Category Archives: Off Road Event

Southern Cruiser Crawl 2017

Following Stork down Rubicon Ridge

The Fort’s Trail Team ended our 2017 “Season” with one of our favorite events in the TLCA lineup…  Southern Cruiser Crawl (SCC).  SCC has been a “must” event for our group since our first time venturing to Hot Springs Off Road Park in 2013.  It’s a mix of old and new trucks, great food, lots of friendly faces and most importantly… It’s a great off road park.

The event has been building year over year…  What started out as a small club event for Cottonland Cruisers has turned into a nationally recognized destination.  Forts Trail Team has been there to watch some of that growth.  Our first year at SCC was three years ago and we brought two trucks.  This year, we had a fleet of six trucks from Central Illinois caravan down the 8 hour drive south.  Our 2001 Tacoma dubbed “300” amazed us once again by showing its durability in trouble free operation on and off the trails, not to mention the drive to and from Hot Springs.  

Fall in Arkansas this year was hot.  Normally when we do SCC it’s a nice warmth in the sun, but when in the shadow of trees or in a valley… Its cool air.  Combine that with the first hints of fall in the tree colors…  And it’s nearly the best time of year to be there.  This year…  It was lot of dust and a heat everyday.  Highs during the days closed in on 90 degrees.  We are breaking a sweat…  Add to the dust from the truck in front of you and you suddenly feel like it’s Mojave Road all over again!  In all honesty, high 80’s while in the shade are not bad.   If you haven’t been there, Hot Springs Off-Road Park has lots of shade.  Every rolling hill is covered with trees and we are deep in these canopy all day.  Rarely do you find yourself in the wide open sun.

   The event is centered around this park…  And it would seem that three years of hitting these trails would make the event a casual drive.  But that’s not the case.  We brought some new people with us, so that is always a thrill.  We did manage to find some new trails, which I did not think was possible!  And, we did some “Night Wheeling” and managed to get backwards on one of the harder trails in the park.  It was a constant adventure!   

Night Wheeling requires a lot of light!

One notable highlight was when “300” got stuck.  It all happened when its over ambitious driver, Fort’s Maintenance Tech Hunter, decided to follow a line that the rock crawling buggies had just ripped through.  Watching the recovery was just fine for the rest of us…  We got to see a show from a world famous truck.   Marlin from Marlin Crawler pulled up and rescued the Tacoma with ease.  Lots of pictures were taken and lots of jabs have been thrown at Hunter since.  All that was missing was popcorn!

Rescued by Marlin

 

The camping was a highlight as well… As this picture below will illustrate.  Camping with new guys is always an adventure when they have not prepared their gear!  Somehow…   This one sided tent was able to sleep two guys for three nights!

Remember kids… Prep your gear!

This year, as In years past we have used the KOA in Hot Springs that is just five minutes away from the event.  They have great shower facility and it’s a quiet atmosphere to retire too after running trails all day.  We found out on day two that their breakfast is a pretty good deal as well.  Bonus!  KOA’s have all levels of service.  They have small cabins, RV Hookups and tent space.  We all tent camped.  KOA’s have always been a great value for stops when travelling the country, and this one in Hot Springs is on our good list.  

Mother nature gave us our final wakeup call on Sunday.  The driest of weekends always ends with rain.  (Because, what fun would packing your tent up be if everything was dry?)  At 6am Sunday morning… And big storm front moved through and made sure everything was soaked.   

Southern Cruiser Crawl happens in October…  It’s on the Fort’s Trail Team to-do list every year.  If you want a fun, end of the year, 4 wheeling romp…  This is the one to do.  Let us know if you are interested in going as we always have room for more folks.  Its also worth noting that this event is made for every type of wheeler;  Buggies to stock trucks can have fun here.  Food is provided every night and it’s a big party afterward.  The KOA does book it’s cabins pretty far out in advance…  Otherwise, you can plan this trip around the event registration later in the summer.

Beware though…  One trip to Arkansas for this and you will always want to go back!

Join us!

Kokopelli Trail Expediton with Cruise Moab

Matt M’s 5th gen is lined up and ready to go on the Kokopelli Run

Wanted:  Cruise Moab registrants with an extra taste for adventure for this years Overnight run on the Kokopelli Trail.  Trucks must be lifted, modified and protected from the extreme trails that will be between you and Moab.  Additionally, be prepared to cook and camp for yourself as we will be on the trail for three days and two nights.  Also, if you can bring those pudding cups with the gummy worms for the camp potluck, that would be great.

While that might seem like a bit of a stretch for the official Kokopelli Overnight registration, it’s not too far removed from what Stan Wright was asking of the intrepid adventurers who signed up for his guided tour to Cruise Moab 20.

This overnight run is not a new thing for Cruise Moab.  For the past few years they have run a multi-night “overlanding” style trek from Grand Junction to Moab via the Kokopelli Trail.  The 142 mile trail has a little of everything including the route that sends you over Rose Garden Hill and and a sidetrack up the Top of the World trail.  That mileage may not seem like a long distance on paper, but believe it or not, it takes a constant pace to finish in under three days.  This outing is a draw for anyone not familiar with the area or wanting a taste of overlanding.  The registration filled up quick and they couldn’t take everyone who applied.  

Night 2 campsite on the trail.

I will admit to being a “noobie” on this type of overland trip.  I had read the trail notes on “MUD” from years past…. It sounded amazing and equally stressful.  I had even sold the trip to a few friends and co-workers after selling myself on it.  Registration goes fast.  Four trucks in my local group tried to get on the run…. Three of us made it.  Fortunately, I was one of those three.  A lesser man, and a true friend would have bailed when the fourth truck was left behind…. I am not that good of a friend.

We had months to prepare.  That was good and bad.  It gave me a lot of time to think about my truck equipment…. And then start over-thinking personal gear.  Fortunately, this run was being guided by Stan Wright (same one at the beginning of this magazine!) and Chris…  Any questions we had about what to expect would be laid to rest by the experienced guides.  We received an email from Stan with expectations of our trucks and a special area in “mud” to start sharing information about the planned trip.  Also, we were encouraged to add some background on the rest of the adventurers.  Of course, it turned into a drool session when we saw the modifications some of the guys/gals had done to their rigs in anticipation of this trip.  

Matt Wagner knocked one off his bucket list. Top of the World, Moab UT.

There were folks registered from New Hampshire, Illinois, Texas, Atlanta, Seattle and San Diego and all points in between.  We just about hit the four corners of the US of A with this crew.  Drivers and passengers were all ages and we even had a celebrity dog along for the trip!   It was a diverse vehicle lineup.   A newer GX body, Tacoma, FJ Cruiser, a diesel swapped 62, a few 80’s, four 4Runners and a couple 100 series.  You have to stay disciplined to stop watching all the cool trucks around you or you might do something dumb on the trail!  

The night before the event start, several of us decided to camp out at the trailhead in Rabbit Valley.  (Never saw a rabbit BTW). About 8 trucks had set up to get a bonus night of camping before we hit the trails at 10AM the next day.  It was a nice head start to meet a few of our merry band of adventurers.  April in the high desert is beautiful camping weather.  Cool and dry with clear skies.  

Stan showed up the next morning for the drivers meeting with a big pile of local burritos…. Now this could be a test…. Do you throw down burritos before an eight hour trip on a rough and tumble trail?  I risked it.  They were delicious.  Local flavors win again!  We had the group pow wow…. Rules, inspections and expectations were taken care of.  We would have a long drive to get to our first campsite.  Buckle up, let’s move now and prepare for some amazing views.

It was just that.  The first day’s drive was a long winding trip to the Mesa, that had us scrambling to beat bad weather.  Heavy clouds loomed overhead that morning and we were getting some drops on the windshield.  Stan explained over the CB that we would be in bad shape if a downpour arrived, leaving us on slick orange surface mud (I remember a similar feeling at Mardi Krawl…. No thanks!).  We moved along quickly for the first few hours.  After we reached the top of the Mesa we had our chance to take a breath and take a look.  Amazing views that you can only dream about from the interstate.  No doubt, you sucking it all in while driving, but a stop once and awhile lets you really admire the huge vistas that no camera can ever capture.  

potluck in the middle of nowhere!

Part of our preplanning had us pack a shareable meal for a potluck on night one.  We got the camp area with lots of time to set up and start cooking before dark.  This was my first chance to see all the possible overlanding combinations.  Rooftop tents of a few different varieties.  Awnings galore.  And a few folks setting up traditional tents.  Supper was anything but freeze dried camp food.  Brats, Chicken Tacos, homemade Soup (kept frozen for the trip in a portable freezer)..  So much food that we couldn’t kill it all!  Thank God there are not bears in this area…. We would have been surrounded!  We spend the night hearing some great yarns from TLCA President, Ross Woody.  Most of us had no clue that a minor celebrity had tagged along for our trip!  (I didn’t get his autograph!)

Day two on the trail had us running all day to get to top of the world.  We started off at 9AM…. And arrived at the trail entrance at about 5PM.  It was a tremendous day with winding trails that kept us seeing sights of the snow covered San Juan’s in the distance.  So far, nothing had held us up.  No cows, gastric distressed drivers or broke-down trucks.  According to Stan, this was unusual.  They normally were dealing with some sort of breakdown every time they start this adventure.  Could we beat the odds?

We headed up “Top of the World” trail for some great “light” at the end of the day.  The sky was blue and the clouds were minimal.  Remember what I said about breakdowns?  It happened.  It sounds like it’s bound to happen on a trip like this.  And in reality…. You should be mentally prepared for your personal truck being the problem that holds everyone up.  Recovery gear is highly recommended from the start for this reason.  Our group had some old trucks, and we ran at a reasonable pace to make sure everyone was safe.  Surprisingly, it was the newest truck in our group that had the first failure.  The Tacoma had succumbed to poorly modified front diff carrier that had given way at the body mount.  There was a scramble to assist, but it didn’t appear that we could solve this halfway up “Top”.  It was decided that the taco was drivable enough to head back down to our second night’s campsite in the valley.  The rest of the crew were able to get to the most scenic photo shoot in Moab.  Really, the best photo spot in the United States until somebody proves otherwise.

Heading down Rose Garden Hill.

The trail damage had held us back about an hour…. We were coming down from “Top” in nearly full darkness.  It was a scramble with lots of auxiliary LED’s in all directions and a huge dust cloud.  When we got back, we still had to time to cook some dinner at the campsite and set up a campfire with all our remaining firewood.  It was a big BS session with lots of laughs and stories that any Toyota lover would appreciate.  That night, our youngest trail runner declared that she had adopted 10 new Dad’s on this trip.

The next morning was rough.  We found out that the damaged Tacoma was out of the run.  They would have to head back to Moab after finding the differential mount had been completely sheared off.  Adding to this…. Our 4Runner from New Hampshire was now getting a very loud whine from the rear carrier.  They did not feel safe enough to make the journey to Rose Garden Hill.  The two injured trucks limped back to Moab.  (What happened in Moab is a great story of folks helping each other out if you want to hear about it sometime.  The kind of stuff that restores your faith in humanity.)

I personally have a history with Rose Garden Hill and it didn’t end pretty last time I was there.  Google:  UCA repair with ratchet straps for an idea.  To be honest… I was happy to sign up for this tour and have guides at the ready to lead us down.  I had met the criteria to make this trip, but Stan and everyone else in the group were weary that I would have some extreme trail damage with my light setup.  I had my heart racing as we approached the obstacle laden hill.  It is no understatement to say that our spotters, Stan, Ross and Chris were brilliant.  I did end up with a scratch on the side of my truck…. But nothing that I could not have done at the local off-road park.  We were feeling the advantage of having experienced wheelers with us.  This kind of leadership can make all the difference between a great day of off-roading and the worst day of your life.  There is a giant fence that separates the two, and you can fall onto either side very easily.  

A completed Rose Garden Hill is nearly the end of the trip… And that is a heavy feeling.  We did wander for an hour through a canyon on the way to our finish in Moab.  It was as chance to rip through 20+ water crossings… It was a serious refresher after days on a dusty trail.  I made it my goal to cover the 4Runner every chance I got.  We had some chatter on the CB’s and spent a seriously long time glad handing and wishing well to all of our fellow travelers.  We had survived, for the most part, and were enjoying each other’s company.   We were all slow to break up the party at the beginning of the pavement.  If given the chance, we probably could have gotten half the group to head back to the start and do it again!  

Our intrepid tour guide… Stan Wright.

Stan and Chris have been leading this trail run for a few years…. And have been threatening to hand it off to other volunteers.  Any of you folks who go to these events know that it takes a lot of manpower and personal commitments to make anything like this happen.  Please.  Help out when you can, and be sure to thank those that do.  Thanks to our trail leaders, Cruise Moab and TLCA for putting on a great event!  

Rose Garden Hill Breakdown – Part II – The Recovery


Continued from Rose Garden Hill Breakdown Post.

We were happy to get back to camp after the “trail repair” on Rose Garden Hill.  It had been a long hot day and we were looking forward to grabbing showers before hitting the campground. The word “campground” would paint a mental picture of campers, tents, and facilities for dining and showering.  Our campground was not so luxurious…  It was a few gravel slots backed up the Colorado river, about 5 miles out of Moab.  This camping is super cheap (5 bucks a day), but it’s also super thin on amenities.  Bathrooms (Fancy holes in the ground) are included…  Showers are not a feature that come with this price.  

Our original plan was to stop at the KOA and pay five bucks for a shower.  But they closed before we got back to town.  Showers were out.

We got back to our sparse campsite.  I washed off as much bearing grease as I could from my 5 gallon portable water tank…  Took a camp shower from there (Don’t know what a camp shower is?  Just ask sometime, I’d rather not describe it here).

End of the day… This hit the spot

Jake and I talked it over a very refreshing and cold beer.  Obviously, we were not going to be doing any more wheeling the next day with his FJ in its current state.  Our priority as a vacation was to get Jake’s truck up and repaired so we could finish out the trip.  

The nearest Toyota Dealer from Moab is Western Slope Toyota in Grand Junction.  Now, you might be saying “Why go to a Toyota Dealer?”.  First off…  I’m partial to my profession.  I trust our techs more than anyone on a newer FJ like this.  Secondly, Jake’s FJ is a 2014 with roughly 25,000 miles.  Our first hope was that this upper ball joint failure would be warrantable.  In order to make this a clean process…  Going to the dealer first was our best bet.  Was this warrantable?  In my opinion… Yes.  We were off road… No question.  Were we baja blasting and damaging the truck by being reckless?  No.  When the ball joint came loose…  We were crawling and and creeping up the hill and that joint should not have popped out.  

Rigged ball joint.

The drive from Moab to Grand Junction is about 120 miles.  I can tell you with complete certainty that it feels 5 times that long when you are watching the road for bumps and stopping to adjust ratchet straps.  The straps did loosen over the drive.  Those extra straps and frequent stops were completely necessary!

We rolled into Western Slope Toyota in Grand Junction about 10AM.  The Service Advisors were super friendly and said that we were gonna be OK on the warranty repair and they would move it up to the front of the line.  There were a couple problems with our repair though…  Grand Junction Colorado gets their parts from a Toyota parts depot in Dallas Texas.  It would be a few days before that Upper Control Arm (UCA) would be ready and installed.  Then…  Their alignment shop would need to be scheduled.  Holy smokes…  We were days out for a warranty repair!  

Western Slope Waiting room… Buckets in the service drive.

There was an alternative…  Order UCA’s on Amazon Prime using overnight shipping.  The guys at Western Slope were open to this.  This would remove Toyota from paying for a warranty repair, but we would be on the trail in another day.  Western Slope said they could do the work the next afternoon, but were not sure if there was enough time to do the alignment that same day.  We ordered Total Chaos UCA’s from Amazon with the expectation of having the fine guys at Western Slope do the work.  

Social Media is a wonderful thing.  Jake had put out a message on the FJ Summit forums on Facebook about his breakdown and wanting to know if anyone had UCA’s handy.  That didn’t pan out… But we did get a message from Keith and “Keiths Garage” in Grand Junction. Keith offered to get the FJ done as soon at the UCA’s arrived and to get it to his alignment guys ASAP when he was done.  Keith had a long history of working on Toyota 4×4’s in this part of Colorado and was well spoken about of by the locals.  This was a no-brainer.  

Keith’s Garage to the rescue.


This night…  We found a nice Best Western on the Northeast side of Grand Junction.  We had one criteria… An outdoor pool.  This hotel had one indoor and one outdoor.  It was a perfect situation for this dusty crew!  

After a dip in the pool…  Everyone got cleaned up and we headed to downtown Grand Junction.  If you have not been there…  Its worth stopping by.  Lots of cool shops and a nice brewpub kept us entertained and well fed for the night.

The next day…  The UCA’s showed up at Toyota at 10AM.  The guys at Western Slope Toyota were cool with our change of plans. They were completely backed up with work and they were really shoehorning us in to get the FJ fixed that quickly.  It was a relief to not force our truck into their schedule.  We ran to Keith’s shop where he was waiting with open arms…  By 4PM the truck was aligned and back on the road.  Keith and all the kind folks in Grand Junction saved the trip!  

The “magic” photo spot!

Now it was off to FJ Summit X.

After we were all in Ouray…  We had dinner at Buen Tiempo.  “Buen” seems to be our annual dinner stop when we are at Summit.  We had our dollar bill planted on their towering two story roof (If you don’t know how they do it…  Give the waiter a buck and watch).  When we were heading out, we ran into Woody and Heather Swearengen.  The owner of Ih8mud.com chatted with us about his imported Landcruiser.  I was schooled on the different models numbers for RHD, LHD, Petrol and Diesel models.  (because, someday I will have one!)  Woody and his wife are great folks and I always recommend signing up for Ih8mud for Toyota 4×4 fans of any skill level.  

Thursday morning we had a plan to hit the top most pass at FJ Summit.  Imogene pass is a rough trail road that runs 17 miles between Ouray and Telluride.  At its topmost peak, it tops out at 13,100 ft.  This is not like Pikes Peak or Mt Evans… You are crossing streams, climbing steep inclines, pinstriping your truck and grinding up your off-road tires on sharp rocks.  

The climb through the mountains was a striking contrast to camping in Moab just days before.  The weather was slightly cool with an air of dampness.  Everything was green!  Even the upper elevations above the treeline the small amounts of green were a glowing vision of life versus the overwhelming brown tones of eastern Utah.  When we reached the top of Imogene pass, it was crowded with Toyota trucks that were trailing with groups from FJ Summit.   We waited for about 30 minutes before we could pull off this picture of our trucks at with the sign.  It was cold at the top… But again…  After sweating and being wrung out in Moab…  It was a welcome change of season.  I told everyone to suck it up.  The temps back in Illinois were around 100 and these 50 degree winds would be forgotten as soon as we hit Kansas on the way home.

Top of Imogene

After hitting Telluride we had to call it over for the Stahl’s.  My family had to get back to Illinois to get my daughter to camp on Saturday.  Our layover in Grand Junction had cost us a day on the trails in Colorado and this was last hurrah.

Jacob and family spent another few days in the area before heading back.  His exploration led him to Bangs Canyon in Grand Junction.  Which, judging by the pictures and his reviews… Is a great place to run around in for a day.

 

Southern Cruiser Crawl 2016

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300 at SCC guided by Dustin

The Southern Cruiser Crawl was held on October 12th through the 16th in Hot Springs Arkansas.  Fort’s Trail Team had a great showing with 6 trucks making the trip down together.  

For those that don’t know, Southern Cruiser Crawl (SCC) is a Toyota Land Cruiser Association (TLCA) event sponsored by the Cottonland Cruisers.  Over the years, these kinds of events have brought together TLCA members from all over the country to experience off-road parks and trails with the camaraderie of other Toyota owners.  Destinations span the whole United States and even some events overseas!  At any weekend during the year, you can find an event being held somewhere.

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This is not the first time we have been to SCC.  Trail Team Founders, Eric and Mike went there to get a taste of the event in 2014.  It made for some great stories and also led us to making some great friends that we still keep in touch with to this day.  Many of whom were there again for SCC 2016.  

Thanks to some of those stories (and videos and pictures) we improved the size of our group and ended up with crew of six Toyotas.  Three of those trucks were Fort’s employee’s and the other three are local folks that have been running with the Trail Team for a while.  Except for Eric, everyone else was experiencing SCC for the first time.  

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We had two solids days of four wheeling fun.  It was literally morning, noon and night of trails.  Even with all of that seat time, we didn’t hit all of the trails offered by the park.  Hot Springs Off Road Park is an amazing pile of giant rocks and loose gravel that have challenges for all levels of off-roaders.  It rained pretty good on Thursday night, but the park barely showed signs of it the next day.  As we saw in 2014…  This park sheds water like a duck’s back.  Even with the heavy rain, by Saturday, dust was kicking up on all of the trails.

Our crew ran a middle ground of technical trails.  Hot Springs Park as a variety of terrains.  We checked out a few smaller runs to acclimated.  There are a few very long trails in this park that can keep you busy for a few hours.  We hit those Friday afternoon and Saturday morning.  A highlight for several members of the group was a session of “Night Wheeling” on Friday.  

Slaw on the brisket is the recommended way to enjoy your BBQ according to the locals.
Slaw on the brisket is the recommended way to enjoy your BBQ according to the locals.

The food provided with your entry ticket was amazing.   We have come to expect great food at TLCA events and SCC did not disappoint.  This years homemade gumbo was not to be missed.  Saturday night was BBQ night…  And it was even better.  

The charity raffle on Saturday night was filled with goodies. Jake, one of our members (apparently the luckiest) walked away with a new K2 cooler and a Dewalt cordless impact.  

For those of you who want to come along…  We are giving you an open invitation.  Nothing we do on any of our trips is beyond the capability of a factory stock Toyota truck.  That’s actually half the fun… Take your daily driver out of the trails one day… And drive it to work the next day.  

The best way to end a day of wheeling.
The best way to end a day of wheeling.

Contact Eric or Matt in service if you want to be alerted of the Trail Team next get-together.  

Google Photo Album:  https://goo.gl/photos/End1STLBwWCwpHAw7

Link to Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/fortstrailteam/

Field Dispatch – Moab and FJ Summit X

Jacob & Family

This year Fort’s Trail Team had the honor of escorting a customer out to the 10th annual FJ Summit in Ouray Colorado.
One of our Trail Team regulars, Jacob Irish and his Wife and Daughter made the trip with our Service Manager Eric Stahl and his family. The trip began in Moab Utah. Our first base camp was set along the Colorado River.  It was an amazingly scenic area to say the least!  We were blessed with a full moon and it illuminated the cliffs and mesas around our campsite at night.  While in Moab, we visited Arches National Park and spent a day off the beaten path on Kokopelli Trail.

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After Moab, the expedition moved down to Ouray Colorado to join in with the FJ Summit 10 festivities. FJ Summit is filled with tons of like-minded Toyota lovers and vendors specific to Toyota trucks.
We can tell you from experience that FJ Summit is one of the best organized Toyota events in the country. Well run events like this can take the stress off first timers who might feel intimidated. Do not let the rough roads and high altitudes scare you. The best part about FJ Summit is its accommodation to “stock” trucks. You can take a truck off of our lot today and hit the trails tomorrow. Again, we know this for a fact because we have done it with stock trucks.

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In Colorado, our mini expedition climbed to the top of Imogene Pass at a height of over 13,000 feet. Its an amazing spectacle to be at the top of the rockies looking over miles of mountains with snow covered peaks. The air was cold, but the sun was hot. It was a welcome break from the heat and humidity of July in Central Illinois.
We were thrilled to hear from Jacob when everyone got back home. His family declared it to be their favorite family vacation ever!

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Our next trip to an official Toyota off-road event is in Mid October. A crew of about 4 trucks from Fort’s will be headed out to Southern Cruiser Crawl in Hot Springs Arkansas. Contact Eric or Matt in service for details.

 

Mardi Krawl 2016 – Tuscumbia Alabama

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Fort’s 2010 Trail Edition 4Runner. “Treehugger”

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.

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Photo session

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!

Alabama traffic jam
Alabama traffic jam

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!

Southern Style Speed's Lexus
Southern Style Speed’s Lexus

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!

Spring in Alabama
Spring in Alabama

Post Script:

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 estahl@toyota-pekin.com


External Links:

http://www.toyota-pekin.com/

http://endlesshorizonoutfitters.com/

http://southernstylespeed.com/

http://www.lalandkrewesers.com/

Photo bucket:  https://goo.gl/photos/McZH5FJSQYHnn6gQ7


The story of “300”

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300 at the top of Black Bear Pass

In April of 2015  we traded for a tired little Tacoma.  We had sold this 4 door V6 Tacoma new in 2002 and it then proceeded to roll to 315,000 miles before being traded in.  The truck ran pretty good for 300,000 miles.  It was hard to fault it on outward appearance only.

Underneath lurked the biggest problem with this truck.  The Tacoma was nearly sway-back from a rusted frame.  Salt from midwest winters had slowly eaten away at the frame over the last decade leaving it in a precarious condition.  This truck, while in decent exterior condition was ready for the auto auction and an uncertain future.

300 Before
The core truck before modifying

As the Tacoma sat on the back row…  The employee members or Fort’s Trail Team inquired with the sales manager about it.  The truck was a V6, 4×4 with factory rear differential lock.  After getting more info about what was needed, we decided that it could be an amazing project.

Could we take this old Tacoma with heaps of miles and bring it back to a fully safe and drivable condition?

After talking about the project with the owner of the dealership, Mike Fort, he came up with a bigger idea yet…  Have this truck ready to go to FJ Summit in Ouray Colorado by July!  We offered the two technicians who were involved with restoring the truck the opportunity to take it to FJ Summit and drive it to the tops of the Colorado Rockies on some of the most famous 4×4 trails in the nation.

They were all in.  The techs came up with a name; Project “300” was born!

It would have been a lot easier project if money were no object and they were given a blank checkbook.  We had to keep it reasonable!  The goal was to get the truck running mechanically sound and make minor modifications that would help in Colorado.  The ultimate goal was to bring it back to Illinois and show off what a 300,000 mile truck could do without a ton of modifications.

Step 1:  Remove the body from the frame.  This was the longest process.  The purpose being to send the frame out to the local welding shop for frame repairs.

Step 2:  Upgrade and fix anything that needs repaired for drivability.  Valve covers, spark plugs, timing belt, control arms, brake lines, ebrake cables, headlight restoration..  You name it…  We fixed it.  The last thing you want at 13,000 feet is a breakdown.

Step 3:  Make upgrades to the suspension and tires.  While it would not out of the realm of possibility to do all of FJ Summit completely “stock”.  We decided that an Icon Variable Lift setup with taller tires would make the trip into the mountains a lot easier.

Step 4:  Drive the heck out of it before getting to Colorado.  This was hard to do, as we finished the project with 2 weeks to spare!  The drive alone was 1000 miles to Ouray.

We left with a truckload of youthful bravado on July 10th for the rockies from Central Illinois.  The truck did well…  Until North Platte Nebraska.  We had a breakdown that required immediate attention.  The crank pulley was lost on I80 and now the truck had no power from the alternator.

Now, we could go into a blame-game about who was supposed to check that..  But it would detour us from a great segue about Premier Toyota in North Platte.  As our truck limped off the interstate, we were able to catch a technician working in the shop at 4:55 on a Saturday.  He had a crank pulley in his box from an older Tacoma!   There were a few complications, but the tech, Tim, stuck it out all night and helped the guys.  The General Manager, Dave, heard the story, and he was on board as well.  By Sunday afternoon, the road trip was back on.

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Minutes before the North Platte breakdown!

“The little truck that could” blazed a trail to Leadville and run Mosquito pass without incident before heading to Ouray and FJ Summit 9.

After the “Platteville Incident”, as it is now called, and successful runs at Mosquito Pass and some other trail runs, 300 had built a small following on Facebook.  It was becoming battle tested.

At FJ Summit, 300 was scheduled to run Imogene Pass, Black Bear Pass and Poughkeepsie Gulch.  Imogene was a great start to the “Summit”.  Lots of driving and beautiful surroundings.  Not a whole lot to get stressed about.  Black Bear is a lot of hype for the most part.  But it is dangerous if you are a rookie driver without spotters or have a vehicle with run-down equipment.  This is not a place to have an axle go bad or lose a tie rod!  300 did amazing on a very soggy and muddy Black Bear.

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The “Wall” at Poughkeepsie Gulch

The last official run at Summit was Poughkeepsie.  This was pretty exciting, by trail rating it’s the toughest run at Summit.  The final hurdle on this trail is a rock ledge called “The Wall”.  Its such a formidable opponent that permanent winch points are installed to assist in the recovery you will likely need to get on top.  We were in a group of 12 trucks Saturday morning…  Of that group…  Only 3 got up the “Wall”.  300 was not one of them.  Dustin, the head technician on the 300 project was driving that day and to say he was distraught by this would be an understatement.  The stars had seemed to line up at every moment for this truck.  Every obstacle had been run down literally and figuratively to get this truck to Ouray!  How could it fail now???

It was not a fail.  300 had accomplished its goal.  A 300,000 mile truck with little hope for the future was brought back from the dead and given a new lease on life.  At a total cost of just over $6,000.00, it had competed with trucks that cost 10x what it did to run at FJ Summit.  It was just one more point proven to us that Toyota makes the most solid truck in the world.

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Dustin and Drew, the project Technicians.

300 now rests comfortably on our lot at Fort’s Toyota of Pekin (until its next trail event).  The truck is a testament to the quality of product we see everyday at the store.  We are happy to show it off!  Please come out and take a look!

Eric Stahl, Fort’s Trail Team