Wreck The Trails: A Love Story (Not Really)

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What a year. We’ve done something like this before. This year it was a little more trail heavy, not as many guns and the same pair drawers for three days. And there were dogs. Our second annual Deck The Trails trip brought to you by Maximum Elevation Off-Road was a smashing, scraping success.

The gist is that we (some of the shop employees) invite our friends and customers to join us on an overland trip to ride trails in their vehicles that fit the vein of what we do here at the shop. Part of the overland experience is camping in some combination of the middle of nowhere and established parks and campgrounds. We decided to do this in December. In Northern Arkansas. It was, as George Washington described his crossing of the Delaware, balls cold. Let me tell you something about The Ozarks brother, cell phone service is not much of a thing in the boonies, and I loved that part about the trip. Also no gas stations that one can get in and out of easily avoiding the old nonconsentual sex that Arkansas is famous for. But talk about some great views.

We left on a Friday and drove about 6ish hours I think towards Russellville Arkansas to get fuel for the tenth time and have one last general gathering before heading to the Ozark National forest. Within about one hundred yards of leaving the gas station our group immediately became separated into two groups. Great start! We managed to get back together and left pavement for the first time on our excursion.

Have I given a run down of the type of vehicles that we brought along? You’ll love this shit. Our fearless leader Collin “it’ll be fine” Hadley was in his Rubicon Gladiator that was “lightly modified”. Among us were some other Jeeps, Tacoma’s with coilovers and other enhanced suspension paraphernalia. A super sweet ‘97 Toyota Landcruiser that the owner was smart enough to put some 3M protective film on. There was a Land Rover there that to everyone’s surprise did not break. And a rad mountain goat of a Lexus GX rounded out the vehicles purpose built to tackle the terrain we would be facing.

Deck the Trails 2020

I drove a truck! The list of modifications on my trail rig include a used leveling kit, some fanfrickintastic Falken Wildpeak AT tires that I cannot praise enough and a fresh oil change. Yes it was four wheel drive, you can tell by the stickers on the bedsides.

So here we are in the mountains and such with darkness approaching. See ya later pavement, nature here we come. We began down dirt roads for a bit, winding sweeping vistas passing us by. Temperature dropping, sun setting and we begin on a trail head towards our camp spot for the night. It was at this point that I realized I was woefully unprepared for what lay ahead, even though I had a fresh oil change. You never realized how big your full size crew cab truck is until you have to squeeze it somewhere. And you realize that it wasn’t built to drive over rocks the size of car batteries and tree roots and creek crossings. You realize quite a lot of things actually. It was an eye opening weekend. So like a herd of elephants we wandered through the forest and at this point it’s dark.

We venture a bit further to try to find a suitable spot in which to fit fifteen vehicles in a densely grown spot in the middle of a national forest. Further into the darkness we go when someone announces there is a river and that it must be crossed because our camping spot for the night lay on the other side. This was somehow good news and “cool”. When I think back to that moment I distinctly remember saying aloud, “do what?” I made my concerns known to our fearless leader and in famous Collin Zane Hadley fashion he had the perfect response, “it’ll be fine.” And to my surprise it was fine. The crazy sonofabitch was right.

The old Chevy Silverado pawpaw truck marched right across like everyone else. Then I parked on a bank that would later cause my amigo Broadway and I to nearly slide out of the tent that had been fashioned to the bed of my truck. Oh yeah, Dustin Scott Broadway was my copilot once again for this adventure. He’s the guy that makes me look as good as possible on camera and does the media shenanigans for MEO. He also married my wife and I so we’re tight.

We made camp, made food and I was asleep by 9:30 because I’m a beast. This being Northern Arkansas in December made the night rather chilly. I brought a sleeping bag that I don’t even know where it came from and two blankets. And a pillow. I froze. My nuts completely fell off. I even slept fully clothed which was a massive change for me. At day break we were met with a thin layer of ice on our tent and very stiff backs, because we’re old. Steam rose from the river that we had crossed in the dark and the daylight revealed that we in fact had a spectacular camp spot. This being my first time in the area I was pleasantly surprised by the views and general landscape features. Crystal clear water, not a crazy amount of mud or dust. It was just real damn nice.

Equipment we brought for Deck the Trails 2020.

We got the fire going again and made our first breakfast. Looking back I believe my diet consisted of of meat and cheese its on the trip. After some breakfast sausages cook over a fire on a stick (game changer btw) and an ice cold diet coke I was ready to rock and so was the rest of camp. We packed up, which sucks every time, and headed back the way we came from. Back to some more dirt roads for a bit and then bam, our next trail. Now my little chevy really proved itself on this. Water crossings, bigger rocks than anticipated and steeper terrain grades couldn’t hold it back. For everyone else in their rigs it may have been a bit boring due to their capabilities but I felt like I was doing some serious off-roading. Because I’m delusional.

This was the most fun trail for me because my truck handled it easily. The trail wasn’t crazy tight or too technical. Just pop that dude in four wheel drive and go. To say that I was impressed with the way it performed would be an understatement. First off, I suck at driving. My little one feels it’s her duty to let me know that I can’t even keep it in the lines of a parking spot. And I know this place wasn’t Moab or the Rubicon trail but it was definitely out of my initial comfort zone. Whatever, we made it to the end of the trail with no issues and hit the pavement toward our camp spot for the night.

This was a very badass drive on mountain roads. Big S turns, sweeping curves, climbs and descents the whole way. Gorgeous views to the valleys and rivers below. We even came upon a general store that was built in 1922. Unfortunately it was closed but it was still pretty dope to find that sort of thing out of nowhere. Oh and holy shit, we saw like fifteen cemeteries up there. Just in random places even on the trails. I know it’s a hard life in the mountains but I didn’t know it was that hard. More driving then we had to cross a one lane bridge. Broadway nearly crashed his drone here at one point on the trip which would have made two drone crashes in the span of about a month. Just had to bring that up.

So across the bridge we go and down a ways is our camp spot for the night. Making camp in the daylight is almost an indescribable improvement compared to setting up in the dark, which blows. We were brimming with confidence. This was just a regular spot with trash cans and “bathrooms” that had a super sweet waterfall that provided wonderful ambient noise. At this point our Land Rover buddy left us and headed back to Texas. This was probably a good thing since nothing had broken yet and every second that thing was out there was really pushing the envelope. This spot was very cool because it was right next to a river with a great view and it was kind of down in a draw or whatchamacallit making it a bit isolated. And wet. Every damn stick and leaf down there was soaking wet.

Luckily I had the master fire starter as my partner in crime so we had a legit smoking ass hot fire going in no time. We had more meat for dinner and I was in bed by nine. Again, because I’m a beast. I strategically wrapped myself in blankets this time so as to avoid the previous night’s disaster of freezing one’s nuts off. I wrapped up my feetsies and toesies, put my beanie on and tucked in. This did nothing and I died a little bit. Another frozen morning and more meat. I’m still feeling the effects of this diet. Again we broke camp and headed to the days trail.

Starting a fire during Deck the Trails 2020.

The main attraction was going to be a waterfall that you drove underneath. Neat! In real life it was a little on the underwhelming side. There was in fact water and it did in fact fall. That’s really all that can be said about that. Now the backroads on the way to this trail had the best views of the weekend and made me wonder the logistics of living up there. There were people doing it and that had been doing it for a long time so it couldn’t be that bad.

At about this point we begin to come down a hilly road and find a group of what we will call hillbillies. They began to approach in their camo everything and I swear I heard some banjos dueling in the background. My sphincter clenched defensively. We greeted them and told them we were going down the “trail” that comes out on the highway. The hillbillies response: “In that? You gon need a come along.” Collin “2 Big Balls” Hadley’s response: “It’ll be fine.” I was jacked at this exchange. Super pumped to hear from the locals that it would require a come along to successfully navigate through this tomfoolery of a trail.

Shall I describe what the trail head looked like? Imagine a forest. That’s basically what the trail looked like. A big damn wall of nature with about a 3-5’ path. My truck immediately felt like an eighteen wheeler. I asked my pal Broadway in the passenger seat, “is he seriously going down that?” And there he went. Off into oblivion with me right on his ass. Slowly we crawled through the growth, scratching and dragging limbs every foot of the way. After about one hundred yards the chainsaws came out. I just kept telling myself that it’ll be fine.

Aside from the initial drive in and a few of the more technical spots Collin walked that whole damn trail with some form of cutting implement in his hand and boy was he using it. The national parks or the state of Arkansas owe that man a paycheck for a days worth of hard labor. Then the creek crossings began. At this point I put the truck in four low and that is where it stayed for the rest of the trail. The stress crept in and the fun began to wither. I could feel that I was somewhere that I was not supposed to be doing something I was not supposed to be doing. Every bounce felt like a four foot drop, every tree got closer, the mud got muddier and my knuckles got whiter. But you know what happened?

My pawpaw truck took everything that was thrown at it. Full lock steering up inclines in four low? No problem. Crawling down into a creek bed made completely of small boulders? Check. Bring it on. I’m confident that I was the first person dumb enough to bring a Chevy Silverado on those trails, at least one as stock and unprepared as mine. Now there was one spot where I smoked both passenger doors but I’m surprised it took that long to get some damage.

Looking back on the moment it’s a weird kind of fun. There’s a certain amount of risk and danger but hopefully nothing catastrophic. It was a new experience for me as a driver because I usually just ride along and talk shit. And the Lexus totally got stuck where my truck made it through so that made me happy. Even though it was stressful and I was out of my element it was really fun. We had a great group of people and the dogs were a nice addition.

Will I take my truck again? Hell no. Did I learn a few things and gain some skills? Sure did and that’s all I can really ask for on a trip like this. Overall our second annual Deck The Trails trip was a success. Bit of a shit show in some places but what trail ride isn’t? Situations like the ones encountered teach you how to adapt and overcome, sometimes with the help of four wheel drive.

K love you bye.

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