Expedition Portal http://expeditionportal.com Wed, 28 Jan 2015 06:39:02 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.0 Riding LAB2V the Hard Way: The GS and The Huskeyhttp://expeditionportal.com/riding-lab2v-the-hard-way-the-gs-and-the-huskey/ http://expeditionportal.com/riding-lab2v-the-hard-way-the-gs-and-the-huskey/#comments Wed, 28 Jan 2015 06:39:02 +0000 http://expeditionportal.com/?p=25705 The LA / Barstow / Las Vegas route chart described the next quarter-mile of Red Rock Canyon  as a “Rock Garden.” What was actually off the front wheel of my 600lb motorcycle didn’t resemble any garden I had ever seen. Gray exhaust smoke hung low in the canyon, glowing in the late afternoon’s winter sun and the air was thick with the smell of cooking clutch plates and overheated engines.   The trail ahead merged into a dry creek bed through a long, narrow gorge that was filled with car-sized boulders and steep rock faces.  In it was a traffic jam of bodies and two-wheeled machines.   The scene was a mass of human-mechanical struggle.  Some motorcycles lay on their sides,  others were bottomed-out over high jagged rocks as their riders fought to stay upright, exhaust pipes belching, tires spinning and men cursing. One bike even appeared to have been abandoned, it’s front wheel inexplicably buried in silt up to the axle.

 

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An unending stream of riders flowed up the canyon, some pausing to consider what they were about to face, others throwing themselves into the trail’s maw without a moments hesitation.  Men on torque-addled enduro machines with tall, supple suspensions and claw-like knobby tires throttled their impossibly light machines onto the rocks one atop of another.

My 1200cc BMW felt heavier than it ever had . Climbing off, I hiked  down the trail to let Stacie know that we had to turn back.  We had come so far over that past couple days, overcoming miles of deep sand, boulder strewn fields and single track hill climbs, but now it was over. This final metal mashing section seemed impassable.  The notion that we would have to turn back and go around the mountain to Las Vegas by the “easy route,” left me defeated. I didn’t even have the energy to be angry at myself for not being good enough. Redrock Canyon had humbled me.  After covering hundreds of off-road miles the final turn onto the paved highway for Las Vegas was a mere ten miles further up this trail and over the mountain.  But it might as well have been another hundred miles. Riders on bikes 300lbs lighter than mine were melting down in the sausage grinder ahead and the prospect of getting my beastly BMW through the carnage seemed impossible.

When Stacie had first told me about the LA / Barstow / Vegas Dual Sport ride we knew immediately we were doing it.  2014 marked the 30th year that the two-day, five-hundred mile event was taking place becoming one of the most famous two-day dual sport rides in the world.  It’s organizers plan new routes every year, with difficulty options that range from “easy,” to “hard.”  The more difficult routes are designed to be challenging for smaller off-road focused motorcycles and the easier ones are big-bike friendly.  Although as we later found, there were some sections that had many riders wondering aloud, “Are you sure this is the ‘EASY’ route?”  Which ever route is chosen for LAB2V, completing it is a right of passage.

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Shaken from thought, I remembered that I was limping.  The three plastic butter knives I had taped together and ziptied to the top of my left boot were flapping loosely as I hobbled down the trail. Earlier that day I had put my foot out to point out a large chunk of broken asphalt for Stacie following behind.  My foot caught the chunk at 50 mph, knocking my leg backwards in an explosion of pain. Certain that I had broken a toe, I couldn’t up-shift without catching my breath in agony.  Later, during the lunch stop in Sandy Creek Nevada, I peeled off my boot, bandaged my foot, then engineered a shifting brace from the plastic knives and heavy-duty zip-ties. Hobbling down the trail it didn’t matter that my prosthetic device was broken.  It never worked anyway.  The plastic knives were too flimsly and I couldn’t feel the shifter with them.  I made due, upshifting with my heel.
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 When I reached Stacie to let her know we would have to turn around, I was stopped short when our friends Brody and Phil from team Bixby Moto rolled up the trail on a pair of haggard 50cc scooters regaled in shabby, stars-and-stripes the paint jobs.  Both were a mess of hand, spray-painted red and white stripes, with dripping white dollops that passed for stars.  Three Bixby Moto scooter riders had started LAB2V the day before, but only Brody and Phil were with us on the trail.  Their leader Andrew had apparently forged on ahead.
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     Brody told us they were turning back.  He had cracked the engine case of his scooter and was worried that he’d cease the engine when it ran dry of oil.  The rest of the scooter looked no better.  Plastic body panels were cracked and hung loose and others were missing entirely.  The turn signal lights had been knocked off and the headlight was missing,  leaving a sad, empty sockets with wires hanging out.  Phil’s scooter was only slightly better.  It’s engine case was still intact and he’d managed to tape the headlight back into place.   After two days and hundreds of miles of off-road abuse, it was a wonder the scooters were even still running.

 

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LAB2V 2014 Red Rock Canyon – YouTube

Watch now…        

 

We offered them a quart of oil I was carrying and told them it was only 10 more miles to the pavement over the mountain.  In spite of their upbeat humor, I could tell that they too were as disappointed to be turning back.

Everyone who rode LAB2V in 2014  knew about the Bixby Moto scooters.  Whether people thought they were hilarious or outright insane, they added just the right element of levity to an event that can be deadly serious.  Following the first day, nearly everyone had hardship stories about zero visibility dust clouds, hurt riders or destroyed motorcycles.  No matter what anyone thought of the Bixby guys, there was no argument that they are talented riders and they proved it too – out there in the harshest desert on the most unlikely machines.

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     It was now about 3:00 PM in the afternoon which left us with about two hours before sunset.  We were going to have to do a good amount of back-tracking to get to the easy route into Las Vegas. I began the long limp back up to where my BMW was parked.
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   When I got back down the trail to where Stacie was, Phil and Brody were still there.  “We’re going for it,” Brody told us.   While I had been away Stacie had convinced them that we were all going to make it over this mountain together.  I had never gotten around to telling Stacie that I didn’t think we could make it.  It seemed she never thought otherwise, and now that we were a team of four, scooters, BMW and Huskey were going to make a run at at Las Vegas.To scout the best lines through the rocky quagmire, I hopped aboard Stacie’s Husky TE310 and rolled out onto the rocks.  Transitioning from my 600 pound adventure bike to Stacie’s 245 pound enduro machine required some mental and physical gymnastics.   Riding the super heavy BMW over challenging terrane requires a number of techniques that can be counter-intuitive to riding more straightforward dirt bikes.  Body position through turns and managing the tractor-like torque of the 1200cc twin becomes unconscious and reflexive after tens of thousands of miles of riding, and it took a moment to adjust to the completely different motorcycle.

Where the GS is massive the Husky is svelte.  Beneath me the lighter machine felt like a mountain bike with a motor.  It’s seeming weightlessness, low gearing and powerful motor is a near antithesis to the GS.  The husky delivers when you open the throttle and go, not requiring the caution and thoughtfulness of the big bike.

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After a minute into the rock field I was adjusted to the bike, and it was a joy.   Rock climbs and boulders weren’t feats physical effort – instead they were actually fun.  Halfway through the rock garden, I was wishing I could do the rest of the ride on Stacie’s bike.  Over the past couple of days on LAB2V, I’d lifted my toppled  GS out of deep sand and boulder fields at least a half-a-dozen times. Earlier that day I was even thrown over the bars at 35 mph when the front wheel had caught a deep rut during a 5 mile long sand track.
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Halfway through the “garden” the trail rose up an island rise and split.   To the right, the path seemed to disappear off a steep rock ledge down to the dry creek bed eight feet below.  To the left, the path down to the creek bed was more certain.  Choosing certainty, I went left.  The way down was easy, but what I couldn’t see from the island was a series of motorcycle-sized boulders stacked into a super technical step-up obstacle.  Getting the light Huskey up and over was a challenge, and I stalled the engine a couple of times during the effort.  I was pretty sure the GS wouldn’t to make it over that, even with the help of the Bixby Moto Scooter guys.

After the island, the tough section of the “Rock Garden” was over and the way down to Las Vegas looked easy by comparison.  To be certain, I rode the Huskey another quarter-mile up the trail, partly to scout the trail, but mostly because it was fun, and I didn’t want to stop riding the agile machine.

On the walk back down to do it all over again, this time on the monster sized GS, I saw that the “right” path off of the island wasn’t a drop-off at all. Even better, the “right” path didn’t feature an ugly boulder step-up.  Had I taken an extra minute to walk ahead I would have seen that the first time.  But that wasn’t important now.  It was time to ride the heavyweight into the rocky maw.

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    Taking a deep breath I focused on keeping my heart rate down as the 600lb, two-wheeled Bavarian tractor barked to life. Stacie set up behind to watch our line and Phil and Brody position themselves on either side  to the rear of the bike and .  Not so much to push the bike than to keep it upright should I begin to topple to the right or left. Some of the boulders were spaced just far enough apart that when the front and rear wheels spanned a gap, my feet would dangle off the pegs, with nowhere to plant them to support the weight of the motorcycle.  A fall over these sections would most certainly land the bike upside-down, doing potentially irreparable damage.
In a series of repeated three-count grunting efforts, the four of us humped the hulking machine up the craggy escarpment covering three to six-foot intervals at a time.  The effort seemed superhuman. Beyond the abilities of a single person and certainly outside the envelope of what the German engineers who dreamed up the machine must have ever intended.  During a short break to catch our breaths, I noticed a small crowd of onlookers watching us do what was not meant to be done.
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   Cell phones snapped pictures and flash- bulbs popped as we ground our way forward as the rear tire spun-up over impossible granite step-ups.  The big BMW’s exhaust pipes roared and the air thick with the smell of its clutch, burning deep within the bowels of the huge boxer motor.When we reached the “Right, Left Island,” a traffic jam had formed.  A rider on a KTM 990 Adventure had gotten to the fork on the path and frozen up.  His motor idled, and his hands we locked on the grips. his elbows were fused at the joint and his arms were straight as wooden  poles.  Resting my bike on its side-stand we scramble up to the paralyzed rider. When I told him that I had just been through this section and that the easy line was to the right, he didn’t even turn his head to acknowledge me.  Riders in line back down the trail were beginning to shout obscenities, revving their engines in impatient protest.  When I finally got the poor fellow to make eye contact I realized he was a lost cause.  Within the cavity of his helmet his eyes wide with fear, frozen dead-open by the enormity of his situation. Phil, Brody and Stacie saw it too.  If this was a war, this guy would get us all killed.  Brody helped him push the KTM out-of-the-way so everyone could pass.  What came of him, none of us know.

    Back on the GS, our team began the final push through the crux of the trail.  While the way to the right was ultimately easier than the left, the first few feet let little room to maneuver.  The narrow ledge was only three-quarters as wide as my tire and slipping off would mean an eight foot, near vertical free-fall to the creek bed below. I hugged the left edge as hard as possible while my right foot dangled over the abyss to the right.
    About 18 inches out onto the ledge, Stacie shouted for us to stop. Watching our progress from the creek bed ahead, she saw that my left cylinder crash guard was going to hit the rocks if we kept on that line.  Had she not been watching the contact against the rocks would have undoubtedly tipped the bike to the into the wash.  And even if I wasn’t crushed beneath it, the damage to the machine would have been catastrophic.A few more hard efforts and the big BMW was out of the “Rock Garden.”  There was a sudden burst of applause from all around. The riders who had stopped to watch us make it through were still there cheering and giving high-fives and we headed back down to get the scooters through.

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     The last miles of the ride down the mountain were strange.  As  adrenalin waned from my circulatory system, my foot began to throb again.  The joints in my hands and fingers were swollen and aching. Simply pulling in the clutch lever was an effort. After hitting  the ground more times than I could remember and the physical effort exerted over the past two days, I was exhausted.
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     Slowly threading our way down the switchbacks in the last of the day’s light,  we caught glimpses of the Las Vegas skyline through mountain pass ahead.  Twilight relented to dusk, and dusk to evening.  All at once we were transported from the remotest  California  and Nevada deserts to the absurd electrical excess of Las Vegas, NV.
     As the warm, dry winter air evaporated the last sweat from my gear, and new aches and pains throbbed from the meat between my ribs, I knew I’d be back again next year.  Whether I  ride it again on  my 600lb motorcycle remains to be seen, but I’m proud of the  accomplishment and thankful to Stacie for deciding that we were doing LAB2V and thankful to Phil and Brody, for helping us make it through.
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Expedition Portal Project: Range Rover Sport – Final Reporthttp://expeditionportal.com/expedition-portal-project-range-rover-sport-final-report/ http://expeditionportal.com/expedition-portal-project-range-rover-sport-final-report/#comments Tue, 27 Jan 2015 07:44:30 +0000 http://expeditionportal.com/?p=24933 Almost one year ago, I sat in Dallas Texas staring at a white Range Rover Sport for sale. Owned by a mother of two and sitting atop 20″ wheels with low profile tires, the car had certainly done its time fulfilling the Sport’s stereotypical service as a soccer mobile, but all that was about to change. My goal was to turn the vehicle into the perfect combination of daily driver and back-country explorer through changes in suspension, wheels and tires, and living systems.

Range Rover Sport Sunset

Although it started as a mall-cruiser, 15,000 miles and many adventures later, I feel that it has earned its green oval. In this final section of our article series we’ll take a look at how the car handles on the trail, what it’s like to live with it everyday, it’s effectiveness as a tow vehicle, and address that ever pressing question of just how reliable is a Land Rover?

Trail Performance

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The Range Rover Sport began as a project of compromises. I’m a realist when it comes to vehicles and any SUV claiming to be off-road capable, luxurious, and somehow sporty as well, is the automotive equivalent of utopia, it’s just too good to be true. I went into this project knowing the Sport would never be a Jeep Wranlger, but it would also make up for that missing capability with pleasurable daily driving. Much to my surprise, the Range Rover Sport exceeded my expectations and proved to be very effective on the trail.

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Obviously some of the biggest advantages gained through a single modification was the traction and reliability achieved by switching to an 18″ wheel and a set of Cooper AT3s. We always stress the importance of a proper set of tires when going into the backcountry, and the Cooper has proven to be the perfect choice thus far. The additional traction over the original tires is impressive, and in mud, on wet and dry rocks, through snow, and over sand, these tires have pulled us through again and again without issue or signs of wear.

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When the tires weren’t enough to keep traction, and the terrain’s demands were too much, the Range Rover’s impressive Traction Control (TC) and Terrain Response systems kicked in. Originating from the LR3, I expected them to be effective, but the level of performance in various terrains and speeds was amazing. On rocky trails the Sport seemed quite at home, articulating, spinning for just a second, and then correcting with TC inputs to allow for a smooth ascent up over the obstacle. I did find that when heavy traction input from the computer was required, such as on an abrupt slippery rock face, the Sport needed more initial throttle to recognize TC was needed. Frustratingly, the art of smooth inputs, small corrections, and left foot braking seems to elude the computer. When these best practice methods are used, spinning tires and a bouncing effect are generally the result. A quick blip of the throttle when starting the crawl followed by a low consistent RPM is much more effective and keeps the obstacle slow and smooth.

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While the Terrain Response system did a great job in all situations, I loved using it on sand the most. Heavy vehicles like the Sport seem to get bogged down quite easily requiring special attention to throttle and shifting. Sand mode keeps the RPMs high and allows you to drive the truck like normal and enjoy the ride. It was especially handy when allowing less experienced drivers to take the wheel on long wash sections.

In terms of clearance and maneuverability, the Sport once again did not disappoint. The turning radius is better than any SUV, truck, or even car, I’ve owned which helps tremendously in tight portions of trails. Thanks to taller tires, a Johnson Rod lift, and the impressively flat undercarriage, the approach and departure angles proved to be sufficient in every situation. Even on known problem obstacles where it would always feel like you were going to bottom out, the Sport would somehow clear without issue. Only once did we scrape a panel underneath the truck, and it was due to a bad line forced by an irresponsible driver going the wrong way on the trail.

Of course, if you ever find yourself needing a little more clearance you can always use the Sports party trick, lifting the air suspension to Off-Road mode. We don’t recommend driving long periods of time on it as the ride becomes harsh, but it will certainly get you over that pesky boulder field or through that deep water crossing.

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As a bonus to the fun factor of driving this vehicle on the trail, we always got a kick out of the reactions, looks, and comments, from passerby’s. Driving past Jeeps, Toyotas, Hummers, and other Land Rovers, we were always greeted with mouths agape, concerned voices telling us we needed to turn around, we would never make it, asking how the heck we got there, and the always pleasant “what in the hell do you think you’re doing with that thing!?” Of all the comments however, my favorite occurred during a water crossing in an Arizona canyon. While cruising through, several members of our team shooting photos overheard a shocked woman on an atv say “well, a car that expensive better do the laundry”.

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Performance as a Daily Driver

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The purpose behind this project was finding a vehicle that could traverse the back-country while still being a pleasure to drive every day on pavement. Everyone has different things they want in a vehicle so for those of you who didn’t read Part 1, here is a basic list of what I looked for in a daily driver.

  • Sufficient power for passing, completing hill climbs, and doing 75 mph without high RPM
    • Exceeded Expectations – With a 300 horsepower V8, the Sport certainly gets the job done in this category. At sea level the motor produces enough power to make it a rocket ship compared to most four wheel drives, and at high elevation hill climbs and passing are still quick and easy. Highway performance is excellent as expected, with the truck tending to slip to higher speeds due to the excess power instead of struggling against its own weight. Of course all of this does come at a price. Depending on driving habits we see an average of just 14 MPG in town and 18 MPG on the highway. This drops to 12.5 average when towing.
  • Leather so the interior is easier to clean
    • Met Expectations - It sounds ridiculous to say this was a requirement, but a German shepherd has the ability to make a cloth interior look like a disaster zone.
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  • Heated seats for when its cold
  • A a quiet comfortable cabin with decent sound system
    • Exceeded Expectations – The interior of the Range Rover Sport and the overall impression you get of the vehicle when driving is superb. Its a blend of components feeling solid, heavy, and well made, with materials that are rich yet soft like leather. As a nice change from a lot of 4x4s, the Sport’s cabin is almost dead quiet when driving at any speed. There’s no howling sounds from wind noise, no whine from the tires, just a smooth firm ride and the silence. Even with the addition of a rack and roof tent, the vehicles sound deadening provides for just the slightest increase in background noise. The best part however, may be the design of the seats. Besides being perfectly bolstered to keep you in place off-road, they are the most comfortable seats of any car I’ve driven. Even on days where I’m driving thirteen hours, I arrive with no soreness in my back feeling rested and ready to explore.

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  • Soft ride characteristics
    • Did Not Meet Expectations – This is certainly an area in which the vehicle fell short of my hopes. While the air suspension was significantly softer than that of my previous vehicles, it was still firmer than a high end coil over setup and even other Land Rovers I’ve driven. I have no doubt that this is due to the sportier suspension setup of this vehicle, the increased pressure in the airbags due to the Johnson Rods, and the fact that the airbags have 84,000 miles on them.

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  • A look that is presentable and professional.
    • Met Expectations – This is very subjective, however I feel that the Range Rover Sport is a great looking vehicle that is just as at home in the back country as it is at the country club. When on the trail it got plenty of surprised looks and positive feedback, but it also received plenty of compliments in upscale areas of Phoenix. I’m not a frequent patron of high end restaurants, however the one time I had the Sport valeted they parked it right out front next to a Bentley.

Overall it has been a fantastic car to drive every day. The combination of comfortable seats, a V8 motor, and a quiet cabin make the trip across town or across the country relaxing and enjoyable.

Performance as a tow vehicle

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One of the realities for many SUVs, especially those around our office, is that they will be required to tow a trailer from time to time. Because we haul anything from motorcycles to car parts, scrap material to off-road trailers like the one pictured above, the Sport would need a sufficient wheel-base to control the trailer as well as sufficient towing capacity to be up to the task. While it may seem short compared to the modern full-body Range Rover, the Sport actually shares the same wheel base as the P-38 and the LWB Range Rover Classic at 108 inches. When combined with the V8 and drivetrain strength the tow capacity comes to an impressive 7,716lbs, and believe me it shows.

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We started by towing lighter trailers hauling gear and parts to and from storage facilities. During these tests the trailer felt practically non-existent behind us. Unless you made an effort to focus on the small changes in braking, we weren’t running a brake controller, you would never realize there was anything behind the vehicle. Once we were hauling heavier loads the Sport continued to pull flawlessly making even the biggest climbs seem like a walk in the park. Braking was smooth and effective as well with no fading on big descents. On mountain curves, high speeds, and even when encountering rough uneven surfaces which bounced the trailer, the Sport remained very stable and under control. After towing the same trailers with our LR4, I would say that the “sport” influence was beneficial for the positive behavior in this category.

 

Maintenance and issues

Ah yes, the moment we’ve all been waiting for, the Land Rover’s Achilles heel, reliability. For such amazingly capable pieces of engineering, these trucks are most often known for their maintenance horror stories, and for good reason. Tales of electronics shorting, air suspensions failing, and oil flowing out of every crack and crevasse like a reenactment of the Exxon Valdez are common among owners of old Landys and Rangies, however it would appear that things are beginning to change.

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Over the past year the Range Rover Sport has performed nearly without issue and despite all the jokes about finding a tow truck, has never left us stranded. Range Rover Classic, P38, and Discovery owners know that’s a big deal. At 84,000 miles the air suspension is original, no drive-train components, electronic bits, or expensive computers have had to be changed, and there has only been ONE replacement part installed. In fact, my only time spent on the side of the road was helping other broken down vehicles, like the Defender above.

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So what was this lone part changed out? It was of course the air compressor for the suspension. The compressors are known to only be good for around 70,000 miles, at which point the constant lowering, raising, and leveling of the vehicle takes its toll. While ours never failed, the slow fill times told us it was time to switch before it stopped working somewhere in the back-country. It’s imperative with ALL vehicles to do preventative maintenance, especially when overlanding.

 

Conclusions – Is it what I hoped for?

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The Range Rover Sport has certainly been a great vehicle over the past year and the short answer to the above question is it’s better than I’d hoped for. As a daily driver providing comfort, power, and handling, it was exactly what I was looking for. Driving to work every day was a pleasure and road trips became easy and enjoyable with zero pain from sitting all day. The Sport also performed better off-road than I ever expected. The traction control systems, air suspension, and Cooper tires made an easy job of some of the toughest trails, even when hauling a trailer. The defining factor of my love for this vehicle however is it’s ability to make the driving experience enjoyable no matter where you are. The back country and trails were as great as ever, however the paved roads on the way there went from being a boring cruise to an exciting drive. Even when loaded, the Sport carves around corners without hesitation and tears up mountain roads like no other SUV I’ve driven.

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Although many people will claim their vehicle is best, it’s clear that there is no perfect vehicle for everyone. Some people will drive a Jeep Wrangler for top trail performance, others will drive a Series Land Rover to explore in a classic, and some will drive a Land Cruiser for reliability. Personally, I want to enjoy driving every section of a journey from the back roads to aggressive mountain curves, and for that the Range Rover Sport is hard to beat.

 

A Special Thank You to Everyone Who Helped Make This Project Happen

AT Overland Equipment - Drawer System, Combo Slide, Fabrication Work, and Build Support

Cooper Tires – Cooper Discoverer AT3’s

Equipt Expedition Outfitters – K9 Roof Rack, Eezi-Awn 2.0 Meter Bag Awning, Eezi-Awn 1400 Roof Top Tent, Alubox

 

 

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Drive Nacho Drive: The Cost to Drive Around the Worldhttp://expeditionportal.com/drive-nacho-drive-the-cost-to-drive-around-the-world/ http://expeditionportal.com/drive-nacho-drive-the-cost-to-drive-around-the-world/#comments Mon, 26 Jan 2015 07:28:57 +0000 http://expeditionportal.com/?p=25688 It seems like whenever it comes up in conversation that we’ve just driven our van around the world, and that to do so took nearly three years, the first thing people say is something along the lines of “That sounds expensive!” I can see why people might think that. I mean, we used to take ten day vacations to Europe, and when we would return our bank account would sometimes be $5,000 less than when we left. There were the plane tickets, the buses and trains, hotels, restaurants, and entertainment. That’s not to mention the fact that the cost ticker on rent and bills never stopped ticking while we were away. So yeah, Jesus H. Christ, if it costs $5,000 for a ten day international vacation, it must cost, like, a cool half million to do it for three straight years!

But it doesn’t. So how much does it cost to drive around the world in a car? The short answer is: far less than it costs to stay home. If that doesn’t make you feel like you’re missing out on something, it should. I’m sitting in my house right now, thinking about the fact that our yearly rent on this studio apartment in Seattle is nearly as much as our yearly cost to drive around the world.

Before we jump into the numbers, a quick note on cost accounting methodology while on the road. We were gone for 927 days, and we tracked every single penny that we spent. And we didn’t do it with fancy online bank tracking tools, as that would have been impossible since we paid cash for 99.9% of our expenses. Even for big bills like shipping our van on container ships across the oceans. And no, we didn’t use a fancy smart phone app either. That would have been impossible on account of the fact that we didn’t have any phone at all most of the time. No need to adulterate a perfectly good adventure with a telephone.

That’s another thing that seems to surprise people: we didn’t have a phone for three years, and it was absolutely fan-freakin’-tastic. But I digress.

No, we tracked our expenses by writing them down with a pen in a small notebook that I kept in my pocket throughout the entire trip. I don’t even know how many of these notebooks I went through. Every week or so we would transcribe the information from the notebook into a spreadsheet I created that tracked our categorized expenses. It told us whether we were on track with our budget, and extrapolated our expenditures to estimate how much we’d have left at the end of the trip. Tracking our expenses to this level proved invaluable in staying on track on such a long trip.

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With that out of the way, we can get down to the rice and beans of this affair. There are a lot of ways to slice this data, so I’ve prepared it in a few different ways. This is how I’ve broken it down in sections:

1Summary of expenses

2Cost breakdown by country

3Detailed costs by month

Without further ado…

Summary of Expenses

 

In this section I’ve summarized all of our relevant trip stats and categorized expense data. It should be noted that these costs include everything; food, gas, lodging, vehicle shipping, insurance, flights, repairs. If we were to remove costs for shipping the van, flying from continent to continent, and replacing our engine, for example, the average daily cost would be greatly reduced. It would be much cheaper to stay on a single continent, but that wasn’t the point of this trip. This was our total cost to survive.

 

Total days in trip:                             927

Total countries:                                 34

Cost per day:                                      $102

Mean cost per month:                    $3,102

Mean cost per year:                         $37,224

Total cost of trip:                             $94,524

Highest month:                                 $7,462 (Argentina)*

Lowest month:                                  $1,245 (India)

 

*Includes shipping van from Argentina to Malaysia, flights from Argentina to USA to Malaysia, and the fee to get our Carnet de Passages for Nacho.

Here’s how the cost played out, month by month. Notice that there are a few very high outliers (due to incidentals like shipping the van/flying ourselves, replacing our engine, and the whole transmission smuggling debacle). Our costs were generally around $2,000 per month when we were just living and driving.

2-Monthly-Cost

And here are the total costs broken down by category over the course of the entire trip, ordered from high to low.

 

Food:                                                     $23,064     ($756/mo)

Shipping/Flights:                              $19,885     ($652/mo)

Gas:                                                       $13,874     ($455/mo)

Other:                                                   $13,293     ($436/mo)

VW Expenses:                                   $11,293*     ($370/mo)

Hotels/Apartments:                         $5,383**     ($176/mo)

Transport/Parking/Tolls:               $2,391     ($78/mo)

Entertainment/Entry fees:              $2,092     ($69/mo)

Borders/Visas/Permits:                   $2,043     ($67/mo)

Camping:                                            $1,454***     ($48/mo)

 

*This was for anything we spent on the van; from small things like oil/filters, to big items like the engine transplant in Thailand and transmission replacement in Colombia.

**We rarely stayed in hotels, but occasionally we would rent an apartment for a month. The reason for doing so usually had to do with waiting on the shipping process, but it was always a welcome recharge.

***We almost exclusively “wild camped,” or “boondocked,” which is free, as we usually found it preferable to the confinement of campgrounds. Once we hit Asia there were virtually no campgrounds anyway, and when we got to Europe they were too expensive to consider.

Cost Breakdown by Country

Even when I tell people how cheap it is to live on the road, they tend not to believe me. I’ve just shown you that we lived rather comfortably on a little more than $37k per year. From an American perspective, that’s a fairly low-cost existence; that’s about the starting pay for a teacher, or half what a typical junior engineer makes in a year.

Now consider it from a different perspective. We were living primarily in third world countries where the cost of living is directly proportional to the income of the population. In Mexico, the average monthly income is only $375. Therefore, it is possible to survive in Mexico on $375 per month. Obviously we have some extra expenses like gasoline and road tolls, and we tend to spend more on food and entertainment, but it makes the $1,900 that we spent per month in Mexico seem preposterously excessive. Now consider that the average monthly wage in Nepal is just $37, and the $1,400 per month that we spent there is downright lavish.

Before looking at the cost, here’s a list of which countries we visited, ordered by the amount of time we spent in each country. Keep in mind that our average daily costs for countries with a greater number of days will paint a more accurate picture of the real cost to travel there, as it will draw from a greater sample size.

 

3-days-per-country

To get an idea of how much it cost for us to live in each country, for the next graph I’ve removed the major outliers for things that don’t relate to living expenses; namely, shipping, flights, and major van repairs. Think of this as the cost for us to overland within each of these countries once we were already there.

For this chart, I removed all countries for which we didn’t have data for at least one week. Countries with higher sample sizes will naturally have higher accuracy. For example, Panama is a pretty cheap country, but since we spent most of our time there preparing for shipping, we had some higher costs than if we were only exploring. If we’d been there longer, it wouldn’t have come up as the 6th costliest country. Conversely, Sweden should have been at the top, but we were there for a short enough time that we were able to hobble by on bread and water while sleeping on Sven’s couch.

 

4-cost-by-country

 

Detailed Costs by Month

I mentioned that we transcribed the cost notebook to the spreadsheet every week or so. I’ve taken screen shots of the meaty bits of that spreadsheet for each month—all 31 of them—and have compiled them into great big sheets.

Click the image below to be taken to a page containing one such image for each month. It depicts total cost per category by month.

 

Screen Shot 2015-01-23 at 1.57.44 PM

 

Screen Shot 2015-01-23 at 1.58.42 PM

So we must be rich, right?

All right, so we’ve established that we drove around the world for nearly three years on $94,000. And while that’s much less than most of us Americans will spend in three years of sitting around at home, the problem still persists that we can’t drive around the world on $94,000 unless we have $94,000 in our bank account first, right? Right! So how the hell do you get $94,000?

It’s daunting, I know. And you don’t want to come home broke, so it would be prudent to come back with some savings to live on while you plug back into society. So now what? You need an ungodly amount of money to buy your freedom, and only rich people can do that, right? Wrong! We started with very little in savings, just like everyone, and ultimately got the money we needed by saving up. Sounds too hard, I know, but hear me out.

We were making decent money at our jobs (I as a mechanical engineer, Sheena in corporate accounting), but not crazy money. Just regular money. Your standard dual income college-educated professionals on salary. But just like pretty much everyone in America, we had no money left at the end of each month. Maybe we could save a few thousand dollars per year, but it seemed like there was always something popping up to take away our money. But one day I was talking with one of our lab technicians who complained to me that he had only taken home $24,000 the year before, and he was pissed off about income disparity. Of course I felt for him, having grown up in a household like that. But it also occurred to me that he was surviving on $24,000 per year, and he also had no money left at the end of each month, just like me and everyone else. So what were we spending all of our extra money on? In theory, couldn’t we live on $24,000 if we really tried? Don’t millions of Americans already do it?

Quite simply, yes. No matter how much we earn, most of us will spend it all. If only we made a little bit more it would make life so much easier, but the truth is we’d still spend it all. So Sheena and I decided to live like the lab technician and put the rest in a special bank account we set aside, which we called the “Nacho Fund.” Back at the beginning of our trip I wrote about some techniques that we used to save our money. But to summarize, by simplifying our life and living as if we earned a lot less, we were able to survive entirely on Sheena’s salary, while mine went into the Nacho Fund.

In the end, it took us only two and a half years to save not only enough money to buy our freedom, but also enough for a post-trip savings buffer. Honestly, once we made the adjustment to living inexpensively, we sat back and watched the money pour into our account each month while our daily life concurrently became far more enjoyable in its simplicity. It was unreal. And we had never even considered that it could be possible, because before that we were like everyone else, always ending up with nothing.

I do realize that there are people out there for whom this kind of thing isn’t possible, but it’s not as many of you as you think. I hear it all the time, people telling me that it’s nice that we could do it, but there’s no way they could because of X, Y, and Z. But most of them are selling themselves short. If you can think of someone in America who is surviving on less than you are, and you’re willing to make the necessary sacrifices, then you can do it too. And if it will enable you to live the life you want, then I hope you do.

 

 

All of us at Expedition Portal would like to extend our genuine gratitude to Brad and Sheena for being so generous and sharing their travels with us. It’s been a fun ride traveling in Nacho vicariously through their beautiful writings and images. We can only imagine what new adventures await.  www.drivenachodrive.com

 

 

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Water water everywhere – Three ways to keep your phone dry.http://expeditionportal.com/water-water-everywhere-three-ways-to-keep-your-phone-dry/ http://expeditionportal.com/water-water-everywhere-three-ways-to-keep-your-phone-dry/#comments Sun, 25 Jan 2015 07:26:17 +0000 http://expeditionportal.com/?p=25625 Those of us who live in the beautiful Pacific Northwest have many names for the embarrassing wetness that envelopes us for half the year. My personal favorite is Liquid Sunshine. Even when it snows here on the left coast, it’s not the dry fluffy powder of our more easterly cousins, but a thick wet heavy blanket resembling freshly poured concrete.
Living in the PNW, waterproofing your gear and your self becomes second nature. We proudly talk about the technology behind the breathable membranes we are wearing this season, or how many minks were wrung dry just to oil our boots. What we often fail to waterproof is our phone. We trust to the “weatherproof” pocket on our jacket or our pack to do the job. If we are paranoid, we sometimes put the phone into a ziplock sandwich bag before it goes into the jacket pocket.
Why don’t we all have waterproof phone cases? Because in an urban environment, we have been conditioned to worry about dropping our phones and breaking them, so our cases are mostly shockproof, but rarely waterproof. Watching one of my fellow climbers on Mt Baker this year open his pack to find his phone swimming inside a little phone-sized jacuzzi (apparently the “weatherproof” pocket was better at retaining water than repelling it) I decided to see what other options were available to us.
I looked at three very different approaches to the problem:
The first, by Loksak looks just like a phone-sized ziplock bag, but made of a slightly heavier plastic. They are cheap to buy ($8.99 for a three-pack) and small enough that you can toss one into your bag for the occasional use. You still retain full functionality of your phone (except for plugging cords into it). The touch-screen works, the speakers and mic still work, and the camera will still take a photo, although the photo is a little fuzzy. (If you want to take a pic to remember which rock you stashed your car keys under, it’s fine. If you want a scenic shot of the mountains, you will want to remove it from the case.) The downside of the Loksak is that any sharp object, including the car keys in my pocket, fairly quickly ended its waterproof claims. www.loksak.com
IMG_6265
The second option I tried was at the opposite end of the spectrum. The Otterbox Preserver series is a solid plastic box with a clear front, rubber seals, heavy-duty clasps, a proper hard-window for the camera, and o-ring-sealed ports for cords and cables. It’s waterproof, shockproof, dustproof, scratchproof, skiproof, knifeproof, and one that I wasn’t expecting, soundproof. Yes you heard that right (or maybe you didn’t if you are using the Otterbox), once your phone is in the Otterbox, you can no longer use it as a phone, without opening the case, or using a bluetooth headset. I didn’t mind this so much when I was deep in the backcountry, because my phone didn’t have any cell service anyways, but when I was closer to the city, having to pull the phone out of the case anytime it rang was definitely a problem. www.otterbox.com
IMG_6257
The third option is positioned neatly between the first two. The E-Case from Cascade Designs is what you’d expect from a Seattle-based company that makes serious outdoor adventure gear. The E-Case feels tough, with a mix of clear poly and a ruggedized polyester soft-case, it gives good protection, and yet you can still take calls while it is sealed in the case. The SealLock zipper technology takes advantage of Cascade’s many years of producing their excellent SealLine dry bags. The other thing I like about the E-Case is the addition of a carabiner-compatible slot at each end of the case. This greatly increases the ability to secure your phone when you are in the back-country. Clipping it to your chest, your kayak, your bike, etc means that when you want to take a snap or get a quick clip of video, you are not stopping to dig the phone from your pack.
The only downside of the E-Case is that the design makes the phone too long to fit into the dedicated “phone-pockets” on some new jackets and pants. www.cascadedesigns.com
IMG_6270
The three cases I’ve looked at are just the tip of the iceberg. There are dozens of brands and designs available, but most fall into one of these three basic categories: A super-lightweight softcase, a super-rugged hardcase, or something in the middle. Whichever you choose remember that winter – with its abundance of Liquid Sunshine – is coming, so make sure you are ready.
IMG_6267IMG_6272
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First Drive: Jeep Renegadehttp://expeditionportal.com/first-drive-jeep-renegade/ http://expeditionportal.com/first-drive-jeep-renegade/#comments Fri, 23 Jan 2015 19:14:24 +0000 http://expeditionportal.com/?p=25657 Two years ago when Jeep launched their new Cherokee, you could almost hear the collective groan from around the globe. Many Jeep loyalists were quick to lambast the new vehicle with its slanted nose and squinty headlights, going so far as to chide Jeep for “ruining the brand.” If you were amidst those voices claiming the Cherokee sounded the death knell for Jeep, you were––wrong. Love it or loathe it, the sale of more than a quarter of a million new Cherokees has qualified it as a whopper of a success story, and we’re not even to the next chapter.

That next chapter belongs to the Renegade, another vehicle seemingly purpose built to antagonize the legions of loyalists who think Jeep’s best work begins and ends with the Wrangler. That platform is without question the hallmark of Jeep, the automotive DNA that the designers strive to infuse into every platform big or small. And speaking of small, if you haven’t noticed, downsizing is the latest craze in everything from houses to, well, SUVs. This is a space Jeep needed to enter.

The design mission of the Renegade is simple enough: To provide the small SUV category (globally) with a vehicle engineered to compete with existing models, but also to clobber the competition off-road. Keep in mind, that competition consists of mainly tarmac-biased vehicles like the Nissan Juke, Kia Soul, Mini Countryman, and the Buick Encore. These are not exactly titans of the backwood, although the Subaru Crosstrek has admirable dirt aptitude.

It’s understandable why Jeep wanted to throw their hat in this ring, but we wanted to know how well they did with their little 4×4, so we spent a couple days behind the wheel. Before I proffer my humble assessment, let’s take a walk through the vehicle details.

Available to the North American market in Sport, Latitude, Limited, and Trailhawk trim levels, the Renegade is also offered in both 4×4 and 4×2 drivetrains with the off-road inspired Trailhawk only available as a 4×4. There are two engine choices, and an available 6-speed manual transmission, although only on select models. Towing capacity is rated to 2,000 pounds.

 

Screen Shot 2015-01-22 at 3.13.43 PM

 

 

Engines and Transmissions

The base engine is Fiat’s turbocharged 1.4-liter Multi-Air four-cylinder which produces 160 horse power and 184 foot-pounds of torque. That engine is paired exclusively to the 6-speed manual gearbox. The larger 2.4-liter naturally aspirated four-cylinder Tigershark engine generates 180 horses and 193 foot-pounds of torque. The Tigershark power plant is paired to Fiat-Chrysler’s nine-speed automatic changer. Although definitive numbers are forthcoming, Jeep claims both engines will achieve better than 30 mpg numbers, and given our two days at the wheel, appears to be right on target.

 

2015 Jeep® Renegade Limited

 

Trim Levels

The Sport, Latitude and Limited models all share similar fascia, the off-road objective slightly detuned from the Trailhawk. The most noticeable difference with the Trailhawk is its unique front and rear bumper treatments designed to give optimal approach and departure angles. The Limited, pictured above, is the more luxuriously appointed trim level with more brightwork at the grill, mirrors and wheels. The Trailhawk features more black-out elements. The Latitude straddles the extremes of the Sport and Trailhawk and will likely prove to be the primary hot seller.

 

2015 Jeep® Renegade Trailhawk

2015 Jeep® Renegade Trailhawk2015 Jeep® Renegade Trailhawk

IMG_9606

 

Trailhawk Off-Road Package

Like the Cherokee Trailhawk, the Renegade’s off-road model has a host of features aimed directly at the off-road enthusiast, even in such a diminutive platform. The 30.5 degree approach angle paired to the 34.3 degree departure angle are unrivaled by anything in the small SUV segment and best many of the auto industry’s off-road inspired vehicles. The 19-inch water fording depth is also a class leader. The 8.7-inches of ground clearance is only matched by the Subaru Crosstrek, and while articulation is clearly limited, suspension travel is a respectable 8.1-inches.

The Trailhawk Renegade also feature’s Jeep’s Selec-Terrain system with settings for: Auto, Snow, Sand, Mud, and Rock. The 4-Low mode, available only on the Trailhawk, provides a 20:1 crawl ratio, again something not offered anywhere else in the small SUV market. Other off-road inspired features include full strength tow hooks front and rear as well as skid-plates in critical areas. The Hill-Descent Control feature, something oft under-used, is poised and effective, not displaying the jerkiness that afflicts other systems.

 

IMG_9566 - Version 2

 

Features and options

In an effort to deliver on the authenticity of the Jeep experience, the designers wanted to offer drivers the open-air feel of the Wrangler. The Renegade’s MySky roof system consists of two panels which can be opened to reveal two large roof apertures for a near-convertable feel. The upper end MySky system includes an electronically retracted front panel. When fully removed, both MySky panels fit in a dedicated soft case in the cargo area and consume considerably small storage space. There’s even WiFi availability to make optimal use of Jeep’s Uconnect system for wireless calls and information access.

 

Screen Shot 2015-01-22 at 3.11.57 PM

 

Interior appointments

Slipping into the Limited Renegade wrapped in leather and festooned with high quality materials, it is impossible not to commend Jeep’s designers for a job well done. Available with heated seats and wheel, as well as advanced technologies like lane assist and sat-nav, the Renegade is extremely comfortable. Interior room is surprisingly generous with good visibility at all corners. The instrument cluster features a full-color 7-inch display, and all of the vents and controls feel properly placed and solid. The use of hard and soft touch materials adds nice contrast with the faux-anodized accents bolstering the aesthetic refinements.

 

Screen Shot 2015-01-22 at 3.11.27 PM

Screen Shot 2015-01-22 at 3.11.08 PMScreen Shot 2015-01-22 at 3.11.42 PMScreen Shot 2015-01-22 at 3.10.57 PM

 

 

Pricing

With a base price of just $17,999, the Sport will draw in many first-time new car buyers, but it is the 4×4 Latitude at $23,295 that will likely be the strong mover. The luxuriously appointed Limited starts at $26,795 although the fully loaded Limited I tested with all the bells and whistles clocked in at over $33,000. The Trailhawk, only available in 4×4, starts at $25,995 but again, the model I tested was considerably more at over $32,000 with considerable options added to the ticket.

 

 

 

First Drive Impressions

On the road: In the two-hour drive to the off-road course by way of serpentine mountain roads, the 1.4-liter turbocharged Renegade with the 6-speed manual gearbox proved to be extremely fun and sporty to drive. Body roll was modestly noticeable, but the car was confidently planted, even as the tires howled. The manual changer is the same used in the Dodge Dart, but according to the engineers, was improved specifically for the Renegade to offer smoother transitions. The clutch has a nice fluid feel with good feedback, a comfortable throw, and worked well off-road. Road noise was minimal, and thanks to the Koni Frequency Selective Damping front and rear struts, was compliant but firm when necessary. The Renegade surprised almost everyone in the press corps with it’s nimble and comfortable road manners. It’s no Grand Cherokee, but then again, it doesn’t aspire to be.

 

Off-road: With dozens of journalists all taking laps around the off-road course in the California hills, few if any, returned unimpressed by the Renegade Trailhawk’s off-road prowess. Easy to drive, even with one or two wheels wagging in the air, the Trailhawk bested terrain that at first blush seemed like JK turf. The wide stance, short wheelbase, and very adept traction control system made short work of modest obstacles. If you’re a Renegade skeptic, and I wouldn’t fault you for being one, nothing I report here will likely convince you that this little off-roader is as good as it is. But, just know that nearly everyone that got behind the wheel was stunned by how well it did in the dirt.

 

IMG_9571

 

Of Lifts and Mods

This being Expedition Portal, invariably someone is going to chime in and ask about fitting the Renegade with a lift and a set of giant meats. This is not a mod-mobile. That’s JK space. The designers did their best to achieve the upper end of the Renegade’s off-road performance, the Trailhawk getting a 1” lift and optimized fascia. While there was talk of potential lift options, they’d be modest at most. If you seek more off-road aptitude than can be provided by the Renegade, you should ideally look to other platforms like the Grand Cherokee, or just cut to the chase and buy a JK.

 

Screen Shot 2015-01-22 at 3.13.16 PM

 

The final verdict

There’s much to like about the Renegade––if you accept it for what it is. It handles well on the road, does even better off-road, all while sipping fuel and providing a fun and comfortable driving experience. The pricing is competitive and the styling is arguably less controversial than that of the Cherokee. In an effort to make the Renegade undeniably Jeep-ish, they may have gone overboard with the branding. The interior is littered with logos and call-outs to remind drivers they are in a Jeep.

Two things about the Renegade seem inevitable. First, it will undoubtably be a global success. Secondly, ardent fans of the Wrangler and its storied legacy will recoil every time they see a Renegade on the road, or worse, on the trail. However, taken for what is and the niche it’s supposed to serve, it’s a great little rig.

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VStrom 1000: Modifications and Mid-Term Reviewhttp://expeditionportal.com/vstrom-1000-modifications-and-mid-term-review/ http://expeditionportal.com/vstrom-1000-modifications-and-mid-term-review/#comments Fri, 23 Jan 2015 03:33:36 +0000 http://expeditionportal.com/?p=25598 Time really does fly. It seems like just yesterday we were handed the keys to our long-term Suzuki V-Strom 1000, but in reality, it was almost half a year ago. Fortunately, that has afforded us ample time on this new machine, using it on rides big and small to get to know how it truly measures up.

 

Although the stock bike we received in June was nicely appointed and ready to rumble as we rolled it out the doors of Suzuki USA’s HQ, we felt it needed a handful of subtle modifications to genuinely prepare it for the adventures we had in mind. Before we installed the first farkle, we did have a defined plan in place.

 

Because the highly revamped 2014 V-Strom entered the market hoping to hang its hat on the value hook, it seemed inappropriate to then slather the poor thing in thousands of dollars worth of add-ons. In keeping the modifications modest, we were also determined to make them as functional as possible. Starting with tires and protection, we went with a blend of factory and aftermarket parts.

 

IMG_9384

 

The after image with the tires and guards in place gives the bike the visual attributes it sorely needed.

IMG_5229

 

Bone stock at $12,000 the V-Strom is a great bike, but nowhere near ready for off-road riding of any kind.

 

Mitas MC60 Tires Front and Rear

Although the stock road-biased tires made quick and fun work of our local mountain roads, they were by no means up to the task of tackling our preferred dirt tracks. Seeing another opportunity to test the latest offering from Mitas, we installed a pair of MC60s and the results have been remarkable. The Mitas tires gave the V-Strom sure footing in the ugliest terrain, and although the road manners are obviously altered, the MC60 does pair to the tarmac with good handling and feedback. I noticed they didn’t have the peculiar break-over that plagues some knobbies when coaxed hard into a lean. Stability at the upper reaches of the speedometer reveal modest fluidity but not nearly enough to cause concern. We acquired our Mitas tires through Twisted Throttle. twistedthrottle.com

 

IMG_9439 - Version 2

 

Protection

It’s safe to say a lot of factory crash bars seem to lack substance, but such cannot be said of Suzuki’s factory option. In fact, they might be a tad overdone, at least in sheer weight. They are heavy. If there’s anything to improve on other than the heft, it might be with the lack of coverage higher up on the tank where damage might prove to be most expensive. Early reports from within the industry’s press corp reported significant damage, even in modest tip-overs, and though not having done so ourselves, we can see how that could be very true.

 

IMG_9449IMG_9488

 

For lower protection of the engine we went with Touratech’s aluminum skid plate. Because the V-Strom’s oil filter hangs out in front of the engine like an Adam’s apple waiting for a karate chop, it simply had to be shielded before we went off-tarmac. If there is anything to be said of the skid plate, it would have to be with regard to its supremely snug fit. In an effort to not compromise ground clearance, the skid plate hugs the engine with minimal room to spare. Although it would take one spine shattering event to cause the skid plate to impact the engine, it does seem plausible. For that reason, I like to think of the skid plate as a guard against rock strikes.

 

IMG_9455

 

Even with the full coverage front fender, something that may have to be removed in the immediate future, we opted to install a small Touratech radiator guard to protect against stone damage. The only other protection we added was a pair of Touratech hand guards. It might be necessary to improve on the brawn of those guards with something more substantial.

Other minor but important farkles included Touratech’s wider all-metal pegs and a locking GPS mount for our Garmin 660LM. Beyond that, we occasionally fit the bike with an Enduristan tank bag, as well as Kriega and Giant Loop soft luggage. If we add anything in the coming weeks, it might be a luggage rack for more gear fitment options and perhaps auxiliary lights for better visibility.

 

IMG_9461

 

Mid-Term Ride Impressions

Shortly after receiving the V-Strom 1000, I set out to annotate my initial impressions with those thoughts documented in our first ride review. Six months on, I have to say many of those first impressions hold true. The new V-Strom is leagues ahead of its predecessor and a machine slowly closing the technical gap on bikes further up market. Is it a BMW R1200GS contender? Not by a mile, but it is far better than one might expect and priced $3,000 to $5,000 less than the upper echelon bikes on the market.

 

Pros:

  • Balance. When exiting the road and venturing into the rocks, ruts, and ledges, the V-Strom does have excellent balance and poise. Moving the bike from side to side and finding a suitable sweet spot between the bars, pegs, and seat is easily achieved. Ergonomics will always be individually influenced, but they are neutral enough to accommodate most riders. The bars might be a touch narrow for some and I truly wish they had popped for oversized bars, if for no other reason than aesthetics. The OEM bars appear to be plucked from a kid’s bicycle.
  • Power. Inevitably, someone is going to stick this bike with a witty barb and accuse it of being underpowered at just 99hp. This has less to do with the V-Strom itself, but more a matter of developments outside of Suzuki, namely with the KTM 1190 and BMW R1200GS which now crank out massive ponies, likely more than anyone will ever need. In my opinion, the V-Strom 1000 scoots along just fine.
  • Seat. It seems Suzuki really made an effort to do their best with seat comfort, even going so far as to fit the sides of the seat with a texturized material for added durability and grip. The step up to the pillion seat is well positioned, and even for 5-8 hour rides has been adequately comfortable.
  • Wind Protection. There has been a little bit of differing of opinions on this score and it has everything to do with rider height and size. At a bit over 6 feet tall, I have a short torso and find the adjustable windscreen is just fine, whereas my taller cohorts have felt more head buffeting than they would prefer.

 

IMG_9475

 

Cons:

  • The 2014 V-Strom marks Suzuki’s first foray into Traction Control, and while it is a noble first effort, and might have hit the mark for paved saves, it really does struggle on the dirt. When throttling through bumps and chatter at speed, the TC seems confounded if not a tad violent. The whole experience is jerky, nervous, clanky, and at times wholly counter productive. At slower speeds in more technical terrain, the TC works no better and is best switched off, something easily achieved with the left thumb control.
  • The non-switchable ABS is another niggle, although removal of a fuse under the seat can deactivate the system. I will say the ABS works much better than the TC in the dirt.
  • Ground Clearance. At only 6.5-inches, the ground clearance isn’t terrible, but it is worthy of attention when entering troublesome terrain. The 6.3-inches of suspension travel also makes forays into the dirt not impossible, but rider’s will have to keep a keen eye on line selection and ride with restraint. There’s not much there to overcome your poor judgment should you challenge terrain beyond the ‘Strom’s design parameters.

photo 5

 

Other thoughts:

  • It’s a minor grouse, but I do wish Suzuki had added cruise control to their new electronic throttle. I also find that throttle to be a bit twitchy, something that causes me to place unusual concentration on my off-road throttle management.
  • Fuel efficiency has been favorable with our 6-month average at roughly 44 mpg.
  • Some critics have lambasted the new engine for having lack luster top end performance. There is a significant fall-off of power at the upper reaches of the revs, but nothing that I would file in the fault column.

 

Conclusions thus far:

 

Overall, I tend to find the V-Strom as a superb on-road performer, but given a few minor shortcomings, won’t best the best of the bigger bikes in the dirt. Once off-road, it’s not bad by any stretch. If your riding is primarily cordoned to gravel roads, mild off-road tracks, and other modest routes, the V-Strom will tackle those scenarios with confidence inspiring aptitude. Other reviews have made it sound as if only those with a death wish would even venture onto gravel, but I feel that’s complete hooey.

 

Fortunately, we still have more time with the V-Strom 1000 and plan to put it to more ambitious endeavors. We’ll also hand it over to our in-house hooligan, Scott Brady, who has made it his hobby to find the upper limits of off-road motorcycle performance. Until then, I’m off on another ride atop this great machine.

 

About the tester: Christophe Noel

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I have been riding motorcycles continuously since getting my license and a Honda Nitehawk in 1988. However the bulk of that time, like many riders, has been on good old pavement. Although I have worked hard over the last few years to hone my off-road and “big bike” riding chops, I still consider myself in command of rather average adventure bike riding skills. When evaluating adventure bikes, I feel my understanding of motorcycle technology and designed, paired to my riding skills of the every-man, keeps my opinions balanced and as objective as possible. There’s no bravado here. A humble rider’s opinions is what I strive to offer.

 

 

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Overlanding: Five things you might be doing wronghttp://expeditionportal.com/overlanding-five-things-you-might-be-doing-wrong/ http://expeditionportal.com/overlanding-five-things-you-might-be-doing-wrong/#comments Thu, 22 Jan 2015 07:34:32 +0000 http://expeditionportal.com/?p=25525 Over the last several years, the Expedition Portal team has watched as the overlanding audience has evolved, not just in the volume of participants, but with regard to how people travel overland. We have watched as countless newcomers become seasoned adventurers, their skills honed with the passing of every mile. There are however, some who still struggle. What are they doing wrong? Here are five things many overlanders don’t always get right.

 

Going Unprepared: This could be as egregious as not packing the necessary recovery gear for a difficult off-road epic, or simply forgetting to bring along enough water. Knowing precisely what to bring, and how much of it, is something best learned from experience, and hopefully not the hard way. The takeaway here is––bad things happen. The solution: Make a list. Dream up as many unfortunate scenarios as you can, then assemble the gear and skills necessary to overcome those setbacks should they arise. Start with the obvious elements like first aid and recovery gear. Then refine your list to how many cans of Pringles you’ll need for those snack attacks that hit mid day.

 

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You could argue that proper preparation includes the necessary driver training for overland travel on difficult terrain.

 

Taking too much stuff: If going with too little gear is problematic, don’t think for a minute that taking too much is a lesser offense. While it’s tempting to take the glamping concept to new levels, cramming every inch of your available storage space with the latest widgets does come at a cost, primarily fuel costs. A heavily laden vehicle consumes more fuel than a modestly loaded truck, something to consider the more protracted your journeys become. Copious amounts of gear also adversely impact handling and can even compromise the safety of the vehicle’s occupants. Lastly, setting up a camp replete with tables, chairs, shower rooms, solar panels, and all of the other trappings of a comfortable camp takes up more than just storage space, but a great deal of effort. Sometimes simple camp living is the way to go, particularly if you break camp daily. The solution: On your next trip, take an inventory of the things you think you could do without. You might be surprised you don’t need those things.

 

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Destination-itis: Many overlanders get fixated on completing a big traverse, an ambitious circumnavigation, or some other travel objective. Although cliches are loathsome things, the trite phrase, “the journey is the destination,” does ring true. I recently spoke with an overlander who spent 15 days driving from San Diego to Prudhoe Bay, Alaska and back. It was a commendable achievement, but he admitted he didn’t see much outside of the view afforded by his windshield. He conceded that with his limited time, he would have been better off exploring a smaller area of Alaska in more intimate detail. The solution: Just be aware that when connecting point A to point B, there are often many interesting things to see and do along the way. Things that might even be more compelling than the target destination.

 

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Having but not doing: We’re all aware of the scenario. An eager overlander spends all of their time, energy, and precious funds building a stunning overland truck, only to have it rot in the driveway. There is no denying that the build process is fun, and undoubtedly necessary for some travels, but should the process of creating the ideal adventure mobile come at the cost of the adventure itself, what’s the point? The solution: Put the experience of overlanding first. Buy what you need as you genuinely need it. For the price of a bumper you may not really need, you could travel for a week. Overlanding should be about experiences above acquisitions.

 

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Not going overlanding: It would be impossible to catalog all of the valid life challenges that conspire to keep the would-be overlander homebound. One of the more common reasons overlanders miss opportunities to get away is simply a matter of taking the time to do so. For some overlanders, they postpone trips because they’re waiting to finally install that next vehicle modification they always wanted. Others delay getting away because they’re saving up for that multi-week expedition they always wanted to tackle. The solution: Overlanding isn’t always about crossing continents. Take the weekend and explore your backyard. The more frequently you go, the easier it is to, well, go more frequently. Pack your gear during the week and be ready to charge out the door on Friday.

 

You could do a lot worse in life if the above missteps are the only things you’re doing incorrectly. However, if you heed these small unsolicited words of advice, you’ll find you go overlanding more often, come home more satisfied, and go more frequently.

 

There’s certainly nothing wrong with that.

 

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Field Tested: ICON 1000 Akorp Jackethttp://expeditionportal.com/field-tested-icon-1000-akorp-jacket/ http://expeditionportal.com/field-tested-icon-1000-akorp-jacket/#comments Wed, 21 Jan 2015 07:10:46 +0000 http://expeditionportal.com/?p=25443 Let’s start with the facts: ICON 1000’s Akorp Jacket is fitted with an adjustable waist and constructed with a Highland coated canvas chassis. You stay safe with the CE level 2 certified D30 removable back protector, and CE certified shoulder and elbow impact protectors. The armor has a little room to travel so they tend to slide around. This is an easy fix with a stitch to prevent the elbows pads from moving outside of the desired location. Initially they’re a little stiff in cold weather, but mold to you with the warmth of your body. Oh! A word of advice: always hang your Akorp on the wide shouldered hanger they provide, if not one similar in width. I learned the hard way that stiff, cold D30 can only bend around a thin hanger under its weight for so long… then snaps in half. Ever stylish, ICON 1000 uses 1.33mm Brazilian cowhide overlays that give the garment a more patchwork apocalyptic feel – which I believe was the intention. And I’m a sucker for “apocalyptic” anything!

 

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Since receiving my shiny red Akorp in August, it has literally become my uniform. I recently had to obtain a another ICON jacket just so I could mix it up a bit! This signature costume of mine has accompanied me through every obstacle that I’ve breezed, buzzed and trudged through. My Akorp has seen the tall mountain ridges and muddy roads of the Pacific Northwest – not to mention, torrential downpours. It fared well for what it is: a dry-weather, light drizzle, all-over town type of riding jacket. When it traveled with me through California, Baja, Nevada and Arizona, its condition and function were excellent! It even accompanied me on the infamous Barstow-to-Vegas dual sport ride this past year, saving my skin again and again as I’d land on my face, or my back or my shoulders… The Akorp did as it should: protect me.

 

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On the more comfortable side of things: the detachable liner is sufficiently thermal on brisk rides and can be made more so with the addition of warm layers. In hot sticky weather, the Akorp has zippers to allow air into your sleeves at the wrists. I often unzip the jacket just below my collarbone, and that’s usually enough to get airflow to my torso. Other features I love are the many, many pockets – some zipped, others with buttons and magnets. The color is brilliant and as it wears the jacket becomes even more handsome (I wear my scars with pride! – so to speak). What I’ve discovered over time were small charms, secret compartments and interesting sayings hidden throughout the jacket. ICON 1000’s attention to detail is endearing and unique, and finding these accents and accoutrements is like finding little gifts left behind by your loved ones. It alters the purpose of buying a garment for protection, trend or practicality.

 

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The Akorp may not be American-made, but the quality is American-standard. There are few motorcycle jacket manufacturers of similar production value at the same cost. We had a beer with the Marketing Director recently and he passionately divulged ICON 1000’s motives. They’re not making gear to suit just one kind of group, or be the most expensive, or flashy, or even the most popular. They’re here to make quality gear for those who would otherwise overlook it for the sake of fashion or skimp on caliber because of price. From the invincible, speed-crazed street riders to the Adventure Riding ATGATT’s, ICON 1000 wants people to find whatever sort of protective wear they need in one place. The intention is to assure each motorcyclist receives the craftsmanship they paid for in a style that’s distinctly theirs. Whether your focus is on the look, the quality, the function or the value, ICON 1000’s Akorp Jacket has you covered.

 

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Tracing Australia’s Remote Qld/NT Borderhttp://expeditionportal.com/tracing-australias-remote-qldnt-border/ http://expeditionportal.com/tracing-australias-remote-qldnt-border/#comments Tue, 20 Jan 2015 07:07:30 +0000 http://expeditionportal.com/?p=25458 Standing on the crest of a raw red dune I was straining my eyes to catch a glimpse – any glimpse, no matter how small – of a marker or post that indicated the present day border of the Northern Territory and Queensland. We were just under 113km (exactly 70 miles) directly north of Poeppel Corner, where the borders of South Australia, Northern Territory and Queensland come together in the sea of sand that is the Simpson Desert.

Over 120 years ago when Augustus Poeppel (pronounced Peppell) carried out his survey of the SA/Qld border and then the NT/Qld border he had supposedly marked it with a post or peg every mile and a major post every 10 mile. For the more significant Corner Post he had a 7-foot long post cut from a coolibah tree on the Mulligan River flats some 100km east and dragged to its resting place by camel.

 

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A short time later Poeppel discovered his survey chain (22 yards long) was stretched by over an inch, so the last section of the SA/Qld border was re-surveyed by a young Larry Wells, Poeppel’s 2IC. He placed the corner post in its current position in 1884, near the crest of a sand ridge just to the east of what we now call, Poeppel Lake.

 

 

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A Poeppel 1880

 

Next seen by Ted Colson in 1936 when he crossed the desert on camels, the post was recovered by Reg Sprigg and his family when they made the first vehicular crossing of the Simspon Desert in 1962 – it now resides with the History Trust in SA. The replica that stands at the corner today is visited by nearly every Simpson Desert traveller, which number about 4000 or more every year!

The border line we were following north though, doesn’t exactly follow the 138th Meridian of Longitude as Poeppel and his men had been instructed. Because of the relatively poor standard of the survey equipment of the day the border post, even after Wells’ re-positioning, was still out by modern mapping standards by about 110m, while the error is around 330 metres at the Gulf. But the border, as marked, is what is still recognised today – a High Court and then a Privy Council decision back at the turn of the 20th Century, regarding the South Australian-Victorian border, set the seal on any similar dispute – but that’s another story!

 

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Three historic Pics from State Library of South Australia, Larry Wells & members of Calvert Expedition 1896

 

 

We had found one border marker (a star picket) from the re-survey carried out in 1986 and beside it what we believed was the remains of an original post.  Now we were looking for the 70-Mile peg and we could guess, from the vast burnt out area we were then travelling through, that there would be no chance of an original post here. It’s probably the same in all of the Simpson, although maybe a lucky, termite-resistant one still stands.

Even so the cluster of star pickets that marked the 70-Mile point was easily missed and it took a call over the UHF radio by one of our keen eyed adventurers to bring my attention to it. It was a good find and after a few pics we pushed on, happy with ourselves, across the relative smooth going of bare red sand towards any other historic point we could find in this part of the northern desert.

Four days later we were out of the desert and into a vastly different landscape of savagely hewn rock and contorted hillsides along the Nicholson River, just upstream from the well-presented Kingfisher Camp, a low-key tourist enclave on the surrounding Bowthorn Station (ranch). Earlier I had spoken to owner, and asked him about tracks further west along the border, which their pastoral lease covers and he put me straight about the country out that way.

 

03-Author @ Poeppel Corner18-Rugged limstone country like this was problem for original survey party

 

“There’s no tracks out there – you can’t even ride a horse through that rocky stuff – it’s helicopter country! He continued, “Back a few years ago the mining companies pushed a few tracks through the ranges but they haven’t been used for ages and they would be badly washed away, if they still exist!”

It was this very country that had stymied the original border survey party. By this time, Augustus Poeppel had left the group at the 324-mile peg (NW of Urandangi, in western Qld), having been blinded in one eye near the 180-mile post. His replacement was John Carruthers and under his leadership, with Larry Wells continuing as 2IC, the party had pushed steadily northwards across grassy plains. Progress was good until they were over 500 mile from their starting point in the vicinity of the Little Range on the western extremity of present day, Lawn Hill National Park. Continually repulsed by the craggy and uneven country the leaders then decided to detour around the hills and to attack the border line from the vicinity of the Nicholson River. We had done the same.

 

04-Old shot lines in Simpson Desert allow easier access

05-Cross country in Northern Simpson desert 206-Cross country in northern Simpson Desert

 

After our river sojourn at Bowthorn, where we had taken to a small tinnie to explore the section of the Nicholson River upstream from Kingfisher Camp, it was back onto the dusty tracks of the Gulf country.

The modern-day route from Kingfisher Camp meets with the main Gulf Track just north of Turn-off Lagoon, which back in the 1880s was on the Port Darwin Track used by the legendary drovers (cowboys) and other travellers of the time. It was here that the original survey party set up a new base depot to attack the border line by following the Nicholson River up stream.

After months of work they finally came out on to less rugged country to the southwest of present day Westmoreland station. A short time later they pegged the 600-mile post (about 7km south of the present day Gulf Road crossing of the NT/Qld border) – it had taken the party nine gruelling months to mark the border from the 517-mile peg.

 

11-On the road north of Camooweal-pic by M Ellem

 

When John Carruthers and Larry Wells arrived here around the 17th August 1886, Wollogorang station, which straddles the Qld/NT border was already in existence – but only just. JW Chisholm, from Goulburn, had taken up the lease over the area two years previously. Still, it wasn’t until 1883 when Henry and Frank Carne arrived with cattle and built a few rough buildings on the edge of what they called, Settlement Creek, that a permanent European outpost was established.

For our trip we stopped at the homestead to see Stuart Zlotkowski, who runs the family owned property and confirm our permission to traverse his land to the coast. With a mud map in hand we left the sprawl of buildings and took the ‘Beach Track’ north to the Gulf. Stuart’s words though were resounding in our ears, “I don’t know if you’ll get through following the border – I’ve never been there by vehicle – the last group that tried gave up after eight punctures!”

 

12-Bulldust near the border close to Urandangi- pic by M Ellem

 

We hoped we were better equipped. As it turned out we were … and luckier!

 

With instructions from Stuart of, ‘some blazed post’ we found our most impressive find of the trip. The 616-mile post blazed by the original party still stands proud and it is in such good condition that it looks like it was just done yesterday. For some reason, even though the original border party’s brief was to use a prominent post for every 10-mile mark, the 616-mile marker was the most outstanding marker we found.

We followed that find up with a nearby tree blazed by a prominent ‘W’ (for Larry Wells we assumed) and then a series of original mile posts and more blazed trees.

By now the track had became non-existent. Instead, the route north was marked by a level of grass and scrub that was lower than on both sides of what was once the cleared line of the border. The spiky scrub tore relentlessly along the sides of the vehicles and I was expecting the convoy to be called to a halt at any moment with a flat tyre, but such wasn’t the case.

 

15-Nicholson River in rugged country west of Kingfisher Camp-pic by M Ellem

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We were soon within eight kilometres of the coast and everyone was looking forward to a beachside camp, but then our luck ran out. A creek or two, then a wide mud flat that floods every Wet season and where three of our vehicles became bogged, followed by a few kilometres of near impenetrable scrub, meant it was to be another 24 hours before we got to the beach. The trail we blazed through this section giving us just an inkling of an idea of what the original surveyors had to contend with.

 

Then the call we had been waiting for came from our advance foot party, “We’ve found the main border marker just back from the beach!”

 

The last 100 metres was along a scrub-lined grassy alleyway that led to the marker, now a cement post, the original paperbark post having long decayed. We stopped briefly to take a couple of photos, to read the words ‘651 mile 57 chains’ from Poeppel Corner and the date ‘29.9.1886’, and to congratulate ourselves.

 

19-Cattle work on Wollogorang station (ranch)-pic by M Ellem

22-616-mile border post20a-Stuart Zlotkowski - owner of Wollogorang-pic by M Ellem

32-Remote Gulf beach is near always deserted

 

 

We pushed through the screen of casuarinas onto a wide sandy shore. The feeling of achievement was fantastic, even for our rather paltry effort when compared to the near three years of endeavour of the original survey party and what they must have felt.

Only Larry Wells and one other worker saw both the start and the finish of that historic endeavour to mark the 651 mile (1049km) length of the NT and Qld borders. A rather fit 23 year old Wells weighed 83kg at the start of the trip, but at the end, in testimony to the rigours he endured and somehow survived, he was down to a thin, but wiry 68kg.

After a brief ceremony to mark the completion of the line, the party left next day to retrace their steps back to the station on Settlement Creek. We did much the same!

 

23-Authors, Ron & Viv, @ 616-mile post.pic by M Ellem. jpg

 

Travellers Planner

Access across many of the properties that this trip traversed is rarely given while a trip of this magnitude demands a lot of planning and prepartion as well as properly prepared vehicles. A permit to cross the Traditional Lands of the Aboriginal people in the northern Simpson Desert is available through: http://www.direct4wd.com.au.

The closest facilities to Peoppel Corner are located at Birdsville in south-west Queensland. This small town of 190 people is the major resupply point for travellers tackling the Simpson Desert crossings.

The small community of Burketown on the Gulf and Hells Gate Roadhouse, further west are the main supply point for people travelling the Gulf Road.

 

25-Creek Xing on final push to Gulf was tidal. Larry Wells lost his dog to a croc at this crossing point! Pic by M.Ellem

 

For international travellers well set-up 4wd vehicle hire is available in all major cities in Australia as well as places such as Cairns (northern Qld) and Mt Isa (western Qld). Best places to start are Britz Rentals (www.britz.com.au) and Australia 4 wheel drive rentals (www.australia4wheeldriverentals.com).

 

 

More details can be found at Ron & Viv Moon’s website: www.guidebooks.com.au or email them at: info@guidebooks.com.au.

 

 

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Land Rover Announces Three Limited Edition Defendershttp://expeditionportal.com/land-rover-announces-three-limited-edition-defenders/ http://expeditionportal.com/land-rover-announces-three-limited-edition-defenders/#comments Mon, 19 Jan 2015 07:15:10 +0000 http://expeditionportal.com/?p=25434 Say what you will about Land Rover, you cannot deny the brand for having panache. When they wanted to test their diesel-hybrid Range Rovers, they did so by driving the length of the Silk Trail over the Himalayas. To commemorate their Continental Divide trip they repeated the journey again in their pinnacle product, the Range Rover. They crossed the Empty Quarter of Saudi Arabia in record breaking time in a Rangie Sport and the list just goes on and on.

In what some say will be a disastrous deterioration of their most iconic platform, this year marks the last for the Defender. The new iteration has yet to show itself, but we do know what the final trucks look like with three limited editions available to ring out their legendary run.

The three limited editions are offered to provide enthusiasts of the Defender choices for a classic throwback, a finely appointed wagon, and a 110 outfitted for the most emboldened adventures. It seems appropriate to let Land Rover describe these send-off trucks.

 

 

“We wanted to mark the end of Defender production at Solihull with a special edition but coming up with a single identity was impossible, so we developed three very different interpretations of the Defender to reflect its strength and breadth of character,” said Nick Rogers. “Whether our customers want to celebrate Land Rover’s unrivalled off-road heritage, demand the ultimate in terms of design and performance or have a genuine thirst for adventure, there will be a limited edition Defender that will be fit for purpose.”

 

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The exclusive Autobiography Edition promises more performance, luxury and comfort than ever before thanks to its comprehensive equipment list, unique duo-tone paintwork, full Windsor leather upholstery and a power upgrade from 122PS to 150PS. Available in the UK and Europe from April, the Autobiography Edition will be produced exclusively as a 90 Station Wagon and priced from £61,500 (€64,000)*.

 

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The Heritage Edition is inspired by early Land Rover models and mixes nostalgic design cues with modern creature comforts. It will be available in global markets and is identified by distinctive Grasmere Green paintwork and a contrasting white roof. A heritage grille and HUE 166 graphics, recalling the registration plate of the first ever pre-production Land Rover nicknamed ‘Huey’, also identify the Heritage model. It hits showrooms from August priced from £30,900 (€39,900)*.

 

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The exciting new Adventure Edition also arrives in dealerships from August. The Adventure Edition will be available in global markets and is aimed at Land Rover customers who relish the great outdoors and embrace the Defender’s ‘go anywhere, do anything’ attitude. It comes fitted with additional underbody protection and Goodyear MT/R tyres to boost the Defender’s already class-leading all-terrain capability. Unique decals and a leather-trimmed cabin ensure the Adventure Edition stands out from the Defender crowd. The Adventure Edition is priced from £38,400 (€45,900)*.

 

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Purmamarca, an argument with altitude and fabulous Fatimahttp://expeditionportal.com/purmamarca-an-argument-with-altitude-and-fabulous-fatima/ http://expeditionportal.com/purmamarca-an-argument-with-altitude-and-fabulous-fatima/#comments Sun, 18 Jan 2015 07:56:24 +0000 http://expeditionportal.com/?p=25499 Our lives six months after saying heartfelt goodbyes in old Blighty – no longer concerned themselves with mainstream matters on which the average Brit might dwell: work, bills, making some imaginative weekend play before the cycle’s put on repeat. Our affairs now involved getting from A to B under our own steam – faring through foreign lands astride two wheels in often unpredictable conditions. Risk assessment, daily contingency plans and damage limitation feature high on the daily agenda. As well, on-the-road health, our welfare in the wilderness and staying sane with each other 24/7 while riding a rollercoaster of emotions. Budget management where every purchase is a ‘considered’ one from shampoo to sprockets; wear and tear on our gear – can I live with the four finger holes in my gloves or would another patch job using dental floss extend their life a little longer? It’s a two wheeled nomadic life, which for me – I love more than yesterday, less than tomorrow. 

 

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Salta on first impression was another biggish city screaming with traffic, noise and negligent road users. We spent a sweat-soaked hour ‘hostel shopping’ to accommodate our daily lodging demands – namely a cheap bed and somewhere secure for the wheels. Despite the pretty plaza lined with colonial architecture I had still wanted to make a sharp exit on arrival.

Ruta 9 took us out of Salta onto a three to four-metre wide road, not a single track but split into two lanes for oncoming traffic. Narrow was an understatement although we cared little and less; we were riding through 30 degrees Celsius delight. The slender road snaked through a sub-tropical rainforest – it felt like we were following the frilly hem of a rah-rah skirt as we meandered through a multitude of tight twisties. All I could hear was the song of freedom that the wind sang as I fell into a pendular rhythm to its melodic tune.

There were butterflies fluttering past my face, a crested caracara lunching on a lizard and a sparkling lake tucked off the main drag. We parked under the spreading arms of an ancient tree making a perfect picnic spot for our midday munch. It was not always but that day was a charmed one.

 

Salta to Purma3Salta to Purma 4

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Purmamarca we pronounced as ‘permanent marker’ was no broader than the tip of one. As a flyspeck town, it sat against Cerro de los Siete Colores – the Hill of Seven Colours, which can only be described as a jagged rock formation resembling the marzipan fantasy of an over-zealous cake baker. The village makes its coin by the congruent rainbow of colours interlaced through woven goods and handicrafts on offer. You could buy anything from a hat, poncho and slippers with a matching boho handbag. A straggle of ochre adobe houses and age-old algarrobo trees next to a bijou 17th century church surrounded the hubbub of the central plaza.

 

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The place was bustling with hordes of holiday-makers, although we found our own personal snuggery for the night away from the droves. Ensconced within the heart of the seven coloured hill, we chanced upon a local guy whose beret barely covered his shock of black hair. He was somewhere in his fifties, placidly looked up with enquiring eyes while tending his four horses. This guy was unhurried in and unruffled by life. Some revealing chitchat later, we were cooking on the stove, sharing our coffee with Pedro and his two young apprentices with permission to stay over on private land. We laid out only the sleeping bags for a starry night’s sleep. Our wheels had won us the jackpot, yet again.

My ears the next morning popped to the sound of corn kernels bursting open. We surpassed 4,000 metres. It wasn’t Everest although I was still light headed and short of breath between jumping in and out of the saddle to take pictures. The day ended somewhere off ruta 9 in the region of Jujuy at a spit and sawdust settlement, Susques. We joined the road workers at an unmarked café and chowed down a meal for less than three dollars. Bargain beaut.

Our day from Susques on ruta 52 had started at a raw -7 degrees. In fact the morning saw our coldest day yet in the coolest of sunshine. Moreover we were riding at around 50 miles per hour, which further lowered the unforgiving temperature courtesy of the wind chill. The day previous, we’d been slathering on sun cream, wearing the minimal of clothing. I simply didn’t think ahead and dressed according to balmy breezes and a warm window of sun.

I confess, after an hour or two riding in sub-zero temperatures, I was running low on heat reserves. Wearing a face etched in anguish, I was cold as ice clad in goose bumps, every breath laboured. My hands were turning a purply shade of blue with a white band across my knuckles and joints where blood had taken its leave. I was starting to shiver uncontrollably while trying to fight my inner ‘ginger whinger’ rearing her ugly head. It was no good. I pulled over stiff as stone to warm my fingers on my motorcycle’s exhaust, but not before letting myself wallow in a pitiful but cathartic cry.

 

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My affinity with the climbing altitude left much and more to be desired; I guess peaking our ride at 4,800 metres was pretty high, almost on a par to Everest’s base camp. My heart was punching out every heartbeat, I felt fatigued and my skull was pounding in what felt like an expanding head. Get this helmet off! My weep was worth it. With the mini-thunderstorm on my face over, I glugged down my grogginess with water and drank in the vista before me.

The low sandy hills were all soft lines and gentle curves in calming hues of dusky pink, salmon and peach. They sat serenely on the outskirts beneath a perfect blue sky unblemished by not a whisper of cloud. It was a visual banquet that seemed to keep further brushes with altitude sickness or hypothermic symptoms at bay – although wriggling into additional layers on which I could quickly lay my hands helped.

We re-entered Chile for the umpteenth time on ruta 27, destination: San Pedro de Atacama. The day’s misadventure had passed and it gradually got warmer as the afternoon wore on.

Rolling into San Pedro de Atacama was a whopping 30 degrees higher than the morning’s rude start. I looked ahead to the oasis town but on my left spotted volcano Lickancabur – not too difficult to miss at just under 6,000 metres – which if carved down the middle, one half belonged to Chile the other Bolivia. The town itself was a bohemian jewel in the desert. Geared up for the day-tripper yes but it still retained something special and pocket-sized about the place. I liked it instantly.

 

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Fatima warmly greeted us on arrival at Hostel Tuygasto. What a sweet natured, well-informed and helpful lady. Not comfortable until she had: given me a tour of the premises, ensuring I knew how the oven worked, the best way to manage the tricky door lock and the best setting from the hot shower tap, was she at ease. She thanked me for early payment with a receipt, gestured if I had any questions waiting with patient eyes for my response and resumed her cleaning duties around the hostel’s courtyard. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d been accorded with such courtesies. She was nine years old! I could not have been more astonished if John Lennon had come along juggling lemon pies. I adored children like her, she melted my heart in half a beat and it didn’t take more than a thimble of sense to realise why – her father exuded a gentle bonhomie about a happy aura as well.

 

You can follow Lisa Morris’ offbeat travel tales at www.twowheelednomad.com

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Driving Skills: Maximizing Tractionhttp://expeditionportal.com/driving-skills-maximizing-traction/ http://expeditionportal.com/driving-skills-maximizing-traction/#comments Sat, 17 Jan 2015 07:23:54 +0000 http://expeditionportal.com/?p=25520 Not every truck, like the Land Cruiser pictured above, is fitted with locking differentials or advanced traction control systems. The experts at Team O’Neil have the off-road driving acumen to hopefully overcome the situations where open differentials could present a significant challenge.

 

From Team O’Neil:

 

“Driving a fairly stock vehicle in off-road situations can be a challenge, but even a completely unprepared vehicle can get through some pretty extreme situations with the right planning and techniques.  One of the main things to keep in mind is that with open differentials, power will be fed to only one wheel (the one with less traction) when the vehicle starts to get stuck… The key here is to use a few simple tricks to get the vehicle moving forward again.

 

1. Only keep the wheels spinning at a reasonable rate, adding a massive amount of throttle when you’re only a bit hung up will dig the spinning tires down into the earth, creating bigger holes which are harder to get out of, and compromise your ground clearance, possibly even high-centering the vehicle. Slight, steady gas is the best.

 

2. Straighten the steering wheel completely. This will give the front tires the least amount of rolling resistance, and is often enough to get the car moving forward again.  Straightening the wheel also gives the front differential its best chance of feeding power to both front tires, effectively locking the front end and pulling you out of the mess you’re in.

3. Saw the wheel.  Moving the steering quickly back and forth from about 9 o’clock to 3 o’clock repeatedly will do several things that might help:  It will shift the weight of the vehicle back and forth from one side to the other, possibly forcing one of the spinning tires down onto some traction.  It may also trick the front differential into feeding power to alternating front tires as you steer, pulling you forward.  It also tends to clear mud or snow out of the way of your front tires, basically your tires having the same effect as a windshield wiper or a salmon swimming upstream.

 

4. Steer back and forth slowly from one side to the other, from almost full-lock one way to almost full-lock the other way.  This may be enough to force the front differential to alternate power.  Also, you may just be stuck on a stump or rock right in front of your tire, and this will steer you around such unseen obstacles.  Whenever possible, steer whichever way is downhill, gravity may give you the slight boost that you need to get moving.  Avoid full-lock on the steering, this is where axles are at their weakest and most likely to fail.

 

 

 

5. Back out, rock the vehicle, landscape, or recover the vehicle if necessary.  Your only other last-ditch option would be to left foot brake while on the power to stop the spinning tires and force the differentials to lock, but in most stock vehicles there’s a significant risk of breaking a diff completely, shearing an axle, or breaking a u-joint or CV.”

 

 

Learn more about Team O’Neil and how to become a better driver: teamoneil.com

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