Busted knuckles, metal splinters, cuts, bruises, sleepless nights, and corneal flash burns-if you have as much adventure flowing through your veins as we do, then you would understand why we endure the pain to fulfill our passions. We dedicate months of our time to never-ending projects, spend piles of money, and exert exceptional amounts of effort preparing physically, mentally, and mechanically for the greatest event of the year, the Ultimate Adventure-it's a vicious cycle.
The Ultimate Adventure is a four-wheel event like no other. It's the heavyweight title bout of four-wheeling. Over the years the event has become the passion of Editor-in-Chief Rick Pw. When it was started it was patterned after his lifestyle of four-wheel adventures with his friends. When we sat down this year to plan the Ultimate Adventure, we scoured our maps and called out-of-state contacts looking for trails that would give our four-wheeling cohorts and selected readers participating in the event something to brag about. The staff at Petersen's can assure you that no stone goes unturned when we're searching the country for tough and interesting trails. One day Rick just disappeared, only to reappear a week later. Once we had him seated behind his desk, he began regaling us with tales of extreme trails, vast expanses of open range, one dead deer, a smashed Grand Cherokee, and metal monsters alongside the highway (see page 96). What did this all mean? We had ourselves an adventure to prepare for.
So who gets to go on this raucous dirt and rock pilgrimage? None other than the adventure-loving advertisers that sponsor the trip, a few lucky readers, the magazines editorial, art, and advertising staff, a tight-knit group of the original UA cronies, and a film crew. This year we had 48 people in attendance, 17 trail rigs, and a few chase vehicles like the cool BFGoodrich tractor-trailer loaded with spare KM2 Mudd Terrains. This mishmash of trail vehicles included a mix of old Jeeps, new Jeeps, trucks, rock buggies, a classic Ford Bronco, a Toyota Tundra, a Suzuki Samurai, a Geo Tracker, a Sidekick, and the pinnacle of the Ultimate Adventure-our Super Sleeper UA Z71.
In its ninth year, the Ultimate Adventure is a weeklong four-wheeling event that consists of driving thousands of miles of highway-with responsible four-wheel hooligans-to find and conquer challenging trails. Now that scenario may sound straightforward and simple, but throw in some trail disasters, vehicle breakdowns and recovery, chasing replacement parts, inclement weather, and a lot of tall tales around the campfire at night, and it makes for one heck of a slow-rolling good time
What's it like building a UA vehicle? Any one of the Ultimate Adventure participants will tell you that building a UA vehicle is a time-consuming, tedious, and slightly frustrating endeavor. The pride and joy of the magazine, the amazing UA Z71, was built in three months by Mel Wade and his staff at Off-Road Evolution. Mel and his posse swarmed the truck daily, his mechanical engineer slaving away in CAD creating suspension parts, while his top fabricators worked on the truck around the clock. Three days before the Ultimate Adventure, Feature Editor Ali Mansour and Mel pulled a few all-night wrenching sessions trying to finish the rig. It wasn't until the drive to UA that either one of them stole some sleep. This is typical of the other drivers and participants. Some of them rolled into the parking lot at the meeting place in South Dakota only to fall out of their vehicle's door, grab their tool bags, and start working on their rigs again while trying to meet the vehicle inspection deadline.
This year, the Ultimate Adventure began in Sturgis, South Dakota, made its way up through North Dakota, headed west through Montana, south through Wyoming, and then continued on down to Colorado for one last day of ultimate wheeling. The final destination was more than 1,400 miles away from our starting point and ended in an amazing new off-road park created by local four-wheelers and the BLM in Rangely, Colorado.
In between, we negotiated some incredible trails, met some very affable local four-wheel club members who helped lead us on their local turf, and enjoyed their down-home hospitality. It's hard for all of us to believe that this year's Ultimate Adventure is over. Regrettably, at the end of the day we packed our gear, shook hands, said our goodbyes, and then headed home only to lust for next year's event.
Day 1: Saturday, July 5
The Meet Up-Sturgis, South Dakota
Most of us had just about a year to prepare ourselves and our machines for the Ultimate Adventure. That sounds easy, right? Let us tell you that when you're preparing for an event like this, things just don't fall together as simply as you'd like them to. Think about it: Throw in a few of life's daily distractions and obligations like jobs, family, building a 4x4 from the ground up, and faulty and missing parts and you find yourself in a pickle.
Surprisingly, when July 5 rolled around the UA participants started arriving at the Days Inn parking lot on schedule. Almost everyone made the 2 p.m. deadline for Pw's vehicle and safety equipment inspection. This is where Rick turns into the nicest master gunnery sergeant you would ever want to meet. He has to transform his charismatic and casual personality into something a little more authoritative in order to keep our ragtag bunch of four-wheelers in line and adhere to a strict itinerary.
Otherwise, we would probably sit around the parking lots and campfires drinking beer and telling lies. Now don't get us wrong about Rick. Once he takes his drill instructor campaign hat off at the end of a long day on the trail, he's just one of the guys.
Day 2: Sunday, July 6
Wheeling the Black Hills National Forest
The trails in the Black Hills are famous for being extremely challenging, and when we say "challenging" we mean they have the ability to rip a vehicle apart if it's not properly built and protected. If a driver doesn't have the skills to negotiate these extreme trails and their menacing obstacles, the vehicle will be destroyed. These trails have moxie and they will bite back. Day two of Ultimate Adventure was spent on Hal John's Trail and led by Jason Paule and Chris Hunt from Twisted Customs, and some members of the Black Hills 4 Wheelers. This was a great day on the trail. Jason and Chris led us into Hal John's trail, which is solid rock from start to finish and includes some incredible waterfall climbs.
Every participant of Ultimate Adventure is a highly skilled four-wheeler, and we can confidently call each and every one of these guys a professional off-highway driver without any hesitation. But on Sunday morning we noticed them impatiently waiting around like schoolchildren in their last day of class before summer break. As Rick gave his morning driver's meeting and laid down the law, rules, and safety concerns, we think most of the guys were mentally in their rigs and driving down the road to the trailhead.
Hal John's trail is a dry creek bed in a heavily wooded narrow canyon. It starts as a small boulder field, with rocks ranging in size from 1 to 3 feet in height. However, the trail quickly and progressively becomes more difficult. It's a never-ending maze of rocks from one end to the other and made our progress seem like we were making our way down the trail inch by inch. Quite a few massive rocks the size of large trucks were thrown in just for good measure. These obstacles made some of the drivers say to themselves, "Errr, OK, what do I do now?"
Although many guys were running 40-inch BFG M2 M-Ts, it wasn't uncommon for them to have to winch their vehicle forward because their rig was high-centered. This trail literally possesses the potential and tenacity to eat a vehicle alive. The saving grace of Hal John's is that an easier road runs alongside the trail, making vehicle recovery and extraction somewhat easier. Three UA participant vehicles, including the Super Sleeper UA Z71, had to drop out of formation and head back to town for emergency repairs while the rest continued on.
By the end of the day, we had 26 instances of breakage and carnage, ranging in severity. Most of the crew didn't make it back to the hotel until after dark, and just before a severe storm and flash flood warning was sent out by the local news agencies. The most severe damage was incurred by John Lambert's '93 Suzuki Sidekick, which lost a rear ring-and-pinion and TH350. When he was backing his rig up to the BFG trailer to repair the damaged ring-and-pinion, the transmission mysteriously went out. Luckily the guys from Twisted Customs helped John find the right transmission, freshly built and sitting on the shelf and ready to go. Working all through the night, John and his father Gary were able to catch up with rest of the group the following day.
Tim Hardy: Broken hub spring, popped tire bead
Fred Perry: Side flop, transmission leak, coolant line leaking, broken lower link bracket, rear driveshaft U-joint lost on highway, fuel-pump wire meltdown, shattered driver-side window
Patrick Deming: Rear Air Locker line plugged
UA Z71: steering-box sector shaft broken teeth, destroyed rear driveshaft
Jonathan Cooper: Cut tire, broken caliper bracket and brake line fitting
Nate Williams: Two broken rear shock-mount eyelets
John Lambert: Broken rear ring-and-pinion and transmission
Tom Boyd: Sliced tire, broken hood latch, broken lower control-arm bolt
Jeff Mello: Broken winch line
Mark Brancieri: Broken winch line
Tom Allen: Ripped off front fender flare
Keith Bailey: Wheel beadlock rebuild
A day on the trail is tough on editors. We usually exert more energy in one day than we do all month, chasing rigs up and down the trail trying to get the best photography. It's especially hard getting up after a good hot lunch. Somehow we lucked out and Brad Wagner, owner of the Pizza Place in Lusk, Wyoming, catered the trail lunch and fed everyone in attendance some amazing calzones. Everything tastes better outdoors. Somewhere along the Hal John's trail Rick Pw and Fred Williams sat down for a break. We could have sworn we heard the thoughts in their heads. Fred: "Damn that was the best calzone ever. I need to find that guy and eat another one." Rick: "Mmmm, that sure was scrumptious. I could go for a nap right about now. No, better yet, a frosty cold Corona."
Day 3: Monday, July 7
Pounding The Pavement-From Sturgis To The North Dakota Badlands
It's no secret that this group is a bunch of automotive fanatics. We love fossil-fuel-propelled vehicles with solid axles and a transfer case, and that includes using them for long road trips through the middle of nowhere. Day 3 of the Ultimate Adventure was spent traveling across the Great Plains from Sturgis, South Dakota, to Dale Hagen's small ranch in the Badlands of North Dakota. Now don't get us wrong. When we say "small ranch," we only meant that it was small in comparison to some other ranches in his neighborhood. Dave's ranch is 3.5 sections. One section equals one square mile and is 640 acres. That's 2,240 acres of Hagen property. To us city folk that's impressive.
Our more than 200-mile drive north wasn't uneventful. Since none of the vehicles are allowed to be hauled from point to point by trailer, mechanical things just give up, especially since we wheeled the heck out of our vehicles the day before. Some of the lucky few in the crew actually got to repair a few minor parts alongside the highway. Tim Hardy had a rear axle bearing seize up on his Samurai just outside Sturgis.
Now that's not a tough repair under ordinary circumstances, but the bearing fused with the axleshaft, making a simple roadside repair difficult. As we careened down the highway, the constant chatter of CB static made it feel as though the UA crew were the 1st Armored Division making its way to Bagdad through the desert. The garbled transmission of the radio could barely be made out. Between the crackling static we could occasionally make something out about a vehicle dropping out of formation and needing assistance. "Roger that. Another vehicle dropped. Fall back with them and make sure they are OK, and get them back on the road ASAP."
Our first stop was the little town of Regent, North Dakota, for lunch. They knew we were coming and rolled out the red carpet. Regent is a great little place to spend some downtime relaxing and having a good lunch. The town was also our turnoff for the Enchanted Highway so we could confront Rick's giant metal highway monsters. The creatures are actually part of a collection of the world's largest metal sculptures. They were placed alongside the highway by their creator, Gary Greff, to boost tourism in the area and help the struggling little town survive (www.enchantedhighway.net). The town of Regent was founded in 1910 and is just a dot on the map. A great majority of Main Street is now an incredible museum, which includes the general store, doctor's office, a schoolhouse, and a large building that now houses artifacts, knickknacks, and farm gadgets from life in the early 1900s.
Day 4, Tuesday July 8
Amazing Trails In The Badlands of North Dakota
The Badl ands of North Dakota is sparsely populated, and during our drive across this amazing territory we didn't see much of anything except a few small towns and ranches. The shear vastness of the Great Plains for some of us was almost incomprehensible, from horizon to horizon, as far as the eye could see, there's nothing but grasslands. To a traveling group of adventurers this means remote trails, and lots of them. Our guides for the day were Dave Shroyer, Pat Helgeson, and ranch owner Dale Hagen. They led us on the Walker and Northwest Passage Trails. Both of these trails start just a short distance from the front door of the Hagen ranch house, and not too far away from the Teddy Roosevelt National Park.
The Dakota Badlands is amazing country and it's as replete in archeology, geography, and geology as the trails are challenging. The trails on Dale's ranch are steep and will throw a vehicle off chamber when least expected. The terrain is extremely unique, and the trails wind their way through canyons that have been shaped and sculpted by thousands of years of erosion. The area reminded some of us of Truckhaven Hills near the Salton Sea in Southern California. Making this area even more intriguing is the fact that it's littered with petrified wood and remnants of prehistoric fossils. This is also dinosaur country, and it wasn't hard to let our imaginations run wild when we weren't trying to keep our rigs right side up. The thought of stumbling across a Tyrannosaurus Rex skull had some scanning the sides of the trails.
Joining us on the trail were some of the members of the local Cliffhangers Jeep club. They told us that the Walker Trail was so aptly named because their women usually jumped out of the rigs and walked it. We could see why. Some of the more difficult obstacles could roll a vehicle in a flash, and that's a multiple roll. Then there were major sinkholes everywhere, in some cases right in the middle of the trail. Unfortunately, due to fuel-delivery problems the first vehicle to drop out of the pack was our beloved UA Z71.
It seems that the pick-up inside the fuel cell was placed in the wrong position between the foam baffles by the manufacturer. When the rig was in certain downhill off-chamber positions the fuel pump starved. Mel Wade, Ali Mansour, and Clifton Slay jumped into action, ripped the tank apart, removed some of the foam, and zip-tied a wrench to the pick-up to weigh it down. This fix worked like a charm and the UA Z71 was back on the trail and finished this trail and adventure without incident.
A person can judge the difficulty levels of a trail by how long it actually takes them to complete. We spent a good majority of the day wheeling these two trails and never really traveled more than a couple miles. By late afternoon we straggled back to camp for an incredible BBQ dinner hosted by Dave Shroyer and Pat Helgeson.
We can't thank our hosts enough for their warm hospitality and expert trail leadership. After knocking back some cold brews, the crew of UA settled in for another night of wrenching repairs, tall tales, and lighthearted hi jinks. Some of us were able to catch a little sleep in Dale's pasture before we woke early the next morning and headed a few hundred miles away to our next wheeling destination in Wyoming.
The North Dakota Badlands are amazing, and the wheeling is even more spectacular. The crew found countless sections of the trail that were challenging for both the rig and driver. At the end of the day it was tough pulling ourselves away from the Badlands trails on Dale Hagen's ranch. But we could smell the killer BBQ grub waiting for us back at camp. Our trail leaders and local businessmen Dave Shroyer, owner of Williston Tire Center, and Pat Helgeson, owner of Custom Welding, hosted yet another fine meal for us. As a typical end to the day on the Ultimate Adventure, everyone settled in for a night of repairs, cold beers, and some shuteye under the stars.
Trent McGee: Broken hub
UA Z71: Fuel pick-up issue, manufacturer defect
Fred Perry: Broken spring perch, damaged track bar, broken transfer-case adapter bracket
Jonathon Cooper: Broken ring-and-pinion
Clifton Slay: Broken sideview mirror
UA '08 DVD Ordering info
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