Has Anyone Seen My Tent?
by Eric Barnes

A fitting end to the 2003 season at Trees Ranch…This was my first trip to Trees Ranch and first time on rocks.  Leaving out of Houston at noon and keeping a relaxed pace put me at the Ranch just after 5:00pm.  I had missed the group going out Friday afternoon and with no unescorted driving allowed on the Ranch; I had some time to take in the sights.  It could not have been a nicer day and the warm sun and light breeze made the experience that much nicer.  Even the nasty insects I had heard so much about seemed to be lying low.  Apparently what time of year it is has a great effect on insect activity and they are not as active in the fall. – PERFECT!    

A short time later I could see a line of Jeeps working their way across the valley from the west.  I spotted Jay’s XJ with the huge Southern sticker on it and Todd’s yellow CJ and followed them to the base camp.  We had a small turnout including Jay Tompkins, Todd DeSchepper, Wade and Nancy Allen and myself.  Since they had gotten out on the trails right after arriving, we all needed to set up tents and see about dinner.  In no time at all Todd had his grill fired up and Nancy was cooking some awesome burgers.  Food always tastes so good cooked over an open flame at the end of a long day and our burgers were no exception!  We sat around and shared good conversation and some adult beverages after dinner, while marveling at Todd’s headlamp.  Todd has some of the neatest little gadgets and the  headlamp was a little flashlight like device with an elastic headband so you can have your hands free when working on something in the dark.  Despite the fact we gave him a hard time about being a coal miner in a previous life, we all thought it was cool.   

The next morning there was scrambled eggs, bacon and pancakes in base camp and then off to hit the trails about 9:00am.  Since this was the last weekend before the Ranch is closed for hunting, the turnout was large.  Probably close to 50 rigs; which couldn’t have been more varied.  There were plenty of Jeeps for sure, but this was the first time I had been somewhere that had more CJs than anything else.  There were lots of big boys with K5s and some full size pickups, there were two Mercedes rovers one fairly new and the other from the early 80s.  There were Toyotas, Samurais, XJs, one four-wheeler and a Unimog.

After the drivers meeting and some last minute details, we were off.  Something important to note at this point, is once you leave the bunkhouse, expect to be out ALL day.  They do not come back for lunch or anything else (like gas).  This would be a costly lesson to learn, as I found out later.  We headed straight out of base camp to Hangover Hill.  This trail started up a hill and had a four to five-foot, slightly sloped ledge to get up, and then it was loose rock, the size of basketballs, up a fairly steep incline for maybe 50 yards.

Jay was the first of us to try it and as is often the case, he made it look really easy.   I got in line behind a Sami and a Rubicon.   The Samurai had a lot of trouble with the ledge, but with a couple guys on the other end of a tow strap, they were able to pull it up and over.  The Rubicon had the same problem and had to take a strap over the ledge.  But he also had problems getting through the loose rock.  The front tires were piling up rocks in front of the back tires making it impossible to get any forward momentum going.  But after taking a winch cable from the Jeep parked at the top he made it out.  Now it was my turn, so Wade jumped in as co-pilot and we proceeded to get the front tires on the top of the first ledge.  But I could not get the back to hook up and make the jump up the ledge.  Even with much prodding from the spectator crowd to use more ‘skinny peddle’ and my attempts to please them, we still couldn’t make it up.  So I took a small tug off the strap and we were up.  Now we had to get through the loose rock to the top, but this seemed to be pretty easy once I got those Thornbirds spinning and kept ‘um that way.  Todd brought up the rear for us Southern guys and with the help of a perfect spot, was able to hop right up the bottom ledge.  Then working the steering wheel back and forth like a mad man, he was able to traverse the rocks and get to the top.  After everyone who wanted to make an attempt had gone, we took the bypass trail back down to the bottom, picked up the rest of the group and continued on our way.

We worked a small creek bed that snaked through some trees and had some real tight spots.  It was fun to watch the XJs make all those 3-point turns. J  After another hill climb we made our way to the bottom of a small valley and had lunch.  Of course refusing to be denied my streak of breaking something on every trip, I pulled in under a tree that had some low hanging dead branches, one of which speared my windshield and broke it.  Yet another example of my tendency to loose all intelligent thought at a moments notice.  After a sandwich (thanks Todd) and some Power Aid, it was time to head out again.  This is where the valuable lesson of making sure you fill up in the morning was learned.  I was under ¼ tank at this point and didn’t want to run out and slow everybody down so at the next obstacle I took the bypass with Wade and Nancy and two other Jeeps and we waited on top of the hill for everyone else to come up. 

We waited and waited and waited.  About an hour or more later we finally hear some engine noise at the base of the hill as Jeeps started coming up.  It turns out that Jay lost his steering box off the frame and they had to fix it on the trail before moving forward again.  I got some neat video of Jay and Todd making it up the hill, but the best was the Mog.  Apparently he had knocked down some trees along the way that the Jeeps behind him could not get over and they had to stop and clear the trail at one point just to follow him.  I’d swear he had to be doing 4000 rpms just to get the thing moving at 5 mph.  He was behind me at one point and all you could hear was screaming engine and trees snapping.

Wade and Nancy needed to be on their way home and since I needed fuel we found someone at this point to lead us back to base camp.  But he only took us half way and then left us to rejoin the group.  We got back to camp, but after I filled up, I had no way to get back with the group, so I was demoted to firewood collection.  (Fill up in the morning, lesson learned)   

A few hours later the rest of the group returned and we began to relax for the evening.   Todd helped gather some more firewood as I began to build the patented Teepee frame campfire.  Jay insisted on sitting in his chair and criticizing my campfire building techniques.  Todd suggested he help get some firewood, which seemed to generate no response.  So Todd and I agreed Jay would be going home at the next Tribal Council.  Soon we had a roaring fire going and it was another good night around the campfire.   

There was a group of guys across the road from Hill Country Four by Four Club.  I had been chatting with one of the guys who had broken a drive shaft and was back at camp early on Saturday as well.  He came over Saturday evening to compliment us on TTR3.  He said it was the best fun he had ever had at an event and he was coming back next year!  He couldn’t say enough about the organization and how, despite the sheer number of vehicles on the trial rides, it was still good wheelin’.  He even asked how they could make their club as successful as our club.  I think it was the best compliment we could have been paid and my answer back to him, “Get a couple of Pagans.”    

Seriously though, it is really nice to be associated with a club that is seen as helpful, friendly and into the ‘good’ of the sport.  Many people end up joining Southern because other members were the ones to talk with them, make them feel welcome or even give them some help and get them going again.  That is cool and one of my favorite things about SHR. 

As the night wore on the wind really began to pick up and Jay found out from a phone call home, that we were due for some serious rain.  He tore down his tent and decided to sleep in the truck.  Todd and I decided to try and brave it in the tents since the ‘sleeping in the truck’ thing didn’t appeal to us.  At about 3:00am or so the rain started.  Without even giving it a second thought, I grabbed all the stuff in side the tent, threw it behind the seats in the truck and stretched out across the front seat.  Because it was so much quieter in the truck, I fell asleep and slept till about 7:00am.

You could just start to make out shapes and as I looked out my window to see if the tent was soaked, I noticed it was no longer there.  I got out of the truck and went over to where it was, but other than one eyelet from a strap still under the stake that held it there was no evidence a tent had ever been there.  It was NOWHERE to be found and had to have cleared a line of tow rigs with trailers and some trees before getting out of the pasture we were camped in.  Looking out over the valley that was in front of the pasture we could see no sign of the tent and figured it became a box kite and was half way to El Paso.  But at least I didn’t have to pack it now, and I hadn’t left my wallet or keys in it!  Since it was about 45 degrees and there seemed to be a constant 25-mph wind, we decided to pack up and head home.  We loaded up and tied down the Jeeps and headed out back for Houston. 

All in all a nice way to end the 2003 season and know you know why I chose the title!

Eric Barnes