This past weekend we had our Open-house and “Hog Roast here at Fort’s Toyota. We had an amazing turnout of our “regulars” and a bunch of new people stop by the store to check out what we have going on. At one point, Gabe, a customer that I have known for only six months said, “You guys are the fun dealership”. That gave me a laugh and I really appreciate that he could see that we are a family store that values relationships. Something that is harder and harder to do in this day and age of consolidation and corporate ownership of car dealers. It was turning out to be a great event.
About an hour into the festivities… I spotted a “Cottonland Cruisers” shirt on a guy who just arrived. I know this logo very well… Cottonland Cruisers are a chapter of the Toyota Landcruiser Association (TLCA), and I have spent a lot of time on the trails over the past two years running with this group at their headline event, “Southern Cruiser Crawl” and at other TLCA events. I didn’t recognize the man standing in front of me, and I had to immediately ask him if we’ve met before.
“One time a couple years ago… You picked me and my buddy up when we rolled his 4Runner” (At Southern Cruiser Crawl. SCC for the rest of the story). Ah! That moment in time started to flood my mind. It was like a hollywood movie flashback!
It was SCC 2015 and my first time attending the event. I had arrived in my 2010 4Runner at Superlift offroad park in Hot Springs Arkansas all by myself. I was supposed to be with another coworker, but he fell a day behind. I didn’t know a soul. I registered and started heading up the main trail of the park solo to see what this event was all about. Within minutes of hitting the trail… I come across two guys walking towards me. “That’s odd”, I thought, “nobody walks at an off-road park!” I stopped and asked if they needed some help. The two guys told me that they had just rolled their 4runner onto its roof a ways up the trail. They noticed I was lacking a winch and were in need of recovery, If I could give them a ride to the office… That would be great.
They hopped in… We chatted for a few minutes on the drive and I found out they were from NW Illinois! What are the odds of that??? It didn’t take long to find help. Seconds later I was hood to hood with a train of FJ Cruisers. Based on the gear and mods I could see, these guys looked like they knew what they were doing and I stopped them to see if they could help.
Bart, was the lead FJ and he made a call on the CB to his fellow trail runners. The Louisiana Land Krewesers (As I would come to find their name later) were a group of experienced “wheelers” and it sounded like a couple of guys in the group were eager to jump in and help.
At that point, I had nothing better to do than to watch the recovery. Frankly, I was alone here and I was happy to have a purpose driving behind these guys on the rescue mission. Also… If this place “flips” vehicles… I should probably roll in a group! After about an hour of watching them overturn this 4Runner and get it back to basecamp… I had learned some names and got a feel for the group. Nice guys and gals. They let me ride with them for the day and I ended up spending the weekend hanging out with at their base camp with their “krew”.
John, the man standing in front of me at the Fort’s Hog Roast is the tiny snowball that started my avalanche of 4×4 travels and friendships over the next few years.
Since that fateful day when I “rescued” John and Ryan. I have made trips to Mardi Krawl, the official TLCA Louisiana Land Krewesers off road event in Alabama. My Wife and I have met up with other members of the group in Moab to run trails as a small group. All the while, we hung out together morning noon and night. At one point, I earned the trust to find myself holding the hand of Jonas’ daughters as we watched from a giant boulder while he worked his FJ up Hell’s Gate in Moab.
I’m not even going to get into all the fun our Trail Team had with Roger and his contingent of LLK guys at SCC 2016. Ask Matt Wagner about that sometime.
When I went to Cruise Moab this year… I barely got through the gate before running into LLK member, Kevin and getting a big bear hug… Then I was handed a cold beer.
I am not sure it gets any better than that!
This all comes down to John and Ryan rolling their truck! This is not a fact that is lost on me. Life takes twists and turns and we can never predict where it’s going to take us… it’s possible that I may have befriended these guys without running into the stranded guys over that weekend… We will never know.
Side note…. my coworker made it down the next day and was impressed that I got to know so many people so fast…. I think that’s why he always sends me ahead now!
Also… Flipping a 4Runner takes talent… I have yet to see anyone in any of our groups do it, or come close!
Wheeling and overlanding are not the only way to make friends… But they are a great way to surround yourself with like minded Toyota aficionados.
If you are interested in checking out what we do at Toyota Land Cruiser Association (TLCA) events or want to camp and “wheel” over at Badlands… We are fully capable and willing hosts, guides and organizers. Lets make plans to hit the trail. Our Facebook page is the best way to stay on top of what we are doing, otherwise, stop in to the service department and see Matt Wagner or myself, Eric Stahl.