Spring fever hit Johnson Valley when several hundred Toyotas and Toyota-based rigs converged in the Southern California desert at the infamous Hammers trails for the 11th Annual 4Runner Jamboree.
Volunteers and a sponsor crew worked hard to prepare, and lead 'wheelers over, the array of 11 trails. There was something for everyone and every level of expertise and rig. Those wanting a milder challenge could opt for the SUV run or for one of the intermediate runs. From there, there was a rising scale of difficulty, where choices risked higher levels of challenge, body damage and breakage.
Trails this year included old favorites such as Sledge Hammer, Jack Hammer and Claw Hammer, along with Big Johnson, Aftershock, Wrecking Ball and Outer Limits. New for this year was a recently opened trail called Tin Bender Alley, aptly named after the club that discovered it. In addition to the trails surrounding the dry lakebed and the canyon trails, there are several small sand faces on which to open up the throttle to see what you could climb.
Even though the event took place on Saturday, most participants arrived a day or two early, or stayed late, to get a chance to 'wheel the many trails in the area. The weather was dry, with nights in the low 40s and days in the 60s and 70s. It was perfect desert-'wheeling weather.
Friday evening a group of rigs headed to the top of the mountain at the end of the Jack Hammer trail. Standing at the top, just before sunset, was David Brian Cole, awaiting the arrival of his bride-to-be, Maria Lujan Catuegno, who, suitably outfitted in a white dress, was soon escorted to the top of the mountain in an open-top buggy. With all witnesses gathered, the couple informally pledged their devotion to one another while self-ordained 'wheeling minister Erik "Camo" Linker pronounced the couple hitched. The crowd cheered its approval and the groom kissed the bride. (Word is, the real nuptials will be held in Acapulco.) Following the hilltop ceremony, much of the group was off back down to camp or out for night runs.
Saturday dawned and hundreds of Toyotas stirred on the lakebed and lined up to head out to the trails. Some rigs suffered problems here and there during the course of the day, with the carnage including the usual steering parts, axleshafts, driveshafts and so on. However, most everyone successfully completed the trails and returned to camp in time to enjoy their evening meal. Following dinner was a raffle featuring parts donated by Jamboree sponsor All Pro Off Road of Hemet, California, as well as parts from other Toyota specialty vendors.
On Sunday, a group of rigs headed over to the rockcrawling competition area and a few of the guys threw down some cones to mark out an impromptu course. About a dozen rigs entertained the crowd that gathered by showing off their finesse and expertise in negotiating the flagged course.
Drivers came from all over the Southwest and from as far away as Canada, with a total of 208 vehicles registering for participation. If you're interested in some good 'wheeling with a bunch of friendly Toyota owners, check out the event next year.