THE DOORLESS-JEEP EXPERIMENT
Our Automotive Fixers
JJohn from Louisiana was right to call me a cheater, and for more reasons than one. This trip to Alaska came to be in part from the help of our friends at Road & Track magazine, when Editor-at-large Sam Smith decided to take a Jeep Wrangler Rubicon along the renowned Haul Road for his own stab at the last frontier. The R&T staff were curious how a Wrangler-esque motorcycle would stack up on this journey, and invited us to join. Out of solidarity (and a little stupidity), Sam promptly removed all four doors from the Jeep upon arriving in Fairbanks, and completed the trip in an open-air Rubicon. Stuck alongside him was friend Michael and the group photographer, DW Burnett, code-named “Dave.”
Having doors and windows that seal out wind and weather is one of the pillars of automotive travel. For most of the trip, the R&T team was spoiled by a windshield and a roof but otherwise invited in all of the elements. While the weather was good, there was dust and the deafening howl of road noise and wind. “Yeah, we can’t hear anything above 55 or 60 mph,” Dave reported.
As temperatures cooled, so too did the support for Sam’s open-air adventure. Neck-warmers were donned, and the dialogue about the weather went from PG-13 to rated R. For better or worse, the Jeepers admitted to feeling more in touch with the environment than ever before. The raw and abrasive nature of the road seemed closer, they said, when you look past your knee and see nature flying by. Fingers of cold air that waft through steep valleys hit their nostrils, and puddles splashed into the cabin.
Removing the comfort of the Jeep built a bridge, to a certain extent, between cars and motorcycles. We bonded over the weather rather than the cagers simply feeling bad for me. (In fact, with a helmet and waterproof clothing on, I arguably had it better.) It felt like more of the voyage was shared because we had common ground. I’ll leave it to Sam to decide whether to recommend any road trip that employs the same door-removing tactic, but seeing their fingers so cold was enough to warm my heart.
I was too proud to let the Jeep haul any of my equipment or gear, but the team did help out when I drowned the GS in a frivolous creek crossing about 130 miles from safety on the return trip. It’s worth noting that at one point, this R1200GS was partially dismantled and flipped upside down to dump water out of the airbox and exhaust system. A friendly passerby loaned an Allen wrench for the drain plug so most of a gallon of water could be emptied from the crankcase. After being locked solid, the bike fired up willingly and trekked back, without incident, to Fairbanks.
At the end of the day, there’s no denying our friend John. The lone-wolf facet of the journey to the top of the farthest-north road was arguably tarnished by having a safety net that most people do not have. I certainly would have thought two or three times about trying to make it across that water if there were no camera and no extra mechanic’s hands to help me competently flip a bike over. I remain humbled by John, and with any luck others will be inspired by him too—to take this trek and bond with a machine. Just watch out for doorless Jeeps. Sam’s especially cold and dusty four-wheeled account of the expedition can be found in the September issue of Road & Track and at roadandtrack.com.