I don’t have any formal training in the automotive world, but my dad was very skilled when it came to vehicles and I learned a lot from him. I vividly remember watching him wrench on his cars, trucks, and commercial vehicles as a kid. I got my tinkering and grease monkey knowledge from him. My dad was never afraid to dive into a project after reading his manuals. I watched, learned, and became familiar with how things worked, and it wasn’t too long before he allowed me to do more than hand him tools. I later found out that giving them to him prepared me for the next step by becoming familiar with different tools and predicting when he would need them. I guess this is how they should teach you in mechanics training because it works. He would eventually allow me to assist him and ask my opinion on what he should do next. After many years of learning and working with him, I became very comfortable diving into automotive projects.
When I was about ten years old, my dad had a green 1979 Chevy Blazer that he had customized; she was beautiful. I truly enjoyed off-roading with him and his friends as a child and this started my desire and ambition to own a truck when I grew up. Wouldn’t you know it, my first vehicle was a tan 1970 Chevy Chevette 4-door when I turned 16 years old. It was no truck or even remotely an off-road vehicle, but it saw some terrain that it was not intended for due to my desire to be off pavement. It proved to be a very sturdy vehicle!
I had always had my sights on my dad’s Blazer, but that never came to be. Soon after the Chevy Chevette, my parents purchased a blue 1970 Chevy Silverado for my high school graduation. This truck was a two-door short bed pick-up that saw many East Coast trails during its life. It started with a 2” lift and 33” tires and ultimately ended up on a 4.5” lift and 38” Super Swampers. If I knew then what I know now, this truck would have been different with much higher quality components. Even with my limited budget and knowledge of what it takes to build a sturdy off-road vehicle, she proved to be a pretty capable vehicle in the muddy wooded terrain of Ohio and North Carolina. I truly loved my Silverado, she was a deep royal blue and her V8 sounded great!
[A BREAK FROM THE BOW TIE]
Even though Chevys were a big part of my life, I can remember as a child when I would draw trucks, they would always be Jeep-looking vehicles and would always have the round KC lights and huge knobby tires on them. I also enjoyed the 1/4-ton Jeeps in military service. They were bare-bones but seemed as if they would go anywhere. I missed the opportunity to purchase a few Jeeps in my life and when I found my Jeep, HQ, while on a flight returning from the UK, there was no way I was letting this one slip away!
The Jeep Wrangler is like the AR-15 of the vehicle world. There’s an infinite number of quality aftermarket parts available, and as long as you aren’t afraid to dive in, there’s very little that someone with moderate mechanical skills can’t tackle. You can create a truly personalized look; even if someone else has the same part or parts, the odds of another Jeep identical to yours are pretty low.
HQ has gone through three suspension lifts and some pretty extensive modifications. Having been from the East Coast and now living on the West Coast, I was unaware of the vastly different types of off-roading. At first, I wanted HQ higher on bigger tires, but that quickly evolved into wanting it more robust and more capable of crawling over rocky terrain and at the same time providing my wife and me the ability to camp wherever the rig could take us.
When we first started driving on rocky technical trails, I found it to be a bit nerve-racking. I was always worried about breaking or bending something on the stock Dana 44s even with sleeved and gusseted ones. HQ had sustained a few pretty good battle scars before our most recent modifications and bent a couple of axles, fenders, and creased a door. Running 37” tires on semi-float axles proved to be a no-go for us after bending two inner axles. Now that we are trailing on much beefier components, there is very little concern about breaking something. I continue to drive HQ as I did before the modifications, but now I can concentrate 100% on the trail instead of being concerned about damage. The Dana 60s open new trail opportunities too!
After seeing a few different four-tire air-up systems, I decided to design and build my own. I use an ARB twin air compressor connected to a 2.5-gallon tank that feeds two built-in air chucks that are in each rear wheel well. The interior airlines are 3,500 psi fire-rated hydraulic hoses connected to the chucks in the wheel wells with bulkhead fittings. The exterior lines are typical shop red airlines with a T-fitting at the chuck end and a short line to the rear wheel and along to the front. Once connected, it is an open system that airs all four tires at the same time without any leaks.
I have done almost all of the modifications to HQ myself so that I would become familiar with the vehicle and how all the components work together rather than having someone else build it and not have that intimate association. However, I use Rock-Tech Offroad in La Habra, California, to ensure everything was done right and do the final tweaking after completing something like adding the Dana Ultimate 60s and Clayton Off-Road Long Arms. Having a professional eye look over my work always gives me peace of mind.
[THE DAILY GRIND]
HQ is primarily our company’s (Ground Pounder Coffee LLC) coffee delivery rig. We have a custom made slide-out for the rear driver’s side door that either holds two 100-cup brewers or a custom-designed 5 station pour-over unit that I designed. HQ provides us with the ability to take our coffee to even the most remote locations and share it with anyone and everyone. HQ also provides my wife and me the ability to explore the outdoors in our downtime. Part of adventure travel is dealing with equipment failure, such as a sheared trailer axle, and being prepared to overcome challenges.
I started Ground Pounder Coffee LLC because I love coffee and desire to meet new people who enjoy getting out in the world. What better way to meet people than to share delicious coffee with them and talk about awesome adventures? Ground Pounder Coffee became a reality when I met Brian Zielinski on a flight from New York to Los Angeles. While sitting across the aisle from him, I could tell that he was looking in my direction and asked me about my watch and commented on my tattoos. At first, I tried to avoid making eye contact with him. However, after he started the conversation, we quickly hit it off, and very soon after, Ground Pounder Coffee LLC was born. Brian is the owner of a coffee roastery and has been my mentor since I started Ground Pounder Coffee.
My wife and I truly enjoy the ability to camp comfortably anywhere HQ can take us. Our Ursa Minor camper on top of the Jeep allows us the flexibility to camp in areas where you cannot set up ground tents. It’s a game-changer when it comes to adventure travel. We have added a ton of lighting to HQ that provides us with plenty of visibility for trail running and camp lighting. Our trail lighting is from KC HiLiTES, and our camp lighting is from Hard Korr lighting. When all our lighting is combined, there is only one direction without light, and that’s straight up. We like having peace of mind when we’re exploring or camping in remote locations. Everything that we’ve done from the frame down gives us that. Riding on the JE Reel 1350 canyon crawler driveshafts, Clayton Offroad long arms and skid plate system, AEV High Capacity springs, Dana Ultimate 60s, Steer Smarts Yedi XD steering components, 38X13.50R17 Falken WildPeak M/T tires, and Raceline Monster beadlock wheels provide comfort knowing that unless something goes catastrophically wrong, we will make it through any obstacle we might encounter on our adventures.
[WE’RE NOT DONE]
“I have done almost all of the modifications to HQ myself so that I would become familiar with the vehicle and how all the components work together…” JEEP…The never-ending story! Truly the only two things that I would like to do is add more efficient shock absorbers to the suspension system and a V8 motor to HQ. I have been looking into better shocks or coilovers for a while now and have always wanted to put a bigger heart in HQ. The V8 would provide us with the needed power to haul the supplies we need to the remote locations where real adventures happen.
[AMERICAN SOUTHWEST ADVENTURE]
Last year I set out on a 16-day adventure with my friend and PR representative Ryan Cacacho and my dog Cody. We traveled from Southern California through Arizona, around the north side of the Grand Canyon, through Escalante National Monument to Moab in Utah. From Moab, we took the Rim-Rocker trail toward Montrose, Colorado. A sheared trailer axle cut Rim-Rocker short on the way out. Ultimately, we ended up in Ouray, Colorado, where we met up with LOST Jeeps SoCal members. We spent the next six days hitting trails like Imogene Pass, Ophir Pass, Hurricane Pass, and several others. Ryan and I camped at the top of Imogene Pass one night, where we saw both the sun setting and moon rising at night and vice-versa the next morning. Ryan took a fantastic photo of HQ with Ursa Major in the sky overhead. My daughter graduated from Navy boot camp while I was on this adventure, and I watched her graduation on my phone with my cell booster. After saying goodbye to our friends of LOST Jeeps SoCal, Ryan, Cody, and I decided to tackle the Rim-Rocker trail from Montrose to Moab. From Moab, we traveled around the southern side of the Grand Canyon and we spent the last night at Kaibab, in Arizona, where we camped next to a beautiful lake. This was a 3,000-mile trip consisting of just over 1,000 miles off-road and lots of camping. The adventures experienced and the new friendships made on this trip were amazing!
Multi-day adventures to epic locations in California, Arizona, and Colorado that we go on aren’t the only ones that bring great experiences. Now that we live in southern Nevada, we are finding even more awesome trails! I think the most memorable local trails are the ones shared with friends, no matter how easy or technical they are. Having said this, I do enjoy trails like Metal Masher, Copper Cache, and John Bull; the rockier, the better.
Our 16-day trip to Colorado took about two weeks. Planning and preparing for a long-range trip like that takes a bit of time. Mapping our route and procuring supplies (food, water, and fuel) are the most important. I research the areas that we will be traveling through, looking for everything from private lands, closed trails, trail conditions, and look for the most scenic routes. I use Gaia Maps for trip routing. While on the road and trails, I run both standard GPS and Gaia maps that provide me with as much route detail as possible. I also have a physical map in HQ. Physical maps are often easier for me to look around when searching for alternate routes.
Due to limited storage capacity in the Jeep, I look for restocking points for food and water along the route. When it comes to packing, I tend to overdo it. It’s better to have things and not need them than to need them and not have them. Typically, after gathering everything I think I will need, I lay everything out and go through it, looking for redundancy and evaluating the necessity of certain items. Then comes the packing portion, squaring everything away as organized as possible. On the way to the first fuel point, I conduct a load check. I break hard, accelerate rapidly, and turn hard left and right looking for things that are not adequately secured. These items can become dangerous projectiles in the event of an accident or become incredibly annoying as they rattle constantly.
Our trip preparation goes beyond just mapping and gathering supplies. I follow the PMCS (Preventive Maintenance Checks and Services) before every big trip. I check everything from bolt torques to fluid levels. I change my oil, rotate tires, clean air filter, check steering and differential fluid, grease every fitting and joint, test radios, check the fire extinguisher, check first aid kit for expired or missing supplies, test lighting, and replace batteries in tools that require batteries. And then, I check again. I check twice because if I get distracted on the first go around, I will catch it on the second check. Bolt torque specs are checked easily by using a product called Cross Check. This product saves a lot of time during PMCS. Once a bolt or nut is torqued down, and this product is applied and dried, Cross Check will crack if torque spec is lost, quickly identifying a potential problem. Prior planning prevents poor performance.
[PRO TIP FOR ROOKIES]
We were once new to off-road and adventure travel, and the biggest tip I have for first-timers is to go with someone who has been there before. Traveling as a group will significantly reduce frustration and possible trouble. I genuinely enjoy taking people out on their first-time trips because it helps them relax, and I remember the details that are often taken for granted when you’ve been doing this for a while. If a first-timer doesn’t have a friend to take them on their first adventure, they need to keep it short and close range. Being close to civilization will provide an easy recovery and a safety net in the event of trouble. Have working communications and share your location with a friend! Practice setting up your camp even before you leave your driveway. Be familiar with how every single camp equipment works. This will allow you to set up on trail more efficiently and get accustomed to your camp set-up and where things belong.