Time for some heavy metal upgrades

For anyone who is serious about going offroading, getting a winch installed is a must, but first you need something serious to mount it too. In my case it meant getting an upgraded bumper because the plastic one that came with the Jeep just wasn’t suitable.

So first I had to decide on a bumper that I liked out of literally hundreds of options available. I finally decided upon the very sleek looking Full Width Trail Bumper from Rough Country, that comes with lower light cubes, a built in light bar, and a couple D-Ring shackles.

Next was to choose a winch. Once again there are lots of choices from economy brands, to high end ones like Smittybilt and WARN. I knew I didn’t want a cheapo version so I focused on the quality manufactures and ended up ordering the Smittybilt X20 Gen3 12k model with a wireless controller (very handy feature) and synthetic rope.

Synthetic rope is largely replacing the use of steel cable which has always been dangerous to use. Although steel cable is still available on many winches, I decided on the synthetic rope because its easier to use, doesn’t rust, is lighter, and when it snaps it just falls to the ground instead of becoming an lethal airborne whip. It’s just better in pretty much every way so for me it was a no-brainer.

After waiting a of couple months for everything to arrive, and for an available installation date, it was time to bring the Jeep in for it’s big makeover.


Several hours later it was done. My mechanic Cody from Just Jeeps was able to retain the use of the factory LED fog lights and their functionality, and he wired the light bar into one of the AUX switches that I had in my Jeep. Wow are they bright! Looking directly at them will certainly mess up your vision for a short while.
*guess how I know*


So because my original fog lights were used, I was left the two cube lights that came with the bumper. I’ll find a use for those at a later date. Maybe I’ll mount them up on the A-Pillars in the future.

I was also left with a pile of parts in the back of my Jeep that made up my original bumper and all it’s various parts and mounting hardware.

Now because I live in Ontario, I am obligated by law to have a license plate properly displayed on both the front and the back of my vehicle. This meant also installing a flip mount that allows me to display my plate while still being able to access the winch. It’s not something I wanted but I didn’t want get a $110 ticket on regular basis.

In the end, once all was all said and done, I had one amazing looking face-lift and it’s fully functional in every way. It’s also an added 196pds (88.9kg) of heavy metal hanging off the front end of my Jeep. The winch is 76pds (34.5kg) and the bumper is 120pds (54.4kg). That’s a lot of weight and I can feel it while I’m driving. It’s subtle, but I notice it.

It also kinda resembles Darth Vaders helmet! Had I not already named the Jeep “Apollo”, then “Darth Jeep” would have made a good choices also.

The only thing left to do is hit the trails and get dirty. Once the trails firm up (they are still far too soft from the winter thaw), that’s exactly what I will do! Now I will have a lot less anxiety about getting stuck or having a member of my group getting stuck. Between these new upgrades and the recovery equipment I already have, I have no doubt that we can handle pretty much anything that we can get into.

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Recovery Gear & Rescue Equipment

If you’re thinking about getting into the 4×4 life, off-roading, or overlanding, it’s inevitable that you or someone on your team is going to get stuck. This can be a true disaster or a minor inconvenience depending on how well prepared you are, and there is no excuse for not being prepared for this…it WILL happen.

Not every vehicle needs a winch but it’s certainly nice to have at least one in the team. Although if you have more than one vehicle, winches aren’t necessary. Some basic recovery gear and a second vehicle can avoid disaster, or recovery/tow fees that can run into the thousands of dollars.

I used to work as a flat-bed tow truck driver and dozens of times a day I was dragging vehicles up on to the flat bed using a steel cable winch. I became very familiar with how to recover various types of vehicles. The winch (along with a couple straps) was my “go to” for recovering, or rescuing vehicles. Due to the weight of my truck and the size of my winch, I never needed anything else, like kinetic ropes. In the offoading world though, you’re probably going to get stuck well beyond the reach of a regular tow truck.


Protect your hands!

Don’t do anything without gloves on. Period. If you’re working with a steel winch cable, you could easily get a bur, or piece of frayed cable wire stuck in your fingers or hand. Or worse…it could go right through your hand! You could also get your hand, finger, or skin pinched between something and you don’t need that kind of hurt. All too often someone forgoes their gloves to do something quick and easy, and end up needing stitches. Just add some decent gloves to your recovery bag. Your hands will thank you.

Recovery Ropes:

Kinetic Rope

I’m not a fan of tow ropes because a lot of damage can be done by shock loading vehicle parts. The strap could break, or worse, your anchor point could fail, or rip right off and go flying. Kinetic Ropes are the way to go. They can be used for towing but their real advantage is their elastic properties. They are designed to stretch 20-30 percent making recoveries a lot easier and a lot safer.

If you want a high quality rope (made in the USA), check out Yankum Ropes. Their quality is second to none but they do come with a hefty price tag. You get what you pay for though. When you combine them with soft shackles, you’ve essentially removed metal from your recovery system, which means if something snaps, there isn’t any metal flying through the air like a lethal weapon. Far too many people have been seriously injured or killed from a metal shackle, hook, or pulley flying through the air.

If you’re looking for a couple affordable options for kinetic ropes, here are some options from Amazon that I have used personally. Note though that I sold the 30ft one because I wasn’t happy with the quality. If you only expect to use it in an emergency, it’s fine, but I wanted a Yankum Rope for regular use.


Soft Shackle

Rated D-Shackles (or Bow Shackles) have long been the standard but they are heavy and if they fail, or should the anchor point fail, you have a heavy chunk of metal flying through the air. The increasingly popular option though, and my personal preference, is the use of soft shackles. They are extremely strong, light, and can be used to attach your rope to all sorts of recovery points. You can even wrap them around lower control arms without risk of damaging them, and they won’t fall off like a metal J-Hooks often do.

Recovery points:

When attempting to recover a vehicle, you need a point of attachment. Be it a load bearing bumper, hitch recovery point, cross member, lower control arm, or some other anchor suitable point…it needs to be solid! I’ve seen far too many bumpers get ripped off because of poor towing techniques and it’s almost always due to attaching to something that shouldn’t have been attached to.

Hitch Receiver Recovery Point

I have a tow hitch on my Jeep, and I have a recovery hitch receiver that stays attached at all times. I also carry a second one that I can quickly install on another vehicle (if they have a tow hitch also). This allows for two solid recovery points. Many offroad vehicles have bumpers that have recovery points, tow hooks, or both that are suitable anchor points. Ideally you want to create a “closed” loop though vs an “open” one. The tow hooks on the bumpers of many trucks or Jeeps are “open” which means the rope can pop off, or even fly off at great speed. NEVER use a metal shackle, or a strap hook on these. If you only have a bumper tow hook, just loop your rope or strap to it directly.

Drop Hitch with Hitch Ball

NEVER attach to a hitch ball or a drop hitch. When fail, they fly through the air at tremendous speed and deaths have occurred.

Tow Eyelet

Tow Eyelets are commonly found in the truck of many modern cars (especially European cars) and are specifically for towing the vehicle up on to a flatbed truck. However, they aren’t designed for recovery from ditches, snow banks, or deep sand or mud, and they aren’t designed for side-loading. So use with extreme caution. Once again…flying metal is bad.

I’m far more likely to crawl underneath and wrap a soft shackle around the lower control arm, than use a tow eyelet to free a vehicle from whatever it is that they are stuck on.


Leave them at home! They are heavy, awkward to work with, and extremely dangerous. They are prone to snapping when they are shock loaded and even when loaded gently, they are still likely to break. It’s just inevitable, and when they break, they whip wildly through the air and can cause extremely serious injuries or death.

They are so bad that at some offroading events, if you are caught with a chain in your bag, the organizer will take it from you and throw it in the swamp, never to be seen again.

I rescued a family from the beach
Yankum Ropes

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Smittybilt Air Compressor 2780

If you’re getting into offroading, you will quickly realize that you will need to air down your tires for better traction over rough terrain and avoid getting stuck every 20′ in soft sand. Usually airing down to 15psi is a good general start but sometimes, depending on your tires and the terrain, you may want to air down much lower.

But once you’re done, you have to air back up again and this can take a very long time. Then is when having an air compressor on hand is an important part of your offroading kit. There are lots of setups available from high end ARB Dual Compressors right down to el Cheapo ones from China designed for emergency use only.

Personally I decided to try out the Smittybilt 2.54 CFM Air Compressor 2780. It was in my price range and you can order one from Amazon (click here). It comes with everything needed to air up your tires but the connections are proprietary, which is disappointing, and it comes with a handy storage bag. Once hooked up to your battery, it will get all your tires aired up in about 10min which is certainly acceptable.

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Road Trip to Florida and visiting Kennedy Space Center- Part 2

The first part of the trip was to watch the Daytona Rolex 24hr Race.
Click here for Part 1 of the story including doing a recovery of a stuck pickup truck on the beach.

The next item to check off the bucket list was to visit the Kennedy Space Center. Yes I’m a fan of the space program, especially the early days when nobody had a clue what they were doing and not only did the technology not exist but nor did the math to actually get a man to the moon. So seeing first hand such iconic pieces of the space race, was truly amazing.

Vehicle Assembly Building

It was a bit of drive from the hotel in Palm Coast, made longer than necessary because we typed “Kennedy Space Center” into the GPS, which took us through Titusville, FL and directly towards the actual launch areas. We realized we were heading to the wrong place when we approached a police check-point and security gate. The guard was quite understanding and advised us to type in “Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex” to get where we wanted to go. You can see how we made the mistake.

About 30min later we were at the right place and before long were on a tour bus heading right back to the secure area that we almost drove into earlier. Well at least this time were doing it properly…legally!

Forced perspective shot in front of a Saturn V Rocket
Apollo Capsule

Driving by the Assembly Building and the huge crawlers used to transport rockets and the space shuttles of the past was truly awesome. The Apollo/Saturn V Building was amazing with an actual Saturn V rocket and Apollo 8 capsule on display as well as various artifacts from the era.

Back at the Visitor Complex, and a highlight of the experience was getting up close to the actual Atlantis Space Shuttle. Atlantis was the last shuttle to fly and when the shuttle program ended, Atlantis was mounted here on a 43.21 degree angle (NASA humour) and the whole building was built around it. Did I mention the launch simulator? You you gotta try this thing! I don’t know how they did it but it apparently closely replicates what astronauts experienced during the shuttle launches. If you have any fillings in your teeth, they may get shaken loose and and loose items in your unsecured pockets, you can kiss them goodbye.

Shuttle Atlantis

And it’s with that our trip was over. We checked in to a nearby hotel with a view of the launch pads (unfortunately there weren’t any scheduled while we were there) and the next day we started the two day drive home.

Just like the drive down, it was a long two days and no road trip is complete without inclement weather. Waking up in Virginia with everything covered in a thick layer of ice, made for some tricky driving initially.

Eventually though the roads cleared and we made it back to Toronto.

I wonder what the next adventure will be…stay tuned.

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Road Trip to Florida for the Daytona Rolex 24hr Race – Part 1

As a Motorsports fan (and former racecar driver myself), I’ve always wanted to attend the iconic Daytona 24hr race in Florida. I’ve been to Daytona before as a crew member (not for a 24hr race though) but that was 20yrs ago and a total disaster (the car wouldn’t work). This time would be different though. This year I was going down to watch as a fan, and this year I would be driving down in the Jeep.

My partner and I hit the road early on Wednesday morning and as expected, we hit some bad weather in Buffalo. It’s always Buffalo. Why do people even live there? It’s always bad weather and snowing. Okay…ignorant statement sure but when stopping for fuel one of the locals from Buffalo even said “Yeah we’re still here but I don’t even know why” when discussing the worsening storm.

The storm was a serious issue actually, and once of the reasons for leaving so early wasn’t just because it’s a two day drive to Florida, but also to try and get ahead of the worst parts of the storm. We were mostly successful. Once we hit Pennsylvania though, we were getting hammered pretty hard and were faced with poor visibility and some seriously slick roads. It didn’t take long to spot a few cars in the ditch and a jack-knifed truck that shut down the highway going North (fortunately we were heading south). I would have liked to help pull one of the vehicles out of the ditch (a fellow Jeeper) but with a transport truck riding my bumper at the time, any sudden attempt to stop or pull over would have lead to a disaster for us all. It would have been a good chance to use my recovery gear in the real world, but that time would come later on in the trip (in the most unexpected time).

After spending a night in Wytheville, Virginia, we carried on driving to Florida. Fortunately the drive on day two was nice and uneventful. Now although the race is in Daytona, all the hotels in that direct area were stupid expensive and all the affordable ones had been sold out for months. I only decided to do this trip in back in November and the best reasonably priced hotel that I could find was in Palm Coast, FL which was 30min away…about 50km (31miles).

It’s a beautiful sight from the Grand Stands

I bought a 4-Day pass for the track and it was only Thursday evening but we were done driving for the day. Time for some rest. 

We made it to the track Friday morning around 9:30am and it took a while to walk around and get our bearings. Eventually we found the Tram that would shuttle us into the infield where we would find the fairgrounds, the paddocks (where the race cars and teams were setup), the Fanzone, merchants, and other vehicle displays, and the Ferris wheel. Yes, they have a Ferris wheel. I guess they really want to have the 24hr of Le Mans experience here in the USA and they’ve been doing this for decades now so they pretty much have it figured out. Now THAT is another race that I really want to attend…the 24hr of Le Mans in France.

Me with Daniel Morad

Our first priority was to just to take it all in before hunting down a few friends of mine. One of whom is Daniel Morad, who is not only a long time friend but also one of the drivers. He was recently signed with WINWARD Racing as a driver in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge in a Mercedes AMG GT4 on Saturday.

Sidenote: Morad wasn’t slated to race in the actual 24hr race (just the 4hr race on Friday), but one of the drivers for the main 24hr race had crashed hard in practice on Thursday and Daniel was asked to fill that role also.

After meeting up with him for a while in his paddock, it was time to find Ashley, another friend of mine, who was a crew member for the #13 AWA LMP3 car.

Standing on that banked track

After taking in the sights and sounds, and watching the 4hr race on Friday, we returned to the hotel for the night. The big show was Saturday and we arrived at 10am to get a good seat for the start at 1:40pm.

What a show! The only thing missing from the opening ceremonies was a squadron of airplanes doing a flyover of the track. They should really add that. After a long day of watching the main event, we returned to the hotel for a power nap. We wanted to be back for the fireworks at 10pm, and they certainly didn’t cheap out on those. We stayed until about midnight and decided it was time to retires for the night. Sunday was sure to be a long day.

We got back around 10am or so to find that the #13 car had been involved in a multi-car crash around midnight (just after we left). They did recover, kinda, and in the end they finished 4th in their class. Their sister car #17 actually came in 1st taking the win in their class. Well done AWA!

Dan’s team though would suffer true heartbreak. They were in a serious battle for a podium position and with 40min to a full course caution came out. They were in 2nd place for the restart with a solid chance at getting the win and taking home the most sought after Rolex watch available. You can’t buy it. You have to win the Daytona Rolex 24hr Race. When the light went green though, with just 32min to go, all the cars were bunched up and the WINWARD car was clipped and pushed against the wall resulting in a flat tire. And that was it. They were out. It was an emotional blow for us as we had watched them race for so many hours and listening to them on my scanner but our emotional heartbreak would of course be nothing compared to what the team and the drivers felt.

Driving on Daytona Beach

With the race over, we decided to hit the beach. We learned that Daytona Beach is one of the few beaches that you can actually drive on. This is how Stock car racing got its start…by racing on Daytona Beach. So we took the time to check out one of the sections that you were still allowed to drive on.

It wasn’t long though before we came upon a family who had gotten their truck stuck. And I mean really stuck! It was one of those typical Floridian jacked up pickup trucks with a huge lift kit and low profile knobby tires. All show and no go, and with only 2WD it was buried up to it’s axle in super soft, powder like sand. He wasn’t getting out without help.

It was at this moment that I realized that I could get him out in just a few minutes with the recovery gear that I had in the Jeep. I bought this stuff (specifically the kinetic recovery ropes), expecting to use it on people stuck in the snow, or on some offroad trail in Canada; not on a sandy beach that people drive on all the time.

So I lined myself up, and starting rigging up his truck to my Jeep. In a few minutes, I was ready to free this pickup truck in front of a growing crowd of spectators. It’s not something you see everyday and it’s pretty neat to watch. So with everything set, I got back in my Jeep, hit the gas, and to the sound of cheers and applause, the truck popped right out of the sandy pit it had dug for itself. Then when he tried to drive away, before I even unhooked him, he got stuck again. Okay…time for one more yank.

Now you would think this would be a good learning opportunity, but noooo….”Florida Man” decides to go park 30m away in the exact same sand that he just was just stuck in. Well dude…if you get stuck again, you deserve to pay for a tow truck to pull you out.

Once all was said and done, it had been a long, exhausting day packed with experiences….racing, driving on the beach, doing a recovery. It was time to retire to the hotel and get ready for the next big chapter of the trip…Kennedy Space Center!

Click here for Part 2…

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