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Back in 2009, I was flipping through the latest issue of Petersen’s 4Wheel and Offroad magazine and reading an article on the 2009 Ultimate Adventure. I was instantly interested in trying something like this but figured it was a complete waste of time to even apply. After a few laughs and what ifs, the wife talked me into filling out the entry form and sending in a few pictures of my rig. Fast-forward about four or five months and I get a call out of the blue from Rick Pewe from Petersen’s. He asks if I am interested in going on the Ultimate Adventure 2010! He states that it will be on the east coast in July and will I be able to go. I blurted out a yes before I could even wrap my head around all of the things that would have to happen to make this work out. I was so excited to be one of 6 rigs selected to go on this once in a lifetime trip. At this point, I had very little knowledge of what was actually in store for me, except for a date to be back on the east coast. I started writing a list of upgrades and repairs that needed to be done to the rig before the trip and started asking around to find a co-pilot. Casey Donaldson accepted my offer and we were planning on using his truck to pull the Bronco back to the east coast. We both started making preparations for this huge trip. I had 200k miles on a tired 2.9 V6 in my Bronco and really wondered how well it would do with the constant driving and wheeling. While Casey was welding on some custom bead locks to my existing wheels, I started an engine swap from a 91 Explorer I purchased for $300. The weeks are flying by and we are almost ready to leave. The 4.0L engine swap is complete, new chromo front axles and joints, new bead lock wheels and misc other repairs and we are ready to go. With four days left, a new set of Goodyear MTR Kevlar’s show up on my porch. Casey and I feverishly swap out the old BFG Mud’s for the pretty new Goodyear’s and are finished with only hours to spare. 32 bolt bead locks are really time consuming!

Casey met me at my house with a minimal amount of camping gear and supplies for our upcoming week on the trail. Within an hour, the truck was loaded; coolers full and we were on our way to Virginia. 46 hours later we were sitting in his sister’s house in Fredericksburg, VA, planning our next moves. The house was a 60+ acre plantation built over 200 years ago and even had slave quarters under the house. It was a nice place to take a break and the history was amazing. After only a short rest, we were in the Bronco, loaded down with camping gear and spare parts and headed to Keene, NH. After driving all night and putting over 700 miles on the Bronco and even having a minor altercation with the local town idiots, we were at the staging grounds in the hotel parking lot.

The first day was tech inspection, minor adjustments, plastering the vehicle sponsor’s stickers, on camera interviews and most importantly meeting your new best friends. The lot was full of very capable rigs from all over the country. We got one good night sleep in the hotel before we officially started wheeling. Every morning started with a 7am drivers meeting and info on what we were to expect for the day. Every day was top secret and we had very little details on what to expect and where we were headed. All of our travels were on little back roads and 2 lane highways through beautiful east coast scenery. With a total of 20 rigs including 6 readers, trail support/sponsor rigs and camera crews, we were quite a sight. Most rigs were rolling fix-it tickets due to the stringent east coast lift laws!

Once on the trails, we got to wheel the hardest trails that the states had to offer. It was like wheeling the Johnson Valley “Hammers” everyday. Just think of the Hammers trails and then add mud, water and trees! At the end of every trail day, we had huge carnage reports and hours of repairs lasting long into the night. The person you met just a day ago is now laying on top of you and you are both working by flashlight to fix someone’s broken rig. The teamwork and camaraderie was unbelievable. It was the best group of people I have ever met. After a couple days of sleeping in the middle of a forest and living out of the back of your rig, eating gas station sandwiches or even a catered lunch here and there, the trip was wearing on the entire group. Lack of sleep, constant vehicle repairs, unbearable heat and humidity and we all felt like we were in paradise! We had wheeled private parks in New Hampshire, New York and Pennsylvania. We had everything from heavy body damage to almost every drive train component broken and repaired in the last few days. The Bronco was doing extremely well and only had minor body damage and a minor cooling issue until we got to Rousch Creek, PA. Rousch creek took a very heavy toll on the entire group and seemed to cause more carnage than any other park. Toms early Bronco shattered a front ring and pinion and even broke the cast iron D44 pumpkin. Hobart pulled up in their M37 Power wagon, fired up the welder and plasma and had the rig back on the trail in no time! Yes, all of the sponsors and such wheeled with us and there was fab and repair work taking place on the trails and in the campsites. The Cumberland Valley trail really took its revenge on my Bronco. I first ended up with a smashed drivers fender after a little tree hugging. It did however prevent a roll down the side of a hill, so it seemed pretty minor in the end. After completing this trail we were headed up to the Crawl Daddy trail and some mud pits. I ended up sucking an engine full of water and destroying an engine on my Bronco in a really nasty and deep mud pit. We don’t have water to deal with out here in California so this caught me a bit off guard. After being towed back to camp and assessing the damage, the engine was toast and we were done. Andrew from Canada had found me an engine within a half hours drive from Rousch Creek. However, I didn’t have the money to buy the engine since we had used most of our repair money on fuel. We didn’t know that there were no Chevrons or Texaco’s on the east coast and had relied on my gas card to get us there. The Petersen’s group had the same issues with gas cards also! Long story short, Fred from Warn winch took up a collection from the whole camp and bought me a replacement motor! I was literally in tears after finding this out. This whole week was really tough, then broke the engine and now have the entire group pitching in to help Casey and I. Fred presented me with the money and stated that this is the Ultimate Adventure and NOBODY goes home early! The next morning the entire group was headed to Virginia on a road trip and we were headed to New Jersey to pick up the engine and to a shop to swap it. Our buddy Kenny who was waiting with the truck and trailer in Virginia came up to meet us and we were off to change and engine. The “like new” motor that came out of a wrecked vehicle was in horrible condition, including a broken alternator, rusted valve covers and three broken exhaust studs. We pushed on to NJ to OK Offroad to change the engine. They gave us a roll away toolbox and an engine hoist to change our engine. We had to strip both engines down to the long block to make everything work. Kenny, Casey and I worked non-stop and rolled out of the shop 8 hours later with a repaired rig. We drove though the night to catch up with the group in Virginia to wheel the last day of the trip. We were celebrities when we showed up that morning. We finished wheeling in Virginia with no issues and then set our sights on a victory dinner and a long drive home. In the end, the magazine, sponsors and other readers were the best group of people you could ever hope to meet. The teamwork and friendship will never be forgotten. It was a long, hard and destructive week that will go down in my memory as one of the best weeks ever! Given the chance to do it again…I would do it in a second!

Shay Stepp

Shay can be contacted on the forum under the user name




Rebel Chapter 4x4 member

Shay Stepp

with pictures and video

Four Wheel and Off Road's

Ultimate Adventure 2010