My Girl: Gettin' After It!!

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

Sunday, November 22, 2015

It's a long way to the top...

Where we last left off, my truck was busted, had no front drive axles, had a shifted rear axle, and was leaking rear diff oil among other maladies. Veronica's story is one of redemption. I haven't posted in a while, because I am a central character in her that I pay for the parts and do a lot of the wrenching (and breaking).

So this post gets us back up to date.

 After seeing one of the FJ Cruiser owners tout this device's usefulness, it was one of my first acquisitions upon returning home. It is a combination bottle jack and jackstand. It is a nifty little thing to have. It aided me in resolving several of the issues with the truck and in doing so safely.
 I got home basically Monday morning at 2am and had to limp through the work week as the shift got progressively worse.
 So Angel taught me to distrust seeing shiny metal anywhere on a truck that is driven offroad. Basically it means that anything that is supposed to be exposed would already have a nice haze of mud, dirt, and road debris. Anything that is shiny is normally not exposed. In this case, here is a shiny portion of my truck's main drive shaft. It should not be this far out at rest. It can extend to allow the axle to articulate, but then it should tuck back away.
 And here is why. That hole is where the leaf pack centering bolt should be. And it should be in the CENTER of that spring perch assembly and capped nicely by the bump stop.

 The bolt was sheared into 3 pieces. It is almost impressive.
 AK gave me a heads up that this was likely what I was dealing with. So I already  had new leaf pack bolts on order. I also took this as an opportunity to do a U-bolt flip and ordered PRG's Titan flip kit. The purpose of this is to invert the positioning of the u-bolts that hold the axle to the leaf springs so that the nuts and the extra threads point upward out of harm's way instead of being oriented downwards where the nut is often impacted by rocks and rendered unserviceable.
 My old bolt.
 Flipped it. Just prior to cutting down the new U-bolts
 This positioning is MUCH better.

I no longer need you, Nissan Spring Hanger Assembly part

So that was one item down. I still needed to restore 4WD functionality.

People can be so inconsiderate
Flashback to this past summer. I was at a local Radio Shack looking for parts to help set up my buddy's radio. When I returned to the truck, some @ss with a red vehicle had carelessly swung their door into mine. They realized the damage and then quickly left the scene. I was only in the RS for maybe 10-15 minutes tops. No note or anything. I have obviously done greater damage prior to this and even more since, but I was incensed at this very moment. I immediately drove from RS to Home Depot and purchased copious amounts of camouflage paint. I had always toyed with the idea of camo-ing out some beater truck, but I wouldn't dream of doing that to a nice truck with a still somewhat decent paint job. (This is despite my frequent lamentations of how easily the paint on the truck chips). Anyway, once this happened, I just felt like, "if no one else has regard for my property, I don't either!"

When I had calmed down though, I realized I had no practical experience in painting a vehicle and was unsure of how well it would be maintained or how long it would last. In cooling off, I rationalized that I would maybe do a test project of a smaller scale first before committing to doing the whole truck. Before I got the cap, I figured I could at least do the hood which had suffered some rust staining from the bracket that was holding my hi lift. After I got the cap, I figured I could do the cap since it didn't match my truck anyway.

But then when I had beaten almost every part of the truck body in NH, "caution" finally gave way to "opportunity".

Fans of this blog will recognize this grill
 The day I went to visit the Duke was unseasonably warm. Before I had brutalized the truck, the Duke had offered up a steeply discounted smattering of components he had previously utilized on an earlier iteration of his truck's Titan Swap. At the price, it could not be ignored. I chimed in to express interest. After the disaster which was my drive train came to pass, his offer was a necessity. My suspension components were nearing 120K miles worth of use on the aftermarket portions; the stock components were at nearly 140K. It was going to be time to start replacing those parts anyway. And I had priced it up. The Titan Swap, although impressive, was a good ways outside of my desired price range considering quality components at a less extreme portion of the spectrum could be obtained. But with the discount the Duke offered, it was comparable in cost to what I was considering doing anyway.
 Although people seem to enjoy reading the blog, no one ever seems to enjoy being the subject of a photo. Case in point, the Duke.
 So I had driven up there with the intent of really just giving the man the money I had promised prior to the trip. I had asked if he could hold on to it until I got back from NH just because I couldn't forecast what all of my costs on that excursion might be, but I knew I could pull together the agreed upon funds within a few weeks of my return. Well, by the time of my visit, he was well aware of the calamity that had befallen the truck and that I was still grappling with how to extract the retained portions of the CV halfshaft splines from within the differential.

"Alright, let's drop your diff and get it out there."

I was not expecting that at all. I became the Duke's helper as he guided me through dropping the skids, dropping the diff and ultimately getting the splines out of there. It ended up coming out in two layered pieces. Each time, he welded a scrap piece of metal to it, grabbed the scrap with vice grips, and yanked the spline shaft out. The internals appeared no worse for wear. He even tried to help me track down replacement seals while I was up there as he was willing to help me replace them there on the spot. What a dude this Duke is?!

The parts had to be ordered; no one had them in stock. I thanked him for his commitment of extra time to the cause of helping me get the truck back on the road. He also loaded me up with a cache of spares that he was no longer wanting to have kicking around the garage.

 With the weather being so nice, I thought it might be a good time to look into removing some of the decals.
 I hated the way the hood looked with the rust stains from the old bracket up there. Coupled with the dent on the door and the mismatched cap, I had reached my tipping point.
 I went out that night and bought more primer and more camo paint. I was going to try to tackle the whole truck.
 There were definitely some lessons learned. I don't know why I think I'll have good outcomes working on the truck at night. I only get anything done when others are sleeping. And then I'm probably too exhausted to either think of or follow prudent precautions.
 The temperature dropped over night. I started having adhesion problems with the brown color in particular. So that lead to some finish irregularities in a few spots.

Lighting was poor in my garage during the night which forced me to just chance it out in the sun during the light of day once daybreak came. That, of course, exposed me to wind and lead to some more diffuse patterning and overspray at times.

All in all though, it has grown on me, flaws and all. I kind of like it.

One of a few final 'BEFORE' pictures
 I got another warm weekend and decided to make a go at the swap. I took a Friday off to get a jump start on what needed to be done. I had hopes of having it buttoned up by Saturday afternoon in order to take it to get an alignment.

I had a work event Friday night for which I had to stop a bit early to get dressed for that. And (here's some foreshadowing), I ran into some trouble which extended me through most of the afternoon Saturday.
Sex on a blanket
 By Wednesday of this particular week, all of the key components had arrived. I had to order my own coilovers, tie rod extensions, extended brake lines, rear shackles and rear shocks. The Duke had provided me with the stock Titan lower control arms, some cloned after-market upper control arms, the extended CV half shafts, and some Titan outer tie rod ends which I am holding onto until I get some Titan inners to replace my original hardware coupled with the extension piece.
 I watched some YouTube videos; so, I was now a pro and ready to tackle the job.
 First I had to work on installing the new stainless steel extended brake lines. I watched a tutorial on how to bleed one's brakes. My Dad came over to make sure no one died. This was after I had used the torch to heat up the tie rod like the video told me to do. On the other side, I was just able to get it to budge using my sheer will. Maybe I should have tried harder on this side? I did attempt it without the torch, because generally I think I am stronger than I actually am. So says the 11th Strongest Man in the State of MD 2015 (in the under 200 lb weight class that knew about the event, trained for it somewhat, showed up, and competed. These are all of the qualifiers and modifiers that my friend Paul makes me issue anytime I speak of contest results. Paul is a lawyer. And a hater.).
 Thanks to Angel's coaching, I was now a pro at partially tearing down a suspension setup to allow for removal of CV shafts. Since nature had decided to aid my removal, that was just one less step.
 One difficulty I encountered on the first day was that the lower control arm bolts had seized within the bushings. A quick call to Angel confirmed what I had suspected; I was going to need to Sawzall those b*tches out. At first, I remember seeing Angel cutting all manner of bolts and fasteners off of his truck. I was thinking to myself quietly, "Man, this guy just does not want to use a wrench". But after trying to service my old u-bolts during the Flip Kit work, I realized that there are often times that the bolts become unserviceable and it is just more expeditious to quite literally cut your losses and replace with new.

 In the case of the lower control arms, I had already opted to order new camber bolts from PRG as well. So I had ready replacements on hand once the old ones proved they would otherwise be inextricable.

I had a few struggles with the lower retaining bolt which connects the spindle to the lower control arm. A few other fasteners resisted me a bit as well. My main struggle which had me ready to phone a friend was the installation of the inner splines of the CV half shafts.I had a serious case of beginner's luck up in NH when I first succeeded in getting the passenger side to slide into place on only the third try. I did issue an SOS over facebook. The members of my club were compassionate and concerned. But they also largely told me to nut up and do it myself. Haha. I actually gave up for a while on the driver side and started tearing down and rebuilding the passenger side. Then the passenger side gave me a bit of trouble for maybe 3 minutes before plunking right into place. By then, I had regained my mojo and the driver side quickly followed suit.
 My alignment was terrible though. I cheated the tie rods on the driver's side way, way, way in just to get that wheel kind of sort of pointing the same way as the other. I was fortunate to have a Sears near me that had an auto shop that was open on Sunday. I was able to secure a noon appointment the night before.
  My wife had something to do or something; so, I had to get the boy up and ready and drag him along to the shop. Even with a wonky alignment, the truck rode great.
When I got there, the techs were all like, WTF. One simply walked away after muttering, "Do an alignment...on THIS?!" he hadn't even seen any of the components up close. My truck was getting subjected to paint color prejudice. Another tech was up to the challenge. J and I walked around Sears and then played in a nearby field while it was getting worked on.
Junior Titan Swap problems
So I know they usually drive your vehicle afterwards to make sure it worked out well, but this one tech in particularly must have really been exhilarated by driving the truck. He was throttling the hell out of Veronica.
 I didn't get around to putting the shackles on in the rear. I have a family of ball busters. If I spend too much time by myself, they start bothering me. Like, "When are you going to shower?" "Why haven't you gone to sleep?" Who worries about those types of things, honestly?! Not when there is painting or sexy suspension work to be done.
I do have wheel spacers to even out the stance in the rear. I wasn't in any particular rush to jack up the back since the front suspension really just leveled out the truck. The shackles would restore the rake, I guess. I'll probably get to that over Thanksgiving break.

With the alignment done, I was looking for an opportunity to confirm that 4WD was in fact working and to test out the suspension travel under controlled conditions.

Another guy had posted in the group about going to GWNF. I was a bit hesitant. When Nick chimed in separately about really wanting to get out in his new Jeep, it encouraged me to reconsider...provided I could finish some trimming that appeared necessary following the alignment. I also wanted to try to get new bump stop positions figured out.

 Once again, I was working through the night on Friday in hopes of being ready for Saturday morning's shakedown run in GWNF. We would be going to Dictum Ridge and Second Mountain trails. I've run both before and knew the terrain wouldn't be too severe. I wanted to make sure I had cleared enough metal to prevent rubbing during full suspension travel.
 I started with fitting the skids back up. And that proved challenging since many of the skids had been banged sufficiently hard to result in deformation. In this instance, I had to use a floor jack (to hold the skid) and jack stands to support a hi-lift used in vice mode to compress it to align with the mounting studs.

I had a failed attempt at getting a bump stop in place on the driver side. There was too much free play, and I feared it might shift into interference with the CV shaft. Ultimately, I cut it off and figured I just wouldn't wheel too hard. I hadn't seen my buddy, Nick in a while. I was anxious to see him and the new Jeep in action.

 We met up at a West Marine that was central to both of our locations.
 Ultimately, the third party ended up bailing. Surprise, surprise. But we ended up having a great day on the trails.

 Gassing up at the end of the day. We ran Dictum first from top to bottom. Then broke for a late lunch at the intersection of the two trail heads before heading down and back up Second Mountain. J mostly was chill on this trip. He got a bit fussy for the first mile of Dictum before settling down.
 With the front wheels now extending a good bit beyond the wheel wells, there was considerably more spray along the body.

 Since my decals arrived, it seemed like a good opportunity to clean up a portion of the truck to allow them to be applied.
Already a long post, but I feel like I might have omitted some detail here and there. Truck is back up and running in 4wd. But I do feel like I'm getting back to where I want the truck to be.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

New Hampshire Overland Challenge 9/29/15-10/4/15- The post that almost wasn't...

I barely survived to tell the tale. (Some hyperbole intended).  And I was swamped with work and repairs and fatherly duties upon my return. This is the story of the post that almost wasn't.

 There was an Ozark Overland Challenge that had come up maybe around April of this year. It was free. And I couldn't find a single soul that wanted to go down there and try to make a run at the title with me. I was bummed. Good stuff like that doesn't always get repeated indefinitely. Trails close. Volunteers get hard to come by. Etc, etc.

When I saw this New Hampshire Overland Challenge get announced, I assumed it would be a similar story. I would post a link to it in my group, remark how cool it would be to go, and then lament the fact that no one I knew would go and report back on it. But that didn't happen. There were actually two guys that made mention that they would give it some consideration. Ultimately, Angel and I had the most lengthy exchanges about it, what it would take to compete, and how we might be able to team up. If you have not been a regular reader of this blog, you maybe have not seen the beast that is the Offroad Gorilla. There are plenty pictures forthcoming. Fret not.
 Given his level of build, I did ask Angel if he'd given thought to a few of the other guys with comparably built rigs. Basically he said that my general enthusiasm for this sort of thing assured him that I would be ready to pony up the cash and commit once registration opened where others might have the tendency to flake out. I also do employ a bit of gadgetry that might serve to help overcome some of the vehicle modification shortcomings.
 The event got teased very early in the year, and I think registration finally opened some time in either April or May. Then my overlanding savings and prep began in earnest. I started really focusing on the principle of "organization". I wanted to start having dedicated places for things to be stowed and returned to in the midst of a ride. I have a tendency on day trips to have things lashed into place so they don't bump around. That's a good first step. But then as I start needing to promptly retrieve these things and use them, I find myself just heaping them in the back of the truck in an effort to quickly get back behind the wheel. Over the course of several days, I thought this would really be problematic.

 So the fridge and the powertank were additions that I used on earlier shakedown runs to get familiar with how to best make use of them. I had attempted to get this cargo rack for the cap worked out beforehand, but the original Amazon shipment was breached during transit and several key components were missing. I was frustrated when I didn't have this in time for the Ohio trip to Southington. It turned out it was a blessing in disguise. For one, I actually needed the shorter length of cross rails. I had ordered the 54" initially. I decided I could probably live with the shorter 50" length and save a few bucks. I had measured my existing bars' overall length, but the measurement should really just be the bars themselves and not the end caps. So that was a mistake on my part. The great thing that happened was that the Amazon Warehouse Deals actually had a scratch-dent special on a set of 50" bars which had them discounted like 65%. I bartered with my wife so that she purchased the rack as a reward for me expediting the completion of some mundane chore. So they were free to me essentially and only cost the family like $120 bucks.
 Other chores kept popping up; so, I kept getting left to tinker with these things at night and had to hope for the best that they held up to the abuse they would be subjected to in the coming days.

 The day of departure finally came. I took a half day. Angel and Melissa took the full day. I rushed home to get the dog in the truck and throw in the last of my gear.

 The roof concept was completely untested in this new configuration. I went with a new cargo box in lieu of the Home Depot storage bin that I had bunjee'd in place. The lid didn't have any independent closure, which meant that I had to un-bunjee and then re-bunjee anytime I needed to retrieve anything. I used turnbuckles, hooks, and eyelets to secure this Husky box to the rack so that I could quickly unclasp the latches to retrieve goods without compromising the means of attachment to the rack. I ended up just stowing my tent and other light camping gear in here.
 On the way up to Baltimore to link with the rest of the Gorilla team, I asked Angel how we were doing on time and if I had time to get the Powertank topped off. For the Ohio trip, I had only found a welding supply place that could use a larger transfer tank to provide CO2, but they could only put 11 lbs or so in since their setup didn't employ a compressor. This meant I had a questionable volume remaining. I researched a Praxair location along the way to Angel's garage. He advised me that I had 'plenty of time' due to some developing circumstances at his garage.
 This was not quite the development I had expected. :)

He was attempting to finish off rotating tires when the truck slipped off of the jack. Upon landing, the eyelet of his leaf pack snapped clean off. Fortunately, he had two donor packs for a stock-reversion he is doing for another Xterra.

I've added a few leaves to my packs on the way to Frankensteining my own rear suspension, but I've not had to completely remove and rework a leaf pack, especially not on a truck like this. So although it was certainly not opportune timing, it was a welcome learning experience to observe Angel and his neighbor go about setting it up and knocking it out. I would later have the opportunity to demonstrate how apt of a pupil I had been.
 The diversion gave Melissa and I an opportunity to coordinate the pantries of the vehicles. Well, they had a pantry and I just had excess space in my fridge to accommodate some of the goodies. As it turns out, Melissa proved to be a trail chef extraordinaire. I had brought a bunch of freeze dried meals for which I was just planning to add hot water from my little coffee maker. I only did this once, and even then Melissa didn't really approve. She had included me in their meal planning. I still made that test dinner once just as a proof of concept that I could prepare a hot meal on the trail with my own setup. But given the choice, I prefer fresh food any day, although the Mountain House meal was actually surprisingly good.
 We were planning on doing half of the drive and staying with Angel's sister's family in NY. With the late start, we didn't end up making it there until maybe 2am. I think we were initially targeting a 9pm arrival.
 The next morning, we got off to a slow start. My son has basically conditioned me to awake without an alarm at like 540am no matter how much or how little sleep I had gotten. So I was back up with minimal downtime. We spent some time around his sister's place trying to work out the last details of how the navigation software and components we had cobbled together might actually work.

 I started deploying some more of the gear, like getting my straps set up in the receivers, mounting GoPro mounts, etc. We got breakfast at this deli around the corner and then set out for the final push to NH.

 We stopped at this gas station which I believe must actually straddle the line between Conn and Mass, because you can see both signs from the same point in the gas station lot.

 We encountered our first bit of rain on the drive. The forecast promised it would be a soggy affair for the next day and a half. I had only minimally prepped for such a development. Up until this point, I had never had to pitch a tent during rain or on saturated ground. We would have to contend with both conditions here.

We actually arrived to base camp and fortunately it had not been raining hard or for that long there yet. The build level of the other competitor vehicles was apparent and impressive. 

 The makeup was heavily skewed towards Jeeps, but there was strong representation from Toyota in the forms of FJs, 4Runners, and a couple of Tacomas.

 There were a couple of last minute supplies that we wanted to pick up. This TS was across from a Walmart. I actually had assumed that a few of my toiletries were already in the truck from prior trips, but I recently unpacked a few items for travels which weren't exclusively in the truck and I neglected to restore them to their prior positions.
 By this point, the downpour had commenced and it didn't let up for a solid 24 hours.
 We bonded underneath someone's pop up. One of the solidarity moments that lasted through most of the trip began with us linking up with the team from Chaos Fab Shop and Offroad Park.

Angel had previously bought some secondhand equipment from them, and I was the mule that went to go pick it up. I believe we were the only southern contingency; so, we stuck together during downtimes such as this.
 I excused myself as the evening hours waned on to do some last minute route figuring with my laptop and GPS units. I had purchased a trail GPS that I was attempting to press into service to aid our route-tracking for this event. It does very well at low speeds on the trails, but is a little less than helpful at highway speeds due to the small size, resolution, and re-orienting of the display. All of the main direction was given to us in the form of .GPX files that provided the general course. The challenge itself was part navigation, part scavenger hunt. You had to identify the most time-efficient way of accruing points for capturing local points of interest on camera while also covering the prescribed route which could vary from highways to offroad trails (which were still technically unmaintained roads of varying technical difficulty.)
 Now some of these tents were actually trailed on the courses, and some of these were only picked up and dropped off at the various campgrounds. We all gave props to those who truly Overlanded and transported their setups everywhere they went. I think there was only one team that did that, and they got bonus points for doing so.

 I woke up the next morning to find that my tent was in the middle of a small pond that had formed. It was my own medieval moat. I also learned that one should take care to seal one's seams on a routine basis. My tent was less-than-waterproof as the night progressed.
 Just prior to kickoff, another Nissan team arrived. I was, of course, ecstatic.
The Frontier was titan-swapped and had a fiberglass body kit. Not sure why I neglected to get a frontal picture.

I enjoyed the simplicity and understated nature of this winch approach. 
 There was a brief driver's meeting and we were soon on our way. I reworked my normal GPS mount and also ordered a kit to mount the trail GPS.

 The task for the first day was to get to as many covered bridges as we could find and then arrive at Mt. Washington by about 2pm.

 Some, like this one, you can't actually get to and use anymore.

 Others are very much in actual use.

 Fall foliage lovers will recognize that we are on the Kancamagus Highway, otherwise known as the Kanc.

 Before I even knew where Mt. Washington was, I knew I wanted a "This car climbed Mt. Washington" bumper sticker.

I had my moment.

Well, the moment was a bit hampered by a few lingering issues that manifested themselves. The first was the challenge of managing my snorkel and mass air flow sensor in periods of prolonged, concentrated rainfall. The truck went into limp mode while we were climbing along the Kanc. I had mentioned to Angel that it might be an issue maybe 20 minutes prior. I had my OBD II tool handy and quickly reset the truck. I thought that the hole I drilled in the head of the snorkel would allow the water to funnel out the back, but apparently she took in enough to still have issues. I tried rotating the head further and that seemed to keep that issue from manifesting anymore.

The other issue dates way back to my radiator woes and the fact that I never figured out how to properly burp the radiator despite numerous attempts. Well, on these prolonged, highway climbs, the air bubble that was in my radiator was not allowing enough coolant to circulate and properly reject heat. So my thermostat was reading damn near off the chart. It made for some tense moments, and we didn't have time to actually settle down anywhere to fully address it. All I could do is just run the heat on full blast and try not to climb for too long too fast. As soon as the terrain leveled out or the speeds dropped, so too would the temperature.

 It was not quite the strong start I had hoped for.

 Melissa, on the other hand, was doing a great job at navigating. We were maybe the third team at the rendezvous point, and we were feeling very confident that we were in the runnings after having secured a fair amount of covered bridges and other coveted waypoint items early on.

This was a unique Jeep build.

This truck belongs to Ryan, the organizer.

 This truck does not provide any Fs.

 I really liked the Orange FJ's build. His wife has an Xterra; so, there was some Nissan respect offered later in the event. It was still so rainy that most folks had kind of huddled off to the sides keeping to themselves or the shelter of their vehicles.

Very true, my friend. Very true.
 This was true for many of us. As it turned out though, we were also competing against a fair number of trailered rigs.

 So one bummer that the bad weather imparted was that the ranger station had decreed that no one could traverse all the way to the summit out of an abundance of caution for both the safety of this many participants and to also preserve the unpaved portions of road surface from severe degradation. We went about 3/4 of the way up basically. I'm still going to mount my decal at some point. Just running out of real estate for these things.

 We made our way down and wanted food and a beer.

 Apparently, all Nissan owners think alike, as these guys soon arrived as well.
 Nissan lineup.
 We started to get a break in the weather.

 So I let Maddy stretch her legs. She does not enjoy the rain.

 This particular bridge is beyond where vehicular traffic is permitted; so, we hoofed it a little ways.

 On the way to this last bridge, there was a downed tree. We encountered a motorist who was making the most painful U-turn I've ever had the displeasure of witnessing. When she finally executed the maneuver, she breathlessly conveyed to Angel that the route was completely impassable and that we'd best follow her lead.

Angel surveyed the impact and asked what I wanted to do. "If you can make it over, I should be able to as well." There are certainly things that Angel's truck can do that mine cannot. But what I really meant was that if he got to the other side, in the worst case, he could drag me and/or the tree until something gave way and I could make it too :) .

It turned out that wasn't necessary. I'll have to get the footage from Melissa. In a surprising turn of events, the Gorilla actually labored a bit to get over the tree; whereas, Veronica walked right over it. I think I engaged the front lockers just so that I wouldn't waste time alternating between slipping and gripping.
 THE Infamous AK did me the honor of applying the first of my two event decals onto the door at the end of day 1. It had been so rainy and wet the first day that Ryan, the organizer, didn't even bother passing them out because they would not have adhered for any of us anyway.
 Once this was done, I really felt like I was official.
 Veronica got a near perfect burping the next morning with some coaching from AK and Angel. She rode much cooler after that.
 We were definitely "Team Don't Do Anything on an Empty Stomach". We stopped here for brunch.

 And a Land Rover decided to join  us. He was not in the competition.
 You should definitely go here, if you can figure out where 'here' is. I guess it has the full address right on the menu. So you can definitely figure out where it is.
 This was the first time we encountered any other team on the route. We were usually one of the last groups out of the gate. So we rode along behind these guys for a while.
 Airing down the trucks.

 We kept running up into the back of the team ahead, as we were prepared to move at a more aggressive clip. So then I just started taking the opportunity to get photos along the route. Then we stopped for a longer period to allow Angel to set up his GoPro and record some footage aimed back at my truck.
 After that was all said and done, we got some good separation from the other team and could move at a more natural clip. I was still holding Angel back a bit. I have full skids beneath the truck, but I don't have all of the wheel travel and ground clearance that he has. So I was trying not to bounce off of absolutely every rock out there while still keeping good forward progress.

 So I got my brains bashed in on certain sections, and Angel just bobbled along completely unphased. We get out onto the highway, I hear that big V8 (yes, he has a V8 in there now) bear down to propel the truck up the hill, and then I hear the cascading of small metal remnants dance along the highway in front of me. Exploded U-joint.

Nothing on the trail ever gave the truck pause, but its own power was undoing it.

 So one of the suspected culprits is evident in this photo. That mean gangster lean has less to do with the crowning of the road surface and more to do with the fact that we only swapped one leaf pack before coming up here. Angel seemed to think that the off-kilter positioning might be putting more stress on the drive shaft.

 Team Chaos encountered us at one point during the repair. They came out to survey the carnage and determine whether the repair was going to be within our capabilities. Really, I had nothing to offer aside from flagging traffic and handing tools, but Angel had it well covered. He had blown up one of these just two weeks prior while bouncing and getting big air on the White Knuckles Rock Climb challenge at WENT Windrock in TN.

Not far after this, we made it to the first offroad challenge. First, we had to demonstrate proper winching techniques. We had to simulate what would need to be done to pull the 2nd vehicle (my truck) forward 4 feet assuming I had lost my drive shaft (foreshadowing) and my winch wasn't working. We aced this initial demonstration without a single deduction.  Next was our introduction to a very challenging section of rock climb. By this point, it was dark, which further complicated things. I had never wheeled anything in the dark that was technical enough to warrant a spotter. So although I had a great abundance of lighting on the truck, the ironic thing I learned was that you have to kill all of the light so as not to blind your spotter or obscure their view of the terrain to guide you. The rock lights helped some in this regard.

The challenge was scored based off of a 100 point scale. You began with 100 points and tallied deductions from this total for every instance of stopping (which allowed for no more than 180 degrees of backwards rotation), reversing, or winching that was invoked. Angel scored a perfect 100 walking up without issue. On two occasions, I failed to maintain forward progress and then had to 'bump it' to get the truck up and over particularly ground-clearance challenging formations. Nonetheless, what I thought might have counted as reverses were only deducted as stops as I didn't roll back much. It was easily the most technically challenging section of trail I had ever encountered. I scored 80 points and was thrilled with that outcome.
 It got dark fast after that, and we soon found ourselves in our first bit of real nighttime trail-riding. The terrain notably jumped up a notch beginning with that challenge section and then continuing to up the ante in unrelenting fashion. The Gorilla was doing what it was built to do, and I was doing my best to fight through. And then we encountered the sketchiest of circumstances. It was some time after 9pm on a Thursday night deep in the woods of NH, there's suddenly a figure that emerges from the woods and approaches Angel's passenger door where Melissa is sitting. At first, I think it is maybe one of the Chaos guys that saw our headlights and was coming back to warn us of carnage ahead.

After a few minutes, Angel radios back to me to say that there's some local guy up here with a stock jeep and the back window busted out that says he's stuck. And to be on guard. I start thinking about how Velociraptors in Jurassic Park hunt. So I start periodically putting on my 360 lights to check my sides and my 6. I couldn't leave them on though, because the LEDs interfere with my radio reception and I needed to stay in contact with my team.
 This dude was out here with his pregnant wife/girlfriend and his service dog in the middle of the night in a stock Cherokee with nearly bald summer tires. Darwin award candidate number 2417 if there ever was one. He had no recovery gear whatsoever and was soaked from chest to toe from wading through (and presumably stumbling in) some of the deeper water.
 As it turned out, we would later learn that his back window had broken when he previously encountered Team Chaos and enlisted their help in getting him out of the initial pool that he had swamped himself in. When they got him out of the water, he told them he was good to get back how he came. Except that he wasn't. And that's when we found him.
 First Angel hooked up a strap to his bumper. After a mile or so, the bumper ripped off. Then he hooked up to his axle. And there were times when not even that was enough. And that's when Veronica was needed to literally spear this guy's truck and ram him into and through obstacles.

At one point, the guy gets a bit cocky at some of the more challenging portions that Angel and I are discussing getting him through. "Well, I could definitely fit through this bypass, but you guys probably won't make it".

"Sir, you're going to go everywhere that our trucks go, because I frankly have no confidence that you can extract yourself from this situation, and you certainly will not be endeavoring to go anywhere that we can not reasonably retrieve you from."

Then he started expressing concern for potential damage to his exhaust and or his gas tank. Again I sought to address these concerns. "You came out here in a stock vehicle without regard for your personal safety or the condition of the vehicle. If your vehicle is nothing more than a rolling frame by the time we are done, I will not feel all. I am only involving myself for the preservation of human life and general human decency."

I was upset because I knew these delays were costing us points and jeopardizing our arrival by the curfew. As it turns out, we missed curfew by 45 minutes and forfeited what we estimated would have been about 5-6 bridges worth of points. We were in contact with the organizer when we had cell service and offered the explanation of why would likely be late. It was acknowledged and accepted.

There's some pretty gnarly video that I'll have to add to the YouTube channel of some of the extremes to which we had to go to get this guy off the trail.

 We emerged hungry and tired. We did not cook on this night.
 We made it to camp with a hero's welcome. People had heard tale of our exploits. I think Team Chaos gave folks insight into how poorly equipped this Jeep was, and based on the difficulty of the trail, the Herculean effort that it took to drag that thing out of there.

The next morning, we found out that not only were were not in the top 3 or top 5, we were middling somewhere down around 7th place. It was certainly disheartening. I thought about the 20 points I left on the table on the challenge section. More importantly, I thought maybe Angel thought of those 20 points but just wasn't letting on that he was. The margin was greater than 20 points. Even with the good samaritan bonus we had earned from the prior night's efforts, there was still a large margin to be overcome.

If we had any aspirations of cracking into the top 5 or better, we were going to need to be in fighting shape. And that meant no more gangster lean. The Gorilla was going to go full bore, and I was going to need to nut up.
 We took the morning to get the other leaf situation worked out. Here it was good that I had paid close attention to Angel and Jon as they worked. I needed to be Angel and Angel needed to be Jon. (Jon seemed to take a lead on the original repair).
 Angel packed everything including the kitchen sink...and this mini plasma cutter. Many of the bolts were seized, and it necessitated cutting the main leaf and also the bolt and sleeve. Ryan loaned the aid of his Warn Powerplant compressor (integral to his winch) so that the plasma cutter had an air source.

 I've gone back and forth about the need for bringing an angle grinder or a sawzall. After seeing how much they came into play, I will be packing mine for every trip henceforth without question.

 We reworked the packs. Angel carries spares of everything. Spare bolts of every manner and size. It was a valuable lesson for me. I tend to overpack, but I had none of the things that Angel was unearthing in my preps. Granted, basically all of Angel's stuff was haphazardly thrown into the back of the truck, but the point was, he had it. I will be trying to seek a middle ground of having it, and having it organized.
 One of the pack clamps shifted and pinched my finger within the glove. I first-aided myself and kept working. For the team.
 The lean is counter-exaggerated by the jack. But basically it had worked itself to an opposite lean that threatened to put one of the steering components into Angel's upper oil pan. So something had to be done.

 We got it all buttoned up, gassed up, grabbed some caffeine sources and set out to take back the competition.

 The trails started calm enough...

 And then they started ratcheting up a bit again.
 This guy had blown his rear drive shaft two weeks prior and hiked out, but the ass end was creating  pinch point on the trail. Ryan had warned of this. He had even called the police when he discovered it two weeks prior in hopes that someone would retrieve it.

 It doesn't look like much, but that bank puts you in a pretty off-camber position. And I hadn't quite nutted up enough and slid off and was now rubbing this dude.
So we hooked up some winch cabling and pulled this guy's ass end off of my truck after Angel passed by and that enabled me to make it the rest of the way with minimal scratching. Thanks, Angel!!
 I began to really hate rocks.

 It started to get really dicey here.
 By this point, I was winching maybe every 300 yards. The rain had stopped, but in addition to there just being really big rocks, it was also a bit slick still.

 And by the time we found what might have been a suitable bypass for me to get up  on, Veronica just seemed to be unable to climb whatsoever.
 The only indication of what ended up being the death knell for our campaign to victory was a bit of clicking that Angel thought he had heard during one of his last attempts at spotting me.
 I grenaded one CV joint...and unbeknownst to us at this point, I had also sheared the other CV shaft at the splines within the differential.

I was on the toughest trail of my young life and I was now humbled and reduced to 2WD in the dark and who knows how many hours from this next designated base camp.

 There were some tough decisions to be made in the dark to get the truck off of the trail. And it took several hours to pull it off.

 That's the 'road' that did the worst carnage experienced in this truck to date.
 My front bumper is hanging about 4" further forward and downward from all of the hard tugging and winching.
 I managed to gouge my license plate, I guess.
 I sheared the center leaf pin bolt (in 3 places as it turns out) and shifted my rear axle aftwards by about 4 inches. I had to take a wrecking bar to the fender well just to get enough clearance to stave off the rubbing.
 I winched up and into a rock outcropping which resulted in my driver side door now rubbing everytime it closes.
 Dented in this rear quarter panel. It now matches my other side better.

 But my lights all still work!

 We stopped in this clearing to air up. It was around midnight when we got to this first vestige of civilization. It was 2 hours after we were due at camp. It was unclear whether we'd just be penalized or disqualified if we limped back to camp. Ryan had said that the curfew was just his rule and not the campground rule; we would be welcome at the campground. The team didn't want to take the time to limp below speed as far as we needed to in order to get to the campground, only to move again the next day. The plan was to instead head to the next population center and find a hotel. We were done.

First with a bit of ambient lighting...

Stealth mode, engaged. 
 I like the contrast of the prior two versions of Angel's truck.
 I think I took this just before the gage cluster lit up. I knew, at highway speeds, she would start to sense how jacked up her alignment was and would start throwing up flags.
 Angel got stopped by the Fuzz. He had a headlight out. Local law enforcement made this their highest priority. At first I thought they lit up to get me. I was just like, "No way, buddy; she can barely sustain 55 mph. I know I wasn't speeding."
 We clicked and shimmied our way to a Red Roof Inn where Maddy would be welcome. I really just wanted to crash in the truck, but Melissa would have none of it. I was like, "Maddy and I have been sleeping in the truck all week; we're good." But she was not good with the idea of them having a hotel and us continuing to rough it. So instead, we had a slumber party.
 I also crushed my two places. In a way, I did nut up I guess. Oh, and I was losing diff fluid.
 There actually was not enough room on the rear panel to itemize the full list of carnage, but my PRIDE was still in tact. For almost two straight days, we battled some of the toughest trails I had ever been on, and in the end, the trails certainly prevailed over me and the truck. But I at least tried it and have a better sense of what I need for the next go 'round. Because there will be a next go 'round.

 I think this side embodies that. We certainly died. The truck will be resurrected. As soon as I can afford some new parts! :)

 Veronica went to glory.
 So we limped back to the original campsite where the competition was scheduled to end. And I set about doing what I had hoped would be a single CV replacement job.
 I had never done one; so, I asked Angel to coach me through it.

 It was messy, but I got it out without too much fanfare.

The other side was a great disappointment. I noticed my boot on the driver side looked a bit...weird. When I examined it, the balance of the CV was about ready to fall out of the differential, but that last inch was the morale killer. It would mean that I could not restore 4WD function at this time. And what was worse, as I learned, I would need to go back and un-install the CV I had just successfully mastered or risk irreparable damage to the spider gears. Sooooo bummed.
 So we learned, surprise, surprise, that Team Chaos had won the whole challenge. It was, what they call a Pyrrhic victory. In the process, they had bent a rear shock shaft on one Jeep, and toasted the rear axle of another, rendering neither highway drivable. They had hoped to cheat the rear axle via the e-locker on the JKU, but it wasn't panning out. They were going to have to figure out how to TETRIS two Jeeps onto their one trailer.

We were also hobbled. I only had RWD and on the drive up the hill out of the campground, Angel grenaded another U-joint. So we all worked together to get the trucks ready to try to drive home. I thought we were going to have a Cripple Convoy, but because of how the trailer ultimately got loaded, Chaos couldn't take any tollways. And given the late hour of departure (3pm at that point), Angel was unsure of whether he'd make the full trip back.

I didn't have any choice; I was due at work Monday morning and had Daddy shuttle duty to get my son to his grandmother's. So as a flashback to that earlier Jeep windshield sticker, this was my daily and I was not gonna screw around with getting back.

 Some was gotten. Actually more than I had expected to receive.
 Some parting sights.




In NY, they have dedicated Tesla parking.

Me working on my second CV shaft replacement. In the happier moments before realizing that all was for naught. Photo by Mike of Team Chaos. Still a great pic!

All in all, it was a great experience. 

It was the first event of this scale that Ryan had put on, and with minimal staff support, he really did a commendable job with pulling it together. As it turned out, the section that beat the piss out of my truck was the optional portion of the day. The .GPX tracks didn't provide that level of detail, but I think, had we known the level of difficulty, we would have foregone that section and instead pursued more wayfinding points. Oh well. I learned a lot about aspects in which my preps were commendable (solar panel, inverter, storage ideas) and where they are inadequate (I didn't have a 32mm driver which is needed for replacing CV half shafts). So I have some rebuilding to do and also some further preps to make. I took the occasion of the shifted rear axle to go ahead an order a u-bolt flip kit and installed that whilst doing the repair. The guy in the orange FJ saw me preparing to lift the driver side with my hi-lift and loaned the use of his all-in-one bottle jack & jackstand unit. It is such a game changer that I immediately went out and bought one upon my return home. 

I learned that I had too much weight on the cap. On the most severe of trails, it had apparently thrown the cargo basket to both far extremes of the rack. The rack and crossbars were fine, but the rubber gaskets were all chewed up and the u-bolt hardware was severely deformed from where they had made forceful contact with the base supports. So I will no longer transport fuel up there. (I didn't want to in the first place, but I have not yet saved enough for a rear bumper with swing out carrier. THAT is where I want to store my fuel. I had considered getting some Rotopax and mounts, and then mounting them to the rear tailgate as a stopgap for now. But if I ever do pull off the rear carrier, I will have drilled those holes only to abandon them later. 

All in all, this setup has gotten me as far as I could go. I either need to stay in my more moderate lane, or, if I want to go harder, I am going to need to make concerted investments in advancing my preps. So what was perhaps my greatest limiting factor? I would say ground clearance. I think with greater clearance, I would be doing less sliding/grinding over rocks and would have less strain on the drivetrain components. I might have also been at my heaviest in terms of the truck loading. Those two factors likely sealed my fate. 

I want to take the time to acknowledge two people/groups in particular with this post. 

First, I want to thank AK and the Chaos boys for looking out for me. AK in particular took time out to explain to me what was failing (and there was a lot failing and a lot to explain) and made sure I was pointed in the right direction to be able to drive the truck home. When I get my donor differential installed and yank out the current one, I'm driving it down to his shop in Berryville for his team to work on. I think when people take an interest in helping you out even when there's no apparent tangible benefit for them doing so, then those are the folks you should also look to support in their endeavors. 

And finally, I want to thank my partner Angel of fame for supporting my build and my ventures with this club, and offroading in general. He certainly could have shopped for a partner with a stronger build to battle against AK (whom I just thanked...ha ha) for first place, but he picked me. And we know how that turned out. Womp womp. But he never made me feel like a weak link, probably because his U-joint was a slighly weaker link than me, and he taught me a lot about these trucks and how to tackle terrain that was far and above anything I had done previously or expected to encounter in this. (In fact, I think most of us were surprised by how technical the trails were. They were FANTASTIC trails). He's a partner in an online retailer that has some great gear for your trucks. So maybe check him out.

So I'm limping around town these days and slowly working to build her back GLORY.

Stay tuned...