Carnage, Mayhem, and 'Other' Great Fun!
By Kevin Ehrlick
On the 24th of June a few thrill seeking Rising Sun folks headed down to Penrose, Colorado to play hard in the fairly new Independence Trail System. The system was opened late in 1998 by a dedicated group of hard core wheeling nuts working with BLM.
The system consists of three trails, Freedom, Patriot and Liberty, at this time. We were planning on doing the toughest one, which is Patriot.
The day started out right on track as I pulled up to the meeting spot the same time Dan Dilley and son Dan Jr. pulled up in their rigs right at 6am. After a quick 'hello' and a fast snag of last minute goodies at the station we were headed south toward Penrose. One other quick stop in Colorado Springs filled the growling stomachs at a McDonalds.
We arrived at the trailhead near Brush Hollow Reservoir just before 9am and quickly unloaded the two Cruiserís. Dan Jr. caught back up with us after a quick refueling of his tough Toy P/U in Penrose. With Dan Jr. came two more rigs. Chris Colangelo and his fiancee Angie driving his stock FJ-60 along with Jeff McCoy in his basically stock FJ-40. The three of them came down only to watch our hard-core rigs defy gravity.
As we headed down into Freedom Trail to begin the adventure another rig pulled up behind us. Drew and Dane in a bobbed mini came to play with us as they had seen the posting on the RS web site. Freedom Trail is the easiest of the trails but it is not to be mistaken as an easy trail! We bumped and worked our way through the boulder-infested chute until we came to the exit from Freedom Trail and the beginning of the tougher trails.
I was first to nose my Cruiser off the 4-foot drop off which commits the rig to doing the tougher trails. I made a total bonehead mistake and forgot to shut off my PCV hose on my modified F engine. The obvious happened and I sucked a big gulp of oil up through the PCV and deployed the familiar but still very embarrassing dense cloud of oil smoke. The cloud was so thick you couldnít see your hand in front of your face if you got caught up in it! Embarrassed but still eager to continue I eased down into the next drop off. This is a nasty off-camber drop that pins you way over to the left against a huge boulder. I was doing fine except for some reason I couldnít turn right. I tried hard to turn the steering wheel to no avail. Drew then spotted a puddle of oil running from under the hood near the left front wheel. Geeze, Iím only less than 20 feet into the trail and Iíve smoked out the canyon and now I have a blown power steering pump! Iím very upset at this point. I try a few more times to get away from the rock that Iím pinned against but it has become obvious that without power steering over powering the 36" Swampers and front locker Iím not going anywhere. I yell at Dan who is spotting me to spool out my winch cable to the tree on my hard right so I can pull myself clear of my predicament. The plan worked and I was now ready to drop down the final off camber ledge to the bottom of the canyon.
Besides being spooky the last ledge was rather uneventful for me other than the major "Armstrong" steering problem. I get to the bottom and it is very apparent that I canít continue the rest of the trail without power steering. I pull into a little nook off the trail and start pulling my Cruiser apart assuming I can get a new pump in Penrose. While Chris helped me pull the pump out Dan was starting down the nasty ledges.
With Chrisí help I had the pump off before Dan reached the bottom of the canyon. I wished them good luck and told them to head up Patriot without me. I would catch up behind them if I could when I got my rig back together. They agreed and off I raced to presumably get a normal over the counter Saginaw P/S pump.
As most great plans go things doí t work out as you plan. The pump quest became more than I expected as the Carquest in Penrose along with the other parts stores in Canyon City didnít stock P/S pumps at all! Thank heavens the lady at Carquest called the other stores in Canyon for me or I would have still be driving around. The plan changed, as I knew the only hope I had for a pump would be 24 miles a way in Pueblo. Pueblo seemed to be another dead end, as the NAPA store I first tried also did not stock P/S pumps. Once again a very helpful parts person who proceeded to call all the other parts stores in town saved me. Checker Auto Parts said they had one pump in stock. After a quick jaunt across town I eagerly requested the pump at Checker. As I feared, the pump was not the correct shaft I needed nor was the reservoir compatible with my setup. I examined the pump itself and it was the same casting so I took the chance and bought it.
I arrived back at the trail to find the group still at the same spot I left them 1-1/2 hours back! The blue bobbed mini of Drews had blown the drivers side Birfield joint. As I set up shop to swap pump shafts and reservoirs between the two pumps Drew just finished up his axle repair. Dan came over to help me with the swap out. It didnít take us too long to get the pumps combined into one that would work for me. The Cruiser was buttoned up and finally 2-1/2 hours after I left the group we were back on the trail headed into a lot tougher conditions than what we just came down!
Sometime during the ledge extravaganza Seb Romero from the Rock Hoppers club showed up in his awesome battle Cruiser. His expertise with these trails was very welcomed and he helped spot us all through lines that were difficult to identify.
Patriot Trail is beyond comprehension in difficulty! It is less than 'bd mile long but is basically one big obstacle. With Seb spotting us we wiggled and banged our way up the seemingly impossible trail. The first real obstacle with a name, that gave us grief, was the "A-Hole".
The edges of the canyon walls that you need to climb up on to traverse the obstacle are getting worn down. The perfect line is not very easy to achieve as the front tires slide off too easily. We all made it through with varied results and all of us achieved some amount of "air" as the name implies. Dan Jr. had the roughest time in this spot as his tube bumpers dug into the rocks at the most inopportune times resulting in stopped progress.
The short section of trail remaining after "A-Hole" is the toughest part of the trail. Rocks the size of engine blocks are stacked up to form a trail over van sized rocks.
We scraped and clawed our way through this stone gauntlet and finally reached the last ledges at the end that must be climbed to get out. Dan was first to try and he put on a heck of a show! If the Cruiser made progress and started to climb up then the left front tire would start to go sky high under the torque load until Dan would cry "mercy" and stop crawling before he rolled backwards. After several tries Dan gave up and accepted a tug from his winch to the top. Even the winch made the climb spooky but at least it wouldnít let the front leave the rocks and tumble over backwards. Dan Jr. was next and the long wheelbase of his Mini-Truck combined with his great driving skills allowed him to climb out like a hero. Drew also climbed out without a winch in his trick Mini. My turn came up and I was sure I discovered a great line. I went right where I planned to but the ledges where just spaced where both my front and rear tires were against large undercut ledges and I just couldnít get on top of them. I gave it some good shots and several of the attempts used a heavy right foot but the ledges won the battle and I had the guys stretch out "Mr. Hook" to help free me from the Canyon.
Sebís Cruiser is slightly longer wheel base than normal and that combined with some key rocks under the right rear tire and his obvious intimate knowledge of this trail proved to be the key combination and much to his own cheers of delight he climbed the ledges with out a winch assist.
What an awesome day! We faired quite well considering. The only broken parts were Drews' blown Birfield and my P/S pump. I believe Seb and I are the only ones who escaped rock rash but "somehow" my Cruiser backed into his and we suffered very minor dings. (I still think his cruiser ran into me even though he wasnít in it and I was backing up) 300 mile round highway trip in less than 6 hours and 8 hours to do 1/2 of a mile of trail!
I have to thank EVERYONE who attended! Chris C. manned my digital camera and got some awesome shots, Seb Romero was sent by God to help us get home before July, Dan and Dan Jr. were great entertainment as they pilot their rigs with such eloquence, Drew and Dane had admirable attitudes, Jeff didnít say much but you could look and see his face scrunch up if you were about to drive into something nasty, and lastly I have to thank myself for killing countless blood sucking skeeters at the beginning of the trail from oil smoke suffocation!
Canít wait to go down again and do Liberty! :^)
Kevin "Uncle Ben" Ehrlick