“Every man’s life ends the same way. It is only the details of how he lived and how he died that distinguish one man from another.”-Ernest Hemingway.
We are Ruff Roads Overland. Created by Jon & Nicole in January 2019. It all started with the tale of a transitioning United States Marine Corps officer in transition.
Watch RRO: Ode to the LJ to learn more about the importance of this Jeep
Upon transitioning out the Marine Corps I was a jobless homeless veteran who lived out of his 2005 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon Unlimited, the unicorn of Jeeps, with my 90 pound pitbull. Most nights during this period of my life involved driving to remote locations to park the Jeep for the night. I’d brush my teeth, rise with water I refilled while at the gym earlier that day, and laid down in the back of the Jeep to read while Zeus, my pitbull, stood watch in the front seat.
As with most stories there was a girl who took a chance on this vagabond. Nicole and I first met at a dog beach in Del Mar, California knowing full well that if our dogs did not get along we wouldn’t either. Turns out they were perfectly content with one another leaving us the time to get to know each other. Soon thereafter I took Nicole on adventure after adventure in Slave 1, the Jeep Wrangler LJ, where she began to understand the importance of basic survival skills highlighted in the episode above. She learned how to drive stick, start a campfire, and ‘pick a line’ while off-road driving increasing her survivability in remote locations.
As things between Nicole & I got serious I had bought a house, we had moved in together, and we began fostering dogs in need. No surprise from a couple of dog lovers. One litter of puppies we were fostering got adopted out while we were away snowboarding up in Big Bear. The only male in the litter, named Snog by Labs and More, was adopted by a man who had his reservations because the mother was a pitbull. Two days later we got a call from the rescue that Snog was being relinquished back to us. We couldn’t see him go to another home so we adopted him and renamed him Diego.
With three large dogs in the back of the LJ it got pretty cramped. Not to mention with no rear windows it was also very hot during our remote camping trips. Therefore, Nicole expressed her desire to get rid of the LJ and purchase a new 4-door Jeep Wrangler as FCA just released a new line of Jeep Wranglers, the JL. I sold the old Jeep for $18,000 and set out to place an order for our new rig to go on new adventures in style! On the JL Wrangler Forum I was patiently waiting for the diesel JL to hit the ordering sheets, but as the months slogged on with no platform to hit the trails we decided to place an order for a JLUR with the 3.6L Pentastar gasoline engine, custom order to our specifications. We ordered the Jeep through Kent, a dealer in Idaho, Peterson Fiat Chrysler Dodge who gave us a deal we couldn’t refuse!
In February, 2019 we bought one-way tickets to Boise, Idaho where Kent picked us up to bring us to White Fang, our new JLUR. We signed all the papers and started the long adventure back home to Southern California (see Episode 3: Hello, White Fang for the whole story).
Once home we began the arduous process of building the Jeep to meet our expedition-capable specifications: 500 miles no resupply.
Eager to hear more? Check out more of our adventures posts below.
In this post I want to share what RRO deems the top 5 important things to keep in mind when planning an off-road adventure. Whether you plan to visit a nearby national or state park for a few days, get off the grid for a while on a remote camping trip, or you plan to drive from Florida to Alaska on an Arctic Overland expedition these scalable principals will apply to all land mobile excursions. They will enhance you and your group’s survivability by preventing unnecessary risk thereby maximizing your off-road experiences!
5) Land Navigation
It should go without saying that you should have redundant means of navigation whilst meandering off grid. In the most remote areas of North America where Wi-Fi and cellular service is nonexistent Google or Apple Maps isn’t going to cut it. Furthermore, electronic devices in general are not completely reliable as battery life dwindles or screens shatter. Therefore, I always recommend carrying paper maps of the areas you will be traversing as a means of backup in the event your mobile devices fail for one reason or another. Our primary tool for remote navigation is Gaia GPS. We absolutely love the features this application offer, especially the ability to have your pre-planned routes, waypoints, and maps downloaded and synced on all your mobile devices.
4) Contingent Routes
Now that you will have the means to navigate during your adventures let’s talk about route planning. I recently planned and lead a four-day expedition across multiple state lines exploring Death Valley National Park and the surrounding BLM areas. While planning where I wanted to go and what I wanted to share with my group I began linking these points on the map together creating a primary route. However, knowing Murphy’s Law strikes when you least expect it I then planned secondary and tertiary routes. It is important to mention that I collect data on any road closures or restricted areas that are in effect to limit the unexpected. Sometimes it is impossible for these backup routes to encompass all your planned waypoints, but it’s always better to have them and not need them then the converse. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve run into a locked gate, fallen tree, or washed out road and had to turn around
3) Fuel Resupply Points
When planning an overland adventure it is best to segment the trip into different legs. Each leg should have a resupply point somewhere between the beginning, middle, or end. Using this model of trip planning a solid rule of thumb is to carry enough fuel to travel double the distance from your initial fuel point (FP) to your ending point. (e.g. FP1 –> FP2 –> FP1). This accounts for the potential that you get close to your next resupply point but the route is blocked for one reason or another and you have to back track all the way to your initial FP. Therefore, it is best to begin map reconnaissance and trip planning by plotting the FPs in the local area when planning your next remote off-road adventure. This ensures you can visually keep this principal in mind while you plan your routes and sites to see.
Disclaimer: a rule of thumb is a general suggestion, not a commandment. Fuel needs are different and can vary based on terrain, gross weight, etc. As always when in doubt bring more than you think you might need.
Bottom Line Up Front (BLUF): You absolutely need a way to signal for help in an emergency situation.
Communication is very important when traveling to remote places and positive communications should be maintained throughout the expedition. Sometimes have a cellular telephone in most places you may travel will get the job done. However, when there is no cell service how will you call for help if you need it?
Radio Frequency (RF) communication is the most diverse in mobile platforms, with HAM radios to CB radios, vehicle mounted or handheld, there are many different options with various ranges to reach out and touch someone. Satellite communication (SATCOM) devices are now very affordable and a viable option for the weekend warrior. There are a handful of one-way communication devices out there that use SATCOM to push-out a message for peace of mind. They are usually a subscription service that you will pay for in the event that you need it will pay back in dividends. The possible bands of RF communication include HF, VHF, and UHF. High Frequency, or HF, is the lowest in amplitude and can be bounced into the ionosphere to be received across the world. Whereas VHF/UHF frequencies and even CB radio channels are Line-of-Site (LOS), which means possible dead-zones in undulating terrain. RF radios are generally straight forward and can come in suites that cover one band to some that cover all RF bands. These radios are different than Citizen Band, or CB radios that have preset channels that anyone else who has a CB radio can tune in and transmit on. Cross-country tuckers usually use CB radios because of this ease of use. Nevertheless, it is recommend that those serious remote explorers invest in these emergency one-way SATCOM devices, as well as a HAM radio with an amateur HAM radio operator license. With a radio that can dial into HF, VHF, and UHF bands you can tap into local repeaters to contact the nearest ranger stations and other emergency channels, such as the NOAA weather broadcast that can give you early insight into changing weather conditions.
1) Vehicle Recovery
Our number one tip to ensure the overall success of your next overland adventure is to carry the bare minimum in recovery gear. I will add that the list of recovery gear grows tremendously if you are planning to go out by yourself. Even if you are in and out of civilization during your trip you may find yourself needing to repair a tire, change a tire, or pull your vehicle out of a sticky situation with no potential help for miles. I can tell you many stories about vehicles I’ve taken out that have been fortunate enough that the group had certain recovery items required for the specific situation. For example on my recent Death Valley expedition I had a vehicle that slashed both sidewalls of their passenger wheels while on a trail on the side of a mountain. We got them to flat ground, plugged the least damaged tire with jerky, and utilized another vehicles Hi-Lift jack to change the other damaged wheel with their spare. There are general guidelines so as to not get stuck in mud, sand, or snow, but if you find yourself mired in mud up to the chassis of your rig you better have some recovery gear to remedy the situation. As a general observation I find most off-road enthusiasts have some sort of winch, recovery points, shackles, and possibly even tow straps all of which they hope to not put to use. This DOES NOT mean buy cheap recovery gear because you don’t plan on using it. When it comes to recovery gear quality can make the difference of saving a vehicle or leaving one.
That’s it for a high-level view on Ruff Roads Overland’s Top 5 Overland Planning Tips. If you are interested in hearing more about a particular topic leave a brief description in the comment section below.
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The United States Marine Corps, with its fiercely proud tradition of excellence in combat, its hallowed rituals, and its unbending code of honor, is part of the fabric of American myth.Thomas E. Ricks
On the forty-fifth anniversary of D-Day I stormed a functionally-different type of beach into this universe. Regardless of the not-so-subtle overshadowing of my birth date I never knew I wanted to enter military service. However, this changed 18 years into my life while I was visiting the beaches of Normandy with my grandfather in the summer before my freshman year of college. My grandfather, who dedicated 30 years to a career in the United States Navy, was shocked as we departed the historical site when I asked him what ROTC was all about. He told me that it was a bit too late to attend his alma mater, Marquette University, which was one of two colleges in Wisconsin that had Naval ROTC. Thus I had to complete my first year at a small liberal arts school where I had been accepted and try out the Army ROTC program to see if the military life suited me.
Within my first year of college I was a declared physics major with a 3.9 GPA and kicking butt in the ROTC program at Ripon College. However, I knew I wanted to be a Marine and began the process to transfer to Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. At the start of my sophomore year of college I was enrolled at Marquette and a walk-on at the Naval ROTC program (no scholarship). After my first semester I had made a name for myself and was nominated for a two and a half year scholarship to finish school within the 4 year trajectory. As a declared physics major having transferred from a small liberal arts college I had a lot of catching up to do. I took over 18 credit hours each semester in order to graduate on time. All the while completing the required training in the NROTC program in order to gain a commission in the United States Marine Corps upon graduation.
Fast forward years of Marine Corps warfare, reconnaissance, and survival training and I was leading Marines across continents, living out of our 8-wheeled Light Armored Vehicles (LAV), part of the Marine Corps armored cavalry known as Light Armored Reconnaissance. In basic training we are taught how to hone and personally develop our field craft that maximizes our lethality. Things such as silencing your gear so while patrolling in enemy territory nothing is jingling, rubbing, or otherwise giving up your location. This field craft had new meaning when operating out of a 20 ton armored diesel 8-wheeled behemoth. Nevertheless, the tactics and field craft principals are similar for living out of an LAV. The training schools required to enter the Marine Corps’ armored cavalry units teach proper techniques of winching, off-road driving, tire repair, etc. all of which have many hours of practical application that are further reinforced during real-world operations.
Light Armored Reconnaissance, formerly known as Light Armored Infantry, is the Marine Corps’ tip of the spear. Below is the mission of an LAR battalion per the Marine Corps Warfare Publication (MCWP) 3-14:
“The LAR [Light Armored Reconnaissance] battalion performs combined arms reconnaissance and security missions in support of the GCE [Ground Combat Element]. Its mission is to conduct reconnaissance, security and economy of force operations, and, within its capabilities, limited offensive or defensive operations that exploit the unit’s mobility and firepower.” (Marine Corps Warfighting Publication MCWP 3-14, page 1-1)
LAR is not mechanized infantry. MCWP 3-14 states (page 2-1): “The LAR scouts are not employed the same way as infantry or mechanized infantry.” Again, MCWP 3-14 goes on to emphasize this distinction (page 2-4): “Operations requiring large numbers of infantry favor employing mechanized infantry units due to their higher troop density.” In addition to the requisite lack of “troop density” for traditional infantry tasks, the LAR is not equipped with either an armored personnel carrier or an infantry fighting vehicle, which a designation as either armored or mechanized infantry would require. MCWP 3-14 makes this clear (page 2-4): “The LAV should not be viewed as an infantry fighting vehicle or as an armored personnel carrier. This vehicle is an armored reconnaissance vehicle that lacks sufficient armor protection and troop density to perform missions normally assigned to a mechanized infantry unit.”
It follows with the LAR battalion mission that you must learn to live out of these amazingly capable vehicles for months on end. During harsh conditions you have to get creative to stay alive and functional. I’ve seen Marines create sunshade canopies above their LAV-25 torrents to block the harsh Saudi Arabian desert sun. I’ve seen a whole squad of Marines crammed in the back of an LAV-AT (Anti-Tank) variant during inclement weather to stay warm. During operations sleep is still a necessity and living out of these vehicles I’ve seen every possible sleeping arrangement inside, on top, and around the vehicles. My preferred: an Eno hammock anchored from the vehicle to another point. Light-weight, collapses to the size of a grapefruit, and adjustable mounting straps make it easy to set-up in low-visibility conditions and quick to collapse and stuff into your rucksack.
When leading an LAR platoon or company the use of maps and mobile land navigation is crucial. While operating as the point vehicle that an entire unit is following a wrong turn can be deadly, besides the During our training to become cavalry officers we heard many times that our dismounted infantry brethren need to operate with only one map at a time. Conversely as a mobile unit we needed to operate with many maps as we can cover hundreds of miles a day. In the age of technology we also utilized electronic maps that could be preloaded with an entire continent worth of maps.
The purpose of detailing some of my Marine Corps career is to highlight some of the aspects of the job that directly correlate to the success of my overlanding passion. Trip planning, off-road tire repair, and surviving out of a vehicle are second nature for me. So much so that upon getting out of the Marine Corps I ended up deciding to live out of my 2005 Jeep Wrangler with my 90 pound pitbull for over 9 months of nomad life. I am very fortunate to have been trained professionally in a hobby that I will continue until I am unable to turn a steering wheel.
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