Ken's Birthday Run
By Ken Womack

This run came about after I looked at the calendar 4 months earlier and realized that I would have my birthday off, and on a Friday to boot. So what better activity than 4-wheeling on your birthday could there be? So that would be the plan. I contacted members of the Southern High Rollers and my buddies, Buddy Overstreet and Jimmy (Buck) Buckelew and asked them if they would like to go. Well, several SHRís were already going to FWD-FWDís Memorial Trail Ride there in Clayton Memorial Weekend. But a few decided to go and so did Buddy, Buck, and Buddyís son Darrin. When it was first put in the newsletter, it was called Kenís Birthday Run, and the name stuck.

The run started with a small caravan of SHRís, Michael Ecord and Raymond, Paul Trotochaud and myself. Buddy and Linda, Darrin and his Family and Keith and Darla would leave about noon. We left at 8:30 from Splendora Thursday AM.  Don Cavanagh and Todd Karasek left at different times Thursday.  Just before we got to Clayton, the sky opened up with a hard rain. When we arrived in Clayton we stopped by Indian Mounds Campground to let Jess know we would be staying in town that night, but back in the morning. It was raining too hard to set up tents. Buddy and his Boys would arrive later, and luckily the rain had subsided. Todd and his brother Scott would be staying in a motel in Clayton, while Don Cavanagh arrived at 3 in the morning, then set up camp. Whew! What a trooper!

  May 19, 1st Day, Friday

                Well, we got lucky on the weather situation, the rain stopped last night and the sky, while still over-cast, wasnít threatening rain. With only a couple hours of sleep, Don was ready to go. We gathered up our gear and loaded up for the first day. Buddy would lead today and I would tailgun. We planned to do the easier trails today and the tough ones Sat. Good thing we chose the easier ones, cause the trails were still wet, but the hillsides were already drying. Nice thing about Indian Mounds is that the trails start right out of the campground. Buddy led us to the head of the TreeLine Trail off the Charcoal Plant Road.

                This was a great warm-up trail to get your springs heated up and your cobwebs swept out. This scenic trail while not real hard; it was enough to get your attention. It snaked thru the wooded hills and across ravines to get us to the crossroads of Rock Hill and 3-stage. We decided to start Rock Hill, then turn to do Lost Creek, a trail I hadnít run yet. Since Don Cavanagh was open front and rear, and had only 31Ē tires, Buddy and I decided he would best be near the front. So Don fell in behind Darrin (new trail leader), and Buddy.  There Don would be in between Jeeps with winches and V-8 power in case he got into trouble. While there were several high points in the day, the most prominent one was Donís driving skill. He was truly awesome! He was able to negotiate the tricky Lost Creek trail with only some occasional spotting and a couple of tugs from the tow strap.

                This trail had a spot that I had great trouble with. A large exposed rock slab with a large hump in the middle skewered me like a piece of meat on a kabob. Why I chose that line Iíll never know, cause it got me crossed-up sideways and high-centered with my front drive shaft on the rock. Todd Karasek and his brother Scott came back to help me, they tried spotting, but I was hung up. I got out the Hi-Lift Jack to jack up the back end to stack rocks to get Jeep Thrills high enough to clear.  It wasnít enough to get over, but enough to be off the front drive shaft. Out went the winch cable, and I was drug off that %&*@ rock!

                Next were some off-camber spots with top magnets (trees) that wanted a piece of our tops. My Jeep likes to lean, so I had to pile rocks around the tree to force the wheels up them to push the top of the Jeep away from the tree. After that, I was determined not to make ANY more driving mistakes. Next came a deep ravine thru Lost Creek and back up another rock face, then thru a technical spot thru a tree-lined rock trough.

 

 This put a couple of Jeeps in precarious positions, but all got thru. Todd had some carburetor problems here, but made it thru. By this point, I had finally woke up, and drove thru without a hitch. Next came a steep hill that was a little off camber. It had 2 approaches, one thru 2 trees with a small ledge that forced you way too near a tree, and another around it, thought slightly more off-camber.  Buck chose the tight one, made it, but his transfer case slipped out of gear, and Boss Hogg came barreling downhill backwards and hit the tree and became wedged in! After knowing all were safe, we all laughed like crazy! It scared poor Buck half to death, and gave Keith and Darla the thrill of a lifetime. Paul pulled ahead to pull up Buck, but would slip to the side. Finally we shortened the strap and Paul yanked him up. After this incident, we climbed out and up the mountain to the main road.  From here we continued on to Survey Line Trail. We traveled a good distance before we got to the trailhead.

                On the first hill, Toddís ARB compressor burned out a fuse and was quickly changed. Todd also seemed to have some bad gas, as his Jeep had some carb problems.  He made this one easily, as well as the next. The next was the hardest obstacle, a large rock slab face with a rise in the middle. Dry, this isnít too bad, but wet, itís scary. Don scrambled right up with just a little wheelspin. We encountered some ATVís here, and they were amazed how Jeeps were able to climb. Survey leads to Clayton Trail and to the start of Bus Line. Down we went over water bars (erosion control bumps that work real well) and over large ledges and boulders. Many of these rocks were sharp. After successfully going down, we turned around and went back up. It was fun to watch Jeeps climb what seemed like impossible inclines up a red ribbon that was the trail straight up the mountain.  Awesome!! And the sound of Rebel and Bad Boy, (Buddyís and Darrinís) Jeepís with roaring V8ís was so cool! Darrinís has an AMC 360 with Turbo 400 Auto and Buddyís a 304 with T-18. Both with 5:89 gears and lockers front and rear. This was Todd, Don, and Michael Ecordís first trip to Clayton and they had a Hoot of a time, as we all did, and this was only the first day! Keith is real eager to get his Jeep put together. Michael Ecordís new 4 to 1 transfer case gears and short shaft kit worked flawlessly and he was so happy to be there! After the drive back to camp, we all cooked and partied, told stories and jokes, then turned in to rest for day 2.

 May 20, 2nd Day, Saturday

Sat. morning brought us some clouds, but also some hints of blue sky. A leaking water hose that Darrin had Friday had got worse, so he went to town to get a replacement. This didnít take long and we were still on the trail by 9:00 am. This time I was the trail leader. Our plan was to run 3-stage, St Valentine, Rock Creek, Lower Power Line, and hopefully Upper as well. We headed out for 3-stage and found it to be damp with some dust on the first and most famous ledge.  Darrin, Buddy and Buck had said at first that they would bypass the first part, but stayed to watch us try the first obstacle.

 

   3- Stage Trail is Claytonís signature trail, the one that made the area famous. Itís no longer the toughest trail there, but is still very challenging and really is a must do trail for any serious wheelerís.  Buddy, Darrin and Buck have all done 3-stage many times, but didnít want to take the kids up the first part. Understandably, the kids and mother, and grandmother got out while we went up, one by one. I went up first with no drama, with Paul next. Paul went up this difficult obstacle as close to crawling as anyone I have ever seen. I have NEVER seen anyone ever crawl up this ledge. Itís just too steep, too slick and too dangerous. You have to bump up the ledge with your front wheels, then pause, then give it the gas, but not too much. Next was Todd, who at first forgot to lock up his front ARB. After locking up, his V-8 powered fiberglass bodied, beautiful red CJ climbed it with no problem.  (Todd must have gotten some better gas, as his red Jeep was running much better.)  Next was Michael Ecord, with Raymond riding shotgun. Mikeís new Terra Low 4 to 1 was awesome, but the shift linkage was vague. 2-wheel low and 4-wheel low was right next to each other, and was way too difficult to tell if you were really in 4-wheel drive. The first attempt had him still in 2- wheel low, and got him sideways in a bad spot. Since his driver side brakes had cratered Friday, he slid down just a little further and faster than felt comfortable for him, if you know what I mean. After a positive lock up to 4-wheel low, he was ready. Trying in first gear was too low, and wheelspin was the result without a rear locker. (Though he was locked in the front). Paul suggested 2nd gear and more gas.  This worked as he scrambled up with a cheer from the group.

                Don Cavanaugh rode shotgun with me this day and left his Jeep in camp, so I had a spotter and a camcorder operator, Cool! After watching us go up, Darrin and Buddy couldnít resist it.  Buck declined because his transfer case popping and jumping. Wise decision on his part, I do believe. Darrin was next and climbed it easily, also almost crawling, but with a slight rumble form the 360 as his rear wheels hooked up. Buddy was next, made it right up, then stopped in the middle of the hill!?! to see if Linda and the grandkids wanted to ride the rest of the way. She said no.

                The second stage of the 3 was very steep with slick spots from the water coming down the hill.  Extreme care was needed to say the least. Between 2nd and 3rd stage is a nasty, steep rock facewith a rise in the middle. To look at this and try to pick a line is a dilemma, because there are no real lines. I tried just to the left of the rise, and slid back down and luckily just hit the receiver hitch, but crunched the exhaust tip. Backing down a couple of feet and moving to the right worked as I scrambled up, giving it the gas and all four tires spinning.  I made the rock face wet for Paul, as he slid sideways and back down, very slick indeed. Another try and liberal use of throttle got him up on the right side. Next came Todd, but he was the last one to make it under his own power. Michael spun precariously to the side, and we stopped him and yanked out the cable from his new Ramsey 8000 winch. Around the tree with a tree saver, and the winching began.  He was up in minutes, and it was Darrinís turn. He looked like he had the right line, but the rocks were too wet by now and he slid sideways. Mike eased back down to hook up the strap. No use rolling it so soon in the day (or ever!!!). Next was Buddy, and he got the strap, too, only time of the whole weekend.

                The third stage was a little gnarly, but oh so much fun! Paul hit a small log that bounced under his Jeep and pulled loose his rear ARB airline. In about 20 minutes Paul and Mike had it fixed, and we went down St. Valentine. Over the top of 3-stage and on to 4x4 Hill which is now closed. (We respected the rights of the new owners to stay off.) St Valentine is harder than before. Itís downhill with loose rocks, ledges and very tight turns. Anything bigger than a Jeep would not fit or be too much of a nightmare to make it.  At the bottom, I heard rumblings of hunger from the bunch, so we ate lunch there.

                From there we left to start Rock Creek. Rock Creek is getting tougher every time I see it. This trail will someday be a 5. We made it up to the 3/4 mark before I broke a muffler hanger. With just a few minutes and some bailing wire later we were off. Then Micheal Ecord cut a tire on sharp rocks that were everywhere. 

                From there we left for Lower Power Line, a trail I hadnít run all the way yet. This is a nice long trail that gets tougher the deeper you go. On one spot you cross a creek, then climb straight up and must turn a sharp left. Only problem is the huge sharp boulders cropping up out of the ground. You gotta go right, but not too far because of a serious drop-off, then left and thru two built in boulders. I walked up the hill to scope out the line, and picked it right. My Pizza Cutters allowed me to fit between the rocks.  Everyone else had to climb over (with resulting high centering) or around.  Todd and Scott nearly went too far right and were very close to the edge. Scott got out to spot for Todd and he got over after a few tries. Darrin went over this part with no problem whatsoever, his ďDarrin DoneĒ siping on his Boggers worked so good. Buck got sideways, then leaning. It took some Keith counterweighting to keep Buck rubber side down. It made for some interesting video. Buddy was next and had to rumble over the rocks with clearance and power. We all had some interesting moments.

We kept on going until we heard the river running and saw the extreme downhill section. Only Paul and I went downhill, while the rest took the bypass. This section is really nasty. I scraped real bad several times on the underbelly. At the bottom we cooled of in the creek (start of Snake Pit).  Nobody wanted to run it, as it had too much water. Paul was the only one of 7 rigs to try the uphill, and he did a fine job. We all met him at the bypass crest. Here Paul led us out and back to the crossroads of Upper Power Line. We did that one as well. Lotís of ground covered in 2 days, the most I had ever run. 

                Back down Clayton Trail to camp, the run was over, but everybody was happy and had all they wanted for the day. We cooked, ate, showered, partied and hooped and hollered, watched videos and had a fire. A fitting end to a fine gathering of 4-wheelerís, excellent trails, fine folks, and good weather. Itís what I wanted for my Birthday, and I got it! Thanks to all that were there, and letís do it again.

Ö KenÖ