Exploring the backroads of Ocala National Forest with the Ocala Jeep Club.
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Jeeps rule. Just ask any member of the Ocala Jeep Club of Florida, and theyll tell you that. Theyll also elaborate on it if you wish, because after all, they are a Jeep club, and the vehicle theyre loyal to is no secret.
The seven-year-old club was formed in December of 1995 when Steve and Tammy Felder gathered a handful of Jeeps for the purpose of viewing the Christmas lights around Ocala, Florida. From this modest beginning, the Ocala Jeep Club of Florida was formed. The club now includes more than 100 members, and prides itself on being extremely active with trailrides, camping trips, show-and-shines, and even simple trips to the beach. Theyre United States Forest Service Volunteer Rangers, founding members of the Florida Four-Wheel Drive Association, and United Four-Wheel Drive Association and Blue Ribbon Coalition members. They make it very clear that theirs is a family-oriented club. We witnessed that when we visited one of their club meetings and saw all the kids in attendance and how things were geared to include all of the members of the family. Make no mistake though, they take their Jeeping very seriously, and the collection of member vehicles includes a vast variety of models, vintages, and build levels.
It was a warm, humid morning when we met up with the group on club member Ernie Prevedels heavily wooded land outside of Ocala. Even for December it was unusually warm, according to locals, and judging by the aggressive activity of the mosquitoes, they felt the same way. As club members began to arrive for our day-long run, we were treated to Jeeps On Parade, and it was something to see as Jeeps of all varieties filled the parking area. After club President Ray Woo made his arrival in his meticulously restored 83 Cherokee Chief, our group took a bearing on the Ocala National Forest for a day of trailriding.
Ocala National Forest is a stunning expanse of land that covers 383,220 acres and features a stunning array of highlands, coastal lowlands, swamps, springs, lakes, and ponds. Vegetation ranges from lush subtropical to prairie. There are towering palms, large live oaks, a dizzying number of palmettos, and many varieties of pine, including longleaf, slash, and sand. All this combines to create trailriding that is absolutely gorgeous, with corresponding aromas for a truly great experience (preferably enjoyed with the top down). Our trail leader was the aforementioned Ernie Prevedel, who is a life-long resident of the area. He knows every nook and cranny of Central Florida, including Ocala National Forest, so he was the obvious best choice to lead our group through the intertwining (and often confusing) old logging roads of the Forest. For the next seven hours we encountered a phenomenal amount of water, sand, and mud. Heavy rain had created a significant amount of standing water in some areas, so much so that even our group of heavily modified Jeeps didnt dare test the depths.
Speaking of high water, we asked the Floridians how they handle high water crossings with their Jeeps, and interestingly, they said they avoid them as much as possible, but if one must traverse deep water, they say a snorkel and a waterproofed engine are essentials. Ground clearance and aggressive tires are key, and both items work together to allow vehicles to continue forward motion. After a number of muddy obstacles, a couple of members Jeeps began to run hot as their radiators clogged with mud. This is to be expected, and the remedy was a simple rinse with clean water to return them to normal operating temperature.
Riding with the Ocala Jeep Club of Florida was a blast, the scenery awesome, and the people friendly. If you own a Jeep and want more info on this growing, active club and its many trailrides, visit the clubs Web site at www.ocalajeepclub.com.