Relaxation The Wrangler Way

Originally Published: August 2015

Off-roading can be a pretty full-on business, but at the end of the day we all do it for fun. So when your doctor’s told you to start relaxing more, don’t head for the spa: head for a quarry…

 Words and pictures Mike Trott

 Finding ways to relax in life can be difficult. The stresses and strains of daily life can literally be enough to kill you.

Some people would slap a bit of cucumber on their face and have ground apricot kernels scrubbed into their tensed-up pores. But it falls to me to say that no, people, there is a better way of de-stressing than to rub bits of Mother Nature over your follicles.

Take Steve Wickes, for example. He doesn’t finish work each night and get out the bubble bath, light some scented candles and play whale song in the background while he forgets about some numpty he’s had to deal with at the office.

No. Steve is the owner of this fine Jeep Wrangler TJ. It’s equipped for de-stressing – with a 4.0-litre straight-six petrol engine, some BFG Mud-Terrains and a pleasant Old Man Emu suspension set-up.

Steve, who would rather experience a mud bath than a bubble bath, takes his Jeep out at the weekends and drives it round some of the UK’s best play sites and green lanes. He doesn’t ask it to do the impossible and in return it doesn’t shake him about too much. Which is probably for the best…

Steve doesn’t go head-banging his way around like he used to, after experiencing a couple of eye-openers a few years ago.

‘I had a couple of heart attacks back in 2012,’ he says. ‘One in May and another in September. And I’ve had a lot of on-going treatment since. I don’t tend to push the truck as hard these days; certainly I go easier than I used to anyway!

‘Plus my number one son got tired of me breaking stuff for him to fix all the time,’ he laughs. ‘Yarwell is fairly gentle and I’ve done Devil’s Pit recently.

‘That said, I get more pleasure from green laning these days. Although this vehicle is my toy, even the wife is coming along on a few trips and getting into it a bit more.’

You might be thinking that Steve’s condition has put the reins on an appetite spun up on years of off-roading. But actually it wasn’t that long ago that he knew very little about 4x4s.

‘I sort of fell into all this off-roading business by accident,’ he tells us. ‘I joined a forum to get some technical advice and just fell into it. I bought this back in May 2012 from the guy who used to be the North Yorkshire rep for GLASS. He was a member of the forum I was on and, in fact, I worked with his son!

‘The guy had done most of the modifications to the TJ before I got my hands on it, so it came more or less as it is now. I’ve added a couple of things, though, like the bar pins and rock sliders.

‘Actually, I’ve got son number one here shaking his head at me because the rock sliders are his handy work,’ laughs Steve. ‘He’s my chief mechanic, you see.’

You’ll always have peace of mind when you know you’ve got decent support should you have any issues. The idea of off-roading being relaxing, though, for some of you at least, is probably preposterous in your minds. But here are vehicles designed to do anything, anywhere, and if that means letting the 31” tyres caress a soft green lane, then with something like a TJ you know you’re driving well within its abilities.

Besides, piloting your way down a green lane and admiring the scenery in a Jeep is relaxing. If you were attempting to drive down the same lane in a Citroen Saxo, the same level of relaxation would not be achieved.

Funnily enough, a Saxo is where Steve and his wife were when they decided to move up to something a little bigger.

‘It was something I was never into previously. Going back some years, when we used to joke when we were younger about what car we’d buy if we ever won the pools (there wasn’t the lottery back then), I don’t know why, but I always used to say I’d have a Land Rover Safari,’ Steve reveals.

‘So me and the wife were in our Citroen Saxo a few years ago and she said “Why don’t we get a sports car?” I said “Sod off! You can barely get down into this!”’ recalls Steve with a broad smile.

‘She had a spinal injury you see, which is why she doesn’t like being bounced about too much either. So she then said “How about a 4x4 then?” My response? “Result!” And three days later we had ourselves a Range Rover Classic.’

Having now found his happy place with a Jeep and got the vehicle he REALLY wanted, Steve has managed to find ways of putting his own touches to the TJ in the three years he’s owned it. ’The wheels and tyres were my addition. The truck was running on 32” All-Terrains before, whereas now it’s on 31” Muds.

‘The storage box was a funny one, because it was something the previous owner had made but never actually used. So when I bought the TJ he passed it on to me and I thought it was a blinding idea!

‘I managed to get it in after taking the seats out. It’s strapped down so I can take it out and put them back in if needs be. Although, as my wife reminded me the other day, this is strictly a toy car.

‘What’s been slowing me down is the treatment, really. I missed Jeepfest last year because of it, so I intend to go this year.’

There’s an old saying that goes a little something like this: if you look after your vehicle, it will look after you. But while Steve tries to pitch in where he can mechanically, his family – and doctor – keep a watchful eye to make sure the enthusiasm doesn’t spill over.

‘When I tell my doctor I’ve changed four wheels in a day and feel a bit peaky, he normally says, “I’m not surprised!”’ jokes Steve.

That’s why he has the tea making kit packed into the ‘Box of Necessity’ in the rear, so that should he need to take a break halfway down a lane, or at the side of the lake at Yarwell, he will always be prepared.

‘What I love about the TJ is that it’s basic,’ he reflects. And that is sometimes the best way.

Too many complications can befuddle the mind. Complications are for people who read the instruction manual, and what self-respecting man does that?

Steve’s TJ is another classic example of how less can be more. Once you get the ideal vehicle, with the ideal set-up, and you’re using it to enjoy the ideal pastime… well, is there anything better in the world? While you ponder that, I’m off for a (mud) bath…

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