Reflections on the 2016 No Highways Tour and Overland Expo West

The original plan for the 2016 NHT was an ambitious, maybe too ambitious, three month coast-to-coast trip.  As time passed the plan for the trip began to shorten until finally it was nothing more than a few weeks.  The backup to the contingency plan saw the trip diluted from over 20 states to just four.  Even then, there would only be a few miles and one stop spent in New Mexico.

Dinosaur National Monument, Colorado

Despite the shortcomings and set backs, a month ago I left home embarking on the 2016 No Highways Tour.  The goal, although far from the original plan, was to spend a few weeks touring Colorado, Utah, and Arizona and attend the Overland Expo West event in Flagstaff.  Nothing seems to go according to plan though…

The drive west was rather uneventful.  It was another boring 30 hour marathon drive on I-70 from PA to Colorado.  Luckily this time there was no blizzard sweeping in from the southeast and no looming threat of getting stranded on this side of the Rockies.

Built to explore… but still highway friendly.
PA Turnpike Rest Area just outside Somerset, PA

Once in Colorado I connected with my buddy Josh from Bomber Products.  His company makes some legit billet aluminum brackets for attaching awnings to various types of roof racks.  At some point I’m sure you’ll see me feature some of his products.  He’s also a retailer for some top brands in the Overland Adventure Lifestyle, so make sure to check his site out and if you’re ever at a show stop by his booth and say hi for me.

Good beer.  Good maps.  Good stories.

After some time bullshitting at the shop, Josh and I kicked back with some cold brews to pour over some maps and watch a few inspirational YouTube videos.  He gave me some recommendations for possible routes through Colorado that would more scenic than just jaunting through the mountains on I-70.  Given most all of the high mountain passes were snowed in and I knew I’d be adjusting my route through Colorado anyway, I took his suggestions and opted to head south before heading west.

Meandering my way through central Colorado

After two days snaking my way through central Colorado I finally crossed into Utah.  This was a major achievement for me since it seemed every time I tried to to Utah something always came up and got in the way.

Bucket list item checked off!

While stopping in at the Visitor Center for Dinosaur National Monument I ran into some people from PA who had taken one of my Photo 101 classes at the Mid-Atlantic Overland Festival last year.  It was one of those “small world” moments that was a subtle sign that served as a sign post that I was on the right track.  As Douglas Adams once wrote, “I may not have gone where I intended to be, but I ended up right where I needed to be.”  I think that pretty much sums up this year’s trip.

So cool to see Jurassic era fossils at Dinosaur National Monument

After a night in northeastern Utah I dropped down into Moab for a week where I checked off a few National Parks, some hard-core Moab Jeep trails, and some serious R-and-R at a BLM campsite along the Colorado river.

Reluctantly I left Moab heading south for the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park.  There I would push the limits of my Jeep just a little too far.  While attempting the Elephant Hill Jeep Trail I came down off a ledge a little too hard and blew out both rear JKS Jspec shocks.  This of course was no fault of the shocks themselves.  Up until then they were performing flawlessly.  This unfortunate incident was a result of an overloaded Jeep being pushed a little further passed its limit than it should have been.

At this same time I found out my onboard air compressor was no longer working.  Again, no fault of the product itself.  This was just a case of hard use and abuse and a possible short on my part behind the dash.  Luckily ViAir has top-notch customer service and they offered to mail me out a replacement pressure switch.  Sadly the only location I could think to have it mailed was to Overland Expo which was a few days and a few hundred miles away.  Not that it matter much since with two blown shocks I was officially in “limp mode.”

Elephant Hill, Canyonlands National Park Needles District, Utah

They say bad things come in threes.  Whoever “they” are must be a lot wiser than I am.  After a short jaunt to Natural Bridges National Monument I discovered I had a very unhappy wheel-bearing on my trailer.  My goal had always been to use some downtime at Overland Expo to replace them.  I guess fate had other ideas.  Sadly the day the trailer bearings decided to act up was a Sunday.  For those unfamiliar with eastern Utah, it’s mostly Mormon.  That means barely anything is open on a Sunday.  I tucked in an RV park for the night and decided to just wait it out.

Monday morning saw a pair of trips to the local NAPA store (always check you have the right bearings BEFORE  you leave the store) and a pair of trips to the mechanic across the street (always check you have the right tools BEFORE you leave the store).  With the trailer happily rolling on a pair of new bearings, and the jeep unhappily rolling on two blown shocks, I continued limping my way to Arizona.

Swapping bearings

Thankfully the rule-of-three held up and nothing else major happened on my way to Arizona.  Overland Expo was a whirlwind event with my time split between being a volunteer, an instructor, a roundtable moderator, and being a featured vehicle.  All in all it was a good show and I can’t wait till Overland Expo East this fall in North Carolina and do it all over again.

Campsite for Overland Expo West in Flagstaff, Arizona

Replacing my shocks at the JKS booth

Facilitating a roundtable on East Coast travel

As Overland Expo wrapped up I had to make a hard decision.  JKS hooked me up with a pair of replacement shocks, so the Jeep was riding better.  I also picked up a set of new control arms (stay tuned for a writeup on those) and a second set of 17×7.5 JK wheels.  This extra crap meant space in the trailer was getting tight.  I also opted to redistribute some gear and moved a spare tire from the Jeep to the trailer.  This lightened the load on the Jeep, helping the new shocks, but made it impossible for me to sleep in the trailer.

Hanging out with JKS Manufacturing at their booth showing off the 2″ Jspec kit on the LJ

The decision was made to just head straight back to PA.  Although this meant cutting my plan for Colorado to a third of what I had hoped to do, the reality was the weather had already done that for me.  With most all of the high elevation mountain passes still snowed in I knew the route I wanted to do was impossible.  I had neither the time nor desire to come up with a new route on the fly, nor did I want to half-ass a trip through Colorado when I know the route I planned on taking was rather epic.  I decided to leave the bulk of Colorado for another trip.  There were still a few things I could do on my way home.

Wolf Creek Pass, Colorado [10,857 feet]

Along my way home the rule of three started to kick in again.  First the Jeep’s propensity to run funny acted up in new and exciting ways.  One minute it would run like a champ, the next it would run like a chump.  The more I paid attention the more confused I got.  It wasn’t temperature.  It wasn’t altitude.  It wasn’t fuel.  I began suspecting something with the valve train.  I still do.  The transfer-case also decided to overheat since it was down almost two-thirds of a quart. That also had the unfortunate side effect of cooking the speedometer sending unit.  Even after I topped off the transfer-case and got it running cool again the speedometer sending unit was never the same.  It went from acting up to not acting at all.  On a side note, apparently my Jeep thinks it’s only four miles from Kansas to Pennsylvania.

After all that it was nice to pull into the driveway at home.  A month on the road full of adventure and misadventure had worn me down.  Now, a week later, I’m renewed and ready for the next adventure.  Carnage aside, the Jeep ran really well.  The trailer is working well for what it is.   It still needs a little work, but with the goal of “replacing a tent” it far exceeded expectations.  Especially during the intense windstorms at Overland Expo.

A stop at Four Corners in New Mexico, Utah, Colorado, and Arizona
Yup… four states in one stop. If only every NHT was this efficient.

So… Now what?  Well, I fix the Jeep.  I take care of a few small things on the trailer. Then it’s time for another adventure!  I have the Bantam Jeep Festival to attend along with the PA Jeep Show in York.  After that the Carlisle Truck show and the Mid-Atlantic Overland Festival.  I’m sure in between I’ll log some miles off pavement as I revisit the “One Lap of Buchanan State Forest” project and start work on the “One Lap of Mongohela National Forest” project.  Oh yeah, and I have this little thing called a book to write.

All the issues and bad days are erased by a campsite like this
The Kaibab National Forest, Flagstaff, AZ

In other news I think I have a plan for the 2017 No Highways Tour.  I’m not ready to publicly discuss details of the man yet, but the plan is to retrace a historic trade route through five states.  Total milage would be around 1,100-1,200 miles and it will most likely be a two week trip factoring in a few side-trips along the way.  Stay tuned for more details.

0 thoughts on “Reflections on the 2016 No Highways Tour and Overland Expo West

  1. Considering all the traveling that you have done with your Jeep, it looks like it rolled of the showroom floor last week. That really is some testament to the quality of these vehicles, and why I made the rush to the dealership to buy a new one last year. Hauling all your stuff behind has to be a great feeling no matter where you travel.

  2. Thanks. My older Jeeps didn't fare so well looks wise. I wanted to be very intentional with preserving this one as best I could while still stretching its legs. My hope is this is the last Jeep I'll own and will own it for many many many years to come.