Welcome to part 2 of our coverage of Ultimate Adventure 2012. For those of you just joining in, hold tight for a crash course in UA 101. The UA is the crest journey for those who love wheeling, thirst for adventure, and are not afraid of a little … OK, well, a lot of dirt. With over a decade’s worth of UAs in the history books, the UA has cemented itself as one of the toughest and most action-packed weeklong wheeling trips on the planet.
Since there is safety (and more fun) in numbers, the UA has grown tremendously over the years. In the group of off-road misfits and the like is a bustle of readers just like you, a handful of old cronies to help herd the pack and mend rigs in need, a few sponsors to keep us in the black, 4WOR staff, and a film crew to document every second of the terra-churning action. At the head of this traveling 4x circus is Editor-in-Chief Rick Péwé.
For this year’s event, Péwé took the reins of our Ultimate JK (aka the Off-Roadster). With Jeep on as the title sponsor, Tech Editor Fred Williams was able to get his hands on a fresh ’12 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon to build. Soon after grabbing the keys to the Pentastar-powered Wrangler he drove it to the crew at Hazzard Fabworx in Spokane. There they created the push-me pull-me off-roadster Wrangler that worked flawlessly leading our trip (“OJ the Ultimate Orange Jeep,” Aug.-Dec. ’12).
The rules of the UA include no trailers (everyone must be able to drive at least 1,000 miles both on- and off-road), vehicles and participants must be entirely self-sufficient (food, water, spare parts, and camping gear), and most importantly, No Whiners! Those are just a few of the basics. For those of you thinking that you have what it takes to come along on the adventure, you can apply for next year’s UA at our website, www.4wheeloffroad.com.
With this year’s trip kicking off in Redmond, Oregon, we’ve already logged in a few hundred miles of what has been the coldest and cloudiest UA to date. Last month we left off our Northwest tour with our crew exiting the Elbe Hills OHV Area in Washington. After a long and muddy day of wheeling on the Busywild Trail we rounded out our evening back at Camp Conden. In this final installment we pick up the action on the fifth day, Wednesday. Follow along as we snake our way to our final destination of Wallace, Idaho.
Day 5, Wednesday, July 4:
As we crawled out of our tents from another cool night of camping in the Washington air, a gas-powered pressure washer was abuzz. Since Tuesday’s wheeling had been a bit of a mud fest, the Conden family was nice enough to set up a small wash area for us to hose down our grimy 4x4s. This rinse-and-go was a great bonus since we didn’t want any wobbly front ends from mud-packed wheels, and Johnny Law doesn’t take too kindly to dirt blobs exploding on the freeway.
The fire pit kept the crew warm as each rig passed through the quick wash.
It wasn’t long before all of the rigs were a little lighter and a bit shinier, so with sheetmetal still glistening we loaded up our gear and set course for a new unknown destination. After a small jaunt through the city of Eatonville we gassed up and began our path toward Mount Rainier National Park.
As is usual on the UA, Péwé finds the most scenic, not direct, route to the day’s stops and destinations. The path to Mount Rainier was filled with vivacious greens, postcard backdrops, and extremely enjoyable winding roads. It was a road dog’s paradise and a great change of scenery from the mud-lined forest of the day before. As it was Independence Day, this was an especially fitting way to set the tone for the day.
It wasn’t long before our group rolled under the Mount Rainier National Park welcome arch. An active volcano, Mount Rainier rises 14,000 feet above sea level and is the most glaciated peak in the U.S. Spawning six major rivers, Mount Rainier supports a vast ecosystem, which immerses the national forest. With our rigs climbing in altitude, we cut from the bright greens and made the transition into the blinding white snow as we spiraled up the pass. Of course, a pit stop was made for a quick once-over of the rigs—and the ultrarare summertime snowball fight!
From the cool mountain air we transitioned into the warmer desert conditions in Selah, Washington. Surrounded by apple orchids, it was easy to see how Washington is the top apple producing state in the country.
As we continued our drive we made our way along the Yakima River, where season was in full effect. These summertime scenes were most obvious as we passed countless people playing in and along the river under the clear blue sky. And just as fast as we entered the Yakima Canyon we launched into the farmlands in Kittitas, Washington.
Soon we landed on the Vantage Highway and along the Ginkgo Petrified Forest. This winding path would ultimately send us over the historic Vantage Bridge. Rising water levels (a result of the Wanapum Dam) caused the original cantilever Vantage Bridge from the 1920s to be replaced by a newer version in a different location during the 1960s. The Vantage Bridge still serves motorist as an easy way to cross the Columbia River and, for us, helped propel our path on Interstate 90 to Othello, Washington.
Othello would be our last stop of the day for fuel and supplies. A fast raid of the local Wal-Mart and gas pumps left us a mere passing blip on the town’s radar.
With the daylight fading, our long highway jaunt landed us in Moses Lakes, Washington, at Lyle Labe’s pad. Lyle and his Sand Scorpions club are regulars at the Moses Lakes Mud Flats and Sand Dunes. This was great, as the dunes would be our camping spot for the evening and Lyle’s place served as an area for us to grab a few dune marker flags and air down before digging into the sand.
Our 4x4 chain looked something like a desert storm invasion. Headlights, sand, and dust swirled around our 4x4s as we chased the falling sun into the sea of dunes. Picking a sandy hilltop away from the masses, we unwound and set up camp. Since it was the Fourth of July after all, we honored America like so many others, by blasting a truckload of fireworks into the night sky!
Day 6, Thursday, July 5:
The warm sun sprang early into the air and heated our tents with attention-seeking force. The heat was actually a welcomed change, as it offered relief to our wet shoes and damp camping gear. Meeting us at the sandy hillside were our local guides for the day—Rich Archer, president of the Sand Scorpions, and Tim Villarreal—and a few of the local Sand Scorpions. At 2,800 acres Moses Lakes Mud Flats and Sand Dunes is a wheeler’s paradise for those lucky enough to live in or near northern Washington.
With the group already unloaded and aired down, it didn’t take long for us to round up and head into the sand hills. The dunes were surprisingly well packed, which allowed the crew to pick up speed and carry momentum pretty easily. Like kids in a sandbox, the crew launched their Tonka toys over the sandy ridges and blasted around the deep bowls. If you’ve never wheeled in big dunes, the idea of jumping your rig may sound completely absurd. While we tend to agree with you, the sand can make for a somewhat forgiving landing pad. And if you can time your leaps just right, it can be a smooth transition from takeoff to landing. More often than not, though, it’s a rough ride that makes for a great photo!
After a short jump competition, Péwé rounded us back into orbit and set us off in the direction of the water-lined mud flats. Since the region had experienced a long winter, the flats were still mostly covered with deep water. While certain sections may have been passable by a sky-high mud bogger, the majority of our low-slung trail rigs didn’t stand a chance. Since the big pits were more lake than pit, we went searching for a milder form of swampy waters. Before too long we managed to find a swampy section that was just waterlogged enough to have fun in but would not drown the rigs.
Letting loose in the muck was an easy transition for the crew, as many made multiple high-speed passes through the mega puddles. Unfortunately, one Jeep found a bit more water than it intended. After blasting through a particularly deep section, Synergy’s JK tried a liquid diet that didn’t quite sit well. The resulting water gulp sent a connecting rod through the side of the engine block and left the Jeep literally dead in the water. The colossal engine failure wrapped up the muddy mantra. With the Synergy Jeep now strapped to the back of the original UAJK (aka the Rubi Wagon, Aug. ’07–Jan. ’08), we headed back to camp.
As we loaded up our gear, we sent the Synergy Jeep ahead to Lyle Labe’s compound, where the guys could get the Jeep inside of a garage and begin to formulate a plan. By the time the rest of the group arrived there, the damaged JK was partially disassembled and the guys were able to find a pullout engine from an ’11 Wrangler sitting on the floor at the relatively nearby American Expedition Vehicles shop. Getting the engine to Moses Lakes would take a bit of planning, patience, and a lot of help, but the guys had a sound plan.
With many heads buzzing around the shop looking for ways to help the stranded JK, the rest of the crew spent time checking over their rigs and giving them a quick bath at the Labe family compound. Leaving the busted Jeep and heading back on the road, our next backroad adventure would take us through more farmland and rolling green hillsides near Edwall, Washington. With tires roaring we inched farther into tree-lined countryside and alongside a crystal-blue river outside of Springdale, Washington. On most Ultimate Adventures we get the luxury of viewing the picturesque backdrops but rarely of camping next to them. This day would be a big surprise, as the group made a sharp turn into the riverfront manor of the Mears family.
John Mears is a friend of Péwé’s and an avid wheeling enthusiast. His lakeside home had plenty of land for us to set up our tents and take in the amazing lake views. Another bonus was a hot meal waiting for us at his house, along with a kick-butt fireworks display that neither we nor the neighbors will soon forget. As another night fell we told wheeling tales around the fire and slowly disappeared into our tent dwellings.
Day 7, Friday, July 6:
From Dawn to Dust
It’s hard to beat cool weather when camping, especially when your campsite has an amazing river view. On this final road day the guys gathered around the Mears family deck for a helping of fresh burritos made by the old cronies. The Old Crony Breakfast is a UA tradition and a welcome change from the bland granola bars that many of us had been downing for breakfast.
At the drivers meeting Péwé informs us that our so-called road day would actually consist of nearly as much dirt as asphalt. On his initial prerun of the trip he wasn’t able to make our intended dirt road mountain pass because snowfall still blocked the road. Even our local guide for the day, John Mears, wasn’t sure if the pass was … well, passable! Since this was the UA and improvisation is par for the course, we decided to give it a try.
Saying goodbye to our riverfront digs we fell in behind Mears’ classic early Bronco, which would be leading us through to our final destination. Shortly after getting on the road we exited Washington State and entered Priest River, Idaho. As we made our way along the river we eased into the small town of Standpoint. Here we experienced another UA staple, an Army Surplus store. This is where you can find everything from weatherproof ammo boxes, military issue boots, and knifes to the all-important camo fatigues. After we rummaged around the store for a while the crew checked out with their new military-grade goodies and met back at the local traveling café for a quick bite and fresh lemonade.
Joining us just in time for their own much-needed cup of joe were Dave Schlossberg and Rob Peterson from Synergy. With the help of the guys from Offroad Power Products they were able to work through the night to get the new engine dropped in place. An overlooked sensor gave them a few bugs along the way, but once everything was plugged in place the well-used JK was good as new. With the group back together Péwé reminded us that we were burning daylight and needed to get the show back on the road.
Our next big stop would be in the town of Trout Creek. A few of the rigs began to experience issues. The week of wheeling was taking its toll. With the automatic transmission in Bubba Rope’s fullsize Chevy on its last leg, and the Hazzard Fabworx Jeep in a constant state of overheating, we left them back with a simple set of highway directions where they could meet up with us later and a couple other rigs to help mend their 4x4s.
Just a few miles up the road we made our transition from smooth blacktop to rocky dirt road as our journey across the Bitterroot Range began. The Bitterroot Range is a part of the Rocky Mountains and runs along the Montana and Idaho border. With over 24,000 square miles of coverage, the range offers tremendous recreational outlets for those looking to explore the mountains. The range gets its name from the small pink bitterroot flower, the Montana state flower.
Once on the trail the climb into elevation was swift and the path became especially narrow in places. The views are spectacular as we rode high atop the mountain ridge. Careful driving was important because dusty conditions and sheer drops could lead to an epic bad day. As we crested the top of the second pass we made our way across the state line and began our descent.
At this point many in the group believed we were almost to the end of the trail. They were very wrong. With over 10 miles of dirt already completed we still had plenty more to go, and the next leg of our trip wouldn’t be as easy as the first. As we dropped into the foot of the valley, running water and creeks began to fill our view. These aquatic indicators would be telling signs of the many creek crossings and water fording that awaited us.
Slick rocks and rushing water made for an interesting mix as daylight diminished and headlights beamed across the terrain. Though we did experience a few broken components in the group, there didn’t seem to be any obstacle too great to keep us from our destination. It ended up being a little after 10 p.m. when we finally made our way into the small town of Murray, where we met up with the rest of the group that split off earlier that day. All rounded up, we finished our last leg of driving into the town of Wallace, Idaho. Exhausted, dusty, and glad to be at a hotel, we dragged our crusty gear and selves into the clean hotel and called it a night.
Day 8, Saturday, July 7
The End Is Near
After four nights of camping we awoke in a more conventional sleeping arrangement at the Wallace Inn. Meeting us in front of the hotel were local trail guides Garrett Ness and Mark Berger, along with Berger’s daughter Abi. With them were Thomas Kingston and Eddie Casanueva from Spidertrax (official axle of the UA). While a move into a new and larger building kept the Spidertrax guys from making the adventure, they managed to fly out and attend the final day of wheeling.
Our trail for the day would be a little up the road accessible only by an old mining path. The two-part track known as Compressor was divided into an upper and lower section. The entire trail actually has a constant stream of water powering down it, which made for wet shoes and some extremely slick wheeling. The first portion of the trail went down the mountainside for roughly 1,500 feet. The lower section of the trail made for fun wheeling, but didn’t have too many obstacles to hang up the crew.
As we crossed the split onto the upper portion of the trail the rise in elevation was instantly noticeable. Moving higher into the trail, the challenges became more difficult. Shifting boulders (some the size of washing machines) twisted beneath the rigs. Some of the areas were particularly tight for taller rigs, as low-lying trees made for a tight squeeze up the steep grade.
Although challenging, the Compressor Trail was a great match and balance for our group of rigs. We even managed to make it through without any major vehicle casualties—although Matt Kime’s big green K truck would have to sit out this day due to a dying transmission. The shift from 1,500 feet to nearly 4,500 feet came quick, but with so much focus on making progress, it wasn’t until we reached the summit that we realized how much ground we had covered.
After posing for the mandatory end-of-the-week survivors’ photo, we all began our winding path back to the bottom. The narrow mining road cutting into the side of the mountain was definitely the easier route to the bottom, but the giant drops kept your attention.
Like all good adventures this one must come to an end. After covering over 1,200 miles, we had successfully absorbed a wonderful portion of the Pacific Northwest. And while we had a blast this year, we look forward to the fresh faces and places that next year will bring. For more on the Ultimate Adventure and to find out how you can become a part of it, visit us online at www.4wheeloffroad.com.
To get the Synergy Jeep back into action, a few helping hands got involved as cronies Tom Boyd and Keith Bailey (shown) began the teardown. The guys from Jeep were able to locate a fresh takeout engine in Montana at AEV’s shop, and after settling on a price they just had to figure out a way to get it to Moses Lakes. Since the crew at Offroad Power Products is local to the region, they used their resources and got Cody “Hawkeye” Patton and Tyler Kipp to drive from Spokane, Washington, to Missoula, Montana, to pick up the engine. Once they grabbed the barely used 3.8L they swung back through Spokane to pick up miscellaneous parts. At this point Tyler Lucas and Tyler Kipp drove the engine nonstop to Moses Lakes and finished off the install for the exhausted Synergy crew. Ultimately, Jeep and OPP not only chipped in financially to purchase the engine, but went above and beyond with their resources and connections too. Another example of why the off-road community is so great!