Soft Roaders Spring Meet 2017 with Auto Science

Our annual spring meet has been a tradition with the Soft Roaders since the beginning of the group in 2014. This event is our spring-time meet & greet to introduce everyone to the other members of the group.

Last year we had to cancel our 2016 event due to the park closing because of an unusual amount of rain that forced the park to be closed. We were spared from the rain this year.

Our venue for 2017 was at Barnwell Mountain Recreation Area in Gilmer, TX. It is an OHV park that is about 3 hours from the DFW Metroplex. We chose the location because they offer camping, have decent facilities including bathrooms with showers, and an air station to refill tires. Being a softroader friendly park, that’s something we’ll touch on later.

We usually have the event at our local OHV park, but the conditions there have been deteriorating. They need to perform some trail maintenance before we can return to the park with any softroaders, which is in the works for this year hopefully. Another new thing they are introducing this year is camping EVERY weekend instead of just the 2nd weekend of the month. We just may have to return for 2018.

Our sponsor for this year’s event was Auto Science in Lewisville, TX. Ryan and Jessica were kind enough to feed us during lunch for our event participants.

Buc-ee’s Convoy

The meeting point was slated for 8AM at Buc-ee’s in Terrell. If you’re not from Texas and you don’t know what Buc-ee’s is, well I just have to tell you you’re missing out. Chris was our convoy leader for the morning and we were designated for CB channel 4 for the convoy. The trip from Buc-ee’s to BMRA was a 1.5 hour drive. I think that the convoy was split up in the morning due to a red light, but they all made it to Gilmer in one piece.

We were running late as always. It’s one of the things you run into when you have to wake up a 2-year old at 6AM versus his normal time between 7 and 8. We arrived at Buc-ee’s just in time to see the convoy leave. We had our Facebook group chat going for the event so we were getting periodic updates on convoy status. We ran into Joe inside Buc-ee’s and he had a couple of people with him. After a fuel, bathroom stop, and some leg stretching for the kiddo we were on our way to Gilmer.

Office Check-in

Our meeting time was supposed to be 10AM at the pavilion at Barnwell mountain, but as always we ran into a delay due to check-in at the park office. We had maybe 40+ people trying to check in all at once. We already had ideas of how we’re going to handle check-in for next year’s event.

After check-in and seeing a few familiar faces (and a lot of new ones!) we slowly filled up the pavilion to get ready for the morning’s activities.

Driver’s Meeting

After a few announcements from John and myself, some tips from Greg and Jason, and a scare session from Andrew (you will roll and die) we gathered everyone up to do a group trail ride.

Our plan for the morning was to do Solihull trail, which is a level 2 trail on the trail map system. After finishing Solihull and taking a group picture at the end of the trail we were going to have lunch. I counted 38 vehicles in the morning convoy.

One of the workers at the park took a video of us heading out onto the trails.

Heading into the trails

I was the trail lead for the morning route. Using a Samsung tablet and a GPS-based app called Custom Maps I was able to lead us to Solihull trail and guide us through the route. I got out a couple of times to spot the Grand Cherokee following me, but Kyle was an expert driver so I didn’t have to worry about him too much. Everything went fine for 75% of the route until we ran into a group of four Side-by-Sides trying to head into our direction. I told them we had 30+ vehicles and it was going to be a while before you guys would be able to go our direction so you may want to turn around.

At this section was a small dry creek crossing that loved to take out Tacoma tow hitches followed by a loose-dirt off camber long uphill section. Immediately after the uphill there was a section with about a 2-foot rock ledge and a steep short bypass to the right of it. I knew at this point we were going to have a few problems with a couple of the vehicles in the group.

The uphill section from Michael’s Xterra:

The ledge section:

After I crossed the dry creek and made it up the ledge, I pulled forward a little to help out Kyle in the GC. I ran into Jason after he ran back up the hill from the bottom of Solihull. He told me he almost rolled his Xterra. I couldn’t imagine the severity of his near roll until I later saw a picture and video of it.

After taking Jason’s advice to be careful down the hill I parked the Jeep at the bottom of Solihull and spotted a few people coming down the trail. John was at the bottom taking pictures.

Video of the downhill:

After a few vehicles came down the hill, the traffic flow came to a complete stop. A couple of us went back to the ledge section to see what was going on. Ricky pulled his Tacoma to the side to offer some help to whoever needed it coming up the big hill after the creek.

By the time I got to the ledge I could see Mike in his Subaru Forester taking the bypass. The Foresters are only equipped with an AWD system with no low-range transfer case, so the guys were a little worried that he may have problems. Mike passed on by and headed down the hill.

Andrew’s Forester was where we had to spend a little extra time to get up the hill and over the bypass. Although his Subaru had AWD, which helped Mike get up the hills in his older Forester, Andrew’s was a manual transmission version with street radials. We spent some time letting him ride the clutch all the way up the off camber hill until his clutch couldn’t take any more. This was when we hooked up Ricky’s Tacoma to it and pulled it up the hill. Fortunately Andrew’s Forester had an attachment point on his bull bar that was easy to access.

The ledge bypass was the second section Andrew attempted to conquer. By this time his clutch was no longer cooperative and after the second attempt and actually making it up to the edge of the bypass his clutch went up in a cloud of white smoke. Once again Ricky offered his assistance.

By this time we’ve been on the trail for almost an hour, people that have cleared the hill were waiting and the ones behind the Subaru were still on the trails. We were worried that we would run into similar situations with the Honda Pilot, Acura MDX, and Porsche Cayenne, but we got them through the section without much effort. The Porsche actually had a low-range gearbox, so other than clearance issues he was able to get through the trails easily. By this time we had several trail spotters all along the section, Greg at the uphill, I was at the bottom of the ledge, and a couple of guys at the top of the ledge for some guidance, and a few guys scattered in the woods. This was teamwork and we were a well-oiled machine sending people one-by-one up the hill. A couple of the ladies came up to watch while the Subaru was getting towed so I had to guide them to a safe zone in case the tow rope and shackles detached. Some were worried that the full-size trucks in our group would have issues, but they didn’t have a problem at all.

Here’s a video from Ann of the section we spent a lot of time in:

When the more capable vehicles started to go up the problem section I started to go back down the hill to check up on everyone else. People were wondering what was going on and why it was taking so long.

Some additional footage at the northern exit of Solihull

Once we all cleared Solihull, we met at the bottom and lined up for a group picture. This took about 15 minutes to organize.

I had planned a Solihull trail run to give the participants an idea of what a level 2 trail was like at the park. We were going to do group assignments after lunch, and I didn’t want people to get too overconfident. Recent rains and five months of trail use since our last visit didn’t prepare me for this challenge. In the end we all made it through unscathed. I did notice that we had lost one of our Jeep people, but she ended up going with another group of friends that was at the park. It was time for lunch, about an hour later than planned.

Our wonderful sponsors from Auto Science, Jessica, Ryan, and Steven put together a sandwich line and served everyone in the group lunch with apples, chips, and snacks. They have been with us since the beginning of the Soft Roaders and we appreciate their help with our events.

Ryan, Jessica, and Steven

Kevin showed up with banh-mi sandwiches, it has become his signature move for every event we’ve had.

Once we got lunch out of the way, the group leaders Jason and Andrew gathered up their groups to explore some of the other trails at Barnwell. Whoever was left at the pavilion ended up joining my group for the rest of the afternoon. My group was designated as the Softroaders group, meaning that we would be doing only the easy trails at the park.

There was a bit of confusion on my part to where the entrance to the trails were located. I’ll admit that the maps aren’t very well marked. The first entrance I found was designated for motorbikes only. I drove up to an entrance to another trail and walked down to the trail to make sure that we would all be able to make it without any damage. I didn’t like the entrance so we ended up going to look for another entrance. We finally found an entrance that was marked “To Omega” so we took that entrance.

We had about a two hour adventure with our trail group through the Northwest corner of the park. There were a few muddy sections, a couple of creek crossing, some washouts, and loose rock trails along our route. The highest trail rating we went through was a level 2, but there was still some scraping involve with a couple of the softroaders.

Over halfway through our trail ride I overhead on the radio that Andrew’s Subaru suffered a tire puncture. At the time, we were negotiating a severely washed out downhill section, so Andrew was able to plug the sidewall of his tire and air it back up before he got to our section.

Here’s a little section of trail on our easy route that was rutted and off camber courtesy of Michael’s dashcam:

Near the end of the trail ride, we ran into a family in an XJ Cherokee that had broken down and was blocking the exit to the trail. He told us it would take him about five minutes to saw something out of his fan area under the hood. In the meantime, we were at a cross trail and were searching for an alternate way out of the trail. Before we walked too far into the trail the guy with the XJ finished his repair and drove off out of the way. We ended up exiting Linda Gail which has a couple of ledges to go over. It was the trail I initially was trying to avoid at the beginning of the trail run, but we all made it up and over.

Here are some pictures from the other trail groups. We had both a Novice group and an Intermediate group out on the trails.

A few video clips of the Intermediate group on some trails:

The reports of damage I heard about were Steven getting some rocker damage on his Tacoma and Joe damaging his rocker panels on the Kia. Other than that I did not hear of anyone else getting damage on the trails in the afternoon.

Josue made a video from the vantage point of his lifted Cherokee Trailhawk:

Once again this was a great event for the Soft Roaders. I’d like to thank everyone that attended for their patience. Thank you for all the pictures and videos that were submitted to the Soft Roaders page, John, Kevin, Chris, Gianni, David, Hanh, Jin, Ann, and Greg. Thank you to all the trail and convoy leaders and everyone that helped with spotting on the trails, Greg, Jason, Andrew, Chris, Ricky, Josue, and Calvin to name a few. I don’t know all of your names yet that were out there helping on the trails but I will eventually. Thanks to our sponsors from Auto Science, Ryan and Jessica, for providing lunch and always being there with us. And thanks to the staff at the Soft Roaders for helping put this event together.

I will still be adding pictures and videos to this report throughout the next few weeks, so check back with us periodically.

We don’t know yet where next year’s event will lead us, but this Summer keep an eye out for the Hill Country Brewery Tour in September. We plan a day of Hill Country county roads including crossing the James River and on Sunday meeting up at Hidden Falls Adventure Park west of Austin to do some wheeling.
Until next time!