An Appetite for Altitude in the Mountains of Colorado – Part IV – Presented by Nitto Tire



-October 4, 2019-

An Appetite for Altitude in the Mountains of Colorado – Part IV – Presented by Nitto Tire

Mike Burroughs

It wasn't long after we crossed the Colorado-Utah border into Utah that we found ourselves at the trail head. It had been a long day, beginning at Roddy's farm in the San Juans, up Yankee Boy Trail, and through a passing storm. Fatigue was, in truth, setting in, but there was still several hours of trail ahead. The eventual destination was somewhere near Flat Iron Mesa, and when the pavement gave way to dirt roads laden with that iconic red silt, we pulled over for that familiar song and dance. Pssssshhhhhttt...

The trailway eventually brought us to an overall area that seemed suited for camping: a beautiful view over the edge of the cliffs, gorgeous rock surroundings, and a good bit of breezy air flow. Finding space for nearly a dozen trucks, though, proved difficult.

We split into groups, branching off and out to hunt for a clearing large enough to support us as a whole. In the distance, the storm we had largely managed to stay ahead of loomed, with the sky growing darker by the minute. At times, things looked a bit bleak: perhaps we'd have to break up to find space for camp, as un-ideal as it seemed. The trip was growing near a close, and no one had interest in splitting up the pack.

Our HAM radios struggled to reach each other, thanks to massive rock formations that sat between groups after spreading out. Jim Bob made it sound as though he had found a clearing large enough for the group, but the broken messages through the radio crackle made it hard to pin down exactly which forks he had taken to reach his location. Eventually, though, we arrived.

We spaced out and perched our trucks atop the cliffside. The sun was falling rapidly, and the clouds were moving in with equal haste. Soon after arriving, the bellowing clap of thunder echoed in the distance. What formed on the horizon, though, was undoubtedly the most jaw-dropping sunset I've ever witnessed.

The rain moved in, but it was far from burdensome. It was largely a just a sprinkling, and refreshing, to be honest. We huddled beneath the truck awnings and inside Justin's van when the rainfall was at its hardest, but as quickly as it seemed to arrive, it passed. Shortly after dusk, the skies cleared, and it was back to camping as usual.

Of course, I snapped and snapped as the sun fell, and knew it'd be ages before I saw a sunset quite like it again. When the sky fell dark, I put my camera away, dry and safe. We called it a relatively early night, and I climbed into the Go Fast Camper with a stomach full of mac & cheese. The thunder echoed in the distance. And then morning arrived.

The following morning got off to a bad start: Mark's HDJ81 was unwilling to move from its camp spot. The truck was willing to roll forward, but the front passenger-side wheel wouldn't roll back, despite our best efforts. The group huddled around the car, whipped out the tools, and began explorative surgery.

At first, we all assumed it was the hub. It was disassembled, careful not to lose any pieces in the loose red dirt of the desert. Unfortunately, diving in revealed nothing wrong, so out came the jack and jack stands, and off came the wheel. As Mark worked to begin disassembling the knuckle as a whole, the problem revealed itself: a brake caliper bolt had decided it was done with our adventure and departed on its own accord. As a result, when the truck tried to roll backwards, the caliper pivoted on its sole remaining bolt, locking itself against the inner wheel. Luckily, Jim Bob carried a spare, and in short time, we were back on the trail.

The trail out offered us a chance to really push our trucks to the limit over a handful of ledges, ruts, and inclines. It was, at one point, a wonder if the trucks without lockers would need to turn around and find a new way out, but the whole gang prevailed with a bit of effort.

Eventually, we made it out and on into Moab, where nearly the entire day was spent, much to our chagrin. Zach's HJ61 suffered a wheel bearing failure on its way into town, exploding and seizing entirely. It took time to locate parts, disassemble, and repair the truck, meaning nearly all day was spent under the hot sun in a blacktop gas station parking lot. After convincing a local tire shop to tack-weld some material onto a worn-out circlip, we were back in business. We rewarded ourselves with a trip to a swimming hole before making our way to Justin's secret camp spot.

We arrived well after sundown. Headlamps were equipped, and trucks were carefully parked at the dropoff's edge: we were completely unable to take in the view until dawn arrived. The fire spot, though, left nothing to be desired. Smooth rock gave everyone a place to kick back and relax: it was our last night as a group.

It was all but a requirement to snag a photo as a group the next morning, if only for posterity. Spirits seemed to dip a bit, knowing the adventure was coming to and end sooner or later. Jim Bob's work requirements meant he needed to depart and rush back towards Santa Barbara, California at an unprecedented pace. We cleaned up camp, made our way back to the tarmac, and said our goodbyes to ol' JB.

We deliberated for a bit, eventually deciding that because we missed the opportunity to hit the slickrock last year during our time in Utah, it was a must for 2019. With our sights set on Fins 'N Things, we hit the trail.

Fins N Things was a unique experience, with terrain quite unlike anything else we had been on. Traction on the rocks' sandpaper-like surface was abundant, meaning the trucks conquered incredible inclines and descents with ease. With rubber reside left behind from thousands of trucks before us, the trail was well-defined and almost roller-coaster like. I can see the enjoyment factor, but it was certainly a different aspect of wheeling for me.

With a dust storm coming in, and the monotonous bounce of the grooved slickrock in the later parts of the trail, we were eager to depart and thoroughly worn out. For the last night of camping, Justin took the wheel once more and guided us towards Dome Plateau.

It was a day spent entirely off road, and seemingly no smooth terrain underneath. In total transparency, the several-hour trail into camp was arduous and tedious: the reprieve of stopping was what kept me moving forward. Eventually, though, we made it, and Justin's site revealed what was undeniably the best view of the whole week-and-a-half trip.

 

Setting up camp for the final night was laced with heartbreak. Focusing on the view, the beauty, and of course, the remaining time with friends from afar was a top priority, but it can be a challenge to ignore the imminent disappointment. It's like that feeling that comes every Sunday... you know it's smart to enjoy the day, but Monday looms in the distance.

As I seemed to make a habit of every night, eventually I put the camera away and enjoyed a final evening with my offroad cohorts and companions.

The following morning was, as expected, wrought with sadness and disappointment, but equally filled with excitmement that such an incredible week was in the books. After some GPS planning and a bit of luck, we found a gorgeous path out of camp and back to civilization. A finally fill-up session with compressors buzzing and engines idling. It was time for goodbyes... but only for now. 2020 is already in the works. Until then!


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