Easter Jeep Safari II

Easter Jeep Safari: How to do Moab During Spring Break by Bill Burke

Part II Getting on the Trail…

d90iconIn my last article, I discussed how to get to the Easter Jeep Safari. Running the Moab trail routes can be done on one’s own, but knowing which turn, section and sequence to use that make all the little dirt tracks into one good trail is best left to the guides and trail leaders.

When deciding which trail to run, it’s important to consider skill and vehicle level. On any one day there could be 6 trails offered, and on Big Saturday there are 27 offered. Be very careful to read the descriptions and difficulty level; do not go over your head. Trip leaders are not trainers or babysitters, but they, the “waist-gunners” and “tail-gunners,” will help ensure safety and generally everyone on the trip will pitch in to help with a strap or spot, if needed.

My skill level and vehicle set-up allow me to do some of the more challenging trails in the Moab area. Once in a while, though, I like to take it easy on my rig and psyche so I look forward to less demanding routes to relax a little and enjoy the sights.

I do have some pet peeves (besides the one about men wearing hats indoors!). They are about trail riding in groups, especially with spotters and spectators on the side. One is about whip CB antennas–they whip everyone near the vehicle. A well placed 48″ antenna will transmit just as strong.

Another is “driving the left front tire.” I watched one guy hold his head out the window all day, driving the tire. He kept hitting the right side fenders with trees and rock ledges, climbing the right tires on rocks, chewing the rims and pinching the tires. But the left side did really well!

Take the time to practice driving and looking over the hood of the rig. Don’t get in the habit of following the bumper of the vehicle in front. Leave room for sighting obstacles, observe the rig in front and the line the driver takes. It may not be the line for your rig.

I like to “grid” the trail in front of me. I make a mental grid picture and group it according to where I want to place my tires. I keep this picture in my mind and translate the data to my butt and feet, driving by the seat of my pants so to speak! Of course my hands on the wheel have a little contribution. I adjust my driving feel to compensate for tire slip on loose rock or dirt. As I look over the hood directly down the trail, I use the grid system to let me “feel” when that rock, hole, ledge, etc. is under my rig. Occasionally I’ll look out the driver side window, like on severe drops, but I always try to get the “feel” of the trail and the rig underneath me while looking out over the hood. Remember the rear of the vehicle has to come through also!

I let the vehicle approach the obstacle slowly, almost to a stall, then I squeeze the throttle lightly with my foot to allow that part of the finesse to happen. That “feel” is hard to come by and takes lots of practice.

I spend about 200 days a year driving off-highway, so it comes to me handily. The average driver may spend one or two weekends a month off-highway. It takes some time to forget the habits of on-highway driving and get the habit and feel of being off-highway. I call it the “stoplight mentality.” Adjusting driving habits for the trail takes time. By then, Monday morning is back and so is the rush hour!

The finesse of off-highway driving is much more important than all the power and big tires in the world! Be one with the rig, the trail Zen will flow its Qi, and the universe will be at peace as the tires grip the slick-rock while ascending the “double whammy.”

My last peeve is rigs (and people) that aren’t prepped with maintenance and spare parts! It seemed that Murphy was on the trail with the group I was in the first day. My buddy Gus and I must have bled 5 different people’s fuel filters and lines and checked fuel flow. Usually the problem was related to the so called “vapor-lock.”

When running trails in groups, it’s SLOW going. Not a lot of air is moving to keep the engine compartment and vehicle cool. Since the fuel is not moving fast enough through the lines, the excess heat will sometimes boil or bubble the fuel in the line. This is usually near the exhaust parts, or as it runs on top of the engine, causing what is known as vapor lock. One of the rigs did have a fuel pump problem and I ended up towing the rig about 35 miles back to Moab!

I really only see the vapor lock problem on trails with high performance engines that don’t seem to have the air/fuel mix correct or are undercooled. When building a big performance engine in a rig for trail use, make sure that the radiator and water pump capacity are matched. Coolant flow and air flow are very important to HiPo engines at slow trail speeds.

Although I can empathize with trail breakdowns, it does get exasperating to others in the group. Before leaving for any off-highway trip, ensure that the rig is in good mechanical shape–especially when trailering or towing the rig. I’ve noticed that those particular rigs get less use and are less likely to be inspected. Carry the extra equipment I have suggested below. There are always willing helpers with some shade-tree knowledge, but the parts need to be available, as do the tools. It’s hard to plan for every contingency and hard to carry all those parts especially while on the trail, but be as prepared as possible.

There have been times that I have had (voluntarily) to tow someone off a 4+ trail and arrived back into town after midnight! Now that’s a bonding experience that I could live without!

Don’t get the idea that I’m preaching from a soap box! I’ve had most things happen to me at one time or another, usually when it was the most inconvenient! Mr. Murphy has looked over my shoulder many times, believe you me!!

What’s fun about the EJS is you get to see all types of rigs on the trail. The different types of driving styles and rig set up will help educate those of us who can learn from those in front of us in line as they make progress or just hack along.

So, please make sure:

  • the rig is well tuned up
  • the tires are strong enough to handle the trail
  • a good supply of parts and tools are on hand
  • the proper type of recovery equipment and a plan on how to use them is on hand
  • the suspension is up to speed
  • the drive train is lubed and true
  • the tow hooks are in place
  • the cooler is full of lunch, snacks and water
  • the maps are checked
  • you’re in the right line-up for the trail chosen.

In Part III of this series, I’ll discuss how to negotiate the trails of Moab, including trail technique for the slick rock and ravines–how to get through routes like Strike Ravine, Golden Spike, Steel Bender and Metal Masher! I will talk about how to do the “Launch Pad,” “Mirror Alley,” “Widowmaker” and other challenge sections of trails that require thought, finesse and positive attitude!
Don’t be a stick-in-the mud!

Bill Burke’s 4-Wheeling America LLC