Expedition Portal http://expeditionportal.com Fri, 28 Nov 2014 17:25:49 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.0 Landcruising Adventure: The Essentials – Recovery Gearhttp://expeditionportal.com/landcruising-adventure-the-essentials-recovery-gear/ http://expeditionportal.com/landcruising-adventure-the-essentials-recovery-gear/#comments Fri, 28 Nov 2014 08:36:50 +0000 http://expeditionportal.com/?p=24135 Meet Karin-Marijke, Coen and their Toyota Land Cruiser BJ45, on the road in Asia and South America since 2003. They are often characterized as the slowest overlanders in the world but for them it’s all about staying in places and connecting with people. The following is just one of many informative and entertaining posts from their beautiful website: landcruisingadventure.com

 

The Essentials – Recovery Gear

After having been on the road for eleven years, I figured it would be a good time to reflect on our essentials in the recovery gear department.

Before starting our adventure we had to take decisions on what to bring. Our choices were facilitated by the fact that we didn’t have the financial resources to buy all the fancy gadgets out there on the 4×4 market.

The Land Cruiser came equipped with a winch so we bought some tow straps, d-ring shackles and a snatch-block for it. I tried to source some secondhand sand ladders on Ebay, but didn’t succeed since we were not going to fork out $130 a piece, especially since we were not going to travel to the Sahara. Instead we bought a hi-lift, a second-hand shovel and a small axe.
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As we grew from rookies into professional overlanders and experiences piled up, we discarded disused tools and acquired new stuff. Today these are our essentials (in random order) for wandering off the map. Without these we would feel not confident to enter that muddy forest trail or check out that way too-soft-sandy beach. Correct that: at least without the first three mentioned below, we would have been in serious trouble.

No matter what gear, it helps we drive a reliable, high-clearance 4×4 vehicle. Please understand this: the items mentioned are personal choices and region dependant. Not every overlander needs them. We just want to share how these tools have helped us to explore off-the-beaten tracks.

 

1 – Hi-Lift

 

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The Hi-Lift Jack is a mechanical device that is not hampered by electrical shortcomings such as an electrical winch. The thing that struck me most is that the few times we needed to winch a car out of the mud was that the vehicle was so deep in that it didn’t move an inch. Even pulling with two vehicles and two winches didn’t do the job.

We took the Hi-Lift, lifted the car’s differentials out of the mud, stuck some wood underneath the tires, and nudged the vehicle out of the bog with a tow strap.

No doubt that there are enough other situations where a winch would do the job. We’ve seen our share of stunning performances during the Rainforest Challenge in Malaysia.

Three important points:

  • Does your vehicle (or the one you’re rescuing) have enough lifting points on your chassis or bumper?
  • It is wise to carry a plate to put underneath the hi-lift. This way you prevent your hi-lift from going deeper into the soft soil instead of lifting up the vehicle. No doubt there exist fancy accessories; we carry a simple aluminum 30×20 cms plate.
  • Keep the hi-lift clean and the moving parts creased. How I know? We once got stuck and I spent an hour on cleaning the rusty tool before we could use it again.

 

2 – Shovel

 

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Initial uses of the shovel:

  • To dig a latrine when camping somewhere for a longer period of time.
  • To move hot coals from a fire for a BBQ.

However, that changed when we got in some serious trouble and got stuck in deep mud in South East Asia. I lifted the Land Cruiser in the rear with the hi-lift while Karin-Marijke used the shovel to free the wheels so we could get some wood under them.

No matter the effort, the mud holes kept filling up with muddy water until a local showed us how to dig a narrow gutter to channel out the water. Hey, we all have to learn, don’t we? Simple but brilliant.
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The shovel proved an interesting challenge as sits on the bonnet. As a result it is always exposed to the elements. The wood rotted away even after I sanded the handle a few times and applied good layers of lacquer. The result: needing the shovel in the middle of nowhere and the shaft breaking in two.

 

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When we needed to replace the wooden handle for the third time, I searched for tropical hardwood but didn’t succeed. The mechanics of Platinado in Manaus upgraded it to a custom-made, aluminium shaft and handle. A solution for life.

 

3 – Saw

 

Experience has shown that the above-mentioned items will generally get us out of precarious situations. However, both are useful when getting stuck in soil. Sometimes the challenge lies somewhere else: a fallen tree across the trail, or low-hanging branches that are too thick and heavy to be pushed over the Land Cruiser’s roof.
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We left the Netherlands with a cheap axe. It was practical to make kindle wood with but not so much to cut thick branches, let alone a trunk. Already in Greece the axe got replaced by a curved machete that served us well for a long time. However, I was limited when building campfires and wanting a saw to cut thicker pieces of wood. But then, where do you pack away a saw?

In Salta, Argentina we met Dominic and Diane from Canada who traveled with a T3 Westy. Dom showed me a neat, folding saw and I was sold. Of course, I still needed to battle Karin-Marijke objections in her role financial director and inventory keeper, but I succeeded and she has often admitted that this has been a good investment.
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This saw packs nifty and small. You can unfold into a full-size, triangular-shaped bucksaw in a trice, and you can easily operate it by one hand. It is made of aluminium and so it weighs almost nothing yet feels extremely robust. The blade does not warp as easily as other, similar bow-saws.

 

Not Essential, But Boosting Confidence

With the knowledge that we have gathered on our journey, the above-mentioned gears are the ones we would buy were we to start all over again. The hi-lift and shovel are attached to the outside of the Land Cruiser and the saw takes minimal packing space. All three are relatively inexpensive and light yet they have gotten us out of tricky situations.

Having said that, the following items do enhance a feeling of security and no doubt increase the possibilities of getting us out. We would not have bought them on our own but are very fortunate to have friends around the globe who gave them to us.

 

Winch

Winches come in a few varieties [electrical, hydraulic, mechanical] but all share the same basic characteristics of being costly and heavy. With the age of synthetic lines you can save on the weight but still you have to dig deep into your pockets. An interesting detail about winches: it is often of use to help others get unstuck. But hey, that may help you get karma points, or it can simply be fun and rewarding to help someone else.

 

Our Land Cruiser came with a Ramsey winch, which turned out to be defunct. As we result we we found other ways to get the vehicle unstuck:

  • Using the hi-lift.
  • Asking for a tractor with driver in a nearby village (Guyana).
  • Asking fellow 4×4 drivers during rallies in Suriname.

4×4 Service Valkenburg and Warn pulled it off to get a brand-new XD9000 to us in Bolivia to replace our defunct Ramsey. Thanks guys! We look forward to putting it into practice.

 

Sand-ladders

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Because we planned to drive to Asia, we took a 4×4 training focused on traversing mud rather than dunes and deserts [read about it here]. I didn’t feel the need to buy expensive aluminium sand-ladders or the less-expensive but heavy, military-steel sand-ladders.

 

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We started missing sand-ladders even though we stayed away from sandy areas: rickety bridges. In Asia as well as in the Amazon we have regularly wished for sand-ladders to guarantee a safe crossing of heavily damaged bridges.

 

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Over the years there have been many developments in the 4×4 sector with an increase in lightweight products that mimic the characteristics of the original sand-ladder. One stands out in particular: the Maxtrax. Thank you, Benjamin for donating a set.

 

 

Last but not least: Compressor

While the terrain hasn’t been rough enough to test the winch, we have extended our boundaries of unpaved, sandy roads thanks to a simple purchase: a compressor.

For years we didn’t bother, not realizing that in fact it was holding us back in some areas. Sometimes we wanted to air down the tires but didn’t because we had no clue to as when we’d be able to inflate them again even though terrain might demand it.
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We changed our mind when at one time, in Brazil, we couldn’t drive up a seemingly easy but sandy slope. We were terribly annoyed and actually felt defeated. “That’s it,” we both concluded, and on the first possible occasion I bought a compressor in a local hardware store. It is a bit slow but does the job.

Note that you don’t need a compressor to get you out of a tight spot. We use it to get the tires back on pressure after the off-roading, so we can drive on the asphalt again without overheating the tires.

Some Afterthought

Of course we have more gadgets in and around the Land Cruiser [read about them here], but these are our absolute favorite recovery tools that work best for us at this moment. This may change in the future. When that happens I’ll update this post. In the meantime, please use the comment section below to share what works best for you.

Note: Some product links in this post are affiliate links, which means that if you decide to shop there, we will get paid a little commission. Your price will always be the same.

 

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Just Differentials Releases Suspension Kit for Land Cruiser 100http://expeditionportal.com/just-differentials-releases-suspension-kit-for-land-cruiser-100/ http://expeditionportal.com/just-differentials-releases-suspension-kit-for-land-cruiser-100/#comments Thu, 27 Nov 2014 07:49:53 +0000 http://expeditionportal.com/?p=23774 Despite a curious lack of our own 100 Series Cruiser at the Overland International offices, we are nonetheless big fans of this world-proven platform. Always interested in new ways to improve on an already great machine, we were excited to see Just Differentials’ release of their new suspension kit. Below are the details direct from Carl Montoya:

 

The Toyota Land Cruiser 100 Series has proven to be one of the most versatile platforms of any 4×4. Used worldwide, the vehicle blends on-road handling and comfort while retaining much of its off-road capability, ruggedness and durability. However, problems arise when you want to lift the vehicle and run larger tires. Most other suspension kits simply offer shocks, torsion bars, and coils and do nothing to address the suspension geometry, cv angles etc. If you plan to lift your vehicle over 1-1.5″ the other kits available present an issue as they offer very little suspension droop, which gives a harsh ride and is hard on your shocks.

The Just Differentials Upper Control Arms (UCA’s) allow you to run the included extended length 2.5″ diameter shocks for a much better ride, resistance to fading, superior dampening and increased performance as a result of the increased suspension travel. To maintain proper angles we include a powder-coated-bolt-on diff drop kit, premium quality Old Man Emu torsion bars, and improved coil springs to match your accessory and cargo carrying needs.

This kit has been installed the Just Differentials’ 1999 100 Series Land Cruiser along with 35” tires, Nitro 4.88 gears, ARB Air Locker and much more. The vehicle is daily driven and sees 20k miles annually making it the perfect testing platform for this suspension kit as well as many other products. So far the vehicle has seen 100,000+ miles of all types of driving from daily errands and highway commuting, to rigorous mountain snow and rugged-washboard dirt roads. Not only is this the most complete off-road suspension you can buy for your 100 series, it is also one of the smoothest riding and most daily-use-friendly. This setup truly is the best of both worlds.

 

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The short-comings of OEM 100 Series IFS:
In 1998 Toyota released the all new 100 series Land Cruiser to replace its solid axle 80 series models. While providing a much smoother ride and better handling on the road, the IFS proved to be very limited in suspension travel. Most lift kits for the IFS setup simply raise the front end by means of adjusting/replacing the torsion bars which actually reduces overall down-travel. This is the result of aftermarket suspension kits only utilizing stock length shocks.

Driving over rough roads and potholes compounds this problem as the pre-loaded suspension, with fully extend shocks, has no more room for shock travel resulting in poor ride quality and premature shock failure. The only way to improve suspension travel is to run longer than stock shocks. The factory upper control arms also become a limiter as they will contact the shock body if using longer shocks. With a raised suspension height, the OEM upper ball-joint is forced to operate at an extreme angle and wider tires many times will not clear the factory upper control arms. The OEM ball-joint also has a potential to separate if a stock length shock were to break, leading to catastrophic failure of suspension, steering, and CV axle. The cost to replace one OEM upper ball-joint from Toyota, is nearly the same cost as the pair of heavy duty Uniball arms available here.

 

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The Solution:
– To solve the extreme ball joint angle of the stock arms the uniball cup is clocked to run level on vehicles with 2-3″ additional ride height.
– With the proper shock setup, this allows up to 50% increase in down travel over suspension kits that use stock length shocks.
– The arms are 100% BOLT-ON using a taper adapter to fit in the stock tapered ball-joint location in spindle. That’s right no drilling, no welding, no tapping. Arms allow for proper alignment.
– They are also fully serviceable, as the bushings and uniballs can easily be replaced. The upper bushings include zerk fittings, and each pair recommended DuPont Silicone/Teflon spray lube, for quiet squeak-free operation.
– Made in USA, TIG Welded, Chromoly DOM tubing for strength versus the flimsy OEM stamped steel arms.
– This design allows for a lower profile, thus providing additional clearance for larger tires, and/or larger/ longer shocks.
– The arms utilize a 1″ I.D. Teflon lined uniball which has been proven strong, reliable, and long lasting, for years in all areas of use from Highway, to Baja trucks and more.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Features

• Bolt on Super Deluxe Suspension Kit includes:

•-Front Torsion bars, Med-heavy load (adjustable height)

•-Progressive Rear Coil Springs for comfort and increased load capacity

•-Powder-coated 20mm Diff Drop kit

•-Front Uniball Upper Control Arm Kit

•-Extended length Radflo, King or the pinnacle ICON* Vehicle Dynamics Front and Rear Shocks (choose)

 

• Options/ Upgrades:

•-12mm Body Lift

•-Front & Rear Timbren bump stops

•-Rear Adjustable upper Control arms
-Billet Rear Adjustable lower control arms by ICON

•-Icon shocks with remote reservoir (optional compression adjusters) **ICON Preferred

 

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For more information visit Just Differentials [HERE].

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36 Hours of Adventure: Cerbat Mountainshttp://expeditionportal.com/36-hours-of-adventure-cerbat-mountains/ http://expeditionportal.com/36-hours-of-adventure-cerbat-mountains/#comments Wed, 26 Nov 2014 07:18:14 +0000 http://expeditionportal.com/?p=23811 Simultaneously in the way and out of the way, a treasure trove of abandoned mining sites, springs, camps and panoramic views across three states hides in plain sight along the CANAMEX Corridor only a few hours outside Phoenix and Las Vegas. Like most of Arizona’s “sky islands”, the juniper-covered Cerbats rise thousands of feet above the baking desert floor to reach fresh, cool mile-high air. Thanks to reliable water, the mountains are home to a variety of wildlife including bighorn sheep, bobcat, and mountain lion. The Cerbat Mountains run northwest from Kingman toward Las Vegas, and are the reason for the long southern loop through Kingman on the Vegas-Phoenix run.

Note: The first part of the loop from Big Wash Road to the Windy Point campground is easy enough a passenger car should have no issues in good weather. Shortly after the camp the trail increases to moderate difficulty as it descends through switchbacks and rock gardens back to the desert floor. From this point 4wd is recommended, and large vehicles are not advised.

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We set off from U.S. Highway 93 with three trucks and three trailers, quickly winding our way up the mountains to escape the desert heat and take in the stunning views we’d been promised. The road did not disappoint—in half an hour we were 2,600 feet higher up and ready to enjoy the sunset.

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The views from Windy Point are nothing short of amazing. In the daytime you can see clear over the Black and El Dorado mountains in Arizona and Nevada to the New York and Clark mountains in California’s Mojave Preserve. If you’re up for a little scrambling, the top of the butte is the perfect spot to take it all in.

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Not ones to break with the longstanding overlanding tradition of eating better on the trail than we do at home, veggies, spices, and sirloin were picked up in Kingman (quality beef is still amazingly inexpensive there). Key limes sliced, Coronas popped, and Appleton flowing we waited and watched as our visiting chef Troy transformed the ingredients into a gourmet meal.

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A handful of campsites rest below the buttes at Windy Point, thankfully well sheltered from the high winds rushing up from the desert below. The views continue long after the last rays of the setting sun disappear. Replacing the distant mountain vistas, the lights of nearby cities come into view: Phoenix, Parker, Kingman, Laughlin, Needles, Boulder City and of course, Las Vegas. The Luxor’s spotlight is clearly visible to the naked eye, and with a pair of binoculars you can make out the shimmering silhouette of the Stratosphere.

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Shortly after the Cherum Peak trailhead (a few hour hike to about 7,000 feet) we began the steep descent toward Chloride, Arizona’s oldest mining town. The road remains scenic as ever, but from this point cars and large vehicles should turn back: the road is easy, but steep, narrow and loose with tight switchbacks. In the distance The Mural can be seen just above town, marking the end of the final rock garden.

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Mines and springs dot the mountainside, some off side roads and some right on the main road, but most worth exploring. Be sure to carry ample water as the northwest orientation causes the sun to start baking this side of the mountain by mid morning.

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Seasonal creeks tear up the ground to form several rock gardens on the last few miles of road, offering ample opportunities for some moderate-difficulty fun. From late winter to early spring several waterfalls cascade down the side of the mountain, the largest falling hundreds of feet down a cliff near the end of the trail.

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The trail turns into road, and then pavement once more as it enters the small town of Chloride. If you can stand the heat, the small town is filled with mining relics and creative lawn art and is well worth a short walk. The saloon kitty-corner from the post office has great food, cold drinks, and is a welcome respite from the desert heat before taking on the drive home. If you enjoy the service, don’t forget to donate to the liquor license fund on your way out.

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Route Map

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Field Tested: Big Agnes Meaden DownTek Jackethttp://expeditionportal.com/field-tested-big-agnes-meaden-downtek-jacket/ http://expeditionportal.com/field-tested-big-agnes-meaden-downtek-jacket/#comments Mon, 24 Nov 2014 22:06:54 +0000 http://expeditionportal.com/?p=24059 There are certain pieces of gear I consider––essential. Being prone to wander far from the comforts of a heater, my insulation layers are often the only thing keeping me from becoming a six foot tall popsicle. One item I never leave behind is a good lightweight down jacket. If temperatures are favorable, it still finds service as a pillow, but more often than not it gets used as a morning warmer, a daytime layer, or critical backup if my sleeping bag gets chilly.

As winter set in this year, I couldn’t wait to test the Big Agnes Meaden Jacket as I knew it was going to become my new backcountry favorite. Made of the best materials the industry has to offer, and designed by the outdoor savvy experts at Big Agnes, I knew it was going to be awesome––and it is.

The end-game with the Meaden Jacket is to provide optimal warmth with minimal weight. That sounds easy enough, in reality it’s anything but. To keep the bulk and weight as etherial as possible, Big Agnes built the Meaden with a hyper-light nylon ripstop shell. That outer shell has a highly calendered finish. Calendering is a process by which fabrics are rolled between warmed rollers producing a tight finish with a high sheen. This tightens the weave helping to retain down and further repel moisture.

 

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The real key to the Meaden’s performance is the insulation. Big Agnes elected to fill the jacket with industry leading 850 DownTek water-resistant down. DownTek is like backcountry black magic as it resists getting wet, and if it does get soaked, dries with science-defying speed. The premium down and light shell contribute to the jacket’s impossibly low weight of just 326 grams.

Impressive as that is, there’s more to the Meaden than just its gossamer weight. The internal chest pocket doubles as a stuff sack and two large mesh pockets help keep essentials close at hand. Thumb holes in the sleeves prevent bunching when adding over-layers, and a full length draft tube behind the main zipper seals out the ingress of cold air.

 

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Perhaps the most important attribute of the Meaden is the construction of the individual baffles. Unlike many jackets, the Insotect Flow™ vertical and diagonal baffles resist compression due to body movement, something that seems like a gimmick until put to use. Aligning the baffles to work with natural movements just makes good design sense, and it really does work.

The fit of the Meaden is decidedly “athletic,” which is outdoor code for slim and trim. Larger users might find it a little snug, but I tend to think it’s cut perfectly for most physiques. The slender shape does make it ideal for layering. It’s another great product from Big Agnes, one I’m sure will serve me well for many seasons to come. $399 www.bigagnes.com

 

A word about color

If you swing by the OI office wearing a bright orange jacket, you’re likely to get raised eyebrows from some of the team. While many overlanders favor natural tones, some of us want to be seen. If your primary means of travel is within a vehicle, something you might stay near in an emergency situation, color may be inconsequential. If however, you are the largest visual target a SAR team might be looking for, being dressed like a spruce tree, within a spruce forest, might not be so ideal. Orange for me, please.

 

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Transfer Flow’s Toyota Tundra 46-Gallon Replacement Gas Tankhttp://expeditionportal.com/transfer-flows-toyota-tundra-46-gallon-replacement-gas-tank/ http://expeditionportal.com/transfer-flows-toyota-tundra-46-gallon-replacement-gas-tank/#comments Mon, 24 Nov 2014 07:54:43 +0000 http://expeditionportal.com/?p=23496 There are few things more important while traveling than having enough fuel. Mileage between fuel stops varies in different parts of North America, but in the rural West, long distances between filling stations are displayed on road signs to alert drivers. I’m merely referring to our paved scenic byways, if we include the long-distance travel needed to reach some backcountry routes, then the total capacity needed to complete a loop, or just return to the nearest station, adding fuel capacity and range is hard to argue against. On extended and remote overland trips, range should be calculated to avoid running dangerously low, or out. Our distance-to-empty expands our travel experience possibilities.
To provide more range everywhere, and a backcountry safety net, many resort to using portable jerry cans. This has been the method I’ve used most recently, but there are drawbacks: fuel is both heavy and inherently dangerous. Properly securing enough 5-gallon (20-liter) containers can be a challenge.
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Transfer Flow Inc. 
Bill Gaines was an engineer for General Motors for 10 years living with his family in Michigan, but he wanted to get back to his western base. Returning to Northern California, Bill started working for Travel Accessories, and later he took over their small-fuel tank division. In 1983, he founded Transfer Flow Inc. (TFI), starting small with only five employees. Transfer Flow has grown and currently employs 85. Initially making only motorhome tanks, in 1987 TFI started producing aftermarket in-bed and replacement fuel tanks for pickups.
Transfer Flow remains family-owned, having passed-down from father to daughter, with an average employee tenure of 15 years. Everyone I met at TFI seemed genuinely happy to be working there. Most of Transfer Flow’s engineers were educated at Chico State University, and their certified welders were trained by local Butte College.
Transfer Flow has been approached many times about making their products less expensively in Mexico or China, but they have no interest. Transfer Flow is committed to doing business in Chico, California, and they focus on networking with other Northern California manufacturing companies.
After the 2008 recession they added brake and fuel-line manufacturing to their core fuel and hydraulic tank business. Transfer Flow is a strong company, and just prior to my visit had their biggest sales month ever, in May 2014.
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Long Range Tundra
Adding a suspension lift, skid plates, rock sliders, and front- and rear-winch bumpers from Bud Built, plus recovery gear, tools, and a Four Wheel Camper had the expected impact on gas mileage. The 26.4-gallon (100 liters) factory fuel cell just didn’t take us very far. My first effort to increase range was to add four AT Overland can holders to the rear swing-away. However, dumping fuel cans is inconvenient, and they are generally reserved for off-pavement use. If not needed for fuel the AT carriers can haul water, or the swing-away and its load can be removed to eliminate the substantial weight far behind the rear axle. The TFI 46-gallon replacement cell is a better fueling solution.
The midship replacement tank for the 2007–2015 Tundras consumes much of the unused space between the frame rails on the driver’s side of the chassis, starting just behind the transfer case and exhaust crossover pipe, extending rearward and terminating just in front of the rear axle. The new container is also taller, shaped to fill voids below the body. Replacement tanks are constructed with 14- and 12-gauge steel that is electroplated with aluminum by the steel manufacturer, adding corrosion resistance. This is the same material TFI has used for over 31 years.
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Removing an estimated 30 pounds of shipping material from the 180-pound ship weight (pallet, cardboard), the new tank is 121-pounds heavier than the 29-pound factory poly cell we removed. When full, the 20 additional gallons of gas adds 120 pounds. All this weight is low and between the frame rails, a much better place to carry the load than on the rear bumper.
The second-generation Tundra cell is Transfer Flow’s best selling replacement tank, but it is not available for vehicles registered in California. Transfer Flow has spent considerable time and money to meet the Golden State’s difficult emission standard. They are close; getting this product approved for California trucks is a goal.
Installation
Most aftermarket parts are designed to fit stock, unmodified vehicles. I’m found of saying, “modifications lead to modifications”. Once rolling down the customization trail with a heavily modified vehicle like this Tundra, care must be taken to insure parts are compatible, and challenges are expected. This pickup was armored with a complete set of Bud Built stainless-steel skid plates, including a gas tank skid that had to be removed. The truck also has Bud Built’s Beefy rock slider/steps, which were not in the way.
What was unclear until the project was about to begin at Transfer Flow’s facility in Chico, California, was that the Bud Built transfer case skid would hinder the process, because it extends too far aft. The transfer case skid was removed, cleaned, wrapped, and placed in the back for transport home, where I later shortened the plate and drilled new holes before remounting.
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Further along, another snag presented itself. The Streetacos rear driveshaft carrier bearing drop bracket prevented one of the forward TFI straps from being tightened. The installer immediately advised his supervisor, and one of Transfer Flow’s on-site engineers arrived to assess and help correct the problem. A modification to the Streetacos bracket allowed the tank strap to seat, and the installation moved forward.
Transfer Flow was clearly focused on doing quality work. They were not going to sacrifice their procedures or standards because of a previous modification I’d made; I appreciate this attitude. The installer also cleaned and wiped fingerprints off the new tank at the end of the job. Attention to detail, customer service, and satisfaction are clearly priorities. Transfer Flow has my complete confidence when it comes to working on my vehicles, which is saying a lot, as I prefer to do my own work.
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Another noteworthy detail was their handling of the fuel. After the stock tank was removed the remaining gas was measured as it was pumped out, then measured again when it was pumped into the new tank before it was hoisted in place. Once the installation was complete, the tank was filled at Transfer Flow’s on-site fueling station. Customers simply pay what Transfer Flow pays for fuel. They have a very fair and efficient system, which includes appropriate paperwork before any work begins.
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Ground Clearance and Use
Transfer Flow notes how far below the frame their replacement tanks extend, but in years past I was cautious about using this information. I was concerned about the additional length of the TFI tanks, and where along the frame they were making their measurements. My focus has always been actual ground clearance under the truck before and after modifications. There was no cause for concern.
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After removing the stainless steel Bud Built skid plate from the bottom of the presumably vulnerable factory poly cell, a measurement was made from the bottom to my level shop floor. Parked in precisely the same location and making the same measurement with the new 46-gallon tank, the distance was exactly the same, 13 11/16 inches; there was no loss in ground clearance on my chassis. In fact there was a slight increase in overall ground clearance as the 3/16-inch Bud Built skid plate rode below the OE tank. Surely the Bud Built skid is stronger when it comes to extreme off-highway use and rock-crawling, and could have been protective when needed. However, the TFI tank should resist punctures and cuts better than the stock poly cell, the bottom is 12-gauge steel.
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Transfer Flow has the details dialed. Their paperwork explains how the stock gauge corresponds to the capacity of the new tank, more information than is provided for the factory setup. As discerning drivers know, factory fuel gauges are not always linear, and its often unclear how much fuel remains as the needle swings toward empty. The gauge now reads full from 46–42 gallons, at three-quarters 37 gallons remains, half equals 27 gallons, one-quarter indicates 15 gallons, and when the needle hits empty there is still approximately 7 gallons of gas in the tank; that’s what I call a reserve!
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Transfer Flow urges replacing the fuel filter after the first 2–3,000 miles, recommending the standard maintenance intervals thereafter. That’s easy to do on diesel trucks or any rig with an external fuel filter, but it is impractical on many modern gasoline-powered rigs that have fuel pumps and filters inside the tank like this Tundra. I added a bottle of Red Line SI-1 gasoline additive to my second fill-up, and typically I buy fuel at high-volume stations. I’m gambling I won’t have a problem nor need to replace the difficult-to-access filter.
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Fueling Around The West
Our first long trip in the Tundra after adding the 46-gallon tank was a 2,500-mile vacation from Nevada to Colorado, and back. The security and added driving enjoyment supported by the additional capacity are a big deal to me. Several times during our trip I told my wife how much I loved the extra range. There’s no substitute for being able to travel a few hundred miles in a heavily-loaded truck and still have at least two hundred additional miles on-tap. Our total trip average was 12.9 miles-per-gallon with our Four Wheel Camper in the bed, yielding nearly 600 miles per tank.
Fuel prices vary by station, state, and region, and it’s easy to pay $0.20 or more per gallon than necessary. With much longer distances possible between fill-ups, the strategic planning of fuel stops while shopping for cheap gas was a pleasure. The GasBuddy iPhone app helped locate inexpensive fuel. When combined with economical driving we often saved several dollars per fill-up.
This Overland Journal long-term Tundra project has numerous nifty and functional accessories, yet the addition of this Transfer Flow replacement tank has me questioning if this might be the best or at least the most practical modification yet. I’ve had trucks with big tanks before, mostly diesels, and I love having the added capacity and range on this vehicle; it makes for a much better travel rig.
Source:
Transfer Flow, Inc.
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Stocking Stuffershttp://expeditionportal.com/stocking-stuffers/ http://expeditionportal.com/stocking-stuffers/#comments Mon, 24 Nov 2014 00:28:00 +0000 http://expeditionportal.com/?p=24128 While the most important thing this holiday season is time with friends and family, I am frequently asked for gift suggestions, often for the adventurer that has everything. Here is my top 10 recommendations for awesomeness this Christmas.
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1. Snow Peak GigaPower Torch: $39.95
There is nothing else sold for $40 that will make you more of a campground hero and aspiring pyromaniac than the GigaPower Torch. Spending 20 minutes preparing the perfect Boy Scout teepee fire thingy is dumb. The torch will do the trick in seconds, and can also start charcoal and finish a creme brulee. FIRE!
http://snowpeak.com/products/gigapower-2way-torch-gt-100

2. Longhunter Axe: $125
Continuing with the fire theme, this long-handled hatchet looks sweet and will last a lifetime. I appreciate the simple appearance and non-tacticool approach. For the guy who is bound to whine in the comments section:  “A $125 Axe! I bought mine from Walmart for $5″. It is Christmas, get over it. . .
http://www.2hawks.net/longhunter/

3. American Optics Aviators: $63 
I love these sunglasses and have several pair strewed around various vehicles and bags. They are Made in USA, metal frame and less than $70. You can even find them on Amazon for less then $50 at times. I have worn them on seven continents, and never had a pair fail me. . .
http://www.aoeyewear.com/ 

Meh, Humbug! Does my kafia make my head look bald?

4. Trip to Iceland: $3-10,000 with truck rental
Iceland is one of the most incredible places on the planet. Beautiful, unique and you can drive a diesel Hilux or Prado on 44″ tires across the largest glacier in Europe. You can also rent a stock Suzuki Jimny for a few hundred Euro per day and camp or stay in huts.
http://www.arctictrucks-experience.is/

5. Diesel Land Cruiser: $10-18,000
For the overlander that really does have everything, buy him a turbo diesel Land Cruiser. He will fist pump for days and love you forever. . . promise.
http://www.landcruisersdirect.com/

6. Filson Heritage Sportsman’s Bag: $360
Made from oil finished tin cloth, this is the bag I have traveled around the world with. Mine is thoroughly beat on and still works great. It is carry-on sized and easily takes three to thirty days of stuff for adventure travel. (note: yes, you can travel for months out of a carry on bag. I haven’t checked bags for years) I also have a few for range bags and they just look better the more you use them.

7. Prometheus Design Werx Danger Bear T-Shirt: $29
It is hard to find cool t-shirts. These are the coolest. . . Grrrrrr
http://prometheusdesignwerx.com/products/drb-v9-t-shirt-lieutenant

8. NEMO Helio Shower: $99
It is shocking how much effort and expense people will go for a shower in the field. They fit impossible to clean storage tanks, elaborate electrical pumps and an expensive water heater. In reality, few of them work and all of them break. Unless you are traveling in a Unicat, just buy the Nemo Helio. $100 and it works every time, stores the size of a cantaloupe and you can move it from truck to truck- brilliant I tell you!
http://www.nemoequipment.com/product/?p=Helio+Pressure+Shower+%28Grey%29Nemo (2)

9. Aether Shelter NH Jacket: $260
Clean and functional, this compressible and warm jacket suits most travel needs, and is the jacket I take along for most travel adventures. I wear it daily in Prescott during the fall and winter, and also use it for an insulating layer underneath a technical shell. It stuffs into my camera bag and looks at home around the campfire and during a night out in Tallinn.  Aether.com
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10. 4WD Training: $200-1,000
80-percent of the people we see on the trail can’t drive themselves out of a paper bag. While you are no doubt convinced you are part of the 20-percent that can drive off-highway, even you can benefit from intermediate or advanced 4WD instruction. Training is always the best money spent in a new hobby, so seek out a qualified trainer. Unfortunately, the quality and experience of 4WD instructors varies wildly, from those that don’t know the difference between a KERR and a winch line extension, to the Round the World teams that have genuine experience with all brands and all environments.  Do some research, but Barlow Adventures in the west and Overland Experts in the east are good places to start.
Barlow Adventures
Overland Experts

BONUS. Overland Journal: $45
Overland Journal is a 136-page, perfect bound adventure travel magazine filled with real-world tested gear, incredible journeys and drool-worthy 4WDs and motorcycles.
Subscribe: www.overlandjournal.com

Note: Sure, I could have filled the list with a bunch of 4WD parts, but that would have been boring, and few actually fit in a stocking. . .

 

Merry Christmas!

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30 Years of the Gelandewagenhttp://expeditionportal.com/30-years-of-the-gelandewagen/ http://expeditionportal.com/30-years-of-the-gelandewagen/#comments Sun, 23 Nov 2014 10:00:31 +0000 http://expeditionportal.com/?p=24060 Originally featured in the 2009 Gear Issue of Overland Journal – Few auto manufacturers can lay claim to producing the same model for three straight decades. But that’s exactly what Mercedes-Benz is doing in 2009, with the 30th anniversary of the Gelandewagen—its construction uncompromised, its styling conservative—even severe—but timeless, its configuration adaptable for any situation from a battleground to a Vienna opera house.

 

The venerable Gelandewagen longs not to be part of current fad, but may well upstage the vehicles that do. Square, modular lines communicate an emphasis on function rather than form, while a comfortable interior make this vehicle an instant old friend. However, it takes more than an enduring design to both remain current and withstand the ever-changing marketing demands, cost-cutting measures, and management disagreements found in modern automotive corporations.

Predecessors

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The Mercedes-Benz Gelandewagen, often referred to simply as the Mercedes G or G-Wagen, has found its way into all three major 4WD vehicle sectors: consumer, commercial, and military. This has been key to the G’s continued success as a product of the highest level of quality and performance. The cost of building a vehicle that is 70-percent handmade is staggering in the current economy. However, by adapting quickly, as the vehicle also does to varied terrain, Mercedes has kept the G-Wagen a valuable tool. Just one year into production, the Gelandewagen was being produced in more than 40 different versions. It has become a legend, whether defending the peace or winning multiple Paris-Dakar trophies. Countless successful expeditions have earned the Mercedes G its status as one of the best overland expedition vehicles ever conceived. A strong sense of values, such as an emphasis on safety, quality of build using commercial truck components, and an unmatched balance of performance, allows the G to captivate those fortunate enough to have relied on one as a travel companion. Since 1979, the G has proven itself to be, as described by Ed McCabe in his book Against Gravity – From Paris to Dakar in the World’s Most Dangerous Race, “a proven tank capable of going to hell and back under frightful conditions.”

 

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The history of the Gelandewagen is rooted in Karl Benz’s first designs of the world’s premier 4WD and AWD vehicles. Benz developed the first motorcar in 1886, and the first 4WD soon after, although the designs would take more than 20 years to get into production. In 1926, the companies of Karl Benz and Dr. Gottlieb Daimler merged to become Daimler-Benz, and soon after that the 170 series of automobiles was in production, offering a platform upon which to fit out the first production all-wheel-drive and all-wheel-steering vehicles in the world, known as the 170VG and later the 170L.

 

In 1926, Daimler-Benz introduced the G1, which featured rigid axles, leaf springs, and a pressed-steel frame, and was thus a stouter platform from its inception than the 170-based predecessors. The model designation G originated during the research and development phase, when it was referred to as a “cross-country vehicle,” or “Gelandewagen” in German (this is also the root term for the BMW G/S motorcycle).

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The G1 was short-lived, and only six were ever produced. It was used as a prototype for the higher-production G3/G3A, of which more than 2,000 were manufactured between 1929 and 1935, primarily as part of the German war effort. The G3 platform incorporated three axles, one forward and two aft. The G3s, astonishingly, featured locking differentials in both rear axles. Half-track versions were also produced. In 1934, Daimler-Benz released the G4 as a larger, longer version of the G3 series, featuring up to 110 horsepower with three body styles. Followed finally by the G5, the series would see its end once Germany fell to allied forces.

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The G5, built as a car version with a production of 606 units and a truck version that totaled 4,900 units, offered some interesting technology as well. The engines were tuned for maximum torque just above idle, to assist crawling through difficult terrain. The first-gear ratio, a staggering 722:1, yielded an impressive 64-percent climbing ability even when burdened by a full load of cargo. Truly the ultimate vintage 4WD, the G5 became the starting point for the legendary Mercedes L-series AWD trucks, produced until just recently and sold in the millions. In the 1950s, the Unimog combined elements of this series with the farming tractors of the day to morph into yet another timeless design. But the G series would not be revived for much longer, and mostly by chance.

 A New Beginning

The Gelandewagen was reawakened as a design in 1973, conceived as a commercial- and military-grade vehicle that could also be marketed to consumers. The first production code was H2, once Steyr-Daimler-Puch of Graz, Austria became involved with the project. SDP was chosen after careful review of several potential sub-contractors, including the large commercial European maker MAN and even General Motors. At the time, the SDP production facilities were busy assembling more than 2,000 bicycles and 1,000 motorcycles every day. Four-wheeled vehicles would become SDP’s mainstay business during the 1980s. (The conglomerate was broken up in 1990, and Steyr’s automotive production division sold to Canada’s Magna Industries; it’s now known as Magna Steyr.) The Steyr end of the business had produced a wide variety of products, from firearms to large commercial trucks. That experience was applied directly to the G.

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When SDP began to develop what would become the Gelandewagen, they chose the designation H2 because it represented a replacement for the current offering on the same assembly line, a product known as the Steyr-Puch Haflinger. The Haflinger, a tiny but robust 4WD vehicle, had locked in several military contracts over the years. However, few Haflingers made it into consumer hands as new vehicles. Volkswagen’s 183 Iltus had bettered the Haflinger’s minimal bodywork and poor occupant protection, but still left much to be desired in regard to cargo capacity and towing ability. Thus, a new vehicle was sought to meet the needs of a higher-speed and more nimble military. Contract preference seemed to be moving away from the larger and more complicated Pinzgauer, also built in Graz before and during the production of the G model. The G would fill the military requirements and at the same time be more of a consumer-friendly product. Other names were considered initially, but in the end the Gelandewagen was born without a fancy marketing term attached.

 

An advance 20,000-unit order from the Shah of Iran, the largest shareholder of Mercedes-Benz in the 1970s, got the ball rolling toward production of the first Gelandewagens. After the Shah’s sudden overthrow during the Islamic Revolution of 1979, the order was abruptly cancelled, so Mercedes and Steyr-Daimler-Puch looked to establish contracts with the German Border Patrol. Elsewhere, the Argentine Army was preparing to embark on the ill-fated Falklands campaign, leading to a large order. Later, NATO, as well as the Norwegian, Belgian, and Greek militaries, submitted orders too, viewing the G as a step forward in cargo capacity, personnel safety, and ability to be airlifted directly to and from the battlefield. Similar to other military contract spec-based vehicles, the G can be stacked in a jet cargo plane to maximize use of space. These were, and still are, important concerns for military customers, and the clearly defined symmetry of the G body style stands as testament to the engineers under pressure to comply.

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For the civilian market, the 1979 G-Wagen was launched with three body styles. The chassis offered were a short-wheelbase (SWB) two-door hardtop, a SWB convertible pickup, and a long-wheelbase (LWB) five-door wagon. The following year, a van version was added, and an open-chassis truck soon after. Many of the driveline components were sourced from the ranks of Mercedes’ own commercial transport product division; other influences came from the recently acquired Hanomag Company. With the engineers from Mercedes, Hanomag, and SDP all cooperatively working on the H2 project, success was hardly a surprise. By the time the wood models had been turned into clay, followed by a series of different test mules, the resulting production G series featured a unique combination of comfort, on-road performance, safety, and off-road prowess. The vehicle was equally at home traveling the Sahara, crossing boulder fields in the Americas, or cruising on the Autobahn.

 Engineering Excellence

Stark differences from previous 4WD vehicles could be found on the first of the G production vehicles. Front and rear differential locks, for instance, were not available on other production vehicles, nor was a transfer case capable of shifting between low and high range while moving. The latter feature meant momentum was not lost in critical situations, such as during a soft sand crossing: The more a vehicle loses forward momentum, the more likely it is to sink or exceed possible traction. If the driver has to stop in the middle of a crossing to shift to low range, he may already be beyond hope of extracting the vehicle. Of course, a seasoned driver will shift the vehicle into low range before entering the difficult stretch, but having the ease of selection on the go is certainly an asset, and even experienced drivers can be caught unaware of changing surface conditions.

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Geometry in frame shape, suspension components, and axles was designed with an emphasis on maximum traction and control, but without a loss of driver feel. The center of gravity on the G was kept low with careful placement of components within the boxed steel frame. This allowed for the boxy, utilitarian bodywork, which to the casual observer might appear top-heavy. It truly works, and Mercedes, in 1979, included a 54-percent side slope diagram in brochures. A wider track than many previous SUV-type vehicles—1425mm (56 inches)—also gave the G very stable underpinnings. Approach and departure angles were 36 and 31 degrees respectively, allowing the G to maneuver over large obstacles. Once on an incline, the G could continue climbing a grade of 80 percent. Many different ring and pinion sets were offered, up to 6.17:1, which yields a 98:1 crawl ratio.

 

Safety had been at the forefront of Mercedes-Benz product design for some time, and during the 1970s, it was becoming one of the company’s most promoted selling points. Crumple-zone engineering had just made incredible strides in the W123 chassis automobiles released in 1977, so in the G it was employed for the first time in an off-road vehicle.

 

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After testing the Land Rover, Range Rover, and other 4WDs, Mercedes engineers made another choice still considered radical at the time: they specified coil springs at all four wheels, rather than conventional leaf springs. The engineers knew that coil springs would improve ride quality dramatically, as well as handling, dampening, and rollover safety. The rear axle received progressive-rate springs that were unique, designed in cooperation with Eibach. The spring rate not only changed in regard to spacing between each coil, but the overall coil diameter changed from top to middle to bottom. This allowed the suspension to act more consistently, even with large differences in cargo load. Many different lengths and spring rates are available, each one color-coded with stripes to indicate length under various loads.

 

A load-bias control spring, as seen earlier on Mercedes Unimog and L series trucks, was fitted over the solid rear axle, to ensure the best balance in braking under varying load requirements. The spring senses the load differences carried by the vehicle and adjusts the front-to-rear brake bias accordingly. More pressure is sent to the rear of the car for heavier loads and less pressure for light loads or when empty. This allows added rear braking not normally permitted on a static system, because when empty the rear wheels would skid. (One note worth remembering is that when any G is modified with a suspension lift, it is vital to replace this spring with another version from Mercedes.)

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Wheel travel with the coil springs was a generous 260mm (10 inches) in order to keep as many tires as possible on the ground in extreme conditions. The axle-load distribution was optimized so that the G would slide slowly sideways when tilted toward its tipping point, allowing the driver to react in time in order to counteract the situation. Chassis flex was minimized with three torsion-resistant cross tubes in the rear, boxed-steel longitudinal frame members, and additional cross tubes in the mid-section as well as the front. All driveline components were mounted to these strong tube frame members with oversize dampening bushings. Drive shafts, axles, even the seemingly unnecessary count of eight bolts for the flanges to the pinions and transfer case, all give an immediate sense of “overbuilt.” Taking apart a G takes quite a bit more time than some of its counterparts in the SUV product set, but many owners see this as a fair trade for not having the car come apart on them while traveling.

 

Specific wet-weather features such as water-tight doors, breathers on all gearboxes, a high engine air intake with optional snorkel, and hand-sealed bodywork joints are just a few of the design components the G employs to enhance its water-fording ability. Both the electrical system and any engine components that need to remain dry are positioned in a way that allows a 60-cm (23.5-inch) fording depth.

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In snow conditions, early G-series cars, known as the W460 models, can have a more difficult time driving safely with their part-time 4WD. Similar to any other part-time system, if only two diagonally opposing drive wheels are receiving torque, a forward-moving vehicle can be at risk of spinning out if the vehicle is downshifted at too high an rpm. Later versions, developed in 1990 and sold presently, are known as the W463 series. The W463 vehicles offer an advanced AWD system that significantly reduces the possibility of spinning on ice.

 

In the 1970s, car manufacturers were making strides in regards to corrosion protection, and the G was no exception. During production, the body is first degreased, phosphate coated, and then electrophoretically primed. This is done by way of dipping the whole unit into a pool that is electrically charged in order to best migrate the coating particles onto the metal. The bodywork is then treated with an undercoat before being subjected to a baked-on final finish. PVC is then used as an under-sealant, and even the chassis gets its coatings bonded on through a heat process. A zinc-dust compound is placed into areas where road debris may collect. Only once this exhausting process is completed is each body then married to the similarly over-constructed chassis. (Even with all this effort, prospective buyers should be aware of older Gs, which tend to hide rust in the rockers, rear corners, below the windshield, and below the B-pillar on the LWB.)

 New Competition

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By 1990, the Japanese had launched a formidable set of 4WD products into the global market. Toyota’s rough-and-ready Land Cruiser was redressed in fancier clothes for U.S. customers. In Europe, the Range Rover had bridged the chasm between utility and luxury and was seen as a more comfortable, better-mannered option to the early G. Thus, in the late 1980s, it was thought that the G should be replaced. Many argued, however, that instead of being completely redone, the platform could be updated into a more comfortable road car that retained its proven off-road underpinnings. Mercedes set its eyes on the Range Rover and Land Cruiser 70 Series to see what they needed to improve. In 1990, the new W463 version G vehicles were finally released to a very positive public reaction.

 

The W463 not only dealt with some of the negative aspects of the previous W460, it also took the whole G experience up a notch. Now the G was equally at home with any other luxury 4WD on the road, giving its owner smooth manners, more power, and comfort accented by orthopedic seating and walnut trim. Airbags were included for passenger safety for the first time in the model range, and larger brakes were also fitted. Additional changes included full-time four wheel drive and ABS. The differential lockers were now switched electronically. The new VG150 transfer case also included center-locking capability, usable in high or low range.

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One oddity on the W460 series was that the transfer case reversed the direction of drive for the front axle, adding unnecessary complexity to the system. The W460 also suffered from driveline angles greater than optimal. Over the long term, many W460 owners experience driveshaft u-joint failure and vibrations because of these angles. SWB models have an even worse angle in the rear with their shorter shafts, which without major modification also limits suspension lift to about three inches. Both the reverse-direction front drive and the excessive driveline angles were corrected on the W463 models.

 

The new W463 introduced upmarket upholsteries and carpeting, and although this was a hit with the non-adventure types, many overlanders prefer the older spartan interior, which could be easily sponged clean, and the mat flooring that featured 1.5-inch-thick foam padding similar to a sleeping pad. On the other hand, the early vehicles have a heavy folding bench seat that, while removable, is a cumbersome 145 pounds. The newer W463 cars have split folding rear seats that are easily removable with pins. Either model in LWB form can accommodate a six-foot-three owner and partner or furry friend sleeping in the back. Most adventurers will remove the rear seats entirely, creating a van-like interior that can be used for hauling massive amounts of cargo (well secured with plenty of tie-down D-rings) or as a comfortable sleeping cabin. Gunther Holtorf recently completed a series of trips totaling more than 600,000 km (370,000 miles) in his 88hp 300GD, and kept 450 items on inventory in the car, the heaviest being a pair of shocks. He still had room to sleep the car almost every night of his journeys.

 The American Market

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Nearing the end of the century, Mercedes was again looking at the G in regards to replacement rather than refinement. Some large contracts were cancelled, and it seemed that the Graz production line might need to be backfilled to keep things going. It was at this time that exporting the G to the United States was not simply considered, but pushed. For many years, Mercedes corporate in Germany had wanted to sell the G in the U.S., but the North America marketing teams did not see a fit for the vehicle, since it did not resemble the modern sedan and coupe designs they were advertising and thus was thought to detract from the product positioning of the time.

 

For many years, a New Mexico business called Europa had an agreement to import a limited number of G vehicles specially converted to USDOT specs. Due to the exclusive arrangement, Europa was able to charge a premium, sometimes exceeding $135,000 when fully optioned. This restricted the U.S. G-Wagen to the very wealthy. The profit on these sales was large but the volume was low—the same vehicle sold around the globe for about half the price demanded by the New Mexico importer. About 1,000 Gs were imported before 2002, when Mercedes finally settled legally with the owner of Europa and began to sell the car in its own dealers. When this was accomplished, Magna Steyr production filled the void, and Mercedes gave the G a new lease on life.

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Once Mercedes began offering the G500 in the U.S. in 2002, with a base price of $72,000, values of used Europa and other grey-market G-Wagens instantly dropped. The two exceptions were the diesels and convertibles, neither of which has been imported by MBUSA. Due to their rarity, these models still retain high value, sometimes double that of the standard five-door petrol vehicles.

 

The modern 2002 through 2008 G500, and the 2009 G550, offer much the same solid engineering as the previous G cars, but for serious overlanding use the cars have also been somewhat overdone. Much new technology, such as BAS (brake assist), ESP (electronic stability program), ETS (electronic traction support), and ABS, have been added. While these systems do improve safety for the driver in certain situations, they do not improve all situations. ETS works to control traction using the braking system under 6 kph in high range and under 3 kph in low range. Coupled with the advanced torque converter, it is very hard to spin the wheels from a start. ESP manages wheel spin at higher speeds by pulsing the brake of the spinning wheel and moderating engine power. BAS dramatically boosts braking force by employing additional vacuum pressure from the booster circuit when the system senses panic-braking inputs.

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Owners frequently complain that there should be a way to turn these systems on and off, but Mercedes has not offered this. You can turn the systems off only by switching on the center differential lock in the transfer case. There is an ESP delete button on the console, but it works only up to 35mph. The only way to drive these cars without these systems taking over when wheel spin is detected is to drive with two feet, rally style, where you can ever so slightly ride the brake pedal into turns, thus deleting the ESP intervention. The way these systems are interconnected does not always make the best sense either. There are about 26 sensors in the car, and multiple “PROM boxes,” or small computer-chip boxes. The main computer sends messages out to these boxes to gather information about the conditions, the way the vehicle is handling, if there is wheel spin, if the yaw is too great an angle, and so forth. The problem is that the computer seems to send out the message to every box in an order, and if one box does not answer back, the system may find an error. Sometimes the error will mean nothing, sometimes the system will not complete its attempt to communicate to the appropriate PROM, and in rare instances the car may shut down all together.

 

Older Gs have the field serviceability that one would desire for long overland trips into remote territories. Diesel variants in particular can usually be repaired with the most basic tools. Modern vehicles, however, require special toolsets, computers with fancy Mercedes diagnostic software, and hard-to-find parts. For the early cars, master cylinder rebuild kits, axle seals, a shock, or driveshaft end, might be the only special items one need carry. With later models, especially those built after 2001, items such as the crank position sensor, K40 relay, alternator, and various tools to install these items should also be added to the travel kit. For instance, you might feel safe with a spare crank position sensor in your glove box, but if you don’t also have an 18mm extension on a 1/4-inch drive ratchet with a knuckle at the bottom and #8 Torx socket, you’re still sitting in a non-runner. These types of unique situations are all documented on various discussion forums and club sites, so obtaining the list and securing the parts/tools is all that is needed before venturing off. Taking printed versions, or at least PDF files, of service manuals is also a clever move for those keen on leaving civilization.

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Sometimes “improvements” and added features take away from the design philosophy that brought the product’s initial success. In the G’s case, it was the original simplicity and field serviceability that was lost in the fray of modern marketing. Fret not: the modern G still retains most of the truly important features of the original design, and can be relied upon as a stalwart, trusty steed that will get you to your destination and back in great comfort. After all, the modern G’s climate-control system keeps the cabin pleasant whether it’s -14 degrees F or + 118 degrees F outside, and heated seats might be welcome during a winter trip near the Arctic Circle. (Although some might find those seats a bit flat in the bottom. Recaro and Porsche seats fit the G just great and can be looked upon as easy-to-install upgrades.)

 

The W463 lost a bit of the all-terrain ability of the early cars, with approach and departure angles reduced to 36 and 29 percent. In other areas, the model was bettered, and has retained its 80-percent grade-climbing ability and 54-percent side slope capability. With its new advanced torque converter, the G now has a 180-percent increase in startup torque, allowing slow pull-away and smooth transmission of power. The enhanced traction is startling when compared to the older automatics. A new 25-gallon (95-liter) ABS fuel tank replaced the previous steel versions, which could leak if hit on the trail.

 Buying Your Own

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The final question in regard to these great vehicles is: Are they affordable? It took a while to depreciate $130,000 when stock markets were high and G availability was low. After the release of the 2002 G500 by MBUSA, for $72,000, we found ourselves in another league, where the vehicle is no longer such a rarity. A search on clubgwagen.com, a global G club website, shows many older and newer varieties for sale, with caveat for the previously mentioned diesel and convertible cars. Sites such as autotrader.com, mobile.de, and cars.com show hundreds of available G500 cars. With the valuation of a 2002 model G almost below the $25,000 mark, it will be no surprise to start seeing more interest in it as an overland vehicle.

 

With depreciation mostly absorbed, the early MBUSA cars may just rise in demand for a new audience—one that will take it off tarmac. The hot-rodded G55 AMG version is not recommended for those interested in backcountry use; its suspension lacks ground clearance, and is too stiff and the rebound too sharp. Repairing AMG motors requires special training, so if you break down in a rural area lacking a Mercedes repair shop employing qualified AMG-trained techs, you are out of luck. Lastly, the massive torque has led to transfer case and u-joint failures, decreasing longevity. The base model G500 needs just the running boards removed to gain rocker clearance, and the 18-inch wheels replaced with the 16-inch wheels previously fitted to the 463 series. Other than these two easy changes, the G500 is an out-of-the-box, ready-to-go overlander that can compete evenly with highly modified trucks. The G likes playing the part of duality so much that it barely seems to get dirty on the trail, helped by the massive ABS plastic fender inserts, mud guards, and a smart flare design that funnels tire debris back down to the ground.

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Gelandewagen enthusiasts see the purity and harmonic balance between nature and driver as reason enough to choose the G for travel. The G not only brings its occupants home, it even goes so far as to provide inexplicable Zen-like experiences along the way. Recently I asked 4WD guru and guide Harald Peitschmann why he would choose the G from his diverse stable of vehicles for any long expedition. He replied with one simple answer: “Without having to worry about breaking down or becoming stranded, adventure travel becomes more enjoyable.” The 30th anniversary of the Gelandewagen brings hope that vehicles can still be made with little compromise if they are properly executed and managed right from the start. It also means that those of us without $135,000 can finally purchase a reasonably priced Gelandewagen and start using it as it was intended—to explore!

 

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Backcountry Discovery Routes Launches Membership Programhttp://expeditionportal.com/backcountry-discovery-routes-launches-membership-program/ http://expeditionportal.com/backcountry-discovery-routes-launches-membership-program/#comments Sat, 22 Nov 2014 23:46:46 +0000 http://expeditionportal.com/?p=24119 Seattle, WA – (November 19, 2014) – Since 2010, the non-profit organization Backcountry Discovery Routes (BDR) has inspired thousands of adventure motorcyclists to take advantage of the riding opportunities available in the United States.  BDR has produced five backcountry routes for dual-sport and adventure motorcycle travel.  These routes include feature-length expedition documentaries, maps, free-planning resources and GPS tracks used by thousands of motorcyclists each year.

 

Now, Backcountry Discovery Routes is announcing its Membership Program! The goal of the BDR Membership Program is to help fund the creation of future routes and to give the community a way to help preserve off-pavement riding opportunities.

 

There are three levels of BDR membership and each has unique and exciting benefits that include up to $500 in products, discounts and members-only privileges provided by BDR and its participating sponsors.

 

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“The BDR Membership Program is a unique opportunity for adventure riders and the companies that serve them, to come together and help preserve backcountry riding,” explained Inna Thorn, BDR Manager.  “Everyone wins by joining the program. Members receive products, discounts and benefits from major brands and BDR is able to continue its mission to create new routes for the community.”

 

Do your part to preserve off-pavement adventure riding opportunities by becoming a BDR member today.

 

www.backcountrydiscoveryroutes.com/BDR-Memberships

 

email info@backcountrydiscoveryroutes.com or call 206-383-6233.

 

The BDR Membership program is made possible by the following companies who think you should have more ADV riding opportunities: Touratech-USA, KLIM Technical Riding Gear, Butler Maps, ExOfficio, Wolfman Motorcycle Luggage, Black Dog Cycle Works, SENA Technologies, Colorado Motorcycle Adventures, Cyclops Adventure Sports, Trailmaster Adventure Gear, PSSOR, Rottweiler Performance, Kate’s Real Food, Noren Films, and ADV Moto Magazine.

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SOS: The Full Report – Part Twohttp://expeditionportal.com/sos-the-full-report-part-two/ http://expeditionportal.com/sos-the-full-report-part-two/#comments Sat, 22 Nov 2014 07:21:55 +0000 http://expeditionportal.com/?p=23481 The damage was pretty bad. My rim was horribly bent. The steering rack was once again split in half and this time the passenger side mount had been ripped off the cross member. The brake line was destroyed and so was the CV axle and the bleeder valve on the brake caliper. I knew that I needed my dad. We had just gone through this and we knew how to fix it and how to trailer it. But he was 500 miles away back in Wyoming. It would take him at least a day to get to us.

 

We had to decide the best way for him to get to Frankenstein as there was no room for him to turn around close by. So the options were have him drive 10 miles down the highway more and 10 miles on dirty to just drive in facing the right way. Or, take the shorter route and back the trailer up to Frankenstein for a mile.

 

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We sent lead-foot Ben off to Lolo to call my dad to bring a trailer and the FRV, the only rig we knew of that could tow Frankenstein the speed limit. He set off in a cloud of dust and a phone number to make the rescue call.

 

Then Mike had a good idea.

Using my shovel we placed it under the lower ball joint. Timmy held on to the handle to semi “steer” Frank and Mike got in his rig and pulled me while I used the clutch as a brake to not kill Timmy. Using this method, we dragged Frankenstein about 20 yards down the road to a sort of wide spot to get him off the road with plenty of room for my dad to either pull by or back up to. The shovel barely had a dent in it after. Quite the shovel!

 

We then jacked up the truck and put some wood under the lower ball joint and Frank was good! At least good enough for me to camp in. We then set up camp, right in the middle of the road. Luckily it was not a popular road so this wasn’t a major issue, butt we had no place to go really. So I took my frustration out on splitting logs and we had a fire in the center of the road before long.
Ben finally showed up with a rather humorous story on how the phone call went. It went something like this:

 

RING, RING
Dad: ”Hello?”

Ben: ”Hey Steve, this is Ben, from Tacoma world?”

Dad: ”Oh yea! Hows it going, bud?”

Ben: ”Not…not great. We need you to come tow Monte. He broke another lower ball joint on the trail.”

Dad: ”………………….Are you kidding me?”

Ben: ”What? No sir, he broke the other one this time. We are at the end of the Lolo and he wants you to bring the trailer and everything from last time. Its real bad. Worse then last time.”

Dad: ”I told him to replace the other one! There is internet proof! I posted it on the internet!”

It was a great bit of humor to hear in the situation and to me really was nice to hear my dad having a bit of a sense of humor about it. Anyways my dad said he would leave the next morning and would be there sometime in the afternoon. Despite my frustration. We had another fun night under the stars. It wasn’t the worst camp site. Then again it never matters when you are with good friends in an great place with good drink and a campfire. And an awesome dad for that matter, one that I can always call out SOS to and know he will always respond.

 

The next day was a slow one. Very slow. It was a day of waiting. Luckily Timmy came prepared and taught us how to play dominos. And for some reason Ben was very good at, which bothered Timmy. Eventually we wasted enough time away for Ben and Timmy to hop in Bens truck and head off to Lolo to try and meet my Dad to show him the way to Frankenstein. Mike and I stayed and blasted some tunes from Frankenstein while monitoring my HAM radio waiting to hear from my dad.

 

Over the fire the night before we were all pretty much decided that Frank was out for the count. There was no coming back from this in the few days we had till our scheduled run up the Morrison Jeep trail. I had been pretty adamant about not riding shotgun as I had done that before the first time Frank broke and I could barely stand it. Everyone else was set on me coming but we hadn’t come up with a compromise yet as I wasn’t to the point of being ready to ride shotgun for the next week and no one wanted me to drive their rig after the track record I had been building up this summer.

Can’t say I blame them…

It turned out Ben had spotted my dad driving down the highway towards the Lolo and they passed each other on the highway. Luckily, Ben recognized my dad’s rig, the FRV, short for The Frankenstein Recovery Vehicle, but its pretty easy to spot too, especially with a trailer.

 

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Of course it wasn’t the first time my Dad had been sucked into a tacoma meet via me breaking stuff. So he was rather jolly about being out in the hills and showing off his truck. It was great to see him. We sprung into action getting Frankenstein on the trailer as we had a lot of ground to cover to get to back home to Powell.

 

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Overall, it went pretty smooth as my dad and I had just done this a month earlier. The “technique” of winching up a wheelless truck was still fresh in our minds. Mike Timmy, and Ben all stood back and let us do our thing lending the very much appreciated hand when needed.

 

Amazingly, we had Frankenstein out of the woods within an hour of my dad showing up. Now it was the real test of the FRV. We had just regear the FRV so the 34” tires weren’t as big an issue as last time we towed Frankenstein. However, the mountain passes we were about to cross were going to put a strain on the supercharged beast.

 

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Needless to say our caravan of Tacomas led by the trailered Frankenstein got a lot of looks as we drove through Lolo and Missoula, MT. And continued to on the interstate. It was all rather humorous.

 

The good news is that Frankenstein is now repaired, and back on the trail.

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

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Front Runner Expander Chairhttp://expeditionportal.com/front-runner-expander-chair/ http://expeditionportal.com/front-runner-expander-chair/#comments Thu, 20 Nov 2014 19:18:25 +0000 http://expeditionportal.com/?p=23784 People love new features on their products. Each year manufacturers of every type and class make just enough changes on their products to make consumers think they HAVE to have it, Apple anyone? While I’d like to think our industry is exempt, it may be the biggest offender of all. Want a ten-room tent with cup holders in the walls, screened front porch, and skylights? They’ve got it. Need an oven or deep fryer at your camp? No problem. How about a motorized cooler? You betcha’. My biggest frustration though isn’t the tents, cooking utensils, or absolutely ridiculous accessories, but the camp chairs.

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It astounds me how companies can take something so simple, so cheap, and so effective, and turn it into an overpriced complicated mess. Like your vehicle, the more complicated your gear is the more likely it is to fail. Does your chair really need two end tables and an integrated cooler? Does it need a multi-angle folding and disassembly process with finely stained wood and hand-stitched canvas? Or does it simply need to support your rump when you sit in it?

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This trend of over accessorizing and retro styling is why Front Runner’s folding Expander chair is a breath of fresh air. $49.95 buys you a simplistic and effective chair that you’ll never have to worry about breaking or losing. You won’t find expensive woods, metals, or other forms of unobtanium here, simply a tube steel and polyester beauty.

The list of features is small, which is one of the things I love about it. Telescoping legs and a folding top allow the chair to compress into a 17.5×16.4 inch footprint, which easily stores in just about any vehicle. You’ll find a small storage pouch on the left side of the chair, while a cup holder and secondary pouch adorn the right. There’s also a Velcro strap to keep everything tucked together while in your truck or its storage bag. AND THAT’S IT!

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To really give you a full understanding of this product, we’ve included the following ten instructional steps. Note: all of the following are based on actual camp experiences over the last two years.

 

  1. Pull into camp and open your truck
  2. Remove chair from vehicle
  3. Gently tug up on the chair and fold out
  4. Open beer and laugh at your friend’s failing attempts to construct their super combination ultimate camp chair/luxury condo
  5. Sip beer again while laughing at your other friend falling off of their ultra light micro chair.
  6. Enjoy evening sky and gaze at stars
  7. Try to ignore your third friend’s frustrations as their wooden chair breaks beneath them.
  8. Stretch out and soak up warmth of the fire
  9. Fold chair together and push in legs the next morning
  10. Load into car and pity your friends trying to now collapse their $200 camp “chairs”.

 

If you’re tired of pointless features, unnecessary complexity, and outrageous pricing, check out Front Runners Chairs here:

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A Budget Overlander, Forester Part III: Kitting It Outhttp://expeditionportal.com/a-budget-overlander-forester-part-iii-kitting-it-out/ http://expeditionportal.com/a-budget-overlander-forester-part-iii-kitting-it-out/#comments Thu, 20 Nov 2014 07:22:54 +0000 http://expeditionportal.com/?p=14782 The first time I packed up the Forester for an overnight camping trip the rear end sagged down to the bump stops, it clearly wasn’t the kind of “truck” I’m used to driving. Building this car has been a long lesson in keeping things simple and light. Though Subarus are built like Legos, modifications and cargo have to be carefully planned out to maintain a good balance between weight, handling, and power.

Mechanical Upgrades

The Forester’s brakes are adequate out of the box, but if you’re the type that enjoys long “spirited” drives through the mountains you might find them just a bit lacking. Brake fade is a particular endurance problem on the base model, which has drum brakes out back. Fortunately the fade can be minimized without the complexity of swapping in rear disc brakes. After looking at the Brembo option (which would have cost as much as the car itself), I decided to take a chance on the off-brand but highly praised Power Stop set of drilled and slotted rotors with high performance pads. The gamble paid off: for about $125 the brake fade is all but gone and the car now stops with confidence.

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The only other mechanical weak point we’ve run into are the front CV axles. Fortunately, even with the suspension lift they’re good for at least 50,000 miles. At first blush that might sound nuts, but bear in mind they only cost $45 and about 2 hours of work to replace.

Electrical Upgrades

A 90-amp alternator comes standard in the Forester, which seems perfectly matched to any reasonable accessory load for a vehicle this size. We’ve had no trouble running a variety of accessories simultaneously, from air compressors to radio equipment, so we chose instead to focus on preventative and convenience upgrades.

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First up was a DieHard Platinum Group 35 AGM battery (essentially an Odyssey PC1400) to replace the original lead-acid unit and ensure reliable power in the field. The DieHard features 850 cold cranking amps, plenty of reserve power for in-camp use, and a 4-year warranty. I love drop-in upgrades…

Foz Comms

Next we addressed communications. Though surprisingly capable, the Forester is more about adventure outside the vehicle than inside, so we opted for the flexibility of a hand-held radio. The Yaesu VX-8R ruggedized handheld allows for the convenience of a mobile unit when pared with an external mic and antenna, while retaining a slim profile and light weight for hiking, biking, and canoeing. It’s also packed full of all the features from the nicer mobile units like dual transceivers and built-in APRS.

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The speakers installed in the Forester from the factory aren’t completely horrible, but the stereo is one of the worst units I’ve ever used. Aux inputs hadn’t yet caught on in 2003, so our music selection was limited to the barely-functional radio or what few CDs we could track down. Adding insult to injury, you could actually hear the motors and the CD spinning through the speakers… the stock head unit had to go. In it’s place is a double-din Pioneer FH-X720BT: all the digital media connectivity one could want and decent sound reproduction for well under the $200 mark. The unit’s Bluetooth link is nearly flawless, but if you do remember to plug it in the USB port will also charge a phone. For additional accessory charging we also added a Bluesea dual USB charger in place of the cigarette lighter, bringing the total built-in power points to three USB and three standard 12VDC.

Camp and Sleeping

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The Forester will handle the smaller roof tents on the market if one is so inclined, such as James Baroud’s Horizon Vision, with little impact on handling or fuel economy. Still, the car is much more suited to a ground tent and the traditional camp kitchen and furniture that goes with it. The best approach is to pack like you’re backpacking, then add a few luxury items like firewood, good chairs, and a sturdy table.

Water

Mozzy by Fozzy 11138

At the moment we’re running an extra 5-gallon RoadShower we had in the shop as a gravity-fed water system. It works well, but it’s $300 price point makes it impractical for a budget project. A better option would be the off-brand Scepter clones which can be picked up for around $30 and nest nicely behind the rear passenger-side wheel arch. For a little extra convenience, Living Overland makes a self-contained 12-volt pump/faucet combo that drops right in place of the water can’s stock cap.

Cargo Handling

Despite external appearances, the Forester’s cargo space is quite impressive (high praise coming from the owner of a cavernous Discovery). There’s enough room inside that you’ll run out of weight capacity long before space. Though small, the tie-downs provided at all four corners are stout enough to handle as much weight as you’d want to carry in a Forester. The following photo shows enough food, water, and oversized cold weather gear for two people for three days along with tools, an emergency kit, and an extra 50 miles of fuel (2.5 gallons).

Camping gear for three days for two people

What isn’t visible above is the oversize Kelty loveseat tucked neatly behind the rear seat or the cast-iron cookware packed in the kitchen box. With more efficient gear choices, everything a family of four needs for a weekend camping trip could easily fit.

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With the low roofline, bulky items like bikes and canoes are easy to carry up top. Be warned however, the factory cross bars are not up to the challenge of weight or sunlight: ours were actually crumbling when we removed them. Yakima and Thule both make excellent direct-fit, bolt-on options for securely handling roof cargo. Space the cross bars just right and a single ratchet strap is all you need to mount a pair of MAXTRAX.

The Budget

I’ve often been asked what the total costs have been on this build, and considering a main goal on this project is economy, it’s only fair to share the full accounting of what it took to reach this point. All prices are in U.S. dollars, naturally.

Even in it’s stock form, the Subaru Forester is fully capable of carrying a family safely on adventures while providing economical daily commuter duty around town. If you’re looking to set up a Forester on a limited budget, here’s our advice: start with the skid plates and a good set of tires, then add additional upgrades once you’ve found a real need. You’ll be surprised how far those two modifications will carry you.

This concludes the Expedition Portal Budget Overlander project, but the build-out of this Forester is just beginning…

 

Previously: Expedition Portal’s Budget Overlander Build ThreadPart I, and Part II

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Inuvik or Bust: To the End of the Earth in a BMW M Coupehttp://expeditionportal.com/inuvik-or-bust-to-the-end-of-the-earth-in-a-bmw-m-coupe/ http://expeditionportal.com/inuvik-or-bust-to-the-end-of-the-earth-in-a-bmw-m-coupe/#comments Wed, 19 Nov 2014 07:41:33 +0000 http://expeditionportal.com/?p=23675 Once again, the stories to be found within the pages of Expedition Portal’s forums, never cease to amaze. With literally millions of forum posts in the extensive library chronicling the adventures of many a robust overland vehicle, this is the only one to feature a BMW M Coupe. Below is the story, one that will unhinge the most ardent 4×4 pundits who say such small cars are not capable of––adventure.  Story by Mark Cupido

 

Where to begin?! About a year ago, Ryan, knowing my love for road-trips, tossed out his idea about driving the Dempster Highway from the Klondike Highway to Inuvik, NWT. He had planned this a year prior with his father, but they elected to conquer the PCH down to San Diego instead. The Dempster is a highway renowned for its beauty, remoteness and… lack of pavement. As a matter of fact, due to freeze/thaw cycles and its substructure is composed of up to 8 feet of gravel insulating it from the permafrost. So from there, the planning began.

 

When driving a road like this, being a 1,500km round trip of rock/shale/gravel in mediocre conditions at the best of times, in addition to 5000+kms of highway to get us there and back, you’d elect to travel in a more roomy, comfortable vehicle with creature comforts and a sense of reliability such as my new Jeep Wrangler Rubicon. However, being the gear-heads we are (read idiots), we chose to tackle this trip in Ryan’s 2001 BMW M-Coupe. That’s right, a two-door, two-seater, hatchback, with MMMMMuch more power than the Jeep! Then and there, ‘Inuvik or Bust’ was born.

 

Fast forward to three weeks ago when, if we were like most people, necessary prep-work, vehicle inspections, pre-trip maintenance, packing and planning would have been taking place. Nope. Vegas sounded like a much better plan and a far better idea than any of those things! So for the 6 days prior to the trip (for Ryan) and 4 days for myself, we drank, ate, gambled, partied and relaxed with good friends in sin city. Returned with empty wallets (damn you Roulette), and a lack of sleep, the night before departure. In about 3 hours, we had the winter wheels and tires bolted up, roof rack mounted, a spare front and rear wheels and tires, 3x 20 liter jerry cans and a 5 ton jack, a roadside emergency kit and a beer cooler packed and ready for mission (im)possible. With anticipation growing, the morning came quickly and we were playing the last little bit of Tetris filling the hatch of his pint-sized automobile. Fuel, coffees and some energy drinks and we were off! (How ridiculous does this look?!?)

 

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Day 1:This leg of the trip was the grueling, boring, drab, flat, and ironically the only real snow-filled part of our journey. A 1,000km jaunt from the hole in which we live, to the hole that is Fort Nelson, BC. Neither the camera, cell phones, nor GoPro bothered to snap a picture of this portion of the trip. After stopping for a beer and a bite to eat in Dawson Creek, passing the 0.0 mile marker of the Alaska Highway, we carted along though oil country and (barely) landed ourselves in Fort Nelson by 9pm. With 3 empty jerry cans strapped to the roof rack (to be filled at a later date), the car was sniffing on fumes as we pulled into the Petro Canada gas station. We sat there laughing at the potentially hilarious/infuriating situation we nearly found ourselves in. Stranded on the side of the road… with an abundance of empty jerry cans… IN BRITISH COLUMBIA! Needless to say, we were far more cognizant of our fuel levels from there on in. Grabbing a room at the first hotel in sight, we dropped our bags and found ourselves crushing beers at the nearby Boston Pizza. Day 1, success.

 

Day 2: With a bright and early start to the day, we filled up a jerry can (we’re learning!), and forged on (to the closest Tim Horton’s for some ****ty coffee and breakfast). We had 950kms of gorgeous terrain to cover today! The sweeping highways, skirting the mountains provided us with many excuses to stop, look around and snap some incredible photos. Sadly, photos hardly due this area of the world justice… so you’ll have to take my word for it, view my pictures with a grain of salt, or better yet… make the drive yourself! After 250kms of sweeping corners, dips, climbs, valleys and cliffs, we pulled over next to Muncho Lake and Strawberry flats as recommended by my Aunt. The lake was smooth as glass, and equally clear! This whole leg we found ourselves simply saying, “Wow.” This place was no exception. At this point I jumped into the driver’s seat, though in hindsight, I wish I hadn’t.

 

No more than 20km up the road the M-Coupe (more specifically Spiff_D’s roof rack) gave a mountain goat some complimentary facial reconstructive surgery. Coming over a hill crest, Ryan points out three mountain goats grazing in the opposing ditch. Punching the brakes, they got spooked and darted diagonally across the highway in our direction of travel. Inching further and further into the shoulder and now partway into the ditch, there was no escaping them. In one swift suicidal leap, the largest goat of the three introduced itself to the roof-rack. Be it the impact of the goat, or how far we were now into the ditch, the German missile of mass destruction drifted out of gravel and to a halt back in the shoulder. With a barrage of explicit words now escaping my mouth, we both hopped out to assess the damage. The goats head bounced off the roof rack into the roof, its chest devoured the driver’s side mirror, as its lifeless body ricocheted off the rear quarter panel and into the ditch. Poor goat some may say… well, screw that suicidal goat. Poor BMW! Of all possible mountain goat vs. BMW outcomes, we were fortunate with the best result. The car, though now looking worse for wear, was still drivable. We forge on.

 

Escaping the herds of wild bison grazing alongside the highway, we landed ourselves in Whitehorse at 7:30pm, and were very much looking forward to the home-cooked meal at my Aunt and Uncles. After a phenomenal meal of moose stew, wine, and an amazing evening of catching up and exchanging stories, we retired to the hotel and grabbed a few pints in the downstairs bar, The Sternwheeler Saloon. Thanks again Aunty Netty and Uncle Pete! It was great visiting with you and Benjamin again!

 

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Day 3: Today marked one of the trip’s shortest driving days at 550kms. But with the scenery becoming increasingly more beautiful the further we go, the drive was pleasantly broken up by numerous stops, lookouts, and CINNAMON BUNS! If any of you folks finally get over the “one day” bull**** and actually make the journey out to the Yukon, you must stop at Braeburn’s big buns at the Breaburn Lodge. The cinnamon bun was quite literally as big as my head (and I have a damn large noggin). As we neared Dawson City, we stopped at the beginning of the infamous Dempster Highway for a quick picture before making a 25min rounder up the Dempster to check conditions. Everything looks great! Now it was beer-o’clock and Dawson City was calling our names.

 

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Day 3 (Continued): Dawson City, Yukon. Holy crap. I’ve heard that this city lures people in, and they never want to leave. I now understand why. Streets made of mud/dirt, sidewalks made of wood, buildings still standing from the gold-rush days. What a wicked cool feeling. After lining up accommodations for the night, we climbed the stairs to the hotel’s patio bar and crushed some well earned lunch and beers. Talking to our bartender/server, we got the low-down on what to do in Dawson. He pointed us in the direction of a couple spectacular lookouts and the first gambling hall in Dawson, Diamond Tooth Gerties, and our night was more or less planned out for us.

 

Getting back into the car, we drove down the main street and onto the Ferry to the first lookout of Dawson. As you can/will see in the pictures below, it’s pretty spectacular. As we sat and enjoyed the view, regretting that we weren’t smart enough to have cold ones sitting in the empty cooler, an American couple stopped in as well. They particularly enjoyed the band-aid Ryan placed over the rear quarter which sparked up a little conversation. They too, were going to the Drunken Goat Taverna for some eats and drinks tonight! (Damn goats) So we told them we’d see them later and darted back down to the ferry. Zipping through town, we carted the coupe up the long winding Dome Road to the second lookout (The Dome). Once again, wow. A 360 degree view of Dawson City, the hills of Alaska, the Yukon River and the mountains in which we will drive through the next day, and the launch-pad for paragliders! After watching a man chuck himself off the ledge, enjoying a ridiculously overpriced ($4/can of Kieth’s overpriced) beer, we decided to return to the hotel, park the car for the night, and let the golden nectar of the Yukon Brewing Company make poor life decisions for us. As we set out to walk the town, we saw this dirty almost equally hard done by WRX, sitting on the side of the road with Ontario plates on it. Pointing at it and chuckling as we walked passed, the owner who happened to be just up the sidewalk called us out. Her and her parents were in town for a few days and after introducing ourselves and exchanging a few stories, we agreed to meet up again at Gerties for the midnight burlesque show!

 

The Drunken Goat Taverna. Pitchers started coming and going, probably faster than they should have. Toast to the goat, right?! The American couple we met earlier walked into through the front doors and this train was now a runaway. The Mrs. wasn’t all that pleased with the Mr., as 6 pitchers later, her husband had quickly caught up to us in levels of intoxication. We probably should have ordered more than just calamari and pita bread with tzatziki, but c’est la vie. After the Mrs. managed to drag her staggering husband out of the bar, it was 11:30pm so we grabbed our tab and rushed over to Gerties. MOAR beers! The show was solid, reminiscent of the olden day’s cabarets, and quite entertaining. In comes Miss Ontario! Drinks, spirited discussions (drunken arguments), drinks, gambling (aka too drunk and I may as well have been handing my money straight to the dealer), we closed that place down. Now what?! It is 2:30am and everyone still had energy to keep going. So we invited her and her parents up to the hotel to crush what remaining beers we had left. What a great evening with amazing people… great stories and even better memories (well, the ones I remember at least). It’s now 5:00am and time to go to sleep, so after exchanging contact info, off they went and it was time to catch some shut eye.

 

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Day 4: Uuggnnnhhhhh. 7:00am and our alarm clocks were screaming at us to get up. What were we thinking last night?! Also, where’s the camera? ****. Turning the hotel upside down, the DSLR was missing. I recalled having it at the Drunken Goat, bringing it to Gerties… but now it’s gone. I tried calling Gerties, but they were definitely closed. After some quick showers to feel half human, we went to pack the car and start our journey to Inuvik. Low and behold, there the camera was… sitting on the cargo cover in the back of the BMW. WTF?! When and why did I decide that would be a great idea?! Herp-a-la-drunken-derp. Forging on… no radio, no talking, nothing this first hour of the day. Let me tell you, gravel roads and swerving to avoid pot-holes and protruding rocks is the least amount of fun on 2 hours of drunken sleep and an increasingly vengeful hangover. We got 70kms up the Dempster to the Tombstone Territorial Park Interpretive center and both needed a break. Opening the doors to the interpretive center, the smell of bacon, coffee and French toast filled the air. Sheepishly, we dragged our feet around to their break/lunch room and offered the ranger girls $20 for a coffee. Being the kind souls that they are, and seeing us in the piss poor shape that we were in, they welcomed us in and fed us a hot Cup of Joe. This was their last day for the season and they, though incredibly friendly, were a wee bit too chipper and cheerful for us in our current states. Thanking them for the quick recharge, we continued onwards. If you make it to the Yukon, and you are not feeling adventurous enough to make it up to Inuvik, you must, at the very least, explore Tombstone Territorial Park. Apparently we came a week after the best of fall colors, but as you can see below, it was still incredibly beautiful.

 

Moseying along, we soon found ourselves in Eagle Plains. The halfway point on the Dempster. In desperate need of some nourishment, we made our way into the diner and were welcomed with breakfast menus. YES!!! Our excitement was nearly shattered when he told us breakfast was over, but we convinced the man to cook up some bacon and eggs and tipped him handsomely for his efforts. Hangover, cured. Next stop, the Arctic Circle… a feat in and amongst itself. Ryan believes his little clown shoe is the first to ever cross the circle, and the furthest north a BMW M-Coupe has ever been which is pretty f’n cool, in my opinion. Next stop, the Northwest Territories! Taking the touristy, but necessary pictures, the next stop was Inuvik. Onward ho! Boarding and unboarding two ferries, we were on the last leg. And sooner than expected, we were in Inuvik. Successful Dempster leg was successful! Ironically, the worst section of the Dempster highway, was the final 15kms of PAVED roads from the airport into the city. Permafrost and frost heave means asphalt was a piss poor idea. Damn civil engineers. What time is it? Beer o’clock! Ditching our bags in the Nova Inn, we made our way to Shivers, a local pub for some grub and more Yukon Brewing Company goodness.

 

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Day 5: Let’s go to Tuk! Our previously arranged Mackenzie Delta Tour to Tuktoyaktuk got delayed due to weather, so after getting up at 6:15am and waiting in the hotel lobby for an hour, we resigned back to the hotel room for some more ZZZZZs. Well, Ryan did… apparently mid-afternoon naps are still a thing and he hasn’t been getting any of them so he crashed while I surfed the interwebs for things to see and do in Inuvik. By about 10:30am, he begrudgingly got up, showered and we were out walking the streets and checking out the town. Inuvik is entirely built on permafrost, so every building is built on piles and/or stands off the ground insulating the buildings from melting the ground below. Even the utilities are routed through corridors throughout the homes and buildings in insulated and elevated utility viaducts sitting on steel piles. The civil engineer in me was intrigued and impressed at the work involved. 3pm rolls around and we head back to the hotel to be chauffeured off to the airport. And by chauffeured, I mean beat up in the back seat of a 15 passenger van on the bumpiest, most frost heaved road in existence. Edmontonians, you don’t even know.

 

This was my first time being aboard a plane smaller than a ****ty dash-8. So from outward appearances, this little Cessna seemed pretty legit. But as we boarded the plane, I soon saw that was not quite the case. Ryan, a pilot himself, assured me it was no big deal… but when the doors don’t quite close, the headliner is falling off the roof, the interior plastics are cracked, and numerous rivets holding this jalopy together are missing… I was reasonably concerned. The 45min flight went smoothly, as we circled some Pingos (mini ice formed mountains), we landed safely in Tuktoyaktuk. Originally I thought Inuvik was desolate. As Ryan perfectly put it, Tuktoyaktuk makes Inuvik look like Toronto. The tour of Tuk was eye-opening. We visited the oldest building in Tuk, to the boat the early missionaries used to transport the local natives to and from school, walked in and around a traditional igloo that is still intact and many other historical sites in the village (all pictured below). Our tour guide also let us explore the town’s ice locker. We climbed 30’ down an unlit shaft deep into the permafrost. Out came the camera phones and their flashlights as we explored the 3 different branches of this underground maze. There, in the 21 marked rooms, is where they used to store (rarely used today), the scores of their hunting trips which consisted primarily of caribou and whale.

 

Clambering back out of this frigid little meat locker, we walked to the end of the Trans Canada Trail. This is where, arguably, we did the most idiotic thing on the entire trip. We came prepared with bathing suits and towels and plans to jump into the Arctic Ocean. It was windy and about 1 degree out, and with only one foot in the frigid water, my cojones already receded into my chest. By the time I walked out far enough for the water to be up to my thighs, I couldn’t even feel my feet. So instead of diving in, freezing solid, and floating away into the ocean to never be seen or heard from again, I ran back to shore, dried off, tossed on my jacket. Then I played the waiting game… waiting to regain feeling in my feet, and waiting for my balls to drop so I can place them in my newly acquired purse. Yup. I bitched out. Well, we both did. Its beer o’clock, and I’m cold and miserable… take me back to Inuvik please. So off we went, and we found ourselves, once again, back at Shivers for some more pub grub and brewskies.

 

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Day 6: Well, as interesting and fun as the Northwest Territories was, Dawson City was calling our names. Back down the Dempster we go! Waking up and catching a beautiful sunrise, we were back on gravel with the Yukon in our sights. Scraping our way on and off the ferries, the skies decided to open up and down came the rain. Man-o-man did the ol’ M-Coupe get dirty! Being that we’ve already seen/stopped and wandered the outlooks and tourist stops, we barreled down the highway with zero hiccups or holdups. Fueling up both our stomachs and the ever thirsty BMW in Eagle Plains, it was the home stretch to Dawson. Surprisingly, be it from lack of hangovers, or maybe because the roads got groomed while we were in the NWT, the roads seemed smoother. Smooth enough that we were able to maintain an average speed of 100km/h! We did, however, stop for one last view of Tombstone. My goodness… it’s gorgeous. I need to… no… I WILL come back here. Fancy that… it’s beer o’clock! We tied the ol’ noble steed’s reins up in front of the Aurora Inn and went on foot in search of beer.

 

Happening upon another recommendation of my Uncles, we strolled into Bombay Peggy’s Pub. After demolishing a few pints I was getting hungry. We then found out they didn’t serve real food… only appies. So away we went to a familiar place, the Drunken Goat. Toast to the goat! Beers and dinner served, we wondered back to Gerties to try and win back some of the money we lost three night prior. Oh how foolish we are. I proceeded to donate another $250 to the roulette table, $50 to the blackjack table, and $60 to a dirty thief at the poker table. Blast! So we closed our empty wallets, crushed a few more beers, enjoyed some cabaret and called it a night.

 

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Day 7: These days were getting longer and longer. Being 6’7” and coupe-d up (ba dum pshh) in Ryan’s little car is wearing on the both of us. Thank goodness it was yet another relatively short day of driving. However, this trip wouldn’t be complete without a flat. I mean, we were prepared for one… we damn well better get one. We were then successful (If you think about it in a backwards sort of way). Limping the car to the nearest gas station, we filled up the right rear tire enough to get to the local tire shop. Their schedule didn’t quite jive with ours, so instead of being lazy, we busted out the jack and the patch’n’plug kit and got at it. Now, neither of us has ever plugged a tire. That’s what we have Kal-Tire for. So the whole thing was a learning process. Ryan’s understandable hesitation to enlarge a hole in a $450 tire had us trying to smash a plug into the sliver of a puncture with the plug tool and a 4×6 piece of lumber. A local saw us, probably struggling to contain his laughter, and gave us some a few tips and tricks. Within 20 minutes, the tire was plugged, aired up, bolted up and we were back on the road! The fiasco cut into our day by about 2 hours all said and done, kyboshing our plans to race out to Skagway that afternoon for a beer. So, once again, traversing roads already travelled, we beelined it to Whitehorse as we had made plans to meet up with Bailey (aka Miss Ontario). I’m still unsure how we convinced her to hang out with us retards another night, but a familiar face along the journey (that wasn’t Ryan’s) was certainly welcomed! Hunkering down at the Ramada, Ryan ran across the street to see if Fountain Tire had some reasonably priced all seasons to replace our weathered winters… but no such luck. Why would they have low-profile tires in a pickup truck city? Owell… the tires appeared to have enough tread to take us home.

 

Beers beers and moar beers! Back at the Sternwheeler Saloon (hotel bar), Bailey joined us for a few pints before heading to Earls for some eats. In a more coherent state, we learned that she had not only out road-tripped us (umpteen thousand miles travelled and far too many states that I lost count), and she also loves Top Gear. The real Top Gear, none of that American garbage. Pretty rad. With an interview the next day, she couldn’t hang out until all hours of the night, so when she left and wished us luck, we pounded a few more beers and with 1000kms of road in front of us the next day, we called it a night.

 

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Day 8: 7:00am and back at ‘er! The final 400kms of backtracking before blazing 600kms of fresh tracks down the Stewart-Cassiar Highway. We had our eyes set on Stewart, BC as Ryan’s research lead him to believe the place would be another quaint old gold rush town. So down the highway we went. Along the way we looked for signs, but inadvertently passed the abandoned asbestos mining town of Cassiar. Abandoned ****, especially whole towns peaks my curiosity… so I was a little bummed it was missed. Unfortunately, we didn’t have the time to backtrack and search for the place so we stopped for a quick bite in Jade City and moseyed on. More good fortune on our side as the AMA maps Ryan had made were proved wrong and we did not encounter any of the 275kms of gravel road that was promised us. Thank goodness, as those blizzacks might not have taken to it well.

 

The highway and scenery surrounding it were beautiful as promised, but unlike the Dempster/Alaska and Klondike highways, the lookouts were non-existent and/or poorly marked. So there were few stops made on this leg. The last 60kms into Stewart on the Glacier Highway was spectacular. Gone were the autumn trees, and we coasted down the hill into a seemingly rainforest-esque valley. Waterfalls streaming down the mountain sides, trees overgrowing the road, it was unreal. But again, it was a two lane undivided highway with no shoulders. So… if you’re ever in the area, the drive to Stewart is worth your while. Fortunately, we did manage to pull over at Bear Glacier to snap a couple pictures before wondering down into Stewart. Stewart, BC. Not much to see, and even less to do. There was no cell service, no old school pubs, just ****ty restaurants and run down hotels/motels. Quite disappointing to say the least. We snagged a room at the King Edward Hotel, who’s rooms and décor pre-dated both Ryan and I, and visited the attached grimy little bar for a quick bite to eat and some beers. Instead of wasting any more time here, we packed it in early so we can get a fresh start the next day and get out of there.

 

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Day 9: The home stretch. We were now 5,700kms into the trip and starting to get sick of driving. We made a quick, but necessary rip into Hyder Alaska, just to say we did it. That being said, we spent less time IN Alaska, than we did explaining to the Canadian Border Patrol folks trying to get back into Canada haha. Fortunately, today was another short day… a mere 400kms from Stewart, BC to Houston, BC. Home to my wonderful sister, brother-in-law and two amazing nephews and niece. 45minutes outside of Houston, we made a quick pit-stop in Smithers, BC for some gas and nibbles. If, for some strange reason you find yourself in Smithers, visit the Alpenhorn Pub and Bistro. Order up the three cheese nachos with pulled pork and thank me for it later. Jumping back into the coupe, we cruised our way down to the metropolis of Houston. It had been over 4 years since I’d been up there to visit them. So it was great catching up, seeing those little hooligans terrorize the house, and play Lego with the boys. I felt like a kid again rummaging through thousands of Lego pieces… and it confirms the fact that growing old is inevitable, growing up is optional. The kids were so proud to show off the 6 newborn golden retrievers in the back yard. They were adorable little buggers, eyes still sealed shut any everything.

 

Then came the feast… steak, crab legs, twice baked potatoes, cauliflower salad with all of the fixins… man-o-man did I fill my belly, and with good quality home cooked food, not the pub-grub that has sustained us thus far. After the Lego airplane was built, and the kids went to bed, we sat around the kitchen table, drinks in hand, exchanging laughs and stories. Confirmed… I need to come here more often. Thanks for the hospitality… I miss you guys!

 

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Day 10: 6:45am came far too early as I was rudely awoken by my alarm clock, reminding me to open my computer and dial into a conference call for work. I’m on vacation dammit, leave me alone! Trying not to wake the household, I slowly heard doors opening and the pitter patter of kids running about. Finishing up my phone call at 7:30, the boys were wide awake having breakfast before heading off to school for the day. After saying our goodbyes, we beat them out the door and off we went. Instead of heading straight home down the Yellowhead, we took a little detour to the south. Well, a 700km detour to be precise. Down the Cariboo highway, through the badlands of Kamloops, skirting around the Shuswaps and up to Revy we went! Ryan’s older brother is fortunate enough to call this wonderful piece of British Columbia home. Navigating our way into the city, we pulled up to the house just after 7pm. Fancy that, beer o’clock! We hopped on a few of Chris’ pedal bikes and made our way to Bid Eddy’s Pub. Burgers, fries and some ice cold beers please! MOAR BEERS! There’s nothing illegal about drinking and biking, right?! (Ya, I know there technically is… so get off my back). Racing back to the house, we enjoyed a few more wobbly pops before finding pillows and catching some shut eye.

 

Day 11: Home day. For reals this time. Another 300kms of mountains before 400 more kilometers of meh and blech before we’re back in Edmonton. Ryan arranged to cross paths with his parents and sister-in-law in Lake Louise for lunch as they were en-route to Revelstoke, so we sat down and explained as best we could, in the time we had, the adventure we’ve been on to date. I’ve known Ryan for upwards of 8 years, have stayed at his parents place in Calgary several times for car shows, but have never met his parents. It was about time! We thanked them for the meal, shook hands, gave hugs, exchanged well-wishes of safe travels and were homeward bound. Pulling into the Edmonton around 6pm, we did what only seemed fitting… hit up our local drinking hole, Joeys Mayfield for victory beers! With the rally-esque BMW hard-parked out front, in we walked. Great success, many good times, much memories. Inuvik or bust.

 

7,755kms, 2 Provinces, 2 Territories, 1 state… because road-trips.

 

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You can see more images from this trip and join the discussions on the official Expedition Portal thread [HERE].

 

 

 

 

 

 

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