Spring Offroading and Deep Water Adventures

After two separate days on two different trails, I can say that Spring is indeed a messy time of year. It’s wet, and muddy, and it’s awesome. It’s bug season of course so that’s not so awesome but you have to expect that and pack lots of insect repellent (or a bug suit). It’s not something you want to forget or you will be eaten alive.

Our first venture out was with a bunch of guys that are from my pool of Storm Trooper Cruisers and one from my RC racing community. I had only met one before but lucked out that they were all good chaps. I’ll definitely be inviting them out to my other offroading days. Actually, it turned out that I’ve ended up organizing a proper group of offroading enthusiasts (just short of being a club), with a wide range of skills, experience, rigs and their assorted mods.

The first day, there were five of us, and we tackled what I thought would be a fairly easy trail…Picard Lake, which is rated at 2+ on our local trail index scale of 1-5. For the most part the trail was quite manageable but it did present a couple of challenging rocky sections. If you have a stock Jeep or other 4×4, you shouldn’t have any trouble tackling this trail…with one exception. Unbeknownst to us, at the end of the trail was pond that was not supposed to be there.
**It turns out there is a drainage problem here that nobody was aware of yet (we were possibly the first full sized rigs on the trail for the season) and thanks to me reporting it later that night, it has been forwarded to the Ministry of Natural Resources to look into fixing.

It looked just like all the other puddles that we had crossed earlier in the day except this one was a lot longer…about 50ft long, and there was no bypass to go around it.

Since I was leading the group, I made the choice to just drive right through the middle like a damn fool. I should have gotten out and walked through it first to check the depth. Well it turned out to be a good thing that I installed a snorkel prior to this trip because it was WAY deeper than my Jeep could have handled otherwise. Without the snorkel I would have sucked water into the engine, hydro-locked it, and written it off. Then I would have needed to be not only dragged out of the pond by…someone, but also dragged all the way out of the trail to where I could be picked up by a flatbed tow-truck.

Fortunately I made it through but nobody could follow me. Well…not using the same line that I took anyway. We could have made the choice to double back and take one of the few escape roads back to the highway, and quite frankly that’s exactly what we should have done. But the choice was made by everyone to venture through the pond…closer to the edge. It was certainly a pucker moment for everyone as they sank into the pond with deep water flowing around their rigs. To say this is an un-nerving experience is an understatement. Unfortunately one Jeep (the silver Gladiator) ended up with water flowing inside. He ended up with about 4″ of water inside. He learned a lesson though…make sure the drain plugs are installed…they weren’t.

Our next time out it was only two rigs as we tackled Scotch Line/Hydro Line. This trail is also rated as a 2+ and is supposed to be newbie friendly. I would have to disagree with that though. It seemed to be at least a level 3, and it was certainly not newbie friendly. Now that I’ve done the trail, I certainly won’t be taking someone here who’s never been offroading before, unless they have a lift kit and large tires to compensate for lack of skill. The really nasty obstacles have bypasses though but there are still plenty of places to get in trouble if you lack experience, skill, or if you have a bad spotter to guide you. That’s exactly what happened to my trail partner last year when he tackled this trail. It was his first time out and although he was with an experienced group, he ended up with an inexperienced spotter while going over one particular obstacle, and it resulted in some damage to his Toyota FJ. When the driver and spotter lack experience…bad things happen. Fortunately it was just an expensive mistake and not one that resulted in injury.

On this day though…no damage was sustained on either his rig or my Jeep, although I did have a lot of scraping since I still have stock suspension and 31″ tires. An extra couple inches would have made all the difference so I’ll have to look into that later in the year.

All in all, my first couple days on the trails have been amazing, and I already have a few more lined up in the near future.

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Time for some heavy metal upgrades

For anyone who is serious about going offroading, getting a winch installed is a must, but first you need something serious to mount it too. In my case it meant getting an upgraded bumper because the plastic one that came with the Jeep just wasn’t suitable.

So first I had to decide on a bumper that I liked out of literally hundreds of options available. I finally decided upon the very sleek looking Full Width Trail Bumper from Rough Country, that comes with lower light cubes, a built in light bar, and a couple D-Ring shackles.

Next was to choose a winch. Once again there are lots of choices from economy brands, to high end ones like Smittybilt and WARN. I knew I didn’t want a cheapo version so I focused on the quality manufactures and ended up ordering the Smittybilt X20 Gen3 12k model with a wireless controller (very handy feature) and synthetic rope.

Synthetic rope is largely replacing the use of steel cable which has always been dangerous to use. Although steel cable is still available on many winches, I decided on the synthetic rope because its easier to use, doesn’t rust, is lighter, and when it snaps it just falls to the ground instead of becoming an lethal airborne whip. It’s just better in pretty much every way so for me it was a no-brainer.

After waiting a of couple months for everything to arrive, and for an available installation date, it was time to bring the Jeep in for it’s big makeover.


Several hours later it was done. My mechanic Cody from Just Jeeps was able to retain the use of the factory LED fog lights and their functionality, and he wired the light bar into one of the AUX switches that I had in my Jeep. Wow are they bright! Looking directly at them will certainly mess up your vision for a short while.
*guess how I know*


So because my original fog lights were used, I was left the two cube lights that came with the bumper. I’ll find a use for those at a later date. Maybe I’ll mount them up on the A-Pillars in the future.

I was also left with a pile of parts in the back of my Jeep that made up my original bumper and all it’s various parts and mounting hardware.

Now because I live in Ontario, I am obligated by law to have a license plate properly displayed on both the front and the back of my vehicle. This meant also installing a flip mount that allows me to display my plate while still being able to access the winch. It’s not something I wanted but I didn’t want get a $110 ticket on regular basis.

In the end, once all was all said and done, I had one amazing looking face-lift and it’s fully functional in every way. It’s also an added 196pds (88.9kg) of heavy metal hanging off the front end of my Jeep. The winch is 76pds (34.5kg) and the bumper is 120pds (54.4kg). That’s a lot of weight and I can feel it while I’m driving. It’s subtle, but I notice it.

It also kinda resembles Darth Vaders helmet! Had I not already named the Jeep “Apollo”, then “Darth Jeep” would have made a good choices also.

The only thing left to do is hit the trails and get dirty. Once the trails firm up (they are still far too soft from the winter thaw), that’s exactly what I will do! Now I will have a lot less anxiety about getting stuck or having a member of my group getting stuck. Between these new upgrades and the recovery equipment I already have, I have no doubt that we can handle pretty much anything that we can get into.

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Recovery Gear & Rescue Equipment

If you’re thinking about getting into the 4×4 life, off-roading, or overlanding, it’s inevitable that you or someone on your team is going to get stuck. This can be a true disaster or a minor inconvenience depending on how well prepared you are, and there is no excuse for not being prepared for this…it WILL happen.

Not every vehicle needs a winch but it’s certainly nice to have at least one in the team. Although if you have more than one vehicle, winches aren’t necessary. Some basic recovery gear and a second vehicle can avoid disaster, or recovery/tow fees that can run into the thousands of dollars.

I used to work as a flat-bed tow truck driver and dozens of times a day I was dragging vehicles up on to the flat bed using a steel cable winch. I became very familiar with how to recover various types of vehicles. The winch (along with a couple straps) was my “go to” for recovering, or rescuing vehicles. Due to the weight of my truck and the size of my winch, I never needed anything else, like kinetic ropes. In the offoading world though, you’re probably going to get stuck well beyond the reach of a regular tow truck.


Protect your hands!

Don’t do anything without gloves on. Period. If you’re working with a steel winch cable, you could easily get a bur, or piece of frayed cable wire stuck in your fingers or hand. Or worse…it could go right through your hand! You could also get your hand, finger, or skin pinched between something and you don’t need that kind of hurt. All too often someone forgoes their gloves to do something quick and easy, and end up needing stitches. Just add some decent gloves to your recovery bag. Your hands will thank you.

Recovery Ropes:

Kinetic Rope

I’m not a fan of tow ropes because a lot of damage can be done by shock loading vehicle parts. The strap could break, or worse, your anchor point could fail, or rip right off and go flying. Kinetic Ropes are the way to go. They can be used for towing but their real advantage is their elastic properties. They are designed to stretch 20-30 percent making recoveries a lot easier and a lot safer.

If you want a high quality rope (made in the USA), check out Yankum Ropes. Their quality is second to none but they do come with a hefty price tag. You get what you pay for though. When you combine them with soft shackles, you’ve essentially removed metal from your recovery system, which means if something snaps, there isn’t any metal flying through the air like a lethal weapon. Far too many people have been seriously injured or killed from a metal shackle, hook, or pulley flying through the air.

If you’re looking for a couple affordable options for kinetic ropes, here are some options from Amazon that I have used personally. Note though that I sold the 30ft one because I wasn’t happy with the quality. If you only expect to use it in an emergency, it’s fine, but I wanted a Yankum Rope for regular use.


Soft Shackle

Rated D-Shackles (or Bow Shackles) have long been the standard but they are heavy and if they fail, or should the anchor point fail, you have a heavy chunk of metal flying through the air. The increasingly popular option though, and my personal preference, is the use of soft shackles. They are extremely strong, light, and can be used to attach your rope to all sorts of recovery points. You can even wrap them around lower control arms without risk of damaging them, and they won’t fall off like a metal J-Hooks often do.

Recovery points:

When attempting to recover a vehicle, you need a point of attachment. Be it a load bearing bumper, hitch recovery point, cross member, lower control arm, or some other anchor suitable point…it needs to be solid! I’ve seen far too many bumpers get ripped off because of poor towing techniques and it’s almost always due to attaching to something that shouldn’t have been attached to.

Hitch Receiver Recovery Point

I have a tow hitch on my Jeep, and I have a recovery hitch receiver that stays attached at all times. I also carry a second one that I can quickly install on another vehicle (if they have a tow hitch also). This allows for two solid recovery points. Many offroad vehicles have bumpers that have recovery points, tow hooks, or both that are suitable anchor points. Ideally you want to create a “closed” loop though vs an “open” one. The tow hooks on the bumpers of many trucks or Jeeps are “open” which means the rope can pop off, or even fly off at great speed. NEVER use a metal shackle, or a strap hook on these. If you only have a bumper tow hook, just loop your rope or strap to it directly.

Drop Hitch with Hitch Ball

NEVER attach to a hitch ball or a drop hitch. When fail, they fly through the air at tremendous speed and deaths have occurred.

Tow Eyelet

Tow Eyelets are commonly found in the truck of many modern cars (especially European cars) and are specifically for towing the vehicle up on to a flatbed truck. However, they aren’t designed for recovery from ditches, snow banks, or deep sand or mud, and they aren’t designed for side-loading. So use with extreme caution. Once again…flying metal is bad.

I’m far more likely to crawl underneath and wrap a soft shackle around the lower control arm, than use a tow eyelet to free a vehicle from whatever it is that they are stuck on.


Leave them at home! They are heavy, awkward to work with, and extremely dangerous. They are prone to snapping when they are shock loaded and even when loaded gently, they are still likely to break. It’s just inevitable, and when they break, they whip wildly through the air and can cause extremely serious injuries or death.

They are so bad that at some offroading events, if you are caught with a chain in your bag, the organizer will take it from you and throw it in the swamp, never to be seen again.

I rescued a family from the beach
Yankum Ropes

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Smittybilt Air Compressor 2780

If you’re getting into offroading, you will quickly realize that you will need to air down your tires for better traction over rough terrain and avoid getting stuck every 20′ in soft sand. Usually airing down to 15psi is a good general start but sometimes, depending on your tires and the terrain, you may want to air down much lower.

But once you’re done, you have to air back up again and this can take a very long time. Then is when having an air compressor on hand is an important part of your offroading kit. There are lots of setups available from high end ARB Dual Compressors right down to el Cheapo ones from China designed for emergency use only.

Personally I decided to try out the Smittybilt 2.54 CFM Air Compressor 2780. It was in my price range and you can order one from Amazon (click here). It comes with everything needed to air up your tires but the connections are proprietary, which is disappointing, and it comes with a handy storage bag. Once hooked up to your battery, it will get all your tires aired up in about 10min which is certainly acceptable.

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Road Trip to Florida and visiting Kennedy Space Center- Part 2

The first part of the trip was to watch the Daytona Rolex 24hr Race.
Click here for Part 1 of the story including doing a recovery of a stuck pickup truck on the beach.

The next item to check off the bucket list was to visit the Kennedy Space Center. Yes I’m a fan of the space program, especially the early days when nobody had a clue what they were doing and not only did the technology not exist but nor did the math to actually get a man to the moon. So seeing first hand such iconic pieces of the space race, was truly amazing.

Vehicle Assembly Building

It was a bit of drive from the hotel in Palm Coast, made longer than necessary because we typed “Kennedy Space Center” into the GPS, which took us through Titusville, FL and directly towards the actual launch areas. We realized we were heading to the wrong place when we approached a police check-point and security gate. The guard was quite understanding and advised us to type in “Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex” to get where we wanted to go. You can see how we made the mistake.

About 30min later we were at the right place and before long were on a tour bus heading right back to the secure area that we almost drove into earlier. Well at least this time were doing it properly…legally!

Forced perspective shot in front of a Saturn V Rocket
Apollo Capsule

Driving by the Assembly Building and the huge crawlers used to transport rockets and the space shuttles of the past was truly awesome. The Apollo/Saturn V Building was amazing with an actual Saturn V rocket and Apollo 8 capsule on display as well as various artifacts from the era.

Back at the Visitor Complex, and a highlight of the experience was getting up close to the actual Atlantis Space Shuttle. Atlantis was the last shuttle to fly and when the shuttle program ended, Atlantis was mounted here on a 43.21 degree angle (NASA humour) and the whole building was built around it. Did I mention the launch simulator? You you gotta try this thing! I don’t know how they did it but it apparently closely replicates what astronauts experienced during the shuttle launches. If you have any fillings in your teeth, they may get shaken loose and and loose items in your unsecured pockets, you can kiss them goodbye.

Shuttle Atlantis

And it’s with that our trip was over. We checked in to a nearby hotel with a view of the launch pads (unfortunately there weren’t any scheduled while we were there) and the next day we started the two day drive home.

Just like the drive down, it was a long two days and no road trip is complete without inclement weather. Waking up in Virginia with everything covered in a thick layer of ice, made for some tricky driving initially.

Eventually though the roads cleared and we made it back to Toronto.

I wonder what the next adventure will be…stay tuned.

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