Stupid Things Done By Experienced Drivers...
By Shawn Pagan

I’ve said it for years.  Stupid things happen in 4x4’s because people are just plain being stupid or the right foot has taken over control from the brain.  Now I realize that legitimate “accidents” happen all the time (that is after all why they are called accidental), but I am still under the impression that most things can be resolved by proper maintenance; using one’s head for something besides a hat rack; and generally taking the proper amount of precautions.

Well (not that I will do it again or very often)… I am here to admit that even experienced drivers do stupid things!

The day started out with a small group of us meeting at Texaco to head up to Shiloh Ridge.  The weather report said it would be cooler and cloudy but that we shouldn’t see any rain until late in the afternoon.  By the time we drove the 2.5 hours to Shiloh and met up with two other groups of SHR members, the rain had started to come down.  It was a light mist – at least until we got the tables set up and the potluck lunch out on the tables.  Then it decided to let loose.  Oh well, the rain didn’t bother me that much.  I had brought a good waterproof jacket with a hood and was looking forward to some good food.  Linda Burroughs made some great soup and there was plenty of food, most people ate their fill, some hid in their trucks to avoid the weather.  Swede held a good meeting and it was off to the trails. 

Normally I don’t like to run mud much, never found any good use for it, but this looked like it might be fun – heck we had 27 vehicles show up for this run.  Everything from a Suburban with 44’s (I think) to a stock Ford Exploder… I mean an Explorer (yeah that’s the ticket.).  We had some friends with us who had just finished the first step of their project (a YJ, 31” BFG AT, 2.5” Rubicon Express lift etc…). 

The first obstacle was a nice little mud ditch with a climb on the other side; not much of a problem but it got everything nice and muddy.  Shortly after that (and this is where I should have known the day would be fun) we found a place to play “on the rocks”.  This area had about a 50-yard long trough where rocks had been piled.  A couple of the jeeps in front of me attempted the rocks and decided to back off… even Swede backed out.  So I of course decided to give it a try.  Needless to say, mud, wet rocks, well worn tires and lockers put me farther into the rocks then I wanted to be and into a position where I couldn’t go forward or back.  I was stuck…

So after everyone had a good laugh …  Michael Ecord put a strap on my rear bumper and Swede expertly used a Hi-Lift jack on my PWD Side Bars and they got me out of that jam with no damage (except maybe my pride).  Most of the rest of the day went without incident.  Some people got strapped; Rusty Bryce got to try out the new winch on the front of his new TJ.  About 4:00 PM some people decided to start heading home.  (And in retrospect I think we should have left as well.)

After seeing some people back to the entrance, we decide to go and catch up with everyone else.  Ken Womack and Rick Sherman (new member for those that don’t know him) had found a couple of real twisty sections of trail and they looked like a lot of fun so we followed them around on these trails for a while.  A full size Chevy truck got stuck and it took a few people to get them out.

Shortly after that we started to try and find some new trails (at least ones we had not seen before).  We played around and then found this long steep hill to climb.  I was not sure if everyone with us could make it up; even our jeep was slipping and sliding as we went to the top.  But to my surprise everyone came up just fine, no major problems.  At this point the trail continued over the hill in front of us or turned off into the woods to the left.  We choose to take the winding trail to the left.

After winding through the woods for about 10 minutes we came to a steep drop off.  I stopped and got out to look.  Most of the other drivers came up to look as well.  It was fairly steep (I don’t know how steep, but keep reading and you will find that it must have been steeper then I thought), covered with wet leaves and had a small turn about ¾ of the way down – maybe 30-35 yards total.

I decided that it didn’t look to bad so I headed back to the jeep.  (Now if any of you know my wife you will soon realize that I was about to make my second mistake) Chris climbed back in the jeep and said “So how do we turn around or is everyone going to back up?”  To which I replied, “It’s not that bad, we are going to go down the hill.”  (You see what I mean here?) So I fired up the jeep and proceeded to the edge of the hill.

I shifted down into 1st gear and dropped over the hill.  For about the first 15 feet I was in complete control, it wasn’t to bad – then reality set in and no brakes, no steering, and no control.  I started to steer like hell, hit the brakes, grabbed the emergency brake, did everything I could think of in those next few seconds (which felt like 15 minutes).  The jeep started to go sideways, the passenger side rear end was starting to come around, I actually thought “Oh #$(#$*, this is gonna hurt”.  About that time there was a big “thunk” from the right hand rear end, we hit a big vine and a tree with the right rear tire.  The tree was uprooted and slapped hard against the fiberglass top, however this hit straightened the jeep out and allowed us to steer to the bottom of the hill where we could stop and get out to assess the damage.  There was no damage, Chris, Sierra (my daughter) and I were just fine and so was the jeep.

My next thought was anyone following us down the hill.  I radioed back up the hill to tell them not to follow me.  Someone called back and said “Should I try it with my low gears and my manual transmission?”  I responded that I did not think anyone should try it.  Everyone choose to go back the way they had came and to attempt to meet up with us at the bottom of the trail.

Chris and I got back in the jeep and headed to see where this trail came out at.  Soon we could see that it came to an intersection with another trail a little ways in front of us just beyond yet another drop off.  I stopped and got out to observe the situation, still a little shook up from the last one I might add.  This hill was much smaller then the previous one, it was probably 10-15 yards long.  It did have a small step going down at the bottom where you had to turn left or right to hook up with the main trail.  We did not think this drop off or the step was anything to worry about, and it was the only way to go so we climbed back in.

Very shortly after we started down I realized that this was another mistake, again the jeep immediately started to slide, brakes were not an option and I was picking up speed.  This time the driver’s side rear end started to come around to the front.  I looked ahead to see what my options were – nothing looked good.  I could just hang on and see what happened, but I did not want to drop over the step at the bottom while being mostly sideways as I was sure that would cause us to roll.  I could accelerate hard and try to power my way down and off the bottom of the hill. But, with my tires covered with mud and the road running 90 degrees at the bottom I figured that would send me across the road and into the trees on the other side.  So I opted for option three, steer for a tree located in the middle of the step at the bottom of the hill, and slam on the gas pedal to straighten the rear end.  “WHAM!”  We center punched that tree and came to a complete, quick stop – we hit so hard I am (almost) sure the rear wheels came off the ground!

Chris checked to make sure everyone was okay and then decided to get Sierra out of the jeep.  Shortly after unhooking Sierra and stepping out she found that the hill was too steep even for hiking boots – her and Sierra hit the ground on their bums.  (You should hear Sierra tell about the BIG BANG, mommy falling on her “bum” and having mud all over here – as she point out mom’s rear..) After I gained my wits about myself I got a hold of everyone else on the CB, told them what happened and that everyone was okay.

Hey, it looked like a good place to park!

Chris walked up the road to see where the road came out and I started to blow my horn so the rest of the party could locate me. Pretty soon one group showed up to my left and the other showed up to my right.  Ken Womack and Bob Fleming (and a number of other helpful people) ran Ken’s winch out to a tree saver and a shackle and pulled my backward up the hill (Ken Parked on the opposite side of the tree, below me on the hill.  They ran the winch line past me to a large tree and attached it with a tree saver and a shackle and then back down to my rear end.).  Then Bob hooked his jeep with a tow strap to my front end and pulled me to the left while Ken let out his winch and I drove down the hill and over the step.

My bumper was totaled, looks kinda like a “V” with the top pointed to the front of the vehicle.  Someone suggested that I might purchase a different brand of bumper – one that wouldn’t bend if I did that again.  Frankly I am not sure but I think the bend helped the rest of the jeep (and its occupants) from additional damage by absorbing the blow.  At this point I think my business will go back to Tomken.

Anyway I was told that it is now my job to name the hill so I have thought long and hard and I think (at least within SHR) we should call it “Pachinko Hill”.  Thereby resolving that my jeep was the first “Pinball” to be dropped.  Therefore “Pinball” is now the official name of my Jeep.

The run to “Shiloh Ridge” was a lot of fun and I am glad that we went.  It also helped to remind me, that whenever you are off-road, have fun, take chances but always, always think about what you are doing. By thinking about things you will save your equipment, the land, probably your pride, and in some cases your life or someone else’s.

I was lucky as the worst thing I have is some extra work that needs to be done (including replacing my bumper) and a little less extra money.  But it could have been much, much worse, especially with my daughter and my wife in the jeep. My only real regret is that Rick Sherman wrecked his jeep pretty bad while searching for me. 

In conclusion - I love this sport, when do we go again?