[singlepic id=6535 w=320 h=240 float=right]I hear a lot of people saying, “pre running is the best part of the Baja 500 and 1000.” While I disagree, winning is the best part to me, I certainly understand their reasoning. Pre running is fun; really, really fun. So, in 2009, when I had the chance to take a trip from Phoenix, AZ to Telluride, CO with my father in his pre runner, I jumped on it. It was a two-day, 500 mile journey that did not disappoint. I saw parts of Arizona and Colorado I never knew existed, and met some wonderful people along the way. It also got me thinking. “Why do we limit ourselves to pre running in Mexico a few times a year, when we have all this incredible country in the good ole U.S.A. that most of us have never seen?” Thus, the Off-the-Beaten-Path Rally was begun.
My partner in crime was, Gary Williams Jr. Gary is also an off-road racer and has been competing in the Best in the Desert series in a Class 12 buggy. Gary and I became friends during a Volkswagen Jetta Cup driver selection event where we were both judges. Gary had competed in the series the year before and was a top driver there.
[singlepic id=6536 w=320 h=240 float=left]At the most simple level, the idea was to take a stock Ford Raptor from Hemet, CA to Telluride, CO on as much dirt road as possible. At the most idealistic, it would hopefully get more people outdoors and enjoy our National Forests. I do have hopes of creating an annual event, where a selected group of vehicles can make the journey, but I needed to get the first one under my belt to make sure it was possible. Almost everyone I talked to, before, during, and after the trip, all wanted to know if Ford was paying us. No, they did not. Although, I do feel this would be an excellent opportunity to market not only the raptor, but the brand in general.
The other question I got a lot was, “How did you come up with the route?” I had a rough idea of most of the National Parks and Forest that I wanted to visit. I also knew that I wanted to stay East of Colorado coming into Moab. I picked a neutral starting point in Southern California that was near dirt, and I started searching for dirt roads. This was done on the computer. I am very familiar with Garmin’s mapping application, MapSource. I use their Topo maps to find my roads, and start connecting them to form a route. Once I had my entire route from Hemet to Telluride completed, I took those routes and imported them into Google Earth. The reason for this is, I can actually take a 3D tour and virtually fly my route to see if the roads I wanted to travel on, are in-fact there. This sounds nerdy, and it is, but often, my original routes were nothing but old, untraveled, service or hunting roads. Sometimes, there were no roads there at all. In the end, I was confident I had a great right, that was possible on paper (well computer).
Day 1: Hemet, CA to Parker, AZ
We knew this was going to be a long day, so we started early. On the dirt in San Bernardino National Forest by 6:00, our first priority would be to figure out the procedure to shut down all the driver assist features, which there are a ton on the Raptor (anti-lock brakes, stability, control, traction control, decent assist, and there may be more.) We would actually play with this the entire first day, and into the second day. We took smooth graded roads to the highway that leads to Palm Springs. This section reminded me of the old Baja race course from Uruapan to Tres Hermanos. From Palm Spring it was the highway to Desert Springs. We found some more great dirt roads to Joshua Tree National Park. While the roads may be paved through this park, the scenery is spectacular and not to be missed.
From Joshua Tree we headed east to Twenty-Nine Palms. We had some difficulty finding the right roads out of town here, but after some bush whacking, we were on our way towards Parker. We traveled through some old mining claims that were difficult to navigate, but eventually led us northwest of Parker, where the old Parker 400 race course used to be. It was fun to connect with the old course. It was easy to spot, not because it was well worn, in-fact it looks like no one has been on it in 15 years! The berms and whoops are still there. I called my pops and gave him our GPS coordinates and he confirmed, we were on the old course. It was 5:30 PM before we crossed the Colorado River into town and over 108 degrees. It was a long first day, but we made our goal and still had time for a few margaritas.
By: Chad Ragland