Five days into Ultimate Adventure and we had already made our way through parts of Missouri, Kansas, and Oklahoma. By now we have also figured out this is one of the toughest UA events in recent years due to the extreme wheeling, blazing triple-digit temperatures, and torrid humidity.
All the adventurers were in tune with the performance of their vehicles, most of which had just been built or were heavily modified a few days before the UA. Worn and failing parts and the weakest points on the rigs had been found by now, which usually led to mechanical failures, trail repairs, and late-night dirt lot wrenching. Only a couple drivers had to search in the small towns we passed through for parts or had them shipped in. All the driving teams (except one Jeep the last day) made their repairs, and all caught up with the group at the next destination. But that’s what Ultimate Adventure is all about, and there’s no whining!
We’ve found over the years that no matter how much preparation went into a vehicle, something always goes wrong. This can make that lucky guy or gal a little nervous, but the fact is usually only one or two vehicles survive the UA without mechanical failure or breakage. The drivers who manage to escape harm have a champion’s swagger until next year’s UA. If they can pull it off two years in a row, then they are legends.
There is always a bit of anxiety in participants, even among hardened UA vets—whether they admit it or not. Everyone is concerned about how their rig will perform or how they can stave off precarious mishaps. After all, it’s not much fun being stuck in the middle of the trail when there’s a killer trail obstacle just up ahead. The uneasiness includes the fact that all eyes and the film and camera crew are trained on the drivers and spotters while they are making their way through the trail. Mess up here, and millions could be watching you on television or on the DVD later.
There’s No Turning Back
Up to this point we were all holding up physically and were upbeat, even in the oppressive heat. Everyone was always reminded by our fearless leader, General Péwé, to “hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.” There was always an array of junk food to nourish our disheveled bodies. It seems every gas station in this part of the country has some sort of greasy fried food in a glass case that is kept lukewarm with heat lamps. It’s not the food we like to survive on, but an occasional and delectable basket of fried chicken gizzards, okra, hush puppies, and a side of thick country gravy never hurt anyone.
A requirement of the Ultimate Adventure is that everyone must be self-sufficient, but we also understand that not everyone is perfect and that a guy just can’t carry everything in a small rig. This is where our four-wheeling teamwork shines. Someone is always there to lend a hand, part, drink, or sandwich.
Our traveling band of four-wheelers has really come to appreciate the products the Ultimate Adventure sponsors provided to get us through our journey. We can’t count the times the cables were pulled from the Warn winches or the Bubba Ropes were yanked from their storage bags and slung between vehicles. Some of us had run Nitto Mud Grappler tires before, but not during a weeklong event filled with hundreds of highway miles and slick, rocky, and wet terrain. The Mud Grapplers performed exceptionally well due to their extremely aggressive tread design. The wide voids between the tread blocks did exactly what they were designed to do: self-clean and spin off even the thickest sludge we drove through.
So here we are, halfway through Ultimate Adventure. There was no turning back. By now everyone had fallen in line and found their place in the daily routine: travel, wake up early, grab a quick meal, break camp, hit the road. The readers have found new friends, and everyone was always right there if anyone needed assistance. We were getting ready for our first long day of road travel, and everyone was looking forward to the unique and unusual stops and roadside attractions.
Day 5, Wednesday, July 6:
First Full Road Day
We woke up early and quickly broke camp. You know it’s going to be hot when the sun isn’t even up and your T-shirt is already soaking wet and there’s sweat rolling off your face. Today was the first full road day. Our plan was to drive from D-Day Adventure Park just outside of Wyandotte, Oklahoma, to Wheelin’ World near Eureka Springs, Arkansas. Our destination wasn’t that long a haul, maybe a few hundred miles as the crow flies. But remember, we never take a straight route. Rolling down just any old interstate wouldn’t be adventurous, and we want to see the heart of the country in the little towns and rural farm-to-market roads.
After leaving D-Day Adventure Park we headed into town and stopped by the Bunker Store, a huge military surplus outlet. The store was a great place to shop halfway through the UA since some of us blew out the front door on the way to the UA without everything we needed.
We had no clue what we were in for until we pulled up to our next destination, Bluff Dwellers Cavern in Noel, Missouri. Missouri just isn’t another great state to four-wheel in; it’s also known as the Cave State. We were all amazed at this very cool (literally) and interesting stop, which was a great place to relax after spending half the day on the sizzling blacktop. We aren’t sure if we had any spelunkers amongst us, but we were all pumped up and felt like 12-year-old kids waiting in line for Disneyland. As we approached the steel doors to the entrance of the cave, some of the guys let out a groan of relief. The year-round temperature inside is 56 degrees, a welcome relief from driving in rigs with no A/C.
After an interesting and refreshing tour of the cave we hit the highway again. Our destination for the day was Wheelin’ World 4x4 Offroad Park just outside Eureka Springs, Arkansas. But we had a number of other stops in between! After filling up our rigs with fuel and tossing more artery-clogging deep-fried gas station food into our gullets we met Dale Backs, owner of Wheelin’ World.
Dale went over our route with us to the park, and then took us on a meandering tour of more twisty turning dirt roads and trails. At one point we found ourselves in the heavily forested middle-of-nowhere and inside the long-abandoned Eureka Springs train tunnel. Most of the stops we make except for food and gas are in some way educational and a great experience. After being told the history of the 1800s tunnel and a little exploring we were off counting white lines again.
After a short night run we finally found Wheelin’ World late in the night. Most of us drank gallons of water, heated up Hot Pockets on a cast iron skillet, and hit our sweaty, rank, and uncomfortable sleeping bags for the night.
Day 6, Thursday, July 8:
Wheelin’ World Trail Action
Thursday was slated for a full day of off-road action. When we awoke in Wheelin’ World we were surprised to find an incredibly nice campground and great facilities like extremely clean little blue houses replete with sparkling toilets, and a hose dangling from a tree with fresh water for showers. The park does have full campground hookups, including his and her showers, but we shied away from them so as not to clog the drains with dirt, ticks, chiggers, and any other critters that had attached themselves to our bodies. The accommodations we enjoyed may sound a little primitive, but after a sweaty few days on the trail they were welcome pleasures. Although all of the places we camped were filled with warm and friendly folks, Wheelin’ World was one of the nicest and cleanest campgrounds we stayed in.
The trails at the park were steep, rocky, and slippery. The slickest trails and hillclimbs weren’t due to mud, but rather loose dirt and small pebbles and rocks that acted like ball bearings. Gaining traction and making it up and over a hill in some situations didn’t entirely depend on tire traction, but horsepower, momentum, and speed. Other obstacles paralleled ledges that leaned vehicles off-camber toward drop-offs, giving drivers an uneasy feeling and a butt crack full of seat upholstery. Winch lines were pulled and hooked to anchor points just for safety.
After a great day of four-wheeling we headed back to camp to make repairs, rehydrate, and knock some of the grime off ourselves before dinner. The staff of Wheelin’ World and the crew of the Rock Hard Wheelers had prepared us an amazing BBQ chicken feast with all the fixings, a welcome break from the greasy gas station food we had been choking down.
Day 7, Friday, July 9:
Long Road Day & Hard Work
Friday brought our second full road day, and it would be a different from any other day on any the UA. Péwé planned a cool endeavor for us that included quite a bit of hard labor. But first on the agenda was stopping at a liquor store in Missouri for some real beer. Oklahoma only sells 3.2 percent beer, and this one also sold puppies. The state also enforces crazy laws that beer cannot be sold on Sundays or most holidays (like the Fourth of July) or where folks may be unclothed. Now that’s just crazy!
We know what you are thinking. The set-in-stone rule of the Ultimate Adventure is that alcohol on the trip can only be consumed in camp and only after the day’s driving or wheeling. Nobody guzzles hooch on the trail or on a road day. Inappropriate drinking on the UA is call for immediate dismissal. That said, there’s nothing wrong with having a cold beer or two around the campfire.
2011 was an extremely tough year for the Midwest due to a horrific tornado season. A number of communities in and around Tornado Alley were devastated, with some almost completely demolished. In the middle of the day we stopped in Etna, Arkansas, on Highway 23 just before crossing into Oklahoma. When we pulled into what was left of the community, we found it almost as devastated as when the tornado hit a month earlier. A huge swath of mangled trees, buildings, and wreckage was all we could see. We were told the devastating tornado ripped through the Johnson County and Franklin County areas for about 27 miles.
Péwé had set it up so we could help clean up some of the debris still lying around. After all, we had a crew of about 50 people, winches, and all kinds of tools. In a church parking lot we met T.K. Dictson, who would be our contact for the community. The church was one of the few remaining building after the tornado. T.K. directed us to a property where only a few walls of a residential house now stood. Most of us had never witnessed the aftermath of a tornado and were amazed at the devastation that twisters cause. It’s one of those reality checks that you really can’t comprehend or believe until you see it with your own eyes.
Our philanthropic mission for the day was to clean up the property for the family that had lived here. The couple survived the tornado by lying in the bathtub, the husband on top of the wife and children. We spent two to three hours cleaning up drywall, shattered and splintered lumber, personal property, destroyed trees and shrubs, and trash. Despite the triple-digit heat, we all felt great about helping out. Our time in Etna was certainly one of the highlights of this Ultimate Adventure.
Leaving Etna, we hit the highway headed for our final destination of Atoka, Oklahoma, our base for the last two days and nights. We arrived about 7:30 p.m. and the temperate was 107 degrees with 90 percent humidity. Some of our UA folks nearly hit the ground running into the Comfort Inn & Suites in Atoka. The air-conditioned lobby felt like heaven. We had spent four days and nights on the trail in some of the hottest, muggiest weather the Midwest has seen in decades. Clean sheets, hot meals, and cool showers were first on everyone’s agenda.
Day 8, Saturday, July 10:
Buck Creek Ranch
Some of us lay in the hotel beds as long as we possibly could, soaking up the crisp air conditioning. The Comfort Inn & Suites is more luxurious than we really deserved, especially since this is the Ultimate Adventure. However, it gave us weary travelers time to clear our head, regear our energy levels, and rest up for one last day of tough four-wheeling. None of us knew that one trail would take us all day.
After the final drivers meeting promptly at 7:30 a.m. we met Joe Eaves of Toy Soldiers, who was our trail guide for the day. Joe took the lead as we hit the road for Buck Creek Ranch & Off-Road Park. Buck Creek is a 2,000-acre ranch that caters to off-road adventure and deer hunting. It has 12 trails now and plans on adding eight more with the addition of another 500 acres. The trails here are long, and the Redneck Rivera Trail is over 15 miles long.
Since everyone on Ultimate Adventure by now was a seasoned four-wheeler, Joe recommended we run the Say No to Joe Trail, which is one of the park’s toughest. We didn’t realize that it would take us all day and into the evening, almost causing us to miss the UA victory and celebration dinner.
The Say No to Joe Trail is a creek bed about a half a mile long. It’s filled with tight squeezes between trees and large granite rocks, some as large as small cars. Our Ultimate F-150 ran the gauntlet and performed exceptionally until the front axleshaft boot was ripped off and the shaft fell out. But after some fancy repairs by Randy Ellis, Chris Durham, and Fred Williams, the truck was up and running and through the obstacles in under an hour.
The owner of the park and staff carried quite an amazing BBQ lunch to us at the end of the trail. After a quick respite from the action, we quickly ran the last few hundred yards of trail and headed back to Atoka to throw the Ultimate Adventure victory dinner.
Day 9, Sunday, July 11:
Ultimate Adventure 2011 was great. The staff, old cronies, invited readers, and film crew visited sites in the Midwest that we perhaps never would have seen, wheeled out-of-the-way trails we never would have conquered, made new friends, and helped folks in need in a very meaningful way. Although the Ultimate Adventure’s main purpose is to wheel the toughest trails we can find, putting both man and machine to the ultimate test, it’s also about learning, showing respect for the land, and setting a good example for other four-wheelers. If you’re interested in joining next year’s UA, see the application at 4wor.com/ua12app.
Ultimate Adventure Parks
Buck Creek Ranch/Off-Road Park
D-Day Adventure Park
Kansas Rocks Recreation Park
Bourbon County, KS
Wheelin’ World 4x4 Offroad Park
Eureka Springs, AK