Cruise Moab 2003

Article by: Bill Morgan - May 2003
Photos by: Joe Medina

Getting out of Town

Ready to roll!

Its winter. Cold, short days. Too much snow to wheel. Too much work to be human. Too many honey-dos. Heck, too many years, when did I start feeling so old? Man, I gotta get out of this rut! But spring is coming, and spring hopes eternal- especially when I think of Moab in the spring! Lessee, there's Easter J uh, no. Yotafari looks interesting. Um, well, but there is that Cruise Moab thing that the local Denver club sponsors, the Rising Sun 4WD club. My coworker wants me to join him- heck, there are some easy trails scheduled that the family might go for- sure, plunk down the $85 registration fee (it goes to good causes) plus more for all the other goodies like shirts, mugs, meals, yeah, gotta have those. OK, dear wife, make your plans.

Wow, I feel younger already, can't wait. Oops, wife and kids have other plans. Hehehe, blessings come in all ways, let's change the trails requested and up the ante a little. Hey, some coworkers wanna come, that takes down the cost too! Finally comes the much-awaited day of departure. Mark, his FJ40 Chevota securely fastened to a coworker's trailer (having a trailer is a sure way to get to join one of these things and get your gas cost covered); Joe, the guy with the luxo 'burban and trailer; Paul, the coworker who has never been wheeling and rarely takes a vacation, and Mark's dad Lowell, are already at Mark's house. Getting ready to head out, Paul looks at my lifted, armored, big-rubbered, solid axled truck, commenting, "Gee, Bill, you don't take that truck on the road much, do you?" HA! I fear no rush hour. But for such a trip as this, the mighty Red Chili was built.

Hell's Revenge

Over the hill at a torrid 22RE pace we go, arriving in Moab early enough for a run over Hell's Revenge before the tech inspection the next day. Joe gets out at the beginning to take pictures of us climbing the first step, expecting a challenge. Oh, Joe, you better up your expectations, it gets much better than this.

Hell's Revenge is as much fun as I remember, but not as intimidating as the first time. (That's part of why my wife begged off: I am getting more comfortable with challenging obstacles than she is. Note to self: take her more often.). We make it all the way out to Negro Bill Canyon overlook, when the Chevota expires. Just won't run at all. After some troubleshooting, Lowell determines it must be electrical, probably the famed GM ignition module (never, never write off the old guys, they have been there, done that). I get that sinking 'lonesome wind in the high desert' feeling, glad we don't wheel alone. Towing is not a real good option on Hell's Revenge. The afternoon is getting to be evening.

There is nothing quite like going through Hell's Revenge with a first generation 4Runner packed with guys stacked like cordwood. Well, maybe steering a heavy-butt elephant with noisy, nervous people inside, each one with an opinion about the drop-off ahead; that might be close. Let's say it was a new way to experience the second half of Hell's Revenge.

Tech inspection on the Red Chili

The next day, tech inspection followed by a trip to the auto parts store was the first order of the day. I got the green sticker based on my mods (good for any dang trail I wanted), but next to all those buggies (if you have a Toyota steering wheel, for this event, you are a Toyota) I felt mighty stock. You could eat off the blocks of some of these trucks! With all kinds of mini-trucks, 4Runners, and Land Cruisers of all varieties, not to mention highly modified specialty vehicles, the TLCA and Rising Sun are pretty thorough about making sure a vehicle is in good repair and a good match for intended trails. It also helps make sure the participant has thought about preparation. Pretty good idea. Completing the tech inspection for Red Chili, we went to the auto parts store, bought a whole GM distributor to be safe, and stacked the cordwood for a return trip to Hell's Revenge.

Lowell was right- it was the ignition module. In no time the Chevota was running, and in less time Paul got initiated to 4 wheeling by riding up Hell's Gate with Mark. Cool photo op. I'll try that one next year (I had seen a vidoe of a TJ flip over video recently, it happened on Hell's Gate). I had more fun this time on the descent from Hell's Revenge and got back to town in plenty of time for goofing off and a late tech inspection for Bubba (the FJ40 Chevota). The next day was The Beginning.

Poison Spider Mesa

Poison Spider/Gold Spike/Gold Bar was our assigned run. Lining up early at 8 AM, the anticipation was palpable. Vehicles ranged from mild FJ40s to a wild buggy driven by 'W' whose claim to Toyotadom was the rear axle and transfer case. Never mind the lumpy-cam 500CID+ Cadillac V8, the hissing, driver-adjustable independent air lift suspension, the military front axle, and the ex-Marine gunny in the single seat. "I bet that makes 'tippy' not a problem," I say, with an amazing grasp of the obvious. He looks at me blankly and I have this immediate urge to say "Sir, Yes Sir!" and drop and give him 20. "It takes the edge off," he says with a razor-straight face. I bet it does.

No trip to Moab is complete without crossing Golden Crack

Slowly we snake up Poison Spider, climbing the waterfall (buggies taking the alternate, vertical route!!!), and posing for photos on the Wedgie. It was uneventful, beautiful, easy, and mightily impressive to my 4x4 newbie friends. That is, until the yellow FJ Chevota needs a jumpstart after a stop, around the middle of Gold Spike (of course). Nope, won't stay running. Optima battery is hissing, what's up with that? Disconnect the alternator, drop in an extra battery from the Rockwagon, a very aggressively built and bobbed FJ55 from California. Nope, won't run. The rest of the group goes on, the tailgunner (Mark, in Bubba) stays with us to solve the issue. Houston, we have a problem likely a familiar one. Caused by a shorted voltage regulator that cooked the electrics and battery with overvoltage, I'm thinking. This is getting old. Return trip? Bring back a whole spare FJ for parts?

No problem, Marines to the rescue. Gunny hooked up a strap to the dead FJ and off we all went. A rougher ride over the Golden Crack was never to be had in an FJ40, but we made it, at one time with Red Chili pulling Rockwagon pulling the Hellcreature pulling the dead FJ. A long day, great views, great folks, mellow attitudes a bad day wheeling is still a great day.

Metal Masher

Next day: Metal Masher. We get to sleep in, with the meet at 9 AM. I anticipate an easy trail with but one difficult obstacle Widowmaker. I probably won't take it. Naw, not me. No pirouettes here. The group today is larger, and more stock, including an absolutely pristine one-owner 1968 FJ40, bone stock except for lockers. Leading today is Neil, the head honcho for Cruise Moab 2003, owner of an absolutely pristine 1985 Gold 4Runner he flat stole from a middle aged couple. At his prompting, I shed the hardtop the night before and I can already tell a difference in top weight. Included in the group is a gal with a near-stock FZJ-80 wagon, with husband in the passenger seat, baby in the rear seat. Now that's the way to go family wheeling!

Metal Masher is a nice, fairly easy trail for most of the way. The first real obstacle, optional, is Rock Chucker, a one-way up-and-down pile of boulders. Several FJs tried it, and those with at least 38" tires made it with effort. The down direction was made more doable by a string of guys who have not missed very many meals holding the rear of the trucks down with straps. Looked like a game of 'whip the spotter' to me.

The next obstacle, Mirror Gulch, claimed a rental J**p, not part of our group but in front of us. We were able to help get it off the trail, and in humiliation he watched as every Toyota made it up fine. Mirror Gulch is named for the body accessory it most often claims. Remember that FZJ-80? Good thing the mirrors fold.

Widowmaker living up to its name
The views are as spectacular as the wheeling

Lunch at the top of Arth's Rim has views that cannot be beat. Then for some reason, I went with the group that did NOT take the bypass around Widowmaker. Feeling my oats? I guess so, after seeing Rock Chucker.Widowmaker is intimidating. There is a vertical 'line' on the left, unclimbable by any normal truck. There is a reasonable line in the middle, but you will slide to the right, and if you do your right rear will drop into a depression and your truck goes vertical, pirouettes, and flops. That will be hard to explain to the wife.

The first FJ40, another Chevota with 38s and beadlocks, has trouble making it up and requires a strap. Mark, in Bubba, with 33s, tries it but the carb can't handle the angle and going fast makes for deadly hops, so he elects to go around. The FZJ-80 gives it a try, but she is just too long behind the axle- that just ain't gonna happen. Then Ben, who leads Outlaw Tours in Durango using a gnarly green FJ with a trail tested rollbar, baaaaaaarely makes it up taking the rightish line and just skirting the hole of death.

My turn. Oh, I don't have to, but OK, put a strap on with those meal-eating guys on the end, just in case. Up I go following the rightish line, take some small hops (not good), and stop, clinging to the wall like a cat. Using the hand throttle, first in Marlin 4.7:1, I find the sweet spot where the MT/Rs turn and bark but I get no hop. The spotter has me steer just a LITTLE more right, I start to move, dogs barking, and find purchase on the step. Gotta love Alcans, and their ability to not hop. The mighty Red Chili made it up on her own power. Her owner, however, needed the 'guys with strap'.

That night was the barbeque. Great food, and lots of door prizes, from cool Ivan Stewart Toyota Truck toys to a winch and full set of 35" BFG MTs! Somehow, someway, I ended up with the Nicest Toyota Truck Award. I figured they were just trying to get me to join the club, because I saw the nicest truck and it wasn't mine: a 1985 Tacoma (not a typo, it sported a Taco front end on an 85 mini) with 4.3L engine swap, handmade Willys-style bed, full cab roll cage, and removable top. Oh, they said, he was barred for life so someone else could get the award after 3 years of him being hard to live with.

Cliff Hanger

Next day was the easy run: Cliff Hanger. Well, after Widowmaker, it all seemed easier to me, up to something like Pritchett maybe. We started out with Dave, driving a very nice FJ40 on 33s (he hates that tippy feeling), in the trail leader spot, and his daughter Kim (Handle: Spitfire. Good name.) in her FJ with deep blue flames that she built herself. She is single, you young fellers, and 19. Join the Rising Sun and I'm sure you can learn more... We looked at petroglyphs for a while, then started out on the trail ahead of some modified Broncos. The mighty Red Chili did dandy, thanks, handling the obstacle on the front of Charles Wells' Moab book just fine. Lunch on the overlook was a close second to Arth's Rim, and we headed on to the Cliff of Cliff Hanger. It gets your attention, but its not a very hard obstacle. I had a harder time on it the year before on my motorcycle.

Petroglyphs near the beginning of Cliff Hanger

A front was coming through, so we headed back. All did fine on the various obstacles on the return, and the only obstacles we really waited for were the spandex kind (note to self: do Cliff Hanger on a week day, avoiding the mountain bikes). All sorts of users, all having a great time and getting along well- just as it's supposed to be.

Until the end. A rock buggy from that day's competition on Moab Rim was clearly visible departing from the Cliff Hanger trail to try some large boulders. No shirts, but plenty of beer. What a PR nightmare, right in full view of all those mountain bikes. I radioed the lead truck that we should each chew him out as we passed- and we did. By the time I got to him in about 8th place, he was feeling considerably less cool than he did at the beginning.

With a real sense of a great time had by all, we made our way back to camp and put the top back on Red Chili. What a great meet, with lots of logistics handled well! My congratulations and gratitude to the Rising Sun 4x4 Club, the TLCA, and all who worked so hard to put this run together. Next year is a no brainer! Sign me up!

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