Man, it’s hot out. Hope it’s cooler in the mountains. Oh well, gotta get busy. Let’s see, some quick stops at the supermarket, drug store, mini mart. OK, let’s start packing. There, that should be everything. Boy, that’s a lot of stuff for one weekend. Oh well, time to pick up the boy at camp.
“Dad, are we going camping now?” “You better believe it! Now kiss your mom and sister, and let’s hit the road.”
During the 2.5 hour drive to Hazleton, PA from my part of Jersey, I had some time to think about what was to be and how we all got here.
For the last 3 or so years, I’ve missed every major off road event in the east. If it wasn’t one thing, it was another. I got a little tired of seeing the pictures and hearing the stories and missing it all. Around mid-February I spoke to Corky, the East Coast rep for the TLCA. I told him that I wanted to put together a trail ride, and that I wanted the names of other TLCA members in my area. He put me in touch with Mark Woytovich. Mark was trying to get a local chapter started in the NYC metro area along with Rick Hofer. Once he told me the name, I became a member for life. The Gotham City Land Cruisers. Awesome.
Within a week, Mark had started a mail list and a web page for GCLC. In 2 months time, we had over 30 members on our list from all over the tri-state area. And all this time I thought I was alone.
I had sent out an email suggesting a ride at Paragon Adventure Park sometime during the summer. The response was great. In two weeks, a date was picked and the park was booked. Let the games begin.
When we pulled into the Red Ridge Lake Campground, I knew this was gonna be good. It was hard to miss the 30+ Cruisers hiding in the trees. We picked a good spot, started unloading, and set up camp. The rest of the evening was spent talking the Cruiser talk and walking the Cruiser walk, and pressing the flesh. I still think the best thing about an event like this is connecting the faces with the names. It was like meeting a bunch of old friends. And what friends they are. Swapping stories, food, beer, parts, and more stories into the wee hours.
Saturday morning was full of action as we all signed in for our trail groups, and said our hellos to the folks who arrived late, and those who stayed at the local hotels. We split up into 3 groups. Hot, medium, and mild. Ken “I’m not your Momma” Johansen did a fine job of organizing the trail bosses for each run. He also led us on the medium trails.
We then all lined up outside the entrance to the park to air down. I did a casual count and came up with 34. That was without the hard-core group.
On to the trails. After winding through the park on mostly tame trails, we came upon our first obstacle of many this day. It was a steep hill climb, way steeper than anything I’ve ever done before. As an added bonus, you couldn’t throttle it up, because you had to make a hard right at the crest to avoid dropping off the other side of the 4 foot wide summit. We all lined up at the bottom and watched Ken show us how it’s done. He scratched and clawed his way to the top, with just enough tire spin to make us all uncomfortable. When he got to the top, he parked and over his hand held, said, “It’s your truck and your checkbook. This one is optional.” Bill Fiora in his 40 was next, and decided to wait. There was another 80 in front of me that decided to wait also. Guess I’m next. I walked it first, just to see what was at the top, and with knocking knees and white knuckles, I started up. I got about 2/3rds of the way up and started spinning wheels. I glanced at the dash, and realized my center diff wasn’t locked. It’s amazing how your brain can just turn off sometimes. I hit the button, and crawled up easily. Josh was next to me, cheering and screaming the whole time. The rest of the 80s followed suit, as did the rest of our group. A j**p Scrambler blew a tranny here and was left behind.
Our group meandered through what seemed like miles of trails. Up, over, down, and sometimes around all kinds of terrain. We met up with the mild group and broke for lunch, where Rob Palarchio quickly assembled his Red Devil BBQ, and grilled some dogs for the kids. How good is that.
The next noteworthy one was called Icky Hill. This was a 2 step decent. The first part was steep, loose, and off camber towards a ravine. I now have a clear understanding of the term “pucker factor”. Rick Hofer came fairly close to sliding his 80 off the trail, as did Bill Fiora. Rob managed to hold his 80 in place strictly from the suction of his butt. Quite stimulating. The second part of the hill wasn’t as off camber, but steeper with larger rocks. Ken Stewart in his well set up 91 FJ80 took the lead on this one. He just crawled over the ledge, and as soon as he was past the rocks that threatened to tear off his doors, let go of the brakes. This technique worked really well, as brakes were useless on this one. A bit shaky on the way down, but you were able to steer. That’s always a good thing. We all made it down unscathed, but not without breaking a sweat.
The last climb of the day was another optional one that not too many of our group decided to do. It was getting late in the day, and the combo of the intense heat and trails had taken its toll. I would have passed on this one, but last time I was here, it was too steep and rocky for my stomach to take. Not to mention my stock street tires with no lockers. I had to do it this time.
Down we went. A handful of 80s and the Hummer. This was also a two step decent, with the steepest being the second one. Somehow, going down this one wasn’t as scary as the others. It was steep and rocky, but wide. We all played in the mud at the bottom for a while, then it was time to start back up.
According to Ken, going up this one is a killer for a non fuel injected rig. It’s steep and long, with lots of rocks to keep you bouncing. None of the 80s faltered, although some raised more dust than others.
The combo of the suspension and tires, the 3F-E grunting out endless torque at 1400 rpm, and the rear locker, is an amazing formula for rock climbing. I climbed that hill as slow as possible, and she made it look easy. I was elated once again.
Sunday’s ride was a half day of playing around down by the Mini Rubicon. The kids skipped stones in the synthetic looking turquoise lake, while the boys posed, snapped pictures, and played on the trails around the lake. We were like kids in a candy store. Lots of stories, lots of wheeling, lots of laughs. What a blast. We’ll have to do this again next year.
My personal thank you goes out to Ken Johansen of Up and Over Innovations. Without his help, this ride would not have happened. Thanks Ken, I hope you’re up to another one next year.
Thank you to Mark Woytovich for putting the GCLC on the map.
Thanks to all who attended. You made it what it was. Amazing.