It’s no highly-guarded secret that today’s Jeep Wrangler prides itself on being one of the most capable off road vehicles to ever leave the road. You often see the ‘Trail Rated’ badge proudly displayed on the fender as a reminder of its off-pavement prowess. There’s even a special package offered comprised of all the necessary goodies to make your Wrangler a force to be reckoned with, like locking Dana 44 differentials at both ends and formidable 4:1 transfer case gearing capable of abruptly reversing the earth’s rotation when properly applied. Heck, Jeep has even given us such niceties as electronic sway bar disconnects that actually disconnect themselves! No more having to muddy-up the old shirt sleeves on those cold morning wheeling adventures. Wrap all that up in one package and call that thing a ‘RUBICON’- named after the infamous 22-mile long trail in the Sierra Nevada Mountains that has been taunting and thrilling off-road enthusiasts for decades. It’s truly priceless marketing gold that actually does have an associated price that the dealer prints clearly on the window sticker.
That’s all great and I truly love the sense of adventure that the name suggests but what about a special edition for those select few whose daring side borders on perilous; a package that pays homage to geographic oblivions that require a Rubicon Trail level of bravery just to access, and then an even larger lapse in rational thinking to proceed any farther. I’m talking about the Darien Gap- a location in southern Panama, just outside of the city of Yaviza, where any semblance of roadway fades into wild, overgrown jungle for a distance of over 100 miles, serving as a buffer deterring access to the northern border of Columbia. While I don’t feel that Jeep should start lettering hoods with ‘Darien Gap’ graphics quite yet, there is certainly much to be learned and appreciated from such an isolated locale.
First of all, there have only been a handful of people who have even mustered the caliber to attempt such an endeavor. With obstacles such as rivers, dense forests, mud pits, wild animals, poisonous snakes and spiders and the occasional cocaine trafficker wielding a stolen machine gun to slow your progress, it’s understandable why so few have bothered to risk life and limb in such a pursuit. Since the Darien Gap is the only thing that stands between two halves of the earth’s longest roadway, the Pan-American Highway, it stands to reason that there are some pretty solid reasons why 30,000 miles of roadway pauses for this mere 100 miles span. Completion of the roadway through the Darien Gap would come at an extremely high cost, both financial and physical, and would likely only serve as a means of supporting the ever-present drug trade.
Among the adventurers who renounced any and all concerns for their own personal well-being in attempts to conquer the Darien Gap, were a few Jeepers of note; most notably are Loren Upton and his girlfreind Patty Mercier in a new CJ-5, as well as off-roading legend and Jeep Jamboree founder Mark Smith and a crew of a dozen or more daring discoverers. Equipped for success in a fleet comprised of several Jeep CJ-7’s, as well as a Wagoneer and a J-10 pickup, Smith and his fellow explorers arguably made the easist work of the remote wildernesses terrain, bridging the gap in just 30 days. While arguments can be made that one expedition traversed the “gap” quicker than the other or another utilized rafts in lesser scale to navigate water crossings, the truth is that when a feat of this magnitude is minimized in any way by anyone, it’s really a shame. Just managing to prove the impossible and impassable to be anything but is absolutely worthy of worldwide acclaim. In my humble opinion, doing so in a Jeep puts the accomplishment on a whole new level- one more-than-worthy of a special decal package- dare I say, a 2018 Jeep Wrangler Darien Gap?? Unfortunately, very few have ever heard the names of these heroes or possess any knowledge of the place where they sought to achieve their own personal greatness despite unparalleled adversity.
To find the proper scope of what is involved with crossing the Darien Gap, it’s helpful to ponder the fact that Smith managed to complete his trek at a remarkable pace, equating to just over three miles per day; a pace just slightly slower that if you were to crawl through the same jungle blindfolded. Earlier expeditions reported much less aggressive progress with some measuring daily progress in feet rather than miles. Having to literally clear a vehicle width path with hand-held machetes swung by individuals who were likely suffering from severe fatigue, dehydration, malnourishment and possibly the effects of disease and a rampant case of “jungle-butt” seems to be an insurmountable task. I’m not really certain that “jungle-butt” actually exists, although I can imagine it’s not the kind of thing that anyone is likely to feature in their memoirs. Imagine, if you will, having to wear a brand new pair of denim jeans to your friendly neighborhood water park and then fancy the prospect of having to wear those same jeans every hot & humid day that follows for the next month while you perform varying tasks of a strenuous nature. Suddenly it is clear that “jungle-butt” does indeed exist and it’s name is, in fact, much too kind.
So… if Jeep were to see the ere in their ways and offer us, the appropriately enlightened consumers, a Darian Gap Edition Jeep Wrangler what kinds of options would we hope to see? Obviously, everything that the now pedestrian Rubicon offers, with a few vital additions. First of all, an innovative roof rack system would really prove to be essential as the need to carry a slew of jungle cutting implements, steel ramp boards and provisions of water and fuel could easily justify the extra weight of the rack. Secondly, a state-of-the-art satellite navigation system could truly prove beneficial on such an environemnt. Not that Google Maps is going to yield any street views of the Darien Gap…trust me, I checked. It’s just good to know which way is south when the symptoms of milaria begin to take hold and operating a compass becomes problematic, what with the blurred vision and trembling hands.
I could think of a seemingly endless list of features to include in such an exclusive package. Ridiculous amounts of ground clearance are in order, as are a PTO-driven winch and bush hog attachments and maybe auxiliary oil coolers to keep things kosher while enduring the punishment of idling for 16 hours a day would all be welcome additions. Of course, nobody is gonna balk if they include a baby powder dispenser. Are they? OlllllllO