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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
|This was a unique Jeep build.|
|This truck belongs to Ryan, the organizer.|
|Very true, my friend. Very true.|
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.
Nothing on the trail ever gave the truck pause, but its own power was undoing it.
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.
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.
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 badly...at 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.
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.
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 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.
|First with a bit of ambient lighting...|
|Stealth mode, engaged.|
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.
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.
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. http://chaosfabshop.com/
And finally, I want to thank my partner Angel of OffroadGorilla.com 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. http://www.offroadgorilla.com/
So I'm limping around town these days and slowly working to build her back up...to GLORY.