ROCO 4X4 Adventure Weekend 2017 (RAW 2017)
This year the Roco4x4 Adventure Weekend continued the legacy of providing an opportunity to wheel safely and responsibly alongside industry experts. The four-day journey was highly anticipated, offering the drivers the perfect mix of adrenaline and anxiety regarding what lie ahead. The goal was to merge man and machine…To become one, even if only for a split second, and experience the sense of calm which arises when there are no worries because the driver realizes that he/she is capable of overcoming any obstacle regardless of how difficult it may seem.
Clinton Smith from ARB 4x4 USA was eager to push the limits of their "Sandstorm JK" equipped with ARB's armor and the latest OldManEmu BP-51 Suspension, renowned for the ability to fully adjust rebound and compression. This was the perfect setup for a Jeep driven on the highways from park to park, and then wheeled to the extreme in each location. Justin McLean and Brad Spearing from JKS and BDS Suspension stretched the legs on the JKS' "Big Red", a two-door Jeep Wrangler debuting their bolt-on coilover conversion. The event gave them the perfect opportunity to have a hands-on review of the recently released kit, a collaboration with Fox Racing Shocks. Sergio Pinillos from Spiderwebshade was behind the wheel of the Shadebrigade TJ, sporting a Radflo coilover conversion and GenRight armor. Moreover, Spiderwebshade provided their signature TrailSac, color-matching every Jeep, and allowing the drivers to have a perfect spot to collect their trash while off-roading. In addition, for 2017 a special guest joined us all the way from down under, the editor-in-chief of Australia’s #1 Jeep magazine, Jeep Action Magazine.
Different backgrounds and exceptional conditions
The group included people from different countries: Australia, Cuba, Peru, the United States and Venezuela. Each driver received an acceptance letter weeks prior to the event, along with a notice from Rugged Radios. Throughout the trails cellphone signals are limited, and communications between drivers and co-drivers when spotting or winching is vital. In previous Roco4x4 Adventure Weekends CB radios had been used, but the transmission was unreliable. Rugged Radios is the radio of choice of racers from King of the Hammers to the Dakar Rally, and they were the official communications partner for the event. Every rig received a pair of VHF radios, making it possible for everyone to be on the same page.
Alabama, the heart of Dixie, and Tennessee, home to honky-tonks and Elvis Presley were the two host states for RAW 2017. The expedition would last 3 days - August 10th, 11th and 12th. Most teams started their journey at least 24hrs in advance, driving hundreds of miles from different states of the Eastern US. As drivers checked in they received a welcome package that included their vehicles decals personalized with a vehicle number and driver name. Each driver and passenger were provided with a color matched shirt for every day of the event, along with a personalized cap with the Roco4x4 logo and their name. The trails ahead were not going to be easy, so ARB included their world-famous ARB EZ deflator and tire repair kit. Running a lower psi would allow drivers to maintain traction, and the repair kit would come in handy during the next three days. Each park would offer camping accommodations for the event. In order to move around comfortably at night, Rigid Industries provided each driver with their ultimate RI-600 flashlight - 680 lumens at your disposal in the palm of your hands.
Day 1 of RAW 2017
The expedition began at Hawk Pride Mountain in Tuscumbia, Alabama, offering 1500 acres of off-road fun. The crew quickly unloaded the rigs of the trailers and lined up behind our local trail leader, Ed. This was it, the beginning of a long-awaited trip. The twelve drivers had stepped away from their routines as business owners, engineers, and managers to have the opportunity to drive in lands unknown to them. It is difficult to describe the atmosphere, but if we had to pick one word it would be ecstasy. Ecstasy means the ability to participate in a reality that is different from that of everyday life; an alternate and intense reality where some describe as ceasing to exist as we are used to and experience an overwhelming feeling of happiness or excitement. Once the mind takes over and the body disappears any feelings of hunger or tiredness cease and only a spontaneous sense of bliss remains. Seven stitches, one U joint, one heater hose and one overheated Jeep later, Day 1 had come to an end; the park offered fun and interesting challenges for our drivers with only minor trail repairs. The RAW2017 teams had many hours of wheeling and watching each other push the limits of their rigs, and that night the fresh air of the Alabama mountains cooled the engines and the drivers as they prepared for Day 2.
Day 2 of RAW 2017
Day 2. As we pulled into Adventure OffRoad Park, also known as AOP, a grin appeared on most of the drivers - this park is on almost everyone's bucket list. We've all seen videos of rock-bouncers tackling boulders and slippery slopes…this time it was the RAW rigs turn to take on the park. Fate had a curve ball for us, though, as relentless rain made moderate trails extreme, and extreme trails almost impossible. Trail 41 is marked by an ominous black triangle, in this case denoting a difficult uphill rocky slope. Around 11am the rigs entered, and pulse and precipitation increased at an equal rate. As rain water flowed down the trail, slate rocks started to accumulate water, and the water level began to rise. Each driver had one thing on their mind, ‘there is no way back’. Focus and skill pushed every driver to pick the right line; a great mix of YJs’, TJ's and JKs of various levels of modifications made each of their drivers extremely proud. Like an act of sorcery as the last rig made it to the top of the mountain, the rain subsided and rays of sunshine dried up the soaked spotters. All day with the mindset of ‘no rig left behind’ the drivers had an opportunity to learn more about their vehicle's limits. At the end of the day some drivers even started to work on their Christmas wish lists after seeing how a few upgrades can significantly increase the performance of a rig. That evening there was air of solitude, as all the drivers reflected on the obstacles overcome and the new friendships made on the trails.
Day 3 of RAW 2017
The third and last day began with the drive was to Sparta, Tennessee. Golden Mountain Off Road Park is home to many offroad events, and it was the perfect ending with a combination of breathtaking scenery and tricky trails. This was our last stop and it was time to truly push the limits of the rigs, no excuses. Lockers on and 4low engaged, the rigs tried to stay as close as possible while taking the hardest lines and truly stretching suspensions and pushing the beads on the tires. The infamous wooden bridge was particularly slippery that day, proving to be an obstacle not only for the rigs, but also to those on foot! Following this we headed into "The Jungle" and "Bounty Hill" like there was no tomorrow. Drivers were tired but hungry for action. Low psi made a significant difference, and the bias-ply tires became the protagonists of the day as tight turns made long wheelbase rigs dig for traction. For most of the attendees having the pleasure to have this kind of wheeling is more than a 800 mile drive from home. The park took out one driveshaft and one tail light from the rigs, and some blood, sweat and tears from the drivers.
The experiences lived by the drivers, organizers and sponsors will be anchored in history with the production of the official Roco4x4 Adventure Weekend video. All in all the parts broken will be replaced, the dents not so much. Rock rash will be a reminder of a sublime adventure in the Southeastern United States. The only question that remains is, what will be the location for the fifth year anniversary of the Roco4x4 Adventure weekend? All we can share is that RAW2018 will be unprecedented.