V6E1 - A Fresh Start

While living in one’s Jeep in constant pursuit of adventure might sound glamorous, such an alternative lifestyle takes its toll. The things that I used to take for granted, such as regular showers, a warm bed, and being close to friends and family, are all sorely missed.

Before the holidays, I thought I was ready to call it quits. After nearly two years of living on the road, and collecting wonderful experiences, fatigue was starting to set in. However, as my holiday break commenced, I quickly became eager to return to my Jeep, to resume exploring the road less traveled with renewed determination!

 

The Jeep

My Jeep, an orange 2013 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon, is equipped with an AEV 3.5” Suspension System, 35” BFGoodrich All-Terrain KO2 tires, a Genesis dual-battery kit, Goose Gear plate system, and finally, a J30 camper top by Ursa Minor Vehicles.

 

Parking Lot Preparations

I had left the Jeep in the capable hands of Ursa Minor, at their shop in Portland, Oregon, over the holidays, while I visited with family in Pennsylvania. Then, immediately following the new year, I made the long, arduous flight back to Portland, to pick up where I had left off…

After spending the better part of the day traveling by air, I found my way back to my beloved orange metal box. I turned the key, and the engine begrudgingly sputtered to life, with a few disconcerting knocks for good measure, and a plume of rich white smoke billowing from the exhaust. With 117,000 miles on the odometer, and nearly two years of traveling throughout the United States and Canada with no issues, it has earned the right to start a little rough!

I would’ve liked nothing more than to venture off into the nearest National Forest right then and there, but there were several matters to attend to...

I had some items to install that had been generously donated by friends who enjoy watching my videos on YouTube; a set of Truck-Lite LED headlights to replace my woefully inadequate, factory headlights. These were gifted by Frank Orego. Also, an accessory mounting bracket for the Teraflex HD Tailgate Hinge from John White. This system accommodates either a Hi-Lift Jack, or a Rotopax container next to the spare tire. Finally, a two-gallon gasoline Rotopax with a mounting assembly donated by Mike Quetel.

Throughout much of 2018, I very gradually accumulated knick-knacks, mementos, and keepsakes, which I treasured but no longer had the space for. When you live in your Jeep, space is at a premium, and you have to think like a backpacker! Simple things, no matter how small, like a novelty keychain, a redundant lantern, or an extra t-shirt, add up, and can easily take up too much space!

To combat this, I packed a box full of unused or seldom-used items, and shipped it back to my family in Pennsylvania so that I could sort it and put it into storage next time I’m in town. To my dismay, it cost $70 to ship, which was far more than I expected. Therefore, this is not a course of action that I plan to take often. I’ve resolved to continue to pack light, and avoid accumulating “stuff” as time goes on.

 

Exploring Willamette

Finally, after two nights in Ursa Minor’s parking lot and nearly three days of prep, I set off in the direction of Bend, Oregon, which is a few hours southeast of Portland. It was late in the day when I left, so it was my intention to camp somewhere around the halfway mark, in Willamette National Forest.

I had two considerations to make. First, I was running out of daylight. Finding a safe and inviting place to camp in the Jeep is far more challenging in the dark, so I had to study my GPS and trust my instincts. Second, during the winter, snow is prevalent at higher elevations, so I had to seek out a spot at as low an altitude as possible.

As soon as I entered Willamette National Forest, approaching Detroit, Oregon, a forest road branched off to the north. I followed it for a few miles, and while there was no snow at the start of the road, there was a considerable dusting by the time I found a secluded clearing in which to camp. The snow wasn’t problematic here, but it was a sign of what I would be facing in the days ahead.

My campsite was a stone’s throw from a fast-moving creek, surrounded by ferns, conifers, and hanging moss. It was a stereotypically atmospheric Pacific Northwest setting, and I was grateful to have found such a desirable place in the dark. That night marked the first official campsite of 2019 for me, and I settled into bed with a sigh of relief, as I was happy to be back in my home-on-wheels.

The next day, I had ample time to get to Bend, where I intended to wrap up the week, so I studied my GPS and opted to leave pavement and explore another forest road in Willamette National Forest. According to my map, it would reconnect with pavement again after several miles, so I shouldn’t have to do any backtracking.

The scenery was beautiful as the road snaked its way through the mountains. Although, as I gained elevation, snow appeared in patches at first, then only the two-tracks were uncovered, then the whole road was covered, and finally, it became too slippery and deep to risk continuing. At which point, I decided to turn around and go back the way I came.

This is where the solo four-wheel drive traveler has to be wary. Your vehicle might have the traction to continue, but that doesn’t mean you should. You’ll want to turn around while it is still easy to do so, and not a moment after. With the proper equipment, such as tire chains, a self-recovery winch, and MaxTrax, I would’ve had greater confidence, but even still, it’s best to not venture into snowy mountains alone.

 

Boondocking in Bend

When I got to Bend, I found a BLM area (public land) to the east of town where I settled in for the night. It was a parking area for a trailhead, just off of pavement, so it was by no means a glamorous place to spend the night, just discreet, legal, and convenient to town. As I travel, when there is business to attend to in a nearby town or city, this is often the type of “boondocking” site that I target.

 

EarthCruiser

While in Bend, I visited a company called EarthCruiser.

If you’re not familiar, EarthCruiser is a manufacturer of world-traveling adventure vehicles. They have a flagship model, called the EXP, which is essentially a pop-up camper on a four-wheel drive Mitsubishi Fuso platform, and it’s a remarkable vehicle. It’s designed to be small enough to be maneuverable, and to fit inside of a shipping container, but large enough to, quite simply, be comfortable to reside in.

EarthCruiser also makes a composite, full-featured, bed camper called the GZL, that fits into full-size and mid-size pickup trucks. Like its older brother, the top of the GZL pops up, but at an angle, yielding generous living space.

During my visit, what intrigued me the most about EarthCruiser, was how they don’t seem to adhere to industry convention. They engineer their products from the ground up while paying heed to the smallest details, giving utmost consideration to real-world interaction and functionality, without limiting themselves to RV grade components or trends.

As of 1/2019, the EXP starts at $290,000, and the GZL, $45,000.