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Stormtrooper 4Runner trip report: Return to AOAA

Ross Ballot September 28, 2017 All Things Hoon, Featured 4 Comments

To enthusiasts of the off-roading sub-culture, myself included, there truly is nothing quite as psychologically refreshing as a day in the woods. A day separated from the burdens of reality, a day free from the stresses of the work-fueled monotony, a day isolated from basically everything except you, your truck, your buddies, and the trails on which you’re wheeling. It’s an absorbing experience, one that allows the brain a a much needed break to refresh itself. Off-roading is, to me at least, the absolute best kind of mind cleanser.

And that’s exactly where the Stromtrooper 4Runner comes into play. In its off-road shakedown run the ‘ol ‘Toy performed admirably and, though some bugs still need to be worked out, by the time September rolled around I was due for a much needed early-autumn return trip to Pennsylvania’s Anthracite Outdoor Adventure Area to see how the truck did on some tougher trails. It was a day of crawling over rocks, dragging vehicles out of the mud, and pushing the limits of our trucks and ourselves alike.

As wheeling always is, it was a great time; and, as is always the case post-trip, I’m already looking forward to going back. Hit the jump to read the Trip Report from my mind-cleansing day of off-roading out at AOAA a couple weeks back.

On Saturday, September 9th, a small group of off-roaders gathered to run the trails at Pennsylvania’s Anthracite Outdoor Adventure Area (AOAA) up in the coal hills of Shamokin. With an evenly split group of two Tacomas (Dan in the silver truck; Kevin and his wife Ally in the tan one) and two 4Runners (Wes in the silver one; myself in the white one), we had a solid crew for navigating the rocky, muddy, and, in places, log-filled trails. By default we ran some green trails but did our best to stick mostly to blues, a factor of both time it took to crawl over the rock-strewn woods and also of time spent getting trucks un-stuck. Of course there’s no pictures of myself and the Stormtrooper in action seeing as I was behind the camera snapping the photos seen here and obviously couldn’t photograph myself, but that’s a consequence I’m willing to deal with.
My day started off by crossing the new Tappan-Zee Bridge. It’s not exactly pretty but it definitely looks more sturdy than the old one which, as all of us familiar with the dilapidated structure know, is in relative shambles.
Once out of New York it was a pleasure to see the hills and valleys of New Jersey and Pennsylvania open up the view ahead.
And then I was hit with a reminder of why some highway regions can be utterly frustration. Pennsylvania’s method of construction is as such: block one lane of a two-lane highway for an almost unbelievably long distance so as to keep drivers out of the path of workers. Logical in theory, but constricting in practice. As such, when a sign in PA says “Road work, 6 miles” it really means “Road work, 26 miles” and it really means “prepare to drive so slowly that you feel like time has begun to reverse.”
The scenery once past the construction zones did quell my frustration though.
If there’s one thing I’m bad at, that one thing might be a lack of promptness. After originally planning to arrive between 9-930am, I completely blew that away by arriving at 9:50. My apologies to those in our group poured out of my mouth as I ran inside the AOAA administration building to register, and Dan and Kevin, both eager to head into the woods, aired my tires down so as to streamline the process of hitting the dirt. Thanks guys! It really was very much appreciated.
From the parking lot we hooked left into Anthracite’s Eastern Preserve. Unfortunately the West area was closed to trucks due to a charity event that dedicated it to ATVs, side-by-sides, and dirt-bikes only, but we had more than enough acreage to explore on the east side.
At the end of the coal road we discovered that my CB radio wasn’t functioning, which was strange seeing as everything that would indicate proper functionality checked out. We then took a sharp left and peeled off the main trail via the second left onto The BA, a trail that somehow I had never run on my quad despite having ridden past it at least twenty times over recent years. The BA begins by quickly dropping down into an old storm drain, an eerie but incredibly unique starting point, and then goes further into the woods (and rocks) from there.
The storm drain ends quickly and immediately turns into dirt and boulders in a culvert that what once must have been a heavy-flowing stream. It’s a very Jurassic Park-esque scene as you climb up out of and off of the concrete, and the second you crest the top it’s immediately evident why The BA is classified as a blue trail: rocks, and big ones at that, strewn about such that there’s no clear shot to the top.
Over the course of The BA there’s a few points where the trail seemingly disappears. Well, not entirely, as you know the general direction you’re going, but there’s basically multiple lines you can take to reach the same point, the path of travel all depending on how hard you want to make it for yourself.
Trying to make it over a section with some sizable rocks, Wes got his 4Runner a bit crossed up and couldn’t un-wedge his truck from the spot it had settled into. With the right rear stuffed, the left rear was spinning freely…and with the left front stuffed, the right front was spinning freely. The hitch was hung up too, meaning he couldn’t drag the truck further under its own power.
After numerous attempts at rocking the truck and even pushing on it so as to re-distribute weight, we finally gave in and broke out the tow strap, Dan easily freeing Wes from his little predicament with a light tug from the Tacoma.
On the move again, I crawled through and Kevin followed up without issue
Upon completing The BA, we exited onto one of the main trails and hit some mud before quickly turning onto Muddy Shackle.
Dan immediately found a spot to check out how well his truck flexes. Gotta say, it’s a good looking Taco.
We then got to the fun part of the trail…more rocks. Strewn as far as the eye could see, many were tire-sized or bigger, most sharp enough to pose a threat to one’s sidewalls. It was the perfect opportunity to test one’s tire-placing abilities, and to serve as a reminder of how crucial good spotting is.
As we got further along there was a pretty steep drop from what was likely once a stream, a spot that dipped down so quickly that it could easily put a truck on three wheels.
(It’s crazy how insignificant it looks on camera…)
This is actual evidence of how pictures can minimize the severity of an obstacle. The bottom of this rut was easily three feet below the height of the trail from which you entered.
As Dan made his way through the dip and Kevin followed suit, Wes and I took turns catching each other up from where we were parked a little ways back. Wes then found the near-tipping point of his 4Runner, which proved great for photos but also a little anxiety-inducing as I tried to envisioning the truck flopping over on its dent-free side.
Again, it’s hysterical how pathetic pictures make obstacles like these look.
In the meantime, barely a hundred-yards up ahead, Dan was fighting his way through a rutted-out mud pit with a log blocking the top of the path. Dan made it, and then Kevin gave it a shot…and immediately ran into trouble. Specifically, that trouble was getting over the log that sat atop the muddy ruts. He could get the front tires over the log but then a vertical piece of metal beneath the truck (skid for transfer case? exhaust shield?) would get hung up on the log itself and block his forward motion. Kevin tried everything…different speeds, different wheel angles, etc…but couldn’t get over it. Furthering the headache was that he also couldn’t back up, as the muddy ruts kept pushing him towards, or rather prevented him from steering away from, a tree that thought it would be better to keep his Tacoma in the mud than let us go on our way. Tow straps were broken out but to no avail, even after trying to pull the truck both forward and backward; the log was simply too large for Kevin to climb over and the mud was simply too slick to pull him away from. As a last resort Dan broke out his axe, and eventually Kevin’s Tacoma was free.
Once off Muddy Shackle Dan pointed us towards the higher elevation of the southern section of the Eastern Preserve. After a few good upward climbs we were rewarded with a great view.
After descending down a bit from the high elevation we were once again on a coal-style road on which you can pick and choose which way you want to shoot off deeper into the woods. Many of these trails I’ve run on my quad, and they range in difficulty from “steep” to “holy shit! steep.” The angle of the land on which tire marks can be seen is as astonishing as it is concerning.
We soon found ourselves stuck behind a group of Jeeps that decided to block the trail entirely. The best kind of traffic, but traffic nonetheless.
Frustrated by their unwillingness to let us pass, and knowing that up ahead were only black and red trails (more difficult than we were aiming to tackle given our limited time), we backed up, turned around, and pointed uphill in a different direction, away from the Jeeps and towards a different section from that which we had come.
At the top of a long four-wheel-drive climb sat an obstacle that involved a high embankment and a rock on the passenger side which pitched the driver’s side of the truck towards a tree, which made for an interesting situation seeing as you also had to turn hard to the passenger side to follow the path of the trail in which we were going. We didn’t pay much mind to it and quickly made our way past, but would soon have to deal with the same section reversed, going downhill. It was a great example of how different an obstacle can be given which way you run it, but a good reminder in that you should really give everything on the trail a second glance in case you have to tackle it again.
After making it past the tricky hill section moments before and then dropping down a quick chute into an open pit, we took a breather for a moment and made a call on if we should continue uphill (to the right) or downhill (to the left). It was decided to go uphill, and soon we found ourselves on a trail that was almost impassibly tight. The decision was made to do about face, so we backed most of the way downhill, pulled many-point-turn one-eighties, and re-convened in the same open pit.
Here in the pit was an optional obstacle we chose to bypass on our way down but that Kevin and Dan would both now try going up, back towards where we had come from before having to turn around. The pictures are deceiving as this was easily a 6 foot climb, and the only real indicator of such is in how skyward the noses of the trucks were pointed. Kevin, having parked closest, was up first:
Both trucks would get hung up on their bellies, but Kevin, not having enough ground clearance to crest the top, would have to back down and throw up the white flag; Dan, however, made it with some coaxing from his right foot.
From here it was back towards the downhill with the tree-turn mentioned above. The trail was narrow enough that you had to make a very sharp right-hander around the tree while the left side of the truck pitched upward as it crawled over a sizable rock atop a berm. It made for a very off-camber situation, and here we saw the only real (non-skid-plate) carnage of the day as Kevin snapped off one of his roof rack’s cross-bars on the tree. I needed some help as well, having positioned the 4Runner too far to the rock-side and thus nearly to the point of flopping it onto the tree, but with a little push from Kevin and Wes I was free and clear and we worked our way back downhill.
Once out of the thick woods we were back on the main green trails headed for the parking lot. It was now approaching 4:45 and seeing as the park closes at 5pm, we had to (very unfortunately) call it a day.
The final descent towards the lot is a treat, with a great mountain view and rocks large enough force you to pay attention through your final moments on the trail.
All in all it was an amazing day on the trails. The Stormtrooper 4Runner performed admirably and, much more importantly, everyone made it home safely and happily. Better yet, I got to meet some great people in the process. I’m already looking forward to my next chance to go off-roading, as it truly is my favorite automotive pastime. The 4Runner just keeps impressing me, and I can’t wait to see where it takes me next.
Bonus pictures!
The ride home, while not the happiest in that I was driving away from the trails , was indeed a nice way to end the day:
And then I came across a nice scenic overlook, which made for glorious sunset and dirty-4Runner photos.
  • wunno sev

    i hit the jump

    where the report at

    • Ross Ballot

      Slight technical difficulties…working on sorting it out

    • Greg Kachadurian
      • Ross Ballot

        Nice save, thanks Greg!