Show Notes for Podcast #107
Greg Miller on Overlanding Continents and Land Cruisers
Scott Brady interviews Greg Miller, Philanthropist, Expeditions 7 co-founder, and founder of the Land Cruiser Heritage Museum
Founder and Chairman of the Landcruiser Heritage Museum
Greg Miller is an American businessman, philanthropist and adventurer. His career has encompassed leadership responsibilities in such diverse areas as real estate, automobile dealerships and professional sports. His efforts to strengthen communities have impacted many, and his travels have yielded unprecedented feats.
Greg’s passion for off-road vehicles and the great outdoors converge in Salt Lake City’s Land Cruiser Heritage Museum which displays more than 100 models of Land Cruisers. Greg is founder, chairman and curator of the museum. Greg co-conceived and led Expeditions 7, a 58,000-mile global expedition that marked the first instance of a single vehicle driving on all seven continents. More recently, he led the first successful traverse of the long axis of Greenland’s ice cap in motorized vehicles.
Miller serves on several boards, including the Sutherland Institute, the Utah Office of Tourism, and the Sherry Black Foundation, which Greg and his wife Heidi established in memory of Heidi’s mother, and which facilitates training of law enforcement officers to help solve violent crimes. Greg and Heidi reside in Salt Lake City. They have six children and nine grandchildren.
Scott is the publisher and co-founder of Expedition Portal and Overland Journal and is often credited with popularizing overlanding in North America. His travels by 4WD and adventure motorcycle span all seven continents and includes three circumnavigations of the globe. His polar expeditions include two vehicle crossings of Antarctica and the first long-axis crossing of Greenland. @scott.a.brady
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To follow and learn more about Greg Miller and his adventures please check out the links below:
Scott Brady Hello and welcome to the Overland Journal Podcast. I’m your host Scott Brady and I am here with longtime friend Greg Miller. Greg and I were fortunate to co-found the Expedition 7 series which ultimately took us around the world twice, and all seven continents with the same Land Cruiser. Greg, thank you so much for being on the podcast today.
Greg Miller It’s my pleasure Scott. Thank you for having me.
Scott Brady For me, looking back on Expedition 7, we started off with this goal of taking the same Land Cruiser to all seven continents but I don’t think either of us had any idea how much it was going to change us as people. When I think about that trip it’s always interesting to know your backstory with Land Cruisers, and I think the audience would enjoy that as well. What started this passion, this love for Land Cruisers?
Greg Miller That’s a good question. It’s one that I’ve actually given a lot of thought to and I think what it comes down to is, my dad began his professional career with Toyota in 1968. I was born in 1966, so basically along for the ride from day one. We moved to Colorado in the early 70s and my dad worked at Stevens and Toyota. I just remember- some of my earliest memories involved Land Cruisers. My dad restored an FJ 40, I remember going to the ballpark on summer nights with a top off and a 40, later we took vacations to the Moab area and Canyon lands in an FJ 55 wagon. I took my driver’s test in an FJ 60 on my 16th birthday, and I mean, there’s just a long list of memories in Land Cruisers and I just think they were part of my upbringing, and that’s- like maybe a dog or a sibling or a grandparent, you know, it’s just- it’s such a part of your life that it becomes something that you develop really strong feelings for.
Scott Brady Yeah, they weave into the fabric of who we are, they become a character in our life story for sure. What was your first Land Cruiser?
Greg Miller Yeah, my first one that I owned was a 1970 FJ 40.
Scott Brady Awesome.
Greg Miller Factory soft top, three speed. I’m laughing because when I- I was 17 years old when I bought it, and when I was on the demo drive with the seller, we actually got hit in the quarter panel. We just got out and pulled the sheet metal back out and it was just like it was before it got hit. And I’ve tried to buy that car since, I still have the VIN and a couple times I’ve posted something just hoping that somebody said, Hey, I know where that car is but no luck so far.
Scott Brady Maybe you’ll get lucky, that would be incredible. And I didn’t know that that was your first Land Cruiser, because it was the same for me, a 1977 FJ 40. It was read and it was my very first Land Cruiser.
Greg Miller Very cool car.
Scott Brady So we now know what your first Land Cruiser is, what is the Land Cruiser that you have owned the longest?
Greg Miller It’s a 1980 FJ 40, and I probably bought it in about 1998 and my kids actually dubbed it Senior, because it’s the senior member of the collection. They’ve all let me know that if I ever sell it that we’re no longer on speaking terms and I think that’s because they have fond memories of that car much like I did of the others growing up and I think every one of my kids and now some of my grandkids have actually learned to drive or drive a stick in that car.
Scott Brady And is it in the museum or is it in its own museum, somewhat protected?
Greg Miller I have a little car closet where-
Scott Brady I got it.
Greg Miller Stuff that won’t fit in the museum, I kind of keep it hidden in there. But that’s where it is.
Scott Brady And you ever find yourself like on a Tuesday morning just wanting to go drive that vehicle?
Greg Miller Not anymore. In an earlier day maybe, but that thing is just so rusted out and rattled and… it’s work to drive it. My kids, I think, feel that way. A long time- they would take turns driving it during the summer, it would stay at one house for a couple of weeks and then another one for a couple of weeks and hasn’t been quite as much pressure on it lately. But I think that’s because my kids have just gotten older and developed other interests.
Scott Brady Well, it’s certainly a positive coincidence that your love for a specific kind of vehicle was Land Cruisers, because they’re one of the best vehicles possible to travel around the world in, but how did you go from having a love for Land Cruisers because of how they helped you and your family escape into Southern Utah to wanting to drive one around the world. What was that transition for you? What made you think you wanted to drive around the world?
Greg Miller I don’t know that there was a singular moment where I decided I wanted to drive around the world, it was probably just a culmination of events. I was fortunate in my career to get to a point where I had means to do big expeditions like that, not really knowing what it would cost, I just knew that I could write a fairly good sized check to make something big happen. That sort of made it possible for me to pursue dreams and I remember in the early thought process of Expedition 7, getting my computer out and just doing a brain dump, asking questions like: which vehicle, how many vehicles, which route, which time of year, and it just- it was like three pages of notes. That was shortly before you and I met. I just remember thinking what a blessing it was when you and I finally connected and I walked you through that list, or just a portion of it, and you, very matter of factly said, “Yeah, I’ve got the blueprints for that trip, I’ve already designed all that and planned all that. We can get together and talk about it.” It was just a series of things like that, and more before it probably, and a few after, but it just was an idea that continued to evolve until there was a moment where I thought, you know, I’ve got everything I need to pull this off. I’ve got guidance from Scott, I’ve got the vehicles, got a route, we’ve got a plan, we’ve got the ability to finance it, we’ve got the mechanical support, and so on. It was like, are we going to do this or not? S’like, yeah, we’re going to do this!
Scott Brady And if I remember you had 100 series Land Cruiser at the time and that was the vehicle- in fact, I remember the first time we talked, I asked you what big thing do you want to do next? And you said, Scott, I want to drive around the world. And I asked you what you wanted to drive and you had this 100 series that you had very thoughtfully built to be perfect for that kind of thing and it was really interesting to see that you are already thinking in those terms.
Greg Miller Yeah. And that might have been a good vehicle to travel around the world. I think the vehicles that we ultimately selected, which were the BDJ 78s, probably produced a better result, especially when we’re going across the Namib desert and so on, I don’t know that the 100 series would have served us quite as well. I think 100 series would have done okay, we might have maybe- might have influenced our route a little bit, but it would have got us home.
Scott Brady And there was something about the purity of that 70 series. Maybe it’s because you and I started in 40 series. It felt like just enough comfort and power and convenience to make it where you could drive all day long, but it was so simple, so easy to drive.
Greg Miller I couldn’t agree more. I love that term, “the purity of those 70 series.” To me, even a contemporary 70 series- 78, 79. If you go sit in one, a brand new one, and its still got that new car smell, for me, it bridges the gap between an up to the moment car that was just built a week or a month ago, but still has the feeling, the soul of the FJ 40s that I remember crawling through as a young boy at Stevenson Toyota in the early 70s. The same smell, the same feel, the same DNA. And I think that’s remarkable, and I don’t get that as much from, you know, like the 80s, or the 100s and the 200s, they’ve just become more luxurious. I got it a little bit from the 60 series. But the 70s, as you said, they’re still so pure, they just evoke a really neat emotion for me to be able to have that travel with us on E7 with 4.5 liter turbo V8, the front and rear diff locks. That was- like you said, that was the perfect combination of attributes for a vehicle for that expedition.
Scott Brady I think so. And there’s just an honesty about them. There’s just nothing pretentious, they are a tool like nothing else in the world to do a job, maybe something will come out at some point in time. But as of today, and the time that we did that trip, there was nothing equivalent. There were things that were close, but nothing equivalent to that vehicle.
Greg Miller At the risk of sounding like the guy who recommended the United States close their patent office because everything had been invented way back when, I just don’t know how you would ever improve on that 78 series. It was- it’s so pure, it’s so durable, it’s so you know, well built, well thought out, well engineered, well manufactured. And as you know, we put, I think, on the fleet of 70 series, I think it came to just under 160,000 miles of travel, most of which was not on pavement, and we had that one failure. That was the solenoid switch to activate the rear diff lock that occurred within 1000 miles- on three vehicles, within 1000 miles of each other- in the middle of the Australian outback after the sand and the spinifex and everything that we subjected them to. To have that kind of burden- load on those vehicles for as long as we did and only have that one failure to me is still absolutely almost unbelievable. Remarkable.
Scott Brady It’s incredible. Yeah, and that was really trail damage. It wasn’t even that the trucks had a reliability issue.
Greg Miller It wasn’t an engineering issue. It was just interesting that it all came in such a tight period and I remember sometime after we got back from E7, we were asked to bring one of those trucks down to Moab as part of Toyotas Ever Better Expedition. I remember they asked me to give a little presentation about E7 in a little mobile classroom they had in a trailer, and as I was presenting I saw, standing against the back wall, about a dozen engineers from Toyota. They all had their black slacks on and their red golf shirts. And when I started telling that story, you could see them all just perk up. And they didn’t want to be rude, but they couldn’t wait to get outside, they knew that truck was just right outside the door. And as soon as I finished my presentation, they bolted out the door, and I’ve got a picture of like six or eight of them under that car with Kurt Williams there, showing ’em what the malfunction was. And I’m pretty sure if we went and bought a 78 today, whatever allowed those malfunctions to happen has been cured, and it won’t happen again.
Scott Brady I think it was just- there was a little skid plate or little deflection plate and those got dented. And then the wires got worn basically down to the- just from all that spinifex, it was enough. But yeah, the Australian segment was the most abusive on the trucks, it felt like to me.
Greg Miller Yeah.
Scott Brady Yeah, incredible. It was such a pleasure for us to be able to both be in that place where- without you, like there’s no way I could have realized that it was- people who are listening may not know this, but I was considering Expedition 7 before starting the magazine and I just didn’t know- I had no way to figure out how to do it, I needed the right partner. There was no way to do it! So we started the magazine instead, which of course I’m so grateful that we did and then for you and I to be at a party with Paul May, at Paul Mays house, and to talk about traveling around the world. And then the next morning, we met for breakfast, and it was just- everything just fit together so perfect that we knew it was time to do it.
Greg Miller Yeah, I feel the same way. I had certain things that I could contribute to the effort but I had huge blind spots, huge areas of ignorance that I think you were perfectly suited to fill and I was able to fill some needs that you weren’t and it was the perfect complement and I- you know, here we are a little over 10 years from the original launch of that and I’m still amazed that we were able to pull it off, that we completed it, you know, it was a long journey and there was- there were enormous logistics involved in even ways the the best planning wouldn’t have been able to consider and we got through all that stuff and we got the vehicles home and they’re in the museum and you’re safe and I’m safe and here we are talking about it 10 years later. That was… that’s a pretty remarkable feat. I’m very proud of it.
Scott Brady Yeah, I would say so. I feel the same way, and for us to be this many years later and all of those experiences and enjoy being able to see each other and to talk about that experience? Not everybody gets to have that result. And I think that a lot of it comes down to the types of people that you and I brought into the trip. If you think about the constant throughout the journey, Kurt Williams is one of the first that comes to mind, and he’s just an individual of such rare and exceptional quality that he makes the trip better just by him being there. It was the first big trips that Clay got to do internationally, Clay Croft from Xoverland, and now he’s had this incredible career traveling around the world with Xoverland and telling stories. And Cruiser Outfitters is bigger and stronger than it’s ever been and now Kurt has all of those experiences that he gained from E7 and me too, I remember one day I was feeling the weight of getting it all done and hitting timelines and was I going to do it and still take care of my team back home and I was talking to a good friend of mine and he said, Scott, he’s like, anytime you do something exceptional like this that changes your life, it’s going to be hard. He said, so look at it like a PhD in Overlanding do you get a chance- like a PhD is not going to be easy, there’s going to be hard days, there’s going to be sleepless nights, there’s going to be all of these challenges that come along and if you want the PhD, you got to put in the work and you got to endure the hard days, and you got to just wake up and make it happen. And he told me that advice and it completely reset my expectation. This understanding that what we were doing was difficult and there were going to be hard days for all of us and the result is that we had an experience that had never been done before, so…
Greg Miller That’s a great story. You’ve never shared that part of it with me before so it’s interesting to hear that. I think I had similar experiences like, you know, what have I gotten myself into, you know, if I’ve bitten off more than I can chew and as you said, like any worthwhile endeavor, especially a life changing endeavor, it’s going to come at a price and we just kept chipping away at it, you know, as everybody knows, we made it home. But I’d like to go back and revisit what you said about the quality of the people that were part of the project. That’s one of my favorite things to tell about the original E7 expedition as well as the later Greenland expedition, which occurred in the spring of 2018. And that is that with all of the adversity- the way I tell the story is go and select your six favorite people on planet Earth, the people you love the most, and then bring them into a space where you’re literally within earshot for a matter of weeks, and then subject yourself to a series of challenges, you know, every day you’re gonna get stuck, you’re gonna have mechanical failure, you’re gonna have logistical or, you know, political challenges or whatever. And so you’re constantly problem solving, you’re eating out of a can or out of a cellophane wrapper, probably sleep deprived, and all of these things layer on. It’s pretty easy to start getting snippy with people. But in all of those experiences that we had over those, you know, 218 days I was in the field on the original and then probably another 20 days in Greenland later, the thing that I’m most proud of other than accomplishing that, you know, we accomplished everything we set out to do. The thing that I’m probably equally proud of is the quality of the team members and that even though we were in those close confines in those conditions, there was literally never a cross word spoken.
Scott Brady I can’t remember one.
Greg Miller Yeah, and that just doesn’t happen. And that speaks to the camaraderie, to the level of respect we had for each other, to the expertise and the way we all were able to contribute and lean in to our collaborative problem solving. You know, I remember going back to Greenland now- and I’m kind of jumping around but when we were so close to a hot shower, and pizza after being out in 40, below for almost three weeks, some of us wanted to punch through and some of us said, no, we got to stop here, it’s too dangerous. And I just remember standing there in that cold twilight with ice below us and crevasses who knew where, but we knew they were below us, and just having that deliberation, and those who didn’t get what they wanted just said, Okay, I’m gonna go with the group, I respect the group and it just worked out. That’s a remarkable thing. You don’t see that- I don’t see that anywhere in my life or in society other than that, so that is something that I really love about the E7 experience.
Scott Brady And we were surrounded by danger. I mean, I remember at that spot where we stopped and we got some food in us, when I stepped out of the vehicle I fell into a crevasse and my harness is what stopped me.
Greg Miller Yeah, there was- I remember you were actually in the lead truck so it was me and Kurt, I think, we’re in my truck, and we watch Solberg get out with this probing rod, and he’s trying to find the crevasses and he did the same thing, he stepped into one and kind of what got one leg, you know, up to his thigh in there and it’s like, wow, this is sketchy.
Scott Brady And they were everywhere.
Greg Miller Yeah, everywhere you- I mean-
Scott Brady And what was it about half or third of the time that he dropped his hole, and they went all the way-
Greg Miller And we had to drive across that!
Scott Brady We did! It was our only way out.
Greg Miller That was quite the adventure.
Scott Brady When you look back on Expedition 7, how do you feel like it changed you as a person?
Greg Miller Well, I would say that it reinforced in me the value of surrounding myself with quality people. I’d like to think I knew that before, but the experience heightened that awareness in me, number one. Number two, it gave me confidence that with the right relationships and the right people involved, I can do hard things, really hard things, even if they’re long duration. For me that- just everything that E7 is, that it represents, is one of the things that I’m most proud of in my life. I’m proud of my marriage, I’ve been married 38 years. I’m proud of my kids, they’re all wonderful, they have beautiful spouses, I have wonderful grandchildren. Outside of family, I think Expedition 7 and the way it was executed and just the robustness of the experience is something that just for me gets more… I’m more and more fond of it with time passing. And I think it will inspire me at some point to do other big and, you know, probably improbable things.
Scott Brady Yeah, we’ve talked about boats in the Northwest Passage and all kinds of fun ideas, so who knows where things will go from there. I think when I look back, I realize how much Expedition 7 humbled me and how much it softened me. And I think that a lot of it was the amount of hours that I spent with Bruce Dorn, who’s just a very thoughtful guy, and the amount of- the conversations that we had about his life and the people that he interacts with and he helps. And then just seeing all of these unique places around the world and how not only fortunate we are to live where we live and the amount of opportunity that we have in the United States, but that people are- can be happy, and that they can be joyful, and that they can be excited about their day when they have a fraction of that opportunity. And that really recalibrated me, it made me be far less critical of myself and others and it also allowed me to be a lot more open. I’m really lucky every day and I gotta be- I can’t take that for granted.
Greg Miller I agree. I think that was something that I was impressed by as well, and I have sort of a companion thought to that, which is that I feel like everywhere we went, anytime we were engaging with a local and getting to know them and their family and their home and their job, you know, their circumstances, there was a common thread, and that is that everybody just wants an opportunity. They want an opportunity to work for a living. They want to, you know, they want to earn what they get. They want to make sure that people they care about or love, and they want to have a good time once in a while. It was interesting to me how similar that pattern was anywhere we went. I mean, you think about that reindeer farm in Isertoq, that was true there, it was true in South America it was true in Africa and that little village when we went in those Adobe huts, and all of those people just just wanted those same basic fundamental things and they’re same things I want. You know, here I am in America, but it- to me it just was an awakening of how you know there’s these bonds of humanity and how much we have in common with people no matter how different their culture or their skin color or their upbringing may be. We still have so much in common.
Scott Brady And speaking about those bonds, Greg, I thought one of the really unexpected and positive things that came out of the trip for me was the opportunities that we had to travel with family. I traveled with family less than you did but you had your family with you on almost every leg of the journey, even Antarctica. You know, you had family that was able to come and Oakley was able to fly in and spend time with you. When you look back on that time with your kids and with your extended family, even when we were in Europe, what were some of the things that were your fondest memories, or the things that you thought was the most touching for you?
Greg Miller I think is- if I look at it in terms of memories, I got enormous joy from seeing my family exposed to exotic places, you know? Cultures, people, foods, landscapes, it was just neat to see their reaction to it. And now that these 10 years or so a past it’s been equally magical for me to see every one of my kids affinity for travel. And its different kinds of travel, some is super adventure related, my middle son Josh just sumitted El Cap, he loves to go to Yosemite.
Scott Brady It’s the real deal!
Greg Miller Yeah, I mean, that’s legit. Four or five nights on the wall, like 100 pitches to get up there. And the first time he tried it, he was unsuccessful but he learned so much about it he went back the next year and got to the summit, which I’m really proud of him for. Others are more- they’ll rent a sprinter van and take their three kids and stay in a beach house somewhere, it’s a little more posh, a little more laid back. Doesn’t matter what the flavor is, they’re all getting out and having those experiences.
Scott Brady Yeah, which is really important. I remember for me, Greg, watching you with your kids, that there were several times in fact, almost on every continent that you had these moments with one of them, just with you. And you guys were spending days together in a car, and I could see the relationship soften and get closer and the laughter and it- because at first they were probably a little intimidated! I’m gonna go where?! And I’m going to have to drive how many hours a day?! But it, consistently, every time whether it was one of your daughters or one of your sons, as a father of several children, was that a unique or an unexpected outcome to spend that quality time with with each one of your kids?
Greg Miller Well, if I’m being honest, I think I would have to say that I expected a quality experience when I arranged to have whoever that was with me. But I also think it would be accurate to say that in every instance, my expectations were exceeded just because of the moment. Whatever it was that we experienced, it drew us closer together and having the one on one time, when it was one on one, and you know, just being around the camp at night, sleeping in the 78, eating in the restaurants or you know grilling in the jungle or whatever it was. I just don’t think there’s any way that those kinds of experiences can’t help people and grow closer together.
Scott Brady I agree. And it was so fun to watch, like in Africa, for example, where all the boys climbed up on top of the rack, and we’re doing this deep water crossing, and they were croc infested waters, the smiles! I can zoom in on the photos, Greg, and I can see they are lit up. I mean, they are in the wildest places on the planet and they’re absolutely alive because of that experience. And then we’re sitting around the campfire later that night, and this is a funny story from E7 that I’ll share for the audience, but I remember we were sitting around the campfire. And for whatever reason, like the hair, I don’t have hair on the back of my head, but-
Greg Miller Where the hair used to be?
Scott Brady The vestigial hair follicles on the back of my head stood up and I just knew that something wasn’t right. And I had a flashlight with me and you were working on your laptop around the fire, and I popped the light on and there was a hyena. I don’t know how close it was to you, like to me, it probably like feels like his story. But it was close. And it was just this reminder that we were in a wild wild place.
Greg Miller I remember that vividly, yeah. That was… there’s no fences, there’s no cages. We were right in their backyard.
Scott Brady We were right- and thank goodness for the fire. That was what kept the animal at bay a little bit. But it was experiences like that for me that were so powerful but it does come back to those people that we did it with. You know, if you think about the time we spent with Sinuhe and Paul traveling on several of the trips and you know, the time that we spent going across North America and making it all the way to St. John’s and just those experiences with people that we just developed a very deep bond with because of that trip.
Greg Miller Yeah, and taking that a step further. Yes, all of those bonds were either created or solidified or strengthened that you mentioned, but I look back now, I have friends all around the world, one of which I talked to today, as a result of that trip. I stay in contact with- there are probably a dozen of them that I met through E7 that are meaningful relationships to me. And I feel like you know, I’ve had some of them come to Salt Lake and stay at my house, and I feel like they would reciprocate if I was in one of their neighborhoods, and I said, Hey, I need a place to crash for a day or two. I’ll say come on over. That’s obviously a wonderful takeaway from the trip as well.
Scott Brady And I think for those that are listening, it just comes back to this- for Greg and I, this realization that despite the extreme nature of the journey, and the length of time that it took for us to do it and the resources it took to pull it together. The thread at the end of it was about the people that we traveled with, and that can be replicated on a trail in Utah as easily as it can be crossing a continent. And those are the 10 years later, you and I are looking back on those moments that we had with the people that we care about. And maybe a hyena in there, too.
Greg Miller Yeah, I think that’s another one of my takeaways, you just led us into it. When I address audiences about Expedition 7, I’m always concerned about people’s reaction. And you know, I would never want to give the impression about elitism, or, you know, I never talk about how much the expedition costs or anything like that. And I always end my remarks by saying that I understand everybody doesn’t have the means to pull off an Expedition 7 scale journey. Good news is that that’s not necessary, because the emotions that I experienced throughout E7 were remarkably similar to the emotions that I experienced as an eight year old boy when I went through the hole in the back fence with a neighbor friend and we went down a ditch under a culvert onto a frozen canal one winter morning. And I remember walking along the canal with these willow branches that were laden with snow and we’re kind of going through this tunnel, and we just started exploring. We didn’t know where it was going to go but it was this Willow tunnel and we went down, it seemed like forever, but it was probably just a few 100 yards. And we came out at this gravel quarry, where there was the big rock piles and a conveyor had created a big sand pile, it seemed like it was 50 feet tall. And because it was so cold, it was frozen. And me and my friend, Max climbed to the top of this hill, and it was this huge adventure and you can see forever, and it’s like, hey, there’s our house over there! And all of that, just that adventure, and what’s around the next turn, it was just so deeply ingrained in me at the time. And again, those are the emotions that I felt on E7. So that literally cost us nothing other than the effort to get off- you know, go out the back door and do it. And so I think I think there’s a lesson in there for me and hopefully for others where you just do what you can, live within your means, but take that first step and get out and try something, you know, go someplace you’ve never been, take a friend that you want to get to know better, just take a risk and do something and you will be rewarded for it.
Scott Brady I agree. And it makes me think of this good friend of mine, Stefano Melgrati. He left Italy, and he traveled around the world for two years. He went all the way down the length of Africa, shipped over to South America and drove all the way back up the same route that we did. His average expenses per day were $26.
Greg Miller Wow.
Scott Brady You’re right, it is possible to have a version of these adventures just by a different means or with a different set of expectations. Yeah. And it’s really impressive to see people do that on a daily basis.
Greg Miller Yeah, there’s so many different ways to experience the world and to, you know, to drink it in, so to speak. I just love it when people take the initiative and I especially love it when they take the initiative to get their kids out and introduce their kids to something new, that then creates a spark in them and then they want to keep doing bigger things.
Scott Brady When you look back at Expedition 7, what was your favorite continent?
Greg Miller I would say… Man, they were so varied and they were also remarkable in their own way, but I don’t think there’s anything that can equal that moment we had in the Okavango Delta. That one night, when the sun was low in the sky and it seemed like it just stayed there for an hour, and we were on that river bend and I remember looking over and seeing two huge crocodiles on the far bank, there were six or seven elephants that were in the river near the crocodiles and then looking over towards the sun there was a pod of hippos and you could see their backs in the glistening water and then just to their right I could- there was that herd of zebras that was only obstructed by those three giraffes that were coming to get a drink in the water, and all the while my boys are up on the rack with their long lenses just drinking this in, just- like we will never replicate this moment. That was probably my singular wow moment from E7 but then it was complemented with the experiences we had driving across the Namib desert. 300 miles of pure sand dunes and driving up the Skeleton Coast and having to time the tide just right so we didn’t get pulled out to sea, and that old diamond quarry that we found there. It just goes on and on and so I think I probably have to say Africa was the most magical.
Scott Brady Yeah, I would say for me it was the same, Africa. Followed by our time on the Canning Stock but that would have been because of the people, again because we hit real challenge. I mean, we were stuck for I don’t know. I mean, I was stuck for how long? 14 hours or something like that? Kurt Williams and these guys are getting bit by I don’t know what was in the water biting them!
Greg Miller We dubbed them assassin tadpoles.
Scott Brady They were like assassin tadpoles!
Greg Miller Yeah. And we still- we have a MAXTRAX we need to go get at some point. We went in with 14 and came out with 13.
Scott Brady That’s right. And we needed every single one of them. Incredible, what an experience.
Greg Miller Yeah, and then of course in a very different way Antarctica was remarkable. I mean, when do you drive to the South Pole? And when are you on your way to the South Pole and you run into Prince Harry? It was just- it was crazy.
Scott Brady Yeah, it’s not every day you get to save a prince, right? We- when the radio cracked and they said, Guys, can we have some help getting closer to the South Pole?
Greg Miller And then as we got close, you know, when we were pulling into their camp, I was so impressed to see Prince Harry in the back of Tacoma. And he was basically a porter, some of his- the other aides on that trip were throwing gear up to him, and he’s stalking in the back of that arctic truck- or Hilux I guess it would have been? I just thought, yeah, this guy’s cool.
Scott Brady It was impressive.
Greg Miller It’s unbelievable to be doing that.
Scott Brady He jumped right in, there was nothing elitist about him he just got to work because they had an opportunity to fix a problem.
Greg Miller There were just- as you can tell, as we sit here, and the memories start rolling back, there were a lot of great things that happened to us on that trip. We could probably stay here a long time and reminisce.
Scott Brady No question. That was years of our life, for sure. Expedition 7 completes in South America and the vehicles make it safely back to the Land Cruiser Heritage Museum in Salt Lake, which for those that are listening, please make sure that you take the opportunity, if you love anything about four wheel drives, especially if you love anything about Land Cruisers, or about overland travel, you got to go take a look at the Land Cruiser Heritage Museum, it is one of the most special places on the planet. If you have any doubt, go check out the Google reviews. There’s about a billion 5 star reviews on that place and there’s a reason for it. Cruiser Dan and Kurt, Jules and the people that pull that together and Greg, for you for curating that, it’s a very special place on the planet. So we really recommend that people take a look and kind of honor that collection of very rare vehicles. The trucks are in the Land Cruisers Heritage Museum, and a couple of years later, you get the bug again, and you decided that you wanted to do something big. Let’s talk a little bit about what ultimately became the Greenland crossing.
Greg Miller That seed was planted when we were driving across Antarctica and we had those AT44s. One was a 44 and one was a 6×6. At the South Pole, and I just thought, Wow, this’d be- it’d be really cool now that I’ve been to the South Pole, to drive this truck to the North Pole. I knew, obviously, that the geology was very different. Wherein Antarctica, you’ve got a continent with two miles of ice on it and in the Arctic, it’s very different because you just have ocean with the floating ice sheets on it, and very dynamic currents underneath it. And so I knew it was probably much more dangerous to attempt something in the Arctic and as it turned out, April of 2015, I had the opportunity to go to the North Pole. I flew in to Longyearbyen, and then me and a friend jumped on a Russian plane and flew to Borneo, which is the Russian base for explorers and scientists up there, then we got on a Russian helicopter and flew the last 20 miles to the north pole. And that was all just a recce trip for me to see how feasible a drive would be to the North Pole and I had that same truck I had at the South Pole, and it confirmed what I thought. There was no safe way to do it. Between the open leads, and the pressure ridges and so on it just wasn’t something I wanted to take on. In the meantime, the truck that I had in Antarctica had been shipped back to Arctic Trucks in Iceland, just kind of waiting for direction for me on are we going to go to the North Pole or not. Once I determined that wasn’t going to happen, I spoke with Emil Grimson of Arctic Trucks. We just talked about what surrogates might be. It didn’t take very long for Greenland to surface as a possible surrogate. So the research began on that and eventually we were able to pull it together. It was probably two years, maybe three years later, you know, it took to pull everything together. Mostly because we just didn’t concentrate time on it. Once we got focused on it came together fairly quickly. That was about as much adventure as I could ever want to take on. I knew it was going to be challenging when I left, I mentioned that to my wife, Heidi, I said this is going to be a huge adventure. And when I was able to talk to her a few days into the trip via satellite phone, I said I told you it was going to be a big adventure, but I so underestimated it. This is just unbelievable. But you know, like-
Scott Brady It felt like an order of magnitude more challenging than Antarctica.
Greg Miller It did. And you know, once the- what I call the parade of terrible started, it was with us. The second day in, as we’re headed north, we started losing hubs and axles and tires, and you name it, CV joints and so on. Those problems were with us in multiples every day, until we got to Wulff Land in the north. And then, remarkably, the next day, you know, after we stayed there and started making our way back, it seems like the frequency and severity diminished. It didn’t go away, because we still had, you know, problems with the trailer and that-
Scott Brady Suspension on the truck.
Greg Miller Other things. Yeah, but they were relatively small by comparison and much less frequent, thankfully, and so we’re able to get everybody back and make the connecting flights and so on, but it was a lot.
Scott Brady I just remember we were driving along and, I think it was Emil driving or something like that, and he says “Oh there’s a tire!” Your tire came off the trailer, the whole hub broke, and here goes the tire and wheel rolling past you and it goes down the track and then drops over right in front of you!
Greg Miller If we would have tried to stage that and done 1000 takes to make that happen, we couldn’t have replicated it. I’m driving along and all sudden, there’s this resistance and I can’t like- there’s some drag here somewhere and just as I’m thinking that I see this tire-
Scott Brady A 44 inch tall tire!
Greg Miller A 44 inch come rolling by me and it rolls towards you in the lead truck, maybe 100 yards up ahead of me, and then it listed to the left and fell over right in between your tracks. And I’m stuck, I can’t drag any more because that trailer had now gotten so stuck in the snow. And so I remember getting on the radio, guys, I lost the tire… That’s when it began.
Scott Brady Struggle after struggle. And then tow it- pulling sleds filled with fuel and I mean fuel was just such a challenge. Like we didn’t have to do any of that in Antarctica, there was a fuel stop far enough apart where you can resupply.
Greg Miller There were some similarities and some differences. We didn’t have the infrastructure in Greenland that we had, limited as it was, in Antartica. But as you know, we were able to arrange to have some fuel drops, kind of scattered across Greenland, but it’s still meant that we needed to haul- I think those bladders were 150 gallons each? And as I recall we had-
Scott Brady There were two or three per sled.
Greg Miller Yeah, so I think we had two sleds with two bladders on each sled, and man trying to keep those things contained on those sleds with all the up and down and it was way more challenging than I anticipated. When I got home, I called the guy that manufactured those trailers in Alaska and I said, I need to give you all these ideas while they’re fresh on my mind of how to make this more efficient. He was really thankful for that. And I wish I had all of those ideas incorporated into those sleds, that would have made the journey much less taxing.
Scott Brady I mean, just the pintle hooks on there. They were smashed and hammered down.
Greg Miller Worn thin.
Scott Brady They were worn thin.
Greg Miller I mean, that was the one thing that was probably what three quarter inch cast steel and it wore halfway through from all the rubbing and vibration, and we broke one eventually
Scott Brady Absolutely incredible. And again, it came back to just this remarkable group of people. John Solberg making us a hot meal when we were all repairing the trailer.
Greg Miller For me, how about the fire in the tent? We’re two days into this thing and it was so cold that the fuel wouldn’t atomize and so it wasn’t just, you know, the mist, it was raw liquid fuel, and it got out of the stove and started- two days into this, in this expedition and our tent, our home is on the verge of going up in flames. Threw that fire-retardant blanket on it and the flame just went right out the sides of it. So I remember you went over and held the- I don’t remember if I held the door open and you threw the stove out onto the ice or vice versa but we just threw it out there and let it burn out, but that would have been a game changer if it-
Scott Brady Could you imagine? We had this one big tent, that we all ate in and everything.
Greg Miller With a big hole burned in the roof? Oh, that would be terrible.
Scott Brady Greenland was exceptional, and all of those things gave you some ideas about what worked and what didn’t work. So when you look back at the Land Cruisers that we built for the seven continents, what were some of your favorite things about those trucks? Like what were the few modifications that you came away with: “This was awesome!”
Greg Miller I think it’s all pretty basic stuff. I think we had just the right lift on ’em. I think we had the diff locks, we had that 4.5 liter turbo diesel, that was the perfect combination because it gave us the ability, when we had the opportunity, to really get rolling, like on some of those roads in Australia. You know, some of the paved roads. We could roll along 80 miles an hour without taxing the vehicles too bad. But then when we needed to throw them in four low with front and rear diff locks activated and just crawl up something, we had the ability to do that as well.
Scott Brady I was so impressed with how well those sleeping platforms came together. The fact that it had a fridge integrated, and then we could drop down that panel and take additional people along, like in Europe. We were able to carry so many more people in the vehicle. And the number of nights that I slept in that configuration, I’ve lost count. I mean it was at least 250 nights that I slept in the back of a 78 series Landcruiser and I never felt like I had a bad night’s sleep because even with the heater and everything else it was just… there wasn’t a lot of room but it was- it worked.
Greg Miller That’s probably because you were so tired you were two steps from death, and not because it was so comfortable.
Scott Brady That’s a valid point. We did some driving Greg. For those that are listening, I have never, in all of my travels around the world, met someone with the capacity for non-stop driving like you.
Greg Miller Yeah, we put in some long, long driving shifts, that’s for sure.
Scott Brady We really did, and this is another funny story. So we’re on the road to Vladivostok, before we had turned off to do the Road of Bones to Magadan. And we were all exhausted and Greg is in the back of the Land Cruiser ahead of me, sleeping on the platform, and Clays driving, and I think maybe Kurt was in the vehicle or somebody else was in the vehicle with him, and I saw him hit this frost heave and it’s the only time I’ve ever seen someone jump a 78 series Land Cruiser. Clay aired this Land Cruiser- I mean there was air under the tires! I’ve never seen- and of course I’m on the binders and all I remember is in the lights of my vehicle seeing you levitate up in the air and come back down again, and, from what Clay tells me, you did not wake up!
Greg Miller I can’t say, I think we were already delirious at that point.
Scott Brady Totally delirious.
Greg Miller But I remember that road and that drive and that was the longest haul. I think that night, we drove for 40 hours straight because we had something- a ferry or something we needed to catch.
Yep, that’s right.
Greg Miller Otherwise it would have delayed us another couple of days, and…
Scott Brady Yeah, there was a ferry that goes to Aldan, the Aldan River Ferry, and you got to hit it just right and we pulled in a couple hours before it showed up. Yeah, that was unbelievable, and that ferry itself was amazing. We were under sail for hours, with our cars and a couple Russian vans.
Greg Miller It was so primitive. I mean, obviously, they knew what they were doing but that was an old barge that had seen a lot of duty but it was still… I was a little anxious rolling onto it because it was primitive.
Scott Brady Somehow they make it work. It’s amazing how they do… All of this learning, all this time in 78 series Land Cruisers, during the trip you and I had several conversations about what kind of vehicle would we use next, if we were to go around the world again, and you had all of these nights spent sleeping in it, all this time driving it, you have now come up with what you think is the next version of an Expedition 7 truck, and I think it’d be really fun to announce that right now and let’s talk about what you got coming up!
Greg Miller I’d love to. As time has gone on and I’ve considered what it might be like to do another installment in the Expedition 7 adventure, it’s obviously not feasible to take the 78 that we took on all seven continents out because of the equity that is vested in it, you know, from having been to all seven continents. And also it had its own shortcomings, the fact that it was just a two door with the doors on the back. It made it hard to get into the back seat, to get gear, people in or out. And I think you know, we learned a lot from driving around. One of the concerns we had when we discussed which vehicles to take on the original E7 was fuel availability, and we felt at the time that diesel would be more available than petrol or gasoline was. I think by the time we got halfway around the world, we realized that really wasn’t a valid concern. So as you said, with a lot of the experience we gained from the prior expeditions, it’s informed my thinking on what the next vehicle might be, or the vehicle we use for the next installment, and I decided that it would be really cool if we could use 200 series, even cooler if we could use North American spec 200 series. For the last year and a half, roughly, I’ve been working with some colleagues on a project to take seven US spec 200 series Land Cruisers and send them to Germany and have Maltec work their magic and add the living cabin right behind the B pillar, suitable for two people to sleep and to eat and travel in. In addition to that, we’ve worked with cruiser outfitters to modify it, to add the bumpers and the rock sliders and the winches and so on. We’ve just received the first of the seven vehicles, got it all outfitted, we’ve got the the E7 livery on it. Thanks to you, we’ve been able to get out and get some some nice images and some nice video of that that we will be sharing before too long. This will be, as I said, one of seven vehicles, one that you will tell the story about. The idea is that will name each one of the seven after a continent, and just make that part of the Expedition 7 story. I will keep a couple of these vehicles for myself in the event that we ever do that next installment and I believe that these vehicles are outfitted- to me they’re outfitted perfectly to do a global expedition with everything we needed on the original E7 journey and nothing that we really don’t. They’re semi minimalist, I think, but they’ve got the beauty and the power of that 5.7 engine. They’ve got the engineering and the robustness of that 200 series platform and suspension even though it’s been modified with the with old man emu suspension. It’s got better sleeping quarters, it’s got the ability to cook inside if we need to, it’s got the ability to have a table inside so we can do our journaling or, you know, with internet connectivity now we can stay in touch as necessary. So it’s just an evolution of our best thinking on the original vehicles that we’ve now tried to capture with current technology and current vehicle offerings and have those vehicles ready so that when the next moment comes when it’s time to go do another drive we’ve got ’em built and ready. And then with the other five, plan is to make those available over time and just put them in the hands of people who will appreciate them and use them for what they’re intended for. And I hope that they become a platform, for those who wind up owning them, to do great things and experience wonderful opportunities and so on with people they care about.
Scott Brady When you look at the vehicle, it’s impressive to me how compact it is. So you retain all of the capability of a lifted 200 series Land Cruiser because it’s a lifting roof. It’s not too tall, it still fits in a container. The wheelbase hasn’t been stretched, so it can still fit on small trails, technical routes. In fact, we had it on Moab slick rock where we were testing every inch and degree of the departure angle. So you’re going to end up with a vehicle as capable as a 200, one that’s only three or four hundred pounds heavier, because they remove all that glass and all of that structure behind the B pillar, and then you have the ability to sleep two people in a comfortable bed and stand up height to change and to cook and to stretch out at the end of a long day. So this is definitely the evolution of E7 trucks, for sure. I mean, it would be- if we had a chance tomorrow to start again and choose between the 78s and the 200s, that’d be a pretty tough choice. And how amazing is it that there will be a few of these vehicles available for people to purchase, to head off on their own global journeys? That’s really an incredible thing, Greg. And how do people find out more about these new 200 series?
Greg Miller The best way would be to go to expeditions7.com, you could also go to the Land Cruiser Heritage Museum website, you can just Google Land Cruiser Heritage Museum, or go to landcruiserhm.com. There’ll be a link to the E7 web page so ultimately, you wind up at the same place. And then we’ll have a sheet in there, a spec sheet, that talks about the modifications that have been done to these vehicles and other pertinent information that a prospective buyer might want along with contact information if there’s questions that aren’t answered with that set of information.
Scott Brady It’s what an amazing opportunity for people to have something really exceptional. When you think about the fact that you’ve got these new vehicles, and they’re going to be available here soon, if you could leave a month from now, where would you want to go? Where would you want this next stage of Expedition 7 to be? What sounds exciting to you?
Greg Miller Well, I think it would be… for me, it’s appealing to go someplace that I haven’t been. When I look at a globe and I start you know, the wheels start turning a little bit, I usually wind up focusing on Mongolia, Gobi Desert. Moving on down through Asia and eventually winding up probably in New Zealand? As at least part of the segment. Another thing that the listeners might not know is that I just need to get from- basically from Morocco to Cape Town and then I will have done a north south traverse of the world.
Scott Brady That’s true.
Greg Miller Which is something that I’d really like to do before I’m too old or before the world’s too unsettled or something. So that’s what I’ve got my eye on as well so that might play into it.
Scott Brady That’s amazing, Greg, and thank you for all of the support for the community throughout the years as well, the events that you held at the Motorsports Park and the support that you’ve provided to the Land Cruiser community, and the overland community as a whole, the resources that you have available on expeditions7.com, and thank you for being a friend. It’s just been a joy to spend all this time with you.
Greg Miller Scott, I feel the same way. My life has been enriched through my friendship with you, it’s my hope that we’ve got a lot more big adventures ahead of us. I would just like to acknowledge what you’ve done for the overlanding community, I tell people often that I- as I see it, you’ve created the water cooler for crazy guys like you and me to gather around and tell stories about what we’ve done and that water cooler is in the form of Expedition Portal and Overland Journal and your other properties and I think that those have been wonderful resources for those who aspire to adventure and you’ve made it a common thing for people to get out and do big stuff. And I think that’s a real compliment to you.
Scott Brady Thank you, Greg, I appreciate that. And looking back on our conversation today, it’s… we’re reinforced that it’s not about where you go on the journey, it’s about going there with people that you love, doing things that you love. And in your case in a vehicle you love, like a Land Cruiser, and that’s- I borrowed that statement from you that’s something you shared many years ago and it really proved itself out. It really didn’t matter where we were, it was that we were doing it together. We were having those experiences and those memories and learning a little bit more about ourselves along the way.
Greg Miller Yes, it was a great experience, very rich and hope to do something similar to it before to much more time passes.
Scott Brady Oh, that’s exciting. Well, we all look forward. We’ll be here with bated breath, to hear what the next announcement is going to be! Greg, thank you again for being on the podcast and we thank you all for listening, and we’ll talk to you next time!