MAFWDA Potomac State Forest Camping And Trail Ride

Friday July 22 the weather in the Washington DC metro area was a scorching 103 degrees with a heat index approaching 120 degrees! Fortunately Preston Stevens, President of Middle Atlantic Four Wheel Drive Association (MAFWDA) wisely planned a family camping and four wheel drive outing in Potomac State Forest in western MD. This trip is an annual outing for MAFWDA. Every year around this time of the year, MAFWDA coordinates with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (MD DNR) for a work weekend of volunteer work in the state forest that also includes hitting various fire trail clearing fallen trees, low hanging limbs and ensuring that they are all passable; and of course camping and having a good time with friends and family.
I was really looking forward to this trip to get some temporary relief from the extremely hot weather DC and to kick back for a few days in the great outdoors in beautiful Garret County MD. Joining us this year for this annual MAFWDA event were:

His front tire reached across but could not pull the Cherokee up the other side. Now he was stuck.

  • Preston, Pam, Emily Stevens & Dalton in the Jeep Cherokee
  • Tom, Deb, Stephanie Taylor & Ben in the Ford Bronco
  • Tom, Linda, and Rebel in the Jeep Pickup
  • Keith Holman in the Chevy Pickup (CORE)
  • Mike and Donna in the white Rubicon TJ (CORE)

We got a late start as I had to put in a partial work day in DC. By the time we really got on the road it was 6:30 PM. I watched the temperature gauge drop from 103 degrees to the mid 80’s the further west we traveled. At around 9:30 PM we finally arrived at camp finding the rest of the crew was already settled in. Many thanks to Keith and Tom Taylor for helping us setup camp in the dark. Friday night was spent around the camp fire enjoying the company of familiar friends swapping stories.

On Saturday morning we awoke to a beautiful day. Signs were good for a clear day but a bit hot. After breakfast, we hit the road for our assigned morning volunteer work detail. This year the MD DNR assigned us the task of clearing a mile or so of snowmobile trails of encroaching overgrowth. The MD DNR provided a wide variant of hand tools and we provided the manpower. We cut back small trees that and trimmed low hanging branches. Occasionally, Preston utilized his chainsaw to remove larger logs that had fallen across the trail.

Work continued until about 12 noon when hit the end of the trail. At his point we all piled into the back of Tom’s Cherokee pickup truck and headed down the road back to the trail head where we all left our vehicles. We headed back to camp for a short lunch break before hitting trails.

Preston took the lead and we headed to our first trail destination, Rattlesnake Ridge. To get to this trail you first had to cross a decent size creek with several large boulders strewn about. Once across, we proceeded up a rocky hill climb. He we continued the volunteering spirit clearing fallen trees that had blocked the fire trail.

Here vehicle problems plagued Tom’s Bronco. At first the starter solenoid would not disengage so his starter would remain engaged after the vehicle started. Being an expert handyman Tom figured out how to get the vehicle started and the solenoid disengaged. Starting the Bronco was now a two person job. Deb who turned the key and Tom who disconnected the solenoid wire immediately after engine started.

Rattlesnake Ridge is characterized by a steep and long uphill climb. For safety reasons we only allow one vehicle at a time to attempt the hill climb. The first four vehicles in our group made it up the hill fine. However, Tom at the end of the group started to experience a vapor lock issue with the Bronco at the base of the hill. Once the engine got hot, it was impossible to keep it running. The fact that it was in the mid 90’s did not help. He was at the bottom of Rattlesnake Ridge with a vehicle that would not start.

There was nothing to do except wait the 15-20 minutes for the engine to cool down before attempting to restart the engine. Tom did get the Bronco running and quickly made a mad scramble to climb the hill. He made it three fourths way up hill before the engine conked out again due to the vapor lock issue. We debated situation and after waiting some more time for the cool down time. However the combination of being on the hill and the hot weather the engine would not cooperate. So we decided to hook a tow strap to the rear of my Jeep and the front of Tom’s Bronco. We were still on an uphill climb so I had concerns that my Rubicon would not be able to pull Tom’s built up Bronco with 4 passengers up the remainder of the hill. But pleasantly to my surprise with low range, first gear, and four wheel drive, the Rubicon pulled the Bronco up hill, through the remainder of trail, and back to camp.

The next planned event for the weekend was to hit the swimming hole on the Potomac River. We parked the vehicles at the end of a gravel road, walked across a creek, and hiked a short bit to the banks of the Potomac River. A few hundred yards south on the river was an awesome water hole that was well attended with lots of folks enjoying a late summer dip. We jumped in and enjoyed the refreshing swim. I watched as Preston and Emily would climb on the large boulders along the river bank and bravely jump feet first into the river some 15-20 feet below.

After our swim we had another opportunity to hit the trails. At the end of the road where we parked our vehicles, was another fire trail. We entered this trail and immediately saw the first situation; a berm crossed the trail. On the right side it was very deep and steep. On the left side it more shallow but still would be tricky to cross.

Preston being up for a challenge attempted to cross the berm on the right side. The front end of the Cherokee dropped into berm. His front tire reached across but could not pull the Cherokee up the other side. Now he was stuck. The Cherokee could not climb out forward or back. Since my Rubicon was next in line, we pulled out the tow strap attached it to the front of my Jeep and to the rear of the Cherokee. A gentle tug back pulled the Cherokee back off the berm. Preston this time took the left line and cleared the berm fine.

We all made it across this first berm and proceeded down the train a bit more, only to find a second berm; this time deeper and even more tricky than first. Recognizing that we all would have difficulty crossing this berm we shoved a mammoth sized boulder in middle of deepest section of berm in order to give the right set of tires some to ride across so they would not drop all the way in and get seriously hung up.

All made it across. Keith’s longer wheel base pickup struggled more since the undercarriage would hang up after the front wheels cleared the ascent of the berm. Eventually Keith got the Colorado through with a bit of momentum and taking a different line.

We proceeded along trail and eventually came across a tree that had fallen across the trail. Again the chainsaw was put to use to clear the tree off the trail. Further along the trail there was a very nice decent with washed out ravines that made for a mild but interesting challenge. At one point on trail the Keith’s Colorado got mildly high centered on an uphill berm. My Jeep was immediately in front of the Colorado, so out came the tow strap again. A gentle tug got the Colorado dislodged. From here we uneventfully continued to the end of the trail and headed back to camp for a late dinner.

That evening we enjoy another night around the campfire recounting the day’s events. Sunday I had to pull out early. We started breaking camp around 8 AM when the clouds in the sky looked ominous. We got most of the camp taken down and stowed in the Jeep except for the canopy. At 8:30 AM the skies opened up. It rained and rained. We stood under the canopy waiting and hoping that the rain would stop soon. It didn’t. So after a while me made a mad dash for the Jeep and I through the canopy into the Jeep. A bit soaked, we pulled out of camp and headed out for the long drive back to Frederick.

Another good weekend with good friends, wheeling, and great scenery in western MD; what more could you ask for? Next year you should join us.

Trail report written by Mike Vincenty. Pictures courtesy of Keith Holman, Tom Taylor, and Mike Vincenty.

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