Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Wheeling in Washington at the NW Overland Rally

Suzuki Sidekick flexing
The Teal Terror flexing its suspension atop a rock pile in Liberty, Washington.
For the third consecutive year, we attended the NW Overland Rally in Leavenworth, WA in the Teal Terror, aka project Suzuki Sidekick. The picture above, taken by Mercedes, shows the beloved Teal Terror flexing its suspension atop a rock pile after a very steep ascent up a trail outside of Liberty, WA. The truck did quite well, despite it's minuscule wheelbase.

Navigating an off-road V notch.
Carefully moving up a V notch. Photo by Spencer Whitney.
There were a few hairy moments—a Land Rover falling into a deep V notch (keep reading); the Sidekick nearly going ass over teakettle down a steep descent; and apparently going up on two wheels at some point—but that's part of the off-roading excitement. That being said, I also got to try out my recently installed skid plate and rock sliders. Yes, they work. Ask me how I know.

The Teal Terror

Towing a small trailer with a Suzuki Sidekick
I was a vendor at the Overland Rally again this year, and I ended up pulling a small trailer with some show supplies, camping gear, and coolers. The truck towed the little trailer pretty darn well, albeit slowly; we rarely exceeded 65 even in 70 MPH zones. I'll admit that I'm a towing novice. Other than pulling a car on a trailer behind a Penske van a few times, this was the longest I'd towed anything. The neighbor's trailer was a big help getting all the gear up to north-central Washington. However, about 30 miles outside of Portland, we ended up with the dreaded flappy-tarp syndrome which will shred tarps and obliterate bungee cords. We pulled into a rest area to readjust, and noticed a bungee cord had already been destroyed in the mishap—thankfully we brought extras. After a little rearranging, and we were on the road again. However, not for long. About 10 miles down the road, our tarp was flapping around yet again. We also noticed the white stakes (and crossbar) at the rear were somewhat loose, so we rigged up a new system to keep it on. Thankfully, that held. What didn't hold was the Sidekick's 20 amp fuse for the radio and 12V plug. For whatever reason, we blew the fuse a couple of times, which meant no listening to the USA vs Germany World Cup match, as well as no charging the GPS, mobile phone, or operating the ARB refrigerator we were borrowing. (I know—first-world problems.) We did finally locate an auto parts store and stocked up fuses, and it was back on the road. It was slow going up and over Stevens Pass, but the Teal Terror did fine, and we arrived in Plain, WA no worse for wear. We set up camp, set up the booth, and went to work. Thursday afternoon and all of Friday were spent working the booth. Saturday morning is when we hit the trails outside of Liberty, WA.

Going up an off-camber hill in the Suzuki
The Sidekick headed up an off-camber incline. Picture by Spencer Whitney.
The first trail run we went on was the planned advanced 4x4 run. Everyone has a different idea of what "advanced" means. However, to my pleasure, there were some good hill climbs and other challenges. However, after the run was over, most people went back to camp. A handful of us decided to go on another run. This group included a four-door Jeep Wrangler, a Land Rover Discovery, and an Isuzu Trooper (sounds like an intro to a joke. "So so a Jeep, a Land Rover, a Suzuki, and an Isuzu drive into a bar ..."). The trails we did were significantly more difficult than the first "advanced" run.

Land Rover Discovery on three wheels

Here's a picture of Spencer's Land Rover Discovery that happened to get a bit off track and fell into the notch. We all worked together to get the Rover out of the notch (thankfully he had a winch and I had a strap and shackle) and the rig escaped without any damage. There were quite a few of the washed-out notches on this trail, which made for extra "pucker factor" in a vehicle as small as our Sidekick.

Isuzu Trooper off road
Jeff's Isuzu Trooper features lockers front and rear and a 3.4-liter GM V6.
To add to it, the soil was sandy, loose, and tricky, especially on the off-camber and hillclimb sections. Jeff's Isuzu Trooper (locked front and rear), however, made short work of nearly everything. 

Jeep Wrangler off road in Liberty, Washington
Danny's Jeep Wrangler Unlimited in the Scenic Washington Cascades.
The unscheduled "advanced" run after the planned advanced ride ended up turning into a true "wheeling" trip. Danny (the Jeep owner), who haled from down south, even exclaimed at one point, "Now we on a wheelin' trip!" And he was right. There were tricky obstacles, there was winching, there was teamwork. The whole thing ended up being an absolute down-right blast, and we came away with a sense of knowing we successfully ran the trails and made some new friends while doing so.

Land Rover Discovery and driver and passenger
Spencer (left) and Nick came down from British Columbia in this Land Rover Discovery. 
Whether you're in a small vehicle, such as a Suzuki, or a bigger one, such as the Land Rover pictured above, off roading is always an adventure. I love pushing the limits a bit and seeing how capable both vehicle and driver are. When skiing, my dad used to say that if you're not falling, you're not learning—you're not pushing yourself to the next level. Off roading is a bit like that. If you always stick to your comfort zone and the easy trails, you'll never become a better driver. And I must say, it's a great high when you accomplish a trail or just an obstacle you didn't think you've make it through.

Packing up from the 2014 NW Overland Rally
Packing up after the 2014 NW Overland Rally.

Almost as soon as it started, the 2014 NW Overland Rally was over, and we were headed back to Portland. The wind was fierce; we must have had sustained 35 MPH winds the whole time, and that kept us on our toes. In fact, when we arrived at Interstate 84 in the Columbia River Gorge, we were met with winds that wouldn't allow our little rig to go faster than 65 MPH. We were foot-to-the-floor for 20 miles until we exited for The Dalles, and crossed back into Washington to take the slower (and more picturesque) HWY 14.

HWY 97 in Washington
HWY 97 outside of Maryhill, WA.
We arrived back to Portland dirty, tired, but with great stories to tell. And to me, that is part of adventure travel, overlanding, road tripping, or whatever you want to call it. The bottom line is that when traveling by car or truck, you can encounter all sorts of things, especially off the beaten path. But that's part of the fun. We can hardly wait until the next adventure. And luckily that's just around the bend. Stay tuned.


rubicon4wheeler said...

Great trip report! You covered every reason why I love 4-wheeling so much.

Unknown said...

All we wanted to do was check for leaks!