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TEXASXLANDER 2018 JEEP Wrangler JL Unlimited SPORT

TEXASXLANDER 2018 JEEP Wrangler JL Unlimited SPORT

TexasXLander was created in 2020 after sustaining a catastrophic injury to my right hand. At the time, I was among the top 5 in the United States as a master in cross-country mountain bike racing. Unable to train or race or even ride a bike, I needed an outlet and I turned to my 2018 Jeep JLU and the places it could take me. My wife, Beth, was instrumental with her encouragement and direction in helping me get TexasXLander started. Working full-time in marketing as a freelance commercial product photographer, 

I could transfer that skill set to my newfound overlanding lifestyle. As I documented our travels and told our stories, I never dreamed my Instagram was exploding the way it has. I have always viewed custom vehicles as an art form. The passion it takes to transform a stock vehicle or forgotten-about relic into a show vehicle, rock crawler, overlander or whatever the vision is, takes time and a lot of sweat equity to fi nish it. My passion for cars has always circled around fast cars. I spent 16 years in law enforcement here in Texas, where driving beyond 100 MPH was a daily occurrence. And as a professional photographer, I had several opportunities to photograph NASCAR, Indy Car and a couple of F1 races as a media photographer.

DOWN THE RABBIT HOLE

Though I have always been a truck guy, my dream build has always been a Jeep Wrangler. In November of 2018, I bought my first Jeep and started this journey. I quickly learned how doing one modification to the Jeep meant I had to do something else to counteract it. Bigger tires mean a lift. Go too big, the need to re-gear come into play. Oh, then there is the world of 1-ton axles. The rabbit hole of building a custom Jeep or car can go on forever. It is defi nitely a learning process. Avoid the pitfalls of buying things you don’t need by surrounding yourself with the right people.

Off the dealership lot, my Jeep was equipped with the 2” Mopar lift and stock tires. It looked downright silly. Within days, I had 34” tires on it. I felt like I was ready to conquer the world. Man, I still had a lot to learn. I vividly remember my first big trail, Imogene Pass. Airing down and disconnecting were things I was still yet to learn about. By the time I made it to Telluride, I was hooked. I needed more and knew more mods were coming. Shortly after that Colorado trip, we were invited to join a group of hardcore off -roaders on a trip to Hot Springs, Arkansas. To prepare for that trip, I added a Smitybilt front bumper and 10k-lb winch. Having the ability to participate in my own recovery was important. As we were ready to hit the trail, I was asked if we were disconnected and aired down yet. The deer in the headlight look provided the answer the trail leader was looking for. This trip was probably the best learning experience that sent me further into the world I play in today.

As soon as my tires were ready to be replaced, I moved into the world of 37” tires. Since my rig is a daily driver, I went with the Nitto Ridge Grapplers. With that, my 2” Mopar lift was immediately upgraded with the Rock Krawler 3.5” X-Factor lift paired with the Falcon 3.3 Shocks. I felt like I was in an entirely to the league. I was quickly humbled when I learned my stock sport gears were not enough for the new tires. After researching and talking to my local Jeep Shop, River City Off road, I decided to upgrade my gears to the Revolution 5.13 ratio. What a diff erence that made with fuel mileage. Sadly, another lesson was learned over the next year. For the most part, the stock sport axles handled the 5.13 gears just fi ne. However, I delaminated the pinion gear twice in less than 12 months. 

Thank goodness for friends who were able to help guide me through the messiness of a major upgrade. After a lot of conversations and research, I decided to give Currie Enterprises a call. Jon Henson was kind enough to talk me through all the diff erent options Currie had in the way of 1-ton axles. Being an overlander who likes to run di ffi cult trails, Jon set me up with a set of LP60 (rear) and HD60 (front) high-pinion axles. Geared at 5.38, my off -road world has expanded beyond my wildest imagination. I feel like I can go anywhere with this setup. Over that last year, I have made a real effort to replace a few things I bought early on with family-owned and American-made products. I believe Rugged Radios was the first thing I upgraded to. Having radios that work beyond the horizon is vital when you’re deep in the backcountry. Early this year, I upgraded my bumpers and rock rails to Texas-based Road Armor. Getting to meet the CEO of Road Armor, Mark Hansen and hearing the story behind the brand solidified my decision to equip my Jeep with his product. And as I continue to build out my rig, I will focus on using family-owned and American-made products as best as I can.

ALL ABOUT FUNCTION

Early on, I decided all my mods would be about function. What is the best tool to get me over or around an obstacle? This includes my off -road lights. Choosing KC HiLites was a no-brainer for me. KC has been around for more than 50 years, outlasting so many other companies in the ff road industry. As an overlander, I often come into camp in the dark. My Gravity Pro6 LEDs have saved my butt more than once. Lights are always a basic mod for me! Seeing the world around you is a huge safety thing for me. No one wants to drive over a cliff at night. Trust me, been there and done that. It’s not a lot of fun. Suspension is also a key piece of equipment. I have been really pleased with my Rock Krawler mid-arm lift. As I look at the evolution of my rig, I see a long arm set up in my future. Before that happens, I need to dial in a few other items. My Currie 1-ton axles were a game changer. Equipped with E-Lockers and 5.38 gears, I feel like the only thing holding me back is my lack of confi dence. That is all changing as I run bigger trails with people who are head and shoulders above me in experience. I will never be fi nished with this build. The evolution will continue as parts wear out and need upgrading. As it sits now, I’m waiting to pull the trigger on a PSC Hydro Assist steering setup. Like everything else at this level, the expense is a factor.

THE POWER OF IG

Instagram has been one heck of a wild ride for me. In the beginning, when I was racing mountain bikes, my page was all about my racing, travel and food. When I got hurt, I had somewhere around 750 followers. I took about two or three months from social media while I recovered from surgery to reconstruct my hand. Then Covid turned the world upside down. This was when I started paying more attention to building my Jeep and posting about some of my adventures. I also noticed some big brands like Nitto Tire and KC HiLites started following me. I was in awe and humbled that my page, with 1,100 followers at the time, was getting noticed by some of the industry leaders. As time passed by and the more posts I made on Instagram, my page began to grow. More people liked, commented, direct messaged me and asked me questions. Again, I was humbled and continued to ask myself, “Why me?” I do my best to answer every comment and direct message I receive. The times it does get overwhelming, I remind myself of what my priorities are – family first.

So how I handle the attention is by blocking time in my schedule to answer questions, make posts and add stories. I have no idea what direction my social media is going. When it stops being fun, is when I’ll give it a hard look. I constantly get asked if I’ll ever jump into YouTube. This is a hard one for me. I spend eight hours a day behind a camera and computer for my day job. Coming home to sit down behind a computer to edit a video for YouTube just doesn’t sound all that appealing to me. That said, I just bought a new drone. So who knows, maybe you’ll see some full-length video’s from me in the future. In my travels and in the world of Instagram, I have made so many acquaintances, friends and people who I consider family. I love the off-road community. There are people I talk to regularly via Instagram or text message. When I attend events around the country, getting to meet and talk to followers is probably my greatest reward. And then there are the folks from so many different states I am honored to call them family. This is what it is all about for me.

HANGING WITH THE CREW

How did I get involved with the Nitto Pit Crew? Well, it’s top secret. Just kidding. This is actually one of my top questions from my followers. The truth is, Nitto Tire contacted me in early 2020 when the Pit Crew was just getting started and asked if I would be interested in being part of it. Talk about mind-blowing. Shortly after that, I was interviewed and was given the requirements to be part of the Pit Crew. I humbly accepted, and that was really the start of my wild ride on Instagram.

TEXAS OVERLANDING AND BEYOND

Texas is a mixed bag of off -road experiences. Growing up in Southern California, the biggest shock I had when I entered the off -road world in Texas was the lack of public land available for wheeling. Approximately 85% of the land in Texas is privately owned. That doesn’t leave a lot areas to explore. With that, there are several privately owned off -road parks in Texas. Hidden Falls Adventure Park in Marble Falls, Texas, is the closest one to me and off ers everything from beginner trails to extreme buggy lines. Wolf Caves and K2 in Mason have developed a reputation for some di ffi cult lines over slick rock that will leave you wanting more. The newest player in the privately owned off -road parks is Marius Adventure Park, located south of Amarillo. Sitting on the edge of Palo Duro Canyon, Marius offers up some of the best views and off -road experiences you’ll ever have.

Of course, there are a few other parks in the Lone Star State, but these are the parks I know. The overland community is strong in Texas. There is no shortage of backcountry dirt roads that crisscross the state. One of the favorites and most popular is the Hill Country Loop. If you run it, take your time and camp along to the Llano River, and enjoy the walk along Main Street and Fredericksburg while you sip on some Texas wine, bourbon or maybe a local beer. Before you end the day, a stop in Llano for some BBQ is a must. Since I entered the off -road community in Texas, the community has grown leaps and bounds. With the introduction of the Jeep JL body and now the Bronco and, of course, Toyota, there seems to be something for everyone.

Over the last few years, Texas has become one of the largest overlanding and off -road markets in the country. Having the ability to drive along the longest barrier island in the country to rock crawling and overlanding in the Texas Hill Country, to mudding the East Texas bogs, then exploring the high desert of west Texas and the Big Bend region, Texas has something for every experience level. Most of my serious wheeling is done outside of Texas. From the Turkey Claw trail in Johnson Valley to the slick rocks of Moab to the high alpine passes in Colorado and so many other places, this journey has been a blast, and I feel like it’s just beginning. But I have to say, Black Bear and Imogene Passes outside of Ouray, Colorado, are two of my favorites. Not so much for the difficulty, but more so for the epic views and the sheer drops. Black Bear, Imogene and Hell’s Revenge are probably the three trails that have given me the most anxiety. All three trails leave no room for error and come with catastrophic falls if you mess up. All three trails take me back to an offroad accident I was in when I was 18 years old in 1987, I was the passenger in a Toyota truck.

We were the last of seven trucks on a night run in the foothills outside of San Diego, CA, when my driver lost control, flipping the truck end over end before we continued over the edge of a 300-foot canyon wall. The driver and I were both suff ering from broken ribs, and countless lacerations, and I was bleeding from a kidney. But we were able to walk out and get help. Now, anytime I’m on a trail that gets a bit tippy, I get a little white-knuckled and do my best to take control of my emotions, knowing I can get past the obstacle. As I write this from a friend’s house in Boulder, Colorado, we are one week into a 3-week trip that will take us into Wyoming and Montana. With no real itinerary and mostly paper maps, who knows where we will end up? There are so many places we are yet to explore. The possibilities are truly only limited by time. 

EXPERIENCE IS THE BEST TEACHER

What have I learned over the years? Go slow! What advice can I pass on? Go slow and listen to your spotter. Seriously, we are all out here having fun in rigs we built with our own money. By now, everyone should know how expensive this hobby is. Breaking things takes the fun out of it. Getting hurt or getting someone hurt because of carelessness is unacceptable. As you build your rig, be intentional and not reactionary. Don’t buy on impulse. Do your research and know how you want your rig to turn out. Put the cosmetic mods on the back burner for the functional things you need to have a successful day on the trail. A winch before angry eyes. Recently, Beth and I switched to using paper maps for most of our route planning and navigation during the trip. Not only does this add a bit of nostalgia, but it also adds a sense of accomplishment.

We always have GAIA GPS and our Garmin InReach at the ready, but for the most part, we are trying to be more organic in our travel. The one thing we are equipped with that has made our overland adventures better is our Boreas XT trailer. The ability to pull into camp, disconnect the Jeep and go explore is why we chose trailer life over Rooftop Tent Life. It works better for us. We usually have a meal plan prepped for the first five days with the first night being a simple stir fry that we can cook quickly. Having the kitchen also allows us to cook some pretty nice meals. Since Beth is from South Africa, a nice bottle of wine is usually not too far away. A couple of things we absolutely love about the Boreas XT are they are made in Pueblo, Colorado, and are ready to hit the trail as they roll out of the factory. They are light, nimble and can go pretty much anywhere I want to drag it. Since we do spend a lot of time in the backcountry, there are several items we never leave home without. 

1. First Aid Kit. 
2. Recovery gear that includes tire repair and a spare tire for the Jeep and Boreas XT. 
3. Garmin InReach GPS communication device. 
4. Shovel
5. Enough food and drinking water for each person with us.
 
APPRECIATION FOR ADVENTURE
I am beyond blessed to be part of the off -road and overland community. From Marco Hernandez (@overlandx) teaching me to be humble as my brand grows to Adam Phifer, (@oh_that_1_dude), for showing me patience as he spots me up Hells Gate to the life lessons I have learned from Alan Wang of KC HiLites, I am truly grateful for the friends and family members I have gained. The amount of gratitude I have for the people and industry brands who believe in me continues to grow every day. To Nitto Tire, KC HiLites, Road Armor, Rugged Radios, Currie Enterprises, Boreas Campers, PRP Seats and 67 Design, Thank you! Lastly, to my amazing wife Beth. Thank you for keeping me grounded and always encouraging me to look beyond the horizon or around the next bend, because adventure is always there waiting. If you happen to see me on the trail or at an event, please say hello. I would love to hear about your adventures.

TECH SPECS
2018 JEEP WRANGLER JLU SPORT
ARMOR
• Road Armor Stealth front bumper – 
mid-width
• Road Armor Stealth rear bumper with tire carrier – mid-width 
• Road Armor Stealth fender flares – front and rear
• Road Armor Stealth fender finers – front and rear
• Road Armor Stealth JL rocker armor panel and guard
SUSPENSION
• Rock Krawler X-Factor mid arm 3.5” lift
• Fox Performance Elite Series 2.5 reservoir shocks – front and rear 
• Fox Factory Race Series 2.0 ATS stabilizer
LIGHTS
• KC HiLiTES Pro6 Gravity 50” LED light bar
• KC HiLiTES Pro6 Gravity LED pods -front bumper
• KC HiLiTES 7” Gravity LED Pro headlights
• KC HiLiTES C4 Gravity LED fog lights 
KC HiLiTES C2 LED area floodlights – rear bumper
• KC HiLiTES 2” Cyclone auxiliary LED lights 
– rock lights 
• KC HiLiTES 2” Amber Cyclone rear-facing chase light
• Switch-Pros 8 switch controller
RECOVERY GEAR
• Road Armor 12,000-lbs Integrated Electric Winch with synthetic rope
• Factor 55 UltraHook
• Factor 55 Standard Duty soft shackle X 2
• Factor 55 Extreme Duty soft shackle X 1
• Factor 55 rope retention pulley X 1
• 40,000-lbs 4” tow strap
• Factor 55 Flatlink shackle mount
• ARB On-Board Twin compressor
• RotopaX 4-gallon fuel pack 
Custom Air management system
WHEELS, TIRES, AND DRIVELINE
• Nitto Tires 37×12.5 Ridge Grapplers 
• 37” Black Rhino Arsenal Wheels 
• Currie Enterprises LP60 low pinion rear axle with 5.38 gears 
• Currie Enterprises HD60 high pinion front axle with 5.38 gears 
• Adams custom drive shafts 1350 Yoke
• Mopar oversized brakes 
ELECTRONICS AND MOUNTS
• 67 Designs aluminum device holder
• 67 Designs carbon fiber arms
• 67 Designs GoPro camera mount
• 67 Designs iPad holder
• Garmin InReach GPS communicator 
• Rugged Radio GRM45 GMRS radio (Jeep JL Kit)
• Rugged Radio Rugged GRM2/FRS hand-held radio X3
• Rugged Radio R1 Race Radio X2
• CMM Offroad mirror mounts (for when the Jeep gets naked)
CAMPING GEAR
• 2020 Boreas XT Trailer (Just ordered a 2023 Boreas XT)
• 23 Zero 180 Peregrine awning X2 
• 23 Zero 102L gear box
• Truma C60L cooler
COOKING GEAR
• TembotTusk Regular Skottle
• 2-burner propane stove 
• Jet Boil camping stove

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