We drove up the
semi-improved road until we got to the first trail branch. The trail head was marked
with some tracks under some old snow, but the trail itself was untraveled. I turned
into it but after thinking for a second, suggested we travel further down to where we
could stop and air down and disconnect. Soon enough we stopped to do that in a
camping site that had shallow snow.
Back on the main
road we eventually caught up to the ATV group we had spoken to at the barricade.
They had hooked up with their buddies and reached the trail head. They were walking
down a few yards to determine whether or not they wanted to go in. They did.
And so did we. I went over the small bank of snow and descended the trail into the
The snow was
white and crystal clean. The powder had received a coating of ice on top. So
driving through it was noisy, as the top coating sliced open as the tires ran over
it. Those that followed were pretty much stuck with whatever path I took.
Pretty soon we
got to one of the trail junctions with a porta-john. I had one request to use it, so
I suggested we stop for a moment. That's when Jerime caught up with us.
He had gotten a
late start and missed us at Sideling Hill. Somehow, he managed to find the correct
exit off the highway and had literally tracked us down. He said that he knew I had
TrXuS tires so he was looking for that tread pattern in the snow! Luckily for him
and us, Carl was riding tail and has the same tire, as does Joe Stankos.
Once we got done
with the rest area, we hit the trail again. For the most part it was pretty easy
Most of the time
I was straddling an ATV track. That meant putting one wheel on an ATV rut and
running the other wheel in fresh snow. It was a little funky but we managed along
from Jim Culfogienis
I lead the group
down to the southern end of the trail system, to the base of the rocky climb back up the
ridge to the top. I was very interested to learn if we could make the climb all the
way to the top. The last time we'd gone out here, the hill climb was interesting but
without snow, it was not all that difficult. I knew the snow would change that, but
I didn't yet know by how much. We would soon find out!
I started up the
hill and went a fair distance before the snow got deeper and drifts ran across the
trail. I found myself backing up and going forward in equal measure for quite some
But I was able
to make reasonably good progress up the hill. Behind me I could hear people on the
CB dealing with varying levels of difficulty.
Jim strapped me
back off a couple or three drifts and I took some serious smack-talk from Carl's
12-year-old daughter. His new 33's have gone to her head! Riding in tail
gunner position over the tracks of five other vehicles, she was having trouble
understanding why the lead vehicle was having so much trouble...
Pretty soon we
reached the steepest portion of the climb, just before cresting the summit of the
ridge. I continued sawing away at the trail and made painfully slow progress until I
was within 50-100 feet of the top.
Just past the
steepest section, there was a deep drift that was like a wall. There was just enough
steepness and not enough traction under the snow that it seemed pretty pointless to keep
I could smell my
tires, and the group at the bottom of the hill was getting bored. I didn't know that
everyone would be able to, or want to try to get up the hill. I was also feeling
selfish for taking so long. I figured I would make one last run at it.
There was a
run-out that had been plowed to divert water from the trail. Since it was more level
than the approach up to this point, I decided to back up onto it and use it as a launching
point for my assault on the hill. Gravity had other plans for me. As I started
to back up onto it, my rear end slid off and I found myself at a 90-degree angle to the
slope of the hill and tipped at a solid 30-degree angle.
Now a couple
years ago, I would have peed myself right here. But I have since learned that my
Jeep will not tip over at 30 degrees, except perhaps if it got a little nudge... So rather
than tempt fate I shouted down the hill to get some help. People were so bored that
nobody even saw the pinch I was in. But when I called, they came up and soon we had
a strap lashed to my rack and secured by a small army.
Once I had that,
I backed up onto the flat spot and turned down the hill to let someone else have a run at
it. I had at least broken the first couple hundred feet of it.
Carl worked his
way up from the back and made a swipe at it.
from Jim Culfogienis
Once he reached
the point where I had stopped, he too had to work it forward and back to inch his way to
the top. He slowly worked his way out of sight and took on the task of breaking
trail for a while.
One by one, the
rest of the group took their turn. First Chris and Peggy went, storming the hill and
being very successful in making it all the way up. He is running GS/A's on stock
suspension, with chains added to aid in traction. Patrick and Eric went right up as
Joe worked it
for a while and then took break.
from Jim Culfogienis
Jerime came up
and told us his plan was to run it in 4-HI since his auto-tranny likes to stay in 1st, too
slow to get ground speed for a climb like this. And up he went in one swipe.
So I passed on
what Jerime had said to Joe and then he too went up in one pass! That left
He made short
work of it, and I went up when he reached the top. Everyone made it!
We ran along the
top of the ridge for a little while and then followed the trail as it descended back
down. We stopped several times along the way to clear fallen trees and
We carry small
buck saws for such times and they have proven time and again how valuable an inexpensive
accessory like this can be. A couple times it took me so long to get to the front of
the group that the sawing was done by the time I got there!
At the four-way
trail junction with Merten's Avenue, we encountered a group of four ATV riders. They
were out enjoying the great weather just like us.
We passed the
time of day and then headed north towards the other section of trail we had not yet
explored. Chris got off the trail a little and hung up in the ditch to one
side. So Carl Patrick and Eric gave him a strap and soon were were all rolling
We drove down
the trail to the bottom without much excitement.
When we reached
the place where the power lines cross the trail, Jim stopped and asked me if I was the one
"chirping" or was it him? Chirping? Hmmmm... I got out and
sure enough, there was a strange and troubling noise coming from under my hood.
Almost afraid to open it and see what it was, I heard what Jim thought might be my A/C
compressor clutch going south. I thought about it for a second. The compressor
does run, even in the winter, in the defrost mode. But I wasn't too worried about
losing that functionality and I figured that even if the clutch bought the farm, the
pulley would keep working and I wouldn't have to worry about engine cooling, power
steering, power brakes, water pump or fan. So I closed the hood feeling a little
disappointed that I was going to have that expense, but not immediately concerned about
the rest of the trail ride. So what if the A/C doesn't work? It's 25 degrees
We went maybe
another 1/2 mile and then I started smelling the same smell I know when my lawnmower gets
bogged down in deep grass and the belt starts slipping... A sickening burning
smell. So I quickly shut off the engine and went up to take a look. What I saw
was very disappointing. One of the idler pulleys had seized. The pulley itself
was cocked at an angle and about to come off the shaft. The bearings had failed and
the whole thing was junk! This isn't good...
I knew that I
could not let the belt keep smoking. Experience with the lawn mower told me that it
would last maybe another minute and a half before it broke. The good news was I had
a spare belt. The bad news was, the pulley had to be present and working for the
belt to work.
I did not have a
spare pulley. So we dragged out our tools and Jim introduced me to his hardware
locker. We managed to assemble a number of washers that fit in such a way as to make
it theoretically possible for the pulley to work. I put some grease on it and we
assembled it. Now keep in mind that this little exercise consumed the better part of
an hour. During which time my kids got very restless. When met with the
dawning awareness that "Papi's Jeep" was "broke" and might not make it
out of the woods, the kids got a little concerned.
was much simpler than mine. We still had a good stretch of trail ahead. There
were a half-dozen more rough hills to climb. They'd be hard enough without a
disabled Jeep strapped to the back bumper. So we really needed to have this fix
work, or it was going to be decision time...
Once I got it
all put together, we had to get the belt back on the pulley. Now this is normally
not a difficult process. You just loosen the tensioner pulley, thread the belt into
place, then tighten the tensioner pulley. Easy, right? No. Not
tonight. The bolt that holds it was seized. In the tight working space, the
small ratch handle just didn't give enough leverage to get it undone. We started
digging for anything to use for a breaker bar, or to extend the handle to give some more
leverage. We came up with the Hi-Lift Jack handle but it was held in place by a pin,
and we didn't want to mess with it.
So after another
hour of struggling to put the belt on without loosening the tensioner, I managed to
get it installed using essentially the same principle involved with shifting 10-speed
bikes - I started the belt then rotated the pulley as I applied a side pressure to coax
the belt on. And it worked. Never mind the crow-bar that I used to get the
necessary pressure or the spot on the radiator shroud that I used as a leverage point...
I started it up
and the pulley was still seized. Turned it off. I decided to loosen the bolt a
little and try again. It worked! It was noisy, and I would probably have to
get towed from the trail head, but we could at least try to get out of the woods. So
we wasted no time getting underway.
and the rest of the group had waited for us for a little while, but were waved off when it
became clear that it was going to be a while and there was nothing they could do.
Carl took the
group and continued on. Small detail, he did not have a GPS, and took a wrong turn
at one of the trail junctions. This was bad for him and the group, but very good for
the band of ATV riders who had gotten lost and were struggling to get through deep
The ATV riders
had called the park ranger and asked for help getting out. The ranger had come to
aid them but soon decided the trail was too difficult to drive. He had decided to
set out on foot to find the ATV riders and do what he could to lead them back to the
road. Based on what we learned later, that plan would not have been a total solution
- the ATV riders would most likely have had to leave their rides in the woods and walk out
with the ranger. They were about three miles in, and the walk was not easy.
But Jim, the
kids and I were ignorant of these goings on. No sooner had we gotten underway, then
the pulley fix grenaded and all the pieces disappeared under the moving Jeep into the
powdery snow. I managed to find the pulley and a flange. No bolt. No
washers. After that, I got back in and drove it up one last hill. When I got
to the top, I watched the temperature gauge climb rapidly into the warning zone. I
shut the engine off. It dieseled for about 20 seconds and the radiator started
hissing a little bit, but other than that, it was pretty much over except the
crying. That was the end of that. We were done trying to drive it out.
Now it was
time to see about towing. We hooked up a strap and I soon discovered how much it
sucked to pilot a vehicle with no power steering (in deep snow) and a hard brake
pedal. This was starting to remind me more and more of my old Willys...
We made it
through one switchback and down one hill and then we were face to face with a rugged
climb. There was no way we were going to get it towed up this hill. I felt
like begging Jim to do whatever we could to tow it out, but he was able to bring me back
to reason. I unloaded all my gear, moved the kids into Jims Jeep, locked mine down,
and we left it right there in the middle of the woods. I took a GPS coordinate for
getting back to it and silently prayed it would not be a smoldering, vandalized heap when
I got back.
I'm not a very
good passenger, but Jim took me in stride and pretty soon were were moving again. We
raised Carl on the CB and found out he had hooked up with the ranger, towed two ATV's out
to the trail head, and was coming back in to get the other two. We went around a
corner and there in front of us were the other two ATV riders.
Jim stopped and
we got them hooked up to tow out. We got Carl on the radio and got moving.
Pretty soon we met Carl on the trail and continued out to the trail head. We stopped
and talked to the ranger. He was very happy to have had some help. When he
reached a point on the trail where his truck would not continue, Carl picked him up and
they took care of business.
I gave him my
info so he'd know who the Jeep belonged to and would not start a manhunt for me. I
wanted someone to know it was there just in case I later had to make a vandalism report...
With all that
out of the way, we hit the road, got aired up, then drove into Hancock to have something
to eat at Pizza Hut. Then Jim drove me and the boys home. We got to the house
at 12:30 AM. It was a long ride and the thought that we'd be returning again
tomorrow made it that much longer. Jim still had another hour ahead when he dropped
I had my work
cut out for me. I had to get a list of parts together, look up the part numbers,
call a dealer, and go pick up the parts. I was very fortunate to have acquired a PDF
file parts list, complete with pictures and dealer part numbers. I looked up the
parts and soon had compiled the following list:
Pulley, Belt Tensioner Pulley
SCREW AND WASHER,
BOLT, Hex Flange
Idler Pulley, Belt Tensioner Pulley
Drive, With Air Conditioning
I knew the belt
was going to be a no-brainer but I had my doubts about the rest of it. The first
dealer I spoke to confirmed my worst fear: Except for the pulley and the belt, they
did not stock the other parts because "nobody ever needs them"... He was
very proud to tell me he could have them tomorrow. And normally that would be pretty
good except that I had business "tomorrow" and that was not going to work for me
today. I could have gotten paralyzed with fear pretty easily but instead I called
another dealer and this time I got an 80% hit ratio. Only the spacer and M10x1.5x40
bolt were unavailable. I was ordering the spacer as a spare so that was no big
deal. The bolt in question was a shorter version of the other bolt which they had,
so I got two of the longer bolts and a few washers to space it out to make it work.
This was great news.
Carl came by,
having stood up his wife to help me out. Thanks Kathy, I appreciate it very very
much! We loaded all my gear into his Jeep next to the spare radiator he brought
along (in case my leaky one was now dead from the overheating), 2 gallons of anti-freeze
(I wonder what that's for?) and all his gear. We ran the check list of things to do
and hit the road.
We went to the
dealer and got the parts. They were all put up for me when I arrived, so that went
fast. The parts counter guy let me rummage their hardware bins for the washers, and
we were out of there. We had everything we needed.
The drive is
about three hours one way so we got to it. We stopped for gas in Hancock, and I got
myself some food and drink, to cover lunch and any other needs that might arise if the
repair work didn't go well...
Back on the road
and finally we reached the trail head. We aired down and got going. I cranked
up the GPS. We went directly to the Jeep. Fortunately it was untouched and
clearly there had been no traffic since we left it the night before. That was a huge
relief and confirmed what the ranger had told me the night before: "Nobody's
gonna find it out here, and even if they do, they won't bother it." Oh me of
collected myself and my repair parts, I took my breaker bar and removed the offending bolt
on the tensioning pulley, then put both new pulleys and associated hardware
out loud why I replaced the idler pulley that was still good. I explained that it
was just the same as the one that went bad and just as old. It was living on
borrowed time. This was the best time to replace it. I harvested the pulley
for my spares box. It might not last much longer, but it certainly would last longer
than the trail fix we tried the previous night.
I threaded the
serpentine belt and tightened and adjusted everything. Carl had gone off in search
of the bolt that I had lost in the vain hope he'd find it. He returned to find that
I had completed the repair. We started it up and observed the operation for any
oversights. Carl noticed that the belt was not lined up on the alternator pulley
exactly right, over one groove from where it should be. So I shut it down and made
it right. Then we transferred my junk to my Jeep, and turned tail to get out.
When we reached
the next trail junction, Carl looked right and noticed that only ATV tracks went off into
the distance. He said something to the effect of "while we're here, we might as
well wheel. What do you think?"
What I thought
was, it's two hours to sundown (again), we had just finished a basic repair, but it was
fine and so I said "Sure, let's go." So up the trail we went. As I
cut new snow up the hill it seemed like my tires were not pointing the same direction as
the steering wheel. Great... Had I somehow bent my drag link or something else
without knowing it? At the top of the hill I got out and inspected it, but
everything was fine. I guess my head was out of alignment or something. Most
likely the steering wheel was canted because one tire was on ATV track and the other in
fresh snow, causing the need to compensate by steering lightly to one side.
At the top of the
ridge, we took a look at the view. It's incredibly peaceful out here, and the
clarity of the air this time of year allows for a terrific view of distant terrain.
We wheeled for
about two hours, stopping frequently to saw fallen trees out of the trail. We almost
reached the other end of the ridge but reached some heavy drifts that neither one of us
could easily get through. We decided that neither of us wanted to spend another hour
or two playing the "five feet forward, ten feet back" game.
And we didn't
want to end up broke in the dark again... So we turned around and backtracked to the
But it was
productive in that we did some trail maintenance. And truth be told, it was another
beautiful day and the views were spectacular.