The Day We Had Uwharrie All To Ourselves
You show up at one of the best off-road recreation areas in this half of the country and you find that there is literally nobody else
in the entire place. It's just you, your wheeling partner and your two rigs, and when the engines are shut down the only thing you can hear is the wind through the birch leaves. What do you do?
Go home dejected, as you really wanted to wait in long lines and get yelled at by other frustrated people.
Hold a small, informal group meditation session.
Begin your long-anticipated foray into Flemish landscape painting.
Anything you want. Twice.
Correct Answer: D
...unless you're from England, in which case it would also be A
, and there's really no help for you at all. The rest of us would giggle wickedly at the realization that we had the entirety of the trail system of Uwharrie National Forest to ourselves. When you examine the following picture, consider the fact that during the entire time it took us to hike up the hill, survey the possible routes, reach a decision or three, hike halfway down and then see Greta and The Big Beetle framed in the "V for Victory" tree, there was not another voice or engine to be heard anywhere.
Although Tuesday was predicted to be rainy, cold, windy and thoroughly-miserable in this particular corner of the Wasteland it was clear that The Weather Gods had something else in store: the morning temperature was sitting somewhere around 64 and rising
, there was no wind to speak of, and the only rain that came through had done so a few hours earlier in the night...and even then it was barely enough to knock the dust off of the trees. In short, it was a more-than-perfect December day.
Pictured: Heading up a through some pebbles.
Aside from saying "we ran up and down every damned trail in the place about twice" I couldn't tell you where we went or when for two reasons. The first and primary factor was that the trail map we had on-hand turned out to be somewhat out of date, somehow; we hit at least one trail that flat-out wasn't shown or that was shown so inaccurately that we couldn't figure out where we were at the time. There were plenty of incidents where we got to a crossroads on a marked trail where another split off and it simply wasn't there. Sometimes we took those paths, and other times we didn't; everything was marked - riding on unmarked trails is a no-no - with OHV symbols and numbers, but at times we couldn't correlate the numbering system to the printed map in-hand. The second reason was that - having the entire trail system to ourselves - we simply didn't have to worry about it.
My wheeling partner for the day was Ryan. He's a veritable staff member here at Site B and pilots what I call "The Big Beetle"...a getting-nicely-built FJ Cruiser. To get an idea of the size difference between this beast and a TJ, consider the fact that he also
has 35's. It's no wonder that he says it's like driving a living room.
Pictured: But still, seriously, it looks like a beetle. It really does.
Uwharrie offers a lot of varied terrain. There are mudpits - avoided, thanks very much - long hill climbs, forest roads, rock piles, and a lot of washboards...the latter of which were more of a challenge to me than anything else due to Greta's non-optimal gearing. The best I could manage was third gear in low range, with the rear unlocked for most of the day...but if I had a better first gear ratio - 4.88's, say - or more power, high range would have been fine.
Pictured: Shock-heaters, when run at any kind of speed.
The gearing wasn't a HUGE disadvantage, but it did cause some over-clutching and shifting at inopportune moments. Another slight issue was tire pressure; I aired down the Falkens to the 12-ish/14-ish range and...well, they didn't care. I keep saying it over and over, but now there's some visual proof: these are some stiff
Pictured: Check out the right rear NOT deflecting at all.
This is what happens, I think, when you have NO weight in the rear. Even with a FULL tank of gas Greta's backside is light; a bit more weight and the full-sized spare would have been welcome here, and a bit more weight off of the nose would have been nice. I think that the lightweight V8 transplant will help a little of this, and it'll help the ride quality as well...but the real solution to that latter situation will be properly-valved shocks, different springs in the front and a suspension that allows better movement and climbing. My tire pressures could have been eight pounds lower and probably given me a lot more capability, but without a ready supply of air I didn't want to lose a bead and get stuck. Even so, the climbs weren't that bad...yet.
Naturally, any successful hill climb - even the small ones - requires the poser shot at the top.
Pictured: Required poser shot.
We hit a couple of easy forest roads after that...basically dirt tracks with some large piles of dirt here and there for a cool little roller-coaster effect. We took a left onto a here-in-real-life-but-not-shown-on-the-map trail and found a NICE hill climb and descent. We had to run this one a couple of times each. Here's Greta coming up one side of the gulch and working through some smallish divots.
Pictured: "A touch bumpy here, isn't is?"
I literally smoked my clutch on that one...which wasn't bad, because I have a habit of feathering the clutch anyway and it needs a good burning from time to time. It probably doesn't need heating to the point where Ryan had to say "Back off the clutch...you got smoke rolling out," and for me to only then do it in low range - but that's beside the point. Here's The Beetle heading back up the same gulch and showing off the high clearance of the independent front suspension.
Pictured: Also, ample lighting.
After that little up-and-down Greta's clutch needed some time to cool off. Therefore, lunch...
Pictured: Damn near as good as a sammich.
After a good rest - and I needed it, as badly as I was getting beaten around from the combination of not-the-best gearing and need-to-be-changed front shocks - we headed around the Rocky Mountain Loop to play in the rocks for awhile. I didn't take the hardest lines out there because 1) I'm not armored adequately, and 2) I'm not an idiot; I rather enjoy picking a smart line and NOT breaking my rig. Even so, we found this BEFORE we got to the rocky parts...and we have no idea when it happened.
Pictured: The literal instant that I decided a tummy tuck was going to happen soon.
The Rocky Mountain loop isn't a very simple trail, but it's not very easy, either. It rewards a careful driver. We went through most of it without any contact, whatsoever...likewise with Dutch John; the worst I could claim for the entire day was the hit to the transfer case skid, a touch on both pumpkins and one light scrape on a lower control arm mount...all matters of ground clearance, incidentally. Here's a view of a halfway-intelligent line at the top of an obstacle on the RML.
Pictured: Not too bad.
I took that higher, more-small-turns-required line because the lower one looked like it was intentionally designed to snag differentials...and because the entire area was pervaded by the strong smell of gear oil. We could actually see streaks of it on a particularly-prominent and suspiciously small rock, and - believe it or not - Ryan actually found a video online last night of someone taking the exact
line that we worked around. It was shot this past weekend.
Needless to say, neither Ryan nor myself turtled from giving the rig too much gas; both of us know where "reverse" is on the shifter and we use it to good advantage when needed. Thus, we live to go play in more rock piles.
Pictured: More rock piles.
Have I mentioned that I'm thinking about a gas-tank tuck as well? Here's the reason...
Pictured: Notice the rock spires that passed to either side of the rear diff.
I came down about a half-inch from the pyramid that you can see just inboard of the right rear tire, and if I'd had ANY kind of rear bumper or tire carrier I would have scraped it here or in ten other places on this run, alone. I can't over-stress the need for armor and ground clearance when you're in this type of terrain. Consider what happened when Ryan took a different line in the FJ.
Pictured: Note the boulder immediately behind his right rear tire.
He actually caught the very distal end of that boulder on one of his rock slider mounts, and he did it somewhat at speed...which spun the thing around and put it right in the middle of the line I was going to take. That's how I ended up pointing Greta further off to the right - as seen above - and going for an impossible field goal between two trees that only a TJ could pass through.
Pictured: We measured 72" between the trees, and Greta is 72" wide. F*** you, physics.
After that little climb it became obvious that I need to fix my rear suspension so that I've actually got some traction when climbing; I had to lock the front in order to pull myself up. After I passed through the trees, though, it was smooth sailing...but Ryan still had a couple of other somewhat-entertaining parts to navigate.
Pictured: FJ flex.
The 35" Kuhmo's on his rig did awesomely well, as did the Falkens; they took everything that we threw at them and they were perfectly content to just keep on going. You can't complain about a tire when it gets you up to the top of climbs like this one.
Pictured: Blue skies, grey stone and red dirt. Few things are better.
We took a long ride back down the easier trails from that point on - Sawmill and Wolf Den, I think - and then it was back to Eldorado to survey the damage that 26 miles of trail
can do when you're not looking. Yeah, you read that correctly...we ran 26 miles in about six and a half hours...and aside from the crack on the transfer case skid and some minor contact with the axle parts, Greta was in good shape. She might need a bit of a bath, though.
Pictured: Good thing she had her umbrella...
Overall, I'd say it was about the best off-roading I've ever had; it was quiet, peaceful and there was nobody around...sort of what the rest of the Wasteland will be like, eventually. I think we're going to have to make the Last Week of The Season Run an annual thing, but I can't expect that we'll ever have a more perfect day of it. For anyone that wasn't there, you honestly missed out...so I hope that next year you'll be able to come along.