BF Goodrich Tires 4x4 Off Road Adventure - Ultimate Adventure 2003Posted in Ultimate Adventure on November 1, 2004
The 4-Wheel & Off-Road Ultimate Adventure, presented by BFGoodrich Tires, is the coolest wheeling trip we take all year and the one we know you all lie awake at night dreaming about going on. It's a weeklong expedition to string together the best wheeling trails the off-road world has to offer, and to do it in vehicles that drive on the street more than 1,200 miles as well as they tackle the trails. Make no mistake, there are no trailer queens on this trip, and anyone who whines about not being able to handle the terrain or fix their stuff when it breaks ain't coming with us. No matter who you know.
The secret to Ultimate Adventure's success is that it is unlike any other off-road trip because it is completely different every year. We purposely seek out the trails less travelled and combine them with the big-name trails you know to demonstrate what is possible with a group of dedicated off-road enthusiasts who are passionate about their hobby and the vehicles they build.
This year we threw away all the safety nets of being close to home and decided we needed a challenge that included more than just rockcrawling. We also wanted to shake things up by bringing along some new vehicles that we thought would be better suited for the Southern mud runs we had planned in Murphy, North Carolina; Monteagle, Tennessee; Birmingham, Alabama; Starkville, Mississippi; and Hot Springs, Arkansas. To guarantee things went smoothly, we called in our partners at BFGoodrich, Flowmaster, Rhino Linings, Warn Industries, Tuff Country Suspension, Trailready, Poison Spyder Customs, Dynatrac, and Detroit Locker to help us make this year's UA take off. We're thankful to have had this support and logistical help when we where closer to their backyards than our own.
But most importantly, we heard your requests for more reader participation and we stepped up to invite three readers with us on this year's Adventure. Mike Copeland of Brighton, Michigan, Bryan Richman of Robertsdale, Alabama, and Tommy Galbreath of Courtland, Virginia got the nod. All three of them submitted their entries and won a spot on the adventure of a lifetime. We'll be watching for your entry next year.
Day One: TellicoWe knew that if we were going to run Ultimate Adventure in the Southeast, we absolutely had to start at the Tellico OHV area in Murphy, North Carolina. That also meant we'd meet and greet the trip participants at Crawford's Camp, the place to go at Tellico. Steve Crawford opened his campground and shop, and we can't thank him enough for his hospitality. There's no question that Tellico is the best-known off-road spot east of the Mississippi and has trails as difficult as anything we've ever done on Ultimate Adventure. So to separate the men from the boys on this year's UA, Pw had us hit the slickrock trail fresh out of the gate-and, boy, did it hit us back!
Still photography just doesn't do this terrain justice. There were endless layers of rocks that just don't give you the grip that we've come to expect from our West Coast geology. We can still hear the engines singing and smell the tire smoke from full-throttle crawling that isn't just for kicks in Tellico...it's required. We knew we were in for it when our trail leader, Steve Crawford, proceeded to break an axle U-joint before he even got to the first obstacle. Not to be outdone, our boss Pw chose to sideswipe the state of North Carolina and inflict the first body damage to our Ultimate Avalanche...in the first 100 feet of the trail. When asked if he thought that crunching noise was bad he said, "Ah no, that was nothin'!"
But that's not to say the first trail was only about carnage. OK, yes it was. Next on the list was Mike Copeland, who got popped in the face by his S-10's airbag and was later forced to limp off the trail when his upper control arms bent from too much droop. And then there was Tom Boyd who in typical Boyd fashion attacked the trail with his right foot. Of course the trail retaliated with a one-two combo of a tree into his fender and a rock taking out his wheel. But body damage wasn't limited just to trail obstacles. Dave Knight, co-driving with Scott Frary of Detroit Locker, managed to slip and fall onto the bedside of our Super Duty while just watching the other rigs, and dented the body pretty good without sending his own body to the emergency room. The list didn't stop there.
Part of the cause for all the carnage was multiple spotter syndrome, where drivers took directions from multiple people at each obstacle and were unable to decipher the right lines. This can be a common trail hazard on a trip like this, when everyone is just psyched to be out on the trail on the first day. We thought we had everything under control until our Avalanche twisted the rear springs, spit out the rear 1410 driveshaft, caught fire, and had to be driven down to Crawford's Camp on the front axle. Ah...we were off to a perfect start!
Day Two: MonteagleDay One blurred into Day Two at midnight for the 4-Wheel & Off-Road staff, as Jerrod Jones and David Kennedy, late for their own event, raced the last 1,100 miles to Murphy under cover of darkness, while Fred Williams pulled an all-night wrench under the Avalanche at Crawford's Camp, fixing the rear springs and driveshaft.
Reports of other casualties trickled in from Bryan Richman's Dodge Ram, whose Boggers were getting sliced at the beads by his new bead-lock wheels, and our Super Duty was off to Spicer Four Wheel Drive in Rockspring, Georgia, to replace a busted lift block in hopes of meeting up with us at the trail head in Monteagle. The Trailready Liberty of Chris Corbett and Jerry Sandeno was in the worst shape, due to a dislocated three-link rear suspension, and was going to have to skip the next run so that rod ends and brake lines could be shipped into town to get the Liberty back on the road.
By 3 p.m. the group rolled into Monteagle, Tennessee, where we grabbed some gas-station buffet and bought up every piece of firewood we could find for the campout that night. Here we met our trail leader, Dan Moses, from Off and On Customs, who guided us to Stagecoach, a private off-road park for a winding downhill descent through the Tennessee hillside that led to our campsite for the night. The trail was a series of loose-dirt switchbacks that, more than one driver commented, "would be hell to drive up if we were leaving the same way." The thick forest growth made maneuvering a little tight for the fullsize trucks, but all in all was a pretty easy run till the trail leveled out and turned into a dry rock-strewn riverbed. It was in the rocks that Tom Haus managed to fracture a front leaf spring on his YJ, thus forming an effective roadblock that held the second half of the group on the trail until after the moon came up. Not to be outdone, the other Tom (Boyd) tore apart a rod end on his Bronco buggy's rear suspension and destroyed the shock shaft on one of his coilovers in the process. Pw and the frontrunners were already setting up camp and cooking dinner, while Jeff Nasi, Jim Ryan, Jones, and Williams (Kennedy fell asleep) helped Boyd pull his Bronco back into shape. Off in the distance we could hear the Dodge boys from Mississippi working on rearranging their '99 sheetmetal with trail damage on an optional uphill line that led into camp. The weather that night couldn't have been better and those who weren't too tired stayed up speculating about the week to come.
Day Three:Monteagle to Alabama We got off to a late start Tuesday morning (hey, some of us were still on West Coast time) and began our ascent out of the campsite in hopes of reaching our lunch stop and the BFGoodrich race support tractor trailer and crew by noon. The idea was to get some mild wheeling in, eat a good meal, and make a run for Alabama to check into our hotel before nightfall. We gave it our best shot, but those plans didn't exactly come together like we had hoped.
Within the first hundred yards of the trail the Avalanche sheared the bolts that held the front driveshaft flange to the Atlas, and we realized that one of the 8.1L engine mounts had come apart. To keep the pack moving, Jerrod "Winch Boy" Jones ran cable for the next hour or so to get the Avalanche moving up the trail and back to safety-or at least to where Williams (Pw's pit crew) could continue to work on it. It wasn't until after Jones made dozens of winch connections and pulls that he admitted to us that due to his desert wheeling background, he had never actually touched a winch before.
Luckily the rest of the group had an easier time with the trail, but on Ultimate Adventure, the challenges aren't limited to just what happens off-road. Day Three proved that point. While the back of the pack was still crawling uphill, the real action was back in town where the repairs and FedEx charges were starting to pile up as parts were being ordered and sent ahead to our next stop at the Off Road Connection in Gardendale, Alabama. A few of us were able to have a relaxing lunch, while reader Mike Copeland and co-driver Norb Linenfelsor were swapping upper control arms on their LS1 S-10, and BFGoodrich and Detroit Locker representatives verified that the Electrac in the front of our Blazer was functioning properly. We tried to keep our motley crew hidden from the good people of Monteagle behind the restaurant, but we still attracted the attention of local law enforcement. Not because we were doing anything wrong, but because the local police officers know capable 4x4s when they see them and they wanted a closer look. By 3 p.m. we were on the road to Alabama, where Keith Bailey had shop space, spare parts, and mechanics on hand for anyone that needed repairs, such as Feature Editor Fred Williams, who spent another long night wrenching on the Utimate Avalanche.
Day Four: BirminghamAfter a night in Fultondale, Alabama, the only bad news we woke up to was an impending electrical storm working its way up the Gulf of Mexico. Pw wanted to make sure we got on the trail before the clouds rolled in, so he called an 8 a.m. drivers' meeting and we were on the road by nine.
We spent our fourth trail day as the guests of Tony and Myra Cousins, who invited us to test our mettle (and metal) wheeling at their Gray Rock ORV Park just north of Birmingham. While not a true trail ride in some senses, this type of venue strings a series of short off-road obstacles together in ever-increasing levels of difficulty. The best part about this format is that even if vehicles break, the rest of the group can move on to the next stage of wheeling without waiting around for endless repairs.
And break we did! Within the first four hours on a mixture of hillclimbs, dirt-covered rocks, and even some mud, we lost window glass, hubs, lift blocks, an oil pan, a front differential, steering arms, and a few driveshafts. And then it really got hairy when a thunderstorm shocked us with a thunderclap that sounded like we were under attack. Everyone was caught in the downpour and headed for the trees to take cover. When we got there we found our first taste of Southern mud and ended up playing in it for an hour and a half trying to outdo each other down a single-lane mud-slalom run. It was peer pressure at its finest and even the tube buggy guys were game after they initially avoided it. Of course, some winching and extractions were necessary, but with Warn's Steve Schoenfelder on hand to expedite the pulling and strapping, no one was stuck for too long. We rounded out the trail day in a rock-filled gully and headed back to a hot catfish dinner put on by CAOS (Central Alabama Off-road Society) under the canopy in camp. We relaxed and enjoyed the cool night air and even got to watch a second thunderstorm roll in before scurrying like rats back to the hotel or Keith's off-road shop for the ritual repair sessions.
Day Five: On to MississippiBy Thursday, most of us had more dirty laundry than clean clothes and the trails were only going to get muddier. The plan was to saddle up and press on through the morning rain toward Starkville, Mississippi.
Then just when we thought we had this Southern wheeling thing figured out, a curveball got thrown at the group. It seems that in Alabama it is not uncommon for local law enforcement to set up roadblocks to check vehicles for proof of registration and insurance. Needless to say, the guys driving tube cars were sweating it (and not just 'cause it was hot out) as one by one we all handed over our paperwork. Believe it or not, none of us raised any red flags with the officials.
We arrived at the trailhead just after lunchtime and met Marshall McReynolds for an afternoon Magnolia Mud Run on his father-in-law's private property. Marshall and his buddies run this course every Sunday, and they set up this weekday event just for us. Marshall promised there wouldn't be a single rock to crawl over all day and that we'd all enjoy the feeling of mud in our shoes, pants, and interiors. Some of us were downright scared that this was going to turn into an all-night winchfest-what with the talk of waist-deep mud after the day and a half of rain the area had seen. However, the skies cleared and we lucked out with some beautiful wheeling weather. That's when we scoped out the local trucks and realized that we were the high rollers from out of town, and maybe, just maybe, our built-up vehicles would make up for our lack of mud experience.
Now we don't like to admit it, but if there was a time during the week when the Ultimate Adventure crew got cocky-this was it. Our lockers, gears, and BFGoodrich Krawlers gave us all the ammunition we needed to-dare we say-master the Mississippi mud. For many of us it was the first time our trail rigs had seen the sloppy stuff, and what could have been the longest day of the trip turned into one of the most fun as we showed off for the locals who followed us around in a 404 Unimog from mud hole to mud hole. Sure, we had to snatch-strap a few of the six-cylinder Jeeps, and the Avalanche was handicapped by a torque management system that neutered its big-block, but we were having fun and we forgot about the cleaning bills and the all-night car washes we'd soon be visiting. Then there were the classic "I can do this mud hole in two-wheel drive" challenges that brought a whole new level of difficulty to this trail ride. Before we knew it, the sun did go down on us, not because we were stuck but because we were having so much fun, we didn't want to leave.
If BFGoodrich didn't have a cookout waiting for us back at the hauler, we might still be there. Since we never turn down a free meal, we thanked Marshall and all of his great crew and boogied back into town. Our rigs were just slathered in the thick stuff.
Day Six: On the Road to Hot SpringsTry as he might, Pw just couldn't fit in any real dirt time on Friday and still get us into Hot Springs, Arkansas, in time for dinner. With newfound driveline vibrations, a couple hundred pounds' worth of mud, and some great video footage under our belts, we hit the road and meandered the flood plains of the Mississippi River on our way to the last stop of Ultimate Adventure. Those with air-conditioned rigs and radios really missed out on taking in the land, or at least that's the lie we told ourselves as we sweated and struggled to find things to talk about with our co-drivers.
But then, an unforeseen obstacle broke the tedium. We came upon a two-lane road in Arkansas that was cleverly disguised as a pond. It seems that Pw's initial off-the-main-drag route took us down a few backcountry roads and over a bridge that he worried might not support all of us crossing at once. Well, the bridge was up to the task, but the road for the next 300 yards was under about 10 feet of water and none of us had our 66-inch tires with us. So we turned around and made our way to our final hotel on the boring old highway into Hot Springs. Next time we'll know to bring snorkels!
Day Seven: Hot SpringsIt was hard to believe that the final day of Ultimate Adventure had come as we aired down in the parking of the Hot Springs OHV area. Our last trail ride of the trip was led by former 4-Wheel & Off-Road staffer Trenton McGee and proved to be some of the best wheeling of the week. The terrain was a mixture of rolling hillclimbs covered with wet shale rock that made for some slippery wheeling in between the trees. This place can be nasty on rubber, and we carved up some sidewalls on the razorlike rocks. It seems that water is like cutting lubricant for tires. Not that we had anything to worry about with Jeff Cummings' staff in the BFGoodrich trailer on hand with a six-pack of spare Krawlers ready to mount up at a moment's notice to get drivers back on the trail.
By dinner time we had traveled more than 1,200 miles, conquered six trails, made dozens of trail fixes, increased FedEx's stock price with all the overnight parts ordered, had a ton of laughs, and made a hundred new friends. When you spend time with this kind of group, goodbyes are never easy. So we made plans to meet again rather than swap farewells. This year's trip was so great because the terrain was different from trail to trail; it wasn't all crawling and it wasn't all mud. From the reactions of all who participated, it sounded like this has been the hands-down best trip so far. We're just getting started and are already planning next year's trip to outdo this one. Think you're up to the Adventure? Read the story, watch the video, and keep your eyes on the magazine and 4wheeloffroad.com for information on how to enter next year's Ultimate Adventure-if you think you're up to it!
Head to 4wheeloffroad.com right now and catch video action from Ultimate Adventure! While you're there, be sure to download a best-of Ultimate Adventure screen saver!
Poison Spyder Customs303/777-4820www.spydercustoms.com
Tuff Country Suspension800/288-2190www.tuffcountry.com
Host ParksGray Rock ORV Park205/841-5337www.grayrockorv.com
Hot Springs Off Road Park501/625-3600www.orvpark.com
Magnolia Mud Park662/418-6284
Monteagle, TNMiddle TennesseeTrail Runnerswww.mttr4x4.com
Tellico OHVCrawford's Camp828/837-9077www.crawfordsattellico.com