Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Taking my Jeep Off Road

I recently joined Austin Jeep People, and through them found San Antonio-based Jeep Republic. JRep held a beginner off-road day at Hidden Falls, and I figured it was way past time for me to actually see what my Jeep could do. This is a bit embarrassing, but after almost eight years of Jeep ownership, it's taken me this long to get it off road!

So Alan and I headed out and met with some other AJP folks, and our group was joined by a whole bunch of JRep Jeeps. They brought some experienced offroaders to act as trail guides. Their Jeeps were somewhat taller and more modified than my stock JKU :-)

First order of business was to air down - this means deflating your tyres so there's a bigger contact patch between the tyre and the ground, which means more grip. Curtis lent me his deflator tool which made the job easy, and suggested I take my stock tyres from my normal 35psi down to 20psi. Folks with bigger, knobbly tyres might go down to 12psi.

Second order of business is to disconnect the sway bar, which allows the axle to tilt more than usual underneath the Jeep body. This means you can drive on uneven ground with less fear of rolling over. An 18mm socket and wrench/spanner will do the job, but a lot of folks put quick-release disconnects on which lets you pull a pin to release them instead. Rubicon owners can just push a button; their disconnect is electronic!

Then it's time to hit the trails. Driving with my Jeep in this configuration was an experience. Obviously, it feels very different. I was told to use 4-Low; this is 4-wheel drive low gear. I normally drive about in 2-wheel drive, and also have a 4-high option. 4-Low is very low gearing; I was doing 15mph in third and would normally be doing 30 at least. So we're not racing off.

We first went up a hill in our big group of about 30 Jeeps. There's a steep, rocky part which was Interesting. It looked very steep to my uninitiated eyes! Someone told me that a Jeep is like a mountain goat, and to be honest they weren't wrong. Once I figured out how much gas to give it, we crawled up that hill no trouble at all. There was another obstacle further on; a large rock ledge down the hill. I didn't have the ground clearance to go down there - now I see why people lift their Jeeps. However, all the main obstacles have alternative routes, so I went down the trail next to it, and met with the other Jeeps on top of the ridge.

We had all parked nose-in, before someone suggested we all turn around for photos. So we did! Cue 30 Jeeps all turning round and parking nose-out, which looked awesome once we were all back in place. General milling about and checking out everyone's Jeeps ensued for a while, before Veronica (the organiser) split us all into four groups. Alan and I were in the stock Jeep group, along with at least six other Wranglers and two Liberties. Justin led our group in his much-modified white Liberty.

The park roads are fairly wide but as soon as you get into the trails, it gets very narrow. And there are scrapy, scratchy trees! I didn't expect it to be quite so narrow.... let us just say that my Jeep has acquired some battle scars... (I've since become good friends with a bottle of rubbing compound which has got rid of some scarring). Now I know why people take their doors off! And why the Rubicon usually has non-painted fenders...

I suspect there's all the mud you could wish for after a big rain, here, but this day was hot and dry, and only a little bit of mud remained. Enough to get our wheels mucky. Did I mention it was hot? You definitely want to cram as much water into your Jeep as possible; you're going to need it. It was 100F+ all day.

We crept through the trails, encountering deep ruts and tree stumps and rocks. Tree stumps have to be gone around, or driven over, depending on how tall they are. Ruts can be straddled, or just driven into. Sometimes you have no choice but to drive into them and then you get to see how to drive at all kinds of funny angles.

I got stuck at one point, on a downhill step, on a rock. Luckily I apparently have skid plates underneath, so no damage was done other than to the protector plate; and that's its job. Justin was able to root around underneath and clear some rocks, so after a bit of back-and-forth with my Jeep under his instruction, I was able to extricate myself from the ledge.

We eventually made it back to the center of the park, for a breather and rest stop. By this time it was well through the afternoon. The group went off to do another trail, but Alan and I chose to head home - we had animals to look after who were also out in the hot sun. And I have to be honest, I was pretty tired after all the driving about - constantly looking at unfamiliar terrain for several hours; trying to pick out a decent driving line. I went to sleep that night still able to feel the rocking motion!

Big thanks to Jeep Republic for organising the day, and to Austin Jeep People for generally being awesome.
Check out the video below to watch Jeeps in action.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

A couple of ballooning videos

Here's a couple of videos I made recently with the Central Texas Ballooning Association, of which I am a member. In this one, I gave Greg one of my GoPro cameras on a monopole and told him to have fun with it. This video shows a couple of balloon inflations in Zilker Park. The general public are welcome to come and watch, and to help crew if they like. I used my quadcopter to get some aerial shots of the balloons.