2008 Safari

“I'll Never Grow Up” by Mark here for photos...

My wife says it’s because I’ll never grow up, I say, that’s a good thing, but the Jeep bug has bitten me pretty hard.  Of course she doesn’t tell the whole story, that she’s infected as much as I am.  She fails to mention how I was a level headed hot rodder and fought off the encouragement of our friends Mike and Julie DeBacker to buy a Jeep for at least two years.  How the first Jeep we purchased and bought to the Safari last year is her Jeep.  How she’s forced me to own three more since then, the newest being an 04 Rubicon, which she also loudly proclaims belongs to her.  At this point she owns two and I don’t own any, not quite fair in anyone’s book but at least she just lets me wrench on and drive hers when I’m good.

After attending the 4X4 Safari in 2007 we joined the club and started attending club runs and work days.  In between we’ve spent a lot of time in the garage and at DK Four Wheel in Moline making changes to the Jeeps.  The more club functions we attend, the more friends we make and that seems to be a Catch 22 situation.  While working on New Salem this spring Doug Maxheimer asked if we would be trail guides with him and his father Don.  I figure that he had hit the bottom of the barrel when he had to ask us so we couldn’t hurt his feelings and turn him down.  So Chris and I ended up as tail gunners (Chris calls it riding drag) on New Salem at the 2008 Safari.
As I said earlier, Chris owns two Jeeps so she loaned one to our daughter and son-in-law, Adrienne and Shawn Huffmann so that they could maybe catch the bug.  On Friday Doug, Don, Chris and I headed out with a group of 14 Jeeps ready for a #2 rated trail and a nice day of trail riding.  The bad influences we call our friends Mike and Julie DeBacker were in the group as well as Doug, Jennifer and Madi Watret, and Charlie Ater.  I heard Charlie was there to help Don provide some adult supervision.  I felt pretty good as Doug had taken us out there a couple of times and we were pretty confident that we could find our way around.  How hard can it be when there are only two right hand turns on a trail and Doug had marked them very well.

After everyone aired down, sprayed tons of bug repellant, and Doug gave an inspiring trail safety speech we started our day.  In about two minutes and two hundred yards we had to start winching.  It seems that the normally do-able hills of New Salem were now extremely muddy with mud bogs at the bottom and they were actually obstacles.  We winched about 10 of 14 Jeeps there and 50 yards later we winched about 11 of 14 Jeeps up the next trail.  This took us most of the morning and by around 11:45 we had gotten everyone up the second hill.  I think that everyone had a pretty good time watching as Jeep after Jeep tried to negotiate the muddy hills and no one suffered any serious damage bouncing off of the trees.

Doug then changed the trail on us and took a route that included some right hand turns, so much for knowing where I was at.  We found that a lot of the trail that was always dry was now under water or a thick layer of Pike County gold, known as mud everywhere else in the state.  Many of the Jeeps found that they had to try several times to negotiate the creeks and washouts.  It was in this section that the legendary Charlie Ater blew the clutch on his highly abused TJ.  After winching him out of a creek and to the top of a hill Doug, Jennifer and Madi then helped Charlie get the TJ back home where I heard he put it to sleep.
By 1:00 PM we had stopped for lunch at the only lunch site the TRJC has where there is a waterfall.  Most everyone got to sit, eat, get to know each other, and view the cascading water.  A few had to help Darren work on the exhaust of his wife’s stock Unlimited Rubicon which he had borrowed.  It seems that it had spent a lot of time in flooded creek beds going back and forth and the exhaust was no longer in the place that Chrysler had designed for it.  With a lot of effort the stainless tail pipe was straightened and moved a little higher than designed and he was ready to go. 

Doug then led us thorough more of the same until we reached “Point of No Return Hill”.  In dry weather Doug easily leads everyone down and then gives them the option of going back up or taking a bypass.  On Friday it was a muddy mess and Don tried and tried to be a good trail guide.  He about wore out his voice telling drivers to keep their foot off of the brakes and to steer the Jeep.  About seven didn’t believe him, failed to make the sharp left at the bottom of the hill, and slid squarely into a large tree.  It didn’t look like anyone suffered any real damage, and Don just shook his head while watching Jeep after Jeep slide uncontrolled down the hill and pile up at the bottom.

Chris and I then tried to climb back up the hill and after four attempts called it quits.  Doug and Don also tried and failed.  Mike and Julie DeBacker then made it look easy as their Scooby Blue CJ climbed to the top with their new 360 screaming like only a V8 can.  I thought Mike had won for the day until I learned that he’d had to winch up the second hill and I had made the climb on my first attempt, so now it was a draw.

I thought the rest of the day went pretty smoothly with a strap or a winch needed here and there.  About a minute before we let the trail I was just relaxing, talking with Chris and not paying attention when I drifted left and heard small limbs cracking and the loud “swoosh” of air leaving a tire.  I quickly found that I had just ruined a three week old tire by running a 2” diameter stump through the sidewall.  As everyone said their goodbyes I changed the tire with help of Mike and Julie, Adrienne and Shawn.  The shiny wheel looked a bit out of place on the muddy Rubicon.

Saturday, day 2 started out the same.  Mike and Julie decided to run on New Salem again because the mud had been so much fun so that they could help if there were problems.  We had 13 Jeeps on the trail and we made it the same distance to the same hill before we started towing and winching.  A few more made it this time bouncing off of a tree or two, but there were at least 7 winched.  Mike had been using his winch a lot and found that his fuel line routing for the new V8 conversion left a little to be desired as he vapor locked while moving to the second hill.  At the second hill I saw five or six drivers letting more air out of their tires.  Guess they had observed that less air meant more traction and more wheel spin means less mud in the cleats.  Several Jeeps were winched up the second hill as it seemed a little worse than the day before and it appeared as much driver ability and/or luck as some made the second hill without lockers and some with lockers didn’t.  As each Jeep made the climb conditions on the hill became worse for the next driver.  By the end, several Jeeps were high centering as the narrow trail forced them to stay in the ruts left by the Jeeps before them. 

Mike and Scooby Blue made the climb but the Rubicon and I failed and were the last Jeep towed to the top after I separated the front left tire from the rim while bouncing off of the ruts.  Once at the top of the hill everyone pitched in and out of nowhere a floor jack, heavy ratchet strap and a lot of air arrived.  Within 10-12 minutes the wheel was back on the rim, aired properly and we were on our way.  I’d like to thank everyone for their help and patience, it was greatly appreciated.  Did I mention that it was the new wheel and tire that I had put on at the end of Day 1, with maybe 12-13 miles on it?   

Once again we stopped for lunch at the waterfall.  Tiffany and Stephen Sly had big smiles on their faces when it was mentioned that they had made it to the top of the second hill without help and that I had failed.  Everyone checked out the waterfall and had a good time discussing the mornings events.

After lunch we found that “Point of No Return Hill” had dried considerably and no one hit the tree on the way down.  Then we turned around and almost everyone made it to the top without assistance.  Doug must have thought that things were going a lot easier after that and he again changed the trail leaving me completely lost until every once in a while I’d see a landmark that I recognized like the brick pile, tube creek crossing, etc. that we’d come to from a different direction.  While doing so he found some more creeks and hills that had not been driven on during the first day and again the winches and straps were used hauled out.  By the end of the day everyone had seen a lot of mud, water and gnats, but no one broke or suffered any serious damage.

Chris and I had a great time being trail guides and working with Doug and Don couldn’t have been any easier.  I’m not sure what rating New Salem was during the Safari but it certainly was not the “2” it was advertised as.  It was interesting to watch as we had 7 stock Rubicons with us on the trail during the event.  Everyone learned that the normally very capable Rubicon meets it’s match when you take it’s factory tires into mud. 

I think we had a great bunch of Jeep owners with us on New Salem and I hope that they had a good enough time to return in August for the Blast.  Better yet, they could join the club and not miss out on the club runs, work days, and free meals offered by the TRJC, not to mention meeting with such a great group of people week after week.  It has been a great experience for Chris and I, we can’t wait for the Miller’s TNT Farm Father’s Day Run in June. 

Created: 19 May 2008