Riding in St. Helen MI! Fun until someone pops a balljoint…..

Another weekend, and another ride!

This time we decided to FINALLY get back to our roots, or should we say our routes, and ride some ORV Routes in St. Helen Michigan! Last year the DNR opened up many new ORV Route trails (where SXSs are legal to ride!) and we no longer have to stress getting caught riding trails that are “illegal.” Plus it’s been warm, so the snow should be gone!

The day started off normally and we actually arrived to St. Helen on time (rare when I’m involved!) and pulled into a gas station to gas up and wait for our newest SXS friend Mike and our quad friend Matt. Mike recently picked up a Maverick XDS and is almost certainly regretting not getting the turbo, but he probably still enjoys riding somehow. Mike arrives and we head out towards the trail head, unload, and prepare ourselves for the awesome ride! It’s 55 degrees out, sunny, and unfortunately the trails still actually have ice on them (!!?!). Not only is it icy, but it’s the quadfecta of doom; ice, water, snow, and mud… How the hell? It’s been mid 50s for the past few weeks and we FULLY expected mud but not ice. We’ve since come to the conclusion the packed snow from the snowmobiles takes a very long time to melt.. makes sense.

Quadfecta of doom be damned, we’re getting some riding in! I lead the way and quickly realize how miserable these trails are. Deep ruts, ice, sand, mud, snow, everything. As we approach our first stop, the sandpit, I came down a slight hill and came across a water flow from somewhere in the woods that has completely washed the trail out and created about a 75′ diameter pond that spans the trail. What I didn’t notice was how deep the giant river like flow of water going into this pond, and I quickly smush my front end into a hole with a loud thud! My drivers side front was completely buried, but luckily the Cat has a front diff lock. So with a little effort I’m out and on the way towards the sand pit. We arrive and Mike is finally able to stretch his XDS’s legs a little bit! So we both fly around the sand pit, then head back off into the trails.

We pound everything from dusty dirt, dusty sand, wet sand, mud, ice, a foot of snow, water, and everything in between. The trails are treacherous as ever, and we’re having a blast! It’s about eating time, so we decide to head into town and find a restaurant. Luckily, St. Helen is “tolerate” of ATVs and SXSs riding on the shoulder, so we’re able to creep into town and stop at the Firehouse Bar and Grill for some late lunch. The blooming onion? Awesome! The pizza? Awesome! The “Caribbean Veggie Wrap?” Terrible. BLEH. Sorry to my poor fiancee for that!

Done with eats, time for rides. I follow Mike to make our way back onto the main trail that leads to the trail head. When we finally get to it, I noticed nothing but giant puddles where there are normally giant whoops. Before I can take a second to contemplate maybe going a different direction (in an effort to maintain my dryness!) Mike just rips! Shit! I gotta follow him now!

So here goes nothing, I’m going to skim these puddles the best I can. This particular set was maybe 15-20 big puddles and had a long run going into them, so I go WFO and hit them no problem! I’m still dry!

Until the next set comes…

We stop, regroup, and get ready for the next set of water holes. I’m now familiar with this trail, so I know what’s to come ahead. Like last time, Mike flies away so I say screw it and follow him again. These whoops are bigger, and the holes are deeper but so far I’m killing it! My goggles start to get really dirty but my foot is still to the floor but then, of course, the Cat starts bucking a little bit (not going fast enough through the whoops!) and I start to lose momentum. I know from previous experiences not to stop abruptly because there will be a tidal wave of water, so I lay off the throttle slowly but the idea backfires and I end up getting splashed with some of the coldest dirtiest water I’ve ever been hit with. And when I say “I”, I am omitting my poor fiancee in the passenger seat who’s honestly getting it worse than I am. The trail bucked me off to the left, so her side of the machine is getting more wet than mine. We end up going the perfect speed to completely soak us both, so maybe out of nervousness (or actual fun?) I start laughing manically. Yeah, it’s funny, but I’m mostly afraid of “the talk” I’m going to get from my lady when we finally come to a stop. When we do, I look at her and shes soaked and covered with mud. Luckily she brought a waterproof rain jacket, but of course she wasn’t wearing it but using it as a “mud blanket” instead. It worked, but things could have been more ideal.

Luckily at this point we’re nearly back to the trail head for some relaxing and laying on the trailers for a minute to warm up. It’s surprising how comfortable black painted diamond plate can be to lay on when you’re cold but the sun and the trailer is warm. I wasn’t doing my back any favors though.

Paralleling the road coming into the trail head is a nice whoops section and Mike is giddy to hit it on his XDS. I was excited to attempt a “rolling video” shot for the whoops section, so we giver a go back and forth through it and the XDS does well! It’s easy to tell how the longer wheel base helps through the rough stuff, and the ride looked fairly smooth considering the speed and size of the whoops!

Getting back to the trail head, it’s time for Mike to leave so Rick, Matt, and I head back out for a rip before we leave. I decided to try out some trails we’ve never hit before, ones located north of the trail head. I didn’t think trail conditions could be worse, but these trails were downright nasty. Every couple hundred feet you had to slow down (at least I did, for fear of a certain bone chilling soak) for a giant water hole, so we turned around and went back towards the sand pit for a little fun before the day was over.

And “fun” it was.

The time at the pit started great, Matt was ripping all over in his Raptor and I lined up with a Polaris RZR 900s for what seemed like 50 drag races in a row up the sand hill. I also ended up running a XDS Turbo a few times too, which wasn’t as fast as I hoped. Sure he freight trained me towards the top of the hill, but it wasn’t as crazy as I imagined. Matt mentioned there was this “giant bowl” on the backside of the sand hill, so we all convened there and I made my way towards the “giant bowl.” The Cat the turning radius of a school bus, so the bowls aren’t that fun.

Now begins the “I was just driving along and all of the sudden…” part of the story.

But seriously, I was just driving along and came out of the “giant bowl” slowly and heard a pop. No biggie, the Cat has more creeks and pops than a Civil War era mansion, so I am used to it.

EXCEPT when I out of no where am leaning HARD to the left and I see my front tire digging into the fender. Woops! What happened?!?


I’ve changed these before. You need a press, snap ring pliers, all sorts of torque this socket that etc etc etc. AKA, shit I don’t have.

Damnit, what are we going to do?

Well, first things first we decide it’s a good idea to dig the drivers side a-arm out of the sand (it’s about 2 feet down) to see what actually happened. Yep, turns out it’s a lower ball joint. The neck snapped right off of the thing, what the heck? I’ve seen them PULL OUT before, but never just snap in half.

So Matt comes up with the idea of ratchet strapping the lower arm to the upper arm to lift the machine back up so we can limp it back to the trailer (about 5 miles away). Rick luckily has a bag full of Harbie (Harbor Freight) straps in his truck, so he jets away to go get them and Matt and I dig a hole to make everything accessible. Rick returns way quicker than I imagined, and we get to strapping this beast back into place.

I get 3 straps on it and get it looking “decent” so I attempt to back out of the hole we’ve dug. I stupidly didn’t strap the knuckle to the a-arm, so upon backing out the front wheel goes full “Japan hectic negative camber” and in turn pulls the CV in half.

AWESOME. Could this day get any better?

Now, we have to remove all the straps, somehow reset the axle into the CV, and get on our way.

Well, turns out easier said than done. I couldn’t get the axle back into the CV joint, so I just kind of “put it in an ok spot” and strap everything back together but this time WITH the strap holding the knuckle in place.

Rick grabs his tow strap also, so we hook up and he drags me all the way back to the trailer.

On the way back, I realize how grateful I am to have a friend who came prepared. This is why you simply can’t ride alone. Had I been out there with no one else, I have no idea what I would have done.

Somehow, the strap mess actually holds up all the way back to the trailer. I was going to make this more of a story and less of a photo album, but you gotta see this strap job:StrapJob

Wow, what a mess! That’s 3 straps holding the lower arm to the upper, then 1 strap holding the knuckle to the lower arm. A work of art if I should say so myself.

We load up, head towards home, and have nothing but laughs about how ridiculous the ball joint situation was.

The next day, Rick and I literally blew 8 hours changing the ball joints back to OEM AC units. Between figuring out how to get the arm held into the press, from having to put them in and out several times due to overly tight tolerances, to blah to blah it just took forever.

But it’s done.

If you’d like to watch the video of this ridiculousness, please do so:




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