Maintenance, Repair, and upgrades: The Whisky’s 2023 Saga – Part 3

Monday morning in Placerville, California. The original plan was for the main group to meet and camp at the trail head that evening. My first task was to find a shop to check The Whisky over and make sure it was up to the trip.

The lady at the front desk at the National 9 Inn where I was staying was very helpful. I told her about my issue with the steering and asked if she knew of a shop nearby. She pointed me at a local garage just about a quarter mile down the road. Perfect.

When the guys arrived to open up the next morning I was waiting. Very nice people, but also VERY backlogged. BEST case, they would would not be able to look at it for a couple of days. They already had a two week backlog. They took a quick look under the front and didn’t see anything obvious. But ultimately they weren’t going to be able to help me. Since I was going to need an alignment regardless and they didn’t have that equipment, they referred me to the tire and wheel shop across the street.

The tire and wheel shop was also very nice, but their alignment tech wasn’t in that day. So, they referred me to another tire and wheel shop down the road. The earliest slot they had was the next afternoon. I had to keep looking.

I found the next closest shop was Big O Tires in Placerville. When I pulled in there and talked to Steve at the counter he said they could fit me in. Thank you Big O Tires! It was only about 9:00am, still early in the day. I still had a chance at meeting up with the group.

The steering knuckle looked damaged. That could have happened from running it with the loose drag link. They could get one, but not until the end of the day. They could get on installing it and doing the alignment first thing in the morning.

At this point I was beginning to eat into the trip. If I could be ready to go by late morning I could get to the trail head by mid-day. I would only be about four hours behind the main group. I’ve done the Rubicon trail a number of times.

At this time of year there’s a fair bit of traffic on the trail. If I had to run the trail solo, I was comfortable with that. If I ran into a problem the wait for some help to come along shouldn’t be long. Running it solo I would probably cover it faster than the main group because I wouldn’t have to stop as much, if at all. In the end, I felt I’d probably get to camp at Buck Island Lake only an hour or two behind the main group. Then I’d have the rest of the trip to be good.

Monday evening my good friend Bill arrived in town. We connected for dinner and I told him the story. He decided to stay in town and roll out with me on Tuesday so I wouldn’t be running the trail alone. That was awesome of him. i didn’t ask, but I was happy to have a buddy along. No matter how familiar you are with a trail it’s never a good idea to run solo if you can help it.

Tuesday morning we were just finishing up breakfast when I got a call from Big O. Something wasn’t right. Could I come look at it. So off we went.

The guys at Big O Tires are good mechanics, but they are not specialists in off-road suspensions. They didn’t know about the difference between stock mounting and a high-steer installation, so they thought the drag link had been installed upside down.

I was lucky to have Bill along. He does most of his own work on his Jeep and instantly understood was was wrong. He explained to the guys and they got it, no problem. Well, one problem.

The mounting hole on the steering knuckle for the drag link is a tapered hole. Since the stock mounting is from the bottom, the hole is wider at the bottom than the top. To flip the drag link so that it mounts from the top for the high-steer configuration, that hole needs to be modified. The hole is drilled out so that it’s a straight through hole with no taper. Then a tapered sleeve is inserted from the top to allow the drag link end to fit properly. I had lost the nut AND the sleeve insert.

The high-steer sleeve, or flip bushing, or whatever you want to call it, is not a standard part. It’s not something you can get at the auto parts store. I was just about to call it and give up on the trip. I was telling Bill he should go ahead without me. He said no. We were gonna figure it out.

Then one of the counter guys told us his family owned Metal Cloak. “They have Jeep parts.” Measurements were taken, calls were made, and we were on our way to Metal Cloak about a 30 minute drive away to pick up a sleeve. When we got back the guys at Big O installed it, put everything together, aligned it, and we were on our way. It was already about 2pm so we were gonna be pushing it time-wise. We got to the Loon Lake trail head about 5 o’clock.

Just The Whisky and Rock Lobster. We had the trail to ourselves the entire run from Loon Lake to Buck Island Lake. The main group stopped for a long lunch with some swimming at Spider Lake so it took them eight hours to get to Buck Island. Bill and I did it in just under three hours.

There was no rushing. We just didn’t have to stop for a lot of spotting or other conversation and line checking. We had both been on the Rubicon multiple times which gave us an advantage. I’ve run the Rubicon trail about 12 times. This leg from Loon to Buck is in my top 3 favorites.

I was finally on my Rubicon trip. There was a scare with losing my steering on the highway. I had to spend an extra night at the motel. And I had unexpected repair costs. Ultimately I had only lost a little bit of time with the main group and some money for the unexpected repairs. I was back on track. All would now go according to plan…or would it.

The Whisky 2023 Saga: Part 4