By: Isaac Marchionna
So I wanted to provide an AAR (After Action Report on FJ Summit) because I know a lot of people would have loved to go, and between this and TaCo Rock Therapy I think the best Toyota events happen within 3 hours of each other in Moab and Ouray.
I’ll preface this by saying I was incredibly on the fence about going. I tried to register originally for the event, but got on the wait list within 30 seconds. Registration is brutal and I didn’t find out about being on the wait list until mid-april. I signed up thinking worst case I could sell my ticket. In fact I was hoping work would keep me from going, but the past few months have been painfully slow in the freelance world. So with FJ Summit approaching I knew I had to commit. The biggest downside is lodging. The availability in Ouray is very limited and it turned out that even the crappiest of rooms would be 200 a night. Absurd, despite it being convenient. I planned on camping.
I foolishly agreed to go up to Seattle on Friday the 17th, to participate in the Seattle 48hour Film Project, which is a marathon project where you script, shoot, and edit a short film in 2 days flat. So Sunday night I was feeling pretty salty, having finished at 6:30pm, with a 3.5 hour drive home to Portland. Arriving home at 10pm I dumped all my computer/editing gear out of the truck, loaded up the camping gear, filled the ARB fridge, tanked up, and passed out. The next morning I drove 12 hours to Salt Lake City, crashed on a friends’ couch. The next day I thankfully met up with a passing FJ from Washington, and we convoyed the remaining 6.5 hours into Ouray. Just having someone to talk with on HAM was incredibly refreshing, as 18 hours by yourself on the road can be utterly brutal on the soul and sanity. The other upside to this convoy is I was able to crash at the FJ’s rented RV campsite, so besides sleeping in my Nemo tent, I had access to laundry, showers, and legit bathrooms, in Ridgeway, CO, about 25 minutes outside of town.
Word to the wise, either camp near town, or get a hotel, which I’ll be doing next year either with my upcoming XVenture trailer, or at a hotel. The benefits are more time spent in town, less time commuting, and more time to drink yourself silly at attitude (which doesn’t take much at nearly 11K feet).
Wednesday, after registration, I met up with Tim and Walt, from Sackwear and Tactical Application Vehicles, respectively. I got to basically crawl in, over, and around his FJ45, which if you’ve questioned that build, don’t, it’s amaze-balls. Walt’s Gen 2 Tacoma, aka The Goat, is pretty much the coolest Taco I know, and basically ate up any obstacles we found. I felt kinda low key in my 4Runner, despite how built up it is in comparison. Together we all got a late start on Imogene Pass, starting about 4pm, which put us at the summit about 7pm. We didn’t see another vehicle the entire time except for an old Jeep CJ, who wanted to follow us down. There was also a massive mudslide on the Telluride side, which I missed coming into town by about 10 minutes.
On the way down I started hearing a really bad metal clanging, like quarters in a tin can. At the bottom of Imogene, which literally just comes out on a side street in Telluride, I stopped and thought I found the source of the problem; my mid-skid (ARB) had sheared 2 of the 3 bolts, and was just banging around. So I zip tied those till I could hit up a hardware store in Telluride or Ouray the next day. About 10 minutes outside of town the sound came back. I feared I’d have to get the 4Runner trailered into Montrose or to the nearest dealer. So I made the plan of getting up at 4:30am, crawl under my truck with a headlamp, and check torque on all the bolts to see if I could isolate the problem. So at the buttcrack of dawn I commenced Operation: It’s Too Early For This Shit. And in the process realized I had a torn CV boot on the driver’s side. Thankfully I carry two extra CV’s in my parts kit. And in under an hour I had the wheel off, CV boot replaced, but still hadn’t found the source of the clanking. Driving around the parking lot it seemed to be getting worse. I also was seemingly getting more pissed off. With my morning trail run approaching I was almost admitting defeat, till in a moment of desperation I decided to pull off the caps on the TRD rims, and spotted the issue: both metal dome covers for the main castle nut had popped off and were both flopping around, resulting in that horrible and disconcerting sound. One good whack with a rubber mallet, and some cursing, and I was heading back into town. Unwashed, unfed, and pissed off.
Despite that I made it to my first official trail run of the Summit, which was Imogene Pass. Once I got back on the trail I finally started to relax. And the run was pretty uneventful other than CBI Offroad almost flopping their truck on the water crossing. Basically there’s two ways to run the water crossing, either at the low end, or turning up into the crossing and driving up the water and cutting to the right. One person wanted to go down the rocky bank, and came precariously close to rolling his 4Runner. CBI then decided to go the reverse direction, and inadvertently put their driver front tire in a very deep hole in the creek, resulting in the front diving down, and teetering right at the edge of safety. The trail leader and I quickly huddled, and decided I’d cross the river, and winch out and provide a safety line on CBI’s sliders, in case they started to flop, while the trail leader would winch straight in to bring the truck up the bank and back on 4Wheels.
Successfully recovering the CBI Tacoma, we made it up to the summit without incident, and on the way down crossed paths with Toyota USA (driving the 2017 Cement TRD Pro Runner, and Cement TRD Pro Tundra) and the Expedition Overland team (Apollo and X3, their Tacoma). When we crossed vehicles almost everyone in the XO vehicles stopped, pointed at my 4Runner, and I overheard some “holy shit, look at that 4Runner!” while I smirked with pride.
The next day was Gulches, which is a 6-7 hour trip up part of the Alpine Loop, into Hurricane Pass, down to Animas Forks, and eventually up to Eureka Gulch. I opted to break away at Animas Forks, as I needed to get back into town for a phone call. God help you if you have ATT as your service provider in that part of CO. Verizon is clearly the way to go. Gulches was definitely fun, very tame, but a bit rough due to rain and constant rutting out via UTVs. I would also like to make a note here that CB radios suck. They suck. They super suck. And anyone who advocates them can go suck a bag of sucks. About 10 minutes in the trail leader’s CB stopped working well, so I lent them my pair of handheld Yaesu HAMs, and stayed in the middle as the licensed HAM operator. I think it’s FJ Summit’s intention to eventually require people to use HAM, since it’s ya know…not a giant toilet fire like CB. Did I mention how much I flipping hate CB?
The final day was Black Bear Pass, which I had run before about 9 years ago. And as I’ve discussed elsewhere, is not really a hard trail so much as it can be overwhelming for anyone who isn’t somewhat seasoned in off-roading. This is not a trail to cut your teeth on, it’s not a trail to spot for if you don’t know what you’re doing. No advice is often better than bad advice. Black Bear is not that hard except for the steps and the switchbacks, which represent about the last 20 percent of the trail. They’re mainly hard because you’re going on the ability of your spotter, and the quality of your brakes. Brakes for most of FJ Summit were the thing to have working more than anything else on your vehicle. It’s a beautiful trail for sure, but don’t gawk, even getting out of your vehicle can be dangerous as there’s washouts where if you don’t look where you’re stepping you could fall 100-200’ down a steep cliff. We ended the day with some pizza and beer in Telluride. The rest of the group took Ophir Pass back, which I decided to see how much I could get my vehicle sideways going a tad fast on Last Dollar Road, which leads back into Ridgeway.
That evening was the end of the event, and raffle. Didn’t win anything.
The next morning everyone packed up, and got into town for the end of event group photo. Some vehicles were lined up since 4am to be in the front. I got there at 5:30am, not bright eyed and bushy-tailed. Even being there 1.5 hours after the line formed I was still fairly towards the front. Over 350 vehicles on the city street. As soon as the last photo wrapped everyone floored it out of town. I had no plan for how I’d get home, but I linked up with two FJCs going back to Portland. We decided to push from CO to Boise in one go, and they’d stay overnight, while I’d try to make the 1000 miles back in one go. After splitting off I made it about 2 more hours before I started to get dangerously tired, and opted to sleep at a rest stop. Waking back up at 3am I pushed onwards another hour before realizing I was still dangerously tired. After sleeping until sunrise I finally made the last 450 miles home, before shutting the vehicle off, getting into my apartment, and sleeping well.
The long and short of it was that I’m incredibly glad I went. I saw some great rigs, great people, and it was basically a spiritual journey, especially at a time I needed something like that in my life. The reason we build these rigs varies, I think if you crawl malls…you’re doing yourself a disservice. Build these rigs, and travel, go explore, and be part of a community. I met a lot of you guys from the forums there, I had a lot of people wanting to check out the 4Runner. I built the rig for me, not to impress other people, but the fact that people dug it that much is a cool side effect.
One last thing: Dear FJC owners, there’s something called the Toyota Wave, if we give it to you, wave back. You’re almost as bad as Jeep owners.