Elbe Nov 2017

Elbe Hills is kinda like going to grade school in the old days, depending on who you are, what you wheel and whether you’ve been learning anything from your homework. You (1) might get an education; you (2) might get a spankin’; or maybe you (3) just get to hang out in the teacher’s lounge for an afternoon and go have a smoke.

Saturday was option #3. Follow along and you’ll see my logic in this selection.

I will have to admit – the older I get (and the fewer and fewer operational windows and lights I have on Moosenstein) I really look at the weather and the amount of light available before I decide to head out. Yes – very weird – as I used to be up for wheeling any time of the day or night, or month, regardless of the weather. But – possibility of heavy rain, or stucks beyond dark, or whatever on Moosenstein  I need to work on that might cause problems on the trail – gives all too convenient excuses to pull the covers up over my head when wheeling day comes. The alarm rings too early and it would be
convenient to hit the snooze.

Not today. The National Weather Service was indicating that if you were going to be a fair weather wheeler – Saturday was DEFINITELY going to be your prime choice of weather-weenie-dom. And at the meeting – it looked like a goodly group of folks indicated they were heading to the hills (Elbe Hills, that is) and Gary, who appeared possibly to have been volunteered by Casey to be the trail leader – while he was under the influence of mind altering drugs after a little dental work earlier in the day – I just didn’t want him to have to be single handedly yanking, pulling, strapping, winching folks out that may or may not have known what Elbe has to (ahem) “offer.” Elbe can provide wheeling experiences that are the stuff of legend – and I’m not thinking of views of grandeur or breathtaking vistas. It’s a history of epic stucks, tires off beads, clutches packed with mud, springs pulled off frames, steps and exhaust systems left behind, overheating motors due to mud and pine needles crammed in the radiator, rigs winched up trees just to be able to do enough trail repairs to get rolling again. In short – Elbe is like the stern and uncompromising teacher of your youth – knowing that if you don’t pay attention to the lesson – chances of a spanking are definitely a possibility sometime in the weekend.

But not always………

There is one other way that Elbe can be approached – and that is with seasoned wheelers in seasoned rigs, knowing what is coming – and having every capability to just take a drive in the woods without much concern for tow fees. And so it was! The appointed meeting place was the Shell station in Eatonville at 9:30 AM. It was a dry morning, with the gray of hovering clouds dissipating. Buddy Rick and I found ourselves in Eatonville about 9:25 – seeing Casey in Miss Creant (her Toy pickup), and Gary towing Miss Understood (his ‘Zuk) and John in his built white 2 dr JK. I DID have Moosenstein on the trailer behind Cupcake (my Chevy Van – and no – I didn’t name her, and neither did Mary) with a new battery under the hood hoping to keep up with winching and darkness – should the need arise. We waited for all of the other hands that were raised to join us – but by 10 minutes past the witching hour – we figured we were it. So we made for the trail.

And this is the reason that today was going to be option #3. When you have built rigs and trail-ready drivers – Elbe becomes a Saturday afternoon drive. A bout of relaxation where time is more spent relaxing and having fun, rather than the more arduous tasks of teaching, hand-holding and rescuing. Not that there is anything wrong with that. The Tamers ARE all about inviting new folks to off-roading, and assisting in the education of how that is done, and supporting folks who find wheeling a little (or a LOT) intimidating at first (and we have ALL been there.) But also – the club sometimes affords the opportunity for wheelers just to wheel, and to enjoy the ride and the challenge. With Casey, Gary, John, Rick and me – today was my mythical “smokin’ in the teacher’s lounge ” day. (Yeah – they actually DID do that when I was a kid in school – even during the day. Right inside the school!!!) It’s a figurative comparison younger folks – don’t get too hung up on the imagery or judge it by today’s norms……..

I will tell you what – things have been getting vastly improved at the trailhead. Used to be you had more than 10 folks show up with trailers – you were going to struggle to figure out where to park at least 4 of them. No more! There is a gravel strip to the left of the camp entry carved out of the woods that looked to be about half a football field wide, and maybe 1 or 2 of them long. Gary and I did the typical of pulling in and unstrapping our impatient steeds. Casey and John started the air-down ritual – and quite quickly – we were rolling to the Sunrise Trail right out of camp. As we climbed the first hill of that, I filled Rick in on all of the trail work that has been done in years past to keep these trails in place. Used to be the first hillclimb ended up in a muddy, clay-bound mess that could only be climbed with a winch for the last little bit. There has been a WHOLE LOT of rock on top of geotextile cloth in that area over the years – and it finally looks like we have helped it to stay put and not be sliding down the hill.

From Sunrise – then over to the Mainline – where there is now a little play area that afford one the opportunity to either play on a log pile, or drown themselves in a long water-filled trench. Gary was first in line as we approached the waterlogged slot – and in a sober and carful manner SL-LOW-LL-LYY waded in. He waded – he waded – he waa-aa-d-ded – until the water was topping his 37’s and water was beginning to slosh under the passenger side door onto his floorbords. At that point, Casey was heard to comment, “I hope Gary put the sandwiches up on the seat.” Yeah – no doubt – otherwise I think bread pudding with an infusion of minerals were going to be on the lunch menu.

John had been courteous enough to plunge a large stick into the track a little further up the pool like a dipstick to show Gary that he should easily be able to continue on. By this time, Gary had backed off, but with John’s intel – was game for another try. One thing the stick did not reveal – which was the additional depth of the mud in the bottom and the exceedingly low coefficient of friction – and once Gary got a little farther out into the lake – forwards progress ceased. And then – reverse progress as well was ineffectual. It was then that we all realized a bit of critical prep we had neglected. Gary was stuck in over 3’ of water and not moving – and had no straps on either end of him. Boy – my first impulse, the voice inside my head saying – “NOT MY PROBLEM – THIS WAS FUN GARY – SEE YA!” Okay – I would NEVER do that – but I will admit to holding back being the first to volunteer to go for a wade. But – time settling into the mud gave Gary just enough traction to start backing out of the mess under his own power – and soon enough he was back on the banks of the pond, water sloshing out of all of the nooks and crannies on his rig – AND – his sandwich bag. “Yep – looks like soup for lunch now.”

Of course – once we cleared Gary out of the way – Casey was next up for a swim – as she never met a mud puddle she didn’t like. And there was no crawling in with caution as was Gary’s approach – but rather a few higher gears to give her a little wheel speed and IN she plunged – kinda like the old Steel Pier diving horse jumping into the ocean off the boardwalk in the old Atlantic City days. I think Casey has more ground clearance and maybe another inch of tire – which meant she got a little farther out into the puddle before she too ceased forward motion. And DID NOT respond to reverse inputs. She was REALLY STUCK. Fortunately – we did anticipate this result, and had already tied onto her rear hook a tow strap and I think we had her winch line pulled from the front, the spare cable sitting in her lap – so no one had to do their Saturday night bath a little earlier than desired. But here is the best part – I was next in line, had no intention to get stuck myself – and was in a PERFECT spot to assist (with my JEEP) Casey (in her TOY) to get back to dry land. (Oh joy! oh rapture!!!) Casey – thanks for being a friend – that was the best part of the day!

Okay – it was all elective getting stuck and not because we were being dumb – but it sure is fun anyway!

A little further up the trail we had to wait a bit for some boys in their Toys having to get a broke one out. One guy had been employing the typical Toyota sanctioned S.C.A.B. driving method (Smash Crash And Bash) trying to get over an undercut root easily taller than his tire that he was never going to get over – and he had blown up a u-joint sounded like. Once he was cleared – we were on our way……

…..for the rest of the day, turned out. The clouds departed revealing the blue sky, and the sun shone happily down on us as we took on every trail off the 9 Road (Sunrise, Mainline and Mainline Extension, Swamp Trail, Alder Loop, Gotcha and Rainier Vista.) Yeah – okay – you have to make your choices – we were having fun moving and driving and chilling out – and so the Busy Wild was going to have to wait for another day……and we totally get that it might have been a spanking rather than a chillin’ had we decided to take that route.

Our rigs revealed 3 minor hiccups during the day. After emerging from the pool and stopping at an opening – Gary found that his ARB was constantly running – but not developing pressure. Poking and looking revealed nothing obvious. It had not been submerged or even splashed from it time in the dunk tank, and all lines seems to be properly attached. After a little bit of knocking around on it and acting appropriately solicitous of its needs (in case our inanimate devices actually do have sentient souls) it started building pressure and shut off. The rest of the day it did act like there was a slow leak – but it was not problematic enough to spend time attempting a trail repair.

At the same clearing, Moosenstein exhibited its own little bit of bizarre behavior. Feeling totally confident that he would start with his new Odyssey battery – imagine my consternation when hitting the starter instead exhibited a full current drain, almost no turn over – and best of all – a plume of smoke and heavy electrical smell. I was all set to pull my briefcase with diabetic supplies out of the back window (a good reason for once not to have any of that pesky glass covering up that opening in the top) and have a prayer while it burned to the ground – but no – switching off the key took care of all of that. A little research showed nothing obvious – and while the starter didn’t seem to be on its feed when I hit it again – the engine did start and I figured it could just let the engine run the rest of the day.

And in one of the twisty slots Casey came down through on (might have been) the Gotcha Trail – there was some little metallic “snick/pop” I kinda heard – and she REALLY heard. Both she and I didn’t see anything obvious (didn’t even get out of our rigs to look.) She was able to back up – and I did see a root sticking out of the side of the trail – so I figured maybe it had hooked onto her fender flare and popped the edge of the flare a bit. She steered out away from it the 2nd (and third) times we went on that part of the trail – and there was no weird noise the subsequent times – so that seemed as good as an explanation as any.

John had no problems at all – except that he was following me – and I kept trying to lure him through tight obstacles that Moosenstein, being substantially narrower and way more bent up than his JK, got through easily. Either he didn’t take the bait, or he is a really good driver. (Or both!)

We made it back to the main parking lot about 3:30 or so. It is amazing this time of year in the thick of the woods at Elbe – it starts getting really dark on the trail by 3. But it was nice to have gotten a good day of wheeling in constant motion in under our belts, and rigs went on the trailers or were aired up as appropriate. The post script is that Casey DID find out what that little metallic snick/pop noise was. After she got Miss Creant home of course. She’d broken a u-bolt on her suspension – and her rig should have been the one on the trailer going home instead of Gary’s.

Coming back home up towards Graham – Rick and caught one insanely incredible glimpse of a pink/blue sunset piercing the closer dark reflecting off the cap of Mt. Rainier. It summed up the goodness and beauty of the day.

But all’s well that ends well. If you gave yourself a pass and stayed in bed – you missed a really nice day of wheeling. But there will be more times on the trail – and we hope to see you there.

Thanks for readin’
And Keep On Wheelin’