Many of us dream of overlanding in far off places. Unfortunately, the constraints of home and work often keep this dream at arms length. The time needed to drive a rig to South America is likely the biggest barrier to taking the plunge. One solution would be to fly and drive, but finding a trustworthy rental car company to provide a reliable vehicle to drive off into the sunset can be daunting. The other solution would be to hook up with a reputable touring company. Uniland Chile is one such company. Founded in 2014, Uniland Chile has been putting the local touch on touring the beautiful country of Chile.
The refuge and herd date back to 1859 when the Maxwell family drove a small herd of bison onto land surrounding their homestead. The Maxwell family wanted to preserve a piece of the prairie with a roaming herd for future generations. In the mid 1900s the family donated 2,500 acres to the state of Kansas. The herd is kept between 50 to 125 with the surplus bison being auctioned off each fall.
Dan Grec is no stranger to adventure. In 2009, he drove a stock Jeep Wrangler TJ 50,000 miles from Calgary to Prudhoe Bay, Alaska. From there, he headed south and didn't stop until reaching Tierra Del Fuego, Argentina nearly two years later. Today, Dan is working his way around the entire African continent. This time, he's expecting to cover over 80,000 miles in two years.
We were recently able to catch up with Dan, who's currently in Cameroon, for an interview regarding his trip so far and his killer Jeep JKU adventuremobile. Here's what he had to say:
OK: Why did you choose the Jeep JK? What else did you consider?
Dan: I drove a stock 2000 TJ 40,000 miles from Alaska to Argentina, without a single mechanical issue. The little Wrangler was perfect, I just wanted some more interior space, so when I saw the 4 door JKU I knew it was perfect.
I never really seriously considered anything else, the Jeep has so many aftermarket parts available in North America I knew I could build it much better than some Land Cruiser or Land Rover imported from elsewhere in the world.
OK: What tires you are running? Why?
Dan: BFG KO2 T/A All Terrain in 34x10.5R17
I had cheap tires from Alaska to Argentina and had 16 flats - I knew I needed a higher quality tire for Africa.
On an overland journey around an entire continent like Africa I will encounter every road surface imaginable - mud, rocks, sand, snow, tarmac, gravel and more.
All terrain tires provide the best all-round performance, and the BFG have an excellent reputation for reliability and long-wearing tread.
OK: What was the best modification that you made to your Jeep?
Dan: The pop-up J30 roof from Ursa Minor. All the other mods are useful and great, but the popup completely transformed the Jeep into an actual house on wheels. I modified mine so I can stand up and walk around inside the Jeep, which has been fantastic.
OK: What was the worst modification?
Dan: With my two years of experience from Alaska to Argentina, and another four years spent planning and researching, I was very critical of every single modification and addition to my Jeep.
So far, none of them has been anything other than ideal.
OK: How many times has your vehicle needed recovery (been bogged) during this particular journey?
Dan: Never. I am alone in the Jeep, in countries where I don’t speak the language and am thousands of miles from Jeep parts or support. While I like to explore back roads and get to very remote places, my Overland journey is not “off roading” - it is “back roading”.
I am always driving roads that take me somewhere - a river, a lake, a border crossing or something similar - that means there will always be some kind of road where I am going. It might be horrible, but it will be a road. I have no reason to go “wheeling” or true “off roading”.
OK: What would you do differently if you built another Jeep similar this one?
Dan: At 6,000lbs, I wish the Jeep was lighter. I was very careful in all my additions to do everything as light as possible (small fridge, small air compressor, only one spare, etc.) but everything added up to a heavy Jeep.
As much as I have thought about it, I don’t know how I would make it lighter next time, there certainly is nothing I would not bring.
OK: A lot of people think that you need diesel to travel through Africa, have you had trouble locating petrol?
Dan: No. Never.
Scooters and motorbikes outnumber vehicles in West Africa by a factor of 1000 to one, so gasoline is much more available than diesel. I have never been to a station that had diesel but not gasoline.
OK: What is your average fuel range?
Dan: On decent highways I can travel over 600 miles, though that drops off quickly when the roads get muddy or sandy. When using a lot of low range and climbing, my range drops to around 350 miles, which has always been enough.
OK: When did you decide to take this trip?
Dan: While on my last expedition I learned I thoroughly enjoyed the times I was extremely remote and pushed myself to my limits. For example driving across the famous Salt Flats in Bolivia into the Atacama desert in Chile.
After learning this about myself I met many people who have travelled Africa, and all of them thought I would love it, and highly recommended I go there.
From the time I finished the Alaska to Argentina expedition I knew I would make an expedition around Africa. That was in mid 2011.
OK: How long did the planning process take?
Dan: The saving money process took four and a half years, and during that I planned on and off. Sometimes it was about the Jeep, sometimes it was about the route, sometimes it was about logistics for the trip.
OK: What other overland journeys have you taken?
Dan: 40,000 miles from Alaska to Argentina through 16 countries over two years.
OK: What is the funniest thing that has happened during your travels?
Dan: Hiking into The Magic Bus in Alaska (from Into The Wild) I teamed up with a couple of huge Austrian guys. After wading through a very deep river one of them shouted “Bah, Dat was easy!”, in exactly a Schwarzenegger voice.
I had tears running down my face for ten minutes.
OK: What is your most used piece of gear?
Dan: In my current Jeep it is my water tank, pump and filtration system. In the heat of Africa I am drinking around a gallon per day, and using that much again for cooking, so it is extremely important to have ample clean drinking water.
OK: We’ve all heard stories of corrupt officials in various African countries, have you encountered any corruption? If so, how did you handle the situation?
Dan: Oh yes, virtually every day in some countries!
At many, many police and military checkpoints the officers ask for or demand money. Also at border crossings.
Normally I play dumb, keep a smile on my face and pretend I don’t understand. Sometimes I will remain friendly and polite and simply say “No”, and other times I say I have no money, telling them I only have a VISA card because I don’t want to get robbed (which is not true, of course)
OK: What was the most terrifying incident that you have faced while on the road? Where did it occur?
Dan: Surprisingly, it was in Ontario, Canada.
Camping alone in a remote campsite a man tried to befriend me and seemed really off. Eventually, in the dark, he showed up naked and wanted me to take his photo, then wanted to hang around. I very firmly told him to leave, and he did.
Sometimes I laugh about it, other times it gives me the creeps.
OK: What is the most beautiful place you have visited so far? What made it special?
Dan: Bolivia, hands down.
The more I travel, the more I see that many places are similar to other places - the Andes are similar to the Rockies and mountains of Alaska. Many white sand beaches in Australia resemble those in Costa Rica. Rivers, Lakes, Forests - they all have their similarities.
That is not the case with Bolivia. The uniqueness of the landscape makes it easily the most beautiful place I have ever been.
OK: How do you find (or make) potable water while in the bush? What is your water capacity, and how is it stored?
Dan: I mounted a 13 gallon drinking water tank under the Jeep. To that I added a 12v water pump, and a 0.5 micron filter with a built in UV lamp to treat the water. With that, I can pump water from a muddy swamp if need be, and turn it into safe drinking water.
OK: How do you procure and store food?
Dan: I buy fruit, vegetables and basics such as rice, pasta, eggs and bread at street markets in the towns and villages I pass through. Most larger towns have a kind of general store that will have more basics like tinned food, cleaning products, etc. and so I stock up on those when I can.
To store the food I have a Dometic 35L fridge which has been fantastic, keeping everything at 4F, even when the interior if the Jeep is well over 120F
OK: What is your cooking/kitchen setup like?
Dan: I have a tailgate table with built in cutting board, and I made a custom cutlery and tool organizer for it to keep my most used items handy.
For cooking I have a single-burner Coleman gasoline stove, which does the job perfectly.
OK: How do you clean your laundry?
Dan: Almost always I wash my laundry by hand, usually when I have access to lots of water.
OK: What was your longest stint without a shower?
Dan: I have a rudimentary shower in this Jeep that I use often. It’s really just a black bag that heats the water when left in the sun, then I hang it on the open roof of the Jeep.
On my last expedition, I would guess it was something like a week between showers.
OK: How much time did you set aside for this journey? Are you on track?
Dan: I estimated the expedition would take approximately 2 years, though I always knew that was an estimate. If the trip takes 6 months more or less, that’s perfectly OK, though I do have a tight budget I have to stay under.
So far, I think I am moving a little slower than I expected, and so the expedition currently looks like it will be a little over 2 years.
OK: What sorts of setbacks have you experienced?
Dan: I was denied a Ghana visa, and so was unable to visit that country.
I broke a front sway bar end link, though it didn’t stop me and I have now replaced it.
Otherwise, nothing has really gone wrong on this expedition.
OK: Can you name one unexpected thing that you have learned about Africa?
Dan: (I can name 50!)
The number one is the availability of clean drinking water. Virtually every tiny town and village I have been through has multiple community wells with hand pumps, and locals have more clean water than they need - in fact they are washing clothes and motorbikes and children play in it.
My mental image was a very dry continent with very little drinking water, and so far, on the West Coast, that could not be more wrong.
Jeep spec sheet:
Vehicle: Jeep JKU
Drivetrain: 3.8L gasoline V6, 6 Speed Manual Trans, Front & Rear Lockers, Electronic Sway Bar Disconnect, 4.10 Axle Ratios, 4:1 Transfer Case Ratio
Suspension: AEV 2.5” Lift with geometry correction brackets
Tires/Wheels: BFG KO2 AT (34x10.4R17), 17” Mopar Steel Winter Wheels
Armor: AEV Front Bumper with skid plate, AEV Rear Bumper (Tire Carrier, Hi-Lift Mount), Rugged Ridge Engine/Trans Skid Plate
Lighting: TruckLight LED Headlights, Rigid R2-46 LED Driving Lights, Rigid JK Fog Light Replacement Kit, 2x Rigid LED Scene Floodlights, 2x Rigid A Series High Strength LED Light
Other Off Road Accessories: Warn Zeon 10-S Winch, AEV Snorkel, ARB CKMA12 Air Compressor, Titan Tire Carrier Aux 13 Gal Transfer Fuel Tank, Rugged Ridge Steering Upgrade, Factor 55 Flat-Link, Maxtrax, Voodoo Offroad Kinetic Rope, ARB Tire Inflation Kit, ARB Puncture Repair Kit
Living Systems: J30 Pop-Up Roof Hard Top, Dometic 35L 12v Fridge, Fresh Water System (12 Gallon Water Tank, Sureflow Revolution 3.0 Pump, Pura .5 Micron Filter/UV Lamp), ARB Awning, Tuffy Security Console, Tuffy Security Glovebox
Storage: Custom Storage Cabinets
Electrical Systems: Solar Power System (2x Renogy 100w Eclipse Solar Panels, 20A Renogy VeiwStar Solar Charge Controller), Dual Optima Yellow Top D34 Batteries (in Nemesis Industries Dual Battery Tray), Painless Performance Battery Isolator Kit, Painless Performance 7-circuit Fuse Block
A special thanks goes out to Dan for taking time out for this interview, we really appreciate you! Stay safe out there brother!
We had come to appreciate the hardship the pioneers must have endured as they traveled along the Oregon Trail. The expedition we set out on was, as I'm sure was the case with most settlers, to not only chase the idea of a different kind of life but also to quench the underlying sense of adventure that lies within us all. -Outlaw Xpeditions
"Victory is only achieved through the constant choice to push through every situation one faces. In this segment, the team witnessed and walked in some of the original wagon ruts that were made by the Pioneers over 100 years ago. They experienced their first mechanical issue with the Landcruiser due to the heat of the deserts blistering sun: And finally they made their way through the majestic Succor Creek Canyons and into Idaho's uncharted territory." -Outlaw Xpeditions
“What begun as a simple idea to document a once in a lifetime overland expedition backtracking the Oregon Trail became a staple in the timeline of our personal lives. We began almost by accident, A few simple guys, with a passion for overland exploration, and the desire to live a life full of adventure. We are OX Overland, and this is our story.
It all began on the morning of July 16th, 2016. The years of planning and outfitting our trucks were over. Just east of Oregon City Oregon we fired up our 1993 Toyota Land Cruiser, and 1993 Ford Ranger and left our first tracks on the legendary Oregon Trail. Overcome with various emotions we quickly gained the sense of freedom and even fear that the early pioneers must have felt when making their journey.
It’s crazy to think those people had no clue that the path they chose wouldn’t only affect their lives, but also the lives of 5 lifelong friends with a similar call to the wild. We quickly began to understand the meaning of teamwork. It's been said that you never truly know someone until you live with them, and in the same way our true colors began to unveil as our 45 day expedition unfolded.
In opposition to the pioneers walking the path of least resistance, our paralleled route took us through more challenging terrain allowing us to stay away from paved roads except for the purpose of restocking our food and fuel along the way. The first three states presented no shortage of technical trails, and led us right through the Continental Divide.
From the heights of Oregon’s tallest mountains to the depths of Idaho and Wyoming’s vast deserts, we forged our way through every obstacle that Mother Nature presented us. We welcomed each rugged trail as if it were our last: After all what fun would an expedition be without the challenge of different landscapes.
We put our trucks and our minds through the ringer daily, and definitely paid the price on a few different occasions. But this was all part of the game: When you mess with a bull you’re likely to get the horns. In hindsight those were the days we seemed to work together the best.
For some reason the challenges of river crossings, off camber trails, and mechanical malfunctions seemed to be the very fire that ignited our ability to collectively accomplish whatever task was underway. It’s hard to understand why it was easier for us to be unified when it mattered most, but when it came to our evening routine of setting up camp we seemed to be less patient with each other and more likely to get in arguments.
We have a rule on the trail that every quarrel had to be settled before going to sleep. As the old proverb says “let not the sun go down on your wrath” we adopted this mindset to prevent any form of lingering frustration. Unfortunately that’s easier said than done and just when we thought we had it all together we realized the second half of our trip had only just begun.
With Oregon, Idaho, and Wyoming now behind us we were 23 days into our Expedition. We had successfully completed about half of our journey. 2600 trail miles behind us, and another 2000 in our sights. We were tired and beginning to miss our families, but the only way to go home was to finish what we started.
Nebraska was the longest state of the 5 as the crow flies, and with the Rocky Mountains in our rear view mirrors it was smooth sailing for the trucks and mentally draining on our minds. We allotted 7 days per state leaving us 14 days to reach our destination. Having done countless hours of research we knew the plain states would be easier. What we didn’t anticipate was the change in morale.
One could argue that it would have been harder for the pioneers to cross the more difficult states at the end of their journey, and to be honest I wouldn’t debate that. But for us, the challenge was no longer rough terrain: Ours became overcoming mental obstacles due to the flat roads lacking substance. Imagine going on your dream vacation only to stay cooped up in your hotel.
You could see the beach, but couldn’t swim in it. You could smell the authentic food, but couldn’t taste it. That is kind of how we felt. The best was behind us and now we were cooped up in our trucks without the thrill of what the western states delivered.
Endless miles of farmlands and the smell of manure around every corner led us into a state of discontentment and frustration. Simply pathetic in retrospect I know. I mean there we were living out our dream, doing something that hadn’t been done in over 100 years, and to our knowledge has never been done in the way we were going about it.
Everything we had worked so hard for was literally being fulfilled by the minute, and yet the joy that we had began with seemed to be depleting. Through Nebraska and Kansas we became the same slaves we were in the confines of “normal life”. Never satisfied and always looking ahead instead of just living for the moment and being thankful for what we had.
Improvisation became our new best friend. We started filling the void by discussing prior highlights, telling jokes, and pulling crazy pranks. Sometimes they would pan out for a good collective laugh, but other times it would just aggravate who ever was the recipient.
We laid the final tracks on the Oregon Trail way ahead of Schedule. Our wives weren’t due to fly into Missouri for another 8 days so we had two options. The first was to hang out and just relax, while option two provided us with the opportunity to really live up to the spirit of the pioneers, and go out with a bang! It was 9:00 pm on August 11th.
We Fueled up our trucks and headed south Towards Arkansas. Excitement once again flooded our minds as we regained the spark that had been missing the past couple weeks. This is what adventure was truly about, and despite how childish our attitudes had become shed the skin of laziness and decided to go above and beyond what we set out to do.
The 7 hour drive provided little sleep and the humid weather made it hard to relax. But this was it: Our last chance to come together as a team and make this adventure count. The Ozark National Forest was a force to be reckoned with. Similar to our native states terrain, this beautiful chunk of land was an off-road paradise.
We were surrounded by countless technical trails around every corner, and multiple different river crossings with amazing waterfalls and swimming holes. Our frustrations disappeared as we dove head first into this amazing oasis. We barely even noticed the fact that we were in the middle of an unrelenting storm, but at this point it didn’t matter one way or the other.
Like a child on Christmas morning we were ecstatic! Exploring the heights and depths of this amazing rain forest we conquered as much as we possibly could in our final week abroad. We were finally free. Free from worry, free from expectation, and free from our own stipulations and selfish expectations of how we had hoped this would pan out.
We began to realize that this journey was misguided in and of itself. Not that what we were doing as a whole was wrong, but on the individual level of fulfilling our own personal goals. We all had our own agendas and ideas about what to was going to happen, which hindered us from really being able to work as one team with one purpose.
Had this been a battle, we would have lost, but lucky for us this war has just begun. Time, perseverance, and the ability to adapt for the sake of the man next to you is what we now know to be the most important key to the success of any extensive journey.
What started as a simple idea to document a once in a lifetime overland expedition became a staple in the timeline of 5 regular guys. We came, we conquered, and we will continue to expose the past on our Country’s historic trails until the day we join those who paved the way before us.”
-Cauxby Brasseur, Outlaw Xpeditions