Earth Roamer 2.0 - 2008 Jeep Wrangler JK Rubicon UnlimitedPosted in Project Vehicles on January 1, 2010
It's early in the morning, and the sun is rising over the distant reaches of the desert southwest. On the horizon, the dirt two-track I am parked on fades into the distance like a thin ribbon of chocolate over the carroty foothills. The distant mountains beckon. I'm not really sure of my exact route today, but I know my destination, and it's nowhere near the frenzied and chaotic disorder of the freeways near my hometown. Today, I won't have to dodge any SUV-wielding soccer-moms who drift into my lane, I won't be jockeying for a parking spot near the office, and I won't be standing twenty-deep in the queue at Starbucks. In fact, I won't be dealing with any of that crap for months to come.
The air is crisp, and a cool breeze carries the scent of sage through my nostrils, heightening my senses and awareness of my surroundings. I'm in the middle of nowhere and heading south towards Mexico, Belize, and points south. Breaking camp is only a ten-minute affair. Just hit the button to close the electric top and snap down a few latches. Click on the GPS, turn the key and slide the tranny into Drive. But something is wrong...it's a persistent and blaring noise from outside my door. I open the door...it's my alarm clock. I hastily reach over and hit the snooze button. It's Monday, but the time clock and traffic await, not my dream rig and a year-long kitchen pass. I want to go back to my dream, to that road less traveled, the distant horizon and what lay beyond.
We've participated in numerous campfire debates about the perfect expedition vehicle. Should it be a behemoth lux-machine such as a Unimog or Unicat, or something smaller, with fewer amenities but more maneuverable? And what are the must-have features: Solar power, a navigation system, hot water, shower, a comfortable bed for two, a potty, a fridge and room for gear? And last, what platform do you build it on? Following the 2008 SEMA show, we headed to Prescott, Arizona, to check out what Scott Brady believes is the perfect world traveler. As an off-road journalist and owner of 4x4 outfitter Expeditions West, he might be right.
The base platform for Scott's Earth Roamer is a 2008 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon Unlimited, which rolls from the factory with Dana 44 axles and electric lockers, an NVG241 4:1 transfer case and electronic sway bar disconnect, and a 202hp 3.8-liter V-6. From there, the ultimate overlander was fitted with an Nth Degree 3-inch suspension, heavy-duty rear springs, and a set of BFGoodrich KM2 Mud-Terrains on 17-inch American Expedition Vehicle (AEV) beadlock wheels. Up front, an AEV front bumper cradles a Warn 9000i winch spun with Viking synthetic winch line. And when the sun goes down, a pair of Light Force HID 240 driving lights provides plenty of illumination. Out back, a Wilderness rear bumper carries the spare tire, a pair of jerrycans, and shovel. Rounding out the upgrades are a Kilby compressor, AEV snorkel, and three AGM Lifetime batteries. But those are just the nuts and bolts-the special stuff's inside.
Life of Lux
The interior of the Earth Roamer is nothing short of luxury when it comes to camping standards. With the top up, there is enough headroom for the loftiest of NBA players, and the innovative plastic-spring, queen-size bed is lightweight, comfortable and long enough to stretch out after a long day. The passenger side sports a comfortable bench seat that conceals an Isotemp solar-powered fridge, toilet and shower. To starboard is a sink with hot/cold water and a flip-down counter, and a bank of canvas storage bins for sundries, clothing, and gear.
With 25 gallons of fresh water, 10-gallon gray water and 4.5-gallon black water tanks, setting up camp for a few days should not be an issue. For cooking or that weekly shower, hot water is provided via a 4-gallon heat-exchanger hot water system (so you'll need to run the motor for four minutes to get it hot). When it's cold out, the shower sets up inside with its own enclosure and built-in drain. But when there's no frost on the pumpkin, it can be routed outside for an open-air experience.
The extra weight and irritating noise of a generator is spared by the addition of an 80-watt solar panel and 160-amp alternator which charges a bank of three Group-31 AGM Lifeline batteries. To ensure against running your batteries flat, a 200-amp relay connects the auxiliary units when the engine is on, and isolates them when it is off. On those chilly nights above the snow line, the Espar 6,100-Btu ultra-efficient forced-air heating unit, which draws from the main fuel cell, will keep the Earth Roamer warm and toasty.
Because the Bolivian backroads can be brutal, the shell of the Earth Roamer is crafted from a composite material and built-in sandwiched layers to maximize structural integrity while keeping weight in check. The top opens via a 2.5hp Leeson electric winch with the push of a button, and the Loftop tent assembly is supported by a featherweight airframe that automatically inflates via the Kilby engine-mounted air compressor.
It is clear that attention to detail was a priority when designing the Earth Roamer. Security and safety are addressed with an on-board GPS, Tuffy Security center console and lockable glovebox, and a Spot global emergency transponder. Everything, from the Isotherm DC cold-plate fridge/freezer and Espar heating system, to the solar panels, Loftop air frame and heat exchanger hot water, is designed with weight, function, and efficiency in mind.
When it comes to the ultimate overland, you'd expect the amenities we've described to come in a Winnebago-sized package. But the Earth Roamer measures in at just 15.5 feet in length, a hair over six feet wide, and only seven and a half feet tall. If all this isn't enough, Brady added an Adventure Trailers Chaser fitted with matching BFG tires, air suspension, a Baja Rack, an Eezi-Awn awning, and additional work lights.
We took the Earth Roamer out for a spin and even tried to talk Scott out of the keys (for a month), but he wasn't too keen on the idea. As of this writing, Scott and wife Stephanie are heading south towards Panama. From there they will ship the Earth Roamer around Columbia to Ecuador and traverse the spine of the Americas all the way south to Ushuia at the tip of South America. So for now, it's back to the office for us, and we'll keep dreaming of the day when we can build the ultimate overlander and check out of the rat race for a month...year...or more.