Midwest Metal Mash
The Ultimate Adventure is an all-out 4x4 trip and this magazine’s premiere event of the year. It’s a weeklong trek across regions of the U.S. where we get ourselves into the toughest four-wheeling we can find. The trip is loaded with hardcore four-wheel trail action and long road days packed with strange stops. Nights are filled with gear oil, wrenches, hammers, grease, sparks, welders, and busted knuckles while we make repairs while camping out in a sweltering heat with maybe a garden hose shower if you’re lucky. The Ultimate Adventure is anything but a relaxing vacation. It’s an adventure for hearty folks who love traveling into the unknown and are willing and able to handle any mechanical breakage thrown at them while physically adapting to harsh environments.
Temperatures skyrocketed across the U.S., pushing the mercury well past the 100-degree mark and only intensifying an already unbearable and unrelenting humidity that had settled in over the Midwest, the destination of Ultimate Adventure 2011. Regardless of the heat, the staff of Petersen’s 4-Wheel & Off-Road, a few lucky readers, the sponsors, and a cast of old cronies loaded their rigs, threw gear and tools in the truck cabs, and hit the highway for another amazing journey over hundreds of miles of blacktop, dirt roads, trails, mud, and rocks. It was the second Ultimate Adventure in a row on which the band of traveling wheelers ran face-first into a wet swath of sweltering heat. But we’re not whining. It’s what we do: improvise, overcome, and adapt!
The crew started with a giddy sense of adventure and adrenaline levels running higher than normal in anticipation of the Ultimate Adventure. You never know what to expect on the UA, as Editor-in-Chief Rick Péwé and the staff keep the travel plans under wraps until we are actually on the road or at our destination.
Every morning at the drivers meeting we heard, “Where are we going?” “What are the trails like?” ”How many miles?” and “Is there going to be ice cream?” It’s all top secret until we land at our destination or are doing something unexpected. Don’t think the staff editors will reveal any secrets either, as we are threatened with gear-oil waterboarding and having our toenails ripped off with a rusty pair of Vise Grips should we reveal Péwé’s plan.
This year the UA started in the town of Nevada, Missouri, and ended in Atoka, Oklahoma. The tour of the Midwest covered some 900 miles through Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas. We rolled over blacktop, farm roads, trails, rocks, mud, fields, and small-town Main Streets. The sides of our Ultimate F-150 (more on it later) took a beating, but the truck performed exceptionally well on and off-road. The rest of the vehicles on the UA broke an array of parts, and one was rolled, and another flopped on its side.
We went through hundreds of gallons of gasoline and thousands of gallons of water. Some of us gained weight, some lost weight, two of us went to the hospital, one of us barfed all day, and we all made it through the Fourth of July without blowing our fingers off. We made stops at tourist traps, roadside cafes, BBQ stands, gas stations, parts stores, a biker garage, pawn shops, a cave, grocery stores, a supersized military surplus outlet, and a liquor store selling puppies. It was a great time!
A few drivers only had a few hours of travel time or a couple of states to drive to the beginning, while others drove thousands of miles in two days right after putting the final touches on their 4x4. Many of the UA vehicles were towed to our starting point, but a couple of rigs were driven all the way to Missouri. You can imagine what some of the drivers endured as they drove their non–air-conditioned rigs through this year’s record heat wave.
Returning reader Matt Kime and co-driver Ben Brewer from Yucca Valley, California, drove their truck to Missouri with hot engine and transmission heat blowing through the holes in the naked steel floorboards. Matt told us, “It was like driving an oven for 1,700 miles.”
Dave Chappelle, one of the “old cronies” on the adventure, towed his UA rig behind his old motor home, accompanied by Tom Boyd, all the way from San Diego, California. The motor home was overheating, so they drove with the heater on. “What a great time!”
Each year the staff builds a specific UA 4x4 that’s sometimes over-the-top but always downright cool and functional and that performs well off-road. They can also take one heck of a beating. Ford Motor Company handed us the keys to an ’11 F-150 fitted with the turbocharged EcoBoost V-6 engine, which preformed incredibly over the mechanically torturous weeklong event.
Technical Editor Fred Williams and Randy Ellis of Randy Ellis Design sat down and planned the buildup, which we began covering in the July ’11 issue. Then Randy, Justin Scheller, and Fred completely reworked the IFS suspension and axle, replaced the rear axle, boat-sided the rocker panels, and fitted the truck with front and rear bumpers. Detailed information on the build of the Ultimate F-150 can be found in our series of articles and online.
So who gets to go on Ultimate Adventure? The magazine staff, of course, and also a cast of old cronies, some quality sponsors, and select readers of the magazine.
The cronies are wheelers who have been around for years: Trent McGee, Tom Boyd, Clifton Slay, Tim Hardy, Keith Bailey, Sam Gillis, and Chris Durham Also, Trent McGee and Tom Boyd have been on the Ultimate Adventure since the first one in 1999. The cronies are all incredibly talented four-wheel enthusiasts and professionals we can’t seem to shake—kind of like gum stuck to our shoe. But they’re great friends and an invaluable source of help to everyone on the trails and highways. We can’t imagine the UA without them.
The readers are chosen from their applications, which are either mailed in or filled out online at our website. A number of critical factors and criteria are involved, such as vehicle capabilities, compatibility with others on long-haul road and trail trips, and ability to work well with others and follow directions. This year we welcomed Mike Marrero and his ’99 Nissan Frontier and co-driver Donnie Roebuck, Blake Shepherd and Krystal Hardman in their ’78 J-10, Phil Dunievitz and his ’75 Ford F-250 with co-driver Alex Baker, Corey Osborne in his Jeep TJ with helpful co-driver Terry Hawkins, Paden Saracino and Kellie Olson in his Jeep XJ, Chuck Wigham with Mike Rasmussen in his fullsize Toyota FJ-60, and returning reader Matt Kime in his fullsize Chevy “Hulk” truck with always helpful co-driver Ben Brewer.
The Ultimate Adventure wouldn’t be possible without the sponsorship of some incredible off-road parts companies, a tire maker, and vehicle manufacturers. This year’s presenting sponsor was Ford Motor Company. Nitto Tire was the official tire of the event. Warn Industries was the official winch sponsor. The official fabricator was Randy Ellis Design, which performed magic on our Ultimate F-150. Bubba Rope was the official snatch rope and provided everyone with a recovery rope. The official suspension sponsor was Zone Off-Road Products. Offroad Design was the official transfer case. Last but not least, Sam’s Offroad Equipment was the official hosting 4x4 shop.