The plan was simple. We were going to take a long weened to head out into the Ozark National Forest to do some light offroading with my somewhat newly acquired 4WD Civic Wagon and see how it would do. We’d invite some friends and make an adventure out of it. And an adventure it was.
For those following the saga of my Wagon, you know that while I had plenty of time to get it ready for this trip, plenty wasn’t plenty enough. The main issue with it, aside from having sat for who knows how long, was that it wouldn’t tolerate long highway stretches without leaning out, losing power and backfiring. After finally giving up on self-diagnosis of the problem, I took it to a shop who correctly identified it as a clogged in-tank strainer. Many of my hard earned monies later, I had a mostly functioning car, one day before we were supposed to leave.
Alright. Go time.
I’d loaded up the Civic the night before, wrapped the back seat in the cheapest Mexican blanket I could find, gassed, up and crossed my fingers. Today’s drive was the Renegade and the Civic driving 200 miles east to a place called Dover, Arkansas.
What I didn’t anticipate, which is dumb considering I did this same drive towing the Civic home, is how damn hilly this route was going to be. That is a lot of up and down in a car that new had 79 HP and about the same in torque. After 32 years of someone leaving the stable door open, a couple hundred pounds of tools, a human, and a doggo… well the experience was not confidence inspiring.
That said, it eventually made the trip without incident.
We were later joined by Kate (and her doggo Jude in her XJ) and Taylor in the XTerra.
After a late dinner in the only open restaurant in the nearby town of Dover, a Subway, we hit the whiskey and then the sheets.
After feasting on bacon and eggs, we made it out of the AirBnB fairly early and hit the trail.
We had no specific plan for any of these days, least of all this one, so we’d decided to take some dirt roads to a fire tower, then some more dirt to get to a good photo and hiking spot.
What we hadn’t anticipated is how much rain had hit the area in the last couple of days and all of the creeks, rivers, and fords were overflowing. Coincidentally, the route had a lot of fords. Like… a lot a lot.
[All photos by Taylor]
That said, the Civic took it like a champ, even though I briefly forgot I wasn’t in the Land Rover.
While winding though the trails on our way to a fire tower things started getting… weird. For one, my temperature had been creeping up all day, which was worrying, but also my idle kept leaning out.
On the way down a hill I heard a weird sound and then the car started bucking and heaving. Clearly unhappy. As soon as I put the clutch in the car died completely and unceremoniously.
Crap. This might be the other shoe dropping.
I radioed my colleagues and made a quick stop.
I could start the car with part throttle, but anything under 2,200 RPM would kill it. Basically pretty normal symptoms of a massive vacuum leak.
Inspection of the engine, however, didn’t reveal any smoking guns. With the Weber conversion, there aren’t really all that many places for vacuum to leak.
While I proceeded with troubleshooting, the boys started walking the trail behind us. I’d mentioned the weird noise and that it sounded like something hit the firewall on its way out of the engine. I’ll be honest, I didn’t expect much from their walking, but it gave me less of an audience for my failing at troubleshooting.
Imagine my surprise when they returned a while later with a piece of a car in hand.
George’s approximate words were “Well I don’t know what it is or if it is off your car, but it certainly is off a car.” He then presented me with a funny looking brass bolt with an o-ring on it.
My idle jet fell out of the damn carb.
I cannot believe it happened.
I cannot believe they found it.
I cannot believe this didn’t result on the Wagovan on the back of a tow truck on its way back to Tulsa.
I still don’t believe it.
If this had happened on a TV show I’d call bullshit.
But this isn’t a TV show and it did happen.
It is, however, total bullshit that it happened.
I hadn’t noticed the jet missing as it is on the back of the carb and, honestly, I didn’t even know it falling out was an option.
In disbelief, I took the jet apart to check for damage or dirt, wiped it off on my shirt, located the hole it came out of, put it back in, and away we went.
Even as I am typing this I cannot believe that worked.
We eventually made it to one of the fire towers on this list. There was a large, concrete step at the base of the tower. Considering my recent brush with death, I declined the possibility of injuring my car and parked on the tail instead.
We hung out for a bit, stretched our legs, and definitely didn’t find a way around the fence and climb the side of the tower. That would have been trespassing and we would never do such a thing.
Or at least I wouldn’t. I’m afraid of heights.
Back on the trail, we started working our way towards our planned hike for the day and to meet up with Brady, of the mildly dead Sidekick.
After some more trail bashing, we reached another ford.
Too deep. Too rapid. Too wide.
We turned around.
It was late when we finally met up with Brady at the turn off. As the ‘zuke was still out of commission, he’d brought his F-RS. We thought we’d leave his car at the head of the dirt road and he’d ride along with us.
Nope, he decided to chance it.
Credit where it is due, the little Toyota did just fine.
We hiked Whittaker Point, took some awesome photos, and then retreated to the comfort of our AirBnB for beer, whiskey, and chili.
Heads slightly fuzzy, we did the morning routine, loaded up the cars, and headed out.
Today’s activity was to hit a place called “Carwash Falls”. To be honest, it was pretty much the point of this trip and we were all excited to get there. After that, we were going to hit up another fire tower and a short hike.
Things did not go as planned.
Our first “oops” of the day was to take a “fun looking detour”. Taking such a detour is almost always a disaster, the road trip equivalent of saying “hold my beer!” However, these little choices tend to also be the most memorable, and this one was no exception.
The route started as a harmless increase in difficulty, but as we progressed the trail got soggier and more strewn with debris from the recent storm. We eventually got to a downhill section that had it all: downed trees, deep mud, large rocks, and a steep grade.
The “big boys” headed down first to make sure they could get through, before I attempted in the Wagovan. This was a mixed bag, as it was nice to see someone else make it through, but the bigger, heavier cars did a real number on the ruts and boggy bits, making passing in the Wagovan somewhat more challenging. However, we figured this was for the best as getting back up the hill seemed unlikely with the amount of mud and the steep grade.
After running down the trail a bit, we determined the rest of the trail to be passable and set to work clearing a couple downed trees. In less than an hour, we proceeded down. Epic photos were had and while the Civic was let down by low clearance and a poor break-over angle a couple times, overall it made it through better than expected.
We made it a while 100 feet before we came across a section of trail completely blocked by downed trees, just beyond the range of our earlier scout.
Funny enough, Taylor predicted this outcome while we were clearing trees, comparing this section of trail to our failed attempt at getting to South Lake Tahoe via Pack Saddle Pass, or Bodie via Aurora Canyon Road. Lot of work to make it through, only to discover the path impassable later on.
At least the dogs were having fun!
We were then faced with four cars needed to turn around on a very narrow trail. Finally! Someone thing Wagvan was perfect for! Tight turning radius, huge, brush crashing 80’s bumpers, narrow, and short… it made the turn with limited fuss.
However, now we were faced with going back up the steep, seemingly impassable section we’d just done.
I’m happy to say the Civic, and in fact all the cars, made it back up without incident. The Civic’s narrow track once again allowed it to take a line that was inaccessible to the others and scrabble up the hill somewhat undramatically.
Back on the original trail, we puttered towards Carwash Falls. As we plugged along, we started running parallel to one of the many storm swollen creeks that crisscross the Ozarks. Then we saw the word “FORD” pop up on our maps. Hoping in vain it was just marking where we could find one on the road dead, we proceeded. It was not that.
While we waited in a shaded clearing, Kate volunteered to wade into the water and check the depth. Well… in her car anyway. It quickly became apparent that even if the Cherokee, Renegade, and XTerra could make it, and that was a BIG “if,” the Civic wouldn’t.
Turning around again!
We finally cut our losses and took the highway directly to the turn off for Carwash Falls. The trail seemed to have a lot of traffic, so we felt like were in the right place.
Again, the map says “FORD.”
Even with the added storm water, this actually looked like a proper ford. As far as we were able to look we could see the bottom and the creek widening so much in this spot meant is should be pretty shallow. That said, I knew it was, once again, a non-starter.
Kate once again waded in with the XJ and confirmed my fears. While she made it without incident, she hit some BIG rocks and the water was past her bumper. Even with a decent bow wave, that’d put the water well past my intake, battery, and alternator.
That said, I couldn’t poop on everyone’s party any longer, so we parked the Wago and proceeded with just the three cars. This brave little Civic would have to sit this one out.
Only about four hours behind schedule, we finally reached the falls. While not exactly a show stopper, they did make for some really cool photos.
Rather than beat ourselves up with another late night, we opted to head back to the “cabin,” pour some drinks, cook some burgers, and enjoy some beautiful patio weather.
We showered, packed up, and cleaned best we could before loading up and out of the AirBnB. Taylor decided to be the Easter Bunny and hid candy and easter eggs everywhere.
And I mean everywhere. Glove boxes, hiking boots, tool boxes. Everywhere.
I’ll be finding eggs in my car longer than he’ll be finding dog hair in his.
As a part of a compromise for ending early on Saturday, we decided to take an overland route to a hike before convoying back to Tulsa. This took us to a dirt road about a half hour off our path that turned out to be… challenging.
With a total elevation change of about 3000 ft in 15 miles, the dirt switchbacks and rough road was challenging for all involved. I would have thought the tail happy FRS would have been a blast, but apparently after a couple close calls Brady turned the traction control back on, rather than risking a costly mistake in the name of fun.
We eventually reached the tail head, parked, and began our hike.
Immediately there was a… problem. The trail map showed a pretty easy looking trail, but the one we were on was switchback after switchback. Fun in a car, but not on foot.
After dropping a few hundred feet in elevation, I called it. We were on the wrong trail, it wasn’t leveling out, and we were going to die hiking back up if we didn’t turn around right now.
The death march back up to the trail head was… just as bad as expected. Luckily there was water, snacks, and adult drinks awaiting us at the top. We cooled the dogs off, re-hydrated ourselves, and decided to call it a day and head back to Tulsa.
The highway drive back was mostly uneventful. As with the way out, the Wagovan really struggled on the uphill sections. It even presented symptoms of the previous fuel starvation when the hill really drug on. That said, it maintained speed, didn’t overheat, and I was even able to operate the AC once the terrain leveled out.
Despite being Easter Sunday, we managed to find a Mexican restaurant who were kind enough to sell us a whole bunch of alcohol.
And, with that, we were finished. Three(ish) days, eight-hundred miles, five people, five(ish) cars, two dogs, and a gallon of whiskey.
Not too bad.
[All photos are either by me or Taylor. Please do not re-use without permission.]