Scenes From a Jeep

Scenes From a Jeep

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Green Trail

Fish swim, bees buzz, Jeeps go off-road. And that's exactly what the Jeep is doing in this scene. I'm proud to announce that me and the Jeep have graduated to the next grade of off-road school. But believe me, summer school was no walk in the park.
It was instead a ride in the off-road park. Yes, there are such things. Here in the northeast, public land open to off-road wheeling almost doesn't exist. That has stunted my education. I have to wait for a good snow storm, a field and friendly farmer, or a trip to a beach that issues 4x4 permits. Real trail runs are quite rare. 
But my friends found this off-road park a few hours drive from home, and surprised me with a weekend trip. Think of an off-road park as a regular amusement park with long legal waivers, a bring-your-own-ride policy, and a whole lot less maintenance.
When I found out we were going, I was very excited. This would be great! Off-roading in a controlled environment, marked trails for each level of vehicle and driver, a relaxing day where one could cruise easy or choose to up his game on a more difficult run. 
Our first step was to sign our waiver forms and get our park membership cards. No problem. Legal forms are always written in scary worst-case language. Wrecked vehicle, injury, death, alien abduction, blah, blah, blah... So we signed, got our cards, and were briefed on park rules. We were also given a collection of local business cards for towing companies, mechanics, taxis, hospitals, and behavioral therapists. Nothing to worry about, just standard precautions.
We also got a park map showing all the trails. Green for easy, then blue, then red, and finally, for extreme rock crawling, black. Great, we'll start with the green trails, there's plenty of those! The park office then showed us where some sections of green trails have been "upgraded" to blue. We asked what they do to upgrade a green trail to blue. The answer was, "Nothing, they upgrade themselves." What a great business model... your park gets better by letting it deteriorate naturally. Ok, we'll watch out for those sections.
Just outside the park office we saw what they call the "Camp Course". This is a series of natural and man-made rock piles, some reaching 20 feet or higher. A competition was under way with all types of Jeeps, modified trucks, and buggies crawling up and over giant boulders. What I should have realized at this point was that the people on the Camp Course are the same ones that determine which trails are green, blue, red, or black. We were soon to face an issue of differing perspectives. What really is a "green trail" to you?
Our plan was to hit a nearby green trail leading to a picnic area inside the park. Woo Hoo! Picnic! Our group included my semi-stock Jeep (I bumped it up a tire size), a Jeep Sahara, and a Toyota FJ with a 3-inch lift. Nothing it seems that couldn't handle the bunny-run.
Within the first 50 yards we hit a patch of unyielding, sharp, jagged rocks. Whoa! This is the easy stuff!? We were bouncing like a 747 in a thunderstorm. I was trying to pick good lines through it, but the rocks had other plans. I heard metal smacking the underside of the Jeep, not unlike the sounds my grandfather heard slugging-it through Italy with General Patton. Oh, man, this is going to cost us big! I got out and did the first of many checks under the Jeep. Just then, a park veteran drove by and said, "It's too early to be looking under there." True, I thought, but I was looking anyway. This was my ride home.
We kept going, and came upon a series of murky water holes with submerged pointy rocks. We'd get through one, just to get to the next hole with deeper water and pointier rocks. My friends reminded me that from inside the Jeep the rocks look bigger. They're from Colorado so they know rocks, and they were right. I could see my friend's Jeep ahead, and it was able to clear most of the rocks just fine. But this was my first real day at school, and everything was new and bigger than reality.
The pointy water holes made the picnic area seem real far away, so we switched to some more-greener trails on another side of the park. These trails also had water holes and rocks, just not at the same time. I found that to be a positive game changer.
Overall, it was a great day. We all had a good time. Nobody had to be towed out, airlifted to the hospital, or made subject of a YouTube crash video. And the worst damage any of us suffered were a few scratches on some wheels. I'd definitely go again, but maybe with some bigger tires and a slight suspension lift. Phone lines are open, so make your donation today to the Lift-My-Jeepathon ;-).
But the real lesson here is to never take for granted the difficulty rating applied to any activity, be it an off-road trail, hiking path, ski slope, corn maze, or whatever else. Go out and do what you enjoy, but first find the people that rated the course levels, and ask, "What exactly does 'green trail' mean to you?"

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Should I Wheel?

What a tough choice... to wheel, or not to wheel? For those needing a vocabulary catch-up, "wheeling", among the four-wheel drive folks, means to drive off-road. And when a wheeling opportunity comes along like the one in this picture, you have to ask yourself the tough question... "Should I wheel, or should I go?"
But why not? Wheeling is fun! And during a tough winter like this one, more opportunities present themselves than usual. Your average country road can transform itself into miles of unplowed trails. Snowy fields become a giant canvas for your all-terrain tires to paint (provided, of course, you have permission to drive on said canvas). And then you come across a beauty like the one pictured here. A dirt trail, covered with snow, and packed-down by previous travelers. Your inner voice screams out, "Let's do it before we come to our senses!" At that very moment, however, your training kicks in. What training, you ask? Youtube.
Yes, Youtube. The great educator of our times. If you want to know how to do something, or how not to do something, search Youtube. Being the novice wheeler that I am, Youtube is my 4x4 university. I've learned basic Jeep maintenance, the science of lift kits, tire upgrades, and differential gear ratios. I understand that if you're not a Jeeper, you may not want to watch a video about proper drive shaft angles following a 4-inch coil lift. But no one, and I mean no one, will be bored watching a Jeep flip straight backwards as it tries to climb out of a giant hole in the Utah desert called the Devil's Hot Tub. Why, you say, was the Jeep in the "hot tub" to begin with? Because it can, and you don't want to miss seeing it. To test my theory, do your own Youtube search for "Jeep Flop", “Jeep Flip", "Jeep Roll", or "Jeep Rollover". It's amazing stuff, and you're gonna love it for hours and hours.
But this is about education, and after watching a few videos, you'll be impressed at how fast a Jeep can go from upright to upside-down... and sometimes back to upright, then upside-down, upright, and upside-down again. It happens on rocks, in snow, on beaches, on mountains, in rivers, on desert dunes, in parking lots, and suburban back yards. You name the place, a Jeep can roll over on it. 
As you progress in your Youtube curriculum, you'll see that smart wheelers have a buddy standing outside the Jeep. He's called a "spotter". His job is to tell you how you're doing, where to turn, how fast to go, and what obstacle is up next. Yet his main job as seen in many videos is to repeatedly yell "Oh no! Oh no! No! No!" Followed by, "Hey buddy, you OK in there?"
My all-time favorite Jeep edutainment video is simply entitled "Jeep". This video has everything... an enthusiastic Russian-speaking spotter and cameraman, camouflage pants, a successful river crossing, a failed river crossing, a rescue, a rescue attempt that needs rescuing, and a happy ending. You don't need to speak Russian to follow this waterway drama. After the first vehicle crosses the river, listen for the cameraman to say "Cher-o`kee". That's the queue for the Jeep Cherokee to enter the river, roll over, and float down stream with its submerged driver and passenger.
Don't worry, everybody makes it out OK. But look for this bonus lesson as the rescue gets under way... Taking precious seconds off the clock, their buddy on the far side of the river strips down to his undies before he's ready to dive in and help. When he finally does, he's immediately swept away by the current, flailing as he goes out of frame, unnoticed by the others. He recovers himself and is later seen helping to upright the Jeep, still in his undies. By the end, I think the only things permanently lost in the whole episode were the "Cher-o`kee", and the brave rescue swimmer's pants. Let's hope the water was warm. This one video has so much valuable information, that I would trust my own mother to spot me over a steep, muddy hillside, provided she had watched the misadventures of our Russian friends.
How, though, did all this video instruction help me in the snowy Jeep scene shown here? It was a beautiful day, and the trail was tempting. But the Jeeper ahead of me was hesitating, so I asked him what he thought. He wisely replied, "It looks good, except that the hill is facing South and getting a lot of sun. That'll make it pretty slick. Also, look at those tracks... Someone tried to make it earlier, but stopped halfway and had to back down. If you get turned sideways, you'll flip and come rolling down on your side." In conclusion he added, "I'd rather not do anything to alter the course of my Sunday."
Wow. It was like Solomon's wisdom in a Jeep. That educated tone let me know one thing for certain. I was speaking to a fellow 4x4 Youtube University graduate. I nodded, and we both drove off unfulfilled but unscathed, and resolved to wheel another day.