The History of Ultimate Adventure, Part 5: 2018-2021

With the new crew in charge of running Ultimate Adventure, the sky is now the limit, setting the route sights on epic bucket-list destinations, incorporating world-renowned points of interest and, of course, making the trail days anything but a walk in the park. How’s about driving to the highest point on the eastern seaboard? Yupperino. Wanna take the event up to Alaska? Bam, mooses and bearses galore!  Old abandoned mines, Yellowstone’s Old Faithful, the Wyoming Badlands, and Mt. Rushmore? Sure, why not! Go watch a B-24 Liberator in between killer Oklahoma and Texas trails? Naturally. All while rolling from destination to destination in the wildest, coolest, most capable 4x4s you can imagine. It’s Ultimate Adventure. We’ve been doing it for over two decades, and as long as the audience continues to care as deeply about the event as those who sponsor and execute it, the event ain’t going anywhere. We love doing it and we’ll keep it up until the earth stops turning!


Poorly done New England accents aside, the call went out for UA2018 participants to meet in Wilton, Maine for check-in and tech inspection among cloudy skies that held the promise of rain. Indeed, that night the skies did open up for a while, ensuring the wheeling on day one would be on the wet side. But unlike the torrential slogfest of UA2015, the Wicked Nor’Eastah, as UA2018 was nicknamed, turned out to have weather as awesome as the ‘wheeling. Rocky ledges, muddy bogs, tight and twisty tree-strewn snaking trails, and gorgeous hardwood canopies that wrapped around like the cool temperatures that were a welcome relief from the triple-digit temps that had assaulted the previous couple of years. From the beginning in Maine to the end in Pennsylvania, UA2018 would hit the requisite ferry crossing UA had become known for, stop for ice cream multiple times, enjoy the local bits of interest and color, and leave every participant yearning to come back next year for more.

Route Recap: Carthage, Maine (Rocky Mountain Terrain Park); Bethel, Maine (Dragon’s Tail trail with Western Maine Mountain Jeepers—private land); Berlin, New Hampshire (Jericho Mountain State Park OHV); Warren, New Hampshire (Mountain Mud Run); Northern Connecticut (Crazy 8s, Eastern 4Wheelers 4×4 club—private land); Central Connecticut (Sawmill Trail—Frank Fredsall property, private land); Ellenville, New York (Northeast Off-Road Adventures); Coal Township, Pennsylvania (Anthracite Outdoor Adventure Park).

Official Vehicle: Verne Simons stumbled on a killer deal on an ’89 Range Rover and, boom, out sprang the Derange Rover from his fertile brain. With a pair of Ultimate Dana 60s intended for a JK Wrangler, the rig ran a Verneco-fabbed suspension using Skyjacker springs, a Cummins R2.8 crate engine fronting an AX15 transmission and Offroad Design Magnum Box/NP205 T-case system, and 38-inch Falken tires, all done up in a style that evokes memories of the old Camel Trophy competition of the ’80s.

Notable Notes: Christian Hazel and Verne came up with a bunch of goofy costumes they changed in and out of to have fun with the uber-’80s Camel Trophy style and British heritage of the Derange Rover. As is typical with New England, much of the wheeling was on private land or OHV parks, with the exception of Jericho Mountain State Park in New Hampshire. The weather at the top of Mount Washington in New Hampshire was frigid! Stephen and James Watson of Offroad Design bought about nine gallons of maple syrup to bring home to Colorado. Kenny Smith became the newest official UA Crony. At the Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome, we got to see awesome aviation displays and watch a WWI biplane make practice landings and take-offs. We wheeled every single day.


It had been talked about for a long, long time, but for UA2019 Christian Hazel pulled the trigger and sent Trent McGee all the way to Alaska, aka “The Last Frontier,” to do a not-so-stealthy prerun using the high-vis, super-unique Derange Rover. Trent planned a successful route, and the participants suffered a bit of minor shock when they were informed the meeting point for Ultimate Adventure was Wasilla, Alaska! For many, the trip just getting to the starting point was an adventure in itself, with almost everybody driving up through Canada, eh, with junk either on a trailer or under its own power. What followed was the coldest, more remote super-monster-epic Ultimate Adventure yet, with ‘wheeling to a glacier, through deep muskeg, along the “Into the Wild” trail, a tour of the Kennecott and Usibelli mines, some historic transportation museum exhibits, and plenty of remote off-grid camping.

Route Recap: Knik Glacier, Alaska (Knik River Public Use Area); Eureka, Alaska (Eureka trail); Southeastern Alaska (Paxson Lake trail); Healy, Alaska (Stampede Trail); Wasilla, Alaska (Bald Mountain trail).

Official Vehicle: It was Trent’s turn to have Verne transform one of his rigs into the official vehicle of Ultimate Adventure. Trent’s ’64 Scout 80 was put in the mad-scientist hands of Verne Simons who transformed it into the Ultimate International, chopping the body to clear 38-inch Falken tires with a super-low Skyjacker leaf-spring suspension using Chevy packs. Like the Derange Rover and UACJ6D before it, the Ultimate International sits on burly Ultimate Dana 60 axles with 4.88 gears and is powered by a Cummins R2.8 turbodiesel crate engine. The transmission is a bitchin’ Tremec TR-4050 five-speed fronting the killer Offroad Design Magnum Box/NP205 T-case system.

Notable Notes: Christian moved the event start date from the traditional midsummer timeframe into early fall to avoid hunting season in the majority of places we’d be visiting. We just happened to luck into the rare Alaskan fall foliage season, in which there’s only about a week for the vegetation to really pop with color. A moose ran through our campsite one morning, we spotted bald eagles and bears and even a wolverine, and plenty of wolf tracks to keep us on our toes. Unfortunately, smoke from local wildfires severely obscured many of the epic views but, hey, we were ‘wheeling in Alaska and the first rule of UA is “No Whining!”


By 2020, the UA formula was pretty solid. Christian Hazel picked the general areas he wanted to start and finish around, and then Trent McGee set out to make the magic happen by finding, planning, and finalizing all the intricate details of the UA route. While that was happening, Verne Simons toiled away at the official UA build, which this year was a junked TJ Unlimited he stumbled onto for a neat price and built in with a WWII Long-Range Desert Group flavor, paying tribute to the early British SAS teams that ravaged Rommel in the North African desert. With a starting point in Kalispell, Montana, just spitting distance from Glacier National Park, and a route that made an arc down through Wyoming and over to Rapid City, South Dakota, we wouldn’t be ‘wheeling anything resembling desert terrain, though. Massive wildfires from the western seaboard blew a thick pall of smoke our way, obscuring any semblance of view for the first few days, and we had to deal with certain COVID pandemic precautions, but we didn’t let it get to us, and enjoyed all the wonderful wilderness and epic wheeling that UA2020 had to offer.

Route Recap: Kila, Montana (Blacktail Wild Bill OHV Area); Western Montana (Caruthers Lake); Western Montana (McKelvey Lake trail); Worland, Wyoming (Fenton Pass/Badlands); Keystone, South Dakota (Bikini Trail)

Official Vehicle: Verne’s UALRJ, or Ultimate Adventure Long-Range Jeep, employs some of the best parts in the industry, from the Skyjacker suspension and Ultimate Dana 60 axles, to the Cummins R2.8 turbodiesel engine and Off Road Design Magnum Box/NP205 T-case system. The 38-inch-Falken-shod Jeep took Christian and Verne anywhere they pointed the nose and required zero work during the event.

Notable Notes: We visited several abandoned mines and ghost towns with all sorts of super-cool machinery and abandoned gear. We rolled through Yellowstone National Park and watched Old Faithful erupt. Once again, wildlife sightings were thick, with every animal species from bald eagle to antelope to elk to bear making an appearance to gawk at the passing UA train. Crony Skinny Kenny almost lost his Blazer to an underhood fire but invited readers Joe Grieshop and Codey Welder were quick with an extinguisher to save the day. We drove through the abandoned railroad Boulder Tunnel in Comet, Montana. For the first time ever, due to the cancellation of 4-Wheel & Off-Road print, the magazine coverage for UA appeared in Four Wheeler magazine.


Normally the staff begins planning and executing pre-event logistics for each UA a minimum of six months out, but due to some reverberations from the pandemic, supply-chain issues, and some budget-freezes, we didn’t actually get a green-light to proceed on UA2021 in time to execute a vehicle build. No worries, though, because between Christian Hazel, Trent McGee, and Verne Simons, we still had plenty of super-cool UA rigs left to select from. Christian dropped the Ultimate Orange Jeep (or the UAJKJ, as he started referring to it) at UA alumni Johnny Wood’s shop, Wood’s Off Road, to have all the pre-event maintenance it might need done. Trent dusted off the Ultimate International, and Verne just added some fuel to the UALRJ tank before the staff headed out to the starting point in McAlester, Oklahoma. Not since 2007 had UA been to Texas or Oklahoma, so the event was due for a good ol’ Lone Star reunion … plus Oklahoma. The ‘wheeling was intense, the weather was gorgeous, and the barbeque was awesome.

Route Recap: Burris Valley, Oklahoma (Rugged Mountain Ranch); Davis, Oklahoma (Cross Bar Ranch Offroad Park); Bridgeport, Texas (Northwest OHV Park); Mason, Texas (K2 Katemcy Rocks); Ozona, Texas (Escondido Draw Recreational Area).

Official Vehicle: Trent and Christian led the event in the Ultimate International from UA2019. Verne drove the UALRJ from UA2020, and Cronies Clifton Slay and Tommy Boyd drove the Ultimate Orange Jeep from UA2012, aka the UAJKJ.

Notable Notes: We stumbled into a lucky situation at the Vintage Flying Museum in Fort Worth, Texas, as the crew of the B-24 Liberator, Diamond Lil, was spending the entire time we were visiting practicing their touch-and-go landings and take-offs. The National Museum of the Pacific War in Fredericksburg, Texas is most definitely worth a trip! Jeff Ismail of IH Parts America had to weld the frame of Project Hideous back together, United Readers Dave Hamrick and Robert Keller yanked the T-case and tranny in a hotel parking lot to track down a suspected failed throwout bearing, and K2 Katemcy Rocks had some of the grippiest terrain on the planet.

UA2022 Is Coming Soon!

By now, the team of Christian Hazel manning the corporate stuff and picking the region, Trent McGee heading out and doing the prerun and co-hosting the event on the ground with Christian, and Verne Simons plugging away in his home shop like a mad scientist to build the official UA vehicle is a well-oiled machine. At the time of this writing, Verne is busily thrashing to turn a modest early-2000s Toyota Tundra into a killer UA work of off-road art, Trent is out scouting routes and checking trail systems, and Christian dotting every i and crossing every t to make sure UA2022 comes off without a hitch in September. Tune in to for updates, check @ultimateadventureofficial on Instagram, and watch for those videos to hit MotorTrend’s YouTube channel in early December. And, of course, we’ll have detailed, eye-popping multipart coverage of UA in Four Wheeler, beginning in the March 2023 issue!

Ultimate Adventure 2022, Presented by Real Truck

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