On The Trail!|with Doug Couch

 The Wabash Festival


Preparations:  Okay, so I did it!  I've been offroad in my Sammy now!  Last weekend, August 7-9, I attended my first 4X4 gathering, the Wabash Summer Festival.  When I heard about it and also about the fact that it was only 30 minutes away in Attica, Indiana I was thrilled.  I'd been on the Samurai newsgroup for a long time, but hadn't put much into my Sammy yet cause I didn't know where I would play even if I did.  I wasn't ready to drive to California to play in my vehicle and even Michigan was a bit of a stretch.  I showed the information to my wife Jo, and she gave me the go ahead to spend whatever we could spare to build her up.  Over $1000 later and quite a few long hours and late nights it was at least acceptable.  SPOA, extended shackles, new shocks, driveshaft extensions, z-link, body repair, a green paint job, tonneau cover, and 31" tires at least assured me that I wouldn't be embarrassed to be there.  (Important to Jo.)



Jo in Sammy awaiting more fun.  Before the weekend was over,  the vehicles were so muddy I was  having trouble figuring out which  was mine.

Impressions:  The day arrived, with me up late the night before finishing some form of tonneau cover to protect our camping gear from the impending rain.  We get off work and throw all our gear in the back and head to the Badlands in the drizzle.  I'm still trying to get used to the changes in handling of my Sammy now that she has shocks and the wet road doesn't help matters any.  We pull into the Badlands not knowing what to expect.  I've come to think of my Samurai as being fairly big now with the SPOA, but these guys were HUGE!  There were several vehicles there that it felt like I could have driven under without scraping their axles.  I was trying to look everywhere at once and had this uncontrollable urge to start crawling under vehicles to see how they were put together.  (I hadn't even gotten to the fun part yet.)  We got signed in and got our campsight set up during a break in the weather and headed back for our first run which was a night run in the dunes.  When we got back to the main area and pulled in to park, we saw them...  the other Sammies!  There were four of them parked in a row, with their owner's standing in a circle chatting.  I couldn't resist and had to add mine to the line and go meet some people.  There were: Troy & Laurie Graham with their 88.5 "weedwhacker", Bill Maulding & Eric Behrens in Bill's stock grey 88 with 2" extended shackles and custom smoke screen (cough, cough, gag, gag), Ben Claves & Matt Evans in Ben's 87 with SPOA, and Kevin Lindmood & his son Johnathon in Kevin's nice red 91 with FI.  Kevin's vehicle was the shiniest of the lot and he kept slipping away to a car wash in Attica to clean the mud off after runs.  There were at least three other Samurais there that weekend, but they didn't seem to go out of their way to chat like these folks did.  As a matter of fact, I don't believe there was any other group of people that hung out together quite the way we did .  We even had other vehicles holding back so that we could get all the Sammies in line during runs. 🙂


One of the "big boys" playing in  the main gravel pit.  He's scaling  loose gravel and wet sand in  two-wheel drive. 


Left to right (by driver):  Me, Bill, Kevin, & Ben.     

The Night Run:  First run.  Had no idea what to expect, and to top it all off, we're running at night.  The first thing on my continuing list of upgrades at this point is a CB.  (Well, maybe after the custom backspaced rims.)  The lady who signed us up, gave it a "2" rating, but I think that was only due to the night factor.  All in all it was relatively easy.  The first dune we went down that seemed like it was straight down, gave me a start, but after that it didn't seem too bad.  We got hung up for a while at a dune waiting for a Cherokee, I think, to try multiple times to climb.  After the guys up top got impatient at his efforts they finally decided to give him a tow when he got close.  It must have been the huge alternator that he needed for all his top-mounted halogen lights that weighed him down.  Bill got the hill on his second try.  Kevin coached me to hit it at top speed and keep the RPM's up.  After watching Bill's success, I was able to get it on the first try.  After that point the rest was pretty ho-hum.  That night we went to sleep in our tent  to the sound of crickets, frogs, and V-8's being tuned up by flashlight.


Same lineup, different viewpoint.  Cool guys.  Cool 4x4's.  Lots of fun.

The Play Run:  Next morning after breakfast (cold, but filling) we lined up for the early run.  We lost Troy and his family on this one because they were running a more difficult one.  The trail was to be a #2 difficulty, but I guess that was a matter of whatever you wanted to get into.  My wife was a little dissapointed cause she was hoping for a "trail" and it ended up being short trips between places to play.  Basically the leader would take us to a dune or rock outcropping and stand back and let those who wanted to give it a run, go for it. 

One humorous oops was when a Wrangler gunned it up a dune and got a bit far to the right.  He fell into another trail going back down the other side and got wedged in.  "Air Zuk" (Bill) made another J**p owner grumble a bit with his antics.  After watching the J**p attempt a particular hill several times, Bill pulled around him and went flying up the hill on his first try.  We were standing around chuckling about this fact when he comes whizzing down the other side at full speed and almost without stopping completes the circle and goes back up again laughing the entire way.  I think after 4 times, it lost its allure. 

We had the chance to play on some rocks and I managed to wring a gasp from the Zuk crowd.  I  let my wife out so that I could play on some of the more interesting formations without making her quite so nervous.  There was an interesting little gash with some medium sized rocks that looked fun, so I ran it with relatively no trouble.  Thinking that was fun, I looped around to do it again.  In an effort to educate me on the dangers of being cocky, the gods allowed my passenger side tire to slip down into the gash, rocking me over toward that side.  A step on the gas, and a moment later I was through with no scrapes, but it gave me a moment to consider.   


A nice red Wrangler nosed down  into an ATV track he didn't know  was there.  Another Jeep with  winch came to the rescue. 

Ben and Matt discussing...  the weather? 

The Samurai Run:  Before leaving on the trails that morning we had decided to do a "Samurais only" trail later that afternoon.  Jo decided that she'd been riding around long enough that morning and opted for an afternoon nap instead. (tempting, very tempting)  So, I dropped her off at camp and headed back up to meet the others.  Troy and Laurie didn't make it back from their trail until early evening, so we had to go without them. 

Ben led, Bill came second, I was third, and Kevin brought up the rear since he was more experienced.  The path was fairly wide and firm.  It started behind the gravel pit where the big boys were showing off their V-8's by scaling sandy cliffs in 2wheel mode and continued back through the trees. The gentle curves through the trees and short trip across some sandy hills lulled me.  I thought "Jo would enjoy this!  This is the kind of path she would like....  HEY!  Where did they just go???"  The next thing I knew, I was up a short run halfway up a hill and doing a tight S curve sideways which mashed my tires on the springs in both directions!  (My kingdom for 2.75" backspaced rims!!!)  Another short run up the muddy bank to the top of the hill, where I realize that it goes straight down the other side.  With a quick prayer and a shout of "Geronimooooooooo!"  I let off the brakes and go for it. 

The next half an hour all blur into short trips through sandy valleys and the sharp taste of fear and adrenaline as high RPM's take me up what seemed to be almost vertical inclines to pause at the top of ridges that were almost too short to straddle in my Sammy before dropping down the other side which seemed almost steeper (if possible) into the next valley.  Every time I saw the next incline I would look at it critically and just *know* that the only things that had been up them before were ATVs.  Those tracks were *narrow*!  Without a cb, I had no way to know what to expect at each mad dash to the top.  My only clue came from seeing the bumper of Bill's vehicle tipping what seemed impossibly high before he vanished from sight.  Knowing that no one else had been on the trail, I had this horrible vision of getting to the top of one of the hills and seeing a pile of Sammies a the bottom of a sheer cliff just before I landed on top of them both.  At one point, the slope down seemed so steep that I involuntarily stuck my left foot and arm out the door in an attempt to abort and run for it.  I don't know if I planned to just jump and let my Sammy roll down without me, but I was heading out.  I jerked my leg back in and planted it in the firewall where I couldn't move it even if I wanted to and made the safe (of course) trip down. 

We only had one real "oops" on the whole trip.  We went up a ridge that was probably 20 feet up a steep incline with a bit of a bank in the middle of it to miss a tree.  After the first 3 of us did a "do or die" mad RPM rush for the top we'd slicked it up sufficiently to give Kevin a run for his money.  We'd all parked at the other side to wait for him and it seemed like it was taking an inordinately long time when we heard the rev's.  He must have been turning 6 or 7k from the sound of it!  He was really hammering it hard!  Then it would get quite for a minute as he backed her back down to go again.  Finally we abandoned our rides to hike back up and cheer him on.  We looked at all the options and decided he just needed a better run at it.  On the 7th try, he backed up sufficiently and went up and over.  "Oh oh... now how do we get out?"  We followed Ben to the other end of the valley where the atv track there was impassable by us "wide-based Samurais" (big grin) and he decide to try a sandy ramp back near where we had come in.  His run at it took him too near the edge of the ramp and about 1/3 of the way up, he started sliding to the right.  He stopped with a nice camber to his vehicle and Ben and Matt carefully hopped out to see what could be done.  Kevin's rig rushed by me with a tow strap and they got Ben dragged back down all in one piece.  But we still had the problem of an exit to valley.  We couldn't go back the way we came and no one was anxious to try the sand ramp after Ben.  On closer examination we found a path that was blocked by a small boulder (24") just big enough to put a sizeable dent in a differential and positioned in the middle of the path.  With 2 or 3 of us on it we managed to roll it out of the path and clear the way.  Now we just had to deal with the nice sharp rock on the right which threatened our fenders and the tree roots to the left which shoved us that way.  We all managed that without mishap although not without an explitive or two. 

I almost thought my fears had come true about a Sammy Stack when I had to drop down about 10-15' into a small gully and come up the other side.  You had to pull a quick right at the bottom of the gully and gun it to get the next ridge.  When I hit the bottom, my tires bound up in my springs and didn't give me either the good turn or the power to do what was needed and instead I started sliding sideways off the path.  I got it stopped at the bottom just in time to see the underside of Kevins shiny red rig above me.  I'm screaming "STOP!" at the top of my lungs and he's just calmly sitting up there waving at me.  Of course he had no intention of making a Sammy pancake, but I was already keyed up from my failed attempt at the turn and was taking no chances.  A short reverse and good run got me up the next hill and we were on our way.  There was a series of very nice sharp turns and a bit of off camber stuff, but by that time I was numb and it all went very well.  We pulled out onto a piece of blacktop and turned around to see the #3 trail marking for the last section which we followed out and knew we had made it back alive.  At that point all I could do was whimper "mommy" and shake slightly as I climbed down to find a clean spot of blacktop to kiss. 

Okay okay... maybe it wasn't that bad, and I'm sure most of you would laugh at a #3 trail, but it was my first one and the adrenaline was running high.  If you asked my wife, she might tell you that I have a habit of embellishing my stories, but all in all it was a great time and I'm ready to do it again. (with a cb and different rims.) 

The End 

Story by: Doug Couch - newby 4x4er and Samurai lover.   


Fun dune.  Before a couple of  Samurais went up it, I believe it  was an ATV track.  The sides  were pretty close.

  08/11/10 15:32


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