Roaming Reckless

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Maria and her dog, Blue, have spent 7 years on the road together : credit: © Chris Collard
A tale of one girl, one dog, one Land Rover, and 50 US states

We were stepping out of a Maverick’s gas station during the Easter Jeep Safari (boo, hiss, etc) in the US when we spotted this matt green Defender parked across the way. I’ll be the first to admit that anything sporting olive drab paint gets five ‘cool’ stars, but this Landy looked so tough and purposeful that it might as well have had icebergs clinging to the wings. An Australian Shepherd dog sat in the driver’s seat, seemingly awaiting its owner’s return. Walking around to the passenger side we noticed a young woman waiting as well. We then realised there was a steering wheel in front of her, the 110 was wearing British plates, and we were looking at a right-hand drive import.

She stealthily locked the door as we (two possibly creepy-looking bearded old guys) approached and motioned to roll the window down. Throwing caution to the wind, she complied and found herself fielding a barrage of questions. Her name was Maria, her canine pal was Blue, and the Rover was Poe – so named for a raven graphic on the door and Edgar Allan Poe’s famous poem. Together they are Roaming Reckless, and their stopover in Moab, Utah, was part of a 50-state road trip. A girl, dog, and badass Land Rover; we couldn’t help but ask her to join us for a trail ride.

Maria with her trusty companion, Blue, always by her side

When we meet someone who has the guts to drop everything and hit the road, we need to know more. What motivated them? Did their friends and family say they were crazy? How do they pay for it all? As a hostage of the jet-set business world, Maria had two loves, travel and her dog. While frequent assignments in Europe were ticking the first box, extended time away from Blue weighed heavily on her soul. The solution was to take a hiatus from work, and the duo headed out on what developed into a multi-year overland adventure in a Subaru. Yes, they lived in the palatial expanses of a Subaru estate for three years.

For the first three years of her travels, Maria and Blue lived in a Subaru

Surviving on Maria’s savings, they slept in Walmart parking lots, cooked ramen on a JetBoil, and grabbed free showers when the opportunity arose. Not shy in front of a camera, she began documenting the trip, and she and Blue slowly built a YouTube following. After several years of neck pain from being curled up in the back of a rolling sarcophagus, she decided it was time to move up to something with more room and a capable four-wheel drive system. Enter the new member of Roaming Reckless. Poe.

Poe formerly served with the British Royal Air Force

Popping the bonnet reveals the original, dependable 300Tdi

​​​​​​Poe, a 1997 Defender 110 hard top, cut its teeth working for the British military. While we don’t know its deployment history, we do know it was assigned to the RAF and the mil-spec version was slightly different to civilian models in that it had a much stronger frame. Under the bonnet rests a 300Tdi, Land Rover’s tried-and-tested 2.5-litre turbodiesel. Although the 300 was never revered for its earth-shattering performance – a whopping 111bhp and 195lb-ft of torque – the little four-cylinder has a reputation for reliability and was an upgrade in refinement over the previous 200Tdi. Non-North American models, which weren’t strangled to death with emissions controls, were also rated at an impressive 29mpg. Fitted with a 21-gallon fuel cell, one can expect a 500-mile range per fill-up. Power is sent via an R380 five-speed manual gearbox and LT230 two-speed transfer ’box with standard manually locking centre differential.

BF Goodrich All-Terrains are Maria’s tread of choice. Defender still wears UK Reg

British military Defenders were fitted with a Salisbury full-floating rear axle with 3.54:1 gear ratio and differential nearly identical to a 9.75-inch Dana 60. The front is a standard Land Rover Hotchkiss style

Underneath are factory Salisbury rear and Rover front axles, and on each corner are disc brakes and BFGoodrich KO2 All-Terrains wrapped around factory steel wheels.

A basic cabinet system provides sleeping room for two, a library, sufficient storage, sink and Dometic pressure water system

Maria started with a blank canvas, and the first order of business was creating a liveable space. With the help of a friend, they built a cabinet system that includes a slide-out double bed, heaps of storage (compared to a Subaru), and a basic power grid and lighting.

Solar panel feeds a Jackery Explorer power station

Up top is a Baja Rack, Hi-Lift Jack, and Yakama storage pod

The roof-mounted solar panel feeds a Jackery Explorer power station, which in turn runs a fridge-freezer and other accessories. In the back is a Dometic water system and sink, and up top a Hi-Lift jack and Yakama pod ride on a full-length rack system from Baja Racks.

Military 110s are as spartan as they come – you get power steering, wipers, a heater and nothing else

Defender cabs are designed for function rather than bling, and high-tech options include manual windows (don’t have to worry about malfunction), a heater and electric windscreen wipers. Maria also added a JBL Bluetooth speaker for those long days on the road. Other than that, the rest of the rig is ready-for-the-trail vintage.

To port and starboard are spacious, weather-sealed storage bays

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Since we met, Maria has installed an Alu-Cab pop-up top, auxiliary lights, a security system, diesel heater and upgraded to a Dometic fridge-freezer. Next will be moving the spare tyre to a rear rack so she can open the bonnet without an engine hoist.

After seven years, two vehicles, 22 states and 200,000 miles, we wanted to know more about her vagabond life, YouTube success, what the future holds, and advice she has for anyone dreaming of hitting the road. It went like this...

What are the challenges of living on the road? One thing is not being able to shower as consistently as I’d like. Sometimes extreme weather can make travelling annoying, when you’re in -13ºC in Alaska or 46ºC in Joshua Tree. I don’t mind suffering through, but it’s challenging to keep Blue comfortable.

Do you think solo travel is more difficult for a woman? I’ve never felt like I have a harder time than the guys. I know I’m capable of figuring out any situation I get myself into and trust my abilities to problem solve. I may not be as technically gifted as some, but I can get myself out of trouble.

If I can’t, I find someone who can help me out. The road is tough, you’ve just got to be tougher. Male or female, the same principles apply. Be smart, stay safe, be aware of your surroundings and trust your gut.

You spent the winter in Alaska, how did you and Blue cope with sub-zero temperatures? Blue is an Aussie and double-coated, so he loves the cold. He has a winter jacket and boots when it’s in the negatives, but he prefers the extreme cold to the heat. He’s the perfect road trip partner, not much phases him. I’ve recently had a diesel heater put in the truck and that has made a world of a difference.

Blue is the perfect road trip partner

Tell us about your relationship with Blue? It’s very symbiotic and hard to articulate. When we left in 2017 Blue was a year old, still very much a puppy, and I had no clue what I was doing when it came to dog training. We had some growing pains but figured it out quickly and are now aware of our roles. He barks at threats and demands to play fetch all day, and I do everything else. Never spending a day apart has made us as close as you can get, you could argue codependent. Blue is a protector by nature – I know that dog would die for me – and I sort of feel like I’ve got a 9mm on my hip.

Since we last saw Poe, Maria installed a pop-up Alu-Cab Icarus canopy. She admits here on her YouTube channel that it has become her favourite mod so far

How has your YouTube success changed your life, and how often do you run into subscribers? Well, my food budget isn’t $60 a week anymore like when I first started out! But besides being able to afford more groceries, I’m still on the road doing what I love, and I’d be doing this whether or not success came with it. My subscribers have been the biggest blessing in my life. I feel like I have an online family, and like family they are not afraid to call me out when I do something dumb. We’ve built trust and rapport, and if I need a second opinion, I ask them. I know they’re not going to sugar-coat things.

Do you have a favourite place so far, and what is the plan after you visit all 50 states? Alaska. The extreme weather has been brutal, but this is because I wasn’t prepared for the winter. After doing some upgrades to the Defender we’re doing much better, but I will 100 per cent be setting up a home base in Alaska someday. There’s absolutely no place like it.

A stuffed mini-me version of Poe and Blue ride out back

After North America we will all be going international. I want to ship the Defender back to England where it’s from and explore the UK and Europe. Eventually Iceland, Australia, Africa and New Zealand. Don’t worry, the 50-state road trip is just the beginning.

Do you have advice for anybody dreaming of hitting the road as you and Blue have done? Life is way too short; you only get one, and there are no do-overs. Don’t waste time being unhappy, unfulfilled, wondering ‘what if,’ and not living life to its fullest. You’ll have hurdles, stuff will go wrong, but have a positive outlook and keep on going.

 


 

Grey Market Imports

You may be wondering how a British 110 landed in America. Back in the 1970s a flood of new non-North American cars was being imported on the grey market (specifically Mercedes-Benz), which was putting the pinch on local dealer sales. Rumour has it the three-pointed star brand and other European manufacturers lobbied the US Congress to eliminate these imports for ‘public safety’ concerns. The Motor Vehicle Safety Compliance Act passed, which shut down this loophole. But it in 1998 it was amended to allow vehicles older than 25 years of age to be legally imported. That opened the door for America’s Land Rover aficionados to import all of the cool platforms previously reserved for daydreams and trips abroad.

 


 

Tech Specs

1997 Ex-MOD Defender 110
• Importer:
Power Stance Import Export, MI, USA
• Engine: 300Tdi 2.5-litre turbodiesel, Mantec raised air intake
• Power: 111bhp
• Torque: 195lb-ft
• Transmission/transfer case: R380 manual five-speed, LT230 t-case, centre diff lock
• Axles: Salisbury full-floating 9.75-inch rear, Land Rover Hotchkiss-style front, 354:1 ratio
• Tyres/wheels: 235/85 R16 BFGoodrich KO2 All-Terrain, factory 6.5-inch steel wheels
• Fuel capacity/range: 21 gallons, 500-plus miles
• Accessories: Custom interior, solar panel, Jackery power supply, Dometic fridge/freezer, Baja rack, Hi-Lift jack, Yakama pod, JBL Bluetooth speaker, Ardcase dual-pedal security lock

 


 

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