Back in the saddle: The wonders of going on expeditions in a Jeep

A Jeep trip can put you in the spirit of an expedition

“You got a yellow jacket in there with you?” I asked Christine when she answered my call. In separate vehicles, we were headed south on the Parks Highway, and in the rearview mirror, I could see her dancing around behind the steering wheel. It appeared she was either in distress over an unwanted passenger or had lost her mind.

“I feel so alive,” she hollered over the wind and road noise, “I had forgotten why I loved this so much — I can just drive right off the road at anytime.”

“Probably best if you don’t,” I said, remembering previous conversations from years ago. I was sure she was kidding, but you never know. “At least wait until we’re closer to home.”

A lot of things happened the day I met Christine, when she came to my office for an orientation to her new job. It wasn’t until after we had completed the meeting and she had left the office that I looked out the window and saw her getting into a white rag-top Jeep.

I might have thought that it belonged to her parents, and she was just using it, but the way she saddled up in the little bugger and spun out of the parking lot with a confidence bred from familiarity, there wasn’t much doubt it belonged to her.

The thermometer hovered around zero that day, and I thought, dang, she has to be freezing her butt off in that thing, and then I thought, there is more to this girl than her office demeanor would suggest. Not to mention I was a bit jealous.

It seems unlikely the folks at Willys-Overland could have envisioned that the vehicle they designed in 1940 and submitted per bid request for the United States military would become an American icon. Or that the beloved little 4x4 would ultimately carry a name recognized worldwide.

There are a couple of stories that account for the name Jeep. Some say it was a military acronym for Just Every Essential Part. The other one and the one I like to believe — is that the vehicle was initially referred to as General Purpose and, given the military’s love of acronyms, became GP, which when enunciated, easily made the mutation to the single syllable “Jeep.”

Of course, there are all sorts of vehicles now manufactured by Jeep, but I’m referring to the original two-door, short wheelbase, four-wheel drive vehicle. When you are talking with outdoor folks and say Jeep, everyone knows that’s what you mean.

Growing up, all of the young boys I knew wanted Jeeps. The ultimate carefree, go anywhere, do anything, outdoor rig for the accomplished outdoorsman. In our young imaginations having a Jeep instantly elevated one’s social status in the world of outdoor endeavors.

There was no shortage of opportunities to see the spirited vehicle in all sorts of television programs. I remember being mesmerized by the Jeeps with belt-fed Browning .50 caliber machine guns mounted on their roll bars, tearing across the North African desert, jumping sand dunes between explosions. Some might remember the program “Rat Patrol.”

And then life comes along with its responsibilities, twists and turns that wash one’s dreams off the deck to drown in the maelstrom of regimentation we unwittingly sign up for in the way of becoming adults.

I could never afford to own more than the vehicles necessary to get by day to day. A Jeep just wasn’t practical for always hauling things the way one needs to while enjoying a rural lifestyle. For me having a Jeep, like having horses, just never worked out.

So, when our relationship blossomed, I lived a bit vicariously, watching Christine tear around in her Jeeps. Yes, she wore out the first one, got another, then thought maybe she would like a small pickup. When this did not work out she got her third Jeep around 2012. A beautiful black Wrangler that she drove through the local dry-cleaners front door one winter day in 2015.

No one was hurt, and everyone had a pretty good laugh over it. Even the business owner dryly commented that given the place had a drive-thru window, it was a shame she didn’t take advantage of that. Still, as things like that will do, it spooked her, and she decided maybe a vehicle more suited to winter driving would be better and got rid of her Jeep.

One might not have noticed if you didn’t know her well or pay much attention, but it seemed like her spirit deflated when she started driving her new responsible SUV. I could see when meeting her on the road, that she just wasn’t having a good time, like she always had driving her Jeeps.

Rigby enjoys an adventure in the Jeep

We hadn’t ever spent much time thinking about ATVs for our outdoor adventures. The value we placed on the effort to climb into the places we hunt has always been important to us. It’s been our experience that one appreciates the high country much more if you get to it on two legs, or four if you have them.

But, of course, dogs would send our thoughts that way; an old one and a new one. Winchester is 12 years old now and simply cannot make the long climbs into the high country anymore.

There are a few places we know where a Jeep could get him up high enough to still hunt a bit, and, more importantly, get up on those ridges where he loves to sit and just absorb the country.

Rigby, the new one, despite his enormous size, has no trouble climbing mountains, but there is a place we want to take him that is much too far to walk and where it is difficult and often impossible to get there with regular four-wheel drives. But, a Jeep with a winch, oh yeah.

A project we have been working on is coming to fruition and we thought, hell yeah, let’s be kids again, get a Jeep and load up these dogs and enjoy the time we have left with them.

Sometimes we get lucky, and this was one of those times. We found a 2010 Wrangler in decent shape and reasonably priced, which is a tough thing to come by these days.

I gotta say, stepping up on the running boards of the jacked-up little mule felt a lot like putting a boot through a stirrup — it does something for the spirit, even if it is only in one’s head.

We made it home without Christine nose-diving off the highway, but I expect someday soon, with the top off and Rigby’s big old head sticking up, they’ll give it a try.

Steve Meyer

Steve Meyer of Kenai is longtime Alaskan and an avid shooter. He writes every other week about guns and Alaska hunting.