I’ve been aching to find dirt lately. Its been far too long and I needed to feel that joy and freedom again. So with a few emails my friend, his girlfriend and I set a date for a quick splash around in the mud with our trucks.
Did we know where we would go? no. Did we have a destination? hell nay. Did we break stuff? yes.
My friend and his girlfriend, along with his rusty but trusty Xterra and suggested we try the tiny mountain range due west of Utah lake, a place he’d been to before but hadn’t really explored as much as he would have liked.
Sure. why not. First up was a little spot called the knolls, nothing really but some BLM land with a few fun warmup hills and some great views
I told him I wanted to, more or less, play around with no real destination or agenda. We start up the easy hill that, for some reason or another, had a full fat Harley and its perplexed master mid-hill wondering how they got there and how they were going to get down. They figured it out and we got to the knoll without trouble. From here we thought it would be fun to try the steepest rockiest hill we could find. no probalo down or up. After that we thought we would get Elynn into the drivers seat for her first real time off-roading. given that she’d never really done it and the xterra was a stick I’d say she took to it extremely well.
It’s been many a year since I wheeled with a stick, but i remember enough to know it’s an added layer to the cake for sure.
High on confidence and good feels we head towards the mountains in search of...something, anything. Garrett takes us up a canyon that will, eventually, take us up and completely over and along the mountain range but his plan is less distance and more off-track travel into the atv and motorbike terrain
Found some fun fast tracks first.
Also this hill that, as always, looks less steep than it is. it didn’t take us anywhere we needed to go and i didn’t know what was up there so I didn’t give it much thought. The xterra with Elynn still at the wheel attacked it. It looked like it went really well, I saw the front right wheel do a little hopping from the steepness and a cross-axle spot but it was consistent and progress was steady. I was waiting on the word before I came up to make sure it didn’t dead end or something. “I think we’ve got a problem, but we don’t know if it’s a big one yet.”
I went up to take a look and discovered the xterra in a tree. First thought was that it was just misaimed and that they were hungup. Turns out that going for the tree was about all they could do as their steering authority when to about half a turn in either direction.
nope. I drove up to get my tools up the hill and after a bit of trouble we got the Nissan backed into a more useful spot where we discovered the issue. See, for some reason despite being an IFS truck the 1st gen Xterra uses a recirculating ball steering gear with pitman arm and drag link just like a solid axle vehicle
because of the lift the tie rod angle to the drag link (48561L) was slightly up to stock. Our best guess is that due to the wheel bouncing the tie rod had enough of a vertical force component to bend the idler arm (48530L) which had the fun side effect of putting the ball joints on the ends of the drag link only a few inches from striking the frame, making turning more than a few degrees impossible.
We tried all the tools we had: big wrenches, ratchet straps, come-along winch, even using the hi-lift as a pry bar after we bent my half inch craftsman break bar trying to get the pulley arm to bend down but there was no good way to apply force straight down as needed. We tried using the vehicle weight to hold down a shackle to redirect the force but all that did was compress the suspension. No dice.
After about an hour of this we decided to call it a day and nurse the truck back down to the main road. To make sure that we wouldn’t have to drive back down this hill I had to do a little walking to see where this road led to, thats where I met Debra.
Was it super creepy to see a disembodied face staring through me on my trail walk? yes. more disturbing was the fact that it wasn’t shot up...this being blm land. so what was a manikin head doing out here? I have some concerns. Not enough for me to NOT pick her up and take her back to the vehicles with me, as a sort of breakdown mascot. We tried to see if she would fit on the bar of the xterra but after a few half-assed attempts we gave up and tossed her to the ground. I only found out later as her disheveled hair played softly in the wind driving down canyon that my friends decided I should be lucky enough to keep her company. yay. (she’s still on there, btw, work is going to be interesting tomorrow)
Thankfully, it turns out she’s a relatively cheap cosmetology practice manakin not some part of a large manikin that kept the short intense company of another warm bodied person like I had feared her to be. She’ll make a fine hitch ball cover and I’m thinking I might make her into some kind of award that gets passed to the person who does the best dumb on any given trip. “The Debra” award. we’ll see.
We made it back to the parking lot where we took another stab and trying to make it as safe as we could for the drive home, adjusting tie rod lengths to keep the wheels pointed in the same direction. it wasn’t going to be a fun drive home.
Still, the views didn’t suck
They made it home safely, I followed them for about 20 miles before splitting off with the assurances that they were having minimal trouble with control below 50 mph.
Its a bummer we didn’t do as much exploring as we set out to do, I was loving the freedom that comes with a zero agenda. It was also a bummer that we weren’t able to fix the truck. It’s a good time to evaluate what additional tools I might look into for heavy work like this down the road. Still I had a great time. Good people, good scenery, and the unexpected. it’s what its all about for me.