The First Annual XJ-List PA. Winter Wheelin' Ho-Down.

*Click on images for larger view.*

When: 23 & 24 January 1999.

Who was there: John B. & his son Gary, Chris (Cheez-it), Mike and his co-pilot Eric, Dan and his father, Richard and his co-pilot Rob, Eric, Dave, Grant and his co-pilot Cindy (the couple known as Delaware), and Me.

Weather: Cold, Wet, Icy, and a Flood Warning for all streams, creeks, and rivers.

Everyone meet at the Wendys in Hazleton across from the Blue Comet Diner. Meeting time was set at 9am. We had 9 XJs in all. After airing down and disconnecting sway bars we left for the park. It was a short drive down route 309.

Upon entering the park, we encountered our first obstacle, Ice.

The trail opened wide at an intersection of three trails. This area looked like a scatting rink. XJs slipping and sliding everywhere. To follow the trail we wanted, we had to head up hill on ice. Everyone (some with much effort) made it on there own except delaware and me (both stockers), even Dave in his 99 stocker made it and made us other stockers look bad. We spun tires and lost our momentum and stopped half way up. It took the winch to get us up. The next obstacle was a steep, long hill covered with Ice. Chris (Cheez-it) and John B. both made it with their locker equipped XJs, by keeping two tires on the shoulder, which had some hard snow for traction. The next XJ, Eric, had no locker and it showed. The open diffs would allow the two tires on the snow to set idle while the two tires on the ice spun and spun. He made it almost to the top but after several attempts the group decided to bypass the hill, and find another trail. It wasn't long before Chris found a new trail for us. It started with a steep down hill section with ice (not as much as the other trail) and rocks. It was determined that to keep XJs from sliding and bouncing off other XJs, we would go down the hill one XJ at a time. The next section was fun and had a couple nice rocky sections, hill climbs, and a stream crossing that claimed paint from tow hitches and rear bumpers.

Next we came to the first real obstacle, the pipeline crossing. It was a stream crossing where an above ground pipeline also crossed the stream. I decided to tape Chris going first. Quickly I realized that this was not going to be easy. Chris (with over 4" of lift) entered the stream at a very steep angle. After entering the stream he turned down stream for about 15 feet (the streambed had a few large rocks just to keep you on your toes). The water reached up to his front bumper. Then, when he came to where the pipeline crossed the stream, he turned up the other bank. The exit of the stream wasn't to bad for the first 10 feet or so until he came to a step ledge with large rocks. At this point your passenger side windows are within inches of the pipeline. Chris made it up the ledge and the next hill with no problem. Well now it was my turn (in my stocker). I got a spotter (thanks Delaware) to get me in the stream. When I turned to travel down stream the water raised to above my front bumper. This worried me because there is a slight dip just before you exit the stream, which lowers your drivers side even more, remember the air intake is behind the drivers side headlight. No problem, I climbed out the other side. Then I came to the rocky ledge. I got the front two tires up and my progress stopped. After several attempts and a lot of undercarriage banging (thank god I had installed a T-case skid the day before), Chris came back and strapped me up. The rest of the lifted XJs made it on their own, but the other two stockers said "no way" and took a bypass.

The next obstacle consisted of a steep offchamber drop down into a stream and then a very steep climb out the stream and up a long hill. This is one where you might think " I can make it down but will I make it back out?". Each of the big guys (4.5" or higher) attempted and with some clunking and tire spinning, they made it. Dan made it in and across the stream but could not make it up the steep bank. After a little looking around, he found a much easier way out of the stream and then up the hill he went (Cheater). The rest of us took a bypass and linked up with the big guys at the top of the hill. Dave, in his stock 99 Country, decided to go down the hill that the big guys just came up. Well he made it down ok and then took Dan's cheating way up and made it with no problem. I wish I had attempted that one now. We continued down the trail hitting some good icy sections. At one point on an icy down hill section, I got sideways. I recovered quickly enough so that John B. was the only one who saw :).

Next was yet another stream crossing. This one had a steep muddy entry bank, a large rock in the middle, and a steep muddy bank with a large rock at the exit. The rock at the exit was laying in wait for a stocker's rocker panel. Chris entered first and the water seemed to rise above his bumper. He made his way around the rock and then up the other side with a little momentum and tire spinning. This time I moved aside and let John B. go next. I was worried about the angle of enter and how deep the nose of the XJ would dive. John took a different line, it wasn't quit as steep, but then he had to drive a little up stream and had a harder time dealing with the rock in the center. He made it up the other side much like Chris did. Ok it was time for a stocker to go for it! I went next. I picked an entry line between the ones taken by Chris and John. This kept the drivers side higher out of the water (air intake) but also caused my rear drivers side tire to lift about 1 1/2 ft. off of the ground. Chris thought this would be a good time to goof around and started rocking me up and down. This did not thrill me too much, so I moved on into the stream. I got in ok and even made it around the rock in the middle ok. Getting out was another story; I got two tires up and that was it. With each attempt I would slide back and the rocker panel hungry rock bit me. Chris to the rescue again and I was strapped out (hey Chris, did I say thanks yet?). Next came Mike with about 5.5" of lift, he made it pretty easy and even stopped by the rocker panel eater and him and his co-pilot Eric, got out and moved the rock (why couldn't they have done that before I went!?!?! :)). Dan took the same line as Chris but with less lift. Upon entry his rear bumper hit the bank hard and actually bent it up so that he couldn't have opened the rear hatch. Once on dry ground, he just jumped on the bumper and it was back where it belonged.

It was getting late and we wanted to be off the trail before it started to refreeze, so Chris led the campers to their camp and then he started to lead the rest of us out. We went out on a different route than we had entered and we came to a long up hill section that was ice covered. As we were climbing the hill Eric lost traction and came to a stop. When he tried to move again, he started sliding back towards me. He ended up sideways on the trail. I drove to the shoulder so that I could get two tires in the hard snow, that way my XJ wouldn't slide back into Dave. Chris and Mike had already made it to the top. We got on the CB and called for them to come back and help. Again the lockers proved their worth. The locker equipped XJs could put two tires in the hard snow and keep moving. Us open diff folk would sit there with the two tires on the ice spinning. Chris came back and attempted to strap Eric up, but he had on rear strapping point so he had to do it trying to go back wards up the hill. This didn't work. Next Mike came down and strapped Eric up and out. Meanwhile, one of the locker equipped XJs behind me attempted to get around one of the stockers with bad results. The locker equipped XJ ended up sliding into the stocker. They swapped a little paint. Mike came back and strapped me up, and then Dave. John B, with locker, drove up on his own. After that hill we had no more trouble and were on our way out of the park. Dave, Eric, and Mike all left and were not returning for Sunday. John B., his son Gary, and me went to a hotel for the night.

Day Two:

Weather; raining since midnight, flood warnings.

The plan for day two again was to meet at the Wendys at 9am. John, Gary, and I got there around 8am so that we could get some breakfast at the Blue Comet. We ate and waited and waited and waited some more. We saw a D90 in the parking lot so we went to check it out. The owner said he was meeting his club here to do Paragon Park. We told him we would probably see him there. At about 9:30 we decided to drive to the trailhead and see if we could raise the campers on the CB. After waiting and calling on the CB for about 10 minutes, we decide that maybe they came out some where else. So we headed back to wait at the Wendys. Shortly after arriving at the Wendys a guy (don't recall the name) in a black Toy Runner came by looking for Chris. We told him we were waiting on Chris. It turned out this guy was from the park and said he'd get the D90 and us in. At about 10am the Toy led the D90 and us back to the park where we meet up with the campers just coming out of the park. It seems that they had some difficulties getting out, much like we had the night before. Chris decided to take us to another place to wheel so we all got back on the road and headed out. Just as we got on route 309 someone came on the CB and said the D90 was stuck in the area we had stopped. How embarrassing! It was like a parking lot. We pulled over and waited for the rest that helped the D90 get unstuck. The D90's club had stood him up so we let him come with us. Chris took us to an area that looked like an old strip mining sight. The first obstacle was a long rocky section. It basically had to lines, one to the right for the lifted rigs and the one to the left for us with vertically challenged rigs. This was slow moving at best. I heard and felt a lot of banging and scraping. Next came a couple small muddy hill climbs. The next challenge was a steep drop down into a flooded area. Chris was the first down with no problem. I went second so I could get video of the others coming down. It wasn't that hard, basically you aimed it in the right direction and let it slid down. At the bottom I saw Chris making his way through the flooded area, it looked deep. I decided that I might go around the flooded section. Delaware, was next inline but pulled away and decided to let the others go. Everyone else, including the D90 made it down with no problem. After that Delaware decided to join us. Next was the flooded area. All the lifted rigs went straight in and through with no problem. Then I saw the D90 going through and decided that I had to do it also. About half way through the D90 broke through a layer of ice under the water and ended up sitting cockeyed (see photo) and stuck.

I drove around him and to dry land on the other side. In drove John to the rescue. After several attempts John strapped the D90 out. What a photo, a Cherokee saving a D90 (and it wasn't the last time). We insured the driver that the photos would get to his buddies on the net (hehehe). The rest of the day was spent finding obstacles to over come. At one point Chris found himself stuck on a hill climb were backing down was out of the question do to possibly rolling. After a little planning, we got Dan around on another trail so that he could winch Chris up (Ya the trail leader got stuck, made me feel a little better). Another highlight was a steep hill climb that ended at a very narrow (XJ wide) ridge. Chris was the only one to attempt this, and he made it. By now I had used up my last roll of film (that's why I have no pic's of these obstacles) and the videotape was getting short. We next found a nice depression that had a rocky draw going down in for the modified rigs and a rutted muddy trail for us not so modified. The D90 stuck with the modified rigs and did quit well. At the bottom the XJs were lined up for a nice group shot (dang, wish I had more film). There was one last section that Chris wanted to try. It was a very steep, rocky, creek/waterfall that was for the modified rigs only (this is where my videotape ran out). This was definitely the most difficult obstacle of the trip. Chris went first and made it to the top without too much trouble, there was tire spinning and a few "backup and try agains", if you know what I mean. The D90 went next and the driver proved that he didn't mind punishing the little rig some. One area was just too much for the opened diff D90, and the winch was used to get it up to the top. The rest of the XJs made it up under their own power. Now it was time to call it a day and we headed out.

Summary: This was a great weekend of wheelin'. I meet a great bunch of XJ folks and had a lot of fun. Day one could have been more fun if there was less ice, but we adapted and overcame that. I learned what a difference a locker makes, and changed my buildup priority list. The locker is the next purchase along with some rocker panel protection. I want to thank Chris for showing us a great time, thanks to Dave for the roll of film, Rob for great spotting, and everyone else for helping to make it an enjoyable trip.

Thanks all, and I look forward to next years trip. Any time any of you want to wheel in VA, give me a call and I'll be there.

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