There’s no better time to hit northern New England than in the early part of October. The birch and maple trees have erupted in fiery colors of scarlet and gold, and the chill of the post-dawn air has sent the blood-sucking black flies back to hell where they belong. Nothing compares to a day of taking on some of the most challenging obstacles in the Northeast as falling leaves bid farewell to sweet summer and beckon the autumn in with breathtaking beauty.
Often while we are enjoying an off-road park, we forget it wasn’t always there, and it most definitely didn’t start out as a well-defined trail of obstacles. We were blown away by the challenge Marc Pouliot faced when taking on the task of getting the course open at Jericho Mountain State Park, in Berlin, New Hampshire. You might think all you need is a vision, lots of time, and money to get the idea started—find the perfect property, design the route, and then open up for business. Not even close! Marc started this journey back in 2013 when he went before Congress to get a bill passed to create a trail in the park. After the third year of attempting to get the bill passed, they were finally granted a three-year trial. The three years would include mapping out trails, cutting them, and testing them—the fun part! He only had a crew of twelve volunteers who gave their spare time to create this 2 1/2-mile trail called “Run To The Hills.” Thanks to a small group of like-minded Jeepers, we were able to enjoy the fruits of their labor. The trail may be short, but to our surprise we spent the entire day climbing, crawling and turning tired Jeeps back on all four tires.
Not only does the park offer fun and challenging trails, it also is home to a beautiful, tranquil lake where you can easily toss your kayaks in for a little peace and quiet on the water. There’s also an abundance of campsites, whether you’re roughing it with a tent or luxury-living in an RV, if that’s what tickles your fancy. After spending the day getting dirty, the hot showers revived us enough to enjoy the campfire and tales of the day.
This beast was built to take on some serious trails. Mike Largesse, from Errol, New Hampshire, took a ’78 Cherokee, dropped in a V-8 engine from an ’85 Dodge, and added fuel injection, a Dana 60 front axle, and a 9 1/4 inch rear axle. Top it off with Maxxis 40-inch Creepy Crawlers on 17-inch Allied beadlocks, and there’s not much this Cherokee can’t do.
Chris DiRenza headed north from Ellington, Connecticut, to take in the beautiful fall colors and hit the trail. Chris didn’t have to do a lot to get his ’08 slate blue Wrangler Rubicon ready. Once he added a 3.5-inch Rock Krawler lift, 35-inch Goodyear MT/R tires, and a beefier bumper with a winch, he was ready to hit the dirt.
We first met Steve Oaks at the Great American Jeep Rally, where he’s the life of the rockcrawl party. He is known for hitting the rock course full speed ahead. He’s not concerned with breaking anything because it can always be fixed; he just wants to have fun and entertain the crowd. We couldn’t wait to see him on the trail in his ’94 two-door Cherokee since he’s never met a rock he didn’t like. Of course, he took on this trail like a boss.
The Jericho trail may be a short course, but the obstacles are challenging for everyone. All obstacles are well marked with a go-around option to meet everyone’s comfort level.
When you see Sam Billing from Embden, Maine, popping up over a hill, you can’t help but get a little confused looking at his Jeep. His ’88 Jeep Wrangler YJ couldn’t take all the square headlight jokes anymore, so he gave it a CJ grille. Why stop there? He also dropped in an inline six-cylinder engine, Dana 30 front axle, and a Ford 8:8 rear axle. Sam did all the work himself to create his YJ-7.
The trail has an abundance of rocks varying in size. Split Rock is a popular obstacle for the course. It may look intimidating, and with good reason; however, it is what you want it to be. If you’re not feeling feisty, you can choose the chicken route and up and over. If you’ve had your Wheaties and feel daring, just move over a few feet and it’s a whole new ballgame.
There’s nothing like watching a Jeep elegantly and slowly fall over on its side. Rodney Copeland from Warren, Maine, took slightly the wrong approach on this obstacle in his ’46 Willys CJ-2A. It was such a slow-motion roll that it didn’t even make a sound. This build wasn’t the norm in the Jeep community. A four-cylinder, turbocharged, direct-injection diesel engine; narrow track 30 front axle; flanged offset 44 rear axle; and full hydraulic steering are just a few of the modifications Rodney made to create this clean and capable Willys. It may be pretty, but he did the hardest of all obstacles. This rig was built it to have fun, not just to look at.
There was no holding back when it came to Jesse Levasseur doing the trail in his ’97 Jeep Wrangler. No matter how hard the obstacle was, he hit it like it was a well-worn gravel road, and there was no giving up until he made it.
Living in Maine and wanting to enjoy all the great areas to wheel in New England, William House needed a Jeep that could do it all. His ’99 Jeep Cherokee has evolved over the years to address weak points and failures as they happen. Most of his suspension and armor was self-made. He needed it to be capable but also wanted to keep it low and flexible. Seeing him move through the trail with ease, we think he hit his goal.
If you go wheeling, you are well aware that there will be breaks, and most of the time if you’re prepared, you’ll be fixed up and continuing on in no time. Rey Rasco from Glastonbury, Connecticut, showed up in his ’93 Jeep Wrangler budget build well versed in the act of being prepared. He had broken the driver-side axleshaft, and of course he happened to have a spare that they swapped out in record time.
Damon Scott, from Deep River, Connecticut, took his chances on the hard line on Split Rock in his ’03 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon on 36-inch Super Swampers. He ended up on his side, but it was nothing a winch and some friends couldn’t take care of.
Thomas Longworth, from Farmington, Connecticut, hit every obstacle on the course without hesitation in his ’99 Jeep Wrangler, which also happens to be his first vehicle. This Jeep is a true homegrown rig with a homebuilt box tubing frame, homebuilt rear tube fenders, and full high steer with hydro assist, a Dana 44 front axle, and a Dana 60 rear axle.
Mark Rocheleau came up from Fitchburg, Massachusetts, to join in the fun of the fall colors in his ’13 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon.
There was no lack of trying to make it up this hill for Mike Dupuis, in his self-built ’98 Jeep Wrangler. With all the rocks it’s a good thing he does all his own fabrication, including rock sliders that also serve as air tanks for his onboard air system.
Lucky for Glen Supernor, Jericho Mountain State Park is practically in his backyard, which is a great thing when you have a sweet Jeep like his ’81 Jeep CJ-7.
Sometimes all you need is a little help from your friends.
“Folded Flag Tribute Jeep” was built to honor those who have served our great nation. Josh Schwalb built this ’15 Jeep Wrangler to honor his stepdad who was a multi-war veteran.
The trail may be short, but we spent the entire day going through it just one time. They are planning to expand it for even more challenging obstacles.
Dave Savard bought his ’05 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited used in 2007 with only 6,600 miles on it and started building it. He has added numerous modifications and now has well over 100,000 miles, still on the original clutch. We think he’s been wheeling for a while.
They call this obstacle Good Luck Hill for a good reason. Only a few Jeeps would even try it, and we watched each of them fail. Everyone made it to the same point before they finally gave up.