Back in Jeep’s formative years, the only way to travel was with no top and no doors. Mud, wind noise, and sunburns were all part of the experience. We have come quite a way since the days of the Dana 20 transfer case and OD Green paint, and many agree those are improvements. Nowadays, Jeep owners ride in comfort with touchscreen navigation, air conditioning, and power everything. While it is part of our job at Four Wheeler to tell readers all about the advances in 4x4 technology, we also can’t help but to harken back to the good ol’ days sometimes.
When our new staffer pitched the idea of driving a two-door ’17 Wrangler from Los Angeles to Ohio and back, we hatched a plan. Take off the doors, leave the hardtop in the garage, and you have yourself a road trip. Was this hazing? Not quite, he was an enthusiastic young lad and we knew he could handle the challenge. Plus, we made sure he was outfitted with some gear to make the trip manageable.
Though we could not help the fact that this Wrangler left the factory without air conditioning, power windows, or a clutch pedal, we could add a few things. In place of the stock rubbers, the Jeep was fitted with a set of 285/70R17 BFGoodrich KM3 mud-terrain tires, since the dirt on the other side of the Mississippi River sometimes turns to slime.
We caught the Jeep halfway through the Topless Tour with one dead headlamp, waterlogged seats, and a handful of trail-abused parts.
Our staffer is known to use his passenger seat as a mobile office when he travels; however, with the roof and doors gone, he needed to have his belongings at hand for use on the road while still keeping them from sailing out the top or sides of the Jeep. The Smittybilt G.E.A.R. Overhead Console bolted snugly between the windshield and the soundbar on the Wrangler and was chock-full of customizable pouches and pockets for tools, maps, flashlights, and whatever else needed to be within arm’s reach of the driver. We took out the Jeep’s back seat to make room for gear, but since there was not even as much as a bikini top to shield the cargo space from the elements, we needed more storage space. Rugged Ridge’s Front Seat Cargo Covers kept gear off the floor of the tub and organized with more customizable compartments while also covering the seat’s fabric.
While the Wrangler would be running on 87 octane for the trip, the driver also needed fuel. Dometic’s CFX 35W was perfect for the little Jeep, tucking snugly behind the passenger seat. With a low power draw and the option to moderate the temperature from a smartphone app, the 32L volume could be packed with food, water, and whatever caffeine-riddled beverages necessary to keep the driver awake. Lastly, the Stubby Trail Mirrors from Rugged Ridge bolted up easily to keep the road visible while the original mirrors sat at home.
Follow along on the 10-day Jeep adventure. The rules were simple: no doors, no roof, and no more than 24 hours without driving on dirt.
Part 1: Escape LA
Miles on odometer: 783
Red Bulls consumed: 6
Weather: No rain…yet
Logbook quote: “Does the Rio Grande count as a shower?”
The final inspection before departing came at the gas pump. Bikes were ratcheted down, the Dometic fridge was stocked with water and caffeine, and more than enough camping gear was tucked behind the seats. Eastward!
Hammock camping with a Jeep is easy, until it rains. Just add one tree, sleeping bag, and pillow to make for a soothing night of swaying in the breeze. This first camp was in the backcountry outside Tucson, Arizona.
After breaking camp on Day Two, it was only natural to take the fun way back out to the gravel road.
Interstate 10 is America’s southernmost interstate highway, and for anyone traveling between El Paso, Texas, and Tucson, Arizona, you might have noticed signs advertising “The Thing.” What is it? Get off the interstate and find out!
Las Cruces, New Mexico, is home to the Chile Challenge—an annual gathering of 4x4 fans hoping to test their rigs and wits against the twisting washes and jagged ledges offered by the local trails. We missed the event, but still found some fun trails in the area.
The Jeep was limited here both by its departure angle and the payload of bicycles on the rear.
Temperatures in the Chihuahuan Desert on Day Two were high enough to melt the tar off the roads, forcing us to seek refuge on the banks of the lazy (and muddy) Rio Grande River.
Part 2: On To Ohio
Miles on odometer: 2,682
Dirt miles: 83
Gallons of water drained from the Jeep’s tub: 5
Logbook quote: “Think we can bend it back with a winch?”
By nightfall on Day Four, the Jeep had pushed across 814 miles of Texas, through Arkansas, and clear into Tennessee. Texas was full of distant lightning strikes, oil fields, and cow farts, leaving us good and ready for dirt. Thankfully, a quick jaunt off the highway afforded us dirt roads and a 3 a.m. tour past some creepy woodland cemeteries.
Dawn on Day Five was spent driving over the Ohio River, bridging the border of Ohio and Kentucky. Before sunset, the Jeep arrived at Yankee Lake for Truck Night—a gathering of 4x4s on the border of Pennsylvania and Ohio. Participants are encouraged to test their rigs in any of the venue’s mud bogs, woods trails, or on the tug pad.
The sun rose on Day Six, but we did not see it, as it was hidden behind a layer of thick overcast, promising rain. Nevertheless, the Jeep wandered toward the West Virginia border for a trail ride through some of Ohio’s most twisted, rutted, and goo-covered backcountry.
An unplanned rendezvous with a boulder dealt the Jeep’s frontend an immobilizing blow. The axle was crunched toward the rear of the rig, bending a lower control arm and binding the front driveshaft. We pulled the Jeep to a safe work area, removed the offending control arm, and with the help of some precision repair, returned its angle to within degrees of factory spec—or enough to last the day. Not only were our trail partners willing to help with the repair, but they also cooked dinner while we wrenched.
Trail partners cooking dinner.
The repair put a hiccup in the plans, forcing us out past dark, and inevitably into a monsoon. The ruts quickly turned to torrents; we would have been better equipped to navigate them with a kayak. Deciding to shelter in place rather than slide off a trail, we pooled our emergency tarps, draped them over the largest (also topless) rig, and huddled inside.
By the time the rain let up, it was well into the morning of Day Seven. We opened the Jeep’s drain plugs, bounced the mirrors and fender flares into a few trailside trees, thoroughly exercised the mud-terrain tires getting back to camp, and escaped the woods mostly unscathed.
To make sure the Jeep was roadworthy for the return trip, we found a friendly driveway and swapped out the damaged control arm and shocks. Also on the list was a tire change, beginning our time with a set of Pirelli Scorpion All Terrain Plus rubbers.
Part 3: Westward Once More
Miles on odometer: 5,644
Pounds of insects slaughtered: 0.36
Money spent on Craigslist parts: $40
Logbook quote: “Driving through Vegas smells like cologne and regret.”
The eighth day of the trip turned the Jeep westward once more. Still obeying the rule of “no more than 24 hours without dirt,” we followed these welcoming signs. On second thought, those signs may have been there for a very good reason.
Colorado mountains, even in the summer, get cold. Not visible are the ski pants and gloves working in tandem with the Jeep’s heater to fend off frostbite.
By the end of Day Nine, we rolled into Idaho and hunted for a place to camp. The area was a wealth of sprawling mountain views, cattle crossings, and endless gravel roads.
Drawing to a close, Day 10 of the adventure turned back south through Utah, Nevada, and eventually back to California. The Mojave Desert heat managed to bake over 1,000 miles-worth of entomology onto the windshield, requiring just short of a chisel to remove the splatters. Sadly, it was time to unload and make the Jeep once again safe to leave parked next to a curb all week.
About Our Gear
Both the Smittybilt G.E.A.R. Overhead Console and the Rugged Ridge Cargo Covers took their fair share of mud, dust, and rain, but they kept our baby wipes, maps, and tools from scattering around the Jeep—mission accomplished. The Dometic 35W worked dutifully (and quietly), keeping our perishables cold, though sometimes the outside air was colder than the fridge! The insulated cover not only protected the unit from the mud and dust, but also kept the temperature readout visible while reducing energy loss. Our Rugged Ridge Stubby Trail Mirrors were perfect on the paved road and even survived a couple encounters with trees, bending out of the way instead of snapping.