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Off-Road Adventures - Moab 4Runner Foray

Posted in Ultimate Adventure on February 20, 2007
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The most common 4Runner spotted on trails around the U.S. is the first-generation, '84-'89 model. With its removable top, nimble size, and generous ground clearance, the 4Runner makes a capable trail rig. Late-model 4Runners, by contrast, are more likely to be spotted at the grocery store than in the dirt as a result of the increase in weight, luxury, and price relative to their predecessors. A small group of Toyota owners recently gathered in Moab in an effort to change that stigma. The bulk of the group consisted of third-generation 4Runners ('96-'02) with a smattering of fourth-generation 4Runners ('03-present) and Tundras.

An abundance of glass and sheetmetal was the 4Runners' biggest limitation. Here, Brent Wilhelmi spots Adrian Flygtenstien while the rest of the group plays tug of war with Adrian's rig.

Participants of the Moab 4Runner Foray ran a wide variety of trails over three days in early October. The choice of dates was ideal: There were warm temperatures and clear skies without the crowds sometimes found during other times of the year. The event followed an emerging trend in the four-wheel-drive community wherein owners of a specific make or model congregate to socialize and wheel. The Foray was small and informal enough to rely on volunteer labor and be free to all participants and their 20 vehicles, yet it was large and structured enough that stickers and T-shirts were produced and trail leaders reviewed proper trail etiquette each morning.

By the time we arrived on Thursday night, two axleshafts, a steering shaft, and a shock mount had already been sacrificed on Poison Spider Mesa and Hell's Revenge. The campground that served as the base of operations for the Foray was filled with vehicles bearing license plates from as far away as North Carolina, Washington, Louisiana, and North Dakota. This, along with the breakage, indicates that this group takes its wheeling as seriously as any we've seen.

On Friday morning, the better equipped of the vehicles traversed Golden Spike, while the less-modified rigs followed Gold Bar Rim. This offered drivers of vehicles without extensive armor to test the limits of their rigs without risking body damage. Gold Bar Rim drivers could park anywhere along the route if things got too hairy for them since everyone would be returning that direction. The two groups converged at the end of the Golden Spike Trail for lunch. After everyone had had his crack at the... well, Golden Crack, the united groups wheeled the rest of the Golden Spike and the Gold Bar Rim. Everyone breathed a sigh of relief that the combined breakage for the day was limited to one cracked radiator, which was repaired on the trail.

Light was fading in Pritchett Canyon as the group winched up the rock pile. Breakage and a long, bumpy exit road resulted in a 10-p.m. arrival back at camp.

Saturday brought the toughest challenge of the weekend: Pritchett Canyon. A small group of vehicles headed to Pritchett while the rest of the 'Runners ran Metal Masher. The Pritchett Canyon participants were all equipped with front and rear lockers as well as winches and an abundance of trail armor and spare parts. Mike Caskey from Off Road Solutions led the group in his awesome '92 4Runner buggy (would that make it a ruggy?) and helped with wrenching and extraction when necessary. Progress was steady until the group reached Rocker Knocker, 3-1/2 miles into the 4-1/2-mile trail.

From there, things turned from bad to worse with front axleshafts, air compressors, and steering components failing on multiple vehicles. Fortunately, everyone in the group was well prepared and equipped with the most important tool of all: a positive attitude. Each participant was willing to lend a hand and ensure that no one was left behind. Broken axles were replaced, and the group continued. By 9 p.m., all of the vehicles had completed Pritchett Canyon under their own power. When the group returned to camp at around 10 at night, Mike Nevitt and his crew had prepared a delicious barbecue feast to refresh the weary wheelers and properly conclude three days of camaraderie.

It is clear that you don't have to pilot a trail-only vehicle in order to wheel tough terrain - just witness the large number of Jeep Wranglers found on any given trail - and most of us don't have the resources to park a tube buggy, trailer, and tow rig in the driveway. Heck, the staff of Off-Road wouldn't even have the room to fit all of the rigs in front of our place even if someone gave them to us. Although they do not offer the light weight and Spartan appointments of the original Toyota SUV, late-model 4Runners provide more power than their predecessors while still retaining the size and wheelbase so well suited to a wide variety of trails. So, don't be surprised next time you see one in the rough stuff.

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