'That Road'

Southern Trail Head (on Exit)

11/29/02

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Waypoints

Prologue

This prologue starts several days before the trail ride. I began by planning the route to the trail. This usually entails locating the trail entrance and exit, and landmarks along the trail. All of this, plus details of getting to the trail are recorded into the GPS. This is especially important if I have not previously visited the trail in question. And without someone along who has been on the trail, this data becomes my only way to know if I am where I want to be. After several hours of research, most spent confirming the actual trail location due to the secrecy maintained by northeastern wheelers. Because of the lack of legal locations to wheel, and rapidly closing public lands, they zealously guard the locations that are left.  I understand their caution and applaud them for it.

So when I finally got the maps prepared, the GPS loaded, and directions written out, I figured I was good to go. In the interest of being well prepared for what would end up being a very long road trip, I got my fluids in the Jeep replaced: Engine oil, transmission, transfer case, and the differentials since they were just modified and had been run in. Then I went and took advantage of my free rotating and balancing of tires - I had a slight vibration from the last trail ride and I wanted to smooth it out for the road.   The balancing and rotation did the trick and the Jeep was once again riding smooth.  I am satisfied that I am well prepared for my 1000 mile trip and the several hours on the side to the trail. I did not realize how wrong I was...

In the last several weeks, I had noticed a slight increase in exhaust noise. I had diagnosed it has a leaky joint past the catalytic converter and decided it wasn't a big enough problem to worry about.   I bought some ceramic cement that I was going to use to fill in the small leak that was present at the seam of the joint between the two pipes.  But thinking I was ready for my road trip was a mistake.

Leaving for Massachusetts

I loaded up our gear (three trunks) and hit the road with Maria and the kids all buttoned in.  (Compare this photo to our last trip to Massachusetts in the Jeep.)  Our first stop was planned for Spring Valley, NY, where Maria's sister and niece live. We drove most of the afternoon and evening, finally exiting the New Jersey Turnpike for the final leg up the Garden State Parkway to Spring Valley. After paying the toll, and while I was rolling up the window and accelerating away from the booth, I noticed that the exhaust noise was significantly louder. It clearly sounded like a cracked exhaust manifold - one of the bugaboos of this year/make/model of Jeep. That put a big crimp in what had already been a long and, at times, very trying trip. The kids are still small, and although they are actually pretty good on the road, there is only so much anyone can take in the confines of a Jeep. Between the scuffles, the kid tapes, the incessant questions, and the stops, we were all very tired.

With each stop along the Garden State Parkway (when are they going to join the modern world and get rid of the toll booths on the main route?) the exhaust noise got worse until we sounded like we were driving a fuel dragster...  I managed to limp it to our relative's house, where I parked it for the night.  I looked up and found what I had expected - the exhaust manifold had cracked right below where it leaves the engine block.  With the engine running I could see hot exhaust gases coming out, something that would rapidly cause damage to other things under the hood - it had to be fixed right away.  I opened the yellow pages and started looking for a place to buy parts. 

I quick review of tools on hand and the service manual revealed that I could probably do the job myself. The only sticky part was that I didn't have a torque wrench and from experience know how important it is to get the nuts tightened to the right rating to prevent leaks and cracks and loose enough not to cause problems.  Additionally, the manual recommends removing the intake and exhaust manifolds, and essentially everything above them. This meant getting into the fuel delivery system, linkages and vacuum hoses, and power steering pump (the serpentine belt...). Long story short, this was not something I wanted to do and then drive like my life depended upon it. I was already 250 miles from home, and at least 750 more miles to go, and don't really have anyplace to go if I need to "tweak" my work after driving for a while.  It would be Thanksgiving on Thursday and that meant that most places would be closing up tight tomorrow, for the rest of the week.  I was tempted to go out in the dark and strip out the parts so I would be ready to go buy the manifold in the morning and install it. But I decided that I would let the mechanic do the work, as my first option, and only attempt the repair myself if I could not get it fixed first thing in the morning.

With that I opened the yellow pages and located the nearest dealership. It was already 10pm and their answering machine did not provide for making appointments. Their web site was OK but due to the AOL connection I had, was not working properly. I abandoned that and resolved to get up at 5am and drive there. Once I was able to stop obsessing, I fell asleep for while and at 5am drove to the dealer location.

I was the first one there, filled out a night drop envelope and then decided what the heck, let's drive to the Dunkin Donuts and get some coffee and donuts for the wait? After getting the donuts and coffee, I went back to the Jeep. Put the key in and turned it. The lights inside all dimmed and the key warning buzzer made that distinctive dead battery groan. I checked the battery connections and found them just a tad loose. I mean we're talking, hardly noticeable but I figured it was worth a try. So I tightened the battery clamps and tried again. BOOM! What the...?

I opened the door to get out and saw the plastic top of the battery sitting on the ground.   Not the removable plastic top (I found that later...) - the molded top of the case of the battery! How the heck did this get so far advanced? The battery must have been dry and had a build up of hydrogen, combined with a spark when I turned the key? I never had a problem starting, and the battery never even showed signs of being low.  Of course this was the first night it was out in temperatures below 30 degrees...   I am SO glad that it happened here and not in Massachusetts on Thanksgiving day or something like that...

So now I have a fine mess. I am 5 miles from the dealership, it's 6:30 in the morning and the NAPA next door is closed 'til 8am.  I barely have a charge in my cell phone and manage to get a hold of Maria, who comes over. While waiting for her to come, I removed the fractured remains of my battery.  Now I know exactly how many cracks I have in my skin around my finger nails because the battery acid was so good as to help me find them all...  Imagine trying to lift an open tub full of sulfuric acid out of the engine compartment with nothing to hold it with, and without spilling any...  I did it but it was pretty dicey.

Maria came just as I was finishing my balancing act.  I called the Rockland Auto Plaza Jeep dealership and got through to the service department.  I told them my sad story and they promised to try and fit me in.  They also told me I should not have any problems running without a battery, and that the EFI would "probably" not be damaged (some systems MUST have the battery in place, dead or not).  I chanced damage to the EFI by starting the Jeep without the battery.  Fortunately I have jumper cables in the Jeep at all times.  I have never had to use them on my Jeep before, so this was a first.  With the battery removed, and the cables attached to the other car, the Jeep started, and I was able to get it to the dealer.  Phew!  And thanks to my wife... she is becoming a true Jeeper and she doesn't even know it.

Now people like to complain about dealerships. I have written more than a few words on the subject myself.  They charge top dollar for everything and are not always very sensitive to the Jeep owner who goes wheeling.  That said, my problems here were typical for this Jeep.  I explained that I wanted to get my own battery, and bring it in.  They were fine with that and wrote me up for the exhaust manifold. Maria patiently took me to Autozone where I got a Redtop Optima to replace my now splattered factory battery. We drove back to the dealer and I put the battery in, in the parking lot. The Jeep started right up.  I turned it off.  The service writer came out and gave the tech the story.  I was glad to be there because the service writer was telling the tech that my intake manifold had cracked...  This is what people don't like about dealers. To his credit, the service writer took my correction, and the Jeep rolled away to get the service it needed. I was done with them by 8am and had the Jeep back in several hours.  Work was superb and the Jeep hasn't been this quiet in a long time.  And my credit card...  But you know, compared to running all over town, wrenching in the frozen parking lot with almost all the right tools...  No contest.

I had a hard time finding the good in all this. Here I am 250 miles from home with a grenaded exhaust manifold and battery, and I have to get another 250 miles just to get where we're going.  We are going to be almost a day late, and I am going to be spending cubic dollars just to maintain the status quo.  But, I am finally replacing the factory battery with an Optima Red Top.  I finally fixed the crack that I guess I probably should have fixed a couple months ago.  I did not blow up in the woods (where we would have been in the middle of nowhere on the day after a holiday, on a Friday evening.  That would have been far worse.  We would have had to leave the Jeep in the woods, walk several miles to town, get a battery and walk back.  And the exhaust manifold would probably have stayed broken all the way back home - another 500 miles. So I guess it could have come out a LOT worse...

So we get back on the road and soon I was "home".

MamAllan, Maria and Lisa
Kids at Allan and Lisa's houseKids at Allan and Lisa's house

Anyway... The trail...

Muster - 11/29/02

In Driveway

So I got up a little early to load the Jeep, pack the food, and get the kids dressed. Dad provided a tarp for shelter if we got hung up, a large wool blanket for himself (we have one for each of us), and I also put a broom on the rack so that I could sweep the snow off the obstacles if necessary. With everything loaded, we hit the road at about 6am.

Our first stop was Jeanny's Lunch in Phillipston for pancakes for the boys.  Dad and I had coffee while they ate and woke up.  From there we hopped onto Route 2 and took our drive on the Mohawk Trail.  Eventually, we reached a gas station that I recognized from the pictures of other trips, so we stopped to tank up and get some supplies to go with the lunch we had packed.

Taking on Supplies

It should be noted at this time that my the feelers I put out to get some other people to come along on our trip didn't yield any takers so we were going it alone.  This would seriously limit our options on the trail.  I am fairly conservative when it comes to what I will do, no matter whether I am with people or not, but flying solo always makes me even more cautious.  If we had been unfortunate enough to have had our exhaust manifold and battery fail on the trail, it would have been pretty grim.  Never mind getting hung up on a rock or stuck in a swamp.

Our drive to the trail head went perfectly - all my research and GPS waypoint loading paid off in a direct hit at the southern entrance to the trail, after a long drive through the woods on some nice, snow-covered dirt roads.  One of the last parts of the route to the trail was an unplowed dirt road that presented very mild challenges that had my "newbie" Dad a little bit nervous. Understandably, he was not familiar with the vehicle and my capabilities so it must have seemed crazy to be driving on a rutted dirt road with four inches of snow on top.  To me it was just a dirt road with some snow on it...  Four-wheel drive was definitely an asset and we used it all the way to the trail, except for a paved section just before we got there.

That Road

Southern Trail Head

Once at the trail head, I aired down and disconnected. I could see where an easy entrance had been marked closed with small boulders. The main trail was strewn with small rocks that made the going rough and mildly challenging. With the snow and ice on the trail, and the water running down the ruts, it was slippery and I had to be extra-careful to place the tires on rocks in such a way that I could expect them to stay.

It was a nice little rock field that required me to pick my line continuously.  One spot had two good-sized boulders that were just narrower than the Jeep.  My Dad commented that we wouldn't get through there.  I murmured something to assure him, then centered the Jeep between the boulders and let 4-LO-1st go at idle.  We crawled over the two boulders at about 1 MPH, going smoothly over them and clearing the rocker guards nicely.  We lightly kissed the gas tank skid plate on one side but nothing more than usual.

Trail Conditions

It wasn't long before we came to a slight bend in the trail to the right where it got slightly off-camber. It was snowy and icy. I crawled along in 1st at about 1 MPH, not slipping. I got over a small rock that was in the way and found myself face to face with the first obstacle. It was covered with ice and snow, and the entire approach was one slick ice patch. I tried to walk to it on foot and nearly fell a couple times. I finally got to the bottom of the obstacle and saw that this rock was not on my list of things to do when it was covered with ice. While disappointed, it also was not something I wanted to attempt without someone along to spot for me, and possibly drag me out of something went wrong.

View from the obstacle

Instead of being fools, we turned around and went back out the way we came. Not exactly what I had in mind but at least I had come to see the trail. On the way out I was on the high-side of the off-camber section and my Dad commented about how there was nothing between us and the bottom of the ridge below except a few trees...  We were tipped to about 25 degrees.  It occurs to me that I have become somewhat accustomed to being that much off-camber, but Dad was not.  And I know how much it sucks to be on the low side when you're tipping that much.  Truth be told, I was less concerned about rolling the Jeep than I was about sliding laterally right off the edge.  With the lowered side-traction because of the lockers, it was a real possibility that I kept to myself.   We passed without incident.

It was fun to run the rock garden in the other direction, and my Dad had a few more times to observe the potential of the Jeep, and the benefit of the skid plates.  He would later comment something to the effect that "The Jeep is made to do what he does with it, and it works well...".  That was nice to hear from someone who is not a Jeep or Chrysler man.

Southern Trail Head (on Exit)Southern Trail Head (on Exit)

I left the tires aired down and the sway bar disconnected.  I warned my Dad that it was going to be a bit "cushy" on the road and he soon noticed the difference on the corners.

Northern Trail Head

We drove around the west side of the ridge and then north to the main road.  We followed that for a little bit and then headed in to the ridge and south,  down to the top trail head. There, we drove in to the edge of the swamp. It was partially frozen with ice about 2 inches thick that broke as soon as we drove onto it. Not knowing how deep the swamp had gotten from the rain, snow and ice, I opted not to tempt fate by driving into it.  I have seen pictures of Jeeps having no trouble with the swamp bottom but ending up high-centered on the ice that breaks up when they drive through.  I didn't feel like pulling cable from the middle of a frozen swamp, even though I had a spare change of clothes with me, it would have sucked.  Turning around we almost got high-centered and I think my lockers saved me from having to winch or Hi-Lift off.

Northern Trail Head (on Exit)

Instead we backtracked out to the trail head.  While I was going about my post-trail business, my Dad and Teddy got into some wildlife tracking lessons.  

Pep and Ted tracking deer

Woolly got out for a while, but it was bitter cold, and he decided he'd rather hang out inside the warm Jeep.  You can see him in one of the pictures with a big smile on his face.

Northern Trail Head (on Exit)

Dad showed Ted some tracks and Ted headed off into the woods following them...  We also met and talked with a local hunter. He told us that the log skidders had moved the boulders placed to prevent people from taking the go-around on DEM land.  I'm not sure if it was log skidders or trail riders so I just listened...

Epilogue

Once I had aired up and connected, we drove back down to the main road using some of the other roads that I mapped in my trip planning. Overall the trip was pretty good. We didn't get to run the whole trail but considering the weather, we still got some good wheeling in, and didn't run into any trouble in the process. As far as I was concerned, it could not have been better.  It would have sucked to slip off that obstacle and have to ride all the way home with a crushed hard top, assuming we got off the trail at all...  I will come back again to run this trail in better weather!  

Kids at Mohawk Trail Gift Shop

On the way out, I made a stop for the kids at a Mohawk Trail tourist trap.  I remember being fascinated by all the 'Indian' stuff and knew I had to share that experience with them, even if it seemed kind of hokey to me with my grown-up mind.  The kids were not disappointed.  We took a quick picture at the mural outside the store and the kids each bought a bag of polished rocks inside.  You'd think they had struck gold.  Well for the price...  I got some Maple Syrup for my mother and a coffee Mug ("Massachusetts" with a leaf) for Maria.  My Dad got a candy bar, and we hit the road again.  After a couple hours we got home, just in time for some turkey sandwiches!

Later that evening I needed some quiet time so I loaded the kids back into the Jeep and we went out driving some of my old trails.  I didn't take very many pictures but here is one of the Jeep in a bowl between two ridges out in a pine grove I always liked.

In Templeton State Forest

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