My Girl: Gettin' After It!!

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

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Happy Birthday America! Southington Offroad Park

For the 2nd year in a row, I was able to spend the 4th of July weekend doing some camping and offroading. America! The difference this go 'round was that I wasn't alone. We actually had a F.O.R.C.E. club outing at Southington Off Road Park. Marcus and John had made mention of the park almost two years prior following the inaugural club run where we ran into them at Rock Run in PA. They both were able to join us (along with John's wife) and guide our group through the park. Loopy had his new-to-him Xterra on it's maiden voyage and brought his wife and girls along for the ride. My wife, kid, and dog were along for the ride for the first time doing some true offroading as a family. Steve B came over from the eastern shore to round out the group.

 So this is the latest iteration of the bed configuration for when the full family is traveling together. I was able to get the 33" spare to fit in the stock location by taking the air pressure way down to like 4-5psi. The fridge orientation was changed so that the digital read out is visible. I hooked up the fan and the fridge to the same Blue Sea Systems power switch so that I can conveniently reach in and turn them on or off (the fan has its own integral switch on the back of the fan which allows me to run the fridge without needing to commit to operating the fan concurrently.)
 There was a whole shipping debacle that happened right before the trip. I had arranged for both this Curt cargo basket and a set of Rhino rack load bars and multi-position mounting tracks to be shipped and ready for install on the fiberglass cap. The Curt rack arrived fine. But the Rhino Rack was so shoddily packaged that about half of the needed hardware components were missing. I could have made due without a few nuts and bolts, but two of the four pedestal mounting feet were also missing. After an hour and a half with customer service talking through options, it finally came down to there not being able to guarantee that any replacement order could arrive prior to my planned departure. It was a major bummer.
Veronica, Hillary, and Loopy's yet un-named Xterra in the Quaker Steak and Lube parking lot
 One of the things my wife had lamented most about the beach trip was that she didn't feel like there was enough room to comfortably accommodate everything. I have to agree. The spare tire took up a bunch of space. We were able to alleviate that on this trip. There is no changing how much space the dog's crate takes. When the kid is a bit older and can vocalize, they can probably both coexist just fine in the back row together. But for now, I think the dog is actually safer in the rear with the widows open and the fan circulating. At low speeds, I pop the back hatch for even more ventilation.

I had been looking into cargo boxes (which cost a GRIP). The biggest deterrent for my setup though was the general lengths that you can obtain these boxes in. The way that the cap contours dictates that the box cannot be much more than 4 feet in length without then encroaching either on the rear of the solar panel or potentially obstructing the full opening of the rear hatch glass. That realization led me to the option of getting a cargo basket instead and then fastening one of the Home Depot tubs up there. Although it ended up being a rushed job due to my wife's work schedule and my solo Daddy duties leading right up to the trip, the setup worked very well over the cab.

 Physically, it was all very well accommodated. I think the one thing that I need to troubleshoot is what at one point, the dual battery setup seemed unable to keep up with running the inverter, the fridge, and the compressor when I was ready to air up the tires at a later point in the trip. The fridge never lost power, but the inverter went into alarm and the ARB compressor was only pumping intermittently at one point. I think the blocked solar panel was not able to provide any juice to continually keep the battery topped off.


 So for this trip, there were going to be two rendezvous points. The first was in Frederick, MD where we met up with Dave and his family and Steve B. I was late. I'm usually not. Jenn got held up at work, which then seemed to afford me some time to try to add the fuel and water cans to the rack. I didn't want to have a fuel can stored under the cap with the fridge exhausting heat as there is a potential for it serving as an ignition source. So that last minute mini project extended about 20 minutes past the time when my wife was finally ready. Granted, we might have still been late as a result of her delay, but my last 20 minutes buttoning up that configuration was solely my doing. From there, we were going to travel about 3 hours and then meet Marcus and John at Quaker Steak and Lube in Cranberry Township.

 There were three wrecks along the way. Although this wasn't one of them, there definitely was a single pickup accident that kinda was oriented like this up on a guard rail
 So between my initial 30 minutes (which we made up on the road) and then the 3 accidents, we still ended up getting to the 2nd rendezvous point about an hour behind schedule. Our server was in training and the restaurant was kinda busy. We didn't arrive to the registration cabin until about 20 minutes after it was supposed to close (5pm-8pm). Fortunately, there were quite a few folks still arriving and the cabin was going to stay open until at least 10pm that evening. We lucked out.

We all quickly got to camp and set up tents and a fire for the evening. I didn't have the chance to test fit the air mattress into the tent. I usually just would sleep on a woefully unsatisfying foam mat. Since Jenn and the baby were going to be camping for the first time, I brought along an air mattress that I had picked up for a house guest previously. Unfortunately, the air mattress was only big enough to accommodate Jenn and the baby. And doubly unfortunately, I neglected to pack the unsatisfying foam mat. (That's what I get for mocking it). Daddy just slept on the ground.
Dave stuck for the first time. He's looking at my truck, but he ought to be looking back at his own vehicle.
 The first night was surprisingly not tragic considering that there were, all in all, three children under the age of 3 on the trip.

After getting up for breakfast, we were out on the trails by about 10am. I had scrambled to try to do some last minute preps to my truck for which I was not previously afforded an opportunity at home. I got most of it buttoned up, and the parts that I didn't get to fortunately didn't prove problematic.

One issue that we encountered was that a part of the trail that John had been counting on to be open was actually closed off due to the preparations for the fireworks display and the machine gun shoot (more on the latter later). This led us into a more challenging network of trails than I had hoped to encounter that early in the day given Dave's newbie status. In the above photo, he managed to get off track following the ruts and kind of high-centered in a way. I drove backwards along the trail, linked him up, and got moving again with no fanfare.
 Not much further ahead though, I met my own match. John had a little difficulty, adjusted his line, and then walked up on maybe a 2nd attempt or so. When it was my turn, I tried to take the high line and then slid sideways into a low point. I tried to muscle through and got way way way off camber (or so it felt). At that point, I thought it best to have Jenn and the baby get out of the truck in case it went from bad to worse.
I dont know who that guy is, but he was trying to help.
 I wanted to continue with this line once my family was clear of any danger, but the gentleman that emerged from the woods advised against it. We tried several times, unsuccessfully, to take that high line. I was actuating all of my lockers and just wasn't getting it. I think I was just too fat with gear basically.The funny thing is, I was worried about Steve or maybe Dave having trouble here. They both essentially walked up with no issue.
 So Will just sucked here apparently. Oh well.

 We were joined by Nathan and his wife. I had run into him a couple of times around the campground and we chatted. When we set out that morning, he fell in line maybe 1/2 mile into the first trail and was able to find our channel. Initially, we thought he was a part of a larger group and we pulled to the side to allow him past. It ended up being like how we met Marcus and John in Rock Run. With his addition, it brought our group to an even split of Nissans and Jeeps.
 At this point, Marcus assumed the lead and we were testing out a couple of paths through a particularly boggy section. He found the path that we should not take.

 This area turned into about an hour long debacle which was not Marcus' fault. About 300 yards ahead, we came to a very narrow section of the trail without any good spot to pull off to a side. We had just about worked out an arrangement when another group came up from behind and went a bit rogue. Then the oncoming group started to experience some challenges getting by as well. It was very muddy and slick in this area. I started playing traffic cop and was having some success in getting folks past one another. Then there was one Jeep that consistently wasn't getting enough momentum to make it up a slight embankment. I pulled a move like my buddy Ben who once strong armed my entire truck, and was able to heave-ho a Jeep up a trail. I made a second such attempt with another guy to move an Unlimited, and for some reason had my mouth open (presumably to yell a Barbarian yell). This was not prudent though, as I ended up with a faceful (and mouthful) of mud and muck.
 We were finally able to get moving again. Not long after, we made it to this clearing for a group photo opp.

 Lining up the rigs.

It was maybe around 1pm. One of the things that I had probably failed to clear was that we generally try to break for a snack while on the trail and then keep rolling. I suppose, with the kids and all, that this needed to be compromised. And by 'suppose', I mean that basically Dave's wife and mine were like, "We want the full lunch!" So back to base camp we went.

From there, as could be expected, the momentum for additional trail riding was killed for about half of the group. This would be the half that had children. I was in that half. We made a diversion into town while the food was being consumed. Steve and Loops wanted to get some ice. I needed to get some Teflon tape to wrap the threads of the one connection on the Powertank that doesn't come pre-doped from the manufacturer. This one fitting is left un-treated because it is where the tank gets filled with the compressed liquid CO2. I wanted to test it out with airing us up and neglected to snag some Teflon tape from the home stash. Anyway, we ran into town to get that and the ice. Steve found the "It's not your dad's root beer" that I had heard about; I promptly purchased two 6-packs. It was a good run into town.
Daddy Duty at the Splash Park
 Well, when we got back, the wives were looking at 'Splash Parks'. on their phones. Marcus, John, and Nathan were ready to take on an obstacle course. Steve had aired up while we were in town and was weighing options at that point. Ultimately, he decided to break camp and get a jump on heading back. We bid him adieu.

Now, I'd like to believe that Loops and I were made to think that we'd be dropping the kids off with the wives and then either return to run some more trails with the remaining group or maybe stop at a tavern near town depending on how far of a drive it took and when the park would close.

When we got there, however, I was particularly guilted for not wanting to stay. "How are we supposed to keep up with 3 kids if you guys AREN'T here?!"

They got us.

I mean, had I known, I would have brought the trunks that I specifically packed in my gear which was back at camp. Oh well. I sucked it up, changed into a pair of running shorts I had in the truck, and splashed my sleepy toddler with water he was only partially interested in.

When my little guy was tuckered out, I went ahead and had a taste of my Daddy Root Beer in the back of the truck. It was delicious. The fridge got them nice and cold really quickly.
 We made it back to camp for dinner. Really, I have to admit, it was a fair compromise. I didn't get the full day of wheeling that I would normally get at a park like this. From the wife and kid perspective, though, they spent several hours driving to arrive here and then several more in the truck while the daddies maneuvered over obstacles. They needed their own play time too. So it worked out.
 Below are just a bunch of pictures of random Jeeps and other vehicles.

This big fella was at the end of the oncoming convoy we had to pass at the narrow section. 

At the base camp.
 For all of the super built rigs that were there, quite a few people made it a point to come up to me and talk to me about this truck. It was quite surprising really.
 I had never been to a 'machine gun shoot'. They raffled off chances for people to be able to fire the .50 cal. There actually were multiple. We didn't make it back in time to participate in the full raffle. Basically the guns were all aimed at random tanks and appliances that had a huge rock plateau behind them as the backstop. When the rounds would hit the huge rock formation, they would spark in sizable red flashes as dusk descended upon us.
 I always have binoculars in the truck. A couple other observers asked if I was spotting for the shooters.

 By the time the fireworks were to start, I thought it best that we get down inside the warmth of the cab and to achieve a bit of sound-deadening. J wasn't phased at all by the machine gun sounds. The vacuum cleaner at home, however, is a totally different story.

 More shots of the campground

 The kids hanging out.
 On our way out of town, the four trucks stopped at the McDonald's in town for breakfast before heading back along the Ohio Turnpike
 The last thing that I tested out and worked pretty well was re-purposing this surplus military duffel as a knock-off Trasharoo. I just fashioned the backstraps around the tailgate. It held up to 70mph+ speeds on the highway.
That's all I got from this trip. I was kinda surprised it took me a full week to get around to the update. Probably forgot a few details here and there.

All in all, it was a great trip with even greater company. I am fortunate to have a growing group of enthusiasts in my circle who want to make similar outings going forward. It makes it a lot of fun to have folks who have your back with you out on the trail. We can share recovery gear and camping stuff so that there's less stuff to be piled into any one vehicle. Thanks to everyone who made it out and for those who read this blog in hopes of joining us for a subsequent outing.

All the best.