I’m almost ashamed to admit that it took me well over a year of FJ ownership before I reached a stage where I was comfortable with the thought of trail damage. As a sport, rock crawling is a new thing for me. I’m used to driving off the beaten path through mud, snow, etc. But the concept of intentionally putting a brand new vehicle in harm’s way completely escaped me. I’ve always been taught to take care of the things I own in order to make them last as long as possible. So for the first year or so, I enjoyed the FJ in relatively stock form (minus a few previously mentioned upgrades). That was, at least, until a forum post caught my eye in January of 2009.
The post indicated that one of the better known FJ Cruiser organizations on the Atlantic, the FJ Northeasters, was gathering sponsors and participants for their 2nd annual run at Rausch Creek in Pennsylvania. The key difference between to this event and previous gatherings, was that this particular event focused on folks who were new to rock crawling and trail runs. This became even more obvious as they gathered confirmations for trail types, where the majority of folks who responded to the invitation were signing up for the green-rated trails. For those unfamiliar with color-based trail ratings, the green trails are generally considered the easiest to navigate and are the least likely to result in unwanted damage to your vehicle.
Based on the details provided, the event would last for two days, covering Friday and Saturday, with an optional third day for those who wanted to hang around after the main event. Lodging options ranged from tent-based camping, to RV-type parks, to one of several local hotels in the nearby area. They even managed to reserve one of the more popular family restaurants in the local area and arranged meals for anyone participating. Mind you, participants were still responsible for paying their way, but each new detail revealed that this was a very well-organized event. For someone looking to test their vehicle limits as well as their own driving abilities, in a more controlled environment, this event sounded absolutely perfect.
It wasn’t long after hearing of the event that I broached the topic with the rest of my family. Despite my incessant grinning and insistence that this would be the greatest event of their lives, the rest of my family was not so easily convinced. Apparently the thought of hanging out in a tent for two days straight was just not all that appealing. So as a compromise, I opted for one of the local hotels which made the will-bending process a bit easier. After a few more minor adjustments to the schedule, I was able to solidly confirm our participation in the event. To say I was excited would be a grave understatement. I was absolutely thrilled! It wasn’t until after I signed up that the realization hit me… I didn’t own a single piece of recovery gear. I guess it was time to do some research…