Tales of the Jeep Float

Having been at home a little too much lately, it just felt like the right time for another long weekend. It was George’s birthday and we invited Kate and Brady along, too. We opted for a return to Medicine Park, or at least that general area, since we haven’t been back since New Year’s 2018. The original plan was to find a couple water crossings, get lost on a few segments of the Oklahoma Adventure Trail, and maybe even make it to Mt. Scott this time. But when compared to most of our adventures, this junket was fairly unplanned.

Despite at some point earning the codename (and sticker art) “Jeep Float,” Kate’s Jeep didn’t even make the trip. And as I soon discovered, Brady’s Jeep would not be in attendance either (nor would the FR-S).

Shortly before the weekend, our AirBnB host cancelled on us, sending us on a mad scramble to find something else. Also, the weather was looking increasingly flood-y. Usually we have fairly good luck with AirBnB’s so that was disappointing. Thankfully, I found a ranch out near Binger, much further north than originally planned, which looked like it could keep us entertained all on its own.

Day 0: I was the last to arrive

Day 0, for me, was officing out of a hotel lobby in Fort Worth to try and make decent time on the way up. I ended up taking a late call from my passenger seat — the implications of which will be revisited on my next roadtrip — and rolling up to the ranch just before sunset with the chili already simmering and the whiskey already in abundance. And George and Evan had me a present!

Photo by Evan

A 10-20mm DX f/3.5 lens. In focal length, that starts at the 10.5mm fisheye I have and zooms to just inside the range of my 18-200mm kit lens. But unlike that fisheye, where lines are curved but masses are fairly proportional, this lens is an ultra-wide with rectilinear distortion instead — lines are straight but masses are disproportionate. Think “every real estate photo ever.” So a very different style lens, which I ended up using almost exclusively all weekend.

And as we were playing with it at sunset, I noticed Brady had a new toy: a 2021 Toyota Tacoma TRD. New enough to still have its temp tags (I’m a fan).

Day 1: Ranch Muddin’ and OAT West

Happy Birthday, George! We explored the property a bit, then headed vaguely toward Quartz Mountain State Park by way of the Oklahoma Adventure Trail.

That first river crossing looks familiar, rather doesn’t it? Remember when driving through 6-8″ of not-particularly-wide creek scared the hell out of me, and we stopped to celebrate that we had merely survived on the far side? My how far we’ve come. (Though to our credit, in December 2017, there were ice chunks in that river.)

We also revisited the tougher crossing that we bailed on back in 2017. Brady decided to give it a shot, and he did make it in. But the escape on the far side turned out to be quite stout, so after booping the shit out of his new front bumper, he had to three-point turn in the river and come back. At which point he got stuck and we dragged him out, temp tags and all.

Day 2: Feeling Fuzzy

Admitting to no weakness on anyone’s part, we spent Saturday on the ranch. Between the rain, George suddenly thinking he had strep, and a general fatigue, we dedicated the day to video games, movies, walking around the ranch, and some hair of the dog. Approaching dinner time, I offered to run with Kate back into town to pick up groceries. But I quickly discovered that the Xterra had a Jeep problem. That’s right, Xterra the Younger got rocks in his shoes — or more precisely: a rock got inside the dust shield of the brake rotor. Thankfully, previous experience helped us diagnose the noise quickly.

And then there was dinner on the porch. Helluva grill at this place.

Then we drove out to the ridge for sunset.

And then we took an after-dark run through the ditch. Which went well until I picked a terrible line, went a bit sideways, and had to be dragged back onto four wheels.

As Evan put it:

I was taking photos and didn’t immediately notice an issue, but did notice he stopped moving in an odd spot. After looking up from my camera, I saw he was at a very odd angle.

Apparently he took a line too far to the left, hit the high, soft dirt on the side of the washout, and the front slid in, forcing the driver’s side rear to rotate and, hitting the limit of his flex, popped up in the air. The net effect was he was at odd angles in all three dimensions and any attempt to extricate himself solo would likely end in body damage or a roll.

Pulling him out via the road was a bad idea, as it’d likely cause him to slide into the wall. Or roll. While the other side of the ridge was grassy with an eventual drop-off into a creek, we figured there was enough room for a short tow strap to get him on all four wheels again, keep all the paint on the car, and the shiny side up. I lined up the Rover, once again called to duty because it was the heaviest with the most aggressive tires and already more or less in the right spot, and George grabbed his recovery hitch from the Renegade.

We sat on the hill in the humid summer air, the sun having set behind us quite some time ago and listened to the frogs in the ravine.

Day 3: Mount Scott is Still Closed

Despite the intermittent rain, the plan for our final day was to pack out and head down to the Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge and part ways on Mount Scott. The mountain was closed. Again. (By which I mean: they close the gate at the turnoff for the the scenic drive up to the overlook.) Just like in 2017.

That said, it had been a nice enough drive down there, and it got me a bit closer to home with company. I suppose this kills the roadtrip. The Tulsa brigade turned and headed north. But seeing a seven hour drive ahead of me, I decided for a hike first.

The Narrows Trail, Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge

And by “hike,” I mostly mean “a brief stroll along the creek until a rock scramble.” But the view at the end was worth it — a pleasant end to this lovely little weekend. I stood in the rain a while.