When we left off last month, our weary group of wheelers was split up. The bulk of the group was setting up camp in the Florida swamps and the rest were holed up in the parking lot of Lake City’s finest. Why? They were experiencing the Ultimate Adventure, our annual trip where we gather up two dozen rigs full of readers and friends to explore some corner of America. This year we headed south, but despite the addition of sweet tea and boiled peanuts everyone still had to wheel hard, keep their rig together, and drive over 1,500 miles on the pavement during the weeklong journey.
In keeping with tradition, the cronies made breakfast for the group on Day 5 while the rising sun slowly revealed bottomless mud pits used for swamp racing. Since we had arrived after dark the night before, we didn’t notice the punishing obstacles. Several drivers were starting to get nervous. Since our Super Dirty didn’t have rice and cane tires on it, Editor-in-Chief Rick Péwé had other plans for the day.
Day 5: Mud Muckers
Boasting over 11,000 acres, Mud Muckers dwarfs most of the private parks we have visited on this trip and previous Ultimate Adventures. With all that space they had plenty of adventure to offer beyond the manmade obstacles. Mud Muckers normally caters to side-by-sides on the trails, but there was an abundance of routes that fit fullsize rigs and holes large enough to swallow even the biggest mega trucks.
Throughout the day nearly everyone ended up on the receiving end of a Bubba Rope, regardless of tire size or horsepower. Mudding is kind of like snow skiing; If you aren’t falling down you need to try harder. Some rules did have to be established though. The law of the jungle is if you are the one stuck, you have to wade through the mud to hook up the Bubba Rope. Don’t expect someone else to do it for you.
We searched for gators and water moccasins in the surreal vegetation at Mud Muckers before emerging into a savannah that looked more like West Africa than Florida. Rather than giraffes we found our missing wheelers, who had been released from Lake City on good behavior after resolving the injection issue on Jimmy Jack’s LT1 engine.
They joined the group just in time to flog their vehicles in the Hill N Hole, which stopped rig after rig. Just when the obstacle was looking impossible, Stephen Watson dropped the hammer on his 504ci big-block and leapt through the hole and up the other side without ever taking his foot off the skinny pedal.
From there it was back to camp, where Mud Muckers has shower stalls for man and machine alike. It was our nation’s birthday, so we returned to camp early to celebrate as our forefathers would have wanted—by shooting fireworks at our friends while we pretended they were British.
Day 6: Florida to South Carolina
On the morning of the last road day there was a lot of chatter around camp about where we were headed. We were only 40 miles from Daytona Beach, it was the week before the Daytona 500, and we still hadn’t gone to an Army surplus store or ridden on a ferry (both UA traditions, like Hawaiian shirts and the Crony Breakfast). That is when we learned that our destination for the day was Clinton, South Carolina, 500 miles north of where we were standing in Florida.
But instead of making a beeline for the Palmetto State, we went to the famous Iron Horse Saloon near Daytona. It was too early for bikers and beers, so after our photo op it was on to the beach, where we dipped out toes in the Atlantic. Between driving our rigs out onto the white sand meeting girls in bikinis who wanted their photos taken in front of our trucks, it was difficult to leave Ormond Beach. Very difficult. But we knew that we had a long day ahead of us, so we pressed on.
Péwé led us to St. Johns River Ferry, where we crossed to Amelia Island. Winding our way through the mansions and private airplane hangars, we felt a bit out of place, but fortunately no one broke down and had to swap a transmission in the high-rent district. It was as if our rigs knew to be on their best behavior, because after leaving Amelia Island several vehicles went down for the count.
With nearly as many breakdowns as gas stops it was after midnight before the bulk of the group reached the hotel. The stragglers were even later, with the guys from BDS having to rent a U-Haul to get their Liberty to our destination and Artur Pasternak munching his engine 100 miles from Clinton. Cronies Keith Bailey and Tom Boyd took the top prize though, arriving at the hotel only an hour and a half before our 8 a.m. drivers meeting. Do these guys ever sleep?
Day 7: Gulches
After more than a decade, Péwé definitely has a formula for UA success. It often involves saving the best (i.e., hardest) for last, since guys are willing to let it all hang out on the last day of the Ultimate Adventure. During our trip to Gulches ORV Park, if you let it all hang out it was likely to float away! Laurens County, South Carolina, had been hammered with rain. The bottom half of the property at the park was still under water during our visit.
At 80 acres, Gulches Park might seem on the small side, but it is the biggest ORV park in South Carolina. In fact, it is the only one of its kind in the state and boasts 40 trails that snake up and down the side of a hill, with trails ranging from mild to wild.
After our drivers meeting, park owner Skip Wilkenson led us to the Sidewinder Trail to feel us out. Confident in our abilities, he led us down into Death Valley before we ascended the aptly named Shipwreck, complete with boats lodged in the trees. Gravity and the slick conditions proved that what goes down doesn’t have to come up. The crux of Shipwreck consisted of two snot-covered boulders that were not quite wide enough to get anything bigger than a Samurai between. The only option was a lot of throttle or taking a tippy line around the left side of the rocks.
After the Nittos got slathered in mud there was a rock face to climb, so keeping the engine on the rev limiter seemed to be the key to success. Unfortunately our day at Gulches was cut short in order to get cleaned up for the post-UA awards ceremony (the Ulties). We only scratched the muddy surface of what this park has to offer, but we will definitely be back for more. I guess that is why they call it a rain check, right?
The Envelope, Please
After returning from Gulches to the luxury of our hotel, everyone quickly washed off the mud and grease from the day and put on their cleanest remaining UA T-shirt (“cleanest” being a relative term) and headed to a nearby restaurant for the last supper. The group was still on a high from a week of wheeling, wrenching, camping, seeing old friends, and making new friends. Péwé handed out the Ultie awards for Hard Luck, Iron Butt, and several other categories as the bittersweet reality set in that we now had to head back to our homes, jobs, and everyday life.
While every week cannot be the Ultimate Adventure, we know it won’t be long before each of us is hitting the trail again in search of the same high we experienced on the trip. Whether you have been on the UA or have only read about it on these pages, as a wheeler you know the feeling.
|Day 5 Carnage|
|BDS/Carter Reed: Loose ring gear bolts|
|Discount Tire/Verne Simons: Bent track bar|
|Tim Hardy: More blown tire beads|
|Nitro Gear & Axle/Carl Montoya: Dented hood|
|Nitto Tire/Mel Wade: Swamped engine|
|Day 6 Carnage|
|Keith Bailey: Smoked pinion bearing|
|BDS/Carter Reed: Fried ECU|
|Alan Buchholz: Stuck caliper|
|Off Road Power Products/Cooper Rasmussen: Blew a tranny|
|Artur Pasternak: Destroyed engine bearings|
|Ken Smith: Bad clutch|
|Day 7 Carnage|
|Trent McGee: Steering box|