The Giant Is Ready for Hibernation, But Not Before One Last Celebration
It’s easy to wax on poetically about what an impactful week we’ve had at Trail Hero 2022. How the special Access Rides for kids, adults and veterans didn’t just help raise dollars for a great cause, they were taken on an adventure. These guests saw the outdoor world from a new perspective, with fresh eyes and fond memories.
Or how night and day, the trails filled with machines made for pure joy while music fills the atmosphere. Adrenaline spiked as the needle hit the limiter, down a straightaway or up a vertical slab. And the air cooled in the afternoons as folks would stroll down Vendor Row meeting and greeting all the good people from the industry before moving towards the rhythms bumping out of the speakers behind the Monster Energy booth.
Concerts aren’t for everyone, especially the festival format. Loud sounds, close quarters, too many people and music at the mercy of a cover band. But that didn’t seem to be the case on Saturday. A local Gen-X ensemble called -Distortion- rocked out an energetic set ranging from Black Sabbath, Jane’s Addiction and Metallica to Bush, Soundgarden and more. The night progressed from there bringing on a slew of bands and backup dancers shuffling across the stage. Until dark, the audience was in full view of the beautiful backdrop Hurricane’s State Park was offering.
From far enough away, the greater picture appears to be from another planet. A movie borrowing a scene from Star Wars, set to a soundtrack of “Iron Man,” “Machine Head” and “For Whom the Bell Tolls” to give it a more apocalyptic vibe. When you’ve spent a lot of time in one place, it’s easy to become complacent. Immersed for so long it’s forgotten how lucky you are to be here. And just how much that place provides you with. It doesn’t need a lot of features or flowers to make it beautiful. It’s beautiful in its simplicity.
Sand Mountain alone offers a plethora of fun rideable textures to indulge in shamelessly. No judgment. The wide, prolonged sand ski slopes spilling from the horizon at the peak to the beaches of the reservoir. An interstate delivering off-road vehicles to the trail heads of most core routes in the park, and they continue to fracture from there on out. Massive crags protrude from the recesses of the stone. A perfect playground for the unhinged rock crawling community to climb and wedge and claw all over.
On its own, the highway is built for pure unadulterated pleasure, with its rolling/ undulating, soft-packed ridge lines meant for carrying speed and racing your friends. All of it connected by modest waves producing, for those willing, mini-jumps to elevate their experience. Sneaky bedrock camouflaged in the khaki surroundings practically jump out at you from nowhere (well, at least that’s what it feels like) like a desert snake snapping to you stepping on its rattle. If you’re in the wrong vehicle, that bite might hurt. But today, the Can-Am did all the hurtin’.
They set off down Milts Mile (Rated 7) in the late morning with a lineup of branded models ranging from classic to showroom era, each captained by a diehard enthusiast. This might have been the final guided manufacturer tour of the event, so – as you might expect from the French-Canadian company – they pulled out all the stops. Perhaps it’s in celebration of International Off-Road Day. Or maybe it was a strategic chess move aimed to shame the competition. Knowing them, it was both.
“I want to stand as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you see all kinds of things you can’t see from the center.” ― Kurt Vonnegut, Player Piano
Every new obstacle granted drivers a variety of challenges to overcome, encouraging them to step far outside of their comfort zone and finding empowerment in succeeding, and sometimes failing, in the face of adversity. Each outcome resulting, at a minimum, in a newfound sense of self. And at maximum, with all that, plus some bragging rights. About half a dozen gnarly rock sections were first on the schedule, taking X3s, a Sport and a lone Defender through a couple levels of grind.
Base levels were the easier but not so boring bypasses, quintessential for a mixed group setting – stony but nothing more extensive than a swift bumpy ride. This route was usually devoid of takers, of course. More moderate hurdles might place a car in 4-Low, make it fight for the path a bit before eventually conquering the gatekeeper and coming out the other side. But they jumped quickly to Level Oh-Shit from there.
Can-Ams were assigned the lofty task of conquering crags that would make a tricked-out Jeep wet its undercarriage, putting pilots, tires, and suspension to the ultimate test (more than once). You don’t often see a stock side-by-side being winched from the depths of a steep crevasse. This also happened more than once… The trail was actually established by a local Jeep shop forty years ago as a New Year’s Day ride, considered the one of the earliest hiking paths in the area before the off-road community discovered and consequently absconded it. Lucky for Trail Hero. Maybe a little less lucky for the pedestrians.
Crawling is cool and all, but the crescendo of the journey brought in a storm. Mavericks conveyed into the dunes like an ominous swarm, clearly up to no good. They perched atop a shallow bowl peering in at what was to come. Can-Am’s Factory Pro Dustin Jones, a good ‘ol boy from the South, set up to show his audience how it’s done.
The Visions of Victory host sent it into the valley bringing the rain along with him. Roost flew skyward in streams behind Jones as the X3 wrote its signature in the sand. Then the others followed suit. The pack buzzed in and out and all around the bowl until it was filled with spaghetti. Yeah, Can-Am fed everyone tacos after the ride, but they were all satiated well before then.
Vendor Row had its excitement to offer patrons as they kicked off the Closing Ceremonies with a Charity Raffle benefiting veterans and children with special needs. Prizes ranging from high-end winches, dirt tires, lubes, helmets and swag were called out to which giddy winners migrated to the announcers table with handfuls of tickets stuffed into their fists. Booths performed their final demonstrations, answered questions and packed up to try and enjoy some festivities themselves for a bit. While some left early to catch the Sand Outlaw Series Finals at the beach.
The original head-to-head race likely began as soon the second human was created, as they say. You could say it’s second nature, that it’s in our blood to take two or more of the same vehicles or circumstances and then compare side by side to see who reaches some arbitrary location first. And down at the Outlaw drag strip, these contenders were no different.
Billowing contrails of sand sprayed from the rear paddle tires of every vehicle that entered. The roar and race gas preceded all the action, blowing out your eardrums just in time to head to the music fest. (Who needs earplugs?) And at a rumored over 1,000 hp with a rough 1,500 pound minimum, there’s no surprise that the noise blew the eyebrows off of unsuspecting bystanders, so-to-speak.
Energy here was through the roof. Side-by-sides, Jeeps and built-out rigs alike cued up to the flag fencing with the hope of witnessing glory. A simple, barebones heat that went from zero to 300 feet in a mere 3.74 seconds – at least that was the fastest lap recorded at the finals. In sand, in the crude equivalent of a motorcycle-powered golf cart, the speed in the lanes were, for lack of a better word, bananas. And the Cinderlla storyline of Ben Sobotka #451 who took his SS FAB Can-Am Outlaw car to 97mph by the exit of the runway, which secured him a historic win against the undefeated #12 RZR. Of course, the crowd went wild.
“We don’t really like to talk about numbers…” one of the drivers mentioned when questions about horsepower popped into the conversation. Well, we’re glad someone allegedly did.
A sound that could only be drowned out by the powerful boom from the stage. Filter brought down the house with fan favorites as a bonfire brought the energy from spirited to chill. Winding down a dynamic week in a magnificent Hurricane, Utah. Ups and downs are expected at a gathering of this magnitude. But what generally determines a successful event is its growth. Have they been here before? Are they returning next year? If the answer is yes to either question, then you may have pulled it off, whatever it is you’re doing.
Over 33-thousand attendees in 2021 and a projected increase by Sunday morning’s count, The Trail Hero 2022 has altogether run flawlessly. And what few concerns were presented are noted for next year. As Joseph Campbell said, “Your sacred space is where you can find yourself over and over again.” And for many of us who attended this gathering of friends, fun and fond memories, it’s a space we’ll try to revisit as often as possible, because it’ll be sure to visit us…at least in our daydreams.