with the tree. The stage is now set for what you see in this video.

Everyone knew this was my first time ever wheeling and they were really encouraging of me going for it. I went to apologize for the attempt taking so long...the foolishness with the flag and the associated delay. Time and again everyone said it was an exciting and entertaining run. No apology was necessary. I went left when I could have gone right. It felt good.

I thought I'd include just some random shots of the terrain and some of the other vehicles. The white Xterra was driven by Chris accompanied by his dad, Dave. Really helpful guys just getting into the sport, but they've definitely done their homework and put me on to the compressor and fuel tank that I picked up out here. Not sure if I wrote about this previously, but in this desert heat, the plastic cans I had started warping, expanding, and distorting. It did not strike me as the safest arrangement. They're not a waste though. I initially purchased them to store reserve fuel for the generator. They can be retained for that purpose as the generator is housed indoors when not in use and the fuel is in the garage.

Just some truly amazing scenery and landscape. That's probably the best part of this. We're not just in some muddy field somewhere or on some back woods trails where you can't see anything. You can literally get up to a plateau or a mesa and look out for seemingly a hundred miles in any direction. Or you just go around a bend or amble down into a ravine and see some unreal rock formations formed over millenia.

The changes in grade are just sick out here. This isn't even the most intense. At least for me, when I drive up, I can't really see the road when the grade gets to be this steep. You've got to scope it out and figure out your lines from the bottom. And then just drive off of instinct as near as I can figure it. Almost like Zen Off-roading. I don't control the steering wheel; I just convey the intent and the truck provides the direction.

I continue to take pictures of this truck like it's my kid.

At this point, we seemingly had only been driving an low speeds. Yet, we had ascended so high above the town below. In that far distance is the gas station where we met maybe 30 minutes prior. CRAZY changes in elevation in a short period. From the trail head, we pretty much dropped into 4WD Lo and started climbing immediately.

This might be the new FB profile photo.

I forgot there was effectively a third part of the climb. The main obstacle is cleared. Even the folks that bypassed have to take this secondary climb. It was a bit tough in terms of traction. I definitely spun tires a bit and then got hung up. Threw it in reverse, gunned it, spun, eased and gunned some more to BUMP IT and hop up and over the obstruction. It's a bit nervewracking though, cause just to the left is a precipitous drop off. If I were to rebound poorly from the bump it, or fish tail, or reverse absent-mindedly,...well...let's just say you'd be lucky if they sent a Medevac.

Generally, if I show the picture of another truck taking an obstacle, it is to demonstrate that I also cleared it and then came back for footage of another vehicle doing the same. Let me just clarify right now that I did NOT take this obstacle. Vehicle geometry actually precludes me from even attempting. But again, this is supposed to be an EASY trail. Most that did this were on 3 wheels, and a few were like ballet dancers on two wheels diagonally opposite one another. SICK.

The lineup. This run was called 7 Mile Rim. But we actually took most of the Uranium Something trail. The 'something' escapes me.

Trying to even out my farmer's tan.

Another convoy photo.

Tomorrow I'll be riding shotgun in another guy's rig. I met some more folks from the Red difficulty group and will hang with them. I hope to rejoin the Green group for Friday and maybe ride shotgun with one of them that has a better equipped vehicle. I'm more set up for zombie killing than offroading. However, if you look at the Venn Diagram for components suited to either platform, there is a very large area of overlap.


Tuesday, May 22, 2012

I got the 'or BUST' part right :)

So the first dune in the sand and I high centered. I knew what high centering was. I even felt relatively confident that I knew how to avoid it. But when it comes down to it, with 12 other drivers careening and criss crossing open terrain at will and whim, it is a bit nerve-wracking to ascend a dune blindly without knowing what's on the other side. At the last second, I backed off the throttle in the event I needed to avert a collision. And that hesitation was all it took.

One of the guys here was itching to use his new winch; I gave him his first viable opportunity.

The day only got worse from there. My A/T tires just don't tackle the sand well. An Xterra running stock tires was having similar difficulties, but he was a bit more experienced and prepared to self-extricate having anticipated his limitations. I, for instance, only had one plank of wood intended for providing a base to my Farmer's Jack (for high lifting). I did make one successful self-extraction with that. Other times, I had to have my dumb @ss pulled out of tough spots, generally by folks rocking S/T tires. I thought airing down would be sufficient, but the aggressive treads on the S/T tires clearly was making a difference in their competent mobility in deeper sand. The relative weight of my vehicle probably also didn't help things. Lesson learned. Sort of.

So another lesson is that some things belong on the street and some things belong off-road. This 'ornamental' bull bar doesn't really belong here. So...I did learn not to be so timid on taking the dunes. I probably still needed to learn that one ought to check out what's on the other side before careening over. So I powered intrepidly over another dune at full speed, caught a little air, and nose-dived into a very large, deep walled bowl. Another guy followed me in. He, too, was running stock tires and was the guy who had winched me out of the first jam. Only this time, both of us were trapped. Mind you, we had both gotten trapped on another dune. He went speeding up and I was maybe 5-6 car lengths behind building up momentum to take the hill. Well, he abruptly stopped, and then became lodged. I veered away, hoping to careen off of the dune and rebound down into more densely packed sand. Instead I kinda wedged myself deep and sideways into the thing like a big dumb lawn dart. Worst was that he was able to self extricate by backing down...only my landing had blocked his escape. So I had to get pulled out of the way so he could back down.

The two of us still hadn't learned our lesson. He at least had his dad there to help back him up. I was solo, but there was no shortage of folks willing to help. The really cool thing was that no one was like, "Give up kid, we are tired of bailing you out". They were actually encouraging me to try to keep going after it. And I did. Until the bowl. At that point, I knew it was time to throw in the towel. I just wasn't set up for the sand, and that's ok. But I had to get out of the bowl. Bobby, a cool cat from Arkansas running 33" STT..(not sure what the extra T is for...others had the same brand and similar name, but were only ST). Maybe the extra T is for Terrific. This guy just threw my recovery strap onto the back of his Xterra and dragged me through the same sand that I couldn't power through solo. Do you follow me? I couldn't power one vehicle through this sand, and here he was effectively pulling two. I mean, I did throttle some to help, but he was getting tremendous power transfer to the sand.

Alright, so I'm unlodged, but he very well can't also pull me up a dune. The first time, he didn't build enough momentum and kinda stalled. But then he had no problem throwing it in reverse, backing it up the opposing dune, and then throwing that thing wide open and flying clear off the dune. Chris and his Dad were going to try gearing up to take the other side. I had already failed in that direction and was not looking for a repeat. Bobby had pulled me out when I then had tried a lower wall but longer route through some loose, sloping sand. So I surmise the only way out was the same way we had ambled in. And the same way that Bobby had demonstrated could be cleared if you are enough of a bad @ss to take it. So I backed up as far as I could up the opposing side of the bowl. And that wasn't really far. I almost got stuck. I rolled back down, got to a good packed area, and then floored it as far back up in reverse up the opposite bowl. Bobby gave me the all clear, and I unleashed everything Veronica could muster. And boy did she muster, right into (not onto...INTO) the damn dune.

BOOM! Huge cloud of sand and the clanging of metal. Kept hard on the throttle, she bucked, almost rearing up on the rear wheels. And I swear I must have done a wheelie half way up that dune, dropped the front two tires and took some sick air up and over that thing.

I knew something was caved in. I just didn't know how much.

None of the stock components were damaged, at all. That was great. But the 'skid plate' for the bull bar was absolutely toast. I had compromised it already by taking the Dremel to it in order to cut and opening to accommodate the hitch. But now, it is officially DUNZO.

We did hit some muddy spots.I've got the mud to prove it. That was fun at least. And to be honest, there were spots in the flats wheeling on sand that were fun. It almost felt like a hovercraft when you got up to speed in the flats. I like that sort of sand wheeling. I'll need different tires for anything else though.

One more close look at the carnage. My license plate totally got OWNED along with the skid. Definitely went BUST.

All in all, it had me second-guessing whether or not I was going to wheel tomorrow. The ante gets upped again tomorrow. This was supposed to be a very easy day of open terrain. I definitely added some unintended difficulty. I wasn't the only one...just the most consistently in trouble. One guy lost 4WD capability. Still not sure how it got resolved. But he was able to get out of there. And then Chris did continually get stuck as well. Maybe only one time fewer than I did. But he was able to get free more competently, and with less carnage than my last episode. I proceeded back to 'base' after that.

I was going to see just about riding shotgun in someone else's rig. I don't have Rock Sliders. Honestly, it came down to finances. I could either make the trip and have no sliders, or have sliders and stay home. And the latter doesn't make sense because there's nothing at home that warrants them. (Plus I'd have to figure out what to do with the now obsolete nerf bars if I went through with the replacement.

This whole week, I had been committed to keeping the nerfs on just to see how they would fair. Everyone prior was like, "Lose 'em now, or the trail will take them later". After today's lessons, I was ready to acquiesce and remove them. However, our trail guide from today is also the leader tomorrow. And he and another guy were actually encouraging me to keep them on. They were only concerned about the bars themselves possibly getting marred, but they also thought they might afford at least some very minimal protection and at least an early warning if something were to start encroaching on the the body from the side. They will clearly NOT support the weight of the truck as sliders would. The guide also said he did it last year with a bone stock Xterra and had little to no issues. He did acknowledge that my longer wheel base will be problematic, as it was yesterday. Those episodes I'm relatively comfortable with. I'll see if there's any last minute thing I can do to try to survive a bit better.

Wish me luck. I hope tomorrow is my last successful run. Thursday, I'm not registered for anything; I got closed out. Friday might end up being pretty gnarly on all trail levels. Maybe I can ride shotgun with someone on one or both days. I'll see how my girl does tomorrow.

Oh. Final dumb note. I knew I needed to switch out of 4x4 mode before hitting the highway. My toolbox, which had been giving me trouble for the past few weeks. It came to a head today when it would no longer stay latched. I'd hit a bump and it would fly open, as it did just before hitting the highway and departing. So I went to address that...and forgot to switch out of 4x4. I'm not the only dummy who has done this. The trail guide said he had just done it yesterday and had driven for about a mile. I had driven about 8-9 though. Fortunately it was mostly straight. But I was so scared when the hubs were taking a while to disengage. There are circumstances where this is normal for there to be a bit of a delay. Usually you haven't done anything dumb like I did immediately prior. So I was scared.

The good news is though that the truck is mechanically fine. And the only other highlight is that the little pocket compressor I picked up appears to be worth its salt. I was able to air back up right on the trail in about the same time it took to air down in the morning. Not a big deal normally if the trail head is close to the rally point. But in the case of today, we had a 50+mile highway drive from the rally point to the trail head. Not a good look to drive that far on aired-down tires in this Utah heat. Just asking for a blow out in my humble opinion.

So I guess that's that. I'll give it one more go tomorrow. Then I'll probably just hang back the rest of the week. I need this girl to get me back home in one piece. There's no prize for running all 5 trail days.

So I'll go one more bout.

Late nights...

Today was pretty intense. Lots of great sights; some harrowing moments. We'll see how tomorrow pans out. I'm worried about things getting rougher. Veronica handled herself pretty well. I'll have to be careful not to push it.

One of the Xs getting ready for Metal Masher...a more difficult run that was also being kicked off from our same launch point. Watching those vehicles leave the station was like watching a military maneuver. They were seriously built up.

I had been thinking of taking off the winch from the night before at the kick off meeting. I was worried about approach angles and essentially spearing the sides of rocks before I ever had a chance to make contact with the rubber of my tires. It turns out that my neighbor to the right of my spot is an experienced wheeler...probably his 6th or 7th time here. He took one look at my rig and confirmed I would be better served keeping that Ace up my sleeve instead of riding around with it as I had it. Boy was he right! I did get some inspiration from some of the Xterras that were running still using their factory plastic bumpers that they had cut away to install the winch. I'm not above doing that with the chrome bumper. My only concern would be either buying or fabbing the mounting plate needed to support the winch. 

My first scare of the morning came before we even had hit the trails. Midway there, I noticed an exclamation mark warning signal display on my dash. We had only traveled down a bumpy dirt road for a little ways and were going to give folks a second chance to air down their tires for improved grip. I had aired down (only by about 10psi...very modest) prior to leaving. The signal initially looked like the "Low Brake Fluid" warning. I instantly thought to how the installer of my lift kit suggested that I might want to make a bracket extension to raise the brake cables up some so that when the rear axle is at full droop, there is still some slack. I had made the extensions the night before I left. Problem was, I hadn't gotten around to installing them. For the life of me, I couldn't think of anything I'd done recently that would have stretched those cables and caused the leak. But here I was, just at the trail head, and it was looking like I was going to have to pack up and head back. Well, that obviously didn't happen. Turns out that the error I actually was experiencing only resembles the brake failure warning. This was a low tire pressure warning issued by the TPMS (Tire Pressure Monitoring System). I knew I had one of those; I just didn't know what it would look like if there was an issue. We all had it. Funny thing is, that many of the true newbies like me were quietly suffering through their anxiety. I spoke up and was like, "I need to see what this (expletive) means in the manual!) That's when someone finally chimed in on the connection between us airing down, and this system warning coming up. Whew.

Disaster averted. Happy again. 

This was taken once we were underway. I think I was a bit overwhelmed earlier and wasn't really taking pictures...just trying to survive the experience in one piece. We did this one gnarly climb very early on. Talk about "pucker factor". That term is used alot in these circles I've come to understand. It's pretty much that "Oh sh*t" moment where you might do just that. Well I puckered alright. Look down at your keyboard at the capital letter "Z". That slanted mid-section just about approximates the angle of the edifice we scaled. The hood on the Frontier just kept rising forcing my gaze skyward. I wanted to see the ground beneath know that me and the truck were still connected to it. But all I could see was the white of my hood and the blue of the sky. And I thought, any second now, I'll be seeing the Green of the hood of the Jeep behind me as I somersault backwards off of this thing. It's not like it was steep and smooth. It was steep and craggly with rivets and outcroppings. And it was super sick to see my little rig pull that off. So I guess having done that, it was now safe to pull out the camera.

Like a proud papa, watching his kid on their first day of school. 

The flag surprisingly stayed on once I got that duct tape job on it done in the AM. Even at highway speed.

This is the shot of the convoy. I have to find out the guy's name in the red Xterra. Saved me more than he knows. I was initially behind the yellow jeep, but then we had to restructure after a wrong turn. The Jeep was a poor role model for what line to take because every departure looks easy in a jeep. Their bumper is like directly behind the rear wheel. The X has a base that is a compromise between the two. Plus he had a rear receiver that was bashing rock as well. So I could see in advance where I'd be in trouble and try to mitigate it. Generally there was nothing I could do. Veronica just took her lumps. But fortunately I never got hung up in a way that I couldn't get her unhung.

Jeff was our guide. This is his X and his wife, Wenday. It was refreshing to see a guy with a capable vehicle that wasn't like super-tricked out. Kinda gives hope to the little guy with a limited budget.

The cool thing about the trip is that it is about more than wheeling. Although we burn gas in pursuit of this, a lot of the folks seem to be really into nature and the outdoors. Every time there was a good vantage point to explore, these guys and gals did. I followed them down into a ravine that led to this cavernous cut and a precipitous dropoff at the other end. It was really awe-inspiring scenery.

It got to be close quarters in a few spots. It was nice to see daylight.

She just strolled out there to sit down and have her lunch. Mind you, 18 inches from her foot, it drops off like 800+ feet directly into hell. You don't even like stop to die or get mangled or maimed. If you fall off, that's it. They don't send a rescue team, they send the coroner's recovery team. So, I had to go out there,damn near crawling on hands and knees. We ate vegetables.

Aside from the video, I don't really have any footage of me in action. I tried to catch other vehicles at work under the premise that, since I was ahead of them, I clearly had to cover the obstacle in my truck as well to get to this vantage point.

Check out that incline. Not quite as gnarly as that first one, but it definitely provides some perspective. Sometimes we traversed closely positioned like this, other times there was a gap. I tried to be close enough to track the guy's line up the slope so I could match his tire placement if he came out unscathed.

We use CB radios to communicate updates and tips to each other. I generally provided confirmation of whether or not I had survived something. Generally, the other drivers knew that if I made it in my longer platform, that they had a good chance of coming through as well.

Surprisingly, this was not my least not at this moment. One of the older ladies that was driving really liked the flag and thought it was a good addition to the group and the scenery; so, she suggested I take a photo here as well.

We climbed the vertical face of this in our trucks. Ok, that's hyperbole.

Secret Spire. All of this driving through the desert and beating the hell out of my receiver hitch was to see this thing. It is pretty cool/weird looking.

This is the backdrop behind the Secret Spire.

All in all, it was a lot of fun. I'm just more nervous for tomorrow than I was today. I've gotten a taste of what this desert can toss up. And the word I keep coming back to is 'gnarly'.