Longtime readers will recall that our last two Ultimate Adventures were defined by triple-digit temperatures that overshadowed the amazing scenery and challenging terrain in Arizona and California. This year we vowed that things would be different. Editor Christian Hazel took the UA back to his old stomping grounds in New England, just about as far away from Arizona and California as you can get while remaining in the continental United States. New readers may wonder what the heck we are even talking about though, so let’s back up a bit.
The Ultimate Adventure is a weeklong wheeling trip organized each year by us here at Petersen’s 4-Wheel & Off-Road magazine. The adventurers are members of the magazine staff, readers, sponsors, and UA cronies (off-road guys who use up all of their vacation and beat up their own vehicles to come hang out with us and keep the trip running smoothly). We not only wheel hard all week but also cover hundreds of miles on the pavement and essentially live out of our vehicles in search of the next wheeling destination. The trip happens in a new location every year, no trailers are allowed, and only the event organizer knows where we are going ahead of time.
What we did know this year is that we were starting in the little hamlet of Wilton, Maine, way in the northeastern corner of the United States. As the participants trickled in, the rain trickled down, and while no one said it, everyone wondered if we would spend the week wet, muddy, and winching through the trails. Vehicle inspections were performed, sponsor stickers were applied to wet sheetmetal, and hugs and handshakes were exchanged amongst friends old and new—and then UA 2018 was officially under way!
Check-in took place on the first day, with participants arriving from all corners of the country. Longtime UA cronies Sam Gillis and Keith Bailey performed a tech inspection on each vehicle for necessary items including rollcages, fire extinguishers, and first aid kits. After that, folks trickled inside, where Editor Hazel finished their paperwork. Then it was time for the fun stuff like pizza, stickers, swag from UA sponsors, and the first of many, many drivers meetings.
Rocky Mountain Terrain Park
This was the first time the UA visited Maine, and the Pine Tree State did not disappoint. By the morning of Day 1 the pouring rain from the night before had cleared and UA crony guide Trent McGee led us to the nearby Rocky Mountain Terrain Park (RMTP) in Carthage. We know—Carthage isn’t in the Rocky Mountains, but RMTP is rocky, and it is on the side of a mountain, and it does have amazing terrain. Owner John Steele has 700 acres of land here, with a 4x4 playground, campsites, and miles of trails with more being built all the time.
While the rain had stopped, the saturated ground made it nearly impossible to find traction on the loose, rolling boulders at RMTP. It was like trying to drive on greased marbles. Since this was just the first day of a long trip, the Warn winches and VooDoo Offroad ropes got a workout to get everyone through the park’s Frank N Beans and Ex’s Revenge trails. Well, nearly everyone. Keith Bailey showed us that nothing is impossible as he rocketed to the top of Frank N Beans. Driving a tube buggy for a week and finding a place for all of your gear is definitely a challenge, but the lack of sheetmetal and increased trail prowess can make it all worthwhile.
At the end of a long hard day, park owner John Steele personally cooked up some world-class hamburgers for every single participant. This was a taste of the hospitality that we would come to find at each stop on Ultimate Adventure 2018.
Todd Seavey was our trail guide at Rocky Mountain Terrain Park. His well-built Toyota 4Runner had the perfect balance of power, traction, and ground clearance. Going first didn’t hurt matters either, as the rocks became more coated in mud with each passing vehicle.
Chris Durham is an amazing driver, and he isn’t too shabby at spotting either. Here he works with invited reader Johnny Wood to get his Ram 1500 up Frank N Beans. Wood and his girlfriend, Amber Medrano, made the trip from San Diego to Moab earlier this year for the Fullsize Invasion. We figured if they were that committed to road trips they were ready for the UA.
Keith Bailey was towards the back of the pack on Day 1, and we didn’t think that anyone was going to get to the top of Frank N Beans unassisted. He gave it the beans though, and let his Hemi engine scream until he reached the top of the trail without having to pull a cable. Well done, Mr. Bailey.
This perspective gives you an idea of what we were up against at Rocky Mountain Terrain Park. Steep hills, super-loose rocks, and slimy mud meant that traction was all but nonexistent. Cooper Rasmussen had to engage the big Warn 16.5 winch on his Ram 2500. Shortly after literally pulling down a tree, the front ring and pinion broke when he tried to drag Dave Chappelle up the hill behind him.
Thanks to the rain the night before, crawling wasn’t an option at Rocky Mountain Terrain Park. Adams Clarke had to resort to spinning his Falken Wildpeak M/Ts in order to make any progress. His Scrambler has a somewhat tired TBI 350 pushing a strong Dana 60 front and beefy 14-bolt rear, allowing him to wheel hard without much concern of axle breakage.
Stephen and James Watson of Offroad Design were back again in their convertible square-body Chevy. Although it is a fullsize truck, Stephen has a magical talent for fitting everywhere the smaller Jeeps go without smashing any sheetmetal. Endless gearing options, plenty of horsepower, and a well-dialed suspension make this one of our favorite vehicles on Ultimate Adventure. Oh, and it doesn’t hurt that Stephen is one incredible driver.
The end of each day was marked by repairs in campgrounds and hotel parking lots. Unlike last year, there was no catastrophic failures in 2018 and everyone made it to the finish line. Radiators and power steering pumps seemed to be the most common casualties this year, but each was dealt with quickly, and the group continued on together.
Wilton to Berlin via Bethel
Typically, our Ultimate Adventures have alternated between wheeling days, with the hubs locked and the tires aired down, and road days that cover hundreds of pavement miles. Editor Hazel likes to wheel though, so this year was a bit different. Since there were ample opportunities to put T-cases in Low Range every day, trail guide Trent McGee did his prerunning homework well and had us airing our Falken tires up and down seemingly at every stop.
After 80 miles through beautiful Maine backroads we met up with Jim Bennett of the Western Maine Mountain Jeepers. he led us through the Dragon’s Tail, which is on his own private property in Bethel. As at Rocky Mountain Terrain Park, the trail conditions in Bethel were constantly changing, becoming slicker and challenging with each passing vehicle. We only scratched the surface of this beautiful area before we ran out of time and had to move on, but no one complained about the beauty or the challenge of Dragon’s Tail.
The trails in Bethel, Maine, got technical right off the bat. Despite this steep drop between two trees, Rick Prater managed to keep the body of his Willys Wagon clean on the UA. Wheelbase was your friend on this obstacle, but your enemy elsewhere on this super-tight and twisty trail that meandered over big boulders and through tight tree squeezes. It was epic!
Dave Chappelle is building a new fullsize rockcrawler out of an F-250, but since it isn’t done he brought Off Road Power Products’ JK, Stretch. It has a Cummins R2.8 Turbo Diesel under the hood mated to a ZF eight-speed automatic. This rig climbed everything and sipped fuel while it doing it.
Christian Hazel and Verne Simons shared driving duties in the official vehicle of UA 2018, the Derange Rover. The combination of Cummins R2.8 torque, Offroad Design Magnum Doubler gearing, Ultimate Dana 60 axles, and a custom suspension using Skyjacker components made the Rover incredibly capable on the trail. Even more impressive was how few issues they had with a vehicle that Verne had literally finished minutes before loading it on a trailer and bringing it across the country.
New Hampshire is the Granite State, and we encountered plenty of it on our visit. Unfortunately, much of it is coated in greasy mud, reducing traction to nothing. The farther back people were in the group, the more trouble they had, as the ledges were dug out and the rocks coated in mud.
The trails in Bethel were representative of what we found all over New England: large rocks mixed with slick mud and surrounded by dense forests. Falken Tire rep Gerald Lee was driving a loaner Jeep that he’d picked up on the East Coast, but with a factory 3.6L Pentastar engine and Ultimate Dana 60 crate axles he couldn’t really hurt it. Maybe that’s part of the reason he had a huge smile on his face all week.
JKs are so last year, so Dana brought a JL on this Ultimate Adventure! The 37-inch BFG All-Terrain tires were admittedly out of their element in the super-sloppy ground we encountered, but with some upper-level driving skills and the helpful spotting by his wife, Rachel, Dana’s Randall “Whiskey Throttle” Speir did an admirable job getting the company’s brand-new Wrangler cleanly through the trails unscathed.
After leaving Bethel we fueled up and resupplied on our way west into Berlin, New Hampshire. McGee wouldn’t tell us exactly where we were headed, which added to the challenge of herding this group of cats to a special location where we had a firm appointment. Bets were made with guesses ranging from skydiving to making our own maple syrup. No one imagined what was in store for us when we pulled into the parking lot at the base of Mount Washington.
The highest peak in New England, Mount Washington is at the top of a private road that normally shuts down at 6 p.m. McGee and Hazel had arranged for a sunset tour to the top of the mountain, and the views were absolutely chilling. The temperatures were chilling as well, dropping over 40 degrees from the base of the mountain to the summit. This is the location of the highest wind speeds ever recorded: 231 mph.
The private road to the top of Mount Washington is the East Coast’s answer to Pike’s Peak. Cycling, running, and auto races are all run on the winding road, which climbs over 4,500 feet in elevation to the mountain’s 6,289-foot peak in less than 8 miles.
The UA’s newest crony, Ken Smith, brought along his 1971 K20, which sits atop a 2001 Ram 2500 chassis, complete with the factory coil suspension, a 24-valve Cummins engine, and an NV4500 transmission. Smith had a ton of time sunk into this project, and it showed in all the details. The truck’s long bed was more than put to work carrying all sorts of extra gear the smaller vehicles couldn’t hold on to.
On a clear day you can see six states from the top of Mount Washington, along with the Atlantic Ocean and Canada. Despite its being cold and windy, we were blessed with an incredibly rare clear sky at the summit and beautiful views.
Jericho Mountain State Park
After a chilly night camping in Shelburne, New Hampshire, we broke camp early and headed to nearby Jericho Mountain State Park. At 7,500 acres, Jericho is not only the largest OHV park in the area but also the only public OHV park in New England. The bulk of the 60 miles of trails are geared towards ATVs and UTVs, but members of North Woods Off Road took us to the facility’s Split Rock Trail, which contained plenty of legit rockcrawling. As we had found with our respective hosts all week, members of NWOR were eager to give us a taste of East Coast wheeling in the White Mountains. New Hampshire’s motto is “Live Free or Die,” and we were loving life during our time in the Granite State.
UA 2015 alumnus Bill Costa tipped us off to Jericho Mountain State Park. He and other members of North Woods Off Road have worked to build and maintain trails on the only public land open to wheeling in the Northeast.
A warm, sunny day at Jericho meant that the trails had dried out from the rain earlier in the week. At least that was the case in open spots like this. Under the tree canopy the ground was still muddy. Once the first vehicle laid down a film of mud on the rocks, traction decreased for every other vehicle.
Chris Durham’s style of low-slung rigs with big tires was an influence on a number of vehicles on the trip, including Fred Williams’ TJ, Tube Sock. The Wrangler sports a Durham Motorsports hood with integrated fenders that allow fitment of 38x13.50R17 Falken Wildpeak M/Ts with minimal suspension lift, but the real party piece is the swapped-in Cummins R2.8. Williams chauffeured Cummins Repower Program Manager Stephen Sanders in Tube Sock all week testing out Cummins’ latest 310–lb-ft tune for the diesel crate engine.
Skyjacker Suspensions’ Bronco had suffered from fuel delivery issues on Day 1, but by Day 2 the 427ci stroked Windsor engine was sorted out and making serious horsepower. Is there such a thing as too much horsepower? We don’t think so. With a long-travel Baja-inspired suspension and incredibly clean appointments, you’d think Lonnie McCurry and Dillard De La Salle would take ’er easy, but that just ain’t their style. They just about wheeled the wheels off this vehicle, taking every line and trying every obstacle.
Rather than wait for the much-anticipated Jeep pickup, Rugged Radios rep Ian Johnson built his own at his “Big Tire Garage” shop. His “shop truck” runs a 5.3L V-8 and a TH400 transmission that lacks overdrive since it was intended to drive around town, but it had no issue running Johnson and co-driver Mike Ruzika down the interstate at high speed.
Mountain Mud Run
Everyone survived Jericho unscathed, so after topping off fuel tanks and resupplying coolers and fridges, we aired up the tires and turned south towards Attitash, where we took a break from the drive to enjoy the alpine slide and other attractions at Attitash Mountain Resort. Along the way we passed participants in The Great Race. While it takes place on pavement, the vehicles and participants of The Great Race are definitely kindred spirits with the Ultimate Adventure. As the antique cars rolled past we continued on to Mountain Mud Run, in Warren, New Hampshire. We will confess that there wasn’t a lot of enthusiasm for spending the afternoon getting stuck in bottomless mud, but we found that despite the name, John and Brenda Lester’s 63-acre park has a smorgasbord of varying terrain. We had barely scratched the surface (and some sheetmetal) as the sun dipped below the horizon and we had to continue on to camp for the night. It was only Day 3 of Ultimate Adventure and we had packed in so much already, what more could Trent McGee and Christian Hazel have in store for us?
Wait, this is Mountain Mud Run? Yep. The park’s owner, John Lester, is in the excavation business and has used his heavy equipment to build 12 miles worth of trails, with more added all the time. The Lesters hold WE Rock rockcrawling competitions, bounty climbs, and Megatruck events on their 63-acre parcel.
Even with a stock 4.0L engine Corby Phillips wasn’t scared to drive his Jeep through the mud pit. “What’s the worst that could happen? I have to use my winch?” the Warn rep joked. For the record, he made a clean run through the mud pit and made it through unassisted.
Playing in the mud isn’t so bad when you know there’s a car wash on the premises to get all of that sediment and debris out of your wheels, frame, and bearings. Chris Paul knows what’s up. He had his co-driver, Kyle Cunliffe, do the cleaning!
As the sun set on another full day of wheeling and adventure we couldn’t believe we were only finishing up Day 3. That means four more days of summer camp still to go! What will Trent McGee and Christian Hazel have in store for us next? Check back next month to find out.