Trip Report Pine Barrens, New Jersey

May. 27, 2006 By Chuck Conway
Author: Chuck Conway
Location: Pine Barrens, New Jersey - Wharton State Forest
Dates: Memorial Day Weekend, 1996


Paul Nichele ( & John Bellerby: Jeep YJ, Pro-Comp Lift, 31" Goodyear M/T's, Ramsey 8000
Chuck Conway ( & Maria Santoro: GMC Sonoma ZR2, 31" BFG AT's, Eaton Gov-Lock
Jesse King ( & Jackie: CJ-7, 4 cyl, 35" BFG AT's, lifted
Ross Lake, (, Scott Lake and Stuart Smith : 78 FJ40, mostly stock, P235/75 Yokohomas
Donovan Leonard ( and a friend: Jeep CJ-7, 33's, lifted
"2 Wheel Drive Guy" and a friend: Jeep YJ, 33's??, stuck in 2 wheel drive (we still don't know who he is)

Saturday morning, we met at the Batsto Ranger Station in Wharton State Forest. After everybody arrived, we checked out each other's rigs (mostly everyone drooled over Ross Lake's pristine stock FJ-40 for a while), registered for camping, and got on our way. After a brief stop to air down, we cruised down some ever narrowing two-track trails until we got to the first obstacle - a 30 foot long water crossing/mud bog that had about 16" of standing water on top of gooey mud. It required drivers to dodge to the right to avoid a jack handle that was left stranded in the mud by an unknown 4-wheeler. Ross Lake in the stock FJ-40 was the only vehicle to get stuck (briefly) in the mud. A little more momentum allowed the P235 Yokohama tires on the 'Cruiser to grab on the far side of the hole and make it through unassisted.

We spent more time driving sandy two track trails, and we came upon our second stop for the morning - a dead-end water/mud pit on the right side of the trail. One way in, one way out. The red Wrangler was the first to test the waters. Only *after* he got into the mud did everyone realize that the Wrangler was in 2WD. Much sloshing back and forth in the water ensued, unsuccessfully attempting to get the YJ to drop into 4WD. Donovan Leonard came to the rescue with a tow strap. After the Wrangler was pulled free, Donovan dropped into the pit with his topless CJ. His method of exiting the hole was a definite picture opportunity - geysers of brown muddy water spraying high in the air, showering Donovan and his friend, while the Jeep launched out of the hole at high RPMs. His engine was sputtering after he got back on the trail. At this point, I dropped my tailgate to get out the bug spray, and forgot to put it back up when we drove away.

Again, more sandy trail driving (picture billowing clouds of dry sand and dirt invading lungs, clothes, gear, etc), we got to a shady spot that was a good area to play. A bunch of narrow cracks, ravines, and drop offs allowed everyone to test their axle articulation. As I drove up a narrow opening between some trees, I heard the sound of my gear in the bed sliding around a whole lot more than it should have been. I looked in my rearview mirror, and realized that I forgot to raise the tailgate (DOE!). I gingerly drove up through the trees hoping nothing was damaged. Luckily, nothing spilled out of the truck, even though our big cooler was hanging on by a single bungee. While people were playing, Donovan was attempting to dry out his drowned engine, and Paul Nichele and John Bellerby were trying to help the driver of the 2WD Wranger engage his 4 wheel drive mechanism.


After Donovan's engine dried out, and the 2wd Wrangler was given up as a lost cause (too many unmarked vacuum lines, rotted vacuum lines, and open ended vacuum lines), Paul Nichele suggested we drive North past our intended campsite to another area. It was about a 30 minute ride on sandy and paved roads to the area south of Route 72.


The entrance to the area was a long (1/4 mile) series of sandy whoop-de-doos that would probably be a lot of fun on a motorcycle. It's not so fun in a long wheelbase S-series pickup that's loaded with firewood and gear. A couple of times I got going faster than I should have and stuff started bouncing around in the bed. Switching to two-wheel drive helped to stop the "bucking" motions.

We came upon a mud hole that seemed fairly shallow. The red 2WD Wrangler attempted it, only to find that it was about 2 1/2 feet deep on the right side. (Refer to the previous part about Donovan and the tow strap). After the Wrangler was pulled free, and somebody spotted a snake in the water, I said that I wanted to take a shot at it. I lined up, and tried to drive left to avoid the deep pocket on the right. No such luck - the right front of the truck dove into the deep part and water started splashing over the right side of the hood. I steered it left, gave it some gas, and was happy to feel the left side front tire grab and pull the front of the truck out of the muck.

A little farther along the whoops, and we came upon a large area bordered by a sand hill on one and trailheads on the other. The center of the area was a large sandy "bowl" with a bunch of sand/mud holes. We stopped for lunch, and then played around in the bowl. The water holes varied from shallow to very deep. The 2WD Wrangler, Ross' FJ40, Paul Nichele's YJ, and my GMC pickup had to be tugged out of deep water at different times.


We headed north from there, through more whoops, several water crossings, along a couple of narrow trails (custom pinstriping time), and through to another "bowl" area. This area was mostly sandy, with trails leading off in all directions. Paul Nichele, our fearless leader, said that he thought he knew of a trail that had some cool off-camber crawling. We all headed up between two mounds of dirt, through a narrow crack created by dirt bikes. This should have set off alarms on our heads (more on this later). The approach was smooth, but the back side was off-camber, narrow, and had a sharp turn between some pine trees. Jesse King's CJ neatly balanced on one front wheel and one rear wheel - he got a lot of tire in the air as he carefully maneuvered through. Back to the narrow part - we were not on the jeep trail that we thought we were on -- we were mistakenly on a dirt bike trail. Unfortunately, we were very far into the trail before we lost hope of it leading to a wider trail. Conversations flew back and forth on the CB, scouting trips were made on foot, and we decided that pressing on was better than turning back. We crawled over many off-camber sand berms and through *tight* trees (more pinstripes!). Paul Nichele was leading, doing his best to get us through. Scott Lake and Stuart Smith really helped me out, jumping from the 'Cruiser to pull branches out of the way and guide others through the extremely tight areas. I personally owe them a big "Thank You!", because with my long wheelbase (122") I would never have come through the trail without body damage without their help. 45 minutes later, we ended up on a sandy two-track that runs next to NJ Route 72.


Everyone assessed their paint damage, and Donovan Leonard in the CJ and the guys in the 2WD YJ headed for home. The rest of the group decided to head back and make camp. As we were making our way back through the trails, we were flagged down by a bunch of dirt bikers who told us that there was a Jeep who was wheeling solo and got stuck in a water hole. We found a blue CJ-7 with its front end almost under water, and the rear tires mired deep in the mud. The CJ's beefy rear tube bumper was loose, so Paul Nichele hooked up a strap and _carefully_ pulled the CJ out after a couple of tries. At this point we decided to head back and find the campground. We only traveled a couple hundred yards when everyone came to a stop. Jesse King's CJ's throttle linkage got stuck (open - of course), and he and Jackie went for a wild ride until he could get the engine to shut off (he was lucky he was in front of the group). He apparently flew over some bumps and got the CJ in the air coming out of a mud hole that was in the middle of the trail, at which point his tailgate flew open and distributed the contents of the Jeep (camping gear & food) all over the place. We spent about a half-hour cleaning up the mess (broken eggs & Foster's Lager all over the back seat) and fixing the throttle linkage. Once we got underway, we made it to the campground, and made camp. Ross Lake & Co. hung around for a while, and then he departed to go to work (in Maryland ... 3hours away. Go Ross!) We ate dinner and hung around the campfire for a while, and then Paul and Jesse drove their Jeeps for a night run on some mild trails. It got cold quick (mid-40's, but we were dressed for 60's), so we didn't stay out long. Sunday morning we broke camp and headed for home.

We all owe Paul Nichele ( a big THANK YOU for being "Trail Boss" for the day, and setting up the campground reservations. It wouldn't have been as much fun if he wasn't leading the group.


Chuck Conway - Off Camber Crawlers
'95 GMC ZR2

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