Expedition Portal http://expeditionportal.com Fri, 21 Oct 2016 07:18:33 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.0 First Look: Magellan eXplorist TRX7 http://expeditionportal.com/first-look-magellan-explorist-trx7/ http://expeditionportal.com/first-look-magellan-explorist-trx7/#comments Fri, 21 Oct 2016 07:18:33 +0000 http://expeditionportal.com/?p=43381 When I first received our TRX7 sample, it appeared to be a fine product with a design mission I could get behind. Aimed at the off-road enthusiast, that’s me, I assumed it would have a few nice bells and whistles, but admit I didn’t expect such a comprehensive navigational system. It’s far more than just a dash-mounted GPS unit.

Available in three different kits, all with the same main unit, our’s arrived with a RAM dash mount for 4×4 users. The other two are sold with a suction cup mount or Ram handlebar attachment. Without going into pedantic detail, the box also had the expected accessories which included cables for AC and 12V power, a manual, and other small parts.


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The main unit itself impressed me the minute I powered it on. With a 7-inch color touchscreen, it has the presence of a small tablet, more so than a typical GPS device. The display is bright and easy to read in all light conditions, and the buttons on the edges and face are well placed, even if they are a little small and not very tactile when depressed. Fortunately, most inputs are directed through the touchscreen.

As expected of any such tool, the GPS-enabled TRX7 can display maps in 2D and 3D views, record tracks, and be programed with your own custom routes. There’s nothing radical there, although it performs those functions better than most. Where it starts to get interesting is with the 44,000 preloaded off-road trails located in various National Forest, BLM and other public  jurisdictions throughout North America. Magellan is quick to point out that the current inventory of trails in that catalog is continually growing.

The real potential will be realized with the increase in people using the myTRXjournal.com database, a crowd shared resource of off-highway tracks. Users of the TRX7 can upload their travels to that website to catalog their routes while adding useful pieces of information to be shared with other users. While on the trail, the device can mark waypoints, places of interest, even document sections of the route that are particularly challenging, require low range, or include difficult obstacles.


To facilitate an easy transfer of information from the TRX7 to a laptop or desktop computer, the device is equipped with Bluetooth and Wifi functionally and can sync as soon as the unit is within signal range of those devices.

If you’re anything like me, I often load a route into a GPS unit, head out into the sticks, get diverted by unforeseen circumstances or my own unexpected change of mind, and end up switching the unit off. With the TRX7 and the extensive catalog of routes built into its memory, I can quickly search for nearby tracks and resume my adventuring with confidence I know where I’m headed. The search criteria for nearby trails can be filtered by difficulty, need for low range, and other variables that help with the decision making process. I see some room for caution with these ratings as they are subjective and established by the user community. Expect some discrepancies in what constitutes an easy, or extreme trail.


Other useful features include the ability to create unique profiles for multiple vehicles, and not unlike an actual tablet, it has an internet browser, email manager, music function, and is compatible with many Android apps, although not through the Google Play resource.

From a more nuts and bolts perspective, the TRX7 is IP67 rated against impact, dust, and water intrusion, which makes it sufficiently waterproof to be used on motorcycles or open top vehicles. A built-in rechargeable battery allows the device to be used outside the vehicle for short hops and it even has an orientation sensor which automatically changes the display from horizontal to vertical viewing as it is rotated. A 64GB MicroSD card slot can be used to expand memory for those longer epics.


Although we have yet to use the TRX7 for more than a few outings, it appears to do precisely what it was designed to do, and I must say, it does it extremely well. Signal accuracy seems nice and tight and updates quickly. The touchscreen is sensitive enough to not require hard jabs to get it to read inputs, and the functions seems easy to learn and navigation through those features is relatively intuitive.


The big question asked by many is central to the quality and relevancy of the trails in the preloaded track inventory. The Expedition Portal HQ is located within several thousand miles of trails, all accessible within a single tank of fuel. The TRX7 seems to list most of the major tracks in the area, and a surprising number of lesser known roads, but I can already see a few blank spots on the map. I’m sure they’ll get filled in time, and as a backroad enthusiast, it gives me reason enough to go record those sections myself.

We’ll need far more time with the TRX7 to fully suss out its pros and cons in better detail, but for now I’d say Magellan hit the ball out of the park. Whereas other devices marketed to the off-road segment have had little to differentiate them from the norm, the TRX7 truly is a proper tool for the off-highway traveler. The integration with the online resources are what really set it apart and make us excited to see how this project develops. Stay tuned for a long term evaluation. www.magellangps.com


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Head to Head: Refrigerator or cooler http://expeditionportal.com/head-to-head-refrigerator-or-cooler/ http://expeditionportal.com/head-to-head-refrigerator-or-cooler/#comments Thu, 20 Oct 2016 07:21:49 +0000 http://expeditionportal.com/?p=28456 Every few months, with almost clockwork precision, a discussion pops up on the Expedition Portal forums pitting the virtues of the refrigerator against the time-tested ice chest. Which is better is not an easily answered question. As we tenuously approach a verdict, it is important that we understand everything we can about coolers and fridges.

The modern cooler is produced in a multitude of variations using materials as basic as styrofoam to stainless steel and now rotary molded plastic. The latter is fast becoming the most popular format for a number of sound reasons. Rotary molding is a process by which plastic pellets are introduced into a mold and melted, then rotated at high speed to evenly distribute the molten material. The result is a molded form with intricate shapes, consistent thickness, and enough durability and strength to be used for the construction of not just coolers, but protective cases and even white water kayaks. For this exercise, we won’t compare the $5 foam cooler to the $900 fridge for obvious reasons. Rotary molded coolers make for a more attractive option for the demands of overland travel.




Over the last few years, we’ve seen a growing list of manufacturers making rotary molded coolers. There are dozens of offerings from Yeti, Engel, Pelican, Esky, Grizzly, Canyon Coolers, Ice Hole, NRS, Black Rock, True Blue, Igloo and I’m sure I’ve missed a few. These coolers are largely the same in many aspects. They all feature rugged rotary molded bodies with matching rotary molded lids. The shapes may differ, the thickness of the walls may have some variability, and there will be different hinge and latch designs employed, but it is somewhat safe to say most rotary molded coolers have a host of similarities. This is not to say they perform equally, but there is a lot of consistency in the rotary molded cooler world.

Cooler Pros:

If you have shopped for a rotary molded cooler recently, you have most likely experience knee weakening sticker shock. Prices for rotary molded coolers can range anywhere from the mid $200 price point to an eye bulging $500 or more. It is hard to believe that such prices represent a budget option, but compared to the price of a refrigerator, they certainly are more attainable. Fridge prices seldom start below $750 and can easily break the $1,000 mark. Invest in a premium refrigerator and you’ll have to part with upwards of $2,000.

Another benefit of the rotary molded cooler is the simplicity of use. Fill your cooler with snacks and suds, top with ice, and close the lid. It really doesn’t get much easier. That simplicity of design matched to the brawn of the rotary molded construction, makes these coolers virtually indestructible. Yeti has an entertaining video of a huge grizzly bear clawing at one of their coolers in a desperate and unsuccessful bid to access its contents. It’s nearly impossible to damage a rotary molded cooler, but there are some limitations to consider.

Cooler Cons:

It is an obvious caveat––coolers are nothing without ice. For most weekend getaways and even some protracted journeys, this isn’t a big setback as ice is easily found at most corner stores and gas stations. That is if you travel within North America and most developed countries. For the international traveler, finding ice on the edges of the Sahara or in remote corners of Baja might be a little tricky. On the upshot, these newer rotary molded coolers can often retain ice for up to a week if used properly, even in summer temperatures. All the same, a cooler without ice is just a fancy box. On more than one occasion, my five day trip has been paired to four days of ice.

One of the less obvious drawbacks to a cooler is the weight of the cooler and ice. Ice is simply heavy, and a 50 quart rotary molded cooler can weigh up to 35 pounds on its own. Although a refrigerator is no lightweight option, most larger coolers will need anywhere from 15 to 20 pounds of ice to work properly. In all fairness, that’s still a couple pounds lighter than a refrigerator, but it’s still darn heavy for such a simple cooling solution.

The last potential negative, and this is getting pretty nit-picky, is the size of the average cooler relative to the amount of contents it can store. Rotary molded coolers have a large exterior size due to the thick walls required to retain the ice. An average cooler is considerably larger than its refrigerated counterparts. Plus, all that ice factors into the storage volume of the cooler. A 50 quart refrigerator provides 50 actual quarts of storage. A cooler must forfeit some of that storage capacity for ice.

If I had to interject my own personal opinion here, it would have to be with my biggest cooler pet peeve––swimming food. Having all of my food dunked in a slurry of ice and water is a hassle and requires everything to be wrapped in waterproof bags or containers. Memories of my feta cheese that escaped its Tupperware container come to mind. Stinky cheese water is not a good thing.



Portable 12-volt refrigerators are one of the best things to ever happen to overlanding. Because all four-wheeled rigs have an alternator and battery, harnessing that power to chill our eats and libations is pretty convenient. When discussing 12-volt refrigerators, it is important to cull out the cheaper electric coolers on the market. Those inexpensive devices can seldom cool their contents more than 20-30 degrees below ambient temperatures whereas a proper fridge/freezer can often cool up to 90 degrees below ambient temperature.

To achieve the impressive performance provided by a modern 12-volt refrigerator, most units will employ highly advanced internal motors and compressors, not too unlike those used in your home fridge. They also use well constructed bodies with excellent insulating properties and in most cases, complex thermostatic regulators and electronics to maintain temperature and maximize energy efficiency. Many are designed to shut off if they sense they might be pulling too much juice from the host power source. Because many popular 12-volt refrigerators were purpose-built for use in overland vehicles, they’re also relatively durable, but do require a touch more love and care than a cooler.

Refrigerator Pros:

The single biggest advantage a refrigerator has over a cooler is independence from ice. With a steady supply of power, a refrigerator can cool and even freeze indefinitely. For the extended journey deep into the backcountry, this is an unparalleled advantage. As one drives by day, the alternator supplies the power to cool the fridge. By night, the battery supplies ample power to keep things cold. At no point does a hunt for ice enter the scenario.

Another advantage of the refrigerator is the ability to moderate precise temperatures. If you want your IPA chilled to an exact 42ºF, that is easily achieved. If you need to keep your Ben and Jerry’s frozen rock solid, that too is possible. This may sway your decision to go with the more expensive refrigerator.

Because overland vehicles have limited cargo space, the smaller physical size of a fridge is always appreciated. Although the inner workings of a refrigerator do take up some space, those components are relatively small leaving maximum space for food and beverage storage. The walls of most refrigerators are usually quite thin, again giving the refrigerator a significantly smaller footprint.

And again, to me the biggest plus is the lack of ice water and the threat of floating feta cheese. I can neatly load my refrigerator efficiently without calculating for ice, melted ice, and floating contents.

One additional minor advantage I like about the refrigerator is the ability to load it days in advance of a given trip. This simplifies the “get ready” aspect of travel. A cooler has to be loaded with contents and ice at the very last minute to maximize the life of the ice.

Refrigerator Cons:

Without beating around the bush, refrigerators are very expensive. If there is a reason why those who want a refrigerator do not have one, it’s likely because the purchase price is prohibitive. Spending up to $1,500 to keep your juice boxes chilled is tough to justify for most, and understandably so.

There is also no denying that a refrigerator brings with it a level of complexity that can’t be dismissed. A fridge is a machine with many parts, some of which are capable of failing, and they sometimes do. I had one refrigerator malfunction resulting in everything inside the fridge frozen hard as marble. There were no beers for me that night. Then there is the added complexity of providing power to the appliance.

For those travelers who drive day in and day out, power is seldom an issue. For those prone to park for a few days, supplemental power supplies will need to be factored into the system. This could be achieved with more battery storage, generators, or solar solutions, all options adding even more cost and complexity to the bottom line. An average fridge paired to modest solar panels and backup or dual battery storage system can chew through $2,000 in short order.

The verdict:

If the thought of spending $750 or more is too much to justify, and no one would blame you for that assessment, a cooler is the clear choice. Although a $300 cooler is still expensive, they genuinely do perform much better than their cheaper cousins. We’ll save that discussion for another day, but rotary molded coolers are worth the additional outlay of cash.

If you have limited storage space, find yourself on multi-day or even multi-week travels, and have designs on international travels, you can’t beat a refrigerator for convenience.

Having had this discussion with literally dozens of fellow overlanders, I have to concede that once you commit to using a refrigerator, the nuisance of ice will never have you going back to a cooler again. Not unless circumstance forces it.

Which is best? It really depends on your intended usage. It also depends on the exact products being used. But comparing a high quality fridge to a high quality cooler, it is a tough decision to call. Like many people, I use both. I also have started to use soft coolers for short hops into the bush. It boils down to where you’re going, how long, and frankly, how much you want to spend on keeping your beer cold.





Which cooler is best? We spent more time than most to find out. Read what might be the most thorough cooler test ever written: [Click on the image]

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Shopping for a refrigerator? This is not a test, but a comprehensive list of which refrigerators are available here in North America. [Click on the image]

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La Aduana (sorta): 1957 Porsche 597 Jagdwagen http://expeditionportal.com/la-aduana-sorta-1957-porsche-597-jagdwagen/ http://expeditionportal.com/la-aduana-sorta-1957-porsche-597-jagdwagen/#comments Wed, 19 Oct 2016 07:17:27 +0000 http://expeditionportal.com/?p=43323 If you’re a bonafide car guy you’re well aware that Porsche prices have gone through the roof lately. Anything air-cooled in particular has exploded in popularity and vehicles not worth big bucks ten years ago, are now fetching eye watering sums. There are a handful of cars that are so rare, they have always been expensive and difficult to obtain. The Porsche 597 Jagdwagen or “Hunting Car,” is certainly one of them.

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Made from 1955 through 1958 the Jadgwagen was never mass produced and was initiated as a prototype program to offer military vehicles for the German Army. Only 71 vehicles were made during those years with 49 of them ostensibly built for the civilian market. The 597 was powered by the same induced air-cooled flat-four used in the brand’s popular 356 sports car. Placed at the rear of the car, as they were prone to do,  the 1.5 liter engine produced 50 hp. That was sufficient enough to propel the 2,400-pound car to 60mph. A 5-speed manual transmission was paired to a four wheel drive gearbox which could be moved from two wheel, to four wheel drive at speed. Other unique elements of the car included a buoyant and doorless body built buy Karmann coach works.

This particular Porsche 597 recently sold for $233,000US through a Bonhams auction. To put that into perspective, the entire program in the 1950s cost 1.8 million Deutsch Marks, or the equivalent to 74.8 million dollars in today’s currency. If I did my math correctly, that makes this car worth well over a million bucks by Porsche’s own investment. What a bargain!

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To Bumper or Not to Bumper. That is the Question. http://expeditionportal.com/to-bumper-or-not-to-bumper-that-is-the-question/ http://expeditionportal.com/to-bumper-or-not-to-bumper-that-is-the-question/#comments Tue, 18 Oct 2016 07:51:08 +0000 http://expeditionportal.com/?p=43595 For a large number of overlanders assembling their version of the perfect travel platform, the decision to add, or not add, an aftermarket bumper eventually intersects with the build plan. This is of course a more recent phenomenon as just a few years ago, during the height of build mania, it was a foregone conclusion that any overland vehicle needed a bumper and the bigger the better. If not out of necessity, because it fit the desired motif.

As it is with all things, trends change, needs shift, and not every truck with a front and a back needs both ends covered in giant lumps of steel. So how do you decide if you should pop for one?

To dispense with the most obvious reason to mount a bumper, if you want one, buy one. There are people who simply like the look of a reinforced aftermarket bumper, and that is reason enough to have one. They do give a vehicle a sense of purpose. And not to put too fine a point on it, some trucks have unattractive fascia that is best swapped with anything else.


For Clay Croft of xoverland.com, he elected to skip the heavy front bumper. For a vehicle with an already comprehensive build, it was one less thing to add weight and complexity.


For the practical minded overlander, there are some logical reasons to go with a bumper.

Winch mounting

Although there are a number of solutions for hidden winch mounting for certain vehicles, it’s not possible to sneak a winch behind the factory fascia of most vehicles. We could write another article titled, To Winch or Not to Winch, but we’ll save that for another day. Adding an aftermarket bumper to any vehicle provides a sturdy perch to mount a brawny puller.



Recovery and jack points

If you have already committed yourself to the idea this vehicle of your’s is going to transport you down the road less traveled, it’s a high probability eventually you’re going to get stuck on said road. Modern vehicles are so clad in plastic it is nigh impossible to get a line on them when you need to most. Although some aftermarket bumpers designed to retain crash performance do not offer recovery points, some do. If you happen to be one of the few remaining advocates of the Hi-Lift jack, a tool that seems to be waning slightly in popularity, a steel bumper with jack points is a proper accompaniment to that device.


Approach and departure angles

As automotive designers struggle to meet fuel efficiency ratings, pedestrian impact standards, and in keeping pace with modern aesthetic trends, vehicle front ends get increasingly lower. Most steel bumpers made by reputable manufacturers place approach and departure angles high on their design criteria.


Impact protection

You would think this would rate higher on the list, and for places like Australia it certainly does, but for the North American overlander animal impacts are not all too common. For those in Wisconsin, Wyoming, and other places crawling with deer, elk and other critters, this does not apply to you. Animal strikes are the primary reason why these large bumpers were made necessary, and in those places they are essential, but for most of us––not so much. As an aside, the one minor impact my bumper-fitted Land Rover endured suffered more damage because of the bumper. Go figure.

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You could hit a small planet with the bumper on this Earthroamer and not disrupt the cruise control. It’s gigantic.


The accessory hanger

Once you have a bumper, it often serves as a great place to further satisfy your build-itis with even more bolt-ons. A front bumper is a great foundation for lights, fancy recovery points, and jack mounts. The rear can hold jerry cans, a swing-out spare, and all sorts of other goodies. If you’re not in the Keep it Simple Club, bumpers allow for endless modification potential.



In the end, there’s no right or wrong answer to the question: Should I add an aftermarket bumper? It’s your truck. There are an increasing number of very capable, extremely well traveled vehicles that have foregone the big bumper for the factory front and rear. There is something to be said for retaining the simplicity of the stock vehicle as there is a penalty for the additional weight and complexity. If you don’t plan to winch stuff, hit stuff, pull stuff, or lift stuff with your front bumper, and you don’t particularly like the look of them. Go without.



Very few trucks in Iceland are fitted with bumpers and winches. Located so close to the arctic circle, darkness is their biggest challenge, so many “bumpers” you see are little more than places to hang more lights.





I added this shot just for fun. If you are going to add a bumper to your rig, make sure it will do what it was intended to do. Kathmandu, Nepal.

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Field Tested: Yeti’s Brand New Hopper Flip 12 http://expeditionportal.com/field-tested-yetis-brand-new-hopper-flip-12/ http://expeditionportal.com/field-tested-yetis-brand-new-hopper-flip-12/#comments Tue, 18 Oct 2016 07:39:40 +0000 http://expeditionportal.com/?p=43379 It was nearly two years ago when I loaded up Yeti’s revolutionary new soft cooler, tossed it in the back of my vehicle, and headed for the red rocks of Moab. In the time since, that cooler, the Hopper 30, has earned a loyal following and by way of a steady stream of counterfeits, has proven it is a colossal success. My Hopper 30 has even supplanted my much-loved refrigerator as my weekend beverage hauler and has become a permanent fixture in my vehicle.

Although I have no complaints with the original Hopper, there are times when it is more than I need, so I was stoked to see Yeti release their latest soft cooler, the smaller Hopper Flip 12. Not only more compact in size, it has a more convenient zipper configuration that allows the lid to flip open for easier access to the interior. That zipper is the same double-tracked waterproof unit used on their other coolers and the crown jewel in what is arguably one of the most high-tech soft coolers on the market. With a large T-handle slider, the Flip’s near 360º zipper slides effortlessly, is extremely robust, and is easy to maintain for years of hard use.


Strategically designed to hold 12 aluminum cans, the wee Hopper is surprisingly big. It’s also built with the same materials and construction methods as its bigger brethren. The rugged DryHide fabric is the same type of material used in the construction of river rafts and the liner is made of FDA approved food-grade fabric that I have found works well to resist odors and cleans easily. That’s another bonus with the Yeti soft cooler design. The inner walls are wrapped tight around the Cold Cell insulation eliminating the wrinkles and folds that cause other soft coolers to become funky and prone to gather mildew.

The exterior of the Flip has the same rugged attachment points for Yeti’s bottle opener and accessory pouch as well as a pair of heavy-duty nylon rings to accommodate the padded shoulder strap. Dual webbing handles on either side make for an easy grab and serve as strong lash points.


With it’s convenient square shape, flat bottom, and large lid, I’ve found the Flip to be the absolute best motorcycle cooler ever. Mounted to a tail rack, it has the brawn to suffer the worst days on the trail while still retaining ice for hours.

I would love to say I’ve subjected the Flip to weather’s worst, but even here in Arizona the temperatures have begun to taper off. My preliminary tests suggest it will perform as well as my larger Hopper, which is to say it will likely retain ice after a couple of days in high summer-like temperatures.


There’s a lot to love about the new Flip. At $279 it represents the typical investment demanded of any Yeti product, but I can see the value in its impeccable built quality and smart design. When you don’t want a huge cooler, but also don’t want to skimp on performance or longevity, nothing beats a Yeti. www.yeti.com


An speaking directly to you, yes you, the guy ready to pounce on the comment box with jabs about the price: You have to see this thing up close to get a sense of how much work and design acumen went into it. It may not be worth the payout to you, but for those who see the value in making a purchase that will last a lifetime, it’s a very fair value.

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Field Tested: Alpinestars Corozal Adventure Drystar Boot – Oiled http://expeditionportal.com/field-tested-alpinestars-corozal-adventure-drystar-boot-oiled/ http://expeditionportal.com/field-tested-alpinestars-corozal-adventure-drystar-boot-oiled/#comments Mon, 17 Oct 2016 07:27:12 +0000 http://expeditionportal.com/?p=43669 If you’re an adventure motorcycle rider, I don’t have to tell you how expensive good boots are. It’s not hard to burn $500, but Alpinestars has just released a model that might redefine the value proposition. It is the Corozal Adventure.

Several years ago I tested their price point boot, the Scout. It was a nice product, nothing too fancy, and at the time seemed like one of the best values on the market at $280. A couple of years later as part of our Overland Journal motorcycle boot review, we evaluated the Alpinestars Toucan Gore-Tex, a boot that we thought was simply superb. It also fetches a price commensurate with the quality at $500. The Corozal slips in at just under $300 but in many ways, gives the Toucan a run for the money.



They sure look pretty when pulled from the box. I’ve learned to take the pictures first then put them through the wringer before I spill oil on them, scratch them to death, and otherwise abuse them. Although I only have a month in them, they’re pretty phenomenal for the money. For any money, actually. The oiled leather looks great and once broken in, feels great, too.


Whereas the Toucan represents the pinnacle of protection and performance, the Corozal only dials those attributes back just a tad. Instead of all-metal buckles, the Corozal uses heavy duty polymer buckles, which frankly, are plenty durable. The Toucan uses Gore-Tex for waterproofing and the Corozal employs Alpinestars’ proprietary DRYSTAR membrane. Instead of dual hinges at the ankle, the new boot has one mechanical pivot on the outer aspect of the shell.

To keep the price in check, the Corozal skips the stitch down mid and outsole in lieu of a bonded package that actually provides some unique benefits. That mid and outsole system is built with a thick EVA mid layer which creates excellent vibration dampening and all day standing comfort. It has a walking quality that feels very much like a hiking boot and less like a motorcycle stomper.


Below: The padded cuff is extremely comfortable and of nicer quality than boots double in price. The outsole package feels secure under foot, particularly at the mid-foot while on the pegs. Price point boots often look like price point boots. Not the Corozal. The detail in their construction punches high above their weight. The performance and comfort are equally top notch.
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The upper aspect of the Corozal is made of top grain leather with strategic placements of polyurethane to shield the leather for long ware life. Heavy TPU plating at key points protects the foot and lower leg. A soft bellows at the back of the boot and at the instep amplify flexibility and the self-cleaning buckles are easy to adjust, and in my opinion, are the best in the business.

For people who want something that qualifies as an off-road boot, but without the excessive bulk and price those types of footwear often demand, the Corozal feels light and sleek without sacrificing protection. I’ve done enough boot reviews to know many of you want to know about weather proofing and breathability. To be very honest, all boots are hot. I can ride in a day long rainstorm or through 100 degree sunny weather and my feet come out of almost any boot feeling damp. I will say, my feet don’t cook in the Corozal and although I’ve only used them in one minor rain storm, I assume they’ll be as waterproof as the other Alpinestars boots I’ve tested––extensively.


It’s another nice option from Alpinestars and I look forward to spending more miles in them.


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American Overlander: Blue Ridge Chair Works Chair http://expeditionportal.com/american-overlander-blue-ridge-chair-works-chair/ http://expeditionportal.com/american-overlander-blue-ridge-chair-works-chair/#comments Fri, 14 Oct 2016 07:17:17 +0000 http://expeditionportal.com/?p=43320 I have only met the founder of Blue Ridge Chair Works, Alan Davis, a handful of times but every encounter not only makes me want to buy one of his handmade products, it gives me the sense that I should be outside––doing something fun. He has an infectious charisma, genuine passion for what he does, and I get the impression he could tell endless tales of a lifetime adventuring on the wild rivers of West Virginia.

Alan’s story, and that of his company, is pure Americana. An avid river runner since the late 1960s, he parlayed his love of the water into a thriving business. That journey included learning how to make wooden canoe and kayak paddles, and eventually the backcountry furniture that fills the growing Blue Ridge Chair Works catalog. Don’t let the name fool you. Alan makes far more than chairs.


After talking to him for the first time about his business I admit I had a vision of Alan in a small workshop toiling over a piece of wood as he crafted chairs one at a time. It may have started that way, but that’s not how things are today. From his main factory in Franklin, North Carolina, a team of 100 skilled employees churn out a steady stream of chairs, tables, and accessories, all made of top quality materials.

The classic offering, and namesake of the company, is the Blue Ridge Chair. I have reviewed a dozen camp sitters over the years and owned just as many. In that time I have learned that I love to hate camp chairs. There’s always something about each one that gets my goat and makes me want to return to just sitting on a stump. The first time I used the Blue Ridge Chair, I think my first response was, “Hey, this is nice.”

Unlike other camp chairs, the Blue Ridge Chair doesn’t come packaged in a bag full of parts, nor does it require a six-step folding procedure to set up. It has two components: a back panel and a sitting surface. To set up the chair you slide the sitting half into the back half, and in less than three seconds, you’re ready to plop down. When folded, those two pieces slide together for easy transport. It may not pack small, but it does pack flat. I’ve found it has been easy to slip into my vehicle and the packed size has yet to be a challenge. It also has an attached webbing shoulder strap for an easy carry. Whereas many camp chairs feel wobbly or constricting, Alan’s chair is solid, comfortable, and has a gentle recline that feels pretty relaxing. I wouldn’t say it is a plush chair, but I can lounge in it for hours comfortably.


The digits

  • Weight – 9 pounds
  • Dimensions – 16w x 24d x 29h
  • Max capacity – 300 pounds
  • MSRP – $113 and available in four colors


The wood used in the Blue Ridge Chair is the same kiln dried Ash hardwood as used in all of his furniture. The chair back is made of heavy polyester fabric which is fade resistant, extremely durable, and still retains the classic look of old-school cotton canvas. Finished in Danish wood oil and held together with high quality stainless steel fasteners, this is unlike most camp chairs destined to have their last adventure in a dumpster. These are products built to be handed down from one generation to the next.


The “Made in USA” label is burned into the wood with more than just heat, but American pride. And, the built-in bottle opener is pretty sweet, too.


As much as I love the chair itself, I find I’m equally drawn to the company. Most nights of the week I end my day popping the cap off a cold bottle of beer with a Blue Ridge Chair works Cap Lifter that Alan gave me. It’s not just a darn fine bottle opener, or a promotional tool intended to sell more product, it’s part of Alan’s commitment to zero waste. That’s the mark of a guy who not only understands business, but has a genuine appreciation for the environment and responsible manufacturing.




Several years ago when I set out to start this American Overlander series dedicated to homegrown goods made in the USA, I didn’t realize just how many cool companies there are in the States like Alan’s. People say we are no longer a nation of makers. I say they are dead wrong.
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The Cost of Van and Camper Living http://expeditionportal.com/the-cost-of-van-and-camper-living/ http://expeditionportal.com/the-cost-of-van-and-camper-living/#comments Thu, 13 Oct 2016 07:20:10 +0000 http://expeditionportal.com/?p=43128 If you have not traveled in an off-road capable live-aboard vehicle, you really should give it a crack. There is something extremely gratifying about rolling down a remote road, pulling into a level spot with a nice view, and simply crawling into the back to cook a meal and catch some shuteye.

According to the RV industry statistics, more than 365,000 recreational vehicles were sold just last year with an increasingly large number of those purpose-built to access the road less traveled. The once niche segment that consisted of the VW Westy and the occasional 4×4 domestic conversion van has now ballooned into a social movement called Van Life.

You can’t deny the allure of having your own mobile abode. Whether deployed for a weekend escape, or a multi-year journey, nearly everyone can appreciate the sense of freedom these vehicles afford. But how attainable are they?

At the upper end of the spectrum are the genuine exotics. These are the Unimogs like those outfitted by Global Expedition Vehicles. Easily tipping the million dollar mark, the fuel consumption alone is enough to break most banks. I spoke to one owner who drove from Indiana to Argentina and back in his Unimog at a whopping fuel cost of over $7,000.

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In the same elite level, and in my humble opinion one of the most amazing vehicles in the world, sits the Earthroamer. Handmade in Colorado, their latest masterpiece, a mammoth thing built on a Ford F750 chassis (lead image above), obliterates the million dollar mark, and I’m sure it’s worth every precious penny. That dwarfs the price of their current and most popular trucks built on the F550 platform that range in price from the low $400,000s to just over half a million bucks. Because these vehicles are so well made, and with nearly 180 of them on the road, pre-owned specimens do pop up and are usually in excellent condition. It isn’t unusual to find late models with all the trimmings for as little as $275,000. What a bargain, right? [Read about my week in an Earthroamer HERE.]

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For many buyers, a more approachable option is the Tiger built on either Dodge, Ford, or Chevy platforms. The Tiger Siberian, the pinnacle offering in their lineup, will command a heavy price upwards of $300,000 when fitted with all the options. Their entry level truck, the Bengal, can be had for as little as $122,000. Shop around for used models and you might get lucky and score one for under $75,000 with relatively low miles.



The Bengal above can be rented from the fine folks at Adventure Travel Sports Rentals


For decades, one of the most popular live-aboard solutions was the Sportsmobile. When they started building their habitats on the 4×4 Ford van chassis, the popularity of the Sportsmobile exploded. So too did the asking price. A well appointed Ford van with all the off-road bells, whistles, and creature comforts will easily push beyond the $150,000 mark. Even a ten year old version with a good bit of miles will still tickle $100,000. This is not to say older vans with less extensive options can’t be had for $75,000, or even $50,000. On the upshot, they do seem to be available on a rather consistent basis.


The Sportsmobile franchise really got a shot in the arm when Mercedes decided to bring their 4×4 Sprinter to North America, and things got even better when Ram introduced the ProMaster Stateside. Although Sportsmobile had previously offered custom units built on Nissan’s big van, I haven’t seen many on the road. It truly is one of the ugliest things I’ve ever seen. With Ford now in the game with their Transit, the Sportsmobile buyer has lots to choose from. I am actually amazed that a finely appointed Mercedes 4×4 Sprinter, with a long list of available options, can be had for just a shade over $100,000. Maybe it speaks to my Euro-car tendencies, but I love the look of the ProMaster.


Not to be left out of the off-pavement camper segment, the camper kings at Winnebago jumped on the Sprinter wagon and offered their Era class B camper with the new 4×4 chassis. It took them some time to best understand the needs of the traveler hoping to push beyond RV parks and campgrounds, but they’re starting to see the light. A 4×4 Era with all the common options will push beyond, $125,000 but it is a very nice vehicle.


So far, everything I’ve listed has crushed the $100,000 limit. That’s a great deal of cash for a vehicle that many will only use for forays into the long weekend. For a growing number of people, the turn-key camper is not in the cards. Many people build their own vans and campers. Despite the availability of some 4×4 vans like the Sprinter, many are not available with that option. Fortunately, companies like Quigley 4×4 can make the conversion complete with two-speed transfer case and added lift. Once your van is ready for it, then you can go to work building out the interior to suit your needs––and budget.

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The most common solution for the live-in vehicle isn’t a van or self-propelled camper, it’s the tried and true combination of a pickup and a slide in camper. In that space, the 4Wheel camper has been ruler of the roost. Their campers have traveled to the far ends of the earth. With base campers, effectively empty shells, starting at around $8,000, budget minded overlanders can slip into a system that suits their needs. On the other end of the spectrum, the largest and most opulent 4Wheel campers cost more than $40,000. When perched atop a $50,000 truck, you’re starting to approach Sprinter money, but you have a vehicle that will most likely travel any ugly backroad you wish to tackle.

FWC Hawk 3

Image above provided by Equipt Expedition Outfiiters, a dealer of 4Wheel Campers.


There are some other options favored by the van and camper traveler. GoWesty has always been a popular source for restored and prepared AWD VW camper vans. Their turn-key Syncro Westy vans can fetch between $85,000 and $115,000. That’s a mind bender, but the resale values seem infallible, and owners of those vehicles are always slow to let them go.


So, where does this leave the buyer with a modest wad of cash to spend on a van or camper? The pre-owned market has some surprisingly good finds for those willing to look for them. Just recently I saw a listing for a 1987 diesel powered Toyota Sunrader for the reasonable asking price of $25,000. Just a couple years ago, one of our very own Expedition Portal forum members sold his AWD 2005 GMC Safari van with a V6, 31-inch tires and a 3-inch lift for just over $10,000.


As you can imagine, the options are seemingly endless. With 365,000 RVs sold last year, and millions on the road fitting every type and description possible, chances are there’s something to fit your budget and your needs. I didn’t even list a fraction of the companies out there right now converting Sprinters, Transits, and all manner of vehicles into superb travel platforms.

I’m sure we’d all love an Earthroamer, but I’d take a Sunrader and a long weekend over staying home.

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XOverland :: Return to the MacKenzie http://expeditionportal.com/xoverland-return-to-the-mackenzie/ http://expeditionportal.com/xoverland-return-to-the-mackenzie/#comments Wed, 12 Oct 2016 23:38:10 +0000 http://expeditionportal.com/?p=44179

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KTM Announces new 1090 Adventure R http://expeditionportal.com/ktm-announces-new-1090-adventure-r/ http://expeditionportal.com/ktm-announces-new-1090-adventure-r/#comments Wed, 12 Oct 2016 07:32:21 +0000 http://expeditionportal.com/?p=44153 As we have seen over the years, the cycle of cycles has ebbs and flows and we just happen to be on the verge of a considerable uptick for 2017. Aside from the widespread scramblering of bikes from the big players, there has been a renewed interest in the mid-weight adventure bike. Much of this has been instigated by Honda’s new Africa Twin, which is not only priced well, but it has size and performance metrics that appeal to many riders not keen on saddling one of the behemoths currently on the market.

Realizing their own monster, the 1290 Super Adventure R, might be a bit more than some riders want or need, KTM is releasing a new, slightly smaller platform built around their 1050cc 75° V-twin. Capable of producing 125hp and 80lb-ft of torque, it will have a lot of pep for a middleweight, but big power is a hallmark of the KTM brand. This new bike, essentially an improved 1050 Adventure as offered only in Europe, will replace the 1190 Adventure and Adventure R bikes.


Although the new 1090 Adventure will be manufactured in both off-road and road biased models, North America will only get the dirt-tuned Adventure R with its 21-inch front wheel, 18-inch rear, and TKC80 tires. It will be packaged with new fully adjustable forks with separate compression and rebound systems to match the same technology as used in the rear suspension. The Keihin engine management system is paired to a Ride-by-wire throttle and slipper clutch.

Like its bigger predecessors, the 1090 will offer electronic Motorcycle Stability Control with multimode ABS and traction control modes. The Off-road ABS setting disengages the rear brake interference, but keeps the system active for the front wheel for better control in the dirt.

The new bike shares many of the design elements of the 1190 as well as many of the same chassis attributes. A 6.1 gallon tank will provide sufficient travel range and color matched crash bars come standard. Adjustable foot pegs, handlebars, and windshield round out the ergonomics and integrated pannier mounts simplify the addition of luggage. At 472 pounds dry, the 1090 comes in at just a few pounds lighter than the 1190. Pricing has not been announced, but will likely parallel that of the current 1190.


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Field Tested: Primus Tupike 2-Burner Stove http://expeditionportal.com/field-tested-primus-tupike-2-burner-stove/ http://expeditionportal.com/field-tested-primus-tupike-2-burner-stove/#comments Wed, 12 Oct 2016 07:21:27 +0000 http://expeditionportal.com/?p=43433 As a general rule of good journalism, it is typically uncouth to invoke the name of one brand while discussing another. I’m going to break that rule. For the better part of the last decade, the overland audience has held Snow Peak in particularly high regard. It’s a well placed affection as they do make extremely nice gear. They are, however, not alone anymore.

Primus, the function-forward brand from Sweden and inventors of the modern camp stove, have started to up their refinement game. Although they have had larger car camping stoves in the past they have recently introduced a selection of two-burners that rival those of the aforementioned brand from Japan.


The most unique stove in their lineup, and maybe the most interesting design I have seen, is the Onja two-burner. Their more traditional camp stove, albeit far nicer than most, is the Kinja. Made of powder coated cast aluminum and stainless steel, it also has an oak handle and a slim design unlike anything else on the market. As nice as those two products are, the real show stopper is the Tupike.

Like the Kinja, the Tupike also has die-cast aluminum sides and a stainless steel body with black powder coat and oak accents. The brushed stainless steel lid and brass fasteners elevate the fit and finish making this one beautiful camp appliance that will probably get better with age.

Unlike the majority of two-burners on the market which are far larger than they really need to be, the Tupike is sleek, thin, and space efficient. At only 3.5-inches thick it slips into tight spaces that normally wouldn’t accommodate a full size stove. The two 7,000 BTU burners are made of stainless steel with independent piezo-electric ignitors. The pot supports are large, stable, and easily removed to facilitate cleaning. Many stoves require the removal of the burner to detach the drip trays, but the Tupike’s lower tray lifts out with no fuss.






The lid has two lateral windscreens, and as an added bonus, the base is affixed with two fold-out legs which elevate the stove. After my first few sessions using the Tupike, that innocuous little feature quickly became one of my favorite attributes. Camp tables are often made low for sitting comfort and most of us stand when we cook. The Tupike sits at just the right level. The legs also allow me to use the space under the stove to stash cooking utensils as there never seems to be enough table space when preparing a meal.


Powered by a one-pound fuel canister or with refillable propane tanks via an adapter, the Tupike is easy to light, requires no maintenance, and is efficient and inexpensive to operate. Simmer adjustment is precise and easy to control and the burners light every time on the first try.

Sold with an attractive cotton/polyester carrying case, and packaged with a die-cast non-stick griddle, the Tupike is a beautiful addition to any camp kitchen. I’m often prone to place form in the rears of function. The Tupike allows me to enjoy both equally.




Every camp culinarian needs proper tools and the Primus Campfire Prep set is just about as nice as any utensil kit gets. The cotton/poly case has dedicated slots for the included knife, spatula, spoon, grater, and serving fork. The roll-case also has a small mesh pouch for additional items like seasonings, small accessories, or the corkscrew that one must never leave behind. The oak utensils are ideally suited for use with non-stick pots and pans and frankly, look fantastic.


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Wandering In the Eastern Sierras: Part 1 http://expeditionportal.com/wandering-in-the-eastern-sierras-part-1/ http://expeditionportal.com/wandering-in-the-eastern-sierras-part-1/#comments Tue, 11 Oct 2016 10:00:43 +0000 http://expeditionportal.com/?p=43781 This trip to the Eastern Sierras was originally planned to take place last summer as a way for us desert dwellers to escape the heat. But as our departure time grew closer, personal plans began to change and ended up not working out. In a way, it was better that way – giving me time to refine the trip to best utilize our time. And now, looking back, it would have been mostly disorganized chaos compared to the epic trip we just had. This trip wasn’t without change though – what originally started out to include our entire group slowly dwindled down. 6 vehicle and 14 people reduced to 3 vehicles and 4 people. In addition, the girls decided to stay home so that meant only one thing… Man trip.

Our newly found freedom allowed for some welcomed flexibility – leaving a day early, more diverse camping spots and the ability to cover ground more efficiently. This ended up turning into a win, win, win situation!

We left Wednesday after work and met up at the Pilot at the 15 & 395 interchange. Fueled up, grabbed a quick bite and set off for our first camp which was to be in the Alabama Hills, just west of Lone Pine.


We pulled onto Whitney Portal road right about 9:30 and made the drive towards the famous landscape. Just as we were to make the turn onto Movie Rd a bright light appeared on-top of the mountain. At first, it looked like maybe a vehicle coming down the road, but soon the light began to cast light like a search helicopter. It was coming right at us as we pulled over to get out of the vehicles for a better look. We stood there in awe once we knew it wasn’t a car, helicopter or plane. Our adrenaline pumping as whatever it was passed nearly right above us. Was is a meteor? A failed rocket launch? A disintegrated plane? Nearly a minute went by as we watched whatever it was come apart in the dark skies – fragmented fireballs scattering as it flew over the eastern horizon. Throughout it all, I kept thinking I should grab my camera but for some reason never did. Sort of bummed I didn’t.

We continued to our camp for the night to relax around the propane campfire before calling it a night. A long adventure awaits us in the morning.

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Since we were in the valley the temperature rose quickly and as a result we packed up quickly to get our way towards higher elevations. We’d have to make a stop in Bishop for fuel and breakfast at Schat’s Bakery. By the way, how is it even possible to make bread that good?





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The drive up to Bishop gave us some free time to research what last nights fireball was all about. Turned out to be the second stage from a Chinese rocket disintegrating in the atmosphere. How it just so happened to become visible at the “official” start of our trip was pretty cool.

From Bishop we’d skip taking the 395 any further north. Time for some dirt. A route through the Volcanic Tablelands would guide us up to Round Mountain – east of Lake Crowley, via Casa Diablo Rd.

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The slight elevation gain gave us some relief from the heat, but it was still in the high 80’s. Definitely cooler then back home. As we approached Lake Crowley the group decided to take a break along the waters edge and relax a bit and soak in the view. Being that it was a Thursday, we had the entire beach to ourselves.

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A bit more refreshed we began the trek into Long Valley and the Hot Creek area. Winding our way through the trees and various trails, we’d eventually end up dropping off at highway 203 into Mammoth.

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As soon as the tires hit the pavement it started to rain – which sort of worked out since we were getting hungry. Decided to stop at Roberto’s Mexican Cafe for some killer food and a ice cold cerveza while we waited for the weather to clear before our next adventure. Well, the weather ended up making real a mess of things rather then clean. The dirt and dust we collected so far turned into spots and mud. Couldn’t complain too much – after-all it is a off-road trip…

Deadman’s Pass northwest of Mammoth was next up.





We didn’t spend much time at the top. Though the views seemed endless and the cool breeze was nearly perfect, we needed to start towards our camp for the night – Laurel Lakes.

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Coming up to the trail-head that leads to Laurel Lakes, there were a few vehicles in the parking area as well as a few people that appeared to be completing a day hiking throughout the local mountains. A bit further up a gentleman was walking up the trail with a gas can in a basic backpack which seemed rather odd. As we approached he turned around obviously now aware of our presence and stuck out his thumb. “Oh great…” was my first thought, but as I pulled along side I can see he couldn’t have been a hiker as he was too clean cut and not dressed the part. “Anyway I can get a ride to my truck? Can’t believe I did it, but ran my Colorado out of gas” he said as I got within earshot. Usually I’m not one for picking up hitchhikers, but the guy seemed genuine enough and didn’t appear to have bad intentions.

Told him to throw his pack in the bed and hop in. We began the journey up the long and windy mountain side and struck conversation. Ended up being a super nice guy – a local to the Mammoth area and a previous resident of North County San Diego. Before long we rounded a corner to discover his truck parked along the hillside. Bid farewell and continued towards the Lakes.



Upon reaching the high point of the trail the rain returned, bringing lightning and thunder along with it. Seeing a bolt strike the mountains peak right next to us then hear the sky rip apart was exhilarating and frightening all at the same time. We rushed down the switchbacks and found a spot suitable for the 3 rigs where we’d wait for the storm to pass. Eventually it did and gave way to some great weather to explore our surroundings. We found that we had the entire place to ourselves – just the way we like it.

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It was a long day and ended it like we always do – around a fire and looking at the stars.

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As it turns out, the Sierra’s are riddled with flying insects. Even more so when around a body of water. That morning it was very apparent that the bug spray went on way too late and we were eaten for dinner by the lake locals. Red bumps and itching isn’t the best way to start a fresh day – but we survived. Regardless, we really took our time getting ready with a warm breakfast and hot coffee before packing up and organizing for the adventure ahead.

Lot’s of ground to be covered today so let’s get started!

Step 1 – Return to Mammoth for fuel and a quick car wash… (yup, that happened.)





Picture_048 Picture_049Step 2 – Cross over the 395 to take forest roads north towards Mono Lake. Not much time was spent on photo’s for this particular section as it closely resembled areas we’ve already been through. Instead we put the pedal down and enjoyed the smooth trails through the trees.


Eventually the trees come to a abrupt end as you cross over Hwy 120 and the size of Mono Lake dominates the horizon. Bright blue sky reflects off the salty water giving it a surreal type appearance. From the 120, Old Bodie Railroad Grade eventually ends at 1N54B – a narrow and silty path around Mono Basin. By far the dustiest section of trail in recent memory – it was mostly a chore and rather eventful other then the memorizing view out the driver side window.

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On the eastern most edge of the lake, the trail “Y’s” off into two different directions. The original planned route to the left was blocked by a rather large and questionable ravine. The right was a straight shot towards Pole Line Rd. I decided to follow the original route so at this point the group went in two different directions for a few miles and were to meet up at the road crossing. Eventually the direction I took led to run along sandy two track and through a stretch of white sand dunes – some of my favorite terrain to drive in.


All was going well until something shiny in the distance caught my attention. A mid 2000’s Tundra and a smaller 4 door car appeared stuck in the soft sand directly on the trail blocking passage through. I stopped a ways back and observed my surroundings. No one was around and only a single set of footprints nearby. I locked up the truck and proceeded by foot to scope out the situation, slowly approaching the vehicles from the side. Getting closer I could tell that a vehicle was running, then could see figures inside the car through the dark tinted windows. The rear door suddenly pops open and a older man emerges, looking pretty wiped out from either sun exposure or some type of substance. I asked if everyone was OK and if they need any water or supplies but the offer was refused stating that they had what they needed. The only request was if I had a tow strap and could help them out. Quickly examining their situation, knowing the sand was quite soft in this area, my truck being a overweight pig and currently alone I reluctantly said there wasn’t anything I could do. Apparently they had a tow truck on the way so I wished them the best and continued on my way. Honestly, it was a weird deal and didn’t feel right and glad I got out of there. In all reality, probably over thinking it but better safe than sorry.

Now, the tricky part was figuring out how to get around and back onto the main trail. The sand was soft and covered in bushes and vegetation. I spent some time walking around and plotted out a path that wouldn’t leave any sort of imprint other then tire tracks in the sand.

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Met up with the group on the other side of the highway and we made our way to Cottonwood Canyon Rd. The clouds we saw from a distance while driving around Mono Lake had intensified and were moving into our direct path. As we got closer the rain began – followed shortly by hail, then heavy downpour.



Step 3 – Visit Bodie Ghost Town during a raging thunderstorm… but this and even more amazing places await in part two of this story.


This story was originally published on Explore Desert’s website which can be seen here. We thank them for their generosity in sharing this adventure, and look forward to sharing part two!


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