Easter Jeep Safari: How to do Moab During Spring Break By Bill Burke
Part III Getting on the Trail…
Since writing this series, I’ve received countless emails offering many opinions about the EJS. There are a few that really bothered me! They mostly stemmed from the cost of the event, whether running one trail or several. The logistics of putting on such a large event is mind boggling to say the least. Try registering 1900 vehicles, supplying coffee and donuts for 3000 people, dash plaques, trail ribbons, t-shirts, scouting routes, obtaining permits from land managers all in a week’s time! The cost of gas has risen, the cost of doing business has risen, the cost of land use defense and politics has risen! So the “good ‘ol days” when the event cost $3.00 are long gone. Realize what the Red Rock 4-wheelers are really doing–raising funds to help keep the roads less traveled open for all of us! As far as Land Rover and Hummer owners being the only ones able to afford the event (as mentioned in one email), look at the numbers. I saw only a handful of those vehicles in attendance. The event is the Easter “Jeep” Safari; 97% of the vehicles in attendance were Jeeps. It is still an inexpensive good time for good clean (well, almost clean) fun! Those who choose to take time to ‘put down’ the event should make better use of their time to write their congress people and senators to help keep the back roads open! To show your support contact: Red Rock 4-Wheelers Inc., PO Box 1471, Moab, UT 84532-1471.
Now onto the 4-wheeling part of this article.
Getting your vehicle and loved ones over very rough terrain takes patience, practice, preparation, and planning. Remember the 7 P’s: Proper Prior Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance. Once on the trail, patience, diligence and finesse really take over. For example: the obstacle called the “Launch Pad” is very interesting. When going from east to west, you’ve worked your way over Poison Spider Mesa, then on the rock through the trees and sand to have actually found the first Golden Spikepainted on the rock. Right about the time you get on the slick rock searching for the next spike is a deep, steep “scooped out” section of slick rock. The sands of time have left a deep swirl in the rock.
Looking down into the bottom you see where the bumpers of long wheel base vehicles have ground the rock when starting to come out. Gulp! Be cool here. You should already be in low range anyway–manual trans–select 1st gear, ease off the clutch completely, left foot on the floor gently drive straight down into the bottom. Depending on the final drive ratio light braking may be required. DO NOT PUMP THE BRAKES! Lightly drag them to keep the tires from sliding just slowing the rig enough.
Automatic transmission–select 1st gear, gently ease down slope and aim straight to the bottom. Have a light drag on the brakes to maintain control, and slowly enter the hole. DON’T LET THE TIRES SLIDE OR SKID, a light chirp is ok, but keep enough forward progress to let the tires roll. You will get better traction.
On slick rock, a spinning tire or a skidding tire is no good, you get no traction that way. Both types transmission, once in the bottom, aim the rig straight up, apply moderate throttle to get initial momentum. About half way up (just before the tires start to bark, chirp, spin), back off the throttle just enough to keep from chirping the tires, and slowly ease over the crest. You might want to have someone over on the up side to help you decide where to exit because all you see is sky for what seems the longest time! There is a little bump right at the top on the west side that can be a problem if coming out too fast. It is a wake up call for those who think that the pad is finished. The front end can catch air here and finesse and cool are required here. Some people panic when the front end comes off the ground and lean forward pushing the gas pedal down causing a “wheelie.”
Sit back in the seat, be one with the vehicle and don’t forget to breathe. Follow through with quiet finesse and get to the top, park then calmly get out of the rig and get the high fives you deserve. Just don’t let them see your knees knocking!
Of course, you have to get to the trailhead. Once you’ve reached the trailhead, you usually partake in the age-old ritual of “airing down”–the art of letting enough air out of the tires to get that soft ride and great traction. Getting the tires squishy is indeed an art. It depends what type of trail and how much equipment I have as to what pressure I will run. With bigger rigs and heavy loads, one must be careful how low to go. An old flat-fender running 35’s, with two people, a cooler and some extra parts can get away with 8 to 10 psi. A full-size Blazer running 235’s with a family of four, loaded with camping gear, water, extra gas, two coolers and a partridge in a pear tree will not be able to air down as much, maybe 18 to 20 psi. See Harry Lewellyn’s great article about airing down and tires. Generally with my tires that are about a 33 x 11.5R16 (285/75R16), I usually run about 12 to 18 psi depending on the trail I am on.
After you are squishy in the tires, have met all the other folks in your group, it is time to go 4-wheeling!
Once you have negotiated the “launch pad,” there are a few neat trail sections, like “Sky-Line Drive.” There is a really great view at the top right near the pole! Your trail leader (usually Dan Mick) has already started up and the convoy follows. Be very deliberate and slow. Do not spin the tires. A little chirp is ok now and then, but do not spin the tires. Sit back in the seat, enjoy the view and remember to breathe! Once on top, get out and walk over to check the downside and, when ready, proceed. Again, be very slow and deliberate. Make sure the transfer case and transmission are fully in gear, feet flat on the floor and, with some light braking, drive down.
As with any steep descent, keep a steady pace. Sometimes the rear of the vehicle will slide around a little. Give the throttle a little more gas and straighten the rig out. This happens on Red Cone (Colorado trail) a lot because of the loose surface. This is where some people panic and jam on the brakes. Wrong. It is usually best to get the rig aligned down slope quickly with a little gas then back off to get control again. Remember always go straight up and straight down a slope when possible. I have had the transfer case jump out of gear on occasion and it is a very scary situation. If you anticipate it when in the rough stuff, then when/if it happens you can act to correct the problem. Notice I said act, not react. It’s like when the “lurch” happens!
The lurch happens when the two tires that are giving resistance on the descent slide or catch air. By now we have the understanding that 4WD is not 4WD unless you have lockers. So, there are usually only two tires holding the rig back. When they hit the loose stuff or find air, the other two tires which are static and just rolling along will not help to keep the rig from moving forward very quickly. This “lurch” forward a few feet is a bit unnerving unless it is anticipated.
On loose trails, wet, rocky, sandy, soft slick rock, etc, i.e., almost any trail, the lurch is a common thing. The thing to do is not panic and jam on the clutch or brakes like at a stop light. When going through such sections expect it and drag the brakes lightly or engage the lockers.
It is quite a sight to see a tire counter rotate with excess torque when descending steep slopes. The tire will actually rotate against the direction or travel because the axle is flexed (torqued) so much to hold the rig back that, when loose terrain is encountered, the axle will flex back to the normal torque (straight) position, rotating the tire backwards.
The reason I’ve picked several obstacles on Golden Spike trail is because it has a large variety of terrain. These are similar to the hints that I’ve posted elsewhere but taken to a higher degree of difficulty.
The “Golden Crack” thankfully has been cleaned out! For a while, it was getting full of rocks and debris from itinerant 4-wheelers who didn’t have the skill or rig to negotiate it properly. KEEP THE CRACK EMPTY!
It is just like any agricultural ditch or log crossing on any other trail, just a bit wider and deeper! Like any of these type of obstacles, slowly enter at an angle so that only one tire at a time drops into the gap. Some bumpers may grind here but you do have strong steel up front, don’t you? Let the other three push, then pull the one tire through. Be very deliberate. For automatic transmission, use left foot braking here. It gives you a greater amount of control.
For sticks, you may have too high gearing to go slow enough. Ease into it a centimeter at a time. If you have the gears, light braking and lockers help; if not, play the clutch easily. Most rigs will pull The Crack with the help of having to use the gas when clutching. Don’t burn the clutch.
At some point, one or two tires will gain a lot of air–great photo op–so here is where lockers really help. Do not panic when the rig gets air and begins to teeter. It is expected here, and again, remember to breathe; sit back in the seat and let the rig do its stuff. Inching forward, the front end will come down and the back end will come across perhaps with a little grind on the back bumper. It is fun to sometimes “walk” the crack to the north, then exit, but that is gonzo and requires lots of practice. You literally turn the rig north halfway through the crack and split the crack. Hmmm, interesting, you say! I will leave that for another day!
I think you get the point of this article! The finesse of 4-wheeling is critical when getting on these tough trails. I like to say, “Go as slow as possible, but as fast as necessary!” Having the proper gearing and a well set-up rig is key to this type of 4-wheeling. Practice, practice, practice, that’s all I can say. It is very much different than the Louisiana gumbo mud, the Rocky Mountain rocks, the East Coast leaf strewn paths and the California Sierras.
Bill Burke’s 4-Wheeling America LLC