Grand Slam West Review – GSW 2015 Part 2

by | May 4, 2016 | Blog - "All The News That's Unfit For Print", Excursions & Expeditions, Grand Slam | 0 comments

Day One:
It was a dark and stormy night.  (Ugh, yeah I know.  But it actually was, so….)

Early the first morning we drove through downtown Moab to Swanny City Park, with not a single swan anywhere in sight.  The parking area was lined with a mix of rigs ranging anywhere from completely stock to highly modified, representing every generation of the Grand Cherokee.  Well almost every generation; the WK2 was notably absent from the mix.  The crowd was a generous mix of men and women of all ages, children, and several dogs. Once everyone had arrived, there was a bit of time for meet and greets, then the event planners started the introductions followed by trail etiquette and guidelines.  There are a multitude of trails to explore in Moab, and the GSW organizers had picked a few different trails and trail leaders for each day of the event.  Some drivers wanted some really hard core wheeling, while others, despite their highly modified and very capable rigs, just wanted to relax and run an easy scenic trail.  The really cool thing was that it didn’t matter what you were driving, there was something there for everyone, even the stock rigs.  It was obvious that this event was not for “Hard Core Only Jeeps”, but rather an all-inclusive family event, and that the GSW planners didn’t want anyone to be left out.  Nicely done guys!  Once the morning announcements were said and done, everyone located their trail leader and split off into their respective groups to go over the day’s game plan.

For this first day, Kevin, Ally, and I opted to join the group for the easy trail, which was Onion Creek.  The thought was that it would be easier for the bike, and that we could just have a nice relaxing first day, get some cool shots, and get back before the other groups.  Oh, the irony.  With a rig count numbering 15, our crew headed out of town up Rte 128 which runs up a canyon and parallels the Colorado River for a good little ways.  The River looked to be a bit high and was of a “chocolate milk” color, both indicative of the rainy season.  We passed quite a few rafters who were out enjoying Willy Wonka’s magic chocolate river as it wound its way through steep cliffs of various colored rock, masterfully sculptured by nature.  This was yet another new stretch of road that I was just giddy over; there would be many more before the event was over.  We started to encounter pockets of very light rain before reaching our trailhead at Rose Garden Hill Safari Rte (BLM 100).  In front of me, the mountains rose straight up from the desert floor, backed by an almost black sky, with low hanging grey-white misty clouds enveloping the peaks.  Breathtaking!  I had a decision to make here.  It had rained in this area the night before, and though the ground I was standing on was mostly dry, I didn’t know the road conditions further up the canyon, and I could see that it was indeed raining where we were headed.  I was not at all looking forward to a grueling day of wrestling this 450lb Dual Sport through slick mud and clay.  This beast had already broken one of my legs, and I had no desire what-so-ever to repeat that experience.  A couple miles back, Justin and Jess, a nice couple from Tucson, had parked their truck and trailer for their WJ at our exit point on La Sal Mountain Loop Rd.  I made the decision to take the bike back there and leave it chained to the trailer.  As I turned back towards the bike, I saw that another storm had been sneaking up from behind us.  And I don’t mean, “Oh hey look, there’s a storm way over there, it’ll probably be over here in a little while”.  This was a solid white wall of falling water coming at us so fast that I had just enough time to hop on the bike, fire it up, and pull onto the road before BAM! I was soaked!  I was already wearing the top of my rain suit, the jacket, but there was no time to pull the pants out of the cargo box and put them on, and really there wasn’t any point to even try by that time anyway. Ugh.  With the bike locked up, my soaked riding jeans greedily clinging to every nook and cranny below the waistline, and myself no longer in the giddiest of moods, I climbed into Kevin’s WJ and we headed back to the trail head to rendezvous with our team; heading into what was for me, the unknown.  It was just about 10:30am.  10:30, remember this, this is important.

We moved further into the canyon, my mood gradually improving as I resigned myself to several facts: I was soaking wet, I was going to be soaking wet for the next few hours at least, and apart from going naked, which wasn’t going to make anybody happy, there was nothing I could do about it.  So just man up and make the best of it.  I WAS IN MOAB DAMNIT!  When I’m on 4 stable wheels with a roof over my head, I actually enjoy driving in the rain, so it was hard to be in a bad mood, not that I wanted to be anyway, and really, you couldn’t beat the scenery.  The freshly wet cliffs glistened in the rain, waterfalls streamed down their faces as thunder rolled overhead, and those low hanging grey-white misty clouds weaved their fingers about the spires.  Another thing I absolutely love, when riding on 4 stable wheels, with a roof over my head, is water crossings.  Onion Creek has 31 water crossings if I’m remembering correctly.  During the brief breaks in the rain, I would hop out of the WJ and slosh my way up the trail as it dipped down into the streambed so I could get a few shots of the rigs going through the water, then hop back in and ride to the next one.  The creek was starting to flow a little faster at each crossing, but nothing that I would have been concerned about.  I’ve been in much worse, and we had a completely stock WJ in our crew that was doing just fine with 2 wheel drive and street tires.  Unconcerned about the weather, I was enjoying experimenting with the new action camera rig I had put together just before this trip; a GoPro Hero 4 Black, mounted to a Feiyu-tech G4 3-axis powered stabilizing gimbal (yes, it is just as cool as it sounds), all mounted again to a handheld telescoping boom.  Yeah I was wet, but all in all, I was having fun!
Water crossing 22 is where we got our first taste of what the day truly had in store for us. This was actually a double crossing, so I guess it was 22 and 23.  The road dipped down into the creek bed, very briefly out, back in, and then out again as it crossed an “S” in the stream.  All of the rigs had communication of some sort, but I’m not sure everyone had theirs turned on.  Several of the lead Jeeps had completely crossed the “S” and were on the high side waiting for the rest of us to come through.  Kevin, Ally, and I were running tail, and from where we were, we couldn’t see around the bend, upstream.  A few rigs ahead of us had just entered the water in the lower part of the “S”, when one of the lead Jeeps came over the CB saying that they were looking at a wall of water about 3 feet high, carrying wood, sticks, and debris coming our way.  Silence.  The CB crackled again, “Umm, guys, it’s coming”!  In the middle of this “S” was a small island of sorts where the road exits the stream just before dipping back in.  There was one Jeep already on it; 6 were in the water behind it.  The CB crackled again, this time it was one of the Jeeps in the water frantically screaming, “Get the hell out of the way! Move! Move! Move!”  Have you ever witnessed a cat jump straight up in the air, then change direction in midair to land somewhere else entirely, and you wonder, “How the hell did it do that”?  As if by some sort of 4x4 magic, 6 full size Jeeps that were previously traveling in a line, one behind the other, were instantly traveling parallel to one another, simultaneously scrambling up this small island, as a wall of water, carrying wood, sticks, and debris, just as described, came rushing into the now empty space that 6 Jeeps had occupied just seconds before.  “How the hell did they do that”?  So there we were, 5 Jeeps past the creek upstream, 7 Jeeps just barely crammed onto an island in the middle, and 3 Jeeps on the downstream side.  Each group separated by what had now become a raging river, but thankfully all safe on high ground; for the time being anyway, the water was still rising.  Oh, and it had started to rain again, hard.

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