Four Wheeler - - Topless Across America Feature -

Miles on odome­ter: 2,682

Dirt miles: 83

Gal­lons of wa­ter drained from the Jeep’s tub: 5

Log­book quote: “Think we can bend it back with a winch?”

->By night­fall on Day Four, the Jeep had pushed across 814 miles of Texas, through Arkansas, and clear into Ten­nessee. Texas was full of dis­tant light­ning strikes, oil fields, and cow farts, leav­ing us good and ready for dirt. Thank­fully, a quick jaunt off the high­way af­forded us dirt roads and a 3 a.m. tour past some creepy wood­land ceme­ter­ies. <-The sun rose on Day Six, but we did not see it, as it was hid­den be­hind a layer of thick over­cast, promis­ing rain. Nev­er­the­less, the Jeep wan­dered to­ward the West Vir­ginia bor­der for a trail ride through some of Ohio’s most twisted, rut­ted, and goo-cov­ered back­coun­try.

<-|>An un­planned ren­dezvous with a boul­der dealt the Jeep’s fron­tend an im­mo­bi­liz­ing blow. The axle was crunched to­ward the rear of the rig, bend­ing a lower con­trol arm and bind­ing the front drive­shaft. We pulled the Jeep to a safe work area, re­moved the of­fend­ing con­trol arm, and with the help of some pre­ci­sion re­pair, re­turned its an­gle to within de­grees of fac­tory spec—or enough to last the day. Not only were our trail part­ners will­ing to help with the re­pair, but they also cooked din­ner while we wrenched.<-<|To make sure the Jeep was road­wor­thy for the re­turn trip, we found a friendly drive­way and swapped out the dam­aged con­trol arm and shocks. Also on the list was a tire change, be­gin­ning our time with a set of Pirelli Scor­pion All Ter­rain Plus rub­bers.

|>Dawn on Day Five was spent driv­ing over the Ohio River, bridg­ing the bor­der of Ohio and Ken­tucky. Be­fore sun­set, the Jeep ar­rived at Yankee Lake for Truck Night—a gath­er­ing of 4x4s on the bor­der of Penn­syl­va­nia and Ohio. Par­tic­i­pants are en­cour­aged to test their rigs in any of the venue’s mud bogs, woods trails, or on the tug pad.

|>The re­pair put a hic­cup in the plans, forc­ing us out past dark, and in­evitably into a mon­soon. The ruts quickly turned to tor­rents; we would have been bet­ter equipped to nav­i­gate them with a kayak. De­cid­ing to shel­ter in place rather than slide off a trail, we pooled our emer­gency tarps, draped them over the largest (also top­less) rig, and hud­dled in­side.

|>By the time the rain let up, it was well into the morn­ing of Day Seven. We opened the Jeep’s drain plugs, bounced the mir­rors and fender flares into a few trail­side trees, thor­oughly ex­er­cised the mud-ter­rain tires get­ting back to camp, and es­caped the woods mostly un­scathed.

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