If you’ve been a part of it then you know the Jeep community has an interesting dynamic. Most of us don’t know each other, but still, while passing another Jeep on the road we wave like we’re old friends. When we see another Jeep in a parking lot we walk by it, admire it, judge it, and take note of anything on it that we might find interesting for our own. Your Jeep may even get a duck left on it…yep…its a thing.
Accessories to a Jeep owner are like shiny metal objects to a raccoon – very much irresistible.
The desire to upfit a beautiful 4×4 vehicle just 22.3 seconds after it comes off the assembly line is almost uncontrollable. You’re not born with it…but buy a Wrangler and it’s like you get exposed to highly dangerous gamma radiation, becoming a big green monster with an off-road website and a credit card.
One little innocent Google search for seat covers ends up with you buying a 4-inch lift kit, push bars, 35-inch wheels, louvered hood, a hands-free cell phone mount, and a winch that would pull an M1 Abrams battle tank out of a mud hole.
It’s all there in the name…
I mean, one theory says that the word Jeep originated during World War II when it was considered a General Purpose vehicle, which shortened to GP. Soldiers slurred those GP initials together to create Jeep. But as a Jeep owner, you tend to add on and ‘improve’ your ‘off-road’ beauty. Our general-purpose pride and joy all-terrain vehicle that we believe could climb the side of a giant oak tree becomes a ‘Mall Crawler’ to the point that JEEP actually stands for Just Empty Every Pocket.
Nonetheless, once you have a CJ or YJ, TJ, JK, JL…parked in your driveway you seem to be born into a new family. For many Jeep owners, finding a new set of like-minded friends by becoming a part of one of a thousand communities across the United States, becomes their first mission. There is one thing Jeep owners love to do more than show one individual their awesome four-wheeler. That would be to ‘show that thang off‘ to hundreds of individuals on a multi-vehicle ride around the countryside.
Go Topless Day is one of those rides, an annual celebration of the beginning of Spring. It beckons Jeep owners like a moth to a flame to take off their tops and gather in parking lots all across the country. We should clear up here that the ‘topless’ refers to removing the soft tops on a Jeep. Not exposing the pasty, sun-tanned challenged bellies of old guys without t-shirts.
The first Go Topless Day was held by a small group of Jeepers in Central Massachusetts in May 2008. This year’s May 15 event was the 14th anniversary and it has spread to more than 240 events in 45 states. It’s not just us Yanks here in ‘Merica. Jeepers in 11 different countries popped their tops off too.
But this ain’t all just fun and games. These afternoon fellowship fun drives, running up and down the backroads also generate lots of money for local charities. The major promotor of the annual event, ExtremeTerrain encourages the charity portion of the annual gathering by challenging local Jeep groups to raise at least $500 for a 501(c)(3) organization. If they do, then ExtremeTerrain will match $500 to that same organization. The Jeep groups have been pretty successful, raising over $130,000 for charities since 2018.
Back to our local ride in Franklin, NC, Debra and I joined up with the Smoky Mountain Jeep Club’s #GoTopless ride. My 16-year-old son was probably the most excited as he got to take part in his first Jeep ride. It began with a meet-up at the Macon County Recreation Park. The large picnic shelter had registration and raffle tickets and enthusiastic leaders. The parking lot was full of us raccoons staring in wonderment at other raccoon’s shiny objects.
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Our ride began as we departed the park with a police escort. The route carried us west out of Franklin on Hwy 64 to Wayah Road. We wound our way through Nantahala National Forest like a line of ants on a mission to raid a picnic. The route carried us off Wayah Rd to Junaluska Rd, along Old River Road, and briefly back onto Wayah Road. Taking a right onto Hwy 74, we went through the Nantahala Gorge, passed the Nantahala Outdoor Center, and onto Needmore Road. Needmore would carry us along the beautiful Little Tennessee River where soaring bald eagles can sometimes be seen. From there we head back to the recreation park picnic shelter in Franklin. Waiting for us was a wonderful BBQ meal by Big Boy BBQ.
The Smoky Mountain Jeep Club’s chosen charities for this event would be Friends of the Greenway and the American Legion Post 108 to support the upkeep of the Macon County (NC) Veterans Memorial. With the registration of 29 Jeeps, raffle ticket sales, and the BBQ meals, the Smoky Mountain Jeep Club raised $2000 from the day’s event + the $500 match from ExtremeTerrain.
You couldn’t have asked for a better day. The weather was sunny and the high was 71 degrees. A perfect temperature to Go Topless in Western North Carolina.
Video by Steven Pruitt