The FJ Summit is a lifestyle experience coated in mud. But you must act fast because it sells out every year. And while the town of Ouray is small… the adventures are huge. The beautiful vistas will take your breath away, while the wet weather and steep inclines will have your adrenaline pumping (FYI: every Toyota 4x4 that drove into the event drove home, too). This event is educational, too, with clinics that demonstrate how Toyota owners can get the most out of their vehicle.
The FJ Summit is the ultimate melting pot for all things Toyota whether you drive an FJ Cruiser, 4Runner, Tundra, Tacoma, Land Cruiser or Lexus LX570—and they all had one thing in common: At the end of the day, they all smelled like dirt!
FJ Summit organizers, Matt Robb and Seth Kovanic, noticed that over the past few years, more women are getting behind the wheel and driving. So, for 2017, they once again invited Nicole Pitell-Vaughan (who first attended in 2015); and Nicole brought along Emily Miller. These are two extremely accomplished off-road drivers and racers who conducted a 2-day Women's Navigation Seminar.
Thanks to cell phones and computers, most drivers rely on GPS for navigation. But what do you do when you're in the wilderness? Go back to basics, using a map and compass. Nicole and Emily created this course for both drivers and "right seaters"—showing them how to be more capable and self-reliant out on the trail. Attendees included everyone from seasoned drivers to beginners, learning that you don't have to rely on technology—and now, these women are prepared for their next adventure.
Nicole was featured on this site for her off-road racing exploits. She and her husband own Total Chaos Fabrication, Inc., a globally recognized off-road suspension and accessory manufacturer that specializes in Toyota bolt-on equipment. Nicole is always up for a challenge, so last year, she shipped her specially-prepped Toyota Tacoma to Morocco, Africa to compete in the 9-day all-female map and compass competition, the Rallye Aiicha de Gazelles. This was her first attempt at this type of competition and she turned heads when she placed second.
In March this year, she returned to her desert racing roots, driving solo in her race-prepped Tacoma in the grueling Mint 400 (348 miles total), finishing 5th overall in the 7200 Pro Class. Nicole's goal is to share her passion for off-road driving with other women so they can tackle the trails with confidence.
When it comes to driving credentials, Emily Miller's are beyond impressive. She has been racing in Baja since 2006 and was trained by off-road legend, Rod Hall. She has multiple podium finishes and race wins as driver and navigator.
She's also the founder of the Rebelle Rally—the first women's off-road navigation rally in the U.S. The 2017 event starts in Squaw Valley on the edge of Lake Tahoe and finishes in San Diego, California, over 1,200 miles later. Women spend four days driving in Nevada, then cross over into California for four more days. Here's the kicker: Navigation is by map and compass only. No cellphones. No computers. No GPS. And for the most part, no pavement. "They have to seal them up and they don't get them back until the end of the Rally," said Emily. "They use a compass and a plotter to plot latitude and longitude." Now, that's an adventure!
Half the fun of the FJ Summit is checking out everyone's rig. Many were sporting TRD Alloy Wheels (which are known for their durability), and TRD Suspension Components that not only increase wheel travel, but also improve control, which came in handy on some of the more tortuous trails (which became trickier thanks to the weather). "Wheeling 101", a class for beginners taught at the start of the FJ Summit, came in handy when hitting the trails, with snow on top of Imogene Pass and the wet and slippery terrain on Black Bear trail—but thankfully everyone survived. As much as the participants love the trails, the FJ Summit Raffle has become legendary. Hundreds of Toyota-related items are raffled off, and every participant goes home with an FJ Summit Swag Bag.
The community of Ouray also loves the FJ Summit as it has given in excess of $90,000 over the last 10 years to a number of deserving organizations, including Stay The Trail, Ouray Mountain Rescue, the local fire fighters and sheriff's department, as well as two named "FJ Summit" college scholarships go to deserving local high school students. In addition, the FJ Summit supports the Veterans in the community. In many cases, drivers will save a spot in their vehicle for a Veteran to ride along during the trail rides—now that's a fun way to give back to the community.
While the event is named after the FJ Cruiser, it also pays homage to the original FJ Land Cruisers—and yes, there were some of those here, too. This event is not FJ-only—it's open to all Toyota 4x4 vehicles, so it attracts 4Runner, Tacoma, Tundra, Land Cruiser as well as Lexus GX and LX owners. These are drivers who are willing to use their Toyota as it was intended: Exploring the great wide open while driving off road. Every vehicle at the FJ Summit has to be street legal, with virtually all of the vehicles being driven to and from the event. Walking around the parking lot at the event, you can see that many drivers use TRD Accessories to personalize and enhance the performance and handling of their Toyota. For example, the red TRD-tuned front Eibach® coil springs feature custom spring rates that are softer for a better ride both on- and off-road. And the TRD Pro Bilstein shocks with Remote Reservoirs have been engineered by TRD with unique components and tuned by TRD engineers to provide better ride quality and off-road performance than off-the-shelf shock absorbers.
Other popular TRD accessories include TRD High Performance Brake Kits, TRD Cat-back Exhaust Systems and TRD Alloy Wheels, which are designed to stand up to the punishment of off-road driving.
Back in the day, your average suspension modification was swapping out the stock shock absorbers for better units. While that still occurs today, TRD has taken suspension modification to new levels of sophistication. The shock absorbers themselves feature proprietary internal valving that is refined for each model. That way, wheel movement is carefully controlled when driving off road or on the highway. And the red TRD springs are also specially matched to each vehicle, whether it's a Tundra or 4Runner. The end result is that handling is enhanced while still maintaining the legendary quality and performance of a Toyota.