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Off Camber 2014

Written by  Dennis Lloyd
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off Camber 2014 Toyota Cruisers & Trucks magazine

I just came in from 96º outside after unpacking a few lucky raffle prizes out of my FJ from the weekend’s Off Camber event. I have the AC on and a fan blowing on me. I would much rather be back at the event enjoying a 50º evening and a camp fire with friends new and old. Since owning my FJ I’ve been to every FJ off road event at least once and many of them several times. Why do I go? What makes me drive all over the Southwest to meet up with like-minded individuals that want to romp on trails all day?

Off Camber is the reincarnation of what used to be known as SedonaFest, which originally started in 2007. After a break in 2013, SedonaFest’s directors were met with tough resistance from the Forest Service in obtaining trail permits for the event. Instead of just ending the event altogether, the directors teamed up with the Mormon Lake Lodge 30 minutes south of Flagstaff, AZ to provide a venue, raffles, dinners and camping like the original event. There would be no need for trail permits because trail runs were up to the attendees to organize on their own. Since its new location at Mormon Lake Lodge near Flagstaff, AZ was too far from Sedona it wouldn’t make sense to keep the original name so, Off Camber was born. The directors reinvented the event and started fresh, but like all SedonaFests of the past the underlying goal was to provide an event which fostered community, camaraderie and passion for the outdoors. Something I noticed the Arizona FJ folks are very good at. Although there were mainly FJs in attendance, there were also plenty of 4Runners, Tacomas, FJ40s, 70 Series, 80 Series, 100 Series.

Many registered attendees arrived on Thursday and Friday, while others opted for day passes on Saturday. There was a large tent designated as Off Camber Headquarters where you came to register, pick up your t-shirt and buy raffle tickets. Further down the dirt road behind the tent was the Findlay Toyota sponsored off road track, a permanent landmark of Mormon Lake, where you could test drive a new 4Runner on inclines, articulation whoops, descents, and a log bridge.

I drove up from Southern California on a Thursday with another SoCal FJ via I-40 into Flagstaff then dropped down into Mormon Lake in late afternoon. We made camp and welcomed two other SoCal FJs into our camp area then set off to register at HQ. After a brisk night, a cozy camp fire and a belly full of Korean short ribs and rice we woke up to a beautiful cool morning.

The plan for Friday was to wheel at the famous Broken Arrow trail in Sedona, AZ. After breakfast, I prepped for a day on the trail. Snacks. Check. Drinks. Check. Camera. Check. We were planning on meeting up with AZFJ crew members at a restaurant in Munds Park that morning. We rolled out about 8am and onto trail 240 to Munds Park. It was an easy graded trail, but it had some fun mud to play in near the end. We arrived in Munds, only to realize I had forgot my camera back at camp. Doh! I had set it down on the camp table and forgot it. I told my sad story to the rest of the group and went back to camp hoping there was still a chance to get on another trail run.

Back at camp, the camera wasn’t on the table. What the!? My $2500 Canon 5D Mark II was missing! If you’ve ever lost a valuable item you know exactly how I was feeling at this moment. I searched high and low. Nothing. I zipped open the tent and with a sigh of relief saw it sitting on the floor. I confirmed later that day that Kyle, a new FJer from SoCal who had opted to bow out on doing Broken Arrow in his stock FJ, had placed it in my tent for safe keeping. Whew! I found it just in time too, because there was a large group of FJs about to roll out for the Expedition trail run. I jumped in my FJ, checked with the trail leader for the okay and we were on our way to a full day of traversing dirt trails in a huge loop back to Mormon Lake.

The convoy was 10 rigs strong, including a father son team with a dirt bike and a 3rd generation 4Runner. We would be criss-crossing open-range ranches most of the day and finish with tight turns through the pine trees. There was even a trail side mishap as we stopped to help out a fellow offroader who bent his rim which caused a flat. The first thing was to get his spare off but it proved to be a difficult task since he didn’t have the proper tool to remove the spare from under the truck. Luckily, there was someone in our group that had the right spare tire removal tool to hook into the slot to lower the spare from the undercarriage. As the rest of the group stayed behind, another FJ and I opted to make haste and get back in time for dinner so I could take some photos.

Included in the Off Camber event registration is two nights of catered meals provided by Mormon Lake Lodge. The first night was BBQ pulled-pork sandwiches and the second was hamburgers. It’s nice going to events like this with catered meals and not have to worry about cooking after long trail days. Although at our camp we like to eat, so it’s almost tradition to cook up a second meal or snacks to eat around the campfire. As folks ate their dinner a few announcements were made, old and new friends chatted about their adventures of the day, which trails were taken and why the heck was there a rental Buick out on the trails suffering carnage. After dinner some watched the free movie under the HQ tent while most settled into their campfires for the night. The AZFJ crew built a monster of a bonfire and let the good times roll. A perfect ending to a day on the trails.

As the sun rose over Mormon Lake you could hear the rustling of tents and pans as folks started to wake and cook their breakfasts. It was another beautiful day for playing in the dirt. Today I planned on heading into Sedona and the famous Broken Arrow trail with a handful of SoCal FJers and one stock Lexus GX470. We made our way into Sedona via the infamous Schnebly Hill Road. The trail is basically a graded fire road until the last sections which are notoriously bumpy with small rocks and boulders. The shocks got a nice workout as we made our way onto pavement in Sedona and fought the slow traffic… and roundabouts. After all it was a Saturday and the town was buzzing with tourists. Our group finally made it to the trail head only to find more traffic, because Broken Arrow is undeniably the busiest trail in Arizona. We had two Off Camber groups ahead of us and another behind us along with a hand full of offroad tour trucks. We slowly traversed our way up the tight trails and played on various sandstone boulders which provide a mini-Moab experience. The most famous obstacle on Broken Arrow is Devil’s Staircase, a steep section featuring large stair stepped rocks to crawl down… or up… or in reverse and up like one of the AZ FJs accomplished the day before. It’s definitely a daunting task for first timers like myself, but steady as she goes, watch your spotter and it’s not a problem. The stock GX470 in our group did it with a few scrapes on the stock engine skid, but made it look easy. Our group finished the trail without any major damage and we started to head back to camp after a fantastic day at Broken Arrow.

As we rolled into Mormon Lake campground I could see that the 4x4 Truck Show was in full swing near the HQ tent. Although it consisted of mostly FJs, there were also Tacomas, Tundras, 4Runners, 80 series Land Cruisers, FJ40s, and even a rare diesel 70 series LC that was for sale. As attendees browsed the rows of rigs, others made their way under the tent with their catered dinner. The night’s entertainment would be provided by a band named Ebinezer. The AZFJ crew lit up large campfire. Everyone was enjoying the last night with full bellies and cold drinks reflecting on the days trail rides and reminiscing of past ones.

It was Sunday morning and the last day of the event. Everyone was breaking camp and packing up their rigs for the journey home. The first order of business was to get our rigs to the group photo area behind the Mormon Lake Lodge offroad course. After the photos were taken the fun began as a Tacoma decided to challenge itself to a mini mud pond. It did well skirting the edges, flinging mud and water, but eventually got stuck and needed to be pulled out.
We were all looking forward to the main event, the raffle. We can’t deny the raffle at any offroad event is a big deal. Everyone likes to go home with a new mod to install while supporting the event and/or charities. The Off Camber sponsors stepped up big time for the inaugural event. All the big names were present, Findlay Toyota Flagstaff, Discount Tire, Icon Vehicle Dynamics, Demello Offroad, General Tire, BajaRack and lots more. The attendees made their final trip to the HQ tent for the raffle. You could see all the goodies lined up on several tables in front of the stage with bulky items stacked on stage. From roof racks to sliders and t-shirts to tool bags we were all eager to win anything. I was lucky enough to win a set of ToyTecs new BOSS coilovers. As the raffle finished up end everyone started to congratulate each other on their wins, said goodbyes and went about getting ready to pack the final items into their rigs and leave for home.

Off Camber 2014 officially came to an end. I have to hand it to the organizers and the sponsors. They took a lemon of a false start with SedonaFest and literally made lemonade with Off Camber. Sharing trails and a campfire with old friends and making new ones? Isn’t that what it’s about? Sure the trail rides are a big part of any offroad event, but what good is a trail if there’s no one to share the experience with? Off Camber came through in a big way to provide its attendees with all the experiences they needed to make the event a success. I’m looking forward to the next Off Camber and hopefully many of you reading this will consider it next year. Happy Trails!

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