It’s Camping and Wheeling Season!

Muti-Club Run, March 25–27, 2021

Friday

For this year’s joint club run, Lynette and I were taking James, our grandson, on his first camping and wheeling trip. We over-packed the motorhome because we didn’t know how this was going to go with a three-year-old. To quash the suspense, he did awesomely. No problems. He will just be another kid addicted to camping in the dirt and driving Jeeps. My multi-generational evil plan is well underway.

We left Star about 11:00 AM and took our time getting to the Diff Hanger parking lot. I knew there were going to be some rigs already camped there, but to my surprise, there were at least eight other campers there. Back when we started doing this three-club run, Gabe and I were the only people who camped on Saturday night. Now, I was going to have to leave on Thursday afternoon to be the first one there!

As soon as I got the Jeep off the trailer and said hi to a few people, a plan for running up Diff Hanger came up from the Eastern Idaho guys. They wanted to run the scenic trail on Saturday, so they figured they would quickly run Diff Hanger on Friday in the afternoon. I loaded James and Lynette and headed out for a quick little rock run.

Famous. Last. Words.

Quick little rock runs CAN exist; they can also become all-day affairs. After the big left-hand turn and climb that gives four-door JKs trouble on this trail, we found out this would be one of the long trails. Colt ripped the track bar and steering mount off the top of his front axle. His hydro assist ram dangled uselessly. All of a sudden, getting this long, four-door Jeep out of Diff Hanger was going to be a lot harder with no steering.

The Plan B Bronco bringing up the rear got epically stuck. Rocks under his front bumper made it impossible to go forward. Rocks behind his rear diff made it impossible to go back. No rigs behind him, where he needed a winch line, made it even worse.

While half the people worked on Colt’s steering problems, the other half worked on the winching geometry problem on the Bronco. After 40 minutes of work, multiple tool bags, a snatch block, and a tow strap around a rock, and lots of planning, the train was free to keep moving up the trail. Even though it was a longer physical distance, it was determined that it was easier to finish the trail than to try to force Colt’s rig back through the tough section.

An hour later, I had moved my rig to the last in line so I could help the Bronco if he needed a winch line again. Colt’s JK was still fighting through with minimal steering and needed a lot of winch help to complete the trail. Since James was getting hungry and the quick trail was being a long trail, I decided to spin around, run Diff Hanger down to camp, drop off Lynette and James, and spin back up to catch everyone from behind if they needed help.

I was back at camp in 11 minutes. I noted that there were several more campers there as I turned and burned back up the trail. I caught the group at the V notch at the top and then we were dirt roads around the top and back to camp. There were no problems, and we got Colt back in time to get on a trailer and head to MC Welding in Mountain Home and get his rig fixed before Saturday’s run.

Friday night, after dinner, the 10 or 12 different campers shared a campfire and bullshit session. It must have been a pretty good one because I didn’t get into the motorhome until around Midnight.

Friday night campfire time (Photo by the author)

SATURDAY

Based on the turnout Friday, I knew there were going to be a lot of rigs Saturday. Man, was I right. There were 84 total rigs and 22 rigs on Gauntlet. Gauntlet is the toughest rock trail choice and most years there are eight or ten rigs at the most. I was up about the time the sun came up. After some messing around, I got word that people were heading down the long gravel road to the parking lot.

I climbed up on top of my motorhome to take some pictures of the shit show as it rolled in.

Rigs rolling in for the run as far as one can see (Photo by the author)

It was pretty cool to see that many rigs all together. There were more rigs on this one-day run than we ever have on the State Association run and more than we have on the Rocket Run. Part of the draw has been this year of Covid — everybody I talked to just wanted to get out and be normal again. I saw some people that I hadn’t seen in years and I saw some unknown rigs and people. All in all, it was a cool beginning to the day.

Getting ready for a driver’s meeting. Lots of rigs this year! (Photo by the author)

At the driver’s meeting, Chris Bowman made some great points about respecting the trails. Wild West, Chris’ club, was the original group that put in this trail system. The trails are awesome and I fight all the time to keep people from putting the directions, pins, and GPS coordinates to them on Facebook. As soon as trails become easily found on the Internet, it isn’t long until they are overrun with people and not being respected by users. These trails are still awesome and I want to keep them that way.

The beginning of The Gauntlet (Photo by Lynette White)

The beginning of the Gauntlet is one of my favorite obstacles ever. It did not disappoint today. Twenty-two rigs went up the trail and there were rollovers, smashed body panels, broken glass, winchlines, and multiple attempts by multiple rigs. It was a party! I was dead last in line, waiting for Howard and Gabe to show up, so I sat with James and listened to a three-year-old’s commentary on the situation. Fairly soon, he was giving passenger and driver directions like a seasoned spotter. It was excellent vehicle watching.

After all the carnage, it was my turn to pull the gatekeeper obstacle. I have struggled here before and after all the rigs and struggling I had seen, I was a little nervous. I noticed that nobody was left to spot or video as everyone had already left and either headed up the trail or headed to another trail.

Chris Paul’s rig wedged in the gatekeeper of The Gauntlet (Photo by the author)

I picked a perfect line and drove through it without spinning a tire in one shot. I barely even slowed down across the point of the big rock. I couldn’t have done it any better. I wished somebody had gotten video of it but Lynette and James wanted to ride so there is none.

Sometimes, the sun shines on a dog’s ass.

As I started up the first leg of Gauntlet, Gabe hollered at me on the radio. He saw that I had flipped a shackle on my front leaf spring, probably on the gatekeeper. I flexed out on a big rock, got a high lift handle, and popped it back into place.

While we were fiddle-farting around with my shackle, I noticed that Jerrill, the rig in front of us, hadn’t moved much. Soon, I saw why. He was puking coolant out of his rear-mounted radiator and his temp gauge was pegged at 260. Gabe quickly diagnosed his problem — an air bubble in the system and a need to park the rear of the rig high to let gravity get rid of the bubble. Once done, the system took at least two gallons of coolant and water bottles but the problem was solved.

However, Jerril’s rig kept acting like it was running out of propane. He must have a bad valve or a leak in the system because he continued to fight it for most of the day. It’s a new buggy to him and this was its first trail run, so getting the bugs out of stuff is not a quick deal.

The Fire Jeep at lunch time (Photo by the author)

When we stopped for lunch, I found out several rigs broke and were heading back to camp. The rest of us were going to run Boulder Dash, another tougher trail with some really big boulders. All of a sudden, I looked at my Jeep and something was wrong: I couldn’t figure out how I had rubbed so much on my lower link mount. I saw rock scarring all over it. And then it dawned on me — my lower link had turned and the bottom was no longer on the bottom. It had turned 45 degrees. I decided this wasn’t enough to stop me from a good time, so I continued to the Boulder Dash trail.

We found two stuck ATVs that we had to tow to the top of a hill on the dirt road and a Samurai crawler with a bad driveline that was fixing his stuff. After getting past these speed bumps, we caught up to the main group and headed through the gate and down Boulder Dash.

Boulder Dash is big rocks. It is a down and back trail, which makes it tough — not only do you have to run everything twice, you have to run it downhill first. A lot of these rocks are as big as VW bugs and roll. It can be very challenging coming down on your nose hard and having your back end start moving sideways as your rig weight makes the rock move. Lots of drivelines and front axle u-joints have been harmed in the making of this fairly new trail.

This was only my second time running it. The first time, I vowed to not come back until I had done some rig upgrades. In my mind, it was bigger and harder than it actually is. I broke a lot of stuff the first time, so this second time I was driving my best. It was slow going, but we made it down the trail with no issues, just a lot of rocks we bumped into.

We made it down to the creek which is the turnaround spot. Unfortunately, there was no water in it, which was disappointing. The desert is funny with its natural water system. If the snow melt hasn’t happened yet, where one year there is a raging river, another year it is bone dry. After talking for a bit, I turned around and started back up the tough trail.

Without meaning to, I ended up in the front. It ended up being awesome. I got into that rock crawler flow, where my speed and line just matched up perfectly. I was able to drive and keep momentum up most of the trail. I think I had to back up once or twice diffing out on rocks, but for the most part, I was able to just bump along at half a mile an hour. Soon, after not paying attention, I didn’t see anyone behind me.

As I noticed that I had run away from people, I saw that James was doing the three-year-old, I-can-sleep-anywhere thing. On some of the biggest, nastiest rocks in Idaho, he was rag-doll asleep in the copilot seat. Lynette and I decided to keep pushing, cut the dirt road, and boogey back to camp since he was asleep.

I tested out the new motorhome and took a quick shower when we got off the trail. After cooking dinner, it became time to stand around another campfire and have another awesome bullshit session. A lot of world problems could be worked out by standing around a campfire. I’m not sure we solved them but it was another good night.

The first camping and wheeling trip of the year was a total success. Even though there were more rigs and people than I like for the run, it was nice to see so many old and new faces. It’s good to see people still putting their rigs on rocks and using the public trails we enjoy in Idaho. And I was all smiles until I found out the next morning, while loading my Jeep, that Boulder Dash hadn’t been completely defeated — I had a broken exhaust hanger and my exhaust dangled under my Jeep.

Rocks are undefeated; we just pay to play a little or a lot at a time.

Written by: Nathan White