Jeeping. It’s a love hate relationship. It consumes money and time with the ferocity of a Kansas tornado. It leaves you up to your chin in cold water, buried in mud, replacing broken parts in sub-zero temps, baking on sandstone, and presents a myriad of other unforeseeable perils.
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For me, the worst hardship of four-wheeling is the morning of the trip. Almost always it’s a Saturday or Sunday morning, and without fail it follows on the heels of some epic adventure the night before. So, on the morning of December 30th, 2006 as my alarm went into its 11th snooze cycle, I promised myself that there would be coffee and a hot shower waiting, if I could only get up. Apparently I’m a habitual liar, as my water heater had been dead for three days (no hot shower), and I was too late to brew a pot of coffee (see the 11 snooze cycles). Even Starbucks was out of the question because of my tardiness, a rough deal for a native of Seattle.
Luckily, I had the clarity to pack the Jeep the night before. Well, I hope it was clarity, I really couldn’t remember. I did make sure to include the most important elements: Lots of warm clothes, food (in the form of MREs), water, assorted survival gear, sleeping bag and pad. Perhaps the most useful for the wheeling aspect is Gore-tex. Gore-tex pants, gaiters, jacket, gloves and whatever else you can make water proof. Staying dry is paramount to enjoying yourself (not to mention surviving) on one of these expeditions into cold and inclement weather.
Speaking of “the Jeep,” I have a 1994 Jeep Cherokee, a model referred to as an “XJ.” I could use up every page of this issue going into the details of how it was built and using what kind of parts, but I’ll spare you the details. One of the most important elements is the fact that Cherokees came with solid front and rear axles, something near and dear (if not necessary) to any hard-core four-wheeler’s heart. These “straight” axles are one of the big reasons so many people have discovered XJ’s as remarkably capable ‘wheeling rigs’.
There’s even an international club devoted to these unassuming, boxy looking SUVs, of which I am a member. It was with the Northwest chapter of the North American XJ Association (NAXJA) that today’s trip was organized. Our little outpost in the top left hand corner of the country is one of the newest chapters of this big club, but we already have great esprit de corps and a core group of us are very involved in wheeling on a regular basis.
I should mention that to many of our group, four wheeling or off-roading is not just about testing our vehicles to the limit or instigating heart stopping adrenaline rushes, fun as they are, but being out in nature and getting to places that would otherwise require a helicopter. Or twenty-seven Sherpas. The scenery and locations we can access are breathtaking, and a vast majority of people in the 4×4 community are devoted to keeping it that way. ‘Tread Lightly’ is not just a motto at the bottom of truck ads for us; it’s our modus operandi.