Well, it's been some time and I've had no issues with starting...hot or cold. I'm confident in saying the fresh battery was everything I needed to resolve the issue.
In the meantime, I'd just been daily driving it and recently went to the local club's Cabin Fever event.
There was a good turnout and our usual trail had about 15 rigs on it, several were brand new to off roading and had a blast! Here's a shot of the air down spot:
The trail starts off with a hill climb that leads to some beautiful views at the top!
A little while later, we come to "the wall", which is a pair of rises that are fun for a lot of people (the gladiator high centered on it and ended up taking the bypass). No issues for me though!
Partway down is our favorite "flex stump". Of course, you know we had to climb it for some pictures.
This stump is where I proposed to my wife, which is one of the reasons this is our favorite trail every year.
We had some lunch at an old mineshaft and, at this point, we stopped remembering to take pictures and just enjoyed the trail and time together.
After lunch, we went down to a creek bed that had a few small waterfalls to climb (with a nice bypass for most of the more stock rigs to enjoy while seeing what's going on in the creek). I had to use a bit of throttle on one of the waterfalls but the jeep seemed to drive fine otherwise, so I didn't think anything of it (hint: foreshadowing).
After a great day on the trail, we aired up and headed out onto the road and the adventure continued! We had a pretty significant vibration in the whole truck at anything beyond 10mph. After crawling under the jeep, we noticed that the rear driveline was no longer straight.
We suspect we hit it on that waterfall but we'll never know for sure.
Thankfully, SYE means it's easy to pull the rear driveshaft without risking spilling fluid everywhere.
...and of course, Jeepers never go alone and we always help each other (huge thanks to Jim for helping me out).
So...we pulled the rear driveshaft off and drove back home in front wheel drive. I had to stop a couple of times early on to experiment since the front auto locker was constantly engaging and making it difficult to turn. I disengaged one of the hubs, which made it easier to turn but I had to keep the steering wheel turned against the driving wheel (since it wanted to pull really hard to the opposite side of the jeep while accelerating, but returned to straight when braking).
We made it the couple of hour drive home on the highway and through the city but by the time I got home, the power steering pump was leaking like a sieve. I think it was just too much constant strain for too long. I got the driveline repaired and a spare on it's way (should have done this sooner but just never got around to it...live and learn I suppose).
But I suppose that gives me direction for the next upgrade. Hydro-assist steering (redhead box, PSC piston)! More to come on that in the next few weeks.
In the meantime, I've had a few extra financial blessings lately and I got myself a more reliable (but still fun) daily driver so I can do some of these projects on the Jeep myself going forward without the stress of needing it running the next day to be able to drive to work and whatnot.