The Epic Willys Adventure

Adventures, Jeep Adventures

For many, the sense of adventure comes naturally, for others; it is simply a dream that is held onto with the thought or hopes that; “One day I’m going to…”

Those that view life as a journey will always have that burning desire deep inside to push the envelope, achieve the satisfaction of completing a challenge for nothing more than the sense of knowing within, that it could be done. Win or lose, sink or swim, a good adventure is worth taking even for nothing more than an education, a story to tell around the campfire or at the very least, the best way to learn from and plan for the next big trip.

Since 2016 was the 50th Anniversary of the Easter Jeep Safari in Moab Utah, a group of flat fender fanatics from Eau Claire Wisconsin decided that they would drive their vintage vehicles from Wisconsin to Moab for the big anniversary. Like so many others headed to EJS, they could have easily loaded all of the flat fenders onto a trailer and hauled them. The trip could have been made in the comfort of an enclosed cab of a tow rig, modern conveniences like heaters, hard tops, power steering and fuel injection but instead, they opted to take the trip like true adventurers and drive the 1,900 plus miles from Eau Claire to Moab.

The trip grew out of a conversation starting with a few guys from Max-Bilt in Eau Claire who intended to make the drive. They rounded up some corporate sponsorship from Omix-ADA, Crown Automotive, Pitbull Tires, TNT Customs and River-Raider. Another couple, Kenny and his wife Vianna joined the group so they drove in from Pennsylvania. My buddy Keith and I hauled my 1947 CJ-2A out from Wyoming to join the group for the “Epic Willys Adventure”.

Day 1:

A quick stop for fuel and the Epic Willys Adventure began… well, for nine miles anyway. Early into day 1, one of the trucks began overheating so the first stop of many to come was made on the side of the road to investigate. A quick check of fluids and diagnostics determined the engine coolant was coming out of the overflow tube from a recently installed, used Ford Mustang radiator. The coolant was topped off for good measure and we were on the move again, for nine more miles. With only eighteen miles covered and roughly an hour spent; it was decided that the group would stop at a farm owned by a gentleman who happened to be friends of most the group. Upon arriving, everyone pretty well dug into their vehicles since it was the first actual shakedown for all of us. The truck with the initial issues was pulled behind the shop, muriatic acid was poured in the radiator in hopes that it would clean out the corrosion and solve the problem. After that was completed the same truck was brought into the shop and put on a hoist so the clutch linkage could be reworked since it too was having problems.

Two hours later the truck was lowered to the ground, a test run was taken and it appeared that we would proceed to see if in fact, the problem was actually solved or not. A mere eighteen miles later the answer would be revealed, another roadside stop and more antifreeze helped keep the old truck going for this next leg, none of us knowing how long that would actually be but at the same time, realizing it could have been any of us in that situation so we all worked together to keep pressing onward. We managed to knock down a few more miles before repeating the process with a stop at a NAPA in Arcadia (only 59 miles from Eau Claire) for another attempt at solving the radiator issue as we made our way towards La Crosse, WI.

Throughout the day and miles we dealt with a few other issues ranging from adjusting points, overheating and a couple of other minor things but it was just outside of La Crosse that the day would take yet another turn.

On the outskirts of town the group had slightly separated as some pressed forward and others stayed in a small cluster working out the various kinks. We eventually gathered for a fuel stop only to discover that two of the group of eight had blown head gaskets, they were trying to re-torque the heads while Adam’s CJ-2A appeared to have a seized bearing so naturally, the rest of the group gathered around trying to figure out our next step. As late as it was it was decided that it was a good time to start looking for a hotel so we could begin the task of trying to find a place to work on Adam’s Jeep in case it was actually a blown motor. We settled into the closest hotel we could find (only to find out the next morning that it was in a seedy area of town and we were lucky not to have lost any of our gear left outside overnight). We collectively began to scour craigslist, call in favors from friends and do about everything we could to find a donor motor as the late hours of the first night, began to quickly approach the early morning hours of day two.

Miles: 80.5

Elapsed Time: 10:20 Hrs

Moving Average: 27.8 mph

Day 2:

Day two began with the group gathering in the hotel parking lot while the decision was made to go ahead and go over to some friends that luckily, happened to live in La Crosse. They were kind enough to open their home and shop for us so we could get the bad motor pulled while a replacement was being delivered from Eau Claire via Phil’s’ dad Mark, or better known as… “OBG”.

The better part of day two was spent getting the old motor out, swapping in the new and when the task was finally completed and we fired up the new engine… You could almost hear the crowd collectively sigh in disappointment. The freshly installed engine had a knock that would leave a person with even the most basic mechanical knowledge uneasy about pulling it out into the street, let alone driving it another eighteen hundred miles.

After the hard pill of defeat with the bad engine was swallowed, we all discussed our options and voted to press on to see if we could knockdown a few miles for the day and try to get into Iowa. The gear from Adam’s Willys was transferred into others, we stripped what we thought we might need or use along the way and even though we had to leave a flat fender behind, we weren’t about to leave Adam. We started as a group and we would end that way as far as we were concerned!

We drove for a couple of hours and made it to Marquette Iowa where we briefly celebrated being in our second state. Even though we had our issues along the way we made it out of Wisconsin giving the group much needed hope and a small sense of accomplishment.

Miles: 66

Elapsed Time: 12:21 Hrs

Moving Average: 26.7 mph

Day: 3

With a decent nights rest under our belts and a quick hotel breakfast we greeted the clear, cool morning and loaded up our gear, fueled up and began our trek into Iowa. The day started off well, no issues of any magnitude or anything that kept us from progressing steadily south on various highways and back roads. On this, our third day, we finally had the opportunity to feel the sense of the open road. A glimpse into small town America as we drove through the farming communities that Iowa is known for, sadly we also began to see some of the stores and shops that had recently gone out of business in the small towns that we passed through.

We continued traveling south; just around lunch time we were approaching I-80 so we stopped at the world’s largest truck stop in Walcott Iowa. The group commandeered a section of the parking lot by the entrance and in a sense, became the main attraction for a bit. Travelers stopping for gas, food or souvenirs stopped to talk to us while others slowly drove by and stared. We could see the bewilderment on their faces as some tried to figure out what this ragtag bunch of misfits was up to but for us, we all knew a grand adventure lay ahead and we were just getting started.

After our lunch break we pressed on, the skies ahead began to look a little ominous so those that had rain gear suited up. Phil in his truck, Kenny and Vianna in theirs, Sam and Christine and Keith and I in our CJ-2A with a soft top that Keith purchased prior to the trip, were protected and ready for what we were all about to drive into and the rest were as outfitted as they could be for what we were about to encounter.

It wasn’t long before what we had seen ahead was on top of us; those that weren’t covered were certainly getting soaked but pushed through like true adventurers. After several hours of drenching rain and gas station pizza for dinner, we had our sights set on a destination for the evening, Moberly Missouri. When we eventually pulled into Moberly everyone was ready to get into the comfort of a warm, dry environment even if it was only the Super Eight Motel. We took over one floor of the hotel and gathered in the hall for a bit to figure out a departure time, and toast to a well traveled day. We had covered close to four hundred miles and had entered into our third state of the journey which to us, seemed like quite an accomplishment considering the first two days of the trip!

Miles: 394

Elapsed Time: 14:17 Hrs

Moving Average: 38.5 mph

Day 4:

As the group gathered in the parking lot of the hotel it was becoming evident that the long days and work of the trip were taking affect, everyone was in good spirits but moving a little slower than on the previous days.  We all muddled around for about an hour replenishing fluids, oil in the Jeeps and coffee for ourselves, checking various things from lug nuts to cargo all the way down to the fuel pumps. Thankfully the rain had held off long enough for us to get our preparations made and with one quick stop at the hardware store in Moberly, we were once again on our way for another day of adventure.

It would prove to be relatively uneventful at first but as the day progressed; Tyler’s Willys began to experience some stuttering and power loss worse than in the previous days. We eventually pulled over while Adam and Tyler filed and adjust points while the rest of us hung out. This would be the case a few times on day four since it seemed to be a continuing and ongoing problem. It did provide some of us the chance at a short, roadside nap and others, the opportunity to play a few hands of Gin Rummy. It would simply become another obstacle that we as a team, would work through together so we could press on for a few more miles.

We eventually made it to the next town for fuel and lunch where we went through the normal routine of topping of tanks, refilling our empty stomachs with whatever we could find in a gas station that closely resembled some form of real food. Several hours later I would regret making my choice on the roller dog that I truly believe (after the fact) was intended for display and not human consumption.

By the end of the day we had only gone one hundred and sixty five miles but we made it to a small town that had an O’reilly’s and a Walgreen’s. The employees, who obviously recognized our plight, were kind enough to stay open for us while we spent a few hours in the lot once again, refilling fluids, swapping plugs, points and condensers in an effort to keep our old iron moving forward. Before the mechanical tasks were completed I had to tap out and make my way to Walgreen’s hoping to find some Tums, Pepto-Bismol or relief from my poor choice for lunch.

Miles: 165

Elapsed Time: 11:53 Hrs

Moving Average: 33.9 mph

Day 5:

After dealing with two days of rain and cold temperatures, this was like any other morning. The group slowly collected in the parking lot, some were waking up with a hot cup of coffee; others were loading gear while the rest of us checked fluids and other items in preparation for the day.

Once again, we topped off with fuel and headed out, our big plan for the day was to make our way to “Big Brutus” a decommissioned coal shovel that had been turned into a state park somewhere in Kansas.  As timing would have it we stopped right around lunch time so it was the perfect opportunity for us to take a break, enjoy a picnic style lunch and enjoy a bit of the warm sunshine. After our lunch break the majority of the group pressed forward, Alicia had to return home for work so Marc decided that he would take her to Joplin so they could pick up a rental car, she would follow him while he caught back up with the group where she would split off and make her way towards home.

We were moving along at a decent pace but by mid afternoon; things would change for Keith and I when “Ole Blue” began to run a little rough. Up until this point the old Willys had been good to us, no real issues keeping us from staying with the group so I guess it was just a matter of time before it was our turn to carry the baton so to speak. Just outside of Louisburg Kansas we were eventually forced to stop to diagnose the problem, most of the group pressed forward while Steve, Phil, Missy, Keith and I stopped to see if we could figure out what was going on.

We poked, we prodded, the plugs were burning great, and the points were looking good, nothing stood out as an obvious cause of our less than perfect running condition 134. Keith started messing with the distributer shaft and discovered that we had actually broken the shaft itself. Now I have seen some odd breaks but this was honestly, the first time I can say that I have seen that!

Luckily Phil had a spare distributer that we had robbed from Adam’s spare engine that we were able to swap getting us to Wellington. If Adam hadn’t had the luck that he did early on in the trip; it would have been a real possibility that we would have either spent a few days in Wellington trying to get a new distributor shipped, or possibly that Keith ad I would have had to say goodbye to the group so they could continue on with the trip. At the very least, we had arrived in state number four!

It had been a full day and we were all tired but we had made it to Wellington and felt lucky to have found a hotel, even though it was another one of those towns and hotels that none of us left with feelings or thoughts of, “one day I’m going to bring my family back here for a vacation”! It was the bait and switch hotel, you check in at a nice new building next to a diner, only to hear when receiving the room key that, “your room is across the street’. Some rooms had rat, not mice, but rat traps in them, the building was old, dark and left unattended as though it was some forgotten piece of Wellington history waiting to be rediscovered or torn down.

Miles: 309

Elapsed Time: 14:17 Hrs

Moving Average: 35.2 mph

Day 6:

We headed to the closest parts store like every morning, by now I was feeling as though we will be the guys in our golden years that gather at the coffee shop in the morning instead of the parts store. We will relive the glory days over a hot cup of bad coffee just to remember the great adventures of our youth. Since Keith and I had experienced “The Great Distributor Debacle of 2016” it seemed like a good idea to pick up a timing light and dial in the timing before proceeding for the day. Our hopes were that everything would be alright and that would be the last of our troubles, hardly!

After fluids were checked and filled, the timing was dialed in and any spare parts that we thought might be needed or available were purchased, we once again gathered up and headed west. A few hours in and it was evident that our troubles were not over. The old Willys seemed to struggle and gradually get worse as the day progressed.

Our route had been planned out and our intentions were to get to Greensburg Kansas and stop at the world’s largest hand dug well, appropriately named “Big Well”. It was going to be a long day for Keith and I as “Ole Blue” steadily began to go downhill, by mid day we were only able to travel between 25mph-38mph as we watched the majority of the group disappear into the distance while our small travel pack slowly chugged along.

A quick stop in some forgotten town at yet another NAPA with intentions of buying points, condenser and a distributor cap hoping that we could solve the problem would prove to be good and bad. The guy at the counter informed us that the route we had planned was filled with heavy truck traffic and rolling hills which would make our trip that much more of a struggle. He checked the inventory of a store in the neighboring town of Pratt to reveal that the parts he didn’t have on hand, they did. The group collected, discussed our options and decided to take his advice and make the fifty mile trek through the heavy cross winds over to Pratt to see if we could get the issue resolved.

Upon arriving in Pratt we caught up with the rest of the group, Tyler was still fighting with his points and we still needed our parts so we found the NAPA store, overran their parking lot for an hour or so and went to work. Half of the store employees came outside to hear the story of what it was that we were up to, one of the guys that worked there had grown up and been around flat fenders his whole life so he shared his stories with us while we worked. With the new parts in place we all stopped at a local Casey’s gas station like so many times before, we had lunch and fueled up so we could be on our way to see “Big Well”.

It was less than twenty miles and our hopes were dashed that we had somehow gotten lucky and fixed the problem. It was obvious we were going to have to dig a little deeper to resolve whatever was plaguing us and slowing us down. It was a painful thirty miles while fighting headwinds in addition to our mechanical issue but we made it to Greensburg and once again, had the hood open while trying to figure out what was going on.

As the rest of the group toured Big Well we messed with the old Willys, Adam asked if we had adjusted the valves which we had not since it had been running fine for close to a thousand miles, we discussed it and decided we would try to at the hotel that evening but we would have to fight it for another one hundred and fifteen miles which meant, the next four hours were going to suck!

While we made our way to Ulysses for the night we found a dirt road cut across that we would take so Missy could get some photos for her article that she planned on doing for JP Magazine. Pete Trasborg who had originally been on the list of people who were to embark on this trip had tragically passed away the year before so Missy was there to fill the void and write the story. This would have been a trip that would have been a perfect fit for Pete and we certainly missed his presence. We found some really cool windmills that we stopped at for a bit and got some photos before proceeding on our way to the next hotel.

As the sun was setting we made our way back onto pavement; our path would take us through the stock yards of Kansas. Maybe it was the Methane from the yards, the cool evening air or the strong desire to get out of the stench of manure but “Ole Blue” seemed to run like a champ for some odd reason. We managed to hit normal cruising speeds by Willys flat fender standards that is and cruised our way into Ulysses for the night.

Miles: 261

Elapsed Time: 14:08 Hrs

Moving Average: 33.2 mph

Day 7:

Another day and a new attempt, we quickly swapped out the spark plugs to see if they would burn any differently. We hoped to adjust the valves the night before but since we had gotten into the hotel so late it didn’t happen. The group was ready to get rolling so the plan was to grab a lunch spot along the way and try to adjust the valves at that point.

The majority of the group cruised on ahead without us, Keith and I struggled along as best we could with a couple others in the group who stayed behind to travel with us even though I’m sure they were as frustrated as we were with the fact that we were moving so slowly. At this point we had thrown a new distributor cap, plugs, rotor, condenser, new distributor and timing at what was once; a perfectly good running vehicle and my patience had run out. By this point in the day the only thing that seemed positive and lightened the mood was that we had now crossed into Colorado and that in itself, seemed to be one more accomplishment and step closer to our goal.

Roughly around 10:00 we rolled into a small, one horse town in eastern Colorado. It seemed to be the crossroads of two main highways which most likely gave the lifeblood to the community of less than a hundred people I would suspect, it was there that my patience had reached its end.

After three days of struggling and holding progress up, I couldn’t spend another minute going thirty five miles an hour in a Jeep that we had been easily able to achieve forty five in for the previous week. It was decided that this would be a good spot for an early lunch while we tried to adjust the valves to see if that would finally cure whatever had been progressively slowing us and the group down.

Since I had never adjusted valves on one of these old engines and only two of our group of thirteen had, I needed some insight. Adam pointed out what I needed to remove and I went to work. Gaining access to the valves took a little work, the air cleaner and a couple of other components needed to be removed before I could fully access the panel that covers the side of the engine, this would allow me to get to the valves. A few more minutes and I was in, Adam gave me a quick rundown on how to get them to where they needed to be so I could check the gap so I quickly went to work.

After spending close to an hour working on the valves it was time for the test drive, would it be a huge improvement, or would I come back to the vacant lot next to an abandoned building with thoughts of pushing it till “Ole Blue” gives up the ghost and we push it by hand the rest of the way to Moab? At this point we would finish this trip if it took a month and I had to push it myself!

I fired it up, tore out of the parking lot with high hopes and began to climb the gradual slope that took me back towards the direction we came from. I was filled with excitement as I watched the speedometer continue to climb, in a matter of a short distance I was up to fifty miles per hour confirming that we were back in the game! I didn’t know how long it would last but it was definitely an improvement that I was happy to have!

With the valves adjusted and everyone else’s tweaks and tuning done it was time for us to get serious and knock down some miles. The Rocky Mountains weren’t far away and we had intentions of seeing them that afternoon! The group left the town so small that I don’t even remember its name, Keith and I felt fully rejuvenated for the fact that not only could we keep up with the group, we were still in the race in our minds. It was like getting a second wind, not that there was any real validity to it but it felt good for a bit and it kept us going and improved our spirits.

The group made good time and rolled into Trinidad where we could visibly see the Rockies; we knew that what lay ahead, was to be the best that we had experienced so far and that it would only get better in the coming days. A short stop at Shipton’s Big R, a quick routing discussion and we would be on our way to Wellington. There we would set up camp in an all too familiar hotel setting for one more night before we headed into the mountains to see how the vintage flat fenders would fare against La Veta and Wolfe Creek passes!

What we expected to be a quick stop at a crowded exit ramp gas station proved to be the first time that we actually met people that were not just interested in the journey, they were actually following along with our travels. As we completely crashed and occupied every pump at the small station while trying to find our place within the line of a dozen people overwhelming the lone cashier, a Jeep JK Willys edition Wrangler pulled up behind the group. The driver jumped out and with excitement in his voice, could be heard asking someone, “Are you the guys from the Epic Willys adventure?”  Someone confirmed his suspicion and he informed us that he and his wife had been following the trip and had come down to the gas station to see if they could meet up with us.

Another routing discussion would reveal that we had one option and one option alone; we would have to brave thirty four miles of I-25 between Trinidad and the exit for Alamosa in order for us to get to Wellington for the night. Since we had an aftermarket set up of taillights and turn signals Keith and I picked up tail as the sacrificial lambs, we rode with our hazards on to let the traffic rapidly approaching us from the rear know that there were slow moving vehicles driven by a suicidal bunch of ruffians just ahead.

Somehow we managed to survive the short excursion and exited the interstate to make our way into Wellington. Apparently there are only two hotels in town and we were lucky enough to get the last of the rooms between both or we would have been headed to the next town in search of accommodations for the evening. Half of the group apparently saw the difference in “Ole Blue” and felt it was a noticeable change in performance. They would spend a couple of hours at their hotel adjusting valves in preparation of what we all knew was going to be a conquest!  At this point, any and all preparations were worthy of trying so we all did what we could to get ready for the upcoming challenge of several passes that we had to climb.

Miles: 243

Elapsed Time: 10:37 Hrs

Moving Average: 38.4 mph

Day 8:

This morning would kick off like so many days prior, the weather was good, the destination was within our grasp and we were actually on a stretch of road that had some historical value so we decided to make the most of it and get some long overdue photo ops. Our first stop would be at a towing company slash service station. It was one of those main street attractions that had been there long enough, that no one seemed to mind that we were parking cars and blocking one whole lane of traffic on a two lane street. For the better part of the next hour we were the main attraction in town. Those that weren’t wrenching their necks to take a look as they drove by, actually stopped to see what was going on with all of these old Jeeps and people standing in the middle of the street taking pictures. We met some great folks from the community, saw some pictures of a Jeep collection that must have spanned three or possibly even four decades before we wrapped things up and made our way towards Alamosa.

Our first stop in Alamosa was at a gas station where once again, everyone filed in and found their favorite choice of genuine imitation nutrition, hit the restrooms and paid for the fuel we had either pumped or were about to. I think it was Phil’s truck that was having some issues at that point so some work was done on it while visitors muddled around asking questions and checked out the Jeeps. A few took pictures while others were on the phone with friends, most likely directing them to come down and check out the freak show. We thought we would be on our way out of town after the fuel station stop but before leaving town the group would be divided and stopped again. Kenny was in need of fluids for his truck and along the way; Tyler began experiencing what was believed to be carburetor issues. A few from the group went to the local McDonalds to assist with Tyler’s carburetor rebuild and the rest of us gathered at Auto Zone to connect with Kenny and Vianna.

With a total of only a couple of hours  spent in Alamosa we eventually gathered back up and made our way out of town, this would be the first time that the trip would actually show any signs of danger. As we made our way out of town and headed towards the mountains; we collected in a tight little group and were moving at what we thought was a reasonable pace. In a very short time we would realize that the Colorado drivers we were surrounded by had no interest in old iron, our story or anything for that matter that would keep them from whatever pressing issue they were headed towards.

Keith and I, taking up the tail like we had so many times before since we had hazard signals, watched as Kenny and Vianna were almost run off the road by an impatient driver in a Toyota 4-Runner.  For the driver of the Toyota it was a matter of, “do I hit this oncoming car head on, or do I run these folks off the road and be on my merry way”. We saw which option he chose and if we would have had the ability to catch up with him, there would have most likely been a roadside discussion about his actions.

Due to the fact that we were climbing in elevation and some of the vehicles were performing better than others we organically began to separate which was actually for the better. Since the road we were traveling on had such heavy truck traffic, we needed a buffer zone to allow the big trucks as well as cars to pass. It wasn’t until we stopped an hour later that we realized how necessary and important that was. Mark and Adam relayed to the group that they had a guy in a semi actually pass them on the shoulder while they had oncoming traffic to be concerned with. We had a small meeting and discussed our options; it was best if we split up into groups of smaller clusters allowing traffic to freely flow around us especially where we would be moving slower than normal on the steeper grades.

From there we made good time through the foothills and eventually made our way into Durango for the night. Everyone took an hour or so to get settled in and cleaned up before we all would head into town to have a nice dinner, there we could gather for a meal where we weren’t all standing around in a gas station parking lot. As timing would have it and for the fact that it was Saint Patty’s Day; we had few options where we would all be able to sit collectively since every place we walked by or looked at was packed. We did try one pub that was filled with Hipsters, within five to ten short minutes we were on our way out the door in search of a new destination since everyone was pretty much on the same page and were ready to seek out a new dinner location. Luckily we stumbled upon a quaint little bistro that welcomed us in and shuffled tables and chairs around to accommodate the needs of a group our size.

We were able to enjoy a nice dinner with some great conversation reflecting on the day and rounding out the night before we all piled into the shuttle van, made our way back to the hotel to once again, dispersed for the evening into our hotel rooms for a short night of rest before we would all be up and going in the morning.

Miles: 229

Elapsed Time: 11:13 Hrs

Moving Average: 32.7 mph

Day 9:

This would be the day that we would transition from ordinary back roads to the famed; “Million Dollar Highway” or more commonly known as U.S. Route 550. Little did we know starting out that it would end as the most eventful day of the trip by many standards!

This was a section of the trip that I think we all had as much excitement as we did apprehension, if the roads were clear and the weather was good, it would be amazing. If the storm that was pounding Wyoming and northern Colorado just north of us were to dip further south, it would severely impact our progress. It would also add an element of danger to that section of the trip that we hoped we wouldn’t have to contend with.

As luck would have it, the conditions couldn’t have been better for us. After our normal fuel and coffee stop in the morning, we got into our travel groups and made our way towards the mountain passes that lay ahead leaving Durango in our rearview mirrors. Things were pretty uneventful to start with which aided in setting the tone for a relaxed day ahead, we could take in the beauty of the snow capped mountains as we slowly weaved our way to higher ground.

We had just spent a week traveling across the flat lands of Wisconsin, Iowa, Missouri, Kansas and eastern Colorado and dealt with the issues, the test of vehicle capabilities, preparedness, and teamwork but now, the true test lay before us! We would climb from Durango at an elevation of 6,522 feet, up and over Coal Bank Pass at an elevation of 10,640vft, Molas at 10,970 ft and Red Mountain Pass at an elevation of 11,018 ft. This day and leg of the trip would not only take our group through the most breathtaking portions of our journey, it would also work our old vehicles and put them up against the biggest challenge they had faced to this point.

We weren’t far from Molas Pass when we passed Mark and Adam; they waved us on by so we assumed they were in good shape and had things under control. With Sam and Christine ahead of us we slowly climbed up Molas Pass, as we ascended we could see some of the group ahead. The further we went the steeper the grade began to get, our old flatties just kept creeping along, the sound of the engines winding up, the all too familiar clatter of the transmission humming it’s one note tune gave us some comfort knowing that things were working as they should.

We made it to the top of Coal Bank, collected with the group and waited for Mark and Adam to show. They arrived shortly thereafter and we all celebrated our success of tackling the first of the passes we would be attempting to conquer that day. Pictures were taken, Mark and Adam filled us in on their situation (they had to briefly stop and adjust the valves for the climbs ahead) and then we loaded back up and headed forward. The routine was pretty much the same as we traversed the winding roads up and over Molas and then Red Mountain Pass. We all struggled at various points but the group stayed close but had a bit of a rubber band effect as we would separate a bit and would then recollect when the roads were a little more forgiving.

We planned to make a quick stop in Silverton to grab some lunch and possibly make our way towards Animas Forks for a little wheeling and a few action shots. Little did we know that when we parked on Main St. and worked our way over to The Pickle Barrel for lunch that day, we would have yet one more element that we will all talk about for years to come!

Our merry band of travelers had all parked across the street from where we were eating; shed a few layers of clothing while people started coming up and asking who we were and where we were headed. We stood around and chatted with several people, some from the local paper and others from town and even a couple of folks that were just traveling through before we made our way over for lunch.

While we were all sitting around waiting for our lunch, a thin, older gentleman with a long beard walked in and addressed the group. He started off his conversation with a simple statement… “I’m not very good at this kind of thing so I’m just going to go ahead and say it…” By the look on everyone’s faces I think most were expecting to hear the next few words that I thought we would hear (please move your Jeeps). He stated that he had a small business in town, this is where I expected him to say that we had blocked the entrance to his business and he would appreciate it if we would move our dilapidated old wrecks from in front of it. Instead, he began to tell us that he purchased a building from an old Willys collector and that if we would like, we could stop by his shop and see if there was anything there that we could use or might want. He then proceeded to hand out a few of his business cards to his shop, “The Bearded Wonder”, a small repair shop in town. I think we all felt relieved that we hadn’t offended someone or done something that would have required us to apologize, instead we found someone who not only knew what we were driving, but had extra parts.  We thanked him as he left and assured him that we would stop by his place and see what he had.

After we had taken the time to eat our lunch, briefly revisit our thoughts and excitement of making it over two of the three passes on our list for the day, we disbanded and headed back towards the Jeeps. Some of us headed down to the Bearded Wonder’s shop while others milled around the downtown area. Those of us that initially made our way to see this small shop were amazed and quickly trying to get the rest of the group down there to see what we were seeing.

The small shop that “The Bearded Wonder” had purchased was built in the early 1900’s; it was no more that sixteen to eighteen feet wide and about fifty feet deep. Inside it was dark, dusty and every corner was stacked from floor to ceiling with old car parts and a couple of cars that he was working on for customers. One was an old fastback Mustang and the other was a Toyota Prius, you don’t get much more diverse than that folks!

Kevin (The Bearded Wonder) was more than happy to show us around as he started pulling everything from old 134 heads off of a shelf to shackles and distributors. We all began to lose ourselves in the boxes, bits and pieces and other memorabilia that was stacked up or tucked away in bins but, the best was yet to come!

When the majority of the group eventually showed up we all made our way around the building; as we did we began to stack parts in the center of the shop that each of us wanted to purchase. I found a distributor to replace the borrowed one from my breakdown along the way; Tyler found some old hooks and other items. Phil found some light fixtures for Heather and horn set for his old truck Amos. I think Kenny was the one that found the best items, an old Goodyear sign and some kind of door rollers from an era gone by… It felt like we were on the set of American Pickers and we had just hit the jackpot!

After more than an hour of rifling through the shop and the cellar below, we all took our turn at squaring up with this “Bearded Wonder” (Kevin). He turned out to be a great guy and enjoyable to visit with. We loaded our treasures and pointed our caravan towards Animas Forks for a quick photo op before we rolled out of town to continue on with this “Epic” adventure.

On top of Red Mountain Pass we gathered, discussed the fact that we had made it, celebrated for a little while and then made our plan to get some decent video footage as well photos. At various points we stopped for pictures as we made our way into what was to be our last hotel stay and, our first opportunity at a down day before we rolled into Moab where the next chapter of the story and adventure would begin!

Just outside of Ouray is a small pullout where the water runs off under the road, makes a nice viewing area and has some historical monuments related to the “Million Dollar Highway”. We pulled over to get a quick shot or two of the falls and some of the spectacular views from there. The iron in the rock mixed with the green from the Pine Trees and the snow capped mountains in the background make for nice photos. As we stood above the falls watching the water tumble hundreds of feet into the canyon someone in the crowd said “we should get the drone out and get some footage”. Now at this moment there were a few of us that wondered if it would be successful or not but like true friends, we sat back and watched what was about to unfold!

As we watched Fryza unload the drone, get it fired up and ready for flight we all took different positions. About half of us stood on the small walk bridge that takes you out and over the edge to get a closer look at the falls, others milled around in the parking area and a couple were still in the vehicles. As luck would have it (both good and bad) I happened to be on said walk bridge. Inside I had that little voice speak to me when I heard someone call for the drone, why I have no idea but something told me that I should grab my camera and film this moment. There were a couple of the other guys that had that same thought but none of us left our post to go grab one.

Fryza got the drone fired up, a familiar buzz reminiscent of a pissed off swarm of bees heading at us so there we stood watching, waiting and curious to see if this flight would be successful or not. At the very least I think we all wanted to watch this thing fly below us for the first time, for the previous week and a half we had it buzzing around above so this would be a change for sure. The first few minutes of flight or so went well, he managed to get it over the fenced area and slightly lowered into the canyon and directed towards the falls and that’s when it happened…

Those of us standing on the bridge watched the first flutter as the drone began take on a mind of its own, Ryan tried his best to pull it back up to higher ground but it was too late. The moment it got caught in a prop wash; those of us watching knew it was all over for this flight. While still trying to get it back to safety Fryza kept it moving smoother than any of us could have but unfortunately, it hit the side of the canyon wall and the train wreck was on and all we could do is watch. The first bits of the propeller guards shattered and fell into the canyon below, almost in slow motion as we watched the rest of the drone do the same.

There was a moment of silence, simply for the fact that most of us had two things on our mind. We couldn’t believe what we just saw and secondly, not one of us has the incident on video or camera! For the next twenty minutes we watched as Ryan tried to figure out what had happened, we hammed it up a bit and tried to figure out if there was any way to get down and retrieve what was left without someone ending up in the hospital or morgue. Another fifteen minutes or so and we loaded up, headed into Ouray and picked out our hotel for the next couple of days and made a meeting time for dinner before heading to our rooms to get cleaned up.

We met back up, had a little gathering on the lawn to recap all of our notes for the story and relive what we had just experienced over the past week. We made our way into town for dinner at The Outlaw, it was nice to be able to sit down and eat a meal for the second time that day while it also being another  meal which was not unwrapped in a gas station parking and hurriedly eaten so we could press forward to the next fuel stop.

Miles: 80

Elapsed Time: 8:53 Hrs

Moving Average: 21.2 mph

Day 10:

Since this was intended to be a down day for us the group splintered into different directions for the day, most headed out mid morning to get some photos on one of the trails close to Ouray. I stayed behind so I could sort through pictures; begin to lay out the base of this article and another that will be done for another publication since I had almost two weeks worth of material that was starting to stack up.

Several of the other folks from Max-Bilt had arrived the night before, Phil’s dad Mark, his wife Heather, Riley and Jeremy were there so this was our first opportunity to all collect with them and discuss the trip over a meal. We headed to the Ouray Brewery for dinner, had a few beers, discussed the portions of the trip they hadn’t seen or heard about already through the social media airwaves and enjoyed our last night in Ouray and our last night on the road, by that same time the following day we intended to be in Moab.

Miles: 0

Elapsed Time: 0

Moving Average: 0

Day 11:

Our last morning together; we would all be loading up and preparing for the long road ahead, not knowing if there would be something catastrophic  that might keep us from rolling into Moab as a group. Even though we were so close, there was still the very real possibility that anything could happen and we had to get on the road to find out.

The morning was bitter sweet since we had managed to make it this far, this would be our last official travel day together. The sun was out, the skies were clear and the setting was right for a perfect day of driving as we made our way towards Moab. With all of our gear packed up we headed north to Ridgeway for fuel; from there we would drive towards Telluride making our way up yet another long climb, keeping us moving at a slow pace as we started our last day.

What I expected to be an uneventful stop for fuel turned out to be a situation where out of the blue, “Ole Blue” decided that the battery just had no interest in starting even though it had fired right up less than an hour earlier. Thanks to Sam, Steve, Adam and Keith, we gave it a push start to get it sputtering again and away we went.

It was a scenic drive, the weather was great and conditions couldn’t have been better. As we traveled we were all amazed at how many old flat fenders were just sitting in lots, by barns or out in fields just wasting away.  It became evident that when one of us saw a hand or finger pointing from the vehicle ahead of us; it was a pretty good sign that there would be an old Jeep to see as we passed by.

We clipped right along and made our way closer to Moab, everyone staying together and all of the vehicles seemed to be running well so after a quick stop in Naturita Colorado for a bathroom and lunch break; it appeared as though we would be in Moab in just a couple of hours. Even this far into the trip we were hanging onto hope but once again, we would be proved wrong. With intentions of getting off of the pavement and onto some dirt in an effort to get a few action shots; we stopped to gather the group. A short time before this scheduled stop “Ole Blue” started running a bit rough again, the speedometer was jumping around like it was on its last leg and the fuel gauge stopped working, if that wasn’t enough the volt gauge was also doing some strange things so we didn’t feel like we were completely out of the woods just yet.

As we waited for the group to catch up, Tyler came limping in with his Jeep while dealing with some sort of fuel issue. I messed around with mine; Tyler worked on his, swapped out points, condenser (to no avail) and eventually swapped out the fuel pump clearing up his issue. Eventually we dropped off the pavement for a bit, grabbed our pictures and turned back to get back onto the pavement so we could get this caravan into Moab before anything else kept us from grasping our “Golden Ring”… Moab.

All was going well again until just outside of Paradox Colorado, less than fifty-five miles from our ultimate destination and Keith and I couldn’t even pick up speed going downhill. We had one long pull before we would be forced onto Utah Highway 191 for the last 20 miles into Moab which is a heavy truck route and most of it is a two lane road. A bad combination considering the slow pace we would be moving at if the situation wasn’t addressed. We went into Paradox for a few more photos knowing that we needed to address the lack of power were dealing with before we could make the last long climb ahead. It seemed logical to start with the valves, so close to the end of the trip and we couldn’t make it the last fifty miles without it.

After an hour spent on the shady side of what appeared to be an old abandon building, working on a hot engine to expedite the process and once again, it was time for the test. The majority of the group chatted and got to know most of the locals who gathered to see what we were up to and to hear about our trip, I took a quick test run and it seemed that once again, we were back in the game!

The group loaded up for what we hoped to be the last leg of the “Epic Willys Adventure”. We only had to drive about three miles before we were at the base of our last, long, steep climb. As we progressed all I could think was that it was good to have actual power again, even if it meant we were only going 25-30mph. It was a big improvement over what we had up to that point! The group organically separated as we all pushed our individual, iron chariots up what seemed to be a never ending climb, over the top of that last hill and down into an open stretch, we pulled over until we were able to gather the group for a quick photo op at the Utah state sign, our last of six staes. A few minutes spent and we were off, finally reaching the intersection of Hwy 191 just south of “Hole in the Rock” where we stopped again to recollect the group.

Before we could get out of our Jeeps to wait for the others to catch up, we had a group pull up who had been out on trails all day but had also been following our trip. They were thrilled to be the first group to welcome us to Moab and even provided us with an escort into town when it was time to leave. We hung around and visited with them for a bit while the rest of the group caught up and we all hopped onto Hwy 191 to make our way into Moab.

No sooner did we arrive on the outskirts where we pulled over to set up our GoPro’s and get the new, replacement drone out to capture our arrival on video, we had traffic stopping (thankfully it wasn’t because we were traveling too slow this time) to welcome us and let us know they too had been following our trip the whole time. It was as if we had our own little parade as we rolled into town and on our way to Moab 4×4 Outpost where we would set up camp for the week. There we would  have the opportunity to meet so many of the folks that followed along with our journey and take the much needed time out of the vehicles as a group to reflect on what we had just accomplished.

Miles: 162

Elapsed Time: 8:50 Hrs

Moving Average: 34.7 mph

50th Easter Jeep Safari

While we had arrived in Moab for the celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of one of the largest Jeep events in the world, our trip was far from over. We would spend the next several days meeting folks from around the country that had followed our journey and wanted to talk about it as well as meet the people that took on this great challenge. There were various parties, meetings, trail rides and other functions that we would either attend together or once again, splinter off and do what we needed to do individually.

We did get the vintage Willys out on the trails for a couple of photo shoots for Jeep and their social media as well as a “Vintage Run” with folks from around the country in their stock and modified flat fenders. The vintage run was joined by several writers from different magazines or social media outlets as we took on a trial known as “Backwards Bill”. It is a combination of a portion of two trails, with the group as large as it was and our prior commitments; our little “EWA” group broke off after the well known “Wipeout Hill” obstacle and headed back towards town to make some of the meetings we had previously committed to.

Closing Thoughts:

I am always open and looking for these types of trips to keep my sense of adventure and spirit alive, as I wrap up and reflect on two wonderful weeks spent seeing this country from the back roads I have to appreciate each day from a different perspective.

The trip really turned out to be one for the ages, an adventure that those involved will talk about for years to come. We will all plan adventures of our own, some together and who knows, maybe a regular gathering of newfound friends who get together, make it an annual trip of it until we are no longer able or capable of such grand thoughts, dreams and adventures. If I have the chance at another adventure like this, I will take on the opportunity with vigor and enthusiasm simply because I know it will leave me with more wonderful memories and another great story to tell.

I will close with a quote from one of our team members on this trip. I can only sum it up as two words that make a point. Get out and adventure, go live life and don’t be afraid of what will or will not happen, life is meant to be experienced so… “Get some!”






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Epic Willy’s Adventure: 2,000 Miles To Moab, Utah