Expedition Portal http://expeditionportal.com Wed, 17 Dec 2014 04:29:25 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.0 Field Tested: James Baroud Horizon Vision (part 2)http://expeditionportal.com/field-tested-james-baroud-horizon-vision/ http://expeditionportal.com/field-tested-james-baroud-horizon-vision/#comments Wed, 17 Dec 2014 00:18:09 +0000 http://expeditionportal.com/?p=23649 A couple of weeks ago I published our first impressions of the new James Baroud Horizon Vision roof top tent, a product I believe has the potential to bring new roof top tent users into the fold with its impressively low weight and compact size. In the months since first installing it on our Expedition Portal Jeep Patriot, I have had several opportunities to evaluate it in a variety of settings from warm nights in the desert to the cold of a Rocky Mountain winter. Given my previous evaluations of James Baroud tents, I had high expectations of the Horizon Vision and I was not disappointed.


What sets the Horizon Vision apart from its contemporaries is its small collapsed size and low weight. At 88 pounds and just 59x43x9-inches when collapsed, it is ideal for most small SUVs and wagons, something not easily attainable with most of the current offerings, some of which clock in at a whopping 165 pounds. This is however not just a story of size and weight. James Baroud tents are smartly designed with a host of features and conveniences unique to the brand.





One of the benefits of a lighter weight tent is obviously the ease of installation. Lifting the tent onto our Thule Aeroblade base rack was a piece of cake for two people. With the tent in place, the four mounting brackets were inserted into the two full-length aluminum mounting channels at the base of the tent. Once the eight nuts were secured, the tent was ready for the road. The total time to install took less than 17 minutes with one wrench.


It is worth pointing out that the two parallel mounting channels are 31-inches apart and run the length of the tent base. If your vehicle has rack towers that fall directly below the mounting channels, your fitment options could be limited or at the least, slightly complicated.



The setup procedure for the Horizon Vision begins with the removal of the cover. This is the most time consuming aspect of setup and takedown as the cover is attached at several points via an elasticized cord running around the perimeter of the cover. Don’t read that as difficult. I can have the cover removed in as little as 60-90 seconds.


Once the cover is removed, the next step is to retrieve the ladder and two support legs from the top of the folded tent. After releasing two cam-buckle straps on the far side of the tent, all that is needed is a slight amount of encouragement, and the hydraulic struts inside the tent do the rest. With one fluid motion, the tent unfolds with the support leg assembly hanging downward. The final two steps include attaching the support legs and the ladder. In all, the process takes less than four to five minutes––with very little effort.



(above) The cover attaches to the tent via elastic cord fixed to small black knobs at the base of the tent. An elegantly simple design. The tent platform has channels to accept the optional room enclosure.


(below) The ladder and lower support legs affix to the folded tent via four velcro loops which are held captive to the tent and as such will not get misplaced or lost. 





Once the tent is unfolded, the upper portion of the support legs hang, ready to receive the lower sections. Installing the lower sections takes but a minute or two with little fussing or effort.



The support legs permit the ladder to be positioned at a desired angle. It’s important to note, the support legs facilitate the support of the tent on a wide range of vehicle heights. Whether mounted to a tall SUV, or on a low wagon or crossover, the support legs offer excellent stability. The ladder has ample range to accommodate tall or low rooflines as well. 



As you would assume, stowing the tent is simply a reversal of setup. With the ladder and support legs detached, the user pulls on the internal webbing strap attached to the far side of the tent platform and the tent returns to its collapsed position. I do find it necessary to grab the frame members while I tuck the tent material into the frame so it doesn’t stick out of the side of the platform, but it’s a quick process. Once the tent is folded and the two cam-buckle straps secured, the ladder, support legs, and cover can be reattached. The total time to stow the tent averages around seven minutes for a solo user. Two people can have the tent road-ready in as little as four to five minutes.


I think it’s important to not only give kudos for the brief time required to set up and stow the Horizon Vision, but also for the ease of operation. There is no awkward fiddling or strenuous efforts required. Inserting the lower support legs is just about the only real effort required and takes all of 60 seconds to complete.


*I would like to thank Gary E who commented on my previous article about this tent, which can be read [HERE]. Gary asked if bedding and pillows can be left within the confines of the tent when collapsed. I think this has much to do with the bedding and pillows used. I am an ardent fan of two sleeping solutions, one being the Thermarest Vela Down Double comforter, and the other the Big Agnes Down Comforter. Both are so light and compact, they fit in the collapsed Horizon Vision perfectly. For pillows, I tend to favor Nemo Equipment’s Luxury Fillow pillows which also fit in the tent just fine when collapsed. Bulky comforters and pillows are effectively incongruent with the compact mission of the Horizon Vision, and as such––just won’t fit. Chose your bedding properly and this is a non-issue.





There are a couple of features worth discussing, namely the use of the support legs. This initially seemed like a design afterthought, but in use I can see the logic behind them. Because of the lightweight aluminum construction, the outer aspect of the sleeping platform does require additional support. Also, by employing the two support legs, it permits the user to position the access ladder at a preferred angle. It does add to the complexity of set up, but the benefits are just-worthy.


One of my grievances with other tents is the lack of windows, or poor placement of the windows. The four large zippered windows on the Horizon Vision allow for excellent views and unparalleled ventilation. The nickel-plated sliders and large gauge zippers don’t snag and are easy to secure, even in the dead of night.



The all-alumium structure is surprisingly solid and the wide support legs add to that stability.




The dual-door design not only improves air-flow, it makes for a convenient pass-through when shuttling gear from the vehicle to the tent. The doors have clear plastic windows allowing the tent to be zipped up in cold weather without blocking out all light, a nice touch in my opinion. I do find the doors have more zippers and sliders than I would like, especially when groggy eyes are searching for the right slider to pull, but the more I use the tent, the less bothered by that peccadillo I become. They do add greatly to the versatility of the door panels.


The two-part ladder attaches to the tent platform via two plastic hooks and never feels as if it might inadvertently disengage. I can see how the ladder might be a tad narrow for some, but the rungs are angled for reasonable foot comfort, even with bare feet. Given the mission of the Horizon Vision as a lightweight tent, I can see why James Baroud kept the ladder as light and small as it is.



The light colored interior combined with the oversized windows makes for a nice habitat, unlike many tents which can be dark and dreary. The struts positioned on each side of the tent are small and positioned out of the way as to not be cumbersome. The interior of the tent feels open and cleanly designed.





One of the glorious benefits of living in the Southwest is our fabulous weather. This once again required I break out the garden hose to test the Horizon Vision’s waterproof claims. With a minimum of seams placed smartly to assuage the threat of leaks, the untaped seams of the tent did surprisingly well to fend off the ingress of water. The tent is sewn with thread made from the same proprietary material as the tent body, with each seam stoutly built. There are a few places along the tent were some of the stitching holes are stretched just slightly and did permit a few drops of water to enter the tent. The easy solution wast to treat those few holes with seam sealer, a process that took all of ten minutes.


Because James Baroud tests each tent model in wind speeds up to 70 mph, I have every inclination to believe it will withstand any ugly meteorological event I’ll ever endure. I’m also looking forward to some winter camping as the snow flies. I just received the insulating Thermal Liner Kit and look forward to putting it to task.


Sleeping Comfort

This will always be the most subjective aspect of any roof top tent review, but I can give points for those things that impact a good night’s sleep. The tent has superb ventilation, something much needed for summer use. The aluminized synthetic tent fabric also reflects sunlight further reducing the buildup of unwanted heat. If you prefer to sleep in complete darkness, that fabric produces a dark interior that often has me sleeping in well beyond sunrise if I forget to leave one or both of the clear plastic windows open. The sleeping platform is more than large enough for two adults. At 87-inches in length and 59-inches wide, and I can also sit up with ample headroom thanks to the 47-inch peak height.


With regard to the sleeping mattress and the comfort it provides, there’s no way to award that component a fair score. Goldilocks had a heck of a time finding a bed that was just right. I will say, for my preference the mattress is very comfortable, if not a teeny bit firm. I would rather it be a touch firm than too soft and prone to compress and bottom out. I will say the mattress is sufficiently warm. During a chilly night with temps in the low teens, I was not chilled from below at all. I also have not noticed any unwanted creaking or motion with the sleeping platform.




IMG_8484 - Version 2 (2)


Road Manners

Because of the low profile shape of the collapsed tent, I was pleasantly surprised to discover it didn’t completely crush my gas mileage. Many similar tents have an imposing vertical front that is anywhere from 12-inches to even 14-inches tall. The 9-inch tall Horizon Vision does catch its fair share of wind, but my mileage numbers only fell from 24 mpg to 22 mpg with the addition of the tent. Those mileage numbers were evaluated over 2,500 miles, so I feel they are accurate, even if anecdotal. I also don’t notice any additional wind noise, but that is largely affected by the model of the vehicle and placement of the tent on the roof.


My overcome nitpicks

Having reviewed countless products over the years, I’ve come to learn that my immediately perceived negatives are often misplaced. I was initially put off by the Velcro at the bottom of each door. It seemed unnecessarily strong creating a minor struggle at times. In talking to Jim Oostdyk at James Baroud USA, he mentioned that every James Baroud tent is wind tested to speeds up to 70mph, and the stout Velcro is necessary to achieve that level of storm worthiness. That works for me.


I will admit that I still get a little befuddled by the complexity of the door with its many zipper sliders and layers, but I can’t deny the utility of the design and the useful options provided by it. I file that rather benign nitpick under user preference, or perhaps the need for just more practice. In the end, I wouldn’t change a thing about the door design.




Final Impressions

As I have said in other evaluations, I am not typically drawn to the charms of roof top tents. The James Baroud Evolution Evasion I tested earlier in the year started to redirect that opinion, and the Horizon Vision has won me over––completely. On a recent trip to Moab to get the above images, I arrived late in the evening after a long day at the wheel, found a camping spot, and within a matter of minutes was sawing logs inside the Horizon Vision. The next morning with equal speed and ease, I was back on the road well rested, perhaps more than usual.


For a smaller SUV or wagon, the Horizon Vision really is a smart option. Fitted to a Subaru or other small vehicle, it is proportionate and doesn’t upset the handling of the car, although it is noticeable. Even for a full-size truck, it has multiple advantages. Given the superior materials and detailed construction, the three-year warranty seems like ample coverage against any potential defects. It’s a beautiful product that once again, was long overdue. Every time I walk to the car now, I want to go camping.




The value proposition

With a retail price of $2300, there is no denying this is a committed purchase for most buyers. Over the last few years we have seen RTT prices fall dramatically, but we’ve also witnessed a steep degradation in quality, performance, longevity, and unfortunately service and warranty assistance. Given the venerated reputation of James Baroud and their dedication to the satisfaction of the end user, I feel the Horizon Vision more than justifies its price tag. This cannot be an easy product to manufacture, and the materials alone cannot be cheap. I also had to put this tent within the context of my previous sleeping solution, which was a $700 ground tent portaged in a $700 Yakima cargo box. The Horizon Vision is a far superior setup.




The Little Overlander: Expedition Portal’s Jeep Patriot

For many overlanders a proper rig must be capable of traversing the worst roads imaginable. For some of us, our overland travels involve mostly gravel roads and a good bit of tarmac. This is often the terrain of the ubiquitous Subaru but there are alternatives. The 2011 Patriot may not seem like an obvious choice for mild adventures, but it has proven a perfect platform for knocking down a full day’s pavement to get to a far away trailhead or remote camping spot. Paired to the lightweight James Baroud Horizon Vision, it is even more enjoyable.


Our little overlander has been fitted with a Rocky Road Outfitters lift kit, sliders, and Cooper AT3 tires. It also has a 40 quart ARB refrigerator, and Goal Zero Yeti 400 power pack mated to dual 15 watt solar panels.


You can read more about our Jeep Patriot [HERE].



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A Pilgrimage to Randsburg, California and The Husky Monumenthttp://expeditionportal.com/a-pilgrimage-to-randsburg-california-and-the-husky-monument/ http://expeditionportal.com/a-pilgrimage-to-randsburg-california-and-the-husky-monument/#comments Tue, 16 Dec 2014 07:08:40 +0000 http://expeditionportal.com/?p=24600 The pre-dawn air was cold and still damp from the previous night’s storm as we loaded Stacie’s 2011 Husqvarna TE 310 into her red, 1970 Ford  pick-up truck for a day of desert riding and for a visit to the fabled Huskey Monument.   Still half awake, we headed out into the desert, past by the old-west store fronts and collapsed homesteads that make up the living ghost town of Randsburg, CA.  If not for the scores of desert motorcyclists who converge here year round, Randsburg would be truly dead, leaving the 19th century mine works scattered around it’s perimeter completely forgotten, rusting back into red stains of elemental iron.


Leading the way on my BMW R1200GSA,  I began to imagine what Randsburg was like in 1896 when it was still called Rand Camp. With the discovery of gold here mining had begun in earnest, transforming a collection of canvas tents into the town that’s still visible today.  In every imaginable condition, most of the houses, store fronts, barns and workshops are as they were when originally built.  Many still standing, fewer inhabited and others little more than heaps of dry, brittle lumber, sprouting with rusted square-head nails still bent in place from the carpenter’s hammer that pounded them in one-hundred-and-thirty years ago.


 Huge tailing piles and mine works surround Randsburg. Look’s like Stacie is ready to get going.


Randsburg’s appeal is in it’s authenticity.  It’s not the “site” of a ghost town, reconstructed to approximate an ideal of the past.  Instead, it is the past and exists today for the most part, as it was.   A quality that is as rare as the precious yellow metal that brought people here in the first place.



Milkshakes are a popular item at the Randsburg General Store’s Soda Fountain.


Making our way South on the 395 to meet our friend Eric who would be leading “big-bike” friendly ride through the northern Mojave Desert to a place known as the Huskey Monument.  Little known outside of the Southern California desert motorcycle community, the monument is a memorial shrine  to deceased off-road enthusiasts.



Randsburg’s old Post Office.


We had heard that there was an actual Husqvarna 390, buried there. Someone even said there was a man buried there. Like Randsburg, the Huskey Monument is an out of the way place you’re not likely to stumble upon.  it’s destination you need to know you’re headed to, so Stacie and I were both excited be guided there.


Huskey Map Our Route to the Huskey Monument began from the South. Download the Track here.

Link: https://www.dropbox.com/s/ndu6qta1r9u7cjf/Husky%20Monument.GPX?dl=0 Google Earth


As we were unloading Stacie’s Huskey, we got word from Eric that he had broken a shock on his bike that morning and wasn’t going to make it. We decided at once that with or without a guide, we were going to find the Huskey Monument on our own.   We had come all the way out here and weren’t going to let a little thing like having no idea where we were going stop us.



Sand, sand and more sand. If you’re going to do any off -road riding in the Southern California deserts, you’d better get comfortable riding on it. Lighter machines like Stacie’s Husqvarna TE 310 (left) have an easier time negotiating loose terrain than the super heavy BMW R1200GSA (Right).


Sitting on the tailgate of her 1970 Ford, laptop tethered to an iPhone  for internet connectivity I downloaded Eric’s GPS tracks for the ride he was going to lead.  The files however weren’t assembled as single route.  Instead, they were a mess of broken up, unconnected routes.  While I was struggling with unfamiliar software to stitch the tracks together and get them loaded onto my GPS, we lost an hour before I was able to get something that looked like a route.  But it still wasn’t right. The route would only load backwards on my GPS and any attempt to reverse the direction would re-route us to paved roads.  Frustrated and tired of sitting around we left the truck behind and struck out into the desert.




The desert around the Huskey Monument has numerous, ancient petroglyph sites to discover.


By early afternoon the route was beginning to become interesting.  Traveling northward through the desert, we past mineral mines and ancient lava flows made up of strange, porous rocks that up close, looked like solid blocks of carbonated red softdrink with their tiny bubbles held frozen in the stone. We rode past prehistoric petroglyphs etched into red stone and crossed vast sand-filled washes and dry lake beds.



Jim and Stacie pause for a selfie in front of one of the many lava flows that cover the desert.


When the GPS indicated that we were getting close to the Huskey Monument the trail got more challenging.  Turning to the west we ascended for miles through a pass with long sections over lumpy undulations on the trail, known as”whoops.” Each lump three feet apart and three feet high .   To keep the heavy BMW’s  suspension from bottoming-out at the bottom of each rolling whoop I needed to slow down.  But for Stacie aboard her lighter and more nimble Husqvarna, speed was her friend.



Stacie rips into the distance on her own “Huskey.”


Flying past me her wheels easily skipped across the tops of the rolling terrain.  She was getting a feel for her bike and I was having a hard time keeping up.  Even with my suspension set to it’s highest ground clearance, the bashplate on the bottom of my engine was slamming into each relentless depression with enough force to bounce my feet off of the foot pegs.



Low cumulous clouds linger from the previous nights storm as we arrive at The Huskey Monument.


Stacie was riding great and as long as she didn’t stop, her and the Huskey seemed unstoppable. Her Husqvarna is amazing save for one problem. When seated on the saddle, Stacie’s feet don’t reach the ground.  So coming to a stop, especially on uneven ground would often lead to her topling over to one side or another.  Fortunately, it’s light enough for her to easily lift back to it’s “wheels-down,” posture.



This cross dedicated Thomas E. Purvis, reveals some clues about his preference for motorcycles and hard liquor.


We found ourselves lost again when the GPS track terminated at a place some 10 miles away from the Monument.  Undeterred we pressed on, finding our way by manually entering the coordinates of the monument into my GPS: N 35 Degrees 12. 951′ W 117 Degrees 19. 059′.  The “direct” route from the coordinates  had me guessing about which trails to take and and we found ourselves threading through webs of difficult and rocky, single track trail. The final two miles had us scrambling up steep boulder strewn berms and sliding down into silt filled washes.  Stacie’s Huskey gobbled it up and my the my big BMW tractored through all of it. We knew we were close giving our progress new momentum.



The sheet metal American flag sculpture is the tallest of the individual shrines erected at the Huskey Monument.


We crested a final rock-covered berm and came upon monument grounds below . Riding down into the clearing that surrounds the place,  we made a lap around it before hopping off our bikes to celebrate. Stacie danced about and I fished out a warm beer I’d stashed away for the occasion. The winter storm had come through the night before left the desert sky filled with thick, boiling clouds and the air was crisp and refreshing.  Expecting to find little more than a rusted-out motorcycle half-buried in a sand patch, we were taken aback the truth of what the monument actually was.



Jim “Jerickson” Erickson’s Husqvarna (Huskey) 390 is the original relec at the center of the Monument.


Set in a stone ring the monument is made up of dozens of hand crafted memorials to deceased riders.  Each completely individual and intimate. At the center of the ring rests the original Huskey 390.  Erected in 1987 in memory of Jim Erickson whose love for riding his “Huskey” in this desert compelled his family and friends to permanently set his motorcycle in concrete and spread his ashes here.



Earnie Gerloff’s who made his final Sunday ride in the Desert aboard his Husqvarna at the age of 69, is also memorialized along with dozens of others here at the Huseky Monument.


Nearly thirty years later many more shrines have been placed on this site and the ashes of numerous others gathered on what is now hallowed ground.



The shrine laid for Charlie Morris displays personal articles and a convenient place to set down a can of beer.


In one section of the stone ring, motorcycle forks with handlebars and number plates attached stand like crosses in a triad.  In another, motorcycle boots sit empty, ensconced in a shallow square of cement.  A passed rider’s helmet rests atop a pedestal and fuel tanks, wheels, fenders, frames and sprockets come together in a remarkable and considered way.



Pancho, Big Neal, Little Neil and many more are remembered here with cross-like handlebars.


Brass plaques, eulogise past riders with personal words making the place emanate the serene reverence of a cathedral or military cemetery.  Even the empty beer brought out to toast passed friends, fathers and brothers are left behind in an orderly, respectful way. Somehow, all of the completely unique tributes placed here, each handcrafted crafted in workshops or garages, come together as a singular expression. As if a single artist had been commissioned to create it.



After a long day of desert riding, discovery and adventure, Stacie and I make our way back to the highway.


Like the nearby, living ghost town of Randsburg, the Huskey Monument is authentic. While Randsburg preserves the physical past, the Huskey Monument preserves the memories of individuals. Each with a shared passion for this desert, the hidden beauty, adventure and history it offers-up to those intrepid enough to come here.


Photo Credits Copyright 2014: Jim P. Downs


You can find more great stories from Jim Downs on his site: Moto Stella


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FJ Positive: One man’s yard art is another man’s dreamhttp://expeditionportal.com/fj-positive-one-mans-yard-art-is-another-mans-dream/ http://expeditionportal.com/fj-positive-one-mans-yard-art-is-another-mans-dream/#comments Mon, 15 Dec 2014 10:00:57 +0000 http://expeditionportal.com/?p=24420 It’s cool for a mid-June morning in central western Nevada. The sun is approaching 30 degrees declination on the eastern horizon, and the mercury is just above 60º Fahrenheit. Pillowy cumulus clouds slipped over the Sierra Nevada during the night and now drift lazily overhead, their shadows casting every tint of a painter’s palette over the spring desertscape.

OJ_Winter_09_18 1

A solid thud shakes the floorboards as we transition off the two-lane to Winnemucca Ranch Road west of Pyramid Lake. As we gain momentum, the sound of each bump, chuckhole, and bit of gravel reverberates through the sturdy steel body panels and off the anvil-flat windscreen with a harmonic drone, analogous to the coach-seat din of an old Douglas DC-3. It is a comfortable and familiar sonance. My mind flashes back a few decades, to weekend treks in a friend’s FJ40, tire-skipping down this same stretch of washboard. But the chassis beneath me isn’t your basic FJ, and the guy to my left, David Berry—I’d say he’s in the upper echelon of Land Cruiser aficionados.


Like many of us, David had logged thousands of miles through America’s heartland, occasionally eyeing a vintage Camaro, Willys, or ‘56 Chevy becoming one with the landscape in someone’s cornfield. In 1999, somewhere near Riverton, Wyoming, he glimpsed a dilapidated FJ45LV sprouting up behind a barn with a few other icons of automotive lore. Having grown up traversing the deserts southwest and latitudes of Baja Sur, Mexico in the jump seat of his dad’s FJ40, and having held title to a dozen or so Cruisers over the years, we’d say David’s blood is, um, FJ-positive? Recalling the cliché, One man’s trash is another man’s treasure, he turned around, pulled in the drive, and knocked on the door. Nine months and a dear sum of $300 later, the slightly used LV was in his rearview mirror lashed to a flatbed trailer, and heading for a new home in California.


One of only 5,080 LVs produced between 1963 and 1967, the previous 22 years in the weed patch had been rough on the old girl. The OEM paint had a wind blasted patina, seats, headliner, and rubber components resembled a fissured Botswana salt pan, and weeds had been sprouting through the now-ventilated floor-pan. But the body panels and roof were clean and straight, the glass was intact, and the chassis was solid. And the 1,000-mile drive home gave him a few hours to mentally iron out the LV’s future. Given the uniqueness of his newly acquired treasure, and David’s vision of a world-class overlander, this would be more than a B-grade restoration.


From the ground up


From the firewall forward, the 45LV is a mirror image of a contemporary FJ40. Move aft and it resembles a vehicle built in the forties. Sandblasting the body revealed that each body panel was factory-sprayed with molten lead and hand-worked to perfection, virtually eliminating visual artifacts of body transitions. David can spin a wrench and run a bead with a welder, but this type of work was way over his head. A floor pan was sourced from LV guru Rick Donnelly, who also put him in touch with Mike Francis, owner of Rock Solid Off Road. Francis agreed to take on the project, and swapped in the new floor pan in lieu of the existing sieve. The fenders, hood, roof, and side panels were stripped to bare metal, reworked, primed, and painted in Heath Gray and Cygnus White (OEM colors for 71-74 FJ55s). With plans for later-model brake and clutch master cylinders, and the desire that all aspects of the LV’s restoration look as clean as possible, a late-model firewall was also grafted in place. The original glass was in good shape, and most could be refitted with available window gaskets, but the windwing rubber needed to be custom fabricated, as did the taillight lenses and Land Cruiser medallion on the rear drop gate.



Back at the Berry Ranch, David stripped the frame; inspected the welds, rivets, and structural integrity; prepped it for a new suspension, and applied multiple coats of John Deere black tractor paint. At 4,070 pounds, Land Cruisers are far from featherweights in the off-road world. When fully kitted and loaded with gear, tanks topped off, a navigator to your right and dog in the back, it could easily tip the scales at 6,000 pounds—enough to flatten the stock springs and render the shocks worthless. The solution was a pair of semi-elliptic Man-a-Fre Safari springs up front, a Specter heavy-duty nine-leaf set out back, and Rancho 9000 adjustable shocks at each corner. A pair of Boss Suspension air bags from Australia was added to keep the LV level when fully loaded. The result was a 3.5-inch increase in elevation, and a ride that would manage the tar road comfortably yet feel at home on the remote two-track.


Under the bonnet and unsprung weight


The ‘60s and ‘70s brought many improvements to the Land Cruiser platform: Disk brakes, more powerful motors, synchronized transmissions, and fine-splined drive train components. Fortunately for David, one of his other rigs, a ‘79 FJ55 with a dire case of body cancer, was ready to live on via the LV. The 55’s front axle was fitted with 62-Series fine-spline 4:11 gears and a pair of vented and drilled brake disks from DBA (Australia). To accommodate a cable-actuated emergency brake, David sourced a 1981 rear housing, re-geared it, and mounted it with greasable shackles. Capping all four corners is a set of six-ply 33/9.5/R15 BFGoodrich All-Terrains fitted to the OEM wheels.


Under the bonnet, the original 3.9-liter F-Series engine was upgraded with a more powerful 4.2-liter 2F motor from the donor FJ55. To maintain reliability in the backcountry, it was left in stock form with the exception of upgraded fuel and exhaust management, comprising a rebuilt carburetor from Mark’s Off Road, and a Man-a-Fre header and custom exhaust from Mom’s Muffler. Mated to the 2F is an H55 5-speed transmission with a 19-spline output shaft and a 1979 transfer case. With the new firewall in place, the late-model brake and clutch master cylinders bolted in with a clean factory appearance. The ensemble was brought to life with a pair of Optima batteries managed by National Luna dual-battery controls and a Painless wiring harness.


Interior and electronics


As we approached the track to one of my old camping haunts, I glanced across the instrument panel and interior. Its attitude was that of an acclaimed thoroughbred—clean lines, immaculately groomed, yet with an air of tenacious determination—akin to a one-time Preakness winner granted a second chance to run for the money. The Lowrance Baja 540c GPS scrolled to W39°50’59” N119°44’25”, and the subtle whine of the synchromesh gears beneath us faded as we slowed to make the turn.


During the aforementioned body, frame, and drivetrain work, the interior was being addressed by The Body Shop in Atascadero, California. A new headliner and carpet set, also from Specter Off Road, along with new door seals, were fitted to the newly refurbished body. The ailing bench seat needed a complete makeover and re-skin, after which it was fitted with new belts. Visors, door panels, and tailgate were also in the operating room queue, pulling through with strong vitals and a second chance at life.



Although the LV came with a rear heater, the rear seat had been removed, so David replaced the heater with a 120V inverter, accessory fuse panel, and a small bank of 12V power outlets. To maintain the visual integrity of the dash panel, equipment such as the GPS and Engel fridge monitor are on suction-cup mounts. Even the stereo and new AC system are hidden from view (sourced from Old Air and Vintage Air Products if you’re in need).


Home away from home


Knowing that the LV would be his primary abode during extended treks through the western U.S., David needed to select gear that was reliable, functional, and compact. The LV’s rain gutters provided a sturdy foundation for an array of Yakima load bars, to which David mounted a Magiolina roof-top tent and a Yakima cargo basket. For those scorching Death Valley days when you can stop for a mid-day egg fry at any given rock, David located an old-style Hannibal awning on eBay. Keeping those eggs and other perishables fresh is an Engel 45 fridge, coupled with Engel’s dash-mounted monitoring system. For proper hygiene during extended forays, a Helton hot water shower was fitted under the bonnet, and 10 gallons of water ride on the rear deck. Two rack-mounted Expeditionware NATO fuel cans extend the LV’s trail range, while a Warn M8000 fitted to a Man-a-Fre HFS front bumper stands ready for the unexpected bog or downed tree. When back on the tar road, a Master Flow 1050 portable compressor manages airing up the tires.


Jonathan Hanson and I initially spotted this impeccable work of art—and we don’t mean yard art—at the 2009 Overland Expo. After crawling underneath and poking our heads inside (not to mention doing a bit of drooling), we knew it needed to grace the pages of Overland Journal. Every facet of the LV’s reincarnation was done with forethought and compassion, and without compromise in either elbow grease or economics. Six years after that long drive from Wyoming, this FJ45LV was again tooling around the lonely two-tracks of the Grand Canyon, Death Valley, and the eastern Sierra Nevada. A Wyoming man’s yard art had been transformed into a California man’s treasure.


When I asked David how much it would take for him to part with it, he just smiled and laughed.


What was I thinking?


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Mercedes Benz Sprinter Van: Improvements for 2015http://expeditionportal.com/mercedes-benz-sprinter-van-improvements-for-2015/ http://expeditionportal.com/mercedes-benz-sprinter-van-improvements-for-2015/#comments Sun, 14 Dec 2014 07:03:17 +0000 http://expeditionportal.com/?p=24853 The Mercedes Benz (MB) Sprinter van is an albatross of a vehicle. Not only is it extremely long (the 170” wheel base model is 24’ 1.2”) it’s also extremely tall at a slight tic over eight feet (8.03 ft) -for the High Roof model.  Just to put that into perspective, the van is as tall as the ARB 2500 awning is wide. So who cares? We already know this is, and it’s the same as it was last year. Well, as one could imagine, a vehicle of this immensity is prone to scary and dangerous lane changes with even the slightest gust of wind. New for 2015, MB introduces their proprietary Crosswind Assist. Using the vehicle’s Load Adaptive Electronic Stability Program to modulate the brakes individually, the Sprinter aids the driver in steadying the helm at speeds above 50mph (81km). What this means for the driver is greater vehicle control and an increased margin of safety over previous models. All this technology works towards making this behemoth appear smaller from behind the wheel. Not only is the new Sprinter van safer, it is also much more capable.


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Safety 3rd 

Also new for the 2015 North American market is a four-wheel drive option. That’s right, a four-wheel drive, diesel, Mercedes Benz van for North America. With two additional drive wheels (additional cost, $6500 USD) buyers now have the option of a push button, low-range transfer case (additional cost, $300 USD) providing a 42% crawl ratio reduction. OK, so, no doubt everyone is thinking: how capable can something like this be? In a word: very.


In the small town of Ladson, SC, where all of the Sprinter vans are produced for the North American market, lies a small off road test track. Peppered with strategically placed ruts, hills and off camber portions, drivers can test the computer controlled traction aids as well as the increased suspension ride height (+4.3” front, +3.1” rear). The large van does incredibly well maintaining forward progress even with one wheel lifted completely off of the ground –something that would leave two wheel drive versions in need of recovery.


The 2015 Sprinter is a bargain at just under $45,000 USD. It’s only a matter of time before camper versions begin to appear on your favorite trails and back roads. Expect to see some interesting conversions showing up in increasing numbers to events like Overland Expo very soon.


I don’t know about you, but I for one am excited to see what the community does with these.


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Specifications: Via mbsprinterusa.com

  • Diesel engine
  • 6-cylinder, V 72*
  • 4 valves per cylinder
  • Displacement: 2987cc
  • 188 hp at 3,800 rpm
  • Rated torque: 325 lb-ft at 1,400-2,400 rpm
  • 5 speed automatic
  • Fuel Type: Ultra-low-sulfur diesel
  • Tank Capacity 26.4 gallons
  • Electronically controlled direct injection with common rail
  • Turbocharger and intercooler function
  • Battery 12V/100Ah, alternator 14V/220A

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Field Tested: MSR’s New WindBoiler Compact Stove Systemhttp://expeditionportal.com/field-tested-msrs-new-windboiler-personal-stove-system/ http://expeditionportal.com/field-tested-msrs-new-windboiler-personal-stove-system/#comments Sat, 13 Dec 2014 07:27:27 +0000 http://expeditionportal.com/?p=23439 Over the last several years there has been increasing popularity in the use of personal stove systems. The benefits of these compact burner and pot combinations are many-fold, beginning with their compact size, efficiency, and ease of use. They lend themselves well to travel by bicycle, motorcycle, and even earn space in monstrously large vehicles where those considerations are normally inconsequential.

MSR is no stranger to this category of stoves with their venerable Reactor regarded as one of the most expedition-worthy systems on the market. I have used my MSR Reactor 1L over the past year in a variety of settings from the sands of Baja to the fringes of the Arctic Circle in the North Atlantic. It has become one of few trusted tools that accompany my every adventure. When I first learned of MSR’s newest personal stove system, the newly released WindBoiler, I knew I had to have one.


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The heat exchanger is extremely well made and mates perfectly to the large radiant burner.


Like the Reactor, the new WindBoiler uses MSR’s proven radiant burner technology which is an internally regulated and enclosed flame source designed to thwart wind. That seems like an innocuous detail until you take into consideration that many other stoves with exposed flames fail to achieve a boil in even the most modest of breezes. Having used MSR’s burner technology in full gales, I can tell you it not only works, it works better than expected, and always when you need it most.



Just because something is small and simple, doesn’t mean it can’t also be full featured. The cup and pot lid snap together to create a great drinking cup. The wire burner adjuster is long and keeps your hands away from the heat source.


 Notes from the field

Although I have only had a chance to use the new WindBoiler a few times, I can say it is easily my favorite one-person cooking system on the market. I also know what many of you are thinking, and yes, it does look very similar to a JetBoil. I think even the name borrows a bit too much from the stove and pot combo that effectively created this category of stove. That said, the WindBoiler is without question––a step above. I couldn’t begin to account for how many cans of fuel I’ve burned in my various JetBoils, and after just a few uses of the WindBoiler, declare it a far superior product.


Assembling the stove is easy, and while the WindBoiler lacks its own ignition source, my good old Bic lighter has never failed me, something I can’t say is true of most built-in piezoelectric lighters. The stove primes in seconds and produces a reliable heat source every time. The heat exchanger mates to the stove without any fussing, and everything just feels superbly manufactured and refined. Fuel efficiency has been on par with other stoves and my own expectations, and even the French Press accessory works as advertised. It’s another home run for MSR, and one of my favorite products of the year.




The 1-liter cooking pot houses the fuel can, stove and leg supports. The lid has a built-in strainer and drink port. The heavy-duty handle and sturdy insulation sleeve make it easy to handle the pot even when filled with warm fluids.


The new WindBoiler, like many one-person systems, uses a blended isobutane and propane canister for fuel. In our field tests it has proven to be a very fuel efficient system with excellent temperature modulation. Boil times are remarkably fast at an average of just two minutes and thirty seconds. The materials and construction are superior to most systems in its class, a hallmark of MSR quality. Even the insulated sleeve is made of durable nylon in lieu of the more delicate neoprene used by other brands. The heartily constructed heat exchanger at the bottom of the cooking vessel mates to the stove without any awkward fussing, and the entire system nests inside the pot for easy transport.  $129  msrgear.com  206-505-9500


 Radiant Burner Technology


When selecting gear for the harsh weather of Iceland, I knew I had to pack an MSR Reactor 1L. The radiant burner paired to the well designed heat exchanger on the pot meant I could maximize my meager fuel supplies and get water boiling in no time at all. The burner primes in just seconds and has been 100% reliable in all weather.








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Featured Vehicle: 2001 Land Cruiser KDJ95http://expeditionportal.com/featured-vehicle-2001-land-cruiser-kdj95/ http://expeditionportal.com/featured-vehicle-2001-land-cruiser-kdj95/#comments Sat, 13 Dec 2014 07:26:30 +0000 http://expeditionportal.com/?p=24495 It goes without saying that the more than 100,000 members of Expedition Portal have quite a collection of fine trucks. ExPo member johanso of Sweden recently completed the build of his 2001 Land Cruiser, and with his wife at his side, has already used it to embark on a host adventures including a trip through Sweden, Norway and Russia.


Johanso was quick to point out that the mission with his build was to add only the necessary modifications needed to travel solo in the wild places near his home. Keeping weight to a minimum meant sticking with factory bumpers and omitting some of the heavy hardware other overlanders use. This was done to bolster fuel efficiency and reduce complexity.


“I had a similar car but a shorter 3 door version a couple of years ago and missed it ever since I sold it. So when it was time to get a new Land Cruiser for some travelling I knew what wanted. I prefer the looks and simplicity of the 90 compared to it’s successor the 120 but it was rather difficult to find a clean one with reasonable mileage and the 163hp D4D engine which only was available in 2000 and 2001. After a couple of month of scanning the classifieds I found the right car. One owner car with 110000 miles.”  – johanso





3-liter (1kd-ftv) 163hp 343 nm common rail diesel. Now fitted with TTE-Performance kit which is a Toyota tuning box that bump up the numbers to 204hp and 410 nm (302lb/ft)
Safari Snorkel
5-speed manual
Permanent 4×4. Lockable center diff. Unfortunately not lockable rear diff.
Extended diff breathers

Bilstein 5100 shocks
OME struts

Wheels and tyres:
Powder coated HDJ80 16×8
Goodyear Duratrac 265/75-16

Home made drawers/sleeping platform
300w inverter



Careful detail was applied to the selection and installation of key electrical components.


“During the long winter months I started to plan for making home made drawers. I want to have the possibility to sleep in the car so I made the drawers in two sections. With only the rear section in place the rear seat can be kept in the car. With both sections in place the platform is around 180 cm long. 

The objectives where to keep weight and cost low and to be able to take out the drawers fairly easy. I built the drawers from 12 mm marine plywood that was covered with a grey felt fabric in similar tone to the oem carpet.” - johanso





The drawer system allows for ample storage, anchors the refrigerator, and serves as a sleeping platform.





“In the Northern Hemisphere Land Cruiser 90 was fitted with two starter batteries. I wanted to be able to run my fridge an inverter and other things separately and started to look at different solutions. I’m not that good at electricity so i wanted to keep things as simple as possible. 

Most solutions I found was made in a way so that the second battery is a just an auxiliary battery and doesn’t help the starter. In my case I was wasn’t willing to give up the possibility to use both batteries for the starter since I sometimes need to do cold starts in the winter time when I don’t have access to an outlet for the heater. 

Blue Sea has kit called ”Add a Battery” that looks promising since there is both a charging relay and switch where you can choose between separating the batteries or running both as starting batteries. Since under hood space is limited and I was unsure whether this kit would cope with a high compression diesel starter I decided to wait. I started of with a really simple solution where I run the fridge on both batteries. I just have to keep an eye on the charge the batteries gives so I don’t flatten them.

So, from the second battery I ran a 16 mm cable to an inline fuse and then to a 100 amp relay. This relay makes it possible to completely shut of this circuit with a switch on the panel. The cable then goes in to cabin and in to the arm rest box between the front seats. There I mounted a Blue Sea fuse box with a separate fuse for every circuit. I thought that box would make a secure and easy accessible place for the fuses. I’ll have to fab up some kind of plate to protect the fuse box and use the space for storage. Don’t want to throw down a set of keys there with the power on…” – johanso






Cooking is made easier with a drop-down stove and prep table. The sleeping quarters make for easy camp set up.




On the Road


“My wife and I just completed a trip that went through Sweden, Norway, Finland and Russia. 
I’ve always wanted to go to the Northen part of Norway and the Kola Peninsula in Russia. Unfortunately its 1500 km just to get there from my hometown Stockholm. So even if would require some hours behind the wheel we thought it would make sense to visit both places at the same time. 

In brief our planned route was:
Going from Stockholm up to Kiruna and Abisko National Park which in my opinion is one the most beautiful places in Sweden. 
From there we headed further up north through Finland in to Norway. 
In Norway we followed the coast and drive east towards Kirkenes and the Russian border.
First stop in Russia was Murmansk and then south to Khibiny Mountains. 
Further down south to Kandalaksha and the White Sea Coast.
Then along the White Sea Coast where we explored the small fishing villages. Varzuga River is as far east as you can go on the Kola Peninsula with 4×4. To go further east you need helicopter or boat.
On our way back home we drove towards Salla, thorugh Finland and then along the coast of the Baltic Sea south down to Stockholm.”













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You can read the whole thread on Expedition Portal [HERE].


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A Southern California Adventure (Part II)http://expeditionportal.com/a-southern-california-adventure-2/ http://expeditionportal.com/a-southern-california-adventure-2/#comments Fri, 12 Dec 2014 08:01:26 +0000 http://expeditionportal.com/?p=24659 Our first night of sleep back in the teardrop was a deep and restful one, something I was thankful for with the coming pain I was sure to receive this afternoon. You see, in a lapse of judgment I had agreed to take lessons in surfing—a sport in which you greatly benefit from small stature, a great sense of balance, and time and practice. I had none of these, and was definitely in trouble.



We ate a quick breakfast of coffee, eggs, and bacon, said farewell to our beautiful camp, and headed south into Laguna Beach. I couldn’t have been more pleased with our decision as we pulled up to the Soul Surf School: the little orange sign offset by palm trees certainly looked the part, and the gentleman working the counter inside brought the whole picture together. Immediately friendly, he welcomed us with a warm smile and what can only be described as a stereotypical Southern California surf accent. He introduced us to our instructor Goff, who also had the same wonderful accent, and led us toward the beach with boards in hand.




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Walking down the stairs we quickly realized that we had made the right choice in surf schools. If the fact that our instructor’s name had been laid in the concrete steps to the beach wasn’t enough of an indicator, the countless waves from the locals was. While some surf schools immediately take to the water, we sat on the beach watching the waves and listening to his methods. The hands-on ground school demonstrated how to stand, why it was important, and how to feel for the right wave. It wasn’t long before we hit the water, and we were up on our first try (or close to it). Of course, we all got a little too confident which resulted in a few epic falls.

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The only regret I have from the class is not having my camera ready at the end of our lesson. After winning a bet with our instructor—that I could catch the last wave in—he agreed to ride one in on his head. I assumed he was joking, but sure enough on the last wave Goff rode in balanced on his head. I guess that trick is reserved for a future lesson. If you’re interested in learning how to surf, I can’t recommend Soul Surf and their instructors enough. Check them out on their website here.


Though we thoroughly enjoyed our time lounging on the sun-soaked beach the time had come to seek out some dirt roads, ruined resorts, and of course a little adventure. We loaded up on as much seafood as we could cram into the fridge and set out for the California desert.


The seemingly endless pavement of Ortega Highway wound through the mountains in front of us for hours, which of course felt like days with our anticipation for the desert tracks that lay ahead. The sun slowly made its way further and further across the sky until it dipped low enough to paint the hills in hues of orange and gold. Not ones to miss a view, our team quickly pulled over to enjoy our second sunset of the trip.



Teardrops have many advantages, one of which is their incredibly easy kitchen setup and breakdown. Within minutes of pulling over, the back of the teardrop was open and the stove was burning blue. Our visiting world traveler, Ben Davenport, would be serving as chef tonight for our main course of salmon filets, shrimp, and scallops. Ashlie would be cooking the sides of garlic mashed potatoes and green beans. For dessert, freshly baked cheesecakes from the Ortega Oaks Candy Store. Chazz of course would pour the rum, while I opened a bottle of wine.

It’s funny how even right off the road a little music, food, and friends can make you forget the world around you and enjoy the moment. Seasoned with butter, lemon and a few herbs, the aroma of seafood floating through the air was delightful. The food was great and the views spectacular, but the company it was shared with made it all worth while.


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By the time we crested our last hill of the evening and saw the emptiness of the Borrego Badlands stretched out before us, the whole team was exhausted. We picked a random turn-off leading into the open desert and followed it as far as we dared venture in the darkness, finally reaching a desolate overlook that would serve as a camp. Stepping out of the trucks we were greeted by a scorched, barren landscape which sharply contrasted the lush green world we had just left behind us. No signs of plant or animal life could be seen in any direction, just rock and a few lights off in the distance. In the desert heat we skipped the campfire, instead popping open our camp chairs to enjoy a glass of rum and the beauty of a two-in-the-morning desert sky.


The Salton Sea has a very strange feeling to it. At once as intriguing as it is disturbing, the scorched earth looks almost apocalyptic dotted with the ruins of retired naval bases, 1950’s homes, and long-abandoned resorts. The sea was never supposed to exist, but in 1905 a development company trying to increase irrigation for farming made a critical miscalculation building their canals. The flow of water from the Colorado river overwhelmed the canals and broke through sending and uncontrollable flood of water into the dried Salton basin for years. Over time, the lack of outflow from the lake created concentrated amounts of salt, fertilizers, and chemicals, which resulted in the toxic water and the mass devastation of the ecosystem found today. Once a thriving lake community, the shoreline now sits all but abandoned.


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The desert is slowly reclaiming the long-forgotten Navy Road, and it continually disappears beneath the sand only to reappear again further along the route as we wind through the desert toward shore. The combination of dunes and pavement is entertaining, until we near the Naval base and spot signs warning of unexploded ordinance. We all held our breath as the road vanished beneath the sand, this time for good, leaving no indication of where our little ribbon of safety had gone.

I almost felt fortunate when the weight of the Range Rover (still on full air pressure) dug us into the soft sand. I gladly hopped out and began the process of airing down and self-recovery while the others forged ahead to show us where to go, and hopefully avoid finding out where not to go. With the Range Rover freed we continued our exploration of ruins and abandoned yacht clubs until the stench of rotting fish was just too much to bear. There was still plenty of trail to cover before we would reach our camp spot for the night, and the day was already half over. Pulling out onto the desert road leading east, we quickly left the Salton Sea behind us in a cloud of dust.


We made great time at the start, barreling down a flat graded road, but as we dropped down into the canyons and washes west of the Chuckwalla mountains navigation became increasingly difficult. Our directions specified following “the wash on the left” or “continuing on the track to the right,” a nearly impossible task when dozens of new roads had been torn into the terrain where there should have been one. After stopping to check directions we quickly realized that whatever trail we were rolling down, our planned route was long since gone. We continued down the canyons as the sand became deeper and the rocky walls closed in.

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By the time we reached the mouth of the canyon the walls were mere inches from either side of the teardrop trailer. To make things more interesting, the soft sand we’d been traveling down ended at a small rock ledge. The Range Rover slowly approached the ledge, and as expected, began to dig in with the rear tires. Fortunately, on our second attempt traction control and aired down Cooper AT3’s gripped onto the rock and the front end climbed it’s way up the wall with the rear and trailer in tow.


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Our track opened up into a wide desert dotted with the bright green and brown hues of ocotillo and cottonwood. We wound our way around hills and through gullies, testing the articulation of our MaxCoupler, and the approach and departure angles of truck and trailer. It was an impressive sight to watch the mammoth So-Cal Teardrops 510 roll smoothly over obstacle after obstacle without hesitation. Even when cresting sharp peaks where I expected the trailer to drag, it cleared the break over with room to spare. Far off course, but with our newly discovered route before us we welcomed the new, more challenging, adventure. As the trail inevitably reverted back into pavement, we charted a course to our originally planned riverside camp, refueled, and raced the sun to the horizon.


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Dusk was beginning to cover the land by the time we finally reached Chazz’s hidden camp spot off the Colorado river. Although a little more moist than we would have liked due to recent high water, the “Hippy Hole” was a perfect spot to cool off after a day in the desert. With the stove fired up, I got to work building a fire while the rest of our group set up their various sleeping arrangements… another advantage of a teardrop is the ability to set up your sleeping area by simply opening the door.


The next morning was a little somber. Although it was a beautiful day, it was also our last day on the road. We pumped up our Helios and took a shower to wash off the dust and salt from the last few days. As our dog chased the spray from the nozzle, it was clear his energy had built up and he would explode if he didn’t run free. Unleashed, the muddy games of fetch and tug o’ war began. The results were as hilarious and filthy as you would expect from a dog at the river so we will let the pictures do the talking.

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It was hard to believe our little get away was coming to an end, but as we rolled across the bridge to head home the group was all smiles with the new memories made, and the anticipation of adventures that still lay ahead.



Read part one of A Southern California Adventure here.

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Overland Kitchen: Allan Karl’s Fattoush Recipe is Ready for the Roadhttp://expeditionportal.com/overland-kitchen-allan-karls-fattoush-recipe-is-ready-for-the-road/ http://expeditionportal.com/overland-kitchen-allan-karls-fattoush-recipe-is-ready-for-the-road/#comments Fri, 12 Dec 2014 07:43:59 +0000 http://expeditionportal.com/?p=24772 When San Diego resident Allan Karl found himself at a fork in the road of his life: out of a job and alone, his marriage recently ended in divorce, he decided to sell nearly everything he owned and set out to pursue his passion and follow his dream. He hopped on his motorcycle and spent the next three years traveling around the world–alone. 


Karl’s new book “FORKS: A Quest for Culture, Cuisine and Connection” chronicles his 62,000 mile journey on five continents and brings his adventure to life through stories of culture and connection, photography and recipes from each of the 35 countries he traveled. 


My goal was to ride a motorcycle around the world—alone.


Most of my friends and family thought I was crazy to set off on such a journey—especially on a motorcycle. Many tried to persuade me to stay home or to travel by other means, but I knew traveling by anything other than a motorcycle just wouldn’t be the same. I wouldn’t be fulfilled by merely buying a plane ticket and then watching the world through the windows of tour buses or rental cars. No. I had to go overland by motorcycle—my motorcycle—the same bike for the entire journey.

To me, there is no better way to travel. Only on a motorcycle could I truly immerse myself in and taste the diverse cultures of our world. On a bike not only would I feel the wind in my face, I would feel the temperature change, smell the unique aromas of each place, and breathe the air freely. I would also hear the sounds of our world—changes in language and dialect, like music. And I would see the faces of people and their cultures change before me.

I share this adventure and bring it to life in my new book FORKS: A Quest for Culture, Cuisine, and Connection. Through the some 280 pages of this oversized coffee-table book I chronicle the adventure through stories of connection and culture, stunning photos of people and places and the flavors of local food—all from each of the 35 countries I traveled.




I didn’t set out to write a book about food or a cookbook. Sure, sharing food and wine among friends has always played an important part in my life, but I did set out to discover, learn, and find truths. I knew that one day I would share these truths and discoveries in a book, but well into my journey and the many meals I shared, it finally hit me over dinner in a small town on an island in Bahia, Brazil, with my new friend and host Felipe. That’s where I tasted my first moqueca (a delicious stew made from coconut milk, fresh fish, herbs, and dende, a remarkable aromatic oil made from the fruit of a palm tree; on page 113 in my book “FORKS”). While talking about the moqueca, Brazil, and Felipe’s life on that island, it occurred to me how much we learn when we take the time to share a meal with strangers or good friends alike, and how local flavors and aromas tell as much about a place and its culture as do the customs by which it is prepared, served, and shared.

Just like the fattoush salad I shared with the owner of a gas station and his friends in Syria, across from the farm where many of the ingredients were grown, the recipe of which I’m sharing now with you. Yet, it was in Syria, as I enjoyed connecting with new friends, did I truly discovered the magic of this crisp staple salad—local ingredients and fresh mint. Be sure to prepare this with the highest quality olive oil in order to truly enjoy the fresh flavors of this dish. Serve this colorful salad on a large flat platter and, instead of individual plates, simply dig your forks in together and share.




Fattoush – Crisp Salad with Fresh Herbs and Pita Strips (Syria)


1/2 English cucumber, peeled, seeded (if necessary), and cut into 1/4″ dice

2 large pitas (preferably pocketless, Mediterranian-style), cut into 3/4″ square pieces

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, premium quality

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice, or to taste

3 garlic cloves, minced

Salt and pepper to taste

1/2 medium red bell pepper, cored, seeded, and cut into 1/4″ dice

1 vine-ripened tomato, seeded and finely chopped

1/4 cup green onions, finely chopped

2 tablespoons stemmed and finely chopped flat-leaf parsley

1 tablespoon stemmed and finely chopped cilantro

3 tablespoons stemmed and finely chopped mint leaves (save a few sprigs for garnish)

Hearts of romaine, hand torn, rinsed and spun dry, for garnish

1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese, preferably from sheep’s milk (optional)

1/8 cup pitted kalamata olives (optional)


  • Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.
  • Place the diced cucumber into a strainer, sprinkle with salt and allow to drain for 15 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, place the pita pieces on a cookie sheet and bake them in the oven until crisp and golden brown, about 20 minutes, shaking the pan 2 or 3 times as they toast. Remove from oven and allow to cool slightly. (If you’re preparing outdoors, you can toast the pita pieces until crisp and brown in a basket or skillet on a grill or over a fire.)
  • Make the dressing by whisking together the olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, and salt and pepper in a large mixing bowl.
  • Continue whisking until the dressing is emulsified, then stir in the bell pepper, tomato, green onions, parsley, cilantro, mint, pita strips, and cucumber. Season to taste with more salt and pepper and toss well to coat.
  • Gently toss in feta and olives, if using, and transfer to a large platter garnished with the romaine and the mint sprigs. Serve immediately.


FORKS: A Quest for Culture, Cuisine, and Connection

Three Years. Five Continents. One Motorcycle.

Author: Allan Karl

Twitter: @allankarl

Published by WorldRider Productions

Hardcover, color; 280 pages

Price: $39.00




When not traveling somewhere around the world on his motorcycle, author and adventurer Allan Karl is a professional speaker and digital marketing consultant. He lives in north San Diego county with his cat Dar and his motorcycle.


Autographed Copies: www.forksthebook.com

Amazon:  http://worldri.de/r-forks-amzn

Shop local with Indiebound: http://www.indiebound.org/book/9780989441810

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Traveling Icelandhttp://expeditionportal.com/traveling-iceland/ http://expeditionportal.com/traveling-iceland/#comments Thu, 11 Dec 2014 07:17:32 +0000 http://expeditionportal.com/?p=24742

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Field Tested: Yeti Hopper 30http://expeditionportal.com/field-tested-yeti-hopper-30/ http://expeditionportal.com/field-tested-yeti-hopper-30/#comments Thu, 11 Dec 2014 07:07:55 +0000 http://expeditionportal.com/?p=24219 With regard to cooling solutions, overlanders have traditionally been drawn to onboard refrigerators or hard sided ice chests. As more vehicle-based travelers become increasingly aware of space and weight considerations, soft-sided coolers are finding more advocates. Unfortunately, most soft coolers live up to their description, as to say they’re flimsy and delicate. Such is not the case with Yeti’s Hopper, a product that more than lives up to the company’s reputation for durable coolers known to hold ice for days on end.

The key to the Hopper’s performance and durability can be accredited to two things: materials and construction. The heavy 840-denier DryHide fabric on the outside of the cooler is the same material used in the fabrication of many white-water rafts and other durable inflatable boats. The heavy-duty nylon webbing straps are virtually indestructible, and like the beefy buckles and hardware, are joined to the bag via strong bar-tack stitches mated to radio frequency welded patches. The top of the cooler is secured with a large gauge waterproof zipper, the kind of closure most often found on wetsuits and rescue garments. The bottom of the cooler is made of the same durable EVA foam used in hiking boots and even the padded shoulder strap is made to endure adventure’s worst. There has never been a soft-sided cooler made with this level of durability, but how does it perform?


Although we missed the opportunity to test the Hopper 30 during the highest of summer temps, we did get to expose it to the mild temperatures of fall in the Southwest, which can still be considerably warm. On one testing session, I filled the Hopper 30 with 18 cans of beer and topped it off with ice. Over the course of the first two days, the ice melted, but only by about 50%. During the next two days, the ice did melt away quickly, although the water and remaining few beers were quite cold at a measured 44ºF. To test the waterproof claims of the Hopper 30, primarily the zipper, I tipped the cooler on its side and let the full weight of the water rest against the zipper. After 24 hours, not so much as a single drop of water escaped.



large grab handles, and lash points make portaging and stowing the Hopper 30 quick and easy.




The sealed zipper stop is impressive in its ability to contain the cold water within. The large slider toggle is easy to use even with gloved hands.


The heavy bar tack stitches and beefy hardware seem indestructible. 


Ice, and beer, can get heavy so the padded shoulder strap is a nice touch as is the RF welded Yeti logo patch.



The EVA foam bottom is protected by a tick layer of the DryHide fabric for maximum durability where needed most.


With a retail price of $299, a few have been quick to chide the Hopper 30 as prohibitively expensive. I would tend to agree if not for its unrivaled performance and unimpeachable build quality. This is a cooler that will undoubtedly last a lifetime of hard use. For those needing a light (8.1 pound) cooler with excellent insulation properties, this might be just the ticket.






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La Aduana: Rare FJ45 Troopcarrierhttp://expeditionportal.com/la-aduana-rare-fj45-troopcarrier/ http://expeditionportal.com/la-aduana-rare-fj45-troopcarrier/#comments Wed, 10 Dec 2014 17:53:55 +0000 http://expeditionportal.com/?p=24762 Earlier this year a Toyota FJ40 sold for a mind bending $118,000, and in the process opened the floodgates for vintage FJ sales across the country. It seemed no sum was too great to deprive those with a severe case of the wantsies. It would be tough to say if that little FJ micro-bubble has burst, but it does seem as if prices have become a bit more realistic. Take for example this beautiful Troopy and its realistic and attainable price tag of just $23,000. It’s a super cool truck and miles away from that $118,000 exotic.




From the advert:


Screen Shot 2014-12-10 at 10.42.21 AM Screen Shot 2014-12-10 at 10.43.30 AM Screen Shot 2014-12-10 at 10.43.20 AM Screen Shot 2014-12-10 at 10.43.10 AM Screen Shot 2014-12-10 at 10.43.02 AM Screen Shot 2014-12-10 at 10.42.54 AM Screen Shot 2014-12-10 at 10.42.38 AM


* Powered by the original Toyota 2F six cylinder gasoline engine

* Engine has been upgraded to run on LPG as well as gasoline
* Rugged 4×4
* Four speed manual transmission
* Tow hitch
* Original seats: split bench in front, Troopcarrier jump seats in rear
* Heavy duty bullbar
* Your choice of aluminum rims w 31″ tires (pictured) or black original style split steel rims w “skinny” tires

Overall this truck is in excellent condition and encourage the buyer to see it in person. The color is off white under a pure white roof with matching grille.

I am NOT a mechanic but will try and answer all questions to best of my knowledge. Also I will email detailed pictures of any part of the truck.

The truck will be sold AS IS without any type of warranty. I recommend a personal inspection by the buyer and I am also willing to let the buyer bring it to a mechanic for further inspection.

The truck drives great and the LPG conversion is amazing, you can actually flip the switch and change over the fuel while driving down the road.

These trucks are very solid and were made to go slow and steady straight up a mountain or through a river. They were not made to go 80mph down the freeway or to handle like a race car so if you want those qualities then Id recommend buying a FJ Cruiser. But if you want the most stylish/durable 4×4 truck built to drive to your Landcruiser club meetings, or have people wave, stare and ask what kind of truck it is then Id say buy a FJ45 Troopcarrier. They are very easy to work on and use all the same parts as the common FJ40s. For parts and more information check out Specter Off Road, CCOT or go to IH8MUD.com. They can get you anything and answer any question you’d ever have about this vehicle.

The truck will be sold with a clean Arizona title. The truck is right hand drive which is completely legal and very easy to get used to. The truck is located in sunny San Diego and the asking price is $22,900. I am willing to help with shipping but it is the responsibility of the buyer to find and pay for a shipping company.

Thanks Rich

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Germany vs. Mexico: Reaching Wild Beaches In Baja CA’s Outbackhttp://expeditionportal.com/germany-vs-mexico-reaching-wild-beaches-in-baja-cas-outback/ http://expeditionportal.com/germany-vs-mexico-reaching-wild-beaches-in-baja-cas-outback/#comments Wed, 10 Dec 2014 07:32:08 +0000 http://expeditionportal.com/?p=24548 I‘ve alluded to this elusive illusion many times and here I am, in the actual conundrum. Am I in constant eminent peril or is this as easy as child’s play?


I’m alone, 20 km from any traveled road and it could be a month or two before another vehicle reaches this abandoned fishing camp. There was a massive hurricane 8 weeks earlier that decimated any semblance of a pathway to this estuary guarding a sheltered bay on the Gulf of California. Reaching this beach meant following a pair of double tracks and plowing back and forth across a 500 meter-wide, freshly washed out arroyo of deep sand. The pair of diverging tracks are all I have to navigate East, between two mountain ranges from the lightly traveled route I’ve left behind. There’s a dotted line on a map and GPX file, both rendered useless after the hurricane. It’s truly rugged, wild and not even close to your average Baja ride. This isn’t something that money can buy. This is a methodical and calculated search for wild beach paradise.


A large dark shadow shifts slowly in the shallows of emerald blue waters while smaller rays dash deeper as I shuffle my feet, a hazard in and of itself.




The margin of error is tiny, especially being solo. There is no cushion here and you’ll expire quickly if something goes wrong. The reward could be high. You are focused on trying not to make mistakes and are constantly getting more proficient each day. The risk of losing the bike could mean life or death. You’re determined to keep the bike going.

Upon reaching the target on day 2, the evidence is clear. There’s no sign of any vehicle being here since well before the storms. Later I learn that the pair of tracks I followed to get here belonged to a single vehicle that probably turned back about 1 mile before reaching the sea. From years earlier, an abandoned white van, stripped bare, tells the story that the only 2-wheel drive vehicle here took a one way trip to its final resting place. A highly skilled driver in a well-equipped 4×4 can make the trip to this fish camp, but for whatever reason, they don’t. This one’s off the beaten path but eventually a decent track will get burned in.




I have 10 liters of reserve water and could walk out if the bike fails to start or gets marooned. I am ready to flip the switch from total proficiency into survival mode. Each morning, I treat a minor foot wound from a broken seashell on beach 1. Still, I form the habit of daily plunges into the sea, just to kill time. A large dark shadow shifts slowly in the shallows of emerald blue waters while smaller rays dash deeper as I shuffle my feet, a hazard in and of itself. I hear coyotes howling on both coasts each night. Unrelenting vultures pester me incessantly on the Cortez for 3 days until I deduce the sensible deterrent and fashion a makeshift scarecrow with a drift wood post and my helmet. It works perfectly.




Being alone and having a week to spend led me to explore and deviate from my initial destination of Turtle Bay in Baja Sur. This was a great investment in time-savings and led me to take an impromptu left turn that was purely  intuitive. I knew I was going to score!


This is the exact vision of grand adventure gleaming in the eye of anyone who has ever ridden away from a BMW dealership with a new GS.


On this 4th morning, I discovered and conquered a remote cove on the Cortez that was absolute paradise, seemingly desolate and hard to reach. Once I saw it from a distance, it was worth the dedication and persistence to reach it. This is the exact vision of grand adventure gleaming in the eye of anyone who has ever ridden away from a BMW dealership with a new GS. It took about an hour of hiking off the bike to survey possible pathways to this oasis, an activity I would ultimately use to save the bike from ditching in the Pacific dunes.

Vulture beach is all about the dream. There is nothing more you can ask for and nobody can resist this kind of perfection. I swam at least 20 times in one afternoon and built a makeshift awning from my tent and a scarecrow to deter the vultures. As the sun began to set, I heated a branch of driftwood with the MSR stove and dropped it in some beach kindling. It smoldered while I started dinner and then erupted into a perfect campfire. There’s more than enough fuel for the night.





I’m up before sunrise everyday with coffee and oats before packing camp. On the 5th day I transferred to the Pacific side and manage swims on both coasts, with a full day’s worth of riding. The Pacific Coast of Baja CA is something to see and, while you can get into all kinds of trouble out there, you don’t have to be a consummate pro to check out some of the easier spots.

Once ready to attack, I was regrouped and loaded up for bush time. This was my 6th expedition on this coast in 11 months, so my target was set. But that didn’t stop me from exploring point after point and dashing out onto tributary trails on any whim. This is something I’d been daydreaming about since my first trip.




My target point bears a precariously ominous name and I spent hours reaching her. Getting myself out of this zone on the final day proved extremely challenging and cost at least 3 hours. Super-low tide is perhaps the only easy way in and out so I went over land, and ended up finding a faint 2 track into deep sand before being sacrificed entirely to the dunes. With the track gone, I was off-piste and in a 1/2 square mile dune field with enough vegetation to make it interesting. The secret would be winding correctly and not burying the bike in a hole. The key to that was getting off the bike and hiking through prospective paths from point to point. On my first “walkabout”, I learned the wind would sweep my boot prints away and I was scared for a moment it might lose the bike for a while. I was nearly struggling at this point and I did this 10 times getting in and out, carrying my GPS each time.




ON that final morning it got very sketchy, I wasn’t sure if I’d make it out with the bike and, even though it was an insured loaner, I needed my horse to get me out the desert. The America song “Horse with No Name” plays in my head. Upon reaching the end of the dunes I let out a scream and took a moment to hit the “OK” button on my SPOT tracker. I know my support crew is watching my debacle unfold live on monitors in San Quintin, L.A. and San Diego. I took the next 85 miles at a brisk pace and managed to peek at some remote points heading north until finally reaching the false sense of security at the paved highway.

This trip was a one-off, extreme solo-expedition not to be attempted by amateurs. On the other hand, variations of this exact trip with more traveled targets are very doable and to some extent may be attempted on stock bikes (even 1200’s). There’s a tremendous amount of ground to cover when you’re zipping all over the state in search for your next wild beach in Baja CA’s backcountry.


Unrelenting vultures pester me incessantly on the Cortez for 3 days until I deduce the sensible deterrent and fashion a makeshift scarecrow with a drift wood post and my helmet. It works perfectly.




Off the Beaten Path:

For nearly 50 years, dirt bikers and off roaders have beaten several of Baja CA’s common pathways into virtual obsolescence. Group trips to the iconic Mike’s Sky Ranch in the San Pedro de Martir, Alfonsina’s Resort at Gonzaga Bay, and San Quintin’s Old Mill are all prerequisites for anything else more adventurous on the northern peninsula. Stopping at Coco Corner en route to Bahia De Los Angeles is a must do for anyone looking to earn their Baja wings. All of these destinations are qualifiers for something more wild, such as following the entire BAJA 1000 course the week before the annual race, which seems like a death wish but actually quite tame in the global scheme of things.

Eventually, proficient Baja CA travelers may need to graduate from the mild, faux adventures of bunking in overpriced beds at the ends of graded dirt roads in exchange for wild beach camping. But for, others who are less aggressive and just “taking it easy”, being served food and drink in a controlled environment may be habit forming and an easy way to get a hall pass from their spouse. This trip and others like it are not suggested for these types.






Pushing it to the Extreme: Your stock parts will break out here.

Stock bikes are designed for price competitive engineering. In other words, they are built as strong as they need to be to balance supply and demand for typical use. Thus we have the ever-important utility of the aftermarket industry: companies who make parts, components and accessories that enable showroom bikes to withstand the rigors of off-highway punishment. If the 10% rule holds true, an extreme solo expedition to wild Baja CA beaches on a 600lb loaded bike is reserved for the top 1% of ADV riders who have their bikes retrofitted for abuse. Not only does the rider need to have all of their shit together, the bike must be Baja-proofed with a minimum of wheels and suspension.




The Bike:

2014 BMW F800 GS Adventure with $10,000 of modifications. In a collaboration with BMW Motorcycles of Escondido, we took a brand new F800GSA and decked it out with custom wheel assemblies from Woody’s, $2,000 worth of fork work (“The Works”) from Konflict Motorsports and an $1800 Extreme Shock from Touratech. Along with re-gearing the countershaft sprocket down one tooth, the wheel and suspension mods are absolute requirements for reaching remote beaches. Skipping any of these essential mods deems the bike incapable of completing this trip as I followed it. The lower-gearing was a literal life saver for the bike when needing to traverse the wild sand dunes. The downside of lower gearing is minimal and reduces the top highway speed to a max of 105 and comfortable cruising speed of 90MPH. Tire selection and pressure management was critical: Maxxis Maxx-Cross SX in front with Continental TwinDuro on the rear. I was astonished there were no punctures. This is truly an epic machine that turned 9000 miles old as it pounded through the rocky outback without a single issue.



BMW Motorad of Escondido: 2014 BMW F800GS

Woody’s Wheels

Konflict Motorsports Fork Rebuild

Touratech Extreme Shock

Touratech Countershaft Sprocket

Giant Loop Luggage Siskiyou Panniers, Fandango Pro Tank Bag & Rogue Dry Bags.

Fasstco Flexx Handlebars

GPR Stabilizer Sub-mount Kit

Nite Rider 3600 Pro Auxilary Lights

Renazco Racing Custom Suede Rally Seat

Remus Slip on Exhaust System

Black Dog Aluminum Billet Pegs

AltRider Skidplate and Lexan light cover

BRP’s CYCRA Handguard Adaptors for Flexx Handlebars


A Word About Luggage: Hard or Soft Bags for the 1%’er?  Choose Wisely

The ever-expanding after market for ADV parts and accessories leads to many new choices for lighting, armor and luggage, so deciding between hard and soft bags for the wild Baja CA adventure comes down to a simple question? What task do you need the luggage to perform? If you are delivering pizzas, go with hard boxes. Otherwise, the right choice is GIANT LOOP’s Siskiyou Panniers in combination with a Fandango Pro tank bag, Zig Zag and Rogue dry bags. Considering capacity, durability, collapsibility and ease of repair (everything breaks in Baja CA), soft bags helped Germany beat Mexico on this solo expedition.  The rickety-rackety nature of bulky and rigid box luggage is unwelcomed and unnecessary while bouncing around rocky and rutted jeep trails needed to reach Baja CA’s wild beaches.  Also, a swift drop of the bike in 2nd gear or above and you run the risk of a hard-box appendage breaking whatever it’s been attached to. The Siskiyou system on the other hand, broke cleanly off the bike when I crashed, sheering the nylon webbing straps at the stress point. With a pair of light tie-downs coiled just outside my trusty tool bag (which never once saw the light of day), I had the Siskiyou Panniers repaired and functional within 2 minutes. Down here, hard luggage is not to be taken seriously off the beaten path.

Breaking Things

This expedition might as well have been called: Trying to Break Things In Baja.

I might as well spend my time in a controlled laboratory trying to break, bend and destroy all of my gear with an anvil, vice, blowtorch and sledge hammer. A big part of Germany’s victory over Mexico was keeping up a high average speed between beach destinations and tire management played a huge role. Amazingly, the bike suffered no punctures or leaks and I still can’t figure it out. On day five, just 3 hours before getting “out” of the bush. A lone surf camper, asked me what parts had broken on my bike during the first 9000 miles? I stretched and could not identify one failure in the F800’s relatively rough childhood, save a punctured front tube on an earlier trip. In my years of riding and racing in Baja CA, I’ve broken a lot of stuff so I was totally impressed and frankly surprised with this bike. Not only did Germany win against Mexico, it also beat Baja CA badly.

What to Bring and What Not to Bring

I used everything I brought except my tools and spare tubes. Next time, I’ll pack some swim goggles and surf booties, maybe a collapsible sling spear. Some folks like the notion of sleeping directly on the dirt or sand under the stars. Don’t do this here, as I learned earlier this year, its pure ignorance. Scorpions and rattlers are everywhere and can kill you. If I were to bring another human being, it would be a real photographer if I had enough luck persuading them.

Known for its rugged and dynamic landscapes, Baja CA is truly a great testing ground for off road gear and I can’t see riding in light ADV or hybrid boots out here (tried that). Anything other than full moto boots (like the Alpine Stars Tech 8 Enduro) is a joke and, like hard-boxed luggage, is not to be taken seriously down here.

In Summary:

With the help from the crew at BMW Motorcycles of Escondido, we were able to test an already great BMW in a destructive environment while racing against time everyday to find 5 previously unknown (to us) beaches. We pushed everything to the limit on the bike and took her where 99% of owners won’t make it. All the while we’ve uncovered some new opportunities for “next time” with a few new ideas for another rugged adventure conquering Baja CA’s wild beaches, maybe next time on the new Africa Twin From HONDA?

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