Forest, the Pit and the Mud hole
Bill E. Branscum ©2003
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Thanksgiving was a wonderful
family affair at our house. As has always been the case,
I spent the day cooking and enjoyed some quality time with
my family. In deference to popular demand, I made a ham
this year. I think I'll write another "Now
We're Cookin'" article and publish the recipe
as I did with my turkey recipe under Ideas
Once Thanksgiving Day turned into Friday, everyone disappeared.
Luz took off to Miami to attend a three-day church event
and, as if that wasn't bad enough, even Jeremy bailed on
us. "Whaddya mean ya gotta work - it seems
like just last week I was diapering your little butt."
In my mind, I understand that Jeremy's grown up, but in
my mind's eye, I still see him as one of my kids. I guess
it's a thing all parent's must learn to get used to, but
as long as I've had children it's always been, "Where
we go, we all go." It sure feels odd
to do something without him.
Anyway, finding ourselves all alone with nothing to do,
the kids and I did the logical thing - we packed up the
Jeep and headed for the hills.
Now, I admit, there's some that
might not have thought that the logical thing to do - take
Mikey, the local Jeep dealership's mechanic for example.
I have no doubt that Mikey spent his Thanksgiving weekend
giving thanks - thanks that he was finally rid of me and
Nope, I'm thinkin' that after spending Tuesday and Wednesday
installing my suspension lift kit, shocks, tires, etc.,
Mikey would not have thought driving it all the way to Ocala
to test it out on some of Florida's most treacherous terrain
Then there's the Service Manager,
Robert Tozzi. When he said, "Drive it around
and get used to it for a while," I'm
not sure a five hour drive to Ocala and three days of rocks
and mud was what he meant. It wasn't as if I didn't check
it out first - I let Luz put it through our "front
yard torture test."
Once we made sure it didn't bind, rub or break - off to
Ocala we went.
The first thing we noticed was the difference in handling.
Although the Rancho Rock Crawler suspension lift had raised
the Jeep about four inches, and the Goodyear MTR 35x12.5x16's
raised it two more, the notorious Jeep sway and roll was
gone. More importantly, adding the winch to the front bumper
had exacerbated the "nose dive" effect when you
hit the brakes - that was gone too. A blindfolded passenger
who had ridden in both would swear that the lifted Jeep
was stock, and the stock ride was the result of a poorly
designed suspension lift.
The next thing I noticed was the gas mileage - tooling
along at an indicated speed of 65MPH, which I believe to
be just over 70MPH since the dealer hasn't calibrated the
speedometer yet, the engine was turning 2000 RPM's in overdrive.
I cannot say it was as smooth and stable as my Suburban,
but the suspension lift and tires were a dramatic improvement
over stock and the 35 inch MTR's made no more noise than
the 31 inch MTR's that the Jeep came stock with.
From the kid's standpoint, the changes were even greater
than they were from mine. Since I had installed the under
seat security drawer manufactured by Tuffy a few weeks prior,
it had raised the back seat about three inches making it
easier for them to see, and making the shoulder belt fall
naturally across their chests rather than against their
necks. Anyone who hauls children around in their Jeep should
install one of these drawers, whether they have anything
to put in it or not.
|After spending the day exploring
the Ocala National Forest, it finally got dark and gave us
an opportunity to try out the new lighting system. With four
Hella FF 75's in the rack, and a pair of KC Titanium Daylighter's
mounted on the windshield brackets, we could light up the
world - including a young doe that was not sure what to make
of us. How's that for a "deer in the headlights look?"
|We ran into Fred Duncan, the owner of a green
Cherokee, who we had meet at the Jeeptoberfest. He offered
us a tour of the place they call "Little Tellico,"
otherwise referred to as "The Pit," the scene of
a spectacular roll over the week before.
We had visited The Pit with several local
Jeepers back in October, after the Jeeptoberfest was over,
but most of it was beyond the capability of our stock Jeep
- with the Rubicon's lockers and low gears we had some advantages
but the Jeep was so low to the ground that we couldn't negotiate
the rocks and deep ruts. It was a totally different experience
this time around.
The pictures are accessible thru the link at the bottom
of the page.
|When we stopped to eat lunch at the Pizza Hut,
Alan and Dwana May pulled up in Alan's blue Jeep to say hello.
I say "his" Jeep because Alan's wife has a Jeep
of her own. We had met them at the Jeeptoberfest and they
had recognized our Jeep as they were driving by.
Alan and Dwana are involved with a local
group of off road enthusiasts who are developing a privately
owned adult playground where playtime is not limited to
Jeeps. They invited us to come to Interlachen and see what
they were doing.
We met up with Alan at Reco Transmission in Interlachen,
FL the following day. Alan introduced me to Ray Essex, the
owner of the property they are developing. Ray is an interesting
guy - although he looks like someone that Hollywood would
typecast as a biker, or a blacksmith (OK, so who am I to
talk), He's a very soft spoken guy who is very concerned
that there are few recreational activities available to
local young people. He wanted to discuss ways of building
an recreational environment that would attract young people
and provide them with someplace safe to go, and something
healthy to do.
After about five minutes, it became obvious that Al, Ray,
his brother Walt Essex and their friend Jeff Simms, have
gone to a great deal of trouble and expense to create something
worthwhile for their community. Having invested the money,
and being willing and capable of doing the work, he and
Alan had concerns regarding the "real world" realities
involved like permitting, zoning, insurance, liability and
they wanted to discuss what others might have done elsewhere.
Alan took us on a tour of their property, and it was hard
to imagine how anything could be more different than the
sheer walls and rocky hills of "Little Tellico."
In fact, it was a lot like the Everglades, except this place
has real trees, and the stuff they call "mud"
is a very distant cousin to the sandy stuff we are used
|Alan showed us the "scenic route "
through the property - it could just as easily have been navigated
via canoe. It was a winding, muddy creek shared by Jeeps,
trucks and teenagers on four-wheelers.
||It was going pretty well until Joey Vance and
his wife, Stephanie, had something break in the front end
of their CJ7. They felt pretty sure it was their ring gear,
but whatever broke, it left them with a two-wheel drive Jeep
that couldn't make it through.
|Ronnie Palmatier came back to help them, and
his CJ7 was doing fine until he got high centered on a submerged
tree while trying to turn around. Fortunately, his Jeep was
pointed at an open space on the embankment that made it possible
to use the Rubicon's winch and pull him off the tree and up
|Once we got that one pulled out, Alan maneuvered
his Jeep to a position that would allow him to pull Joey up
In addition to the creek bed, they have the
"Mud Pit," a huge, soggy, nasty bog where otherwise
normal people congregate to . . . well, let's just call
it a perverse S&M ritual that people who drive Camry's
are not likely to understand.
One thing's for sure -- this here is a genuine "equal
opportunity" mud hole - it soon proved to be a trap
for old Fords and new Ford's alike.
"Now Mikey, Robert, just
because it looks like I took these pictures from out in
the middle of this mess, don't be worrying that I went out
and got this fancy new suspension all dirty. We live in
an age of telephoto lenses, so we can shoot pictures that
make it look like we're closer than we are.
Besides, these kids would never want to get
out and get our pretty new tires all dirty - honest fellas,
no need to be worrying about that!"
"OK, well, if it makes ya feel any better,
at least we found a nice place to wash it all off."
One vehicle that you couldn't help but notice at the
mud hole was a beautiful old Chevy Blazer from the 70's,
back in the days before some bright college boy dreamed
up the "double wall construction" idea that rapidly
turned Chevy trucks into rust buckets.
This wasn't a truck anyone could miss, but I noticed it
because it reminded me of a copper colored one I desperately
wanted to buy about twenty five years ago - right down to
the flag in the window.
|They didn't get stuck, or even look as if it
was a possibility. They just blasted around in the mud until
she got tired of it - that's right, she.
I'd been missing Luz company
for a couple of days, but when Sue Thiede came back and
jumped down out of that truck, I was especially sorry
that she wasn't there to see it. Macho little mamasita
that she is, she would have really enjoyed that.