Every hobby or sport has a pinnacle event that defines its core and, for many, legitimizes its very existence. Traditionally, we magazine editors work to bring you the most dynamic and cherished off-road events from around the globe. From the barren Baja Peninsula to the Australian Outback, we have covered some of the most coveted 4x4 events, adventures, and competitions on the plant. While our role for many years has been to observe and report, 11 years ago we changed the history books by creating our own yearly wheeling expedition known as the Ultimate Adventure.
What started off with a few editors and friends looking to break away for a week of wheeling and countryside exploration has evolved into one of the premiere off-road trips on the globe. Now in its 10th year with Editor-in-Chief Rick Péwé at the helm, the Ultimate Adventure has become an exciting magazine tradition that is more than a weeklong off-road vacation. It's a true modern-day adventure.
The fundamentals of the UA include driving (not towing) your rig over nearly 1,000 miles of mud, rock, sand, trees, and asphalt, all while being entirely self-sufficient (camping gear, food, fuel, spare parts, mosquito repellant). While the UA motto for many years has been "Wheel for the Week, Not for the Day," the true slogan for the adventure will forever be "No Whining!"
Since the Ultimate Adventure is a reader-based event (we do it for you) becoming a part of it is as easy as sending in an application (which can be found on our website, 4wheeloffroad.com). If you do get picked, your wheeling buddies for the week will consist of the 4-Wheel & Off-Road staff, a few other invited readers, our gracious sponsors, a handful of old cronies that will show you the ropes, and a fearless film crew that will be there to document all of your off-road triumphs and disasters.
For this year's adventure we headed to the Northeast and started things off in the high mountain air of Keene, New Hampshire. Leading our group is our boss and adventure/logistics expert Rick Péwé in his custom-built CJ-7. While unique build themes have always been a part of the official UA vehicle, this year's rig took its cues from a more classic aviation source: the Boeing B-17 bomber of World War II. From rows of rivets to an actual B-17 steering wheel (more properly called a control yoke), Tech Editor Fred Williams did a great job of achieving almost the impossible, building a truly unique Jeep dubbed the CJ-17. Be sure to keep your eyes peeled for articles on how the CJ-17 took flight.
While we don't want to spoil too much of the trip's highlights in just one issue, we will tell you that this year's UA may go down as one of the most damage-filled. And though we could easily spend an entire issue discussing the amount of breakage and mechanical chaos that almost every participant experienced, we'll just start you off with a taste and a closer look at how the first half of the trip broke down (literally and figuratively). Be sure to check back next month as we pick up on Day 5 of the event and round out our Northeast invasion.
Day 1: Saturday, July 3
Check In To Head Out
You'll likely never spend more time hanging around in a hotel parking lot than you will on the first day of the Ultimate Adventure. Though it may seem like an odd way to start an off-road journey, the check-in day is a vital part of the event. The 4WOR staff performs vehicle tech inspections, participants meet and greet, and most importantly, check-in creates a small time window for any and all last-minute vehicle fixes and upgrades.
Starting things off at the Best Western in Keene, New Hampshire, we received a taste of what the record-setting heat wave had in store. First to arrive at the hotel was our medley of invited readers, a total of six new and one returning. With stories of broken trailers, blown engines, and ejecting tires already buzzing around the parking lot, we had a feeling that this year's adventure would be an interesting one for sure.
Since participants for this year's event were traveling in from all across the U.S. and Canada, arrival times varied greatly. So when half of our group was still MIA around 5 p.m., we were hesitant to question their absence. But as night began to fall, we knew something was amiss. Most notably missing from the group was event leader Rick Péwé and his CJ-17.
As it turned out, a big chunk of our UA group, including virtually all of the old cronies, weren't simply stuck in New York City traffic, but rather were busy installing the final touches to the CJ-17 at the Williams family farm in Pennsylvania. The missing rigs and participants left many wondering when they would show and what the status of the highly anticipated lead vehicle would be.
Day 2: Sunday, July 4
Anticipation over the first trail day can keep even the most veteran of wheelers awake at night. While our group was filled with top-tier drivers and machines, it's often difficult to shake that fear of the unknown. The dawn of the new day gifted us with clear blue skies and a parking lot that was now noticeably fuller than the evening before.
In the midst of the sea of of-road rigs was the other half of our UA crew, including the freshly built CJ-17. This set of new faces and rigs quickly kicked off our early-morning drivers meeting, and after many handshakes and hellos the group was as eager as ever to head out to the first wheeling destination.
If you're familiar with the Northeast then you know that public wheeling land is extremely limited and almost all of the off-road areas are private. And while private property may mean limited access for some, it also means guaranteed access for others.
In southern New Hampshire are 100 acres of fully marked and maintained OHV trails. This manmade network of trails and obstacles snakes through the heavily wooded and bright-green hillside and offers an array of scenic and challenging paths for four-wheeling enthusiast. Filled with huge rocks, tight squeezes, and steep hillclimbs, the private park's trail system has something for all wheelbases and experience levels.
Leading our trail day was Bob Siwinski and Liza Snow of the Summit Crawlers. Both are active members of the Northeast Association of 4WD Clubs (nea4wd.org), which is who you will need to contact if you are interested in wheeling the private OHV area.
With the record heat came incredible dryness that allowed the majority of the participants to crawl easily over the initial dirt and rocks. As the day progressed the trails became tougher and tighter, and the rocks substantially larger. The increased difficulty level quickly took its toll on the group. With a couple of crumpled doors, a broken rear driveshaft, and one or two damaged oil pans, the park challenged even the most sophisticated rigs. But in true UA form we put our recovery tools to work (thanks to Warn, Hi-Lift, and Bubba Rope) and everyone pitched in to keep everyone moving.
At the end of the day we were able to get all the rigs out on their own power, even though some were a little worse for wear. As we slowly made our way from the woods back to the staging area our noses were greeted with that wonderful smell of slow-roasted barbeque. To our surprise the Summit Crawlers had fixed us an amazing feast from Tim Turner's "Pig Man" mobile catering, which was a fitting way to end after a long day of hardcore wheeling. Special thanks go out to the Summit Crawlers, who helped us navigate the rocks and left our gas tanks on empty, our bellies full of food, and our faces with big smiles.
Carnage Report, Day 1
- Cracked front truss: Lance's S-10 Blazer
- Broken rear locker: Hi-Lift TJ
- Fuel leak: Andrew's Ranger
- Buster rear U-joint: BDS TJ
- Oil pan damage: Clifton's LJ, Daystar TJ buggy
- Broken front locker: Matt's K-10
- Broken hub: Sam's buggy, Clifton's LJ, Andrew's Ranger
- Rear shock mount: Shay's Bronco II
- Body damage: Hobart M-37, Clifton's LJ, Boyd's Bronco, Andrew's Ranger, Paul's 4Runner, Matt's K-10, Keith's CJ, Lance's S-10 Blazer
Day 3: Monday, July 5
Sugar Road & Muddy Meadows
A typical Ultimate Adventure road day is far from your usual A-to-B jaunt. From 400 miles of backroad exploration to challenging off-road offshoots, you never know what lies ahead. And since Monday also kicks off our week of camping in the wild, most of the rigs are more loaded up than usual. So with our rigs packed full with a week's worth of gear, we met up for an early-morning drivers meeting, eagerly anticipating the day's schedule. The first order of business was a status update on our lead vehicle, the CJ-17. Despite its previous day of great wheeling and seemingly trouble-free performance, we learn that the CJ has developed a crippling electrical problem.
Since the UA doesn't stop for anyone-man or machine-we left Tech Editor Fred Williams and Web Editor Jason Gonderman behind to troubleshoot the Jeep. Hopping in with veteran UA attendee Keith Bailey, Rick sounded out to the group over the CB radio and we all loaded up for the drive out.
Exiting the hotel parking lot, we made our way out of town and into the rolling hillsides and lush green vegetation. Not long after hitting the road we took a hard right down a long dirt road that was lined with dense vegetation and old farmhouses. Initially we weren't certain whether this was a wheeling stop or a wrong turn, but once we saw the signs for the Smith Family Sugarhouse (802.869.2417), we knew Rick had something sweet in store. Located just outside of New Hampshire in Cambridgeport, Vermont, is some of the best homebrewed pure maple syrup you will find on the East Coast. Family owned and operated by Ed and Diane Smith, the maple syrup business is a labor of love-and a lot of hard work. After taking the tour of the Sugarhouse and grabbing a couple of bottles of syrup for the road, we were all back in our rigs.
Exiting the Smith Family Sugarhouse could have been as easy as turning back down their drive, but in true UA fashion we decided to peel off through a short off-road pass known as the Sugar Trail. This mildly challenging detour through the woods was a fun break from the highway and eventually led us back to another winding country road. Not long after hitting the backroad asphalt we exited Vermont and found ourselves in Granville, New York.
While Granville might not have the glitz and glamour of NYC, it does have something even better, a giant off-road mud park! Hosted by Michele Niedermer and Doyle Ross of the Adirondack Jeep club, we were invited in to explore all that the Mettowee Mud Boggers (www.mettoweemudboggers.com) park had to offer. With a rich mix of mud pits, giant rock-slab hillclimbs, and off-camber and loose dirt trails, the park had something for every wheeler's appetite. So with our rigs still packed with gear we locked in our hubs, shifted into 4-lo, and went exploring through the New York meadows.
It wasn't long before the group exited the last mud hole, but not completely without incident, of course! Overall the group rated the trails a 10 out of 10 and were quietly relieved that we were able to avoid the major mud pits on this very-minimal-road road day.
With daylight running low, we all saddled up for another jaunt down the highway. Quickly breaking into the nighttime hours, we stopped off for fuel and met another UA legend and Samurai guru, Tim Hardy. He had left from his place in Northern California and was attempting to drive his well-weathered Samurai cross-country when he met with complete engine failure. Rather than write off the trip and have the vehicle towed home, Tim used his networking skills and good luck charms to wrangle up another engine.
So with our token Samurai now part of the group, we exited our final fuel stop of the evening and drove down the road to our next destination. With just a sliver of moonlight breaking through the dense tree canopy, we set up our tents and grabbed a little shuteye.
Carnage Report, Day 3
- Body damage: John's XJ, Warn LJ, Boyd's Bronco, Hi-Lift's TJ, BDS TJ
- Bent air shock: Jeff's Toyota
- Broken hub and front locker: Andrew's Ranger
- Electrical problems: CJ-17
Day 4: Tuesday, July 6
After arriving late at night and setting up camp with minimal lighting, the group was anxious to check out the primitive campsite digs in the early morning light. A quick scan of the wooded plateau greeted campers with a refreshing view of the rural countryside and deep forest surroundings. With heat and humidity in high supply, the thick foliage and cover from surrounding trees brought a little relief to what was already starting off as a very warm day.
Our wheeling destination for today was just a few yards from our small tent city. Near Fonda, New York, we found ourselves at one of the toughest and most trail-packed pieces of four wheeling property in the east, Rok-Park. Hosted by Lyman and Meredith Saltsman of the Rok-Freekz off-road club (www.rok-freekz.com) our trail day would test each driver's ability to maneuver up and over some of the most massive tree-lined rock obstacles we had yet to face.
The first trail of the day sent the group up a rocky ravine and required a few of the rigs to match precision wheel speed with momentum to conquer the slick V-notches and rocks. With our tires now heavily soaked and littered with a mix of mud and rich black soil, we made our way to one of the most treacherous hillclimbs on the property.
This mega climb gave drivers three line choices, each offering less traction and more angle than the last. As a safety precaution the group had to helmet up, and after three valiant attempts, if you didn't make it, the winch cable was put to use. While there was no shortage of tense moments and near rollovers, the group managed to conquer the hill virtually without incident.
After a brief lunch break catered by Sandies Smokehouse Cafe and sponsored by BDS, we headed back to the trail for a new set of obstacles. What was next on the trail agenda was a combo of loose dirt ledges that had a few big rocks and vertical pathways thrown in for good measure. Many of the tight trail pathways forced our fullsize rigs into body damage territory, while some of the shorter-wheelbase vehicles got a little front-end light throughout the afternoon. With light trail breakage, a little body damage, and a lot of fun, we called the day a success and went in for round two of Sandies' Texas-style barbecue, this time courtesy of the Rok-Freekz.
Carnage Report, Day 4
- Body damage: Lance's S-10 Blazer, John's XJ, Paul's 4Runner, Shay's Bronco II, Warn LJ, Hi-Lift TJ
- Broken hub: Boyd's Bronco
- Damaged fuel cell fittings: Hobart M-37
- Damaged hydraulic steering line: Lance's S-10 Blazer
- Cut tire: Daystar TJ buggy
- Broken hub: Sam's buggy
- Electrical problems: CJ-17