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Getting Away From It All

Featured Photo from Getting Away From It All

For most people, the idea of getting lost on a rarely traveled, rutted path in the middle of a forest is something akin to a nightmare. But for a group of four-wheel drive-loving locals who call themselves Florida Adventure Rigs (or FAR), that’s exactly what vacations are made of.

For most people, the idea of getting lost on a rarely traveled, rutted path in the middle of a forest is something akin to a nightmare. But for a group of four-wheel drive-loving locals who call themselves Florida Adventure Rigs (or FAR), that’s exactly what vacations are made of.

“We like exploring,” says FAR member Steve Cegielski of Lake Mary. “For us, the point of having a four-wheel drive vehicle is being able to go to places that other people can’t or won’t go. We can go farther out into the woods, or out into a somewhat unexplored area, or up logging roads. We go farther than other people can.”

At least once a year, the group’s roughly 22 members come together in their Jeeps and other four-wheel drive cars for a weeklong trip. Most of the group has no idea where they’re heading (or what they’re heading into), but they fully expect to end up in extremely remote locales. They bring camping gear and supplies for a week.

“Basically, one person is in charge of a particular trip,” explains Mark Wells, another Lake Mary resident and FAR member. “They may assign one or two other people to help with the planning. For example, this year, we all met in Seneca, South Carolina. From there, no one knew where we were going other than one person.”

Even then, assistant planners only know one leg of the journey.

“It’s all a surprise to pretty much everybody,” says Mark.

For their most-recent trip, the group traversed five states and traveled about 2,000 miles. They drove through parts of the Smoky Mountains, crossed creeks, and (from an off-road trail) got unexpectedly dumped onto the Tail of the Dragon, one of the most corkscrew, high-performance mountain roads in the country. In Virginia and West Virginia, the group encountered ferries, covered bridges, a grandiose vine-covered mansion, and an abandoned town and rail line the site of one of the last loading stations for coal.

In addition to being car-lovers and pretty good mechanics, a lot of the FAR members are history buffs, says Steve. They also don’t mind spending a lot of time planning.

“Many of us are in a lot of Facebook groups and travel groups, and we watch different websites, and sometimes we’ll see these interesting little places,” explains Steve. “Or we’ll get GPS files from someone, or the latitude and longitude on a specific location or a bridge out in the middle of nowhere. We spend a lot of time on Google maps and satellite views looking for all the cool things, and then we go see them.”

The tight-knit group formed in 2013, mainly through word-of-mouth. The idea for an off-road travel group originated with Mike Marrero, FAR’s unofficial leader. Steve and Mike met on a nighttime off-road trip in Ocala, while others joined through friends of friends. They don’t consider themselves a club, but they do have a vetting process of sorts.

Basic requirements for members are patience, flexibility, resourcefulness and a vehicle that can handle rocks and mud.

“We have Hummers and Toyotas and Jeeps and Nissans and Chevys and mutants,” says Steve. “It doesn’t matter what you drive, as long as it’s capable enough to keep up with the rest of the group. If you took a Prius and modified it up to be heavy-duty enough to drive with us, that would be perfectly fine.”

While the vehicles vary greatly, they all have a few things in common: four-wheel drive, built-in winches, and recovery or “tow” points front and back with which to pull cars out of tough spots. Most members also have air compressors for filling tires, a variety of spare car parts (up to and including items like CV joints and axles), CB radios, and plenty of tools. Although the terrain they travel is rough on the vehicles, Steve says the group isn’t out there to beat up their cars or themselves.

“When we’re off-road, if an area gets dangerous, we slow down, and we do one vehicle at a time,” explains Steve. “We have spotters. We all carry a lot of safety equipment, and we take our time. If it looks too bad, we don’t do it.”

The members of FAR are also not about crashing through forests, say Mark and Steve. They abide by the principles of the nonprofit outdoor preservation organization Tread Lightly: “Don’t leave any signs that you were there when it comes to trash. Bring out more than you take in. Stay on the trails, respect the trails, and don’t do unnecessary damage,” recites Mark.

“I think one of the misconceptions people have about off-roaders is they’re just going out to tear things up,” Mark continues. “Some people do that, but we’re not that group. We’ll pick up the trash in the campsites. We’re not breaking trails through the woods. We are out to enjoy the outdoors. But most people see pictures of what we do and think we’re nuts

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