Ultimate Adventure was the brainchild of Cole Quinnell. Cole started as a lowly editorial assistant at HOT ROD magazine before working his way up to staff level. While a HOT ROD staffer, it was Cole who came up with the idea for the HOT ROD Power Tour, which to this day is still one of the most wildly successful automotive events in the world. After leaving HOT ROD to launch a hands-on off-road book called 4×4 Power, Cole eventually landed at the helm of Petersen’s 4-Wheel & Off-Road magazine. It was there, in mid-to-late 1999, that Cole had the idea to just get a bunch of 4×4 friends rallied to stitch together a bunch of really cool off-road trails into a 7-10 day adventure. The invite list for that first UA was pretty informal, with no application or selection process. Cole and ad-sales guy Brian Cox contacted a bunch of hands-on off-roading advertisers, as well as readers and some selected friends. Other than some vehicle requirements that seem pretty tame by today’s standards, there were no hard and fast rules, as you can read about below.
So, hop on board to see the why, where, and whodathunk behind the world’s oldest and best-known off-road experiential event of its kind. Let’s fire up the Wayback machine and take a look at the early history of Ultimate Adventure.
See all 16 photos
Compared to nowadays, the first UA was quite informal, with participants getting a verbal invite and showing up together at the prearranged meeting point of Apache Junction, Arizona. The route wasn’t kept a secret and we had a lot more locals swinging by to watch and ‘wheel with us on our trail days. We didn’t have any specific vehicle requirements, with a few of our participants running 33s or front limited-slip differentials in lieu of the now-requisite minimum tire size of 35s and front and rear locker mandates. Heck, even trailers were allowed with a couple of the participants towing their junk behind motorhomes. The first UA in 1999 kicked off on September 11 and ran a full 10 days (travel to and from the event counted as event days) with the familiar cadence of one road day followed by a trail day, then another road day as we headed to the next trail, and so on.
Route Recap: Apache Junction, Arizona (Upper Ajax trail); Las Cruces, New Mexico (Tabasco Twister); Farmington, New Mexico (Waterfalls trail); Montrose, Colorado (The Trying trail).
Official Vehicle: It wasn’t an official build, but Cole Quinnell (driver) and Christian Hazel (passenger) were up front in Cole’s ’76 GMC K10 on 36-inch Swampers.
Notable Notes: It was so hot that Tech Editor John Cappa’s sneakers melted on the floor of his V-8-powered ’46 CJ-2A. Trent McGee drove his super-sweet pumpkin-orange Chevy Blazer, and our local trail leader on the last trail day broke 100 yards into Die Trying and abandoned us to go into town for parts, so we finished the trail on our own.
See all 16 photos
Although we were planning on doing another UA as soon as we had completed the first one, we didn’t actually get around to doing a second UA until 2001. By then it had become a formal magazine event with paid sponsorships, rules, and vehicle requirements. In fact, those vehicle requirements, with very few exceptions, are still in place today. Although the required equipment was somewhat high-level, exotic stuff for that time, today there are some factory Jeep offerings that with a winch added would be UA-eligible! This year also marked a change in staffing, with Cole Quinnell having been promoted to Editorial Director and Rick Pewe coming on board as the new Editor of 4-Wheel & Off-Road. The planning for the UA2001 event was handled by Cole, Rick, and Christian Hazel, and with a new “no-trailers” rule, a strict vehicle inspection on check-in day for the 19 invited vehicles, and a duration of seven days, the die was cast in many ways for the UAs that would follow.
Route Recap: Placerville, California (Rubicon trail); Naches, Washington (Shoestring/Kaner trail); Duncan, British Columbia (Bitch trail).
Official Vehicle: Rick built an old jeep M38A1 body he had laying around on his property, using an aftermarket frame, RamJet V-8 engine, and Dynatrac Dana 60s. He dubbed it the “Ultimate A1.”
Notable Notes: Rick was still thrashing to finish the Ultimate A1 and actually missed the first trail day. Tom Boyd lost brakes in his Bronco on a steep downhill section of the Kaner trail and pitted Jon Bundrant’s ’85 4Runner, causing a severe rollover that totaled the Toyota and left the occupants with minor injuries. This was the only year UA took place outside of the US (Canada).
See all 16 photos
For UA2002, the event had come fully into its own, with the addition of video coverage for the 27 vehicles in attendance. Before the days of YouTube and even DVDs, these early UA videos were sold on VHS with a running time of an hour or so. The UA2002 event was also Cole Quinnell’s last year being associated with the event or magazines, as shortly after it wrapped he left the company for a gig at Chrysler. Cole preran and planned an exceptionally enjoyable route that mixed epic scenic dirt-road drives into the road days and upped the difficulty factor on the trail days. It was also a banner year because, as the official tire sponsor, BFGoodrich provided a bunch of early-production Krawlers for the participants to use and allowed each to custom-groove the tread at the BFG semitruck before the event started. Performance factors learned from the trip made their way into the production Krawler T/A. From triple-digit temps in Utah to intense hail-laden thunderstorms in Colorado, this year nature played as heavy a hand as the terrain.
Route Recap: Cedar City, Utah (Three Peaks OHV park); Moab, Utah (Upper Helldorado trail); Montrose, Colorado (Calamity Canyon trail); Canon City, Colorado (Great Sand Dunes National Monument trail).
Official Vehicle: As our first official OE sponsor, Ford provided a new 7.3-liter Super Duty pickup that was treated to an ATS performance chip, a Dynatrac Dana 60 front, and 46-inch military Michelin XML tires.
Notable Notes: The Super Duty was cool but plagued with issues. The military bead on the XMLs didn’t work with the automotive bead on the beadlock wheels, and the beadlocks continually snapped and spat bolts, and in Moab, Christian Hazel had to pretty much drag it through Upper Helldorado behind his ’85 Ramcharger after the front axleshaft and the sector shaft in the steering box snapped. We also visited the Royal Gorge, and many of us did a post-UA hardcore trail outside of Canon City.
See all 16 photos
This year there was a new sheriff in town, with Rick Pewe taking the UA reins from Cole Quinnell. Rick would stay in charge of the event until Christian Hazel took it over in 2016. His first year brought the crew to the hardcore slick trails of the Southeast. With a new staff including Fred Williams, Jerrod Jones, and David Kennedy, along with new sponsors—namely Chevy, as title sponsor—that year’s UA really began solidifying the tradition of a unique, full-bore project build as a focal point to lead the event Fred took charge of overseeing the official vehicle build, which would also become standard operating procedure with only few exceptions throughout the event’s history.
Route Recap: Murphy, NC (Tellico OHV Park); Monteagle, Tennessee (stage coach OHV Park); Birmingham, Alabama (Gray Rock OHV Park); Starkville, Mississippi (Magnolia Mud Run, private property); Hot Springs, Arkansas (Hot Springs OHV area).
Official Vehicle: The Ultimate Avalanche was an 8.1-liter V-8-powered Avalanche 2500 that got steering Dynatrac Dana 60s front and rear, a slinky suspension, and 39-inch BFGoodrich Krawler tires.
Notable Notes: The Ultimate Avalanche needed some rear-steer and other repairs during the event which happened at Keith Bailey’s Off Road Connection shop. Keith would in turn become an event staple as a participant and then later as a Crony. This year also added more real ‘wheeling into the traditional “road day.”
See all 16 photos