Flatlanders 4×4 Fest 1998, Easy Trail

Thanks to guest author David Rush for this trip report.

As the last of the vehicles completed the technical/safety inspection, I aired down in preparation for my duty as “tail gunner” for one of two groups tackling trails deemed “easy”, on a scale of “easy”, “medium”, and “difficult”. No lockers or sky-high lifts needed here, just a 4×4 with tow points front and rear, and the willingness to go. The 1998 Flatlanders 4×4 Fest was under way.

Doug Knox lead this morning’s group of 13 vehicles: the ZJ he borrowed from his wife, one lifted ZJ, one Ford Explorer, one Suzuki Sidekick, one new XJ (with 5000 miles on the odometer), and eight CJs, YJs, and TJs, including my own YJ.

The short paved trip from the city park where we gathered to the off-road vehicle (ORV) area was a bit squirrelly at 12 psi and my sway bar disconnected.

Once on the dirt we stopped to make sure everyone was in four-low (and in one case showing the driver how to do that – I suppose this was the Explorer’s first off-pavement excursion). We climbed an easy hill with a great view of the next valley and the rocky climb out on the other side. We pointed out the tracks we’d follow to our “guests”, then Doug led the way. Half-way down there was a ledge, which Doug stopped to spot folks over. Once a few vehicles were past it, he called for me on the CB to cut ahead and spot the ledge, so he could move forward and lead the front of the group down, then out the other side.

Our concern was the Explorer, with it’s ever-so-stylish aluminum running boards stealing valuable vertical clearance. We didn’t want to discourage the newbies by bashing up their rides. Caution and a conservative path over the ledge left the Explorer unscathed.

Up the steep rocky hill, and a left turn to the next rocky ledge, much bigger than before. The Explorer and the Suzuki took the bypass path around and watched the rest of us play. I spotted Doug’s ZJ over the ledge. A gentle grazing of his center skid plate and he was over. The CJs, YJs, and TJs made it down with the occasional skid plate or tail scrape, but always a smile. The height of the lifted ZJ was made for this ledge – so close but no tell-tale scraping sounds.

More obstacles… rocky hills, muddy ditches and streams, fun for all. It took a group effort to get the Explorer through a heavily rutted section – it just didn’t have the ground clearance and ended up high-centered. I maneuvered my YJ around to pull him through, but discovered he had no front tow hooks (“Hey, how’d this guy get through tech inspection?”). So, rather than dig for a tow point, everyone laid a hand on the Explorer and we manhandled the rig out of the ruts, but with quite a bit of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers mud and dirt probably still stuck in the rig’s undercarriage.

Lunchtime came. We headed back to the city park and joined the hungry hoard of drivers and riders for burgers, brats, and cold drinks. The lunch crew won high marks for their offering.

With the Explorer and the Sidekick opting to spend the rest of the day on pavement, the smaller group opted to tackle the “medium” trail, rather than run the “easy” trail backwards as originally planned.

Witch’s Hill was quite an obstacle. Not a long hill, but steep and muddy, preceded by some wet and muddy whoop-dee-doos preventing much help from Newton’s first law (“…an object in motion will continue in motion…”). As tail gunner, I rounded the corner after the first few of our group had ascended the obstacle, but I arrived just in time to see a TJ with stock tires give up after the third try – making the last bit of hill over the top was too much for that rubber. The TJ took a less-vertical version on the left. The XJ made it on the second try, the lifted ZJ (with big BFGs) made it look easy, and with a little bit of Newton’s first and some spinning of my aired-down but unaggressive Dunlop Radial Rovers I cleared the top, and the group moved on.

Another group of four short-but-steep hills with a quick loop-around provided fun for all, as each of the four got progressively steeper. Once the drivers had new confidence in the ability of their Jeeps and themselves, they looped around and tried a steeper path. No one tried the nearly-vertical route – we all know our limits I guess.

Being at the end of a group makes for some slow going, so while waiting for the folks up front to slow-crawl over a rocky obstacle, four of us at the end played in a muddy creek (what we’d call a “crick” back in Kentucky) with a steep bank on the far side (okay, not that far). This “hill” was not as tall as as the TJ that first tried it, but it was greasy. Four attempts later (“try it again, ya got nothin’ to lose!”) the spinning tires of the TJ crawled over the top. The XJ looked like it was going to hang, but the tires slowly got him out. And of course the lifted ZJ again made it look easy. Two failed attempts in my YJ was enough for me.

More hills, more rocks, more mud, and more fun ensured that everyone had a great time. Several newbies should have new-found confidence in where their vehicles can take them (the Jeep drivers, anyway).

Be sure to read about the rest of the 1st annual Flatlanders 4×4 Fest!

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