The small Floridian city of Okeechobee (population: 5,000) is a two-hour trek from Orlando, but it might as well be a million miles from Disney World.
Once you turn off the Florida turnpike onto Highway 441, there’s nothing but empty road and a few ramshackle farms. There’s a bullet hole in the sign that reads “Okeechobee County Welcomes You.” There’s a gargantuan Home Depot and plenty of mom-and-pop, burgers-and-fries places with names like “Cowboys BBQ and Steak Company” and “Lunkers Sports Grille.”
But the most important thing to know about Okeechobee is that it’s home to a 250 acre patch of land that magically transforms from farmer’s private cattle pasture and land into a Can-Am® mudder’s paradise. It’s called Mudfest.
Of the 250 acres, 70 are dedicated to the massive mud hole in the middle of the grounds. Can-Am ATV riders travel in packs here, navigating the shifting elements with rooster tails of mud flying up behind them. Using the unique blend of Rotax® engine power and superior handling, they’re able to go places others cannot. In the deepest parts of the pit, where other ATVs get stuck, they power through. In the watery areas, where other vehicles are floundering, the Can-Am riders are the sharks, gliding through.
If you’re trying to find the groups of Can-Am ATV and side-by-sides at Mudfest, you don’t have to look hard. Just follow the sound of hungry engines in the early morning. These riders are the ones up at 8 a.m., already on their bikes. When traffic picks up throughout the day, they’re still finding new places to explore. They don’t stop riding until the sun goes down.
“If you don’t want to get dirty, don’t come.” — Jacob Fox, Can-Am Outlander owner
There are a lot of slow-moving vehicles around, too, lifted trucks with huge mud tires, tractors and party barges – even the occasional riding lawnmower. They’re forced to move around Mudfest slowly, cautiously, not wanting to get stuck. They act as the spectators for the main event – Can-Am riders dominating the mud pits.
“You can test your limits here,” says Jacob Fox, a Can-Am Outlander™ 800R XT™ owner. “If you don’t want to get dirty, don’t come.”
The mud riding isn’t the only thing that attracts people to MudFest, the gathering is a way to celebrate the fun lifestyle of getting muddy on your favorite machine, too. Country music blasts out of every speaker. And it isn’t Taylor Swift, Lady Antebellum or Little Big Town. We are talking Eric Church, Toby Keith and maybe a little Johnny Cash thrown in!
There’s a trailer advertising “Hot Showers” for $15 a pop. But it might be the only deserted area on the packed grounds. By afternoon, when the dirt is coming out of your eyes, ears and nose, the fun is only starting.
Mudfest attendees wouldn’t have it any other way.
“It’s muddy, fun, big, crazy,” says Ben Teaford, who’s riding a 2011 Can-Am Outlander 800R X™ mr. “A crazy mess, I would say.”
“A big part of it is that it’s quality mud hole. Not sand and water mixed together. When you go out in that deal, you’re almost guaranteed to get stuck, and you’re going to get dirty.” — Mudfest organizer Debra Sales
Pat Bolling, made the two-hour trip from Pompano, Florida to ride his Can-Am Commander™ at the best mud event around.
“If you like muddin’, if you like dirt ridin’, this is the place to be,” Pat says.
Billed as the “World’s Largest Mud Party,” the fest drew more than 8,000 mud-crazed fans this year, says Debra Sales, Mudfest organizer and land owner.
“A big part of it is that it’s quality mud hole,” Debra says. “Not sand and water mixed together. When you go out in that deal, you’re almost guaranteed to get stuck, and you’re going to get dirty.”
Mudfest has come and gone throughout the years, peaking with 18,000 attending in 2008 before going on a hiatus until 2010 due to the poor economy.
Since then, Mudfest has been going strong. Debra says the fest helps the local economy and she enjoys putting it on.
“Nothing’s really that challenging about it, because I don’t take ‘No’ for an answer,” Debra says. “That’s my business philosophy. My sister and I are entrepreneurs and we go for it, we don’t let anything stand in our way.”
Putting on Mudfest is a lot more difficult than simply blocking off 250 acres and letting people go hog wild. Groundskeeper Loris Asmussen will tell you that.
“I deal with all the headaches,” he says. “You have to set up security, first aid and get permits from the Florida DOT and Okeechobee County. We try our best not to aggravate the neighbors, and we have to be responsible neighbors to the surrounding community.”
Inside the grounds, nobody is complaining. It’s three packed days of hootin’, hollerin’ and ridin’ at this crazy mess of a good time.
“These people will go somewhere,” Asmussen says. “It lets a lot of people blow a lot of steam off in a tough economy. I know I was one of them.”