The Flying Dutchman vs. Vancouver Island
Gilbert Goes Offroading on Vancouver Island
October 6-7, 1998by Larry Soo
After spending weeks visiting some of the most famous offroading sites in the western US, Gilbert finally returned to British Columbia for a week before going back home to The Netherlands. That wasn't my original plan. My original plan was to take him offroading the day after his plane landed in Vancouver. That way, I could wow him with our trails which are harder than what he's used to but which aren't as spectacular as those found in the States.
Unfortunately, my plan wouldn't fit his schedule and he did the famous US trails first, I gave up any hope of impressing him with our local trails. Early Tuesday morning, we boarded the ferry for Vancouver Island. I took solace in the fact that at least we could stuff ourselves silly at the Pacific Buffet while enjoying a fine view of the sailing. All you can eat Belgian waffles...if nothing else, I at least succeeded in impressing him with the quantity and quality of the BC Ferry Corp's food.
Upon docking at Swartz Bay on Vancouver Island, we headed straight to Sooke, a small town on the south-west side of the island. There we would meet up with members from the Island Rock Crawlers: Wyatt, Ron, Rich and Rob. Since Tuesday was a work day, I was pleased to hear that they were able to come out with us for the day.
When we got to Sooke, we went to Wayne's house where we aired down, disconnected the swaybar, and left the Jeeps' doors in the backyard. Wyatt was the trail leader and decided to take us up the Butler Main logging road where we would then take the D.S.S. trail. Once we reached the trailhead, I traded places with Gilbert. I figured he'd enjoy the trip a lot more if he did some of the driving.
The trail was pretty easy for a few kilometres until we made the switchback turn to the right and started up a rocky, off-camber uphill section. The first major obstacle was a climb over a large rock which was on the left side of the trail. What made it extra difficult was that the trail was still going uphill and the dirt was soft and wet. There was only enough room to get one side of the Jeep around the rock. Gilbert was able to get the front tires past the rock but that was all. The trick to getting over this obstacle, at least in MY Jeep (which doesn't have a front locker or Swampers), was to use a little bit more gas and maintain momentum. This was difficult for Gilbert because he didn't want to abuse my Jeep and risk breaking something. At least that's my guess. After a few tries, Wyatt didn't think my Jeep nor his flatfender could get past the rock and that we should winch through. I continued to coach Gilbert and provide spotting tips and he finally got through on the sixth or seventh attempt.
Gilbert's success provided the encouragement that Wyatt needed and he was able to power his way through. Rich followed in his locked-up Early Bronco, his Swampers providing excellent traction. His green Bronco almost idled through where our two Jeeps needed wheel-spinning rpm.
We continued our climb up the mountain. There were some interesting tight turns and off-camber sections which required careful attention or else you could end up bending a windshield frame or catching a stump in the door opening. At the summit, we stopped for snacks and took in the views of the surrounding forests. Gilbert insisted that I take the wheel for a while so we traded seats again.
We were on our way up to the most challenging part of D.S.S.: the mudholes, Neil's Knoll, and Bitches' Ditches. The trail was very uneven and my Jeep was pitching side to side as we proceeded and a very leisurely pace. Wyatt and Rich were a few minutes behind us, or so I thought. I suddenly heard the sound of Wyatt's Jeep behind me. I looked back and there was no one there. Doh! That sound was coming from MY Jeep. One of the exhaust hangers had broken off and tore a 1 cm-wide hole in the pipe. I had a bit of difficulty climbing over some wet rock steps but eventually succeeded by taking a slightly easier line. My ego's pain was assuaged when Wyatt and Rich also had difficulty.
Finally, we had reached the mud holes. They were deep enough that even full-size mud-bogging trucks have been buried up to their doors. Even though they were about as dry as they'll ever be, none of us was interested in going through. We all opted for the bypass. The bypass was fun in its own right, being so narrow that full-size trucks could not fit. It took me a quite a while to thread my Jeep between the first pair of trees due to the slippery wet roots. As I slowly zigzagged through the bypass, I wondered how I had managed to spot Rob Bryce's long Comanche through here earlier in the spring. Must've been lucky, I thought.
The bypass took us to the other side of the mud holes where we were faced with another obstacle. It's called Neil's Knoll but I think it should be called the White Rabbit in honour of the rabbit skit in Monty Python's Holy Grail. That's the scene where the group of knights encountered a tiny white rabbit which was supposedly a deadly killer. The knights laughed and dismissed the warning...until several of them were torn apart by the rabbit. Neil's Knoll has the same effect. This wide rock looks dead easy until you try climbing it. Then you start sliding sideways and bashing some driveline or suspension parts because the rock is always wet and the soggy ground is covered with slick wood debris. Or maybe you decide to use lots of momentum and you end up running your fender into a tree or bending your tie rod on the stump on the other side of the rock.
I had been here earlier in the spring and watched a handful of vehicles conquer the Knoll. I even almost made it all the way over except that I let off the gas too soon. This time, though, it was harder. The approach to the rock was more uneven and our short wheelbases were catching the rock's face and a hole at the same time. We all winched through. Bitches' Ditches was a let down because they were completely dry and therefore posed no challenge at all.
The trail started downhill again and deposited us just above Devil's Drop. DD is very entertaining because of it's steep descent, off-camber angle and 2-foot drop-off into a narrow creek bed. It's short but very ugly. I wanted Gilbert to
Wyatt and Ron were still up for more trail riding so we decided to return to the Butler Mainline via a short detour through End of the World and then run the Golledge Crk trail in the opposite direction.
A few minutes later the Jeep was mobile with a 31", nearly bald mud tire. Although it wasn't his fault, Gilbert felt bad about the blown tire and preferred that I drove the rest of the trail. It was getting close to sundown so we tried to keep a brisk pace for the rest of the trail. There was one section across a rocky stream bed that made me worry about puncturing the spare but aside from that, the rest of Golledge was very easy.
We went back to Wayne's where we picked up our Jeeps' doors. We also used his air compressor to air up the tires and watched Wayne, Rick and Rob work on a Ford Ranger which they were converting to a solid axle front end. I left my punctured tire with Wayne so he could bring it into the shop for repairs the next morning. Gilbert and I drove to Victoria where we stayed at Rob Bryce's place.
The next morning, after breakfast with Rob Bryce and Al Vandervelde, publisher of the Canadian 4-Wheel Drive magazine, Gilbert and I did some sightseeing in Victoria and then drove back out to Sooke to pickup my tire. As we were rolling into Sooke, I saw a tan Hummer station wagon filling up at a gas station. We pulled in and as I suspected, it was Garrison, another IRC member. Garrison was taking his passenger, Dallas, for a test ride. Dallas was interested in buying a Hummer and since Garrison was one of the few Hummer owners who actually used his vehicle offroad, Dallas came to the island to see him. As usual, Garrison was headed up to Mossy Hill and he invited us along. We hurried off to Dumont Tire to get my replacement tire and would meet Garrison up at Cleavage Rock as soon as possible. Dewey replaced my punctured tire with a new, mounted and balanced General Grabber and just charged me a pro-rated fee. Man, you gotta love those offroad hazard warranties! He also let me have a heavy duty D44 diff cover which he had just pulled from an axle he was parting out. He also cleaned it for me as well. I guess it's obvious why I always recommend Dumont Tire when anyone asks for a good offroad shop on Vancouver Island.
While they finished mounting and installing my new tire, I took the opportunity to air down the other three and disconnected my swaybar. Once the new tire was installed, we headed straight for Harbourview Road and then took the turn-off up the Mossy Hill trail. Cleavage Rock was very dry so it was much easier than when I nearly caved in the side of my Jeep back in May. Garrison's vehicle was only the third Hummer Gilbert had ever seen so it was only natural that he ride with Garrison to thoroughly experience the vehicle. As I followed Garrison, it became obvious that he was taking all the tough and off-camber lines. I'm sure Dallas was getting a very good impression of AM General's trucks. I had trouble in a couple of spots while following the same lines as Garrison. Each time I cursed to myself that I really must install that front locker that is still sitting, un-opened, on my desk at home.
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