4X4 ICON 2000 - 2008 The DVD!
March was a long month, filled with repair after repair. The only time I put the Jeep in four-wheel-drive was to go rescue a new Rubicon owner who had driven into a mud hole in the same place that I took my first test rides in March of 2001. I got a little mud on the Jeep but that was the extent of it. I was long overdue for some woods time...
After the last Jeep Jamboree in 2003, I made plans to become a Trail Guide again for 2004. When the lottery sign-up was issued, I got on the list and promptly made the 17th slot in the list. Historically, this is right on the fringe of being made a trail guide. Enough participants must register to get down this deep in the list. Last year I don't remember what slot I had, but I did get a guide slot. So this is promising.
But of course, fate has a funny way of twisting its knife in my back... After I signed up, but before I got the lottery results, my brother called to say that he was planning his "big vacation" and had selected the very weekend that Jeep Jamboree is scheduled! Now, there are several things that ran through my head:
- I would be at Jeep Jamboree, come hell or high water.
- I could kidnap him for four days.
- I could bag the whole thing and stay home as a gracious guest for my brother and his family.
In the end, there really was no other choice but to be the family player and choose #3. That meant canceling my plans to remain in contention for one of the Trail Guide slots, but it did not mean I couldn't make the first pre-run.
The last few days before the pre-run, the weather was pretty much non-stop drizzle and outright rain. That meant that the trails would be sloppy, slippery clay-mud and things would be, to say the least, interesting... The trails under dry conditions hold only moderate challenge for stock vehicles, and almost no challenge for built ones. My Jeep is somewhere in between so the wet trails of Oak Ridge always make for an interesting day for me.
The kids have school so this was a solo trip for me. It also meant getting up no later than 4:00 AM so that I could hook up with other OCC members near Manassas, then make the long drive down to Oak Ridge in time for the 8:00 AM muster.
I removed the back seat, loaded the recovery gear and tools, packed the coolers, and got my camera and computer ready the night before. The only thing I wanted to do at 4 in the morning is fill the thermos with coffee, turn the key in the Jeep, and point it in the general direction of Oak Ridge.
For this trip I did not bringing the gas cans even though the road trip down is quite long. The main reason is because of things like this:
The trails are very narrow and at times it can take a couple point turn to get through. This image was made to show the results of misjudging the space between the front bumper as the driver swung between some trees. The bumper hit the tree up front and the rear slid sideways into a tree. I think the gas can rack will just get in the way here...
Message traffic on the OCC message board suggested that Wayne, Ed, Jon, Mike, and possibly others (a total of seven) would be heading down. I was able to confirm that Wayne, Ed and Mike would be driving down around the same time as me so I made plans to hook up with them.
Right around 4:30 AM I was able to raise Wayne on the CB, about six miles from our normal meeting place at Wendy's in Manassas. He was just arriving there and was going to wait for Ed and Mike, who were trailering their Jeeps. A few minutes later I met Wayne. After passing the time of day, I continued on down to the Sheetz on Route 15 to pick up what amounted to breakfast, lunch and dinner. I also fed the Jeep some Unleaded 87, and called Wayne to confirm meeting him and the rest at the intersection of Routes 15 and 29. A shadowy figure, shaped like a "big Jeep" went whirring by at about 5:00am - I would later deduce it was Jon. At about 5:15, Wayne and the rest came down Route 29, past my watch point, and off we went. It was still dark, and my coffee was just starting to kick in.
We made good time. After driving for a while, we stopped at McDonald's to get something to eat and to take a break. We said our hello's and then continued on down the road towards Oak Ridge. When we got to the outskirts of Charlottesville, traffic picked up a little bit. Once through Charlottesville and up on the Route 29 Bypass, we picked it up a little and landed in Lovingston at about 7:35.
I took that opportunity to get fuel, air down, and disconnect. I like doing that on the hard ground of the gas station rather than the tall grass of the muster field at Oak Ridge. Lyle and Jonathan were at the gas station so I waved good morning.
From there, I broke off from the group and headed to the muster field. Many people were already there doing the usual pre-trail things. Jon was already there and in the process of getting ready to go.
I parked in the general vicinity, and soon the rest of the OCC crew showed up. Jason was among them. I had some time since I had already gotten ready, so I just wandered around checking out vehicles, saying "Hi!" to the people I knew, and generally making the usual nuisance of myself.
Pretty soon, Chris and Carla came along and got sign-in the driver's meeting started. They ran down the rules and regulations, told us something about the new trails, and gave us an idea of what to expect of the event, as well as what we'd be doing on this run. The plan was to run the three new trails then, time permitting, run one or two of the other trails.
The three new trails were announced, the sign-in and role call was conducted, and then Kenny Smith presented a fire extinguisher demonstration.
He took advantage of Lyle's chosen fire extinguisher to illustrate some of the finer points of fire extinguisher selection. I learned that my choice of fire extinguisher was poor and will need to be revisited. It is not large enough and does not have the same chemical composition as one that would work effectively for vehicle fires. I need to get one that is rated A-B-C, and with enough capacity to work for more than a few seconds.
Amid light-hearted joking at Lyle's (and unbeknownst to everybody, my) expense, Kenny ran through the demonstration and gave everyone who wanted a chance to put out some flaming gas. It was very worthwhile and somewhat eye opening. I am sure many folks will be doing some shopping for better fire extinguishers, myself included. Will this be a new item used to measure the trail-worthiness of Jeeps?
With all the administrivia and fun out of the way, we mounted up and formed a line. Finally we were on the road, headed for the trail!
During the late winter, a dedicated group had spent several weekends plotting and cutting three new trails, and no doubt doing work on the old trails. We were to run the three new trails today, and then move over to the existing trails if time permitted. As the weather had been wet all week, we expected the trails to be a little bit greasy. But fortunately the sun was trying to come out so we didn't have to deal with rain on this day. As we soon discovered, some of these trails will be very challenging if it does rain during an outing!
The first trail goes into the woods near an existing trail and the camping area and makes a loop through fields and the woods.
Along the way it passes a couple buildings and then makes a right turn into a hedgerow that separates two fields.
The trail crew cleared out the undergrowth and revealed a deep trench that enters going almost straight down. At the bottom, it angles sharply upwards and climbs back out to the edge of the lower field. Now we're 'wheeling! I heard someone exclaim as they descended: "I wanna try that one going up the hill!" Me too... The angles are just on the verge of what can be cleared in a stock vehicle. I don't think I would lead a long wheel base vehicle through there. A bypass is provided...
As far as I know, everybody went through and everybody made it. After that, we took the first of several short breaks.
Then we drove along the trail through some pretty country and soon ended back at the road, close to where we had gone in. Somewhere in here, there was an optional rock obstacle. The trail was very narrow through the woods. A rat snake was sighted and quite a bit of chatter was exchanged to help pinpoint its location for others.
Break number two.
We overlapped our first path and soon came to the entrance to the second new trail, just a little further down the road from the first. Once again the views were very rewarding. I know that there are those who might not care much about the scenery, but that is one of the things that makes it worth coming back to Oak Ridge for me. There is no shortage of great things to see.
After driving through a field and down along the edge of the boundary near the rail road tracks, we snaked our way around an off-camber curve at the bottom edge of the field and then descended down into a stream crossing. It was made interesting by the large boulders in the streambed. As far as I know, everybody got through. The water wasn't too deep and the obstacles were as hard as you chose to make them.
On the other side of the stream, the trail begins meandering along the side of the stream, twisting in and out of the trees. This new trail continues the tradition of Oak Ridge trails by offering lots of tight turning and wonderful off-camber sections. This trail will be more than a handful if it gets wet!
Pretty soon we came to another crossing. It had been announced that this would be our lunch spot. As people finished crossing, they parked and came down to the stream to watch as each vehicle crossed.
After everyone had crossed, we all took a break for lunch and so on.
With lunch and baby changes out of the way, we started rolling.
The trail curves back and soon crosses the stream.
I misjudged the traction and had to back off a little bit before climbing out of the stream and back up the bank. We made our way back the way we had come amid confusion about the correct route. I may be mistaken but I think everyone went the correct way and soon the column had reformed near the edge of one of the many fields.
When we got back to pavement, we took a break while everybody caught up again.
Now it was time for an old and familiar trail. Once known as Trail 3, soon to be known as..., well never mind... We drove along the easy section and soon came to the first crossing. It has been cleaned up some so that most of the challenge has been removed from the exit side. Up on the swamp section, large gravel pavers replace the corduroy logs that used to be there. Down where "Zen's" mudhole used to be, there is just some stuff piled to prevent accidental entry. The sticky-wicket that used to cause fits (and body damage) before getting across the swamp has been simplified by the removal of the offending tree. I was both pleased and disappointed. This section had been challenging, with real stakes if you blew it. Now it was simple. Given the audience for events here, it probably makes sense that this section was "dumbed down" a little bit.
That meant nothing more or less challenging than the steep hill that leads up to the play area. There has been no shortage of fun (and carnage) here. I lost a stock bumper on the climb the first time I came. I have this hill to thank for my move to aggressive M/T tires. This time I managed to clear the rest of this section with no damage, but not for lack of trying... After the hill climb, the trail makes a 180 degree turn and descends back down to the edge of the swamp. From there you make another 180 degree turn. Then there are a few options. You can take
the hill and rocks to the left,
the rocks up the middle, or
the rocky climb past all that to the next tier.
There were several people in front of me, so by the time I got here, several had already made their choices and gone up, one way or another. But there were still people who had not gone so there was plenty of entertainment.
Jon and Jason, both ahead of me in line, watch as this CJ makes a pass up the hill taking the left-ish line. Next came a teal YJ. I need to take a break from the story telling to give some perspective. People go wheeling for lots of different reasons. I like the woods, the scenery, the people, and of course the wheeling. There are two aspects to the wheeling part. "Doing" and "Watching". Sometimes, for me, watching can be almost as nerve wracking as doing. Which brings me back to my story. I have made this hill. It's not too difficult but you do have to pay attention. The problem is that there are lots of trees that make it tough if you happen to have to back down. Also, there are some rocks that make things tricky, often causing the front end to swing around and make for a tippy situation. I watched Kenny Smith go vertical on this obstacle on one pre-run.
So the teal YJ starts working the hill, taking the middle line. Right away he got out of shape and needed to winch in order to prevent rolling sideways down the hill. My adrenal gland started pumping. As soon as the driver got it back down the hill, he made another attempt and ended up in the same predicament.
So he winched out again and backed down. Now things got real interesting because he got twisted up again and started teetering towards the downhill side... Adrenaline times four! This gets complicated for me. It's not much different from being inside the vehicle. I am just watching so it's no biggie. Except that it's my turn in a few minutes and I need to make a clear-headed decision about whether or not I want to do this obstacle. Assuming I do want to do it, I need to be clear about how I'm going to do it. So I don't need this adrenaline blasting through my veins. Meanwhile the cooler people are helping the guy get his Jeep back under control without rolling and then it's over.
Next comes Jon. He works it for all it's worth, selecting the right-handed line, over the rocks. With his level of build, this is no surprise, and it is probably one of the few challenges before him on this trip. I remembered I can make movies so I made a few from this point forward.
Jon worked it for all it was worth but ended up winching in the end.
Next came Jason He chose the left line and made a clean sweep.
It went so fast that I almost didn't have time to compose myself, but fortunately, his run was all I needed to reassure myself that I could make this obstacle (again) and so decided to make a run at it. I knew that I'd be taking the left-handed line just like Jason had taken. I knew I would not be messing with the rocks like the teal YJ and Jon. So I was pretty calmed down by the time I got to the bottom of the hill. I chose the left line up the dirt and rocks. It was the easiest line. I think the main risk was not making it and backing down into the trees. I decided to try crawling up and see how far I could get, hoping to make it all the way.
Unfortunately, that didn't work. I got within clawing distance of the top and lost forward momentum. When I stopped moving forward, my nose swung around and threatened to go down the hill. So I halted and got it worked around back, tail first going down the hill. One of the trees stood in my way so a couple more moves got my tail swung away from the trees and I was able to back down for another try. I decided that I needed to go in second gear and get a little more speed for the top.
That worked and I tip-toed over the rocks at the top and made it over to the trail that led to the top of the hill. It was a little bit more rocky and loose that I remember it, lots of fun to scrabble to the top. On my way by the "big" obstacle, I was "invited" to give it a try. But I knew my break-over angle would not cut it, so thanked the gallery and kept on to the top.
Back at the bottom of the hill, Ed was working the obstacle I left behind. After a couple tries he decided to go up the alternate route that goes over a couple fins and reconnects above the rocks. That's the path I chose the first time out here, and it too was a fun line.
Next was a woman driving a nice Rubicon. She tried to crawl with no better results than I had gotten. She was a little more to the left and did not make it as far up the hill, so ran into troubles trying to navigate around the trees when she backed off. It turned out the only way to get clear without body damage was to take a strap back up the hill. One picture shows how low the transfer case skid plate with drop hung, and the rock that prevented forward motion.
Wayne came next and duplicated my run exactly. His first pass left him short and he maneuvered the same way I had to get back down for the second attempt, which got him up and over.
Wayne surrendered to the siren songs of the spectators (Mike) at the top of the hill and opted to attempt the big obstacle. He soon found himself between a rock and a hard place. He couldn't go forward and the trees behind, not to mention the big rocks, kept him from backing down. He borrowed my winch control to keep from dumping the contents of his trunk, and winched up and over the rock.
Another driver attempted the big obstacle and spent a lot of time working it. I admire the determination of some folks. I got a kick out of the number plate, though, to be fair, he was NOT STUCK, simply backing up and driving off when the big rock refused to yield. He did manage to validate my decision a few times but reshaping his gas cans on the tree during his attempts to make the obstacle.
That pretty much capped the entertainment at this spot, one of my favorite parts of the Oak Ridge trail system. Once everyone had paid their money and taken their chance, we got on the trail again. We followed the trail around and back out.
We came to a little crossing that has gotten a little ragged. I managed to get over it by taking a line way to the right, avoiding the deep cut ruts. My rear tires slipped into the ruts just about the time it didn't matter anymore and I got right through. The guy behind me had been nursing a loose exhaust system. When he started to go up the crossing exit, he hooked his pipe and finished it off.
Ed got out, did his best "Walk this way" imitation, and help the guy get the pieces collected. Then we climbed the little hill and soon reached the unpaved road again. Time for another break before the last section of trail.
Soon to be called Trail 12, formerly known as Trail 6, with a proposed name of Trail B-L, oh, never mind... The next trail drops into the woods a short distance away. It comes to a nice little crossing, which everybody manages with little difficulty.
Part of this trail borders along what I knew as Trail 5, though it is well marked as 12. Pretty soon it comes to a familiar section, a low-lying swampy area. We skirted it, staying above the mushy stuff and climbed up to one of the well-established dirt roads. We followed that a short way and turned onto the trail that leads to this familiar crossing:
I like this crossing because it has a loose climb-out on the other side. Then it makes a hard turn right and there is a steep rutted hill that has proven very entertaining in wet weather. On this trip it was dead easy, but the ruts are as deep as ever. From here we followed the road out to the main dirt road and wrapped up the day with everyone saying their good byes.
Mike and Ed headed back separately. We saw them later, back at the muster area.
Jon, Wayne and I met up at the muster area and aired up. Wayne let me use his air tank, which I ran dry. meanwhile, he discovered he had lost his clevis pins for his swaybar disconnects. So I outfitted him with my tether system in the hope it will work as well for him as it has for me. Mike proudly displayed his gigantic trailer hitch wrench, and soon Jon, Wayne and I were on the road headed for home.
We pretty much did the dead-eye on the way home - no stops. Well, almost... We stopped to get gas and a snack at the Lovingston gas station. Then we hit the road, talking on the CB most of the way back. The drive was pleasant enough and the time went by pretty well. We observed many police cars parked on the road, some with "customers" and some without.
At one such instance, we saw one without any business. Soon she was following our little column. First she hung on Wayne for a few seconds. Then apparently seeing nothing of interest, she moved on to Jon. She hung there for a few more seconds, then signaled to pull in behind him. That was not a good sign... Then, just before a traffic light turned yellow too late to stop, she flipped on the lights!
I couldn't even see her but I knew she must be right behind Jon. I had a tough choice to make: jam on the brakes to stop for this yellow-turning-red light, or ease through and prevent a State Police cruiser from getting munched by Jons armor? I reasoned that taking the path of least risk to all involved might get me out of a ticket if the subject were to come up. So I went through the traffic intersection and pulled over, with me in front, Jon behind me, and the police officer sandwiched between him and Wayne, who opted to pull ahead of all of us, perhaps to avoid closer scrutiny, Wayne? :)
So the officer comes out, I see some discussion and papers being passed. Then the officer walks away from the Jeep back to the cruiser. Jon keyed up the CB and told us that he was getting a ticket for his Jeep Jamboree windshield sticker, and a warning for his rear light guards! I must say, despite the Virginia law with regard to the windshield sticker, it seems a bit much. The black painted trim on the windshield almost completely masks the Jeep Jamboree lettering, making it nearly invisible from inside the vehicle. I think it is a ticket that could be beaten, but for the fact that it's probably not worth the time. Anyway, Jon got his souvenir of Jeep Jamboree and we were once again on our way.
Pretty soon we'd traversed Route 29 to where it dumps into Route 66. Then we made it through the predicted snarl on Route 66 approaching where it meets Route 495. That's where I went North, Jon continued East, and Wayne branched South. Another day, another dollar!
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