A Great Event As Seen Through The Eyes Of A Beginner.
Editor: Eric Bewley Story/Photo: Matty D.
HAZELTON, PA. -Hello, NYSIDEKICKER here, giving a brief overview of my first true off-road experience in my Suzuki. My excitement had been building long before I even left New York, I had wanted to go in 2003 but talked myself out of it. Thinking it would be too expensive and a risk to take my daily driver that far for a weekend of wheeling and hope to make it back traveling by myself. I’m unsure why I even worried as my Suzuki performed flawlessly to and from the event.
I never completely committed myself to going. You see, I had never been away from home overnight without my wife and kids in our 14 years together. But I made the decision that I wanted to go this year, and got my wife’s approval and planned my vacation around GONZOOKIN 2004.
In January I knew we were going and that certain things had to be done before then. But, like a typical male, I could never find the time to get them done until days before departure time. As Murphy’s Law would have it, I had to chase parts to three different stores and of course some things had to be ordered. But in the end, I did accomplish to get all but my new clutch scratched off my things to do list.
I was preparing to leave when I decided to check the ZUKIWORLD Online event forum one last time. I noticed that Jeff and Tim were bringing their sons along. I had already debated about bringing my son along but I had decided to leave him home since I didn’t know what to expect, like where I was going to sleep or even what I would be eating. But since their sons were around his age, I decided why not and waited for him to get home from school on Thursday. As Dylan got off the bus and saw that I hadn’t left before he got home, he was excited that he would be able to say goodbye before I left.
So I teased him a little bit before I told him that I had decided that he could miss a day of school to go with me. But there were a few conditions he had to agree to first: 1) Not once could he say “are we there yet?” 2) We would be sleeping either in the zuke or in a tent on the hard ground. 3) I was bringing basically a cooler full of munchies and wasn’t sure what or when we would eat. So he agreed not to complain about the sleeping and eating arrangements for the weekend. So with the rules set and the truck packed, we hit the road Thursday, 5 hours later than expected. So now our arrival time would be 10 p.m. instead of 5 p.m. But, fortunately, the 5 hour trip went flawless and the campgrounds were easily found in the dark with my map quest directions in hand.
As I arrived into the campground I found the office to be closed. So I decided just to go into the campgrounds and see if anyone else had arrived on Thursday as well. I was heading into the campgrounds when I saw the silhouette of three lifted Sammys from the glowing campfire. My adrenaline was now at an ultimate high, we made it and others had too. There was some guys all set up and sitting around a campfire. As well as someone who appeared to have just gotten there themselves starting to set up his tent to the glow of his zuki’s headlights. So I pulled in between the two and introduced myself. Low and behold the guy setting up his tent was Jeff Johnson. Ronzuki and Rich were the ones all set up and enjoying the glowing campfire. So with a little help we were all set up. It was a brisk night and had dropped into the 40’s that night. Thank god the sleeping bags my brother loaned me were top notch. Considering, we were going to be sleeping in our pup tent on the bare ground. True camping!
Friday morning we were up and going early. The weather was beautiful. More zuke’s had arrived during the night and more were rolling in as we waited to head over to Paragon Park. For most it was probably just another day of wheeling, but to Dylan and me, it was like Christmas morning. We were walking around checking out some of the zukes before we headed out. Then the time had come to head over to the park. There was a lot of excitement but also a bit of nervousness about today’s outing. In the back of my mind were all of the posts I had read about the weak points of my sidekick. Like the aluminum front differential and the weak steering arm set up I had read about. I knew that if I broke something on the zuke it would be an expensive tow home. Also, not having any real off-road experience outside of puddle jumping, I didn’t want to hold up the pack. But after a short while on the trail I felt at complete ease. The guys I wheeled with were a great bunch of guys. Knowing when they should get out and spot for some of the newbie’s. But I did still worry about my front differential smacking on a rock.
I went out with the novice / stocker guys. I was thinking that it might be a bit lame, but it was far from that. We had some guys with great off-road knowledge with us. They lead the pack which helped pick out the line to run. They started with some mild trails and then off to a play area with some hills, mud, water, and sand to play in. We had a couple of kids riding ATV’s with us. They seemed to have a ball and were able to keep up with the pack. We took some time out for lunch and then we moved on.
We made our way to a nice hill and a creek crossing the mine shaft and another creek crossing a little deeper than the first. I had to be prodded a little to try a few of the obstacles, but was never uncomfortably pressured. The choice was mine to make. I was glad that I did, the outcome was complete fun. We then made our way out, up a long, rutty, rocky, and sometimes steep hill. Our biggest challenge of the day, but was again another fun trail.
We left the park and went to town for dinner only a short drive from the park. As we got back to camp it was good to see more arrivals and friends to meet. As I say “friends to meet” it makes me think of the sign that hangs over the door at our local bar and grill. It reads “there are no strangers here! Just friends you have yet to meet.” I think this is a great motto to live by. It fits the whole ZUKIWORLD atmosphere. Maybe Eric should post that in his header.
Ok, back to the story, day one wheeling was over and my confidence was way up from the morning. I was amazed at the places we had gone on day one. It was great to be back at camp. More zukers were rolling in as the night went on. The weather on the other hand was another story. The skies were clouding up threatening rain. Friday night I got to meet a couple of guys from Maryland. They had combined their two zukes together into one over the last couple of weeks, just so they could make it to Gonzookin 2004.
They had turned a stock Sammy into a 16 valve off-road Sammy. One owned the body and motor while the axels, wheels, and winch were taken from the other guys Sammy. Now that’s a true zukaholic! Neither one could go because there zukes weren’t up and running so they combined the two to make one. They were having some issues with their new junkyard motor they had just installed. So I got to watch them tear it down to check the timing and such to see if they could find the problem. It was interesting to see the devotion these guys had to make it to the trail.
Saturday we woke up to cloudy skies but off to the trails we went. Today we had a few more guys wheeling with us, even a stock Vitara. But through a quality set of wheelers we helped stack rocks around the larger obstacles to get him through. He did receive some damage but not because of the rocks, but because he got himself too close to a small stump sticking up on the edge of the trail. It tore off his body molding around the wheel and under the door. The good news though was that it came off in two whole pieces. It looked as though if he got some new clips it would snap back on. Anyhow the Rock Garden was great fun and I will enjoy this type of off-road course once I get the steel front end in. We then made our way to a free play area once we got the “cough” jeeps flat tire fixed . Sorry Dan, I couldn’t resist ..by the way, a jeep owner with a great personality and was a pleasure to have aboard.
Ok, the time had come for the T.Z.C., what I had waited for all day. This was a chance to watch some built zukes battle it out. Unfortunately the rain decided it wanted to come down hard at this time as well. It was an interesting process to watch the course get laid out and to see the drivers eye out their course. I was amazed at how these little zukes made it up and over some of the big rocks. Of the 5 zukes in the T.Z.C., only 2 made it to the top. The other 3 either broke or ran out of time. One even chose to turn around and drive back down the course. They all put on a great show and have my respect. My son wanted to know if I was going to try it. Not likely, I told him, my zuke isn’t quite that built. I’m not sure I could abuse my D.D. that much, but in the future would like to have a trail only rig for that type of trail. He tried edging me on a few times over the weekend but I reminded him that the 5 hour drive would be a 5 hour walk if we broke the zuke.
Well, day two on the trail was over. Time to head out, get dinner, and go back to camp. Tonight we chose the sub shop on the way back to camp; I had overheard someone saying that someone was ticketed for wide tires. I wasn’t sure if it was in town or what, so instead of spending my money in town I just stopped at the sub shop we pass on the way back to camp. I think it to be silly to bust someone in that area for this. I mean, I’m sure that the park brings a lot of money to the area.
Back at camp, the Maryland boys were back at tearing down their zuke to try to get it running better. Some others jumped in to lend a hand, but in the end, I think it remained the same. It had to be something outside of the timing, valves, or something I heard mentioned. Oh, and by the way, have you ever thought of running your Sammy without shocks??? Well, take it from them, and don’t try it. It’s one of the things they didn’t get done, and boy did it wobble across the parking lot. I can’t imagine what it did on the trail .
Saturday night was raffle and award night. There were some good prizes given away. My son was so excited when he won the Sammy book during the raffle. He was hoping for the tool set, but happy with the Sammy book. I’d like to say thanks to Jeff, Tim, George and everyone who was involved in putting this event together.
I know this is a bit long winded and not even close to all the excitement that was had, but just a small piece of a great event that I had witnessed for the first time. I would truly like to thank all that wheeled in our group for a great first experience in off-road with my zuke. Also, all that came, and made Gonzookin a great experience for everyone. I hope too see you all in 2005.