Paul texted me a while back that he was going to lift his Scion xB and take part in the ExBro5 for seven exciting days and six fun-filled nights. I thought it sounded cool and told him that I was looking forward to reading about it. A few minutes later he texted again and reminded me that I had a 2015 Jeep Wrangler at my disposal and I should join in the fun. Hmm…okay! The overland trip would be about 850 miles or so and span from mid-Nevada to Mid-Eastern-Oregon, mostly offroad. Alright, I’m in. And then I realized that I still needed to get to mid-Nevada (near Tonopah, specifically) as well as back home once finished. A little googling showed me that it would be 878 miles to the starting point at Alkali Hot Springs and 940 miles back from another hot spring in the Oregon desert. And I would need to leave the day after returning from an 1,800 mile round trip drive to Minnesota. Who needs sleep, right?
Well, I do. Sleep on this trip was actually my biggest initial concern. I figured I would just have to suck it up and set up a tent every night on the trip. A notion which my wife immediately laughed at and pointed out “Dude, you don’t camp.” And she’s right, I hate sleeping at ground level in the dirt since I last did it as a boy scout but didn’t see a way around it, after all, a 2-door Wrangler is kinda short.
But a little bit of googling paid off, apparently it is possible to sleep with a modicum of comfort in a Wrangler if you are up to 6 feet tall. I, however, am an inch taller than that. So the modicum of comfort would perhaps be a slightly lesser modicum. An excellent site I referenced at www.thelonejeeper.ca showed a schematic (above) and explained it all.
Obviously the rear seat needed to come out, that’s fine, it just unlatches and I took it out, I’d need the cargo space for “stuff” anyway. The front passenger seat in a 2-door Wrangler has an “easy-entry” feature wherein it can push up and articulate itself to pretty much hug the dashboard, leaving a large area behind it. Testing in my driveway with a tape measure and a piece of fabric-encased 3″ foam with a broken zipper from a long window bench in our house that we weren’t using showed that I could in fact do it. Alright, why not.
Yep, that’s it when I tested it in the driveway. It looks hellaciously uncomfortable, but is actually very workable, I took exactly zero time to trim the foam down to fit better (left it as is) and used none of the other very good and sensible suggestions from the Canadian Jeeper’s site, just jammed the foam into place and pronounced it “That’ll do”. I slept this way for six nights and never woke up sore or felt poorly rested. I’ve spent thousands of dollars on actual bed mattresses in my lifetime and this beat many of them. More info down below along with a video showing the final setup in situ, but first the preparations and initial portion of the journey.
The next few weeks entailed sourcing/borrowing a huge Yeti-like cooler from a neighbor (thanks David!) that would keep ice frozen for at least several days, and filling several large storage containers with food, cooking and camping supplies, tools, random Jeep parts, fluids, filters, and basically everything necessary to prove the adage that if you bring it, you will not need it but if you don’t, look out.
A new spare tire was procured to match the set of four new Kumho RoadVenture AT51 All-Terrain tires that I had picked up for $125 total last year from Craigslist (someone got them on their recently acquired used Jeep and wanted something meatier instead, good for me!). The old (mismatched) spare had been hidden under a tire cover, so that came off and the new one was mounted, the price for that one tire was more than the total of the four others but the total for all was still about the same as for just one big-name-brand tire, let alone a set of five. The oil was changed while celebrating the odometer turning 50,000 miles, front and rear differentials were drained and refilled with fresh oil, the washer fluid was filled, tires rotated, and everything was given a good eyeballing. The day I returned from Minnesota I went shopping for groceries and ice and packed everything into the Jeep (I had it mostly pre-staged in the garage before I left). Then after a decent night’s sleep in my own bed I woke up early and pulled out of the driveway promptly at 6am on Saturday in the dark.
Prior to this, the farthest I can offhand recall driving in this Jeep was about a three hour stint. No, it’s not the most pleasant thing to take on a long trip but hardly the worst, at least it’s semi-modern and I was able to figure out the Bluetooth connection and guess the secret code (1234!) to be able to stream my one Spotify playlist. Over and over. Although the steering is frightfully vague and the solid axles are terrible over perpendicular to the road bumps, the seat is extremely comfortable and well sprung, the suspension is fairly soft and the tires add a bit of bounce to make it all kind of fun. I do actually enjoy driving this Jeep, it’s easy to see out of, has plenty of power (up to about freeway speeds), and every journey feels like an adventure. Crosswinds on the freeway and passing semi-trucks are a whole different kind of adventure and make the drive more exciting too while keeping you on your toes. The 5-speed automatic is good at downshifting when needed and lets the engine cruise at a decent rpm level.
An hour later around daybreak I was in Laramie, Wyoming, and topped off the tank, it took about five gallons after driving about 70 miles on Highway 287 but gaining 2,000 feet net elevation and not holding back on the throttle, the worst fuel mileage of the entire trip. Overall it returned in the very high teens with lows of about 17 and highs of around 20 in the accumulated computer average. Hitting Laramie’s bagel shop got me three warm bagels (dry) and a cup of coffee, perfect for the next stint on Interstate 80. Next stop Rock Springs, WY for another gasoline refill, windshield wash and bodily fluid drain (mine). Then back in the saddle yet again.
Cruising across the western states in a Jeep is a little different from most cars, the speed limits are 75-80mph and the JK generation Jeeps, at least the ones from 2012-2018 with the PentaStar V6, can exceed that but aren’t really thrilled about it unless there’s a mall at the end of the journey. Big semi trucks also can exceed those speeds somehow and do seem to be thrilled about it. And everyone else on the road is usually doing about 90. So travel is a lot of hanging out in the right lane and watching the mirrors. It’s sort of relaxing though, knowing that there is no way Smokey is gonna finger you for speeding with everything else passing you by and the rate of travel isn’t really far below the limit if at all.
Utah brought Salt Lake City, another gas stop, sandwich stop at JimmyJohn’s (known for their speed) where I somehow got in line behind that woman with all of her five little kids and they all needed to order something special after much deliberation. What I figured would be five minutes at most turned into about twenty and then it was a mad rush to hit a couple of grocery stores in order to procure the bits of my Desert Menu Ingredient List that I wasn’t able to get or forgot to get at home before leaving. Of course some of the items were out of stock so that was most annoying and required a visit to yet another store.
Finally I got back on the road and had the hammer down for the long flat stretch past the Great Salt Lake toward the Nevada Border where I would need to turn off at Wendover after getting yet another tank of fuel. The Jeep’s tank holds 18.6 gallons but “The West” doesn’t have gas stations on every corner (and corners can be hundreds of miles apart), so best practice is usually to stop whenever the opportunity presents itself to top off, whether that’s five, ten or eighteen gallons if not absolutely positive about the location (or operating hours) of the next opportunity.
Just before the Utah/Nevada state border is a delightful rest area that allows access onto the Bonneville Salt Flats where they hold the annual speed races. While the actual race area is miles inland from the freeway, this rest stop had easy access over a ramp and I took the opportunity (along with many others) to go a ways out and take a few pictures since the salt was dry and firm that day and, let’s be honest, I’m a sucker for a good picture opportunity.
After getting back on the freeway yet again I soon hit the Nevada border. Sadly no Welcome to Nevada sign picture as it was in a construction zone and stopping didn’t seem wise. Immediately thereafter exiting at Wendover, getting gas, and then heading towards Ely (next gas stop), it was two lane blacktop for several hundred miles on the way to the meeting point, Alkali Hot Spring outside of Tonopah, NV.
It was in this stretch with some nice curvy sections interspersed with about twenty-mile long valleys with dead straights and no traffic that I think is where Paul got his 130mph ticket a few years back, the Jeep and I had it up to about 95 (!) in stretches and the temperature outside was nudging 100F. The Jeep though was showing a steady 167 degrees transmission temp with the coolant temp varying between 190 and 220 according to the computer display.
It seems to like to run a bit on the hot side and the swings seemed a little worrying but the gauge itself always stays pretty steady; in the winter this apparently poor thermal efficiency of the excellent PentaStar 3.6l V6 results in marvelous heat output (akin to a wood burning stove in my opinion), but here in the summer the A/C kept me as cool as a cucumber inside while the Jeep just rolled along. Just don’t touch the uninsulated fiberglass roof, it gets hot what with the black exterior surface.
After gassing up again in Ely (and crossing Highway 50, the loneliest road), taking Highway 6 for another 169 miles (or, as we measure distances out here, about two hours) we rolled through Tonopah. Eventually the entrance to Alkali Hot Spring presented itself and I met up with everyone else. Yay! A delightful evening of hot springing, conversation, a few well earned beers and then the first night in the rigs for everyone.
Paul’s been doing a great job of writing up the trip from Nevada to the finish in his series but I decided to make this video on day six (I think it was day six, it got a little blurry from the heat and bounciness), in it I explain and show how the sleeping arrangement works (it’s about three minutes long). It all worked best when parking the Jeep at a very slight downhill angle but level was fine too. If I insisted on stretching out fully then my feet would be very slightly inclined and placed at the intersection of the seat side and the door armrest. Not uncomfortable, perhaps somewhat like being in a hammock.
But generally I don’t sleep like I’m laid out in a morgue, and among other positions actually found myself sort of spooning the center console a couple of times. It wasn’t really the tender moment you might imagine but was comfortable with plenty of scope for moving about. I’d absolutely do it again although I realize that the four door Jeeps have it much easier in this regard but introduce other compromises during the day that makes them less desirable to me. The biggest pain was probably removing my crates and the cooler every night although it all took FAR less time than setting up or breaking down a tent, never mind the increased security when we sometimes had unexpected but ultimately harmless animal visitors overnight as well as no worries about rain (which happened as well).
Then this second video (again about three minutes) shows how I packed everything together into the Jeep every morning (the reverse of the evening setup) and make everything fit all around the cabin for the daily drive. It all stayed put remarkably well while driving with the exception of hitting the occasional large unexpected bump where I think everything would just jump up and crash back down in unison.
I suppose I could have strapped things down (there are plenty of tiedown points, especially with the seats removed) but it was all wedged tightly and no lids of any bins ever popped off and nothing was in a vastly different position at the end of a day so it all worked. Note that I traveled with 18 fresh eggs for the first couple of hundred overland miles, none broke, although I begged the others to let me make breakfast early in the overall meal-prep rotation. Every person in our group was responsible for providing one breakfast, one appetizer, one dinner, and one dessert for the entire group, this provided variety, interesting new foods, and less overall cooking time than everyone doing their own thing every time.
If I was alone on this trip I would have to figure out how to pack in a bigger stove as well as an extra gas can on the outside somewhere, but with some of the others having stoves and knowing (hoping?) I could bum some gas if needed (we had about 28 gallons extra among us and I was the second most likely to need some after Josh’s older Tacoma) it wasn’t a concern, but in the end I never needed any, the Jeep thankfully proved efficient enough.
One point though – while we travelled over 850 miles together and I believe over 600 miles were on dirt, gravel, cow paths such as above, or non-defined surfaces, seeing Paul at the beginning in his xB sort of motivated me (and some of the others I think) to see how far we could get without engaging 4WD. While some areas might have been easier or more efficiently done in low range, I never engaged that once.
I also only put it in 4WD High for probably less than a mile total of driving. The Jeep ended up sort of becoming the guinea pig for some of the hairier sections, especially for water crossings, and absolutely for ones with waters that looked murky, perhaps deep, and also ones that were uncomfortably, uh, brown with lots of hoof prints around the edges.
So I would tend to be a little cautious in those cases and slip it into 4Hi but when it usually worked out with thankfully far less drama than potentially anticipated in almost every instance, everyone else just bulldozed on through. This Wrangler is just a Sport S (which is the base with some comfort and convenience options), not a Rubicon, so no locking diffs or electrically disconnectable swaybar, just a selectable high and low range 4WD system and the innate (common) chassis that they all have. It also has the optional limited slip differential (Trac-Lok) that seemed to work well for me.
The only things not stock on it are the Rubicon wheels (same size as stock though), the Rubicon rock rails for a little side sill protection, and the tires. Suspension is as it left the factory and I took off the aftermarket steel front bumper that was on it when we purchased it and replaced it with a much lighter stock bumper I found for $40 on Craigslist as I didn’t see the point. Most of the Rubicon Bros are rolling around in way overkill rigs for anything their Jeeps will ever do. The stock more basic ones are extremely capable and I enjoy the aspect of actually getting somewhere and seeing things instead of just waiting in line at “features” like in Moab or wherever to check off a list and post Instas…
What really did the work were the tires. Three of our rigs (the Toyotas) were on aftermarket BFGoodrich KO2’s, I had my All-Terrain Kumho AT51s and Paul was on his winter tires. The tires really did at least 90 percent of the heavy lifting with the drive systems adding a little nudge of margin when necessary, I don’t think any of the Tacomas spent much time in 4WD either and Paul obviously didn’t as he doesn’t have it. Tires are the secret and worth every penny. Nobody got a puncture, no tires came off the rims, and we did not baby them whatsoever beyond trying to avoid the biggest and pointiest rocks but everyone hit at least some. Of course our “Mad Driving Skillz” were not to be scoffed at either…
What was amazing is just how capable the Jeep was. Short, tall, perhaps a little too wide at times for the openings between some bushes, but with a tight turning radius and excellent approach, departure, and breakover angles it was basically unstoppable. We’d see a hill and I’d just turn and go straight up it. Or down it. It didn’t seem to matter how steep or slippery or how much of a rock garden it was.
In one case we were up above a somewhat depleted reservoir but on a windy plain and I wanted to go to the bottom to see if that was better, so I just drove straight down the rock/boulder covered side. And then came straight back up it. I never whacked anything on the bottom although we traversed paths that had growth standing above hood level, sometimes the sides would scrape along bushes or trees and I was wondering if I’d have a nice set of Trail Pinstripes but no, besides the plastic mirrors now having a bit more character to remind me of the trip the paint was unaffected.
The biggest downfalls of the Jeeps were conversely due to its capabilities. On fast gravel/dirt sections we’d hit speeds up to 60mph at times, cornering and hitting a washboard surface or a bump at the same time would kick the tail out providing a few, uh, moments, but not much different than being on ice, and when hitting an unannounced lateral ridge or channel at speed head-on was highly uncomfortable.
But really those are the tradeoffs for doing everything else so well. I think all the others (all in Toyotas if you didn’t notice), were perhaps secretly wondering if the Jeep would shit the bed, but no, it did not, and its proudest moment was when it got to yank the Scion out of the river. Which it did without breaking any kind of sweat, it didn’t even seem to feel the weight of it.
After the final night of camping, it was time to head towards home, in my case I was meeting friends in Boise for an evening, so my first leg was an hour on gravel and then two and a half on highways for about 200 miles in total. Upon arriving there I don’t think I’ve ever had a better shower, more comfortable bed, or colder and better tasting beer. But soon enough that excellent evening/night was over and then in the morning the final slog from Boise back to Fort Collins began via I-84 to meet up with I-80 in Utah, skirting SLC this time, and taking me about eleven hours for the final 753 miles.
A fantastic trip, a wonderful automotive companion, and unforgettable memories. I’m looking forward to the next one already.