The day started a little cold — but an expected cold — for a late February day. As the day went on, bright blue skies and a big orange sun made the day feel even warmer than the 55 degrees it warmed up to. My son, Brock, and I slept in a little and met Howard and Gabe at Dan’s Ferry Service at 10:00 am and headed to the Meatgrinder trailhead and trailer parking, which was rutted from side by side’s spinning donuts where they shouldn’t. We were excited to be out with three rigs on some of our local Idaho rock trails.
Brock and I buckled into the Fire Jeep and as soon I started it, it was instantly obvious the problem I thought maybe I had was a real problem. My jeep had been running like crap and it had suddenly gotten worse backing off the trailer. I popped the hood and Gabe had the problem diagnosed in about 12 seconds: something had come loose on the last snow run and I had melted plug wires on my exhaust and now they were shorting out against themselves and the manifold. After five minutes of cutting some extra fuel line lengthwise, insulating the plug wires, and tying everything up with the four zip ties I had found on the ground, we were back in business. I should have known this would come back to haunt me, but I was too excited to get going.
We spun up to the Waterfall on Meatgrinder and found it packed with tumbleweeds. I pulled my fire extinguisher, just in case, while Howard went through and had no problem monster trucking his 42-inch Pitbulls, 112” wheelbase, and big block motor up and over tumbleweeds and the Waterfall.
I decided I better smash some tumbleweeds, too, and proceeded to almost rollover backward once I got my tires on top of the waterfall. There was a time when my 105” wheelbase had no problem on that ledge, but I have had to winch it the last four or five times because it has gotten dug out so bad. The same situation today: especially with wet tires, Brock hooked my winch-line to Howard and I winched over the top while Gabe drove around the high side.
This was Gabe’s first run on his new Pitbulls, so he pulled to the front for the rest of the day. They were so new that they still had the little nipples all over them. Instinctively, everybody loves New Tire Day and I was excited for him to experience the Pitbull Rocker magic. We finished Meatgrinder with no problem and then started up Dirty Little Secret (DLS). Gabe was all smiles about his new tires when he suddenly stopped.
“Houston, we have a problem,” Gabe hollered over the radio. I could not have been more surprised at what I saw when I got out of my jeep and walked around his jeep.
Tumbleweeds, 15 or 20 feet deep, millions of them, for 150 yards, were packed tight into the sand wash. Discussing what to do, we decided we needed to run this trail and try to smash them down without dying in a fire. We could lose this trail, just like we lost Marble Canyon two years ago to tumbleweeds chocking off our access.
I thought Gabe was overreacting a bit when he zipped up his soft top windows, but I soon found out he was right. As Gabe started through, soon all Howard, Brock, and I could see of him was the back-left corner of his soft top. A 37” tired Jeep just disappeared under the tumbleweeds. I had Gabe’s handheld Baofaung and had to spot him through the tumbleweeds, so he knew where to turn. He had the Atlas in low and slowly bumped along, truly driving by Braille. I have never seen wheeling like that before.
I was up next, and it was 50% clearer for me until I got towards the end where the tumbleweeds had fallen off Gabe’s top and piled up. I had to rely on radio directions to tell me which way to go. Howard went next, and the trail was basically clear by this point. We had to smash through several other tumbleweed sections of the trail, but none as bad as that. As we started into the climb section of DLS, the rocks kept getting muddier and muddier, and I had a hard time holding my lines. But, we had no real problems, and we all pulled the last obstacle.
We should have stopped there, but it was only about 1:00 in the afternoon, and the skies were still blue, and the sun was still shining, and the birds were still singing, so we decided to go run Teeter Totter. This is one of our favorite trails, but we always do this — just one more trail, or one more try, or one more obstacle. How many times has this undone a Jeeper? My friend Shawn Curtis always says “Let’s just go put our tires on it,” and that’s how the problems usually start.
Fast forward to the last obstacle on Teeter Totter: the actual teeter-totter. It’s a couple of rocks as big as industrial refrigerators that make a crawler balance on a passenger rock slider to climb. It had changed since the last time I was there: now there was a rolly rock. It was as big as a wheelbarrow in the exact wrong place at the bottom as we started our climb up the fridges, just waiting to hang up a front or rear axle or pivot around once a tire was put on it. Gabe fought his Jeep around the rocks and eventually climbed the teeter-totter after giving it the good, 15-minute college try. The way he climbed it was being Jeep-width axles with excellent steering.
When it was my turn, my Jeep is full-width axles with the worst stock steering of anybody I run with. As I tried to bump into the right spot, I suddenly found myself on the perfect line, which was a bit of a minor miracle — the rock gods were smiling on me.
But my good luck ran out at exactly the same moment, as I burned off another plug wire, so I didn’t have enough power to climb the obstacle on five cylinders of compression instead of eight. Since I had burned off plug wires, I had also fouled a couple of plugs and hadn’t been running well all day. At almost the same time, Gabe hollered from outside the Jeep “Stop. Your shackle flipped.”
“S#!% F%#@$ D&^%$$.” My Jeep Tourette’s Syndrome unexpectedly kicked in.
Sure enough, we now had something to work on. We quickly worked our way up the need for power and leverage: pry bar, Hi-Lift handle, soon we had Gabe turned around and were winching on my leaf spring. This isn’t the first time I have flipped a shackle and we were trying to not destroy a main leaf. For some reason, this one was a bitch getting to flip back. It took us 30 minutes of tinkering, cussing, and taking turns almost smashing our faces off and busting our knuckles to get it flipped back.
By the time we got it back and pulled up to the parking spot on top of Teeter Totter, the Owyhee wind that Meteorologist Larry Gebhart had been bragging up broke loose. As dirt sandpapered our ears, we boogied back to the trailers, loaded up, and headed home.
As per usual, Howard wanted to drag race pickups and trailers on the pavement. On the long straight stretch between Hemingway Butte and the highway, I laid the wood to the 5.9 Cummins and dusted Howard’s Ecoboost. Since he was on the exhaust side, I got in front of him and smoked him out, rolling black smoke as far as I could see in the mirror. I didn’t realize his window was down until Brock started laughing and told me, which really improved my outlook on the day after all my Jeep problems.
Once we got home, we found out the extra cost of Teeter Totter: Gabe discovered a leaky power steering pump, and as he was investigating it, found out that he had ripped a leaf spring hanger almost off, probably when he was winching hard on my Jeep. Howard later texted a picture of a puddle of hydraulic fluid under his Jeep in the garage from a massive steering leak that was yet undetermined where it originated, and I still needed to do plugs, plug wires, cap, and rotor — the old school Small Block Chevy tune-up — to get my rig running smooth again.
All in all, it was just another day on the rocks and a good reminder that rocks are undefeated.
WRITTEN BYNathan White