This weekend I brought my stepdaughter up to Northern Massachusetts for a camping and off-roading event. At this point, my stock Rubicon was only 7 days old and the most exciting terrain it had encountered was the supermarket parking lot. I was stunned by the number of people who were there and the ratio of Jeeps to "other" type of off-road vehicles was well over 90%. Since I was a newbie I signed up for the beginner trail. Due to lack of interest, they canceled the beginner trail run and put me and another guy on an intermediate trail run (Old Florida Road, for those in New England who might be familiar with it). I was unbelievably nervous - here I was as green as green could get and going to an intermediate trail with a bone stock rig. We also discovered that the winter rains and snowmelt had done some serious erosion and turned some previously intermediate rock climbing obstacles into pretty damn hard ones (though everything looked impossible to me up until the point where I drove over it). About every hundred feet or so, I would go through the same experience. First, thinking, "There's no way in hell I'm getting over that", then, halfway over it thinking, "oh crap I'm gonna roll this thing over", and then stunned disbelief as I leave that obstacle in my rearview. The trail guides were immensely patient and incredibly helpful. The one ahead of me would pull ahead, get out, come back, and spot me through the obstacles. Before we reached the midway point, he'd stopped coming out and could just point at lines for me to take and I would take them. I can still hear the bangs, clangs, grinds, and all sorts of horribly disconcerting noises coming from under the Jeep as I didn't quite clear something, bounced off rocks, etc. Each time I thought I'd ruined my Jeep someone from the group would just say, "No big deal, it's supposed to sound like that." It took us nearly 7 hours to make our way up the road, up to the peak, and down the other side again. Through it all we crawled over all kinds of rocks, trees, I took a go-around because the rock climb was too steep and I just didn't have the clearance... the go-around was a 30" deep mud pit and my stock 32" mud terrains chewed right through that.. until I hit a tree
I was pulling up out of the mud pit and aimed straight for the main path, not taking into account that the exit was sloped to the right and I was spinning loose mud off my tires. I lost grip, slid downward, and bounced the right rear flare (and door) off a tree. The day was a white-knuckle ride with an equal mixture of dread that I would never make it out of that trail with an intact Jeep and roller-coaster level adrenaline from crawling over all sorts of stuff I never thought possible. I learned an incredible amount in my "trial by fire", including the fact that there is a beautiful chess-like planning that goes into picking lines over and through obstacles and it isn't just about the truck (though having better clearance and armor helps). So, I have to thank the trail guides from Eastern 4 Wheelers that suffered through a whining newbie on the trail, but it was an amazing experience, one that I hope to repeat again soon. As in, as soon as humanly possible! I am now suffering from "build stress". I can't figure out what I need to do to my Jeep and in what order and all the parts are all so damn expensive. I know I need armor, but at $350 per skid plate, I'll have to do one every 3 months to keep out of bankruptcy. The lift kit is even worse, especially since regardless of the kit I have to let the dealer install it to keep from violating my warranty (it's a 1-week old Jeep so yeah, I need that warranty). So, coming up with a build plan and scheduling it is just mind-boggling and overwhelming. Regardless of the build plan, I am now addicted to taking "the beast" (what my stepdaughter called it after seeing it do what it can and ford a 35" deep water crossing) off-road. The regular road now feels like the boring connective tissue between all the adrenaline-filled off road trails available to me. Pics in another reply, having trouble with the forum letting me do pics.
p.s. I also learned that next time I go wheeling I will do so without doors or with some tube armor half doors.