Trail 376A to Buena Vista, Colorado
What does a Chrysler Prowler have to do with a trail, you wonder? Nothing. I simply came across it at a gas station when I completed my trek to Buena Vista for errands. Prior to Chrysler’s bankruptcy and purchase by Fiat, they blew considerable funds on a few flagship image vehicles, the Prowler being the most notable of them. All short-run products, they probably caused more confusion in the marketplace than anything else and were seldom recognized by media critics as the styling achievements that they are, but they still bolstered Chrysler’s image of its willingness and ability to think well outside the box.
I knew I was going to be moving out of the Buena Vista area as a cold front moved in. At 8,000’ altitude, such an elevation is do-able, but needlessly cool. So my plan in taking this trail was to get to town and accomplish some time-absorbing tasks in order to get them out of the way for what would otherwise be an overly-full moving day. Trying to pack in a shower, laundry, propane refill, water refill, grocery resupply, fuel stop, and Rx stop plus a 3-4 hour drive southward is a long day, especially when finding a fixed campsite at the end of it is up for grabs. So, I figured that it would be worth it to hit town for refueling, water replenishment, a shower, and laundry in order to knock a big chunk of time off the list, then return back up the same trail to a campsite – if I could discover one on the initial way down – closer to town, and use that as my departure point the next day. I prefer not to overnight if I don’t have to because of the extra setup and takedown, but I prefer even less to take most of the day to do a full round of resupply, drive a long way, and then improvise by scouting for something workable at the end. Handy note if you’re passing through Buena Vista: Wally Lala’s Laundromat & Shower has a decent $5, 10-minute hot shower available, and the Chamber of Commerce has a potable water spigot at one corner of the property. I’m not implying anything about the shower and you, just telling you the facts.
So the following video is my entire trudge from my campsite down to the highway that would take me to town. One would be justified in asking why on earth I would present a 54-minute trundle down a few miles of trail, and thus imply that the journey must be interesting enough to justify such a stupendous view time. After all, most YouTube videos are 5-6 minutes long, the 10-minute ones can seem a bit tedious, and the ones that last 15 minutes can be wearing. What’s my answer? I’m not sure. It’s not a matter of an unwillingness to edit raw footage (in this case, at least). It’s just that when I watch it myself, it feels like it’s a 20-minute video at most. I find it to be worthwhile. Maybe that’s just me. Maybe not.
It’s a “come along for the ride” perspective, complete with a running commentary of trail features – in the manner such that I do. In it, I basically go slow to point out and avoid potential hazards, and scout a couple of campsites along the way that might be usable for overnighting at the end of the day’s errands. On the plus side, you get to see some nice scenery as it unfolds in front of “us”, and get a feel for what it’s like to explore a new-to-you trail that poses a few problematic challenges for a somewhat large, stock vehicle with no skid plate protection whatsoever. You’ll also meet the type of people I most often come across on such recreational trails. Perhaps its strongest point is that it’s real, not a carefully edited piece with a music track, crafted to evoke a sense of beauty and adventure. I can do that, but this piece somehow begs not to fluff it up. If you ever wondered what it’s like to explore trails that are a mystery as to whether they will be passable by your vehicle – or future vehicle – this video will give you a taste of either what you want, or what you want to definitely stay away from.
On the minus side, I’m one of those people who can’t walk and chew gum at the same time, so the sporadic commentary is halting, at best. It can also be annoying because I seem to obsess over the horrors of tire sidewall cuts and overhanging branches. Actually, all I’m doing is thinking out loud (supposedly for you) as a sort of crude trainer for why you might not want to just blast down any old trail in any old vehicle – unless of course you’re very fit and think nothing of picking bits of your vehicle up off the ground as you go. You see, I got a punctured tire on a simple, smooth gravel trail just once, in a very isolated area toward the end of the day. During that adventure, I discovered that my tires weigh upwards of 80 pounds each, a mass that is nearly impossible for me to lift at awkward angles. (Each tire alone weighs 66 pounds, and who knows what the wheel rims weigh?) I also discovered that my very nice jacking system works well on a bare truck, but that the front and rear projection of the bike carrier and cargo box severely compromises the reach of the crank handle. It can still be done, but at the cost of time, tedium, and exhausted cursing.
Therefore, given the choice, I would much prefer not to repeat the process, if at all possible. I assume that your preferences match mine, so my discourse on route is to cite the main tire hazard on rocky trails that is controllable by you: sidewall damage. You may not be able to do much about a tread puncture, but you can control needless sidewall punctures. I also obsess about overhead branches. This particular trail has plenty of them, and is not a good choice for hard side truck campers that extend up well above the cab roof. It’s also not the best choice for rigs that have roof-mounted solar panels that aren’t glued securely down, or framed panels which are mounted with a few sheetmetal screws in thin aluminum roof ribbing – as mine are. Since I currently don’t have the storage space for an appropriate ladder this trip, there’s no way for me to look up top later, to make sure that everything is still kosher up there. Thus there is some apprehension of facing a 65 MPH highway trip against a stout 20-30 MPH headwind, as I suspected the next day would present. The Four Wheel’s standard aluminum slat siding can take quite a beating – which it has – but I have ripped a logo sticker in half while passing between bushes, and the Mighty Furd itself has many wavy horizontal scratches down its length. The foliage out west is mostly tough and wiry, fine-tuned to protect itself from animal and weather incursions. It is, I think, the prime reason for the early riders out west wearing their knee-high boots over their pants, and for the invention of chaps. Minimizing branch interference is therefore a good policy overall for man, beast, and machinery.
So when I listen to the commentary now, it sounds like I am paranoid about taking this trail at all. In reality, it’s merely voicing what I keep in mind while on a trail that, here and there, promises to either stress the vehicle or do damage unless I recognize the hazards it is presenting. It’s puzzle-solving – maximizing progress while minimizing risk. Adventure involves successfully overcoming some degree of unfamiliar risk, and it doesn’t much matter what you’re thinking along the way. Calamity is falling prey to unfamiliar risk, often through ignorance and inexperience. Sometimes, calamity is unavoidable. Personally, I prefer adventure. At the time and in retrospect, I feel that this section of trail was fun, challenging at points, and rewarding. I made it without damaging anything (as far as I’m aware), which makes it adventure. In a Jeep or ATV, it would be a fun diversion. In the Intrepid, there’s a lot more involved in the equation. I enjoyed it and look forward to more. Just don’t ask me to swap tires as part of the fun.
While you observe that this clip does not represent anything even remotely close to real four-wheeling, keep in mind that this is a good thing. Four-wheeling clubs and just about everyone else advise against doing so alone, and they advise this for a very good reason: it greatly magnifies both risk and the penalty for poor preparation. Therefore, no videos of the Mighty Furd on this blog will ever reflect any antics worthy of YouTube. I’m just trying to get to Point B without impacting my wallet or my well-being.
To view the clip to its best advantage, I recommend kicking it into full-screen, and listening via a real speaker, if you have one. The latter is just to be able to make sense of my droning mumble. It’s not nearly as sharp as I’d like – the original file is sharp as a tack – but I have not yet discovered the intricacies of feeding files to YouTube for good output. It may be that my download (viewing) speed is too slow, since that speed also affects apparent resolution. Maybe a high bandwidth connection looks better than I’m seeing on my throttled cellular one. The ride starts out at an excruciatingly slow pace, but then picks up speed as the situations open up. There’s a constantly-wiggling reflection in the bottom of the windshield – that’s my little Hawaiian Hula Girl on the dash. She especially likes bumpy trails. To each her own.