Epic Willys Adventure 2018

Story and Photos by Melissa “Missy” Howard

First published in Issue 23 of 4Low Magazine

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In this crazy world we live in, many of us have forgotten how to step back and enjoy the world around us. A typical day consists of jumping out of bed, a dash to the door, all while trying to choke down a coffee that was once piping hot as you rush off to work. We drive through the world, not to mention, through life, with blinders on. When was the last time you jumped in your Jeep and headed to destination nowhere? No bossy GPS telling you what to do. Just the open road, fresh air, and the sound of the engine singing to you.

On July 28th, 2018, twenty-six like-minded individuals boarded a train to Whitefish, Montana to embark on the journey of a lifetime. The rules: No cell phones, no GPS, no interstates, and you must know how to fix your own junk because it WILL break. The goal: Make it from border to border, Canada to Mexico, in 14 days traveling down the continental divide. That may seem like a long time to some, but only if you’ve never driven a Willys. It seemed only appropriate to drive down a living museum of the American West in these historic Jeeps. These intrepid travelers encountered a multitude of ecosystems from tundra to desert, saw a vast array of wildlife, and admired beautifully preserved natural, cultural, and historic treasures. They explored ghost towns, slept out in the open under the same stars as Lewis and Clark, but most importantly, gained an appreciation for our public lands.

Common questions asked along the way fell in two trains of thought: “Are you crazy?” or “how do I join the next one?” The birth of this idea is probably how many brilliant ideas are born, sitting in the garage with friends having a beer talking about “how cool would it be…”  For this group it was driving across the country in these old, historic, forgotten Willys Jeeps. If people could make such a journey back in the day with none of the modern conveniences of today, why couldn’t they do it? A date was set, a cheer was made, and as they say, the rest is history.  The first Epic Willys adventure was back in 2016, starting in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, and ending 2,000 miles later in Moab, Utah for the 50th Easter Jeep Safari. When we say it was a life changing experience, it truly was. Phil Norvold, owner of Max-Bilt Off Road and mastermind behind these epic trips, saw an opportunity to expand the reach of his company, showing people the diversity of the four-wheel drive industry, and incorporate it into part of his business.

Making a journey in stock 65-year-old vehicles was no easy task, but with parts, gear, and support from sponsors Advanced Auto Parts, Amsoil, Yokohama Tire, Omix-ADA, Crown Automotive, Grizzly Coolers, and Giv’r, this group was able to make a crazy dream into absolute reality. The trip was much more than driving cool Jeeps through the country—it was about teamwork, creating friendships, and embracing the kindness of the Jeep world that has made Jeeping such a popular sport.

DAY 1: And They’re Off

Kalispell, Montana to Babbs, Montana

Distance traveled: 117 miles

As the sun was rising in Kalispell, Montana, the excited crew gathered in the hotel lobby for the drivers meeting then headed out to Carquest for the send off gathering. The coffee was pouring, and the donuts disappearing as the crew chatted with the locals about the trip. What you didn’t expect to see was hoods up, tools out, and half the drivers under the rigs. Was this an indication of what they were in for the next 2 weeks? You can never be too prepared so last minute adjustments were being made. Finally, after all the donuts were consumed, and everyone was amped up on coffee, it was time for this enthusiastic band of Willys lovers to hit the road. In true Epic Willys Adventure fashion, not long into the trip was the first breakdown and just happened to be a ’48 Willys CJ-2A lovingly referred to as “the Green Hornet” that was being raffled off in El Paso, Texas, at the end of the trip. After a quick switch of the gas filter they were back on the road. Don’t get too excited, they didn’t get far before they realized the problem was still there. Something you don’t see every day on the side of the road is a gas tank being pulled. Much to their surprise, as they emptied the tank they found a mouse nest. Once that debacle was addressed, they headed out once more. They headed up Going to the Sun road through Glacier National Park. They were in awe over the impressive 1,583 square miles of wilderness, with glacier-carved peaks, some of the best preserved Proterozoic sedimentary rocks in the world, and stunning valleys running to the Canadian border. They were even blessed with a peak at some amazing wildlife, including grizzly bear, big horns, and antelope.  After reaching the border and doing a quick circle around the border patrol building in Will Morgan’s ’60 Willys FC-150, they return only to find the rest of the clan has disappeared. Apparently, the border patrol wasn’t humored by their presence of these beautifully rusted pieces of history, and forced them to move at least a quarter of a mile from the parking lot. Since things didn’t exactly start out as planned and it was getting late, they decided to stay in the reservation at Chewing Black Bones campground for the night.

Jeep of the Day:

’48 Willys CJ-2A “Green Hornet”

Driver: Tommy Rada

Bio: Tommy is the Marketing Director for Max-Bilt Off Road and was the lucky one who was designated as the driver of this year’s giveaway Jeep built by Max-Bilt Off Road. Tommy was excited to test himself as a driver in such an old timeless vehicle across thousands of miles, and seeing such diverse terrain going from mountains to valleys, plains to woods, and cover a lot of ground.

DAY 2: Shit-Show-Sunday

Babbs, Montana to Whitefish, Montana

Distance traveled: 85 miles

**Pull-out quote from Kenny Hauk “We forgot this was the Epic Willys Adventure, not the Epic Willys Vacation”

After a restful night, the team was anxious to get back on the road with hopes of a peaceful day driving back down through Glacier Park, however, let’s be clear, that didn’t happen. Cody Schlough’s ‘56 Willys CJ-3B needed a tow back to Kalispell, Montana, after discovering a rod bearing had gone bad, so the team decided to split up. Team “A” would head back down through the park and team “B” would wait at the campground for the tow. Team A headed out but didn’t make it far into their trek before the problems started. Kenny Hauk’s ’50 Willys Pickup was having overheating issues. They tried retiming, pulling the thermostat, and ended up making a fan shroud out of a plastic door. Yes, you read that right. Since Steve Girard’s ’46 CJ-2A was open and door less, he had fabricated half doors out of 1/8-inch plastic sheets he had laying around. Kenny Hauk, Steve Girard, and Keith Dulaney started measuring, cutting, zip tying, and a new shroud was made. During one of the non-scheduled pull-offs, Keith Dulaney and co-driver Sam Shellard installed a new windshield gasket. What else is there to do when you are stuck on a steep, narrow and busy mountain road. Meanwhile, back at camp with team “B”. The tow truck finally arrived and the rest of the group headed out. The Glacier Park entrance was only a few miles away from the camp and they had a very nice view of it for several hours as the giveaway Jeep had decided it was time to blow a head gasket right before heading in. Just to add a little more confusion, let’s add team “C”. Since vehicles never break down near a parts store, Marc Weicht headed to the next nearest town which was an hour away to try to find parts. After a very bumpy ride down miles of unpaved road they arrived not only to not find what they needed but his ’60 Willys Wagon had developed carburetor issues and needed to be towed. Fast forward to the end of the day, which was a very long day, teams A, B, and C all make their way back to Kalispell. Kenny Hauk was still having overheating issues and installed a large auxiliary heater core, and electric fan in front of the radiator. Cody Schlough ended up being an honorary family member of Robert and Trina Thompson. The team had met Robert at the Carquest meet and greet the day before. He is the President of the local four-wheel drive club and offered his assistance, if needed, while in town. A quick phone call later and he took Cody and his ’56 3B in. Will Morgan’s ’60 FC-150 had started backfiring and lost power. After having to run to another town for new points, they ended up being incorrect, and they had to file the adjusting hole to make it larger. Finally, all teams were reunited at the KOA in Whitefish, Montana. Even though the campground was full, they found a spot for us all to set up camp, offered to help tow anyone who still needed it, and treated us as family.

Jeep of the Day:

’56 Willys CJ-3B “Old Gregg”

Driver: Codylee Schlough

Bio: Cody got involved with Max-Bilt Off Road in 2014 when he had them build a bumper for him. He liked them so much he started hanging out there and eventually went to work for them as a mechanic. He found his CJ-3B on Craigslist in Rochester, Minnesota. When he went to check it out they had to pull it out of the weeds in the famers back forty just to take a look at it, they popped the hood to find a Super Hurricane F-Head engine.

DAY 3: There’s Plenty of Room for Tents Here

Whitefish, Montana to somewhere on the side of the road overlooking Swan Lake, Montana

Distance traveled: 60 miles

It’s a new day, and a common thought running through everyone’s mind, will we ever leave the state of Montana? Thanks to the amazing KOA, everyone had a full belly and was ready to take on all the repairs from the previous day. The giveaway Jeep, “Green Hornet”, ended up getting a new head gasket, “Wilma” the ’60 Willys Wagon, and the ’60 FC-150 both got carburetor rebuilds. They didn’t end up leaving the campground until 5:30 in the evening, but leaving is leaving.  After a several hour stop at Robert Thompson’s shop, to work on Kenny Hauk’s truck, they headed off in hopes of making up some miles, leaving behind Cody Schlough and his ’56 CJ-3B to wait for parts in hopes of catching up the next day. Unfortunately, they didn’t make it far without overheating issues, when Kenny Hauk made the decision to also stay back and try to fix his pickup. Being down two Jeeps was a blow to the team’s morale, but they carried on. Nearing midnight, the Green Hornet was having fuel issues again, it was time to throw in the towel and call it a night. They set up camp on the side of the road overlooking Swan Lake in Montana.

Jeep of the Day:

’50 Willys pickup “Hot Dust”

Driver/Co-driver: Kenny and Vianna Hauk

Bio: Kenny, the owner of Hauk Designs and River Raider Off-Road, found this survivor hiding in the woods of central Pennsylvania. The truck hadn’t moved in more than 30 years, and a tree had grown through it! He had been trying to buy the truck for years but the previous owner wouldn’t budge until he learned about the first Epic Willys Adventure. Then a chain saw was all it took to convince an uncooperative tree to set the Willys free. The stock engine was swapped for a ’53 Super Hurricane, and the radiator was replaced with a donor from a ’65 Mustang. The swap was completed with a Hauk Designs’ one-of-a-kind glass whiskey bottle reservoir.

DAY 4: Saying Goodbye is Never Easy

Somewhere on the side of the road overlooking Swan Lake, Montana to Whitehall, Montana

Distance traveled: 238 miles

Welcome to Epic Willys Adventure Montana. The exhausted squad headed out just before dawn. Spirits were starting to rise when they made it to Garnet Ghost town by noon. Will Morgan’s ’60 FC-150 was still having issues and needed a little help getting up the mountain, and it was Marc Strangfeld to the rescue with his ’51 Willys CJ-3A. The group of wanderers took a much-needed break to explore Montana’s most preserved Ghost town, hidden high in the Garnet mountain range east of Missoula. The town dates back to 1895 and is now managed by the Bureau of Land Management and the Garnet Preservation Association, where more than thirty buildings have been preserved. After several hours playing tourist and more parking lot repairs it was time to hit the road.  No gas stop would be the same if someone didn’t need to fix something. They arrive in Drummond, Montana where Sam Morgan had to replace the exhaust pipe to manifold gasket, and since Will was still having issues with the FC-150, they decided to stay in Drummond. Sadness replaced the smiles when Will announced he was not going forward with the journey.  FC-Lee was having too many issues and needed too much love for a quick fix. The next gas stop was no less active. Adam Schultz’s ’53 CJ-3A was vapor-locking, and Keith Dulaney’s ’46 CJ-2A had lost a brake line. By coincidence, as everyone else was killing time, a local in a Willys pick-up with a homemade camper rolled in to get gas and gave everyone a tour. Next gas stop would be Anaconda, Montana where the fun began once more. Tyler Loewenhagen had to do a quick clean of the carburetor in his ’48 CJ-2A, while the Green Hornet was still having fuel issues and had developed a hole in the top of the gas tank, but nothing a screwdriver and a stick laying on the ground couldn’t fix. It was another late night of driving and a few of the Jeeps had turned back due to the loss of headlights which always comes in handy climbing a mountain in the dark. The remaining Jeeps found a small pull off on the side of the road and set up camp.

Jeep of the Day:

’60 Willys FC-150 “FC-Lee”

Driver/Co-driver: Will Morgan and Erin Helms

Will has always had a passion for Jeeps and adventure. He admitted as they both inch closer to being considered vintage and becoming old iron themselves, they have found a greater appreciation for the classic Jeep platforms. During the inaugural Epic Willys Adventure, new friendships were created and another adventure brought the opportunity for memories to be made.

DAY 5: Are We Seriously Still in Montana?

Whitehall, Montana to Victor, Idaho

Distance traveled: 166 miles

Could they really be leaving the state of Montana? After two nights in a row of late night camp set-up on the side of the road, spirits were running a little low. They headed out for the day and once again were forced to stop for yet another blockage in the Green Hornet fuel system.  MacGyver himself would be proud, using a couple fittings, some zip ties, and fuel line, Tom was able to blow in the fuel line and clear any blockages while on the go. Black clouds and high winds had been on their tails for hours, which is hard to outrun at 40 mph, as they finally pulled into the campground. When offered cabins instead of tent sites, everyone jumped at the offer. The doors of the cabins were barely unlocked when the dark sky was lit up by lightning, and the patter of the rain hit the windows. Rain didn’t stop the needed repairs from happening on Sam Morgan’s ’46 CJ-2A. He found the number three cylinder didn’t have any compression, and the clutch release bellcrank had completely disconnected from the frame. Despite the transformer blowing three times that evening at the Teton resort, it was still an amazing night of good friends, good food, good beer, and of course, Jeep repairs.

Jeep of the Day:

’46 CJ-2A Honorary name “CJ-3B”

Driver/Co-driver: Sam and Christine Morgan and Bilo the Border collie

Bio: Christine is a Nurse Practitioner, Sam runs horizontal directional drill rigs and Bilo is a really cool Jeep dog. Working on Jeeps and trail riding has been a big part of their families lives for 40 years. Sam has bought and built Jeeps with his father, one of which was on the inaugural Epic Willys Adventure back in 2016. They were so excited to be part of the second adventure, they decided to resurrect another Willys for this exciting trip. Once again, they proudly flew the American flag the entire trip.

DAY 6: Here’s the Scoop

Victor, Idaho to Rock Springs, Wyoming

Distance traveled: 213 miles

Sunny skies and an abundance of smiling faces was a good start of the day. Being only seventeen miles off from the original schedule, they are finally back on track. They started the difficult climb up the Teton Pass located at the southern end of the Teton range of Western Wyoming between the two towns of Wilson, Wyoming and Victor, Idaho. The pinnacle of the pass is 8,431 feet above sea level and with a ten percent grade in some areas made it a struggle for the old iron workhorses. The views of the rugged and rough-hewn mountains created a sense of awe. As they rolled into Jackson Hole, Wyoming, they made a quick stop at Giv’r to thank them for the wonderful gear that had been extremely helpful so far on the journey. After a quick break and a cool “tattoo” on the wooden barrel on the back of Amos, it was time to head out. The miles seemed to jet by and soon pulled into Rock Springs, Wyoming, for the night.

Jeep of the day:

’60 Willys Wagon “Wilma”

Driver/Co-driver: Marc and Melissa Weicht

Marc works in the plastics industry but his love for Jeeps brought him to taking this trip.  His goal was to build a Willys from the ground up and take it across country. Lots of hard work went into getting the Willys built but he pulled it off and joined the Epic crew for the trip of a lifetime.

DAY 7: What the…? Is that Adam’s Jeep?

Rock Springs, Wyoming to Rangely, Colorado

Distance traveled: 191 miles

After a good night’s sleep, the gang was up early for a little precautionary maintenance at the meet and greet at the Rock Springs Advanced Auto Parts. Adam Schultz discovered the bolts had backed out of his pressure plate on his ’53 CJ-3A and needed a welder. Aaron Fullmer, who was attending the meet and greet offered his shop for help, and off they went. Shockingly, no one else had any Jeep repairs while waiting for Adam to rejoin the group, so they enjoyed a little down time for relaxing and of course, parking lot Frisbee. Much to everyone’s surprise, Adam came rolling in to reunite with the group, sporting a very impressive set of Elk antlers. Back on the road for a beautiful day of driving and with only taking a few gas stops, they arrived at camp in Rangely, Colorado with plenty of daylight left to enjoy some down time.

Jeep of the day:

’53 Willys CJ-3A “Horny Toad”

Driver/Co-driver: Adam and Kadie Schultz

Adam is the COO of Max-Bilt Off Road and wife Kadie, a Social Worker. Adam was on the inaugural trip back in 2016 and lost his Jeep to engine failure. He made it back with the same very rare ’53 CJ-3A. Its GC1 VIN indicates it was born into service as a factory farm Jeep. There are no known production numbers for these Jeeps but they are in fact very rare. Currently there are only three other ‘53 farm Jeep survivors known to exist. This trip for Adam was about redemption. Adam’s Jeep may have surrendered the first trip, but ended strong for this adventure.

DAY 8: Hurry, Don’t get behind Pat

Rangely, Colorado to Delta, Colorado

Distance traveled: 188 miles

The troop of wandering adventurers are back together again.  Cody Schlough caught up with a lift from Robert Thompson after three days waiting on parts and working to revive Old Gregg just to find out the only fix was a new motor, and since that wasn’t going to happen he decided to go out in a blaze of glory. A quick stop at the Rangely Automotive Museum, which is impressive to even the most avid of car enthusiasts, they loaded up and forwarded on. Soon after, Cody does one final pass of the Jeeps with parts flying and dying noises coming from his trusty old friend.  He left his ’56 CJ-3B on the side of the road and headed to the nearest gas station. As luck would have it, Cody found someone with a truck and trailer willing to pick up his Jeep and store it for him. As they headed up the Grand Mesa mountain, all hell broke loose. Everyone was overheating and zipping along at an impressive five mph. Pat Peterson‘s ’57 Willys wagon was making quite the fuss as smoke poured from the exhaust trying to make the steep inclines earning his Jeep the name “Old Smoky”. The smoldering hot temperatures of the day were finally starting to fade as they reached the top of the pass and headed down. A cool rain started to fall, and everyone was relieved that the heat had subsided until the hail started to fall and no one knew whether to laugh or scream. The exhausting day was finally over as they pulled into Delta, Colorado.

Jeep of the day:

’57 Willys Wagon “Old Smoky”

Driver/Co-driver: Patrick Peterson, Jeff Voves

Crew: Gavin Voves

Pat was part of the production team filming the documentary for Epic Willys Adventure. Bad Axe is a production company specializing in non-scripted television, company branding videos, and commercials.  They started with a completely gutted wagon that was missing the engine, transmission, t-case, and interior.   It had most of the glass cracked or missing. The brakes, axles, and suspension all needed work. They needed it to not only function for the on and off road trip but also serve as the production vehicle which included 800lb of gear along with a trailer. After a ton of late nights to get the wagon back on the road they were finally ready to take on this Epic trip.

DAY 9: Don’t look down!

Delta, Colorado to Silverton, Colorado

Distance traveled: 91 miles

The eager group of Willys headed off excited about the day ahead. They rolled into Ouray, Colorado, around noon where they took over the second floor of the Ouray Brewery indulging with some amazing food, and of course lots of banter and laughter. The 25-mile drive from Ouray to Silverton along Highway 550, also known as Million Dollar Highway, is considered one of the nation’s most spectacular drives. The jaw-dropping views almost made the group forget that one wrong move and it would be lights out. This was one time they appreciated the top speed of 35 mph.  Arriving in Silverton, they were met by curious onlookers, surrounding the Jeeps in admiration. They proceeded up Old 100 Gold Mine Tour road for some rural camping in one of the most beautiful places you’d ever want to see.  A wonderful night was had sitting around the Epic grill that Sam Morgan’s father made for the trip, and even getting to enjoy some homemade ice cream. Let’s not forget the ice-cold Walter’s craft brew and root beer on tap on Max-Bilt’s ’51 Willys truck, Amos, thanks to Grizzly Coolers. They made a “jockey box” out of one of their 40 qt coolers.  It houses 150 feet of food grade stainless hose that the beverages flow through, get chilled by the ice surrounding the hose, and exit the cooler through a tap. The barrels were filled by Northwoods Brewing with their delicious root beer and refreshing Walters’s premium Pilsner.  The root beer for the breakdowns on the road and Walter’s for reminiscing about the day around a campfire.

Jeep of the day:

‘51 Willys Truck “Amos”

Driver/Co-driver: Phil and Heather Norvold

Phil is the owner of Max-Bilt Off-Road & Manufacturing and Heather works as a Water Treatment Specialist in the HVAC industry. Phil was one of the original planners in the first Epic Willys Adventure and after bringing home some incredible stories of first trip, Heather decided to join in on this adventure. Amos the ’51 Willys truck also made the first adventure in 2016 but has had a few additions including a swamp cooler to help with the incredibly hot temperatures inside the cab, which by the way, didn’t work. They would buy bags of ice at gas stops to put on their feet.

DAY 10: Thanks for the laugh Steve!

Silverton, Colorado to Bloomfield, New Mexico

Distance traveled: 132 miles

The group had made up all the lost time and had earned a free morning to relax and enjoy the surrounding beauty of Silverton. Some Explored Animas Forks Ghost town while others checked out the shops and museums in town. After lunch they headed out to conquer the last big pass before heading into Durango.  They reached Durango and made a quick stop for gas, which turned into a slightly longer stop than anticipated.  Steve had left the fuel pump on in his CJ-2A filling his crank case with gas forcing him to then change the oil. It was his birthday, so we let it slide. Another state added to the list as they headed into New Mexico. However, a missed turn for Highway 550 landed the group on a dusty, washboard road with large washouts. By the time they made Bloomfield, everyone was dirty, rattled, and exhausted.

Jeep of the day:

’46 Willys CJ-2A

Driver/Co-driver:  Steve Girard and Sarah Ziegler

Steve is a mechanic at Olson Automotive and Sarah works at Mayo Clinic Health System. He was on the original Epic in 2016 in his bone-stock ’46 CJ-2A that he’s owned since 2014. The previous owner had it since 1975 and used it as a plow Jeep and to haul wood on his property. After returning home from the first adventure, Sarah knew she needed to be part of the fun for the next adventure.

DAY 11: Where the hell are we?

Bloomfield, New Mexico to Grants, New Mexico

Distance traveled: 137 miles

The enlivened gang hit the pavement in the cool morning air hoping to beat the hot temperatures of the day ahead. Once again, they found themselves on another unpaved road and as luck would have it, this one was worse than the last. After discovering the ditch was a smoother option, the Willys Baja 500 was on, the 30 mph version that is. Breakdowns had tapered off for the trip but they still had some interesting roadside fixes. A broken leaf spring from a bad railroad crossing during the Baja experience and a broken exhaust manifold, but nothing lots of bailing wire and hose clamps couldn’t fix. As luck would have it, after arriving in Grants, they came across Route 66 Junkyard Brewery. It was like a dream come true for this clan. Old junk cars repurposed as tables and chairs and an actual junkyard in the back.

Jeep of the day:

’46 Willys CJ-2A “Ollie”

Driver/Co-driver: Keith Dulaney and Sam Shellard

Keith is a Gen Tech for Mesa Solutions and Sam is a FR Specialist for R.M.I in Casper, Wyoming. He was a co-driver on the original Epic for Will Morgan in a ’47 CJ-2A. After returning home with all the stories of the trip, Sam was all for doing on the next one. “Ollie” the CJ-2A has been in their lives dating back to 1993 when Keith helped his auto shop teacher in high school restore it.

DAY 12: Hi-Ho Silver

Grants, New Mexico to Gila, New Mexico

Distance traveled: 243 miles

The theme for the day once again was beat the heat. The day was going smooth and the miles were adding up quick when the Green Hornet started to lose power. They managed to limp it to a nearby mom and pop place called Last Chance Pizza Pro and Liquor store. They were more than happy to allow the team to work under a large awning out of the sun.  A loose distributor was the culprit so while some worked on the Jeep,  others enjoyed hearing stories from the owners about days long passed before loading up and high-tailing it to the next stop, Gila, Mew Mexico.

Jeep of the day:

’48 Willys CJ-2A

Driver/Co-driver: Tyler Loewenhagen and Riley Alen

Tyler and Riley both work at Max-Bilt Off Road. Riley has been the shipping manager for 5 years and is currently building a Willys FC for the 2020 Epic Willys Adventure.  Tyler is the Shop Manager. He’s the holder of many hats with being a welder, fabricator, and mechanic. He grew up around gear heads and had an amazing father who taught him everything he knows about vehicles. During his search for a CJ-2A, his friend, Cody Schlough, found the perfect project; A ‘48 Willys that was headed to the crusher that week. He sprung into action to save this little treasure from being destroyed and preserve a little bit of history. For Tyler, this trip is dedicated to his father who recently passed. We’re sure he was with Tyler in spirit.

DAY 13: Be ready to jump out!

Gila, New Mexico to Las Cruces, New Mexico

Distance traveled: 194 miles

The adventurers greeted the day with excitement. They headed up one of the craziest roads they had been on thus far. Steep inclines and switchbacks had everyone plotting an escape plan if things went south. Sighs of relief as they entered the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument which is considered by archeologist to be the northern most portion of the Mogollon people’s sphere of influence. After a hike to explore the ruins, the group took a toasty dip in some nearby hot springs and ended the day in Las Cruces, New Mexico for the last night of camping.

Jeep of the day:

’51 Willys CJ-3A “Old Gray Mare.”

Driver/Co-driver: Marc Strangfeld and Alicia Bosenko

Marc is part owner of a tool and die business and Alicia is a livestock nutritionist and were both part of the original Epic grew in 2016. They were excited to reconnect with fellow travelers and enjoy the teamwork that they maintained through the challenges of the first trip. This rig spent most of its life hauling baggage at the St. Paul municipal airport. The numerous dents in the hood and cowl add charm and tell a story of how our baggage is handled while we are boarding a flight. Once Marc took ownership of this little workhorse, he did a complete tear down, repainting it in Massey Ferguson gray.

DAY 14: The sweet smell of Victory!!

Las Cruces, New Mexico to Mexico

Distance traveled: 50 miles

Last day on the road and the group experienced mixed emotions. Excited that they made it, but sad it was almost over. They were escorted to El Paso, Texas, by a Las Cruces Jeep club to the Advanced Auto Parts where they were greeted with a party Texas style. Wayne Miley was announced as the winner of the Green Hornet and he was very excited to hear he would be added to the list of 2020 Epic Willys trip. The little band of wandering Willys had completed their journey, having left only two behind, including Will Morgan and Erin Helms in their ’60 FC-150 on Day 4, and Cody Schlough who had left his ’56 Willys behind on Day Eight with a toasted motor but continued on with the team. Everyone was proud that they had undertaken a truly epic adventure.

 

Melissa Howard

Growing up in East Tennessee, I spent my childhood partaking in some sort of outdoor activity. It didn’t matter if it was two or four wheels, you would find me playing in the dirt. I’ve been a gearhead my entire life thanks to my brother. I always loved working on whatever muscle car project he was working on at the time. My interest then headed more in the off-road direction and my Jeep obsession was born. Even after moving to New Jersey, you would still find me in the dirt or sand. I’ve been a freelance writer and photographer since 2006. Jeep life is my happy place.

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