Monday, April 4, 2016

Hot Springs Off Road Park 2016

March 17-20, 2016
Solo Trip

After a winter break of big upgrades it came down to my opening season wheeling trip.  I was to meet a buddy from Texas in Hot Springs, to check out their park.  A few weeks before the event was to take place my buddy had to bail due to a work schedule issue.  Then the week of the trip my co-pilot had to bail due to a family emergency,  I was locked in with a reservation, so I had to not only find a seat warmer for the passenger side, but another rig or 2 for the trails. I got lucky and my good friend Geoff was able to go without hardly any notice.  This was his second trip with me, as he was in on the 2015 Big Meats Run Event.  Finding rigs was another issue completely.
I started by trolling the Hot Springs Off Road Park web site.  It was here when I found a link to the Arkansas Crawlers forum.  I registered, started a topic, and started trolling the joint like I do.

A while later I received a message from a guy named Jerry that told me the forum was slow and that if I had a facebook account he could hook me up.  I followed the trail and he lead me to the secret society of Arkansas four wheeling freaks (the name has been changed to protect the guilty).  I posted the regular noob stuff for a day and then let them know I was going to be in Hot Springs and would like to get a crew.  This action opened the door and I was instantly hit with information.  I honestly couldn't believe that there were so many cats wanting to help. 

Now that the back story is complete, I will begin the story. It begins at in my home town.

I drove a few miles to my dads house to grab more ratchet straps, finding that a propane bottle had worked out of its bindings and was dancing on the bed of the gooseneck trailer.  This prompted myself and my dad to screw boards down and create a webwork of straps to hold the bottles down securely for the 5+ hr drive.  This put me behind schedule.  I arrived at Geoffs loaded his gear and was on the road by 7 PMish.  We didn't make it far because before we hit stateline my dually decided to eat 3 spark plug wires via a small fiery shit storm.,  We limped the truck into a small gas station and called my dad.  Luckily dad was able to not only afford the new plug kit, he was able to deliver them after picking up my mom from work,  Other than dodging a bullet and being 3 hours behind schedule we were again golden.
Fast forward  5 hours highway time
We rolled into the park at around 3:30 AM.  Made a quick camp and commenced to drink beers until about 7 AM.  Sometime in the morning we woke up and paid our dues.  It was finally time to see what this park was all about.  I had heard horror stories from my local wheelers.  Stories about rocks that will own your ass, and the like.  All the trails at this park are rated 1-5, and have individual ratings for rigs, ATVs and motorcycles. We decided to take the noob loop, which was primarily rated 1 and 2.  
Baby steps, people.

While were driving we stumbled on a cool, very mellow uphill trail.  I drove to the apex and there was some sort of pole cut off, so I jumped out to snap shot of the Blazer.  While I was up there I spotted a 4 door Jeep crawling up towards us.  The driver saw me and my rig and decided to back down.  I was trying to flag him down to let him know I would move off trail.  Soon he was back and we got to chat for a short while.  His name was Ballard.  Dude was from Illinois and was driving a newish 4 door Jeep.  He had just pulled a trailer loaded with a Model T down to Texas and was on his return trip.  He told us there was no way he could pass up a chance to wheel here.  Ballard, my hats off to you and the two women with you, as you sir are awesome.  

Later that day Ballard stopped by our camp to say good bye.  He had a jacked up plastic part he had to remove from the front of his rig.  I have to say that in my life Ive been lucky to get one woman to wheel, this guy had two in a driver....   Mad respect.

After a lunch break Geoff and I peeled out to see some real trails.  We were taking in the sights and just cruising around.  The trails at Hot Springs are really easy to figure out.  All the loops are indicated by a sign that has the shape of Arkansas with a number within.   These are typically equivalent to really rough county roads.  Off these loops rated trails branch from.  most trails seemed to be one way, so you periodically see exits.  Very clean way to run a park, in my opinion.

After gaining some false confidence on the 2's and 3's, My co-pilot Geoff talked my into what would become our nemesis of the weekend, otherwise known as The Slammer. It was all fun and games, while we cruised past the 4 diamond sign.  Making fun of the name and thinking we were all that.  
As we got deeper into the trail, it turns and follows a creek.  This tested the articulation and was a great time to do some picture whoring.

After this sweet photo session as I was getting in the truck I made the grave mistake of stepping in the creamy colored mud.  This was the moment my foot was sucked down into the abyss of the mud.  It was the suction mud, it swallowed my foot all the way up to the shin and wasn't letting go.  Although funny, It really wasn't, and was the precursing omen of bad things to come.  As we drove on, the trail turned from dirty stream fun to very real rock trail.  We jumped out to discuss the line, as this trail was not very obvious.

We captured the last moments of that trails fun with a selfie.  After this photo was taken, shit got real, way too fast.  We made it maybe another 50 feet.  Big rocks. Lots of big rocks.  I was navigating over the most rocky trail in my career. The problem was the size of the rocks and how often they were in the way.  I ended up high centered and Geoff was sent out to birddog me.  I was in a pickle and gunned it before Geoff could really tell me not too and in one horrible split second the front diff yoke touched a rock with too much love and grenaded.  I saw the look in Geoff's eye and knew the truck was jacked.

I jumped out and grabbed my tool box and spare U-joint.  I was thinking it sucks but its nothing I haven't dealt with before.  Cocky.  The Slammer had a different idea.

As I was working to get the driveshaft out Geoff says something about the way the driveshaft doesn't look right, like its broke.  As I rotate the shaft I see what dog is seeing, the ear on the front side is blown out.  Completely destroyed, no trail fix.  Damn.

Ok, so bare with me for a few.  This is where I tell you a sub-story of two guys and a broken rig that overcome insurmountable odds to make it back to camp without any outside help.  That is just what we did.  The truck was high centered at three points (a new personal best).  We had the front diff, the transmission cross-member and rear diff all hung on rocks.  Two tires in the air and no front wheels pulling.  Brutal.  As with most ridiculous trail fixes, I called a huddle.  I've found that in times of duress its best to huddle and talk about whats going to happen.  This tends to chill out the nerves and gets everyone on the same page so the recovery can be smoother.  Last time Geoff was with me we grenaded the front driveshaft in the middle of the night and after a huddle we removed it like a well oiled machine.  This was no time to freak out.
Using a small clevis to go threw the hole in the beadlock and another larger clevis to turn perpendicular we were able to use a hi-lift jack to lift the front and rear drivers tires.  Then stacking rocks under them we were able to get the truck off the rocks,  I would just like to note that it took multiple times lifting each wheel to get enough rocks under the truck to achieve the height we needed to move in 2WD,  I'm guessing that it took around 45 minutes just to move the first foot.  Then after each foot or two gained we would start jacking and stacking all over.  Again, brutal.
At one point I was next to a good drop off and couldn't get my truck in a better position so, much to Geoff's chagrin, I gunned it in reverse off the drop off causing us to be super screwed.
The rear diff was now locked between two very big rocks.  The forward rock was the ledge of no return.  No way in hell that in 2WD we were going forward, back up the drop off.  The rock behind the diff was about three and a half foot kinda roundish and not friendly.  As if that wasn't enough of a punch in the crotch, we also had a small tree growing out of my rear passenger wheel well.  OMG.  This was the first time I looked at Geoff and said something to the tune of "Someone needs to take the walk and find help."  Dude wasn't ready to walk, and I'm much too proud to leave my junk sitting like a chump.  Another huddle. More failure.  Another huddle.
We tried getting the big rock out from under the read end for over an hour.  We tried everything we could think of.  We tried using the hi-lift against the wheel, and the diff to budge it, but It stood strong.  Luckily the combination of the rear end being so high in the air and the lack of gas tank gas us the ability to get the hi-lift under the rock and jack it up.  Then it was just a matter of sticking small rocks under it creating a fulcrum.  Soon  we were able to both push, tilt, and roll it out from under the truck.  This was the moment we realized we might make it.  We seriously just did what seemed impossible.  What most people, in my mind, wouldn't have gotten done.
From here it was all down hill, so to speak. We were able to make it back,  The creek articulation spot almost ate us, but we battled through it.  A 5 hour recovery, the most epic one I have ever been a part of.

While in the woods we had enough signal to get ahold of Jerry, who in turn started making inquiries into helping us.  Luckily for us he had a spare drive shaft out of a CUCV and was willing to sell it to me for cheap. He would be there in the morning, so Geoff and I retired early that night. Both asleep by 8PM.  
We received the driveshaft from Jerry the next morning and was directed to meet another member of the Arkansas crawler crew at his shop in the next town.  This guy was named Chris.  He owns a 4x4 shop and was willing to cut the two shafts and weld them into one.  Mad props to Chris for working cheap and throwing some seriously professional welds my way. 

Chris fixing the drive shaft

After Chris had us fixed up we bought another U-joint and installed the drive shaft.  Geoff jumped in and got the project started so I could eat, and then I relieved him so he could eat.  Both Geoff and I unable to believe we were about to get back on the trail.

When we finally had it put together we were once again solo.  Jerry had a half day of stuff to do with his wife, so we blazed off to trail ride.  We mainly stuck to the 2's but as the hour got long we started playing n the 3's.  It was a great after noon.  We were able to poke around and take poser shots. 

After an afternoon of trail riding we went back to camp to eat and wait on Jerry.  When Jerry showed up it was getting dark, and we planned a night trip.  He took us on one of the best night runs ever.  Dude is not scared to wheel in the dark.  

Jerry wheels an 85 K5 on 1 ton axles robbed from a CUCV and 40" GoodYears.  Our rigs are 10 years apart very similar in set up.  I was going into this on a new tire size.  I had some 38.5"s given to me over the winter by the guys at Hired Gun Offroad.  I don't think that I would have done half as good as we did on the old 36" baldies. 

Jerry took us on a bunch of mellow trails to warm us up, and then started hitting the 4 diamonds towards the end.  It was extremely fun.  He had me on the extra tire size a few times, but I was able to get him a couple times by watching his line and having my tires aired down more.  Overall the night run was easily my favorite of the weekend.  When Jerry retired for the evening, Geoff and I decided to stay out much later, only returning when we ran out of propane on one bottle.  Absolutely bad ass.

The next morning Jerry once again took us out for one last run.  We ran all over that park, the last real trail we took was my nemesis, The Slammer,  Before heading down the trail Jerry jumped out and made sure we were down with it.  You know we were, Geoff & I both told him at the same time that we were all over it.  When we got to the area where I had broke on Friday, we jumped out and I staged a couple of crew poser shots.

The big rock in between our trucks is the rock that destroyed my driveshaft. This section was a bit tough for me, and I ended up needing a pull from Jerry to get past.  I still haven't made it up Slammer on my own, and its on my "to do list".  The following was a few shot Geoff took of Jerry and I getting past this spot.

By the time we got back to camp it was time to load and get ready for our 5 hour return trip home.  Even with the breakdown and lost time, I believe this trip was a total success.  I had an awesome time and I feel the Blazer did really well.  I'm definitely going to be returning to this park.
When I got the Blazer on the trailer I noticed that the rear diff cover was bashed and the gasket was leaking.