Like many clubs, CORE traditionally schedules a ride on New Year’s Day. Generally, a nearby trail is chosen for its proximity and its relative ease in order to allow for a later start but still letting everyone get home at a reasonable hour in case January 2 is a work day. But sometimes a surprise gets thrown into the mix. We also call this Grandma Holman’s ride as my Grandma firmly believed whatever you did on New Year’s would be repeated throughout the year. Our New Years Day ride is planned to be an enjoyable ride with as many good friends as possible.
With those goals in mind, we chose the Green Ridge State Forest in Maryland for our ride. Based on our past rides there, the invite went out with the note that this was primarily a scenic ride that could be made by any stock 4×4. That invite did not include the added difficulty factor from the recent snowfalls in our area. The error of that statement was made clear within the first 50 yards after we left pavement. Oops!
I’m reminded of Bill Burke’s response to how fast to drive, “As slow as possible but as fast as necessary”.
Along for the ride this time were:
- Jeff and Marissa (and Little Bit) – JK (CORE)
- Jeff M – JK Rubicon (CORE)
- Jay – JK (CORE)
- Loc (with JC) – TJ Rubicon (CORE)
- Gary – TJ Rubicon (CORE)
- Mike and Donna (with Rick joining later) – TJ Rubicon (CORE)
- Dave, Carrie and Logan – TJ (CORE)
- Rick – GMC 1500 (Guest)
- Keith – Colorado (CORE)
We started out from the Waffle House and 7-11 in Urbana. Several of us grabbed breakfast and filled the tanks as even the late start allows little time for those things before leaving home. We managed to get some time comparing vehicle mods, a bumper here, some new graphics there, since our last gathering before our 8:30 departure. The trip west on I-70 and I-68 was largely uneventful. We did notice some signs indicating that the Sideling Exhibit Center was closed January through April but the parking lot and rest area facilities were still open as usual. At Sideling, Rick joined us in his recently acquired 4×4 pickup. We then proceeded to the BP station at Exit 72 to meet Dave and family and to get last minute supplies of snacks and fuel.
From the BP station, we headed west on Scenic Hwy 40 to the north side of I-68 where we turned left off the pavement and onto Tower Road, presumably named as it is the access to a couple of communications towers and leads to Mountain Road along the edge of the Bill Meyer Wildlife Management Area. This road had been plowed from the heavy snow but still had a couple of inches from the most recent precipitation. The first bit has a steep uphill which proved that Rick’s 4×4 with the highway tires was going to be a hard fight all day. The decision was quickly (and wisely) made to leave it at the parking area while he rode with Mike and Donna.
We continued along Tower Road, Mountain Road and crossed over I-68 to turn onto Catpoint Rd. Catpoint is a steep downhill (from this direction) ending with a sharp hairpin turn to a shallow creek crossing on MV Smith Rd. As we crept down the hill, more than one driver felt the beginnings of a slow toboggan slide and/or the cycling of the Antilock Brakes but all made it safely and we climbed up MV Smith Road to the pavement near the Green Ridge Visitors center.
From there, we decided to take an easy run that Mike and Donna had made before while on a Mid Atlantic Four Wheel Drive Association (http://www.mafwda.org) ride last summer and go north along Fifteen Mile Creek Road to the Pennsylvania state line. This route was more frequently traveled and clearer although there was still snow on the roadway. We noticed a couple of potential wet creek crossings as we passed over a single lane metal grate bridge and another adjacent to a large culvert that we would check on the way back. There were a couple of mandatory crossings up near the PA line. Once we reached PA, we turned around and headed south.
We pulled over near the large culvert but decided that this crossing was too deep, as emphasized by the rope swing hanging from a nearby tree. It did however make a great place to stop for lunch as the time was approaching noon. It certainly seemed worth marking as a potential stop on a July afternoon!
After lunch, we moved further south and did the stream crossing by the metal bridge and then went back to pavement and crossed back to the main part of Green Ridge and moved along Fifteen Mile Creek road. We bypassed the first bridge and crossed the stream wet. This was some of our first evidence that many factors enter into deciding what makes for an easy ride. Is it tire type? Not exclusively. Is it position in line and whether you’re on virgin snow or whether you’re several vehicles back following out of the creek where several have already packed the snow and drained water from the stream? Or a combination of this and many other unseen and unnoticed factors? At any rate, the first few through had no problems while a bit of tire spinning was evidenced by the rear of the line climbing out of the creek bed.
We continued south towards the East Valley Road portion of the ORV trail. This is the one way loop where it is legal to drive an ATV in the forest. It made for some interesting riding.
The hills here were steeper. The frozen ruts were deeper and although you could see where a narrower and lighter ATV had gone before us, the frozen puddles weren’t frozen thick enough to support the weight of our vehicles. These were shallow puddles, generally no more that 8 inches at their deepest with a covering of about 2 inches of ice. The ice broke under our vehicles and then sat there in chunks, piling up in front of and behind the tires making the going rather tough. Each vehicle broke and piled a few more chunks making the ride seem progressively tougher for each vehicle going through.
At the lead of the line, I would break through. Jeff’s track was a bit wider than mine so he would break through in a slightly different track. The piling of the chunks made it almost impossible to back up once one had started through.
Several of the curves, particularly at the bottom of a set of inclines were pretty steeply banked as well. In summer, this helps to drain the roadway but when it’s frozen, it merely helps to slide you sideways and closer to a trip down the gulley. I’m reminded of Bill Burke’s response to how fast to drive, “As slow as possible but as fast as necessary”. Approaching the bottom of the incline slowly enough to ensure control was on the verge of slow enough to go down the gulley sideways. Stopping at the bottom of the roadway was almost a guarantee of problems. Again, being further back in line aggravated this as the vehicles ahead of you packed and slicked the surface down.
I earlier mentioned the hazards of stating absolutes as the difficult spots seemed to be no respecter of persons, tires, lifts or lockers. The vehicles that seem most capable for rocks were just as susceptible as those most capable for mud or as those most capable on the street.
We finally arrived at the overhead power line crossing around 3:00. It had taken us almost 3 hours to cover the 6 miles of ORV loop. Earlier plans had called for completing the Stafford Rd. part of the loop around to Mertens Avenue and the lookout view of Sideling Hill and the Potomac River below but we decided to just get back on Mertens at the next crossing and work our way over to the Town Creek crossings off Maniford and Lower Town Creek Road.
The first crossing on Maniford was a bit higher due to some melting and runoff but still within doable limits although first vehicle through was literally breaking the ice as he exited the far side. It certainly helped to have been here before to be able to judge the depth of the water as it looked deeper than it actually was and the temperature made walking out and testing the depth impractical if not downright foolhardy. Swinging into that wide left arc kept us all in water shallow enough to prevent problems.
The next crossing on Lower Town Creek is usually the deepest of the three and today was no exception. Here it is deep enough that one needs to very carefully watch the rock line. As we neared the far side of the creek, there was a deeper spot if one wandered too far to the left away from the rapids/rocks. Again, we all made it through uneventfully with some nice pictures and video to show from it.
The third crossing was again shallower; perhaps even the shallowest of the three with no ice to block the way. After we all cleared here, we headed back towards Flintstone with a stop for gas and air for those that had aired down and then headed out our separate ways on the interstate.
Once again, we had started the year in the company of good friends enjoying a peaceful ride through the woods being careful to leave no trace other than the tracks in the snow. I hope Grandma Holman was right and that we repeat this many times (minus the snow) this year.
Online map of this area can be found at:
Trail report written by Keith Holman. Pictures courtesy of Jay Nokkeo and Keith Holman.