Some of the Nastiest Mud We've Ever Seen!
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The Swamp Stompers 4x4 Club of central Michigan is a far cry from being your typical four-wheel-drive club. While rockcrawling may be the craze for a select few, its not the case for this band of adventurous backwoods explorers. Their idea of hard-core wheeling is to head to the Upper Penninsula (referred to as the U.P. by the local Yoopers) and ride on the nastiest, muddiest, gooiest, and most deeply rutted logging roads this side of the Amazon. Bill Maskill, a Top Truck Challenge 1999 competitor, told us about this trail ride back in June, and we figured wed better check it out.
The U.P. is not an easy place to get to. Its connected to Wisconsins northeast corner and lies between Lake Superior to the north and Lake Michigan on the south. Bill said it was about a 10-hour drive north of his home in the Detroit area.
Nestled within the glacier-formed hills of the Hiawatha National Forest, this region has miles and miles of wilderness trails following old logging roads, which beckon four-wheel enthusiasts. Scenic forests of hardwoods and spruce and fir trees add character to the areas boggy trails, and the additional attraction of isolated lakes, quiet streams, and awesome glacial formations make the ride spectacular.
Aside from all its scenic beauty, the lure of the U.P. can be deceiving. What starts out as a leisurely trail ride through the northwoods can turn into the complete opposite. A mellow two-track can quickly turn into a blackened, muddy, bottomless bog. However, thats exactly why the Swamp Stompers, Mid-Michigan Four-Wheelers, and Troll Four-Wheelers visit with their 4x4s. At least 75 rigs from these clubs in Michigan and surrounding states came to follow the trails. A makeshift campground next to the Limestone Mini-Mall (actually a little country store and sole provider of supplies) became our home base.
Our first morning out, Bill guided nine trail-toughened 4x4s to a series of logging roads northwest of our camp. After driving a few miles on county blacktop, we turned off onto a trail that led us into the forest. Eventually, we came to a black, boggy section known as Laughing Whitefish. Bill knows this little bog well. Last year, while he was prerunning this area in his Killer B, the vehicle broke down and he had to walk 10 miles back to camp in the dark. I aint walkin back today, he said. Luckily for him, our group included a bad-to-the-bone 85 Ramcharger with a new Mopar Magnum 360 crate motor, an 87 Chevy truck with 1-ton axles, four Jeep CJ-5s, an 85 Chevy Blazer, and a couple of CJ-7s, all equipped with lockers, winches, and plenty of extra parts.
Mike Tippy Branch, driving a 75 CJ-5, was the first to take the plunge and stalled in four feet of water and mud. After winching to get out, Tippys engine caught on fire, causing everyone to scramble for an extinguisher. Handfuls of mud seemed to work well, and the motor survived the blaze.
One by one, rigs attacked the slimy gauntlet, burying tires and breaking parts along its entire length. Bill waited until everyone else finished then plowed through the deepest part of the bog. The goo covered his 44s completely, but the 700 horses under the hood kept them spinning ferociously. The fullsize Bow Tie was in its element and performing like a champwell, almost. As Bill made the final pass, we heard the dreaded sound of metal snapping in two. The rear driveshaft let go, and the Killer B came to an instant halt. No big deal. Bill still had front-wheel drive. The front Dana 60 dug its way out and powered the Chevy back to camp.
The following morning, our crew was eager to get down and dirty all over again. We headed out to the trail known as the Hell Hole100 yards long with an average depth of four feet of the nastiest-looking mud youve ever seen. Once a vehicle gets buried, its time to fire up the winch. These guys (and gals) thrive on this kind of wheelin and have returned four years in a row to see who will conquer the beast. One by one, they gave it their best shot. Out of nine rigs, five suffered major carnage, and none made it through. In spite of this, from what we could tell, they all had the time of their lives. It took us about 10 hours to get through that pit, and the sun was setting as we started for camp.
A huge pig roast and bonfire was in full swing by the time our convoy hobbled back into Limestone. The fire pit was surrounded with people telling war stories of the past couple of days, each more intense than the last. As the night wore on, laughter became louder, and most folks could be heard discussing a single topic: Yooper Dooper Fall Tour 2000. For more information, visit Bill Maskills Web site at www.swampstompers.com.