Journeying Jeep: Richie Rocco’s Overlanding JK

“Off the grid” – it’s a notion we’ve all felt at one time or another. It’s about getting away from the rat race, from the 9-5, from humdrum city and suburban life, and letting wanderlust take over. Few people will actually act on it, but some, like Richie Rocco, will make it their mission in life.

Richie, a Marine combat veteran, decided to pull up stakes from life in L.A. and move out into the wilderness. He chose a two-door 2015 Jeep Wrangler JK to get him there. “I’ve wanted to do something extreme, ever since I got out of the military,” he said. “I’ve wanted to spread this awareness of nature and how healing it can be to see it for yourself. I think this is the best way to go about it.”

Richie Rocco plans to take this 2015 Willys Edition JK across the country using the Trans-America Trail. Along for the ride will be his canine companion, Chance.

And extreme is certainly a word to describe Richie’s goals. Inspired to take on the Trans-America Trail, a trail stretching 5,000 miles across the United States, Richie went about outfitting his Jeep to carry everything he’d need to live on his own as he makes his way through the U.S.

Background Of The Build

2012 was when Richie first got a real taste of off-roading. “I was living in Portland, Oregon, and I only had a Subaru at that point,” he commented. “Starting from Portland, I went on a trip all the way up to Alaska. I got pretty close to the Arctic circle on that trip and I lived in nature for about six months. It was wild!”

Later on, Richie moved back to his hometown in Los Angeles. However, he constantly felt the need to get out and away from the routines of everyday life. On YouTube, he found inspiration in two channels –  The Story Till Now and Epic Family Road Trip. Both channels exalted the overlanding lifestyle, and spurred Richie to give off-roading another shot, going even further than he had before.

I’ve wanted to spread this awareness of nature and how healing it can be to see it for yourself.     –Richie Rocco

For this expedition, however, Richie was really committing to the idea of living on his own. To that end, he moved out of his L.A. apartment and set about making the Jeep his home and hearth. “When you’re unhappy, you’ve got to make a change,” he said. “John Muir said it best. He said, ‘The mountains are calling and I must go.’ He tried out living in a city and it just didn’t work. I feel the same way. That’s why I’m making this huge change in my life.”

Based on what he knew and saw in off-road vehicles, Richie went with a Willys Edition Jeep JK two-door. It was what he could afford while still having enough space to keep his dog, Chance, and also keep all of the essentials on hand – food, tools, clothing, and more.

Richie bought the Jeep only recently, and built it in about a month’s time. He’s eager to get back to his eastbound journey across the United States!

Build Highlights

We finally met up with Richie in person near Cleghorn Trail in San Bernardino, California. By this point, Richie had taken the Jeep all kinds of places, from Arizona to Wyoming to Oregon and back down to SoCal. Along the way, the Jeep gave him some troubles, but he remains hopeful that he can get the Wrangler fixed and back on duty fairly soon.

Since the Jeep wasn’t in the best shape, we opted to stay off the trail and play it safe. We found a clearing near the trailhead to do our shoot and get into the guts of what made this Jeep perfect for overlanding.

Richie’s JK uses 35-inch Nitto Trail Grapplers, which have already seen snow. “They’re amazing in that type of terrain,” he said.

Starting from the ground up, Richie’s build uses 35-inch Nitto Trail Grapplers to give him solid grip in slippery situations. “They’ve worked out really well in the snow,” he commented. The big Nittos are stopped with a TeraFlex brake system.

Surrounding the tires are Poison Spyder upgrades including rock sliders, fenders, and bumpers. “I’ve gotten a lot of use out of the Poison Spyder parts,” said Richie. “They can support my full body weight, which is great since I have to access my roof constantly. I like that the front bumper can also fit a winch. I’m using the Smittybilt XRC 9,500-pound version, which I find is more than enough for the Jeep.”

Poison Spyder rock sliders, bumpers, and fender flares offer stout protection against the elements. His front bumper also mounts the Smittybilt XRC 9,500-pound winch to help recover the Jeep if it gets stuck.

Richie uses a Garvin Wilderness Expedition roof rack to store his essentials, tent, and more on top of the Jeep. He also mounted ladders on either side of the rear to make it easy to get up top.

Speaking of the roof, Richie needed a roof rack to support a tent, tools, and other supplies. For this, he went to Garvin Industries and got an Expedition rack. “It’s awesome,” said Richie. “The Roam tent is up there, along with a Krazy Beaver shovel, Fiskars axe, RotopaX with fuel and water, and X-BULL traction pads.”

The suspension is bolstered with a Mopar Stage III lift, raising it three inches. Richie went with FOX 2.0 smooth shocks to keep within his budget. “I need to go bigger on the shocks because right now, they’re just not heavy-duty enough to handle all the weight up there,” he said.

The interior houses a Dometic fridge, molle panels for backseat storage, and more.

For his drivetrain, Richie is running stock on everything. The engine is the 3.6-liter V6 found in all JKs, plus the automatic transmission and stock transfer case. The Dana axles (44 rear, 30 front) use stock gearing and don’t have lockers, which Richie hopes to upgrade sooner than later.

For lighting, Richie went with KC HiLiTES. The front of the Garvin rack holds an array of Pro 6 lights facing forward, while underneath the windshield are Dual Flex pod lights. Underneath the Jeep, Richie installed several KC Cyclone lights as rock lights. All of them (as well as the winch) are controlled in the cabin using an sPOD system with switch panels overhead and next to the steering wheel.

KC HiLiTES lighting covers the Jeep in maximum illumination. Using an sPOD system, Richie has visibility forward, around, and underneath the vehicle.

As for the nitty-gritty of living out of the Jeep, Richie has packed in everything possible to make it work. “I have more or less a mini-setup of my apartment I was living in, minus a closet,” he explained. “Half of the Jeep’s cabin cargo space is dedicated to Chance.” Richie uses a Dometic fridge to store food, a ROAM case for essentials, and a TemboTusk compact grill to cook for himself. The back of the seats also feature molle panels to hook up extra gear – flashlights, tools, etc.

What’s Next For Richie

Richie hopes to get his Jeep fixed and ready for adventure as soon as possible. “I’d like to start in Yosemite and do some wolf watching,” he said. “From there, I plan on hitting every trail imaginable on the way to the East Coast.”

However, weather will play a factor in how much Richie adheres to the Trans-America Trail. “Keeping Chance warm will be important, so I might have to play it safe sometimes,” he said. “But I’ll keep heading east until I get to North Carolina. I’m hoping I can do it all in the span of one year.”

Taking care of the environment is a hallmark of honest off-roading. That's why Richie also tacked on a Trasharoo trash container, which makes it easy to store trash until he can dump it properly.

Richie’s dream is one that all of us can relate to. It’s one where we cast off the trappings of modern life and really connect with the wilderness, meeting new people and enjoying experiences that can only come from this sort of adventure. We encourage you to find out more on Richie’s expedition by following him on Instagram. Also, don’t forget to check out Garvin Industries for more info on roof racks that make overlanding possible.

About the author

David Chick

David Chick comes to us ready for adventure. With passions that span clean and fast Corvettes all the way to down and dirty off-road vehicles (just ask him about his dream Jurassic Park Explorer), David's eclectic tastes lend well to his multiple automotive writing passions.
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