Driving a Jeep Wrangler 65000 kilometres from Alaska to Argentina taught me more than I ever could have imagined. It taught me a lot about exploring and living out of a vehicle, what I want in a future vehicle, and where I want to explore next. It taught me the exhilaration of exploration in a foreign country, learning a new language and meeting all kinds of different people. In fact, before that adventure, I had never heard of “overlanding” and had no idea that there were hundreds, maybe even thousands of people driving and riding around the world right now, living their dreams. More than anything else, my adventure taught me I want to keep exploring new countries and continents, and I want to do it with my own vehicle.
While driving the Pan-American Highway I met people from all over the world riding motorbikes and driving every kind of vehicle imaginable – from stock family sedans, to Unimogs with portal axles and multiple flat screen TVs. I thought a lot about where I might explore next, and I thought a lot about how I would like to do that. It’s not surprising that my mind often wandered to my wants and needs for my own future overland vehicle. First-off, high clearance and strong four-wheel-drive are a must, as is the ability for the vehicle to fit in a standard six-metre shipping container so that it can be easily and cheaply shipped between continents.
I am aware the Jeep Wrangler is certainly an unconventional choice for long-term overland travel. My little two-door TJ Wrangler had zero mechanical issues through 17 countries and over two years from Alaska to Argentina, making it, by definition, the perfect vehicle. Even completely stock, it never struggled in the sticky South American mud or sand in the Atacama Desert in Bolivia and Chile. I loved that little Jeep and had a hard time parting with it in Buenos Aires at the end of the last adventure. The reliability alone made it an easy choice to go with a Jeep Wrangler again, although this time with a couple of modifications that I feel are key to an adventure of this duration. After all, a two-year trip isn’t a holiday: this is my life and the Jeep will be my house.
After spending two years on the Pan- American Highway, I became completely hooked on the overland life. I knew I wanted to have another huge adventure, and I knew I wanted to get more remote and further off the beaten path than I ever had before. As soon as I returned to work, I opened a savings account, and took every opportunity I could to reduce my spending.
As my savings grew, my dreams began to take shape. I plan to circumnavigate the entire African continent, starting in Morocco on the West Coast, and ending in (or around) Cairo in Egypt. I will travel overland through roughly 30 African countries and cover 130 000km over the course of two years, plus or minus. The political situation in North and North- Eastern Africa seems to change daily, so I am open to any possibility when that part of the journey comes. If it is impossible or unsafe to continue through North Africa, I will look to cross the Sinai into Israel before shipping the Jeep back to North America.
In recent years, the visas for both Nigeria and Angola have been slightly easier than in years past, making West Africa more “open” to overlanding than it has been. Unfortunately, the war with ISIS continues to be fought across the Northern regions of Mali, Cameroon and Nigeria, so I must avoid the North of each of those countries.
The base vehicle is a 2011 JK Unlimited Rubicon – the four-door variant with Jeep’s top offload package directly from the factory. This vehicle’s standard equipment includes front and rear diff locks, a D44 front axle, ultra-low low-range gearing on the transfer case and a disconnecting front sway bar. Diesels are not available in North America, so the Jeep is equipped with the proven 3.8-litre petrol V6 with a six-speed manual transmission. The computercontrolled petrol engine is, however, not ideal for remote Africa, due both to its complexity and to higher fuel consumption.
After living in a ground tent from Alaska to Argentina, I desperately want to have inside living space in this Jeep, so that will be a core goal of my build. Don’t get me wrong: I absolutely love tent camping, although as the months turned into years, setting up and taking down my ground tent night after night in the mud got old. I would also like to enjoy my time on the road, rather than just tolerate it, so some creature comforts will be welcome.