How a Jeep owner turned into a Jeep enthusiast...
by Matt Konkle
Quadratec Channel Editor
MOAB, Utah — The dream, Ed Tripp says, is all he thinks about sometimes. He is looking out with faraway eyes and all of a sudden his voice grows soft. And at that moment, Tripp wasn’t on some dusty trail in the middle of nowhere. He wasn’t sitting inside a Jeep JL Wrangler Rubicon colored as white as the nearby La Sal Mountains.
No, at that moment he was a kid again, in a small town called Ishpeming, Michigan, on the state’s Upper Peninsula. Chasing fuzzy yellow tennis balls around a court in the summer, while racing up and down the local hills in a CJ5 during the winter with his brother Stephen; better known by the nickname Beaver.
A Yooper, as those in the area like to call themselves.
“That dream is definitely a recurring one that I’ve had for a long time,” Tripp is saying from inside the Jeep on a late October afternoon. “And I remember it vividly. I’m driving up the side of a mountain in my CJ5; the wind is blowing. I feel the steering wheel pulling. I hear the sound of the tires as I’m climbing. But for some reason, even though I know I’m getting close to the top, I never make it. In fact, I’ve never made it. I always wake up just before reaching the top.”
He leans a bit out of the window now, back from Michigan and eyes focusing on the long, steep, slickrock hill in front of him just outside Moab. A Wrangler JK Unlimited is currently trying to climb it and failing. It slides back to the bottom, reboots and then tries again. Tires squeal, there is a bit of smoke, and it is quickly clear the vehicle doesn’t have enough momentum this time either. It slinks back down with disappointment.
Tripp shifts his eyes to the top of the hill where his wife, Robin, and son, Derek, await. They wave.
Ed Tripp sets his jaw, knowing it will be his turn shortly and the first-time off-roader says with determination. “Hopefully, today I’ll be able to finish my dream.”
Tripp is sitting in a different vehicle back near the end of August. This one a golf cart. He is waiting with Derek, under a blistering sun, to meet Robin in the parking lot of the country club where he works as head tennis instructor. A firecracker red Wrangler JL pulls up and parks nearby.
”I didn’t know what was going at that moment,” Tripp says later. “All I knew is that my wife called and asked to meet me in the parking lot for something.”
Rob Jarrell, Quadratec’s Video Host, along with three others all scramble out of the Wrangler and Jarrell quickly opens the tailgate and pulls out a large sign. Someone else grabs balloons. Jarrell approaches the golf cart and turns the sign around. It says, in part, ‘Congratulations Ed Tripp – You’re Going to Moab.’
“Ed Tripp?” Jarrell asks.
Ed is looking at the sign and doesn’t quite hear the question right away. But it isn’t long before understanding starts to register.
”Yeah,” he says – drawing out the word so it sounds more like a question.
”Ed Tripp, you are our grand prize winner in our Fly and Drive Giveaway,” Jarrell bellows. “We’re going to send you and a guest out to Moab, Utah for an off-road experience with Jeep Jamboree.”
”For real?” Tripp says, looking around wildly at anyone in sight.
”For real,” Jarrell responds. “You’re going to Moab!”
”That’s awesome,” Ed Tripp exclaims.
He turns to Derek who is sporting a huge, toothy grin and excitedly pats him on the chest. ”Do you want to go?” he asks as the boy nods vigorously.
Tripp, 52, was randomly picked from a total of nearly 300,000 Fly and Drive Giveaway entries that were gathered May 1 through August 15th, from anyone who either made a purchase or manually entered on the company’s website – one entry each per week, per customer. The trip involved an all-inclusive trip to Moab, admission to Jeep Jamboree USA’s 20th Moab Jamboree, as well as the ability to drive the JJUSA JL Unlimited Wrangler during the event. The trip dates were October 25-28.
”When we drew his name, at first we were just going to call to let him know,” Jarrell says. “But then we figured, well, he only lives a few hours away. Why not drive down and surprise him Publishers Clearing House style.”
”So we drove to his house first; he wasn’t home but his wife Robin was. She was a little bit surprised, but came around quick. She told us he was at work with their 10-year-old son. I don’t think this set up could have been any better.”
Robin Tripp is nodding.
”I was in my office and I saw these people coming towards the door with a camera,” she says. “And I was thinking, what is going on? Is this the police or something? I’m not even going to answer.”
”Then I saw the sign and I was like, well, I better open the door.”
"We can't wait, what an amazing surprise," Ed Tripp adds. "Thank you so much for selecting our entry and making the trip down to present us with the Moab Jeep Jamboree grand prize. We are thrilled to be able to go on this adventure."
Not everyone who travels to Moab is an accomplished off-road whiz. Some are just curious and want to see what the place is all about. Others go with friends. And then there is Ed Tripp and family; the ones who enter a contest and somehow win. None really have any off-road experience, nor know much about what to expect in the land where rocks are red and the trails can sometimes bite you back.
That’s fine. Everyone needs to start somewhere, right, so why not in a place that will provide some of the most unforgettable off-road lessons possible, as well as some of the most striking scenery around.
The Tripp’s purchased their 2018 JL Unlimited Rubicon Wrangler back in April after owning a Suburban for nearly a decade. When it died, Ed and Robin wanted to take a look at the Wrangler, but ultimately decided to hold off on the JK edition to see what the JL was all about.
”The JLs; the information was just starting to come out on them at the time, so we looked at some of the JKs and decided to just wait and see what the new ones would be like,” Ed Tripp says. “So we waited, and when our dealership got one we took a test drive and jumped on it.”
”When we won the contest, we had already planned a (Labor Day) trip down to Assateague Island in Maryland, so we figured it would also be a good trip to get out and practice on the sand and in the dunes.”
While the Tripps may be new to the whole Jeep off road department, Ed Tripp does have some history with the brand dating back to his youth in Michigan.
”We had an ’81 CJ5 back when I was in high school,” he says. “A basic model with a Clarion tape deck, no radio, and the windshield leaked. So my brother Stephen and I were the ones who drove around in it and I remember one time during cross country season, when we took it out to one of the area ski hills.”
”We had to run up one side and down the other then loop around for meets, and we thought, well, how much fun would it be to drive up and down it in the Jeep. We didn’t realize at the time that the whole thing was private property, but we went up it and when we came down, there was a cop waiting for us. Luckily, we didn’t get a ticket and the officer really liked the Jeep, but we were definitely told not to do that again.”
Another time, the CJ5 intersected with his budding growth on the tennis court.
”I remember giving my very first tennis lesson, on some side courts near the firehouse in town, and I got five dollars from the lesson,” Ed Tripp says. “I was so happy, and I put it right in the middle of the passenger seat. Didn’t even give it a second thought that my Jeep top was off.”
”So I got going and watched as that five dollars flew right out of the Jeep. I tried to grab it but missed. No idea where it went, either. I think we ended up looking for the money for like an hour longer than the lesson took. We got home and told mom and she ended up giving me the five dollars, because that’s my mom.”
After the CJ5, Ed Tripp then owned a CJ7 that helped ferry him around later in high school and college, as he became nothing less than a tennis phenom - compiling a 54-7 lifetime number one singles record. He also set an Upper Peninsula state record, finishing 21-0 without losing a single set his senior year. For college, Tripp played for Northern Michigan University where he won Freshman of the Year and MVP awards, before transferring to Ferris State University in order to attend their Professional Tennis Management Program. Ferris, nationally ranked at the time in tennis, only had one spot available so Tripp had to best 53 players to secure that spot. He then went on and posted an undefeated singles record over his Ferris career.
From Michigan, tennis then took Tripp down to Maryland where he has coached aspiring players, both individually and through clubs, since the late 1980s. His dedication was even recognized by USTA Magazine, which awarded him the 2003 Mid-Atlantic Unsung Hero award.
While tennis may hold the higher ground in his life, Ed Tripp never forgot how much he loved those CJ vehicles. It was a big reason behind the JL Wrangler purchase earlier this year that, as a roundabout, would lead him, Robin and Derek to Moab as Quadratec Fly and Drive Jeep Jamboree contest winners.
And they can’t wait.
”Moab, well, we’re all excited to get out there. Seeing all the pictures, it just looks amazing,” Ed Tripp says. “All those table top mesas. Just drop dead gorgeous. I’ve never been to that part of the country, so seeing it all is going to be an experience. And then being able to see it all from the inside of a Jeep is just great.”
”The other best part is being able to go to Moab with all three of us together. Having Derek and Robin being able to come along with me on this journey is going to be amazing. “
The four-door JK Wrangler in front of Ed Tripp has finally made it up that long, steep hill just outside of Moab. In reality, it has only been a dozen or so minutes, but anyone waiting to do something unfamiliar knows how those minutes can stretch out. How time crawls. And to Tripp, watching that Wrangler try and fail a few times has planted a seed of doubt. The waiting doesn’t help to erase that doubt.
”It’s pretty steep isn’t it,” he says, as much to himself as to anyone else around.
The spotter waves him forward and Tripp approaches the hill.
The last thing he says before the spotter comes over is something about the dream.
The Tripps flew into Salt Lake City, Utah, on a cloudless Thursday morning near the end of October and rented a car for the four-plus hour drive to Moab.
For anyone who hasn’t made that drive down I-15 from Salt Lake to Spanish Fork, then left down Route 89 and 6 through Soldier Summit, Carbondale and Green River, well, it is a beautiful climb and descent. One that quickly leaves behind the urban area of Salt Lake and cuts between Spanish Fork Peak and Loafer Mountain, up into the only snow-tinged mountain pass for a hundred-plus miles, before heading back down and into the desert.
At one time, that stretch of Route 6 from Spanish Fork to Green River was considered one of the most deadliest roads in the country. These days, it is much safer, but no less beautiful.
”Wow, the ride from Salt Lake to Moab; it started off great, the excitement level was at like a 9, and then went on and it got to a 10 in a hurry,” Ed Tripp says. “Then we got through and turned the corner down (towards Moab) and the 10 turned into a 20. I think we stopped like five times to get out and look around before we realized we really needed to get into Moab.”
”It’s just crazy,” Derek Tripp agrees. “And one thing, the speed limit is a lot higher out here than home.”
”Yeah, we definitely tested out the rental vehicle,” Ed Tripp laughs.
Awaiting the Tripps in Moab was registration and check-in for the Jeep Jamboree USA 20th Moab Jamboree. The process where Ed and family would figure out which trails, out of the nearly two-dozen plus that dot the landscape around Moab, they would traverse during the Jamboree.
JJUSA itself has been around since 1982, when legendary off-road pioneer and Hall of Fame member Mark A. Smith, founded the organization as a way for like-minded Jeep owners to spend time together at various events around the country.
It quickly grew as more and more stops were added to the schedule, and even became a great way for newer Jeep owners to learn about using their Jeep vehicles off-road. These days, JJUSA has 36 off-road events throughout the year on their event calendar all over the country – including the iconic Rubicon Trail in California and, yes, Moab, Utah.
This year’s Fly and Drive Giveaway was also the second partnership between JJUSA and Quadratec - the first a trip to the Rubicon Trail in 2016. For this year, though, Moab was a clear winning destination.
”We thought about all the different places out there and quickly decided Moab would be the perfect spot to send this year’s contest winner,” says Quadratec Vice President of Marketing Bear Pratt. “Not only is Moab a premier destination spot in the off-road community, but it is one of the Jeep Jamboree’s signature events of the season. We’re definitely excited for Ed and his family.”
JJUSA President Pearse Umlauf agrees and says he is even more thrilled that Ed is bringing along Robin and Derek – not to mention that all are relatively new to the off-road world. They will get to hone their skills right in Moab under the tutelage of JJUSA Trail Guides and alongside other event participants
”I’m so glad. I think it is definitely more interesting with family; when you can bring along your whole family and enjoy the experience with them,” Umlauf says. “First of all it is Moab, so they are going to an iconic destination in the off-road community. So I think that alone in itself, they get to go to one of the most iconic and recognized places in the off road community, but second of all, they’ll get to do it under the guidance of professionals who are out there to ensure they have a safe journey, and who will help them push the vehicle, and themselves, to the limit.”
”Plus, with this kind of event, they’ll get the full experience with all the camaraderie as well. They’ll really get a feel of what it is like to be a part of the Jeep community. The hundred-plus other vehicles, and they’ll feel like they are really part of this exclusive family of vehicle owners.”
”This is something not every vehicle manufacturer has, so they will walk away from Moab with a really unique experience. And feel like they really bonded with other people.”
The Tripps pull into the Moab Valley Inn late Thursday afternoon and Ed Tripp heads over to registration, while Robin and Derek go out shopping.
”Derek’s really been looking forward to this and finding something to buy,” Ed Tripp says while he waits in the registration line. “He’s been saving his dollars for the trip and had something like 22 dollars to spend. But then we got here and he couldn’t find it, so he was kind of bummed about that, but he still went shopping with Robin.”
Tripp leans closer and lowers his voice.
”He doesn’t know yet, but Robin and I will make sure that spending money is replaced so he can get something.”
Robin and Derek show up later, with Derek is sporting a sharp, new, blue and gray Moab sweatshirt.
Ed Tripp gives a knowing nod.
The Moab Valley Inn’s conference room wasn’t actually that crowded by the time Ed Tripp makes it inside. He’s taken his time in the inn’s hallway, where the Jamboree has placed pictures of all the surrounding trails, along with a little description on each.
He paused at the picture of Pritchett Canyon which was rated quite a bit higher than nearly all of the others he had seen so far.
”Don’t worry, we won’t be on that one,” Jarrell says. “At least, not this time.”
When Tripp reaches the conference room, JJUSA Director of Registration Savannah Brewer is at the check-in table thumbing through some papers. She greets Ed with a smile and, upon hearing his name, realizes she knows it.
”So you are the contest winner, congratulations,” she says, smiling and extending her hand. “So nice to meet you. How is everything going, was the ride in nice?”
As they talk, Brewer assembles a welcome packet containing, among other things, a shirt, name badges, wristbands, some stickers and pins. It isn’t a special packet just for the Tripps. Everyone who registers and attends a Jamboree event gets one, although Brewer certainly makes it seem special for Ed Tripp and family.
They finish up and she thanks the Tripps for coming, and hopes they have a great time - then sends them on their way to pick some trails.
”Everyone here is so nice,” Ed Tripp says.
”It’s not just here, either,” says Quadratec Video Production Manager Eric Ammerman. “They are like this to everyone at every Jamboree event we’ve been to. It’s just what they do.”
For Tripp, it is quickly decided that Fins and Things will be Friday’s selection as that lower-rated trail will help ease Ed and family into the off-road world, while still presenting some decent obstacles to overcome for confidence building.
After a short discussion, Steel Bender is picked for Saturday. This one because it will ramp up the difficulty over Fins thanks to much more uneven terrain, rocks, ledges, and some higher-difficulty obstacles.
Ed Tripp looks a little uneasy after hearing about those obstacles and Jarrell shakes his head.
”Don’t worry, you’ll be fine,” he says. “We’re going to ramp up that difficulty on day two because we want you to put all that stuff you learn the first day to use.”
Tom Trotter, JJUSA’s Moab Event Coordinator notices Ed and heads over, shaking Ed’s hand and offering congratulations for winning the giveaway contest.
He asks which trails the Tripps have selected and seems satisfied with their choices.
”You know, these trails have names for a reason – Fins and Things is a lot of up and downs and they aren’t too bad; Steel Bender is a little more rugged,” Trotter says. “It's more jagged and you might bend something on the Jeep. But don’t worry. You’ll be fine. Plus, that Jeep you are driving isn’t yours, right? So there you go.”
”You and the family are going to have a blast out here. It’s going to be awesome.”
Outside in the parking lot, many participants are loading items into their vehicles. Some are staying at the inn, while the rest are preparing to head out to other destinations before tomorrow’s breakfast. Several know each other, and are exchanging stories and catching up. It is a scene played out at JJUSA events all over the country as a large percentage of attendees are return customers.
Jim Horne, JJUSA Senior Trail Guide and head of the Jamboree Outdoor Garage, spots Ammerman, Jarrell and Ed Tripp, and strides over to greet everyone. He also makes it a point to find out what trails Tripp has chosen. Yet another friendly face offering encouragement, just like Ammerman had mentioned before.
”I’ll be right there behind you tomorrow and Saturday,” Horne says, reassuringly. “If you are uncomfortable about anything, we’ll get you through it. We want you to have a great time.”
Horne means it too, and has the experience to back it up. In fact, he may have more off-road experience than nearly anyone else at the event. He spent years in Moab running a Jeep rental company, while averaging about 240 days a year on the trail before joining JJUSA.
These days he modifies and maintains JJUSA Jeeps while also traveling around the country and serving as one of the organization’s top trail guides.
”This Jeep you have here,” Horne says, pointing at the JJUSA Wrangler JL Unlimited Rubicon. “In the past few weeks it has been from the Catskills of New York, to Maine, to Uwharrie, North Carolina, to Kentucky and now here. So it’s well-traveled, totally capable and it’s all ready for you.”
Horne looks around.
”So, you guys are familiar with the JL then,” he offers, somewhat more of a question than a statement. Perhaps gauging where the Tripp’s comfort level with the vehicle stands.
Ed Tripp is nodding.
”We actually have one just like this at home,” Tripp answers.
”Well, here are the keys then, let’s go,” Horne says to laughter. “Nothing more I need to say except once again, congratulations. If there is anything else you guys need while you are out here, just let me know.”
Robin Tripp, still a bit overwhelmed at everything, responds.
”We’re not even sure what we need.”
Ed Tripp is nervous.
It is early Friday morning on the Jamboree’s first day, October 26 just before 7:30, and already numerous Jeeps are assembled in the Spanish Trail Arena parking lot like so many superheroes gathering for battle. Only instead of capes and lassos, these things have suspension lifts, body armor and traction-grabbing tires.
Tripp is sitting in the driver’s seat of the JJUSA JL Wrangler Rubicon, himself already in line for the Fins and Things trail while Jarrell occupies the passenger seat. An Apple watch beeps marking 7:30 – a half hour before the 20th Moab Jamboree drivers meeting.
And Tripp is nervous.
It’s one thing to talk about climbing behind the wheel of a Jeep and taking it off-road, but it’s entirely another thing to actually do it. Especially for the first time. In Moab, nonetheless. So those nerves are certainly understandable because, after all, everyone remembers their first time, right?
Jarrell is talking inside the vehicle and pointing out some ‘good to know’ things to help ease the first-time off-road driver’s mind.
”They call it a shift on the fly transfer case,” Jarrell is saying. “Meaning when you are driving on the highway, you can shift from two high into four high right up to like 55 mph.”
Jarrell has Tripp put the vehicle into four-high and shows him the indicator light on the dash.
”Now, once you are in four high, you can disconnect the sway bar. Just push the button and the light there will blink until it disengages. When it’s solidly illuminated, that means the sway bars are disconnected. So, when we’re on road, we want those sway bars connected; it keeps the Jeep kind of level and the body from rolling when you are going around turns. When you are off-road, you want that sway bar disengaged so that front axle can really flex and get over obstacles.”
”I think when I tried to do it before, I wasn’t in four high,” Tripp answers, watching the light flash.
”Right,” Jarrell agrees. “You won’t be able to. The computer locks them out if you are in two-wheel drive to protect the vehicle. Now, about lockers, are you familiar with how they work?”
”Let’s say I probably need a refresher.”
”Ok,” Jarrell continues. “So, basically the way your rear axle works normally, most of the time, is that the differential in the middle splits power to both of the wheels. When you are going around a turn, it will allow one wheel to spin faster than another. When we are off-road, and start to get on other angles and moving around, it’s going to send power to the wheel that has the least amount of traction. Kind of the easiest path for the engine to send its power.”
”So what happens when you get one wheel stuck in a tough spot, it ends up spinning the other wheel and you go nowhere. By putting that locker on, that locks that differential in the middle together and makes both wheels spin at the same speed the entire time. And by doing that, if we get into a situation where one wheel is kind of pinched into a rock and the other can free spin, you lock that center differential together and it makes both wheels spin.”
”And you want to do that for the rear,” Tripp trails off, looking for the locker switch. Rob points it out on the center stack.
”To activate the rear, just push down on that toggle and it should lock us up.”
Jarrell then pokes through some selections on the Jeep’s UConnect Infotainment screen until he gets to the Off-Road pages section.
”So this will tell us that our front sway bars are disconnected, that our front axle is unlocked, the rear axle is unlocked and the transfer case is in four high. Well, because we’re stopped right now, it might not let us lock the rear axle. Sometimes you need a little motion for that differential to turn and the teeth to engage.”
”What about the front axle?” Tripp asks.
”Locking that front axle is going to give us even more traction and better control off-road, so we might be climbing and you may hear those front wheels start to slip, then you can lock that up and get more traction.”
”Now the drawback to locking that front axle is that it makes it very hard to turn because it is locking those wheels together. Usually what you do if you need to, is to lock the front to get past the obstacle, then open it back up once you are past.”
”So when we are out there, are you going to tell me when I need to do this?” Tripp asks.
”The guides and spotters will. If we’re coming up to a difficult obstacle, the guides will ask you ‘hey, is your rear axle locked? They are going to make sure you’re ok, and really you will probably be able to do 90 percent of the stuff out here today without using lockers. The tires that are on this, the gearing of the vehicle, you’ll have plenty of traction.”
Jarrell goes over a few more things until Horne stops by and gives Ed Tripp a high-five.
”You’re going to do great out there today,” he says reassuringly.
Off in the distance, a bullhorn sounds and the drivers’ meeting begins.
Ed Tripp sits in the driver seat of the white JJUSA JL Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon listening to the spotter’s instruction, nodding. The steep hill climb still awaits before him. Off to the right rests an older, battered TJ Wrangler that tried the hill earlier, but failed. Breaking a driveshaft in the process. A few guides and the vehicle’s driver lay underneath cranking wrenches and working to coax the vehicle back to life. Tripp tries not to notice.
”You have the rear locker engaged, right,” asks the spotter and Ed nods, remembering Jarrell’s earlier instructions and looking at the UConnect screen to make sure. The spotter gives his approval and then slaps the vehicle’s driver door. Ed revs the engine. His front tires hit the embankment and the vehicle quickly tilts upward at a steep angle. Tires soon screech in a shrill ‘erp, erp, erp’ sound.
He gets the Jeep a little over a third of the way up before all momentum starts to falter.
A few in the crowd yell out some encouragement. They tell him to keep it going. Not to let up.
Someone else nearby isn’t so sure.
”I don’t think he’s going to make it.”
For anyone who hasn’t been to a driver’s meeting before a Jeep off-road event, it is a little like having a coach getting you ready to hit the playing field, or the boss pumping you up before a morning meeting. There is some humor, some instruction, a few rules to go over – all while welcoming everyone and providing some excitement for the day ahead.
Trotter is on the bullhorn talking to the mass of people all around him. “Are you guys ready for the Hummer Expedition trip today? No, you’re not. You are here for the 20th anniversary of the Moab Jamboree.”
The crowd assembled before him cheers.
”We have 18 trails available here in Moab this year and it’s the most we’ve ever offered at this Jamboree, so I’m excited about that and hope you all were able to get your trail of choice today.”
”I want to also thank and recognize all the sponsors who help make this happen; without them this program would not be possible. And for Quadratec, with them out here today are some contest winners. Quadratec did a sweepstakes earlier this year and gave away a free Jamboree. So we have Ed, Robin and Derek out here, say hi.”
The Tripps, clustered next to Trotter, wave to applause.
”It’s your first time out here in Moab, correct?” Trotter asks.
”First time here, and first time ever doing something like this,” Ed Tripp answers. More applause, louder this time.
”You’re going to have a great time.”
”I also this weekend have 36 guides out here taking care of you out on the trails,” Trotter continues. “They are all volunteers and come out here because they have a passion for Jeeping, and a passion for helping people with their Jeeping experience. So let’s give a big round of applause for them.”
Another ripple of cheers goes through the crowd.
”It’s good you did that now, so I know you’ll get back later,” Trotter says.
Back at the Jeep, the Tripps are now a mix of excitement and nerves as all those days between the August contest celebration and reaching Moab have come down to this Friday morning and getting out on the trail. Engines begin firing up and a few other trail groups move out. Ed Tripp is holding the steering wheel, but smiling. A good sign.
”It really is amazing being out here, a little nerve-wracking right now and almost overwhelming not knowing what to expect, but it is also so beautiful,” he says as Robin and Derek pull on their seatbelts. “You have the full moon still in the sky back over the top of the ridge and all these Jeeps around us.”
”Yeah, we’re excited and also excited to do this as a family.”
Fins and Things is directly northeast of Moab and takes its names right from the vast amount of fins and what is leftover from them – the things. Those fins are wind-blown sand dunes that somehow became cemented into the sandstone slickrock millions of years ago. Some are higher than others and looks somewhat like wide waves atop the desert floor. Meanwhile, the ‘things’ are parts of those numerous fins that have eroded, and add ‘character’ to the area between each fin. All of this makes for lots of climbs and somewhat sharp descents, some sandy loose dirt driving, as well as a few uphill and downhill ledges that can be a little challenging.
The trail itself isn’t highly ranked on the rating ladder; a four which puts it somewhere slightly above a green-rated trail for those in the know. Green, like the light, means the trail is a go for just about anyone, which again, underscores the Tripps’ off-road goals for the day. Learn, experience, react, retain.
At the start, Tripp is a bit tentative and quickly falls behind a little as he slowly passes over small obstacles and bumps that other more experienced drivers easily cruise past.
”I thought those were going to be more difficult than they were,” Tripp would say later.
It isn’t long though until Tripp’s Jeep is right back where it needs to be as he has gained a measure of comfort. Then comes the first sharp decline that empties into a short, sandy patch of desert with rocks closing off the other side. For the uninitiated, it seems like a drop that could flip the Jeep over.
Robin gets out and takes a look. “We’re going down that?”
One of the trail guides offers some encouragement and teases a bit. “Hey, the worst thing that will happen is you’ll go down and hit those rocks down over there, but at least they will stop you.”
Ed looks at Robin and inches the Jeep forward. It’s front tires slide over the edge and begin to tilt the Jeep on about a 60-degree angle. Ed Tripp releases the brake a bit and the entire Jeep slides down the fin into the sandy desert. No problem.
Sometimes it just takes success on only one obstacle to open the floodgates of confidence.
”I can’t believe what this thing can do, and I can’t believe we just did that,” Tripp says. “My heart is jumping out of my shirt.”
”Well remember,” Jarrell says. “This (vehicle) is exactly what you have back home and yours can do this too. You could drive your Jeep cross-country out here and do all this stuff, no problem.”
Observing the Tripps after that first obstacle is almost like watching an entirely different vehicle. This one driving smoother, easier. Bouncing over terrain with much more confidence.
Shortly after that initial obstacle comes one of the trail’s more difficult hurdles; a steeper uphill series of rock ledges, followed by a sharp incline up some other slickrock that also has small ledges - all the while driving straight into severe sunglare. A few Jeeps have some issues on the first ledge and need to take a few runs before they are able to bump up and get past. Tripp approaches and listens to the spotter who tells him where to place his tires and when to go. The first attempt doesn’t have enough momentum, so Tripp backs off, re-approaches and slides up and over. Then he crawls up the remaining slickrock like someone who has been doing it for years.
”You know, the sun is right there in your eyes, and you can’t really see going up that thing,” Tripp says after parking the Jeep. “You just kind of feel the rock and the tire, and then giving it enough gas without giving it too much. And then the Jeep just took over. It’s kind of awesome.”
”The hardest part is kind of being straight up, looking directly into the sky and not being able to see anything, and having to trust the wheels and the Jeep. It’s an incredible feeling once you get to the top. It’s quite a feeling.”
Jarrell pulls his Jeep behind the Tripps and gives Ed a fist bump.
”That kind of stuff, and those ledges sometimes, when you need that momentum to bounce through it, your natural reaction is to let off and hit the brakes when you feel yourself hit something, and that’s when you can lose it,” Jarrell says. “So that was awesome to see you keep rolling. When you keep on it, and hit that bump and stay with it, that’s when you usually pop right through it.”
The rest of the trail is a hit for the Tripps, climbing up and easing their way down slickrock hills - while blasting through long sandy stretches. One final obstacle presents a problem when a sharp descent pitches the Tripps’ Jeep nose first into some rocks, giving the front bumper some new ‘decorations’. But no matter, what would have been an issue earlier in the day was now just something to adjust and overcome. When the trail ends, everyone gathers in a nearby parking lot to air up and relax for a bit. Ed Tripp leans against the Wrangler’s hood and exhales before taking a long slug of water.
”I’m almost speechless, it was far beyond what we expected, just amazing,” he says. “I’m still a little shaky after that last downhill one. I got myself lined up wrong and then I saw (Rob’s) track but I couldn’t get there. So I just decided to try it but it was the wrong angle.”
”Well, we all were talking and we thought you did an amazing job today,” Jarrell says. “We saw a total difference between this morning when we hit the trail, till the end of the day when I can walk away and you are climbing up ledges, the tires are chirping. I can tell your confidence level has gone through the roof.”
”Yeah, I was nervous this morning,” Ed Tripp agrees. “I’ve never done any off-road before, and then to come to Moab and do it the first time.”
”There were a few little bumps along the way, but it is all part of the fun, I think,” Jarrell says. ”Well, being out there with the Jamboree guys, what did you think about that?”
”Oh, man, you can’t do it without them,” says Ed Tripp. “They get you lined up properly; tell you when to hit the gas, which way to turn the wheels.”
”They are amazing,” Robin adds.
”Those guys out there today have been running this trail for 13 years for the Moab Jamboree, so they know it like the back of their hand,” says Jarrell.
”They know exactly what groove, what angle, what speed,” Ed Tripp says. “To listen to them, and then watch you do it, I gained confidence throughout the day.”
At eight o’clock Saturday morning, October 27, everyone again was assembled in front of Trotter at the Spanish Trail Arena parking lot. A Jeep Jamboree is nothing if not repetitive. Breakfast, trail check-in, driver meeting, trail riding and dinner. Then repeat. So Jeeps were once more lining up in respective trail groups for the day and Trotter says he hopes everyone had a great time yesterday. And that he knows there were a few who had some issues, but everyone made it back safely.
That is one thing that always transcends the Jeep community, no matter if you are a lifelong off-road driver or someone just out for the first time. Everyone pitches in to help if there is an issue on the trail. Just like they did with the broken down TJ Wrangler near Ed’s hill. It is just what you do.
Ed Tripp is also once again in the driver’s seat of the JJUSA white JL Wrangler Rubicon while Robin sits on the passenger side.
”So, we’ve got Steel Bender lined up today,” Jarrell says. Around him is the steady hiss of air escaping tires as other drivers begin airing down for the day. “It’s a little more technical and it is going to put you to the test to see what you remember from yesterday. There are some ledges and some water crossings.”
”Aww water, Derek has been waiting for the water,” Robin Tripp says.
”So how are you feeling today?” asks Jarrell.
”Well the word ledges is a little nerve wracking, but we are ready to rock,” Tripp says. “To go through everything yesterday and come out okay, it definitely gave me a lot of confidence and made me breath easier.”
”Yeah, I think there are just some small ledges out there today,” Jarrell says. “And there is one pretty big obstacle so we’ll see how we do when we get there. But I think you are ready.”
”Like a boulder?” Robin Tripp asks.
”It’s called the Waterfall, but there is no water – just rocks,” says Jarrell. “Imagine a rock waterfall. Does that make you nervous? There will also be some rocks that you’ll have to pop up on and we’ll be using that Moab bump we learned about yesterday.”
”Let’s get out there.”
”Yesterday was crazy and awesome and that was only a four rating for how hard it was,” Derek Tripp says. “Today we are doing a six rating. So I can’t wait to get out on the trail.”
Steel Bender is another of Moab’s trails that sits close to town, making is popular for anyone who doesn’t feel like driving far out into the desert to go off-road. It is also a former wagon route and climbs to around 6,000 feet while featuring all the elements of a good Moab trail ride – sand, water, slickrock, ledges and drop offs – throughout its 20-mile looping run.
At its start, it almost feels like an East Coast trail as it descends down around Mill Creek and eases tightly through trees and mud, and some small, narrow, rocky areas. But it isn’t long before the trail opens up, and begins a steep climb over several slickrock ledges.
This time for Tripp, there is no hesitation or tentativeness as he’s learned to watch other drivers’ lines for overcoming obstacles. He puts his tires up against each ledge, rides them up, and gives just the proper amount of momentum each time to bump the back wheels and continue forward. Those ledges get a little steeper and a little closer together as the elevation increases, but nothing is stopping Ed Tripp and family at the moment.
And then comes the Wall.
A jutting ledge perhaps six or so feet high that requires drivers to get their front tires placed correctly, then walked up the ledge face on both sides of a v-notch, before finding enough traction and momentum to lift the back wheels up and over the edge. Somewhat similar to the ledges everyone just went over, but on a much larger scale.
Robin Tripp is out of the Jeep and looking at the ledge apprehensively. Especially after the first two-door JK Wrangler spins its wheels and then almost flops off to the left on its side. It recovers nicely though and gets back on track, spitting dirt and rocks as it swoops over the top. A few other vehicles abort and take the quick bypass on the right that swings around a crop of trees, allowing those drivers to join others at the top.
Then the white JL Wrangler Rubicon appears from around the corner and approaches. The chance to turn right for that bypass comes and goes until there is nothing left but the Wall. At the Jeep’s drivers side window, the trail guide points out a few things he wants Ed Tripp to do – where to put the tires, when to accelerate, how much throttle to apply.
”You’re good, go get ‘em,” the guide says. With that, he steps back and lets Ed go to work.
The white Jeep inches up against the wall, throws its tires up and on the rock and then finds some traction. Ed Tripp cuts the wheel slightly to the right and then applies some additional throttle, causing the back wheels to bounce once against the Wall before shooting straight up.
No second take, no reversal. Just a loud ‘Yeah baby’ as the Jeep scales the wall and then leaves the thing in its wake.
”You know, it’s called the wall right, and it’s straight up,” he says. “But I tell you what, I’m getting more and more comfortable with the Jeep and just letting it do its thing. It’s unbelievable. I never thought in my wildest dreams that we’d be able to do this.”
From the Wall area, Steel Bender continues through more slickrock, some sand and a lot of rocky ‘one-foot speed bumps’, until the trail crests a hill, veers right and descends to a rocky ledge area where everyone begins bunching up. As people begin exiting their vehicles, someone mouths the word ‘Waterfall’ and Ed’s pace slows a little. It wouldn’t be the last time over the next hour.
Picture this - a slightly bigger than small waterfall, but without any water pouring over the edge. This leaves a large rock ledge, a wide bottom opening and plenty of space between both. Normally, that space would be filled with lots of rocks so anyone who goes over the ledge would then slide through the air and land on a sharp angle against those rocks. Not a crazy angle, but just enough to make someone feel uncomfortable. On the Saturday of Moab’s 20th Jeep Jamboree though, there were almost no rocks in that bottom opening because of erosion from recent rains. If that weren’t bad enough, the obstacle also sits slightly off camber and next to a rather steep drop off.
Ed, Robin and Derek stand among a small group as the first Jeep of the day, a two-door JK Wrangler, inches its way down the slickrock and towards the Waterfall. Some of the trail guides were in the process of slinging as many rocks as they could into that bottom space, but it still looked woefully, er, under-rocked, as the JK began nosing over the edge.
”Your front tires are going over right now, and you’re going to start sliding,” the trail guide on the ledge says. The Wrangler tilts even more forward and then skids on that sharp angle down into the bottom rocks. As it does, the vehicle begins listing off to the right.
”Throttle and go driver. Hard driver,” the bottom guide says with a little anxiousness in his voice. And the Wrangler does just that, its back end thumping down while gouging the bumper, before scooting away.
Score one for Steel Bender, but at least the vehicle – and its driver – are safe.
”That was close,” someone says.
”You know, the longer wheelbase Jeeps will have an easier time of it,” another points out.
But Ed Tripp doesn’t hear anyone. He’s already walking back towards his Jeep. And he doesn’t look well.
The Tripps’ Jeep is 18th in line and the other 16 all eventually negotiate the obstacle successfully. In between each one, the guides keep stacking rocks and continually look for different lines that are safer and easier. Indeed, the longer wheelbase Jeep Wrangler JK Unlimited vehicles do have a simpler, albeit no less stressful, descent and as each of those touch bottom, they still have a significant portion still leaning against the upper ledge. Unlike those smaller Wranglers and CJs.
Ed Tripp doesn’t know this though as he waits and waits, then finally approaches the obstacle. He looks at once uncertain and determined at the same time. Perhaps confidently, unconfident.
”Watch the cliff; we’ve got you lined up pretty well,” the upper trail guide says to Ed. “Keep it nice and smooth. When you start sliding, brake hard. Just let it slide and when it lands just sit there.”
Ed Tripp brings the Jeep a little closer to the edge before Horne’s voice rings out. “Hey Ed, we’re not going to draw any more attention to you, but hey we’ve got the Quadratec winner coming down right now. Let’s hear it for Ed.”
The crowd around the Waterfall erupts with cheers. Ed Tripp closes his eyes and exhales deeply before forcing a tight smile.
”Drive it like you stole it,” someone from the crowd shouts out. And Horne is quick to answer ”Woah, woah, woah, that’s our Jeep, we need to get it back to FCA next week.”
The ledge trail guide notices Ed Tripp and puts his hands on the driver window, “It’s ok, forget all this noise. Nice and easy. You’ve got about six feet. Go passenger a little. Nice and steady on the brakes, and it’s going to start sliding right about now. Keep steady on the brakes.”
The Jeep teeters forward as front tires go over the edge, and quickly starts to slide face first and down on a sharp angle – perfectly on the intended line. Both Robin and Ed let out a long breath. In the back, Derek has an ear-to-ear smile.
A few more maneuvers and guidance from the trail guides and the Jeep’s rear end also comes down. All four wheels are back on solid ground.
Horne ambles over and gives Ed Tripp a high-five. “Awesome job, buddy.”
”Oh man, I don’t think I was breathing,” Robin Tripp says. Everyone in the Jeep is all smiles now.
”That was awesome,” Derek Tripp says.
”I had said to Derek, why don’t you sit this one out, and Robin,” Ed Tripp says later. “And they were like ‘no way, we’re going with you. If you go down, we all go down. When we finished, all those 20 Jeeps or whatever, the people watching at the end were like, you guys (Robin and Derek) were the only passengers that went down the Waterfall.”
”I know,” Jarrell says. “I offered up seats in my Jeep and nobody wanted to come down.”
”So to be able to do that and be able to share that with my wife and son was just a once in a lifetime thing.”
There are a few more tire chirps on that steep slickrock hill climb as Ed Tripp applies a bit more throttle to the Jeep. A week ago, heck, even two days ago he may have panicked a bit, floored it and totally lost control. Possibly breaking something on the vehicle, or worse, throwing it sideways. And then who knows.
But these last few days out west in Moab were not just a vacation for Ed Tripp. They were also school.
And he had been a good student.
The tires catch against the slickrock and that snow white Jeep JL Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon begins scooting up the hill. It gets halfway up, then three-quarters and then reaches the top.
As it crests over, Ed Tripp thrusts a clinched hand out the window, pumping it up and down excitedly.
Perhaps this is in celebration of beating the hill. Or perhaps it is something more. Something like knowing he was finally able to finish his dream.
“That dream of the mountain,” he says a few minutes later, looking out from the driver’s seat, his face framed by a backdrop of the snow-capped La Sal Mountains. “It’s been more than 20 years or so in the making and I never thought I’d get to the top.”
“Well, it’s done now, right?” Jarrell says.
Ed nods with satisfaction.
“I’ve finally conquered that hill.”
“So what do you think now; did you get bit by the bug?” asks Jarrell. “Are we going to see you out at another Jamboree?”
A smile flickers across Ed Tripp’s face as he turns to Derek, who has climbed into the Jeep’s backseat. Ed playfully swats at the boy’s black and tan Quadratec baseball cap.
“What do you think Derek, do you want to do this again?”
The words are no sooner out of Ed’s mouth before Derek is nodding his head.
”Well then,” Ed Tripp says. “We’re hooked.”
”I guess you could say this entire adventure has turned all of us from simply a family who owns a Jeep into some real Jeep enthusiasts.”
I just wanted to thank you for the most incredible weekend we could have ever dreamed of. Words can’t describe the gratitude that Robin, Derek and I have for the extreme effort that you all gave to us.
It started when the guys from Quadratec decided to make a 2 1/2 hour drive to surprise us and let us know that we had won the Quadratec/Jeep Jamboree Fly and Drive contest, instead of just calling us on the phone to tell us. It was that kind of commitment and passion that you showed us through the entire weekend. You all went above and beyond to make sure that we were happy, comfortable and your only thoughts were that we were to have the trip of a lifetime!
When you saw that we were a family of three and the trip was for only two, you immediately said, we will gladly make it happen that you will be able to take your wife and your son on this wonderful adventure. Then you had the brilliant idea to send a brand new Go Pro camera for my son to capture what this trip would look like through the eyes of a 10 year old! It made Derek feel so special and important.
You took the time to pick out the perfect trails for us, considering that we are very new Jeep owners with very limited off-road experience. You picked ‘Fins and Things’ and ‘Steel Bender’. You wanted us to be comfortable and confident, but still push us to go outside of our comfort zone. You made sure that we were between Rob and Jim, the best two off road specialists, to give me confidence and feel safe.
We started off driving a little tentative, but after watching the line that Rob took in the Quadratec Jeep and the encouraging words from Jim and the amazing coaching from the spotters on the trail, we were able to gain confidence with each and every turn and climb. To be able to see the capabilities, first hand, on what this 2018 Jeep Rubicon JL can do was truly amazing. There is nothing that this vehicle can’t do!
Then after a long day of conquering fears and climbing to new heights, it was great to unwind and share some trail stories, at the Moab Brewery with the guys. It was a perfect ending to a perfect day.
The second day was even more exciting and challenging, with the Steel Bender Trail! Climbing ‘The Wall’ was something I never thought I would be able to do and what a feeling that was when we made it to the top! But nothing can compare to the challenge of “The Waterfall”. I could barely watch the other drivers go down without getting so nervous, in fact, I was the 18th driver to go down but only watched the first Jeep go down, before I spent the rest of the time just waiting my turn inside my Jeep. When it was my turn, both my wife and my son jumped in the Jeep and said they were going down with me! None of the other passengers had gone down the waterfall up until that point. I asked them if they were sure they wanted to do this and they said, “Daddy, if you are going down, we are going down with you!” And we all did it together and there was no better feeling, when my back bumper cleared the last ledge and I was able to breathe again.
I can’t thank you all enough for the ‘Tripp of a Lifetime!’ I will consider all of you friends for life and hope any future winners of this contest have just as much fun as we did. You have turned us into true off road enthusiasts and we can’t wait for our next off-road adventure.