Moab veterans know that most days out in the area’s scenic southeastern Utah backcountry all go the same way: Family and friends have a great time, hopefully with no breakage or accidents, and they head back into town to enjoy an evening of food and drink while sharing interesting and often humorous tales of their adventures. Meanwhile, the odometer on their 4×4 will tell quite another story: 10.8 miles, or 35.7 miles, or, or… If the rig could talk, it would probably blurt out something like, “Really, dude? That’s all the farther we drove today?”
But that’s what makes Moab so awesome. Virtually every trail offers a tasty combination of action-packed technical sections and beautiful scenery. It’s a crawl, not a haul, and you just can’t help but stop and take in the area’s colorful and vibrant natural surroundings. That was certainly the case when we took part in the Northridge 4×4-sponsored ride on the Strike Ravine trail just outside of Moab, a ride co-sponsored by Hellwig Suspension Products and ARB.
Based out of Silverdale, Washington, Northridge 4×4 is a one-stop shop for all Jeeps, but Northridge 4×4’s Eric Johnson said that the company specializes in the JK platform.
“That’s what we are known for,” Johnson said. “We handle everything from parts sales to full-scale builds at both our Washington and Colorado shops.”
The ride was led by members of the Red Rock 4-Wheelers, the local wheelin’ club that is the custodian and true authority on Moab’s maze of fun and challenging trails. Strike Ravine is an 11-mile route located about 12 miles south of Moab. Rated as a 6 out of 10 in terms of difficulty, the trail boasts rocky technical sections and amazing views of rugged canyons, vistas and forest areas. Perhaps the most challenging obstacle on the route can be found right near the beginning of the trail, a particularly rocky uphill known as “Big Ugly.”
It was here that our group of 25 rigs ran into its first snarl of the day when a good ‘ol boy who goes by the name of “Joker” managed to high-center the rear diff of his TJ on one of Big Ugly’s rocks, and the TJ lacked a limited-slip or locker rearend in order to gain traction. After several attempts to free himself under his own power, Joker started to lose his sense of humor, and other members of the group quickly pitched in to help by building up rocks under his rear wheels. When that didn’t work, a fellow group member in a tricked-out AEV rig came to the rescue by towing Joker backward off the rock, after which time he proved that he doesn’t totally suck by clearing the obstacle with ease on his second attempt. However, a lesson was learned. Wanna bet that Jeep returns to Moab next year with some sort of posi-traction device to avoid a repeat performance?
Meanwhile, my chauffeur for the week, the fearless Sara Morosan of LGECTS Motorsports, cleared “Big Ugly” in her 2015 JK, complete with 20-inch “mall-crawler” wheels. Morosan’ rig was built for display at the SEMA show two years ago, and before arriving at Jeep Safari, the pristine JK looked like it had never been driven. It was really almost too pretty to get dirty, but that didn’t stop our heroine from aggressively tackling all that Strike Ravine could throw at her, and winning! The rallying cry amongst our group of punk rock and classic comedy movie buffs, including Morosan, Hellwig Suspension Products’ Mike Hallmark and me, quickly became, “Yeah, we just did that on 20s!” Of course, the high point of our day was when funny man Hallmark caused an awkward radio silence after the witty one-upsmanship on our CB channel got to be a touch too much. When another member of the group threw out an incredibly lame one-liner, it was the last straw. Hallmark couldn’t take it anymore. Grabbing the mic, he responded sarcastically, “Cool story, bro!” The channel then fell silent before someone finally got up the nerve to respond, “Good one.”
Johnson ran just in front of us for most of the trip, and while Hallmark proudly pointed out that the rig was running Hellwig’s quick-disconnect, heavy-duty sway bars, something didn’t look quite right. We knew he wasn’t inebriated, but it seemed like every time another big rock would present itself on the Strike Ravine trail, Johnson’s brilliant blue JK would dart over to the rock, gobble it up with its tires and then keep going on its merry way. He never drove in a straight line for the entire day.
“That’s definitely for my own sick sense of enjoyment,” Johnson said with a laugh. “You know, we come out here to challenge our equipment, and that’s what it is about.”
Johnson’s rig for the Strike Ravine ride was a 2014 Jeep JK four-door with a stock 3.6-liter Pentastar V6. Suspension mods include a 4.5-inch AEV suspension package with Hellwig Suspension Products heav-duty front and rear sway bars, 37-inch Falken tires riding on 17-inch Trail Ready beadlock rims, AEV front and rear bumpers, a full Evo Manufacturing skid system to protect the underside, a Dynatrac front axle and a rear end with Nitro 35-spline axle shafts. ARB lockers, front and rear, aid in getting the JK’s power to the ground in rocky or otherwise technical sections.
“The Jeep I was driving today isn’t really a heavily modified JK,” Johnson said. “It’s something that anyone can build at a very reasonable price, but I will hit any obstacle out here—within reason—without thinking twice about it. Part of that is knowing your rig and knowing your own capabilities, and being willing to push that limit and walk that line a little bit.”
Johnson said that pushing the limit is one of the goals when he comes to Moab.
“Our motivation is to bring out some of the Jeeps that we build in our shop and show people what they are capable of, and get people out of their comfort zone to show them what their Jeeps are capable of,” Johnson said. “These rigs are far more capable than people give them credit for, and we come out here to prove that. We build our rigs to be used and abused.
“But there’s more to it than that,” he continued. “We show our customers what we do and what we sell and install, but we also come out here to help people with vehicle repairs on the trail. We’re not afraid to get our hands dirty to show what this is all about. This community is really just a big family, and it is a great family to be a part of.”
It’s easy for Johnson to be enthusiastic; he was born into a family of off-road racers and has been four-wheeling since before he could walk or talk. But what’s commendable is that he fully realizes that, and one of his personal crusades involves bringing more people into the four-wheeling family, creating new enthusiasts to carry on the sport’s legacy for years to come.
“One thing I love is to see the look on new people’s faces when they get their Jeep or go for a ride and do their first rock obstacle,” Johnson said. “To them it looks impossible, and then they do it and they’re just ecstatic. I’ve even see people three times my age come out here and do it for the first time, and that’s just awesome.”
Of course, such ambassadorship also carries the added benefit of reaching a potential new customer, but Johnson stressed that Northridge 4×4 is more than willing to provide technical information to anyone who asks.
“We’re happy to answer any questions—don’t think you have to buy something when you call,” Johnson said. “Most phone calls we take probably aren’t a sales call, but we know that down the road if we offer the information, and we’re knowledgeable and can speak from experience, that customer is going to come back to us in the future.”
As the cliché goes, a good time was had by all on the Northridge 4×4 Strike Ravine trail ride, and no doubt many of this year’s participants will be back next year, maybe even with parts obtained from Northridge 4×4. Can someone get Joker a price on a set of ARB lockers?