Big Levels / Shoe Creek

Harvin & Katie


Big Levels | Shoe Creek

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Way Points


Does anyone out there have a life where everything always goes as planned?  I sure don't.  I guess that's just a sign that I have a life...  Anyway, this trip was not planned very far in advance.  It took the place of a weekend at Paragon. 

It seems I may never get up there at this rate.  Something always stands in the way.  This time it was just timing and economics.  I don't know if people ever sit and add up what a trip up there for the weekend costs.  I figured it would run me in the vicinity of $400 if I didn't break anything.  That takes into account eating out for two days, two nights in the hotel, and lots of gas, and a park admission. 

I just couldn't do that so close to the holidays with a trip planned to New York in a couple weeks.  I would have to find something else to spend a day on that was fun but a whole lot cheaper. 

Enter NOVA Jeepers.   They have had a trip scheduled for some time and as the date drew near, I started thinking I might want to throw in with them.  But I also did not want to camp out over night with the kids.  The last two times I have camped with them I have awoken in the wee hours of the morning to find one of them laying on the ground, outside his sleeping bag, with no blankets or the sleeping pads under him.  I didn't need to wake up on this trip with a kid frozen, dead from exposure.  They need more practice staying in their sleeping bags before they do any winter camping.

I decided I didn't just want to run Shoe Creek (the NOVA Jeepers trip plan) so put out a feeler for people to join me in running both Big Levels and Shoe Creek the same day.  I didn't really expect anybody to throw in but to my surprise, Jim C. signed up on the OCC board, and Harvin signed up with the possibility of a few more people from NOVA Jeepers joining us.  So I braced myself for the 4:30AM alarm and hit the hay way too late.


Jim and I met at about 6:10am at the Sheetz in Manassas (Rt 15 and Rt 66).  I tanked up and we rolled out.   The drive out to Stuarts Draft was pretty uneventful.

6:30 AM Road Trip (Jim)6:30 AM Road Trip (Jim)
6:30 AM Road Trip (Jim)

We stopped at one of the truck stops along the way to let the kids hit the rest room and for me to trigger the alarm on the games of chance machines that pay out if your quarter knocks money off the moving shelf (I tilted it I guess...)  I found a New-Ray die cast Dodge Pick-up truck (1952) that I could not resist, and the kids got something for desert at lunch time.

Truck Stop

The drive down Route 81 was pretty as usual.

Route 81

When we got to Stuarts Draft, we stopped for a break and I called Harvin to give him some landmarks.  Soon he and Katie were there and ready to head out for the trail head.

After a few minutes and a light drizzle, we got to the trail.


I was happy to see that the Forest Service had finally made the illegal hill climb inaccessible by creating a huge tank trap.  That was encouraging.  A little ways in I saw that they had also done a similar thing to what I thought had been a very mild cut-off of the very sharp trail turn.  It was here that we stopped to air down and disconnect.  We took a few pictures, then started up the trail.

Harvin, Ted, Tom, PaulHarvin and KatieJims Growth
Starting Group at Big Levels



Big Levels


Around the corner and we found that a rough section of the trail had been made smooth.  A little further and we found that the first obstacle was not accessible.  Another ugly tank trap and some trees prevented turning right onto what was once the trail.  We were forced to continue along the other branch of the trail, the switchback road visible on the map.   Suffice to say that it was clear that someone had decided to obliterate part of the trail.

Harvin and Jim

At the first point where the switchback crosses the trail that goes straight up the hill, the same treatment has been applied.  This is getting annoying.  Nothing was damaged on this trail; the runoff from rain was very well managed by the rocky bed of the trail, and there wasn't even any way to go off this trail.  I got out and walked it off a ways and found that the trail had been cut with tank traps in three separate spots to make triple sure nobody went up the trail.  And it was ugly.  This section of the area has beautiful scrub pine and hardwood.  This "maintenance" was heavy handed, hurried, and did nothing but make an ugly mess.  I object to this kind of trail closure, and the misguided decisions that prompted it.

Again, with no choice but to follow the other trail along the switchbacks, we continued.  Finally, further up the hill, we came to a branch where the trail running straight up the mountain was open and we chose that route, finally able to enjoy the rocky crawl and the view.  I cannot say how disappointed I am that the first several thousand feet of trail were so rudely blocked.

Harvin & Katie
Harvin and ViewHarvin and View

At the top of the climb, we stopped to sample the Wintergreen berries, and take a break. 


Then we continued up the trail with a mud puddle here and there. 

Gumbo Jim

I started hearing the NOVA Jeepers group talking on the CB, going down Route 81 toward Staunton for their meeting before going on to Shoe Creek.  They were talking about the long line of Jeeps going down the road.  We meanwhile took a little side trail that leads to the head of a hiking trail.  It was interesting with a few mildly challenging spots.

When we reached the dead end, we turned around and doubled back to the main trail.  I noticed that there were some signs of someone traveling through very recently.  The water from a splashed puddle was running down the dry trail.  That told me that a vehicle had JUST passed through within a minute or two. 

Right after that we caught up to Pete Hohmann and Joel Watkins in an Isuzu Rodeo Sport and a friend of theirs driving a TJ.  They were out doing some wheeling so we invited them to join us on the Shoe Creek run that we were heading for when we got back to the road.  They decided to throw in with us and we continued along the trail.

By this time the trail is pretty much nothing more than a dirt road with mud puddles.  At one point we encountered a switchback and Jim got some air as the result of a little bit of creativity.   And then we came upon a burned out Cherokee and a Ford Pickup that looked to have been stolen, abused, hanging off the edge of the trail, and heavily vandalized. 

Funeral for a Friend
What's That?What's That?Break Time

Strange stuff.  I can't figure why this stuff would be left here like this but then I do not understand the mind of people who do these things.  We stopped long enough to take a couple pictures then got back on the trail.

Pretty soon we got to the Bald Mountain Overlook on the Parkway. 

Bald Mt Overlook

We took a minute to stretch and pass out some paperwork, then headed for the back way to Shoe Creek, running down Route 814. 



Crabtree Falls / Shoe Creek

Big Levels | Shoe Creek

Way Points

As we got closer to Shoe Creek, we picked up some more NOVA Jeepers on the CB, trying to find their way to the trail.  Pretty soon we caught them, coming toward us and got them turned around and following us to the trail head up by Crabtree Falls.

When we got onto the road that takes you in to the upper parking lot near Crabtree Falls, we found the rest of the NOVA Jeepers group that we planned to meet to run Shoe Creek. 

Entrance to Shoe Creek

Some of them had broken off to go find a Jeep dealer to get some parts for a Jeep that had broken down.  We stopped, said our hello's and then got going.

This trail is even less challenging than Big Levels.  A careful car driver could get through it without much trouble.  Indeed, a little ways past where most cars venture no more we found an Audi Quattro parked with a pickup truck.  It was surprising to some people, but up to that point on the trail, it seemed pretty feasible.

Pete and Joe and IsuzuOn the TrailOn the trail

Gray Wolf (Chris)

We crawled along down to the fallen ruins, then a little further along to the spot where the trail branches off to the one side.  There were some folks there, including Don who shared my hotel room at one of the Camp Jeep pre-runs. 


We spent some time talking, then after the other group moved on, decided to drive up little cutoff.  We have done this many times and each time we go it gets a  little bit more difficult.


Chad went first and bumped and grinded his way to the top.


Next, I went up.  It went really smoothly for the first third of the way.  There's a spot where some big rocks stick up and you have to pick your path pretty well to get by them.  I chose to set up my wheels so I could get on the rocks and avoid having them drag on my skids.  

Paul Pops a Bead
Movie:  Paul Pops a Bead (23 MB)

Then I knew I had to bump it just a little to get the rear wheel up.  When I did, the front slipped hard to the right and a huge "WHACK!" shot out.  Great....  It sounded almost like a "CRACK" and I didn't even want to think it was a shaft.  I figured it would be easy to determine and just put it in reverse and backed off a little bit.   There were no bad noises and the front end felt fine.

I was getting ready to continue when Justin yelled out that I had blown a bead.

Got Bead?

That would account for the loud noise.  I didn't want to think of the possibility that I had slashed the sidewall, but that would have just meant putting the spare on, so I wasn't too worried either way.  I got out and took a look and sure enough, it looked like I had just popped the bead and nothing else.

I repositioned the Jeep and at Chad's suggestion, secured it with some winch line on a tree.  Chad got his Hi-Lift and we jacked it up high enough to get the tire off the ground. 

Got Bead IIGot Bead IIGot Bead II
AnchoringNot Bead

Meanwhile, Jim went and got his CO2 tank and fortunately had enough in it to give us hope that we could reseat the tire.  The jack was precarious (as usual) so we carefully cleaned out the rim and dusted off the tire.  Then with three people holding the tire against the rim, we got the thing set and aired back up.  There were no leaks and soon the bead popped back on.  It could have been a lot worse, so I was happy with this outcome:  No dented wheel, no slashed tire, and it remounted without any trouble.  What's not to like?  Well, there would be the problem that the tire isn't balanced anymore...  But if it's bad when I get on the road, I'll swap the spare in.

Finished fixing BeadBacking off LiftBacking off LiftBacking off LiftBacking off LiftBacking off Lift

Now I had to finish getting up the hill.  I proceeded to wedge myself in the rocks, finding the value of the rear bumper I had recently installed.  The paint took a little abuse but the metal didn't budge.  I think the factory one would have been a bit "deformed".   Again my choice of equipment saving my sorry butt.

Heading upHeading upHeading upHeading upHeading upHeading upMoving OnMoving OnMoving OnMoving OnMoving OnMoving On
Moving OnMoving OnMoving OnMoving On
Moving OnMoving OnMoving OnMoving OnMoving OnMoving On
Moving OnMoving OnMoving OnMoving OnMoving On

I got the Jeep back on track and finished the hill.  I parked behind Chad and went to watch Harvin come up.

Harvin attacked it.  A surprisingly small bent-over tree on one side had caused Chad and me a little bit of trouble; Harvin used it to launch his front wheels high off the ground..

Harvin Launches

Harvin Launches the Rubicon

Movie: Harvin Launches the Rubicon

After that, he stirred the dirt and rocks around for a while and then got hung on a rock that fit perfectly in the gaps created by his transfer case skid plate. 

Harvin HungHarvin HungHarvin HungHarvin Hung
Harvin HungHarvin HungHarvin HungNotHarvin Hung
Harvin UnHungMoving OnMoving OnMoving OnMoving On
Hung AgainLet's try leaning it like a minute agoLet's try leaning it like a minute agoLet's try leaning it like a minute ago
Let's try leaning it like a minute agoLet's try leaning it like a minute agoLet's try leaning it like a minute agoLet's try leaning it like a minute ago
I stuck his bottle jack under it and soon he was off the rock.  (Harvin, all the pieces of your jack and handle should be in your Jeep somewhere - sorry that I forgot to stow it again for you.)  After that, he went up the hill.

Try something elseMovin OnMovin OnMovin On
Movin OnMovin OnMovin OnMovin OnMovin On
Movin OnMovin On


Jim went next and showed us what '33's and a little bit bigger lift does for you.  We are all convinced that driving has nothing to do with anything...  Right!



When we got into the Jeep to leave, Teddy showed me an FRS radio that Tomi had found.  I told him we'd have to see if we could find out to whom it belonged.  He wasn't thrilled but I reminded him that of course if had been his to begin with, and he'd lost it, he would want it back.   And not to mention that one of them isn't really very useful...  We stopped by Melissa and Chris, mentioned that we had found a radio.  Melissa gave a perfect description of it and Teddy gave it back very gracefully (for a 6-year old).  Melissa went to her Jeep and came back with two toy footballs that conceal binoculars so the kids were very happy about that and busy for a good part of the way off the trail playing with their new toys.

That was pretty much all the excitement for our group, though some folks played around on some rocks, and others debated the depths of the creek at a couple of the crossings. 


We came out to the end of the trail in a nice clearing with houses on both sides.  The main group of NOVA Jeepers who had gone up the trail before we arrived were just about finished airing up and connecting.  We all visited and traded stories for a while.

Trails EndTrails End

Ted and Tom were busy playing with the walkie-talkies that Melissa had lent them while we were stopped.



The road home from here is always a long one.  We followed the route that winds along some dirt roads and surfaces on Route 29 just south of Lovingston, near Oak Ridge. 

View on Road Out
Road Out
Road OutRoad OutRoad OutRoad Out

Jim and I drove into Charlottesville, but not before I ran my tank dry and stopped to transfer the contents of one jerry can into my Jeep.  Then we continued to Charlottesville.  The tire that I popped the bead on was running completely smooth at all my usual speeds.  I got lucky and probably didn't spin it on the wheel when it lost air.

We stopped at Red Lobster and had something to eat.  We got a brand new waitress who was too apologetic for being new on the job.  Everything went smoothly and dinner was just fine.

After dinner, we stopped for gas, then drove straight up Route 29 all the way to Route 15, where we cut North and headed to our respective homes.  That put me in Leesburg with a stop at Wal*Mart so we could stretch, hit the rest room, and check for new toys in the die cast vehicle department.   I found a Willys Jeep Muscle Machine that I have been looking for.

dsc02880.jpg (28268 bytes)

At White's Ferry, we stopped briefly to wait for the ferry to come over for us, then rode it across the Potomac.  It was a pretty night and we enjoyed the light breeze that came off the water.

At the other side, we disembarked and started for home.  Outside of Poolesville, before we got to Route 28, the road opens up a little and goes down into a low area.  The pavement improves and I could swear that the speed limit goes up to 55 from 40.  I sped up a bit and BAROOO!  Blue lights!  Great.  It's 10:00 at night, I am dog tired, the kids have gotten their second wind, and here comes Montgomery County's finest to discuss Jeep speed with me.   I figured there was no point in a debate, I could see the speed limit sign off in the distance and sure as shootin' it said "SPEED LIMIT 40" and I was a gonner.

The officer was pleasant and I was more pleasant than I felt.  Yes, I was going (whatever he said I was going), thought the speed limit was higher, knew the he was behind me, and oh well.  He takes my license and registration from me, walks a step or two away from the Jeep, then comes back with my registration held toward me and says "Do you have another registration, I can't read this one?"  As I reached for my folder to check, he says "The correct answer is 'No Sir, I don't.' and handed me back my registration and walked away.  OK?   I kind of got wind that maybe he was going to let me go with a warning but we would already be done if that was the case.  So what the...?   He came back in about 5 minutes so I concluded that he had run the plates and the license.  Sure enough he has a citation for me but he's still being really nice and smiling.  He told me that I was going over 20 MPH over the speed limit and that ticket is $135 plus points for 3 years.  Shit.  Then he says "But I wrote you up for failing to produce a legible registration.  It's $35 and no points."  DOH!  I guess this is a "warning" with a kicker.  Fine, I did the speed, so I need to get something for it I guess.  I can live with $35 a lot better than $135 plus points (and insurance surcharges).  I asked him if he'd consider me a jerk if I went to court on it because my license is illegible because it was printed with crappy ink by the registry and therefore not my fault it was illegible and he said "Yes, you'd be a jerk and I would write you the speeding ticket on top of this one."  So he had a sense of humor but the message was clear.  I said thanks and waved my left-front wheel to him as I went on my way.  Not!

In the 15 miles I drove before we finally got home, I saw no less than 10 cruisers with people pulled over.  So they are either running a campaign to reduce the county deficit, looking for someone, or maybe there were just a lot of people like me out driving a little less than perfect.

The kids and I hit the beds hard.   We were up close to 20 hours on this trip and it finally hit us.  I was nice to get home!

C.O.R.E. Trip | Len Thompson's Photos | More Big Levels Photos

C.O.R.E. Trip | Accommodations

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