As one of the worst winter storms of the season raged in New Hampshire, members of the East Coast Four-Wheel Drive Association, Region D, were carefully navigating through the heavy snow looking for landmarks to help guide the way so they wouldn't get lost. In the darkness, their headlights revealed little, merely reflecting the blowing snow, and their ice-covered windshield wipers did nothing but smear water back and forth across the glass. Obstacles in their path weren't visible until they were mere feet away, so they had to keep their speed to a crawl and their feet ready to hit the brakes. It was tough four-wheeling, and they were still on the interstate. They hadn't even gotten to the rendezvous point for the winter trail run.
As luck would have it, everyone safely navigated the brutal winter storm and arrived at the trail run staging point in Nashua, New Hampshire, bringing stories of highway carnage and abnormally long travel times. We heard stories of guardrails being used as winch points, but we do not know if that's true. One thing's for sure, for folks to venture out in savage weather such as this, it was obvious they wanted to go trail riding. And the new snow added an exciting dimension to our ride. Bright and early the next morning, our group of 15 trucks headed west from Nashua on snow-packed roads toward the trailhead, which sits high in the mountains of southern New Hampshire.
The only hint that we had arrived at the trailhead was a break in the thick woods to our right, which vaguely resembled a place where a road might sit during the summer. The snow was untracked and deep. With tires aired down, our group pointed its rigs toward the trail and disappeared into the woods, which at this point was comprised of mostly pine trees covered in thick snow. Our group consisted of trail veterans with modified machines, and almost everyone had a winch on his rig.
The trail got with the program immediately, with a constant, unrelenting incline. This was battle enough, but when you add the foot and a half of snow that was covering the trail, a delightful challenge emerged. We switched lead vehicles often because the constant pushing of snow created quite a workout for the cooling systems. The engines revved to keep the trucks moving. The trucks with less aggressive tires stayed to the rear of the pack to take advantage of the packed down trail. But even so, they occasionally got stuck because of ruts and the off-camber angles.
It was a good workout for the machines as well as the drivers when the obstacles came in rapid waves, keeping us jumping with winch cables and tow straps. Out in the wild, this land seems to have changed little since Martin Pring sailed up the Piscataqua River in 1603. The only hint that people had ever been here are the stumps left over from logging. Just when we thought the trail couldn't get any more challenging, it did, with deep ravines, fallen trees, and steep hillclimbs. By late afternoon, we were miles from any plowed road, and our group was strung out along the trail, some involved in their own battles to push forward.
As we climbed in altitude, the snow grew to more than 2 feet deep. As darkness approached, we neared the summit of the mountain, only a few hundred yards from the long, downhill trail that would quickly take us back to town. It was at this point that forward motion became a thing of the past; breakage started to occur and the snow cover reached an all-day high of more than 3 feet. After a vain, time-consuming attempt to winch the lead vehicle to the top of the mountain, it became clear that each vehicle would have to be winched and that it would take most of the night. So, with a fair amount of challenge, our group turned around on the tight trail and began to head back down the way it had come. It was after we had gotten back to the main road that it became clear how tough the trail had been. It had taken us 7 hours to ascend, and only 15 minutes to come back down.
We had two choices for our second day: We could either retrace our path from the day before and pick up where we left off or start from the other side of the mountain and blaze a new trail to the summit. Choosing the previous day's trail would have been easier because most of the work had already been done, while choosing the new trail would put us back in deep, fresh powder on an uphill slope. Of course, our group chose the harder of the two. This trail put us a bit closer to the summit by miles, but we still faced the same challenges of the previous day.
As we climbed higher and higher into the New Hampshire mountains, the views became awesome, and often our group stopped to admire the beautiful scenery. The sound of ARB air compressors and winches became more prevalent when we once again encountered 3-foot-deep snow near the summit. Vehicles with open diffs or less aggressive tires opted for a tow to the top of the mountain. By noontime we had broken through the snow-clogged trail and arrived at the top of the mountain just in time to eat lunch. As we did, the sun broke through the clouds and we were rewarded with stunning 360-degree views of the surrounding mountains, which stretched away for miles in every direction, dotted with pines and capped with new snow. After lunch, we continued over the mountain to hook up with our trail from the previous day, and it became obvious that we made the right decision to discontinue our run the night before. It was the consensus that we would have been on the trail well into the next morning.
As our two-day ride drew to a close, we became more aware of this challenging and beautiful environment and the friendliness and preparedness of these four-wheelers. The East Coast Four-Wheel Drive Association, Region D, is made up of 11 clubs throughout the northeastern United States. They sponsor events throughout the year, are active and knowledgeable in land use issues, and are always ready to go on a trail ride no matter what the weather.
For Your InformationIf you live in the eastern United States and would like more information on membership or would like help locating a club in your area, contact: the East Coast Four-Wheel Drive Association, 101 South Miami Ave., Cleves, OH 45002, (800) 327-8493, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.ec4wda.org.