Cutting To The Chase With A Scalpel Not An Axe

Getting information from the Internet can be like drinking from a fire hose. The internet can bring you some of what you want and so much junk that you give up and throw out the baby with the car seat. One good source of refined information for all things Toyota is @Toyota Behind the Wheel.

This past Saturday Toyota brought thousands of volunteers together across America to clean up National Public Lands. It is nice to find a company working to protect and enhance thousands of miles of off-road trails to ensure all of us have a place to wheel and enjoy time with friends and family.

It was Behind the Wheel that let us know about this event a few weeks back. They also keep us up on the Trails Team, race schedule, new model year and just about anything else Toyota is up to.

UPDATE: The down side of the Internet is resources tend to disappear to easily.  @Toyota Behind the Wheel like so many good sources of information has been retired.

We’ll keep looking for publications that bring information to you like a cool drink of water on a hot summer day… so you can plan for your next off road adventure.

Always Carry Protection (Sliders)

I always enjoy any opportunity to meet up with Mark and LT from Metal Tech 4×4 and this project brought me to their shop in Newberg, OR. These guys are a couple of the most knowledgeable guys in all things Toyota 4×4 and wheeling. What makes these guys special is their willingness to spend time teaching others how to wheel trails, talk about the differences in various years of the 80 series or explain the performance difference between ICON, Sway-A-Way and Old Man Emu suspension components. Mark and LT go out of their way to make sure you understand what you’re doing and feel good about your choice rather than just selling you what they have on the shelf.

Off-road adventures involving difficult 4×4 trails takes a certain bit of acceptance that you will scratch, ding and possibly brake something. One way to minimize this possibility is to protect the most vulnerable points on your rig. On the FJ Cruiser, one of those vulnerabilities is the door sills which if set onto or slid across a bolder can result in an expensive repair. Protecting this area is achieved through the addition of “sliders”. Also known as “rock rails” or just “rails”, sliders bolt onto the frame of the FJ Cruiser and take the impact of a bolder, sliding across the rock rather than it bashing in the bottom of the door sill.

This means, now your sliders will take the brunt of the force and receive a significant impact. Not all sliders are created equally. In today’s market there are two groups of sliders. There is the group designed for show, which are made from thin walled steel or aluminum. While they can act as a step up, they will crumple under the weight when pressed between a bolder and the rig with both the slider and door sill being damaged. The other group is for serious wheeling, made of thicker high-grade steel, and reinforced at points that will be asked to take the brunt of the impact and support the weight of the rig.

Metal Tech sliders fall into the serious wheeling category and are among the strongest on the market. These sliders have a hard core off-road design imbedded in their DNA. The sliders are laser cut and bent to match the lines of the FJ Cruiser, proving protection their entire length. These sliders are a fully enclosed box style, allowing a full length step for quick access to the top of the FJ Cruiser. Metal Tech maintains a high quality standard on everything about these sliders from being the only ones on the market that are powder coated inside and out, to the U.S. made, high alloy grade 10.9 metric bolts used to attach them to the frame.

Thanks to Metal Tech’s on-site fabrication we had ours customized for our special needs. We asked the guys there to add a rub rail for additional protection and mount points that would allow us to clip in our team of sled dogs to the sliders when we come back from mushing snow covered mountain trails with our dogs. We also requested mount points for rock crawling lights that will illuminate the ground below for night time trail runs and making activities such as airing up or taking off snow chains a breeze in the dark.

Installing sliders on the FJ Cruiser is one of the simpler mods any back yard mechanic can do. Toyota designed the box frame of the FJ Cruiser with eight mount points on each side, allowing sliders to bolt directly up. Installation is a matter of lifting the slider into place and hand tightening the bolts so you can ensure the slider is level and aligned. Once you have the slider where you want, torque down all eight bolts, rinse and repeat on the other side for a complete set of protection.

Although this is an easy mod, you will want a friend to help lift and hold the sliders in place while you hand tighten the bolts. They can also help gauge everything is aligned and level before you torque it down tight.

One cautionary note: The nuts you are screwing the bolts into are tack welded to the inside of the enclosed frame. You don’t want to brake the tack weld by misalignment of the bolt and twisting hard only to have the nut free fall into the box frame. It is a good idea to clean out the gunk that may have built up in the threads and spray a little WD40 before you line up everything and ensure the bolts go in straight and smooth.

With everything bolted up we were good to go knowing the Metal Tech sliders will carry the weight of the rig over boulders and protect our door sills from things that go bump on the trail.

Changing Of The Backroad Drivers Guard

Today is the TENTH anniversary of Backroad Drivers Northwest, a decade of discussing, driving and reporting on all kinds of back roads throughout the Pacific Northwest. Led by Jerry they have taken folks on tours of the northwest, exploring the roads less traveled across the Northwest.

This birthday also signifies the changing of the guard. Jerry has recently announced he is handing over the reigns to Steve from Parkland, Washington as the new owner/moderator of Backroad Drivers. Steve is an active back road and overland adventurer as well as the owner/operator of the PNW Backroad Adventures Forum.

So Happy Anniversary and best of luck to Steve. I know we all look forward to an other ten years of exploring pacific northwest back roads.

Day After The Night Before aka Gallaher Head Lake Trail

The morning of the off-road adventure could not come soon enough. I have read a number of trip reports and was looking forward to meeting the guys behind the Back Road Drivers (BackroadDrivers at Yahoo). The alarm finally went off and I bounced up like a kid on the first day of school with all the anticipation of making new friends, learning something cool and seeing what everyone has been talking about.

After checking out and gassing up I had a mandatory stop that dated back to July 12, 1990. That was when Norther Exposure premiered on TV. The show was set in the tiny outpost, on the Alaskan Riviera, Cicely, Alaska, which was shot in our own Roslyn, WA. The real life town is a little get away where you can find memorable moments from the series including “The Brick” and “The Roslyn’s Cafe” made famous by the quirky TV town folks. The town also holds a spot in my heart since it was one of the first stops in Washington when I drove cross country on my Michigan exodus a couple of decade ago. It has remained an oasis in my soul when thinking of places on the road that have brought a smile to my heart.

After a quick photo opp it was on to Ronald, a town that makes Roslyn look like a thriving metropolis. The Back Road Drivers were meeting up at the Old #3 in Ronald for coffee and check in. It was here I met Jerry for the first time. Jerry has been running the Back Road Drivers for a decade now. Walking into the diner, bar, post office I received a greeting from Jerry like I was an old friend and was introduced to the others around the table. The group included Brian & Cindy from Gig Harbor, Rob from Yakima, Terry, Missy, Mason and Piper (pup) as well as Randy from Meacham who road shot gun with Jerry. This was a great bunch of folks from all over the Northwest.

None of us had ever run this trail before so when we got to the trail head it was time to line up the rigs in order to ensure we had winches and radios front, back and in the middle. That gave me an opportunity that I welcomed with a little nervousness. I was asked to lead the group up the 4×4 trail to Gallaher Head Lake. I usually sit in the back of the pack which allows me to watch the lines others take over obstacles and than learn from what they have done. That security of watching others comes at a price. That price is you spend the day eating everyone’s dust. Leading the run gives you an amazing new dust free perspective which is way worth it.

Leading a group of rigs up a trail is a big responsibility and I appreciate the trust that Jerry and the other placed in me on this day. The Fortune Creek Trail, 4W301 (Cle Elum 4×4 Trails map), was perfect to start on. It was an easy, well marked trail that allowed us all to easily navigate the obstacles and work our way up the hills of loose material. Winding up the trail only took an hour or so as we made good time to Gallaher Head Lake. The lake is a beautiful little oasis in the forest. The trail opens up into a valley nestled between several mountains with its little lake sparkling at 5627 feet above sea level. This time of year the area was painted in browns and greens which gave a wonderful contrast to the brilliant blue sky. Another advantage of a late season visit is the absence of bugs.

Arriving at the lake we all settled in for lunch. The lake is equipped with a nice little camp area which offered some bench seats to eat at and soak up the sun. While a few folks pulled out all the fixings for a gourmet picnic lunch, I dug out the foot long Subway and chips. Chatting over lunch, everyone shared stories of their children, grand kids, jobs, and dogs. I enjoyed watching Mason run around and dig in the dirt as only a toddler can and remembering when my kids where that age. Than I remember what else came with that stage in their life and was glad they are now past the diaper changing days.

The lake is a popular location and as we packed up a few motorcyclist swung by to say hi on their way to another trail along with some hikers who planned on spending the night. Around 3:00 p.m. we decided to head back down to the towns below and get back to our lives which we had escaped from on this off road adventure. The decent was uneventful and before you knew it we were back at the Old #3 for a soda, saying our good byes and airing up for the drive back.

The great thing about the northwest is there are deserts, mountains and sea within a few hours of each other and the drive back took Hula Betty and me back through the Snoqualmie pass, down to the Seattle Bainbridge ferry and across the Puget Sound. There are not many better places to watch the sun set behind the Olympic Mountains than on the front of the ferry.

As we drove off the boat and back to the little town of Poulsbo, I thought… This was a good off road adventure filled with fun trails, great views and new friends. It is one that will stick in my memory for years to come. Maybe even one to repeat next spring when the lake’s meadow is awash with wild flowers.

The Night Before The Day Of

I always get a little anxious the night before an off-road adventure. It’s that feeling a school boy gets as he walks across the hall to ask a girl to the home coming dance. You know that feeling filled with worry, anticipation and an entire world of possibilities in front of you if you can just do it.

Tomorrow I will be meeting up with a group of drivers from Pacific Northwest Backroad Adventures for the first time to explore some 4×4 trails. We will be driving the trails up to Gallaher Head Lake and exploring some old abandoned mines along the way. I have been a member of the PWBA Forum for a while, reading a number of their trip reports that sounded very interesting.  When this off-road adventure popped up I jumped at the chance to go along, which bring us to tonight.

With the meet up in Round at 9:00 am I had two choices. One, get up at O’ dark thirty, catch the 5:20 a.m. ferry and drive for three hours to the Old #3 Restaurant or spend the night in Cle Elum about 10 minutes away and enjoy the evening exploring this sleepy little town. I oped to option two.

The great thing about little towns is that everyone has a story and if you ask they will tell it too you. The hotel I picked is the Timber Lodge Inn and it turns out Mia, the woman who runs the place spent time exploring Nepal. Sure Cat Stevens may have sung about Kathmandu but she had walked it streets, toured the temples, and flown over Everest’s base camp. I listened to the story as she described the sites, smell and people she met including a National Geographic Photographer. You could see the sparkle in her eyes as she retold the story and tried to paint the pictures for me that filled her mental Rolodex. Mia also knew every restaurant within miles and sent me to best pizza around. And of course she was right… Although, Mia did not mention how warm and friendly the crew there was. And when crew at Sahara Pizza saw I was eating along, they came over and kept me company, telling me their stories.

So tonight I sit on the balcony of my hotel room under the glow of a big moon writing this story, excited about tomorrow’s off-road adventure, looking forward to meeting more new friends and exploring the back roads of the Cascade Mountains. No matter what tomorrow brings, I’ve already had a great time.

Newest Team Member In The News

Last Great Road Trip finalizes its Baja off-road adventure team.

Last Great Road Trip Selects Brad Day, Hollywood film executive and adventure traveler as the team’s navigator and photographer for its Baja off-road adventure.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
PRLog (Press Release) – Sep 06, 2008 – Brad Day has been named team photographer and navigator for Last Great Road Trip’s Baja off-road adventure. Brad’s background in film and travel will ensure the team stays on course as they follow SCORE 2007 Baja 1,000 race course. As team photographer Brad will capture the imagery of Baja Mexico, its people and the roads much, much less traveled.

According to Paul Thompson, the team’s lead driver and project manager, Brad fills a significant role on the team. Paul said, “This is the first off-road adventure where orienting and navigation are critical. Brad’s attention to detail and planning will ensure we stay on course regardless of what the Baja throws at us. As a photographer, Brad’s images will enhance the off-road adventure website postings by adding a visual story telling component to our story.”

While this selection deviates from the father son teams that went to the Arctic Ocean and the peaks of Telluride, it does reunite two fraternity brothers and represents a new chapter in the relationships explored on the road of life. The new team will continue to post on the Off-Road Adventure website  and social media with stories, photos and video of their Baja Adventure.

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About Last Great Road Trip:
A series of off-road adventures taken by a team of explorers shared with others over the Internet. The website, an experiment in social media, describes the adventures, friendships, rants and raves on the road of life as they happen. Explore hidden trails, back roads and the diverse cultures that enrich this shared experience while adding your own comments to the adventure.
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Toyota Racing Development Interview

Not long ago on an off-road adventure we had an opportunity to meet and talk with some of the folks behind Toyota Racing Development’s (TRD) products for the FJ Cruiser and Tundra trucks. TRD is Toyota’s team responsible for taking what they have learned from racing and turning it into products for the consumers who want more than basic grocery getter transportation. The TRD super charger is just one of the many products that the team has brought to market.