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2009 Ultimate Adventure Midwest Four Wheeling

Posted in Events on November 1, 2009
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Photographers: 4-Wheel & Off-Road Staff

Every wheeling trip is an adventure. Whether it's the last-minute scramble to meet your buddies at the local mud hole or being broken on the trail and in need of that one tool you managed to leave back home, chaos seems to shadow most off-road journeys. It's these very trips that our campfire stories are built from. For true adventure seekers, we have created the off-road trip of a lifetime, the Ultimate Adventure.

For those of you who've been stuck living in your parents' basement for the last decade, please allow us to fill you in on how the Ultimate Adventure (UA) has evolved into one of the most incredible wheeling trips to span the nation. The fundamentals of the trip involve traversing a thousand miles of rock, mud, and sand trails and contending with big bugs, bears, camping, little bugs, freeways, highways, and two-lane backwoods roads to view the scenic countryside. Participants include sponsors, a few cronies we can't seem to shake, the 4-Wheel & Off-Road staff, a video crew so we can prove it happened, and most importantly about half a dozen die-hard readers that have been handpicked to participate.

There's no fancy support rig to help you fix your truck when you break it (no trailers allowed), climate control is provided by Mother Nature, and you and your rig must be self-sufficient for the entire trip. There is a mindset that you learn to live by on UA: Wheel for the week, not for the day. That being said, there are no bypasses or excuses, and above all, no whiners!

The original jeep was created by the American Bantam Car Company of Butler, Pennsylvania. Of the 30-35 known to still exist, two reside at the Butler County Heritage Center. Local historian Lee Bortmas gave us the full story on the role of Bantam in the development of the jeep.

Leading this medley of off-road enthusiast is our editor in chief, Rick Pw, who has coordinated this logistical nightmare for the last nine years and who took the helm of this year's Ultimate Adventure Super Duty. Dubbed the Ultimate Ranch Truck, the UA Super Duty was the result of many long and dedicated hours spent by an amazing crew of fabricators at the official build shop, Offroad Design, and by project manager Kevin McNulty.

Marking the 10th year of the adventure, we found ourselves on a three-state tour of the Midwest. Starting off in Butler, Pennsylvania, we set our sails to the northwest and churned our way through Ohio to end in Michigan's picturesque Drummond Island. A caravan of approximately 18 well-built rigs spent a solid week pushing through some of the toughest trails that the heavily wooded Midwest parks had to offer. From rollovers and incredible truck-devouring obstacles to the rolling countryside cut by the southern tip of the glacial retreat many lifetimes ago, this year's trip proved to be one of the best yet.

Follow along as we document the first half of the journey and be sure to check out next month's issue as we pick up on Day 5 of the Ultimate Adventure!

Day 1: Saturday, July 4
Check In Or Else!
Sometimes just getting to the start of the Ultimate Adventure is a challenge. With rigs cruising in from all over the country, Saturday check-in and vehicle inspection is usually a day filled with a mix of last-minute welding, fixing, and wrenching.

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While each participant was slowing rolling into the Day's Inn parking lot in Butler, Pennsylvania, we were treated to an important history lesson. We know what you're thinking. Who wants a history lesson while you're getting your 4x4 ready to wheel? Well, if you know your Jeep history then you've probably figured out the significance of Butler. It's not only a nice little town, but the birthplace of the vehicle that went on to become the Jeep.

Although Willy's received the military contract, the first jeep was designed and built by the American Bantam Car Company in August 1940. Working with the military, Bantam went on to produce 2,675 jeeps. Only about 30-35 are believed to still exist. If you'd like to know more about the Bantam and are in the area, swing by the Butler County Heritage Center for more firsthand history and an informative tour. While there, you can see an actual Bantam jeep and view the original factory.

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Getting your vehicle inspected by us is likely worse than your local smog checkup. We don't let anything slide. From current registration, insurance, and plates to battery hold-downs, rollcages, and a winch, it all has to be there and in working order to go on the trip.

In the history of Ultimate Adventure we're not sure if there has ever been a more catastrophic breakage on the first day. After destroying the rear ring-and-pinion on House Rack, Clifton Slay opted to pull the full-float shafts out and drive the CJ-7 back to camp to replace the gearset. Before he could get the CJ back to the hotel parking lot the transfer case locked up, which in turn snapped the output shaft on the transmission. This was the end of the CJ's UA run. Luckily Tech Editor Fred Williams had an extra seat in the Fun Buggy so Slay could continue on the journey.

Day 2: Sunday, July 5
Outback Off Road Adventure Park
The first trail day of the adventure is always the most anticipated. Generally it's not the most difficult compared to what lies ahead, but it gives the group a chance to see everyone's rig in action and shake out a few nerves. Think of it like the butterflies you had the first day of school. Everyone wants to have a great first day, but you know there's always that one kid that spills milk on the front of his pants at lunch, and you hope that it's not you.

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With lunch packed in the coolers and tanks full of fuel, we headed to Outback Off Road Adventure Park in Six Points, Pennsylvania. Open to the public by appointment only, the park has a rich mix of scenic and challenging trails suitable for stock to heavily modified rigs. With their geographical cues taken from the massive glaciers that tumbled the terrain many moons ago, the tight and windy trails will keep you on your toes, especially if you're navigating a fullsize rig.

Day 2 Damage
Broken window: Hobart JK
Busted ring-and-pinion: Slay CJ
Blown transfer case and transmission: Slay CJ
Broken tie rod end: DeMarco Grand Cherokee
Body damage: Hobart JK, UA Super Duty, Slay CJ, K&N Jeepster, Light Force TJ
Steering gear box: Williams Fun Buggy

Though most of our UA participants were running 37-inch and larger Goodyear MT/Rs, the light moss on the rocks and the brown soupy mud made the Porcupine Trail ride a genuine challenge and a blast to watch. Navigating us through the massive rocks and twisty creek beds were Rob and Terri Grinnik of Meridian Off Road Center in Butler. The park is owned by Rob and Terri along with Chuck Greenlee, and they, with a handful of helpers and trailbuilders, led us through the obstacle.

The pride of the park is the massive House Rock obstacle, standing roughly the size of a two-story house. Each wheeler got three tries to make it up. While some of our crew put their Warn winches to good use, a few managed to make it up with ease. The final obstacle was the rock strewn Snake trail, which cause even more carnage before the day was over

After a fitting first-day trail and amazing time, we all aired up and headed back for a late-night bite to eat and our last night in the hotel room.

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Day 3: Monday, July 6
Dollar School
After a great day of wheeling we said goodbye to the hotel room and hello to the four nights of camping ahead. Although we were told that this would simply be a road day to cover a few hundred miles of ground, the old cronies know that there is no such thing as just a road day. It was no surprise to them when less than an hour into our trek we pulled into a field for an impromptu wheeling session. Fully loaded with camping gear, spare parts, and a week's worth of supplies, those who still had the option to lock in their hubs did so, and we dropped into the Coal Mine trail at Rob Grinnik's property.

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Surrounded by incredible green foliage, we slipped our way through the trees and the western Pennsylvania vegetation. After a relatively short trail came the final obstacle, and the only way to exit was to blast up an incredibly slick hill. To conquer the obstacle, two very distinctive and simple techniques were used: lots of skinny pedal or simply pull cable, and let the Warn winch do the work.

Exiting the property we made our way back onto the road and down a trail of a more historic nature. Formed in 1753, the Washington Trail is a nice drive through the countryside that offers you a bit of historical insight and amazing visuals of how the glaciers formed the land.

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Passing through the Amish countryside it didn't take long before we crossed over into Ohio. Lined with steel mills new and old, there was a healthy mix of big industry and mom-and-pop operations.

Not much longer into our drive we pulled into a muddy side road through a gate and Editor Pw took us on a mud-whompin' swamp trail that he swears he had never been on. At the end we heard banjo music and saw some strange sights, but still escaped to the main wheeling area.

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Day 3 Damage
Rear ring-and-pinion: UA Super Duty
ICP sensor: UA Super Duty

Waiting for us through the woods was a group of fun loving wheelers at JeepSkool. Hidden away in the backwoods of Ohio, JeepSkool is an off-road park that caterers to wheelers of all types. Designed with a mix of man-made obstacles and naturally tight and windy trails, there is something here for the buggy to the basic trail beater. Kelly Haylett runs the park with the help of his JeepSkool crew, and they were more than accommodating to our UA pupils.

What was supposed to be a quick trip through the trails of JeepSkool turned into an overnight camping trip when our lead Ultimate Adventure Super Duty decided to grenade the rear gearset.

With a game plan to fix the Super Duty in the works, the rest of the adventure group set up camp and told tall tales around the fire late into the night. What would tomorrow bring? Not even Pw could have guessed the new addition to the trip.

The locals let us loose on a waterfall trail that had been closed for five years. The slick rock and jagged ledges were tough for even some of the longer wheelbases to overcome. Terra Hagel and her K&N-sponsored retro mod '69 Jeepster made a valiant attempt at the climb, but the high revs and a jagged edge cut her attempt short.

Day 4: Tuesday, July 7
The Tortoise And The Hare Scramble
With the Super Duty down for the count and parts on the way, we regrouped while the old UA cronies cooked up some Spam-and-egg breakfast burritos for those brave enough to try one. Loaded up with plenty of Gatorade and water donated by Haylett's Convenience Store, we aired up and set out for another road and trail day.

As it goes with the Ultimate Adventure the participants never know what's going to happen or where exactly they'll end up. So when nearly two dozen rigs stopped on the side of the road to look at a $500 '90 F-250 that caught Pw's eye, it was no surprise to us. Andrew Schirf (owner of the truck) and his family, on the other hand, didn't know what to think. Can you imagine bartering over your beater pickup with 50 people? And don't forget we're filming this Ohio family as we try and strike a deal! Let's just say that we're no Publishers Clearing House. Though the F-250 had some questionable "fixes," Pw was happy to have a new truck to lead the group with. Pw ran down the road, got plates and insurance, and off we went with a new lead truck dubbed the Whopper Jr. since the Whopper (aka the Ultimate Super Duty) was being fixed

Wheeling into the night was no problem, as we had the crew from Light Force to brighten up everyone's wheeling experience. Chris Corbett and Chris Begley's Light Force TJ used a healthy mix of wheel speed and momentum to get around the loose dirt and steep inclines of the park and managed to end the day with practically zero issues.

Back on the highway we set our sights on Painted Rock Adventure Park near Somerset, Ohio. Created by off-road enthusiast Ralph Painter, the private park is now open only for special events and Ralph's own tour, the Ohio Adventure, held every July. With our gear unloaded we headed straight to the trailhead for an afternoon filled with twisting trails and plenty of off-camber obstacles.

Over the course of the Ultimate Adventure, obstacles range in difficulty, but generally the off-road challenges increase as the trip progresses. Since the Painted Rock crew knew that we would have some experienced drivers and well-built rigs with us, they set us up for a little surprise by opening the waterfall trail that's been closed for five years. Our group not only had the opportunity to chew up some fresh terrain, but the first one to conquer the obstacle at the end of the trail got to name it!

Always up for the challenge, Tom Boyd in his Bruiser buggy was the first to attack the slimy and jagged fall. Spotted by UA veteran Keith Bailey, Boyd was the first person to conquer the falls and decided to name it Turtle Head Hill. We think the name stems from his love of turtles, but it could have something to do with the "pucker" factor as well.

Day 4 Damage
Body Damage: Cooper Tundra, DeMarco Grand Cherokee
Cut tires: Durham TJ, K&N Jeepster, DeMarco Grand Cherokee, Cooper Tundra

With Boyd's success came a line of rigs shooting to be the next to conquer the waterfall. While a few other rigs managed to claw their way out, the extremely sharp and jagged extruding rocks sent many rigs limping off the trail.

As night time called an end to our day, we slowly made our way back to camp. Waiting for us was the UA Super Duty sitting next to the Hobart Welders support trailer. The good news is that the truck drove to the park using only front-wheel drive with no issues; the bad news is that they received the wrong pinion bearing and would be out of the trip for a little while longer. With reader Kevin Stearns, the Watsons, and Hobart offering to stay back with the rig, we all grabbed a little shuteye under the starry sky.

UA '09 DVD Ordering info
Only $17.95 plus shipping and handling.
Order by phone or online at:

National Tire & Wheel

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