Wrapping up the 2018 Trail to SEMA
Now that the trail videos are edited and released into the wild I have a chance to reflect on the best PowerStop Trail to SEMA adventure yet.
Back in 2015 when our Creative Director Rodion Galperin and I headed to SEMA we did it in a lightly modified 2015 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon, we stopped at a few spots across the country in an attempt to map out the viability of much bigger project. Once we returned home from the SEMA show the planning began on the 1st ever “Trail to SEMA”. Planning a trip of this size and length is no small task and while we didn’t totally screw it up that first year, we have really streamlined that process even with the addition of many other components.
The 2016 trip was just a group of friends and a few cameras recording their adventure trip across the country, 2017 ramped it up a bit with bigger sponsors and some new faces… 2017 really set the stage for the 2018 trip and also what we could make this little road trip into.
Fast forward to October 2018 and the last minute prep for the biggest Trail to SEMA adventure yet. Over the course of the year I had gathered together a group of off-roaders from all over the country, some who had come with us in the past and some new ones as well. The goal was to get a group of people together that could become a part of the PowerStop Trail family and that could help us amplify the exposure of the project. The cast of characters needed to consist of experienced off-roaders, newbies, and everything in between; and what we ended up with was everything we could have asked for.
We’ve been trying to talk or buddy Ian Johnson into coming along on The Trail and 2018 was the first year that our schedules aligned, Ian is well known in the off road community and is embarking on some new adventures in media around off-roading and motorsports in general. Matt and Nate from BleepinJeep on YouTube also joined us in Matt’s scorpion crawler, a heavily exo-caged Jeep Cherokee buggy. They also brought with them a “special” brand of humor that made every day on the trail an adventure! Matt Myrick of Busted Knuckle Offroad joined us in his freshly rebuilt auction JKU flood victim, Matt is not new to offroading at all but he is more of a southern rock bouncer guy and the Jeep world is new to him. Jay and Alyssa Payson of HP Tuners came along as part of our new partnership with HP Tuners. We already knew Jay from his involvement in the Optima Batteries Search for the Ultimate Streetcar series, he recently made the jump from racing to Jeeping and he and Alyssa have gone 100% into the hobby. We were introduced to Tiffany Stone through one of our longest standing partnerships with Vision Wheel. Tiffany is a short course announcer for AMS Oil and was 100% new to Jeeping when we met her, which didn’t last too long! Another addition to the crew this year was David Oliver of Willomet Motor and Fab in Dallas, Texas. David and Kris met through a mutual friend in the Dallas area and after seeing his squarebody diesel suburban, Kris knew he had to get David on this trail. Our final addition to the crew is a close personal friend of mine, Georges Brown. We had invited him in years past and he was never able to make it, but this was going to be his year! So with a newly acquired JLU Rubicon and a VERY patient wife at home with their newly born son, he drove across the country with us… well most of the way across the country.
While those were the new faces that joined us on the full trip, we also had a few special additions on specific trails. Off-roaders may have recognized Stephen Watson of Offroad Design and his incredible convertible square body on 21 Road in Colorado. Also added to our Colorado trail day was our trail leader Ryan Boudreau in his exceptionally built LJ Wrangler. In Sand Hollow we wheeled with Milt Thompson of Dixie 4 Wheel Drive on the trail named after him, and then our friend Tracy made the drive fromLas Vegas to join us on Double Sammy. Finally in Las Vegas we brought along Scott from sin city diesel Performance in his propane powered Toyota truck.
This year, many astute viewers noticed that the new voice of The Trail is our friend Jason Lewis. Jason has been with us on past trips and has been using our products for a years, we were introduced to his YouTube channel AutoEdits and our friendship has only gotten stronger through these past few years. Another recurring cast member and friend is Johnny Mizerka in his LJ Wrangler, we introduced him to some more challenging off-roading in 2017 and his skills off-road have progressed to places he never expected. Our creative director here at PowerStop Rodion Galperin brought his expedition spec JKU on the trip this year with a built-in camper from Ursa Minor. But you would never know it was built for expeditions the way he conquered obstacles on trails like Pritchett Canyon. Eddy and Eric from JC Whitney piloted the JKU Rubicon built to feature some of the brands they carry in the JC Whitney online store. Last but not least is your humble author. My name is Kris Miller and I am the brand manager here at PowerStop, and my stretched 2-door JK Rubicon may be the same vehicle we took on that trip in 2015… but it’s come such a long way since then.
The Film Crew and Other Familiar Faces of the Trail to SEMA
For the third year in a row our video program was run by our friend and established documentarian Kyle Niemer and the crew from his production company There Be Dragons. Kyle ran camera 1, with Dave Thomas on camera 2, and Dustin Majewski on Camera 3. Kyle also introduced me to my favorite addition to the film crew Andrew Biesen, Andrew took on the parts of the production that I used to shoulder and really lifted that weight off of me. These guys took care of everything from making sure we were properly permitted for filming, to finding our dinner spots and making sure that we did not come upon any bumps in the road.
Some other faces you may have recognized this year were Colin Weaver who brought his CJ8 Scrambler on the 2017 trail, and while his Jeep wasn’t quite ready for the 2018 trip he came along to help facilitate a smooth trip through spotting or winch help and occasionally driving one of the support tow vehicles. My co-driver John Incaudo joined again this year to add his own special flair to every situation, and in the case that something broke I know I can rely on him to jump in and put his dirty little hands to work. Finally in Las Vegas my co-driver was a much more attractive replacement for John, it’s Grace from Crawl TV!
The schedule and trails
We met up on a Saturday afternoon in Grand Junction, Co in the parking lot of our hotel, this would be the first of 8 days we would all spend together. As the members of our crew came in from all corners of the country, we began our inevitable last minute prep on the rigs. That consisted of everything from doing a nut and bolt check on a freshly built Jeep, to a VHF radio install on camera, and the final touch on all of the vehicles… sponsor stickers. After a team dinner we returned to the parking lot to have yet another beadlock party putting a set of Maxxis Trepador Stickies onto a set of Vision Manx beadlock wheels for the BleepinJeep scorpion crawler.
Day One – 21 Road
We started our Sunday morning with a traditional stop at Trailhead Coffee in Grand Junction, they were nice enough to open up for us on their day off. After coffee and breakfast burritos we followed our trail guide out to 21 Road, about 25 minutes away. This trail was chosen as the opener because of the way that it offers multiple lines and some bypass options for our newer crew members, while still featuring chunks of granite that could claim body panels and driveline components. Ryan our trail leader did a great job getting us through as many obstacles as possible and still with time to make the drive to Moab for dinner.
Day Two – Pritchett Canyon
Monday after another traditional breakfast at Love Muffin Cafe in Moab, it was time for a little “trial by fire” in the form of taking our group on one of the hardest trails in Moab, Pritchett Canyon. You have to remember of course that Tiffany Stone had never been on a trail until the day before in Colorado, so with 18 vehicles and drivers of varying experience compounded with the hurry up and wait nature of filming a TV show it would be a LONG day. We only had one major breakdown when Johnny’s steering linkage decided to become multiple pieces. In less major breakdowns that didn’t make the video, my power steering pump decided to take the rest of the day off just after going up Chewie… try wheeling Pritchett without power steering, it SUCKS. We ended up finishing the trail in the dark with a nice light rain coming down, perfect conditions. We still made it to Dixie 4 Wheel Drive for dinner, thank you Bryce for hanging out so late!
Day Three – Moab Rim
After a quick bite on Tuesday morning I headed straight to Dixie 4 Wheel Drive (which I had left at 1am that morning) to get a replacement power steering pump. And as they say, when the cat is away; the mice will play. Ian and Jason Lewis were handed the keys to the trails and with a quick call to the BLM to change the film permit (thank you Kyle and Andrew), they re-routed the trip from the original plan of running Metal Masher and hung around close to town on Moab Rim. If you have never run Moab Rim then you are not acquainted with the excessive drop off to the road and river below that is plenty scary on the way up on your driver’s side… but it’s a real heart stopper on the way down when the world ends at the end of your rig’s hood. This would test the nerves of a few of our drivers and passengers. Our resident newb Tiffany took this as her chance to drive 100% of the trail, she responded so well to this challenge considering her off-road experience was literally 2 days old.
Day Four – Milt’s Mile
Sand Hollow is the home to Dixie 4 Wheel Drive’s flagship store which would serve as our base of operations for the next few days in St George and Hurricane, Utah. We would leave the shop around 9am Wednesday behind our fearless leader Milt Thompson to run the trail named after him. Milt’s Mile was not the hardest trail we would run on this trip, but it would claim the most Jeeps and parts. After Jason got a little loose with the throttle in his JKU he broke the plug welds on his rear Rubicon Dana 44 and once again Dixie to the rescue, they were able to meet him and take his Jeep via trailer back to the shop so that he could continue on as a passenger. Then David and his co-driver Kurt noticed a rhythmic squeak in the driveline, they crawled under the Suburban to find at least one cracked u-joint cap… imagine that, a 7000 lb vehicle is rough on parts! They would mirror the trail on the top of the ridge to follow us in case he was needed. Then came the big one, Georges Brown showed us that he would not be intimidated by an obstacle and well, that is where we found the limits of a JLU on 35’s. We would end up towing yet another Jeep back to Dixie, but we were already headed that way for dinner and a few Manhattan Project brews so it wasn’t a huge imposition.
Day Five – Double Sammy
If you ask any of the employees at Dixie 4 Wheel Drive what their favorite local trail is they will all tell you it’s Double Sammy. So with that information in hand, we headed out to the trail head. Half of the group decided they needed a day of leisure and they took a hard right at the sand dunes while we turned left onto the trail. Double Sammy is one of those trails that isn’t long but is a constant barrage of little twists and turns that leave your axles crossed up like the cover of a magazine. It also crosses and temporarily joins a harder trail which brings in some much harder obstacles if you choose to aim your Jeep at them. For the most part it was a smooth day that ended with a crawl up The Chute and put us back out on the dunes to join the rest of our rag-tag group.
Day Six – Rocky Gap Road
We have run this trail for 3 years now, and it serves a a proper ending to our yearly story. We once again invited a friend along to come play in his Toyota pickup powered by a bottle of liquid petroleum that you might expect to see under your family grill on the patio. We hit the few major obstacles and just enjoyed each other’s company on this final day of off-roading and camaraderie. There is really nothing like climbing rocks with your friends on a sunny day in the high-desert. And we would cap the day off with a hearty dinner and some great Oktoberfest suds at the Hofbräuhaus Las Vegas where Ian got the opportunity to tap the final keg of Oktoberfest.
The Partners and a Conclusion
No one could put on a production the size of the Trail to SEMA without a healthy dose of incredible corporate partners. As I write this from my personal perspective and not that of my employer it would be a crime to not thank PowerStop for letting me put this adventure on, they have invested in my time and also monetarily in the project to make sure that this happens. Additional to PowerStop we have a long list of great corporate partners all of whom we have provided a link below in hopes that you will become a customer and help them be a part of more projects like this one. They are in no particular order; Maxxis Tires, Lucas Oil Products, Vision Wheel, HP Tuners, RCV Performance, Rugged Radios, Icon Vehicle Dynamics, Optima Batteries, and the Bestop Group. If you want to know more about the products we use please let us know in the comments on YouTube.
I left out one partner that really did step up in 2018 from a role as participant to title sponsor, that partner is JC Whitney. As one of our retailers JC Whitney is a part of the PowerStop family and they have been working for years to spread the words “Don’t just stop, PowerStop” online and at vendor shows around the country. We’re proud to call them a partner and our friends, and we hope to continue that relationship for years to come.
Now it’s time for the inevitable conclusion. As I put the 2018 trail behind me I look forward to the 2019 adventure (which has been in planning since Sept 2018) I only see this project growing and along with it the group of off-roaders I consider my friends.
Until we meet again in October.
-Kristopher Miller @TRLJP
Thank you to everyone who has been following along on all of the social channels that we have flooded with memories of the 2018 PowerStop Trail to SEMA, and as always to JC Whitney and all of our corporate partners and participants for making this our best year yet!
Be sure to pay a visit to all of our corporate partners.
And follow the participants on instagram below.