When most people think of "The Hamptons" they probably don't picture mud holes and mosquitos, but this story is about my trip to Westhampton, Massachusetts from some good old fashioned four wheeling. Yes, after six months I finally took the truck out and did some wheeling. Up until now I have been amassing parts in order to build a capable off-road vehicle without giving much thought to wheeling it as it is.
On a sunny Friday afternoon I headed off to Massachusetts with the Eastern Four Wheelers to run Ma Bell. With no modifications other than a cracked cylinder head, 4:1 gears in the transfer case and a bobbed bed, I set out for the weekend. I caravanned up from New Jersey with my friend Andrew in his bobbed Ranger. We made OK time though New Jersey and New York but hit a lot of traffic in Connecticut. I was having some cooling problems so we stopped once and it took us 3 ˝ hours to get to Chris Smith's shop in Cheshire, CT. From there we met up with Jamie and his family (with an Early Bronco with 38" SXs) and Doug (with a two door Explorer on 33" Swampers) and continued on another hour and a half to Westhampton, MA. I was starting to think that this was going to be a Ford only event but there were a few other rigs already at the campground, including one Toyota pickup, a few Jeeps, and an FJ-40. Our camp was flat and grassy with plenty of shade trees and enjoyed perfect weather the entire weekend.
Now… the good stuff! We got to the trailhead for Ma Bell about 10:00 AM after a short drive from the campgrounds. There were 26 vehicles (twenty-six!) all together so we split into two groups. The first group was led by Chris Smith (of Trailsmith 4x4) and the second group was led by Dave Brill. Dave was actually without the "Toxic Turtle" but rode along with Paul in his capable fullsize Bronco. From the first obstacle it was clear that Northeast trails are for real. Luckily "The Wall" has a bypass (as do all of the major obstacles) and we all went around, leaving the obstacle as an option at the end of the day if people hadn't had enough fun. Ma Bell was so named because the trail follows an old phone line. All of the poles have long been cut down though and as the trail is unmaintained it has become quite rough in spots.
After a few hundred yards our group promptly caught up with the first group at the second large (unnamed) obstacle. A four foot rock ledge framed by loose soil was holding up most of the rigs. Shorter wheelbase Wranglers and Broncos were having a tough time making it up due to lack of traction. With the exception of Wendell in his flatfender, I didn't see anyone make it over this ledge without using a lot of throttle. The first breakage of the day (for our group, a Jeep had already killed a driveshaft in the first group) came when the front end of Jeff's truck came down hard and the Swampers found traction. The result was a broken Birfield. Luckily he was close to the back of the pack and Jeff and Nick dove in immediately to fix the front end.
The next major obstacle was "Two Faced", which most of the group did without too much difficulty, although it was already becoming clear that the trail was getting pretty chewed up by the group in front of us (with two vehicles on 38" tires). Two Faced is so named because it offers two different lines up the rock face. The climb is not as steep as the previous obstacle but the ledge is much higher, adding to the pucker factor for shorter rigs. At this point we stopped for lunch and waited for Nick and Jeff to catch up. A Ranger broke a front axle shaft and swapped that out as we ate.
After lunch I moved forward in the group so that Dave could keep an eye on me. He also did an excellent job of spotting me through the tougher spots on the trial. The 4:1 gears in the transfer case were really paying for themselves at this point, as I was able to crawl over most of the obstacles. The motor would stall on occasion, the 22RE doesn't lug down as low as the Jeep motor that I am accustomed to. Even with the 4:1 gears it isn't low enough and I'll be adding a second transfer case in the future. With Dave's help I made it across the water crossings and over the rock ledges with a few backups and some scraping. My biggest problem was ground clearance, which is what happens when you run 29 inch tires! My transfer case cross member took a beating but I made it through without breaking anything. The next big obstacle we came to was "Committed" but no one went down it. This is another big rock face with cracks and ledges that can easily cause a rollover. I never saw anyone attempt Committed, although there were reports that Randy went up it in his well equipped TJ (ARBs, 4:1 t-case gears, Teraflex suspension, 35" MT/Rs) on the way back.
We didn't run Ma Bell to the field at the end but instead turned around at "Suzuki Hill", the last major obstacle. Suzuki Hill was named after a Samurai went end over end while trying to conquer the hill. It was here that we once again encountered the first group, except this time they were on their way out. Unlike the other major obstacles, which are rock faces, Suzuki Hill is a steep, rutted hill climb that winds around a large boulder. Most of the rigs that attempted Suzuki Hill made it up without much difficulty.
The way out on Ma Bell is the same as the way in (it is not a loop) so I already knew what to expect by this time. I did need a tug from Paul on one climb, but otherwise I did fine, once again thanks to Dave's excellent spotting. Back at the road people starting airing their tires up while Randy and Jeff attempted "The Wall". Both walked right up like it was a paved road. I was quite impressed. I thought that Randy might have been carrying too much speed into the obstacle, but obviously he knows better than I. Jeff had contend with me standing in front of him too as I tried to get a good photo of his attempt.
Back at camp everyone made their dinners before sitting around the campfire to talk shop. I got a chance to get to know people a little better and enjoyed the conversation. Ultimately though the day of wheeling tired me out and I turned in early.
Sunday morning I woke up refreshed and ready for more wheeling. A smaller group of us were running Rhodes Road, which loops around a beaver dam on property owned by snowmobilers. This trail contains one particularly difficult section and I was advised to not take my truck, so I road along with Andrew. Unfortunately I used up most of my film on Saturday so I do not have many pictures from Rhodes Road.
At first I was beginning to wonder what all the fuss was about because the "trail" is just a dirt road (albeit a dirt road through scenic Massachusetts). In truth, most of the trail is like this with the exception of one nasty part that is probably not more than 200 yards long. This section is right below the beaver dam and filled with muddy soil, tight trees, and large rocks. The area reminded me of the pictures I had seen of the Dakota Territory Challenge. Almost all of the vehicles incurred body damage in this section. The slick roots would cause tires to slip and the rigs would slide helplessly into the trees. We were here for a couple of hours, although the only mechanical breakage was a front driveshaft on a TJ. After completing the difficult portion of the trail it was after one in the afternoon so Andrew and I decided to head back to camp so we could get home. We ate lunch and finished packing before an uneventful (but long) drive back to New Jersey. Although the drive was long and the trip was short I am already looking forward to going back to run Ma Bell again.