My Girl: Gettin' After It!!

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

Monday, October 13, 2014

Pine Barrens, NJ 10-12-14

Man oh man am I a lucky duck! I didn't think I'd be off road again until maybe mid-2015. It actually posed serious relevancy concerns for the prospects of this blog and my aspirations for the club. You can't really have an off road club if you don't actually do off highway rides, can you?

I kinda sighed one night while scrolling through Facebook and my wife inquired what was wrong. Not even trying to insinuate anything, I just stated that I had wanted to try to hit up Pine Barrens this summer, but didn't get the chance. Essentially the timing of other offerings meant I had to make some hard choices, and ultimately I decided to forego organizing a trip there in favor of one of the other rides that actually materialized. Well, there was talks about a trip in October and I was going to have to miss out; so, I was a bit bummed.

And that's when this angel of a woman says to me, "Well, if you really have to take your truck off road, I'd prefer you go now while I'm still on maternity leave."


It was a done deal after that.

One of the young ladies in GPAX had posted the inquiry and I immediately pounced. It probably was a bit disconcerting, but we tend to be a passionate crowd.

Well, without further adieu, here are some pictures and comments:

 Dani once again head faked me. Shows up with the pink Snickerdoodle X, gets me all amped thinking we're actually going to wheel the same trails for the first time ever together,..and then drops the bomb that she really just came to say "Hi" and meet Casey. When I first started wheeling, I was in a lesser class; I think she runs Blues. I was running Greens. I think Veronica is now Blue worthy, but we haven't caught up. Repairs sidelined Dani at the last one. Today she was up and running but just for a drive by.

 Casey's Red X arrived next.
 Maddy played with Dani's dog. Then they got a bit spirited.

 Several other lesser Xs arrived [ :) kidding], but this was the one we had been waiting on. Cruzer actually drove to my house maybe a week or two prior to pick up some gear I had held in trust until he returned to the states. But the dude showed  up in like a Hyundai Sonata. I was so upset. This was the first time seeing the GRRRILLA X in person.

I spent some time admiring the shock hoops. 

 Cruzer's built another pretty formidable X himself. This one is an east coast legend that had been sent out to Colorado for a while before he acquired it and brought it back east. You'll have to find the build thread yourself as it is entirely too much to transcribe here. But basically it has jeep axles and drive train and is running some pretty sizable tires. As Ben described it, it is a rolling office building compared to the rest of us. And it proved on this day that it was more than just a big show truck.
 This X would not stay this clean for long.
 So we lost a guy before the first water crossing. We all have different comfort zones. I get that. If you want to take a bypass, that's cool. If certain obstacles aren't your cup of tea, no pressure. But if you come to the Pine Barrens, you should know you're going to get wet. This one dude saw the first water crossing and was like, "Peace be with you...and also with you" and left.
 Cruzer had the baddest truck by far. I also have a snorkel and never leave for a trail without bringing my trusty waders. Between the two of us, we played life guard and confirmed depths for some of the other riders.
 Ben is a mountain man. He's a mountain of a man, (with a heart of gold) and also wears shorts when the rest of us are wearing long pants and sweaters. He had intrepidly been wading in knee deep with his Crocs to check some of the water before I got my waders out. And even after I got the waders, he was still mixing it up. Well, my man lost his footing on one such excursion, and the big guy took quite the tumble. It actually took him nearly 2 minutes to completely fall prone into the water. There were several attempts, during the 2 minute fall where it looked like he might have succeeded in regaining his balance, which is what made the final splash that much more enjoyable. Anyway, my man stripped butt naked and changed clothes right there on the trail. That was his folly and his immediate web redemption.
 It is not a trail ride until I high-center. So here is the gratuitous high centering shot.

Ben had warned me there was a large jagged rock on driver side immediately beyond the crest. So I didn't want to take it at full throttle and cascade the full weight of the truck down on a single point. I, of course, did the tactical opposite which is to pussy-foot the obstacle instead and then teeter totter up top.

Ben swung back around and snatched me backwards. Then I took it again with the appropriate level of get-sum, and was able to get by. He was just returning the favor as I had moments ago pulled him from a bubbly quagmire when he had gone to the right side of a deep pool. Figuring I couldn't fare any worse, I plowed ahead along the left side and was able to scoot past and drop a tow strap back and extract his X. We determined from there on out that the motto for this place should be "Pine Barrens: Always go left". We legit tested 6-7 more crossings and each time, the leftmost side was the passable side. There was only one noted exception for which I have video where the bypass was to the right, and the main path, a deeply rutted, yellow clay bath could only be traversed by a vehicle of the likes of the GRRRILLA.
 Just some shots from throughout the day. Folks can just snag these for their own use.

 Beast mode.
 We took a break to drop off one of Casey's friends and to grab some grub. The trucks were to one side of the lot. The bikers went to the other. They had a screened pavillion which was dog friendly. Maddy was allowed inside but she became a bit of a nuisance wanting to meet everyone. Daddy couldn't focus on his food. So she went back to her specially appointed cubby in the truck.

 Cruzer spoils her. He was again her favorite. Look at how she is legit staring at this dude adoringly.
 This is where Ben pledged his allegiance to ride with me to Rubicon and Moab in 2016. At least that's what I left the conversation believing. Bruce L. should be ready by then too. He just might not know it yet.

 This is a fire observation tower. From the top, you can see Atlantic City and Philly. Except I didn't go all the way to the top. It was rickety as all hell. And then people somehow detected my unease with heights and started rocking the supports. I only made it 3/4 of the way up. I was concerned about load bearing capacity. So I quickly snapped the below pic and came back down.

 This was the first test of the Trail Rack and my attempts at mounting two spares to the top. The Trail Rack seemed pretty stout. I added a temporary cross brace running longitudinally in case one of the tires shifted, it would be prevented from crashing down into the bed below. I need to devise a more elegant system than employing 3 ratchet straps. The excess slack, although tied up was blowing around and it annoyed me.

 So we found a path leading down into the basin. One of the guys that jumped into Casey's rig at the midpoint mentioned someone should attempt the steep descent. I've become a bit of a steep descent aficionado; so, it seemed Veronica and I might be up to the task. Except the edge kind of mounded up and the bank was pretty soft. So guess what I did? High center #2. If you are keeping score, you might think I tied the record of two high centers in the same day. Although that did happen at Kennedy Ridge in GWNF, that was two high centers on the SAME obstacle. This new record is simply for the quantity of high centers in one day.

 This was actually the most challenging extraction to date. I rank this based on the number of vehicles and methods employed. Cruzer might disagree because he had to do a lot of shoveling up at Rock Run when that UTV guy told us to take the creek bed trail. That was laborious, but it was just some pretty straight forward winching that got me through. Two good pulls at two anchor points.

First we tried a tow strap pulled by one Xterra. No go. Then we tried a snatch strap, hoping to employ the stored potential energy of the elastic band to energetically snatch the truck. First attempt only served to snatch the guy's bumper forward by about an inch. Then anchored to the rear and nothing.

Then we decided to use the rear winch. Pulled out the snatch block and anchored it back to my bumper. I dragged the guy's truck to me instead of pulling myself free.

Finally we took one of my tow straps, connected two Xterras in series, with the rear winch, and Cruzer's MaxxTracks. And that got me out. Almost finished this post without mentioning the in-cab winch controls. Man it worked like a charm. I was at first bummed about the momentary switches I used, because they actually lock in the two extreme positions. Initial electrical contact can be made with a slight throw in either direction; however, full articulation of the switch locks it into 'On'. I thought this could be a safety risk, but it actually was a benefit for the rear winch which no longer free spools. I engaged the 'on' safety switch and then threw the line switch into the 'out' position. From outside of the cab, I could help set up the snatch block, and monitor the length of line deployed. By the time we had sufficient slack fed, I was able to calmly re-enter the vehicle, shift into reverse, and then command the line back onto the spool. Loved it.

It probably took more time to write that then it did to employ those various attempts, but it was the most involved extraction I've been associated with to date.
 Our time in the Pines ended with a quick visit to a Ghost Town where we looked at some building foundations.

 I got called out for staging the fake candid group selfie. I explained I was attempting to make it look like I had one more friend that I caught taking a picture of us. I was reminded that I don't have any friends.
 I took this trying to be artsy fartsy. It is just a dirty bumper.

I realize I have written very little about the actual terrain. By and large, the area is fairly accessible to a well-provisioned group. The soils are of a sandy consistency. There are often large swaths of sandy stretches that remind me of driving on the 4x4 area of Corolla, NC. The depths of the sands are such though, that one need not air down to the extent that Corolla requires. 20 psi was sufficient and no one sunk in or had difficulty stopping or stopping. The watery areas can be treacherous for the intrepid wheeler. The word of caution we operated by, as we had life-long residents and enthusiasts of the area in our group was as follows: "If there is a bypass available, you should take it". The depths of the deeper sections are sufficient to swallow even a modestly lifted truck to hood deep and beyond. From having waded many of the water sections, I can tell you that there are often deeply rutted, canyon like troughs running longitudinally in the direction of the path of travel. Choosing the wrong line could result in sudden off-camber orientation of the vehicle. The solution of 'MORE GAS" could be disastrous as you could run your cross members headlong into one of the more solid sections of the basin. Generally, I found the bottom to be quite mucky, which permitted, even under my modest bodyweight, for additional sinking of maybe 4-5 inches. We faired well with steady throttle through the crossings after first testing them out.

There are numerous roads traversing through the Pine Barrens. There are sections where we would come out onto pavement, maybe drive 300 yards or so, and then reenter a sandy section. The longest section on pavement was maybe 5-7 miles, but there are miles upon miles of paths to be traversed. Many of the roads showed up on my GPS; some did not and after a while it powered off as I was using the outlet primarily for the phone to remote control my Go Pro.

Your best bet is to go with folks who have frequented the area. Our leader for the day was actually 14 when he first started frequenting the area with his mom in a used CJ. They buried it so deep one day that they took the tags, and their belongings and hiked back to civilization. You want to go with a guy like that can tell you where to avoid the remnants of his long lost CJ.

It was a great time with good folks. Quite a few newbies, but despite some of the perils I identified, the trails we took were largely stock friendly. No large rocks or particularly challenging technical sections. The 'toughest' part was a bypass that was littered with roots and a few high cut stumps. Other than that, sandy fire roads interspersed with some water crossings. If your vehicle did not come equipment with axle breather tubes, an inexpensive modification to the port with some tubing to vent to a higher elevation on the vehicle would be sufficient. Some guys ran it stock without this mod and appear to have been fine.

That's it for now. I need to get some video up to the YouTube page, but I think I've exhausted my computer allowance for one night.

'Til next time.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

In-Cab Winch Controls

Had I taken the time to complete this back in June, I might not have gotten my @ss handed to me so remarkably in Canada on that Shoe Lake trail.

Well, with plans in the works for a trip to Pine Barrens soon, I definitely anticipate the need to be able to control the winches from within the cab.

 I got really frustrated with the Iphone. I was trying to focus in on which ports of the remote were occupied, and the camera would focus on distant objects, writing, etc, but would ignore this connector.

So my main goal from the outset was to get a sense of how many wires would need to be run to create the extension from my custom control panel to the winch solenoids.

Further complicating the matter, I have two different winches from two different companies. One was a 5-pin connector and the other a 3-pin connector. As it turned out, only 3 of the positions in the 5-pin connector were occupied. That was the photo I was trying to capture above.

My efforts on this started back in June, I think. I looked over at a box in my office which still housed the incomplete order that was shipped to me when I first sought to purchase a wireless winch controller. The distributor didn't realize it was an incomplete module (part of 2 or perhaps even 3 boxes) and listed it on their website as the full assembly. After we exchanged correspondence and they contacted the manufacturer, they informed me that, for another $200, I could order the balance of the assembly. I declined.

But I still had maybe $100 worth of...junk really. The controller differed from the controller that I had, but it had the same pin connector and also an extra length of cabling. I figured I could disassemble this controller for clues into how the solenoid was configured at the winch. This led to the initial discovery that I would only need 3 signaling wires. That was good news.

The bad news I discovered today was that the wrong pin locations were occupied in this controller than in the controller that came with the winch. This necessitated that I disassemble the primary controller. If I messed this up, I would have no means of controlling the rear winch. There was some significant pressure here for reasons I'll explain now.

I had set out this week to accumulate parts and components that I thought I would need. I had also ordered a second controller for my nicer front winch some months back so I could disassemble it as well in order to reverse-engineer my switching.

I was confident that both winches operated off of some sort of three input system. I basically destroyed the 2nd front winch controller, including the switch in my efforts to get it apart. Basically the entire housing was a molded rubber. I tried beating on it to get it to split at the seam, but instead, it transferred all the force to the switch and imploded it. I did succeed in getting it apart, but I couldn't decipher which wires were the 'in' and the 'out'. I could only tell which was the common carrier. That was a bummer.
 Although it took some trying, when I opened up the rear winch controller, I was greeted with stupid simple direction as to which wire performed which function. Stupendous!

I had hoped that this same color convention carried all the way through the device. It does not. That would have made too much sense.At the connector, the wires were then Red-Red-Black, and then there was another internal connector, and the wires went to another 3 colors.

My tracing had to go by position instead.

Here I learned that the common usually goes to a separate post terminal; whereas, the "in" and "out" signal wires go to land somewhere either on or in the solenoid housing.

Even with the stupid simple direction, I managed to get the directions reversed when I wired it up. There is one point where I probably neglected to 'mirror' the positions when transposing from one side of a connector to another.

On the front winch, where I had no such direction, it turned out that I guessed correctly.

 Steve S. has already commented on Facebook about my Home Depot approach to truck modifications. He's offered a nicer electric box. I'll have to see what this thing looks like. Here I just used a workbox cover as a mounting surface for the switches. The two on the left are disconnects that I put in to interrupt the common carrier. It is a safety mechanism I picked up from the interwebs so that someone inadvertently hitting one of the winch controls doesn't cause your winch to bind up when it spools all the way in and fry your winch. Seemed like a good precaution to build in.
 Basically I just jumped a wire over from the 'Load' post of the single pole, single throw switch over to the middle post of a single pole, double throw momentary switch. Then 'out' and 'in' land on either of the available posts on the SPDT switch, and the incoming common wire from the winch lands on the remaining post on the SPST switch corresponding to either "Line" or "Power".
 This was a goof that I should have anticipated since I've done it before. The switch bodies with the female push connectors sticking out the back exceed the allowable depth of a standard work box. I had to go back out and get a box extender ring. In the meantime, I had attempted to test the operation of the rear winch, and I was sad. It seemed to operate randomly. Reversing and then spooling out at a whim. Then I realized why. Since the box lid wasn't mounted, the edges of the switch were contacting the box and closing the circuit on their own. I was lucky I didn't fry something then. Once I held the lid up and out of contact with the edges of the box, the operation then followed the commands of the switch as I manipulated it.
All buttoned up and mounted. I just need to add labels and clean up the wiring runs with some split loom and zip ties.