Its Only Tahuya Mar 2012


Tahuya is the Rodney Dangerfield of trail runs because – “It don’t get no respect.”  It is rumored that some Tamers even passed up the run because (let’s say it together, class) “There is no challenge there  – It’s JUST Tahuya.”

But I’m here to tell you – even the little dog gets to lift its leg on the big dog when he isn’t looking.  Tahuya last weekend by my estimation had a 3 cigar/2 lawn chair rating.  To those who just weren’t quite paying attention or looking the other way – Tahuya certainly had a few tricks up its sleeve with which to kick a little wheeling butt with the Tamers.

While the morning started a lot earlier than in the QFC parking lot in Belfair – that’s where we commenced to gathering.  Just a bunch of simps actually thinking that the weather prognosticators were going to provide a forecast that was on the nose.  As we shivered out in the parking lot under the Pacific Northwest all purpose bad weather excuse “the marine layer” (not to be confused with the boat hooker) we remarked almost as one that it was supposed to be sunny and almost 60.  Apparently in someone’s dreams – but not yet in our reality.

John and Gina had John’s 1 Bad CJ-5 on the trailer, Mary and I showed up in the Auto-M special.  There was a new guy Josh looking ready to go in his YJ.  Phil showed up in a most manly fashion topless and windjammerless in his YJ-5, and he didn’t even look cold!  Newer member Mike and his wife Natalie showed up in his 4 popper TJ, and Nic and Teri came ready to try out their new mods – 35’s, a locker in the rear to join the one in the front and 4.88’s – cheered on by gadabout mascot Jack the wonder terrier.

Also joining us were another 3 or 4 rigs with the logo of Northridge 4×4 on their hoods.  Don’t know exactly how we joined forces – but join them we did, cranked up and made for the staging area at Elfendahl Pass.

With rigs detrailered and tries deflated, one of the Northridge guys took the lead across the street.  He did things in a different order than I was used to – and it was kinda refreshing.  First after heading up the first incline and wandering through the trees – the first real trail challenge was the hillclimb – or actually – the hill unclimb – since we started at the top and went to the bottom.  Still – for those newer to wheeling (including some of the Northridge labeled rigs) it seemed to them that they had been tossed off a mountaintop into the abyss, with the occasional scrape and clang of rock on skid plate as they picked their way down through the 3 man rocks littered throughout the steep decline.   Still – no huge challenge – and once everyone regrouped at the bottom, fairly quickly we were moving through the woods again.

After a few easy turns and some moderate puddles – we picked our way down to the water feature that’s always good for some kind of breakage or repairage.  In typical fashion, even in Auto-M’s rig, I had taken on my usual position at the end of the line going at the speed of Moose.  But I did call out on the CB the siren song of wheelers everywhere, “Hey – somebody do something stupid!”

Our own Mike was only too glad to oblige – almost instantly heading out through the murky waters at high RPM, throwing up a wake like a landing craft on D-Day.  John followed making the 350 sing its throaty tune, followed by Phil in his YJ-5.  Now – Phil was having an interesting situation in that it appeared he was conflicted about whether to go 2 wheeling or 4 wheeling.  He’d get going – then you’d notice only his back tires were spinning.  “Hey Phil – try 4 wheel drive.”  Then a clash of gears, and another few feet, then the rear wheels were spinning again.  “Phil – 4 wheel drive – you oughta try it.”  And another crunch and all wheels going – for a few more feet – then more spinning.  “Really Phil – you’d like 4 wheel drive if you kept at it for a while…….”

Meanwhile – Mike and Natalie had done about lap number 3 or 4 in the pool, when he just barely climbed out – a-nnnn-nnd – nuthin’!  I can hear you cranking, but I don’t hear fire.  Good naturedly, Mike had figured that maybe he had hosed things down under the hood maybe a little too enthusiastically – and after a little more futile cranking, finally decided maybe a little moisture patrol was in order.  So he got the hood open and started wiping things down and letting a little steam escape.

Meanwhile – Phil was still doing the 2 wheel/4 wheel dance in the lake, taking on the stump at the one end.  He figured it was a good time to try climbing up the stump.  So – he made better progress with the climbing in 4 wheel drive than 2 – and finally worked his way right on top of it.  I was sure he’d be able to drive off it if he could just get the front wheels to help out.  Another crunch, and another launch – and – with that all too quiet metallic “tink” – one end of his front driveshaft dropped off the T-case into the pond.  Ugh.  Looked like he’d gotten on the shaft on the stump and broken it.  John drove into the water to deliver a winch hook, and after getting the correct angle and a little bracing against a stump – pulled Phil free up to dry(ish) land.  So – with 2 rigs down – for me – this was cigar stop #1.

Fortunately – by now – the sun actually had come out, and the boat hooker – er – I mean – marine layer had finally dissipated.   Fortunately – Phil had NOT broken his driveline – but instead had just popped a  cap out of the joint from the U-bolt.  So he worked on that, Mike finally got a few cylinders firing until his rig stared going again, and I saw more than a few discarded beer cans and bottles that I just couldn’t ignore.  So – I scavenged a few plastic bags and got too much trash collected right away.

As an aside – I was told, after we got home, that some of the Northridge folks were drinking beer at least through some of the day (which I find only mildly disturbing) but then were throwing their empties into the woods (which if true, I find downright ignorant.)  I didn’t see it for myself – so I’m only saying what I heard.  But if I may opine for just a few more moments – hey dudes – keeping wheeling access open is hard enough as it is.  Trail trash doesn’t help one whit.  If you’re gonna beer it up on the trail – at least man up enough to take your empties home with you.  There is no defense for that which is indefensible.  There – got that bit of cranky-old-coot-ness off my chest……

We weren’t quite done with the pond.  In the far end, there had been some other Toys romping through the swamp.   John decided there was one muddy slot that deserved a little attention – so he approached it in a very deliberate manner – slowly pushing into the ooze and expecting somewhere along the line, he’d break traction and have to back out.  But those new IROK’s just kept grabbing and pulling, and he slowly chugged on through without hardly breaking a sweat.  Of course – Mike hadn’t quite learned his lesson yet – because if John could do it slow in his rig, then obviously – Mike could buzz through it with his squirrels of fury boring through like a hot knife through butter – right?  Well – he did  get a fair amount of the way through, albeit more like wet tissue paper burrowing through a turd, and again just barely reaching shore before his Jeep died – for the 2nd time in almost the same place.  Except this time – he had enough muddy spooge dripping off the bottom of his Jeep – you’d think he’d just slithered away from some insane colonoscopy gone bad.

So – he gave things a little drying time.  Then cranking – no fire.  Then a little more drying time.  Cranking throttle open.  Cranking throttle closed.  Cranking throttle halfway.  No fire.  I said, “Mike – throw some gas on that thing a light a match – it’ll dry out pretty quick that way.”  I think he thought I was joking.

Finally – hoses and wires and connectors started to get jiggled and checked for water.  There were signs of moisture and mud where they didn’t necessarily belong.   Then more cranking – and – no fire.  Phil finally suggested that maybe we should hook up some air from Auto-M’s rig – which didn’t sound like a bad idea.  I did pull Mary’s Jeep over closer – but not before lighting cigar #2.   This seemed like it was going to take a while.

So – I’m not entirely sure exactly on what or to where Mike was blowing air all over his rig – but it sounded mighty convincing.  Until that turning of the key again – that still gave no fire.  Finally – John looked at the coil.  There was spark there.  Then pulled a wire from the distributor cap.  Hmmmm – no spark there.  The rotor was looking mighty grody.  So I pulled a knife so John could scrape the rotor off nice and shiny again.  It went back in, the cap went on, the wires back in place, the key was turned – and – hallelujah!  That engine was running again.  Like 45 minutes later from point of the spooge-arama.

Thank God.  “Let’s go wheeling! And – um – Mike – you go near the water one more time and kill your rig – you’re staying here.  Yes?”  Mike agreed he would behave next time he got into some more water.

So – by this time it’s like 1 PM or later, and we cross the gravel road and make it to the start of the south loop.  Didn’t take long until we actually got to the next challenge.  There is a short, but steep dirt hill the trail goes up, that rain has run down and cut into a pretty deep and steep “V”.  It’s interesting when it’s dry.  I hadn’t actually seen it as cut up as it was last Saturday.  But it was hard to see much at all initially, since it was covered up by a Jeep laying on its side.  A woman and her husband (she was driving) were wheeling alone (duh!) and apparently didn’t quite figure out the correct line.  At first glance – I actually didn’t see any good line – because one way or the other – you put a wheel in the bottom of the slot – you were going to be coasting along at least on the fender flares, if not the sheet metal.  What was doubly confounding was that at the uphill end of the slot – there was a huge step up carved by water action on the hill – maybe a straight up 30 or so inches to come up.  Either way was going to pop the 2 upside tires into the air, and if you were open, you weren’t going to make it – it was either winch or bypass time.

Looks like what had happened was that she tried to straddle the slot – which wasn’t necessarily a bad plan.  Only problem was that the passenger side of the hill was close to vertical, and you’d have to have your driver side tires a little farther down in the slot to keep from being pushed out.  Looks like they had gotten maybe 2/3’rds the way up the hill when they got too far up on the passenger side.  And – her Jeep had open diffs.  Looks like the drivers wheels dropped into the slot instead – and the rest – as they say – is history.  The Jeep was all twisted up drivers side down.  And being that it was a TJ with a hardtop – it was also history for the rear driver’s side window in the top.

Anyway – they were in our way – so we had to get them back up.  John got behind them with his bag of straps and other winch goodies.  He got a strap doubled around the top of the roll bar on the passenger side.  To this he connected his winch hook, which was running through a snatch block to a tree on the passenger side of the Jeep.  The woman got back into the rig so she could hit the brakes once the rig got back on its wheels.  She did have a winch – so we tied her off to another tree up front, so she could start pulling herself up once she was back on her wheels.   It didn’t take much tugging from John’s  8274 to start pulling her back up, and it was a real crowd pleaser when the jeep slid down with a BANG into the the slot the other way on its passenger side wheels.  We had her tied too low on her winch from the front to the right to get her up the hill when she got to the step – the winch was just sucking her front end down into the dirt.  So – we re-rigged her high in a tree to the left of the slot, and that helped her get up enough to pop up out of the step, and slowly get her up to more level ground.   The couple appeared mighty relieved to know there was an easy bypass they could use to head back to civilization – although I suggested they should just keep driving the loop, since the hardest part was over.  They weren’t having any of it.

Being already on the hill, John gave it a try next.  There was some mighty nasty sounding scraping as he firmly planted the passenger side tires in the slot, leaned over probably more than 45 degrees, solid into the hill.  He went up the hill just fine, even climbing the big step.  But that was the problem – with that short CJ wheelbase – it looked like the front end just wanted to keep climbing into the air – and the rear diff was buried in the dirt.  Rather than gas and go (and do a pirouette like I have seen John do in the distant past) he elected for a more sane approach and got on the winch cable to keep the adrenaline down to a dull roar, and the nose of his rig under control.  He got up over the step – in a somewhat inelegant, yet damage-free manner.   All that noise rubbing on the slot was fender flares only, and no sheet metal was damaged in the least.

Of course – this still left the question of what the line really was – because obviously – it really wasn’t wheels down in the slot.  I was fairly sure that the crack could be straddled, even given how slick things were.  One of the Northridge guys decided to give it a try next – and he was doing pretty good.   I was spotting him up.  He seemed to be getting his commands of “passenger side” and “driver side” not quite sorted out – and after the 2nd time of getting almost up, but then dropping back into the slot on his passenger side tires, he chose discretion as the better part of valor, and parked at the bottom of the hill so as to wheel anther day – damage free.  But – on the 2nd slip into the hole –  I saw the line.  And didn’t mind experimenting with someone else to see if I was right.  (Yes – remember – we had Mary’s rig – and I wasn’t really willing to go bend sheet metal on her very clean TJ – but I didn’t mind trying it out with some other willing victim.)

And then – there was Phil.  Taking his approach –  getting   situated, contemplating the line – an-nn-nd – “Phil – try 4 wheel drive.”  I was hoping he could keep his front end engaged long enough to climb the notch.  I had noticed on the last try of the previous rig – just before the step – there was a rock poking up on the driver side wheel.  If you went to the left on that rock – you would slip out to the left and drop the passenger wheels into the slot.  If you went to the right of the rock – you’d drop the driver’s side into the slot and roll over like the first folks we rescued.  But if you got your left wheels on top of the rock – that was the line!  So Phil lined up, got the 4 wheel drive engaged (What a concept!) and he started to take a very easy, deliberate pace up the hill, having a good grasp of his “driver” and “passenger” steering directions.  He made that rock dead on top, and drove right on up the hill like it was a paved driveway!  Superb driving – nice job Phil!

Now – remember Mike?  Mike “Hey – stay-out of-the-water” Mike?  Unfortunately – no one thought, at 2:30 or so in the afternoon, that they had to specifically rescind the “Somebody go do something stupid!” order.  Apparently – since I was the first to say that – this was an obvious oversight on my part.  Mike – seeing that Phil drove right up, was certainly game to try getting himself up too.  And to that I say – “More power to ya!”  So – he lined up.  He proceeded in a slow even fashion, he was listening to my “driver” and “passenger” spotting commands, ann-nn-nd then slid and dropped down into the slot on his passenger wheels.  Silly me – I was about to say, “Okay back up, line up and give it another try.”  However – when those wheels touched down – it was like a switch closed.  Like the snap of the bale on a mouse trap, the very nano-second those wheels dropped down into the slot – Mike’s foot dropped full force down on the skinny pedal!  That was my first surprise!  I didn’t figure he’d make it up past the big step.  A second after that thought – up pops the nose of the Jeep like a kid on a trampoline.  That was my second surprise!  Then the front bounces back down, and the rear diff dances off the dirt in the slot.  With the engine screaming along at 4 or 5 grand, then both front and rear driver’s side wheels pop up into the air.  Frontwards momentum is definitely slowing – and then – as the rear wheel slams back to the ground – that little, harsh, but definitive metal “snick” let me to know he’d broken his left rear axle.  (That didn’t surprise me at all!)

Mike didn’t believe me at first – since he purposely had put a limited slip in his read end – “so he wouldn’t break stuff.”  But now – he had joined the famed pantheon of Tamers, like Gary TJ and Karl, who over the years have definitively proven that a lack of cylinders is no excuse not to wheel hard and break stuff.   They may only be 4 squirrels of fury – but man – those apparently are some ANGRY rodents!

Well – my mouth was still trying to readjust.  This had all happened so quickly, it was still forming the words about backing up and trying the line again.  As it was – he wasn’t entirely convinced he had broken an axle.  He was still trying to drive up the slot with just his front wheels.  We finally got him to get off the gas, and hooked up his winch so he could pull himself up to the next flat spot.  And by the time he got that far – his rear wheel and axle had already worked themselves out another foot or so out from the side of the Jeep.  My mind was already going to a piece of tree branch to chain to the frame and bumper to hold the tire and axle in place long enough for us to get him out of the woods, when Mike says – “You know – I’ve got a spare axle.”

Talk about redemption!  Not only can he break it.  He can fix it too!  And it could be (and occasionally for Tamers has been) much worse – the conditions at that moment were these:  the sun is shining, it’s not yet getting dark, it’s still reasonably warm, and there are only a few mosquitoes.  Jack it up!

Still – all was not quite as easy as being home in the garage.  First challenge was to get the wheel off.  What Mike did NOT have, of all things – was a lug wrench.  He’d done something with it at home, and forgot to put it back in his rig.   But – we pulled ours out of our rig (thereby pretty much exhausting the supply of tools we’d brought with us for the day – a lug wrench and an air hose…..)  We were also reminded why a hi-lift is a tool of dubious function at best.   We did get the Jeep in the air enough to get the tire off – and then it fell over off the jack.  So – we got the first hi-lift repositioned – and then a 2nd one on the other side – which pretty much meant the Jeep was about twice as wobbly and apt to take a life.  So – we started stacking tires under the frame, and blocking the front tires.  Things seemed stable enough to start removing the diff cover.  From somewhere came a zip lock bag which held the gear oil, and the back cover came off.

While Mike laid on the ground amidst tools and dirt surveying his next move – I brought the lawn chairs out of the back of Mary’s Jeep – and – lit cigar #3.  Mary checked the time to see how long Mike’s trail repair would take.  As Mike started turning the drive shaft to get the pin in position to come out – the Jeep started shifting around some more on the high lift – and seemed like it wanted to scoot back down hill.  So – we trussed it up a little more like a Christmas turkey.  Ratchet straps went from the sliders to trees on either side to keep it from shifting sideways on the jacks.  And John thought it would be a good idea to tie off to his Jeep up front to stabilize the jeep further.  Only one problem with that plan.  There was a very deep puddle in front of the work area – and when John backed up to the front of Mike’s Jeep – he caused the typical tidal wave of water to slosh forth from the puddle – washing under Mike’s Jeep, almost taking with it every tool, nut, bolt, washer, shim, bearings, Mike’s jacket – and all those other things that might be important to have at hand so the rear end can go back together.  Fortunately – we saw the wave coming, and were able to pick up all the critical pieces before the water washed it away down the slot in the hill.

Well – the long story short – Mike got the pin out.  He got the C-clips off.  He got the axle out.  He had some trouble getting the ring gear and carrier out.  And something looked a little strange with the bearings on one side.  Then it all made sense when we realized that the carrier was cracked.  And finally – the end of the broken axle came out – way easier than we thought it would, given the troubles that the rest of the stuff had given us.

Reassembly went WAY easy.  Mike will have some tearing down and reassembling at home – given that things got a little dirty, the carrier is toast, and a side shim broke and a tsunami washed through – but everything went back into place – apparently the flood took nothing critical with it down hill (no missing bolts) the RTV sealed up the cover just fine – and Mike got all the gear oil back into the diff by cutting a small corner of the bag off and squeezing it in like a master pastry chef putting the final touches on a fancy cake.  Mary checked time – the axle change out took in the vicinity of 1 hour 15 minutes.  Not bad for a smattering of tools, and a repairus interruptus of a wall of water.

I had some concern that I would have to tell Mike not to try the hillclimb on the way out, like if I didn’t suggest he shouldn’t – he would!    But we’d apparently had enough “experience” for one trip.  Someone asked Mike if he learned anything, and I believe the answer was something good natured like “The Tamers are pretty okay, except for that one jerk who keeps breaking stuff.”  Mike’s wife Natalie was snapping pictures all day, especially of the trail repair.  I hope she’ll hand those off  so they can go on the website.

6 PM saw us a little ahead of the sunset as we aired up back at the staging area.   John and Gina, having a trailer headed for a drive around, Josh headed for the boat in Bremerton, and I led Mike and Natalie, Phil, Nic and Teri and Jack up to Kingston.  We weren’t sure what to expect out of his rear end – but I guess we’d find out pretty quick.  As it was – all was quiet – and as we left Belfair – the speeds went from 25 to 30 to 45 to 55 – with no complaints from his diff.  The last act of wheeling excitement was viewed in my rear view mirror – as I see the flashing blue and red lights of one of us getting pulled over by Officer Friendly of the WSP.  (I wondered if Mike Wielander of the Q-Paws was on the beat, but sounds like this trooper was too short for that.)  Of all things – Nic got a warning for not having mud flaps!  This seemed particularly amusing – since Phil’s rig, which was right behind Nic, looks downright menacing – but both he and Mike DID INDEED have mud flaps.  (We don’t – but Mary just lives right…..)

And thus endeth the day.  It was a great day on the trail, and with wheeling friends.  If you weren’t there – you REALLY missed a lot of fun.  But you know – the sand at Moses Lake in April isn’t that difficult either – but that is no reason to not come out and have fun.  You really ought make it to April’s run and enjoy things regardless of how asy they might seem!  Fun is the thing, and that just seems to go together with a bunch of Tamers.

Thanks for reading – And Keep On Wheelin’!