Every sport or hobby has its greatest challenge, its own Mount Everest. That is an apex challenge that everyone in that sport or hobby would one day like to conquer or at least get the opportunity to attempt. These apex challenges can be a test of mental fortitude, preparation, physical extremes,or even just a personal goal. For many off-roaders the Mount Everest of off-roading is Petersen’s 4-Wheel & Off-Road’s Ultimate Adventure.
Held since 1999, the UA is a weeklong test of man (or woman) and vehicle. On the UA, extreme off-roading of all kinds is coupled with camping, long road trips, and inevitable component failure. The challenge has many fronts. Can you pack everything you need for the trip without compromising your vehicles weight, causing it to run slow, hot, or damage components? Can you build and drive a vehicle capable of handling some of the world’s toughest off-road trails and the highway? Can you and your co-driver maintain mental and physical clarity while losing sleep and doing what you love? These are the questions that any UAer should be asked. For the past several years, various readers, sponsors, and old cronies have followed Rick Péwé around the lower 48 (and maybe even into Canada a little once) on a trip that tests both vehicle and crew—and which is designed to be a ton of wheelin’ fun.
This year’s Ultimate Adventure started in and ended in the Midwest, with the start in North Platte, Nebraska, and the end in Salem, Missouri, with visits to Iowa and Illinois mixed in for good measure. With the group traveling just under 1,400 miles in seven days, UA 2014 was not the longest traveled UA, but it was still tough and grueling…and a ton of fun.
In order to participate in the UA, you have to have a 4-wheel-drive vehicle with at least 35-inch-tall tires, lockers front and rear, a winch, recovery points front and rear, a spare tire, a jack, a first-aid kit, and more. Your rig also has to be able to maintain 60 mph on-road and have a range of at least 150 miles before requiring fuel. You have to be willing to eat gas station food on a highly irregular schedule. Oh, we almost forgot—you don’t get to use a trailer to carry your rig on the road days; you have to drive it everywhere (although a tug with another UA rig is all right in case of a stuck or after a failure). The other things to expect are bent sheetmetal, carnage, broken parts, sleep deprivation, camaraderie, and a bunch of fun wheeling.
Like many before it, UA 2014 was an experience that will be hard, if not impossible, to forget. Our ascent of Mount Everest for this year has undeniably forged and transformed lives, with several of the participants making lifelong friends and lifelong memories. Check out Part 1 of our coverage this issue, and keep your eyes peeled for more action from the second half in the December issue. Can’t get enough? Also check out the links and photos on our website (fourwheeler.com/ultimate-adventure) and on Facebook (facebook.com/4wheeloffroad). Plus, starting the first week of December, you can watch a week of Ultimate Adventure video coverage on the Motor Trend Channel on YouTube.
And remember, there are rules to this trip:
• No whiners.
• No trailering of rigs.
• You must be self-sufficient.
• Only Péwé knows where we are going.
• Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.
• Have fun!
Day 1: The Trip Out
The Ultimate Adventure technically starts on Saturday afternoon with check-in and tech inspection. But in reality the trip starts for all but the closest participants a few days earlier. As vehicle preparation drags on through late nights and into planned departure times, the true adventure begins when tires hit asphalt spinning. While you can trailer your rig to the starting point, many participants chose to drive their rig instead. This allowed them to test fuel consumption and range on a loaded vehicle and to help pinpoint any weak links or overlooked maintenance items.
Once your vehicle arrives at the hotel, it’s time to gather swag, apply stickers, and address any last-minute repairs or tech inspection issues. This is also a great time to start getting to know the rest of the UA crew, who, by the end of the next seven days, will be like family. You will laugh with these people, maybe bicker a little bit, and in the end share a life-bending experience over the next seven days.
Day 1 Breakage
• Trent McGee’s ’89 Blazer: Short in headlight switch wiring.
• Jim & Logan Mueller’s ’81 CJ-8: Flat trailer tire.
• Shaughn Reid’s ’75 Blazer: Loose wire on ignition pickup.
• Mel Wade’s ’51 Dodge M37: Bad plug wire and fuel injection CPU issue.
• Fred Williams’ ’90 Dodge Tug-Truck: broken beadlock bolts.
Day 2: Nebraska Sand Hills
The second day started with a 7 a.m. drivers meeting. We then loaded into our rigs and blindly followed General Péwé into the depths of Nebraska. We did not know what to expect, but knew we needed beverages and lunch and enough fuel to go 150 miles without refueling, and that our rigs needed to be able to ford water at least 3 feet deep.
After driving about an hour we arrived at a property deep in the Nebraska Sand Hills near Stapleton. This property, owned by Garold and Sue Russell, comprises about 100 acres of private trails on their ranch. The ranch is home to an annual invitation-only event called the Dismal Crawl. With about 30 rigs late in the summer, the Dismal Crawl makes its way through the trails on the Russells’ land. With some of Nebraska’s finest wheeling and a river float on Sunday, we can understand why you’d want to go, but it is invitation only. If you really, really want to weasel your way in, you’ll have to troll Nebraska off-roading forums for clues as to the dates of the event.
Getting back to the trails on the ranch that we ran as part of the UA, the trails run in and over the fragile sand hills with steep climbs, narrow gullies and plenty of trees. The land in this area is all sand and is loosely covered by grass. Rev your engine and spin your tires and you can kill the grass. Without the grass top-cover, erosion can happen quickly. Because of this, Russell asked us to try to avoid spinning tires at all cost. He watched us closely and vowed to ask anyone who tore up the grass to leave immediately. Fair enough. This land is his and Sue’s, and we are just happy to be able to enjoy it.
Also on the agenda was a deep water crossing across the Dismal River. It turns out that because of heavy rain, crossing the river would bend if not break the 3-foot water rule, endangering the air tanks of the lowest of UA 2014 vehicles.
We can’t ignore the bizarre flora of our adventure in the valleys of Nebraska, where copious “ditch weed” was growing. Yes, we had somehow found an off-roading location with acres of wild Mary Jane. We wondered if General Péwé was having a flashback to his 1970s party days, but apparently the low-grade grass is better suited to making rope than smoke. Illegal drug use is neither condoned nor allowed on the UA, and furthermore, the locals warned that if you smoke this Nebraska weed you’ll be rewarded with headaches and nausea. We’ll stick to wheeling gnarly trails to get our high!
Day 2 Breakage
• Chris Durham’s ’04 TJ: Some slight electrical gremlin.
• Mike Harrington: Wet his drawers.
• Trent McGee’s ’89 Blazer: Bent rock slider.
• Brennan Metcalf’s ’42 MB: Moistened air filter.
• Jim & Logan Mueller’s ’81 CJ-8: Broken rear driveshaft yoke and joint.
• VJ Perrin’s ’79 CUCV: Hub not locking, repaired on trail.
• Cooper Rasmussen’s ’13 Ram 2500: Bent tie rod.
• Bryan Schlagel’s ’78 Bronco: Lost a rear brake wheel cylinder.
• JT Molder & Jason Speaker’s ’07 JK: Leaky transfer case seal.
• Mel Wade’s ’51 Dodge M37: Lost a fan belt.
• Fred Williams’ ’90 Dodge Tug-Truck: Bent tailgate, dented driver door and handle.
• Video crew: Lost a 1.5-meter 2xlr audio cable.
Day 3: Road Day From Nebraska to Illinois
Ahh, an Ultimate Adventure road day! Many would think that the trail days are going to be the toughest challenge to the well-built off-road rig, but the day after a hard trail day, while we’re buzzing down the highway, is usually when we find the weak links. Mud packed in the radiator preventing cooling, water in the hubs or axles wreaking havoc, mud in the wheels causing death wobble . . . These are the things that cause the most trouble on road days. Luckily for all Ultimate Adventure participants, the old cronies are mixed in amongst the group, and if anyone has trouble one will drop off and help figure out the best fix while the rest of the group keeps moving down the road.
As previously mentioned, vehicle participants in the Ultimate Adventure are expected to be able to drive 150 miles without refueling. 150 miles sounds pretty doable, but what if you multiply that 150 by a factor of four or more? Our third day on the UA would turn out to be one of those epic days. We rolled out of North Platte Nebraska, and almost 700 miles and 18 and a half hours later we rolled into our first campsite near Dubuque, Iowa, on the property of Rich Conlon, a UA 2013 attendee.
Ultimate Adventure road days can be fun, and they can be long. This day would be both, with a couple of issues that slowed the group and a few individuals in particular. We collectively lost beadlock bolts, brake lights, an alternator, a caliper bolt—and poor Tim Hardy lost a power steering pump that then knocked a hole in his oil filter. The hole in the filter let all the oil out, and before Hardy noticed the smoke and mess, the loss of oil toasted the ’Zuki’s engine. Thus began the Hardy Alternate Adventure.
Day 3 Breakage
• Matt Bokan’s ’76 Scout II: Lost a rear brake caliper bolt and alternator and belt.
• Sam Gillis’ ’08 Liberty Tube Car: Lost brake lights and a shock seal.
• Tim Hardy’s ’87 Samurai: Lost the motor.
• Vj Perrin’s ’79 CUCV: Broken beadlock bolts.
• Fred Williams ’90 Dodge Tug-Truck: Broken beadlock bolts.
Day 4: The Illinois
Last year Rich Conlon drove his yellow ’08 four-door JK on the UA. This year somehow Conlon allowed Péwé to talk him into letting us wheel on his Iowa property. Conlon owns and operates Complete Off Road in Dubuque, Iowa and along with his brother Kevin and father Jim he has collected land around the family farm that can be used for 4x4 work-related testing. The property we rode on amounts to about 200 acres of forested patches interwoven with corn and soybean fields, and pastures.
The wheeling spot, known as The Ranch, is private, but a few local clubs do get to play here throughout the year, as we did. The terrain ranged from muddy fields to slippery rock-bottom ravines. Because of the huge amount of rain we chased into the area, the trails were slick and sloppy. The mud in this area of Iowa is much like grease, requiring drivers to use wheel speed to clear tread lugs and keep ahold of Mother Earth.
We started with trails and obstacles on slick grass. Then we ventured into the forest, where tight squeezes between trees, rocks, and more mud awaited. At the end of the day almost all the rigs had new dings, dents, and broken glass from sliding into trees, rocks, and the sides of tight ditches. And you can bet everyone spent some time on the end of a winch cable or towstrap. The lack of traction was impressive and unexpected, to the point where it was possible to get stuck on perfectly flat ground! Once back at camp, just after 9 p.m., we settled in for a relatively early night.
Day 4 Breakage
• Scott Bruder’s ’11 Power Wagon: Earned cab damage.
• Trent McGee’s ’89 Blazer: Broke a wing window.
• Fred Perry’s ’05 LJ: Bent passenger-side doorframe.
• Shaughn Reid’s ’75 Blazer: Lost a water pump.
• Mel Wade’s ’51 Dodge M37: Melted a winch solenoid.
• Fred Williams’ 90 Dodge Tug-Truck: Bed damage, driver mirror, fender damage.