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Ultimate Adventure 2015 Is Summer Camp for 4x4 Fiends

Posted in Events on August 24, 2015
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Photographers: 4 Wheel & Off-Road Staff

In Ultimate Adventure 2015 Appalachian Summer Camp, Part 1, we told you a little about our annual off-road event. We select readers, company sponsors, old cronies, and a few magazine staff live out of, drive, and wheel extreme off-road rigs for a week. With a "summer camp for dirt heads" atmosphere, the adventure is guided by our own head camp counselor, Rick Péwé. He is the only person who knows where we are going. That means our route is never straight or short, but we are sure to see some unique things along the way. On road days we travel mostly on paved routes, but we are ready to expect anything because dirt roads can be shortcuts. Trail days mean the group had better be ready to tackle off-road trails in rock, mud, trees, or sand.

Since the Ultimate Adventure is a weeklong event, we break the coverage up into two installments so none of the action gets missed. In Part 1 we covered vehicle check-in and Days 1 through 3. We saw plenty of action from mud to rocks with our fair share of breakage and even a vehicle or three falling on their side. In this story we catch up with the group starting on Day 4, our second road day, where we racked up some pretty serious miles exploring the Appalachian Mountains between Harlan, Kentucky, and destinations unknown.

Day 4: Second Road Day

Waking up in the beautiful fog-lined hills in camp near Harlan County, Kentucky, for the second morning meant it was time to get ready for our second road day. After the first road day lasted over 20 hours we knew to expect anything. Gambling types would bet that we would see time on a ferry (Péwé has a thing for finding and riding ferries across bodies of water) and maybe even hit a trail or two (if not an off-road park).

After packing up camp we headed for the highway trending south. A few miles down the road we found out why canoes were a requirement of UA 2015. The group pulled into a parking lot along the edge of Martins Fork Lake just south of Harlan, Kentucky. Campers unloaded their vessels and headed for the water. Canoe races were the main purpose of the first-ever UA water excursion (aside from the cool factor of 24 rigs with canoes on their roof), but things devolved into friendly sea (or is that lake?) battles. Several of the watercraft capsized with and without assistance, all in the name of good old soaking wet fun. Oddly enough this was one of the few hot and humid nonrainy mornings we experienced on the trip. The dip in the lake was well received.

Once the canoes and other nonmotorized watercraft were dry and stowed, the group headed for the Helms Ferry, which crosses the Powell River and in turn leads into Norris Dam Lake in Northern Tennessee. After crossing we grabbed some ice cream from a floating store and headed down the road while dodging rainstorms the entire time.

As night approached morning, we arrived in Murphy, North Carolina, home to the Durthamtown Tellico off-road park, set up camp, and caught some much-needed sleep. Our dreams that night were of canoe-based warfare and what tomorrow's trails might bring.

Damp Canoeligans get ready for the start of Day 4, our second road day in the hills of Harlan, Kentucky. Together with co-driver Dave Chappelle, Sam Gillis has a way of ending up as the tailgunner on the UA. That has resulted in some Alternate Adventures that only the two of them can describe well. For example, there was that one time they "camped" in the parking lot of a police station. If you ever meet these guys, get them to tell you a story.

Wednesday on the UA is Hawaiian Shirt Day. Almost no one knows why, but everyone gets to wear their favorite Hawaiian prints for a day. Some say it was to make fun of—er, pay homage to—our fearless leader, Head Counselor Rick Péwé, but that fact is difficult to confirm. This year we celebrated with a picture of everyone floating in the air. Check out those full bellies rounded with gas station junk food and Day 4's morning cups of joe.

Not long after leaving Harlan we pulled into a parking lot near Martins Fork Lake, Kentucky, where our nautical skills would soon be put to the test. For smaller rigs, like Brennan Metcalf's MB, inflatable flotation devices made sense . . . or so it seemed. At Camp Canoeligan, like many other summer camps, being different can make you stand out more as a target to the other kids—er, dirt heads.

Tim Hardy made use of the boat ramp to deliver his canoe to the lake waters on his Samuri. Many have wondered if the nimble and rusty rig with big tires would float. Fortunately for Martins Fork Lake and the Kentucky branch of the EPA we did not attempt to float the Suzuki. If it had capsized, countless fish could have used it as a home once the oils floated to the surface.

At summer camp there are always camp bullies. Editor Fred Williams and Tech Editor Verne Simons won the canoe competition by attacking most of the other boats and capsizing three times (more than anyone else). Although this picture may look like Brennan Metcalf was safe in his "different" inflatable boat, know the battle might have been over but the war was not yet won. Personal flotation devices, or PFDs, were also required for each person entering one of the boats. This was more than a good idea, as shown by the number of people who somehow fell out of their boats. Safety first.

After the Canoeligan activities we loaded up and hit the road. Somewhere in Tennessee in the middle of an epic downpour, Head Counselor Péwé found another boat we could try out. We caught a ride on the Helms Ferry, which crosses the Powell River and leads into Norris Dam Lake in Northern Tennessee.

Canoeligans rushed down to a floating general store for an ice cream sandwich, cone, or other frozen delectable as the last stragglers unloaded from the old ferry. The ferry could hold only six rigs at a time, so getting the whole group across took a while.

Road days seem to be a great time for issues to float to the surface. Bill Costa and co-driver Derrick Williams' hot rod 1946 Chevy started shedding the studs that held the Dana 60 front high-steer arms in place. The issue was noticed before all the studs broke. With a little help from new camp friends the red Chevy was road-worthy again in no time.

We've said it before and we'll say it again: Getting 25 off-road rigs and just over 50 people from point A to point B is like herding cats. Every time someone stops, hoods pop open and people head into the woods to relieve themselves. Late that night we all rolled into a campground near Murphy, North Carolina.

Day 5: Third Trail Day

Rain poured out of the North Carolina sky most of the night and into the morning. At this point the participants were wet but too tired to care. With this much rain a few of us wondered if camp and everything in it might just up and wash away, but then the sun broke from behind the clouds. As our Day 5 drivers meeting approached, soggy campers met the day and tried to prep for what was already another damp day. The good news is that it was a trail day and our Falken WildPeak MT tires were resting on dirt near Murphy, North Carolina.

The trails we would attempt are part of Durhamtown Tellico, an off-road area close to the former trails that made up the public Tellico Trail system before it was closed in 2009. Those trails will be mourned, but at least we can still play on private land in the area. The trails and area have a definite Tellico feel and are open (for a fee) to anyone with a 4x4. With trail guide Chuck Davis and a few local spotters, including Justin Byers, Tyler White, and Scott Helton in his white Bronco, we hit the slick rocks and mud of Durhamtown Tellico.

Day 5 on the trails of Durhamtown Tellico started with a bang. Somehow, despite the days and days of rain, the ground was covered in mud. Kevin Stearns used ample throttle in the BDS Crawlerado to overcome muck-coated rocks on the trail. When not covered in mud, the rocks of the area provide a fair amount of traction, but with as much rain as we'd had, mud was everywhere.

Just up the hill from the slick mud the BDS truck was mired in a large outcropping of what looked like limestone. Robert Keller's 1989 GMC V3500 made easy work of the steep and off-camber climb. We dig his rig for its simplicity. GM 1-ton axles are turned by an NP205, an SM465 granny box, and a TBI Chevy 350. The Falken WildPeak MTs most rigs were running grabbed and held the rocks with confidence despite the rain and mud, outshining the few non-Falken brand tires on UA 2015.

During a brief but heavy (and familiar) downpour of rain, Mike Kim of Offroad Power Products piloted Cooper Rasmussen's 1975 Jeep Cherokee Chief up a slightly different line. The old Chief made for a great platform for the event and, despite a few nagging issues from the rebuilt AMC 360, worked well. Kim, Rasmussen's co-driver, is also one heck of a fab guy, who while quiet knows more than you might ever guess about building off-road rigs. The OPP guys are building some cool rigs, including two other Cherokee Chiefs that we hope to see finished soon.

Hitting slick rocks while headed uphill has a way of bringing the pucker factor. The only thing that might be worse is heading down a slick muddy hill. Our fearless Freditor attacked this one slick downhill section in the Summer Camp Jeep with ease. Having a nice low rig with a wide stance makes even the most hairy lines all that much better.

After conquering the steep ups and downs in part of Durhamtown Tellico we headed to a big climb known as Winch Rock. The base of the hill was strewn with boulders. Traction was good and the driving technical. Max Dollinger piloted the Hi-Lift Jack TJ up this rocky section. Once beyond the rocks things got slick and everyone ended up on the end of a Warn winch cable at one time or another.

Beadlock wheels are not a requirement for the UA, but they are a good idea. Clark Cole contemplated the decision not to run beadlocks on Kevin Stearn's BDS Crawlerado. Sometimes you have to run tire pressures so low to get the necessary traction that slipping a bead is a given. In years past the tire gods have fought those without beadlocks. Somehow this year we got by with very few tires blown off beads.

We are not sure how Phil Pasciak was able to coax enough power out of the Toyota F2 4.2L I-6 to get his Falken WildPeak MTs to smoke as much as his tired Yota engine, but here is the evidence that it happened.

Oh, the sweet sound of that LSA revving to the moon! Fred Williams struggled towards the top of the slick hill of doom just like everyone else. Of course, he did not give up easily, and boy did he sling some mud in the attempt!

As a group we were encouraged to try different lines on Winch Rock. Chris Durham stayed to the right, where there were more rocks and less clay. The problem was that the rocks were all covered with moss and leaves, but it worked. This other line allowed Durham to avoid the slick clay that everyone else was fighting. Add in his amazing driving skills and we would have bet he would be the first if not only person to make it to the top without winching. Despite some amazing driving, Durham still had to take the winch near the top. And when he takes the cable, you can pretty much bet the obstacle is just about impossible.

Somewhere near the top of Winch Rock the Synergy Manufacturing JK blew a radiator, and we mean it blew big time. A 10-inch strip of the factory plastic tank decided it had reached its mechanical limit and divorced itself from the rest of the cooling system. The result was this steam geyser!

Day 6: Third & Final Road Day

Welcome to Camp Canoeligan! The Canoeligans started to gel as a group and even created a few lyrics for our own camp song. After a successful day on the trails of Durhamtown Tellico in the mountains of western North Carolina it was time to hit the road for more adventure. We shook off the wet tarps and rain flies and packed away our soggy camping gear in preparation for another day on the road. Our endpoint would be South Pittsburgh, Tennessee, but there was no chance that we would get there via the most direct route.

Now, if you've been paying attention you might be expecting us to visit an off-road park along the way, or at the very least find some ferry that crosses a lake or river. You would be wrong. Instead, somehow the fearless Péwé found a place where a few of us could drive a tank. Yep, a tank. Well, maybe it wasn't a tank exactly, but an armored personnel carrier is pretty close. Did we mention it could be driven in deep water and over junked cars? We need one for UA 2016, assuming it will do 55 or 60 mph on the highway.

After playing with tanks for a while we continued down the road toward South Pittsburgh, Tennessee. Somehow most of us even arrived well before midnight.

Part of what makes the UA the ultimate is that the group never knows what to expect next. Head Counselor Péwé has a knack for finding something fun and different for us to do each day. Sometimes we ride ferries, sometimes we descend like roaches on army surplus stores, and sometimes we visit off-road icons (like last year when we went to the home of Big Foot). This year we got to drive a tank. Well, two of us got to drive a tank—er, armored personnel carrier.

That's right, two lucky souls were chosen to drive the tank, though you can bet we all wanted to. The lucky Canoeligans were Erik "Cooper Smash" Rasmussen from Offroad Power Products and reader Justin "The Rev Limiter" Cardwell, owner of the white Toyota-powered Suzuki. Why? Well, in our experience Rasmussen is good at smashing things and Cardwell knows how to use the rev limiter. Entertainment ensued at the expense of a rusty old Jeep Cherokee. That's Rasmussen in the Cher wig. Why is he in a Cher wig? Because summer camp. Thanks, Tank Town USA!

Road days are a great time to switch it up a little bit. By that we mean having co-drivers jumping in another vehicle till the next stop so everybody can get to know other Canoeligans a bit better. For example, Andrew Hoit somehow figured out how to trade his co-driver Martin Castro for this blonde chick. I guess she wanted to drive his Jeep. Wait, is that a dude?

Jack Sloan's 1993 Ford Explorer is simple yet effective. The SUV still runs the factory 4.0L V-6, automatic transmission, and BorgWarner transfer case. Sloan dropped the TTB front suspension in favor of a narrowed high-pinion Dana 44 with radius arms and variable-rate front coils intended for use in a Bronco. Out back lift was achieved with a spring-over suspension. With just a few modifications where it counts the Explorer went from being a grocery getter to an Ultimate Adventure rig.

Hello small town USA, the Canoeligans are here! When the UA rolls into any small town in the U.S. we get noticed. If you ever see us, come and say hi. We are all friendly except Tom Boyd— he is really friendly. Plus, we may have extra stickers, shirts, and broken parts you can have!

Wave to the camera, Fred! Rugged Radio headsets help with communication as well as isolating the drone of highway noise for those times when we've grown weary of the tone of the LSA and 38-inch Falkens at 60 mph. Not that Williams and Simons would ever get tired of that sweet, sweet sound.

Day 7: Last Day

Someone a long time ago said, "All good things must come to an end." That guy was correct. The Ultimate Adventure is quite an experience, and UA 2015 was no different. On Day 7 the excitement was palpable as we rolled down the access road towards South Pittsburg, Tennessee, and the Adventure Off Road Park. After all, it was America's birthday, the Fourth of July. Once on the property, we gathered, dropped our canoes, and headed for the trails.

It was no surprise that the park would provide many a challenge for the experienced and soggy UA 2015 group. Our itinerary for the day included morning trail fun on slick orange clay and limestone rocks. After we cut our teeth in Tennesee muck, the folks at the Adventure Off Road Park treated us to a tasty BBQ lunch. Yummy!

After a brief drivers meeting and a little time to digest the holiday meal, we loaded up and headed back out for more rocks and mud for the perfect afternoon dirt-head dessert. While all the rigs made it to the trailhead of the last day, not all would walk . . . or drive away unscathed. A special thanks goes out to our hosts at the Adventure Off Road Park: Thomas Pickett, David Bizzell, Eddie Mosely, Doug Silvera, Tyler Garrett, and Jared Huffman.

First thing on Day 7, Robert Keller lost a front locking hub on his GMC V3500's Dana 60. We are not going to tell you who made that locking hub, but we will tell you that it was not a Warn locking hub. There is a lesson to be learned here. Warn makes great winches and some of the best locking hubs on the market.

Head Counselor Rick Péwé led us up part of the first trail of the final day of the adventure. This trail, like most of the others during UA 2015, was slick and rocky. His borrowed CJ-10, owned by co-driver Ken "Skinny Kenny" Smith, made this trail (as well as the rest of the UA) seem like a walk in the park. He was able to thrash and put his Jeep together after a few days' advance notice for the trip. The Jeep did have a few minor issues, but as we said, considering the short notice this Jeep did amazingly well. Thanks again, Ken. It was a pleasure wheeling with you.

It was somehow fitting when the air suspension on Jeffrey Corwin's Range Rover blew apart on the first trail of the last day just moments after this image was taken. It was as though the British off-road rig knew it was the Fourth of July and was willing to stand down. The modified Land Rover did admirably on the whole trip, going places it had no right to be and doing so with an indelible British flare. You British 4x4 fans, we salute you and say, "Sirs (and madams), we are quite impressed." Corwin and co-driver Chris Breidenbach were able to cobble the suspension back together enough to exit the trail under their own power, but the Rover was done for the day.

Despite the rain and slick rocks, Colorado native Steven Watson from Offroad Design made short work of this difficult obstacle. He and his dad James have been on several Ultimate Adventures and know how to build a rig that is perfect for the trip. Their lightweight square-body Chevy worked almost flawlessly all week. Their only mistake was not adding doors and a roof for the unending rain.

The last trail of the last day started off with a bang. Phil Pasciak's 1969 FJ-40 broke a rear axleshaft on a nasty climb right at the beginning of the good part of the trail. Pasciak was the second or third rig up the trail, but together with co-driver Chris Larson, these two had the old Toyota back on all fours in about 20 minutes. Like an assembly line, they pulled the broken shaft and installed a spare with a little help from their Hi-Lift jack. That's the kind of trail repair we like to see.

Fred Perry was bound and determined to get to the top of the last trail without using the cable from his or anyone else's Warn winch. His 2005 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited is built to last with a 4.0L I-6, a factory four-speed automatic, an Atlas II transfer case, and Dana 60–based Currie axles front and rear. Perry is an awesome person and an off-roading icon. We are proud to call him a friend.

The Chevy 5.3L in Chris Durham's borrowed 1979 Toyota FJ-40 was singing as he made this and other obstacles in the Adventure Off Road Park look simple. We love seeing that tire blur!

Not shy of the gas pedal either, Old Crony Sam Gillis used ample power to keep his WildPeak MT treads cleared of mud and gravel. HIs buggy is light, but a tight fit when you realize that he and co-driver Dave Chappelle have been living out of it for better than a week.

The flexy suspension under Bill Costas 1946 Chevy truck stretched its legs on one slick off-camber climb. Other than a few broken high-steer studs, the old hot rod of a truck performed well on UA 2015. We love the individuality and custom car nature of this off-road rig for many reasons, but the small body and curvy lines lend themselves to being formed into a street legal off-road buggy.

Sometimes the best plan of action is to heat up the tires and the rocks in hopes that you can get things to stick better. Justin Cardwell was not afraid to use the gas pedal in his 1994 Suzuki Sidekick. He and co-driver Joe Poisel look alike. They also have a thing for swapping Toyota drivetrains between Toyotas and into other things like the Sidekick. After seeing the Zuki work and that Toyota four-cylinder scream, we are on board with a swap like that.

Trent McGee and Tom Boyd are the only two people on the face of this planet who have been on all of the Ultimate Adventures since the first one in 1999. McGee has taken several vehicles on the UA, but this year and last he beat his tan 1989 budget Blazer up and down the trails. He can drive, and he knows how to fix stuff and get replacement parts, and if he doesn't how to fix something or get new parts, he knows whom to ask. That makes for a good person to have on the UA.

Perhaps inspired by his time behind the controls of the tank the day before, Erik "Cooper" Rasmusson was on fire behind the wheel of his 1975 Cherokee Chief. He has a reputation for breaking parts, and we are not sure how he avoided breaking the Jeep on the last day. He did end up on his side later in the day, but was ready for more as soon as the Old Cronies got him back on all fours.

VJ Perrin's Eastwood Company 1985 Chevy CUCV, powered by a 12-valve Cummins turbodiesel, was one of the last rigs on the trail as the sun began to drop behind the trees in eastern Tennessee. Perrin was hell-bent to make the last set of climbs without a winch. He did just that and also bounced several water bottles, some mayo, and even a watermelon out of his huge homebuilt bed-mounted cooler. Those of us watching the spectacle laughed and laughed. Then we grabbed a free drink and divided his delicious chilled melon amongst ourselves before he was done with his run.

Watch All the Action

Want to see all the UA action? Tune in November 16-20 on the Motor Trend channel on YouTube. The week prior (November 10), check out Dirt Every Day, also on YouTube, where we'll show you how we built the Ultimate Summer Camp Jeep.

How the UA Works

No one but the leader, Rick Péwé, knows exactly where we are going. Participants get the dates, start location, and end location, but what happens during the week in the time between is a secret. The rules are simple.

  • No whining.
  • Drink plenty of water (hydrate, hydrate, hydrate).
  • One vehicle per invitee; two people per vehicle (no kids under 18, no pets).
  • Must be self-sufficient (bring your own spare parts, fluids, tools, food, and water).
  • Expect breakage and body damage.
  • If you break down, someone with a vehicle will stay with you.
  • No tow rigs to transport trail vehicles during the event.
  • No drugs (zero tolerance). No alcohol unless we are at camp or a hotel for the night.
  • Vehicle must be road-worthy and capable of sustained highway speeds of 60 mph and a fuel range of at least 150 miles.
  • Vehicle must be street legal, plated, insured.
  • Lockers front and rear.
  • Minimum 35-inch tires.
  • Front-mounted winch and accessories (tree strap, shackles, and so on).
  • Adequate towhooks front and rear.
  • Rollcage and adequate seatbelts.
  • CB radio.
  • Parking brake.
  • Battery hold down.
  • First aid kit.
  • Fire extinguisher.
  • Spill cleanup kit and PETT kit (wagg bag, personal toilet).

If you are still reading this you might make for good Ultimate Adventure/Canoeligan material. You should eat, sleep, and breathe dirt and off-roading. If you would rather drive than sleep, can survive on gas station food, love waking early on rainy days, and would consider pooping in a bag behind a bush, maybe you ought to apply to go on Ultimate Adventure 2016. We also hope you like a surprise since we have no idea where UA 2016 will be or if we will need canoes, electric scooters, parachutes, or rock climbing equipment. One thing is for sure: Only crazy dirt heads need apply. If you fit that description, send in an application, which you can find at


Adventure Off Road Park
Durhamtown Tellico
Tank Town USA

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