Just Jeeping and Camping
My family used to head out to the desert and ride dirt bikes and quads for many years, but eventually we transitioned to a Jeep so we could explore further and have some of the creature comforts. As we began to travel greater distances to explore new trails, we found it easier to find places to camp instead of making long days of driving back and forth. It wasn’t really called overlanding, just camping.
I love the ability to personalize a Jeep and make it your own. I think that is one of the biggest draws to it. For me, anything I install on my Jeep needs to have two things. One, it needs to serve a purpose. I have added things to my Jeep in the past, that I ended up removing later after realizing I didn’t use it or it just wasn’t needed. Second, it has to look good! Aesthetics matter to me, I’ve been a car guy my entire life and I enjoy the way the vehicle I’m driving looks. So I keep things clean, organized and if I’m adding some bumpers or lights to the Jeep, they have to look good. My Jeep is built to take me and my family out on some great adventures and not have to worry about staying in a hotel. Camping and exploring for sure!
In The Garage
I never would have imagined that YouTube would be so time consuming, but I really enjoy creating content. The Gladiator build came together very quickly because of SEMA, so I did get some help from some installers, but most of the time I like to do things myself in my garage. If I’m not out on the trail, the garage is my next favorite place to be. I think the most complicated thing so far was planning out and wiring up all the accessories. The Gladiator is long and hooking up a fridge, air compressor, lights, power outlets and more really needs to be thought out. I’m not a fan of wires just running all over the place, so I took a lot of time thinking about how I wanted the electrical components hooked up long before I installed them.
Research & Development & Modifications
The ICON Vehicle Dynamics lift kit is a prototype that hopefully will be available soon. Anytime a new vehicle comes to market, manufacturers need to test out their new upgrades. I was fortunate enough that ICON wanted to use my Jeep as one of the test platforms. It has made a huge difference in the way the Gladiator performs off road with all my weight and I love the beefy rear billet control arms. Being a prototype, it’s performed extremely well and aside from figuring out my shock settings, I haven’t needed to make any changes.
It would be tough to pick out my favorite mods. I’d say the first is the 67 Designs rail mounting system. It allows me to mount my mobile phone, iPad and comms to the dash securely and easily. It’s something I use everyday and it has just simplified things for me. Second would be the KC lights. I’ve been running KC forever and they perform great, but I think they are the best looking lights out there. Third would be the suspension system, it just made a night and day difference over the stock setup on the trail. Fourth would be the sPOD power distribution system which is the heart for all my accessoires and allows me to power up my gear from inside the cab or outside the truck. Lastly, I think it would be the Tembo Tusk fridge and table slider I installed in the truck bed. I use it almost every time I’m out and with it being exposed to the elements, I was worried how it would hold up, but it’s been holding up great and is very functional.
I think it’s important for folks to know that a Jeep is very capable in its stock form and you don’t need to do a lot of modifications. Just upfit your Jeep with the essential safety and recovery gear then just go out and enjoy it. You don’t need to empty every pocket unless you are nuts like me! Next for the Gladiator is just to put some miles on it. It’s been in the shop and at shows a lot over the last couple months, and it’s time to head out and explore. I think it’s pretty dialed in right now, but probably next on the mod list is an enclosed camper shell of some kind, I’m just waiting for some other options to become available before I decide which one.
My Second Career
I never imagined this is what I’d be doing at age 47! I was in the military for 26 years as a Navy Corpsman, and I thought I’d be in the healthcare field once I got out. The YouTube videos were just a hobby, but having been blessed to turn it into my career is something I’m extremely thankful for. I have always enjoyed teaching, being able to train my junior sailors when I was in the Navy is what brought me the most joy in my job. It’s been easy to translate that into helping teach folks about off-roading and I’m rejuvenated every time someone comments on a video or post that they went out and explored because of one of my videos or completed a project in the garage they saw me do.
It’s crazy how many trips I’ve been on over the years and I have so many amazing memories from each one. It’s difficult to pick the most memorable trip with the Wrangler, but If I had to pick one, it would probably be the trip we did up to the Eastern Sierra this past year. We spent four days exploring some of the most beautiful scenic trails I’ve ever been on. I was with my son and some close friends and almost by accident we found some of the most majestic camping sites in the mountains which still had a bit of snow on them, no one else around for miles and we even had a few deer walk right past our camp. My good buddy Marco (OVRLNDX) cooked up some delicious meals at camp; one being fillet mignon. How often do you get to eat that at camp? We did a little fishing and we really made a point to slow down and do nothing. We had some rain and a couple mechanical challenges, but when you are with family and on an adventure like this it all just works itself out. It’s fun to off-road and explore, but doing it with folks you care about is what turns a good adventure into a memorable one. I don’t think any of us will ever forget that trip, but honestly, I could talk for days about all our adventures. It’s the memories of them all that keeps me going out there.
The Gladiator is still getting broken in and has only seen a few challenging trails. Recently, I was on the Gold Mountain trail in Big Bear, California and it was covered in snow and ice. The JT performed really well on 2 of the hardest obstacles, but there was one point where I had to make a left hand turn over some boulders and the longer wheelbase of the Gladiator was not helping. The underside was getting banged up pretty good and after about 15 minutes of trying I ended up breaking out the winch to clear it. My buddy Marco in his OVRLNDX Jeep Wrangler, with a shorter wheelbase, had no problems and walked right over the section I was stuck on. I love the Gladiator, but the breakover and departure angle are things I have to take into consideration when I’m out there on the trails.
We’ve got a few trips planned in 2020, but the big one will be a 3 week trip to Alaska. We have 5 vehicles that will be traveling all the way north to Prudhoe Bay. We will be camping, exploring some trails, and stopping at some scenic and historic destinations along the way. I can’t wait!
While most of the time I carefully plan out the daily miles, stops, camping destinations, sometimes I have more fun just choosing a destination and leave room for some exploring before and after to see what I can find. I do have to put things on the calendar well in advance, but there have been many, many times I’ve just loaded up on a Saturday morning and headed west with no plans. One thing I always try to do is download .gpx trails and map overlays for where I’m going and I always tell someone what direction I’m heading, just in case.
I always do a nut and bolt check before and after a trip. Control arms, lug nuts, shock mount bolts, and anything that is on the roof. It’s all too common that I find something that has come loose.
Going out with a buddy in a second vehicle is the most important thing you can do when out on the trail, but sometimes I do go out by myself. I make sure someone knows where I’m going and I carry a Garmin inReach for emergencies. I also have a HAM radio so I can reach out and communicate long distances.
I think the best advice I could give to those planning on doing their first extended overlanding trip is to start small. Do a few short overnight trips first and get familiar with their vehicle and gear. They’ll learn quickly what they need and don’t need to carry with them and how their rig performs with all that gear after a few times out. Then begin planning some of the longer and more adventurous trips.
2020 Jeep Gladiator Rubicon Specs
Armor, Bumpers, Sliders
OEM Mopar front stubby bumper
Leitner Designs Active Cargo System
Rebel Off Road Halo Roof Rack
Suspension and Brakes
Icon Vehicle Dynamics 2.5” lift
Lighting and Mounts
KC HiLites Pro6 LED lightbar
KC HiLites Pro6 LED driving lights
KC HiLites Amber LED fog lights
KC HiLites Cyclone dust lights
Smittybilt Gen 3 12,000lbs winch
Factor 55 Flatlink
Tires and Wheels
Icon Vehicle Dynamics Compression 17X8.5 wheels
Milestar Patagonia MT 37X12.50R17 tires
Electronics, Communication, and Mounts
sPOD 4X4 Bantam with 2 HD controllers
67 Designs dash mount
iPad Mini GPS running Gaia
Roam Adventure Co. Vagabond Tent
Camp Kitchen Gear
Standard Coleman Stove
Dometic 40L refrigerator
Tembo Tusk slider with table
LV8 Design Group vinyl wrap
Power Tank 15lbs CO2
ARB Dual air compressor
Rotopax fuel and water canisters