2018 Rocky Mountain FJ Roundup

2018 Rocky Mountain FJ Roundup

Get Toyota Cruisers & Trucks Magazine on the Google Play Store!Get Toyota Cruisers & Trucks Magazine on the App StoreDek: I recently had the opportunity to attend the 3rdAnnual Rocky Mountain FJ Roundup, a gathering of FJ Cruisers and other Toyota enthusiasts, during Labor Day weekend in Buena Vista, Colorado, located a little over two hours southwest of Denver, Colorado. 

The Rocky Mountain FJ Roundup was started by the Colorado FJ Cruisers (COFJC) group(LINK: http://tctmag.us/cofjc)and features trail runs, evening dinners on Saturday and Sunday with a raffle, socializing and entertainment following. The COFJC group was founded in 2006, and after creating an online presence with a website and Facebook page in 2014, they now have almost 3,000 members and the number keeps climbing. 

I joined the COFJC Facebook page about a month after I purchased my FJ Cruiser in 2017, and I admit, I felt kind of like a phony and was pretty sure I did not belong in this group. I was feeling a little intimidated after seeing some of the other beefier, modified FJs on the site, and some of the difficult-to-me trails they were running. More than a year later though, it couldn’t have been farther from the truth. The men and women in this group have been incredibly supportive and helpful in regards to my stock FJ, trail driving advice, and training. Most of all, I’ve appreciated the kindness and friendships I have formed through the many events and trail rides.

My daughter, Grace, is my constant co-pilot in these off-road adventures, and this was no different. Right after she finished school that Labor Day Friday, we packed up and headed out to Buena Vista. The event is held at the KOA Campground just outside of town, and because of my late decision to join the Roundup event, what lodging was left was pretty much non-existent or really expensive. (I later learned a huge country music festival was also happening that weekend, which explained my lodging dilemma.) I did find a fun camper for us to stay in at the Mountain Goat Lodge, located just north of Poncha Springs, about 25 minutes south of Buena Vista.

Saturday morning, we woke up bright and early to join the other FJ Cruisers at the Roundup headquarters and met up with our first trail group—Tincup Pass—a moderate trail. We air down and head out for the trail and make our way to our first stop, the ghost town of St. Elmo. There are still inhabitants in this quaint historic town, and you want to make sure to stop by the St. Elmo General Store to pick up some sunflower seeds to feed the chipmunks. They happily run around you at lightning speed, with cheeks on the verge of exploding, to grabsome of these tasty treats. It’s been a long time since I had been to St. Elmo—my dad drove my mom, sister and I up here in the mid-1980s—I forgot about feeding these cute little creatures. I was happy to see my daughter getting a chance to create her own memory—I'm thinking this might be a rite of passage for Colorado kids.

A couple of quick turns in town and we immediately drive up a hill with lots of rocks! We drive through some beautiful Colorado scenery as we drive over Tincup Pass. On our way down the pass, we take a lunch break stop in the actual town of Tincup. Grace and I enjoy BLTs at Frenchy’s Café and afterward, take a little walk around this old mining town situated at over 10,000 feet above sea level.

We leave Tincup and make our way over Cumberland Pass and then on to Hancock Pass, which turns out to be my “white knuckle” drive. I find out that the original pass we were going to take in this last half, Cottonwood Pass, is closed. Our Trail Leader, and my friend, James Buff, also happens to be one of the admins for COFJC and the trail lead for my first “big” trail I did over a year ago, Mosquito Pass. As we re-group to talk about Hancock Pass, James tells me, “so, Kathy, this next section is a bit.. rocky.” I look at James waiting for a more detailed explanation, or, a punchline. I get neither. He tells me I can do this, but to “choose my lines carefully.” Choose my lines carefully. To me, this becomes code for “this will be a little tougher for your stock FJ and your just-over-a-year-of-off-road-driving-experience, but you can do it.” My first instinct isto tell him, “I’ll just drive back down Cumberland and Tincup”, but I know that’s not a realistic option, especially by myself and with my daughter and knowing other groups are working their way up those passes. All I can picture of this next section is me ripping the undercarriage of my vehicle into shreds as I leave bits and pieces of it along the trail. And, on top of that, having to explain this to my husband should it happen. In my gut though, I’m thinking there is no better time than now to work on my technical driving skills.

Hancock Pass proves to be incredibly rocky—a lot of large rocks dispersed among medium sized rocks, with little rocks sprinkled in between. I tell Grace to make sure she holds tight and prepare for some “bumps”. As I make my waydown, I hear a couple of loud “thuds” and undercarriage scratches that make me cringe, but I tell myself, “the FJ can handle this.” Me, on the other hand, not so much. I keep hoping the trail ends sooner rather than later.

I keep an eye on my dashboard lights to make sure no new lights appear other than the ones that should already be on. At one point, I do eventually get out of my vehicle to check underneath and make sure everything looks like its where it’s supposed to be and nothing is gushing out of anything. I see nothing obvious and feel a little relief. We made it.

We get back in town to the Roundup headquarters at the KOA and my daughter and I get in line for dinner. We chat and meet up with other Roundup participants and have a great night talking about our FJs, what trails we all did and what trails we will be doing tomorrow. I run into another person driving a stock FJ and he, too, had done the same trail that day. He was in the group immediately after us and we both commiserated over the difficulty of Hancock Pass in our stock FJs. In between all of this, I end up winning a Yeti cooler in the raffle, but didn’t realize it because I was having such great conversation! 

Since the event is only in its 3rd year, the venue is still small enough to get a chance to talk with friends and make new ones. But, I can guarantee, soon enough, this event will become one of the larger gatherings for the Rocky Mountain region, especially for those still wanting more road time, beautiful scenery, and FJ Cruiser socializing after the FJ Summit in July.

The next morning, we meet up with our next trail group, Seven Mile Creek and Bald Mountain, with Aaron as our Trail Leader. This trail is on the easier end, with some sand and a few technical rocky sections, but these I can handle especially after Hancock Pass. The trail to Bald Mountain has some tight sections and I manage to knock both of my sideview mirrors closed, one at a time, each way. We make it to the top of Bald Mountain, which is windy, and look down into the town of Nathrop and admire the views of the Sawatch Range and the Collegiate Peaks. Clouds are hanging over some of the peaks signifying Mother Nature might be up to something.

We drive back into town and into headquarters again. Mother Nature was indeed working on something—we start getting a little rain drizzle with a little heavier rain mixed in. Our group hangs out for a bit talking about our day and our vehicles and we all begin the process of airing our tires back up. We say our “goodbyes” to our group and my daughter and I drive home that night to avoid any of the Labor Day traffic on Monday. As we start driving on Highway 285 back to Denver, we notice some of the higher peaks are already getting a dusting of snow.

We didn’t stay for that night’s dinner and didn’t get a chance to tell everyone we’ll see them again and how much fun we had at this event, even with the Hancock Pass challenge. Most likely, we’ll see them all again on one of the many COFJC group events or trail runs very soon.

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