ROLLING THROUGH THE VALLEY

NOVA Jeepers is a car club that scales off-road trails

Story by Paul Murphy

Photos by James Allen and Sean O’Brien

 

Most people would be enraged if it took them seven hours to cover 8 miles in their car. However, one group of people enjoy doing exactly that as a weekend activity. The Nova Jeepers are a club of off-road enthusiasts who spend many weekends a year battling rocks, mud and steep gradients in an effort to optimize their smiles-per-gallon. Their Jeeps sit high off the ground and resemble four-wheel drive gladiators, kitted out to do battle against all that Virginia’s trails, including the Flagpole Knob trail in Rockingham county, can throw at them. “I don’t have any kids, so she’s almost my baby,” said Nova Jeepers’ vice president Jeremy Long in regard to his Jeep.

Long and 16 other Jeepers hit the Potts Mountain Jeep Trail trail just outside of Covington, Virginia, for a full day of off-roading on what many of them called the most difficult public trail in Virginia. The 8-mile trail took about seven hours to negotiate. In those seven hours, the Jeepers had to crawl over sofa-sized rocks, drive trails pitched so heavily to the side that it felt as though the Jeep was going to tip over, and climb slopes so steep that the only thing visible in the windshield was the cloudless, blue sky above. “You’ve got obstacles that you can’t go around,” said Long. “I love the problem-solving aspect of it.”

Even in purpose-built Jeeps, maneuvering through the obstacles on the trail requires precision, specifically in the line the driver uses.  “The line is just the path you want your tires to go on,” said Alec Schreiber. When drivers navigating obstacles, other Jeepers will stand in front and spot for the driver because it’s impossible for drivers to see what’s under their front wheels. “What makes you good at spotting is knowing where to put your wheels and stay off the gas,” said Richard “Turkey Man” Graham, one of the ride’s leaders. “I’ve put a lot of Jeeps in places they thought they’d never go.”  Along with spotting and driving technique, the Jeeps themselves play an important role in overcoming the obstacles. Tires from 32 to 40 inches, upgraded suspension, skid plates and winches, which are cables that pull the jeep when the tires can’t get traction, are required on a difficult trail like Potts Mountain. One of the Jeeper’s Jeeps had about $70,000 in aftermarket parts installed.

However, less difficult trails like Flagpole, just a few miles from Reddish Knob, can be done with fewer upgrades. “Even a stock Jeep is quite capable,” said Long. The Nova Jeepers use Flagpole as a way to introduce people to off-roading. “We use it for our new members,” said Long. “We kind of show them some things and at least give them a taste of going off-road.” “I think it’s really cool to see new people experience the things that I’ve experienced,” said Graham. “Just the expressions on their face and the fun that they have, that’s what Jeepin’ means to me.”