Category Archives: Off Road

4 Wheel off road action

Evolution and the path to the JL Project

Evolution to JL

In 2011, I bought my latest Jeep, a Wrangler Rubicon Unlimited, as a new 2012 model. I had been wanting a 4 door Wrangler since before they made them. There were rumors of the 4 Door in 2005 and 2006, when I had my 2003 Wrangler, but at that point just rumors. I needed a Jeep with more room and when there was no four door Wrangler in 2006, I traded my TJ on a…gulp…Commander. It was a decision that turned to regret as soon as it became real. The Commander gave me the space I needed, but I never once kidded myself into thinking I had a Jeep. So the next year when the four door finally emerged, it was like a kick in the gut. I persevered though and in 2011, the Commander was paid off and I was ready to get back into a real Jeep. Why didn’t I just buy a 2011 Wrangler four door? Simple, I drove one and the horrible 3.8L minivan engine just killed it for me. The bigger question though is why Jeep?

My 1985 CJ-7

Well, I’ve always had Jeeps. It’s in my DNA. I wanted a Jeep for as long as I can remember wanting to drive. I was old enough to get my first car (of my own) in 1986, I bought a 1985 CJ-7 for $7500. It was the coolest thing I’d ever driven, even though it seemed to be a truck from a bygone era. A very short, time after I got my beloved CJ, Mother Nature felt the need to smite my beautiful CJ with baseball and softball sized hail. The sheet metal was pounded as if by sledgehammers, the top was perforated and it even broke the dash and horn center cap.  It was my first truck that was actually mine and I’d only had it a short time when it was just clobbered by the hail. Being in a small town, there were limited options for repair so the dealer body shop got the job of restoring my Jeep to it’s previous state. They did a horrible job and were completely unable to match the paint and refused to repaint the whole vehicle. In the end, they made me an offer that appealed to my attraction to shiny objects, and the color black. They offered to give me the full price I paid for the CJ towards the brand new 1987 Wrangler that they had just received with giant wheels and tires. It seemed to be newer, cooler and more modern – and compared to the CJ it was. I walked away with the coolest looking Jeep I’d ever seen. Bear in mind that I knew NOTHING about Jeeps other than I really liked them. My new YJ Wrangler had 33″ tires on really wide wheels that caused the tires to stick way outside the fenders. I just knew it was awesome looking. I soon realized that the tires were too large and it needed a lift because the first time I took it offroad the tires kept jamming so far into the fenders that I’d get stuck until everyone got out of the Jeep. I had fun though and it began a life long journey into the Jeep life and probably more so, the life of off-roading.  Over the years, it has included a large number of different off-road vehicles including:

1985 CJ-7
1987 Wrangler
1988 Comanche 4×4
1968 Wagonneer
1979 CJ-5
1989 Wrangler
1969 Ford Bronco
1979 K-5 Blazer
1997 Dodge Ram 4×4
2000 Grand Cherokee Laredo 4×4
2003 Wrangler Rubicon
2006 Commander
2012 Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon
2014 Grand Cherokee Limited ecodiesel

Before the mods began..
After

I see each of the above as evolutionary stages to where I am now.

I saw my 2012 JKU as the Jeep I always wanted, The One Jeep that did everything that I wanted a Jeep to do the way I wanted to do it. Like most owners, I slowly began to modify it to do the things I wanted it to do. While it still had dealer tags, I took it on a trip with friends to Clayton Oklahoma, an area known for big rocks and technical trails. The Jeep did fine but continually tested it’s skid plates so I decided I needed to get it up off the ground with a lift and bigger tires. My friend Jason at JeepinOutfitters.com hooked me up and soon the Jeep was standing tall(er) and that began the process of transformation. I won’t bore you with the details, but as anyone in the Jeep Life knows, it becomes a never ending process of making your Jeep…well, YOURS. If you own other types of vehicles, you can put different tires and wheels on it, you can Add some stickers, but really, it’s not easy to make it different than everyone elses. Jeeps are different though, they just scream to be made different because there are so many ways you can make it yours. Some changes you make to improve things that you don’t like, some just to look the way you want. After 6 years, I’ve got my Jeep about the way I like it but I’ve got almost 100,000 miles on my Jeep and its my daily driver and there is nothing wrong with it – everything functions perfectly well.  But, it’s missing some cool features other newer trucks have and I’ma techie that likes new tech.  On the other hand, I don’t want to get rid of my Jeep because I have put a lot of work into getting it where I want it and I don’t want to start over.  The idea of driving a Jeep with 100k miles to Moab, wheeling it hard and then driving it back seems like asking for trouble. It’s kind of like relying on an aging quarterback to get your through the play offs healthy. It could happen, but you are playing with fate. The ideal solution would be to get a tow rig (pickup) and a trailer and trailer my Jeep for trips. But pickups are expensive (more expensive than Jeeps!) and then I’d still need a trailer so that’s another $3 grand.  There is a part of me that would love to have something like a Ford Raptor that I could do the occasional off-roading in, but that would be comfortable and easy on my daily drive. It would require trading my Jeep in and it would mean either abandoning the Jeep Life or buying an older rig to wheel and tow. That has been a very appealing idea to me of late. But now there is a new option. It’s called the JL.

Jeep has released the successor to the Wrangler JK, and it’s called the JL. The early peeks at it look like they have created the hardcore offroaders dream. You see, it comes from the factory solving a lot of the off road Jeeper’s issues with the Wrangler. To make the Jeep do the things we want it to do, it needs at least 35″ tires, if for no other reason than the fact that the Jeep just looks ten times better with them. The problem though is that when you add big tires, you create a number of issues. To fit the larger tires, you have to lift the Jeep to clear them. This can create questions about warranty coverage as well as introduce problems like flaky steering or even exhaust clearance. So you have to modify the exhaust and/or the steering for better handling. The bigger tires also make the brakes much less effective so the Jeep doesn’t stop near as well, you have add aftermarket brakes to stop normally. The JK’s front axle is also known to not be as strong as it needs to be for 35″ and larger tires. To minimize the risk of bending the axle, you need sleeve and most also replace the ball joints with heavier duty ones. Oh yeah, you need new drive shafts because you lifted the Jeep. Where do you put your big spare tire? Oh yeah, you need to buy a new rear bumper with a tire carrier. The headlights suck so you have to get LED’s to replace those or add auxillary lights. You want to add lights and other accessories that require switches? You need to buy an SPOD so you don’t have to cut holes for switches and find a place to wire them. OUCH! As you can see the cost quickly adds up and you end up modifying the Jeep in ways that take you into the realm of questionable warranty coverage. You end up spending a lot of money. Well, the JL just made life a lot easier for the new Jeep owner. Here is a short summary of how it will save the new Jeeper a lot of money and I’m talking about the Rubicon model, because what else would you buy?

  • No lift needed for 35’s – The Rubicon has fenders designed for 35″ tires. No need to modify the exhaust either since you aren’t lifting it
  • The axles are designed to handle up to a 37″ tire – no need to beef it up, unless you want to…
  • The brakes are designed for larger tires – no need to install bigger brakes.
  • No need for longer drive shafts because you aren’t lifting – unless you just want to…
  • The tailgate has been designed with a larger spare in mind, the brake light even adjusts for larger tires – no need to go aftermarket – unless you want to!
  • The headlights are LED’s – No need to spend money on aftermarket LED lights
  • There is a built in “spod/auxillary power center” – no need to add aftermarket
  • Improved steering that will handle larger tires better

The list is long, but they seemed to have touched on everything. The windshield now easily folds down. You are probably asking, who folds their windshield down? The answer is nobody because on the JK it takes AN HOUR AND A HALF! Now it can be done in less than 5 minutes. The doors are 15-18lbs lighter each! Ever taken your Jeeps doors off? It’s going to be much easier now! They have even molded handles into them for easy transport The soft top can easily be put up with one person, with one hand even . If you’ve tried to put a JKU’s soft top up by yourself you know how huge this is. The Jeep is slightly larger so there is 2″ more legroom in the backseat of the 4 door and they have reclined the seats and added AC vents to the rear. Now your rear seat passengers will feel like they are more than “cargo”. Do you fold your rear seat down for your dog(s) to enjoy?  In the JK the seats don’t fold down very flat and there is a giant hole between the cargo area and where the rear seat folds. My dogs fall in the hole continually.  Now it’s flat and the space is covered. There are tons of others features including some really high tech stuff on the center display…oh yeah, there is an 8″ display that has Android Auto (and apple car play) as well as tons of useful info about the engine and systems complete with specially designed screens for venturing offroad!

 

So I’ve decided that I will be passing my JKU on and getting a new Wrangler JL Rubicon 4 door to replace it. I plan on doing a full review after I get it and then documenting the build up of the Jeep as I “make it mine” both here and on Youtube. Stay tuned for more.

2016 Colorado Adventure Day 3 – First full day in Ridgway

Day three of our trip, I woke up having bad back pain. Just getting up and walking really hurt. So I should probably add that I injured my neck rather badly about 10 years ago in a mountain biking accident. My spinal cord was compromised and required eventual surgery to fuse my cervical vertebrae. Over the years it’s gotten worse and the day before left, my doctor called and advised against taking our trip to Colorado as it would take me out of emergency range of a major neurosurgery center. But, me being me, I decided I was fine enough to go.

Anyway, I decided to relax at the house while the others explored the area shops. I had some work to still do on the Jeep (putting the rear Bushwacker flares on) so decided to tackle that. The Bushwacker flares are a royal pain in the ass to install, especially with numb fingers. I think I spent more time dropping and finding screws than I did actually bolting the things on. I managed to get one on in the 2-3 hours everyone was gone. I realized soon after that, even despite my best efforts to shade myself, I had underestimated the power of the sun at 8,000 feet. When Rach got back she offered to help so i let her do the last flare on her own with me just giving guidance. She did it quicker than me and her’s looked better.  Showoff! In the end though, we were both rather sunburned by the end of the day. I didn’t realize how badly that was going to make the next few days suck…

Later, we hung out at the house and I decided to send up my Phantom 4 drone and explore the area. After my flight (check it out below – best viewed full screen in HD), I spent the rest of the day relaxing and we cooked at the house.

 

Recon Flight Ridgway from Bob Lionel on Vimeo.

Colorado Adventure 2016 – Travel Day 2 the Arrival

We couldn’t find a porter to carry our luggage to our truck so we decided instead to just use one of the rolling luggage carts from the hall. As we approached the elevator there was an older woman waiting for the elevator. She immediately appeared to be giving us the stink eye. Once inside the elevator she made a comment about the luggage cart, wanting to know where we got it. We said from the hall. She immediately made it known to us that she thought we had “hogged the cart” by stating they had been there a few days and hadn’t been able to find one of the carts the entire time.  I politely informed her that we just got in last night and the cart was in it’s place when we arrived last night. Walking away from the elevator, she said that people like us were assholes for not allowing anyone else to use the carts. I told her that we didn’t have the cart and she really needed to drop the bitch attitude. She gave me the “I can’t believe you said that look” and stormed to her car. I can’t believe a missing luggage cart could possibly spoil the fun and luxury of La Quinta…

Back on the road, we headed north towards Pagosa Springs, Durango and then up 550 to Ouray and finally Ridgway. Pagosa Springs was a beautiful little town, but was definitely alive with tourists like us. From there we headed on to Durango and made a stop at a grocery store there for some last minute supplies. Durango is the last decent sized city before you head into the San Juan Mountains. After our brief stop, we pulled onto Highway 550 – The Million Dollar Highway.

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Highway 550 is known as the San Juan Skyway Scenic Bypass and also famously as “The Million Dollar Highway”. It’s said to have gained that name from the last twelve miles into Ouray when a traveler said after arriving that he wouldn’t drive it again for a million dollars! It’s also said that its because when it was constructed in the late 1880s, it cost over one million dollars per mile. I have no idea what the truth is, but i can tell you that for a lot of people, its the latter.  The road goes from simply scenic to a two lane road that can be steep, twisty and narrow enough to make passing trucks or RV’s on curves quite nerve-wracking.  There are often several hundred foot drops and one other thing. There is in most places no shoulder so that it may be open space with a cliff less than 10″  from the outside white line of the road. Oh and there are no guard rails, a fact that the locals are very, very proud to point out.  I’ve driving the road several times, but it still gets to me. We took one of the pullouts about halfway through to let everyone steady their nerves.  Just before Ouray, we pulled over to take a gander at the falls that runs under the highway. A short drive through Ouray we continued on through to Ridgway about ten minutes farther North and our house for the next few days.

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The house was nice with a backyard that stretched all the way to the mountains. It didn’t take long to realize that we had neighbors behind us. The field was home to a prairie dog “town”. We unpacked, got settled in and then headed to the True Grit cafe for dinner.  The cafe gets its name from the academy award winning movie of the same name, which was filmed in the area. The food was great, cowboy style dinner.  I had chicken fried steak that was delicious. They even have food for those weirdo vegans.

We then headed back to the house for the night for some stargazing.

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Colorado Adventure 2016 – Travel Day 1 Dallas to Santa Fe

Day 1

This year we decided to go back to Colorado for our vacation. We had a great time last year and I guess we REALLY talked it up because this time some of the rest of the family decided to join us.  My wife’s parents, her sister and significant other convoyed along for the trip. The initial plan was to only take two vehicles, our 2014 Grand Cherokee ecodiesel, and one of their Acura MDX’s. I wasn’t sure how that would work as I remember last year how packed my JK was for just the two of us. Granted, I carry a lot of extra stuff like camera gear, drone, tools, etc so maybe it’s possible?

Saturday we took the dogs to be boarded while we were gone. For me this is the worst part of the whole experience.  Not only is it the most expensive part of our vacation, but it also means being in the house for the last day without any of our four dogs around which is just weird, and feels really lonely. Luckily, we had tons of packing to do which somewhat took our mind off our abandoned dogs. The plan was to get it all packed and loaded early enough to get a good nights sleep. Doesn’t that sound smart? Yeah, well about that plan…

So earlier in the week, I took the Grand Cherokee in to have the rock sliders put on it. It should have taken a few hours, but apparently these things are extremely difficult to install and it took the dealership the rest of the week and they still weren’t able to finish. We were basically left with the decision of delaying the trip so that they could be finished or taking the Jeep with them “mostly” installed and functional. So, the other part of the story is that I still needed to put the rear Bushwacker flares on and 6  skid plates. I had planned to have a couple of days after the rock rails were done,  but since the dealership kept the Jeep over those days, I had Saturday to do the rest of the work.  Oh boy.

Luckily my good friend Chris Russell was kind enough to give up a Saturday to help. He actually did most of the work as I was having issues with my spine that made it difficult for me to do a lot of this work. We spent all day on a job that I thought would take but a few minutes. That’s the way it always is (should bolt right up) turned into screams of “WTF???!!!??” It started raining about halfway through the day so some of the day was laying on a wet driveway in the rain working away, BUT we got the job done by about 9pm. So much for getting the Jeep loaded and a good nights sleep!

 

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We got to bed about 4:30am and rose at 8am to get on the road. We knew it was going to suck, but that tends to be the way we do thing at Casa Lionel. We got on the road and headed out, mostly on time.

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We stopped in Vernon, Tx for fuel. I checked our Jeep and we still had over 3/4 of a tank but I topped it off with diesel.  A couple of hours later we stopped for lunch in Amarillo at a truck stop at one of those “Trucker malls”.  We headed back out, past Cadillac Ranch, thinking briefly of stopping but remembering how hot it was outside. A bit later we took a slight exit to drive past the old ghost town of Glen Rio. It used to be a great place to stop and take some photos in the ruins of the old Post Office, Diner or Motel, but now although it eerily is still abandoned looking, it has residents. Visions of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre nudge us back on the road and on towards our stop for the day, Santa Fe.

We arrive at Santa Fe just before sunset. Our place of rest the lovely La Quinta Santa Fe West. We do not have the best of luck with hotels. We are beat though and the room is nice enough and were it not, I’d likely sleep the same. If you are tired enough, any place to crash will work right? You would think so but we later find that isn’t always the case.

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Dirt Riot Nationals – Bridgeport Sept. 26

 

Update: Photos are up at Dirt Riot Nationals photos

Well, it was a fun (and tiring weekend).  I’m culling images and working on post processing everything. The 3006 car of Rowdy Racing took a bit of a spill in qualifying. I was there with a long lens and put together a little animaged gif of the tumble. I should have the race images uploaded by tomorrow afternoon. I’ll update this post and Offcamber Photography Facebook page as well.

Offcamber Photography on Facebook

3006 Rowdy Racing catches a rut in qualifying and takes a bit of a tumble. - Copyright 2015 Bob Lione/Offcamber Photography
3006 Rowdy Racing catches a rut in qualifying and takes a bit of a tumble. – Copyright 2015 Bob Lione/Offcamber Photography
Drivers gather post-qualifying at Rock City Burger in Bridgeport

Beginning an Adventure

Photography has in the past been a part-time thing for me. A hobby that I tried to make self-sustaining.  As someone once told me though, it’s hard to take a shower with only one leg in the water.  Prior to this I worked in a cubicle, bathed with fluorescent light. A job that I once loved, slowly suffocated through a corporations greed and stupidity with no loyalty to anyone save it’s shareholders. The day I was laid off was the happiest day I have had in about seven years.  Since “The Day” about a month ago, I’ve been exploring my options and feeling things out. I am ready for adventure.

My adventure will start, oddly enough, on my birthday this year.  We will be packing up and heading West to Ouray, Colorado for the 2015 Ouray Jeep Jamboree.  It’s been almost 15 years since the last time I was here. Back then I was just starting digital photography and was using a Sony FD-91 digital camera. I believe it was a whopping 1.8MP and the FD stood for Floppy Disk. This was it:

Sony FD-91 floppy disk camera.

It was freaking amazing at the time and it got me back into photography. Looking at it now, I half imagine something from the Flinstones with a little bird carving into stone with it’s beak as you snap the shutter. It was a fun camera at the time, but it was not even capable of making images that were at all print-worthy.

We will have two days exploring the San Juan mountain passes on the Jeep Jamboree and then a few days to do some exploring with friends and ourselves.  This trip will be a little bit about Jeeping and a lot about photography. I just ordered the Rokinon 14F2.8 and also have a great new travel tripod, fresh from 3 Legged Thing – the EVO 3 Brian with a Punkz ballhead.  I’ve read a lot of great reviews about the Rokinon and for such an incredibly cheap lens, it is supposed to be superb.  We shall see. Look forward to more posts throughout our adventure. When I get back, the REAL adventure starts – my pro career!

Until then, here are some shots from my last trip with the old floppy disk Sony Camera.

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Dirt Riot – Hidden Falls Adventure Park – May 30, 2015

We headed out around 3AM Saturday morning. After a week of heavy storms and flooding here in Dallas, i was looking forward to getting away and inhaling some race dust. I woke to an alarm two hours after I had set it.  I gathered my gear and loaded the Jeep. A last minute check of the weather, showed that the route we’d chosen – down Highway 281, would take us right into an extremely long, squall line. We decided to take I-35 down in the hopes that it would keep us in front of the storms. Since I left before Al, I decided to stop and grab some food and drinks and give Al time to catch up. As I pulled out of the QuickTrip I saw a text from Al that he’d passed Spring Valley 2  minutes before. I was now behind him and pulled out onto 75 to catch up. I figured I’d catch him on I-35 and exited onto Woodall Rogers to merge onto 35. The recent flooding had other plans. I quickly found that all of the entrances to I35 South were closed. Every option I tried, resulted in me turning around at barricades. After a half hour, I decided to just go back onto Woodall Rogers and take 45 to 20 then to 35. That worked but left me over a half hour behind Al. All the way to Waco, I watched constant lightning creep closer on the western side. I caught up with Al outside of Waco at a fuel stop. As we got ready to leave, the sky looked like Armageddon.  Aside from some brief rain, we escaped the weather and made it to Hidden Falls Adventure park around 8:45am.

Stormy Skies outside Waco
Stormy Skies outside Waco

 

Nice Weather on the way home:

shot with my Sony A6000 while driving home tonight doing 70-75 u

I should have the shots up shortly. Here are a few:

Finished shots will be uploaded to:

http://offcamber.smugmug.com/Sports/Motor-Sports/Hidde-Falls-Adventure-Park-Dirt-

 

 

Still playing

I’m still going through shots from the weekend before last. I find that I do that alot. After I’ve done my initial post processing, I’ll revisit shots and find shots that I’d bypassed before and suddenly they fire off inspiration of a way to process them that makes an otherwise dull shot, take on new life. More and more I find that the camera work is just a small part of the process for me. Obviously, that part has to give you something to go on, but it’s sometimes surprising how a shot that you would not give a second look to before suddenly catches your eye.

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