LAUNCH CODE: 106
Jeep Gladiator + Switchback X1
In 2016, I rode my bicycle across America with an organization called Bike & Build. I hadn't spent much time outside of the East Coast, but seeing the vastness of the country on a bicycle flipped a switch in me. From the steep hills and hollers of Appalachia, to the hot and windy plains, to the Mars-like terrain in Utah and Nevada along Route 50, to the granite and pines of the High Sierra…there's just SO much to see. I've got a thirst for the outdoors that hasn't been quenched since that trip and I've really oriented my life around it.
Our team (Washoe County HASTY) does a lot. Back country and mountain rescue, technical rope and mine rescue, swift water, dive, and even helicopter hoist! People on the team have one or more specialties that they are certified in. Our scope is broad and we often partner with a lot of other agencies for calls.
The calls are always interesting. Our county is HUGE and very diverse in terrain. We have 10,000 foot alpine peaks, Lake Tahoe and the Basin, and thousands of square miles of high desert within our jurisdiction. Sometimes it's going out for injured or hypothermic hikers in the middle of a snowstorm, other times it's searching for overdue or lost hunters up in the desert. We also get called out for water rescues and recoveries all over Northern Nevada. It keeps things exciting, to say the least!
It's a huge time commitment on top of a family and a day job. But to me, it's a way to get out and do things I love, explore, and help people in the community in a direct and tangible way with a kick-a** group of teammates. I got into this because it's the confluence of a lot of things I really enjoy.
To me the Gladiator is the most capable 4x4 out there. Solid axles, front+rear lockers, able to clear 35's from the factory…the list goes on. It does come at a cost (MPG isn't great and the front axle is definitely less smooth on the road), but knowing that I can go anywhere is a huge sense of security. Plus I get to have a Jeep AND a truck which is rad.
Having the X1 has been huge - it allows me to keep all my gear locked, dry, and staged for when I need it. The camper is also cavernous. I've had 4-5 teammates piled in the cab with ALL of their gear in the back heading up the trail, with plenty of room to spare. Plus there have been times where we're a few hours from home and it's late at night -- it's great to be able to pop the top anywhere and catch a few Z's since the schedule is inherently unpredictable.
My usual load-out in the back is 1 or 2 totes of gear (depending on the season), my back country pack, my rope rescue gear + helmets hung on the camper, a set of knock-off MaxxTraxx mounted against the cab side, and two camp chairs (because you never know when you're gonna need to tailgate). I keep the rest of my recovery gear locked in the cab under the rear seat.
The biggest learning has been personal: check the ego. The mountains will kill you if you aren't prepared and a lot of what we respond to is a lack of preparedness or folks getting in over their head. SAR has been a great learning experience for me -- it's helpful to see situations where things went wrong and think about what I may have done differently (or the same).
The side doors. These are bar-none, the best in the industry on any camper or cap. They are MASSIVE, are air-and water-tight, and the single key + single-handed opening is great when I've got gear or groceries in hand. I also like being able to access all of my SAR gear quickly instead of pulling everything out and making the staging area look like a yard sale.
All of the mounting options. I feel like I haven't even cracked the surface into really customizing my interior set up. My next big project is to determine if I want to build out the back. There are tons of cool ideas from full living spaces to 80/20 cabinets to simple wooden drawers, but really like how I can have my whole truck-bed empty in ~3 minutes (which is a big pro of a truck-camper). I'll probably start with some simple LED lights and go from there.
My Leatherman Wave. It isn't a sexy and trendy ~overlanding gadget~, but when I'm out in the woods or on a SAR call that thing is always on me. It's saved my ass more times than I can count, from picking up a scalding hot pots off the campfire to retightening the V1 clamps on my camper about 100 miles from the nearest paved road. Get one, it will pay for itself in spades.
These groups are overwhelmingly volunteer-run and often times get very little funding from local or state government. There is a TON of gear and training required, so donations always help. Plus if you're interested in getting involved, teams are always looking for new members.
Big thanks to Dan Sundaram for participating in the article. Say hey to him in the Community Hub here.
All Photos © Daniel Sundaram