The easy trip to the Pine Barrens in the Jeep Rubicon did little more than wet my appetite. I had big plans for the NOVA Trailfest and the MEB Summer Trail Ride in mid August.
Earlier in the summer, I planned to attend the Mid Atlantic Early Bronco Round-Up in Gore, VA, which is an adventure I look forward to every year. But when the fan and the radiator decided they couldn’t live with each other any more, that trip went up in smoke on the side of Route 1, literally. Luckily I was near Krazy House Customs when it happened, and the guys there totally hooked me up.
If you’re not familiar, Krazy House Customs specializes in all kinds of performance and aesthetic modifications, for all kinds of cars and trucks. Lifted 4x4s, that work as well as they look are just one of their many specialties. My buddy, and fellow Bronco enthusiast, Dave is the shop’s Ford Bronco and Ford Raptor Subject Matter Expert. (See his rigs or wheel with him and you’ll understand why…) Anyway, my Bronco was definitely in the right place.
Since it was there anyway…I had Krazy House do a few extra things. This brings us quickly back to Mid-August. It came down to the wire and at one point I wasn’t sure I was making this trip at all, but Krazy House delivered. They got it done.
My plan was simple. Pickup the Bronco from Krazy House and drive 60 highway miles home late Friday night. Then drive 133 highway miles to Rausch Creek Off Road Park the very next morning, wheel it like I stole it for two days, then drive it home. What could go wrong??! I have AAA. (A little crazy sure, but let’s not be foolish!)
No time to test out the new modifications. No trailer this time. Completely solo road trip. This was to be one hell of a “shakedown” run and sure to be an adventure, “an undertaking usually involving danger and unknown risks”, “the encountering of risks”, or “an exciting or remarkable experience.” Sometimes you gotta get out of your comfort zone.
The Last-minute Scramble.
As planned, I picked up the Bronco under the cover of darkness, gave the new mods a quick flashlight guided look. The New radiator and fan were in. The new Extreme Duty motor mounts were in. The new Jeff’s Bronco Graveyard Super Flex springs, F-250 shock mounts, Fox Racing shocks and Wild Horses 4×4 Trac Bar Riser were all in. The old parts were neatly packed in a box. Let’s see if she starts… Of course, she fired right up. The vitals looked good. I hit the road. An hour and fifteen minutes of nighttime highway driving later and I was home. (41 year old headlights don’t work so well, but man those PIAA 520 driving lights sure light up the night!!)
Burning the candle at both ends, I was up late Friday, into Saturday morning checking fluids, checking fasteners, and packing all kinds of things for the trip. Things like tools, extra fluids, spare parts, my bag of off road recovery gear, and the requisite spare tire. (Sure, the spare was mostly round, it was mounted on a wheel, it once had tread, and it once held air…) With no radio, no A/C, a speedometer ~20mph off, broken fuel gauge and a set of earplugs to preserve the hearing I have left, I was on the road before the sun came up Saturday. My ’72 Bronco ran like a champ. She tracked straight and true. The new radiator and fan were clearly doing their jobs as the engine barely got hotter than 180*. The front suspension changes were working great on the highways and byways. I was more than keeping up with traffic. The looks, the smiles, the waves and many a thumbs-up along the way made the trip that much better.
My Bronco Brethren
I pulled into Rausch right on time. Between the NOVA attendees, the MEB guys and a rock crawling competition the park was revved up for all kinds of action. There was something to see for anyone and everyone into the off road scene. Just about all makes and models of 4x4s were represented, in all kinds of condition. There were show winners, trail beaters, stock daily drivers, trailer queens, competition buggies – even some totally trick Radio Controlled 4x4s.
I signed in, picked up my NOVA swag, and found my Bronco brethren. We had a great showing, with roughly 20 people and 12 rigs, including some 1980-96 style big broncos. A microcosm for the larger crowd, we ran the gamut from monster tired, tubed out trail rigs with little sheet metal, (and little regard for sheet metal), to a number of beautiful resto mods on 33 – 37s. We also had a LUBR (Lifted, Uncut Bronco) in the group, with only 2.5 inches of lift, and 31” street tires. We split into two groups, and I led the group of resto mods and the LUBR on easy and intermediate trails. (Hey, I planned to wheel again Sunday, and then had to drive home. After my ride out taking it slightly easy for at least part of Saturday was fine with me.)
My goals for the day were simple. First and foremost, ensure everyone had a great time. Keep to trails appropriate for our mix of rigs. Make it a very positive experience for all involved. Finally, I wanted to test out my new mods. As we explored almost every corner of the Northeast property I found challenging terrain for everyone in our group, including some very tight trails, rocks, mud, rocky, and twisty hill climbs. We had some wheels up action and a few hairy moments, but no one got in over their head. We suffered no breaks downs, and no damage. The drivers all did their part, and our old, classic rigs did great. These old rigs never cease to amaze. I hear the guys on the harder trails had a great time too.
What About Those New Mods?
My Bronco ran great! The new aluminum radiator and big race fan keep the engine running cool, even in the heat of the day, in the thick of the woods, at slow rock crawling speeds. The new motor mounts translate more engine vibration through the chassis, but it’s a small price to pay to help ensure the radiator and the fan stay separated. (Ya gotta keep ‘em separated…) The new Jeff’s Bronco Graveyard Super Flex, linear front coils, taller F-250 shock mounts, and the Fox Racing 2.0 Performance shocks were the most noticeable of all. The combination is outstanding. Gone is the harsh, uncontrolled front-end rebound I used to experience on the trail from stiff coils and shocks that gave up the ghost long ago. It didn’t matter whether I was climbing up, or dropping off boulders and ledges, the ride with the new mods was much more plush and supple, if you can use such terms when talking about off-roading. The softer coils and longer shocks also net me better front axle droop. This increased articulation enables me to keep all four tires on terra firma more than before, and that’s always a good thing. Believe it or not, and even with the very soft, linear rate coils, I have less body roll than before; even on road. (That’s the value of going to an expert, a fellow wheeler, someone who knows your vehicle, and pairs the right shock with the springs.) The Wild Horses 4×4 trac bar riser reduces bump steer, keeps the body leveled when the axles flex out, and most importantly takes stress off the frame compared to a trac bar drop bracket. Gone are my worries of cracking or ripping the frame while conquering ridiculous obstacles or horsing the steering wheel. I couldn’t be happier with how she performed, or the work done by Krazy House Customs.
The day was great fun, even if it ended a bit earlier than I hoped. While the rest of the Bronco crew loaded their rigs back onto trailers and hit the road in the mid afternoon, I hung out at the park for a while, just taking in the scene until it was time to catch up with the NOVA crew.
NOVA Trailfest? What’s that?
NOVA stands for Northeast Off-Road Vehicle Alliance. It currently has ten member clubs from NY, NJ, CT and MA. In their own words, “NOVA is dedicated to the pursuit of legal 4×4 trail riding opportunities for all its participating clubs by fostering connections between clubs, landowners, and public & private organizations throughout the Northeast and beyond. In addition to efforts supporting clubs and organizations in trail preservation and maintenance, a focal point of NOVA is the ongoing pursuit of land acquisition through donations, membership drives, fundraisers, and our annual NOVA Trailfest event.”
Trailfest is an annual event open to anyone and everyone interested in off-roading . All makes and models are welcome. It is three days of wheeling, eating, and hanging out with fellow enthusiasts, with a good chance to win some great swag. You can sign up as part of a club, as your own group, or completely on your own. Tell them what you have, and what type of trails you want to run, and they’ll put you with a group that’s right for you. This year Trailfest was hosted by the Jersey Jeepers. They’re a good group of guys I’ve come know and have wheeled with a time or two since buying my Rubicon.
For this year’s Trailfest, the wheeling was done at Rausch Creek Off-Road Park, in Tremont, PA. (What other location in the Northeast has so much to offer?) Home base for dinners, the raffle and those that wanted to camp was the Twin Grove Resort and Cottages in Pine Grove, PA. The Comfort Inn, also in Pine Grove, and which shares a large, trailer friendly parking lot with McDonalds, offered alternate accommodations for those not wanting to rough it. There are also two gas station / convenient stores and a Dollar General in walking distance of the Comfort Inn. (Though with a pool, ice cream parlor, restaurant, general store, outdoor pavilion, catered banquet hall, cottages, cabins, rec center, amusement rides, nice camping spots, and clean bathroom / shower facilities, camping at highly rated Twin Grove could hardly be considered roughing it.) It was the perfect triumvirate of locations. All were within 5 – 10 miles of each other. You didn’t even need to air up the tires if you didn’t want. All were extremely accommodating of, and well setup to support our large dusty, muddy, trailer towing group of off-roaders. The Comfort Inn had a box of Rausch Rags (wash clothes) on the check in desk. There was even a bus from the Comfort Inn to the Twin Grove Campground. Nice Touch.
After showering up and grabbing some rest, I hopped a bus to Twin Grove Resort for Saturday night’s dinner and the big raffle.While Friday night’s dinner was at the outdoor pavilion, and prepared by the Jersey Jeepers, Saturday’s shindig was in the almost too nice for our crowd climate controlled and fully catered banquet hall, complete with a cash bar. Another nice, welcome touch, and big hit. Dinner was good. I didn’t win squat, but the raffle was fun – and funny! Wait, you want me to do “The Hustle”? I don’t even know what that is? Bat races anyone?
As the Johnny Come Lately to Trailfest, and basically on my own, I found the event well run and organized, the people very nice and the atmosphere extremely family friendly. While I’m sure some shenanigans went on well into the night, I was beat, so I packed it in early.
Sunday: I’m Here to Wheel. I Have “The Pass” For The Day. Weather Be Damned!
Sunday we woke up to rain. After two solid days of hard wheeling and trail damage for some, the rain sent most of the NOVA crowd packing. Yet I wasn’t done. I wanted a few hours’ worth of intermediate and hard trails before leaving around mid day, and taking my time getting home. It was the perfect plan. So despite the rain, which makes even easy trails hard and only increases your chances for damage, I headed to Rausch and waited by the office for people to show.
Finally, and while not part of the NOVA event, two guys in nicely built Jeep TJs showed up. I quickly sized up their rigs. Both rides were in great shape and built similar to my Bronco in terms of lift, tire size, having lockers and protection. Most of their sheet metal was not only fully intact, but still clean. A few minutes and some light conversation later, and I was leading them down trails on the West and South areas of the property. We hit Topless for Tatas, named for an annual Breast Cancer Charity ride. It’s just an awesome trail…
Then we headed down into the Quarry, which has plenty of stuff to play on and after running some of the intermediate lines, we upped the ante to a much harder, boulder strewn climb with little traction.
I wasn’t giving up easy and had just about made it to the top when a starter issue almost left me stranded in the far reaches of the park. Forget about getting home, I wasn’t sure how I was getting off the trails. As I started brainstorming ways to get out of my current predicament, home for dinner was quickly becoming home tomorrow…
Not long after, and thanks to the camaraderie of my new friends, I was being pulled back to the parking lot. After being strapped almost all the way back, and while humbly waiting for a 101 course to pass, I tried again. Somehow this time, and with a loud pop, likely snapping a tooth off the Bendix gear of my starter, she fired. I wasted no time saying “Thanks” and “Goodbye” to the two strangers who in a couple of hours had become good, trusted friends. (High intensity, potentially crisis situations will do that.) I hit the road. Knowing I couldn’t shut her down for fear of not getting started again, I aired up the tires, made two gas stops and stopped to take a leak, all while keeping her running the entire time. Thankfully, just over 2 ½ hours later I was safely sitting in my driveway, smiling ear to ear.
In the End
By and large, my Bronco ran great. The new mods work perfectly; I’m extremely happy with my product decisions. The work done by Krazy House is top notch. As for the starter? This was the first time in over eight years of wheeling that my Bronco had any kind of mechanical issue on the trail. That’s a damned good track record for any vehicle, let alone a 41 year old vehicle that I work on myself and drive as hard as I do. These are machines. They are mechanical in nature. They all have their moments, even those just babied on the street. The starter is a minor issue I’ll fix myself, but if that’s what you focus on from this story, then you’re missing the point entirely.
I had a phenomenal trip. From start to finish, it was a non-stop, heart pounding, excitement inducing, and at times nerve-wracking adventure. The last-minute scramble to get ready. The late night ride home from Krazy House. The long, early morning drive out. Seeing all kinds of awesome rigs. Two days of wheeling with great people. The dinner, the raffle, the stories, the laughs… Even the relatively short time my Bronco was down. We stuck together. We overcame. We improvised. We Adapted. We thought outside the box. We had a little bit of luck. We had a great time! It exemplifies why I love Off-Roading.
That was one hell of a shakedown run… I can’t wait to go again!