Purpose and Route
A proposed undertaking of a second Expedition of the Americas on or about the 50th Anniversary of Mark Smith’s expedition, as a testament to American industry, ingenuity, and our spirit of adventure. The proposed route would embark from Ushuaia in Tierra del Fuego, Argentina, and first proceed north along the Pacific highway to Turbo, Colombia, spanning some 140 hours of driving over approximately 18 days.
At Turbo in Colombia, barges will be chartered to ferry the expedition down the Atrato River to landfall amid the swamp and jungle of the Darién Gap. In 1978, Mark Smith’s expedition took 31 days to cross some 100 miles of jungle, utilizing locals and guides in their crossing and thereby bringing the expedition’s manpower from the initial 14 to a crew of 50. Multiple water crossings will be necessary, utilizing local assistance and visiting otherwise remote communities along the way. The expedition will emerge in the vicinity of Yaviza in southern Panama.
From Yaviza, the expedition will travel north along the Pan-American Highway out of Panama and through Costa Rica, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala; crossing into Mexico before continuing through the United States, Canada, and finally to Alaska. The plan is to venture north along the Dalton Highway to the road’s end on the coast of the Arctic Ocean at Prudhoe Bay. The estimated number of hours to drive from Yaviza comes to some 140, an additional 18 days, bringing the expedition’s estimated minimal timeline to approximately 67 days: two months and a week.
The chartering of cargo craft for shipping the vehicles to Tierra del Fuego will be among the greatest expense, with little expected to be recouped in the event the vehicles are sold in Alaska as the crew will return home by passenger airline. The other great expense will come in the form of the vehicles and equipment necessary to undertake this expedition. The expedition in 1978 was equipped with six Jeep CJ-7s which were stock but for their upgraded Goodyear tires. Winches and other external equipment were added to many of the Jeeps to make them more capable, but everything else remained as it had come from the factory.
The fact of the matter is that the expectations placed on the CJ-7 and other “sport utility vehicles” in the mid 1970s is vastly different than the expectations of the present 2022; indeed, the term “sport utility vehicle” would not come into popular vogue for more than a decade after the first expedition, while the contemporary vernacular would have been “truck.” This is directly related to the way in which such 4×4 vehicles were designed, descendants of work/farm trucks with their body-on-frame design in sharp contrast the unibody design of cars. In the present, the expectation on vehicles in this class is not to conduct work in the field, but to act as a family vehicle, the descendent in purpose of the station wagon and the minivan. Thus was born the SUV, a vehicle with the capabilities of an off-road vehicle like a Jeep or pickup truck, but with the body of a passenger vehicle, and as time has gone on, the SUV continues to move further from its “truck” roots, a trend epitomized by the rise of the “crossover SUV” and “crossover pickup.”
Far from being a value judgement, the reality is that very few vehicles today have the sort of specs that we would in present refer to more frequently as “mods”; a 3-inch lift, all-terrain tires, low-range gearboxes, and smaller wheelbases were part-and-parcel of the proto-SUV in the late 70s. Modern SUVs must be sifted through more carefully, with individual trim levels at times varying vastly in capabilities, a matter which only muddies the waters further in the prospective search for the relative successor(s) of the CJ-7 in 1978. To this end, modifications are inevitable and will add additional expenses in the form of armoring, winches, spare parts and components, etc. To this end, the public marketplace is far more well-suited to the upgrading of existing platforms while still retaining much, if not all of the stock features. A great deal of the expedition’s focus across social media will be on the existing capabilities of vehicles available to the American consumer, and the best options for aftermarket modifications.
Keeping with the original brand of off-roader, a lineup of Jeeps could encompass either their present JL or JLU lineup of the Wrangler Rubicon. The need to minimize vehicle-unique parts in order to maximize cargo weight management implies uniformity in vehicle model; thus only one model should be employed and not multiple. The lengthened wheelbase of the JT Gladiator Rubicon pickup makes it less ideal next to the JL and JLU.
1. Jeep Wrangler JL Rubicon JL (2-door SUV)
2. Jeep Wrangler JLU Rubicon Unlimited (4-door SUV)
3. Jeep Gladiator JT Rubicon (4-door pickup)
Toyota offers the appeal of being one of the most universally recognized and supported brand names across the globe. Although their flagship Land Cruiser is no longer available to United States consumers, there remain options among available models of both their sports utility and pickup truck model. High on the list of ideal vehicles is the 4Runner, followed closely by its pickup truck equivalent, Toyota Tacoma. Although swappable engine parts between these vehicles can be achieved, they are nevertheless distinct vehicles and so uniformity in model remains ideal. Working in the 4Runner’s favor is its interior cargo space over the Tacoma, though this comes at the cost of some weight. The inability to remove portions of the cabin in the case of either the 4Runner or Tacoma (compare the “convertible” Jeep Wrangler, Ford Bronco) will make for a more difficult passage through the Darién Gap. This is likewise why larger models, such as the Tundra and Sequoia, despite their greater power and cargo capacity, may be even less ideal when put to cross the swamps and jungle of a tropical rainforest.
1. Toyota 4Runner TRD Off-Road or Pro (4-door SUV)
2. Toyota Tacoma Double Cab Short Bed TRD Off-Road or Pro (4-door pickup)
3. Toyota Tacoma Double Cab Long Bed TRD Off-Road or Pro (4-door pickup)
The first American manufacturer to truly challenge Jeep’s near-monopoly on small 4×4 vehicles, the Ford Bronco has positioned itself as a potential “Jeep killer” with its range of stock options, but amid the economic fallout of the 2019 Pandemic has only until recently been consigned to the status of vaporware. On the off chance we one day see a 2-door Ford Bronco Raptor (if we ever see a Bronco Raptor at all), it could be the flagship model to take on the expedition. The Ranger Raptor and F-150 Raptor may be considered contenders, but in this regard they suffer from the same issues as the Toyota Tacoma and Tundra, respectively.
1. Ford Bronco Raptor (4-door SUV)
2. Ford Bronco w/Sasquatch Package (2-door SUV)
3. Ford Bronco w/Sasquatch Package (4-door SUV)