OFF THE BEATEN PATH
By Cpl. Ryan O'Hare
| Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni | October 13, 2000
MCAS IWAKUNI, Japan --
To some, sloshing around in the mud and and rain isn?t a good time, but for more than 300 Land Cruiser fanatics, it made the perfect weekend.
The Land Cruiser Meeting 2000, was the 14th annual event that brought together off-road enthusiasts from around the world.
The Oct. 8-9 meeting, held in the hills of Hananomi, Mei prefecture, featured off road competitions, auctions, venders and a vast array of food and festivities for Land Cruiser enthusiasts.
Cloudy skies and drizzling rain could not dampen the spirits of these off-road warriors. In fact, as the ground got wet and the mud thick, the smiles on everyone?s faces grew bigger.
With 313 Land Cruisers and a multitude of off-road clubs in one place, there was never a dull moment, as people stomped through the mud, making new friends and admiring each other?s trucks.
?I enjoy these events because of the people who come here,? said Toru Otsuka, a Land Cruiser owner from Hiroshima. ?It?s a chance for me to check out other people?s Cruisers and put my own to the test.?
As spectators lined the hillside of a specially designed off-road course, Land Cruisers stood bumper-to-bumper, waiting to test metal against mud.
As each competitor clawed their way up the grueling course of logs and rocks, people cheered, laughed and dodged flying chunks of dirt, as the towering trucks fought their way through every obstacle.
?This is great opportunity to see what these Cruisers can really do, plus they aren?t afraid to put dents in their trucks, I like that,? said Petty Officer 1st class Jim Streicher, H&HS Station Roadmaster and member of the Toyota Land Cruiser Association. ?These events give me a chance to meet other Cruiserheads with the same disease for off-roading, that I miss from back home.?
After the course was closed for the day, people made their way down aisles of vendors, selling everything from T-shirts to Land Cruiser parts.
?You can find a lot of items at these shows that usually need to be ordered or aren?t even being manufactured any longer,? said Dave Stedman, from Vancouver, Canada. ?Many times people will trade for something you happened to bring with you.?
When the afternoon?s festivities came to a close and the sun finally ducked its head below the horizon, the smell of barbecue and the sound of conversation filled the night as patrons made new friends and discussed the day?s events with each other.
?The hospitality here is unbelievable,? said Streicher, from Spokane, Wash. ?The people bend over backward to ensure you have a great time and make you feel like you?re good old buddy?s.?
Later in the evening, everyone gathered around the main stage to hear from event representatives and take part in an auction.
As each item was held up in the air, patrons shouted their price. At some points, the demand for a particular item got so crazy, that the only way to determine who would claim it, was an old fashioned game of ?rock, paper, scissors.? Some accessories were being auctioned off at 1/5 off their regular price.
With everyone as happy as a pig in mud, they enjoyed the evening and prepared for the morning.
As the dawn arrived, competitors awoke to a great surprise. Like a gift from the 4x4 Gods, it had rained all night and the course was even more challenging than the previous day.
With smiles on everyone?s faces and children making mud pies, people watched closely as the Land Cruisers slipped and slid their way up and down the trails. As each Land Cruiser attacked the course, many could not conquer the grueling mud pits and even decided to roll over and rest for awhile, before they were helped off the battlefield.
When the tires finally stopped spinning for the weekend, everyone gathered together and listened to event sponsors and club representatives say a few words about the years? Land Cruiser Meeting and thanked everyone for their participation.
?This was my first time at this particular event,? said Petty Officer 2nd class Jason Comeaux, Search and Rescue Corpsman. ?I really enjoyed meeting new people and even saw some old faces from other events. I was impressed by all the Land Cruisers and look forward to next year.?
This was just one of many events that Jim Streicher and Jason Comeaux often attend from Iwakuni. They enjoy traveling around Japan in search of dirt and fun, and encourage others to participate in events like this one.
?You don?t have to own an off-road vehicle or be a Land Cruiser fanatic to enjoy these kinds of events, you simply have to enjoy meeting new people and seeing some of Japan. It?s a great opportunity to get off station and have a fun weekend,? said Streicher.
According to Streicher, there are at least six or seven off-road events throughout the year. He invites anyone interested to e-mail him at email@example.com, for more information.
?There?s no reason that anyone can?t go out and enjoy themselves at events like this one. If you?re just sitting around the barracks or haven?t any idea of something fun to do, you?re really missing out,? said Streicher.