Summer Soft Road Meet 2014

Welcome to our first official trip report of the North American Soft Roaders. This meet is the one that formed the current Soft Roaders team.

What is a Soft-Road meet? First let’s define what a soft-roader is. Soft roaders are mainly unibody vehicles with an all-wheel drive system and extra ground clearance. They have the capability to drive through forest roads, dirt trails, and some water crossings. Subaru and Jeep are known for building popular soft roaders. We had a little bit of everything show up to our meet. The meet was catered to beginners to off road, a couple of vehicles were barely broken in before coming out the wheel with us.

Who was invited to the Soft Road Meet? We started with inviting members from Subaruforester.org and our North America Off Road Subaru group on Facebook. I also extended the invite to the Jeep Cherokee forum, XV Crosstrek forum, and a couple of people from Expedition Portal.

Our venue for the meet was Northwest OHV Park in Bridgeport, Texas. This park has trails for everyone from the beginner to rock crawlers. I’ve been to the park six times previously and have mapped out a route for the day. Our route was catered to the beginner off-roader starting with simple hill climbs, shallow water crossings, and ending with rocky terrain with some downhill sections.

The Group

Machine1 (Subaruforester.org, Expediton Portal) – host

GeoJosh (Subaruforester.org) – host

Tugg (Subaruforester.org)

Ron Jon (North America Off Road Subaru – Facebook)

William Wolfen (Subaruforester.org)

Dallasmike (Subaruforester.org)

Kevin M (NAORS)

Derelicte (NAORS)

JD (Jeep Cherokee Forum)

Ann and Tim (Jeep Cherokee Forum)

John P (NASoR)

Ryan D (NAORS)

Ryan’s friend

Rick (Expedition Portal)

Texploration (Expedition Portal)

Pedal (Expedition Portal)

Victor (Friend of Texploration)

Fernando D (Expedition Portal)

Passengers: Shansen, Ymani, Sean J, Jacob D.

Friday evening

In preparation for the Meet the next day, I decided to remove my rear mud flaps and rear sway bar links. I was going to leave the front sway bar in this time to see how it would perform on the trails. The mud flaps had to go because they kept dragging everything on the trail. One of them was also ripped off from just reversing, the flap was caught between a rock and my tire.

5:50 AM Saturday

I woke up early morning at 5:50 to pack my cooler, camera equipment, tools, and maps. I didn’t plan on leaving my house until 7:30 AM but I couldn’t sleep any longer with the meet coming up in a couple of hours. I received a text from my coworker at around 7 asking me if I needed anything from Wally mart. I figured this would be a good time to get ice for the cooler. He was going to be riding with me to the meet and ride along with someone else since I had my son riding passenger in my vehicle for the trails.

7:30

We (Son, coworker, and I) left my house to the first meeting spot, a Shell gas station. I filled up, the place was 45 minutes away. I usually get around 10 mpg from an entire day of trails. It’s better to have a full tank than have to worry about gas out there. After getting gas, I waited along the curb near a couple of payphones at Shell station. That morning there was an autocross event about to commence at the Speedway nearby. Saw a Miata on a tow bar being towed behind a truck getting off the highway. While I was pumping gas, in the stall next to me was a Porsche 914 sitting on a trailer. It was highly modified, widebody conversion, Flat-6 from a 911, pretty nice car.

Waiting by the curb at the gas station, the first person I spot is Kevin in his Forester XT. He missed the first turn-in so I called him up. “Hola”, those were the first words I heard from Kevin. He said he saw me and was going to make a u-turn. He pulled into the Shell station and went to top off his tank. Soon after, Shansen showed up in his lowered Forester, and we had one more person left to wait for. After a few minutes of conversation I realized that it was past 8 AM and we had to get moving.

At 8:04 we got on the road heading towards the OHV park. As soon as we pulled onto the highway I noticed a white Tacoma hovering around our line of cars. I soon realize that it was John, he caught us just in time. It was a 45 minute drive from the Shell station to the OHV park. Mostly an uneventful drive other than a couple of people that didn’t know what a passing lane is for. The signs are everywhere, “Left Lane For Passing Only”. Some people are just clueless.

We arrived at our second meeting spot which was a road before a secondary entrance to the park. No one was there so I decided to go ahead and drive into the park. We let Shansen hang out in the back because the road into the park was rutted out from rain and his lowered Forester didn’t like it at all. We lost sight of him pretty quickly. Why was he in a lowered CUV at an off-road park? He was going to be riding along with Josh and taking pictures.

At the gate I had a little chat with the attendants. A nice couple, they remembered me from last time and asked us to tag our pictures to their page on Facebook. I did tag them previously, I just thought they were ignoring everything I posted.

Getting into the gate, there are already a few guys parked behind a tree waiting. Rick in his Tacoma and William Wolfen are already there. Wolfen tells me that the trails are flooded and we were going to have to bypass the first part of the trail that I had planned out. Well, this isn’t good news. The day before there was a thunderstorm that sat around the city and dumped plenty of water into the park. Great.

We hung around waiting for everyone to show up. People were slowly trickling in between 9 and 9:30. I went around meeting everyone and checking out their vehicles. I love all things off-road, I was like a kid at a car show. The Trailhawks were there, four late model Tacomas, a bunch of Subarus. One guy brought his rally-prepped Sti, but it was too low to trail ride so he rode along with Rick in his Tacoma.

One of my coworkers showed up in his lifted Grand Cherokee. I asked if he could take me down the first section of the trail to check out how high the water was. The first thing I noticed about the trail was how washed out it was. The last time I was there was in March. The trail had deteriorated in five months. There was some exposed rock at the middle of the trail creating a good sized ledge, a sign of things to come. The first drop-in into the West Quarry, the water at the bottom of the hill looked like it would have been halfway up our doors. My coworker didn’t even want to drive through it, we took a left turn out of the puddle. He didn’t want to flood his Jeep first thing in the morning.

By this time, a lot of the group was already there. Josh, the other organizer of the meet, was getting his radios ready for us to use. I told him we were going to have to abort part one, it was too flooded. We were going to go ahead and start with part two of the trail and go from there. I decided to put Ryan and his lifted Tacoma in front of me to check water depth and Rick with his winch equipped Tacoma would be at the back of the pack in case anyone needed recovery back there. We had two late stragglers that called me, they were having trouble finding the entrance to the park. It can be hard to find the first time there. I asked Wolfen if he could wait for the late guys and bring them to the area we would be at. Around this time my coworker with a lifted ZJ on a trailer pulled into the park. He was going to be one of our recovery vehicles but he never joined the group.

We had our lineup of between 15-18 vehicles ready to hit the trails.

9:50
Almost an hour behind schedule we headed towards the East Quarry towards the two hills and three wheel junction.

Video – Parking lot into East Quarry up to Two Hills:

Two Hills
The two hills consist of two short climbs, the one on the right being a steeper grade. For beginners, this is the first hill that most owners get to climb at the park. I attempted the right hill, which is the hill I normally take, but the amount of mud on the trail right before the hill was too much and collected on the tires. I probably could have climbed the hill with a little bit of momentum. I had a crowd behind me so I had to get everyone going.

We advised everyone to take the hill on the left one at a time and make a loop around to re-join the line before moving onto the next obstacle.

Video in the East Quarry and going up the left side of the Two Hills through Three Wheel Junction:

My Forester from the East Quarry to right hill of two hills

Mike East Quarry to left of two hills

Three Wheel Junction
We named this section three wheel junction because of the undulating terrain that causes our soft-roaders to three wheel. It is a connector to the North Loop area of the park. This section was filled with mud from the rain the day before.

Videos of Three wheel junction headed south:

Pictures from Three Wheel Junction:

Our next section was the South Loop.

The South Loop includes two notable sections. One of them is called High Top, the other section we labeled as the Four Hills. This is a popular group picture area within the park. The additional water and mud from the day before made this Loop a lot harder than it has been previously.

This is a map of the South Loop, we ran the route in reverse direction (clockwise) from what was noted on the map. The map is from a previous meet.

A section of High Top that we normally try to climb with some of our vehicles was a little washed and rutted out. I attempted it at the last meet in the Spring. I named it One Three Hill because of the selection of climbs (3). It sounds like the name of a show called One Tree Hill if anyone remembers that on network TV.

Tugg was in the middle of attempting to climb it when we started moving towards the four hills. We told him that we would be back, but we never did keep our promise.

Lining up near One Three Hill waiting to go to the Four Hills area

10:45AM
By now it was starting to heat up. The Texas heat was starting to get noticeable. It took us near an hour to get everyone past the Two Hills and Three Wheel Junction and now we have the South Loop, complete with mud, to complete in an hour before lunch time.

South of One Three Hill headed towards the Four Hills was a muddy section leading to a steep short climb.

Video of South Loop clockwise from One Three Hill:

I attempted the steep climb towards the Four Hills. In previous attempts I was successful at it but this time there was so much mud on my Coopers that I could not get any traction up the hill.

This time it just wasn’t going to happen. We all bypassed the climb with a trail to the right of it. This bypass led to a plateau area and down to the Four Hills section of the South Loop. Coming down the plateau was a sharp turn down to a muddy downhill.

Sitting on top of the plateau with my tires still caked with mud

Videos going down into the four hills:

This guy had one question, “How the hell did you guys get down here?” I was telling him that there were about 12 of us left coming down the trail.

The Four Hills

We called this the Four Hills area because it used to have four short hills up to a plateau. Now there are actually seven hills in the area. I might be changing the name. Going up these short hills are usually easy, but with the mud the easiest way up these short hills is with a little momentum. Even the Jeep Wrangler on 4-Lo with the diffs locked had to take a couple of attempts.

Once we all got to the top, we took a water/drink break and lined up for some photo opportunities.

The hosts:

Leaving the Four Hills, we had a muddy rut section to traverse and some more mud afterwards. The Tacomas were having a little problem with crossing over the muddy ruts because of their wheelbase.

Here’s Tugg giving Kevin some assistance over the rut:

An XJ decided to tag along with us for a short duration before leaving onto his own adventures.

We finished up the South Loop and headed back through Three Wheel Junction to head towards lunch at the picnic pavilion.

Back through Three wheel junction:

William Wolfen followed by my coworker Mike in his Dodge Ram

12:04
Lunch at the Pavilion

I borrowed Dan’s grille to cook some gourmet dogs and bratwursts. Sadly not a lot of people wanted them so I had to throw away some food.

A view from the pavilion:

After lunch, our plans were to take a new perimeter road that had been opened up recently. During lunch Ryan decided to head down and scout the trail to make sure there weren’t any flooded areas.

We were planning on taking the power line north route from the pavilion into the perimeter road:

Heading down the powerline road:

On the way into the perimeter road we ran across our Recovery crew telling us that there was 3-4 feet of water in some spots. We all decided to turn around but Ryan in his Tacoma didn’t get the message so he kept going into the perimeter road.

Even with a 4″ lift, 32’s and aftermarket lockers he was sitting on frame spinning all fours. A fellow named Bill recovered him. We didn’t see Ryan again until a couple of hours later, now we know why.

Because we couldn’t do the perimeter route, we re-routed to what used to be a passable downhill/uphill in the stairstep section of the powerlines. Section 3C on the previous map next to hamburger hill was our previous entry point into the lower section of the spider webs. We found that section to be impassable due to the fact that we probably would be able to get down the hill with careful spotting, but going back up would have been impossible. The rain had washed out the dirt and left huge boulders on the trail. We also didn’t have a good idea of how flooded the Spider Web area towards the perimeter road was. One of my coworkers in a 6″ lifted ZJ Cherokee found the bog hole in the spider webs and had water up to his seats and center console. His engine stalled while going through the bog hole.

On to plan C.

Plan C involve taking a route called ridgeline that was the highest trail in the park.

When we stopped in the video, I was looking for our depth-finder Ryan and his Tacoma. I later found out he was stuck down in the Spiderwebs. We sent Tugg up front to check on the water depth, he went around it and backed into it.

Tugg’s muffler went underwater backing in so we went ahead and told everyone to go around this water hazard.

We arrived at a section Kevin called little death valley. Every one of the Subarus scraped their front bumper on this short dip.

Kevin’s “little Death Valley” probably cost us about 45 minutes of time. It was 3PM, around 100 degrees, We were finding rocks to stack at the bottom so that we wouldn’t rip our bumpers off. We still ended up with a couple of casualties, the XV Crosstrek ripped it’s bumper off the mounts. Tugg worked extra hard on this section, there was even a little frustation setting in. As soon as I crossed the valley I had a little bathroom emergency, so I had to abandon the group for 15 minutes. I don’t think anyone noticed I was gone.

You can see the rocks stacked at the bottom so that our tires could drive over them and give the front bumper some clearance:

The Trailhawk made this section easy with its superior approach and departure angles:

This section was also a good test of breakover angle:

To the left was a tree and the right was a 40 foot drop off, we couldn’t take this at an angle:

Once we were out of there the views were amazing:

A few random shots from the Ridgeline trail:

For next time, I think what would help for the little Death Valley would be some 2x4s. I know we could bypass this trail, but there is a technical section at the end of it that I wanted everyone to experience.

Our exit from Ridgeline involves a rocky downhill section that also involves one of the wheels leaving the ground. We sent Tugg under a tree to take a break. Josh and I spotted everyone down this section, Josh worked the upper part, I was down at the exit.

Josh at work:

Me being lazy, hot, and tired:

Tugg on his way down:

Videos never do hills any justice, this is how steep the descent was:

Tim heading down in his Trailhawk:

Most of the Subarus were on street radials and thankfully we didn’t get any tire punctures this time around. Up next we have the Raptor hill, send off a couple of people, and the final section of our day.

After Ridgeline we went to the East Quarry to hang out around the Raptor Hill. We named it the Raptor Hill because the magazine Mustangs and Fast Fords used the hill for a photoshoot of a Shelby modified Ford Raptor. We take pictures of our vehicles on that hill every trip out there. This time the pictures were a little different.

Tugg drove over to us and calmly told us that if he hit a certain speed on the Raptor hill he could feel the Forester leave the ground:

My kid was actually able to get it on video.

Random pictures around the east quarry:

At this time we sent off Kevin, Derelicte, Ryan, and his friend. We found JD in the Trailhawk and Fernando joined the group in his 4Runner.

Our next route we were going to take was a technical section called the Asplund connector, drive past the Boothby entrance, and head back towards the powerline road using the southwestern perimeter road.

The Asplund connector is a short technical section with a few rocks and a muddy section at the end. It was in the woods in the southern end of the trail so it was actually not too hot even though it was around 4PM. I planned for us to be in this section for the afternoon because of both difficulty and to beat the heat.

Heading into the connector from the powerlines trail:

This trail was one of the few that actually had signs noting the trail rating, this one was a double diamond:

I love the sinister looking eyes of the Trailhawk:

When we arrived at the perimeter road, there was one muddy section that Josh was able to get a video of:

The only picture we have of the carnage:

A few random pictures from the end of the day:

And we have reached the end of my event report. This was a great event overall. I made a bunch of new friends, hopefully I’ll get to see them again at the next meet. We made it through with only a few bumps and scratches. No one that came to the event that never off-roaded before can be called an off-road newbie anymore.

Would I have done anything differently? I think for next time I’ll get there before everyone else so that I could scout some of the trails, I may bring some 2x4s for the little Death Valley, and maybe I’ll actually use my Gopro again to record and not leave it in the back seat. Even though I love all of us being on the trail together at the same time, breaking up in smaller groups (As originally planned) would probably allow us to go through more trails.

I would like to thank everyone that came out and helped, I would also like to thank everyone that took pictures and videos for us (Steven from Puzzles Photography, Josh, and Ymani).

Our next meet is March 14th 2015, officially called our Spring Break Soft Road Meet 2015.

Thank you for taking time to read through my report and enjoy the pictures and videos!