Wheelin’ For Hope!

In attendance:

  • Andrew and Cherie – Nissan Xterra
  • Jendra and Matt – Jeep Wrangler Unlimited
  • Kathy and Rick – Toyota FJ Cruiser
  • Matt – 2000 GMC Yukon Denali

Wheelin’ for Hope is an annual event hosted by the Woodland Wildfires for the Relay for Life of Nelson County, hosted at Oak Ridge Estate, who use the event as a fundraiser for cancer research. Since the event began, they have raised over $120k for cancer research. The event is one of only 2 events a year that can grant you access to over 40 miles of off-road trails. The event is limited to 200 vehicles and sells out each year.

It started out as a windy Friday evening. If you weren’t careful with your gear, you may have found it blowing away. The campsites were on a dirt track, so dust was blowing everywhere. That did not deter us from having a good evening. The weather was terrific, stars were out, dinner was made and a fire was crackling in the fire pit.

Saturday started out with the mass gathering of all the drivers and riders lining up in rows behind the trail guides. Once the drivers’ meeting was over, we all scrambled into our vehicles (Matt had the best seat in the house as Jendra’s passenger) and were off. It started out nice and easy. A gentle trek through the woods, with the occasional slalom through the trees. The first part of the day was a nice warm up to what was to come later in the day. Nothing too difficult, just the occasional stream crossing, hill climbing, and rock traversing.

The weather managed to hold out in the morning. It wasn’t until noonish that the rain began, which was a perfect time for the FJ to get caught up on a rock and need to be winched off.

At first it was a nice rain. Something that looked like it would blow over quickly. Well, it blew over, but not as quickly as we liked. The rain caused the trail to become very slick. The wet leaves on the ground made it difficult stop after stepping on the brakes. At least it wasn’t too muddy. HA! There were portions of the trail that caused the steering wheel to be the merest of suggestions. The truck was going to go where it wanted, the driver be damned. This led to some very memorable moments. For example, watching the trucks go down a fairly steep and muddy hill. 

As I looked at the trucks in front of me, I noticed that they were moving quite nicely down the hill. When I looked closer, I noticed that even though the trucks were moving, their wheels were not. Truck spacing became very important. When it was my turn to go down the hill. I took it slowly. Well, up until the time that the breaks were having no effect on our decent. Thankfully there were patches in which the truck did manage to stop. After reaching the bottom of the hill, thankfully there was a stream to wash off all the mud from the tires. That was short lived, more mud was deposited once we were on the other side. Oh well.

The next memorable part of the trail was a section just before a small wooden “bridge”. Bridge as in two thick pieces of wood across a deep stream. Heck it could have been a chasm, I wasn’t looking down. The first sign of trouble was when we noticed Andrew and Cherie making their way towards the bridge. They were being slow and cautious. The trail had other ideas. Normally the back end of the truck follows the front end.

Unfortunately, the trail wasn’t having any of that so called straight driving. The muddy, angled trail decided the Nissan should go forward, but sideways. Ok, a good amount sideways. Thankfully, they were able to gain control, straighten out and make it safely across the “bridge.” Next was our turn and the trail. We got to live exactly what Andrew and Cherie and white knuckled it down the hill. Sharp intakes of breath could be heard. We also managed to make it across the “Exact width of a FJ” bridge thanks to Andrew’s guidance.

The rest of the trails were slippery, but it made for more fun for those who played on the rock gardens. One of the last obstacles that our group encountered (the FJ deftly went around) was a nice rocky climb. Andrew and Cherie attempted it but was thwarted by a rock the front tire managed to get over but caught him on his sliders. One small pull from his winch and he was freed. Jendra was bound and determined to make it completely without any external mechanical help. After a few small setbacks from the start, he triumphantly made it up.

We were now on our way back to camp, where we discovered that the day’s wind had blown away many an awning – including Jendra’s. Not only did the awning blow away and get a bit mangled, but Andrew and Sheri’s tent had suffered a broken pole. Jendra channeling his inner blacksmith, quickly took a section of broken awning pole and managed to make a sleeve for the tent pole. We then went to event dinner and raffle. We all had purchased a few of Matt’s wingspan-length of tickets. Luck was not with any of us this year and we went back to our campsite knowing that the money was going towards a good cause. Back at camp, another fire was lit in the pit and had a nice recap of the day’s events.

Sunday started out just like Saturday. We all got back on the trails and proceeded to have more off-road adventures. Thankfully, the trails were not as slippery as the previous days. There were a few harder obstacles, most of which we deftly maneuvered around. However, Jendra’s Jeep apparently did not want to be left out of the need-to-be-winched club. Before a steep rocky uphill section, while trying to get positioned correctly for his run, Jendra got a bit stuck. Straps were quickly played out and we managed to ease him back until he was freed.

The last major obstacle the Xterra and Jeep attempted (we detoured) was a very steep and rocky mud hill. The base of the hill started with a sharp right turn through a deep puddle and two thick mud ruts up the hill. 

The ruts were so deep that trucks’ skid plates were flattening them out. Andrew made it halfway and had to be helped the rest of the way. Jendra was bound and determined to make it up completely. After a few practice runs, he made it.

After a great day on the trails, we headed back to camp, helped each other pack up and headed back home. Jendra’s Jeep started to make a new clicking noise, so we caravanned back to the DMV with him and Matt.

We are still finding mud under the FJ – even after washing it twice! Can’t wait to attend this event next year.

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Photo Album: 04/22/2023 WFH

Trail Report written by Kathy King. Pictures contributed by Jendra Rambharos, Andrew Taylor, Cherie Taylor, Matt M, and Philip Bartley. GPS tracks provided by Jendra Rambharos.

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