FJ Summit #8: Behind the Scenes

FJ Summit #8: Behind the Scenes

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You already know that the annual FJ Summit in Ouray, Colorado is the premier Toyota off road event in the country (perhaps the world). You know that every year hundreds of FJ Cruisers, Toyota Trucks, 4Runners, and Land Cruisers trek to Ouray, Colorado for a few days of trails, friends, and fun. You know that more vendors attend this event than any other, and the FJ Summit Raffle is legendary.

 2014 FJ Summit Ouray Colorado

For our coverage this year, let’s delve into some things you may not know about the FJ Summit:
•    You may not know that the 5 day event takes more than ten months of hard work to plan.
•    You may not know that of the eight years of the event, only a very few people have been to every single one.
•    You may not know how rare it is for an event this size to be given access to trails in the way that the Summit is allowed.
•    You may not know that without the countless volunteers who spend an entire week in Ouray helping the FJ Summit crew, this event would not be possible.

 2014 FJ Summit Video Mashup

On a very personal level, the FJ Summit is intimately tied to the publication you’re reading right now. It was, after all, FJ Summit #1 that created a problem in the Williams household….a problem of wanting to modify, discuss, and (obsess?) the already classic Toyota FJ Cruiser which resulted in this statement:

“You can do whatever you want to the FJ, just make it a tax writeoff”.
– Angie Williams, inspiration for FJC Magazine and CIO of TCT Magazine

Yes, we started FJC Magazine as a way to get tax credits for our off-road adventures.
I’d like to say it’s still a tax haven for us, but I can’t…we’ve grown way past the hobby stage of publication.

So it should not surprise anyone that Angie & I have been to every event. I’m sure you’re not shocked to know that our son attended his first Summit (he’s on #4) at 3 months old, and our baby Alana just completed her 2nd FJS (she was 3 weeks old at the 2013 event). At this point we’ve run just about every trail in the 3 counties surrounding Ouray. We’ve explored most of the backroads, experienced most restaurants, and have spent more than one evening discussing how we will someday live in Ouray county full time. I guess you could say the FJ Summit is in our blood.

2014 FJ Summit Ouray Colorado

While we’ve been to every event, and usually volunteer in some capacity beyond producing the annual event guide, Angie & I have never ‘planned’ the event. The directors who are charged with ensuring the event happens spend more time, energy, and effort making this event great than most of us can imagine. Instead of discussing all they do in the third person, I’ve enlisted the help of our Editor-in-Chief and FJ Summit Co-Director Jonathan Harris to detail some of what goes into the event.

I have a long overdue confession to make. I don’t own an FJ Cruiser. Never have, and probably never will. I honestly never really liked them, and for our family, they didn’t make practical sense. I went to my first FJ Summit out of convenience (it’s two hours from my hometown). My intention was to remain a quiet participant, until I was asked to spot 40+ trucks down Black Bear Pass. I’m really not sure how it even happened, but suddenly I was there, doing something that few have had the privilege to be a part of. Later that month, Matt Robb let me know that the founding directors were ready to change pace and were retiring. They had laid the groundwork to a well-oiled, world class event, and Matt asked me to come on board. I thought, “no sweat, the event is 6 years old, it’s probably on auto-pilot.” Little did I know how much work, was ahead of me.

About 8-10 months prior to the Summit proper, the directors convene for a long conference call. We recap the previous year, catch up on life, and go over surveys and emails with compliments and criticism. Then we dive into “Next Year”, words that were banished from our vocabulary until that very moment. We’ve found a groove and balance, I feel, in the myriad requisite tasks that must be done in a specific order and at a specific time. Project managers will understand the epic undertaking that is about to occur. We are in essence, planning the summer vacation for over 800 people. The pressure can be intense. Venue booking, permitting, and insurance acquisition take up much of the fall. In the spring, planning that will be more visible to the public starts. An example; last year, over 30 logo designs were sifted through, voted on and voted on again before a final logo was agreed upon. Trail leaders are scheduled, meal choices, trail times, and other activities and presenters chosen. Sponsors are courted, volunteers are designated and decisions are made on whether periwinkle or bluebird is the ideal color choice for the shirts. Weekly conference calls are held lasting deep into the night. Bourbon is consumed. Thanks to great technology such as google drive and free conferencing services, we are able to do all of our planning efficiently, without ever seeing each other, or our other contacts.  

So why do I do this for an event that centers around a vehicle I will never own. The People! They keep me coming back year after year after year. The other directors, Chris, Matt, James and Ty, the volunteers, the residents and business owners of Ouray, the awesome vendors, and the participants. All of them come together for one week every year in the best place on the planet. One week where upbringing, income, background, age, race and sex don’t really matter. All that matters are the relationships that we build and the things that we experience, which will stay with us long after your vehicle is gone.

I want to talk to you about a pivotal moment for me not only my choice to become a director, but my choice to become active in this community, in my own community and in my work. While spotting Black Bear that first year I met Deb. Deb arrived at the steps in a stockish FJ and was visibly shaken. She pulled me aside and told me she was scared shitless to keep going. I learned that she had zero of-road experience prior to the Summit. “Perfect!” I exclaimed, and took some time reassuring her and let her know that I would be right in front of her all the way down the steps. I calmly spotted her to the bottom and noticed that look on her face was pure exhilaration. Later that night, everyone was out on the town, and Deb came running across the street at full bore and tackled me.  We had a great laugh and even some tears. I saw here again this year and she was rocking a now less stockish truck this time with her daughter in the drivers seat! That one experience, and others like it, are why I continue to do it. New driver or seasoned pro, I hope you will consider joining me next year. You will not regret it. I haven’t .

2014 FJ Summit Ouray Colorado

Did you learn something about the FJ Summit you didn’t know before? Can you believe all of the steps that go into making the top Toyota event in the nation a huge success year after year? For 2014, the FJ Summit sold out in less than 10 hours. I’m starting to think for 2015 the directors may have to switch to a lottery system when registration opens…to give everyone a fair chance of securing a spot. Either way, the 2015 event will be in July (exact dates will be available soon), so block out your vacation and start planning now. There is little doubt that FJS #9 will raise the bar once again.


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