Wheeling and Wrenching in Harlan Ky

Wheeling and Wrenching in Harlan Ky

This past weekend I met up with the folks from the XJ List in Harlan, Ky for our semiannual meeting. After an uneventful drive to the park, we all began unloading our rigs and airing down our tires.

That is when we hit out first mechanical snag of the weekend. One of Jenny’s valve stem caps would not come off. We tried penetrating oil, vise grips and even a torch but it refused to budge. Evan was in need of some spark plugs so we quickly pulled the wheel and tire and tossed it in the bed of his rental pickup and headed for town.

We found a tire shop just a few miles up the road. They had her new valve stem installed in just a few minutes for only $6 and no questions asked. We headed on into town and got Evan some spark plugs.

We headed into the woods in the afternoon. For the first time in several trips for me we had dust instead of mud. It was very nice to make a slow crawl up trail 15 rather than a full throttle wheel spinning run. We made a nice clean run on Rail Bed getting everyone through with a few well stacked rocks. The only casualty was a broken brake line on Kevin’s Toyota. I also noticed a small leak at my front pinion seal.

The next morning I found my diff fluid mostly gone. The pinion bearing was worn enough to allow the shaft to keep the seal from sealing. I borrowed some fluid and kept on wheeling.

We took our group up to Lion’s Den to let Kevin and Dean run their Toyotas through the tight rocks. It took a lot of winching and rock stacking to get Kevin through. He suffered some body damage as well but he looked happy to be a lion tamer. Dean made the trip look almost easy as he put his exo cage to good use. He made it through without even using a winch.

We then headed up to Mason Jar. I have been wanting to run this trail again for a long time but conditions have never worked out quite right. I almost backed out again as I watched the buggies on 40s having trouble. But the group assured me that they would help me through.

My little 33” Buckshots get great grip but don’t give me a lot of clearance to get over the huge rocks in Mason Jar. I made it up onto the gate keeper rock pretty easily and had more confidence. By the time I made it to the rock that always scares me I was ready. I had broken an axle shaft on it last time. This time however, the Buckshots got a firm grip and I pulled up with very little wheel spin.

On the next ledge, Scott took a bad hop and broke the input yoke on his Dana 44. Neal had a spare so we swapped it out right there. We had a lot of unwanted advice from a group of ATV riders who passed by. With Scott back under power we finished the remainder of the trail easily.

On our last day, we went in search of more trails and tried to stay out of the sun as it was getting warm on the mountain. Neal suffered an electrical problem with his starter so that he had to always park where he could do a roll start each time. We had lunch at the entrance to Your Turn but decided not to run it due to the very difficult exit. We headed instead to Crawford’s cry. Neal made it up and so did Dean. Josh started up when he suddenly lost all oil pressure.

The rest of the group accompanied him to the zip line parking area where he could fetch it with his trailer. Jenny loaned him her XJ to go back and get his trailer. She found a seat in another Jeep and stayed with us.
I took a small group to Pin Ball and rail bed while the others helped Josh Load his possibly crippled rig. It remained to be diagnosed whether it was an actual failure or a sensor failure.

The newest member of our group had a bit of trouble on rail bed and first damaged a front leaf spring on his Wrangler. The a few feet later he broke an axle shaft. We helped him winch himself out. Once he was on level ground we swarmed over his Jeep like a pit crew and had a spare shaft installed in about 20 minutes.

Back at camp, I help talk him thorough a ball joint swap as well since he had some spares and a ball joint press. We finished just in time for supper.



Mike guiding Jeff & Jason as they replace the ball joints





The guys preparing the steaks, potato boats and corn for the group



IMG_3583Jenny’s XJ in Rail Bed


Kevin’s Toyota in Lion’s Den


Mike’s, Josh’s and Scott’s XJ’s waiting in line to go through Mason Jar


Jenny and Mitch helping prepare the food


Evan, Mike and Jenny


Evan & Kevin looking over the truck and determining what step to take next in Lion’s Den


Mike, Josh, Dean and Kurt looking on as Kevin drops into the Lion’s Den


Kevin, Evan & Amanda at Mason Jar


Dean taming the Lion’s Den, again

Jeep Drivers

Most of the time when I am out driving my lifted XJ I see other XJ’s, TJ’s, YJ’s and the like being driven by guys. Every once in awhile I will come across a female driver. Lately whenever I have passed other lifted XJ’s I get the “Jeep Wave” by guys which does make me feel like I am a part of the “group.” I have to admit that this past week I did drive as if I were in a tunnel and no other vehicles expect Jeeps existed. Several times I would pass XJ’s particularly lifted ones. I nearly ran over a car in front of me because all I could see were two lifted XJ’s that were giving me the Jeep wave. I wouldn’t mind getting together with some of these drivers to have some fun.

An issue I have come across is whenever I meet up with a group of people that talk about upcoming trips to go wheeling it usually consists of guys driving and their girlfriends or wives riding shotgun. As a female, if I attempt to join in the local group gatherings it is usually responded with hesitation or a cold shoulder.

I am a part of a group  of XJ’ers that communicates through Yahoo’s XJlist that meets twice a year mainly in Harlan, KY at Blackmountain Off Road Park, Putney Trailhead. Most of the guys are from Kentucky in the Louisville area along with some who are from Ohio, Tennessee, North Carolina, etc. Typically there are about 20 people that join in the Spring Flings and Fall Crawls held every year.

According to one of the guys that manages Black Mountain Off Road Park, I am one of the only females he knows has driven her own rig on the trails. Most of the time the girlfriends or wives will drive the rigs down to the restrooms and showers. The rest of the time they are riding shotgun.

Almost five years ago with a completely stock XJ I proved myself to the group that I can do just about anything they could do and wasn’t scared to do it. Below is a picture of me on Trail 39 at Windrock OHV park in Oliver Springs, TN in October 2007.



In 2010, I really proved myself when my XJ nearly slid off the ledge of a trail known as Rail Bed in Black Mountain. This trail was mostly consisting of debris from mining in the area so the ground would give away, which is exactly what happened in my case. Approximately eight feet below was a massive pointy boulder. Every time we visit that trail the guys look down in awe and tell me they could have never handled that situation as well as I did. Luckily for me I had an awesome group of guys that immediately knew what to do and get it done quickly.




The next time I was at Black Mountain I proved I was not intimidated by Rail Bed and actually lead the group into the trail which the group has nicknamed “Jenny’s Trail.”  Rail Bed has actually become one of my favorite trails when I visit Black Mountain. Trail 15 and the Lower Rock Garden would be my next favorite places. One day I would love to have a rig built enough to get through Mason Jar.

Every time I do visit Black Mountain there are people in other rigs and ATV’s that do double takes when they see me driving a rig. It brings a smile to my face especially when I can over hear them say there is a girl driving that Jeep!