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.