Walker Valley ORV Park
Mt. Vernon, WA
My Son's First Jeep Run
February 5th, 2011
This Saturday I took my son out for his first offroad Jeep run. There were a couple other fathers also taking this sons out for the first time, too, so we got together to do an "easy" run. The whole point was to just see how our kids did being out in the Jeeps on the trails. Overall they all did great. The day turned out to be a lot longer than we figured when the last "easy" trail of the day turned into a winch fest. The kids were all incredibly patient as we got the Jeeps down the trail.
At the staging area we parked the Jeeps and started airing down and disconnecting the swaybar. We initially kept our kids in the Jeeps while we set up so they wouldn't be running around the parking lot. As things progressed and the airing down took care of itself we were able to bring our sons out to stretch their legs and let them play a little. Nathan immediately went running through the big mud puddles. Then they all joined in throwing rocks in the water. Once the Jeeps were ready to go we all packed up again and rolled out.
We were debating whether to run the "easy" trail at the other end of the ORV park or start with the slightly harder trail right near the staging area. As we talked it over and thought through the route we figured to do the closer trail. There was a long, steep, but otherwise smooth hill climb up to a quarry, then some gravel roads to get to the next trailhead. On the way there Steve reported some odd ratcheting noises from his rig. Before we hit the trail again we spent about 10 minutes and found out the problem. His front driveshaft double-cardan joint was rubbing the body tub during suspension up travel. While not good it was not a deal breaker. For Steve, this was also a shake down run after his big V8 conversion. Stuffing a V8 under the hood with a GM automatic transmission, and then tucking everything up several inches it wasn't a big surprise that some small tweaks were needed.
We pressed on and it turns out the supposedly harder route wasn't too bad at all. The kids were doing well, the Jeeps were doing well, and we had plenty of traction. Up some slick rock, sloshing and squishing through mud, and splashing through puddles we make our way to a clearing. During a break Nathan tripped and plopped down in a big mud puddle which upset him. After he calmed down we got back in the rigs and rolled out again. About 20 minutes later we took a quick break to stretch some legs as some of us watched the rest of the group scramble over some rocks. Then up another couple hundred yards of trail, getting over a tricky boulder to our lunch location. We stopped where the trail broke out of the trees at the terminus of a logging road. The trees were cut down which never looks pretty, but the flip side is that we had a great view out over the hills and valley below.
For my son and I lunch was some burritos that had been cooking on the engine block for most of the morning, wrapped in aluminum foil and secured to the fuel rail. It's nice to have hot food out on the trail. After the burritos it was some cheese and crackers until we were full. While we were eating another group of offroaders came into the same clearing. And not long after that we could hear and see another group of about 5-6 rigs further down the trail working their way up. Shortly there was some high revving engine sounds and the sound of tires scrabbling for traction on the boulder. . . then a loud BOOM! and silence. All of us, kids, dads, and the other group walked back down the trail to see what happened.
Turns out a Toyota 4Runner had popped a tire bead. . . not surprising since he was running 50 psi in his tires (hence the loud BOOM!). What he was thinking we don't know as he should have been around 10-15 psi for trail pressure. On top of that, he broke his steering linkage and had both tires pointing inward toward the front of the truck. Poor guy. He had maybe 20 people standing around watching him as he was getting out his spare and setting up his jack. Since he had plenty of help from his friends our own group retreated from the spectators and packed up our Jeeps again to head out. The downside is that he'd probably be there for a while and thus blocking one of the two ways out of the ORV trail system.
Steve's rear tire looked incredibly flat as we finished the next trail. So we stopped again and busted out the air compressor to air it up. Some woody debris had lodge into the tire bead. With that cleaned out the tire held air again for the rest of the day, which was fortunate. About 45 minutes later as we were driving down the gravel roads to head back to the staging area when his other tire went flat. He had bent a rim when he hit a stump earlier so the tire bead wouldn't seat properly and hold air. Well, that's what spare tires are for.
During the tire change operation Chris alternated between clowning around and helping Steve change the tire. The rest of us helped out by standing around watching. I was especially helpful by taking pictures and video.
By this time it was getting on toward 4pm. Chris had to get home to a family function and it had been a long day for our sons so we were looking to head out. We had 1-2 short trails to do before we could get back to the gravel roads that would lead to the staging area again. These were the trails we had considered running first, parts of the Lower Mainline. The first one was no sweat, probably could have run it in 2WD. The second one should have been no sweat as well. However, trail conditions change and boy were there some serious changes to the trail.
Between the rains and some big rigs sections of this last trail were quite chewed up. There were several instances where we had to be careful working out way over roots to keep from pitching our Jeeps into dirt banks or other trees.
Then we got to the trench. What used to be a fun mud hole with a nice up hill climb (~50 ft long) had gotten dug out as a 4-5 ft trench with nasty root boles sticking out from the side. And the whole trail surface was slimed over in thick, gooey, sticky mud. There was little traction and little control in the wheel ruts. Three of our rigs were able to reposition to drop into the trench and avoid a particularly nasty root bole (positioned juuuuust right to rip out a tire side wall or gouge a massive dent in the doors and rear quarter panel). But one of our number couldn't get out of the wheel ruts and ended up sliding down into the trench anyways. Out came the winch line, tree strap, and pulley and we yanked his back end sideways out away from the root bole so he could make forward progress without damage. Through that, down the trench, around a corner, and on to another odd root lump. This time the root pitched the Jeeps right into a tree. Two of the rigs squeaked by with about 1/2" to spare from hitting the windshield on the opposite tree. The third rig got hung up on a root and needed to be winched off. The last rig was a hair tall and needed the winch to pull the front end away from the tree. All told it took about 1 1/2 hours to get through about 150 ft of trail. Of course, by this time it was virtually pitch black in the woods and well past 6pm. Ungh.
After passing this last obstacle it was smooth sailing back to the staging area. Once there we went through the process of airing the tires back up, hooking up the swaybars, prepping the Jeeps for road travel again, and, in my case, getting Nathan changed into some dry clothes. By the time we got home both Nathan and I were wiped out. He went straight to bed after getting changed and into his PJs and was pretty much asleep by the time he hit the bed. I had a blast and Nathan enjoyed the day, as long as it was. We're both looking forward to the next time.
Throwing rocks in the puddles at the staging area.
Somebody fell down in a mud puddle.
One of the many breaks throughout the day.
The tricky bolder. We all made it up without winching but this
was where the 4Runner had his problems.
Changing the tire on Steve's rig. Nathan inspects the tool box.
Approaching one of those tricky roots. Note how it's high on
the left, just right for pitching the tops of the Jeep into the
tree on the right.
Dropping down into the trench, not a whole lot of room to maneuver.
Hooking the winch line up to Joe's rig to pull him
sideways, away from the root bole.
Inspecting and checking clearance. . . scads of room.