Hard core off roading in Virginia

Who says you’ve got to go fast to have fun in an automobile? Last Friday, I drove 11.4 intense miles over the course of nine hours, and by the end of the day, I was completely exhausted.

My loyal steed was Automobile Magazine’s Four Seasons Jeep Wrangler Unlimited, which performed extremely well on the rocky, muddy, river-y, and tree-tight trails of Virginia’s Oak Ridge Estate in the first Jeep Jamboree of 2008. That’s not to say that our Jeep breezed easily through the two-day event: The Wrangler required assistance from winches on three separate occasions—once to help it up a steep, slippery hill of red clay; twice to tug its back end away from trees. Two other times, another Jeep pulled us out of trouble by our front tow hooks. And once, a trail guide helped push us, by hand, up a greasy incline.

Nonetheless, our rescue green Jeep came away with some minor scuffs and scrapes, par for the off-roading course. Upgraded tires, perhaps from the Rubicon trim level, would have improved off-road grip, but the stock Goodyear Wrangler SR-As on our Sahara model performed OK considering their highway-biased tread pattern. But no rubber could erase the fact that our big, heavy four-door Wrangler is definitely more difficult to maneuver than its smaller predecessors. (At least our tires, extra space, and longer wheelbase—along with the factory navigation system and satellite radio—made the 600-mile-plus sprint from suburban Detroit a lot more comfortable.)

Don’t dismiss the new Wrangler (codenamed JK) as an off-road failure, though, because it’s certainly not: the rain and the mud made for exponentially more challenging trails overall. In fact, due to the rain-slickened routes, trail guides had to winch more Jeeps—including heavily modified examples—than they’d had to in any of the Oak Ridge Jamboree’s previous eight years. (It’s a good thing that the trail guides drove some sweet modified Jeeps of their own, including a 1981 CJ7 Renegade, a ’51 flat-fender Willys, and a late ’70s Jeep Scrambler.)

For the record, the Oak Ridge event utilizes parts of forty-seven miles of trails threading through a 5000-acre hunk of private property in Lovingston, Virginia. Oak Ridge was the first of thirty-one Jeep Jamborees ( scheduled for 2008, most of which also include tasty, home-cooked meals like those we enjoyed in Virginia. (Nothin’ like biscuits ‘n’ gravy and grits to kick off a day of “wheelin'”!).

If you’re still making payments on your Jeep—be it a Wrangler or any other Trail Rated model—you may not want to bang your vehicle against rocks or drive it through rivers. But if you can accept the risks to your Jeep’s well-being, then get your butt out there on the trails! It’s the only place to truly appreciate a Jeep.