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