The 8 Cent Trail Repair

Oh sure…. you are reading the headline, and are ready to call my bluff…. what can you get for 8 cents?

This past July while on our Colorado Expedition with the Trail Team, I developed a small problem.  It all started while making the trek to the top of Mosquito Pass. My 2010 4Runner, which has performed flawlessly across any obstacle I ever asked of it for the past 4 years, decided to get a little hot.  

Nearly ¾ of the way up the trail to the 13,185 foot pass…. I got a whiff of something hot.  Thank God I smelled it, because when I looked down at my dash I could see that my engine temp was a good 80% towards the top reading.  I quickly cranked up the heat on the truck and rolled down the windows. Within a minute, the temp started falling as I sat and idled.

This was a big shock to me…. The day before, I had been in gridlock traffic in Denver, and the temp was nearly 100 degrees.  Even with the AC blasting… I don’t recall seeing or smelling anything unusual. Before that, I had driven over 500 miles from central Illinois.  

With the heat on and the windows open, I was able to creep up to the top of the Pass.  We took pictures of the trucks in the caravan and I popped the hood. I was dreading a low coolant level, as I was not sure if this probably had been going on without me noticing.  The coolant was completely full in the overflow. That was a great sign. I kept the heat rolling for the trip back down…. by the time we hit the halfway down mark…. I was in the clear.

The mechanics and educated drivers out there probably know what happened.  After some inspection later when the engine cooled off…. Our “Trail Tech”, Dustin,  found that the cooling fan was spinning freely at the end of the crank. Unlike cars, thr 4Runner does not have electric fans at the radiator.  The viscous fan clutch fully engages when the temperature in the engine increases. From what we could tell…. This fan was idling at a lower speed even when hot, thus. not removing heat from engine as quickly as designed.  Low 4 climbing with its higher RPMs and the the higher altitude had created a bad mixture that led to my hot temps on the Pass.

Now…. what to do about it?  The nearest Toyota dealer on our route was in Montrose.  We gave them a call and found they did not have a part on hand.  But, they were willing to expedite one that could be in sometime the next day.  That sounded pretty good, but a call to Autozone gave us better news…. They could have it by noon, guaranteed.  We ordered the autozone part and prepared for a repair the next day. We could get into why I didn’t get the manufacturer part…  But as a dealer, I know that the possibility of not getting a part exists in this neck of the woods. We have the luxury of getting parts nearly within hours in Central Illinois… Whereas these dealers in the western states have to have parts dispatched out of Dallas Tx and rely on FedEx.

Ah-hah!  We busted you Eric, this repair was more than 8 cents!  Yes, but you have to read on… This is not the repair in question.

The part arrived on time to Montrose.  We grabbed the box and headed to our campsite in Ouray looking over the town.  For the next 90 minutes we proceeded to make repairs. In order to make this happen, we decided that pulling the shroud and taking off a radiator hose would make it easier.  This called for some improvisation. Coolant is not something we take lightly to spilling, so we ended up making a funnel out of camp tin-foil in order to direct the flow into a catch bucket.  

From past experience, I have been witness to aftermarket parts that do not look the same as their factory counterparts. This visual helps me understand why I am  paying more for OEM. This fan clutch is no exception. The ribbed heat diffusers on the Autozone part are a much smaller surface area than the factory part. You have to wonder if it can do the same job.  When we made a turn on the shaft by hand to feel the tension in this new part versus the factory part… It was obvious that this new part was working correctly. The old part was nearly “free-wheeling”. We were feeling much better about the diagnosis.

We had the new part secured and installed pretty quickly.  After that, we reinstalled the shroud and topped off the coolant with the fluid we removed.  It all looked great. It sounded great as well. If you have heard the difference in an engaged fan clutch versus one not working…It becomes audibly obvious.  Unfortunately, its a sound you become tone deaf too as it slowly fails. After idling… We took another look. Hmmm… Something didn’t look right. The fan blades appeared to be a little closer to the engine than we remember.  So much so that they were eerily close to the black rubber hoses coming off the front of the engine. Coolant hoses. We had spun the fan blade and inspected the clearance. It was not much. 1 to 2mm?

1 to 2mm might be spec?  Hard to say looking at it while making a repair at 9000 feet where we were camped.  We fired up the truck… It looked fine. I drove around the campground and we made more inspections.  All clear.

The next day, we headed up to another trailhead to make a new campsite.  After we had that done, I took another quick look at the fan. Better safe than sorry right?  My worst fear had started showing itself. The hoses had probably expanded a bit when we moved the new campsite that morning.  In doing so, they had started making contact with the fan blade. You could see the smallest trace of black debri and dust on the fan.  

This is where the OEM part would have been far superior.  This Autozone part was probably made to Toyota SPEC… But it was shorter than the factory part.  

Our options included:

Gambling and hoping that it will be ok?  (Never the best option)

Cut off parts of the fan blades that are rubbing?  (That plastic is hard!)

Remove the inner hose and chop it down about a quarter inch?  (Would require a lot more coolant being handled)

Shim the part from autozone?  (Might create a balance issue for the fan)

Our “Trail Tech”, Dustin, came up with a better idea.  The fan can be removed from the new clutch… We could attempt to shim it at the front.  While that sounded great… We were pretty far removed from town. We started looking for washers or some way to space out these bolts.  It couldn’t be anything too big, as we had limited threads to work with. We were at the point of removing bolts from the expedition trailer when Dustin started asking for loose change.  Coins? There was not a vending machine for miles, what was he up too?

He started with 4 pennies.  4 pennies stacked in a vice grip and drilled with a small bit turned into 4 perfectly matched washers.  After taking a look at the end results.. We decided that another 4 cents would probably give us a bit of insurance.  Everyone dug through their cupholders. (For folks worried about defamation of currency, see link at end of the article)

We figured out that draining the coolant was not completely necessary to make the repair a second time…  We loosened up the fan shroud and installed 2 pennies on each bolt holding the fan to the clutch. The end result pulled the fan away from the hoses that were risking being ruptured.

Upon firing up the truck…  We could see that we were free and clear.  Disaster averted!

For just 8 cents we had improved the Autozone part, and it would handle the rest of our trip without incident.  

This is the third time we have seen a fan clutch fail on the trail.  One time we witnessed it on the trails at Southern Cruiser Crawl. Altitude was not an issue…  But a mud soaked radiator and low speeds with a high idle are just as potent of a mix. A second time, while only 4 miles into the Mojave Road.  Both of those previous times, we had to grab an aftermarket part.

I would like to tell you that there is an interval that you should start paying attention to the replacement on this item… But we have seen it on new and old trucks alike.  I would recommend at 100,000 miles that you pay attention to the sound of the fan and keep an eye on the coolant temp whenever you are in a high engine temp situation. I would also recommend cleaning your radiator out vigorously after any wheeling trip…  A dirty radiator can enhance this problem.

Unfortunately, since we don’t use L4 until we are at the trailhead, you may not know till you have a problem until that moment you are looking to have a little fun with your truck.  

Post Script:

I had taken some pictures of the repair in action… And a few people quickly became concerned that posting the pictures may put us in a position of an illegal operation.  Currency mutilation. It was a fair question as none of us are experts in currency laws!

I did some research and found various statutes and legal speak.  The most common concern was regarding the machines at tourist attractions that smash a penny into a souvenir.  

What we can take from the law is this.  If you deface these coins and then attempt to parlay them into a transaction… You are breaking the law.  You should not mutilate currency and then try to spend it. That would be illegal.

https://www.parkpennies.com/pressed-penny/are-penny-press-machines-legal.htm

Trail Team Adventure 2018 – 300 and Poughkeepsie Gulch

Working in a car dealership with a bunch of car and truck loving guys and gals means that we routinely tell tall tales of triumphs and failures of our auto exploits.  

We can tell you stories of a Sales Manager going off the pavement and spinning out in our brand new SCCA FRS…  We can also tell you all about the trip where our 2010 4runner that we call “Treehugger” got its name. But one of our favorite stories to tell is of our technician, Dustin Harper and his adventure on “the Wall” with our “shop” truck called “300”.  The telling of Harper’s failure at the “Wall” on Poughkeepsie Gulch, Colorado usually results in raised voices and accusations of poor driving or poor spotting. All we know is that watching Harper’s blood pressure rise during conversation ensures that this story will be around for many years to come.  

It’s been four years since our initial foray into off-roading and overlanding in the great state of Colorado.  We started off with a few “stock” trucks and made our way to FJ Summit 8 for a crash course in mountain passes and some of the most scenic views in the United States.  One trip to the mountains and you are hooked. Prepare for many more visits in your future.

Since that first expedition… Our little group of three trucks has grown.  We have had as many as 8 trucks with us at TLCA events near and far from our home base in Pekin Illinois.  Inevitably, when we are around a campfire with friends or strangers, this story about 300 at the “Wall” comes up.

The Battle of Poughkeepsie  

It all started on our second venture to FJ Summit 9 in 2015.  Our group of travelers had grown to 5 trucks and now included a few technicians along with an advisor and the Service Manager.  Dustin, one of the techs, had worked countless hours on our shop truck, “300” it get it prepared for the long journey to Ouray. This young tech had taken a broken down 2000 Toyota Tacoma, with the help of other techs in the shop, created a formidable 4×4 trail rig.  We dubbed the 300,000 truck with the name of “300”. We even duplicated the movie logo for the fenders of the truck.

300 made its way to Ouray Colorado and proceeded to chew up trails all over Summit 9.  It would appear that the Wheeling Gods had blessed this little truck conquer every obstacle in its path.  

Until a fateful day at Poughkeepsie Gulch that would go down in infamy for Dustin and 300.

Our small troop of trucks made an unscheduled run to the top of a trail called Poughkeepsie Gulch.  PG is known as one of the toughest trails in the Ouray area. Not because of the trail itself, but because of its famous final barrier, ominously known as “The Wall”.  The wall is a two jagged slabs of rock faces that are divided by a large fissure that can gobble up wheels and make “The Wall” nearly unbeatable. On this day in 2015, we watched a 3rd gen 4Runner roll down on its side and brake all of its windows.  This is not a walk in the park by any means! (Also of note, in 2015 the “go around” was not available as it is now)

Our small group of 4Runners and FJ Cruisers had made it past the obstacle.  Some easier than others… Style point matter little on this hill. All that was left was for 300 to run up to the top like it had all week everywhere else.  

What happened next is a story that might be best told by the “Spotter” or the “Spotted”.  “Woody” from Ih8mud.com had donated his time that day to help out all the trail runs from FJ Summit on their spotting needs while trying to run the Wall.  Spotting an obstacle like this is a thankless job and anyone who takes it probably doesn’t do it two years in a row. It takes at least a year to forget all the grumpy drivers who can’t handle being told that they are holding up the line and cannot make it up without being “winched”.

Harper setup “300” on a line that Woody pointed him too.  Once set, Harper floored it. The truck didn’t make it up a ¼ of the way.  It wasn’t a spectacular looking attempt, infact, you might call it underwhelming   Woody called out and asked Harper if his “locker” was on. Harper said that it was…  He retreated backward to make another attempt.

Getting up the Wall at Poughkeepsie is also a great opportunity to do some mathematics about altitude and horsepower.  At sea level when it was brand new the 2000 Tacoma made 190 hp. 300’s stock 3.4liter engine with 320,000 miles (Never overhauled) was probably a few ponies down from age.  Use the factor of 3% loss for every 1000 feet above sea level and you have a 36% loss of engine power. Even when new… That means the truck would have been sitting at 121 hp.  Add some oversized tires that have been deflated to 15 psi… And you have the recipe for a “dog”.

But that’s Ok…  In the game of mountain driving and wheeling… Slow and steady will win the race. FJ40’s are some of the biggest dogs on the trail and are known for their trail prowess.   Rarely do we need to have raw power at the top of a mountain. This spot is the exception. The Wall demands you get a little momentum on the rock face.

Attempt number two did not end much differently than the first one.  Harper had followed Woody’s line, but he was still not making it up the rock face.  Harper started to ask for a different line but Woody refused and told him that 300 was going to need to be winched.  

It didn’t take long before you could feel the the seething and hatred pouring out of the cab of 300.  Too the defense of both individuals… A lot more was going on beyond the Spotter and the Spotted.

Harper was an experienced driver with a truck that didn’t look like much on the outside.  Even to the studied eye of Woody, “300” looked unprepared for the Wall. Harper had the knowledge and experience that he probably should have been given another shot on the line he wanted.  But that wasn’t going to happen.

Harper could not see what Woody saw behind “300”… a growing lineup of trucks waiting their turn.  To complicate the situation, the overcast sky started spitting rain. A little bit of moisture on these rocks can make this hazard flat dangerous and far more time consuming if everyone needs to be winched up.   Woody was making a call that took every driver into consideration. It’s the kind of call that loses popularity contests!

This is where the story sat for the past two years.  Harper and 300 had to be pulled up “The Wall”. Constant ribbing and laughs have been pointed at Harper from every driver that has made “The Wall”.  Even folks who had never seen the rockface knew that this was one of Harper’s biggest regrets from our trips out west. Bringing this story up with Harper induces flashbacks and repressed memories that will start a flood of obscenities and excuses of what happened that day.  

Since then, Harper has taken 300 to countless off road events and parks.  In 2017 he traveled all the way to the Mojave Desert in the little truck that will not quit…  He has also run about every obstacle in Moab (Including a hot tub or two). He knows this truck.  

This past summer the Fort’s Trail Team once again made its way out to Colorado with several trucks.  At this point, we now bring customers with us as well. The planned run to Poughkeepsie Gulch was obviously the most anticipated stop of the trip.  On July 18th we made our way back to the scene of the past failure. There was an audience in tow with 300 that were looking for a front row seat to a redemption… Or a serious personal meltdown.  Either way… Everyone was sure that they would be entertained.

A couple trucks in our caravan this time around were sporting V8 engines and led the way… Even at 12,000 feet, those high powered trucks made “The Wall” look more like a traffic hump.   A couple V6 Gen 5 4runners were next… It was a little more struggle, but ATRAC proved its worth and they were up and over with little drama. Now came the defining moment of Harpers off-road reputation.  Was Woody right? Was this obstacle too much for 300? Would Harper make it on his own line?

Golfers lining up their puts take take less time than Harper when he finally got his chance to set up.  He was out of the truck several times making sure he liked the “line”. Nobody but Dustin was going to make the call on what approach to take.  

In and out of the cab…. Setting it up just perfect… And then…. Just a few seconds later, a momentous roar came up from the peanut gallery.  300 loped and flexed its way up and had bested the rockface. The audience cheered a hero’s welcome. Harper pulled the truck to a clearing and hopped out.  

The glow that exuded from Dustin was nearly blinding!  For years he had waited for this moment. While he had the confidence in his truck and his ability to get the job done, sometimes gravity and physics have their own barriers that faith just cannot break through.

The smug look of personal satisfaction

Dustin’s grin was nearly contagious.  Everyone, and mean everyone, adults, kids, friends and complete strangers felt the electricity of the moment.  It was high fives and reviews from everyone about how well he and the little truck had done. This was worth the drive from Illinois by itself!  

It would a slight fib to say that we dont enjoy giving grief to Dustin anymore about the past failure.  Even a couple months later its still exciting to see him grin and talk about this moment of personal accomplishment.  We can consider this story now closed with an appended, happy ending.

Colorado Adventure Update

Last month the Fort’s Trail Team headed out west for a Colorado “Family” adventure. We say “family” because in the fleet of seven trucks on the trip we brought out a total of 6 kids and one drivers “Dad”. We started our trip in the northern part of the state… Making our way from Leadville to Aspen to our final destination in Ouray. Everyday was high elevation trails and scenic mountain towns… Evenings were filled with kids and adults laughing and telling stories about sites that had been seen over the day.

We did find ourselves doing more primitive camping on this trip. Matt Wagner located a great little campsite south Ouray that sat at a cool and comfortable 10,000 feet! With clear skies and unusually warm weather for our visit, this was some of the best camping we have ever experienced.

The kids really added to the adventure on this trip. We stopped and had ice cream in Ouray and Silverton… A Trail Team first. We can also tell you from newly acquired experience, that peanut butter sandwiches taste delicious at 14,000 feet!

If you are interested in taking your Toyota on an adventure… The Fort’s staff have compiled several years of exploring and can help you plan your trip. Also, everyone is welcome to join us as we plan for future events and outings. See Eric Stahl or Matt Wagner in service.

https://photos.app.goo.gl/2touJAtXRKiyLKea8

SMORR Video

SMORR – May 2018

Our trip to Southern Missouri Off Road Ranch last weekend. Enjoy!

Posted by Fort's Trail Team on Monday, June 4, 2018

New Years Resolution 2018 – More 4×4 fun!

We kicked off 2018 by hitting the snowy slopes of The Cliff’s Insane Terrain on New Years.  5 brave Trail Team members and a few passengers made the trek.   It was a VERY cold morning and it didn’t get much better throughout the whole day…  -15 was the wakeup temp.

The Cliffs had a scavenger hunt that day.  Laid out in the snowy trails were 6 hidden markers that could be found by using clues provided at the office.  It should come as not surprise that “Super Taco” blazed all the trails and beat everyone to the grand prize.  A free years membership to the park.  Super Taco fended off competitors of all sizes and styles…  And he has never been to this park before!  Amazing!

Link to the Photo Album:  https://photos.app.goo.gl/iNl7VFzJG670HsZz2

 

Southern Cruiser Crawl 2017

Following Stork down Rubicon Ridge

The Fort’s Trail Team ended our 2017 “Season” with one of our favorite events in the TLCA lineup…  Southern Cruiser Crawl (SCC).  SCC has been a “must” event for our group since our first time venturing to Hot Springs Off Road Park in 2013.  It’s a mix of old and new trucks, great food, lots of friendly faces and most importantly… It’s a great off road park.

The event has been building year over year…  What started out as a small club event for Cottonland Cruisers has turned into a nationally recognized destination.  Forts Trail Team has been there to watch some of that growth.  Our first year at SCC was three years ago and we brought two trucks.  This year, we had a fleet of six trucks from Central Illinois caravan down the 8 hour drive south.  Our 2001 Tacoma dubbed “300” amazed us once again by showing its durability in trouble free operation on and off the trails, not to mention the drive to and from Hot Springs.  

Fall in Arkansas this year was hot.  Normally when we do SCC it’s a nice warmth in the sun, but when in the shadow of trees or in a valley… Its cool air.  Combine that with the first hints of fall in the tree colors…  And it’s nearly the best time of year to be there.  This year…  It was lot of dust and a heat everyday.  Highs during the days closed in on 90 degrees.  We are breaking a sweat…  Add to the dust from the truck in front of you and you suddenly feel like it’s Mojave Road all over again!  In all honesty, high 80’s while in the shade are not bad.   If you haven’t been there, Hot Springs Off-Road Park has lots of shade.  Every rolling hill is covered with trees and we are deep in these canopy all day.  Rarely do you find yourself in the wide open sun.

   The event is centered around this park…  And it would seem that three years of hitting these trails would make the event a casual drive.  But that’s not the case.  We brought some new people with us, so that is always a thrill.  We did manage to find some new trails, which I did not think was possible!  And, we did some “Night Wheeling” and managed to get backwards on one of the harder trails in the park.  It was a constant adventure!   

Night Wheeling requires a lot of light!

One notable highlight was when “300” got stuck.  It all happened when its over ambitious driver, Fort’s Maintenance Tech Hunter, decided to follow a line that the rock crawling buggies had just ripped through.  Watching the recovery was just fine for the rest of us…  We got to see a show from a world famous truck.   Marlin from Marlin Crawler pulled up and rescued the Tacoma with ease.  Lots of pictures were taken and lots of jabs have been thrown at Hunter since.  All that was missing was popcorn!

Rescued by Marlin

 

The camping was a highlight as well… As this picture below will illustrate.  Camping with new guys is always an adventure when they have not prepared their gear!  Somehow…   This one sided tent was able to sleep two guys for three nights!

Remember kids… Prep your gear!

This year, as In years past we have used the KOA in Hot Springs that is just five minutes away from the event.  They have great shower facility and it’s a quiet atmosphere to retire too after running trails all day.  We found out on day two that their breakfast is a pretty good deal as well.  Bonus!  KOA’s have all levels of service.  They have small cabins, RV Hookups and tent space.  We all tent camped.  KOA’s have always been a great value for stops when travelling the country, and this one in Hot Springs is on our good list.  

Mother nature gave us our final wakeup call on Sunday.  The driest of weekends always ends with rain.  (Because, what fun would packing your tent up be if everything was dry?)  At 6am Sunday morning… And big storm front moved through and made sure everything was soaked.   

Southern Cruiser Crawl happens in October…  It’s on the Fort’s Trail Team to-do list every year.  If you want a fun, end of the year, 4 wheeling romp…  This is the one to do.  Let us know if you are interested in going as we always have room for more folks.  Its also worth noting that this event is made for every type of wheeler;  Buggies to stock trucks can have fun here.  Food is provided every night and it’s a big party afterward.  The KOA does book it’s cabins pretty far out in advance…  Otherwise, you can plan this trip around the event registration later in the summer.

Beware though…  One trip to Arkansas for this and you will always want to go back!

Join us!

Kokopelli Trail Expediton with Cruise Moab

Matt M’s 5th gen is lined up and ready to go on the Kokopelli Run

Wanted:  Cruise Moab registrants with an extra taste for adventure for this years Overnight run on the Kokopelli Trail.  Trucks must be lifted, modified and protected from the extreme trails that will be between you and Moab.  Additionally, be prepared to cook and camp for yourself as we will be on the trail for three days and two nights.  Also, if you can bring those pudding cups with the gummy worms for the camp potluck, that would be great.

While that might seem like a bit of a stretch for the official Kokopelli Overnight registration, it’s not too far removed from what Stan Wright was asking of the intrepid adventurers who signed up for his guided tour to Cruise Moab 20.

This overnight run is not a new thing for Cruise Moab.  For the past few years they have run a multi-night “overlanding” style trek from Grand Junction to Moab via the Kokopelli Trail.  The 142 mile trail has a little of everything including the route that sends you over Rose Garden Hill and and a sidetrack up the Top of the World trail.  That mileage may not seem like a long distance on paper, but believe it or not, it takes a constant pace to finish in under three days.  This outing is a draw for anyone not familiar with the area or wanting a taste of overlanding.  The registration filled up quick and they couldn’t take everyone who applied.  

Night 2 campsite on the trail.

I will admit to being a “noobie” on this type of overland trip.  I had read the trail notes on “MUD” from years past…. It sounded amazing and equally stressful.  I had even sold the trip to a few friends and co-workers after selling myself on it.  Registration goes fast.  Four trucks in my local group tried to get on the run…. Three of us made it.  Fortunately, I was one of those three.  A lesser man, and a true friend would have bailed when the fourth truck was left behind…. I am not that good of a friend.

We had months to prepare.  That was good and bad.  It gave me a lot of time to think about my truck equipment…. And then start over-thinking personal gear.  Fortunately, this run was being guided by Stan Wright (same one at the beginning of this magazine!) and Chris…  Any questions we had about what to expect would be laid to rest by the experienced guides.  We received an email from Stan with expectations of our trucks and a special area in “mud” to start sharing information about the planned trip.  Also, we were encouraged to add some background on the rest of the adventurers.  Of course, it turned into a drool session when we saw the modifications some of the guys/gals had done to their rigs in anticipation of this trip.  

Matt Wagner knocked one off his bucket list. Top of the World, Moab UT.

There were folks registered from New Hampshire, Illinois, Texas, Atlanta, Seattle and San Diego and all points in between.  We just about hit the four corners of the US of A with this crew.  Drivers and passengers were all ages and we even had a celebrity dog along for the trip!   It was a diverse vehicle lineup.   A newer GX body, Tacoma, FJ Cruiser, a diesel swapped 62, a few 80’s, four 4Runners and a couple 100 series.  You have to stay disciplined to stop watching all the cool trucks around you or you might do something dumb on the trail!  

The night before the event start, several of us decided to camp out at the trailhead in Rabbit Valley.  (Never saw a rabbit BTW). About 8 trucks had set up to get a bonus night of camping before we hit the trails at 10AM the next day.  It was a nice head start to meet a few of our merry band of adventurers.  April in the high desert is beautiful camping weather.  Cool and dry with clear skies.  

Stan showed up the next morning for the drivers meeting with a big pile of local burritos…. Now this could be a test…. Do you throw down burritos before an eight hour trip on a rough and tumble trail?  I risked it.  They were delicious.  Local flavors win again!  We had the group pow wow…. Rules, inspections and expectations were taken care of.  We would have a long drive to get to our first campsite.  Buckle up, let’s move now and prepare for some amazing views.

It was just that.  The first day’s drive was a long winding trip to the Mesa, that had us scrambling to beat bad weather.  Heavy clouds loomed overhead that morning and we were getting some drops on the windshield.  Stan explained over the CB that we would be in bad shape if a downpour arrived, leaving us on slick orange surface mud (I remember a similar feeling at Mardi Krawl…. No thanks!).  We moved along quickly for the first few hours.  After we reached the top of the Mesa we had our chance to take a breath and take a look.  Amazing views that you can only dream about from the interstate.  No doubt, you sucking it all in while driving, but a stop once and awhile lets you really admire the huge vistas that no camera can ever capture.  

potluck in the middle of nowhere!

Part of our preplanning had us pack a shareable meal for a potluck on night one.  We got the camp area with lots of time to set up and start cooking before dark.  This was my first chance to see all the possible overlanding combinations.  Rooftop tents of a few different varieties.  Awnings galore.  And a few folks setting up traditional tents.  Supper was anything but freeze dried camp food.  Brats, Chicken Tacos, homemade Soup (kept frozen for the trip in a portable freezer)..  So much food that we couldn’t kill it all!  Thank God there are not bears in this area…. We would have been surrounded!  We spend the night hearing some great yarns from TLCA President, Ross Woody.  Most of us had no clue that a minor celebrity had tagged along for our trip!  (I didn’t get his autograph!)

Day two on the trail had us running all day to get to top of the world.  We started off at 9AM…. And arrived at the trail entrance at about 5PM.  It was a tremendous day with winding trails that kept us seeing sights of the snow covered San Juan’s in the distance.  So far, nothing had held us up.  No cows, gastric distressed drivers or broke-down trucks.  According to Stan, this was unusual.  They normally were dealing with some sort of breakdown every time they start this adventure.  Could we beat the odds?

We headed up “Top of the World” trail for some great “light” at the end of the day.  The sky was blue and the clouds were minimal.  Remember what I said about breakdowns?  It happened.  It sounds like it’s bound to happen on a trip like this.  And in reality…. You should be mentally prepared for your personal truck being the problem that holds everyone up.  Recovery gear is highly recommended from the start for this reason.  Our group had some old trucks, and we ran at a reasonable pace to make sure everyone was safe.  Surprisingly, it was the newest truck in our group that had the first failure.  The Tacoma had succumbed to poorly modified front diff carrier that had given way at the body mount.  There was a scramble to assist, but it didn’t appear that we could solve this halfway up “Top”.  It was decided that the taco was drivable enough to head back down to our second night’s campsite in the valley.  The rest of the crew were able to get to the most scenic photo shoot in Moab.  Really, the best photo spot in the United States until somebody proves otherwise.

Heading down Rose Garden Hill.

The trail damage had held us back about an hour…. We were coming down from “Top” in nearly full darkness.  It was a scramble with lots of auxiliary LED’s in all directions and a huge dust cloud.  When we got back, we still had to time to cook some dinner at the campsite and set up a campfire with all our remaining firewood.  It was a big BS session with lots of laughs and stories that any Toyota lover would appreciate.  That night, our youngest trail runner declared that she had adopted 10 new Dad’s on this trip.

The next morning was rough.  We found out that the damaged Tacoma was out of the run.  They would have to head back to Moab after finding the differential mount had been completely sheared off.  Adding to this…. Our 4Runner from New Hampshire was now getting a very loud whine from the rear carrier.  They did not feel safe enough to make the journey to Rose Garden Hill.  The two injured trucks limped back to Moab.  (What happened in Moab is a great story of folks helping each other out if you want to hear about it sometime.  The kind of stuff that restores your faith in humanity.)

I personally have a history with Rose Garden Hill and it didn’t end pretty last time I was there.  Google:  UCA repair with ratchet straps for an idea.  To be honest… I was happy to sign up for this tour and have guides at the ready to lead us down.  I had met the criteria to make this trip, but Stan and everyone else in the group were weary that I would have some extreme trail damage with my light setup.  I had my heart racing as we approached the obstacle laden hill.  It is no understatement to say that our spotters, Stan, Ross and Chris were brilliant.  I did end up with a scratch on the side of my truck…. But nothing that I could not have done at the local off-road park.  We were feeling the advantage of having experienced wheelers with us.  This kind of leadership can make all the difference between a great day of off-roading and the worst day of your life.  There is a giant fence that separates the two, and you can fall onto either side very easily.  

A completed Rose Garden Hill is nearly the end of the trip… And that is a heavy feeling.  We did wander for an hour through a canyon on the way to our finish in Moab.  It was as chance to rip through 20+ water crossings… It was a serious refresher after days on a dusty trail.  I made it my goal to cover the 4Runner every chance I got.  We had some chatter on the CB’s and spent a seriously long time glad handing and wishing well to all of our fellow travelers.  We had survived, for the most part, and were enjoying each other’s company.   We were all slow to break up the party at the beginning of the pavement.  If given the chance, we probably could have gotten half the group to head back to the start and do it again!  

Our intrepid tour guide… Stan Wright.

Stan and Chris have been leading this trail run for a few years…. And have been threatening to hand it off to other volunteers.  Any of you folks who go to these events know that it takes a lot of manpower and personal commitments to make anything like this happen.  Please.  Help out when you can, and be sure to thank those that do.  Thanks to our trail leaders, Cruise Moab and TLCA for putting on a great event!