Article originally published with UTV Sports Mag – Story by: Nolan Hook; Photos by: Brandon Bunch
As with any new destination, one spends much of the first day of any event like a kid walking into a candy shop – eyes wide and constantly scanning all that there is to take in. A late-night arrival to Minneapolis greeted us with an adequate thunderstorm, almost acting as an ovation for the crazy week to come.
Day one was reasonably calm, kicking off with a game of musical chairs. This introduced some of the characters that would give the High Lifter Off-Road Rally its memorable personality. An event commonly known to be a time filler turned out to be pretty entertaining. From all ages and sizes rassling over seats while Rockford Fosgate blasted the tunes, to bad wigs flying off during what looked like a lap dance, spectators were able to get a full serving of laughs and chuckles. The battle for a spot in the circle of Pro Armor seats would continue to bring out the competition in everyone throughout the week, awarding prizes to the quickest squatters.
Even in the early days of the event, riders came ready with beautifully souped-up rides for a Mean Machine contest. Cars high and low rolled in to be judged on driver personality, wow factor, accessories, and that genuine mean factor. There are no losers when it comes to machines built for fun in the mud, but the crowned winner for this event was a Polaris GENERAL, dubbed Mr. Freeze, built by Booger’s Toxic Toys.
As the sky began to dim and the strikingly beautiful sunset started to show, visitors headed to the stage for the final events of the day. Fifteen minutes of emcee wars brought in the crowd with some good old Midwest trash-talking. With spirits high and smiles wide, the Anderson Daniels band took the stage to get feet moving. Even if you don’t have an ear keen to country, anyone with an appreciation for music would be able to notice the talent behind the tunes after glance at the lively crowd.
A new day at High Lifter Off-Road Rally brings in even more energy and new faces. A stroll through Vendor Village would find many visitors giving in to the unyielding urge that is a go at the glorious Prize Wheel, a classic favorite. The chance to win a range of prizes brought too much desire for many to combat. But can you blame them? Who doesn’t like free stuff?
As the weather started to warm up, the adrenaline started to ramp up. The next event for guests to attend and compete in was the ATV/UTV Drag Race. Ripping into a strip of dirt about half a football field long, ATVs and UTVs took their chance to take home the bag. The energy of the crowd grew stronger as the engines got louder, and the horsepower rose higher. Towards the last few runs, it was hard to even hear the cars over the screaming and cheering of the crowd.
With the afternoon heat getting to the point of unbearable, visitors took to the beach for some cooling off. A cannonball contest kept the energy going and an old-fashioned beer truck kept the thirst quenched. Everyone spent the rest of the afternoon riding through the dirt, splashing through the ponds, and getting stuck in the mud. These are the activities that give these events their unique atmosphere and rousing fun.
Following the setting sun, we tailed the crowds to the grassy fields for some more live music as the Plott Hounds band took to the stage. Another night of deep country rhythms closed out the final event for the day, but the fun didn’t stop there. Guests rode away and headed to the Chalet bar to finish off the night with some classic comradery. A couple of cold beverages and some groovy tunes acted as a perfect night cap, leading the grounds into silence as riders rested up for an even more action-packed day to follow.
One element of off-road rallies that regulars probably look over by now is the sheer uniqueness of the event. And I don’t mean that by the actual scheduled events, but more what happens in-between the main activities. And it’s only just begun!
A stormy morning awakening to day three at High Lifter Off-Road Rally raised some concerns as dark clouds and high winds rolled in. Luckily, most of the damage was a few mangled canopies, however, the storm didn’t leave without taking any victims. After standing strong and bringing gifts to guests for two solid days, the beloved prize wheel stood no longer after being taken out by the wind. Giveaways continued, though the wheel’s roll ended that morning.
Enter the Obstacle Course. Machines raced through a winding course, starting with a section of deep water-filled trenches. The first few contestants lost their momentum here, underestimating the difficulty and depth of the troughs. Once a strategy was figured out, riders made easy work of the first obstacle, moving onto the tire mound, and then crushed their way over a couple old cars.
The atmosphere of this event felt like a monster truck rally. Fans roared over the carnage with their UTVs parked all around the hills lining the course, creating a makeshift stadium with engines as bleachers.
The next obstacle took down the first few riders that ran through it. Piles of logs stacked high proved to be too much for most of the shorter cars and many of the tall ones as well. Riders had the option to skip the obstacle for a time penalty, which was the safer bet for many participants. A final splash through a small mud hole ended the course and set the time to beat. The excitement didn’t end here, as a widely anticipated event was up next.
Arguably one of the highlights of any mud event, the Bounty Hole attracted the biggest crowd yet. Three deep mud pools took many victims, with speed, strategy, build, and pure guts being your only ticket to the end. While some cars were wildly victorious, others forced the excavator to roll in for the rescue. Despite the outcome of each run, spectators went wild no matter what. The intoxicating energy of the crowd forced you to join in on the cheering, as there ain’t nothing quite like some mud slingin’ good times.
Matt Farris, who led the national anthem before events, held the stage with his band on night three. With all the exciting events that filled day three, Mr. Farris was still able to top it all and get the crowd dancing like no other. After the show, visitors followed Matt to Vendor Village, ending off the night with a bonfire, more dancing, drinking, and mingling. See you tomorrow for day four.
One would think after three hard days of riding and partying, the masses would be fairly wiped out. Maybe a surprise to some, but that wasn’t the case for day four at High Lifter Off-Road Rally.
The last rounds of draw-from-a-hat giveaways, in place of the beloved prize wheel, saw some big winners. We watched helmets, light bars, gifts cards, and even full-size branded coolers go away to some lucky winners. After all there was to give away, it was time for some real action. Sled Pull time baby!
Pushing their machines to the literal max, contestants ripped through the dirt towing a wacky-looking truck. A sled, dubbed the Iron Pony, held massive amounts of weight on a cart that was able to slide back and forth. With the cart starting near the rear of the sled, ATVs and UTVs gave it their all. It seemed relatively easy at first, though their momentum didn’t last long.
As they red-lined their way down the stretch, the cart slid forward, digging the front of the sled even further into the ground. The ATVs were first to go. Not having too much weight to carry, the 4-wheelers were able to get to the end with some horsepower to spare. The UTV class didn’t have it as easy. Capping out at 1600 lbs. of additional iron, riders slowly crawled to a stop as their wheels ripped into the dirt. Losing every bit of momentum before reaching the end, the drivers and their cars were forced to stop and give up. Only true power shined through and made it further than the rest, a real show of force.
After the last contestant tried their luck at the Sled Pull, folks hit the trails and mud pools for some fun before the REAL adrenaline revved up. The late afternoon gave guests the last and arguably most dangerous event of the week.
The ATV Big Air Tour set up for their ATV, MX, BMX, and RZR Freestyle show. Professional riders sent it big off ramps reaching 10-feet in height, flying over 60 feet to a huge inflatable landing. 360s, supermans, moto whips, and backflips, galore! Riders and their machines flew through the air, wowing the crowd with years of practice and experience. But not all went as easy as you would think…
Everything must go perfect for a rider to make it across smoothly. The take-off, the trick, and the landing all must be calculated perfectly to ensure a safe landing. One of those goes wrong, and you can guess the rest.
A bad landing tossed a pro and his bike to the ground, sliding across the rough gravel. The crowd went silent as they watched the hair-raising fall. Miraculously making it out with just a couple bloody elbows, the rider got right back on the bike like it was no big deal and sent it even harder; an impressive sight to see nonetheless.
Throwing things at a rider midair seems dangerous and irresponsible, right? Well, that’s exactly what ATV Big Air let guests do in a game of ATV Tennis. Connect a tennis ball with a pro as he flew over 50 feet through the air, and you could win some prizes! You couldn’t help but feel like you were doing something EXTREMELY stupid, which made it all the more fun!
To end the show, they gave us something many people have never seen before. A RZR took flight and sent it across the massive gap! Having shot it short and crashing the last time they tried it, it was a risky jump. Though luck and skill were on their side this time, making it across without a problem. A few fortunate people were even able to join the thrill in the passenger seat!
After the fun, a final night of live music with Mitch Gordon – who absolutely slayed on the harmonica, and partying at the chalet bar ended the fantastic four-day event. The Debut of High Lifter Off-Road Rally in Minnesota went beautifully thanks to all the amazing people who came together to make it happen. See you next year riders!
The one question I always get from friends after off-road rallies is something along the line of “what is it?,” or “what do you do there?”. It’s something that newcomers don’t see right away, but it can be compared to really any event, whether it be a music festival, art show, or dangerously good mac-n-cheese fest. All these events have their own unique culture in which people become a part of, allowing them to thrive and be around people with similar interests, even if it is cheese! That’s just what off-road rallies are about. People of different backgrounds come from all over to get dirty and have fun with the company of thousands of other people that share the same love. This gathering of like-minds creates an environment that facilitates a filthy yet beautiful culture. It’s something that can’t be described and must be experienced first-hand.