CLUB: SPRING FEVER
HOSTED BY THE OTTAWA VALLEY OFFROADERS
TAKING YOUR TRUCK OFF ROAD and exploring new terrain, pushing the limits of both your skills and your vehicle, this is what off-roading is all about. But what really sets a good trip apart from the rest, is the people you are wheeling with. For our first run of the season, and a true shake down of two new JL builds, we decided to team up with the Ottawa Valley Offroaders(OVO). The OVO has been wheeling Eastern Ontario trails for more than 25 years, so when we received the invite to join them for their annual Spring Fever event, we jumped at the chance. Now, the term Salt of the Earth may be a biblical term, but it’s the first thing that comes to mind when wheeling with this experienced group. I’m not trying to compare off-roading to God, but there is something spiritual about wheeling, camping with friends, and sharing stories around a campfire. That sense of familiarity and comfort amongst friends was immediate when we rolled into camp to meet the Ottawa Valley Offroaders.
The OVO have been organizing trail runs and charity events for decades, some of the members have their children involved in the club, some even wheel with their parents! Which is exactly the type of good people we wanted to connect with. We set up camp on Friday night, in the middle of a field of RV trailers, just outside Calabogie, Ontario. Passing a massive hydro dam, and hurricane-destroyed patches of forest, we were a bit worried that the trails would be swamp land for our first true trail test of the JL’s.
Our trail guides for the weekend were Tim Fitzgerald and Richard Delorme. The two old cronies of the club made us feel instantly welcome and regaled us with stories of club runs to Moab, Rausch Creek and Paragon. Once the sun set over the lake we were situated on, the temp dropped pretty quickly for May in Ontario, and it was time to climb into our winter sleeping bags in anticipation of our first day of wheeling.
Our driver's meeting was set for 8 am, but since the annual Spring Fever run is for members only, our morning was a little more casual than usual. Most of the club members were running buggies, Samurais and two-door Jeeps, so the majority of the morning meeting centered around discussing how our full-sized four-door JL’s were going to sneak through the tight trees of Crag
Lake. The trail head was only a short 20-minute drive from camp, but a few buggies preferred to trailer their rigs to the start, so we convoyed up to the trailhead to air down. The trail of the day was aptly named Crag Lake Trail, as the mid-way point and our lunch spot is a majestic outcrop of Canadian Shield nestled neatly along an embankment that quickly drops down into the depths of Crag Lake. We would rate the trail a 7 out of 10 difficulty, with ample tricky lines to choose from but also an easier go around option for every obstacle as well. The second half of the trail consists of rock garden after rock garden, broken up only by off camber climbs and tight twisty tree lines. The JL’s performed remarkably well, but being 1.5” wider than the JK, plus tire width, a few spots had us needing several people to lean on the Jeeps to prevent us from dragging our hardtops along the pine trees.
Three attempts at each obstacle is the general rule of thumb before being forced into the go around, and the OVO crew did not hesitate to put on a show as soon as we hit the first obstacle. Andy Vatcher, in his Toyota Axle equipped long wheelbase Samurai, was quick to showcase his superb driving skills and bounce his little 1.6L off the rev limiter trying to climb the steep step up.
Short wheel bases seemed to be the name of the game on this moon rock strewn, twisty trail. Too many times the exposed underbellies of the long JL's scraped and dragged their way up and over countless rocks.
One of a host of challenging obstacles, our first real test was a shallow mud pool, preceding a large sloping shield rock with a tree root on the left and a mud wall on the right. Finally, something to showcase the benefits of a long wheelbase. This tricky climb required a precise amount of finesse and skinny pedal to tackle properly, and we’re proud to say that Brad’s 4 door JL on 40’s made quick work of it. I’m not 100 percent sure how much of the success can be attributed to driver skill versus JL Rubicon capability, but we’ll leave that up for debate! Brad’s quick climb didn’t stop the short wheelbase rigs from giving it their best; notably, Jim PeaBody, in his Super Swamper Bogger equipped custom Samurai based buggy. Jim made short work of the narrow approach width, by allowing his Dana 60/14 bolt axles to carve out a slice of trail roughly the
size of the Samurai buggy; his son Wendell was piloting behind him.
Our friend, and longtime OVO member Justin, even gave the hill climb a go in his spring over Suzuki Samurai on pizza cutter TSL’s. The little buggy that could gave it everything it had but was inevitably forced to take the go around after three solid attempts.
Our group consisted of nine rigs, in varying sizes, shapes and conditions; two trailer buggies, three Suzuki Samurais, a TJ, a YJ on a TJ frame, an SAS 4Runner, a two-door Jeep JK and of course us. Our respective Jeeps have a 4" lift on 40’s and a 2” lift on 37’s, but other than that are basically stock. The perfect line up to compare our JL’s head-to-head to, we were honestly shocked at how well they performed. Smiling ear to ear and gabbing on our CB’s like kids in a candy store, the Rubicon’s kept up with even the gnarliest of buggies on the trail, climbing nearly every obstacle our trail guides took us on with ease (and a little driver skill of course). Trail carnage is inevitable, and although the new JL’s held up really well, our group was not so lucky. Towards the end of day one, about
an hour from camp, “uhhh we’ve got a problem”, crackled over the radio. Turns out one of our new friends tore a rear control arm mount clear off his frame. We tried all manner of ratchet strap recovery, to no avail. Just when we began to consider leaving the Jeep in the bush and coming back for it, our faithful trail guide Richard pulled up alongside and scrambled into action to set up his onboard welder.
Richard’s Jeep has been built slowly and meticulously over the years. What started as a used 89 YJ, has morphed into the ultimate overland rig, sporting onboard air, a welder, fresh water, custom axles and a long arm suspension set up, Richard was our trail angel that afternoon, with the help of some crafty ingenuity and a few spare washers we managed to bubble gum the control arm back in place and hobble our way out of there.
It was dark when we headed back to camp. As we all rolled along the dirt road, it sure was nice to turn the seat heaters up and roll in comfort. There’s truly something satisfying about being able to drive your rig to the trailhead unassisted, wheel all day, camp out, then drive home under your own power.
The new JL is honestly one of the best platforms created, loaded with creature comforts yet still more than capable to tackle whatever you throw at it with only a few modifications.
There are a few key elements to a quality trail run. Hard, but not too difficult lines, epic scenery, good company and of course witty banter. CB’s were mandatory for this run and thank goodness we rushed to get one installed in the white Jeep before heading out, as the Jeep vs Toyota, and new vs old rig rivalry rang loud throughout the day.
Thankfully these new JL’s proved their worth with minimal winching and the old cronies’ remarks were muted repeatedly throughout the day as obstacle after obstacle was tackled and conquered by the sleeper JL.
All in all, we had a blast testing the JL’s, learning a few things from our trail guides, but most importantly, sharing laughs and the common interest of wheeling with new people. The OVO group quickly became as familiar to us as old friends. We could not have asked for a better group to launch our JL adventures. We enjoyed great trails, beautiful scenery, and new friends as solid as well… salt some might say? If you ever find yourself in Ottawa, or you are looking for a welcoming club to guide you through the mountains, we encourage you to reach out to the OVO. We know we will definitely be reaching out again real soon.