On Saturday, February 20, my husband and I and one of my brothers visiting from out of state joined some JK cOlllllllOrado members for a group snow run up Sevenmile Creek trail (Larimer Country, Colorado). Hub and I had run Sevenmile last fall when it was dry, and this time I was expecting a tougher run due to snow and mud. I wasn’t disappointed… and it was a fantastic time!!!
I think that on every trail run, one should try to take away some lessons learned, or ideas for improvement. Especially for beginning wheelers such as myself, running trails with more experienced off-roaders is a great opportunity to see what they do and learn from it. That said, here are some things I learned on this trip.
Preparedness matters, but only if you’re prepared for the right stuff.
If you’ve read my articles for a while you know I’m a fan of being prepared in case natural disaster happens (or the zombies attack?). So, I did have my full supply of recovery and short-term survival gear along on this snow run, as usual. Winch/tow strap/treesaver to get myself unstuck? Check. D-rings for recovery? Check. Tire deflator and compressor hose? Check. Shovel to dig out a stuck vehicle? Check. Plenty of water? Check. But did I have the best tools to change a tire? No. Did I have an ax or chainsaw to help remove a tree across the trail? No. (I did have a hand saw but that would have taken a LONG time, so thankfully someone else in the group had an ax). Bottom line is that I didn’t really think about stuff like wheel or tire damage on the trail (mine are still new, right?), or that a tree across the trail might be too dangerous to drive over. So, it was an awesome learning experience and on my next trail run I’ll be better prepared with useful items in my storage box – for example, maybe a cordless impact wrench instead of a tent?
Wheel with other [more experienced] off-roaders.
Especially if you don’t know a ton about off-roading, make sure you wheel with others who have more technical and trail knowledge than you do. It’s a great way to learn, as I stated above, and it also ensures a safer experience. When one of my wheels apparently hit a rock in an icy hole and cracked, others in the group advised me to drive it until we got to a place where it could be changed more easily.
Thankfully it remained intact and when we finally arrived at a flat area, I was prepared to change it myself (I’ve changed tires before, and will do so again – but it would take me about an hour because let’s face it, I don’t have a great deal of experience). Several others in the group, however, had far better tools and before I could even get the key to unlock my jack they had my spare off with a cordless impact wrench, Jeep jacked up, bum wheel off and spare back on – all in about three minutes. Holy cannoli! Needless to say I was very grateful for the help – John, Frank, Ryan: thanks for changing my tire darn near Nascar-fast!! That was impressive!
Easy does it.
As a newb wheeler I constantly have to remind myself not to barrel along the trail or take on holes or rocks at speeds higher than I should. I thought I was doing pretty good, until I watched some video footage of all our Jeeps going through a water hole. The more experienced wheelers all approached and drove through the hole more slowly than I did. This wasn’t the hole where I cracked my wheel but I could clearly see my tendency to drive too quickly through/over obstacles and I’m sure this contributed to my trail damage. Lesson learned. Take it slow … easy does it.
Choosing the right wheel for the trail matters.
Unless you’re a mall crawler, don’t choose a wheel based only on how it looks. Choose what will perform on the trail. Apparently I could have done better than the AEV Pintlers I’d bought because they looked nice. One of mine cracked and since then I’ve had many people say that their Pintlers cracked easily also and they ended up switching to a more trail-friendly wheel. However, there are pros and cons to every wheel - how it performs on the trail, the weight, how it affects your axles, and so on. Some people like AEV, some people like Methods, and there are opinions on beadlocks versus non-beadlocks, and so on. It's really personal preference but my opinion right now is that I'm going with a different, [hopefully sturdier] set of wheels instead of just replacing one AEV.
Stay the trail.
Sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in group antics and show off a Jeep’s prowess by tearing around off trail or posing on objects that could get damaged by a Jeep. In Colorado there are strict guidelines about staying on the trail and the only way we off-roaders will be able to continue wheeling these trails is if we stay on them – and leave the rest of the flora and fauna intact.
Having a winch really helps!
On this run I got to use my winch (for real – not practice) for the first time EVER. Yes, I was super excited to get stuck enough to use it – that really made my day! And not only did I have to use it to get up the hill challenge portion of the trail, I also got stuck trying to turn around at the top of the hill. No problem – let the winch out, hook on to anyone (we all had recovery points front and rear), and pull myself over enough to where I could drive out. Easy-peasy. And to use your winch controller lead, place the cord inside your driver’s side hood latch, inside your driver’s side mirror, and through your window. I didn’t think to thread it through the hood latch but that ensures it doesn’t catch in your tire (thanks, Frank!).
Inspect for damage after the run.
Because I really love a muddy Jeep, I give myself two days to drive it around in its muddy clothes and then I wash it so I can crawl underneath and look for new scrapes and scratches. This time there were plenty, but no leaks or serious damage so all was good! Then I wiped down all scratches with a damp rag, then rubbing alcohol, then sprayed with Rustoleum to prevent rusting. Ready for the next trail run!
And now, enough of the “I should have’s.” What went well on this trail run? The weather was great! I got to meet some awesome fellow Jeepers, some of whom drove 2.5 to 3 hours just to the trailhead - these guys are serious! And the sweet Jeeps – it was so fantastic to see other mods and gain Jeeper knowledge and get ideas about what else I might do to my rig!! Plus, I got to spend the whole day in the woods – it doesn’t get any better than that! I got a little trail damage, which is part of being a respectable Jeeper! My Jeep got muddy and now she’s happy! All in all this trail run was a success and a super excellent way to spend a Saturday in Colorado. I was one happy camper because there’s nothing like time spent at high altitude and in the fresh air to reset and recharge a person.