36 Hours of Uwharrie: Testing Man and Machine

Off road like a Marine

Aug. 30, 2017 By Seth Fargher

The BFGoodrich 36 Hours of Uwharrie is a militarized off-road adventure challenge requiring competitors to complete a series of highly technical, off-road and military inspired missions while demonstrating their aptitude in navigation, proper trail techniques and all out will power.

Think King of the Hammers meets the Amazing Race but with a Marine Corps drill instructor watching your every move. The event takes place over the course of three days and is hosted by the Uwharrie Off-Road Training Center in Troy, North Carolina.

In keeping with the military theme, competitors, or the "enlisted," are staged at a Forward Operating Base (FOB) that serves as home for the duration of the event. Here you'll find rows of systematically placed tents, a chow hall that doubles as a meeting room as well as a depot for storing extra gear and equipment. The teams must be 100 percent self-sufficient and cannot seek assistance from anyone outside of the competition or face being disqualified. That means any spare parts, food, clothing and even fuel must be brought with them and housed in the FOB. The enlisted can solicit help from other teams and if they so choose, work together on specific challenges which contributes to the overall camaraderie of the event.

Upon arrival and check-in, each team is given a mission book and required to pass a thorough tech inspection. A big part of the event is not simply completing a task but doing it right. For that reason, as well as the safety of competitors, all equipment must meet certain specifications. From there, the enlisted are ushered into the FOB where they unload, apply sponsor decals to their canoes and await instructions from one of the commandants. And let's be clear, these aren't military wannabes playing dress up. One of the commandants is an active duty Marine Core drill instructor and the two others are retired military.

As for the structure of the event, the enlisted are coming in blind and rely solely on their mission books for instructions. They're given specific times each day to report to the FOB but when it comes to completing a mission, they're on their own. Each of the more than 30 missions gives them a specific challenge for which they are awarded points upon completion.  There are three classifications of missions; critical, optional and night missions. Critical missions are mandatory and failing to complete one will actually detract points from the teams overall score. For that reason, strategy plays a crucial role in the event.

Certain events can only be completed on specific days or during specific times. That means the enlisted have to be very precise in their mission planning or face losing time and potentially missing out on a required mission.

The missions themselves are designed to test the knowledge and aptitude of the participants on a wide range of off-road and military exercises. There were two shooting challenges, skeet and long range marksmanship using AR15 rifles, a canoe challenge that involves paddling to specific latitude and longitude coordinates to retrieve a mock nuclear device and numerous other activities that test both physical as well as intellectual strength.

Speaking of latitude and longitude, the enlisted aren’t given physical directions to any of the mission locations. The mission book provides instructions on how to complete each mission as well as latitude and longitude coordinates for where the particular mission is to be carried out. This alone tests a teams ability to work together and trust one another or risk losing valuable time just trying to figure out where they’re suppose to be.

By and large, most of the missions are meant to simulate real-world off-road situations that anyone could run into on the trail. From winching up a steep hill to repairing a synthetic winch line or demonstrating the correct method to free a vehicle when high-centered (jack and cast), the enlisted are required to carry out each mission exactly as illustrated in the mission book. For many missions, that includes taking a photo of their vehicle or canoe in a specific, rather unique location.

One particular mission involved building a bridge over a deep ditch using only four large logs. The enlisted had to move the logs into position by hand or with a winch, secure them so they wouldn’t move under the weight of the vehicle, then submit a picture of their vehicle on the bridge before dismantling it for the next group.

SEE ALSO: Watch This Overland Bridge Building Timelapse

As a means of promoting good stewardship of the environment and helping to promote responsible off-roading, several of the missions revolved around Tread Lightly and their preservation efforts in the immediate area. In addition to correctly cleaning up a simulated oil spill, each team was required to assist in the installation of a new guardrail and educational signage along a portion of the Uwharrie National Forest’s OHV trail.

Probably more impressive however was the amount of trash that was removed over the course of the three-day event. The enlisted have the opportunity to earn extra points by picking up trash as they carry out the various missions and by the end of the event, they had collectively removed 77 bags of trash, 30 tires, 2 televisions, and a mattress in addition to other garbage. This was incredibly impressive and highlights the importance of good stewardship of the environment so that off-road destinations can remain open.

Much to the dismay of the enlisted, most evenings are filled with “surprise” missions that rob competitors of valuable sleep, simultaneously sending them on a nighttime photo scavenger hunt of sorts. These missions typically involve taking a picture of the canoe in an inconspicuous place, like a popular rock crawling obstacle.

As far as the enlisted knew, the BFGoodrich Final Assault served as the grand finale of the event, consisting of three timed events for which the top five teams were awarded points. These three events included driving a tight woods course in reverse, dislodging an object from the top of a water jug without nocking it over and navigating a technical off-road section blindfolded while your co-driver gave instructions from the passengers seat.

Upon completion of the Final Assault, the entire convoy made its way to a nearby mountain where an amazing barbecue feast had been prepared. Just about the moment when the enlisted thought they were going to sit down to eat, the commandants informed them that they had one final canoe challenge to complete that included detailed instructions for unloading their canoes and paddling around an island on the far side of the lake.

"Expect the unexpected" is taken to heart at this event. From dealing with the weather to mechanical failures and surprise orders form the commandants, staying sharp and learning to adapt is crucial for anyone hoping to come out on top.

In the end, only one out of all 21 teams that started didn't finish, and that was due in part to saving the vehicle as it was the team's only transportation back to Michigan. Team Track & Trail Off-Road managed to take the overall in the pro class with team Play Harder Off Road bringing home the win in the enlisted class. For their efforts, competitors earned a slew of prizes including sets of BFGoodrich tires, Superwinch winches and they even gave away the AR15 rifles and shotguns used in the competition.

As far as off-road events are concerned, we wouldn't be surprised to see the 36 Hours of Uwharrie grow into one of the premier off-road events in the country. Everything from the setup and organization to the execution of the event was exceptional. Everyone involved from the promoters to the commandants to the legion of volunteers that helped staff the event are enthusiasts first and foremost which lends itself to creating an enjoyable atmosphere.

From an outsiders perspective it almost seems unthinkable that people would pay to subject themselves to such brutal conditions that test the limits of both the mind and the body but the sense of community and teamwork that evolves over the three days is profound. Half of the teams were fielded by repeat competitors from the inaugural event in 2016 and already, more than half of this year’s competitors are making plans to participate again in 2018.


he BFGoodrich 36 Hours of Uwharrie is produced by Path Less Traveled Inc., an off-road training and event solutions company. For more information on PLT or the event, visit pltoffroad.com.

Off-Road.com Newsletter
Join our Weekly Newsletter to get the latest off-road news, reviews, events, and alerts!