My Girl: Gettin' After It!!

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

Monday, April 13, 2015

4-11-15 Great Lakes Xterras (GLX) Spring Fling- Badlands Off Road Park. Attica, IN

This was the third furthest trek I've ever made to do some offroading. Somehow, I forgot about Moab and had this in the 2nd rank. The Michigan-Canada excursion holds that  honor.

It was about 11 hours drive with stops for fuel. Veronica does not have nearly the range per tank that she did back in '12 when we trekked out to Utah, but she also couldn't do what she can do now. I guess that's a fair tradeoff.

This was another ride that I was not planning to do. I had joined the GLX facebook group back when I was planning on doing the Drummond Island, MI run last year. Sadly, I didn't have any takers from the group (or any group for that matter), but I kept my eyes generally on what this group was up to all the same. (Avid followers of this blog know that I ran up to Drummond solo and battled valiantly against deep mud for several hours before finally arriving at the Marblehead formation).  I had first been introduced to the club while down at the National Xterra Meet in TN back in 2013.  One of their main officers, Ryan, has been to a few of the east coast events that I've been at, but we weren't in the same trail groups and didn't interact much then. But I figure it is kind of a mutual courtesy thing to be aware of the other groups' activities and look for opportunities to link up.

That opportunity came this past weekend. I am less and less of a road warrior these days. Most of the outbound routes to go west I've now covered. So the appeal to see something new has lessened some for me. That used to be a big motivating factor when I first started the blog. It was probably 75% of the motivation to head to Moab. I had never driven that far west, and then this random event gave me a reason to do so. And then 4x4 driving bit me...hard. (It also happens to be some of the best off roading you can do stateside).

So it was going to be a long drive. I wasn't going to really know anyone. It was going to be far. And if I broke anything, it was going to be rough going. Yeah, I'll pass. And I did pass.

And then my wife showed me her calendar for the next month. And it was going to be more solo daddy duty and no weekends wheeling or wrenching. This past weekend was THE only weekend for like the next two months. In that case, I HAD to do something worthwhile.

And suddenly, it wasn't too far. It was going to be a nice long break. And since it was so far, I was justified in staying the night to camp. And since I was going to have several solo overnights with the kids over the next month, it was ok if mommy had a couple of solo overnights just over this weekend. Gas prices are also the lowest they've been in a while. This time last year, I think we were in the $3.39 range or so for regular. Gas was in the $2.39 range. No time like the present.

If I was going to make that long of a trip to do some offroading, there was no better time than the recent present. Funny how that logic shift happened.

I've been wanting to go to Badlands since I first heard there was a Badlands. I also envied the group photos I had seen pop up on the GLX page following their prior events that I'd been monitoring. As I now know, their most iconic photos were being taken at the Rock Quarry section of the park. And the Rock Quarry makes Marblehead look like that one coin-op fire truck ride outside of a grocery store by comparison. And I had fun at Marblehead and there is a fantastic view at the end of it. But really only one or two trucks could be on it at a time. Several entire groups occupied the Quarry simultaneously and there were lots of obstacles of varying difficulty all within an area accessible by trucks ranging from mild to wild. Enough of the jibber jabber. I'll post some of my photos.

There were two photographers with the group. I may  have to take some time and pirate a few photos later for inclusion in the Year-in-Review video that I'll be working on.

 The park and campground were very easy to find. I took the Friday off so that I could start making the drive during daylight hours and hopefully arrive with enough daylight to pitch my tent.
 That objective was met, but I took too much time socializing and not enough pictures before nightfall made photos rather impractical. Another factor was the WIND. I've not had to erect a tent in such high winds before. Fortunately, I was greeted with much hospitality and James gave me a hand at times just holding something steady so I could make connections.

There really isn't a photo to correspond with this next tidbit, but the trip almost was cancelled - for me at least- about 4 hours into the drive.

I was in West Virginia, possibly WV part two as I crossed into and out of WV twice traveling along 70 West. Anyway, the midwest had been getting rain during the week. We started seeing it on the east coast just as I departed around 9am. After about 4 hours of varying intensities of downpours, ranging from just mist, to drizzle, to torrential, and moderate, I was getting a little unnerved. I didn't want to arrive and be in for an absolute slog fest through mud replete with gratuitous winching. But at this point, I had already announced that a crazy Marylander (I've adopted MD now) was going to make the trek. A guy was also bringing some discounted, used half shafts that I wanted to purchase as trail spares.

Back to the point, on one of the numerous seemingly endless cycles of ascents and descents, I came up behind a minivan slowly chugging their way up the hill. I went to accelerate past them to the left and the truck just shuddered, sputtered, lost all throttle response and just coasted. I fed more throttle and nothing, then a jerk, a sputter, a little more effort, coast, etc. It was VERY disconcerting. So I was able to signal and coast back into the right lane and then onto the shoulder. "What's wrong girl?". Even Maddy woke up and was like, "This is NOT the business".

I tried to re-enter traffic and she sputtered again. No warning lights. No grinding or anything. Just no response either. At least not the type of response you want on the highway. I shut the engine off and thought for like 3 minutes about what it could be. Is the transmission slipping? If so, why now?

I decided that if the truck turned over, I would keep driving. If she didn't turn on, I was done. Started up without hesitation. Fed her some throttle and she leapt gingerly forward like nothing was even the case. For the next 4 hours, I drove like a grandma in the right lane and about 3mph below the speed limit. I passed no one. A couple of times I fed her some throttle and there was no hesitation. It was so weird.
 So now I had a dilemma. And I thought about the dilemma all the way until we got to the campfire. It is irresponsible, in my esteem, to go wheeling with a group knowing you've got service issues. I at least wanted to show up and buy the half shafts and then maybe talk to someone about what happened. I had looked for a Jiffy Lube along the way, thinking maybe I needed a transmission flush and to let someone look at the quality of the fluid coming out. But that would have caused me to arrive after dark. I decided to chance it.
 In chatting with Brian around the campfire (someone else had first dropped the buzz word "limp mode" while I was searching for potential causes of what I had encountered on the phone) I volunteered my experience. "You've got a snorkel right? And you said it was raining?" Apparently, if your mass air flow sensor detects a lot of water or moisture in the air stream, it will send your truck into a limp mode like condition. No signals, no lights. Just power and performance loss.

And it made sense in a way. Not long after she shuddered...maybe 20 minutes or so, I was into dry weather and pristine pavement the rest of the way. She didn't hesitate once. My wheel position sensor is a bit wonky from getting snatched sideways and possibly having held onto the wheel during that recovery. I had thought maybe that had somehow caused my ABLS to engage, but it wouldn't engage without illuminating.

So knowing that as a potential cause for the power loss, I felt emboldened to at least ride the trails, but just take it easy. In that sense, I had determined it was reasonable to attend as a spectator to review the trails and conditions at the park for subsequent trips or visitors interested in the terrain.

 Maddy came on the trip because the Mrs said she was NOT going to watch baby and doggy solo. Daddy does it. But that's ok. We are only brave enough to type that because Mommy doesn't read Daddy's silly blog.

 So I was expecting temps in the mid-40s. I don't camp below 40 degrees. I unknowingly camped below 40 degrees. I fell asleep on my arm incorrectly and woke up to the pins and needles feeling. Ok, fine. As soon as I shifted my arm, circulation returned. My left foot, on the other hand was a different case. I had just gone to bed in socks and was in my sleeping bag. Well my right leg was drawn in closer to my body, but my left leg was at the far end of the bag right up against the side of the tent. I took off my sock and my foot was ice cold. I did NOT just f*ck around and get frost bite! I tried rubbing my feet for like 15 minutes trying to get sensation back into my toes. Nothing.

I got up and walked to the campground bathroom thinking the motion would jumpstart circulation. Nothing. I put my foot underneath a freaking hand dryer and was still getting nothing.

So, it was like 5 in the morning. Still dark. I didn't want to start my truck and be the only wimp that had to run his heat. But I was also like, "I like having toes." What to do? I also then got worried about Maddy. I normally let her stay in the tent with me. But last time, she did the Macarena on my face 4 times during the night. Ok, maybe she just walked in circles a couple of times, but it was nonetheless ON my face which was annoying. I wanted to make sure she was ok. Well she has fur and was chilling comfortably in the truck which was toasty from her body heat. I cuddled up with her and tucked my feet underneath her body. After an hour like that, I could feel the toes on my left foot.
 This is the condensation which then iced over when the temps dropped abruptly overnight.

So here I was huddled up in the truck with my dog, worried about being embarrassed in front of a bunch of dudes that I don't even know. Come to find out, several folks actually had their trucks running and slept in them at some point (after having pitched tents), a couple of guys had a special tent setup with a heater, and others made similar accommodations. I guess what it comes down to is: don't mess around and get frostbite trying to be tough.
 Once the sun came up, things quickly thawed out. I took some video of the ice on the black parts of my rear tailgate thawing and evaporating into mist right before my eyes as the rising sun cast its warming rays over the rear of the truck.
 I went to bed early and missed these arrivals.
 This truck is a work in progress. It's 2WD and didn't wheel.
 The ice on top of another campers tent.

 I have an affinity for yellow Xterras.

 So I barely survived in a tent; this dude was chilling, literally, bundled in a hammock like it was not a problem.
 Other areas of the park. Very popular with the ATV and UTV crowds.

 Brand new MTRs on Daniel's X making their maiden voyage offroad. 35s. Stuffed in the wheel well.
 With some excellent spotting (and not too shabby driving), I got up to the upper level of the Quarry and got a picture of our group on the lower tier as well as a Jeep group that was experiencing some mechanical difficulties. I can't make any Jeep jokes because I also had mechanical difficulties, but not offroad. Not on this day.
 Veronica made it.
 I could barely walk down the slope. She climbed up with no drama. No one climbed this face though. It is near vertical.

 I don't recall what was happening here, but it doesnt look flattering.

 A Mazda RX-7 came to this section of the trail. At first I thought he was messing with me. "Hey man, do you know where the rally is?" I directed him to talk to these guys. I didn't know where anything was.

 Our group split up and rejoined a few times. I was supposed to tail gun all along, but a Jeep that wanted to be with us, but kinda didn't want to be with us, wanted to be in the rearmost position " that the Nissans can all be together." Well, at some point they lost their phone on the trail and dipped out for a few hours. And I regained the tail position.
 Back here getting a little off camber and taking my time while some guys figure out their lines up ahead.

 Flex. Unless it is snowing, don't take flex pictures in a parking lot. Bring your truck to a trail or park and get some real flex going.

 Breaking for lunch. The groups came back to the campground.

 There was a creek crossing. Everyone took the bypass to emerge from the water. I was in the back taking truck selfies and missed how the convoy had gotten to the other side. One guy  hung back getting photos and I offered him a seat. As we neared the crossing, I asked which way did everyone take. There were at least two Titan-swapped trucks in our group and a fair amount of lift amongst all but maybe one or two trucks. Everyone had gone right. The path to the left seemed pretty innocuous. I was told there was a ledge that was a bit annoying right as you tried to emerge from the water. I decided i would experience this ledge. Unlike last trip at Flagpole, where I had just wrecked my most recent fairlead, I would not go skinny pedal if I felt there was a chance of getting hung up. I skinny pedalled at Flagpole and obliterated my fairlead. Here I nudged the ledge and met some resistance. I was able to get my front wheels partially up, but then the still wet tires struggled to hook up with the terrain. We were stuck-ish.

Not a problem. I engaged three switches and Veronica daintily sauntered up onto the rock outcrop and out of the water. My passenger remarked, "It's that easy, huh". So I thought. Lost another fairlead in the process. I actually have enough salvaged parts of a fairlead to rebuild at least one. That wouldn't be the last of the carnage.

 Not all of the participants actually wheeled. That's ok. We were at about 11 trucks actively on the trail. Any more would have been unwieldy unless we split up. And I generally liked the grouping as it was assembled.
 We entered this very muddy section and almost had to abandon our leader and his truck. It wasn't quite that serious. Even with my compromised winch fairlead, I was able to hook him up on a straight line pull and get him out of the muck without much fanfare.


 Ryan's truck was a bit cursed on this run. He had a shock malfunction. There was a garage there that fixed it (or at least made it manageable). Then there was the mud stuck (but that could have happened to anyone in the lead. It happens to me EVERY time I lead it seems like :)  ). Then when we got here, his engine cut off and the starter was malfunctioning. Fortunately, he was in a manual and we were able to do a couple of push starts to get through this area.
 We went to a stream trail which was really cool. Instead of just crossing a stream, the trail actually is the stream bed. You enter and exit a few times, but are generally traveling upstream like a salmon attempting to spawn. I actually had to use my lockers again when I opted out of the bypass which was very heavily wooded and took a bit of a underwater climb up a ledge if that makes any sense. It was fun.

 Closeup of the initial damage. It got worse at another point for which I was able to obtain better picturs from another attendee.

 So I didn't know there was going to be a raffle. I LOVE raffles. I had my eyes set on the heavy duty snatch block. I focused all of my good luck JuJu on winning it. It paid off. It was the first prize drawn and my number was selected. Funny thing was, my ticket came from a second purchase of tickets. I had bought a handful initially and made selections, but I didn't feel I had focused a high enough percentage of the tickets on the prize I truly wanted. And it nagged me and it ate at me until I bought two more at $5 each. I placed both in there and the first from that series won. Had I not reupped by $10, I would have lost out. I also got a tire patch kit. I generally believe in carrying one, if not two, spare(s). But Will S. got a kit before our last run and it made me think that maybe it is worth having one in a pinch. I didn't want to buy one outright, but when I saw that there were two available as prizes, I thought it was worth dropping a ticket in the cup. One ticket won.

I tried to get a few extra straps and I tried to win some autodeflators that I was going to give to Steve S. if I won, but I did not win the extra straps or the deflators. Steve will have to obtain his own deflators.
 This is what's left of my fairlead now. how did that extra carnage happen?

These are action shots from this guy Chris. I obtained them for this blog in no particular order.

 I damaged my fairlead making this climb. I saw Ryan do it earlier and I thought "That's cool. That's some Rubicon type stuff." But I wasn't going to try it because my truck acted like it wasnt' even going to complete the drive initially. We know why now. But basically i was playing it cool.
 Well, we came back by this spot later in the day and Ryan gets on the radio, "Will, you got lockers right? You should do it." It doesn't take much to egg me on. "Ok"
 Well I first nosed up to it and my bumper projects a bit low and out. I wasn't even close to getting my tires to hook up with it. Ryan says, "I can place a rock or two". He places them and I'm still like right there. "Sorry man. You fairlead is like right there in the way." I responded that the sh*t was already toast and we'd spent like 5 minutes setting up. I should try to do the climb. I attempted open open first, as I now always do. Wasn't going to happen. I flipped three switches, and this girl climbs and climbs. And then high-centers. HA! With a shorter wheelbase, the Xterra rear wheels can hook up with the last depression and propel the truck up and onto the top shelf. With the longer wheel base, my rear tires were like 3/4" too far back to get any appreciable grip to propel. Plus, I was like resting partially on my drive shaft. I do not have a spare one of those accessible. Or a trail welder. (Yet).

Doesn't it look like my rear axle might be in pain?
When I look at my rear axle in this picture, (or what i see of it evidenced by the rear wheel), I'm just like, "Does that hurt?!" I guess it is sexy in the same way that some women can pull off wearing high heels. You know it hurts but they do it to get a rise out of you maybe (or maybe 'cause it makes them feel sexy and it is NOT about you admiring them). Well, I hope that Veronica feels sexy in this photo, because she is. 

 In addition to folding up my fairlead, I also sheared part of the CB radio's coax antenna just below the connection. Because I'm running two whips (one for scanner and one for CB), I was able to quickly swap the coax feed from the scanner to the CB and restore radio contact. Trail MacGuyver.
 Splashing through the a one man open truck...

The truck and I BOTH look so focused here.

Too bad we didn't focus on NOT knocking my oil pan loose. I have a loose oil pan now. I know that it is loose because oil does not stay in anymore. I only noticed once I got home. I washed the truck. Came inside to do my taxes. Went back out to swap on my highway wheels and tires because the Duratracs were overdue to be rotated (only by 1000 miles or roughly the distance of this trip) and I noticed that the driveway was still 'wet'. It wasn't water.

So my truck is on engine dialysis where I am cycling in new oil to replace the captured lost oil. Although I'm sure the gasketing could be reworked or new RTV sealant could be applied, I want to get a brand new pan and fix it once. Then, since they are so difficult to come by, I'll keep the old one as a trail spare. So that's lemons out of lemonade.

And now that my taxes are done and the govt. did not pillage me this time, I can probably pull the trigger on ordering some real skids which I should have done in the first place.

Longer post and past my bedtime, but well worth it to be back blogging again...and wheeling.

Enjoy. Until the next one.