Jandy Liebl had posted a request on
one of the message boards looking for a guide to take her and
some friends from Pennsylvania
to the GWNF. I figured there wasn't anything out in the forest that I had not done
so I offered to lead their group. I made plans to do some camping, bringing the kids
along for the first time. By the time the weekend came for the trip, a few people
had signed on from my usual group, and Jandy had two other confirmed drivers. This
shaped up to be a nice small group of capable people who could have a good time in the
The weather did not turn out
to be very good. On Friday when I called Jim, he told me he was not going to camp as
planned but would meet us on Saturday. That made me rethink my decision. But I
decided that I might as well go ahead and camp anyway - the kids had camped out in the
back yard and it had always been nice. Even though it would rain, the weather is
very warm and I had bought tarps to help reduce the "wet" factor. I didn't
count on the humidity but I was the only one who was really bothered by that.
In my haste, I didn't
finalize a meeting time with Wayne. At the time he was expecting me to arrive around
5-6pm, and my travel plans coincided so I wasn't too worried when I left to drive out
there around 2pm on Friday afternoon. The Jeep sat well, even loaded to the gills
with camping gear and everything. I left the final provisioning for when we got to
Harrisonburg - why drive 120 miles with a cooler full of melting ice and food?
Nothing ever quite goes as
planned. I had received some fruit and brought along a sampling of apples, oranges,
pears, and bananas to eat along the way. I peeled an orange for Teddy and let him
eat several slices. Unfortunately he did not chew it well and the stringy pulp
tickled his throat - enough that he ended up barfing the orange (and everything else) all
over himself and the back seat. Unscheduled stop number one. Ironically, I had
debated whether or not I really needed a 5 gallon jug of full water for the road
trip. I decided to bring it full instead of filling it later, in case there was no
water at the campground. I turned out to be very useful for the clean up following
the orange incident. One hour lost to washing up and changing clothes. (Photos below
show a cab in disarray prior to this little moment...)
Next, we made a stop in
Leesburg to visit Tractor
Supply. I was happy to find that they had very large tarps but was disappointed
by the price. I wanted to buy a thimble
for the loop on my winch cable where it attaches to the hook, but found that I needed to
do some more research before I buy one. I ended up buying some heavy plastic tarp
and nylon chord as a back-up to the tarps that I brought. If things got really bad I
could use it as a dining fly. Another hour lost on this stop.
When we got to Harrisonburg,
I did some grocery shopping and packed the cooler for the weekend. That used up
another 45 minutes... Now we're going camping!
So it is now about 7 O'clock
on Friday night and we are just passing the entrance to Dry River when I see Wayne's
bright yellow Jeep traveling the other direction. It has been a little rainy but
nothing too hateful yet. He had his top down and was running a Bikini, Windjammer
and tonneau cover. When I passed him, it looked like he was full top down! I
fumbled CB channels but caught him before we got out of range (just) and he turned around
and followed us back over the mountain to the
campground. Due to my many stops along
the way, we got into Harrisonburg much later than expected and Wayne was actually on the
road to go back home, thinking we had canceled!
We drove back to camp and
set up. I learned that it was worth it for me to get back to Wal*Mart and buy a camp
lantern (done!) since setting up in the dark kinda sucks with a flashlight... Wayne
helped me get the tent up and with herding the kids while I finished up. Then we
stowed all the gear and loaded up the kids. We decided to see if we could find any
of the people that were supposed to be out there camping and wheeling from another
group. Since they mentioned Skidmore and Dunkle Hollow, we poked in there and looked
around. It was foggy, I flew by instruments and when we had driven past several
empty campsites, we turned back and went to the campground without finding anyone.
The kids got a second wind
when we got back and challenged my patience getting them in bed.
The next morning we got up
early so that I could make lunch and get the Jeep loaded, while Wayne struck his camp and
packed to drive home after wheeling. We were ready to go by 8:30 and drove over the
mountain. When I reached the top of the mountain, I figured I might as well
play with my CB and see if I could raise
anyone. To my amazement, I got a reply from Jim who was waiting at McDorman's!
That is probably 5 or 8 miles away! Of course being that high, it was a pretty good
shot that I could reach him. So our group was taking shape. Along the way, we
passed Jandy and Steve, headed the other way, having overshot McDorman's by a couple
miles. We got them turned around and met at McDorman's.
When we got to the parking
lot, Steve and Jandy, and Frank were still catching up. Chris came on the CB looking
for McDorman's and I got him landed. I didn't know he was with our group at the
time, but any 4-Wheeler looking for McDorman's is a friend of mine!
The kids walked off looking
for their friend the pig. They discovered that his pen was gone and so was he.
I didn't have the heart to tell them that they might be able to see the pig again if they
ordered a ham & cheese sandwich inside the store... Soon everyone had introduced
themselves, aired down and disconnected, and decided on a plan of attack. I
suggested that we make a quick trip to the entrance to Dictum Ridge. We would
attempt the obstacle and go from there. As a contingency, we decided that we would
do Kephart and Old Long Run, with the direction of travel and order of approach being
decided by which end of Dictum we finished up on!
I have been to the obstacle
on this trail several times. The first time I saw it, I wanted no part of it.
The second time I looked, I started thinking about the bypass but decided against it
because of the tree that would both help and hinder. This time, with slightly larger
tires and some steel cable to use if I really wanted to go up, I gave it a
try. Jim had tried it last time but was unsuccessful. I figured the only way I
was going to make it up was winching, but either way, it would not work well to have only
one or two people get up because we did not want to separate the group. I think the
only way we would have continued past the obstacle would have been if we only had to winch
one or maybe two vehicles.
When we got to the entrance
I waved Frank in the built Toyota past. Riding on a long wheel-base, locked, and
loaded with 35-inch tires, he had a pretty good chance of making the climb. We drove
the short trail to the obstacle, entertaining by itself. When we got there, everyone
got out, grabbed their cameras and watched as Frank walked his Toyota pick-up over the
lightly stacked face of the obstacle and up out of the way. He did it in one or two
attempts, with brief pauses for drama and to spot his next move. I started having
hope that I too might get up.
Ha! Right! I
drove up, got part way up the stack of large rocks, then just sat and stirred them
around. I had lodged a good-sized rock between the main rock and my lower control
arm skid plate. This is the first time I have actually seen this plate get
action! It prevented me from getting a wheel up on the rock. And without
lockers up front, there wasn't much chance I was going to drag myself up and over. I
decided against winching because I didn't want to have to come back down if it turned out
to be just me and Frank that made it. So I backed off and let Steve have a go.
Steve really worked
it. He ran into problems first to get his front shackles over (YJ) and then the rear
mounts. He opted to back off rather than rework his suspension.
Chris came up and really
stirred the pot. I think he tried four or five different lines but was denied each
time. There were a couple moments when he was setting up to get some serious tipping
going on but he didn't ever get it off-balance. Jim let it go because he had already
tried and been unable to get up. Wayne's TJ is still running stock wheels and
suspension so he wisely opted out.
That left Frank the lone
conqueror (Never have so many Jeepers taken so much abuse from one Toyota owner...
<smiling> ) It also meant that Frank was going to be coming back down the way
he went up. And he did a great job entertaining us as he did. Once down, he
led the way and we all headed back down to Route 33. I shall return!
Next up was Kephart.
We drove in and rode up to the first clearing. We stopped to eat lunch and talk
Soon a column of mostly
Jeeps came passing through on the trail. There were 20 or 30 rigs! They just
kept coming. It was the group meet and greet that was organized on the
board. We knew that they would be out here and expected to encounter them at
some point. I did some rough trail math and estimated that 30 Jeeps taking as little
as 5 minutes each to negotiate the obstacle a the end of the trail would require 150
minutes. That's almost 3 hours! We fortunately were in a position that we
could leave without being stuck in front of them. The trail is a dead end so if we
had been on the obstacle, we would have been stuck there until they got through. We
decided to go run another trail and then come back to Kephart if there was enough
time. On the way to the next trail we stopped at McDorman's to talk to Habo,
Islander, and another guy who were working on broken vehicles. They were part of the
group going up Kephart (but who had not yet hit the trail). After a quick
"Hello" we got back on the road.
Old Long Run
What better place to use up
3 hours than Old Long Run? On the way out of Kephart, it started pouring.
Chris, Wayne and Jandy and Steve got a chance to make their Jeeps more water
resistant. I was happy to have paid the price of getting caught in the rain on the
trail a couple weeks ago and so had decided to leave top up for this trip. It is
turning out that between the threat of rain, and the sometimes oppressive heat, it is not
worth having the top down, especially with the rack complicating things.
We made the drive over to
Old Long Run. When we reached the optional hill at the bottom, it was running a
river through both ruts.
We drove down to the bottom
and then right back up. I grabbed a couple photos. It was a good warm-up for
the rest of the trail.
Along the way we ran into a
few spots where trees had fallen. We moved them out of the way.
The stream had water in it
and was running at a good rate. This trail is nice to travel when raining and I
enjoyed it very much.
The trip up was uneventful
but there is one spot where I was caught off guard - one of the upper stream crossing is
very steep and I went right down without being ready.
I was fine but should have
been paying more attention. Further up near the end, the ruts get really off camber
- as much as 30 degrees. It was a little uncomfortable but we all made it through
Above the point where the
trail exits to Gauley Ridge Road, we drove up to the meadow that overlooks the area.
I stopped part way up to pick some blackberries. The bushes were nearly blocking the
road. Steve and Jandy (doorless) did not enjoy the berries as much as me and the
After a quick break in
the field, we drove up to Long Run Road and beyond to Clines Hacking and the ATV parking
lot. There were some ATV drivers and their support vehicles there. We talked
with them for a while. Frank, Chris and Jim "ramped" their Jeeps.
I watched Teddy discover the
joy of playing in mud puddles. That took care of his second change of clothing for
the trip. He was now down to one change of clothes not counting pajamas. By
this time tomorrow he would be wearing P.J.'s if he kept it up!
Frank wanted to check out an
overlook near the power lines and set off to investigate. It was further away than
he remembered so we started down to pavement on FR 72 while he caught up with us.
From the trail entrance we backtracked to Kephart.
On the way past McDorman's
the last couple vehicles from the large group we saw on Kephart were just parking so we
timed our trip up Old Long Run just right. The trip up to the obstacle on Kephart
was pretty straightforward. At one point it had been quiet on the CB for a while so
I mumbled some nonsense into it. Someone replied "You took me out of my
trance-like state" or words to that effect. And that was pretty on the
mark. It was a nice drive, it was quiet and pretty in the woods, and I too felt very
Soon we got to the
rock. Next to Dictum, this is what we had all come for. Thankfully, the large
group had left it stack-free and we got to drive it as nature intended. I was
leading the group so I just drove right up out of the way and turned around. I was
far enough ahead of Chris that I was able to get some pictures when he went up.
Everyone climbed it with no
problems. Jandy drove right up and right over the rock that most people steer
around. Steven said she didn't see it but I think she knew it was
Frank and Jim made it look
easy (well it is really...) and Wayne got to try it without the stacked rocks and took it
like a champ.
The group then took a
walk up to the end of the trail to see where it leads.
Basically it leads into the
stream... So we got the group turned around and drove back off the rock and out to
After a short hop down to
Dry River, we went back to McDorman's to put everything back into shape for driving on
It was really hot so at one
point Tomi asked to get back in the Jeep. I had it running with the A/C on so it was
much more comfortable. The parking brake was set and Tomi was in the back sitting in
the seat. I didn't insist he put his harness on since we were not moving. Once
strapped in, he cannot get out without my help. I was running the compressor to air
up, and while the tires were filling I was reconnecting. Tomi decided that he wanted
to try his hand at driving so he climbed into the front and started steering the
wheel. Let's just say I got my hands out from the steering linkage where I was
reconnecting and around to that driver's seat pretty fast. And Tom got to enjoy the
rest of that stop in the heat and humidity like the rest of us. He will not be
sitting in the Jeep again unless he is strapped in. Bad Dad!
Everyone pretty much decided
to pass up Steve and Jandy's offer to stop by their parents house in Harrisonburg, except
for Frank, me and the kids. So I followed them to their parents. We appeared
at their door covered in sweat, rain and mud but they were very nice and took us in.
The kids love new places and soon discovered the pool and the "Soaker" water
gun. They kept me running. Soon I realized it was going to be dark by the time
we got back to the campsite if I did not make tracks. So after some soda and chips,
and a great deal of hovering on my part (the pool is deeper than the kids are tall) we
thanked everyone and made tracks for the tent.
We got back to the
campground with about 20 minutes daylight left. It was just enough time to get into
swimming suits and down to the water near the entrance.
Teddy was in the water the
second we got out of the Jeep. Tomi was happy to play around the shore and explore
an abandoned sandcastle. We watched a very pretty sunset, the first sun we had seen
that weekend. Then we went back to the tent, ate some Hot Dogs, cooked on the
stove, in the light of a mini-Mag Lite shining into a bottle of Apple Juice.
The kids went to bed without any protest and were asleep in minutes. I was right
The next morning it took me
four hours working alone to clean off the tents and gear, and get everything packed.
We took a shower after the Jeep was loaded and then went to Fox Pizza Den for lunch and
then drove out of town. The kids did a good job with the camping, even if they were
a little high-maintenance at times. I enjoyed this trip a great deal. We'll be
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