with Bill Johnston
Chile Challenge 2006
I keep getting asked the same question over and over again by the folks I work with... "What kind of competition is this Chile Challenge you go off to each year?" I have to explain to them that the only 'challenge' is getting back from the trails without breakage that might keep you off the trail the next day! This event isn't as much a competition as it is a gathering of friends, driving some of the best trails in the desert southwest.
The gates opened at 2pm on Tuesday (21 Feb) and the participants were waiting to get in. The last numbers I heard from the registration tables was that over 380 vehicles were registered. If you figure that each vehicle carried an average of two people, then we easily had over 700 participants having fun!
The first trail groups went out the next morning to 17 different trails ranging from easy to extreme. The 'easy' trails have a bit more of a degree of difficulty than you might imagine (they aren't your typical dirt road/sightseeing tour trails) with tight turns, steep climbs and descents, and the habit of throwing you a curve when you least expect it. The participants trying the extreme trails are told to 'expect body damage' as they try lines that you normally wouldn't dream of taking you rig through.
The Las Cruces Four Wheel Drive Club hosts this mighty event every year. It's not easy trying to make everyone happy, especially the BLM. One of the ways they try to appease the masses is to try and limit the biologicals being brought in from outside the area. They do this with a tech inspection to make sure the rig is clean before heading out to the trails. The green sticker on the windshield tells the trail leaders, Sheriffs Posse and the BLM folks that the vehicle has passed tech!In the weeks leading up to CC06, we weren't sure if we would be driving the trail rig or the stocker. An ignition problem had plagued us for quite awhile and two weeks out the trail rig still didn't start. With the help of Rods Samurai Salvage, the problem was solved. We sent Rod the main components in question and he tested them on a running rig. He had the components back in the mail the next day with a replacement distributor. We have some great Supporters out there folks! Make use of them and it will make life so much easier...
We got there on Wednesday for a easy day of setup and exploring. We found a few zooks while looking around, but most were already out on the trails for the day. We checked out the RTI ramp to test a suspension change and found that the rear of our Zook had lost a little articulation. Trail testing would later show that it didn't hurt the performance at all. It actually made for a more controlled rear axle with more 'droop' and less 'stuff' than before.
Last year mother nature brought us some ugly weather. It turned the hard trails into extreme, and the extreme trails into a winchfest. This year she was a bit more generous with the nice weather and it made everyone a bit more relaxed. The local newspaper put the event on the front page, which wasn't surprising considering the number of participants. What was surprising was the fact that it was a very positive article that reflected the goals and camaraderie of responsible four wheeling. It was refreshing to see that the article wasn't being wrapped in someone else's agenda.
We also had a chance to post updates on iZook daily through an access point set up at the fairgrounds. Thanks go out to FourPlay, who made it possible. You can see what we published by clicking on the CC06 Live link in the upper left corner of this page.
Sean Farley brought up the old 'grey ghost' project vehicle (now black) to run the trails. Thursday morning we got into line for Amatista Ledges. We were pleasantly surprised to see three other Zooks with the same trail assignment. We then got together with the trail leader for our drivers meeting. This is where you get to hear the ground rules, and the trail leader tells the group what to expect from the chosen trail. Buzz Ross drove in from Ft Davis, Texas with his silver 88 Samurai. The soft top had many upgrades which included custom front and rear bumpers and some custom front spring sliders that allowed the front shackles to 'slide' up and over the rocks without damage. Click on the photo to the left for a closer look at them. While many of us have winches in front, Buzz was also packing a removable winch that could slide into the rear receiver hitch to pull the Zook back out of trouble. And for those that are looking close, yes, he is tackling these trails while still in a 'spring-under' axle configuration (SPUA). He used 4" BDS lift springs to get the body off of the 31" tires. His rig worked well on the trail, and his mascot rhino kept his seatbelt on the whole time.