Long Strange Trip…

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!

Eric Stahl


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.

The First Rule of Trail Team

Whats the first rule of trail team?  Any guy/gal who watched a particular movie in the last decade will immediately follow that question with the response:  “Dont talk about Trail Team?”.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  In fact, “Talk about Trail Team…  A lot” is rule number two!

Rule number one:  Your factory stock Toyota Truck is a capable 4×4 right off the showroom floor.  You do not have to load it up with performance parts to enjoy your Toyota off-road”.

That may seem to contradict what the aftermarket industry is pushing.  There are an endless suppliers lined up to make your truck more “capable”.   This may also seem contradictory to the Fort’s parts department, as they offer some great accessory brands.  But this is the fact:  Your stock truck is ready for anything right out of the box.

Your factory Trail Edition and 4×4 vehicles come with world class mechanical parts.  Axles, suspension components, metal skid plates and the technology to back it all up.

Now…  You are probably saying, “You guys have extra stuff on your trail trucks” and you are right.  We did try for a few years to run completely stock trucks when going to Badlands Offroad Park in Attica, Indiana and FJ Summit 8.

Since that time we have found that leading folks on the trails also requires the ability to assist in the case of a recovery.  It becomes a balancing act of adding features that are a complete necessity while not intimidating our “Daily Driver” customers from running the trails with us.

The 2010 4Runner that we affectionately call “Treehugger” (Long story, ask sometime) had some absolutely necessary items installed this past year.  A winch for recovery and a CB Radio.  Those two items can save a lot of headaches when out on the trails.

Again, with the balancing act…  We dont want those bits and pieces added to the truck to scare you away from seeing what your Toyota truck can do.  These additional items are there to assist when needed!

When we do accessories on our trucks… We stick with tried and true brands.  Our guys back in parts carry Pro Comp, ARB, ICON, OME and TRD equipment that will let your truck grow as much as YOU want to.   Cody, Nate and Mason have been helping equip Toyota owners in the Greater Peoria area for years…  All the while keeping on top of the newest gear.  (The temptation is amazing!)  Our Toyota techs;  Dustin, Drew and James have been installing everything in our Toyota shop.

If you want to build up your truck… We can help.  If you want to leave it “stock”… You will never get an argument from us!

All we ask is that you give us a shout if you want to hit the trails!

See Matt or Eric in service for more details on the Trail Team Excursions.





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

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.


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.  

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.

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.


Life lesson via a couple of KOA’s


Most of us on the trail team prefer to camp as part of our travels…  Part of the joy of this aspect of travelling includes visiting new campgrounds and finding cool spots we can share with others.

On our trip to Moab and FJ Summit this year, our first night of driving ended with us in Strasburg Colorado.  We knew this was going to be a stopping point ahead of time and had made reservations.  It’s about 14 hours from home and a great distance to stop driving at.

Strasburg is a little town with tons of cheap hotels along I-70.  Really nothing to write home about (or blog about!).  When we came into town we could see that the KOA was disturbingly close to the highway…   Not just any highway, one of the busiest interstates in the country!   Had it been earlier, we might have tried to skip out of this place based solely on our first impression of location and noise.

We decided not to make a fuss… It was 8PM and we just needed a place to sleep! As we have seen before at other KOA’s, the front desk clerks will leave you check-in paperwork at the front door if they are already closed for the night.  We grabbed our packets to see where we were camping.  Ugh…  This campground had put us on opposite sides of the park.  Not their problem, as we had made different reservations… But it was a bit of drag as they were way apart, not even close.

Just as we were talking about where to go, a man came up in a golf cart wearing the classic yellow KOA polo shirt.  He introduced himself as Scott.  He and his Mom own this KOA and he started running down the amenities.  He told the kids about the pancake breakfast his mom makes in the morning.  I think the kids were drooling for pancakes right then.

Scott figured out really fast that we were together as two trucks and offered instantly to let us use the group camping area so we could be close that night.  That was awesome.  We were thrilled.  We bedded down and other than a few loud motorcycles that sounded like they were doing 200MPH on the nearby highway it was a peaceful night.

The next morning we were tearing down the tents and getting cleaned up super early.  Scott saw me and asked if we were coming to breakfast.  Even though it was before normal serving time, he said we could get our breakfast now.  Awesome.  We loaded up.  4 or 5 bucks a head for a full plate of food, juice and a coffee.  It was just what the doctor ordered!

From there, it was off to Moab Utah.

The crew getting ready to leave Strasburg

The next couple of days camping were spent in primitive spots along the Colorado River in Moab.  Amenities were only what you provide for yourself.   To say we were a bit “funky” after a few days out in the wild would be a massive understatement!

Moab Camping

Our next campsite was a KOA in Colorado.  I will refrain from mentioning the location for reasons you will see later.

We checked in around and found a tidy little campground in the middle of town.  The front desk clerk was terse and did not tell us about much at the campground except to say some downtown restaurants were good.  She also was not accommodating when we asked about possibly tearing down our tents around 1PM after trail run the next morning.  No biggie, we thought we would ask.  We were directed to our campsite on the edge of the campground.

After we were started putting our tents down…  A staff member of the KOA came up on a 4Wheeler.  He then proceeded to unspool a hose off the back of the machine and start spraying the grass around us.  Herbicide?  Pesticide?  Who knows.  I am not freak about this stuff, but I had to say something.

“Hey, can you hold off on that?” I asked.

“It says it’s safe in 30 minutes” was his reply.

“I’d feel better if you held off while we are camped here” I said.

He then reeled up the hose and took off.  He had a look of “whatever” on his face as he drove away.

A few minutes later one of my kids came up to me and asked how to get into the bathrooms.  You need a code to get into the door?  Oh, I remember a sheet of paper being attached to our checkin materials.  Sure enough, there were passwords for the bathrooms.

That night, I swear a helicopter took off next door to the campground.  It was amazing how loud it was.  In reality, this was no more disturbing than the motorcylces and trucks we had heard on I70 a few nights before.

We woke to a beautiful day for trail riding.  We packed up camp and started loading up the trucks.  We never thought about breakfast at the KOA as the clerk did not recommend anything when we checked in.

We hit the trails that day and headed off to more days of travel until we got back home.

The moral is obvious.  People make all the difference.

Scott and his Mom did everything to make sure we were settled and taken care of.  Their facility was not the best location, but they make more out of what they have by being hospitable and friendly.  I would stay at this KOA again strictly on the experience I received even with their location shortcomings.

The second location we stopped at may have been caught on a bad day.  Regardless, there was no impression left on us that we should ever go back to that campground.  The real question  for the second KOA staff:  Could they overcome my negative experience if they had a staff like stop number one?  I would say yes.

Now, this is one person’s experience.  If you take that by all the customers who check in and out everyday…  The value is unlimited. Building relationships is the value-add that is not figured into the price.  Some of those customers will become an advocate for your business.

What’s that worth?



Rose Garden Break Down

Jakes FJ coming up Rose Garden Hill, Moab UT.

“Dad, I think something’s wrong with Jake’s wheels”

That came out of my daughters mouth while helping me spot for my friends FJ going up Rose Garden Hill in Moab.  At first, I dismissed it as the inexperienced eyes of 15 year old…  Then I looked more closely at what she was seeing from the front of the truck.

Jake was trying to get his 2014 FJ into position to help winch my 2010 4Runner off giant boulder that had left me high centered.  (In hindsight, I should have had him spotting me on the way up, it might have saved us this whole situation! )  The road halfway up the hill had been a smattering of loose boulders and a few rock shelves.   Rose Garden is rated a 4 on the trail map… Which is an aggressive number.  The people I know that have been there thought I should have no problem tackling it with an end goal of getting to “Top of the world” for the iconic photo opportunity.

Gawkers everywhere... But they were no help!
Gawkers everywhere… But they were no help!

The route to Rose Garden Hill takes some serious time.  We started travelling the Kokopelli Trail from Sand Flats about 9AM and went all the way around the south/east side of Moab to get to this point.  It’s actually an amazing change of terrain and conditions in the short span of a few hours.  Orange Desert to green mountainside in the span of an hour. At about 11 we ran across another group of pre-FJ Summit FJ’s on the trail… The other FJ crew was bottled behind a herd of cattle and we could see them turn around to avoid the traffic jam. With the exception of one truck later in the day… That group of trucks were last vehicles we saw for the rest of the day!

Jakes truck was in a ditch of big rocks. I noticed the camber looking a little off on the drivers front wheel while Jake was turning the steering wheel.  The bottom side of the tire was pushing out and the top was really angled underneath the wheel well.  I held up my hand and told Jake to stop…  Something was wrong!  My kid was right!

When we ducked down to take a look…  It was pretty grim.  The upper control arm was popped over the tire and grease was smeared everywhere.  The lower control arm looked OK as did the axle and tie rod end.  My mind started thinking about every option for recovery.  One of my friends had a Jeep roll into a culvert near a cornfield a few months ago at the cost of nearly $4,000.00 for recovery.  I was pretty sure neither of us wanted to get into that expense.  Insurance companies probably would not fully help out either.  It flashed through my head that we could get the kids out of here and come back later, but it was already 3:30 in the afternoon.  It would take hours to come back.

“We have to fix this”…  “We can do this”…  That was my verbal declaration to Jake, the wives and the kids who tagged along with us.

First step…  Lift this truck up and see what is left of the ball joint.  The FJ factory jack is accordian style.  It is pretty worthless in an uneven pavement situation.  The 2010 4Runner had a bottle jack… Even fully extended it was not tall enough for the lift we were trying to get.  We then stacked rocks and started cranking on the little guy.  It took a few times before we found a rock/jack combination that seemed secure.

Once we were up, it was easy to see an intact ball joint separated from upper control arm.   Somewhere in the caverns of my mind I started to recall a similar situation and repair.

“We can fix this”.

Again… Declaring to everyone that we were not screwed.  This was affirmation for me and I hoped it would be a relief to the families as they patiently waited in the 100 degree temps.  I had NO idea if I could in fact fix this… But I sure was going to try.

We grabbed every ratchet strap that wasn’t tied down and started to draw the ball joint closer to the socket.  Using a combination of ratchet adjustments and Jake behind the wheel, we lined it up. At that point… It was ratchet strap fever…  I locked down 4 straps on varying positions to pull down on the UCA.  It would appear that we were in business!

The hillside repair...
The hillside repair…

All we had to do now get back down the hill. In reverse, down a class 4 trail, with a broken ball joint! Then, drive 2 hours or so to get back to our campsite on the Colorado river. We also still had the little issue of my 4Runner being stuck. The first test on the straps was backing up and pulling my truck free via Jakes winch.  That worked…  So far, so good.

Checking the repair.

Backing down, I spotted Jake and we tried to be as delicate as possible.  When we finally got to the bottom, an overwhelming shot of adrenaline came over me.  Seriously.  My heart started racing and I got tensed up.  I asked my wife how long we had been on the hill, expecting her to say 45 minutes…  She said it had been 3 hours.   I really do believe my mind and body went into some kind of “ass-kicking” mode when we were in trouble.  Time and fatigue were not going to be issues until we solved this.

After we were down… I reevaluated the straps… I figured out that the front torsion bar was the best location to mount a strap.  I had placed a large strap at the bottom of the shock to the UCA, but its movement was loosening the tension. I used two super strong straps on the front of the UCA down to the torsion bar. Those straps held tight for the rest of the trip. We backtracked a ways down Kokopelli and caught another trail toward Moab.  I got out every 15 to 20 minutes and checked the straps…  They were doing great!  We got the FJ back to our campsite without any more incidents.  It was 9PM by the time we got back…  And we were dead tired!  Showers?  Nah!  Beer?  Hell yes!

After the wives and kids were in bed Jake and I talked about it over a cold one.  We both agreed that it could have been far worse!  All the doubts that we harbored about making that “save” today came out.  Its one thing to be lucky, but we probably should not have been there in the first place.   Lesson learned…  Save the hardcore wheeling stuff for the local off road park… Not the family vacation!

The next day we headed to Grand Junction in hopes of a miracle to get this truck fully up and running for a trip down to Ouray and FJ Summit 10.  But, that is another story in itself!

Your author… Back at camp… Hands still dirty!



Tire Report – General Grabber AT2

General Grabber AT2 – Still holding onto some Moab dust.

We don’t talk about tires a whole lot when we talk about upgrades…

I think that is mostly becuase we reserve judgement on tires until they have performed to expectations or fail miserably.

We are 35,000 miles into our General Grabbers on the “Tree Hugger”.  At the time of install, we had no opinion of the Generals. They had fairly good ratings and a great price point.  We didn’t want to break the bank when we made our first trip to Southern Cruiser Crawl two years ago.  Before the Generals, the truck had BF Goodrich AT tires on it.  They had made it through FJSummit 8, but were chopped-up, nearly worn out and making a ton of noise.


Since the Generals were installed at 90,000 miles…  Tree Hugger has since been all over the country checking out a half dozen TLCA events, driven to car shows, made countless Badlands trips and one seldom spoken about Jeep club event.

All that time, the tires have driven smoothly and more importantly… Quietly!   If you make a trip to Utah, the last thing you want to hear for 1300 miles is a rowdy “Wwwwwaaaaaaahhhhhhhh” noise.   Thats impressive when you know that we have driven for days on end with 15 to 20lbs PSI.  You would figure that one of of those trips with the air down and hitting a gnarly rock would expose a flaw or even ruin a decent tire.

Missing chunk of tire!

Not so.  In 35,000 miles over two years, we have tore up some treads… And I  noticed this week a outer edge chunk of tread was missing…  But other than this exterior wear, you would think you were driving on new tires.

Negatives?  If you had to nitpick these tires…  And complain about something (That was likely drivers over expectations)…  It would be mud handling.  The aforementioned Jeep event showed that the AT moniker on the sidewall means its its prepared for All Terrain.  Once the rain came out in a midwest off-road trail…  The AT’s decided they could get you around, but not with great confidence.  That trip had me admiring the guys with the Mud Terrain tires.  Then again… The guys with the MT’s have to wear ear plugs on the way home!

All in all….  The General Grabbers are a great everyday tire for a truck that sees its share of on and off road adventures.   I highly recommend them!

FJ Summit 10 – Top of Imogene Pass.





Summer planning

Trail Teams Representing

This weekend at Cars & Coffee was a great chance to get together with some of the team members and start kicking around ideas for some Summer fun.   (See our Cars & Coffee pictures on our Facebook page.)

Stork Mall Crawling
Stork Mall Crawling

We love the Badlands… Its a great park for us here in Central Illinois. But, its also been our ONLY hangout for the past year. We are throwing out ideas right now… Who would be up for a trip to Flat Nasty or Southern Missouri Off Road Ranch (SMORR)? Both are south of St. Louis a fair distance… One is nearly to Springfield MO.


A trip to Colorado is still in the pipeline as well… FJ Summit in July may be sold out… But it would still be a great trip if we made it out to Ouray during the festivities. Moab, Leadville and other stops could be lasso’ed in as well.

Comments, questions, other ideas? Lets hear them!



Mardi Krawl 2016 – Tuscumbia Alabama

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.

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:





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