Expedition Portal http://expeditionportal.com Wed, 25 Nov 2015 21:29:22 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.0 Wunderlich Releases 2WD 1200GShttp://expeditionportal.com/wunderlich-releases-2wd-1200gs/ http://expeditionportal.com/wunderlich-releases-2wd-1200gs/#comments Wed, 25 Nov 2015 21:29:22 +0000 http://expeditionportal.com/?p=33017 EICMA usually has a collection of the newest and coolest motorcycles around, and this years show in Milan was no exception. Everything from new Indian motorcycles and Bimota carbon cafe racers, to a 230 horsepower aprilla concept were unveiled, but it was a rather colorful GS 1200 that got our attention. Why the enthusiasm over a neon beamer? Because Wunderlich international has converted it to a 2WD.


The first “two-wheeler” GS is actually a hybrid, and uses electricity to power a ten kilowatt front wheel gearbox. It doesn’t sound like much, but sources indicate that it gives the heavy adventure bike a good deal more power and pulls it hard through the turns.


Power to the front wheel is adjustable, and can be operated  independently from the petrol motor in forward or reverse. We’re sure that this would come in handy for backing the heavy bike up on hills, and negotiating your way through a technical trail. While operating strictly on front wheel drive electric power, we’re told the bike can reach speeds up to 20 kilometers per hour, though for how long is unclear.


All charging for the 2wd’s battery system is centered around efficiency, so you won’t find it drawing power as you cruise down the road or accelerate through a turn. Instead it takes advantage of situations like braking, where the effects are either not felt or are minimal.


Wunderlich CEO Frank Hoffman is excited with the results of their work and states, “The increased performance can be clearly felt in the driving operation”. In regards to the company’s attitude towards spearheading innovation, he said “We want to show what is going on and establish standards! In the meantime, our concept vehicles are traditional and symbolize our know how and our status as a manufactory of ideas.”


We hope to see more great concepts from Wunderlich, and will be keeping an ear to the ground on the possibility of a production X2. For more information and other products, check out the Wunderlich website here.


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Featured Vehicle: Mowgli the Unimoghttp://expeditionportal.com/featured-vehicles-mowgli-the-unimog/ http://expeditionportal.com/featured-vehicles-mowgli-the-unimog/#comments Wed, 25 Nov 2015 07:28:15 +0000 http://expeditionportal.com/?p=32776 We were heading home to the UK from the Norwegian Arctic Circle and nearing the end of our annual off road pilgrimage. It was the end of January, a chilly -45°c, dusk at 13:30 and the winter arctic sun was setting in our eyes. Yet inside the cockpit of our modern Hilux, we were warm and making good progress southwards. In 4 wheel drive, the traction control was working perfectly on the thick ice laden road.

It was our tradition to use these drives to talk about our dream of a long term road trip. This chat on our journey from Norway was different. Our children had flown the nest and though we weren’t yet so old, it wouldn’t be long before we’d reached an age where we’d be ordering mobility scooters. Not our idea of an overland adventure.

So unlike in the past, this chat was not about a dream; we didn’t discuss how great things would be, where we’d go or what we’d experience. This time we were talking about a reality we were about to make happen.


Featured Vehicle- Mowgli the Unimog-6



Vehicle Choice

I asked the question. “What are we driving on our round the world trip?”

You may think the obvious answer should have been the Hilux. After all, it was set for an overland trip with over-sized Cooper STT tyres, uprated suspension, winch, leisure batteries and a semi racked canopy on the pick-up. All we needed to fit was a roof tent and we were good to go.


Featured Vehicle- Mowgli the Unimog-1

So How Have We Ended Up With A Unimog?

Many years ago I was learning how to drive in deep sand across the Empty Quarter of the Saudi desert. Our support truck was a Mercedes Unimog. It was heavily laden and unstoppable. I’d never seen one before but was so impressed that from that day forward, a Unimog was my ultimate dream truck.

If I was going on a long term road trip, I was going to do so in a Unimog. So whilst I asked Angela what truck we’d travel in, I already knew the answer. I just needed to be conniving enough, to ask the right questions, and prompt where necessary, to ensure Angela also believed, the only vehicle we could do this in was a Unimog.

Of course, she knows me very well and humoured me anyway.

All that said, you all know that overlanding is not always full of sunny days, outside living and open camp fires. There are times when the rain is horizontal, the air is cold, damp and dank, the wind can chill your bones. All this can make living conditions feel utterly miserable, especially when you’re in a roof tent. So justifiably a 4×4 station wagon was out of the question.

A larger vehicle that would provide indoor living conditions was required. A commercial van would provide that. Whilst there are a few available that claim off road capability, in our experience, the reality is that they’re rough track capable; not off road. I wanted the ability to drive across a wet, muddy ploughed field if I needed to. In a rough track van, I would need to choose my route to avoid certain conditions, and I didn’t want the restriction.

Whilst my wife explained that avoiding muddy fields was a perfectly acceptable diversion, I still wanted the Unimog. By the time we reach Stockholm, we both knew I needed a Unimog.


Featured Vehicle- Mowgli the Unimog-5

Build or Buy?

Many of us spend much of our lives building our off road vehicles. We all visit shows, check out the latest gear, spend hours on the internet researching, drink countless beers with our buddies discussing what modifications we’re planning. It almost becomes the obsession and not the prelude of the extended road trip.

We discussed building our own camper on a Unimog base. Or we could try to buy a pre-loved model. For us, there was only 1 must have: a fixed bed. We could work around everything else.

After a couple of hours of internet surfing, and heading steadily towards the Danish border, we found a converted Unimog camper that was on the market. By the time we reached the Esbjerg port to board our ferry home, we’d booked a viewing for our return to the UK.

Mowgli our Unimog had the scars of both a hard life and long periods of outdoor storage. After a good check over, I saw past these issues. The key was that the chassis, engine and transmission were fine; we could quickly tidy the rest up. She had 28,000 miles on the clock. In Mercedes terms, the vehicle wasn’t even mechanically run in. The base vehicle, other than a factory fitted turbo was stock.

With a fully fitted camper including shower, toilet, fixed bed, gas cooker and oven, 12v fridge, extended fuel and water tanks she had all we needed. Although the microwave had to go!

Unimog Living Area


Featured Vehicle- Mowgli the Unimog-8




So what did we get for our money?

6.7 tonnes of truck fun, that’s for sure! Mowgli was a standard flatbed 1300L, built in 1980 and taken out of German military service in 1996 with 9000 miles on the clock. She was converted to a camper in 2000.

She has a standard 5.7L 6 cylinder diesel engine and a factory fitted turbo giving us 139 HP and an awesome 363 NM of torques.

With 8 forward and 4 reverse gears, Mowgli has the ability to go from 2 wheel drive into 4 wheel drive with central diff lock. When the going gets tough, all round diff lockers can be engaged. These can all be changed as the wheels are turning and without any speed constraint.

At 2.2m wide, 6.7m long and 3.2m high Mowgli can wade up to 1m deep before we start getting our feet wet and has 440mm ground clearance due to her portal axles.

Off road, the Unimog is unsurpassed; steep approach angles of 46° and an even steeper decent capability makes the vehicle’s ability outshine the bravery of the driver. A 60° descent is very scary, but the Unimog just holds her own and slowly steps down. I have had her up to her axles in both sand and mud and she just crawls and inches her way forward. I’ve even seen Unimogs recover an 18 tonne lorry through slippery wet mud tracks and not even break sweat. That said, if we ever get her stuck up to her axles we’ll be hard pushed to self-recover.

The winch fitted on the front is only a 4.5 tonne electric Comeup winch with a 10 tonne dyneema rope. I have a snatch block to double up the winch capacity. Even so, being stuck is not a dilemma I want to find myself in.

All this performance comes with compromises. She is capable of 53 mph; cruising at 44 mph consumes around about 16.1 mpg.

To improve our driving range, we carry 560 litres of fuel which will give us about 2000 miles between fuel stops. We carry 300 litres of water which will allow us to stay out for 5-7 days before we need to collect water.

We’ve fitted 3 solar panels, harnessing 480 KW of power into our 230 amp hour batteries that supply the living quarters with both 12v and 240v ac.

After two years of ownership and in a range of extreme environments we’ve driven 35,000 miles, 10,000 of them off road. We’ve done 5 oil changes, repaired 2 tyres, replaced 2 springs, fixed 2 airline leaks and 1 fuel line leak and spent 400 nights sleeping in her.


Featured Vehicle- Mowgli the Unimog-2



Featured Vehicle- Mowgli the Unimog-14Featured Vehicle- Mowgli the Unimog-13


Did we make the right choice? 

The short answer is whoa yeh!

Living with a Unimog has its challenges. She does need regular maintenance and things occasionally do go wrong. With a worldwide Mercedes dealership, we should always be able to get help if necessary.

We have covered Eastern Europe, West Africa in the rainy season and are currently in Southern Europe and Morocco for the winter. Next year, we’re hoping to travel to Mongolia and then on to either China or Russia.

Of course, we could have easily travelled in a Hilux, camper van or even a ford focus. But for home comfort, off road capability and mechanical piece of mind, we made a choice that got us on our world journey swiftly and has made it so much more fun.

We didn’t need a Unimog for 99% of our trip, but because of her capability we were able to choose some extreme off road routes. And what’s more, we know we have much bigger smiles on our faces than any other vehicle could ever muster. Just as well, because it takes ages to drive anywhere!


Featured Vehicle- Mowgli the Unimog-4


Follow Angela and Graham and Mowgli the Unimog here:

Website: mowgli-adevntures.com, Facebook, Twitter, Google+

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The Baja Rally – Plenty of Dust, Not A Lot of Gloryhttp://expeditionportal.com/the-baja-rally-plenty-of-dust-not-a-lot-of-glory/ http://expeditionportal.com/the-baja-rally-plenty-of-dust-not-a-lot-of-glory/#comments Tue, 24 Nov 2015 07:20:31 +0000 http://expeditionportal.com/?p=32852 Navigation racing is not something American’s are all that aware of. Tell someone about your experience racing a TSD rally, and they’ll bat their eyes and stare blankly. Talk about Rally Raids or Dakar, and they might ask you about Africa. So it makes sense that the Baja Rally, a navigation based cross-country race down Mexico’s infamous peninsula, is not a well known event…yet. Built by a man named Scotty Bloom, affectionately known on the internet as “Breauxman,” and his team of dedicated timekeepers, race officials, scouts, sweeps, medical staff and everything in between,  the Baja Rally operates as North America’s only FIM inspired event. Offering competitors the chance to experience a real Rally Raid – navigating their way across a wide variety of terrain, from one side of the peninsula to the other and back, the Baja Rally is not a fun-loving experience like, say, the LA-Barstow-to-Vegas Dual-Sport Ride, but instead acts as a preparatory endeavor for those planning to race something like, oh, the Dakar Rally.


Baja Rally - SECONDS (55)

Baja Rally - SECONDS (42)Baja Rally - SECONDS (28)

Now, that’s not to say this event isn’t for everyone. At the starting line we saw a menagerie of competitors to include men who’ve been riding dirt bikes longer then we’ve been alive, a woman with the heart of a lion, one or two teenagers and two factory supported professional off-road racers; Cameron Steele and Quinn Cody. This mixed bag is certainly one way to prepare for the rigors of Dakar, an event that the Baja Rally organizers are intent on emulating.

So let’s skip to the start, where 39 people lined up in a parking lot in Ensenada, GoPro’s on green, road-books and odometers set to mile marker Zero, eagerly anticipating their chance to navigate a course strewn with unseen challenges. And so it began, just after dawn, on a Tuesday. A police escort lead riders out of town where they would be released one at a time, with 60-second intervals separating their efforts.


Baja Rally - SECONDS (18) Baja Rally - SECONDS (23)

Baja Rally - SECONDS (15)Baja Rally - SECONDS (3)

Baja Rally - SECONDS (33)


I suppose I could give you a day-by-day report of the Rally, but the reality is an event like this is better surmised into a few paragraphs. Not because the event is… uneventful, or that what occurred between the flying of a green flag and brisk snap of a checkered one is something you wouldn’t be interested in. No, it’s because what happened during those four days, the challenges faced and conquered by Baja Rally competitors, is not something I can attest to. What I can tell you is that the experience, as confirmed by countless people in attendance, is one not to be missed – assuming this sort of thing is up your alley. Because as much as the Baja Rally is an event for everyone (the everyman, the ex enduro champ, the up-and-comer, and the entry-level enthusiast), it is also an event that serves to prepare those intending to make ‘rally’ style racing a career. From the French language road-books to the bivouac experience, the Baja Rally is ready to make its presence known. So for an American motorcycle racing enthusiast, someone intrigued by the endurance, ingenuity, orientation and off-road abilities of people able to ride their motorcycles at speed across uneven, uncertain and often dangerous terrain, the Baja Rally is an event worth participating in. Or, living vicariously through via live timing and scoring.


About the Author

Justin W. Coffey is a freelance photojournalist. He is the co-creator of WESTx1000, a multimedia company that creates unique content for motorcycle community. Follow him on Instagram.

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Living Legends: Colonel John Blashford-Snellhttp://expeditionportal.com/living-legends-colonel-john-blashford-snell/ http://expeditionportal.com/living-legends-colonel-john-blashford-snell/#comments Mon, 23 Nov 2015 07:58:51 +0000 http://expeditionportal.com/?p=32723 “Would you like to see Stanley’s compass?” It was a gray, drizzly morning in southwest England. The man standing next to me opened a small wooden box, removed a weathered brass compass, and carefully handed it to me. I queried, “Henry Morton Stanley?” He replied, “Yes, this is the compass Stanley was carrying when he found Livingstone. It was a gift to me from the family.” Casting an eye around his charming home-office I noticed display cases of medals, photos of my host with dignitaries, crocodiles, and elephants, various artifacts, and maps from around the world.

I became aware of Colonel John Blashford-Snell in 1997 while researching a trip to South America. I had been most intrigued with his 1971 crossing of the Darién Gap, but further investigation revealed a character right out of a Hollywood screenplay—a professional soldier, explorer, leader of men, humanitarian, and renaissance man. But he was the flesh-and-blood real deal. When the opportunity arose to spend an afternoon with the Colonel at his home in England, it was not an invitation to pass up. Videographer Bruce Dorn and I arrived as he was pulling a quiche from the oven. He served us and we settled in at the table for lunch with one of the most interesting men I’ve had the pleasure of meeting.

“Did you notice the machine gun in the hall? My grandfather brought it back from the War [WWI]. Would you like some tea?”


recce on a bicyle_ Dahlak Islands Red sea


Who were the people who inspired you to pursue a life of adventure?

My father and mother had been around the world. They’d been in New Zealand, had lived and worked with the Maori, had a Model T Ford they used to drive around in, and rode horses everywhere. They really had an adventurous life. When the war [WWII] ended I went off back to school in Jersey. It was a wonderful place for adventure, and one thing that had developed was underwater swimming. There were two people that inspired me: one was Hans Hass and the other was Jacques Cousteau. As kids, all we wanted was an Aqua-Lung. The others were Stanley and Livingstone, both of which were very underprivileged children. Stanley was an illegitimate child from a Welsh workhouse. Livingstone was the son of an impoverished tea peddler from Scotland. Look what they made of life.

When I finished school I got into the military and attended the Royal Academy at Sandhurst. You had a choice as to whether to go into the cavalry, the infantry, the engineers, or whatever. I chose the engineers and my job was to find non-military activities to do all over the world. Many things followed out of this.


Diving in Cryprus 1958Diving in woolie jumpers_ 1958

Inquisative Moray _ Australia 1985


In 1968 you led the first descent of the Blue Nile. How did that project come about? 

That came about from the training we did in Ethiopia. During the war my godfather had looked after the Emperor Haile Selassie. I was training cadets at the time and thought, what better than to do it in Ethiopia. During a meeting with the Emperor he said, “I hope you will come back to my empire.” I replied that I’d love to and asked what he would like us to do? Without closing an eye he said, “Explore my Blue Nile.” I thought…Crikey!

After I got back to Britain a letter arrived and my general sent for me. He said, “We have a letter from Haile Selassie, king of kings, chosen line of the tribe of Judah. He wants you to explore his Blue Nile.” I explained that it was rather dangerous and that there were snakes, crocodiles, bandits, and hippos. He looked at me and said, “You’re being negative, and I don’t like negative officers.” He thought this was just the sort of thing the Army needed to buck up morale and give them a challenge. He continued, “I’ve decided we shall do this expedition. I shall be chairman and you shall be secretary. I see no need for anyone else.” I was told to get off and run this expedition. And of course, it turned into a complete epic. From this we then founded the Scientific Exploration Society.


Blue Nile _ The End _ copy right daily telegraphComing ashore _ End of Blue Nile Expedition 1968



What was the core purpose of the SES? 

The idea was to bring together people from all nations who wanted to do something interesting and challenging. It started out with a group of friends and gradually expanded into what it is now, which is about 600 members around the world. We became involved with the Explorers Club and various other organizations, and had links with people around the world…not only with armies but scientists as well.

We took on a lot of tasks that usually had a mixture of adventure and exploration. For example, the Darién Gap Expedition wasn’t a question of [if we] could we get cars through the Darién. It was a question of what you could do for the zoology and biology, the fauna and flora, and also the indigenous people who were undoubtedly going to be threatened by a road that was supposed to go through their lands.


JBS measuring giant leaf _ Ecuador

Can you tell us more about the Darién Gap? 

I was working for the Ministry of Defense at the time and was summoned to lunch at the headquarters for the Anglo-Hispanic organization in London—anything to get lunch out of the Ministry of Defense was a treat. I was greeted by a general with an eyeglass and a proper bowler hat, a most extraordinary chap. He asked if anyone had heard of the Darién Gap. I’d been reading about a place called Darien in Russia and said, “Oh yes, it’s in Russia.” He screamed, “No, it’s not in Russia. It’s between Panama and Columbia.”

He was heading a committee to find a route through the Darién. It was an international effort set up in Bogota, Colombia, for the nations in South America who felt it would improve the economy. There had been several attempts but all had failed, and there was much negative publicity. He asked if I thought I could get a road through. I said I didn’t know, I’d never seen the Darién and never been to South America. In the end he asked me to do it. The government told me, “You go do it. This is a great thing. We’ll help you and lend you aircraft. But if anything goes wrong we shall disown you.”

I sent a mad Irishman friend to walk through it first and report back. He returned emaciated and full of every possible disease, and said, “You can do it but don’t ask me to go with you.” We formed the team and got involved with Rover, who was just about to produce the new Range Rover. They said it would be great if we would take Range Rovers to show how wonderful they were.


At the time there were political issues between Panama, Colombia, and America. We were caught in the middle and were the only ones who could talk to them all. We formed a force of Americans, Panamanians, Colombians, and British, all of whom could talk somewhat to each other. The entire expedition was to drive the Range Rovers from Alaska, through America and the Darién, and on to Tierra del Fuego.




Were you prepared for the jungle environment of the Darién?

I thought so. I’d worked in Africa a lot, in Ethiopia. It’s jungle but not as thick as the South American jungle. When I got into the Darién it was very different, very wet. Instead of having a dry trip we had a very muddy one. It clogged up the cars and became a hellish sort of journey. The tires weren’t the right sort and the cars had a number of problems. We broke nine back axles. The engines were enormously powerful, but the power would come down and the wheels would not move. Something had to go and it was the differentials. They just exploded. In fact the teeth came up through the floorboard like a shell. Luckily, no one was sitting in the back or they would have been hit by the shrapnel. We had a hell of a job with the Range Rover, particularly when we dropped one in a river.

Range Rover redesigned the entire differential, which had to be flown by helicopter and dropped by parachute into the jungle. In the meantime we had to push on. We managed to find a battered old Land Rover in Panama City. We took off the doors, the tailgate, everything we could, so it could be lifted by four men. That vehicle went ahead with the engineers. We called it the Pathfinder.

We had two little tracked vehicles called Hillbillies, but they got bogged up in mud and were useless. They are still there in the jungle. But this marvelous old Land Rover went ahead with the engineers, who were making bridges and cutting trees. When we sorted out the issue with the Range Rovers, they roared ahead on the track the engineers had made. We had a little aircraft, a Beaver, which would drop various supplies. The Americans helped with helicopter support drops, as did the Colombians. But it was quite a bit of effort to get all these nations to work together when they didn’t like each other much. The big problem was the need to cross the Gap in the time of dry season. When we finished in the village of Chigorodó the skies opened. We made it with only eight hours to spare.


Dowsing _ Boliva


As an expedition leader, was there anything specific you took away from that experience?

If anything I became a stronger conservationist, with even more interest in the problems of indigenous people. A lot of the work I’ve been involved with since has to do with the protection and conservation of wildlife, of the fauna and flora and environment, as well as education.



Can you tell us about some of those projects?

One of the other big expeditions we did was on the Congo. We were looking into a terrible disease called onchocerciasis, which had blinded about 20 million people. It’s caused by a worm that gets in the skin and gravitates to the back of the eye. We’d taken in a large team of medical experts to investigate this disease. The press from this event was pretty big and we had a number of officers who were equerries to the Prince of Wales, Prince Charles.

When I returned to England, the Prince called and requested that I come to see him. He said he was most impressed with the fact that we had taken young people. And we had. We’d taken a young man from Colorado and two guys from Jersey, and when they returned home these boys went lecturing at other schools and colleges. The Prince said, “If you can do this with two or three guys, why can’t you do it with two or three hundred?” I stated that there was nothing stopping us, but it would take a large amount of money. “How much money do you want?” he responded.

I had a meeting with friends and came up with the idea that if we went around the world in a sailing boat, we could have young people coming along. They could have some time sailing and some time on land doing community and conservation tasks. It was all aimed to give them experience and self-reliance, so they would become leaders and pioneers themselves. The one condition was that when they returned to their home countries they were expected to put something back into their communities. Operation Drake was born. We had the Eye of the Wind as our flagship and went around the world. It took two years.


The gaint cannon _ Paphos Crypus 1959


What are some of the most memorable vehicle-based expeditions you have done?

Expeditions in the Sahara, especially with the Army, were very memorable. They were much smaller and we were crossing huge areas of sand and desert, usually in Land Rovers. You were totally dependent on your vehicle. If you broke down, and we did sometimes, often in the middle of nowhere, you could probably die. We saw the wreckage of vehicles that hadn’t made it. That reminded us to check our vehicles very carefully. In those days though, four-wheel drives were much simpler than they are now. You could do everything with a spanner.

On one Sahara expedition to the far south, we found the remains of one of the battles of the Long Range Desert Group. They’d all been shot up and the guys had been killed or captured…except for three. On a hill near the wreckage of one vehicle we found a pile of empty cartridge cases, an old camera, and a toothbrush. It belonged to a soldier who had escaped before the Italians came in with their armored cars and finished off the column. In the wreckage he found two more men who were still alive. He got them up on their feet, managed to scrounge water from the broken radiators, and then they marched. They marched 200 miles towards the south and were eventually discovered by a French patrol.




Have there been times that you’ve found yourself out of your comfort zone?

Oh, frequently…frequently, of course. I got stuck several times myself, had near misses, and wondered what the hell was going to happen to me. My radio was broken down, no one knew where I was, and I’d stupidly gone off with only one vehicle, which you should never do. I don’t know that I’ve been completely lost. I usually knew where I was, but I couldn’t get from where I was to where I wanted to go. It’s a slightly different problem. And then occasionally one will be attacked.


road of death - Boliva 2007Crash on road of death _ Bolivia


Attacked? Have you had any close calls?

People will ask me about the most dangerous animal I’ve been in contact with. My answer is mankind. On the Blue Nile we had two gunfights with bandits. There were about 40 of them and about 10 of us. Fortunately they weren’t very good shots.

Then about five years ago I had a terrible accident in Bolivia on the Road of Death. We were going back to La Paz in a bus. It was at night and we had a good driver, but he got too close to the cliff. We came around the bend and hit a clump of rock sticking out. It hit the windshield, fell on top of him, and knocked him out. I woke up and the bus was going all over the place. The co-driver had grabbed the wheel and we careened down the road for about 500 yards. I was trying to get into the cab to help but couldn’t make it. Luckily the co-driver managed to grab the wheel and pushed it hard. We crashed into the cliff and stopped. You feel there is a good Lord watching over you when you survive something like that.


Carring the organ to Ojaki


You were involved with a number of conservation projects in Nepal, including one with a mammoth elephant. 

That started while I was on my way to Tibet. I’d stopped for lunch in Kathmandu, as one does, with a man who worked with the wildlife department. He had a problem and asked if I could help. He said that in the west of the country the locals say they’ve got a mammoth. I said, “A MAMMOTH? It can’t be, they died off millions of years ago.” I said that if he got me a photograph of it I would come and investigate. A couple of years afterwards a girl came into my office with some pictures and said, “There you are, here’s your mammoth.” It was this huge elephant with a domed head, very long tail, an extremely fat body, and about the shape of a mammoth.

We went to Nepal with some instructors from the Drake project, hired domestic elephants, and rode into the jungle. The first year all we found was a big footprint, 22.5 inches across, which indicated that this creature was 11 foot, 3 inches at the shoulder. The second year we went back and discovered the creature. They were huge. There was not one, but two giant bulls with huge tusks. We filmed them and it went out on CNN and was shown around the world.

We launched a third expedition and found not only these two but others, and finally the whole herd. They were living in an area of forest where no one ever went in West Nepal near a village called Bardiya. It was a royal hunting reserve but the king hadn’t hunted there for years. So they had been left alone to develop on their own. We took DNA from dung and from one that had died. They turned out to be an Asian elephant. The great thing that happened out of all of this was that the Nepalese Wildlife Department, after realizing they had an unusual creature, sent in soldiers to guard the area. By protecting the elephant they protected all the other animals, such as the Bengal tiger and the rhino. Bardiya is now the most wonderful reserve.


Rafting in Nepal

White water rafting in Nepal.

Nepal 2010 (11)Crossing Karnali _ Napel


I’ve heard a tale of a grand piano in Guyana…

It was called the Grand Adventure, after the grand piano we were taking to a remote [Wai Wai Indian] village. We flew it to the farthest airstrip, dragged it several miles across the pampas, through the jungle, and then to the village. The only way to do it was to go up the river, but there were rapids. The only boat we could find was a canoe with an 8-horsepower outboard, which wasn’t very powerful. By some miracle we got the thing loaded on the boat and we shot up the rapids. We managed to work our way up to the top and were going slower and slower and slower. I was waiting for it to breach and go sideways. We would have been really sunk. We were met by about 100 Indians and we got the piano to the village. It played for several years, more than we hoped, and it persuaded the young people to entertain themselves there rather than going to the coast to find work and amuse themselves. They were musical people and I think the piano helped to hold the tribe together.


JBS in Guyana pulling the piano_ Guyana


The Grand Expedition successfully delivered a grand piano to a remote Wai Wai Indian village, Guyana.


How many expeditions do you have pending at any given time?

We probably work about one or two years ahead. The Scientific Exploration Society gets lots of bids, but then we have to do reconnaissance and investigate the possibilities and do the fundraising. So they don’t all come off, but most of them do.



Well drilling _ Bolivia

John Blashford-Snell has worked extensively with the Just a Drop organization to provide clean drinking water to developing communities around the world; Ecuador, 2008. justadrop.org


These expeditions could cost a considerable sum of money. How have you financed them?

I’ve written 15 books now, and they do help, but books on exploration don’t sell in the millions. Television has helped a little bit, but again, they haven’t got the money these days. Newspapers are another source, but also limited. In the end, the majority of the money you raise comes from the people who take part. It might cost £2,500 to £3,000 pounds each, and you don’t live in luxury. If we are doing a well project we will probably get a grant from Just a Drop. Occasionally foundations will help, and Zenith Watch has also been very generous.


An incredible bridge _ Bolive 2012


I understand you have a special ritual after each expedition. 

At the end of every expedition we have Burns night, in honor of Robbie Burns, a Scot Poet. It’s a traditional party where you eat haggis, drink whiskey, dance, and recite poems. After one expedition in Panama we asked the local chief if we could use one of his large round houses, and if he would come as our guest. I explained that we would have dancing and he said, “Dancing, yes. Can we dance with you? Can we bring the women from the village to dance?” The party went well, the whiskey came out, the music came on, and the village women came in…they were all topless! There were all these beautiful tits leaping around the floor, and actually, dancing with topless women is a bit off-putting. You can fling a woman around when she is fully dressed, but when she’s got nothing up top it’s kind of tricky.”



You’ve explored much of the world. Are there white spaces left on the map?

They are getting fewer. The really unexplored areas today are probably in the jungle, in the higher mountains, and certainly underwater. There are also little niches in the Sahara Desert where very little is known. I’m interested at the moment with the new discoveries in photography where they can actually penetrate through jungle canopy and photograph the stonework underneath. I think a lot of archeological discoveries will be made this way.



What is on the horizon? 

I’ve been working a lot with charities and programs with inner-city children. I’m hoping to give kids, who perhaps haven’t been as fortunate as I was, a chance. Helping them pull themselves up by their bootstraps and do something worthwhile with their lives. In Devon we have some sailing boats where we take kids to sea for a week at a time, give them a chance to see something they normally wouldn’t see. They come onboard and have to clean, cook, and pull up the sails…do everything themselves. It gives them a sense of adventure. It has a very good affect. We’ve also taken disabled children. There is no shortage of children and opportunities.


jbs and the croc that tried to eat him Ethiopia 1966


How does someone go about getting involved with one of your expeditions?

They can go to the SES website and write in. We arrange to meet, explain what we are going to do, and look at what the person has done before and what they can contribute. Maybe they are a doctor or dentist. Engineers are good people to have along, but even general handymen are good for helping in the villages, and farmers can assist with agricultural needs. Quite frankly, if you are fit enough to run and catch a bus, you can probably do it.


Op Drake _ Brigantine and air ship

Operation Drake’s flagship, Eye of the Wind, shadowed by the Goodyear blimp during it’s two-year voyage around the world (1978-1980).


What is the greatest misconception about John Blashford-Snell? 

Never believe your own PR. I think anyone who appears on television or the like, builds themselves up to be more than they really are. In the end, everyone’s socks smell the same. Everything I’ve done has really been a team of people. The Darién Gap is a typical example. You couldn’t do that with one man. You can only do it with a bunch of nutty guys who are willing to carry it out. It was the same with the Congo and Blue Nile expeditions. Even more so with the Drake project. I think the real essence is to choose the right people. I’ve spent a lot of time studying people, meeting with them, and getting a feel for what they are like. You want to find out how people will react when they are scared stiff.


Mongolia 2013 rain deer

At 77 years of age the Colonel shows no signs of slowing. After our meeting he flew to Mongolia in search of the Przewalski’s horse.



What advice would you have for someone who is an aspiring adventurer and wanted to make a difference?

Have confidence in yourself! Confidence is a great thing. Other than that I say to follow your heart’s desire. Maybe that means getting into some sort of career like photography or writing. It’s no use just doing nothing and saying, “I want to be an explorer and adventurer.” You’ve got to have some other skill to go with it. I would also say learn to communicate. The greatest attribute of leadership is the ability to communicate and inspire. If you can do those two things you can lead.



Learn more about Colonel John Blashford-Snell’s life of adventure in his new autobiography, Something Lost Behind the Ranges, ISBN 978-0002550345.

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Beer is Love: Ninkasi Brewinghttp://expeditionportal.com/beer-is-love-ninkasi-brewing-2/ http://expeditionportal.com/beer-is-love-ninkasi-brewing-2/#comments Sun, 22 Nov 2015 20:01:43 +0000 http://expeditionportal.com/?p=32850 The craft beer movement is on fire in America, and especially in the Pacific North West. Eugene, Oregon based brewery Ninkasi Brewing has been making quality craft beer since 2006, and doing things a bit different than the competition. While the company’s main focus is on creating high quality craft beer, they also consider the community, its employees and the environment as parallel priorities. Ninkasi also believes in supporting grass roots sports, events and lifestyles which “perpetuate better living.”

I can’t think of a community or lifestyle that focuses more on perpetuating better living than the overland tribe. Ninkasi has recognized this and is doing its part to support people and events in the overland world. Many of the employees at Ninkasi are travelers and adventurers, some of whom travel huge distances in off-road capable campers to spread the Ninkasi love across the country. If you attended Overland Expo West or the NW Overland Rally in 2015, you probably enjoyed a happy hour or two sponsored by the company. Quality adult beverages around the campfire bring people together to share stories from the road, and many overland vehicles are well equipped to keep cold and transport tasty craft beer. Ninkasi believes in an elevated human experience through the social enjoyment and sharing of beer, which fits perfectly with enjoying time around campsites around the globe with fellow overland travelers.


Ninkasi at Night


Besides the overland community, Ninkasi also supports grass roots arts, community and sporting events through their “Beer Is Love” program. The program extends the company’s community reach through donations and support of non-profits, positive community groups, local artists and musicians. Ninkasi’s dedication to supporting the arts has gone so far as to create an in-house recording studio, an in-house design team to work on labels and branding, and an in-house metal fabrication shop where tap handles, promotional materials, brewery systems and brewery campus furniture and art pieces are created.

Besides quality beer, the community, and its employees, Ninkasi is also dedicated to running a sustainable business that has the lowest possible impact on the environment. Their sustainability efforts run throughout the entire business and range from office and production facilities built to LEED standards, all the way down to an in-house recycling program for plastic pallet strapping. The company uses alternative renewable energy sources where it can, closely monitors and recycles its water, uses its brewery process waste to feed local livestock, and uses as much recycled content as possible in its bottles and cardboard packaging. Ninkasi also prides itself on using mostly local PNW ingredients that are all GMO free.


Ninkasi at NightNinkasi at Night

Ninkasi at Night


Ninkasi is quickly gaining a reputation as a company that does business the right way, and creates extremely high quality craft beer. In 2014 the company produced nearly 100,000 barrels of beer, making it the 36th largest craft brewery in the US. It offers its Flagship series of beers year round, which include; Total Domination IPA, Tricerahops Double IPA, LUX German-Style Lager, Dawn of the Red Ale, Oatis Oatmeal Stout and Vanilla Oatis Oatmeal Stout. Ninkasi also keeps things fresh with a wide range of unique offerings in their Seasonal Release, Special Release, and R&D series. The company’s distribution reach is also spreading quickly, as it is now available throughout the west coast of North America and recently started distributing in NY and a few Mid-Atlantic States.

It today’s world of big corporate business and climate concerns, it is more important than ever to support small businesses that give back to the community, care about the environment, and produce products that are of high quality and contain ingredients with known origins.




Ninkasi at Night


PS: If you’re wondering where the company got its name; Ninkasi is the Sumerian goddess of fermentation.


Ninkasi at Night

Ninkasi at Night
A word from the author: I am an ambassador for Ninkasi Brewing and have enjoyed and shared their fine craft beer throughout my travels across North America. I get great joy in sharing their quality products and company culture throughout my travels, so please don’t hesitate to stop the Exploring Elements EEXP the next time you see it on the road and ask for a cold one, my fridge is always stocked. See you on the road less traveled- Bryon Dorr

Ninkasi at Night

Ninkasi at Night Ninkasi at Night

Ninkasi at NightNinkasi at Night


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Roof tent or Ground tent? An important Question for Every Overlander.http://expeditionportal.com/roof-tent-or-ground-tent-an-important-question-for-every-overlander/ http://expeditionportal.com/roof-tent-or-ground-tent-an-important-question-for-every-overlander/#comments Thu, 19 Nov 2015 07:55:10 +0000 http://expeditionportal.com/?p=32174 On a recent expedition and TV shoot in Zambia, I used a well-respected roof tent by Ezi-Awn. And it made me think. In my travels I have used many types of roof tent, as well as many types of ground tent. The advantages and disadvantages of each type are not always obvious to travelers who have never rigged and slept in a roof tent. Which do I prefer? Which one is easier to erect, wrap up, and which type is more weather proof? Here are my findings.



Convenience and space saving

To me, the most significant benefit of a roof-top tent is that mattresses, sleeping bags and pillows remain in the tent. The space saving can even be enough to sway a decision from buying a roof-rack over a trailer. Unless it is housed in a hard case, in my view, there is little convenience of a roof-top tent over a ground tent. This includes the perceived convenience of a tent on the roof. When a roof tent is covered by a waterproof polyurethane bag, replacing the bag before setting off can be awkward for the lone traveler. For two people, it’s reasonably easy with most tent models. All in all, it can be as time consuming as a regular dome tent. It is also quite strenuous to pack away because it is normally done while trying to balance, standing on the back tires, with dust, now mixed with dew making one’s clothes very dirty. In this respect, it’s not unlike the dirt one collects when rolling up a ground sheet.

As one who travels alone at times, in my view, roof tents with rigid housings are nicer in most respects, other than price, and with some models, size. Without exception they are easy to erect and much easier to pack away, which can often be done by just standing on the rear tailgate and pulling them down, folding in the fabric as you go.



The weather

When roof tent shopping, I recommend looking for sturdy construction. Those built with very light poles and lightweight fabric move around a lot in the slightest breeze and in windy conditions, sleeping in them doesn’t come easily. This is partly because the tent, being aloft, is more susceptible to wind. Many manufacturers are trying to make their products lighter but few have succeeded in doing a good job because these light-weight products don’t last and they often leak.




Two smallish people often find roof tents cramped, so I would suggest selecting the widest tent available. I find the rigid cased tents more spacious, although actual measurements dispute this.

Before you purchase any tent be sure to climb all the way in and out and have the entire family do the same. Disappointments come when the tent is taken on a safari and only then is it realized that it is too small. In the case of a ground tent,  the carry bag might be so tightly packed that it’s a huge struggle to return it to its bag, which is the problem with 90% of tents sold today. And then there is the OZ-Tent. If you are tired of the hassle of pitching and packing away your ground tent, this might be the indisputable answer to your prayers.


There are many more reasons to buy or not to buy







Secure from wild animals, to a point. A rapid evacuation from the area is not possible.


Less secure from wild animals although they are not a real danger, more a perceived one. Rapid evacuation is far easier.


Secure from insects and scorpions. Security from mosquitoes depends on tent quality.


Keeping the flap zipped up is more important. Security from mosquitoes depends on tent quality.


Even the large ones can only sleep two adults, and even then it’s cramped. Leave your clothes bags in the vehicle.


Tents advertised as 3-man bow tents can easily accommodate three adults and their bags.


Takes a shorter time to erect, perhaps 20%.

Easy to unpack. Some are awkward to pack up and return to its cover. Some are easy, and the cover tarpaulin can make you dirty.


Will generally take a bit more effort to pack away and the ground sheet can make you dirty.


Must be collapsed and packed away fully before the vehicle can be moved, for a game drive etc.


Self-standing. More convenient. You can leave and ‘claim’ a campsite with a ground tent.


If the ground is not level, the vehicle can be made level with rocks etc.


If there is no level ground or it’s covered with rocks, that’s hard luck.


You have to be a bit of a contortionist to get dressed and undressed in a roof top tent.


One can almost stand up, even in the quite small ones.


The mattress and sleeping bags can be left inside as the tent is folded away, saving space in the vehicle. A huge advantage.


Tent must be emptied when packed away.


Heavy. Reduces remaining weight permitted on roof. Lifts the centre of gravity.


In comparison, lightweight and can be carried anywhere.


More expensive to buy as well as carry, as an increase in fuel consumption is unavoidable.


Far less expensive to buy and own.


They are large, bulky and heavy. Its weight is enough to raise the vehicle’s centre of gravity. It also takes up some, if not all the space on a roof rack.


Large ones are bulky to carry inside a vehicle, but small ones are not. Far lighter and can be stowed anywhere convenient in vehicle or trailer.


See more of his videos on www.4xoverland.com or his YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/user/4xforum


Screen Shot 2015-10-20 at 11.16.37 AM

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MSR Whisperlite Universal Backpacking Stove and Quick 2 Pot Sethttp://expeditionportal.com/msr-whisperlite-universal-backpacking-stove-and-quick-2-pot-set/ http://expeditionportal.com/msr-whisperlite-universal-backpacking-stove-and-quick-2-pot-set/#comments Wed, 18 Nov 2015 07:32:27 +0000 http://expeditionportal.com/?p=32655  

Relying on a stove handmade from a beer can fuelled by 97 per cent pharmaceutical alcohol, worked flawlessly for months on the road through the Americas.  Certainly in non-windy conditions and when circumstances permitted us to be time-rich.  However, seasons change, the weather picks up and it becomes nigh on impossible to source almost pure alcohol in various portions of Latin America.  This gave rise to a pressing need for something a little more accessible; a sustainable solution that would excel in conditions stronger than a gentle breeze, and where sourcing fuel wouldn’t lead us on a wild goose chase every time.  Off we went into the wilds with a MSR Whisperlite Universal in the hope of being converted from the beer can to the backpacking stove.

The Whisperlite Universal is a portable, lightweight liquid fuel stove.  One of its biggest attractions to travellers from around the globe is the interchangeable aspect between isobutane and liquid gas (i.e. white gas, kerosene and unleaded gasoline).  White gas is my preferred choice as it lacks the additives of other gasolines, however, kerosene and unleaded gasoline do the job just as well, even if I have to make a conscious effort to keep the lid on the pan to prevent the fuel’s nasties from tainting the pan’s contents.  Whichever your preferred fuel choice, when such a versatile feature is a teamed up with the Whisperlite’s windscreen, makes the stove noticeably more fuel efficient than other competitors on the market, handmade or otherwise.




As the Whisperlite Universal is a hybrid-fuel system complete with AirControl™ technology, means it is capable of delivering optimal fuel in conjunction with the air mix.  Thanks to the fuel-specific jets, the stove system facilitates a straightforward switch over to either the canister gas or liquid fuel with a little time but without too much fuss.  A blessing for those on big journeys, in cooler climes and for international use.  As long distance motorcyclists where stops are often determined by low gas tanks, it’s often more feasible to rely on replenishing the MSR fuel bottle with unleaded gasoline while we’re filling up the bikes.

Priming is an uncomplicated and clean process, taking less than two minutes.  Whether you’re burning the liquid gas or the compressed equivalent, pairing of the bottle to the stove isn’t burdensome and the configuration of the Whisperlite Universal allows you to simmer while cooking, which is convenient as much as it is practical when heating food, but an unexpected joy when engaging the canister option.  And you won’t have to keep your eyes peeled on the flame, the pressure from the fuel bottle keeps it even throughout usage.

For me, I love the flexibility of being able to nuke our drinking water to boiling point in as little time as 4 minutes (with unleaded gasoline).  And at the same time, having the functionality to control the flame over a decent variance, so the culinary result doesn’t lead to giving our teeth a vacation.  Wonderfully, nor does it leave the pot burnt with a baked on finish, requiring an industrial strength oven cleaner to remove it—pasta, brown rice and risotto dishes included.

The stove also enjoys a relatively lightweight aspect at just 11.5 ounces of an aluminium mixer tube, stainless steel legs and a streamlined design, which bears an intelligent folding system that lends itself to compact and bijou.  Key for anyone where space is at a premium and luggage weight has to remain at a minimum.  That said, when we put the stove to the test during blustery weather in the fall at Joshua Tree National Park, California, it stood up to its claims in terms of stability, as well as reliability of use.




The sturdy legs are stable within a structure that is featherweight without being flimsy.  Where the alcohol stove does not stand a chance in staying alight amid gusty conditions, the Whisperlite Universal works flawlessly.  The stove further comes into its own when the big pot is employed; having knocked over the large pot on multiple occasions atop of the beer can stove—losing my dinner to the dirt—becomes a thing of the past with not only the triangular formation of the Whisperlite Universal, but its scalloped edge pot supports on top.

After use, cleaning is minimal, largely due to the self-cleaning Shaker Jet™ technology and redesigned leg assembly from its predecessor.  The fact that the Whisperlite Universal purrs like a happy pussy cat throughout any strength of flame, is an added bonus.  It keeps the peace and you at one with nature without scaring everything off in earshot.

Painless to assemble and prime, the Whisperlite Universal out-performs any previous stove used to date.  I applaud it for its versatility of fuels, pannier-friendly size and reliability of use.  It worked as well at just shy of 12,000 feet as it did nearer sea level in windy weather, keeping me in control of the flame.  As backpacking stoves go, MSR has hit the ball in the back of the net.  The Whisperlite Universal functions just as its name suggests—it is quiet as a whisper, appealingly light and applicable to all— globe trotters and gases alike.



Versatile multi-fuel capability of liquid and compressed gases

Efficient with all compatible fuels


Good heat variance and an even flame

Wind resistant

Easy to maintain and clean in the field

No leakage or spillage in using the liquid fuels

Quiet, even when in high flame operation


Takes a little time to switch fuel types

More expensive than other stoves in its class


Fuel type: Multi-fuel

Price: $139.95

Includes: Fuel pump, windscreen, heat reflector, small-parts kit, instructions and stuff sack

Dimensions: 6 x 4 x 4.75 inches

Weight: 11.5 ounces


Quick 2 pot set 

As pot sets invariably offer something slightly different across the range, the Quick 2 pot set is overtly simple and effective.  Both main components are ultra light and compact when stowed as one, saving on precious space while meeting the basic needs of the user.  Ideal for one to three persons, the smaller 1.5 litre pot is non-stick, while the 2.5 litre pot is anodised for boil-only purposes—covering all bases.

There is also the option to nestle in two MSR deep plastic dishes and two or three sporks, complementing the two-in-one ensemble and transforming it into a ‘one stop shop’ solution.  We do, as well as manage to fit in a small dry bag containing a universal sink plug, scouring sponge and 50 millilitre bottle of dish-washing detergent.  We also employ the large pot as a sink, heat up some soapy water inside it and proceed our washing up duties.

The stainless steel pot lid comes complete with a flat, built-in colander—ideal for straining the water from rice and pasta for example.  The grab handle is ergonomically sound and again, lightweight, clips securely onto both pots and takes minimal room when slotted into place, across the lid, on top of the bigger pot for storage.

The Quick 2 pot set is a dual cooking combination for anyone whose gear needs to remain slight and really, for any backcountry scenario that requires heating water and cooking basic meals.  Having used and abused the Quick 2 pot set almost daily for 21 months, which has rattled around in a hard pannier for over 33,000 miles, on and off road throughout 16 countries in Latin America, I can vouch that versatile meets durable and lightweight—makes for a winning pan set solution.  A continuous thumbs up.


Price: $69.95

Includes: 1.5 litre non-stick pot, 2.5 litre hard-anodised pot, aluminium strainer lid and Talon™ pot handle

Dimensions: 5 x 7.75 inches

Weight: 15.7 ounces


Well made and built to last

Dual surfaces

Efficient storage

Easy to clean in the field



Only one pot handle is included





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36 Hours of Adventure: Eastern AZ and the Mogollon Rimhttp://expeditionportal.com/36-hours-of-adventure-eastern-az-and-the-mogollon-rim/ http://expeditionportal.com/36-hours-of-adventure-eastern-az-and-the-mogollon-rim/#comments Tue, 17 Nov 2015 10:00:49 +0000 http://expeditionportal.com/?p=32552 I strongly believe that every so often people need a reset. We weren’t meant to sit at a desk and stare at a screen for nine hours a day, and the constant chains of emails, spread sheets, and beeping alerts we endure is enough to drive anyone mad. Everyone escapes the never ending parade of technology a little differently. Some do it through a spa-day, others choose a crazy weekend in Vegas, and my friends and I prefer to shrug it off with a little nature and a long dirt road. Our latest get-away was to eastern Arizona’s Mogollon rim road, a  trail that has won a special place in my heart and a must-do recommendation for overlanders.

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We didn’t hit FR-300 (The Rim Road) until well after sundown on a very rainy Friday evening. The plan was to locate a secluded camp spot on the rim, one we hoped would be far enough back to escape traffic. We easily found the turn off, but once on the trail the pine needles and overgrowth covered the two-track until it disappeared entirely. Crap.

It wasn’t a good start, but on a dark rainy night it was to be expected. We searched for the correct path on foot for a few minutes before uncovering it again just a little further ahead and left. We made a note on our Hema app and drove the ten minutes to camp.  We quickly lit a fire to ward off the cold and settled into our chairs with a beer and discussions of what lay ahead.


The morning was damp and a chill hung in the air. We stirred slowly from our warm beds, putting on a few layers before sleepily making our way outside to take in the view. Jackpot. The drop off was fifteen feet from our trailer, and we hadn’t had any idea the night before. I walked with our dog around the small peninsula on which we had parked, snapping pictures here and there. The girls were already beginning the process of cooking breakfast, so I took the rare opportunity to just sit on a rock and watch the clouds roll through the canyons around me.




Before long the savory scent of pork and eggs wafted past my nose, luring me back to the trailer. The rest of the group had beat me there and we gladly topped off our coffee cups, filled our bowls with meat and eggs, and chowed down on every last morsel. It was delicious, and there was nothing but satisfied smiles as we packed up camp for the drive. If all went as planned today we would be covering over 100 miles of some Arizona’s most scenic dirt roads. We didn’t know exactly what to expect, but we were excited to see what the Rim had to offer.


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It didn’t disappoint. Just twenty minutes outside of camp we found ourselves cruising along what has to be one of the best ridge line drives in the state. The drive was smooth, the road was dusty, and the view… well the view speaks for itself.


We curled our way along the Mogollon’s FR300, snaking in and out of the forest as we did. Each time we burst back to the edge a new view was there to take our breath away. Tree covered cliffs reached up from the valley’s floor, craggy stone spires stood worn by time, and the seemingly endless rim stretched out towards the horizon in front of us. It’s a place that can make you realize just how small you are.

Before long we began to get the distinct feeling that we were far away from where we had started, and the tension of the week slowly faded into the swirling dust trails behind our trucks.


By the time the road had tucked back into the woods for good, we might as well have been in another country. Our adventurous sides had taken over, and the only things that mattered now were the tress passing by our windows and the destinations ahead..

Unlike the sun baked shelf road we had just left, the forest was still damp from the rain the night before. Everything was quiet and calm, and the clouds rolling overhead gave it an almost fairy tale feel. As if on queue to complete the scene, we rounded a bend to see a band of horses grazing between the trees. No princes or galloping stallions here though, just some animals annoyed that someone had the audacity to bother them during lunch. Thankfully one in particular was kind enough to pose for a picture, even if it was scowling.

Photo by Ashlie Pollard




We continued heading further East and the road became exceptionally smooth and straight. The speed really picked up and the gravel thrummed out a constant tune from beneath our tires. Tree after tree passed the windows and we had to be careful to not succumb to complacency. We found ourselves wanting to creep ever faster through the unchanging scenery, but a surprise ditch or washout at those speeds could have devastating effect. Eventually a switch of radio stations from rock to classical changed the pace and we cruised to our lunch spot humming along with the orchestra.


During our brief lunch stop, we spotted this little creature making its way across the road. We always encourage making new friends on trips, just don’t get too close to ones like this.


The forest went on in an endless sea of green passing by our windows, and before we knew it the 100 mile goal for the day seemed to be rapidly approaching. We were greeted at the edge of the woods by warm sunshine finally breaking through the clouds, and the sight of a beautiful valley laid out below us. It seemed like a perfect conclusion, but the road still had a surprise in store.

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As we rounded into the last sections of the trail, brake lights came on in front of me. We stopped and I hopped out of the 4Runner, curious as to what obstacle required us to inspect it. What I saw was rather unfortunate. A low drainage ditch used for ranch access had been flooded, leaving us no route around. The depth wouldn’t be an issue, however it was very slick. I almost fell several times just walking around the pit, and was intrigued to see how my vehicle would do pulling a trailer through the slop.

The Jeeps went first, so I had some advantage knowing where the two trucks had gone before me. I felt confident the Toyota could make it through with ease. I found my desired speed and adjusted throttle ever so slightly to maintain it through the drainage ditch. The slow progression worked perfectly and the mud terrains churned their way through the muck without the slightest hesitation. I handed my camera to Sarah Ramm while I drove through, and she shot one of my favorite pictures of the vehicle thus far.


The muddy pass marked the end of FR-300. We had reached pavement once more, and though the Rim Road was finished, our adventure was not. It was time to seek out a camp near Greer Arizona, our last destination for the weekend. None of us are usually excited about driving tarmac, but the views were so spectacular that evening we couldn’t complain. We had now reached a high enough elevation to see the colors begin to change in the trees, and despite a lack of diversity, the vibrant yellows clashing with green was a dazzling spectacle all its own.

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Our camp the night before had been phenomenal, but Eastern Arizona managed to top it on night two. With the sun rapidly dropping behind us, we pulled off on a dirt road and made a run for a nearby hill-top. As luck would have it, it turned out to be one of the best views I’ve ever seen. There was a 180 degree view of the mountains, and everything the light touched seemed to glow of gold. The trees radiated with color, the grass in the fields was waving gracefully, and I couldn’t help but think it was a darn near perfect evening.


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Of course while we were busy gawking at one of the best sunsets any of us had seen, we failed to notice the dropping temperature until we about froze. Throwing layers of clothes on like there was no tomorrow, we gathered some downed wood and used the last of our dry stock to start a very toasty fire. We may have cheated a little and used our giga-torch, but desperate times call for desperate measures.


The flames kept us warm when we were sitting within range of the sparks, but any further back and the biting cold sucked it all away. We tried to make the best of the situation though, and our lumberjack of a friend made a s’mores stick from what appeared to be a fallen tree. It of course got a laugh from the group.

We attempted to dull the chill with some spicy chili verde for dinner, followed by hot tea, followed by hot tea with a little vodka. When none of that worked we turned to our illustrious plan B, drinking hot cider with cinnamon whisky and pretending we weren’t freaking freezing. Despite the weather, the group was all smiles as we talked of adventures, trucks, and parts until a deep need to sleep set in.


We awoke fairly early the next morning and immediately began to pack the camp. You may think we were being proactive, but in truth we were just really eager for our planned meal in the town of Greer. Mainly, the free refills of hot coffee at the cafe. Warmth and caffeine are a big motivator after a cold night camping. The only one who didn’t seem all too pleased with the concept of waking up was our dog Paxton, who stretched and grunted his disapproval repeatedly around the camp.

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Driving into town, I was amazed I hadn’t visited this place before. The buildings are quaint and clean, and everything has a mountain village flare. A small clear creek runs through the center of the sleepy town, and it looks so good you immediately want to lay in the grass with your feet in it. The people we passed smiled and waved as we drove by and the restaurants all looked local and delicious.

In the end we decided on a crowd favorite, the Greer Cafe. It screams country charm from the moment you pass the guard rooster sign, to when you realize the menu features doggie meals. They serve a mean breakfast (for humans) and we’ll vouch for their excellent eggs benedict and hash. We hear their lunch is just as good, so we will surely be back to try it.

Photo by Ashlie Pollard


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Although it had only been a hop skip and a jump away from our home town, it had felt like we had just made a grand escape. Friday night we had departed with the stress of the week on our shoulders, and here we sat Sunday morning like new people, refreshed and ready to tackle anything. It was funny to think that over the past six years I had lived a stones throw from these trails, yet I had never driven them. It’s why we do weekend trips, and why often times the last minute getaways are the ones that turn into our favorite memories.

We may not have the time or money for an expedition to the poles, an overland journey across Africa, or a drive around the world, but I think we’re okay with that. All we need are a few good friends, a dirt road, and a weekend of an exploring.

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Of Kangaroos, Stubbies, and Endless Sand Seas (Part II)http://expeditionportal.com/of-kangaroos-stubbies-and-endless-sand-seas-part-ii/ http://expeditionportal.com/of-kangaroos-stubbies-and-endless-sand-seas-part-ii/#comments Mon, 16 Nov 2015 07:15:39 +0000 http://expeditionportal.com/?p=31424 Golden rays of light skipped over the red sands of the Simpson Desert, dispersing long shadows in their wake and alerting us of a new day. Peering out of my swag and across a shallow ephemeral lake, small birds pecked at the newly formed tarn. Breaking camp on this morning would begin the second half of ARB’s Outback Experience. In Part I of the adventure, I’d signed off after trekking the backroads from Broken Hill to the edge of the Mundi Mundi and delving into the Sturt Stony and Simpson Deserts. After getting washed out of Eyre Creek we returned to Birdsville.

Two days earlier it had been nearly void of life. But on this afternoon, utes and horse trailers lined the town’s riding arena. We’d happened upon the Birdsville Rodeo (pronounced row-day-oh for us non Aussies). In a world where you and your neighbors may be separated by a 10,000-acre cattle station, the church, the pub, and the rodeo become a cohesive bond for community and kind. In the stands, true-blue locals munched on meat pies (traditional Aussie snack), and cheered while friends and family members wrestled unwitting calves to the ground.


Photography by Offroad Images 2007 - http://www.offroadimages.com.au - (02) 9543 0088

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The Outback is a land with deep roots in cattle and sheep ranching. In the days before mechanized transportation, stock was moved the old fashion way, on foot. It was an undertaking was of great scale and proportion, and the annual trek became known as The Great Australian Cattle Drive. But it came with risks unknown to city dwellers like us, and it was the history of these intrepid pioneers that us drew us to the Birdsville Track.

Other than the 500-plus kilometers separating the two points, Birdsville to the north and the train depot in Marree to the south, the terrain is relatively void of geological deviations and lacks topographical or physical barriers. It is also lacks water. We were in the center of Australia’s cattle country and over a thousand kilometers separated us from the nearest seaport. Such was the dilemma for the early cattle ranchers—how to drove cattle through one of the most arid and inhospitable environments on the planet…and get them through alive.

In the mid 18th century there weren’t any reliable sources of water along the route. Cattle drovers like Jack Clark and the S. Kidman Company would depart Birdsville with up to 2,000 head of cattle bound for the transportation depot at Marree. Clark and Kidman’s route would become the footprint for Birdsville Track, the primary economic arterie to the outside world. Getting to Marree was a four-week endeavor, to which fate would often play a key role. In Clark’s case, a fierce sandstorm pinned his drovers down for days, scattering the stock and reduced its number to only 72 by the time he reached Marree. It was such an undertaking, and with so dire a consequence if things went awry, that between 1880 and 1920 the Australian government funded the digging of a series of bores (wells). What they found was the Great Artisan Basin, a 1,000-foot deep artesian aquifer that spread across most of the region.


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A few hours from Birdsville, we crossed a non-descript two-track to the west. Our wagon master, Michael McCulkin of Tri-State Safaris, knew it was the road to the Page family grave. A single white cross marks the spot where the Page’s car broke down in 1963. Stranded without water or food, and a hundred kilometers from town, the family of five, three children and their parents, headed out on foot. The 100-plus degree heat drove them back to their car where they perished on Christmas day. They were found 11 days later, so badly decomposed that the townsfolk dug a hole with a tractor and pushed the car in, bodies and all. It was a chilling reminder of how harsh and unforgiving this land can be.

To our good fortune, the rain gods had been smiling on the Outback, releasing it from a 10-year drought and allowing the blue lines on our map (creeks) to live up to their names. Midday we realized we’d broken a sway bar bracket on the Toyota Tundra. After temporarily securing it, our resident mechanic, Mark Lowry, would later MacGyver a replacement bracket from used bubblegum and bailing wire.

The clouds gave way to sunshine as we slogged south towards the Mungerannie Roadhouse. Sitting on the banks of the Derwent River, one of the few semi-perennial water sources in the area, Mungerannie was established in 1886 as a supply depot for shepherds, stationers, and travelers. The sinking of a bore by the government in 1888, from which entrepreneur William Crombie sold water to cattle drovers, secured its future. That same bore now provides warm water for a riverside hot tub. After setting up camp along the water, we soaked in the warm spring and tossed back stubbies until the sun was well below the horizon.


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Photography by Offroad Images 2007 - http://www.offroadimages.com.au - (02) 9543 0088Photography by Offroad Images 2007 - http://www.offroadimages.com.au - (02) 9543 0088

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Though the last official cattle drive on the Birdsville Track was in 1972, the drive has recently been reborn as an annual event and drawing would-be drovers from around the globe. Somewhere before reaching Marree we met Shannon Bell, a 6th generation drover and rancher. Shannon’s ancestors planted roots on the edge of the Tirari Desert in 1893 and were droving hands in the early cattle drives. Shannon and her brothers are the real deal, and continue the family’s work and tradition. We said our goodbyes and they continued with their 400-kilometer trek, The Great Australian Cattle Drive, to Marree.

Known as Hergott Springs until World War I, Marree was once a center of commerce in the Outback. After the Central Australian Railway reaching town in 1884, it became the main conduit to Adelaide and Port Augusta. It was also a staging depot for the Afghan Cameleers who supplied remote Channel-country cattle stations with supplies. An occasional dog naps in the middle of the road these days, and the original rail station lies in a state of slow decay. We visited a small open-air museum which houses several railcars, period relics, and a small mosque, erected in honor of the Afghan Cameleers of the Outback.

The Prairie Hotel came into view about mid-day. If you ever thought about scooping up fresh road kill and serving it up for dinner, the Prairie Hotel’s feral food specials have got you covered. Smoked roo (kangaroo), camel pie, and emu stew—we dined on the feral food sampler…delicious!

Turning east towards the Flinders Range, temperatures began to cool, clouds were forming above, and we were leaving the arid Outback behind. Passing Leigh Creek we peeled off the main road and up a canyon lined with native cyprus and red river gum. As we gained elevation the increase in vegetation also meant an increase in wildlife. Elusive during our desert trek, emu and kangaroos grazed on ample supplies of grass before bounding into the brush as we approached. This night we do a farm stay at one of the Flinders oldest sheep stations, the Wirrealpa.

The Flinders, which date back 640 million years, is Australia’s largest mountain range. Sedimentary and volcanic layers containing some of the first known multi-cell life forms (from the Ediacara period) were folded, faulted, and pushed high above the surrounding plains. During the last half-billion years, wind and water have eroded and washed away softer layers, leaving the region ripe for agriculture when the first Europeans arrived in the 1850’s. Prior to that, the indigenous Adnyamathanha people, who were made up of the Kuyani, Wailpi, Yadliaura and Pangkala, resided in the Flinders for tens of thousands of years.


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Warren and Barbara Fargher greeted us as we pulled into the Wirrealpa at dusk. The sun cast a warm glow across an array of 1860 circa stone and mortar buildings, one of which we would call home for the next two days. Warren’s father acquired the Wirrealpa in 1957 and the family has run sheep and cattle in traditional fashion for the past five decades. Cattle and sheep stations in this part of the world are larger than one can imagine. Between the Farghers and their cousin Walt, whom they share a 20-mile common fence, they manage a 1,000 square miles of land. That is 640,000 acres. When asked how they get around, Warren said “Yamaha dirt bikes, four-wheel drives, and a Cessna make it much easier to keep an eye on things.”

The following morning, a light rain began to fall as we headed out for a day on the trail. With a station of this size, we could run new routes all day and never leave private land. Visiting the decaying ruins of long-abandon drovers huts, hand-dug wells, and even a section of sand dunes brought us to the top of Carry Peak. The dry and thirsty soil embraced each drop that was released from increasingly gray skies. Rain followed us through the afternoon; subsiding by the time we pull through the gates of Wirrealpa and heard the dinner bell ring from the mess hall. They say, “When in Rome, do as the Romans.” Aussies lover their beer, so we joined in for a few tinnies and enjoyed an evening of cowboy poetry from famous Aussie Outback Bob—something about Grandma’s bosoms getting caught in a clothes wringer.


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Well before dawn, the timely crow of a rooster resonated through the shearer’s quarters like a natural alarm clock. In the darkness, the aroma of coffee on a light breeze let our minds drift back to a time before jumbo jets and automobiles, to a time when the world seemed like a simpler place and priorities were less cluttered. The sound of footsteps on a creaky wood plank floor reminded us that we had an early rendezvous this morning.

The sun broke through the clouds as Warren’s Cessna 182 banked left over a jagged rift on the eastern Flinders and a full view of Lake Frome came into view; the Strzelecki Desert beyond. We had come almost full circle since our departure from Broken Hill. Reflecting back, we’d traversed Strzelecki Track, stood on the corner of three states at Cameron Corner, dodged kangaroos, emus, and deadly snakes, and followed dusty hoof prints of early drovers on the Great Australian Cattle Drive. As with all good things, ARB’s Outback Experience was coming to an end. However, in this vast and timeless land where tradition, culture, and the natural world coexist, the friendships developed and memories shaped will last a lifetime.

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Schutt XVENTURE XV-2: The wrap uphttp://expeditionportal.com/schutt-xventure-xv-2-the-wrap-up/ http://expeditionportal.com/schutt-xventure-xv-2-the-wrap-up/#comments Fri, 13 Nov 2015 07:34:13 +0000 http://expeditionportal.com/?p=32349 “We just passed 11,000 feet,” my passenger said with a smirk. We were heading up Imogene pass, a trail which tops out over 13,000 feet in the mountains of Colorado. A rock-buggy was coming down the easy line on the left, but stopped when he saw us climbing with the trailer in tow. The rest of his group had already lined up behind him making it nearly impossible to back his rig up. Looking to the right, I knew the trailer wouldn’t even flinch at that terrain, it’s what she was made for. I flashed them a quick smile, hit the locker, and let the truck and trailer walk up the hard line without so much as a wheel chirp. The shocked looks and pointing fingers made us grin a little, they were just a few of the many surprised expressions we’d received towing the XV-2.


It has been over a year since we brought this model home to Prescott, Arizona, and the many trips along the way have revealed the good, the bad, and the ugly parts of this mobile base-camp. From suspension to tent lights we’re ready to dive into what it’s like to live with the XV-2 day in and day out, how the systems hold up, and what we think could have been better.

Daily Living

There are many off-road trailers out there which are effectively little more than glorified cargo trailers. The XV-2 is not one of them. From the refrigerator in the front to the hot water heater in the back, it’s designed to be your back country home on wheels. It’s for this reason that we have spent so much time evaluating the effectiveness of every system, and seeing if they work together as seamlessly as they should.



Usually, the first thing people consider when choosing a trailer is the sleeping quarters. The XV-2 comes with a James Baroud roof top tent, perfect for two people to sleep in comfortably with plenty of room to spread out. Over the course of using this trailer, we came to adore this tent as the quick deployment and storage saved significant time and effort each day when compared to a traditional fold out model. Instead of straps and zippers, a quick four latches need to be released and you let the gas struts do the rest.

Besides the easy setup and breakdown, we loved the little things that made living out of this tent even more convenient. For starters, a small solar panel on the roof powers a silent fan which vents, and all but eliminates, condensation on cold nights. Even better, an LED light is mounted toward the front of the tent to make changing, reading, ingress, and egress a simple comfortable task; no more fumbling for a flashlight at 3 AM.



Kitchen & Shower

The kitchen is a big selling point on this trailer, but one we had mixed feeling about. It was one of those things that teetered on the verge of greatness, but somehow just fell short. The concept is fantastic; make a table that slides snugly into the front of the trailer, which can then be pulled out and snapped into place along with a faucet, stove, and sink. It even works as an assembly line from front to back when preparing meals. It’s easy to pull food from the fridge, cook it on the stove, place it to be served, put dishes next to sink, wash them, place dishes at back of trailer to be put away.

The two things holding this setup back were the height, and the stove. As you can see from the images above, the table isn’t exactly towering. It’s a reasonable height for people under six foot, but anyone taller than average needs to be prepared to bend over while cooking. The taller you are, the worse it is.


The problem with the stove was power. We found it to be far too weak for the task at hand, especially if there was any wind in the camp. Food would sit on maximum burn but never really progress to cooking. After several attempts we ended up just taking the hit on number of burners and convenience to bring our Primus instead. Swapping in any stove built for outdoor use would quickly solve the issue.

Those faults aside, the rest of the setup was flawless. The table is excellently crafted and has plenty of space. It includes small details like a stiffener to prevent a slant, and cushioned hand holds to make moving and storing the surface easy and painless. The faucet worked well and the inclusion of hot water via the propane heater absolutely blew us away. When combined with the sink, it allowed us to wash and rinse dishes quickly before passing them off to be dried and placed back inside the trailer. The same hot water system also runs to a shower plug under the opposite fender, which may just be my favorite part of the XV-2. Say what you want, a hot shower in the morning after a few days on the road does wonders.

Tongue Box


The tongue section of the XV-2 is once again so close to perfection, but narrowly misses it with a small oversight. I’ll start by saying that the full-width box concept is awesome. The fact that at 245 pounds I can stand on it to unlatch the tent, take photos, or get a better view without it bending or creaking is an impressive feature in itself. I was very happy with the copious amounts of secure and organized storage it provides for the batteries, fridge, and supplies, and I often found myself using it as a prep surface for food due to its pure convenience.

That being said, I did admittedly find it disappointing that XVENTURE states the middle of the tongue box is designed to hold two Jerry Cans. While this is true, the lack of ventilation in the box means you can’t actually store fuel in the nose, just water. I found it kind of repetitive because there is already a built in water tank below the trailer. While this isn’t really a fault, I feel it would have been better to just label it as storage, since the extra space is far more useful for supplies than big water cans.


Photo by Chazz Layne


The only real problem with the tongue box has to do with the fridge. While we never had an issue with it, the lack of ventilation and space inside the box results in increased power consumption and we assume will eventually on a hot trip, burn out the fridge. When the sun hits the box it heats up, the fridge cools more to compensate which produces heat from its compressor. The heat escapes into the box but has nowhere to go which makes the tongue box warmer. The fridge in turn has to work harder again to keep up so it produces more heat which only makes the box hotter and so on. It’s a vicious cycle. This problem could be largely solved with some proper venting into the center compartment followed by a secondary vent to the outside of the box for cool air.


The rest of the tongue seems to have been well planned and properly setup for long trips. A full sized propane tank is utilized for the hot water heater and stove, which is a good choice for a thirsty system in remote areas. Besides the obvious benefit of carrying more fuel, the 20lb tanks allows for a standard swap out at hardware stores. This may seem rather trivial, but finding a shop that refills small propane tanks is much more difficult than finding one who will simply exchange one.

Another big win was the location of the ARB compressor. Once again it probably doesn’t seem significant, but upon trying to run the hose from my personal compressor at the front of the 4Runner to the trailer, I was startled to find it was too short. Clearly this would be a problem unless I planned to unhook the trailer all the time. The nose-box location of the XV’s compressor however allowed me to not only inflate the trailer’s tires, but the vehicle’s towing it as well.

Accessories and other systems

Hand brakes on trailers rock. I don’t know how every other manufacturer missed the memo, but I have to thank XVENTURE for getting it right. If you’ve moved your trailer alone on any kind of grade, you know the struggle of trying to chock the wheel before it rolls in another direction. With the brakes on all XV models, you can just pull the lever and you’re done and chock the wheels for safety. These are one of the simplest, but most appreciated parts of this trailer.


Photo by Chazz Layne



The fox-wing awning proved to be a crowd favorite when we setup a base-camp for longer stops, especially when we could use it to escape the hot sun or heavy rain. Unfortunately, due to the amount of poles and guide lines required to tighten the awning, we found setup time to be prohibitive on shorter stops. More hands and a little practice could probably make it possible though.

The adjustable rack system is a great selling point, and one that is very unique to this trailer. It enables the user to move the support slats up far enough to fit ATVs or dirt bikes in the trailer, while still deploying the tent above them. Since we rarely needed to haul anything like this, we left the rack in the low position most of the time to optimize aerodynamics for towing and keep CG low for trail use. Our biggest complaint with this system is the clacking sound generated while off-road. Naturally when you have so many moving pieces there is going to be some flex when shaking side to side. Unfortunately, this is amplified by the spaces the slats need to move which makes rough roads a noisy experience.


The final camp feature we’d like to mention is the lighting system used throughout the trailer. Having a lot of illumination on dark nights with the flip of a switch can be extremely helpful. Gone are the days of messing with flashlights, squinting to see if your dishes are clean, and trying to grab the right drink from the table. Turn on the lights and the whole trailer is now in view. We especially appreciated the interior cargo lights. It’s hard enough to dig through the bed and find what you’re looking for in a trailer, doing so in the dark is nearly impossible.



So we know it’s a great base-camp, but what were our thoughts on long term towing? If you read our mid-term review, you’ll already know that technical trail performance was excellent with phenomenal ground clearance and an easy line of sight. Road towing remained smooth but the 4Runner certainly felt the trailer more than the Range Rover Sport we had tested with previously. It was especially noticeable in Colorado on long grades. The only problem mentioned previously was that any sort of speed on dirt resulted in some unfavorable bouncing and swaying characteristics.

Photo by Chris Ramm


Our long term test conclusion confirmed our initial theory that this trailer’s suspension is made to carry a lot of weight. It makes it perfect for hauling heavy cargo like motorcycles, ATV’s, wood, or large water tanks, but poses a problem for the weekend camping trip. Even with five people’s gear, food, and water, we were barely pushing into the trailer’s hauling capacity. This results in difficulty compressing the XV-2’s heavy duty-axle, as well as a harsh and unstable ride between 5 and 30 miles per hour. Fortunately, these trailers have a range of axle weights available, and we highly recommend the stock 2300lb model if your primary use will be simple camping trips. This should give you a smooth and comfortable ride while saving a few bucks in the process. If you do require the heavier axle, you will need to be sure to load the trailer down properly to attain the desired handling.


Between all the trips completed with this trailer, we backed up at night more times than we can remember. One experience in particular though stands out, backing down a narrow shelf road with no pull outs in the dark. During that situation the reverse lights built into the XV not only helped, but were a major factor in keeping us safe. It’s astonishing how few trailers have lights like this, and how even fewer have the range and dispersal to effectively illuminate the area. We applaud Schutt Industries for going beyond the standard of not only convenience, but safety.

The Verdict

So, a year and many adventures later, what do we think of the XVENTURE?


The bottom line is it’s a brutally tough trailer built to last a lifetime. In every aspect of use the XV-2 makes it clear that at its heart, it is a piece of heavy-duty military equipment. I feel confident every time I hook a Schutt Industries trailer to my vehicle that it will survive water crossings, mud, rocks, and everything we can find to throw at it for years to come. We love the look which is aggressive yet clean, and the wide stance provides more stability than many competitors, while matching the track width of most tow vehicles.



In many ways this product is the tank of the trailer world. It’s the heavy duty, drive over anything, survive whatever you throw at it, rolling hunk of metal you would want in the apocalypse, and it’s not trying to hide that. It will never be the refined and lightweight trailer to go with your Snow Peak kitchen and titanium shovel. It’s heavier, larger, and rides rougher than many of its counterparts; and it’s built to haul serious weight, not a $200 camp chair made of toothpicks and a freeze-dried meal.

At the end of the day, the XV-2 is not for everyone. It’s not the graceful fencer gliding over obstacles with a parry and lunge, but the seven foot tall brute with a club who pounds the rocks into submission.


It may not do its job with the most poise, but it will do it reliably time and time again, and that’s good enough for us.


For more information on the XV-2 and Schutt Industries other offerings, take a look at their website here.


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Inside California’s Forgotten Grasslandshttp://expeditionportal.com/inside-californias-forgotten-grasslands/ http://expeditionportal.com/inside-californias-forgotten-grasslands/#comments Thu, 12 Nov 2015 07:46:07 +0000 http://expeditionportal.com/?p=30885 Filled with hidden canyons created by the San Andreas fault and home to the only antelope in Southern California, the Carrizo Plain is a fascinating, inhospitable, alien world. And one you probably haven’t heard of, much less visited. Let’s change that.

No one would ever hold it against you for not knowing that the Carrizo Plains exist. Located in Central California, halfway between San Luis Obispo and Bakersfield and directly between state highways 56 and 166, the Carrizo Plains are one of California’s last remaining natural grasslands, and the largest in the state. Though with the recent drought you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s a bit more desert than grassland.



To appreciate the Carrizo Plains, you need to dig into the finite details of the area. To the casual observer, it may seem that the area is a barren wasteland filled with next-to-nothing. But to the trained eye, you’ll find things here that you’ll see nowhere else. If you’ve ever wanted to learn a bit more about the famous San Andreas Fault you’ll be happy to know that the Carrizo Plains contain some of the most visible surface fractures in the fault’s 850-mile stretch. There’s also abundant wildlife within the National Monument, including a flourishing bird habitat and the largest concentration of endangered species in California.

Adventures are plentiful in the Carrizo Plains National Monument, as it’s officially called—especially if you’re exploring by way of four-wheel drive or adventure motorcycle. Though it’s imperative that you stay on designated and marked trails, the environment is much more fragile than you’d think. But don’t worry, there’s plenty of trails.

How to get there

First decide if you’d like to explore the Carrizo Plains starting from the north (nearest to San Francisco) on Highway 56, or from the south (nearest to Los Angeles) on Highway 166. Soda Lake Road is the National Monument’s main thoroughfare, and connects you to several different 4WD trails. It is a scenic, but not challenging road, 18 of its total 37 miles are paved, the rest is well-maintained dirt road.

Elkhorn Road follows the western side of the National Monument and provides a more remote, personal experience away from Soda Lake Road, but a high-clearance vehicle is recommended. This is the road I personally prefer to travel. If there are washouts, the road can have some minor technical sections, but low range would not likely not be required. There are several off shoots of Elkhorn Road on both the north and south ends of the road, with more technically challenging areas to the south.

What to know

It is best to go to the Carrizo Plains when it is dry (perhaps a benefit of the drought). Several roads you travel on will be marked “Impassible When Wet” and they mean it. No matter if you’re in a low-clearance hybrid or a Jeep on 37-inch mud terrains. The Carrizo Plains are a sensitive ecosystem that must be respected, in addition, the fine soil creates a sticky mud unlike anything you’ve ever seen.

Bring binoculars, animal sightings are frequent, and the area is a destination for avid birders. Be sure to bring plenty of maps, cellular service is non-existant within the Carrizo Plains, and the highways surrounding it.

The Bureau of Land Management has the most up-to-date information on restrictions, camping information, and general knowledge. Here’s a link.

What to see

Located on the North end of the Carrizo Plains, Soda Lake is a must-see. Park your vehicle on San Diego Creek Road (which coincidentally connects Soda Lake Road with Elkhorn Road) and take a short walk to the dry alkali lakebed. If it has rained recently, you’ll find some water in it which will make for an amazing photo.

Painted Rock is an awesome collection of ancient pictographs and petroglyphs created by the Chumash, Salinan, and Yokuts people over thousands of years. It’s worth the hike, but due to recent vandalism by assholes, you can’t take any photos, nor can you bring your dog. Sorry Wiley.

If you want to see the power of the San Andreas Fault, check out Wallace Creek. You’ll need a basic understanding of geology to appreciate what you see, but the creek bed, which runs perpendicular to the fault line, has been shifted over 425 feet.

Elk and pronghorn call the Carrizo Plains home, and if you’re lucky you’ll see one. I’ve been here 5 times and I haven’t seen one once, damnit. On the subject of interesting species, also keep an eye out for the super-duper-seriously-endangered California condor, and the awesomely-adorable San Joaquin kit fox, which is also endangered.


The Audubon Society classifies the Carrizo Plains as an Important Bird Area (IBI).


So bring your binoculars, like this smart pretty lady did.


Once upon a time, the Carrizo Plains were used as a cattle grazing area.




Elkhorn Road has some straight fast sections, only broken up by a gathering of tumbleweeds.


Farming relics from an age gone by litter the landscape.

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Bullet holes, because it’s artsy.


The occasional dust devil can be spotted if you’re in the right place at the right time.


Bring your sunglasses. Soda Lake is brighter-than-bright on a sunny day.


I wouldn’t really know, but I guess I’d compare surface of Soda Lake to walking on the moon.


We took a bone-stock Jeep Wrangler Unlimited, it had no issues. You could do with much less, so long as it’s dry.

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Trans American Trail: Shadow of the Rockieshttp://expeditionportal.com/trans-american-trail-shadow-of-the-rockies/ http://expeditionportal.com/trans-american-trail-shadow-of-the-rockies/#comments Wed, 11 Nov 2015 07:27:00 +0000 http://expeditionportal.com/?p=32005 Nothing on the paper roll chart indicated that the next right turn would cause each one of us in the party to pause and question the path forward.  The map showed “county road” but we were convinced that what lay ahead of us was merely an ATV trail.  Looking back, we don’t know why we were surprised that a path developed for adventure motorcycles may not be well suited for full size trucks, not to mention one carrying a new Four Wheel Camper (FWC) requiring 8 feet of headroom.  The trail was steep and trees closed in, scratching at both sides of the vehicles.  The local rains the night before left the trail slippery and just as the stock GMC passed through a very tight, off camber spot between two trees, a wet root under the rear passenger tire caused the back end of the truck to slide within inches of an awaiting tree.  With the advantage of seeing what line not to take, our Tundra/FWC combo squeezed through the tree maze with the grace of an elephant ballerina.  Emerging from the forest section the trail we continued to climb, ultimately to 11,450 feet, and opened to a virtually treeless 360º view of the surrounding mountains.  It was unanimous that this would be camp for the night.  Throughout the evening, group after group of ATV riders passed, each with confused looks on their faces to see two full size trucks on such a trail.  A few stopped to inquire what we were doing while others were flat out lost and used our maps (and extra fuel from our reserve) to make it back to their camp…just before more overnight rains.


One year prior during an internet search for dirt road routes in the US I came across an internet video about Land Rovers traversing the Trans-American Trail (TAT) which is a 4,000+ mile trail system set up by Sam Carron for adventure motorcyclist.  However, an alternate segment of the TAT, known as the Shadow of the Rockies (SOR), lends itself to a less time intensive TAT experience (Trans American Trail).  The SOR starts in El Paso, Texas and travels 1,400 miles north to the Colorado-Wyoming state line, 95% of which are dirt roads.

One comment/question in particular on Sam’s TAT website came from Susan Adrian “Can the Shadow of the Rockies Trail be done in a 4×4 vehicle?”  The idea was that if a few spectacular Land Rovers led by legendary Camel Trophy expert drivers utilizing superb traction control gizmos, which alone should carry them weightless over any terrain, can do 4,000+ mile off piste trail couldn’t two “normal vehicles” do a 1,300+ mile mini version? Someone had to answer Susan’s question, why couldn’t we.

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My wife and I are the proud owners of a 2014 Four Wheel Camper Hawk model which is chauffeured around by our 2013 Toyota Tundra, Rock Warrior Edition.  For a lack of a better name the truck/camper combo is known to us as TOD (Toyota Overland Development), Weekend Warrior Edition.  To help TOD shoulder the FWC and gear it has been upgraded with an OME 2.5” medium lift, rear Air Lift airbags utilizing Daystar cradles, and a Streetacos Carrier Bracket.  We are banking on Toyota’s legendary prowess to make up the rest.


Convincing my wife, Kim, of this endeavor was much easier than expected but we really wanted at least one additional vehicle along for safety in numbers and to make sitting around the campfire more entertaining.  While pitching the idea to my friend Joe, maps were laid out, pictures were presented, and adventures promised.  At the end, with one word, he said, “sure.”  Joe’s 2011 GMC Sierra 1500 was prepped with nothing more than a spanking new set Cooper AT3 tires (stock size) and a bed cover…period.  Joe picked up the set of Coopers two weeks before the trip to replace the original tires whose tread looked more like the surface of a bowling ball than a tire.  Tires could be considered an upgrade by some but the truck just flat needed new rubber.  Taking a stock truck will either demonstrate that a huge number of vehicle mods are not necessary…or we will discover that the professionals were right about certain components, I’m guessing a little of both.


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From only a map and Google Earth it is difficult to gauge just how fast or slow a particular trail might be unless you have been there before or have some other access to local knowledge, we had neither.  Fortunately, the TAT is very popular within the adventure motorcycle community and the general consensus indicated the Shadow of the Rockies could be completed in 6-8 days depending on riding style, yet there was no record of it being done in a truck. When discussing the trip with my wife and Joe we had originally settled upon 6.5 days on the trail with an extra 1-2 days built-in as a buffer.  Two weeks prior to the start of our trip, my job decides I should relocate to Denver by the end of August, so now my wife and I have to find a place to live in less than two months.  Rather than kill the trip it was decided that those buffer days were going to be spent apartment hunting, which trimmed the time allotted for the trail down to FIVE days.  If we couldn’t make it to Wyoming in time, Kim and I would peal off towards Denver and finish the trail some other time.  We all agreed to do everything we could to finish.

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The TAT begins just outside of El Paso very near Hueco State Park, which is famous for ancient rock art and rock climbing and is worth a visit if you are in the area.  If you are planning to camp at the park, plan to get there by 4:30pm as check-in is lengthy and requires watching a mandatory video on protecting the park.  Check-in ends at 5:30pm and the gate closes by 6:00pm SHARP.  We pulled in at 4:25pm after a 10 hour push across Texas from Fort Worth.  Our campsite at the base of the giant Hueco boulders felt secluded while we prepared dinner and double checked gear as tomorrow would be our first day on the trail!


Pressed for time the trip started bright and early that first morning with ominous rain clouds building in the distance.  The roads leading from El Paso into New Mexico would be considered tame by most, however, as evidenced by the washed out arroyos we crossed, if the rain hit the conditions would deteriorate rapidly along the old ranch roads.  The first day was a balance between making miles and yet still trying to soak up the scenery.  What looked like barren flat land on Google Earth turn out to be a very interesting and diverse desert environment.

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Coming out of the desert we arrived at what would be our first campsite on the trail, just outside of Ruidoso in the Capitan Mountain range.   At the base of Capitan Mtn. we rolled up on a couple camping and we inquired about the condition of the trail further up.  The husband mentioned that he had driven about 2 miles down the path but was unsure if the trail was passable due to the amount of recent rain the area. Our group decided to press on with the daylight we had left and find a suitable campsite along the way.  So far the roads had been tame, graded dirt until that next morning, when conditions rapidly degraded.

Another early start, feeling fresh, trucks humming, and already set in 4-wheel drive, “what could be better,” or so I thought.  The stranger from the night before was correct, as this section of road was certainly much less manicured than those traveled the day before.  Progress slowed to a crawl while both trucks tried to avoid undercarriage damage from the bowling ball size rocks littering the road.  The tonnage of the camper kept TOD’s tires firmly, if not reluctantly, planted while the stock GMC just tried not to leave its front air dam on the trail in shambles.  This section is where the already compressed schedule was being greatly put at risk.  While exhilarating, we had planned for this section of the trail to take only 1 hour, but by the time we were off the trail and back on faster surfaces we were 4 hours behind schedule, essentially half a day evaporated.

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Leaving the Capitan Mountain Range behind, it was time to put some miles down if we were to make Wyoming in time.  Luckily, after coming off the mountain we were greeted with more gravel roads.  With a better understanding of the trucks capability and a higher comfort level of our own skills, the speed picked up and we were making up time.  The road, while fast, dipped up and down plateaus, through farmland, and past scenery the highways totally ignore.  It should be noted that this is the only part of the trail that we all agreed would be impassable if raining.  Gaping ruts in and out of the ditches left by local ranchers taking cattle to market was clear evidence that these roads can get messy.  Fortunately, conditions were dry but every cloud in the sky threatened to increase the difficulty of the trip.  We would regrettably call an overcrowded campground our home for the night of the 4th of July.

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Fireworks until 2am do not make for a restful sleep, but the trail beckoned and we needed to make up time.  And make up time we did!  Through these less stressful sections, our speed picked up to the point that would have made a WRC driver proud.  Not typically one to disobey speed limits, we were able to find the sweet spot for our Toyota to conquer the endless miles of washboard roads, not to mention the positive impact it had on our schedule.  Joe later admitted to turning off his traction control for a little more fun!  New Mexico was almost complete, but not without tackling Long Canyon Road.  Well known by SOR riders taking the trail, it is less known in 4×4 communities.  Armchair scouting did not reveal much about this short section of trail but an email to Mark with bigdogadventure.com assured me we would be fine.  Mark was right and while not particularly difficult, it did offer a slight pucker factor (for a flatlander) when looking over the edge at the valley below.  We were rewarded with a spectacular view from atop the plateau and the start of Colorado!  Sam’s instructions were to ride into Salida during daylight hours so we took his advice and pulled up short at Lithrop State Park and enjoyed their $1.25 showers.

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Sam was right when he alludes in his notes that the best is yet to come.  This day would prove to be the most trying, yet rewarding.  The mountains were getting taller, roads steeper, and the landscape transformed from desert to alpine.  Both trucks were excelling in the terrain, although the thinner air started to cause the RPM’s to rev a little higher.

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Reviewing the remaining roll chart against the map showed that a majority of the remaining route was county roads with one exception…Tincup Pass.  I personally was looking forward to Tincup Pass and the image of taking a classic truck/camper poser shot next to the sign at the peak ran through my head.  Guidebooks made the pass sound doable and considering what we had been through already on this trip it should be a fun run up the mountain.  Mother Nature however had other plans in the form of recent rains and runoff from snowpack.  Many passes in Colorado can be closed until late July, so we called the local Ranger office for a status update.  The Ranger on the line, while chipper, gave grim news that the lake at the approach to the pass was flooded, water covered the road, and the pass was closed.  With no time to be sour we reviewed the trail maps to find a suitable and “adventurous” alternative.  Sam highlighted Cottonwood Pass as an easier alternative and the end of the pass intersected almost exactly where we would have exited Tincup.  With our compressed schedule and goal to stay on the trail we really had no alternative.  Snapping a killer flexy pic at the top of Tincup would have to wait for another time.  What Cottonwood Pass did do for us is save an estimated 2 hours of trail time and kept the goal of reaching the border the next day within reach.

It was at this point we danced our elephant sized trucks over the river and through the woods to what ended up being the best campsite of the trip.

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Waking up to a spectacular sunrise the following morning, our rigs were immediately set to 4-low.  We hoped today would be be the final push to Wyoming, our schedule demanded it and a slow start could force us to pull up short. The descent from our overnight camp matched the slow methodical pace from the evening before, but the distance remaining was short and within two hours we were down the mountain and refueling at the next waypoint.

Coming out of the rockies and heading west we entered rolling hills and more fast dirt sections.  The spring rain had turned the grass on the hills a bright green, the local cows were fat and happy, but sections of road were slicker than what those happy cows were depositing.  Think of the skid pad at a BMW test track.  It was in this particularly slippery section we noticed fresh motorcycle tracks snaking down the road, obviously from someone finding life on two wheels a bit more challenging.  Not two miles further we found a group of three TAT motorcycle riders.  Two bikes upright (KTM) and one bike on its side in the ditch (BMW).  Everyone was fine and smiling (at least the KTM guys were) but the BMW was having a hard time dealing with the mud. Mud would stick to the front tire and jam up under the fender, eventually locking the front wheel and  leaving it pushing rather than rolling.  Each time ending with the big BMW laid over.  After offering assistance (and a frosty cold drink from our cooler) we wished them luck and mucked past them, fortunately finding better road just 2 miles beyond.

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Although the roads were a little wet and muddy in places, the rain held off for the final push to the border.  My mind wandered during this last section as to what would await us at the end.  Images of checkered flags, balloons, champagne, and podiums came to mind.  The same reception one would receive after winning the Baja 1,000.  The last few waypoints had us driving down oilfield roads, past bobbing pumpjacks.  While crossing yet another cattle guard and motoring our way to the finish, a radio call comes from Joe, “Aren’t you guys tired of driving yet…you passed the border.”  My wife and I looked at each other and then at the roll chart and realize in our excitement we were one waypoint behind.  The unassuming cattleguard, 1 out of 1,000 crossed in the 5 days, turned out to be the border of Colorado and Wyoming and the finish of our 1,400 mile dash!

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In the middle of an oilfield, at an unassuming cattleguard, nailed to a barbed wire fence post, was a small brown bullet-riddled sign indicating the Wyoming State Line…not even one balloon.  A fitting end to a trail that kept us off the beaten path but definitely wanting more.


To Susan Adrian: The answer is Yes!  The trail can be done in a 4×4 and adventure is promised.


About the trucks:

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Truck: 2011 GMC Sierra 1500 Z-71

Tires: Cooper AT3 265/65 R18 (stock size…but new!)

Suspension: Stock

Other: Used tonneau cover

Notes:  The Sierra had zero issues during the 1,400 trail miles and the only two complaints were; the amount of dust that leaked around the seams of the tonneau cover, and how the low air dam killed more grasshoppers than ever thought possible.  Raising the front of the truck with quality leveling kit or short lift would have lowered the stress level in rocky sections.  Fast washboard sections broke the rear loose a few times and careful tire placement was necessary in the rough stuff however, the truck soldiered on without complaint.  The Cooper AT/3 tires show very little signs of wear and now after a wash look good as new.


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Truck: 2013 Toyota Tundra (Rock Warrior Edition, i.e. fancy wheels and stickers)

Tires: BFG All-Terrains 285/70 17

Suspension: OME 2.5” Medium, Air Rite 5000 Bags (64 psi), Daystar Cradles

Other: Streetacos Carrier Bearing Bracket (Note: Do yourself a favor and install this bracket along with the OME kit.  Thanks Brian for the high quality product and even higher level of customer service)

Notes: The OME suspension really performed better than expected with an estimated 1,600 lbs of camper, gear, and people.  The sport shocks kept the rear wheels planted and the airbags kept things level even during our more “spirited” driving.  In the technical stuff clearance was never an issue and from the driver seat the truck felt nimble, leaving us feeling confident.  A larger fuel tank would have been convenient but we were never worried about making it to the next gas station.  I’m convinced that keeping the whole package as stock and light as possible, as much as a truck/camper combo can be, while only upgrading those areas necessary to support the heavier payload is the secret to a competent rig.

Camper: 2014 Four Wheel Camper (FWC), Hawk

Weight Dry: 1,245 lbs per the factory certificate

Features: All the standard Hawk model options plus; “king” bed upgrade (I’m 6’6” so extra pads can be inserted allowing me to sleep bow to stern), flush mount appliances, Yakima roof rack rails, A/C, and smooth exterior fiberglass siding.

Notes: It was 102º at the campsite in El Paso the night before we were to embark and we felt a small twinge of guilt turning the A/C to cold knowing that Joe was to spend the night in his tent.  We had that same feeling when it was below 40º and raining on top of a mountain later in the trip.  We did however sleep great both nights.  While we cooked outside most evenings we took advantage of the hot water for cleanup and with 20 gallons of fresh water on tap running dry was never a worry.  Storage on any trip can be an issue if not managed properly.  All our standard gear fits into the many camper storage compartments but packing clothes for both hot and cold weather posed an issue.  Borrowing the idea from Jonathan Hansen’s “JATAC” we use three Front Runner Wolf Pack boxes for steps into the camper which doubles as a linen closet of sorts.  When stored inside the camper, two boxes fit perfectly on the floor in the dining nook while the third box is strapped on top of the storage area midship.  3-4 more boxes would be helpful but at $40/each we decided to put that money towards fuel in the truck instead.

After returning home and giving the camper a good wash, every inch was inspected for evidence of damage or stress.  None were found and the smooth fiberglass sides do not even show scratches from the many tree branches that so lovingly brushed by in the tight spots.  Cleaned up and aired out we are ready for the next trip!


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