Graduates on the Run Part 2: Colorado or Bust

Categories: Jeep® Life 

By: Nick Oxender

See Building the Ultimate Toy Hauler for Part 1 of the Great Bus Tour

It’s Monday – the big day! My buddy Grant and I are planning to leave from Indiana to Colorado with two Jeep® 4x4s in tow. All we need to do is wrap up a few small tasks on our vehicles, build our sleeping quarters for the next week, and load up the school bus to leave for Colorado.

Scratch that. It’s now Tuesday – the new big day! I figure no big deal, there isn’t that much to do. We can work our magic and have everything ready to go by the afternoon. This doesn’t happen.

It’s Wednesday. And with the threat of closed trails due to avalanches, we head out three days behind schedule.

The Vehicles – Submarine

To fully understand our current situation, I will enlighten you about our Jeep® vehicles. I come from a background in amphibious ATVs. Thus, I have an unusual desire to drive through all the standing water I can find, no matter the consequences.* For this reason, I like to punish myself by custom building everything rather than buying off the showroom floor. This explains my obsession with modifying my 1940’s Willys Jeep® (with a post-war frame and parts from all subsequent decades) 4×4. Of course, a post-WWII vehicle was not meant for such activities. And one must indulge my past off-roading experiences to comprehend the creation of this Frankenstein.

In my infinite wisdom, the solution was to build “The Submarine.” Yes, it’s exactly what you’re thinking: a fully waterproof vehicle with dual winches, differential lockers and no amenities. In my infinite wisdom, I would finish this “Sub” the day of our departure and take it to the mountains and desert. Without any field testing. Because that makes sense.

jeep vehicle

The Vehicles – Jeep® Wrangler

As Grant is a bit more responsible than I, he opts to bring a reliable vehicle. A 2015 Jeep® Wrangler Sport 4-door with Mopar® lift, 35” tires and winch. Our theory is Grant can be a tow vehicle in the incident “The Submarine” ever needs assistance. Of course, this is a preventative measure and we won’t actually bring out the tow rope. Right? I’m not nervously laughing.

jeep vehicle among mountains

The American Dream

I’m a firm believer in the ideology that one can claw their way towards any goal they desire. The American dream, if you will. Our dream was leaving and completing the trip in one piece. And here we are at 1 a.m. Tuesday morning without any signs of leaving for Colorado on time. I look at Grant and ask what the plan is. He suggests we work through the night and leave by 8 a.m. No problem, the 20-minute task of making wooden bed frames for our school bus has only taken us four hours, but it’s smooth sailing from here. All I need to do is finish installing a rear locking differential in his Wrangler and finish installing the waterproofing system on The Submarine. And test everything. And load. To make a long story short, we take a nap around 7 a.m. then work until 8 p.m. this evening. I’m still not ready.

jeep vehicle off-roading

Leaving for Colorado

We shower and head out for Colorado at 8 p.m. anyway, in our school bus towing a couple Jeep® vehicles, as one does. After getting on the open highway, we stop at the first gas station to fill up and grab a bite to eat. At this time, reality sets in. We’re going to travel across the country. There is no turning back now. However, at the gas station, I discover the most delicious chocolate pudding mixed with whipped cream I’ve ever eaten, so I’m hopped up and ready to roll.

jeep vehicle off-roading


After sleeping in the only rest area for miles, which is at a casino of all places, the heat of a thousand suns wakes us up. I can’t remember what state we’re in. All I know is this school bus needs air conditioning. Never mind that, it’s time to stock up our coolers with food for the next week and get back on the road. We stop at a large retailer to simply run in and grab supplies, but it’s absolutely packed. During this mad dash rush to finish everything and leave, we forgot it was the 4th of July. Of course, now I have to buy a shirt with a bald eagle on it.

snow trail in the woods

The waterproofing system on my Submarine still isn’t finished, so I sit in the passenger seat and continue finishing parts while Grant drives. After getting bored, I begin to look up Colorado trails to see which is the most scenic. Prior to leaving, we knew some of the trails were closed due to record snowfalls and avalanches blocking the paths. I am looking for current trail status, but can’t find much information. After calling a very helpful hotel, we learn a couple trails are open and decide to keep trucking towards the mountains.

jeep vehicle

Literal Road Block

We pass through Denver. Beautiful. We pass through small towns with only a couple streets. Beautiful. It’s about 2 p.m. and we’re just 20 minutes from Ouray, Colorado. We left three days behind schedule and we have plans to meet people in Moab tomorrow. So this is it. Our only shot to enjoy arguably the most scenic trails in the nation. I can feel it. The traffic seems to be a bit heavier here. Wait a minute, they’re going pretty slow. No, wait – traffic is actually stopped. That’s right folks… we are at a standstill nearly eyesight from our destination. And there’s a road block ahead.

Some people turn around, others get out of their cars and stretch. Since we’re in a giant school bus with a trailer on a narrow road, turning around isn’t an option. As people drive past, they explain the road closure will last for hours. Our stomachs drop. This can’t be happening! It’s our only day out here! Not to be ones to waste time, we use this stop as an opportunity to double check our vehicles and plan our routine for arrival. The road is cleared in an hour.

jeep vehicles driving on a narrow path

Arriving in Style

Driving the road into Ouray is a vision I will never forget. The ol’ school bus crests over the final hill, and the valley opens up. There’s a waterpark with people full of smiles and mountains for miles. We are home. Grant commands the bus though tight roads and we begin looking for the unloading area for Imogene Pass and Yankee Boy Basin. I just don’t see anything. Nah, that dirt parking lot at a 25-degree incline that is smaller than my front yard can’t be it. Indeed, this is it.

You know it’s a good day when you arrive late to the trail, and your tow vehicle is pointing at the sky with little room for unloading. Other visitors are scrambling around us to pack their coolers and leave. At least we aren’t the only ones running behind. At this point, we begin to attract some attention with our yellow dream machine, but it’s merely a few looks and stares. Once we open up the rear door and begin unloading The Submarine, the crowd begins to form. Many ask if they can help us; others simply want to take our picture to show friends who will probably believe in Bigfoot before our tow setup. You could say we’re local celebrities and we haven’t even hit the trail yet. But, never mind our feat of engineering, it’s time to get this show on the road.

man driving a jeep vehicle

Living My Life a Quarter Mile at a Time

I feel it’s necessary at this point to stop and apologize to the nice people of Ouray. Here I am with my fully waterproof vehicle, which has tall snorkels to prevent the engine intake and exhaust from consuming water. Thus, my muffler is pretty short and much louder than a stock vehicle. It is also mounted on the front of my roll cage. I installed a quieter muffler days before the trip, but it was still slightly unpleasant. I purchased a pack of ear plugs, but don’t have enough for the entire town.

We’re off! Grant follows as I take off with the almighty four-cylinder roar. The problem is, I’m roaring but not going anywhere fast. In fact, my Submarine is going so slow it begins to misfire and bog down. No problem, I grab the ignition key and start it back up. The misfires get worst and I can’t even drive another foot. My mind races but realize it’s an easy fix. Since we’re in high altitude, my vintage engine is not properly tuned and is running rich – meaning too much fuel is choking it out. I simply clean off my spark plugs, turn some adjustment screws, and go off again. Rinse and repeat. Three times.

jeep vehicles among mountains

Jaw-Dropping Views

Grant and I continue driving towards the trails as the terrain gets a little rough and a little steeper. We round a corner and my jaw drops. The mountains open up to thousands of trees filling the hillside. A waterfall from melting avalanches crosses the path. I can see for miles and miles. As I look back, Grant already has the camera out to capture this moment. All the worries of the world become irrelevant, and only this view matters. All the late nights and preparation have paid off with a lump sum of American beauty.

colorado landscape

We continue pushing through the mountains as time is limited and the sun won’t guide us all day. And then it happens again. My trusty Submarine begins to misfire and bog down. I can’t even creep up the mountain. Grant, annoyed, pulls over again to see what my creation is doing. Once again, I clean off the spark plugs, turn some screws and head off. It’s not as powerful as it was back home, but no time to worry about it.

We begin heading up a trail filled with rocks. To our left is an open mountain range, and to the right a wall of Earth. There are people just up ahead. I can only imagine this scene from their perspective. There’s a roar, but nobody is out there. It gets more audible as some guy comes around the corner in a 1940’s Willys bouncing from rock to rock on his vintage suspension, all while wearing an aviator hat. That’s me. Grant arrives peacefully in his heated Wrangler. Luckily they are all fans of my Frankenstein and are happy to see it on the trail.

jeep vehicle overlooking a cliff

Just as soon as we arrive, the sun is setting and it is time to head back and load up for Moab. I enjoy every waterfall, tree and snow pile on the way down the mountain. If you own a Jeep® vehicle, you need to visit Colorado.

jeep vehicle off-roading

Stay Tuned for Part 3: Live Free, Moab

*Do not attempt water fording unless depth is known to be less than 19-30 inches. Water depth varies depending on model. Traversing water can cause damage that may not be covered by the new vehicle warranty. Always off-road responsibly in approved areas.

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