Big Levels Area GWNF

Well, the Club’s first trip to the Big Levels area of the George Washington National Forest went off without a hitch (Well, at least without too many hitches!!)

” Things were uneventful for about the first 150 yards until we came to a sharp bend in the trail. Here the trail got very stimulating!”

In attendance were Members:

  • Gil Campos (slightly modified Jeep TJ)
  • Keith Holman and his wife Betty (somewhat used Chevy S10 Blazer)
  • Mike Keane (refurbished Chevy Blazer?)
  • Bob Jaeger ’99 Ford Ranger (Built FORD TOUGH!)
  • Bill Haegele (slightly modified Expedition – the running boards have
    been removed!!!)

and guests:

  • David Woodbridge and son Devin (Lifted Chevy Blazer with BIG tires!)
  • Dusty Lester and son Chris (riding with David Woodbridge)

The group met as planned, at 0700 hours, Saturday morning at the Wendy’s, I66 and route 234. The trip leader, yours truly, was a fashionable 10 minutes late (actually its a wonder I made it at all!! We forgot to set the alarm, and Sherrie woke up with a start, 15 minutes before she was supposed to be at work!!)

After some grumbling about the early hour and a few trips back and forth to the Wendy’s, we were off. The trip down to Stuart’s Draft, Va., was uneventful except for an annoying bleedover on channel 5 from someone apparently on channel 6 and way over on I81 (We were on US 29!!). We arrived in Stuart’s Draft at 10 am. and after a short break we were off to the trail head. (Actually the short break was mostly on account of Bob Jaeger’s sudden realization that it would be good to have something to eat on the trail, so after a quick dash to the local Subway shop on Bob’s part, we were off!)

The run to the trail head was about 5 to 7 miles and was accented by copious amounts of blue gray dust (about 3 miles worth) from the unpaved portion of local 660 and FR42. It was rumored that there were some moans and groans voiced on the CB concerning someone’s recently washed and waxed vehicle, but to be honest, I couldn’t make out a word being said for all of the coughing and choking sounds coming over the radio. (Apparently it had not rained since Sherrie and I had been here a week ago..)

After some of the participants had aired down, and the first few yards of the trail had been scoped out on foot, we moved out for a very interesting day. Things were uneventful for about the first 150 yards until we came to a sharp bend in the trail. Here the trail got very stimulating! There was a pow wow amongst the group concerning whether or not this portion of the trail should be attempted. However, after a couple of locals arrived on scene and demonstrated that the trail was indeed a cakewalk with an ATV, our group, not to be outdone, voted to give it a try.

I being the lead vehicle was chosen to go first. We turned to the right and the trail began a 2-mile trek up, over, and around numerous rocks, ledges, washouts, vehicle eating bushes, hard to negotiate sharp turns in the narrow trail, and just plain nasty terrain. Naturally I chose to go up and over any obstacles rather than cautiously going around. I believe someone later made reference to showing off, but I quickly parried this snide remark by explaining it all away as getting my money’s worth, the price of gas being what it is…….No one bought it though.. Oh well.

We were doing well, until approximately 30 yards past where we had turned. Here we ran into a very formidable combination of rock jutting up into the middle of the trail, accompanied in front of and just beyond by very low areas in the terrain and very narrow, high shouldered sides…..all designed by mother nature to provide a thrilling off camber climb up and over the obstacle, while ensuring that your vehicle made maximum use of its ability to articulate. (Or, conversely, showing off its lack thereof). The first three vehicles, I, Dave Woodbridge in his nicely lifted Chevy outfitted with large Super Swampers I think, and Bob Jaeger, made it up and over without too much difficulty. Dusty Lester, who had been nominated as group cameraman, (everyone else took a step back..) provided high quality (we think) video of the events, complete with narration!

Keith Holman was next to try the obstacle. After numerous attempts, including several in which the faithful S10 looked like a turtle stuck high and dry with two of its four legs off the ground, Keith managed to maneuver it into a position where, with a few prayers and a good push on the gas pedal, Keith got it up and over the rocks.

Bill Haegele was next (and last) to try the obstacle, and thus, began the epic challenge of the day! I say last, because after Bill had been engaged for a good half-hour in numerous attempts at getting past the rocks, the locals suddenly decided to bug out… something about their wives waiting for them. Bill used quite a repertoire of tricks that ran the gamut from trying to bull his way through to attempts at finesse and just plain trying to sneak by. After a good 45 minutes, and with liberal re-arrangement of the trail’s surface features, Bill was finally able to make it over the rocks, tucked high up on the right shoulder of the trail…. a definite off camber experience! I have to admire Bill for his persistence. I never thought he would make it over that obstacle. Unfortunately, he paid for the effort with damage to the left side of his Expedition, just under the left rear door. Not real ugly mind you, but probably going to be a pain to get to and fix.

Mike Keane wisely chose not to challenge this obstacle, taking a short bypass route. However, the old trail jinx caught up with him a short distance further up the trail. Mike suffered a perforated radiator hose when the bouncing around on the trail caused the hose to come in contact with the veins on his alternator. Attempts to repair the hose with duct tape didn’t work, and fluid continued to drip from the hose. We recommended that Mike not continue on the trail for fear of getting himself stranded as well as the real possibility of doing severe damage to his engine. With duct tape in hand, along with a gallon of water donated by Keith, Mike headed down the trail and into Stuart’s Draft for repairs. I later got a voice message from Mike on my cell phone saying that he had swapped out the radiator hose and was heading for nearby West Virginia. He said to tell everyone that he’d see us at Uhawrie.

Well, the next couple of miles proved to be easier (but not by much), and numerous impromptu lunch breaks were held as we paused frequently to make sure that everyone in our party was making it up the trail ok. We finally moved off of the rough portion of the trail and onto more favorable ground where we moved along for several more miles before breaking for a group lunch. The remaining portion of the trail is similar to Peter’s Mill, but much rougher and with little or no water, meandering its way through windy tight turns and over numerous outcrops of rock with Laurel bushes everywhere. The St. Mary’s Wilderness Area was just to our right for the last 3 or 4 miles, almost literally within touching distance although we never saw any signs to indicate its presence. When we finally emerged from the trail onto the Blue Ridge Parkway, we had a beautiful view of almost all of the St. Mary’s area.

Heading back home north on the Blue Ridge Parkway towards I64, Dave and Dusty split off at one of the numerous overlooks to give the kids a chance to get some exercise. The rest of us continued on, stopping at a local Chili’s restaurant in Charlottesville, Va., before heading for home.

A great trip all. Worth doing again!!

Trail report written by Gil Campos

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