I’m excited to launch our first in our “Getting Dirty With…” series. And even more thrilled that Mackenzie was on board!
So I first came across Mackenzie when she commented on a post and happened to have not just a 1st Gen 4runner, but a late model generation also. I too have a 1st Gen and also HAD a 2019 4runner that I had recently sold. After looking at her Instagram account, @t4rgrl, you could easily see how excited and happy she was to get down and dirty in her 4Runner. Plus, she just seemed pretty cool in general. She mentioned she was an ambassador for an off-road group and you could easily see that she’s all in on bringing others into the dirty fold.
This is Mackenzie’s dirty, unedited story….
What is your name, where are you from?
What’s up! My name is Mackenzie, I go by Kenzie for short. I’m 34 years old and live in Crestview, Florida, that’s in the Florida Panhandle. I’m originally from the California foothills, in a little town called Paradise, maybe you’ve heard of it, it’s the one that burned almost completely to the ground in 2018. We, my husband and I, moved to the Florida Panhandle almost 16 years ago on military orders though, and we’ve been lucky enough to spend almost every part of those 16 years in the same area.
How long have you been going off-road, how did you get into it? How did you decide on your off-road rig?
Since I was a little girl, I have been crazy about cars, or so my Mother tells me, as it was common for me to steal my little brother’s Hot Wheels and toy cars when we were young. Maybe the obsession came from my Dad, he was a mechanic and was surrounded by them all the time. Or, maybe I just inherited the car craze, as all my siblings have a similar fondness for them. Whatever the reason, I’ve loved them all my life. It wasn’t until I was 13 years old though, when my then, stepdad, started hunting down his dream car on the then, fairly new Autotrader website. He eventually tracked one down, it was a gorgeous 1989 Toyota 4Runner in sky blue, which sat on some beasty BF Goodrich tires. I still remember him pulling that rig into the driveway on the first day, and it was love at first site, I’d never seen a more beautiful machine. From the day my stepdad pulled that incredible Toyota into the driveway, I knew I would always love off-road vehicles. It would take me 20 years before I ever went off-road myself though.
Fast forward to 2019, my husband is overseas, and I am in a car craze, looking at 4Runner’s new and old on every possible search engine I can think of. I happen to come across a beautiful 1986 1st Gen 4Runner, 4×4 in manual transmission. And what was it sitting on? Some beasty BF Goodrich tires, just like my stepdads did. I knew at that moment she was mine. One day later and 10 hours of driving round trip, half of that trip being in a 30+ year old 4Runner that hadn’t been driven in over a year, and had no idea what kind of shape it was in. I was out on dark lonely highways, driving a manual, which I hadn’t done in over 10 years, and I somehow made it home, without one hiccup on the rig, dam I love Toyotas! I finally had my first dream vehicle! But she wasn’t the rig I wanted to take off-road, I just didn’t have the heart to accidentally hurt her on the trails, it’s been my dream rig for too long to mess it up. So, the hunting continued.
The following spring, in May of 2020, just after the covid crisis had begun, I found my daily driver and true off-roader. After several weeks of test-driving Fj Cruisers and 5th Gen 4Runners, I was able to find exactly what I was looking for, that had all the off-road features I wanted in a vehicle. I drove off a Jeep lot on a beautiful spring day, with a silver, 2016 5th Gen 4Runner Trail Premium Edition. I dubbed her “Wanda” as in Fried Green Tomatoes “Towanda!” Which is defined as “A word to express excitement while doing something crazy”, which is what I planned on doing with her, something crazy.
At some point in the beginning of 2020, I had seen mentioned on a Facebook group something about ATR, and only understood that it was some kind of big Toyota off-road event in Tennessee, and that it was for those real “off-roader people” who knew what they were doing and had built up rigs. Well, come July, I saw something about the event pop up again, and that someone had a spare bunk at their cabin for the event. Being the sporadic person I am, I quickly looked up ATR again, which stands for Appalachian Toyota Round-Up by the way and is held at Windrock Park in Oliver Springs, Tennessee. I wanted to see if there was anything I could do with my rig at that event. Sure enough, they had beginner green trails listed, wahoo, I could do that! I snagged the bunk spot, signed up for my first ATR that day, and counted down the seconds until it started in September. Come August, I had managed to get a moderate 2” Dobinson suspension lift, some BF Goodrich KO2’s (of course!), and a full set of RCI skids, which I felt was a must for Windrock, and that was about it.
So, this is where my “Towanda” moment really comes into play. The first time I have ever gone off-road, or put a vehicle in 4-wheel drive, was the first day out on the trails at Windrock Park. I went with the “easy” or green trail group that gathered that morning at the required safety meet-up. We were a good size group of at least 20 vehicles, which was comforting knowing I wasn’t out there alone. I’m pretty I was the only solo female driver out there that day though who had never gone off-roading before, and that’s when reality hit… I truly had no idea what I was doing! The first 3 hours of trail riding, all I could think of was “What were you thinking?! This is insane, scary as hell, and you’re going to break your new car!”. My hands were clamped so tight to the steering wheel that they ached, and my stomach was in utter knots. After stopping along the way, seasoned Windrock drivers said that the trails we were doing that day were normally not that bad, but with covid having shut down the park all summer, they had washed out and were closer to a blue trail. Oy vey, why me, why did I sign up for this??
The following year at ATR 2021, I was taken by surprise and awarded “Lady Wheeler” of the event. I hadn’t realized that others were watching me and how far I’d come in just a year of my first off-road trip. I was, and still am so incredibly honored and humbled.
In-between trips to Tennessee over the past year, I have managed to get in some Florida off-roading on our local Black Water State Forest trails. We have a rather large, awesome group of Toyota off-road enthusiasts here in the Panhandle and are also lucky enough to live just a few minutes down the road from YotaMafia, the Toyota aftermarket distributor and accessories company.
So what have you done to your 4runner? What accessories have you added?
Speaking of accessories, I’ll list what I’ve been able to do to the rig in the last year and a half since getting it, some big, many small, and of course the future mod plans are never ending, as any Toyota enthusiast knows.
The current build…
- Wheels – Currently stock, but plan on replacing with VTX off-road wheels in the near future, thanks to YotaMafia!
- Tires – 275/70/17 BF Goodrich KO2 AT’s
- Spidertraxs 1.25” spacers
- SPC Upper Control Arms
- Dobinson 2” full suspension lift
- Rago Fabrication rear shock guards
- Full set of RCI steel skid plates
- RSG Angled Rock Sliders
- Southern Style Offroad slimelime bumper
- Smittybilt X20 10k winch w/ synthetic rope
- Rigid Armor drop down rear hitch spare tire carrier
- C4 Fabrication ladder
- Southern Style Offroad full length roof rack
- Max Trac 8ft. awning
- Flowmaster 40 Series exhaust
- Dobinson Snorkel
- Cali Raised LED ditch light kit
- ARB Rear Diff Breather kit
- Rago Fabrication rear window molle panels
- Victory 4×4 center console molle panels
- $20 Amazon door handle covers
- Aftermarket TRD Pro bumper kit
- Interior/Exterior LED replacements
- LED headlight + fog light replacements
- And way too many patches…
There are a lot of things I still plan to do to the Runner in the future, but I am very happy with the build so far, and I absolutely love the beast it’s turned into. In the midst of building the 4Runner, I have kept my Dad (the now retired mechanic) who is pushing close to 80, up to date on everything I’ve done with it and all of my off-road trips. My Dad has been an avid off-road enthusiast, ATV and dirt bike guy since long before I was born, so he just loves to hear about everything I’ve been up to in the off-road world. A few months ago, out of the blue, I received a text from my Dad, it was just a picture of a new set of car keys on the table. My jaw dropped, he had gone and gotten himself a black 2019 5th Gen 4Runner TRD Trail Edition, just like his daughter! This man has been a diehard Ford guy for over half his life, and he went and traded his Ford 150 in for a 4Runner because he was so inspired by everything I had done and was doing. Talk about your heart wanting to burst, that was the coolest and sweetest thing ever, and I felt so proud. Now I look forward to his texts and calls of everything he is doing to his rig, from installing a suspension lift all on his own, to building storage systems, an air compressor set-up, to him becoming involved in the 4Runner community online, it seriously warms my heart. I love that we both have something in common and we can share the Toyota passion together.
What trips would you still like to do?
On the topic of my Dad and 4Runners, we have begun to plan an off-road bucket list trip to hopefully take place early next spring. The number one place I have always wanted to go off-roading is none other than Moab, Utah, the off-roaders haven. We both live in Florida, and we are planning on driving both of our Runner’s across country together to test our rigs out in that beautiful, rugged off-road desert. It will be one last hurrah for my Dad, as he’s getting too old to be making trips like this, but we are going to go together and have an adventure of a lifetime.
So that’s it! That is the “short” story of my off-roading beginnings and experience thus far. I have no foreseeable plans to stop, I’m finally living my dream, building an amazing vehicle, hitting the trails, and making some of the best new friends and family along the way, and inspiring a few as I go. Just to note, I have done every trail ride and trip without my other half (it’s just not his thing) and I have loved every second of it. If I had one tip to give other women like myself, especially ones who may be hesitant to go off-roading alone, don’t let your fear stop you. There is one big, amazing off-roading community waiting out there for you, who will welcome you, teach you, cheer for you, help you if you break down and be there for you along the way. Discovering new found confidence out on the trails, carries over to your everyday life and how you tackle the obstacles that confront you.
Hope to see you out there –
Kenzie aka T4RGRL