My Girl: Gettin' After It!!

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

Monday, September 30, 2013

F.O.R.C.E. Inaugural Run- Rock Run OHV Park; Patton, PA

So I started an offroad club. I went on a trip to Scrubgrass, but no one came. I went solo and barely made it back out. I used my winch for the first time in self-recovery; so, that was good. This past weekend though, I successfully put together a trail ride and was even the trail leader. I'd like to thank Steve and Angel for their bravery and commitment to following me into the woods. We were even joined impromptu by a couple Jeep enthusiasts. Below are the chronicles of what I have captured on my camera. We will have to work out some footage transfer from some of the other guys.

 I didn't even bother fully removing the mud from the prior weekend as I knew there was a fairly good chance of encountering more on this trip.
 Steve and I met up in Rockville and started heading north on 270. Angel left around the same time and we linked up on 70 around Hagerstown, MD. We were now a full convoy.
 The trucks represented a good cross-section of capability. Steve's 4Runner is pretty close to stock, but he is a former Jeep owner with prior offroad experience. I would say my Frontier is moderately modified, and all of my experience has been over the course of the past year exclusively in this truck/format. And then there's Cruzer's truck. Titan swapped...33 MTs, replaced for locked rear axle, etc, etc. We agreed that we'd try out the green trails to see what the actual level of difficulty is and see about potentially graduating to blues if that proved viable.
 Along the way, a little road trip magic happened. About 8 miles out from Patton, I missed a left onto a small thoroughfare. The GPS redirected to a larger road, but I radioed to the group that I thought it might be interesting to follow this little road that was initially suggested. It was windy, dark, and poorly lit. Ahead in the distance someone had their high beams on. And I thought it was obnoxious that they didn't dim them as we approached. Then I realized they were on the wrong side of the road partially on the shoulder. My night vision was already affected; so, I couldn't quite make out what was going on. Cruzer, I think, had a better vantage point and speculated that it looked like a lady had hit a deer. We got about half a mile down the road before a suitable turnaround point presented itself. We elected to return to render aid.

In the photo above is Lynn, part of the namesake of JoeLynn Pizzeria (her husband Joe is the other part). She borrowed Cruzer's phone, I secured some tools from my recovery box, and Steve held the light or something. We helped her remove the dangling portions of her bumper. She was otherwise unscathed. The deer apparently scampered off into the woods.

 We were on our way here. There wasn't a lot going on in this quaint little tavern. We again had a little bit of a skipped jukebox moment. But folks warmed up and eventually the proprietor started to offer recommendations of things we could do while in town. There was a benefit dance hosted at the local VFW chapter building. Normally one has to be a service member, but we were told we would be allowed in, and we were. So we partied there. It was...interesting. A mom, pregnant with her second child I think, hit on me. She wanted me to know that she had a biracial baby. I suppose that was a highlight.
 We were in communication with the park office on the drive up. They were staying open later than normal as there was a night run going on. However, our anticipated 945pm arrival was going to be beyond their special hours for the evening. We car camped in the adjacent lot. In the morning, Steve and I left to get more Sheetz while Cruzer slumbered. These shots were taken as we got back to wake up our new sleepy friend.
 The camp office and facilities were refreshingly modern and professionally outfitted. Many places are little more than a trailer or roughly constructed building. We were promptly and courteously escorted to our campsite by a staff member that was dispatched by radio. I also bought a decal immediately upon checking in.
 So we opted for the area that is frequented by Jeepers. The park primarily caters to ATVs, UTVs, dirtbikes etc. Anything that isn' just considered a Jeep. So we were invited to switch from Red Oak and go to where the Jeep community goes. It is a relatively new site offering, Maple campgrounds. When we got there, the staff member suggested we go seek out "John" and then leave with the large group of modified Jeeps and Buggies. We smiled politely but generally were not going to set ourselves up for that level of disappointment. Almost no truck in that group was running anything less than 35. Most had full external cages. One specifically looked like a misfit straight out of Satan's workshop. Still, we didn't quite have a good sense of our bearings from the map as the campgrounds were not shown on the trail map. One couple was actually very helpful in aiding me in getting oriented with the map. There were in a trailered monstrosity, but seemed to be there as a part of their own excursion. They ventured out alone leaving the rest of the monsters behind.

By the time I pitched my tent and Cruzer had offloaded most of his effects, the large group still had shown no imminent signs of departure. We elected to just go try our hand at navigating the map. About 1/4 mile from the site, I observed that two well-built (but on the tamer side of their present brethren) had fallen in tow behind us. We stopped at the port-a-john (it was morning after all), made introductions and decided to head out as an impromptu group with me at trail lead position. The above picture might be my favorite from the day.

One thing I noticed is that when trying to wrangle a dog, make sense of a map, and steer, there isn't really much opportunity for photos. The guys also pointed out towards the end of the trip that I spent a fair amount of time facilitating my own recovery; so, that might have to do with the limited photos as well. Jerks.
 Many of the green trails were relatively short. Some were only 1,000 feet or so. The terrain wasn't particularly difficult, but the proximity of trees at hairpin turns made free entry/egress a bit difficult. One I passed on simply because, for 600 feet or so of excitement, it just wasnt worth the body damage potential when a perfectly good fire road ran alongside and connected to the next trail junction. We started at the northernmost part of the park, up by Turkey Flats and started working our way clockwise around and down to finish up at the Radio Road section of the park.

On my Youtube Channel, there will be some video of the boys taking a few of the mud puddles at high speed. It is the stuff of truck commercials.

I was curious about the "Mud Bogs" shown on the map. A couple of the Jeepers had been here last year and warned that it was more like a muddy lake than a bog. They were correct. As soon as we rolled up, people who were standing around the mud bog immediately started pointing at me. I felt self-conscious. Really, they were pointing at my snorkel. And because a dude has a snorkel, folks expect you to plunge into anything wet.

The snorkel does not make the truck waterproof. In fact, every time I get asked about it, I mention the same refrain about how if it were caulked (which I still haven't done) and outfitted with the appropriate DIY fitting to the airbox (also undone), I could make the engine absolutely impervious to water infiltration. As it stands now, it is a suitable deterrent, but I'd better not stop moving if I encounter water. There's also the risk to our notoriously low-hanging alternators. Nonetheless, I got called out, so I decided I better do my due diligence.

I brought my waders on this trip. I thought it was overkill. I still don't even have a preferred method of stowing them in the truck aside from them being neatly folded in the back seat with Maddy. But I used them. My smarts were immediately regarded as the stuff of legend. My front tag was hanging off. I obtained my screwdriver and removed it. I secured a few other things and moved my dog over to Steve's truck. Then I I walked the full length in my waders checking for concealed entrapments. Branches, tree roots, old car parts. To the far left of the bank, the hard pack bottom turned to a soupier, suctiony mess that threatened to retain me. Murmuring arose within the crowd. "Is he stalling?" Then Cruzer remarked, "I'm probably just going to steal your thunder".

When I next looked up, he was halfway across the pond in his truck. To myself I thought, "I wasn't worried about being first, just don't want to be the last guy stuck. Take your precautions."

 I took the steeper embankment down. I thought I might spear the lower portion like a trail-outfitted lawn dart and be stuck with my aft end in the air. Fortunately that didn't happen. The exit was going to be much easier on the far end.
 That's my truck way off in the distance. It was THAT much water. It kinda looks like the boat Jenny from Forrest Gump.

Cruzer made several trips. At one point, I jokingly remarked, "If you go again, you ought to try doing some doughnuts." He actually did a slow motion doughnut which was pretty ballsy as his trajectory did take him a bit further out into the soupy part than I had expected when describing the limits of what I had felt and what some of the regulars had cautioned to me as I was wading out there. 

Steve has pictures/video of the waders.

 So we're wrapping up our exploits of playing shrimp boat captains (Only Cruzer and I went in) when one of the 'helpful' guys we had met earlier suggested a new trail. It was marked but hadn't even been drawn into the map yet. It didn't even have a trail number yet, but it "would be great fun for [us] guys". Maybe I should study the literary art form of foreshadowing a bit more. I'm clearly giving away that what ensued was a cluster of an ordeal.
 It started off friendly enough. The trail was so new that it was largely just a depressed grass pathway amongst tall blades of switchgrass. The path meandered for a bit, took us into a lightly wooded area with a few roots, stumps, and rocks to maneuver amongst. Then it was back to poppy fields and such. What a delightful little trek this was. Then into the bowels of hell we went. There was a muddy embankment snarled with tree routes that bottomed out into a muddy muck with some sizable rocks in the bottom before quickly ascending again. With my long wheelbase, I was all but assured of nose-diving in and not being able to rebound back up. Even if I was fortunate to tame the rollercoaster, I then was going to have a tight hairpin turn on the upslope further complicated by a downed tree. Excellent.

With some quick winching and liberal use of my front receiver as a plow, I ...modified...the upslope. Steve passed on this. Wise choice. Next up were the Jeeps. They had some difficulty, more so for the second Jeep as more and more of the bank gave way and afforded less traction. By the time it was Cruzer's turn, I think even he had some difficulty upon locking his rear (which made some unhappy sounds).
 I don't have much narration on those activities because I elected to try to move forward so as not to further stall the groups progress. Only 4 car lengths away, however, was the next "creek crossing" that we were promised. I tried to take it at an angle and navigate the length of the creek, but I instead slipped off the bank as it gave way under my weight guessed it...lawn-darted into the opposite bank. Tried to winch forward but I couldn't pull the front end up. Tried putting the tree saver higher up onto the tree to lift, but I could see it bogging down (and probably nearing the breaking limit, as we've experienced before). Then we tried jacking up the front end as I stood knee deep in muck. But there was no finding the bottom of this mess. My offroad jack base disappeared into the abyss. I retrieved it by hand and was now nearly fully covered in muck. Like ants drawn to a melting popsicle on a a hot day, seemingly every ATV rider descended on the spectacle of the trapped Frontier. The Jeep winched me backwards, but then I was high centered on my rock rails. Cruzer worked feverishly hacking away at the opposing bank and others grabbed down tree limbs and rocks to throw into the far side of the bank. I again rehooked my winch to the front and winched forward. On the far bank, there was also a large boulder tangential to the path that I was preparing to blaze back up to the bypass road where Steve's truck was parked. Once I winched over to the other bank, we unhooked and rehooked to a tree at about 2'oclock position from my present bearing. And I snatched myself over to the right, on top of, and across the boulder. At the top of the hill, there were two trees to thread and then a downed tree about a foot in diameter and 30-40 feet long. It was the only thing in my way. And I decided I was going to lift it and clear it by hand. I did. I resurrected my Strongest Man competition career on that day. (And when I woke up the next morning, I retired said resurrection).

 I felt like the biggest loser. But then our new friend ran into a similar calamity. And he was on 35s with an aggressive M/T tread. Now, two dudes in buggies rolled up. They were nice. They were like, "Hey," in a rich, thick southern drawl, "Y'all want for us to go across and pull yer buddy out?" There was some discussion about whether we were in their way or how they'd like to cross. Then finally it was determined that we weren't in any particular rush. This Jeep actually has a winch, but he wanted to try to cross without using it. "In that case, we can pretty much just cross wherever."

And that's what they did. These dudes could drive over trees, this muck...whenever and wherever they wanted. Yes, it was stupid cool. But then we were all like, "In a way, it must be boring. You  never get stuck. You just go where you want. There's no challenge."

Now, maybe the black trails kick their @sses, but on this stuff, it's just kinda like "Meh".

We got creative and made up some bypasses. For this stretch everyone said, "Well, we rely on Will to show us where not to go, and by the time the last guy goes, we've figured out where the best path is".

It's not that I choose bad lines. I think most would attempt to follow the trail as I did if they were in the lead. But when the trail conditions break down/deteriorate, it becomes clear that an alternate path should be taken. It just so happens that me and my truck were the key to that clarity.

 Cruzer's Xterra.

 We ran a few trails after that. We inadvertently meandered onto a few more blues. Then we were working on making our way back to the main office and occasionally dipping onto a small green here or there in the Radio Road area. Well, Trail #2 is not simply a trail you dip into. One does not simply drive their truck onto trail 2.
Someone should make this into a meme.

I managed fairly well. I managed fairly well to crack the protective housing on my driver side, bed-mounted offroad light and to push in my rear fender well. I managed fairly well to make some 8-point turns. After that, it was good to be free. Steve and his 4Runner made out just fine. Shorter wheel-bases pretty much owned this trail. And it was fun. The dent is a dent. It wasn't true trail carnage; so, I took my lumps as an offering to the trail gods for a fun day in our trucks.
 We went and got refreshments. That's all that I'll say.
 Then there was fire making. I wasn't accustomed to this. I did make the rock ring. Beyond that I mostly observed the marvel that is fire.
 I illuminated my camp lights.
 Some of the badging that I've added to the truck including this latest edition. I'm going to make one up for Scrubgrass as they don't have any logo decals.
 Daytime at the campsite. The guys slept in their trucks. Maddy and I braved the rocky terrain in our tent.
 Uncandid, staged 'candid' with the self-timer.
 We tried to get a photo-opp here, but two guys towing their respective homes and toys on F-350s came ambling down the roadway. And the immensity of their possessions would not allow them to bypass us. So this became a hurried shot.

 Above I experimented with different shots on the road. I tried a rear-facing shot of the convoy.
 Maddy was pretty tuckered out. This is her knocked out in the backseat. She did better on this trip. The only annoying thing she kept doing was climbing into the front seat when I would get out to recover myself or take a picture. But she got so many repetitions of being told to go into the backseat that she can generally be redirected verbally on command. She's like, 'I know; get in my place'.

A little trail carnage. It adds character.
 Some dude saw I was 'in a club' and gave me a bunch of decals to offer to my members. I have members. I have a club.
Me and Veronica.

I'm going to take some time in the coming months to rework my front end to reclaim some clearance and such. I kept the front receiver on for structural integrity and front recovery points. But after shearing the weld-nuts free on the driver side and having limited to no use of it for it's intended function, it is about time for it to go. The new bumper I plan on making will have some recovery points and I'll look at maybe welding a 2" receiver (which I already have) somewhere in the front, but higher.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Where did I just come back from? Oh yes, NXM 3 at Windrock Park (formerly Coal Creek OHV)

It has been a whirlwind couple of weeks. No sooner than I get back from the Cove for the Big Dogs Offroad Main Jambo, I was back out the following weekend for National Xterra Meet in Oliver Springs, TN.

The drive seemingly took forever. It took forever to get off of work. I hadn't packed..blah blah blah. But I had a good time and avoided any serious carnage. It rained balls. Most of the morning it rained balls. I stopped to buy some body panel fasteners on the way down to reattach the front part of the replacement radiator skid; however, I never even got them on until I got back home.

I have some video uploaded to my youtube page. Check the link to the right of the page.

I'll just post some pics and start typing:

 A little bit less chrome...

My replacement winch cable arrived on Thursday (9/19). It seemed like a good opportunity to look at removing the bull bar. It has been bullied terribly over this past year and a half. I chopped out the cross-member to accommodate the winch. I drilled more holes for lighting. It got walloped up at Rausch Creek and earned a nice gouge under the driver side. After Big Dogs, I added a matching cave-in on the passenger side. I thought I'd have to remove the full bumper to gain access to the winch cable attachment point. It turned out this was not necessary. In the process of trying to remove this thing, I did discover that the two weld nuts on the driver side found inside of the frame (opposite the frame horn where the stock recovery hook would mount) had both broken free. I couldn't drop the attachment bracket on the driver side. I first looked at using the Sawzall to cut through the bolts, but I decided to leave the bracket on the driver side, remove from the passenger side, and then resnug the assembly by applying leverage to the bull bar mounting bracket in order to create enough tension to keep the weld nuts from spinning freely as I ratcheted them down. I had thought about removing the front receiver hitch, but I do still like that, for the time being, it shields the radiator, sway bar, and lower control arms from taking direct hits if I plunge down into something a bit too aggressively. In the offseason, I plan on reworking the front end to provide some recovery points and a pre-runner style skid.
 This was a truck stop somewhere in TN where I couldn't read the sign and ended up on the trucker side of the rest stop. I feel, when this happens, that my 8-1/2' steel whip antenna gives me a free pass to be in there.
 One of the few Solid Axle Swapped Xterras that I saw. He also had the Rhino Liner or Line X job on the lower rocker panels and up over the fender flares.
 I parked over here with another misfit Frontier. I arrived basically on the last full day; so, no one really knew who I was or why I had shown up at this point.
 At first I thought, "Ok, who has taken Daddy's Lexus out on the trail?" But then I heard tales of what this machine was doing out there, and I instantly humbled myself. Those tires are reportedly 35s and thing came off the assembly line with rear (and I was told also front) lockers. If that is the case, I bow down to thee, oh mighty Lexus. My truck felt so little compared to some of these other rigs with larger tires and lift kits.

 Speaking of lift kits. I spent probably 10 minutes enjoying some real-live truck porn. I told people not to mind me, I was just going to spend some alone time admiring this Xterra. Forty-nines. Yes, 49" of rubber.

 So a lot of these pictures are going to appear hazy. It was raining balls as I said. At the drivers meeting, the trail guides basically put the fear of the divine into us. A lot of folks bowed out and returned to their cabins and tents. I thought, for a second, perhaps I should do the same after getting my tail end handed to me at Big Dogs. But I figured I hadn't driven all this way not to at least try. The rain was coming down pretty good which we were told would turn moderate trails into difficult ones, and difficult trails into "are you f-ing kidding me"(s). Nevertheless, I journeyed on. I saw Mike as the moderate group was heading out; I knew he'd be in the difficult group. That's where his Frontier belongs. But as we set out, I noticed many of the Xs in the convoy were of the Offroad and Pro-4X variety.

 It turned out, for the most part, the trails were rather tame. A few technical portions were to be found, with some enhanced difficulty due to diminished traction, but nothing too crazy. We splashed through some tire deep puddles which made for a fun, muddy mess.

 I did manage to get 'stuck' one time. And it was embarrassing. I follow my learned mantra of "Put your wheel on it!" I did this, apparently to a fault. There was a sizable rock in the trail on a descent. I went to put my passenger side wheel on it. It broke free before I got up on top of it and we slid 2 or three feet surfboard style, until it lodged onto a larger rock. However, during our slide, it shifted from being in front of the tire to in front of the lower control arm. I also got a bit sideways and lost traction in the rear. I couldn't back up the incline and I had no grip behind me to plow over it. I thought about deploying the newly repaired winch, but it turned out easier to get a quick tug from one of the drivers behind me. My rear tires hooked up well about a foot into the recovery, and I was able to reposition and drive around the wedge rock. This was like 300 yards from our last trail's end. Otherwise, Veronica and I had done well for the day.

 Just over top of the side view mirror, that boulder kind of dares you to drive over it...and then plunge 2-3 feet down to the trail below. Veronica and I went around.
 We regrouped here a few times in between trail loops.

 There were drivers from NC, SC, Indiana, Mississippi, another state, and then Mr. Maryland.

 Veronica, sans bull bar. She looks a lot cleaner without it. I do want to get my Pep Boys lights back on there somewhere. I saw another truck with them and I felt proud.

 Lining them up. Nissan actually sent 3 models of the Xterra 2014 pre-production out there. There is a SWEET wheel package option that comes with them.
 I think they also brought a Juke and a Rogue, but those didn't go out on the trails.
 I think they said there were over 57 trucks out at this year's event. It was the largest ever; so, it was cool to be a part of the tradition growing. The organizers had teased about it some prior, but they actually are going to do a National Frontier Meet concurrent with NXM next year. I meant 'tease' in the sense of foreshadowing. I expressed interest in being involved. So maybe you'll read more about my potential involvement in that regard.

 Maddy is so camera shy. She'll be looking at me until she sees me reach for the camera. Then suddenly there's something to the left or the right that she needs to look at. She came with me to the East Coast Nissan Truck meet, but there was no offroading to be done there. This was her first time going offroading and camping with me. She did...ok.

A funny thing happened on the trail. I take some lumps here and there. At one point I didn't see a rock or something and slipped off and down onto it...hard. So hard in fact that there was, for a short time, a weird rattling and I feared that I had lost rear wheel drive. Anyway, I hit that bump and Maddy jumped...(and I mean literally, squatted down and then sprang forward) out of the back seat and into my lap before burrowing her head into my arm pit. And she REFUSED to relinquish this position. It was during one of the more technical portions of the day. I couldn't really stop to reposition her. I tried to continue driving but she continued to nestle further into my arm pit. I finally had to one hand it and kinda toss her back into the back. So seat dividers and/or canine restraint will be needed. It was cute and annoying at the same time.

Other than that, she settled down much sooner into the drive this time around. She generally just laid down in the back seat. At some points, she actually seemed to show interest in our destination and would sit up and perch her head forward to look through the windshield and see where we were headed.

And of course, everyone seemed to love her on this trip too. She got spoiled several times with belly rubs.
 This was our little camp setup.

Some lessons of things needed.

Camping Lessons:
-Maddy needs her own little collapsible crate inside the tent. She kept getting up and walking around. And she does not pay good attention to where her paws go. A couple of times she basically walked on my face.

-There were a few brews had after the trail ride. I needed to keep leaving the tent for relief. I want to bring one of those hospital things so I don't need to leave as often.

-A pillow would be nice instead of improvising with a sweatshirt.

-My cushion is not nearly as cushiony as I remember it being in Moab.

-I need a 'dry storage' compartment inside of the cooler. I need to bring my big boy sized cooler instead of my "Cool Cube".

-Although I like being a bit less conspicuous without the rooftop rack and basket, it would probably be helpful to clear up some space in the truck bed without having both spare tires positioned back there. I'm not sure that I'll have that worked out by this next weekend.

And I'm not sure if this will be the last trip for me for the season or not. It was the last 'scheduled' thing that I had looked at way back in March, but I've since learned of a few more outings. We also did a family budget and there are some things that the Mrs. presented which plans for the truck and the time which I thought was spare. I suppose that is a part of being an adult. Adults like to have toys and play time too, but we also have to be the ones to say when the toys have to be put away.

I had hoped to try to organize maybe one more club outing, but it could be good to take a break and work on some of the homework assignments that have come up from these past few outings.

I got Maddy a Bug-Out Bag. I thought this might be a good time to debut it. The instructions say to try it out with your dog empty. I didn't quite do that. It only had a bottle of water on each side and her collapsible bowl. I had hoped she would wear it up to the event area so we could replenish her water as the day went on. She would take a few steps and then flip out. Take a few more, spin wildly. She figured out how to toss it in such a way that she could get a good bite at it.

We'll try it again later.

Maddy and I chilling in the tent.

I recall riding trails #2...maybe #14, and then one other. I needed to add that note for when I go back.

Oh, we also rode the service road from the parking lots back up to the event area. The terrain isn't too crazy under ideal settings, but the rainfall made the steep ascents and climbs a bit nerve-wracking on the narrow paths with precipitous drops to either side. The Nittos again made me offer some props for their ability to grapple in moderate amounts of mud. I will have to remember to add some commentary in my next review cycle which is up this week.