http://tinyurl.com/cwuzm Way off the beaten path By CHRIS JOHNSON Georgetown News-Graphic 8/10/05 There was plenty of room to go around the waist-high boulder in the middle of the muddy trail at Natural Bridge. So, naturally, R.J. Stout took his 1979 Land Cruiser FJ 40 right over the top of it, at one point with three wheels on the ground and one perched atop the three-foot rock. He looked up and smiled as Thom Placier's camera flashed. Welcome to the weekends of the Bluegrass Cruisers, the local chapter of the National Toyota Land Cruiser Association. The Cruisers live for moments like Stout's, when an obstacle in the road tests their improved ground clearance, their raised suspensions and their 33-inch tires. And the vehicles respond the way they've built them to. "We modify the cars for trailriding," said Placier, the Bluegrass club's president since its inception in February 2004. "Besides bigger tires and suspension lift kits, we've got a guy who's bought an aluminum body to help with rust control on his vehicle. We also swap out the brakes and the axles." Placier refers to the club's activity as trailriding, not "off-roading," because he says the latter term gives the impression that the activity tears up the land. "We want slowed and controlled rather than fast," Placier said. "Our goal is to make it up a hill we've never made it up before." Riding shotgun during a trailride is something that, according to club member Bill Staley, will get anyone immediately hooked. "The first trip was all it took," Staley said. "I was like, 'This is for me.' They go over waist-high boulders like they weren't even there. They do the most outrageous things you've ever seen." Staley became so interested in trailriding that he bought his own 1980 FJ 40 and just purchased an aluminum body for it. "I bought (the Cruiser) for $1,200," Staley said. "I'll probably have $12,000 invested in it before it's all said and done." Every once in a while, one of the Cruisers will get into an obstacle that might be a little too much for the vehicle to handle. Staley said he was once part of such an event. "I was riding with Rod (Derr, the safety officer for the Bluegrass Cruisers)," Staley said, remembering his first ride. "We got into some water that was up to the door handles and couldn't get out. We ended up backing out, with the help of a tow." Even when the Cruisers get in over, or just up to, their heads, they find ways to have a good time. "Some (vehicles) are better equipped than others," Placier said. "We pretty much just stack up at the bottom of a hill and go. Those who can't make it watch. We usually take a propane grill out and have hot dogs and burgers at the top of a hill." The Cruisers are, according to Placier, a "bunch of low-key guys." Their club, while costing $25 per year to join, has meetings the last Sunday of each month and an occasional cookout with the families of the club members. "(At our meetings) there's no gavel-banging," Placier said. "We've got a few hundred dollars in our treasury, but if we ever get too much, we spend it on cookouts or Toys for Tots. We gave money to tsunami relief." Placier said the club hasn't organized many community activities yet because of its relatively new status, but it's something that is in the club's by-laws. Rickey Jones, a Cruiser who trailrides his seven-passenger 1997 Lexus LX 450 with his family, loves every aspect of the activity. "I take all four of my kids out," Jones said. "You see country very few people will get to see, and it gives me a little excitement in my older years. It gives you a chance to be able to be outside." Above all, Jones likes the same thing the rest of the Cruisers enjoy: the challenge of getting over a big rock or steep hill. "I've got a picture of my vehicle about to flip and somebody holding it to keep it from falling over," Jones said with a smile. "My kids were in the back, and at first they were kind of panicking, but then they started laughing. They were having fun. "I've never hit anything I couldn't take in my Lexus." The Cruisers have been tested inadvertently, when even the drivers didn't know they were in for a challenge. "During a deep snow a couple of years ago, R.J. (Stout) took people back and forth to work in his Cruiser," Derr said. "He toted people around for a week or so then." Stout and the rest of the Cruiser club don't spend their weekends taking the path of least resistance, and that's what attracts the new members. "They go over the most horrible things you can find," Staley said. "You see an easy way around it, but they go over it."