Overland Cheap Car Challenge Part 4: This Kills the Road Trip

We've made it to the Grand Canyon, can we make it back out?

7w ago
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Foreword

Against all odds, this part wasn't originally featured on OG Oppositelock (RIP). I was writing the articles as I finished their associated videos, but never made a video finale.

This trip took place in May of 2017.

Introduction

When we last left the action, our cheap off-roaders had just made it to the north rim of the Grand Canyon and suffered greatly for it. We were now about 80 miles, none of them easy, from the nearest paved road, a touch low on fuel, and my Land Rover was still missing a caliper bolt.

Plus we still had all of Utah to get through.

For the sake of DriveTribe's tagging system, we're going to call it the #overlandcheapcarchallenge

What could possibly go wrong?

Up and Out

Alright. So we'd made it to the rim of the Grand Canyon.

Now what?

We'd tried to make the hike down to the bottom, which looked difficult but doable, but realized about halfway down that wasn't going to happen. For starters, I'm out of shape. Outside that, we also didn't have enough time or water to really make a good go at it. About halfway down I pulled the ripcord on the experience and just about died on the way up.

Note to self: Offroading != Exercise

That done, we began the trek back up to the Ranch, which was largely uneventful. We did see some other people who were on their way down (I know right?! People at the Grand Canyon!? There should be a law...) on ATVs, but otherwise the way up was much the same as the way down.

When we reached the Ranch we discussed our route out with the bossman and he recommended a slight modification to our preplanned route which would get us to pavement faster and with less fuss. After what felt like a week (but was actually just a couple days) of nearly 100% offroading, we were ready for a break and took the recommendation.

Then we had a decision to make: To buy gas there, or make a run for it.

The Ranch sells gas, but at an astronomical price. We had 15 gallons of backup gas strapped to the Jeep, but were reluctant to use is "just in case." I was overruled and we each bought 5 gallons of gas from the Ranch, then headed out.

The road out of the Ranch was much easier as we stuck to the roads they typically use to bus people and supplies in.

Which explains why shortly into it I got a flat.

We changed the tire in record time, and also marveled at the size of the Landy's lug nuts, and were back on the move within 30 minutes.

We made a brief stop for some sightseeing and lunch at the Mount Trumbull school, which was neat. The "museum" was completely unlocked and unattended. I guess the sort of shithead who would vandalize a place like this probably wouldn't be interested in the several hours of offroad driving required to get there.

A few hours later we reached Saint George and immediately set out for supplies.

I needed a bolt for my brake caliper, George wanted a new steering dampener for his Jeep, and Taylor's car needed more snacks.

Jobs done, we met up again, caught some dinner, and then trudged uneventfully to our overnight stop in Hurricane, Utah, where we enjoyed such amenities as couches, TV, and running water.

Landy Fixes Gone Wrong

The next morning I had two goals: Fix my brake caliper and fix my flat tire.

The former was pretty straightforward, though I did end up having to take the wheel off.

The latter proved to be difficult. On the way to the shop, I attracted the attention of the local PD, who took exception to my checking my phone to figure out where the tire shop was. He also ran my plates, only to discover I didn't have insurance. (I did, but the system didn't know that.)

Ok fair enough.

After an awkward conversation about having just purchased the car, that I do have insurance, and I was, in fact, lost and looking for a tire shop, he decided that what I really needed to complete this joyous morning was a ticket for.... something. Annoying him, I suspect.

Then he stole my license plate.

You see... the dealer I bought the Landy from donked up a little bit. He was supposed to issue me a paper plate to cover up the normal one and affix a little piece of paper to the windshield documenting the sale. He did the latter, but not the former.

I don't recall the exact legal reason, but basically dude decided that I was displaying my plates illegally and decided to take them. He succeeded in stealing (yes, I'm using that word) the rear plate, but couldn't get the font off with his Gerber. He wrote me a ticket for... something... and left.

The whole interaction left me very shaken, angry, and ready to just be... done with this trip. But hey at least that guy made the road a little bit safer from... :checks notes: huh.

To add insult to injury the tire place seemed shocked, shocked I tell you, that I needed my spare patched that day. Apparently being the only tire shop in town is big business, and as I wasn't willing to wait 2-6 hours, I left, pretty sure that I never wanted to visit Hurricane, or possibly Utah, ever again.

Mount Zion

Today's main attraction was Mount Zion National Park. We'd heard it was both very pretty and much less traveled than most of the other "popular" national parks.

One of those two things was true.

Unfortunately, this was one of the few parts of this trip we didn't fully research. Though we had a good idea of what we wanted to do, we didn't really know what was required to accomplish those goals. We'd picked out a couple hikes, but didn't realize doing them would involve large, paid parking lots, shuttle buses, and waiting in line.

After being overwhelmed by the number of people, tour busses, and "PARK PARKING FULL" signs, we decided we'd play it by ear but likely just drive through the park, rather than see many of its wonderful sights.

What followed was, by far, the worst traffic of the trip.

But we made it out the other side and found a sleepy trailhead to park at and sample a small part of the splendor of Zion.

Hike over, we trundled down the road, eventually hitting the back side of Bryce Canon near dusk, making the brief hike to Mossy Cave and Tropic Ditch Falls for our Bryce Canon B-Sides.

It was fun and pretty and thankfully short.

Things got kind of weird when we got to our hotel in Escalante, UT, as the hotel owner, having long since hit the bar- err I mean bed, gave our room to someone else? Being the only place in town that could sleep all three of us, we actually had to kick these poor dudes out of our room and into their correct room. It was... unpleasant, and unfortunately took long enough that by the time we were wrapped up at the late, late hour of 7:30PM, everywhere to eat had closed. We had a lovely gas station dinner and called it a night.

Capitol Reef

The next morning I headed out early and succeeded in getting my tire fixed. While this tire shop too was clogged with (other) tourists, turns out a combination of showing up near opening, removing my own tire, and wheeling it into the shop granted me the opportunity to jump the line a bit.

That done, we set out and traversed the gorgeous scenery of Utah, eventually reaching and driving through Capitol Reef.

I'll be honest with you, while the others have very specific and special memories of this drive... I do not. Between the ticket from the day before and some personal stuff going on at home (massive tree fell on my house + garage, dogs got into a fight and had to get stiches) I was more or less in survival mode, just trying to reach the finish line.

So uhh... yeah we saw some stuff and did some things, and then reached our AirBnB near nightfall, where George tried again, unsuccessfully, to change his steering dampener and we probably ate some food at some point.

The final push

And just like that, we were on our final drive day.

The plan today was to hit Antelope Island, just north of Salt Lake City, for our "finale" and then try and sell the cars.

Well..

Two of us were going to try to sell their cars.

I'd decided, back in California if I'm being truthful, that I was going to keep the Land Rover. It was just too much car for too little money to not have it in my life. Originally I'd planned to drive it back to Tulsa, an easy 2-day drive, but that created some waves in the group and George ended up arranging to have it shipped back. (Fun fact: It actually arrived in Tulsa before we did!)

But the other two were determined to sell.

But I am getting ahead of myself. First we had to get through SLC.

The traffic sucked and we were all annoyed and tired, but eventually we reached Antelope Island and declared victory.

This Kills the Road Trip

But... how does one summarize this trip?

It was unexpected. It was wild. It was hard work. It was sweaty, miserable, bone shaking fun.

We'd gone from never having used four-wheel drive in anger to having just completed an 1,800 mile road overlanding road trip.

We were hooked.

And more importantly, we'd all fallen deeply in love with our cars.

George respected, admired, and loved his ZJ.

Taylor and his 4Runner had become soulmates.

And I'd once again fallen for something unloved and unreliable, and mailed it home to have many more adventure.

But we didn't all keep them.

Taylor advertised his 4Runner for a screaming price, and soon had sold it to a nice young lady looking to make a fresh start.

George... What George wanted most of all was to no longer own the ZJ at the end of this trip. While he loved and respected it, he had no desire to own three cars. Having fielded no interested parties, unsuccessfully tempted Dave Tracy, and local charities unable to take it on such short notice... he did what had to be done. He scrapped the ZJ.

Rest in pieces, heroic ZJ. You had a hell of a send off.

Epilogue

As one might expect, this trip gave all of us a bit of an offroad bug.

I still own the Land Rover and have done many, many overland and offroad trips with it since. Unfortunately, in November of 2017, we finally figured out why the Land Rover was loosing coolant as it was diagnosed with blown head gaskets. The specialist in town quoted me $4,000+ for the work, so I ended up performing it myself over the next few months. Since then the Landy has been treated to some fresh rubber and cosmetic upgrades, plus a CDL linkage for better offroad performance.

After George returned home he decided he did, in fact, want a Jeep. With the Bumblebee from the first road trip still in his garage, he decided his best course of action to meet his offroad and daily driver needs was to buy a 2016 Jeep Renegade Trailhawk. The "Toaster," as we call it, has joined the Land Rover on many a trip and surprised us all with its offroad chops.

Taylor held out the longest, but after an overlanding trip in his 2WD 2005 XTerra, he decided to surprise us all by purchasing a 2015 XTerra Pro4X. He has (possibly literally) been driving the wheels off of it since.

Up Next...

Needless to say, we decided we needed to do this AGAIN, so in 2019 we took off from Seattle, once again in three cheap cars, and headed north. All the way to Alaska...

It was one hell of an adventure...

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Comments (5)

  • |marveled at the size of... nuts

      1 month ago
  • Well written, good sir! Guess you didn't get around to a video for this day but it sounds like it was one of the least eventful legs anyways. Man, what a trip though. Thank you so much for this engaging well written story of something most people don't even dare to dream of doing.

    "Since then the Landy has been treated to some fresh rubber and cosmetic upgrades, plus a CDL linkage for better offroad performance."

    Cosmetic upgrades like hail dents? Hehe. You've done so much more than that to keep the Landy on the road.

    Too bad the ZJ had to be scrapped. Admittedly I wouldn't have wanted to have to rely on it either but it didn't sound that bad mechanically.

      1 month ago
    • Haha I mostly meant removing the granny rails, but also yes hail dents. Really need to get those fixed...

      Yeah the poor ZJ was mechanically pretty good but just needed far more work than it was worth at the time. I think now it might have been...

      Read more
        1 month ago
    • I mean it was quite a drive away from his house in Detroit. But he could really use a mechanically sound rust free vehicle like the ZJ. He ended up buying almost exactly that car except in much worse condition with a manual a year later.

        1 month ago
  • That was a fun read, sorry you had trouble in St. George and Hurricane. That place is weird. Fun fact, Neighboring LaVerkin voted to Succeed from the UN...somehow. If you live there and support the UN you are required BY LAW to post this in front of your house and why.

    I also enjoyed the continuously long-running joke of out-of-staters note getting the national park name right, though most of the time its because people like to pronounce it like Z-ION and not as its actually pronounced as Zion (like lion). But I also like the addition of "Mount" to the national park's name.

      1 month ago
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