Rain, sleet and hail… Springtime in the Midwest. While the weather was frightful here in Central Illinois during the first week of April, it confirmed our desire to get out town and head south for a Toyota Landcruiser Association event.
Eight hours south, just over of the Tennessee border in Alabama lies the tiny little town of in Tuscumbia Alabama… If you cant find it on a map, look for the town of Muscle Shoals… History lesson, Muscle Shoals is the birthplace of some of the most important music produced in the past century. Tuscumbia is right down the road. Tuscumbia is famous for Hawk Pride Mountain off-road park. Well known as a premier off-road destination, its 1000 acres of hilly trails have been the home of Mardi Krawl for the past 4 years.
The Mardi Krawl is a charity event sponsored by Louisiana Landkrewesers with the mission of raising funds for the Louisiana Hero’s Project. 100% of the funds raised during special events and the huge Saturday night auction go to this non-profit.
We drove casually Thursday (Stopping by Metropolis IL for a fun excursion) and arrived late that night to setup camp. Sign in was Thursday morning and a lot of folks were already there. We caught up with the gang from Endless Horizon Expedition Outfitters and Southern Style Speed at their campfire and grabbed a bite of some fresh Étouffée (fresh Louisiana shrimp and sauce smothered over rice). Yeah, that was delicious. There was even a demonstration on how to bead seal tires with the fuel and flame technique… That’s another story though!
Friday morning we grabbed breakfast and headed over to the driver meeting. Danielle Delaney, the president of the Louisiana Landkrewesers, ran down the weekend rules and explained the meet-up points for that mornings runs. We also got our goodie bags… Filled with a cool Mardi Krawl T-Shirt, stickers, drink coozies and a dash placard and a pile of other trinkets.
At the meeting point we grabbed onto a group that was hitting moderate trails. I had been warned ahead of time by LLK member, Jonas, that Hawk Pride had a “special kind of mud” after a rain that could make every trail more “challenging”. The ground was still a little damp from rain earlier in the week. I was running General Grabber AT tires on the 2010 Trail Edition 4Runner and was going to error on the side of caution at a new-to-me park. I said “I think we will do the easy trails.” My friends who I have wheeled at Southern Cruiser Crawl said I probably shouldn’t be that fearful. I went ahead and went with the moderate trails based on what they were telling.
It was a good call. The moderate trails were a mix of knotty tree stumps, slippery but small boulders and shelf rocks along with some mud pits. Challenging and fun… Not horribly stressful… A great way to learn the lay of the land. At the end of “Lucky’s” we hit a narrow rock opening with a decent off-camber drop-off. Our awesome trail leader, Cody, walked everyone through the obstacle without a scratch. A great spotter can make all the difference and Cody had been a great guide all day.
That night we were treated to an authentic Jambalaya cooked up by the guys from Endless Horizon Expedition Outfitters. The Cajun dish was delicious, and they had plenty. Everyone was filled up! After that, a surprisingly awesome local band came to stage and played to the crowd till 11:00. It was a great time!
Saturday morning was beautiful. The sun was shining and the skies were blue. By the peak of the day… It was 75 degrees.
The trails were perfect. Saying they were perfect is almost an understatement. Any “mud” that had been in the shady parts of the trails on Friday was now dried out except for the big holes. It was ideal weather to be wheeling with other like-minded Toyota owners.
Since the park was not closed off… Saturday did bring in a lot of other 4×4’s and buggies. It wasn’t a big deal, most of them were buggies and ATV’s, we were not on the same trails. Side note: Danielle said the park will be closed off for the 2017 Mardi Krawl event exclusively… That will be great!
We grabbed on with another group of drivers for more intermediate trails. At the very end of the day, we ended up on difficult part of “Lucky’s” again. That was blind luck. Since it was dry, and we were now “experienced”… We hustled through without a scratch.
We rolled around some more areas of the park and found a high spot at the “overlook”. It was a nice ending to a great day of wheeling. A picture of spring in the south. It didn’t get any better.
That night after another southern staple… Red beans and Rice. Nobody left hungry!
Then the moment everyone was waiting for… The raffle.
Before the festivities got fully kicked in… Danielle read a letter from a family that is helped by the Louisiana Hero’s Project. It was a heart-tug and reality check before we delved into another night of fun.
The raffle was amazing. For a small event, they had tons of giveaways. Even the kids got swag. Southern Style Speed had donated some serious bumpers and rock rails… Icing on the cake was that Brown Forensic Accounting had donated an ARB Cooler fridge. A lot of people won some great gear!
All told… The event raised 2500.00 for the Louisiana Hero’s charity. It was a great event to start with, but knowing that some folks benefited directly from our entry fee’s and raffle tickets made it that much better.
2017 will be the 5th anniversary of Mardi Krawl. Every year they have grown and nobody sees that trend stopping. This year, 90 trucks registered and came from 13 states. Lets see if we can get a 100+ trucks next year!
Sunday morning at 6:30 AM the forcasted rain came in and woke us up in our tent. It was a great sign that we should pack up and head out. We had the truck loaded up and began to pull through the dirt parking lot… It was then that I noticed my steering was not working. I could turn left or right while moving forward, and the truck just went straight. It didn’t take long to figure out what was going on… The “special kind of mud” had finally showed up. The top layer of all the red dirt paths had gone from a solid base to a slippery goo. My tires were inflated back up for highway driving… But it was obvious that this “mud” have made the easiest paths and hills at Hawk Pride a lot more difficult on AT tires. Lesson learned for next year!
If you go:
Cabins are limited. If you require facilities with power… Register early!
Primitive camping is plentiful and a short walk to the bathhouse.
The bathhouse was a disaster by Sunday morning. I can personally speak for the men’s side, but my Wife and daughter did not have good reviews either. Having the park closed for this event next year should take the bathroom traffic down.
I took my Wife and a 12 and 14 year old… It was as nice spring break get-away… And the kids enjoyed getting out of the truck and climbing on the rocks. At night, the adult activities get a little festive, we pulled back and had a campfire by our tent. That was a safe distance.
Tires: I ran with AT tires all weekend without getting stuck. If it had rained a 1/4 of an inch… I would have needed MT tires in a bad way. Keep this in mind when making your plans.
Rock rails and armor are highly recommended for the Difficult level trails. There was plenty of damage to be shown off at the end day. We were playing it safe and kept our damage down to pin-striping!
CB’s are always nice when you are hanging with real “wheeling” folk. At an event like this… Our portable one did just fine. Larger areas demand something mounted in the cab.
Questions, comments or concerns? email Eric at firstname.lastname@example.org
Photo bucket: https://goo.gl/photos/McZH5FJSQYHnn6gQ7