The First Annual Grand Slam East, held last August in Virginia, was the first tentative step toward introducing enthusiastic ZJ owners to off-roading and raising awareness of this vehicle's true grit.
Virginia's George Washington National Forest proved to be the perfect venue since it's centrally located in the East Coast region, and offers a multitude of public access trail opportunities-from difficult to intense.
Base camp for the run was the Brandywine Campground on the West Virginia side of the forest. Fourteen Grand Cherokees and 32 participants arrived to prepare for what to many would be their first foray into the world of off-roading. States represented included Ohio, Virginia, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts.
Brian Garfield of Westminster, Maryland, who organized the event, is one of the more visible Grand Cherokee enthusiasts who's on a crusade to dispel the unwarranted ZJ myths, and to shine the spotlight on this luxury Jeep's trail prowess. He's also bent on taking the excitement of Grand Cherokee ownership from the suburbs to the backcountry.
The Grand Cherokee was built to compete in the seemingly bottomless upscale SUV market, and it and its owners suffer from a perceived lack of trail-worthiness in the overall off-road movement. It's an unfair label, and one which is mercifully falling by the wayside as an increasing number of ZJs show up on America's trails and backroads.
"The Grand Cherokee crowd of off-roaders is still small and mostly inexperienced," says Brian. "By grouping them together, with no other types of vehicles, everybody has something in common from the get-go. It's a lot less intimidating that way."
"Most Grand Cherokee owners are definitely green when it comes to the trails," says Brian, "but then again, so is everybody their first time. You also have to realize the initial investment involved before you even go off-road. I bought mine new, and scratches were certainly a legitimate threat the first time, but you soon realize that they come out with a little elbow grease."
Most of the ZJs that showed up for the Grand Slam were in stock form, with racks, brushguards and lights comprising the bulk of the add-on accessories. And that was good, because although mild trails were on the menu, there were enough challenging spots for the uninitiated to gain a new appreciation for their Jeeps' abilities. The diversity of the trails gave participants a better understanding of the kind of terrain their vehicles could negotiate as well as the modifications they might want to consider for more aggressive off-road challenges.
Brian plans for the First Annual Grand Slam East to be the impetus for more Grand Cherokee off-roading east and west of the Mississippi, and he believes that while the ZJ thing is still in its infancy, there's a definite trend developing. You have only to look at the current crop of ZJs turning out for Jeep Jamboree USA events around the country to realize that more and more Grand Cherokees are heading out of the suburbs and into the woods.
"Introducing Grand Cherokee owners to off-roading is something I like to do because it allows them to enjoy what any Jeep was made to do," Brian explains. To underscore his commitment, Brian plans to host the Second Annual Grand Slam East in summer 1999. For more information, contact Brian at Web site members.aol.com/bgarfield/jeep.htm, or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.