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Natural Bridge - April 2001

The day started out with five Jeeps in our group meeting up at a rest area on I-75 just South of Florence, KY at 7:30. From here we were to head down to Natural Bridge to meet up with the rest of the group. First we had to stop at a truck-stop so I could get a new CB antennae and we could all gas up. We all felt sorry for the poor guy heading North with the really shiny Hummer on the trailer at the gas station.

So after 2+ hours of highway we met up with the other three Jeeps and it was time to air-down, lock hubs, and hit the trail. When Andy pulled his rig down off the trailer he realized that his brand new stainless steel brake line to his rear axle had broken. With no parts stores close by, he and Liz ended up riding in the plush (sarcastic) backseat of my Cherokee. This quickly put a damper on the day and was a little forecast of things yet to come. We were all anxious to see what those brand new Swampers on bead locks and 4” BDS lift could do. I guess we’ll have to wait until the next trip. So with already one Jeep down, we headed towards the trail. As we entered our usual entrance, we ran into a group of familiar Jeeps from Ohio River Fourwheelers. They informed us of a locked gate ahead and we would have to find another way in. Luckily they knew just the spot and headed us in the right direction. We ended up hitting the trail just above the “narrows” (the big natural bridge in the area).

We ran into a group of old Land Cruisers (mostly FJ-40s) from Indiana. They were pulling away as we came to the top of the bridge so we all stopped, watched them climb the rocks on the other side of the bridge, and then we walked down the path under the arch. This seemed like a good time for a group shot.

We headed on down the trail to “Table Top Rock”. This is a really cool rock on the side of the trail that tests the flexibility of your suspension. As long as you take it slow, there is no danger but if you take it too fast, there isn’t much to stop you from rolling down the hill for a couple hundred feet. I came down it without trouble as usual and decided to turn around and try to drive back up the steep side. I’ve done this once before successfully. But this time I got turned a little into a bad position and basically had to just try to climb up with my back left tire stuck in the undercut of the rock. I barely got on the gas and POP. That’s the sound a driveshaft makes when one of the ears of the yoke breaks off.

Out came the tow strap to pull me up on top so I could remove the broken driveshaft. Without a spare, my dreams of climbing “Carburetor” and “Moonshine” hills would remain a dream. I had to limp along in front wheel drive the rest of the day. (A great selling point of a Slip Yoke Eliminator) Without a locker in front, It was one wheel spinning on anything slick. No one else tried to climb up the backside of Table Top. Phil did drive down it where I did but Matt decided to take a different line and came down the left side of the rock.

Everyone but Phil and Matt bypassed the rock so once we got them over it, we headed on. We followed the trail down a rocky section on down to the creek crossing near the old power station.

I had to bypass the short but steep hill on the other side of the creek so Scott was the first one to try it. He got his front up without any trouble but his rock rails were quickly sitting on the rock ledge and the Cherokee wasn’t going any further. He had to back up and take the bypass. Brian in the stock TJ had to do the same. Phil and Matt both shot up it without any problems. DJ found that the wet Boggers do much better on the rocks when spinning and with some throttle got over the hill. Dave’s wife Becky was about to take the bypass but the group wasn’t having that. We talked her into taking the harder line. She hit the hill just right and climbed on up.

After getting everyone across the creek, we headed up the steep little goat-path of a trail up to “Moonshine” trail. Moonshine is a very rocky, tight-walled, loose when dry, sloppy when wet hill. Without at least a rear locker, you better have at least 33s, decent flex and a lot of throttle. Andy and I both were looking forward to this trail because the last time we were there it was extremely wet and I and Dave Stahl (another Cherokee driver) only made it up about half-way. You could barely stand in one place without sliding down the hill. Since Andy and I were both broke at this point, we had to talk Phil and Matt into givin' it a shot. It was bone dry and with 33s and a locker, Phil didn’t have too much trouble getting up. There was a lot of dirt flying and rubber left on the rocks but he made it without any damage.

Matt said he would go if Phil did it so it was his turn now. Matt isn’t locked but he does have good flex and 35s. Plus he wasn’t afraid to put the right pedal down. It took a lot more work to get Matt through it but he eventually made it. We couldn’t get the rest of the group up this trail to see what was beyond this section so Phil and Matt turned around at the top and had to come back down.

Even coming down the hill wasn’t easy. I’d hate to have to do it when it is wet. We got everyone back to the creek and headed on down towards Carburetor Hill. This is a neat section of the trail. It winds along the creek and crosses the creek a few times. We had to go through a few mud holes and straddle a big washout in the middle of the trail along the way. We came up to the bottom of Carburetor and I had to get off to the side to let everyone else go up so someone could winch me up. Carburetor is a fairly tough hill if you don’t have at least 33s and a locker or two. It is a series of steps spaced just at the right distance to catch all four tires at the same time. Doesn’t really matter what wheelbase you have, there are enough steps to catch all four tires no matter what you drive.

There is a bypass to the right but isn’t what you think of as a normal bypass. If you aren’t big enough to go up the middle of Carburetor, you will drag your diffs, frame, or skidplates on the rocks on the bypass.

Phil was first to attempt Carb Hill. He had a little trouble at first on the first big step but once he found the right line, made it up without any unnecessary excitement.

Next up was Matt and he hit it at the right speed and with a little more throttle, made it up easily. The 35s laughed at the little rocks as they rolled over them.

Next up was Scott in his clean Cherokee. I forgot what a Cherokee looked like inside without mud all over the dash, seats, and floorboards. He is locked in the rear but the small 30 inch tires hurt him on this obstacle. With some throttle, he climbed the first step without trouble but then had to take the bypass to the right. The Chrysler 8.25 rear end hangs down a little lower than Dana 35s and Scott shaved away some rock for the next Jeep with big diffs. With a little “back up and hit it again” approach, he ground enough of the rock away and was on his way to the top.

Now for the new guy. This was Brian Siebenburgen’s first trip with TKO and we hope it won’t be his last. For someone in a stock Jeep on an unfamiliar trail, he did a great job. Granted he does have 30x10.50 Swampers so it’s not exactly stock but without lift and lockers, he put that Jeep in places that at least I was impressed it kept going. This proves that if you put a good driver behind the wheel that is willing to listen to the spotters, you don’t need a monster Jeep to have fun. Like Scott, Brian had to use the bypass and also needed the “back up and hit it again with a little more throttle” approach to slide the undercarriage over the rocks. He cut back into the main trail just above the bypass and with a smile on his face from ear to ear climbed on up to the top of the hill.

Phil then positioned himself around at the top to winch me up the hill. This was the first time he got to test out his new winch. While winching me up, the rocks decided to steer my Jeep for me with my driver’s side up on the main trail and passenger’s side down on the bypass which made for an interesting ride. It’s a strange feeling when you think you are about at your rollover point and you have no control cause someone else is pulling you up the hill.

Everything went fine though and before I knew it I was up at the top getting ready to watch DJ and Gary make an attempt at the hill. With the big Boggers having about 20psi in ‘em, the big CJ could not get over the first step. After numerous attempts, Gary decided to air them down some more. With about 14psi, they were much more grippy and climbed on up the step. Unfortunately though the big CJ ran into some cooling problems and with the threat of over-heating, Gary shut her down.

Dave was last in line and hit the hill with some throttle, made it over the first step and headed to the bypass. He was up to the top in no time and hooked his Warn up to Gary’s CJ.

Once Gary was up top, Matt decided to play the role of Gary’s tow-rig for the rest of the trail. I needed a strap from Dave on the next rock ledge just past Carburetor and then we were quickly on our way. We were now passed all the rocks but had the mud holes to deal with. One thing about Natural Bridge is that you never know just how deep the mud holes are. I found out the hard

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way last time I was down there when I dropped into “hot-tub”. Chalk up a radiator and an alternator to the hole that day. I wouldn’t go into this hole without lockers front and rear and at least 35s. Everyone wisely bypassed this hole this time. Well, at least intended on bypassing it. When Matt was towing Gary around it, the wide Boggers on the passenger side decided they’d rather play in the mud than stay on the dry dirt. (Boggers are like that.) The big CJ slid sideways into the deep hole and we thought for sure it was going over. With Andy and I hanging on the nerf bars to keep weight on the driver’s side, Gary fired the Jeep up again and pulled out of the hole.

Shortly after Hot Tub the trail turns into a small swamp. With only one wheel spinning up front, I had to keep hitting it, then back up, then hit it again to push the wall of mud out of my way. This took quite a few tries but I eventually made it out of the hole. You just couldn’t tell what color my Cherokee was anymore (outside or the inside). Everyone made it through this hole fine. Even the stock TJ made it through.

Gary decided to fire up the CJ to turn the Boggers through this hole to help Matt out. The Boggers felt right at home and looked like they wanted to push Matt out of the way.

Not too much more along the trail we came to the hole that we all refer to as the hole that Phil flipped his Bronco II in. You can’t miss it. It is right in the middle of the trail and drops straight off at the start of the hole. For future reference, hit this mud hole dead square… do not try to keep one side up on the edge. This is how Phil rolled his Bronco. We all made it through this hole without any trouble.

We didn’t get much further down the trail when Dave and Becky realized their Jeep wasn’t turning very well to the right. Upon further inspection revealed a bent drag-link. Without spare parts or a welder there wasn’t anything we could do about it but hope it held together on the way home. You wouldn’t want to bend it back straight cause this would weaken the metal even more. That would probably cause it to just bend again easily or possibly even break.

We only had a few more mud holes and a little hill-climb and we were back on semi-paved roads again. With Andy’s brake line, my drive shaft, Gary’s radiator, and Dave’s drag-link, we were all pretty happy to get back to the park and ride where we left the trailers. For those of us without the luxury of a trailer, it was time to air up, get gas, and try to wipe the mud off of the windows, lights, and mirrors.

While doing all of this Scott mentioned that his voltmeter was pretty low. We all had a pretty good feeling that some of those deeper mud holes got to his alternator. Sure enough, after about an hour on the interstate we all pulled off took the battery out of Andy’s Jeep and put it into Scott’s Cherokee. We were hoping this would be enough to at least get Scott home. Just about 30 minutes later though we had to pull off again and this time Scott had a flat-bed take him the rest of the way.

So out of eight vehicles that started, only two came home without any damage other than scratches or dents. It was an unusually rough day for TKO but that won’t stop us from doing it again. By the time you read this, most of those breakages will be fixed and new ones occurred. C-ya on the trail!

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