with Scott Rossow
Anybody that knows me knows that I am a mud guy. Anybody that has ever read something that I have posted on the net knows that I am a mud guy. In fact just look at the tintop and you can tell that it is all about the mud. I run as much lift as reasonable, body lift, swampers and room to go up a tire size because the slippery Florida mud is pretty forgiving when it comes to big tires and tiny zook axles.
Maybe not anymore.
Last week I had the opportunity to ride at a real ORV park in northern Alabama, Morris Mountain in the Talladega National Forest area. Holy Kamoly was it FUN! What a great place to ride, run by true enthusiasts and it shows.
Where I live the averaged elevation is 32 feet and if that changes it is going down and usually muddy. The trip from Tallahassee to Morris Mountain was about six hours pulling the loaded trailer, but the last hour of the trip had a lot of up in it. So much climbing that my ears actually popped at one point. All the non-flatlanders are probably laughing at me right about now but seeing the mountains (alright, foothills) around me and knowing that I had a zook in tow and that we were going to be playing soon was a fantastic feeling. I knew this was the beginning of something large.
Finding the actual place called Morris Mountain was one of the biggest challenges of the weekend. It was not posted very well, actually not at all. Finally we stumbled across a dirt road that obviously had people camping within sight of the pavement so we turned in and there it was - the gate to great times. The group I was with had reserved the entire park for the weekend so the campground was mostly empty. We pulled up, looked around and started to set up. There were no other trucks around because they were all out on the trail, but within minutes they started to come rolling back in to take their early afternoon break.
By the time I had set up our tent and unloaded the trailer they were all ready to go back out on the trail. So, leaving my wife to finish setting up camp, my daughter (and co-pilot) Melissa and I took off on our first ever 'not flat' ride in the tintop.
Morris Mountain ORV Park has two distinctly different areas, a trail section and a more rock climbing oriented area. The group had spent the morning on the trails and was ready to hit the rocks. The first place we went was called The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. It was, in retrospect, easy enough. Just a 75 foot hill climb with rocks in the dirt to keep you focused, but at the top there was a steep slippery rock face about 15 feet tall and pretty much vertical. At least that is what it looked like to me. My initial response while looking up was Nope! Not today, maybe later I did walk up it to scout lines and watch the others doing it. It was so steep I slid out and busted my butt pretty good. Thank goodness no one had a camera out at the time.After watching 3 totally built jeeps make it look reasonably easy I started to wonder if it was doable. When a stone stock Rubicon went up it I was feeling like I need to gather my nerve and go. I kicked Melissa out of the zook and lined up for my run. Advice was flying at me from all different directions, my heart was pounding and my palms were sweaty. I eased up the hill in 2nd gear, not too bad at all. When I got to the rock face I dropped it into first and walked right up like it was no big deal. Let me tell you, I was HOOKED! I could not get back around the trail fast enough to try it again. As soon as I was back down I got Melissa loaded up and we went for it again and then again. We spent the rest of the afternoon trying different sections of trail. Some were boulder strewn climbs that we could only watch the big boys play on and some were just perfect for the lesser built trucks to play on too. I even got to pull one big Jeep off a rock at one point because he dropped a wheel into a hole and center hung himself. He was hearing about that from the other Jeepers, all in good fun. Around dark we headed back to camp. After a long day driving and a great afternoon playing I was pretty whooped. The next morning a few of us headed over to the trail section to see what that was like and I found my favorite part of the weekend. I love trail riding in the woods and this was perfect. The trail section had 400 foot inclines that were steep enough to be challenging going up or down. There were enough rock areas, like Loop Springs, to keep the hard core crawlers happy and the trails like The Booze Cruise left everybody smiling ear to ear. In fact The Booze Cruise was my favorite ride of the day. Hill climbs, steep descents, some rocky sections, a little mud and off camber sections that really tested the suspension. Two times I thought I was going to flop over on my side and both times it ended up being close but not quite. We went out three times on Saturday and each time I had a different passenger. Each time we headed back to the trail section of the park, it was that much fun. Coming down the mountain the third time one of my front u-joints decided it was done and started making the death rattle sound. But it was okay because the day was done and we were headed back to camp. I had spare u-joints and the tools to fix it but I was tired and my girls were ready for dinner so I called it a day. A great, successful, action packed, fun-filled day.
All in all it was a great weekend. I went up there expecting to have fun, but also expecting to break something, probably an axle. I even packed all my spares and the tools to do a trail fix. Luckily it wasnt necessary. I also had the expectation that my suspension was going to be the biggest shortcoming of the setup. I just knew that my maxed lift, the 'heck with flex' mud setup was going to not work on the rocks. So much so that I had already found a set of stock YJ springs to swap in as soon as I got home. Boy was I shocked. The suspension, as stiff and tall as it is, is not really all that high on my project priority list anymore.
Instead, I am going to start by upgrading my brakes. The old pump it once and then brake system does not really work in the hills. So I am thinking braided brake lines and four wheel discs. I am going to finally put on that Mazda master cylinder I have had for a year and a half too.
Then POWER STEERING! I used to laugh at people that said a front locker needs power steering. Not anymore, being able to put your front wheels exactly where they need to be in the rocks is a little harder than doing it in slippery mud. I have a complete system from a B2000, everything from the steering box to the cooler. But the Tracker conversion looks easier and is tried and true.
Then seats with some side bolsters and actual safety harnesses are going in. Lap belts and decent seats are nice for riding on the road, but when you are on an angle so steep that you could reach out and touch the ground beside you a little extra protection would be nice.
And, since I am thinking safety, a front section for the roll bar cage needs to go in too. The Davesport front add-on cage looks like just the ticket. Pre-made and fits like a glove. Does anybody have any experience with one?
That is how I know I had fun up at Morris Mountain; I am plotting and planning projects again. Something I havent done for a year or so. Stay tuned for project updates, my version of big things coming!
For more information about Morris Mountain check them out here.