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Toyota 4 Runner - 3rd Annual Southeast 4 Runner Jam

Posted in Events on September 1, 2006
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Traveling around the country covering four-wheeling events is always quite an adventure. Usually, I find mapquest.com to be a great mapping tool, but in this case, it was wrong. According to the manager of the hotel I was staying at in Murphy, North Carolina, mapquest.com doesn't update as fast as some of the backcountry roads change due to the seasons. Two hours into the middle of nowhere, 11 p.m. in the evening, and driving a crappy rental car got me a bit concerned. I am all for finding a new adventure, but after passing the third country farm and getting some interesting looks from local residents, I turned around and headed back for a main road.

After finally making my way to the correct highway, I found myself passing by the Ocoee River, one of the event locations for the 1996 Olympic Games. The scenery was absolutely breathtaking, and it was easy to see why this destination was chosen to represent white-water rafting at its best. From there, I finally landed in Murphy, a small town just across the border of North Carolina with an old fashioned town square complete with ice cream parlor and barber shop on the corners.

The next morning, I headed north into the Tellico Plains forest area. Roughly 25 minutes north out of Murphy, you come to Crawford's Camp. If you feel like you are getting lost, look for the white Jeep staked to a pole on the side of the road. You couldn't ask for a better arrival landmark for a four-wheel-drive campground, now could you? Crawford's is the home of numerous off-road club runs and gatherings. The grounds feature fully enclosed work bays, air tools, fueling, welding equipment, campsites, utilities, and even a rock garden for those who want to wheel in camp.

The reason I had traveled so far into the woods was to participate in the 3rd Annual Southeast 4Runner Jamboree put on by WabFab Off-road. For the past three years, this event has been growing into a nationally acclaimed four-wheel-drive excursion for many Toyota owners. If you are a Toyota 4Runner, FJ40, FJ80, Land Cruiser, Tacoma, pickup, or FJ Cruiser owner, be sure to check out this event next year.

I quickly introduced myself to Roger Theurer, the vice president of the southeast chapter of the Toyota Land Cruisers Association. He was prepping his '76 Toyota FJ40 to take on the most challenging section of the Upper Tellico OHV trail system, the Slickrock Trail. The Upper Tellico OHV trail system is made up of 41 miles of trails that all touch each other in one place or another. After spending a full 12 hours wheeling there, I can assure anyone reading this that what Tellico considers an easy trail would be rated hard in most places around the country. Roger invited me along with his son and a few others to join them for a day of wheeling. Our group consisted of a '76 FJ40, a '78 FJ40, an '83 FJ60, and an '89 4Runner (but we would pick up a few others along the way). With everyone ready to go, we headed out locked and loaded for adventure.

After a 40-minute ride from Crawford's to our first trailhead, we reached Rough Water. This section of trail consists of two water crossings and a slew of small to midsize rock gardens. Our well-equipped group had no trouble getting through the water and rocks and kept moving quickly through the trail as we knew that shortly new groups would be on our tails. With the wealth of trail diversity in this area, it's definitely a good idea to wheel during the week if you can get out of work to escape the weekend off-road crowds. Most of the roads are one lane and can make passing quite a challenge.

Continuing through Trail Four, we began climbing through dense forestland. The abundance of trees helped keep us from falling off the mountainside. From there, it was on to Fains Ford, another tricky water crossing, where we stopped for a group photo. As we made our way across, a flurry of ATVs came through, splashing water everywhere and causing a few of them to bury themselves in the riverbed.

Just before making our way to the next section, Joe Boeck and his '89 4Runner decided to put on a little show for the camera. While everyone made their way to the right, he decided to crawl his way over the much harder section on the left of Trail Four. After three attempts and nearly rolling his rig rubber side up, he decided to pull the winch. I thanked him for the great picture.

Trail Nine, also known as Slickrock Trail presents a challenge to any four-wheel-drive vehicle. Not only is it a menacing 200-foot wall of rock, but you have to pass through a small stream to get to it, keeping your tires nice and moist for your climb. Most rigs don't make it up Slickrock without pulling the winch, but everyone gives it a try. Roger led and nearly made it to the top before succumbing to the winch. His group has a rule: When wheeling, if you can't make it in three tries, pull the cable. This helps keep things moving and fewer parts from breaking. Roger explains, "We want to have a good time, be safe, and get home at the end of the day. I have been wheeling for over 20 years, and I can't tell you how many people I have seen break down because they try to get over the same rock for an hour."

As if this section wasn't hard enough, the next two obstacles along the way were nearly as bad. Rob Theurer and his family had a tough time getting past a few boulders, but he wasn't about to give up so easily. Twisting and turning, he burned up his tires, creating a huge black smoke cloud, but he made it over.

Our last major hurdle of the day was toward the top of Trail Nine. This narrow section claimed door panels and side mirrors all day long. We spotted a custom-built rock buggy that made it look easy as well as a monstrous Jeep Wrangler running 44-inch Swampers. Our group's vehicles weren't nearly as tall and had a little more negotiating to do before this section was behind us. Brian Sapaguh purchased his red '83 Toyota FJ60 not long ago and was prepared to push it as far as he could on this day. His only hope was to keep it free of body damage, and he succeeded. He was the least-equipped of the group and spent the most amount of time on his sliders, bumpers, and using his winch, but he made it through unscathed.

As we headed back to camp, everyone was grinning at having another successful day of wheeling on their resumes. As we pulled into camp, the evening barbecue had begun, and we helped ourselves to a healthy plate of chicken, coleslaw, and beans. With our stomachs full and the day over, we were already starting to think about next year.

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