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Dean last won the day on July 13 2016

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    Shippensburg, PA
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    '04 LJ

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  1. From day one the mission of ECOA has been built on the cornerstone of education. This is a reflection of my own professional past working in academics as well as my personal desire to share my knowledge and experience with those around me. Over the last four years I have attended large events like Overland Expo as well as smaller rallies and shows as an instructor. New for 2019 I will be hosting my own series of training events called Overland Skills Weekends. Read on for details... Four Themes; Four WeekendsThe plan for 2019 is to have four Overland Skills Weekends each themed on a particular topic. This will be accomplished by spending the day Saturday in hands-on experiential driven workshops. Two sessions of 3 hours each will comprise the bulk of the instructional time. There will also be an our of Q&A following the conclusion of the second session and a roundtable fireside chat that evening. If that weren't enough, each attendee for each weekend will receive a limited edition Blue Ridge Overland Gear back that ties in with the weekend's theme. There will also be shirt, patches, and stickers for each weekend. Weekend #1 - Recovery Weekend #2 - Communications & Navigation Weekend #3 - Trip Planning & Logistics Weekend #4 - Wilderness First Aid How to Register Details about each event as well as costs can be found at the ECOA Store link above. The first three weekends will follow the same formate with two three hour sessions on Saturday and roundtable fireside chats Friday and Saturday night. Weekend #4 will be a much longer and more intensive weekend due to the nature of the WFA certification. Spots are limited, so if you want to come you'll ned to register quick! If a particular class fills up just shoot me a message and I'll create a waiting list for future sessions. Along those lines, if you have ideas for topics you'd like to see covered in this single weekend focused format message me your ideas. Future of ECOA These workshop weekends represent the future of East Coast Overland Adventures. For 2019 we're starting off mildly with just these four weekends. If all goes well we'd like to host one weekend a month for 2020. Don't worry though, you'll still see ECOA at both Overland Expos and some of the other east coast overland events. So keep and eye out and hopefully our paths will cross! View the full article
  2. If you've been following ECOA social media (if you're not you should be) you've no doubt seen me drop a few clues that the LJ is off the road and undergoing an engine swap. While the details regarding the progress of the process are limited for now (long story) I thought I would at least take a moment to talk about why I'm doing the swap. While built for back roads, and that's where I want to spent my time, she still logs her fair share of highway miles. The time has come to do something about the stock motor and transmission Motors come in all shapes and sizes. Some are better than others. The 4.0L inline six cylinder in the LJ is a great motor, if not a bit antiquated in its design. That said, I'm not really doing an engine swap. I love the 4.0. I think you can't get any more "Jeep" than the venerable straight-six. That said, mated to the engine in my LJ is the 42RLE four-speed automatic transmission. It's junk. So I'm not doing an engine swap so much as I'm going a transmission swap. Read on for details... Achilles’ Heel In greek myth, despite his physical prowess, Achilles had only one weakness; his heel. The reason for this weakness vary depending on what myth you read. However the end result is always the same. Achilles dies from an arrow shot through his heel. It's why the Achilles Tendon is named what it is. The phrase "Achilles' Heel" has also become synonymous with weakness and is a metaphor for that one fatal flaw in an otherwise great design. The Achilles' Heel of the Death Star was its womp-rat sized exhaust port. The Achilles' Heel of my '04 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited is its transmission. Truth be told the 42RLE has no business being in a Jeep. As typical of Chrysler transmissions it's grossly under-designed for a four-wheel-drive vehicle. The thin torque converted, poorly programed valve body shift solenoid pack, and weak gear clutches leave a lot to be desired. Coupled with a shallow overdrive ratio of 0.69:1 the transmission is plagued with piss-poor shifting and prone to overheating. And that's in a stock Jeep. Once you add bigger tires to a vehicle you're next modification better be gears. Deeper gears will help compensate for the size and weight difference of the larger more aggressive tires preferred by off-road enthusiasts. It's usually a safe rule of thumb that for every tire size you go up you should go down a gear ratio. So with my '04 LJ being equipped from the factory with 30" tall tires and 3.73 gears conventional wisdom would be running 4.56 gears with 33" tall tires. However, given the deep overdrive and the weakness of the transmission as a hole many of my fellow late-model Wrangler owners have found they're better off going one ration deeper than normal to compensate for the lack-luster 42RLE. This is also beneficial for towing and maintaining the use of overdrive. Those that drive manual transmissions are lucky they don't have these kinds of issues. With the factory 6-speed manual conventional wisdom works. My experiences with the LJ are overall good. I have no regrets about buying it or modifying it for overland travel. For the most part it does the job it's intended to do. However on multiple occasions my patience has been put to the test dealing with that f***ing piece of s*** transmission. I've done my best with gearing going with 4.88's as well as adding both an auxiliary transmission cooler and a transmission temperature gauge. Those modifications have helped the LJ on some great adventures including multiple cross-country drives. That said, its time has come. Options As I said, I'm not going an engine swap so much as I am doing a transmission swap. I considered multiple options when it came to selecting a new transmission. The easiest solution would be switching to an OEM manual transmission. Being a 6-speed it would a great option were it not for me having blown my knees out training for the Army in college. While I can drive stick for short periods of time (god how I miss banging gears in my supercharged Thunderbird) I just can't manage it on long drives, especially in traffic, and doubly so off-road. Another option would be the unicorn of Jeep four-speed automatic transmissions which would be an OBDII version of the AW4. Hands down one of the best transmissions to ever be installed in a Jeep, the AW4 would be great in an LJ... if I could find one. Beyond that, there really aren't any good OEM transmissions for me to swap into the LJ. The 42RLE just can't handle any more. As far as non-OEM brand transmissions the only ones that are common, cheap, and easy to swap --- as well as have oodles of aftermarket support --- are GM transmissions. The top of the list for this is the 700R4. It's a four-speed automatic that was designed for four-wheel drive trucks and SUV's. Many people have found homes for them in their Jeeps over the years. Companies like Advance Adapters and Novak Conversions make the necessary parts to make installation a breeze. However, the 700R4 is an older transmission that has been succeeded by newer versions like the 4L60E. Now, I could just swap in a 700R4 or 4L60E and call it done. However that still leaves me with a stock OEM motor. A tired one at that. Recently the LJ rolled over 200,000 miles; the last 60k of which were all by me and I know they weren't easy miles. I always try to do my best to maintain my vehicles as best I can. However things still happen. The motor was overheated a few times (first when the radiator went out, another time when the fan clutch went out, and again when the replacement radiator developed a leak). The motor is also prone to some quirky problems relating to the modern emissions systems (such as THREE catalytic converters, FOUR oxygen sensors, and one dumb EVAP system) and the late-model 4.0 coil-pack ignition system. Chrysler did their best to modernize the 4.0 and help it meet rising EPA standards but in the process they compromised what made the 4.0 so great - its simplicity and its reliability. More Power To complicate matters I honestly need a little bit more power out of the LJ. At 190 HP the 4.0 inline size leaves a little bit to be desired on the highway. Yes, I know I'm an overland enthusiast. And yes, I know I write a book series about avoiding highways. However sometimes they are a necessary evil. As such, when towing my camping trailer at highway speed I honestly need more power. She'll do 65-70 mph but that's at 95% throttle (or as Deadpool would say, "Maximum Effort") and a whopping 8-9 mpg. Yeah, not great. I have no additional power when it comes to hills, headwinds, or passing traffic. Not good. Going for Maximum Effort all day every day. Now an easy option would be to throw on a turbo or a supercharger, right? Well, remember when I said it's a tired old 4.0 with over 200k miles and prone to quirky emissions and ignition issues... yeah, not a real viable option. I could rebuild the motor, but that is a considerable expense. Same for the transmission. I could just make an easy call to rebuild the 4.0 and 42RLE and call it done. But then I'm still stuck with a 190 HP motor and a crappy ass-tastic transmission with a ridiculous overdrive ratio. Plus, if I'm going to go through all the trouble to swap the motor and transmission, which at this point needs to happen one way or another, I might as well upgrade in the process. More than a Transmission Swap With the realization I need to swap the engine and transmission one way or another I opened myself up to other options beyond just a rebuilt OEM powertrain. I figured by going with a totally upgraded powertrain, and specifically a V8 one, I would not only have more power on the highway but I'd also have a more appropriate transmission for what I'm going. That only left one question, which V8? Ford, GM, and Chrysler all make great V8's. In their respective modern arsenals are the 5.0 Coyote, the proven LS, and last but not least the Hemi. Each have their champions and their haters, but none of them are bad motors. What it boils down to for me is cost, availability, and ease of install. The Coyote was sadly the first one to drop off the list for me. While I got my automotive start with Fords (first a 3.8 n/a Thunderbird then a supercharged one, and a 4.0 Ranger) it's just too pricey a swap. This is in part due to it's limited availability and it's not an overly common swap yet. The most logical option is of course a Hemi swap. It's OEM brand and a very common motor. Sadly Chrysler locks down their PCM's pretty tight and their vehicles are wired via a "Totally Integrated Power Module System" which is an absolute pain in the d*** to work with. While professional shops like AEV make Hemi swaps look easy, they just aren't that easy for the solo shade-tree mechanic. Enter the LS. Yeah, yeah, yeah... I know. Everyone else is doing it. LS swaps are common, popular, and cheap. Those things reinforce each other. They're cheap because the LS motor is in pretty much everything GM makes. It's in their trucks, SUVs, and even their vans. You can't sneeze in a parking lot without hitting a vehicle with an LS in it. They're also an easy swap because this commonality makes them so popular thus creating an entire aftermarket support network to facility LS swaps. This popularity also makes is cheaper since most of the hard work has already been done. This is also made easier on GM's part because their engine and transmission systems are, for the most part, stand-alone and fully unlocked (Chrysler, take notes). By the Numbers Ultimately it came down to the numbers for me. The LS makes 130 HP more than 4.0 and weights 60 pounds less. Talk about a killer power-to-weight ratio. Aside from that power available where I'll need it most on the highway, I've been told I can expect to double my fuel mileage. So yeah. 130 more horses under the hood and double the fuel mileage in something that weighs less than my current motor? Yeah, I'd be an idiot not to consider this swap. But again, it's not about the engine (so I keep telling myself) it's about the transmission. The ratios for the 42RLE are 2.84, 1.57, 1.00, and 0.69. In contrast, the 4L60E ratios spread out to 3.06, 1.62, 1.0, and 0.70. While overdrive is still a little on the shallow side for my liking, there's a big difference between a transmission like the 4L60E coming out a truck and the 42RLE coming out of a car, not to mention a motor that can turn it. It will handle towing, four-wheel-drive, and long highway drives a lot better due to it's overall robustness and better construction. I've run the numbers, and they come out in my favor. Ultimately it came to one final number for me. As I mentioned I was told by multiple people that I can expect to at least double my fuel mileage. Honestly that's not hard at a whopping 8-9 mpg towing and 11-13 mpg around town. I keep pretty good track of the fuel mileage of the LJ and lets just call it an even 10 mpg average. Given that I've driven the LJ 60,000 miles over the course of just over three years it's easy to say I'll probably maintain that average of 20,000 miles a year (and yes, I do enjoy driving). If I do the math, 20,000 miles at an average of 10mpg works out to be 2,000 gallons of fuel a year. At a PA state average of $2.50 right now that's about $5,000 for fuel for the year. If I double my fuel mileage that will cut my fuel budget in half. That means over the course of a year I'd say $2,500. That's not something to scoff at. Especially considering I only paid $800 for my LS donor motor. Yes there are other associated expenses (more on that in a future article) but over the next three years (even if I don't full double the fuel milage) I can still expect the LS swap to more than pay for itself financially. Not to mention the drivability factor on the highway and the reliability factor of not having a crappy transmission holding me back. The other added benefit of doubling my fuel mileage will be doubling my fuel range. Right now at an average of 10mpg, with my 31.5 Gallon GenRight Safari Tank, I give myself a working range of 300 miles. Double the fuel mileage means double the range. Even if it's not exactly double I can still expect, at minimum, 15-16 mpg which gives me an effective range near 500 miles. Conclusion I have to replace the engine and transmission in the LJ. That is an unavoidable fact. At over 200k miles the time has come. While there are many options for me to consider, the LS swap was the easy clear choice. 130 additional horsepower, 60 less pounds, mated to a much better transmissions, with an expectation of double the fuel milage, at a base investment of $800 all adds up to a very simple statement: It's LS Swap Time! Once the swap is complete I'll have more information pertaining to the swap itself. While I have no intention of writing a step-by-step guide to swapping an LS motor into a Jeep (or any other vehicle) I will at the very least outline the parts I used to make the swap possible, as well as rough estimates for the time and money I have invested in the swap. I will also make sure to mention the unexpected things I encounter along the way. Until then I hope you've enjoyed this look into my decision making process. View the full article
  3. I couldn't think of a better way to end 2018 and start 2019 than spending a weekend camping with some fellow overland adventure enthusiasts. As soon as I saw this I thought, "WHERE DO I SIGN?!?" Adam from Overland History put together another "Expedition to the New Year" event this year and I was lucky enough to get invited along. Read on for my report of the trip as well as some teasers for 2019... The trip started with a jaunt down I81 from PA into central VA We split into two groups with Adam guiding one group in his Jeep Cherokee and John Fury guiding the other group in his Toyota Tacoma The best sites along both routes were the countless waterfalls. While nothing technical, it's roads like these that make exploring the national forests fun. When the sun goes down the christmas lights come out. We call this "party mode." Coming down off a rather technical section which took us to the top of the mountain. While the view is normally rather scenic, all we saw was the inside of a rain cloud. Our group on day 2 opted to take a hike to Panther Falls. On the way back there and back we decided to pick up some trash.I can't think of a better way to ring in the New Year. I can't think of a better group to hang out with either. All in all it was a fun trip. The two days of trail-riding in the mountains was scenic and relaxing. Especially since I wasn't doing any driving. I opted to play navigator and do some mapping while riding with Chad from First State Overland. Logged a lot of trails on Gaia as well as marked a lot of potential campsites I'd like to visit this summer. I'd like to thank Adam of Overland History for organizing another fun event as well as John Fury for helping host the event at James River State Park. Both guys were great guides and I cannot wait to get back to central Virginia to do some more exploring and camping. Looking ahead to 2019I won't go into too many details, but 2018 sucked. It started off with a lot of potential but quickly went down hill. I ended up making a lot of sacrifices I'll regret for a long time. I also found out some unpleasant news regarding my health. All of those things coupled together mean I will be resigning from my job at the off-road shop effective the end of March. I will be going back to pursing the overland adventure lifestyle full-time starting in April. So, here are a few things you will see from ECOA this year: More blog articles New video series Motor swap in the LJ ECOA hosted events I'm sure three out of the four of those piqued your interest. Guess you'll just have to stay turned for more... View the full article
  4. In the last recovery article I spelled out a basic list of recovery equipment I consider essential to every 4wd vehicle that considers off-pavement travel. In this article we'll take that basic kit and add to it. By fleshing out the kit with a few additional accessories and additional recovery equipment we can make sure out slightly modified vehicle can still be recovered. This was a tricky recovery requiring an angular pull with the winch. A strap was also used from the rear of the Toyota to the front of the Jeep. There was also a lot of digging. Another bonus of fleshing out the recovery kit is increasing the ways in which the basic recovery gear can be used. The more functional an item the better. Read on for more details... Non-OEM JackIf you've added a lift kit and larger tires to your 4wd vehicle then chances are your OEM jack is completely and totally useless. Even if you added a few extra pieces of scrap wood to the pile, your OEM jack just isn't going to cut it any more - not to mention the inherent problems associated with a tall pile of wood and then having to carry it with you. Non-OEM jacks will come in three flavors. First will be a heavy duty scissor jack. This is the aftermarket big brother on steroids to your OEM jack. It's bigger, taller, and stronger. It can lift more weight further and usually with less effort. At the very least a bigger scissor jack will allow you to jack up the axle on your lifted 4x4 and, if needed, even reach the frame with a little help from that scrap wood or a purpose made off-road base. You can also increase the range of your stock jack with a purpose built off-road base. A good way to extend the range, and footprint, of a jack is with an off road base. The AEV Jack Base work with the OEM JK scissor jack as well as others using the same size base. The second type of aftermarket jack to consider is the hydraulic bottle jack. Some 4wd vehicles come with a small bottle jack. Once you add a lift and bigger tires that wee little jack isn't up to the task. Also, a fully kitted out and loaded overland rig is heavy. A small OEM jack may just give up the ghost and quit on you. A heavy duty aftermarket jack can, like its cousin the aftermarket heavy duty scissor jack, lift more further with ease than it's smaller OEM counterpart. Kits like this from Safe Jack are a great way to add a hydraulic jack to your arsenal. With a range of attachments, extensions, and base plates you can safely raise your vehicle's axle or frame. The last type of aftermarket jack I'm going to mention is the farm jack also known as a tractor jack or more commonly by the brand name "Hi-Lift." These jacks are like the jewelry of the offroad world, especially on Jeeps. Pretty much every 4x4 has one. On something that is body-on-frame like a Jeep they are probably more useful than bottle or scissor jacks. There are also countless accessories for farm jacks that give them a wide array of uses. They can be adapted to be used as a come-along, hooks can allow them to attach to wheels, and the handles can even be turned into shoves and other digging tools. Needless to say, they are popular for a reason. Kyle from Off Road Consulting and Training demonstrates a Hi-Lift brand farm jack on the front of his LJ. Hi-Lift offers a wide range of accessories including off-road bases, straps, and tool attachments. Mounting solutions are plentiful too. As far as which one you should buy, well that depends on a lot actually. As useful as they are I'm not sure ever 4wd vehicle needs a farm jack. I love my Hi-Lift but I honestly don't use it that much. When I need it I really need it. However I have a Jeep Wrangler. It's body-on-frame with squared off solid steel bumpers. It makes sense for me to have one. People with modern SUV's and trucks which rounded bodies comprised of mostly plastic and thin sheetmetal probably aren't going to be able to use a farm jack. There are also times (like changing a tire) when the simple solution - a scissor jack or bottle jack - makes the most sense and will work the quickest. In my opinion if you've added a lift kit and bigger tires to your rig you should upgrade your OEM jack to a heavy duty aftermarket version even if you get something like a Hi-Lift. Conversely, just because you have something like a Hi-Lift doesn't mean you can toss out your OEM jack and not replace it. Traction Mats and Bridging LaddersSay the following sentence with me out loud, "traction mats and bridging ladders are two different things with two different purposes." For good measure go back and read it out loud again. I have see too many debates about which is better or which one someone should by when the people arguing think two very different products are the same. A traction mat does just that, increase traction. They also add floatation by spreading out the weight load of a vehicle over a larger surface area. They are great in things like sand, snow, and mud. When things get slippery a track mat can often make short work of the recovery without the complexities of a vehicle-to-vehicle strap or winch. They can also sometimes prevent a sticky situation when used preemptively across a soft bottomed stream, through a deep snow drift, or across a freshly windblown sand dune. The first name in traction mats is Maxtrax. Made of a durable, yet flexible, plastic they work great in sand, snow, and mud. In contrast, a bridging ladder is used for spanning a cap that ranges for a few feet. When I think of bridging ladders I think of the iconic black-and-white photos of adventure vehicles like the Camel Trophy rigs or Mark Smith's Jeeps navigating their way through South America. Strapped to the roof are long ladders ranging from as short as four feet to as long as eight feet. They are great for spanning long gaps when accompanied by sharp ledges. If the solution is to go OVER rather than THROUGH then a bridging ladder will make more sense than a traction mat. In contrast to flexible traction mats, bridging ladders are firm. While still lightweight, their construction allows them to form a ramp or bridge. If used as a traction mat their honeycomb structure will allow them to sink. The reason I emphasis this is because good traction mats make lousy bridging ladders and good bridging ladders make lousy traction mats. The reason being has everything to do with their construction. Traction mats are often lightweight, flexible, and solid. They bend to slide under a tire and the subtle deformation adds to the traction they provide. They'd be terrible at supporting the weight of a vehicle over a gap. In contrast, a bridging ladder which is designed to span a large gap is often made using a lightweight truss form of construction. Often they are made from aluminum which when trussed and gusseted can span long gaps with relatively little material. This open form of construction means they'd make lousy traction mats due to the lack of surface area. That reduced surface area means they'd provide little to no flotation in soft terrain like sand, mud, or snow. The happy medium between the plastic traction mats like Maxtrax and the bridging ladders is PSP. "Perforated Steel Plate" was used during the second World War for the construction or emergency runways. The interlocking plates can be linked and stacked when needed making them very versatile. Which one is right for you will depends on the type of terrain you travel. If you're a snow-bunny or beach-bum then traction mats are going to be worth their weight in gold. Sand and snow are the two areas when a traction mat really shines. If you're in an area where roads are often washed out leaving nasty ruts and cuts, then a set of bridging ladders might be more useful. They can be used to span narrow gaps often cut by fast moving water. They can also be used as ramps to drop down off a ledge caused by erosion. In an ideal world you'd have both, but more often than not you won't need both. Digging toolsI have a rule when I am making a recovery. If I cannot see both axles of a rig I won't even attempt the recovery. More often than not a messy hard recovery can be made easier with a little digging. By exposing the axles of a mired rig (whether it's snow, sand, or mud) you can reduce the effective load on the recovery system. You can also prevent damage to suspension and driveline components. A little bit of elbow grease can go a long way. Removing as much material that is in the way is also a great way to reduce the working load on recovery components like tow-hooks, straps, and winches. While shovels come in many shapes and sizes... Digging tools can also be used in constructive manner. By adding material under the tires of a vehicle (used in conjunction with a jack to lift it up) you can often get a vehicle unstuck without making an actual recovery. I've used this system on high-center vehicles as well as ones that had gotten twisted up and unloaded their open differentials. Just like stacking rocks, a modest pile of dirt, sand, snow, or gravel can go a long way in helping a rig over an obstacle. The trusty spade shovel is going to be your best bet. The sharp point is good for digging, and the medium scope is good at moving material. Not too large, not too small, you'll want something that will work effectively as well as store efficiently. Digging tools are also useful outside of recoveries. They are great for building, repairing, and maintaining trails. Around the campsite there are 100's of potential uses. I often keep a shovel around the fire pit and prefer to smoother a fire with dirt rather than water if I can help it. It's also good to fill in a temporary fire pit rather than leave the open burn scar (which in some areas is required). Standard military Pioneer Tool Kit is a great well rounded tool set for any off road enthusiast. The tools are equally useful around camp and on the trail. The military-issue rack is also a nice way to store them and keep them organized. If you're ever curious what types of digging tools might be useful to carry, check out a military pioneer kits (usually an axe, shovel, and pick), the tools on a forest service rig (ironically very similar to those of military pioneer kit plus rakes), or my personal favorite those carried by wilderness firefighters (namely the venerable Pulaski and McLeod tools). The McLeod Tool is part rake, part hoe and all business. It's great for working loose terrain. When used off-road it's great and excavating out from under a vehicle when a shovel won't reach. A Pulaski tool is like having to axes in one. The vertical blade is great at cutting while the horizontal blade is good at digging. While not essential for everyone, it would be useful on the east coast where terrain is more earthy and contains roots. Ground AnchorsHaving done the vast majority of my wheeling on the east coast I've been privileged to never be far from a tree. Big trees like oaks and pines with wide sturdy trunks make the best ground anchors. However, out west I found such anchors to be non-existant in many locations. Not having a suitable ground anchor basically turns a winch into a glorified paper weight. However, there are options. The tried-and-true Pull Pal is the first thing that comes to mind when talking about portable ground anchors. While it might look like something MacGyver made out of some leftover parts, its functionality is only surpassed by its relatively compact form-factor when collapsed. The Pull Pal is great in lose terrain when natural anchors like rocks and trees are lacking. When deployed the large spade is driven into the ground the the harder it is pulled on the harder it digs into the ground. This can make a winch recovery possible both in a self-extrication manner (from vehicle to anchor) or helping secure a winch vehicle (when making a vehicle to vehicle pull and preventing the winch vehicle from sliding on loose terrain). The Pull Pal portable land anchor looks a lot like its nautical cousin. It also works in a similar fashion hooking and digging into the ground when under load. The Pull Pall also folds nicely and can store easily in a variety of locations. In recent years a new portable ground anchor has hit the market. The Deadman Earth Anchor is a rather simple, but elegant, approach to recovering in loose terrain. For lack of a better description the Deadman deploys like a tarp that you fill with dirt, sand, snow, or even mud. When buried appropriately the Deadman work in much the same way as a Pull Pal but at a fraction of the weight. The tradeoff is it requires more work and a trusty shovel. The Deadman can also double as a large tree-saver (or even a rock-saver) and can even help with vehicle rollovers when used appropriately. The Deadman Earth Anchor in all it's glory. Buried the Deadman works great in sand and even snow. The Deadman can also be used as a tree or rock saver. Fear not. If you ever find yourself in need of a ground anchor and lack a Pull Pal, Deadman, or other purpose built portable ground anchor you can always improvise. If need be you can always improvise and make your own out of what you have on hand. At the very least you should have a shovel, a spare tire, and an off-road jack. Together you can dig a hole, burry the tire and jack, and use them as an anchor. Other things like loose rocks or even long logs can be buried in similar fashion. While not the best option, and more often than naught it will lead to something being damaged (either the wheel or jack) it's a trick worth knowing if you find yourself in a life-or-death situation and absolutely need to make the recovery. When needed, get creative. MacGyver would be proud. Advanced Rigging GearThe vast majority of the recoveries I have participated in have been have been simple linear pulls (either with a strap or a winch). More often than naught the mantra of "don't dig yourself a grave" comes into play and I do my best to avoid making a bad situation worse. However, while 99 out of a hundred recoveries might need nothing more than a pair of soft shackles and a strap, that one rare one will be a royal pain in the but. Most basic recovery kits, like the Warn Epic Kit previously mentioned, come with the minimum essentials you need even for moderately complicated recoveries. Tree-savers, snatch-blocks, and other straps can help with non-linear pulls as well as doubling up the pulling power of a winch. However, if you need to take things to the next level and go multi-angular or triple or quadruple your winches pulling power you'll need a more advanced rigging kit. Snatch blocks (aka a "winch pulley") can change the direction of a pull. Multiple snatch blocks can be use to multiple the pulling force of a winch. However, more force means less speed; which isn't always a bad thing. If one is good, and two is better, three is amazing, right? Right. Luckily you don't have to go out and buy three of everything. Speaking from my own experience, the only time I've needed a complicated rigging system was when I was in a group. Traveling solo I'm operating under a strict, "rather safe than sorry" mantra and do my best to take it easy. In remote territory with larger groups is when a larger kit is necessary. In that case a more advanced rigging kit can usually be made out of multiple basic kits. By combining a number of smaller basic kits (one per vehicle) you can usually come up with enough straps and snatch-blocks to make a pretty good 3:1 or 4:1 block-and-tackle kit. You can also combine tree-savers, straps, and winch-line extensions to make some pretty long linear and non-linear pulls. I remember one instance when we winched a Lexus out of a ditch using a number of tree-savers and snatch blocks. I also remember a very lengthy linear recovery when we winched a Subaru up one of the more difficult trails in Uwharrie National Forest. It's not often that you'll need more than the basic recovery gear that you carry, but when in a group it's always nice to know how to combine kits into something with a lot more flexibility and have the skills and experience to utilize them. ConclusionAs always, the best way to improve your vehicle's kit is to improve your skills. Taking formal recovery and winching classes from certified professionals is a great safe way to learn new complex skills in a controlled environment. Having the right gear is on a tiny portion of what's needed. You still need the knowledge, experience, and confidence to use that equipment when the time comes. Disclaimer: This article is by no means the end-all or be-all when it comes to off road vehicle recovery. These articles serve as a way to encourage readers to seek out more knowledge and experience. As such, any and all illustrations and product references are to be taken at their face value for casual educational purposes only. View the full article
  5. A while back I posted some pictures of a new trailer project. I acquired a surplus M116A3 generator trailer chassis from the local Army Depot. It was too good a deal to pass on. The original plan was to turn it into a flat-deck dual-purpose utility trailer and toy-hauler. M116A3 Generator Trailer purchased from a government surplus auction Well, that was the original plan at least... A few weeks after I got the generator trailer home I came across another trailer on the government liquidation site. This one was a flat-deck version of the M116A3. Rather than reinvent the wheel and turn my chassis into a flat deck I opted to just acquire yet another trailer. (For those counting at home, the current total number of trailers I own is now 4). M116A3 flat-deck trailer also purchased from a government surplus auction The revised plan is for the flat-deck to take the utility/toy-hauler role. That left me with an extra trailer frame. Since it was an A3 version it got my wheels turning. I love the Poor Man's Teardrop. It's a great overland camping trailer and has served me well for the past three years. That said, anything can be improved upon. When I built it I was on a limited budget and function won out over form. The guiding principle were, "it's replacing a tent" and to have nothing more than a "rolling bed in a box." As such it was built from mostly used parts and many corners were cut. That's not to say it's a bad trailer. Again, I love it. It works great. Ultimately the choice to build a new one came down to one simple thing: fenders. Here you can not only see the flush fender of the M101, but you can also see how the 33" tire is rubbing. In this photo the axle is set up in a spring-under configuration. For those that don't know the M101 trailers have no flare to their fenders. The arch for the wheel well of the tire is flush with the side of the trailer. This gives it a sleek smooth line down both sides of the trailer. Normally this isn't a big deal. With a Jeep-width axle (60.5" wide) and stock Jeep wheels 31" tall tires would tuck under nicely even with the trailer set up in a spring-under configuration. The issue I ran into was the wheel and tire combo I was running on the Jeep was rubbing on the trailer. With 33" tall tires on a 16x8 wheel with 4" of backspacing the tires were ever-so-slightly proud and when the trailer suspension would cycle the tires would rub. With the trailer setup spring-over (as it sits now) there is no rubbing. Problem is, now the trailer is a little too tall for my liking. Enter the A3 tub. You can see how the fender flares out from the wheel well a few inches. This allows for a wide track width. On the A3 version of the M101 the fenders are not only shaped a little different by they flare out from the body of the trailer a few inches. This was to accommodate the wider track-width of the HMMVEE and the larger 37" tall tires. While my Jeep is nowhere need as wide as a mil-spec H1 hummer, I figured starting with an A3 trailer tub would be a lot better foundation for a new trailer than another older version of the M101. Let's get this party started! Huge thanks to Jim for the use of his garage and lift. The fenders weren't the only subtle change I wanted to make though. One big advantage of the M116A3 generator chassis was that it was just a frame. This would make modifying the structure a lot easier than starting with a finished trailer. There were two things I wanted to address and both had to do with the tongue. First we need to remove this hunk of junk. The M116A3 has a hydraulic surge brake system. It's also equipped with a lunette ring. It's all very very very very heavy... ...so it has to go. Buh-bye! Beginning removal of the subframe assembly. Here you can see the arms hinged down off of the pivot point for the dump action. First, I wanted to remove the sub-frame that allowed the M101 series trailers to dump. This part of the frame that also formed the tongue hangs roughly four to five inches below the rest of the trailer's frame. While the dump feature is nice for a cargo trailer, it's unnecessary for a camping trailer. Having gotten hung up a few times on the subframe it was on my "to be removed" list. Here you can see how low the trailer ball is on the Jeep. The subframe on the M101 means I had to run a 5.25" drop hitch off the back of the LJ. A loss of 5" in break-over angle is HUGE. Second, I wanted to lengthen the tongue of the trailer. While the M101 looks large, it's a relatively small and short trailer. This makes is a great towing trailer when going forward, but a real pain in the but to back up. There is also no room on the tongue of the trailer to mount a storage box. One of the things I wanted to do on my next trailer was move the dual batteries for the camper's electrical system into a tongue box making the easier to service as well as making it easier to tap into things like solar or shore power. 8 feet of 2 inch square tube is the spine for the new longer trailer tongue. The square tube is fully welded around all four sides front and rear. (Fun Fact: This is Jonathan's first time welding. Follow him on IG @smithcreate) By lengthening the tongue not only do I get a little more room on the tongue for a box, but I also fele the trailer will tow better as well as make it a little easier to back up. There is also one other bonus to switching to a newer A3 trailer. That is parking brakes. Both the M116A3 generator trailer and M116A3 flat-deck trailer both currently have working parking brakes. This is something that has been lacking on my current trailer. While I could add them, and truthfully they could be added to almost any trailer, it's just something to be mindful of when looking at the M101/M116 line of trailers as a whole. The cool thing is there are two separate levers allowing you to brake each wheel independently. This can help when maneuvering the trailer by hand as well as keeping it from rolling when disconnected. (Wheel chocks are still a good idea though.) And now the M101A3 tub is joined with the M116A3 frame. And not, this doesn't make it an M217AA6. The new "Poor Man's Teardrop 2.0" overland camping trailer is still a work in progress, but as it continues to come together you'll see some more photos. The next big thing on the list are axles for both trailers. Stay tuned for a writeup on how you spec out a trailer axle and some things you need to be mindful of when selecting the right trailer axle for an offroad trailer. View the full article
  6. One of the overlooked areas on most modified vehicles whether they are cars or 4x4's is brakes. A lot of people emphasis going fast, few emphasis handling, and even fewer stopping power. Given the heavy E load range tires, towing a trailer, and the fact that the Jeep is my daily driver, my brakes have been long over due for an upgrade. LJ on the lift at work. For once I'm not the one turning the wrenches. Luckily I work with some talented mechanics. If you're familiar with ECOA then you know I like to do my own work. Most all the work done to the LJ and the trailer has been done by me and my friends. Very rarely do I resort to paying someone else to do my work for me. Sadly current events (like getting a job) have cut into my free time. Luckily my day just happens to be a a 4x4 store with it's own shop. Anyway, read on for the details of my much needed brake upgrade... Stock Brakes Before looking at the upgraded brakes, let's take a second to look at the stock brakes. Front Brakes. Nothing special. You can see some glazing and groves. Obviously time for new brakes... might as well upgrade, right? The rears were much worse. Lots of glazing. I doubt they were helping me at all. The main issues I was facing with the stock brakes was overall stopping power and brake fade when on long drives - especially when towing. Obviously new brakes would help, but I knew I would need some sort of upgrade. Premium pads and rotors were an option but I had a feeling they wouldn't be enough. I felt like performance brakes would be the way to go. I needed something that would increase my stopping power as well as help mitigate glazing and dissipate heat better. Enter Powerstop Brakes. Off with the old... Powerstop Brakes Powerstop Brakes is a co-sponsor of the Unlimited LJ Adventure later this month. As such, I was able to get a hookup on a set of brakes I've been wanting for a long time. The kit I decided to go with is a Powerstop Brakes Z36 Truck & Tow package. It includes front and rear drilled and slotted rotors, high performance pads, and the necessary hardware. All in all it's a pretty solid kit that is specifically designed for Jeeps like mine. Look at that rotor. So sexy. There's not really much I can add more than the photo above. You can just see how much of an upgrade over stock it is. Holes for cooling. Slots for cleaning. High performance pads. I mean, yeah. That's about it. Other UpgradesIf you have keen eye you can probably spot a few more new parts than just the pads and rotors. Since the Jeep is pushing 195k miles I figured it was time to replace the calipers. I've run into issues in the past putting new pads and rotors on old calipers. When I did the ones on my ZJ I had a caliper seize on me. Ever since I've always sworn when it comes to brakes it would be an "all-in" job. Look at the new and clean caliper. Almost makes me with the rest of the brackets were cleaned up too. Also opted for new brake lines up front. These are also longer than stock negating the need for relocation brakes. This will prevent the front axle from "hanging" on the line at full-flex. Another much needed area of attention was the rear parking brake shoes. Also went with all new springs and hardware. One other the tech noticed was a rear axle seal leak. This was a perfect chance to just swap out the entire shaft for an alloy upgrade. Too bad I didn't have enough money to do the fronts too. First Impressions It's only been a few days, but my first impressions are impressive... or is it impressed... either way, I like them. Stopping distance is greatly improved. I won't know what the brake fatigue is like till I start towing the trailer. For not this article will just focus on the install. I'll do a more detailed review next month after I get a few miles on them. I will say the break-in period on these brakes is very particular. You really need to get them heated up so the pads cure and set up on the rotors. Most complaints about performance brakes are due to improper setup and brake-in. For the pads to cure they need to nice and hot. That means repeated heavy brakes from progressively higher speeds. Start off nice and slow (like 10mph to zero) and then work up to full on moderate speed ones (like 45mph to zero). If the brakes are smelling then you're probably doing it right. You do want to make sure they have time to cool between stops. Beyond that, I can say I'm happy with the brakes so far. As I said, I'll do a more detailed review but so far so good. Thank you to Powerstop Brakes for their support in making this, and articles like it, possible and for their support of the 2018 Spring Unlimited LJ Adventure in Uwharrie, NC. View the full article
  7. If you look back at some of the posts here at ECOA there are some pretty cool flashy upgrades. Everything from tires and suspension to extended range fuel tanks. With much of the big stuff taken care of, it's time to turn attention to some smaller upgrades. Redundancy layers are essential when it comes to communications. Cell phones, radios, and satellite devices are a great way to have a backup for when one form or another fails. In particular, radios are great because they all for easy interconnectivity within a group. In the past I've written about how to prepare for your first adventure. One of the things I covered was communications. In that article I talked about how redundancy is nice, but it's important to have layers of different types of communication. The time has come to upgrade my radios a little bit in preparation for my next adventure. Read on for the upgrades... The Radio: Baofeng UV-5R (Rugged Radios' version) If you're looking at a great entry-level VHF/UHF radio, you can't go wrong with the Baofeng UV-5R. It's inexpensive (retails for under $30) for the basic version. The version I have is resold by Rugged Radios and comes pre-programed with all of the most popular off-road race radio frequencies (like Best in the Desert, SCORE, Baja, etc). Given I still shoot off-road racing from time to time, having those frequencies pre-programed is a nice feature. Also, Rugged Radios has some great sales from time to time and the pair of radios I have were acquired during a buy-one-get-one-free sale. Made the premium price for the Rugged Radios version a little easier to swallow. It's not much, but it gets the job done. Very intuitive to use and comes in a small portable form-factor. The radio itself is pretty basic. As a friend once said, it's a great "Fisher Price: My First Radio" level radio. Many seasoned HAM enthusiasts will scoff at the 5R but secretly they probably owned one back in the day. It's also a great radio to lend to a friend when they don't have a radio (which is ultimately my plan and why I have two). Time to accessorize. Top = Long Range Antenna Left = 12v Power Adapter Right = Hand Microphone/speaker Beyond that, I'll have to admit I'm still very new and a total novice when it comes to radio communications beyond a push-to-talk level of use. I know there are many things I don't know but I'm eager to learn. What I do know is these little handhelds are great, but have their limits. With that in mind, the radio could use an upgrade or two. Luckily the 5R is very popular and there are a host of accessories for it. Upgrade #1: 12v Power The first limitation of the 5R is its battery. As with any handheld device the primary limitation is going to be power. While portability is nice, sustained use as a vehicle-to-vehicle communications device means the radio lasts only a few hours before needing a recharge. Since I'm not ready to pull the plug (no pun intended) and drop money on a permanent in-vehicle mounted radio, the simple (and cheap) solution was a 12-volt power adapter. The 12v power pack replaces the battery. Sadly there is no backup battery in the adapter, so if it comes unplugged the radio shuts off. The 12-volt adapter is very simple to install. Simply pull out the battery and replace it with the power-pack. Like any 12v vehicle accessory it simply plugs into a cigaret power outlet. It's really that simple. Now the radio can be used without any fear of the radio's small battery running out of juice. It also means the battery can stay charged and ready to be used if you want to pull the radio out and take it for a hike. Upgrade #2: Long Range Antenna The second limitation of the 5R is it's range. While 2-3 miles sounds impressive (at least compared to something like a CB or Family-Band radio) it's kind of sad when compared to larger (and more powerful) VHF/UHF radios. Part of this is due to the limited power of the radio. The other part is due to the small stubby antenna the radio is sold with. This isn't to say it's total crap, but like anything in like a small upgrade can go a long way. Normal antenna on the left and the long range antenna on the right. Easy to see the difference isn't it? The "ducky" long-range antenna is a nice cheap upgrade for the 5R. It's a thinner longer antenna increasing both the range and clarity of the radio's signal. When using the radio inside a vehicle like my Jeep it means just a little more usability when in a convoy or talking to basecamp. Upgrade #3: Hand Mic The best thing about a CB is the hand-mic. It's light and easy to use. Using the 5R inside a vehicle can be a little awkward. I can't count the number of times I've poked myself in the eye with the antenna or dropped the radio into my cupholder and keyed an open channel. I've also dropped it and almost stepped on it, had it fall into the passenger floor well. I've never had those problems with a mounted radio. The easiest way to mitigate those problems with the 5R is to get a hand-mic. Push-To-Talk. It's really that simple. What's nice is leaving the radio clipped and just using the mic. Like the 12v adapter and the long range antenna, the hand-mic is a cheap and easy upgrade to increase the usability of the 5R. It plugs into the auxiliary input on the side of the radio and BAM! the handheld now works like a mounted radio. It also make talking on the radio while hiking a little easier since you can clip the radio to a backpack and have the mic clipped to a shoulder strap. Fully upgraded and ready for the airwaves. It by no means replaces, or compares, to a dedicated full-form radio, but it will do for now. Plus it's small and compact and can be removed when not in use. It's also still portable and can be lent to a friend when needed. Future Upgrades: A big-boy radio In the future I do plan to upgrade to a more permanent radio solution. I doubt I will go full HAM and will most likely stick to GMRS. I'm just waiting till I get a few this sorted out and decide how deep into this rabbit hole I'm willing to go. From what I can tell, and this is nothing more than a casual observation, the tide seems to be flowing toward GMRS for the overland community at-large. A lot more of an investment than a small handheld, but in the long run I think it will be nice. Plus it can work with the handhelds if I lend them out which is nice. For now, I'll stick with the 5R. While there will still be the hardcore HAM fanatics and those espousing the virtues of going fully headfirst into all things VHF/UHF, I think on a more practical and pragmatic level GMRS makes sense for overland enthusiasts who want a little more than a CB without the hassle of full HAM. Given recent developments with the FCC and the expansion of the GRMS channel offerings, and the lengthening of the GMRS license, this trend will likely continue. Conclusion In the meantime the 5R will continue to serve me well and I look forward to more usability out it with these small upgrades. It's hard to beat the combination of price point and features when it comes to an entry level radio. All-in-all not a bad deal. I'm still keeping both radios even if I get an upgraded full-form radio down the road. If not I haven't spent too much money on radios I won't need. It's a great way to get started in the radio hobby without breaking the bank. This article is just the first in a series of articles focused on communications. I am by no means an expert, and I have a lot to learn. With that in mind, it may lead to some specialized classes on radio communications at future events. I may not be able to teach them, but luckily I know some people who can. So stay tuned... ----- Products featured in this article were purchased directly from Rugged Radios. While ECOA is a fan of Rugged Radios and their products, no formal partnership or endorsement is implicit between East Coast Overland Adventures and Rugged Radios at the time of this article. View the full article
  8. At Overland Expo East last year I had the pleasure of crossing paths with the crew at L.T. Wright Knives yet again. A perennial favorite at both overland and off-road shows in the Mid-Atlantic area I've spent more than a few minutes <cough> hours <cough> drooling over their knives. Checking out the LTWK booth at the 2017 Overland Expo East event The end of 2017 they debuted their new Camp Kitchen. It features four handcrafted chef knives ranging from a Large Kitchen Knife to a Small Pouter. Together they cover all the bases for any kind of camp cooking. The set also features a wood cutting board and comes bundled together in a handcrafted Blue Ridge Overland Gear clam-shell bag. Read on for my full review of the set and a bonus review of the LTWK Bushcrafter HC Knife... Legacy: Your grandchild's knifeWhen I saw my first LTWK Camp Kitchen set I instantly started to drool. Many future meals cooked over the camp fire, on the Skottle, or on my tried and true cast iron skillet started dancing through my mind. The only downside was the price. Let's be honest, at nearly $600 this set is by no means inexpensive. However, with a proven history of quality products this isn't the type of set you buy and throw away or forget about in a few years. This is a true legacy product. This is the kind of knife set that your grandchildren will be using long after your overland rig has rusted away. When someone like LTWK partners with someone like BROG, you know you won't be disappointed by what's inside. Four knives + cutting board + a pouch for other utensils Pardon the oil on the chef knife. This was a literal "out of the box" photo. Utility: Not just a Camp KnifeAnyone who leaves their camping gear in the garage to collect dust when they aren't traveling is wasting money. When you invest in quality gear you use it ever chance you get. I think I've cooked just as many means on my Skottle in the driveway as I have out in the woods. Same goes for the LTWK Camp Kitchen Knives. When they aren't loaded in the trailer for a trip they are sitting on my kitchen counter ready to be used in the house. But let's be honest, it's more fun to cook outdoors. Durability: Handcrafted for balanceOne of the true tests for any knife is how it feels in the hands. There is nothing more than an ill-balanced knife that is either too blade heavy or too handle heavy. Not only that but a knife that is too heavy overall will become unwieldy when you're cooking a large meal. A good chef's knife should be just heavy enough to chop through anything but also light enough that is nothing more than an extension of your hand. LT has hit a home run with the large chef knife. Yes, it slices and dices Improvement: Nothing's perfectThere's one downside to the LTWK Camp Kitchen set. Don't worry, it's not the knives, nor is it the BROG Bag (although a hook on that would be nice). It's the cutting board. The only downside I have found with the set as a whole is that the cutting board is too soft. The razor sharp edge of the knifes cuts into the soft wood of the cutting board leaving it nicked and scared after it's first use. My only suggestion for improving the set would be to swap the cutting board for one made of bamboo. It will be more resilient to damage, easier to clean, and therefore safer and more sanitary in the long run. That said, the size is great and the drip-trough is a nice touch. This was the second time I used the set. You can see the cutting board already shows signs of wear. It's still a good cutting board, but it won't last much longer. Bonus: A good beginning I always carry a pocket knife. I have since I was a young boy. Between my time in the Boy Scouts and watching MacGyver there was always a Swiss Army Knife in my pocket (yes, even at school at least till the helicopter nanny patrol liberals put a stop to that). These days I've swapped the multi-tool versatility of the Swiss Army Knife for a simple single blade folder. While nothing fancy it gets the job done. It's my utility knife. It cuts cardboard, tape, sausage, wire, cheese, or whatever I need it to cut whenever I need it to. As such, I knew if I ever got my hands on a premium handcrafted knife it would have to hold up to that abuse. LTWK Bushcrafter HC with sheath and fire starter. Hangs nicely off the belt and is on-deband whenever you need it. The LTWK Bushcrafter HC is just that knife. While there are multiple grinds and blade metals available, I opted for a flat grind and a spring-steel blade. While by no means a "fancy" knife I wasn't too concerned with looks. I'm not looking to imitate Crocodile Dundee and wipe it out going, "That's not a knife... THIS is a knife." I don't have anything to prove. What matters more to me is a knife that can handle the abuse of the abuse of an all-around utility blade. If you're looking to dip your toes into the water of premium handcrafted knives, you can't go wrong with an LTWK Bushcrafter HC. Would you do this with a cheap knife? After opening the can the LTWK Bushcrafter HC showed not a single sign of abuse. Now THAT's a knife. Summary If you ever happen to wader by the ECOA camp and smell the sweet savory smell wafting off the Skottle, there's a 100% chance the meal was prepped by an LTWK camp knife. Not sure there is any better way to summarize such a great product that will last not just one lifetime but many lifetimes to follow. Men in aprons, how else did you expect this to end? Thank you to L.T. Wright Knives, Blue Ridge Overland Gear, and Tembo Tusk for their support in making this, and articles like it, possible. View the full article
  9. Ever since I got the LJ I've been plagued with rear suspension issues. The combination of added length and weight over a base TJ meant the stock rear springs had trouble keeping up. Add to that a bunch of gear, a trailer, and an oversized fuel tank even the JKS JSpec springs couldn't keep up. It's a lot of weight, but luckily she wears it well. I do need to do something about that rear end... I added airbags inside the rear coils last summer in the hopes to mitigate the issue but it was just a temporary solution. It was also a solution that wasn't fool proof as I found out when the one airbag developed a small leak. More research was needed... Identifying the Problem(s)If you're a longtime reader of the ECOA blog, or a fan of the NHT book series then you know I've already blown through not one but two sets of rear shocks. Obviously the problem is more than just the springs. Another problem I have is that the LJ is equipped with a rear anit-sway bar. Since I tow that's something I'm not keen on getting rid of. At 2" of lift I'm just on the verge of needing longer links and possibly an upgraded rear bar given the added weight and towing the trailer. So, that leaves me with four problems to address: Rear Springs Rear Shocks Rear Swaybar Airbags In the garage ready to go under the knife. With four interconnected problems it's a bit of a chicken-and-egg issue when it comes to solving them. I figured before I did anything with the shocks or swaybar, both of which are length based, I'd need to figure out the spring issue first. Also, while addressing the springs it would be a good time to take care of the airbag - which was thankfully covered under warranty. Spring Relocation BracketsIn researching solutions for the saggy rear end on the LJ I came across multiple people talking about spring relocation brackets. TJ's and LJ's are known for the quirky rear springs having an arch to them. Apparently this is bad - very bad - for the spring. You don't get full range of motion from the spring or the full spring rate. That would explain the lack of capacity as well as the rough ride. By relocating the upper spring mount rearward on the frame it levels out the top of the spring making it parallel to the lower spring perch on the axle. This not only allows the spring to stand fully upright but also realigns the rear bump-stop to land squarely on the axle like it should. Most kits I found were weld-on kits. While not above bribing someone to weld on my rig, I was hoping to find something a little less permanent and something reversible if need be. Enter TNT Customs. All the contents of the TNT Customs' kit. Well written directions. A hardware kit. And of course some nicely powder coated brackets. The price-point is also nice, making this an affordable upgrade even for a stock Wrangler. While not a sponsor of ECOA, I have no problem dropping the TNT Customs name. They've been around the Jeep world for a number of years and make many great products. Once I found their spring relocation brackets I knew they'd do the trick because they are a bolt-on solution. Some easy enough for me to do myself and also undo myself if need be. These brackets are beefy. They need to be given their function. It's not all function though. The outside of the brackets are clean lines with nice curves. The internal structure is serious. The attention to detail in the welds, the fitment, and the finish shows they care. Installation of the Brackets Here you can clearly see how the upper spring mount is at an angle. There's a lot going on with the shocks, springs, air-bags, and the JKS suspension links. The TNT bracket is in and you can see how it levels out compared to the OEM. Also, since it's a bolt-in bracket it can be unbolted if need be. Here's the tricky part... getting the springs back into their home. Here's the finished product with spring and the new airbag (which was covered under warranty). Was it worth it? So, was it really worth the time, money, and effort? Well to be honest I've only gone about 40 miles so far... but I think it was. The rear end feels a lot more stable. The air bags work again. All in all it feels much better. As you can see below via the before and after photos I think the LJ picked up just over an inch of lift in the rear. Hard to see, but the rear is visibly sitting higher. Not enough to give it too much rake, but it should sit level with a full-tank. A better comparison. I tried to line it up as best I can. What's next? Now that I have the spring issue taken care of, I'm going to measure for new rear shocks. I'm seriously considering jumping all the way to a remote reservoir shock. There are a couple of reasons for this, but I'll save those for that install writeup. I'll also measure for longer rear sway-bar links, although I'm also going to look into something like an anti-rock for the rear given they are adjustable (to a certain extent). Lastly, I need to finish plumbing the airbags so they are tied in with the onboard air system. AirLift has some pretty slick parts but no off-the-shelf DIY "kit." I'll have to piecemeal it together, but that's the fun part. So, stay tuned for more upgrades and once things are dialed in it will be time to hit some trails again! Also, a huge shout-out to perennial ECOA & NHT supporter Jim for use of his garage, lift, tools, time, and talent yet again. Made this install go nice and smooth and his experience with airbags was a major plus. View the full article
  10. If you recall, at the beginning of the year I had a set of Coyote Enterprises Boltless Beadlocks installed when I got the new Cooper S/T Maxx tires mounted. Coyote Enterprises Boltless Beadlocks What do they do and are they worth it? Although beadlocks are common in the rock-crawling world, the question we are seeking to answer is whether or not their beadlocks would be appropriate for the overland adventure lifestyle. Let's find out... What is a bead and why does it need locked?The bead of tire is probably the most overlooked part of an tire. It does so much work and yet doesn't garnered the same attention as tread and sidewall of the tire. It's very important though. It's the point of contact between the tire and the wheel. Bottom right of the photo. The bead of the tire is where it makes contact and seats to the wheel. Now that we're refreshed on tire anatomy, let's look at how they mount on a wheel. Here you can see a cross-section of a tire mounted on a wheel. As you can se, the only points of contact between the wheel and tire are the beads. Although they do make contact for a full 360 degrees, it's still a small contact point. Under normal circumstances you should never <knock on wood> have any issues related to the bead of the tire. Most bead failures are caused by a manufactures defect (not common with most reputable brands, but they do happen) or excess heat (heat can build up in a tire due to hot brakes or if tire pressure is low which causes excess sidewall flex). Both such issues are common with larger semi-truck retread tires which is why you see so many dead tires along the side of the highway. Type of BeadlocksThere are two main groups of beadlocks. The most common and well known type are external beadlocks. These are mechanical in nature and consist of a metal ring that bolts to a beadlock wheel. These wheels can be manufactured with a locking ring (such as race wheels) right from the start, or you can modify an existing wheel to accept a locking ring. For you DIY types, if you have steel wheels you can by a kit like these from our friends at AtoZ Fabrication. For those of you with deep pocket that like your OEM alloy wheels, there are companies out there that will do the conversion for you (it's expensive because of welding aluminum). Here you can see how the beadlock ring (left) bolts to the beadlock wheel (right). It pinches the bead between the two. Purpose built DIY wheels come in steel (like the one picture) or in aluminum. An existing wheel can be modified into a beadlock wheel with a little patience and a lot of welding Here a set of the AtoZ Fabrication DIY beadlocks are being added to a set of black steelies The other option for a beadlock is an internal beadlock. These were first developed by the US military as a way to not only provide the advantages of a beadlock wheel but the modular construction of the wheel allowed for them to be serviced in the field. The most common of these found today comes off the HMMWV (HumVee). The HMMWV wheels feature a two-piece modular wheel with a rubber and magnesium run-flat insert that also doubles as a beadlock. The availability of used HMMWV wheels make them a popular option for off-road enthusiasts. There's a lot going on in this image, but if you follow along you can see how the modular wheel and run-flat fit together. Bolts. Lots and lots of bolts. The main advantage of an internal beadlock system over an external beadlock ring is that an internal beadlock locks both the inner and outer beads of the tire against the wheel. A traditional beadlock wheel with an external locking ring only locks the outer bead of the tire. Although there are beadlock wheels available with dual rings they are usually only found in racing applications such as drag racing or extreme off-road racing like Baja or Ultra4. Their limited production and high cost makes them rare in the off-road enthusiast world. The alternative method for internal beadlocks is using a pneumatic system. This is the style of the Coyote Enterprises boltless beadlocks. It is comprised of an inner-tube and a liner to provide positive pressure on both beads. The biggest advantage of this type of system is it can be used on any wheel (steel or aluminum) and only requires drilling one hole (for the valve stem of the inner-tube) making installation quick and easy. Here is a cross-section of the Coyote Enterprises Boltless Beadlock system and how it works Aside form working on both aftermarket and OEM wheels, there are two other advantages to a pnuematic systems like this. First, the inner-tube and liner doubles as a "bumps top" protecting the wheel in the event the tire looses pressure. It also can be used as a "limp flat" to help you get to a safe level location. Again, it's not a true run-flat, but if a tire lost pressure the inner-tube would provide enough support to back off an obstical, pull out of a mud hole, and pull off the main trail to somewhere safe (relatively speaking of course). Another view of the Coyote Enterprises pnuematic system. From left to right: Liner Liner mounted on tire around inner-tube Liner, inner-tube, and tire sidewalls show how they pinch the bead The tread of the tire is obviously missing allowing you to see how the liner and tire beads interact. Why would an overlander need beadlocks?I know what you're thinking. "Dean, you keep saying beadlocks are common in the racing and rock-crawling worlds. I'm not a racer nor a rock-crawler so why would I need beadlocks?" Trust me, I totally hear you on that. So let's look at a typical overland adventure. You leave the house, drive on highways or at least main roads that are paved. You arrive at a trail head and proceed to air down. You travel down a fire-road or some other dirt road at a reasonable off-pavement pressure. You then reach an obstacle. It could be a rocky technical section, an unexpected washout, or maybe a sandy or snowy section requiring a little extra floatation. Part of you says you should air down a little bit more to give you a little more grip but there's a little voice in the back of your head the whispers a word of caution about airing down too much. I've been there. I've had that happen. This was the start of this section of the 2017 NHT Doesn't look too bad, does it? Just wait... The two major risks you run with lower tire pressure are burping the bead and spinning the wheel inside the tire. Both are hard to notice. In the first case you drive all day and with each revolution the sidewall of the tire flexes enough that a little bit of air escapes from inside the tire. Once or twice isn't bad, but when you factor in thousands of revolutions even a small tiny fraction of air pressure eventually adds up. In the later case you get into a situation where the traction of the tire overcomes the grip of the tire's bead to the wheel and the wheel actually rotates inside the wheel. While it doesn't damage anything this can often throw the wheel and tire out of balance. I've had both problems happen to me while at low tire pressure. I once started a trip at 15 PSI only to find out by lunchtime I was down to 10 PSI. On my way home I had a nasty vibration due to the tire spinning on the wheel and knocking the clamp-on style wheel-weights loose. Same trail as above, just deeper in and more technical. This wasn't even the worst of it. Knowing I could air down more and not risk burping or slipping a bead was priceless. More recently, in 2016, on the No Highways Tour, I was out west in Utah hitting some pretty technical terrain along the Utah Back Country Discovery Route. The mixed terrain of paved roads, unpaved roads, and trails had me adjusting my air pressure multiple times a day. I think my record for one day was six times. I didn't have any problems, thankfully, but there were a few times I knew I was flirting with some lower-than-comfortable tire pressures. In contrast, when running through Arizona on that BDR earlier this year I didn't have to worry. I knew the inner beadlocks would do their job and I wouldn't have to worry. Ultimately, that's what you get when you run beadlocks - peace of mine. Is the peace of mind worth the price?If you're like me you hate spending money you don't need to. I always hate when I buy something and the sales person tries to up-sale me some sort of extended warranty. Do I really need a two year warranty on a $20 toaster? Naw, I'll pass. However, in some cases the peace of mind is well worth the price. For instance, let's look at tires. First time airing down brand new Cooper Discoverer S/T Maxx's equipped with Coyote Enterprises internal beadlocks. Was I nervous? Not in the least bit. For more information on the benefits of airing down, check out the writeup on tire pressure management. The going rate for the Cooper Discoverer S/T Maxx 255/85R16 tires I'm running is about $200 a pop. The going rate for a 16" Coyote Enterprises Boltless Beadlock is about $200 a pop. I know what you're thinking, "HOLY SHIT! THAT'S DOUBLE THE PRICE PER WHEEL!" You're not wrong. It is a bit of a shock. However, let's look at two factors. First, tires wear down. In a few years I'll be replacing the tires and spending another $200 a tire. I won't need do buy another set of beadlocks. They're reusable. So as a longterm investment it's not that bad. Second, the last time I checked there weren't tire stores in the remote deserts of Utah and Arizona. If I had experienced a tire failure while on the No Highways Tour I could have had major problems. "But that's what a spare is for," you say. True, but I'm only carrying one spare. "Well then you should carry two! Two is one and one is none after all," I'm sure you're saying. 255/85/R16 Load Range E Cooper Discoverer S/T Maxx Four on the Jeep, plus a spare, and two on the trailer. The peace of mind of a good tire and an internal beadlock helps me push my Jeep harder and further. Okay, so let's do the math. I have four tires on the Jeep, plus a spare, two on the trailer, plus a spare. If I double my spares I'm now buying ten tires in total with a total of four spares. That's $800 in spare tires and an additional $240 in spare wheels. How is the price of those beadlocks looking now? Looks pretty good to me. Aired down and flexing the sidewall. That bead isn't going anywhere. So, here's the deal. I honestly can't speak for anyone else but in my eyes the peace of mind is worth it. Case in point, In 2016 I was a good overlander and traveled with two spares - one for the Jeep and one for the trailer. It was already a lot of extra weight. Doubling up my spares would have been impractical. In the entirety of my time as an off-road enthusiast I've only ever lost one tire and it was completely my fault (don't facebook and rock crawl kids). As such, I just don't see the need to double up on spares <knocks on wood> <no jinx>. In fact, when I set the Jeep and trailer up with matching wheels and tires earlier this year, I made the decision to carry only one spare from here on out (one for the Jeep and none for the trailer). Not only did this lighten my load it also made things a lot easier logistically speaking. Now, don't worry, I still have a spare for the trailer at home - just in case. I just don't expect to need it any time soon. ConclusionTo put it simply, you don't NEED beadlocks to go overlanding. Probably not the statement you were expecting. Then again you don't need a lot of the things we take with us. It comes down to risk mitigation. If you travel infrequently or in terrain that isn't all that technical, then you probably don't need beadlocks. However, if you're a long-term overland adventurer, or someone such as myself that enjoys rock crawling, then beadlocks are a smart investment. Being out in remote areas of the world means putting more emphasis on your tires to not only get you there but get you home when all is said and done. Beadlocks go a long way in helping protect your wheels and tires and keep them mounted together. The LJ was built to be a daily driver, an overland adventure vehicle, and a rock-crawler. This is a prefect time and place to put the Coyote Enterprises beadlocks through their paces. Lots of steering in the rocks which cross-loads the tires. No burping. No slipping of the wheel. Just lots and lots of traction. As far as what kind of beadlock (mechanical or pneumatic; external or internal) it's a question of flexibility and cost. A conventional beadlock wheel runs around $200-$400 per wheel depending on if you want steel or aluminum. DIY kits for steel wheels run around $50 per wheel not including cost of installation if you pay a shop to do it for you. The Coyote Enterprises Boltless Beadlocks run around $200 each and are relatively easy to install. They have the advantage of working on either OEM wheels or basic steelies, and since they are internal this means they are all but unnoticeable making it less likely some nefarious person will be enticed into stealing your wheels. At least that's my hope. From a distance my Jeep looks like every other Jeep out there on black steel wheels rather than one rolling on some race-inspired shiny beadlocks. That's another peace of mind that's worth the price in my opinion. However, there is one thing I haven't mentioned yet. It's an advantage that I hadn't expected but something that has become priceless to me. Since the Coyote Enterprises beadlocks are a pneumatic tube inside a liner it means the overall volume of each equipped tire is lower than a non-beadlock equipped tire. The time to air each tire up from trail pressure to street pressure is about half of what it was before. While it may not seem like much, spread that time out over multiple tires (four for the Jeep), over multiple times a day (remember my record is 6 times in one day), over multiple days and multiple trips a year and it adds up quick. Time is money, after all, and its something that's not easily bought. As I said, I can't make the decision for you. However if you find yourself considering beadlocks I'd seriously consider the Coyote Enterprices Boltless Beadlock System. You can run them on stock or aftermarket wheels with a modest investment of time and money. In return you get the peace of mind of having an internal double beadlock and limp-flat insert that won't draw any additional unwanted attention to your rig. Visit the Coyote Enterprises website for more technical information and product specs. https://www.coyoteents.com ----- A huge thank you to Corporate Partners Coyote Enterprises and Cooper Tire for their help and support of the ECOA mission to educate, encourage, and inspire. They represent the best this industry has to offer in not only the quality of their products and their high level of customer service, but also their passion for us, the off-road enthusiast, is unmatched. Please visit their websites for a wealth of information on tires and beadlocks. Also, if you ever see them at a show make sure to stop by their booth and tell them Dean from ECOA says hi! View the full article
  11. As the year winds down I've been taking the time to do two things. First, reflect upon 2017 (spoiler alert - awesome year). Second, look ahead to 2018 (no spoilers, you'll just have to keep reading). One of my all time photos from my 2017 adventures. Tanto National Forest, Arizona I like to think of myself as an ambitious person. Starting 4Low Digital Labs 10 years ago was ambitious. Authoring the No Highways Tour book series is ambitious. ECOA is also an ambitious project. However they are all end products. They all stem from an internal ambition I have to be a better person. That's reflected mostly in the mission statement to "educate, encourage, and inspire." That's ambition. With that in mind, I have some interesting news... OpportunityIf you're even the least bit astute you'll have noticed an ever-so-slight decrease in activity on both the ECOA blog and its associated social media outlets. That is because an opportunity presented itself that I felt compelled, if not a little bit obligated, to pursue. As such it monopolized a bit of my time, energy, and focus. Long story short, coming soon to my area is a new off-road parts store. My name came up in conversation for a management level position. At first I was hesitant to follow up but after some persistence on behalf of their recruiter, and some encouragement from a few friends, I relented and opted to toss my hat into the ring. After completing the interview process I was offered the job, and I'm going to take it. My favorite opportunity of 2017. Working with the VA Four-Wheel-Drive Association and the USFS for an Earth Day trail cleanup and maintenance day. Sherando Lake Recreation Area, Virginia ECOA was, is, and shall remain, a cornerstone passion of mine. Just because I'm resuming working in the "real world" with a day-job doesn't mean I'm giving up on ECOA. If anything it will hopefully rekindle some of the passion and sense of fun that's been missing the last few months. Laboring to make ECOA and the NHT book series into a lifestyle sustaining business right now is a daunting task. In many ways that took the fun out of my overland adventures. While my entrepreneurial spirt will always seek out ways to blend passions together and then capitalize on such things, there is a risk in turning something you love into a chore. I love to travel. I love attending events. I love teaching. I love writing. I love photography. I love blending all those things together. Sadly it just wasn't paying off enough to keep the status-quo going. Something had to change and a day-job was it. ReflectionIf there was one mistake I made, and continue to make, with ECOA it's that I do not self-promote or advertise enough. The overland community is small and I had hoped word of mouth, coupled with exposure at events, would be enough to carry my name out there. I also lacked the budget to continually pay for promoted posts on social media. It's also pretty tricky to self-promote without seeming desperate or pushy. As such, book sales for the NHT and the other goodies on the ECOA store just aren't where I wanted them to be nor where I need them to be to continue with business as usual. Out on the trails with some local friends Michaux State Forest, Pennsylvania It's not all doom and gloom though. Readership on the blog is the best it's been (Thank you all for that). Feedback on workshops at events like Overland Expo and the Rooftop Tent Rally has been awesome. Even feedback through the blog and social media has been reassuring to know that you all appreciate what I'm doing here with ECOA. In the end, that's why I do what I do. More exploring with some local friends Tuscarora State Forest, Pennsylvania On a personal note the last year, as chaotic as it was, has been the most epic year to date. Lots of fun adventures had across the country. Many new friendships made. Lots of great food eaten and more than a few quality beers consumed. All-in-all it's been a great year. AmbitionI'm sure there will be some that say I'm "selling out"and "going corporate." I'm honestly not worried about them or their comments. The job that I'm taking is still an industry job. It's also an opportunity to take many of my ideas and put them into action. Also, as much as I love the off-road industry I've also been critical of it. This opportunity is the ultimate "put up or shut up" moment. This is an opportunity to take many of the things I've been doing on a small scale with projects like 4LDL, ECOA, and the NHT series and scale them up. There are many things I've been wanting to do I just lack the budget and resources to do on my own. Now I'll have a store, a staff, and a company at my disposal. The best part is I get to have my cake and eat it too. I will be working in the off-road industry for my day-job and at the same time I can keep my side projects. Sometimes I might be a little too ambitious Tanto National Forest, Arizona This job will also be an opportunity to apply my ambition in a new way. Although I've never worked in retail, I do have a lot of industry knowledge and experience. So taking a job like this will be a test. It will test my leadership skills working with my staff. It will test my professionalism as I go back to work for someone else (being my own boss has spoiled me). I know it won't be easy and I know I'll have a lot to learn. Luckily I'm ambitious; challenge accepted. The Future of ECOAOne critique, constructively given, of ECOA that I've been chewing on for a while now is that it's a little too scatter-brained. Although the mission is clear (educate, encourage, & inspire), the manifestation of that mission is a bit foggy. Taking this job will allow me to not so much hit the reset button but rather at least take the time to tune things up a little. That said, ECOA will not be going away. It will, however, experience is a little bit of a throttling back. I will still publish regular articles but most likely it will be done on a bi-weekly rather than weekly basis. I will still attend events, but will be focusing on east coast and in particular mid-atlantic events (so no Overland Expo West trip for 2018). I may even do my own event (finally) once things get settled with the new job. The LJ perched on the rocks after a long day of trail guiding Rausch Creek Off Road Park, Pennsylvania The Future of the NHT seriesThe pendulum is going to swing from having time and not enough money to having money and not enough time. As such, I won't be able to do a long-distance No Highways Tour trip in 2018. That doesn't mean there won't be a NHT book in 2018 or that their won't be any future books in the series. I still have plans for a compendium book which I will be starting work on here soon. I also have plans to rework the series and update all of them to second editions. My goal is primarily to bring the first book more in line with the other two. I will also use the compendium book to fill in a few blanks and answer a few frequently asked questions (such as route planning, trip logistics, and camping locations). The 2015, 2016, and 2017 No Highways Tour books may be purchased here http://www.blurb.com/user/4lowdean SummaryFirst of all, thank you all for your support and interest in ECOA and the NHT series. Thank you to those of you that have attended workshops at events. Thank you to everyone who has joined and continue to be a part of the Patron Support Team, purchased stickers and patches, as well as purchased NHT books. All of those purchases help make all of this possible. Also thank you to all the various Corporate Partners that have supported ECOA and the NHT series over the last three years. Things will only get better from here and I hope the support continues! A few of the many upgrades on the LJ Suspension: JKS Manufacturing Tires: Cooper Tire Skid Plates: Skid Row Off Road Locker: Torq-Masters The best part about the new job is it will allow me to reinvents some much needed funds into my rig and my kit. There's a real difference between "being on a limited budget" and "being broke." I started off with a limited budget and things were going well. Now, at the end of 2017, if I may be blunt, I'm broke. There are some things I need to be more successful (like a new camera and new computer so I can do video stuff, some stuff I want (like a way to better mount my iPad in my Jeep for navigation and route making), and some things I should have done months ago (like fix the trailer suspension, get an off-road hitch, and solve some wiring issues). This new job may even afford me the opportunity for a new vehicle in my stable (no spoilers as to what it might be just yet). ----- If you've enjoyed reading the ECOA blog in 2017, and would like to be a part of helping ECOA fulfill our mission to educate, encourage, and inspire by doing more educational articles like this in 2018, please considering showing your support by purchases stickers, patches, and books from the ECOA/NHT online store. Every purchase helps put fuel into the LJ's tank which helps me make it to events as well get out there and get material for the blog. The 2018 Patron Support Team, with a revised patron tier system will begin forming soon! View the full article
  12. I've made it a point to keep the content here on the ECOA blog my own. Part of that is just because this is my own little slice of the digital world. Also because I don't have the funds currently to pay anyone else to contribute to the site. As such, the job of content creation rests on my shoulders. That said, I'm still a consumer of content. Like most of you I read other blogs, I check forums, and watch countless minutes of YouTube content - both overland adventure related and not. Occasionally I'll come across something someone else wrote that I think is worth sharing. In the past I've written on land use ethics as they pertain to the overland lifestyle. This time around I'm going to share an article entitled Locked Gates Ahead. It was penned by American Adventurist founder and I4WDTA member Dave Bennette. I've had the pleasure of knowing Dave through American Adventurist for a few years now and have met him on many occasions both at the Appalachian Rendezvous events as well as Overland Expo. Like me he shares a deep desire for responsible land use. Check out the article and make sure you're doing your part to help keep public lands public. Your homework is to read this article! https://americanadventurist.com/locked-gates-ahead/ View the full article
  13. A while back I penned an article on winching basics. I'd like to pick up where I left off with that article and take a more in-debth look at the winch accessory kit that I got from Warn when I got my 9.5xp winch. What's in the bag?!? The Epic Recovery Kit is an all-in-one winch accessory kit that includes a recovery strap, a tree saver, a pair of shackles, a pair of gloves, and a snatch block. It all comes packaged nicely in a Warn branded backpack. Let's take a look at the kit... The Bag The bag, as basic as it is, is well made and looks sharp. Can be carried via the large handle at the top or as a backpack. First things first, let's take a look at the bag the recovery kit comes it. At first glance it's an attractively designed bag that stands out in a sea of bland bags. The construction is quality and the design is as functional as it is aesthetic. Unlike most backpacks out there, the Warn Epic Bag is a side-loader with adjustable internal dividers. This makes organizing the gear quick and and easy. It also makes finding the right piece even easier. There is even a separate top pouch for the winch controller. Lastly the bag doubles as a winch line dampener. Top pouch for Warn 9.5xp winch controler Main side-loading pouch with quick-reference guide on the inner flap. Notice the bright red inside making it easy to spot gear. The two inner panels are removable/repositionable. The Gloves A good set of study gloves is essential for any recovery kit. Let's face it, recoveries are messy work. They are also somewhat risky. Having a good set of gloves when working with recovery gear is a great way to keep your hands clean, mitigate blisters, and prevent rope-burns or worse yet wire splinters. It's nice that a kit like this comes with a good set of gloves. The Strap It started off white. Already stained with some of that sweet North Carolina red clay from my time in Uwharrie. "It's dirty because I use it." Although known mostly for their winches and winch accessories, Warn also makes a quality recovery strap. There aren't many bells and whistles on a 30' sewn-eye static tow strap, but there doesn't need to be. Since most of my recoveries tend to be simple tugs there's no doubt this piece of the kit will see the most action. An added bonus is that the strap can also be used as a winch line extension if needed. The Shackles The Warn Epic Shackles are a nice departure from the basic shackle design. Aside from the gloves and the strap, the shackles from the Epic Recovery Kit are probably the third most likely thing to get used the most. These Epic Shackles are both aesthetically and functionally well designed. The power coat is thick meaning they should last a long while before any corrosion from use in wet conditions sets in. However, like the straps, they are a basic design without any bells and whistles. The Tree Saver A nice solid tree saver. The Epic series end plates are a nice touch. Hard to see but the oval opening makes it easy to pass a shackle through the openings. You should NEVER wrap a winch line around a tree and connect back to itself. It's bad for a synthetic winch rope and it's worse for a steel winch rope. Just don't do it. That's why things like the Warn Epic Tree Saver are worth their weight in gold when making a recovery. So far I've used the tree saver twice and I have to say of all the other tree savers I've used this is one of my favorites. Most other tree savers are basically short tow-straps with sewn eyes on both ends. It's often awkward and cumbersome to try and cram two soft eyes into a shackle along with the winch hook. While the common rule of thumb is to never introduce extra hardware into a recovery system unless it's needed, the hard ends on a strap like this would be an exception in my case. The Epic Tree Saver is easy to use when connecting the tree-saver to the Factor55 FlatLink-E. Since the FlatLink-E is a pass-through design it makes connecting things together a breeze. Warn really did their homework on designing a better tree saver. (I wonder if they could design a better mousetrap?) The Snatch Block Like everything else in the kit, Warn has put an updated spin on the tried and true design. Like the rest of the Epic Recovery Kit the harmony in design aesthetics and functionality are taken to a whole new level with the Epic Snatch Block. Like most things it's a rather simple piece of hardware. It's a pulley in a split housing. Nothing much to it. However, like the tree saver, shackles, and bag, Warn puts their own spin on the product design that lets you know this is a Warn brand product. I confess I have yet to use the snatch block from the kit yet. If I'm honest I hope I never "need" to. However, one of these days I hope to use it in a winching scenario just so I can see it in action. Gear like this shouldn't stay this clean forever. The Epic Recovery Kit SummaryYou wouldn't eat french fries without ketchup. Sprinkles make an ice cream sundae better. No road trip is complete without a solid playlist of tunes. And bacon goes good with pizza, burgers, and a club sandwich. Some things in life are made better with accessories. The same goes for a winch. A winch by itself isn't much use. The Warn Epic Recovery Kit is an essential accessory for any Warn winch. It's the difference between a basic single blade pocket knife and MacGyver's favorite Swiss Army Knife. Recovery kits complement and complete a winch allowing it to work well in a variety of recovery scenarios. There aren't many situations you will be stuck in for long if you combine a Warn self-recovery winch and one of these Epic Recovery Kits. Visit Warn's website for this Medium Duty Epic Recovery Kit and all of Warn's great recovery equipment. https://www.warn.com/truck/accessories/medium_duty_epic_accessory_kit.jsp The only thing missing from this kit is some sort of abrasion mat. Like most things for recovery there isn't much too it. Just a simple mat with a rub surface on side side and maybe a hard plastic or rubber surface on the other side to help prevent a winch rope from rubbing on a rock. What would be nice it is could roll up and attach to the Epic Recovery Bag much like a bedroll attaches to a backpack. It would also double as a nice mat to spread out the recovery gear on. So Warn, if you're reading, make an Epic branded matt and send me the first one to test out here on the rocks of the east coast! ----- A huge thank you to Corporate Partner Warn Industries for their help and support of the ECOA mission to educate, encourage, and inspire. They represent the best this industry has to offer in not only the quality of their products and their high level of customer service, but also their passion for us, the off-road enthusiast, is unmatched. Please visit their website for a wealth of information on winching and recovery. Also, if you ever see them at a show make sure to stop by their booth and tell them Dean from ECOA says hi! Also, If you enjoyed this article, and would like to be a part of helping ECOA fulfill our mission to educate, encourage, and inspire by doing more educational articles like this, please considering joining the ECOA Patron Support Team. Not only will you help take ECOA to the next level but you'll get access to patron exclusive items like hardcover copies of the No Highways Tour books as well as a 10% discount at the ECOA/NHT online store on cool swag like patches and stickers. The 2018 Patron Support Team will begin forming soon! View the full article
  14. Previous I wrote (or more accurately ranted) about the whole what is or is not "overlanding" debate. Truth be told, I'm not opposed to calling a spade a spade when in fact it's actually a spade. In this case, I spent the last three weekends of October car-camping. Was it "overlanding?" No, not really. Does it matter? Of course not. Was it a series of fun adventures? Yes, yes it was. Is it overlanding? Is it car-camping? Does it matter? Truthfully, "East Coast Car-Camping Adventures" just doesn't have the same ring to it. The first of the three trips was a much needed weekend away with the girlfriend. For a belated birthday gift she booked us a camping spot near the PA Grand Canyon during what we hoped would be the peak of the changing leaves. The following weekend I was down in Virginia for the first ever Rooftop Tent Rally at James River State Park. I finished out the month camping at Rausch Creek Off Road Park and taking the Jeep out on the trails for some long overdue rock crawling. All in all it wasn't a bad way to spend three weekends. Read on for details... Weekend #1: PA Grand CanyonSomehow I lucked out and found a girlfriend who's into this kind of thing as much as I. With plans to camp for the weekend with her and her two dogs I knew the LJ wasn't going to work. I played musical vehicles and swapped Jeeps with my mom trading the Wrangler for her Liberty. Yes, a Liberty. The Liberty does (surprisingly) well pulling the Poor Man's Teardrop. Doesn't look half had either. Home for the weekend. It's a nice location because it's within walking distance to the PA Grand Canyon overlook. Once we were loaded up he set our sites north for the PA Grand Canyon. Despite having lived in Pennsylvania for the vast majority of my life (off and on over 30 years) I had never been to the canyon. If I'm honest I knew it wasn't going anywhere and always thought I'd get there eventually. You know I have a map fetish. The level of detail in the Purple Lizard maps is amazing. Their Pine Creek map is a MUST if you ever visit the canyon yourself. The campground was nice and luckily our spot was at the end of the line giving us a little room to setup the ARB Awning and Deluxe Room Kit Bomber Products had set me up with. Once that was good to go it was time to break out the Skottle for some camp meals. She's so much better on the skottle than I am. Looks better in the apron too (stay tuned). Trying out the new LT Wright Knives Camp Kitchen Set Stay tuned for a full product review. Don't tell Jerry we cooked without the skottle. Sometimes you just want a good ol' fashioned foil pack meal cooked over a smokey fire. And this is why. Two packs of seasoned veggies and two packs of steaks over peppers and onions. Nom Nom Nom. Sadly the peak of the changing leaves has come and gone. That didn't stop os from taking in the sites, doing a little hiking, and checking out some of the local area. Even got a little dirt on the tires which was nice. I think I might do a CCC themed "No Highways Tour" book. A sunset view. Sadly all good things come to and end and since the girlfriend has a real job (glad at least one of us does) she needed to go back to on Monday we packed up and headed home. For me thought it was on to the next adventure. Weekend #2: Rooftop Tent Rally James River State Park in association with Blue Ridge Overland Gear, Mountain State Overland, and myself planned the first ever Rooftop Tent Rally. Adam (of BROG and Overland History fame) gets credit for the name and John from James River State Park gets credit for the event idea. MSO helped with promotion, and my role in the whole deal was handling the education side of things. CJ the Adventure Dog came along as copilot for this trip. With only about two months of lead time our expectations weren't really all that high. Honest expectations were between two and three dozen rigs. By the day of the event we had 70 rigs and around 200 people. All in all it was a great success and I'm sure there will be future RTT Rallys. Can't wait. A foggy morning for the RTTR. As you can see it was a mix of RTT's, ground tents, and travel trailers. I setup camp with John (@newhorizonsoverland) and Rodney (aka @overland_medic) and settled in for the weekend. The common theme for our camp was food. With three skottles, two veteran skottle chefs, and one eager novice skottle chef it was a fun filled weekend of multi-skottle cooking. E'reyday we're skottling (See, told you she looked better in the apron than I do) Chicken Alfredo and broccoli Putting those LT Wright knives on KP duty prepping some potatoes for the skottle. Breakfast on the skottles... yes, multiple skottles. The personal highlight for me was the two workshops I facilitated. The first was on trip planning and logistics. The second was titled "Essentials of overlanding" which was based off my two part overland adventure preparation series. The workshops were very interactive and the feedback from both experienced overland enthusiasts as well as novice enthusiasts was welcome. This (spoiler alert) might lead to some ECOA workshop weekends in the near future. Another highlight of the weekend was movie night with Mountain State Overland. With a projector and portable movie screen setup near the vendor fire pit they played some videos from their recent season up in Vermont. Always a plus to watch videos with the people behind them. Raffle time. Thank you to all the vendors and sponsors that helped make the VA-RTTR happen! With the Rooftop Tent rally a brief event, I packed up mid-day Sunday and set my sites north for PA. There was still one more adventure to be had. Photo-op with New Horizons Overland before rolling out. Jeeps + Off-Road Trailers = Winning! Northbound and down... on to the next adventure. Weekend #3: Rausch Creek Off-Road ParkOne of the unique things about my LJ is that it was built as a triple threat. It's one part daily driver, one part overland adventure rig, and lastly one part rock crawler. One of the things I love to hear is people telling me, "that's a small Jeep for a rock crawler." They're not wrong. I usually quip back something along the lines of, "yeah, but it's big for an overland rig." I'm not wrong. In most ways the LJ is over-built for an overland rig and under-built for a rock crawler. That's part of the fun for me. It does great at all three things. I can drive it around town, on the highway, down a fire road, or up a rocky trail. By no means is the best rig out there, but it hits most of the benchmarks I set forth which is ultimately the only thing I care about. But I digress. Rolling into Rausch with Phoenx (aka @adriftatlast) Both Friday and Saturday I would be playing trail guide. Friday would be with the WMMR "Day off in the woods" with Jaxon's Jeep Club. For that group I'd be on a mix of green and blue trails. Saturday was my third year with Disconnected Offroad and their annual "Rock the Clock" event. This was my second year guiding green trails with them. Early morning. Time to air down and disconnect the swaybar. Flexing out Phoenix getting a little air under his tires. One of the things I love about being a trail guide is paying forward all the knowledge and experience I've accumulated over the years. I've done some pretty stupid things behind the wheel of my Jeeps. As a guide I can preach the classic "do as I say not as I've done" mantra. As much as I love wheeling in the wild, off-road parks like Rausch Creek provide a more controlled environment. The trails are rated (green/easy, blue/moderate, black/difficult, red/insane) which helps mitigate getting in over your head. It also allows someone like me a way to reassure a novice driver that their Jeep will do fine on a given trail and that they will be surprised how capable their stock or near-stock Jeep really is. Having a modest rig (for a rock crawler) is also a way for me to show people you don't need to buy your way down the trail with one-tons, 35's, and a bunch of lockers. Me: Am I stuck? Phoenix: Yeah. You're stuck. <cue flashbacks to "Taco Stand" this time last year> Me: I guess Pizza Rock is now... uh... Pizza Stand? Putting my Warn 9.5xp and Epic Recovery Kit to good use. Also practicing safe closed system winching with my Custom Splice synthetic rope and Factor 55 FlatLink-E Friday's Group Saturday's Group Luckily no one broke both days and the only person to get stuck was me (I really need to tummy-tuck the LJ). The best part of the weekend was looking back in my mirrors and seeing a father and son riding in a nearly new stock JKU smiling ear to ear all day. That's why I guide. It'a also why I do this blog and teach workshops at things like the RTT Rally and Expo. I love seeing the smiles from eager adventurers who are excited to get out there and explore the world. The funny thing about playing Trail Guide is that foreboding sense you're always being followed. "What about ME?" You ask... I've never wanted ECOA or the No Highways Tour series to devolve into a narcissistic "read about me playing with my toys in the woods" thing. That's why my preference is for the educational and encouraging articles. That said, these trip report articles are a way to demonstrate a little bit of "street cred" (if you'll indulge me). If all I did was sit back and write about stuff without actually going on any adventures of my own you'd probably question my credentials and the accuracy of my information. On the other hand if all I did was write about my own adventures I'm sure you'd eventually lose interest in the blog. The trick on my end is finding that balance. So here's your opportunity. Socializing around the campfire is always a highlight of any camping weekend. I'm opening the door (not that it was ever closed) to some constructive criticism from you - my readers - as we look ahead to 2018. Let me know what you think of ECOA and the articles. Are there topics you’re interested in that aren’t being covered? Are there some topics I’m covering that you’re not interested in? What do you think of the trip and event reports? Obviously I know I can’t please everyone all of the time. That doesn’t mean I won’t take your feedback to heart anyway. In the end I stand by my mission as ECOC to educate, encourage, and inspire. You can leave a comment below, message me via the ECOA Facebook page, or shoot me an email. ----- If you would like to be a part of helping ECOA fulfill our mission to educate, encourage, and inspire by attending events like the Rooftop Tent Rally in order to facilitate quality hands-on workships, please considering joining the ECOA Patron Support Team. Not only will you help take ECOA to the next level but you'll get access to patron exclusive items like hardcover copies of the No Highways Tour books as well as a 10% discount at the ECOA/NHT online store on cool swag like patches and stickers. The 2018 Patron Support Team will be forming soon. Don't miss your chance! View the full article
  15. There was a 500 foot cliff to my right. That same cliff swept across in front of me. To my left was an escarpment of unknown height. All the GPS was telling was, "Turn left here." Alone, with no spotter, in unfamiliar territory, I had only one option. I couldn't go back. I couldn't go forward. I couldn't go right. Left. My only option was to go left. Built to explore. Moab, Utah. 2016 No Highways Tour I cranked the wheel hard to the driver side spinning it around till I hit the lock. I let out a heavy sigh before taking a deep breath. Moment of truth. The tires chirped on the tan sandstone as I applied the throttle. The Jeep began to list to the right side as the driver side tire rolled up the hill. My view was quickly becoming nothing but blue sky. The terrain around me dropped from my peripheral view. I took a quick glance down to my phone seeking reassurance this was really the way the trail went. The tires bucked and chirped as they scoured the rocks for traction. It was a duet of rubber and stone with the familiar melody of mechanical anguish. I kept steady pressure on the throttle with one foot and slight intermittent pressure on the brake with the other. Just enough to flirt with the delicate lines between momentum, traction, and caution. Slowly the Jeep made the left turn. The nose pointed skyward. Through the windshield was the cloudless blue sky over Utah. Behind me was the precarious 500 foot cliff. Don't look back. I didn't need that mental reminder more than once. Although breathtaking, it's also a bit unnerving when you don't have a spotter A little more throttle, a little less brake. I fought with the steering wheel. It wanted to spin right, I kept it straight. When it wanted to spin left, I held fast. Steady as she goes. Soon all four tires were singing together in a chorus of rubbery barks and chirps. Probably should have left out a little more air but too late for that now. One hundred percent all in. The Jeep bucked occasionally on the suspension as the drive train loaded up. Then, finally, she started to climb. 4 hours earlier...The morning sun was already bringing with it waves of heat. Barely above the horizon it was a welcome sight. Deserts are hot. At least that's what most people think. They're really only hot when the sun is up. As soon as the sun goes down it gets cold. Really cold. At least comparatively speaking. Being from the east coast I'm familiar with cold. I remember being a kid in the Pocono Mountains walking up hill in the snow to the bus stop. Snow days? Ha! Our buses had chains. Still, if I remembered I'd drag my sled with me and stash it behind the neighborhood sign at the end of the road. That way I could ride my way downhill since our street seemed to be last on the list. At any rate, I was used to the cold. Home is where you park it. In this case, home is right along the Colorado River northeast of Moab What you don't realize is in the desert it can be 100 degrees during the day and drop to the 50's over night. With no humidity to trap residual heat it gets cold. Especially if there is any kind of breeze. I was thankful for my trailer. My poor-man's-teardrop camping trailer is crude, unfinished, and a bit uncouth but then again so am I. Luckily it has a little bit of insulation and a real mattress. It also had a pretty cozy sleeping bag. Despite the cold I slept well. However, now that the sun was up, the black top of the trailer was heating up. Time to move. After a quick walk around of the Jeep giving it a once over I cued up my GPS program, scoured a few maps, and set off with two goals. First, make an accent of the Top of the World trail. Second, continue a south-westernly (clockwise) rotation down the Kokopelli Trail toward Moab (Dear past self, that was a pretty ambitious goal). Although not my map, this is the exact route I followed. I started at Dewey Bridge and took the Kokopelli Trail to the Top of the World Trail(green). Then I continued on the Kokopelli Trail (red) down Rose Garden Hill (another story for another day). Although I wanted to press on to Moab the hour was late and I ended up using Onion Creek Trail as a bailout. Things started off relatively easy. The first section of the Kokopelli Trail was nothing more than a wide dirt service road. It had a way of lulling you into false sense of security. Soon my eyes were drifting off the road in front of me to the scenery around me. Vast wide open vistas sucked me in. I looked left, right, down, and up as often as I can. Driving became almost secondary. The Kokopelli Trail started off like this. Wide smooth gravel road with breathtaking scenery all around. After a few miles I reached the trailhead for the Top of the World Trail. This when I put my game face on. As one of the Jeep Badge of Honor Trails I knew Top of the World wasn't something to be attempted half-heartidely. Being solo meant I'd have be on my A-game. I also knew my Jeep was a bit, how can I put this, "modest" compared to what is recommended for the trail. However my confidence, and yes my pride, assured me I could do it. Here's where things started to get interesting. Top of the World is an out-and-back trail that double-backs on itself. Kokopelli Trail continues to the southeast toward Moab. All in all the accent of the trail went without incident. The view from the top was well worth the patient diligence to not rush the trail. The Jeep was performing admirably and, a few times, exceeded my expectations when it hit an obstacle and took it in one shot. Part of me wanted to take the credit. I am, after all, a damn good driver. However the Jeep was really doing it's part to shine. The tire, suspension, and locker combination were all working together as planned and were making a rather difficult trail look easy. Although a modest build on not much more than 32's with 2" of suspension lift, the LJ did great! Having a well thought out plan helped me build a Jeep capable of this not only reaching this terrain but tackling it into submission. The way down was a little more eventful. My guard was a bit lower. Downhill is always easier than uphill, for the most part. It goes without saying that the moment you lower your guard is the moment something bad happens. Whoever said that is right. I got stuck. Yup. Stuck going downhill. The front tires, despite the locker, struggled for traction in the loose silty sand. The rear tires chirped back and forth as the limited slip failed to find any traction. All the while the Jeep slowly pivoted around the transmission crossmember bracket. Stupid stuck. A half-dozen self-resucue scenarios flashed through my mind. This is where training and patience pay off. A little wisdom from learning things the hard way doesn't hurt either. A younger me would have hit the gas pedal more. "When in doubt, throttle out." Ha! Not any more. Now the goal is skill and fineness over brute power. Seriously? Stuck going down hill. It was like sitting in a giant teeter-totter. Realizing I only need a measly one inch of movement to get myself unstuck I opted for the safest and most reasonable self-recovery technique I had at my disposal, the winch. Yes. I winched myself downhill. Feel free to laugh. No, go ahead, I'll wait. Done? Okay. I flipped the tree-saver around a rock since, well, there aren't too many winch-worthy trees in the desert. I spooled the winch and had a brief moment of panic as the rock moved before the Jeep did. It soon settled and with a few burps of the winch the Jeep lurched forward off the ledge and I was free. After taking time to collect my recovery gear, stow it, and assess the damage to make sure it was only cosmetic I pressed on. With the Top of the World trail in my rearview I set my sites back on the Kokopelli Trail. In the moment...It was a brief moment of regret. Fleeting as it was, it stung in the back of my mind. Maybe I was finally in over my head. Maybe I had finally bit off more than I could chew. With one hand firmly gasping the steering wheel I reached over to the InReach on my dash and flicked the lock off the SOS button. You know, just in case. The Jeep calmed down. The tires quieted. She climbed. Occasionally a small slip here or there was felt. From time to time she'd rock to one side or the other. Eventually things started to level out. The ground came into view. A horizon line at last. Eventually all four wheels were back on firm ground. I rolled a few more feet forward before I reflexively gasped for air. Had I really been holding my breath? My chest felt tight. I could feel my entire body throbbing with every heartbeat. I knew enough to know I was in the middle of an adrenaline high. I'm sure only a few brief minutes had passed but the level of intensity made it seem like forever. I got out of the Jeep after locking the parking brake putting it in park. Every top was met with breathtaking views, and steep deep cliffs. Always mind your surroundings. I took a moment for a quick stretch, a survey of my surroundings, and a lamentation that I wished I had someone with me who could have gotten pictures. Oh well. One of the perils of traveling solo. I shook it off one last time and with a normal heart rate I climbed back into the driver seat. There were even some living distractions along the road. And not far behind the cows was another cliff. I wish I could say that was the only intense moment, but it wasn't. There seemed to be a cadence of precarious moments followed by long smooth sections of dirt road. It's like when you try and draw a line but the pencil skips a few times on the paper. The long smooth parts are nothing remarkable. The short breaks however are something. It was in those moments that I pushed the Jeep, and myself, to the limit. However, like a fine blade tempered in the fires of the forge I came out stronger. The Jeep, well, she'd need an upgrade or two once we got home. That's a different story for a different day. Looking back...It's been over two years since that trip. Every time I look back on that experience I can't help but smile. When I set out to build the LJ into triple-duty daily driver, overland rig, and rock crawler I was afraid it was too lofty a goal. I even worried it was impossible. I was also worried, being my first time out west, that traveling solo may not have been the best idea. Yup. That's the trail. According to GPS I just keep going. The Jeep is, for all intents and purposes, exactly what I wanted it to be when I started modifying it. It hasn't been easy and by no means is it a perfect rig by any means (check-engine-light not withstanding) but I doubt I'd give her up for anything. It's a modest build with only 33" tires and a 2" suspension lift. So it's not the best rock crawler. It's also a bit quirky in terms of being a reliable daily driver. As such, it's a bit quirky for long distance overland trips too. However those quirks are what keeps things interesting. Why an Aussie locker?I often get asked why an Aussie Locker and not a selectable locker. Simply put, I like to keep things simple. Selectable lockers have vulnerable air lines, electrical wires, or cables that are prone to getting snagged. Air-lockers also rely upon onboard air to work. While on this same trip the pressure regulator for my OBA system failed. Had I been using an air-locker than I would have not only lost my air but also my locker as well. Electrical lockers negate the need for OBA but are still prone to failure with the solenoids. Same goes for a cable locker. I've been in Jeeps where the cable was stretched or kinked and failed to engage the locker. All of that is prevented by the simplicity of an automatic locker like an Aussie. When I'm in 2wd I don't notice the locker. When in 4wd the locker does its job pulling the Jeep forward with maximum traction. This is the terrain the Torq-Masters Aussie Locker was made for This was also the terrain this Jeep was built for This is also the terrain every overland adventurer years for Many companies tout tag-lines in their advertisements that are gimmicky at best or at worse fail to live up to their products. The tag-line for Torq-Masters Industries, manufacturers of the Aussie Locker, is "Traction to go anywhere." I can unequivocally confirm that the Aussie Locker does indeed give you the traction to go anywhere. Rocks, sand, mud, and snow are no match for the simple reliable traction provided by their lockers. Coupled with their affordability and ease of installation and you can easily understand why an Aussie Locker was my first pick for a front locker. For more information on the Aussie Locker, and other lockers they make, please contact Torq-Masters Industries. Say hi for me, tell them I sent you, and be prepared for some undeniable traction whenever and wherever you need it. Oh, and for the icing on the cake, they're made in the USA! Torq-Masters Industries ----- If you enjoyed this story, and would like to see more like them in the future, then please leave a comment below. If you've liked to be a part of making articles like this happen and helping ECOA educate fellow overland adventurers then please considering joining the ECOA Patron Support Team. Not only will you help take ECOA to the next level but you'll get access to patron exclusive items like hardcover copies of the No Highways Tour books as well as a 10% discount at the ECOA online store on cool swag like patches and stickers. View the full article
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