They Came, They Saw, They Raced Their Ass Off

Another Baja 1000 (the 41st to be exact) is now complete and as we mentioned before this is the desert race to end all races. This years race set records for the ratio of starters to finishers with nearly 68% of the rigs completing the race.

In the coveted 4-wheel class Norman/Roeseler powered their way to the top of the marquee SCORE Trophy-Truck division and took home the victory.  And while we couldn’t be there, this video by Norman Motorsports captures the race from the winners perspective.

Who Cares What’s On Your iPod

On the road to the White House, both campaigns put a list of songs on their candidate’s iPod.  These lists, carefully crafted by spin doctors, more focused on poll data than music charts, created play lists designed to make us identify with candidates who have more in common with Pennsylvania Ave. than Main Street.

While I’m not going to bore you by publishing my Top 10, Greatest 80s or All Jimmy Buffet play lists, I am going to point you to a source of music you will never find on President Elect Obama’s iPod.  A local radio station has Bob Rivers and his crew in the morning…  and these guys have been putting out “Twisted Tunes” for a number of years now.

Weird Al has nothing on these guys.  Twisted Tunes: Think completely non-PC parodies, designed to mock all that is stupid in the world…  while at the same time making us laugh at ourselves.

The show also sponsors an annual adventure with World Visions.  These trips have team members traveling to poverty stricken locations (S. America, Africa, India..) most people would prefer to not think about. The show works to shine a light on kids in need, help find sponsors and connect them with impoverished children through the World Vision organization.

Good music, cool DJs and a real understanding of diversity… give these guys a listen and I’m sure you’ll find something that makes you smile and offends you.

Fame And Glory (aka Getting Lost With Purpose)

Livingston I presume…

We have been exploring our world ever since the day we first climbed down from the trees.  Some expeditions have been more successful than others.   Hilleray climbed high, Cousteau went deep and it cost Scott his life.  Explores of the past followed the road less traveled to satisfy their curiosity of the unknown.  Modern explores continue the tradition and although there is less unknown, the opportunity to go further has never been greater.

Just like the art of war, a successful off-road adventures succeeds before it ever leaves the garage.  Planning, team selection, fund raising, did I mention planning, all go into making an off road adventure a success rather than a catastrophe. Even in this high-tech world, initially you only need a piece of paper, a pencil and a quiet corner where no one will disturb you as you start to plan your off road adventure.

As before, modern day off-road adventure leaders face an overwhelming responsibility when planning, undertaking and even returning from an expedition.  The Royal Geographical Society (RGS), a learned society and professional body for geography (you’ve got to love the pomp of the Brits) has been collecting information since 1830.  Thankfully the RGS has compiled nearly two hundred years of exploring into the RSG Expedition Handbook to assist today’s explorers.  This is no wimpy pamphlet.  The handbook is 482 pages of valuable information.  Everything you’ll need from project management, leadership, nutrition and field medicine to fund raising, film-making and post expedition lectures.  This truly is a complete handbook which every explorer should study.

Whether your off-road adventure goal is to satisfy personal curiosity, pursue scientific investigation or simply attain fame and glory, a well planned off-road adventure increases the chances that you will reach your goal and return safely.

Long-term Tire Report – Toyo Open Country M/T

30,000 miles later we can now give our long-term report on the rubber that took us on our off-road adventure to the Arctic Ocean, Telluride, Inuvik and around town.  Toyo’s Open Country M/T® are an aggressive mud traction radial.  Running 295x70x17 tires on our rig provides sure footed traction and an additional inch of lift over the stock 265s.  These tires fill the wheel well with massively lugged rubber just weeping testosterone.

But the Open Country M/T® does more than just butch up your rig.  According to Toyo “the Open Country M/T® is a mud and snow rated mud terrain radial tire that features hook-shaped tread blocks, scalloped shoulder blocks and a high performance cap of ply construction for excellent off road traction.”  With 3-ply polyester casting, two spiral wound nylon cap plies and two steel belts, this tire is designed for long life and more protection than a three pack of Trojans stuffed into the wallet of a sixteen year boy.

We found our Open County M/T®  tires to be very protective as we bombed down roads where the occasional granite dagger reached out for our sidewalls.  With their hook-shaped blocks they performed well on slippery hills, and gripped the rocks they were asked to climb.  Feed back from others who have used the Open Country M/T® confirms, their compounds grip the obstacles, feeling “stickier” than other tires.  Even with 30k miles on them, after the occasional rotation, our set still have most of their tread life left.

And while mud tires are known to be noisy on the road we found Toyo’s claim of being the “quietest mud terrain tires on the market” to be true.  No they are not silent, but even with the windows down they don’t have that typical whirl as you drive down the tarmac.

All that rubber, polyester and steel adds weight…  serious weight.  Each one of our tires tips the scale at just under 75 lbs.  Add a rear spare and second on the roof and you can use an egg timer to measure the time between fuel stops.

In addition to the weight the sheer size of the 295 tire has caused some rubbing on the upper arm controller.  Without wheel offsets or after market UCAs, a 285 is probably the way to go.  You can find all the sizes available in the Toyo Open Country mud tire spec sheet.

Overall the  Open Country M/T® has  been a good choice for our style of wheeling, overland adventures and daily driving. And although they are heavy and priced higher than most (about $300 each MSP), we would do it again. But than again we are kind of nuts about having a tire we can count on when we are hundreds of miles from no where.

Update: We’ve had two sets of these Toyo Open Country M/T tires.  They are indestructible and we relied on them for our Baja off-road adventure.  Our one complaint is their weight.  Based on simple around town and highway testing, these heavy M/T’s cost about a mile or two per gallon of fuel when compared to all terrains such as the Falken Rocky Mountain ATS.

What Goes Up Must Air Down

If your off-road adventures include sand, mud or 4×4 trails you realize the advantages of letting a little air out at the start.  Lowering your tire’s air pressure, known as “airing down” has a number of benefits including:

  • In sand lower tire pressure increases the tire surface that comes in contact with the ground allowing your rig to float on top of the soft surface rather than sinking into it
  • On rocks airing down allows your tires to contour to and bite the obstacle keeping more tire surface in contact with the rock or tree root to maintain forward momentum
  • On mild trails you will find a lower tire pressure provides a softer ride over bumps and ruts.

In order to lower the air pressure on the trail you can take the minimalist approach and hold down the valve stem with a pen or twig until you get to the pressure you want.  Or you can purchase one of several tools on the market designed to air down tires.  Some of your choices include: Tire Buddy II, Sun Performance Quick Air Deflator, Oasis Trailhead Deflator, ARB E-Z Tire Deflator and many others.

For our wheeling needs, we use Staun Tyre Deflator.  They are adjustable, simple to use and can quickly bring a tire to a preset tire pressure.  Staun Tyre Deflators come is a set of four so you can air down all your tires at once without having to run back and forth.  Simply set your deflators to the desired air down pressure ahead of time, then at the trail head screw them onto the valve stem and watch while they do their job.  They will automatically stop at the pressure you set them to, ensuring all four tires are at the same PSI (pounds per square inch).

Setting the Staun Tyre Deflator to the desired presure is a matter of following these five steps:

  1. Air down one of your tires (the spare is handy for this) to the desired PSI.  I like to keep my Staun Tyre Deflator set a little high, say 24 PSI.  This gets me to a known preset on all tires and than I can make any final adjustments down (16, 18 ,22) depending on trail conditions.
  2. Wind  the lock ring and adjusting cap all the way down (clockwise).  Screw the Staun Tyre Deflator onto the valve stem of the tire you deflated in step 1.  Be sure the value stem threads are clean and in good condition.
  3. Loosen the adjusting cap (counter clockwise) until the deflator opens and you hear air escaping, Immediately tighten the adjusting cap (clockwise) until air flow stops.
  4. Turn the locking ring up to the adjusting cap and tighten.
  5. Remove the Staun Tyre Deflator. Air up your tire, adding 5 to 10 lbs of pressure. Screw on the defaltor and wait until it stops.  Remove the deflator and check the tire’s PSI to ensure it is where you expected it to be. Make any slight adjustments and repeat if necessary.  When making adjustments to Staun Tyre Deflators,  each 1/2 turn of the adjusting cap is equivalent to 3 PSI.

Your deflator is now set.  Repeat this process for each  of the four deflators in a set.  When the tire pressure and the Staun Tyre Deflator setting is less than 8 PSI apart, you may need to lift the center pin to start the deflator.

Trail Tip: It is a good idea to print-off up these five steps, cut them out, laminate it and keep the laminated card with your Staun Tyre Deflators in case you need to readjust your deflators on the trail.

Having an adjusted set of Staun Tyre Deflators will allow you to go from street pressure to trail pressure in minutes and ensure that all four tires are aired down to the same PSI. Be sure to remove the deflators, check the pressure and screw on the valve cover caps prior to starting down the trail.

Don’t forget to air up when you’re done wheeling before heading back onto the tarmac.

The Greatest Race On Earth…

If you’re into desert racing, and who isn’t, you feel me when I start going off on this tangent.  You know what I mean… I start waxing about $250,000 trophy trucks flying through the sand and rocks at break neck speeds, where just finishing is as much an accomplishment as winning, where good times are measured by the amount of dirt removed from body cavities not intended to hold dirt and the number of night terrors you experience while driving the course.

Yes I’m talking about the desert race to end all desert races, the SCORE BAJA 1000.  Depending on how you define started, the race can be traced back to just after midnight on March 22, 1962.  Legend has it Jack McCormack and Walt Fulton of American Honda decided to hold a long distance run to prove the reliability of Honda’s new CL72 Scrambler. They approached well known off-road dirt biker and local Honda dealer Bud Ekins for suggestions. Bud suggested the Tijuana to La Paz route (Mexican Highway 1) which was 950 miles (1,530 km) of rocks, sand washes, dry lake beds, cattle crossing, mountain passes, and paved road.  It was this very story that spurred us onto our Baja off road adventure.

During that first run, Dave Ekins recorded the first official timed run in 39 hours 56 minutes covering a distance of 952.7 miles (1,533.2 km for the rest of the world). The event found its way into the Globe, Argosy, and Cycle World magazines, earning awe and respect for Honda and the Baja run.  Rumors of near death encounters and dangers of epic proportions over the years have elevated the race to legionary status in the eyes of racers and fans alike.

The BAJA 1000 race unites drivers from around the world and across multiple platforms.  Although the heavily sponsored trophy trucks grab the spot light, you will find just about everything on two and four wheels has a class to race in.  Many of the teams and crews are not much more than friends who got together and worked through the nights the week before to assemble (or strip down) a little Volkswagen buggy.  This remains a wide open race with classes for professionals and their crews as well as amateur drivers and backyard mechanics who just as often beat more serious racers through the shear luck of simply crossing the finish line or at least breaking down further into the course.

The course changes each year and this years BAJA 1000 promises more of the same great racing.  Starting on November 20, 2008 and finishing November 23, the course will begin and end at the convention center in Ensenada, Baja California Mexico.  With a time limit of 31 hours to cover approximately 631.35 miles racers will drive continuously, stopping only for fuel, flats, and to roll their rigs back onto the wheels.  Remember this is the BAJA 1000 you don’t stop for bio-breaks, deal with it!

While the lucky fans will be camped out along the course to encourage their favorite drivers, the rest of us can still experience the race.  BF Goodrich Tires and Volkswagen of America announced the launch of a new online experience designed around bringing the captivating sights, sounds and real-time information of the 41st annual SCORE Baja 1000 to everyone.

Toyota Trail Teams Finish Another Season

Toyota came up with a great marketing plan…  Put together a couple of teams of guys (remember gender neutral term use) in FJ Cruisers, send them out to hold workshops, run trails and give away some really cool swag that can only be had when you attend an event they show up for…  Really, you can’t buy the stuff (eBay excluded), they just give it away!

The Toyota Trail Teams have been making appearances at events all over the country for a couple of years now.  And in 08 Toyota even  came out with a special FJ Cruiser Trail Teams (TT) edition.   Besides the swag, they also give away good advice, holding workshops on driving, recovery and treading lightly.

I had the opportunity to meet up with them and they are great ambassadors.  They really want to help make your off-road adventure experience a good one.  They work hard… on the road for months…  and they play just as hard.  These are young guys so they have the stamina to drive all day and close the bars that night.

And for 2008, those hard day’s nights are over.  This year’s Toyota Trail Teams season has come to an end.  But worry not they are already planning for 2009.

In the mean time if you need your Toyota Trail Team fix, visit the Toyota Trail Teams site and check out the pictures, videos and stories.

Maybe next year they will give away those GORE-TEX® jackets of theirs.  It would go so well with the grill badge I have.

Can’t Thank You Enough

Please join us in thanking and paying your respects to the men and women of our armed services.  These brave individuals and their families have made tremendous sacrifices which enable us to enjoy the freedoms of this great country.  They serve 365 days a year and deserve our gratitude each and everyone of those days.

Growing up I did not know any military families and never appreciated what it was like to be in the service.  After moving back to the Northwest and locating next to a number of Naval bases it became clear.  Fathers and mothers we called friends would leave their families for six months to carry on without them.  And when they returned from their tour they still faced the same problems as all of us, doing the best they can to raise a family.

So thank you, to all the men and women in military service for the sacrifices you make to keep us free.  Our prayers remain with you and your families always.  Matt, this includes you!

Wheeling Tahuya Forest OHV Park

We met up with the club for an off-road adventure through the Tahuya State Forest.  The crew included the likes of seriousactualist, amaintaylor, kurtfriedrich, Marsh, Macleod, conversejohn54, The Shocker, and ropedrag.  We all met up in Belfair at the local Safeway.  It is amazing what locations become the standard meetup spot and for Tahuya this is it.  When Hula Betty and I arrived the parking lot was full of FJs and Jeeps.  A couple of old friends 1TUFTOY and LA were there readying to go out with another group of Jeeps we had wheeled with a year back.

A quick stroll through the Safeway deli to grab a box lunch and it was time for the drivers meeting.  This was going to be an explores run since no one had been here in years and the trails are always changing.  After a quick forest service map review and CB check, we were ready to head out to the trail head, ten minutes from town.

The trail head parking lot provided a good place for all of us to air down and double check the gear.  It also gave us a chance to see the other FJ’s and their various mods. The great thing about off-road adventures with the club is that it is family oriented. Moms, dads, kids and friends all show up to go out and get dirty.

Although we are getting better at driving 4×4 trails, we still have a lot to learn and the Tahuya Forest is a good classroom.  Most of the trails are relatively easy but you can find some real traps if you’re looking to test the limits of your skill and your rig’s metal.  Everyone escaped this off-road adventure unscathed but we’ll all have to wash our rigs when we’re done.

Brazil has the Amazon, Florida has the Everglades and the Northwest has it own rain forests.  The rain had been coming down all week and mother nature was not done yet.  The trails were filled with puddles deep enough to test our scuba mods and although there are no piranha or alligators, the muddy puddles do hide rocks and roots that keep your hands tight on the wheel.

We followed the trails over the hills and through the woods, down to the mud lake for a little surf and turf.  The lake is great place to through a little mud high in the air but don’t let it’s placid surface fool you…  the middle is deep and sticky.  Unless you want to test your recovery skills you stick to the sides, which still come up to the fender wells.

After lunch the group headed to a muddy climb that when you walk it, you see the broken glass left behind from other rigs who have attempted this tricky little stretch in the past.  Thanks to the spotting of Jerry and Marsh everyone made it up and over without a scratch.  From here we doubled back and headed to a rock pile where Jerry showed us what an FJ is capable of with right setup…  and good spotting.

The drive back to Camp Spillman was more of the same fun stuff and by 2:00 we were aired up and heading home.  This was one of the few runs where we were the only FJ Cruiser not checking the ferry schedule.  Hula Betty and I wound our way back to Bremerton through some old logging roads just for the fun of exploring a new drive home.

You Get Way More Than You Pay For

One of the best known names in the outback, ARB, makes cool stuff such as air lockers, expedition fridges, recovery equipment and all sorts of 4×4 goodies.  Their new on-line magazine also has good information on driving, vehicle prep, recovery techniques, off-road adventures… The new ARB magazine 4x4action, I write of is not the bland, sales oriented, mainstream USA version.  The good stuff is located on the Aussie site.  While you’re there sign up for their email news letter.  Every quarter you will receive an update on their products along with some great articles on global overland exploration.  Their spring news letter covered the Outback Challenge Morocco, Aussies In Africa – Part 3 and wet our apatite for the Rainforest Challenge 2008.  They also have contest stuff for the little drivers as well as the big ones.  Not bad for free.