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Eleven years ago, her birth mother snuck into the field under cover of darkness and abandoned her to die. Nobody knew the baby's name or where she came from. She was a girl and this was China. She was just one more unwanted baby. Just dump her in a field, don't get caught and wait a day or two until the only memory of the infant is locked away deep in the mother's torn heart.
By some miracle, the farmer who found her decided she deserved better and took the fortunate little girl to an orphanage where she was given a second chance at life. It was in that orphanage that Ryan and his wife found her and adopted her into their family. They gave her the American name Rachael and took her back to CO to live with them and their son. With that second fortunate event she became my niece.

One year ago, my wife and I were eating in a Chinese restaurant. I had been making noises about getting a used Jeep and my wife was doing her best to ignore me. Not that she has opposition towards Jeeps, she just likes things the way they are and the thought of me once again selling one vehicle to get another held no appeal. At the end of the meal I opened my fortune cookie and read:


I showed it to my wife who glared at me as if I had somehow set the whole thing up. A few months later we took delivery of our brand new Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon.

As soon as the Wrangler arrived my adult son and I began to work on it. We lifted the suspension 2.5” and put 285/70/17 Cooper Discoverer ATP tires on it. I wanted a mild all terrain tire that would work great in the Oregon rain while providing solid off road performance. Modifying the Jeep with my son proved a great experience for the both of us, yet we lacked an opportunity to use the upgraded Jeep off-road. That would not come for many months.

Nearly a year later, we were finally on the road bound for Ouray Colorado. We detoured for a brief visit to Moab, UT. With only a couple of hours to spare, we chose to run the southern loop of the Fins and Things trail. Clear skies and the warmth of the bright morning sun greeted us upon our arrival at the trail head. I glanced at my wife who glanced back at me. We both thought the same thing; “Here we go". A quick pull on the transfer case lever put us in 4-low, and up we went. The trail started immediately with a climb over some uneven slick rock. My mind raced as we bounced up and over the entry obstacle, wondering how the Jeep would perform on its first true run. Things were great until mid-way along the trail when, at full suspension articulation with the belly high above the terrain, we heard thin metallic scraping noise. A quick check of the underside showed that the increases suspension travel had allowing the rear driveshaft to wander sideways enough to make contact with the thin metal of the evaporator canister skid plate. In the process, the contact the slip-joint boot was shredded. Yes, it was damage but it was not critical damage so we pressed on to get to the end of the southern loop and continued our trip to Ouray, CO.

On Fins & Things, having a blast.

Shredding the slip-joint boot (photo with sway bar connected).

Most overnight visitors to the Ouray area camp or rent a room at a local hotel. Our accommodations were a definite departure from that norm. North of town, nestled in the hills is a place affectionately known by friends and family as "Papa's Cabin". It was built by Ryan's father-in-law as a place for family and friends to enjoy the mountains and has served as a great joy to many people. This so-called cabin provides 3600 square feet of mountain luxury; two stories with a loft and two attached 2-car garages. The master bedroom is the size of a small apartment. The south wall on the main floor is a two story tall window providing stunning views of rolling hills and the San Juan Mountains to the south. It is anything but a cabin, but the name has stuck just the same.

Papa's Cabin



There is more to see than just mountains.

The morning dawned cool and clear. The mountains, lit by the yellow glow of the morning sun and set against the Colorado blue sky, called to us. We hustled about the cabin gathering a few supplies and briefing my niece Rachael and my nephew Luke on what they should take along. This journey would include the kids and their dad, all three of whom had never been in a Jeep. I smiled at the thought of the Jeep's first CO journey being a first journey for so many of its passengers. Once underway, my wife and I debated which trail to run, finally settling on Imogene. The back seat passengers were silent, having no idea what we were talking about or what they were about to experience.

At the entrance to Imogene Pass, we faced a choice between driving through the river or across the bridge to gain access to the trail. The stream current was strong and the water was some 20 inches deep. I asked Rachael "left or right"? "Right" she said indicating her preference for the safer bridge route. I chose left and down into the river we went. Eyes got big and everyone gasped lightly then held their breath as the rising water muffled Jeep's normal sounds. Water covered the exhaust, lapped up against the floorboards and washed over the tires. A moment later we swooshed up from the creek and onto dry land. I glanced in the rear view mirror and saw three big grins. This was going to be a good run.

We slogged through the wet lower sections of Imogene and on toward the rocky regions above tree line. We came to an interesting obstacle in the trail. I asked Rachael "Which way, left or right". Rachael, a quiet girl, not lacking in confidence per se, but neither particularly outspoken nor, apparently, much of a risk taker replied “Left”, trying to guide me to the easiest part of the trail. I went right, of course, which caused her a minor moment of panic. It became a bit of a game between her and me. Now and then I would ask "left or right" and she would pick the easier line, I would take the more difficult line and she would have another moment of minor panic and exictement. On more than one occasion my chosen line had us facing up a steep section seeing only sky, forcing reactions from everyone. My wife would get nervous and start singing her "I'm worried and need to distract myself" song. The rookies in the back would laugh nervously or even scream just a little. You could feel the tension build. I could change the sounds inside the Jeep by a slight change in throttle pressure. Start up something steep, then pause half way up to let the Jeep roll backwards just a little bit and listen to the screams. It was great fun but it wasn't all just for fun. I was also purposely putting the JKU into situations that would test its capability and prove to me whether or not my all terrain tire choice had been good. I was quite pleased to find that the Cooper ATP tires were flawless. Wet or dry, they stuck like glue to the rocks. I had no issues with traction despite running at highway pressures. The Jeep, unlike my passengers, quietly went where I pointed it.

At one point along the trail, when the action came to a lull, I heard Luke quip “the difference between Jeeping and riding a roller coaster is that you can die while Jeeping”! I thought it rather perceptive of him.

Further up the trail where the trees and dirt give way to rocks and open skys, we came across an early 1990's Jeep Cherokee with a flat tire. The owner was just finishing the tire swap as I stopped. He said it was his 2nd flat that week. The now useless P-rated tire lying on the ground showed a two inch gash in the sidewall as evidence of the battle it lost with a rock. It was a good reminder to me of the benefit of the extra sidewall strength of my LT tires.

The next day we headed for Poughkeepsie Gulch by way of Engineer Pass. I was concerned that the previous day's long run up Imogene and back would have tempered the excitement over four wheeling but Rachael rushed to the Jeep and jumped in even before we were ready to depart. We bounced our way up from highway 550 toward Engineer Pass and arrived at the turn out toward Poughkeepsie. The sign said:


I read the sign and informed everyone that this Jeep is a Rubicon model that came from the factory with lockers and that thing on the front bumper is a winch so we're all set. Rachael, who graduated from the back seat to the front by this time, turned to me, looked me square in the eye and asked in a slightly skeptical tone "Are you an expert driver"? I smiled and said "Yes, yes I am”, trying to convince myself as much as her. Unfortunately Poughkeepsie was closed due to snow so we never got the chance to confirm her skepticism.
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We continued toward Engineer pass.



At one obstacle I asked the now-familiar question "Rachael, left or right"? As predicted she picked the easy path to the right then commanded "wait, no left - go left"! Maybe she had believed my self-declared expert status or perhaps she was beginning to get comfortable in the whole experience but one thing was clear. This short Jeeping experience impacted her. She was turning from a tentative beginner into a confident Jeeper. I, too, was impacted by the shared experience as we created great memories together and strengthened those family bonds that are all too often made weak by distance.

I'm not a believer in vague, mysterious sayings from mass-produced restaurant cookies but in this case the prediction came true. The investment I made in the Chinese fortune cookie Jeep has indeed paid dividends for me and my fortunate Chinese-American niece.