Today was weird.
Again, pictures may be found on the page we made for Wheeler Lake.
It really accented the thorough differences between the culture of the Land Rover owners here and the Land Rover owners in the Pacific NorthWest. Or, perhaps, it's the difference between the owners of the new trucks and the owners of the older Series trucks. I'm not really sure which, and I'm not all that sure I should be so quick to judge, but the differences really made themselves felt today.
We got up really early today, got to the parking lot earlyish after a breakfast buffet at the hotel. Ali was there and we waved hi as we waded through food. Once at the parking lot, John wandered about to talk with everyone while I hitailed it off to find some bagels for us to eat today. The solid breakfast, light lunch idea from yesterday worked really well, so we did that again today, taking it the one step further, which was to just buy bagels and cream cheese instead of entire sandwiches.
I'm not sure why John picked Wheeler Lake. It was the other really tough path we'd heard about from Chief, where there's a section near the lake where you have to go up rock that has running water running over it and the slickness really makes for a challenge while going up a rock wall. It's reputed to be really tough and there were a good 20+ folks signed up as it was Saturday. That many people means that the group is either really, really slow or gets so strung out that folks really can't discuss strategy as a group, you get broken up by chance into groups that have more or less capability. Unknown really.
But it was a challange, and the lake was supposed to be pretty and the trail itself would be adventure enough for the day.
And so it proved to be. Lots of rocky pathy bits, then wading through wallows and streams and water-running rocks. A few hard rock steps to get up on the way up and there were three Series trucks that came to play with the new trucks and John from Longmont helped everyone through some of the trickier rock steps sections. There was one nasty mud wallow that started with a really steep set of rock steps, went through deep wallow and out the other side with a splash. Borax was covered with mud by the time we were through that.
Then there was a very, very long trail up the mountainside towards the lake, where there were loose, big rocks all sliding on top of each other and lubricated by a stream that ran underneath. The Series trucks stayed at the bottom of that, all but one, and the new trucks rambled up and then just parked as the first trucks hit The Obstacle, which was a very narrow passage between three very big rocks and the rock on the right was far enough in to where the two rocks on the left were that the only real approach was to go parallel to that rock on the right, up into the slope between the two rocks on the left and hope that the truck slid forward enough to get its center beyond the breakpoint of the rock on the right. Non-intuitive in words. Physically it was a very, very easy problem to grasp. You cut the rock on the right too tight and, without rock runners, you have a huge dent in the side of the truck. Even with rock runners, if it got hit wrong, there were some really solid body panel crunching landings.
John parked Borax on a little spur just before the Obstacle. A Discovery parked there as well, a bit further downslope than we were to make room for more trucks if necessary. As folks crunched, jumped, banged their way through, we watched. The Series II short wheelbase made it through just fine, which surprised everyone, but it was short enough and the driver was insane enough that he hit that first slope good and hard enough to slide into the right positioning. Four Ford trucks were coming up after us, so the group scrambled to go up to see the lake before having to come down and clear the Obstacle so that others could get through again.
They said that they were just going to go up to the Lake and come back immediately, so I hitched a ride with one of the other drivers for just the short trip. John decided to go back to Borax and get it out of the way of the other drivers, thinking that it would only be a short time. Turns out that no one had stayed by the Series trucks, even, so John drove down the slippery slope and stayed with the Series trucks.
I went up and was dumbfounded to find that everyone was unfolding picnic gear to have lunch up by the lake. Oh well. So I ate my bagel and then rode back down with the first truck that headed back, and on the way down we heard, over the radio, that the Disco, that was parked a bit beyond that spur, had started sliding over the edge. Oops. Soon everyone had gotten into the job of trying to winch the Disco back *up*, through the Obstacle... yow. Big job that. While they were doing all that, I saw John at the bottom of the slope, so I picked my way down slippery, sliding rocks and eventually got down to him. I had to be really careful of my knee and with the high altitude, I was breathless much more quickly than I cared to be; but I made it okay.
He was fine and he ate his bagel while we listened to the radio and when they made enough progress to get the Disco off the edge and the first folks started coming back through the Obstacle, we headed back.
The downhill version of things was, on the most part, a bit easier than the uphill. Less loss of traction when going down than when trying to push the truck up and over things. The one place that got really bad was the mud wallow. When we arrived, one of the Ford trucks had gotten thoroughly stuck in it and folks were getting completely mud-caked trying to get it out. Eventually someone started just winching people out. The trucks in front of us made it and we scoped it out and John tried for it, hard. Several tries and much mud and a few really bone-jarring thumps later, we got through on the line that John original thought about taking.
The rest of the rocky, slippery slide out was just as before, and not too bad, though we did meet a few Range Rovers coming the other way that really liked seeing what lines we took to get out so that they could get in. That was pretty good.
We went out, and eventually got back to the road and one of the other guys on the trip wanted to follow us as he didn't know the way back to town. Borax was acting funny, though, wobbly on the turns, much more so than the day before, and we hadn't brought the tire pressure down any more than before; but we figured it was just the tires. Having the extra guy with us as we pulled over now and again really proved useful and when we finally parted ways, him back to the middle of town, us to a gas station to refill out tires, we thanked him and he said that he was just glad to have made it back. With air back in the tires, Borax handled much better, but there was still a worrying tendency to wander a bit.
When we got back to the main meeting area, suddenly a bunch of guys came up and said, "Are you the one?" and they all got under Borax and yelled at each other, "This is it! The tire bar's bent!" and they rampaged off again, leaving both John and I were looking at each other really puzzled. John got under the car and someone swung back under with him and pointed out that the bar holding the front tires even with each other was buckled and bent. We'd landed on it, at some time or another, and bent it, so that Borax was now pigeon-toed, which explained the problems with steering, especially with the low pressure and especially at speed. Oops.
We wandered about the vendors that were there, looking for a replacement, but there really wasn't anyone that had one. Then folks said that they'd show us how to fix it! But they just got under the car, pointed out the obvious necessity of taking it off and straightening the bar and putting it back; but none of them let so much as a hand to a tool to actually *do* it. That was pretty much the opposite of what we'd been used to at the Portland meets or the Seattle meets, where it was harder to keep people from helpfully fixing things for you than anything. I mean, it's another story as to how the Stoat's timing belt was worn away to nothing, but it's from the fact that someone, hands-on, tried to help us out with a problem they saw was obvious. There were a lot of good things that the NorthWest guys did, and it was never more obvious how much work they were willing to pitch in on a moment's need.
Thunder clouds came over the area as John looked at things under the truck, and finally, we both just agreed that it was stupid to do anything now. There was no question about getting home, though it might be a bit slow, it was absolutely possible. The rain was coming down, we didn't have the equipment or help and it would be stupid to do things now. So we took it back to the hotel, parked it, went in and took long, hot showers, which felt really good after all the hiking I'd done. Then we went out, fully intending to walk to the dinner place; but as we walked a bunch of Land Rovers drove by so we stuck out our thumbs and people stopped! That was cool.
It also turned out that dinner was where we had dinner the night before! The BBQ place with the good food and good prices. That was funny to find out.
We got a ride to the dinner, met up with folks and had a great time eating with them, talking with them, and generally sharing all the stories that they didn't know about us. That was lots of fun. The Land Rover club also sold raffle tickets by the droves, a dollar a ticket and they got so many tickets sold that they finally had a raffle with many hundreds of tickets being held. I didn't buy very many, and John bid on an auction of something one of the distributors was giving as an auction item. So we now have rear lockers for the Stoat, it looks like.
It rained some during dinner, and after dinner we walked back to the hotel with a stop for hot chocolate at a nice coffee store, and I giggled the whole way there and the whole way home. Sweet, hot chocolate was really, really good, and when I finally got the lid on completely, I spilled less than I drank, finally. But it was really yummy and really good and I was really, really tired, but not nearly as sick as when I started. So when we got back to the room, I was giggly, happy and tired. So sleep was quick and solid as a Land Rover. *flump*