Its been over a month since Linda and I spent the weekend at Overland Expo. We went to listen and learn about what it takes to successfully undertake overland journeys in remote spaces. "Keep it light and keep it simple" was the message we heard over and over. If we followed that advice, many of the vehicles and much of the equipment we saw had to be ruled out. I also wanted to select a vehicle that was tough, adaptable and reasonably simple but could be used as an everyday hauler/transporter.
My Honda Element with the E Camper came pretty darn close. It's limitations are size and off road capabilities. Despite some modifications, and some trips into places that were truly pushing its limits, it did not have either the toughness nor the space that we wanted. We went looking for a platform that could be modified with a good selection of equipment, be serviced virtually anywhere, and had a long history of reliability all over the world.
There really are only three manufacturers that fit those criteria: Jeep, Land Rover and Toyota. Jeep's are certainly tough but don't have a great history of reliability. Land Rover's, particularly the old ones, are fantastic vehicles but can be expensive to buy and restore, and with few exceptions, are not designed to travel long distances at highway speeds. That leaves Toyota. Older models like the FJ40 have many of the same strengths and weaknesses as the older Land Rovers. Later models like the Land Cruiser could certainly work but they can be expensive to buy and maintain, and gas mileage is less than stellar.
After a lot of research, I purchased a 2011 Toyota Tacoma with the Off Road Package. It's a tough, proven platform and mileage is not too bad at an estimated 21 mpg highway. I am still working on a camping option for it but have narrowed it down to either a fiberglass shell with a sleeping platform or an AT FlipPac.
The FlipPac weighs less than 400 pounds and when closed, the back of the truck can be used for hauling stuff, like bikes. I've got some other ideas for it as well and I'll post more as they evolve.
As I have posted before, the idea of a big adventure has been rattling around in my brain for some time. Ultimately, it will involve bicycles but it will also include a vehicle of some type to allow me (and hopefully the missus) to visit remote areas with some measure of comfort.
If you've never looked at the equipment and vehicles available to undertake a multi-country adventure, the choices are mind blowing. They run the gamut from motorcycles to trucks the size of semi's. We spent last weekend in Amado, Arizona attending Overland Expo, a gathering of people and equipment manufacturers that allow one to undertake amazing journeys. There were speakers who described trips the length of the Americas or Africa in/on both 2 and 4 wheel vehicles. Manufacturers displayed their wares and Land Rover set up a driving course.
Our goal was to attend as many of the workshops as possible, listen to the stories, and collect as much info as possible so we could make some educated decisions. The range of vehicles was staggering. Some were gigantic (and IMHO, ridiculous):
Some historic. This is one of the 400 Camel Trophy Land Rovers.
Sportsmobile, a very creative 4WD conversion of a Ford Van.
Former military vehicles:
Lots of amazing 2 wheel vehicles
Our Honda was close to the smallest rig there but lots of people came by to look at it.
There were some really interesting camping set ups.
And some extremely creative kitchen set ups:
I never knew winch options existed for motorcycles.
A majority of the workshops were led by Brits, many of whom had decades of overland travel around the world. The overwhelming message I took away from all the workshops was -- keep it simple and keep it light. Many of the trips had been accomplished on vehicles that were not heavily modified. Lois Pryce rode the length of the America's and Africa on 250 cc Yamaha motorcycles. A number of cross Sahara trips were made in fairly stock vehicles. The American tendency to heavily modify vehicles was obvious in the manufacturer's exhibit area but not generally present in the trip reports I heard and saw. We met some very interesting folks and had a great time sharing stories and ideas.
The workshop I enjoyed most was "Bush Mechanics", a focus on temporary repairs that can get you and your vehicle to a place where a permanent fix can be completed. I learned that pepper, added to your radiator, reduces the risk of boil over; bar soap can be used to seal a leaking gas tank; a flat tire can be stuffed with grass and other plant material; brakes and clutches can be used (sparingly) with water and liquid soap, absent the appropriate fluids; chain, rope and ratchet straps can fix most suspension issues; and wood, properly shaped, can replace broken suspension parts.
So, did we figure out what direction we want to go? We have (I think) and it happened on the last night of the gathering. I'll share what it is after we figure everything out, but it will be comparatively light and simple compared with many of the options out there. Stay tuned.
One of the reasons I think Southern Utah is one of the most beautiful places on earth is the varied terrain you can see. In addition to red rocks and grand vistas, the area contains many slot canyons carved by eons of wind and water.
Accompanied by Jack and Joe, we explored one in the Goblin Valley area, north of Hanksville. My words really won't add anything to what I saw so hopefully, you'll be as amazed as I was.
Armed with a new laptop and time, I can finally catch up on my blogging. Despite a pretty snowy winter in the Twin Cities, winter seemed to fade away as I headed west. After making across Nebraska and eastern Colorado, and spending the night west of Denver, we headed towards Utah.
The Henry Mountains - east of Grand Staircase.
After spending the night in Hanksville, we headed east to explore the Poison Springs area and get some riding in.
Jack getting dinner ready.
After a cold night, the day dawned bright and much warmer. I was anxious to ride my new Ti Fargo as we headed towards the Poison River. The road was little more than a jeep track with multiple creek crossings, and covered in rock and loose gravel. The bike was amazing, handling all the road offered with no problems.
After we returned to camp, the sun was at such an angle that the petroglyphs on the rocks above. This is a fairly remote area but the fact that these drawings had survived centuries of sun and wind was pretty humbling.