2005 Ultimate Adventure, Part 1
2005 Ultimate Adventure, Part 2
The road trip. If Americans didn't invent it, we certainly perfected it. Nowhere else on the planet do you have the freedom to explore millions of square miles without a passport, permit, or personal army. It's part of who we are.
But no one ever said that a road trip has to follow a paved path. In fact, the best road trips take place far away from the asphalt freeways. These great road trips are adventures to locations few others have ever been, or will ever go. And the ultimate road trips are the ones that test your preparation and prove what you're truly capable of. That's why you're here. To join us on the Ultimate Adventure 2005. Welcome to the greatest (off)road trip on Earth!
Every year we pick four of the hardest trails in the country and string them together with an all-American 20-rig road trip that keeps us off the interstate and into the heartland of this great country. To make sure things go smoothly, we assemble a support team from the top off-road product manufacturers in the country. Then we stack the guest list with a crew of the best minds and most capable hands in the off-road world to guarantee that no matter what happens, where, or to who - we've got it covered. From there all we need is six of you, our readers, to come along and share in this great trip with us. Otherwise no one would ever believe it.
To really get a feel for this year's Ultimate Adventure, you need to go into the bathroom, wash your hands in gear lube, turn on the shower to steam up the room, and dump about 100 mosquitoes into the air. Perfect. Now picture yourself wrenching on your 4x4 for weeks on end with only enough sleep to keep you from welding your fingers together. Now call the credit card company to see if they can up your limit so you can drive, tow, or push your rig to Seymour, Missouri, for the start of the trip. When you're done reading, start planning on joining us for real next year - you won't be disappointed!
Rushing to get to our own event, the staff spent a sleepless 30 hours driving from the left coast to deep into the Ozark Mountains. Along the way we tried to blend in with surrounding yellow trucks to escape local law enforcement. It didn't work. As we pulled in Saturday morning, Ultimate Adventure 2005 began with the 1,828 residents of Seymour, Missouri, hosting this year's check-in and tech inspection. The opening day was a huge success, and our thanks go out to the Mount Olive Masonic Cook Crew for feeding us, and the Hillbilly Cruisers, who along with our sponsors auctioned off donated goods and raised $1,660.05 that the club will use to purchase air conditioners for local senior citizens in need.
It wouldn't be the Ultimate Adventure if someone didn't have to swap an automatic transmission. We took one for the team this year by replacing our TH350 (no Reverse) in the Ultimate K10 before we even hit the trail. Special thanks go to readers John Hughbanks and Steven Deitsch, who brought our original TH350 transmission 1,700 miles across the country so we could swap it back into the truck. To keep us from working in the Super 8 Motel parking lot, Kevin Mensik opened up his shop, Mensik Mountain Motors, after hours to let us use his lift, tools, transmission flush, and a case of ATF (he was also part of the crew that cooked us dinner). Thanks again, Kevin!
Trail Day One took us deep into the Southern Missouri Off-Road Ranch where trail leader Jason Harris warmed us up with a rocky hillclimb they call Rocker Knocker. Unlike the obstacle in Moab of the same name, this one is covered in loose dirt and if you flip over backwards, it's a long, long way down. Mike Cox of Sam's Offroad pulled a nice wheelstand over the top of the hill before his boss, Sam Patton himself, literally launched his CJ-7 up it moments later. Not to be outdone by his co-workers, Rick Franco pounded his AMC 20/Dana 44 axles with this tree trimming assault on the hill. With this much throttle on the first day, we knew it was going to be an exciting week.
Taking trail prep to a whole new level - we invited Hobart Welders to bring its mobile welding shop on wheels to the Ultimate Adventure this year. And as luck would have it, the very first bead Hobart's crew laid all week was fixing the roller fairlead mount on our UA K10.
Fred Perry retired his white TJ from the last two UAs in favor of this new handcrafted, stretched TJ powered by a Grand Cherokee 4.7L V-8. This Jeep sits really low, even on 39-inch BFGoodrich DOT-legal Krawlers, but it seemed to get a little hairy on the Rocker Knocker when the air-shocked suspension would droop all the way out.
The Rocker Knocker claimed a hub on Fred Williams' Clampy, and busted half the studs holding reader Paul Chowanec's high-steer arm on his Toyota. Knowing that this could be a weak link on his trail machine, Paul brought a spare knuckle. He and his buddies Lee Jenkins and Scott Kittinger changed it out in the hot sun while the rest of us wolfed down some lunch under any shade we could find.
Lurking in the back of the pack this year was California-based reader John Hughbanks. With the highest crawl ratio (24:1), the tallest tires, and the only carburetor on the trip, Hughbanks had to rely on his throttle-based driving style everywhere we went. We'd snap photos and then run for our lives!
To test the wet braking traction of BFGoodrich's Krawler we dropped down the backside of Rocker Knocker into a muddy creek bed. The long-wheelbase trucks made it look doable, but for the smaller Jeeps like Pat Meiwe's Warn YJ - it just looked scary. To keep from swapping ends, Pat was forced to take this even steeper slip-and-slide line that Clifton Slay pioneered in his Unlimited Wrangler.
Trail position on the Ultimate Adventure is critical. For rock obstacles you want to be in the back of the pack till someone finds the line. With dirt and mud, you want to be up front 'cause the trail only gets tougher with each vehicle that attempts it. To prove that point Trent McGee flopped his Wrangler on its side on Double Whammy--and he was only the third guy in line! It was going to be a long afternoon.
True love is taking your girlfriend on Ultimate Adventure and letting her drive the whole thing. So instead of slipping behind the wheel of one of his Poison Spyder Custom buggies and iron-manning the trip (like he did two years ago), Clifton Slay built this bolt-on Unlimited and brought his special lady friend, AJ Griffin, with him to make us all jealous.
The sun was fading behind the Ozarks at the end of day one when John Hughbanks pulled up to Double Whammy and tried a low-speed crawl with his Ford. Nope, that wasn't going to work for him. So he backed up for a second try. When we heard the secondaries open up on the 460, we'll admit it, we just started running. Hughbanks hit the first ledge with so much wheel speed that his 44s literally flung him into the air. From that point on, what happens gets a little fuzzy. From below it looked like the whole Bronco got off the ground, and then while it was in mid air - it seemed to jump up again. There was some evidence he bounced off a tree, but all we know for sure is that when the dust cleared, we found him on his side.
Bent, busted, tired, and in need of air, we made our way back to the trailhead to find Bob Oliver and Bill Barnes with the BFGoodrich race support trailer. If you've ever had your very own pit crew, with all the tools, tires, and expertise that comes from supporting hundreds of race teams in dozens of motorsports, you know what it's like to have these guys on your side. In a word ... salvation. Trail repairs are a thing of the past with BFGoodrich there. And now that Hobart Welders is part of our family - when something breaks all we've got to worry about is getting back to camp.
Day two took us on our first road day south out of Seymour on Highway K and through the Mark Twain National Forest. We worked our way out to the shores of Bull Shoals Lake, where we took the last free ferry in Arkansas in groups of six across to the south side. The ferryboat is power by a 6-71 Detroit Diesel ... yeah, we wondered too.
To keep things interesting, Editor Rick Pw took us down Old Highway 14 and over an aging bridge into Lead Hill, Arkansas. When we say "Old" we mean down-right untraveled for the last 20 years, and the overgrowth proved it. After sending our convoy of 21 4x4s through, we cleared out most of the brush and relocated more than a few of the native spiders. You're going to have to see the DVD to believe it! As luck would have it, the old highway rejoins civilization right near Brian's Truck Shop, home of the stoutest Ford E4ODs and 4R100 transmissions on the planet. We stopped in to see Brian Thompson and his family, exchange T-shirts, and get some emergency welding and repair work done.
Just outside of Fayetteville, Arkansas, on the way to the Outlaw Adventures Off-Road Park the group stopped for gas, food, and camping supplies. Premium fuel was $2.44 a gallon (about $0.30 cheaper than in Los Angeles), which was still painful for John Hughbanks considering his big-block Bronco was averaging 4.86 mpg!
We spent the night in the Outlaw Adventures Off-Road Park and the next morning our trail leader Bam-Bam led us into the park in his YJ on 44s with Rockwell axles. This is where the trails got serious, and we found out how many blind spots our Ultimate K10 had. The day began with an obstacle called the Gate Keeper. The trail was a series of Suburban-size boulders covered in moss, trees, and poison oak. It looked like something out of an Indiana Jones movie. We quickly managed to high-center our K10 on the first obstacle to the point we had to pull out the Warn winch cable and drag ourselves back onto all four wheels. The two video crews were all over Editor Rick Pw to find out what it felt like to get stuck.
The Marsh brothers, Nate and Brad, brought their 6,700-pound Wagoneer "Chalupa" out from Colorado to road trip with us for the week. The 1973 Jeep has been in the family since it was new, but Nate still had to race to get it to the event. It turns out the original Chevy V-8 he swapped in ended up having a cracked block, so he had to find a replacement engine just days before he was scheduled to meet up with us. Impressive, but what we really want to know is how did he keep those taillights alive all week?
Keith Bailey and Sam Gillis were back again this year in Keith's one-owner CJ-7. Still sporting the TH350 transmission they installed at the Cliffs Extreme Terrain Off-Road Park on last year's Adventure, they were prepared for anything this time. Keith ditched his bias-ply Swampers this year to give BFGoodrich some feedback on its new DOT-legal 39-inch Krawler. He was amazed at how much more stable these new radials made his Jeep feel, especially when making quick steering changes or braking on off-camber obstacles.
Speaking of breaking, the Most Dramatic Carnage of the Week Award goes to Rick Franco of Sam's Offroad. After pounding his Dana 44 front axle for three days, the front knuckle ripped off the Jeep and required our trail leader to pull him out of the way till it could be fixed.
Unfortunately, during the short tow the steering knuckle (which was still attached to the tie rod and drag link) got jammed up between the shackle and the front bumper, ripping the mount out of the frame. Terminal? Nope, not for Rick Franco and Mike Cox of Sam's Offroad. They freed the knuckle, bolted it back in place with the old ball joints, and drove the Jeep back to camp, where Hobart welded the twisted shock mount back into position.
Making a fashionably late entrance this year, Stephen Watson and his dad, James, rolled into our campsite before dawn and were out wheeling with us on zero sleep. They claimed to have been plagued with TH700R4 transmission troubles back at the Off Road Design shop in Colorado - but we ain't buying it. If you're familiar with the Watsons' 1982 Blazer Wally, you'll notice that it was completely restored prior to this year's trip. The rebuild included a fresh 504ci big-block that sits lower in the chassis, and it now drives with full hydraulic steering to take advantage of all 16 inches of front suspension travel.
It wouldn't be an Ultimate Adventure without Tom Boyd. He came to the party with his freshly skinned 1971 Bronco (yes, that is the 2004 F-150 front clip from our March 2004 cover truck) with a mission to make it all the way through this year's trip. After having to sit out the final trail on last year's UA, Tom swore that he wouldn't let that happen again. Tom showed us his conservative side all week ... and spent more time on his side, nose, and cage than we can ever remember. Well done, Tom.
The Ultimate Adventure brings out some of the most radical street-legal 4x4s on the planet. And this year Clampy came too. Feature Editor Fred Williams brought new meaning to the term "last-minute thrash" when he completely revised the suspension and drivetrain of his beloved Toyota to handle the new 39-inch DOT Krawlers for this year's trip. We still don't know how he pulled it off, but this is one underdog truck that everyone dug.
We don't know what it is about Broncos and Ultimate Adventure. As if following in the path of Tom Boyd and John Hughbanks, Jake "Yeah, we have rocks in Kansas" Good and Dave Fuggett gave the photographers an action-packed week with their stretched 1971. Jake's Bronco is one of those rigs that seems really stock - until you start studying it. The rear suspension has been linked and runs coil springs like the front. The steering is full hydraulic, and he's got an almost 100:1 crawl ratio with an automatic transmission.
The Ultimate Tire
The Ultimate Adventure would not be possible without the BFGoodrich Krawler T/A K/X. It's the only tire we trust for wheeling thousands of miles of the nastiest terrain on earth and getting us back home again. Way beyond being just a championship rockcrawling tire, the Krawler cut its teeth on our annual Ultimate Adventure on/off-road trips. From its prototype form that we debuted in Utah and Colorado in 2002, to the production 37-inch Krawler and prototype 39-inch tire we tested in the southeast mud in 2003, we've always been impressed by this extreme traction tire. This year BFGoodrich brought us a new version of the Krawler, a 39x13.50R17 tire with a DOT approval. Designed to handle the heat generated by on-road use, the 39-inch Krawler shares the same prize-winning tread design and construction as the competition-only version. But for 4x4s that will also see street use, these tires benefit from the harder tread compound used by the production 37-inch Krawler. With just over 4,000 miles of use on our Ultimate K10 - mounted on a set of Hutchinson Rock Monster wheels and run at pressures from 9 to 35 psi and temperatures from 50 to 118 degrees - these tires never let us down.
We'll leave you hanging here in Arkansas while we shower up and get ready for our road trip to Clayton and Poteau, Oklahoma. Reception is a bit spotty in camp, but using returning reader Aaron James' high-tech redneck cell tower trick, we should be able to phone in most of this story on time.
2005 Ultimate Adventure, Part 1
2005 Ultimate Adventure, Part 2