It was another early start. I got
up a shade before 6:00 am, tossed my stuff in the Jeep and headed for breakfast. I
managed to beat the hot water shortage all weekend by showering in the evening. But
that just made it harder to wake up. All my other batteries were fully charged so I
was ready for a day of wheeling.
I was surprised to find that I was the
first to arrive for breakfast. It was just past 6:30am so I expected to see others
there before me. The Women's Auxiliary was busy setting out the food, so I grabbed
some coffee and went about the job of waking up. One of the women was outside
getting something from her nice maroon Cherokee so I suggested she consider coming along
next year. She said that some of her relatives had expressed an interest but that
she and her husband were too old. It's hard to imagine being to old to go wheeling,
but I guess my day will come.
Breakfast was the same as the day before,
but no less welcome. I got some and made short work of it. Then I drove over
to the assembly field.
Again, I was the first to arrive, though
Chris appeared shortly after.
I spend a few minutes photographing the
CJ-3B that was keeping silent guard over the field. It brought to mind my early days
of wheeling in my CJ-2A - similar in
many respects. I could not imagine driving it these days. As much as I am fond
of vintage vehicles, I have grown accustomed to the refinements that the TJ offers.
Soon others began to arrive and the field
slowly filled up as the day before. I had a chance to admire the first really well
prepared Liberty that I have seen.
The driver had clearly spent some time
hunting down the components and it had been put together very well. The vehicle
appears transformed from the change in bumpers, wheels, ride height, and rack. The
rack was of particular interest to me since it is made by the same manufacturer of mine
but has some refinements that I would like to have. I have since written to
the manufacturer in the hope of seeing these features and others incorporated into a rack
I made my rounds and helped people get
ready for the trail. Most folks had started on their own and did not need
assistance. After a time, enough people were present that a drivers meeting could be
We went over the same concepts as the day
before, and added in the considerations borne of the rain overnight, and the worsened
condition of the trail. When we finished the meeting we noted that a couple of
people who had run with us the day before had opted to abandon the rest of the
weekend. So our group was down a couple vehicles.
On our way to the trail, we went past a
large field full of Civil War re-enactors, and passed a couple in period costume, riding
horses along the side of the road.
Our first destination was CJ5 Hill.
Ever since I heard of this obstacle last year I have both dreaded and anxiously
anticipated driving it. Today, because of the trail conditions, weather, and the
capabilities of the group, we ran it downhill. This was still challenging enough as
we soon saw.
Mike gave us some advice and then
demonstrated how to drive down the rocks and across the stream.
It went much better for him than I
expected and soon each member of our group took their turn crossing.
There were lots of bumps and grinds, and
a few foiled attempts to clear the muddy exit on the other side of the stream, but
eventually everyone had crossed with more or less intact vehicles and heart rates. I
sorely wanted to turn around and try to drive up CJ5 Hill but kept that desire to myself,
to act out another day. See a video of a
Grand doing the crossing here (click).
The trail was largely an easy dirt road,
but the rain had made it very muddy. And running water over time had cut a deep
groove that split the road in two.
It was difficult to stay out of the
groove and the Grand Cherokee eventually reached a point where it could not
continue. I backed up and gave the strap to guide him up past the cut and back onto
Mike knew of my distaste of the "Off
Camber Loop". I had driven it on the Annual Trail run in October and strongly
disliked it. The only part that I liked was the steep hill before the loop. On
the first pre-run, I endured the heckling of the rest of the would-be trail guides by
pulling out of line and letting everyone else make the loop while I patiently waited for
My reasoning for not wanting to run the
Off-Camber Loop has its roots in the outfitting of my Jeep. I have a heavy overhead
rack loaded with a Hi-Lift jack and a bunch of other heavy stuff. Combined with full
steel doors, my Jeep may be a little more top-heavy than most. My first trip around
the loop had put my gauge at about 30-degrees lean to the left. This left me on the
low side of the vehicle, a very uncomfortable place to be sitting.
Anyway, I knew approximately where we
were, but thought that because of the trail conditions, we would not be running the
Off-Camber Loop. Mike referred to it as a "hill climb followed by a slightly
off-camber downhill." I should have known but I didn't catch it.
We got to the bottom of the hill
climb. It was muddy, with puddle at the bottom. The first couple people trying
to climb it made a couple attempts and made it with some coaching about the loud pedal
from Mike. My turn came and I considered the hill. I have traction devices
(lockers) and aggressive tires, so I was thinking that I probably didn't need to put the
pedal to the metal to make the hill. But I figured it would be better to follow the
suggestions Mike gave, and set a good example for the rest of the group. So I put it
in 3rd, and punched it.
I got a lot more traction than the other
people who had gone before. See the video
here (click). I was going quite fast when I hit an uneven spot in the trail and
I veritably launched toward the other side of the trail, where I almost went over the edge
into obscurity. I got out of it a little bit, regained control (and composure) and
finished my climb without event. It was then that I realized where I was.... the
is a video of someone else coming up the hill after I finished (click).
The remaining people climbed the hill and
then Mike started on the loop. I got out of my Jeep to take a quick break and when I
returned found that I could not secure my seat belt. I tried backing up to
reposition my Jeep but it was still too "tilted" to release the seatbelt.
So I had to descend into the loop without my seatbelt. That did not make me happy.
When I reached the bottom, it leveled off
enough that I could get my seatbelt back on. Small comfort as there still remained a
long stretch of off-camber trail to negotiate.
I drove through it and was very happy to
be back on level trail. Once again we stopped to regroup.
The Grand was experiencing a slow leak
from one of the front tires so the driver and crew took a moment to put some air in the
tire. When everyone had finished catching up, we moved on.
Soon we got back to the section of trail
where the groove splits the road. Right along here, the Grand popped a bead and was
still losing air on the other front tire.
Earlier when we were pondering tire
pressures, I had recommended 18 psi. In retrospect, I think that may have been too
low for the Grand, running 17" rims and 235-60 x 17 street tires. Soon they had
removed the tire and put the spare on. Then we drove up a ways to stop for lunch and
to fix the tire problems.
This was one of those times that
demonstrates the level of readiness of organized groups. We had the skills,
knowledge, and tools necessary to break down the tire, clean out the bead, remount the
tire, and air it up. They did both tires on the Grand, restoring him to 100%, with a
spare available should something come up later.
Once the tire work was done, and everyone
was finished eating, we hit the trail and headed back to pavement. Eventually, we
reached the creek crossing at Trail 2, this time running it the other way, with pavement
on the other side of the creek. One by one we crossed. This time we had
a huge gallery as another trail group had just arrived to cross the stream and enter the
With everyone safely across, we took a
short spin through the Trail 6 loop. At first I was excited because I thought we'd
do the little "Z" that drops you into a gully that you need to climb back
out. But that also would have put us on the off-camber hill that aims you right for
a tree at the bottom of the hill. I had mixed feelings when we passed the entrance
to the "Z" and took the abbreviated loop. It was fun, and I was happy not
to have to contend with the slippery hill. This little loop didn't take very long
and soon we were back on the road headed for Trail 9.
The night before, I had listened to Ken
Smith talking about his experience with Trail 9 (he got across the second crossing but no
one else made it, someone broke something, etc. By this time, it had not rained in
several hours and we thought Trail 9 was worth an attempt. We had enough time if we
had to do any winching or strapping, so there we went.
We found the trail to be passable all the
way past the second crossing. There, a long hill gave Mike some trouble, but he
managed to claw his way up. But he decided that the effort to drag most of the
vehicles up would be long and unproductive. He had us reverse direction with Jason
leading while he circled around to meet us on the other side of the second crossing.
Then Jason came over the radio to say
that he could not get back over the stream crossing! I was surprised because I had
not noticed anything difficult on the way in. My powers of observation did not
include a look in the rear view mirror or I would have seen a severely rutted set of
tracks - one side passable but the other side nearly vertical and about 6 or 7 feet
high. It was going to be a tough crossing and winching and straps would be a big
part of it.
Several people tried to make it after
Jason winched himself up and got set up for recovery operations. Not too many people
made it. Matt took my advice for a line and went by me so fast that I got no
pictures of his successful run. The rest of the group took their time and got the
strap or a winch cable for their efforts.
When my turn came, I decided to attempt
to climb up on the right side of the approach. I worked my way over to the left so I
could turn in sharply to the right when I got to the other side of the creek. At
first it seemed like it would work and I crawled up out of the stream onto the
bank. But at the critical moment where I needed to clear my center section, I
lost traction just enough to slip back and off the bank. Darn! I tried again
to get it, but wasn't moving fast enough and ended up backed down into the deep rut with
my rear bumper on the ground and no traction to climb. I was done and the cable was
hooked to my tow hook.
Once we had gotten the group across, we
backtracked out. Along the way, the Grand lost another bead. Mike and Jason
stopped to help while Megan and I accompanied the group back to the staging area.
The Grand was back soon after we arrived.
I spent time getting people aired up and
connected. I tried to square away my gear as best I could, and resigned myself to
another dinner wearing grungy clothing. Evidence of various events involving carnage
were at hand. One guy had a twisted drive shaft, and many tales of woe were being
told. But there was no personal injury so I consider it a good day!
People slowly got their vehicles back in
road trim and headed out for dinner at the Wintergreen Resort.
This time people knew their way so there
was no long column of Jeeps. I followed Mike and Jason.