Three Years and 53,000 Miles: The Ultimate Overlanding Excursion

Categories: Jeep® Life 

By: Bradley Iger

Photos Courtesy: Dan Grec

For decades, the Jeep® Wrangler has been synonymous with unpaved adventure, but very few individuals have put this off-road icon’s capabilities to the test like Dan Grec. An Australian-born software engineer living in Canada, Grec says that at a certain point, he realized that his day job was at odds with his desire to explore the world around him.

“It just wasn’t making me happy – every day, the sun would be outside while I was stuck inside,” he explains. “I started thinking about what else I could do, so I decided to plan out a big road trip to Alaska. Alaska is just beautiful – I absolutely loved every minute of that trip. But I didn’t want it to end! I wanted to keep going. So I ended up driving all the way down to Argentina.”

He’d always liked road trips, taking his Jeep® Wrangler out to the wilderness on the weekends or whenever he could get away from the office, but an adventure on this scale was something entirely new.

“I looked at it as just a bigger road trip,” he says. “Central America is right there, you could just drive down there tomorrow – you don’t need any sort of special paperwork or anything like that to get started.”

jeep vehicle near mountains

Although Central America was easily accessible, Grec found there was a bit of a learning curve involved in traversing it. “I’d never even heard of the term ‘overlanding’ before I got to Guatemala,” he tells us. “I bumped into someone else who was doing the same thing and he was like, ‘Yeah, man – there’s a whole community for this sort of thing!’ To me, it was just car camping. I didn’t have a fridge or a roof-top tent; I was just a guy who wanted to go camping and hiking in the wilderness.”

man sitting on the hood of a jeep vehicle

Though his second-generation Wrangler proved to be a trusty companion for the journey, he knew he could be better equipped for his next outing. “I did the trip through Central America in a factory-stock two-door TJ. I just had my tent in the back, a little camp stove and a bag of clothes. My Wrangler was phenomenal – it never broke down on me. But that being said, as the months turned into years during that trip, sleeping on the ground in a tent got a little bit old, and eating canned food all the time wasn’t ideal. So toward the end of that trip, I started thinking about ways I could make the experience better.”

After returning from Argentina, Grec went back to work and started saving. Four years later, he purchased a four-door Wrangler JK Rubicon and set to work creating his vision. “It’s basically a house on wheels,” he says. “Just about every overland modification you can think of is on this thing – it’s got a pop-up roof, interior living space, a kitchen, an extra gas tank, dual batteries and even a water treatment system so I’d have clean drinking water all throughout Africa. And being built on the Wrangler platform, I knew I could take it just about anywhere on the planet.”

Grec’s next outing was an ambitious three-year trip around the entire African continent.

“I figured if I was going to go to the trouble of sending a vehicle all the way over there, I might as well go big,” he says. “Why not see the whole thing?”

jeep vehicle parked by rocks

This epic journey could fill an entire book, but Grec shared a few highlights with

“My strongest memories from the continent are always related to the people, and how warm, friendly and inviting they are,” said Grec. “On many occasions, after a very long day driving, I would arrive somewhere right at sunset. I would be exhausted, alone and, to be honest, a little afraid and uncertain if I had just made a mistake driving all the way into wherever I found myself. Each and every time, someone would soon come over to the Wrangler, hold out their hand and say, ‘You are welcome here,’ and I would camp right next to their mud hut or shack. These people were warm and kind simply because that is a proud tradition right across Africa, and that’s something I will never forget as long as I live,” said Grec.

jeep vehicle parked outdoors

“I remember one night I walked into a small town and found my way to a local bar. As soon as I walked in the door, I realized it was a very local bar, and clearly I was the only outsider there. All eyes immediately turned to me, and for a fraction of a second, I thought I was unwelcome and it would be best if I left. Immediately, a man strode towards me, held out his hand and introduced himself before insisting he buy me a beer. Soon, I was playing pool with all the men and learning about their lives in this little town. I had a different skin color and spoke a different language to everyone there, but immediately, I was made to feel as if I was part of their family.”

jeep vehicle parked outdoors

Along the way, the African culture provided him with a new perspective. “As the months turned into years, I realized there is a very big difference between being poor and living in poverty,” he explains. “In the Western world, we confuse the two because without money, a person lives in poverty – they are homeless and have nothing to eat. In Africa, hundreds of millions of people have very little or no money from day to day, so they are poor by our standards, but they are very far from living in poverty. They build their own, often beautiful, mud huts, they grow their own food, have a few goats, chickens and cows for occasional meat, and have a very vibrant and active social life with ample spare time every day. These people spend every day with their friends and family – laughing, singing, dancing and enjoying life. In Africa, you can have a very rich, enjoyable and satisfying life while having very little money.”

huts outside

In terms of the trek itself, Dan says that the last leg of the trip proved to be the most challenging.

“The rollover in Uganda was not my proudest moment,” he says with a laugh. “It had been a massive day of driving and I was exhausted. I parked the Wrangler on a hill because I wanted to take a photo of it in front of this lake, and I had the hand brake on and the transmission in first gear with the engine off. The handbrake had needed to be adjusted for some time and I had just put it off. And the weight of the vehicle being what it is with all the overlanding gear it has, it actually can overcome the compression of the engine, so it started to roll forward. It went maybe five or ten car lengths before hitting a rock wall, and that impact pitched it over onto its side.”

A hundred miles from any sign of civilization in remote Uganda, Dan thought he might have to grab his passport and set out on foot. “I really didn’t know what I was going to do – I thought I’d just destroyed my home,” he recalls. “Then a bunch of locals started showing up. They kept asking if anyone was hurt, and by doing that, it sort of helped me get my head back on straight – yeah, it was not a great situation, but it could have been much worse. I got out the winch and ran it to a tree, and with all of the locals pushing on the side of it, we managed to get it back up onto its wheels! After I cleaned everything up and duct-taped the fender flares, I got behind the wheel and it fired right up. Been driving it ever since!”

Grec ended the journey at Egypt’s Giza Pyramids in April of this year, having added 53,000 miles to his odometer since getting underway in Morocco in June of 2016.

“The Wrangler did fantastically well – it never once left me stranded. I maintained it myself throughout the trip, and I really enjoyed that because it gave me a chance to crawl around underneath it and look at everything.”

Although he’s only been home for a month or so, Grec says he’s already starting to plan his next excursion.

“In the next twelve to eighteen months, I’m going to start doing some trips up into the Arctic Circle, and all around Alaska,” he says. “But in terms of another global adventure, I’m still in the dreaming phase right now. All I can say is that it will be to parts of the world that I’ve never been to before.”

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