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Jeeping Across America -Part 9: The Lost Chronicles

Posted in Events on October 12, 2015
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Photographers: Rick Péwé

Arizona is where I grew up, as well as where I learned to Jeep. After coming 2000 miles on my cross country trip from Georgia to California with 6 days of rain, it was good to be home and in an arid environment. The mold and mildew on me and my borrowed XJ began to disappear. Sticking to I-40 to make up time was boring, but that allowed me to venture of the highway south of Flagstaff go some real wheeling- rocks, trees, sand, mud, and fun.

Many of the sand washes in Arizona have steep cliffs on both sides- making it difficult to exit. Sometimes you have to just keep going and hoping dog a side canyon to escape out of, or worse- backtracking.
I finally ended up near Wickenburg after numerous dirt roads and sand washes, and a few dead ends. This tunnel under a highway seemed like a logical way to go, but the drop off at the end squashed this route.
By the time I hit the highway again the Cherokee had developed bad noises and wobbles in the front end. but even worse were the random wires I found sticking out if the front tire. Without a matching spare I decided to burrowed down for the night, hoping for a cool morning to make repairs.
Our well used, abused, and flat out old tire was finally coming apart. The wires in the sidewall were migrating out and the tread cap was ready to leave the carcass. And on a Sunday morning in sleepy Wickenburg, there wasn't a tire store open. But more mechanical mishaps were found.
The non-round tire may have caused more problems with the front end. The right side U-joint was toast, and on a locked front with a unit bearing, it had to be replace rather than just unlocking a hub. Parking lot repairs at 104 degrees are fun.
The steering wobble was traced to a loose tie rod end. It wasn't worn out, but instead the taper was worn in the knuckle allowing it to be as loose as a goose. I found a washer to place under the nut, which drew the taper up tightly.
I was still out of luck finding a tire, so I figured if I could find some used stock Dana 30 spider gears, I could replace the Lock Right locker up front and then run two different size tires. I took a chance on a Sunday morning and called Bad Flatitude Fabrication, the local 4x4 shop, and owner Christian Sturtz answered. Sure, he had spiders in stock and would come open the shop. I was living right!
Lucky for me Christian recognized who I was since we both have a love of flatfender jeeps. He showed this prize out back that was absolutely drool worthy and we bench raced for too long in the hot sun. If you ever need anything fabbed or fixed, call them at 928-671-1125. It turns out Christian also helped build the Ultimate Adventure Tacoma for 2004, when he worked in Phoenix. It was like old home week with a guy I never met.
Best if all, Christian found an old 32-10.50 x 15 tire in his pile of parts, and it looked like it might make the final 500 miles I had to travel. He also knew that Mike at Pioneer Towing and Recovery (928- 684-0678) had a tire machine, so for a few bucks on a Sunday afternoon they opened up and swapped the better old tire on the Explorer rim.
With 500 miles to go and a full day late, I stuck to the interstate for the rest of the trip. The wobble and clunk were gone from the front end, and smooth sailing ensued. About the 440 mile mark a terrible shudder hit the front, sort of like hitting a semi truck tire tread on the freeway. The XJ settled down for the last 60 miles to home.
My luck had held: nearly 2500 miles cross country with a used XJ. It only cost me one transmission, a muffler, a U-joint, and a tire. I got about 18-20 mpg and barely burned through two quarts of oil. Not bad for a 250K 4.0L! But exactly 1.5 miles from my home, at midnight, the new front tire let loose at speed. I had the donut spare on in about 5 minutes, and limped on home. Done. Another epic solo Dirt Every Day Tour in the books.

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