Ten Things, Don’t Leave Home Without Them

As I’m getting ready for the next off-road adventure it occurred to me there are certain things I wont go without.  Some of these are practical, some are personal but for me these things make all the difference in the world when it comes to dealing with issues I may encounter and adding to the fun.

  1. First on the list, my head!  Don’t go Freud on me here.  A big part of my preparation for even a little off-road adventure is to wrap my head around what I’m going to be doing.  I’ll review the maps, run through my mental checklists, and consider the situations I may run into.  This includes thinking about the things that could go wrong.  Since I often go out alone I know that I wont have the perfect piece of equipment for every situation and getting out of a jam is going to be up to me.  This is why I always make sure one person knows where I’m going, when I’ll be back and what to do if I’m late.  Being in the right frame of mind makes all the difference to me and helps ensure I enjoy the adventure no matter what happens out there.
  2. A big part of these off-road adventure trips is capturing and sharing the adventure with others.  I always grab the photo and video equipment including the tripod, microphones, lenses, extra batteries, chargers and video tapes.  All this equipment takes up space and it becomes a trade off with what other stuff I’ll leave at home (see #9).  But when I get a comment telling me how much someone enjoyed the story, pictures or video it brings it all home for why I do what I do.
  3. Water. Lots of water!  Way back in the day, I was out on a long hike and did not bring enough water.  The migraine and weakness of dehydration I experienced was enough to ensure I would never run out again.  I carry plenty of fat reserves around my waist to go without food for longer than I would like.  In fact a cleansing fast would do me good.  But water is an absolute must.
  4. New to the list is my iPhone.  Not that I count on cell coverage, but with all the apps. available these days I find the chance to play  Texas Holdem or listen to a few songs can be relaxing after a long day on the trail or on a lunch break.  There is even a little app that turns your iPhone into a level that can be handy when trying to make sure the rig or camera isn’t listing to one side.
  5. Of course I have my recovery gear.  This includes tree savers, snatch blocks, yank straps, shackles, shovel and hi-lift jack.  I’ve also added a new item, Maxtrax recovery system that makes for easy sand recovery.  I’ve seldom had to use the recovery gear on the trail, but I often pull it out to practice and check that all the equipment is working correctly.
  6. My tool kit is basic but has what it takes: box wrenches, sockets, pliers, box cutter, wires, fuses, crescent wrenches, screwdrivers, zip ties, duct tape, mallet and other bits. I grew up working on Baja bugs where there was nothing you couldn’t fix with a screwdriver and a big hammer.  I also count the air compressor as a mandatory tool for airing up and down as we travel between tarmac and dirt.
  7. A fold up stool…  Yes that is right a fold up stool.  My brother-in-law gave me this little gem a couple of years ago and I did not fully appreciate what a great gift it was at the time.  Every time I’m bent over airing up, peering into the front hub or checking the brakes I thank Mickey for the support!
  8. I have a bucket of fluid bottles in the back just in case something starts to leak or runs low.  Although I do a thorough pre-run check (daily on long trips) the fluids include motor, transmission and gear oil, coolant, brake, steering and windshield.
  9. In the overnight gear department, I’ve attained a Zen like minimalist approach reducing the cooking, sleeping and living gear to what fits in a small bucket.  A bivy sack and tarp replaces the tent, a tea kettle, a small pot,that doubles as a cup, a second cup (it all fits inside itself), a compact stove that puts out enough BTU’s to contribute to global warming, a spoon, head lamp w/ extra batteries, fire starter, fuel and small repair kit.  There is also a hand full of nuts, chicken broth base and enough green tea to relax in the evening as well as get started in the morning.  The grocery list may increase on long trips, but really that is about it for an overnight adventure.
  10. I don’t always know when I’ll get to go on an off-road adventure.  Sometimes it comes down to grabbing the gear and go.  This means all the gear needs to be packed and ready…  Always ready.  All the gear is stored in a few canvas tote bags.  Each bag with its own category of gear.  The last bag is filled with the miscellaneous stuff that falls under the “just in case” title.  Here you’ll find a first aid kit, work gloves, jumper cables, wool blanket, tarp, duct tape, flash light, bungees, parachute cord, and a pair of coveralls. I dipped into this bag a number of times helping others out of a jam including jump starts and the donation of a bungee cord to keep tension on another rigs tire chains.
  11. I know I said ten things… and this is eleven…  this one is my confession of what I don’t carry that I should.  Spare parts!  It is hard to predict what is going to break but there are some basics I still have to build a kit around.  Starting this week I’m building up my parts kit to include: Axle shaft (IFS is a weak point  and no one will have one that fits…  remember the TC long travel build), belts, hoses,  nuts, bolts and …. Your ideas are welcome and encouraged.  What parts do you carry?

This is my top ten and for me it works.  I don’t expect that it will work with anyone else but I hope it will encourage you to think about what you need to be prepared and enjoy your adventures.  Leave your recommendations and help everyone including me build a better kit.

Cool Rigs, Big Tattoos and Smart Women

One of my friends put it best when he said “who knew your (my) midlife crises could be so entertaining”.  And as everyone knows you can’t have a midlife crises without fast cars, younger women and cool tattoos.  So I’ve decided to come clean with everyone following along on this adventure…

It all began in November of 2008 when I walked into Madame Lazonga’s not really knowing what to do or what to expect. All I knew was I wanted to capture forever the feelings I experienced on the Arctic Ocean adventure with my dad.

I had walked by Madame Lazonga’s for years and would see Vyvyn’s name when ever magazine or news paper articles counted down the top tattoo artists in the country. The national awards that fill the wall speak volumes of the talented women who work the artist’s chairs of Madame Lozonga’s.  The choice seemed simple enough.

If you want to watch artists vibrate like a tuning fork and run for cover… walk into a tattoo shop, let them know you want your first tattoo but you don’t know what exactly it should be. Tell them not to worry though, you wrote a blog that has descriptions of everything and they just need to turn it all into a visual metaphor of the greatest adventure ever. Not exactly how the process works… Who knew.

Turns out Jacqueline, Vyvyn’s protege, holds a masters degree in literature from Northern Michigan University. And it was Jacqueline who stepped up for the throw down.  Funny how things come together.  Looking back there is no one I would have rather taken this journey with than Jacqueline.  And while the original adventure lasted 19 days, this one took nearly a year.

I certainly didn’t know when I started this project that I would be calling Jacqueline and the other women at Madame Lazonga’s my friends. You learn a lot about people when you spend several hours with them every other week. And they learn a lot about you.  First and foremost I learned these women are smart, funny and incredibly talented. I’m glad I was lucky enough to be invited into their lives.

I also discovered these women have a unique relationship with their clients;  part nurse, part personal coach and part confessor.  It is amazing what people will say to the person they have entrusted with creation of their body art.  A little safety tip here: when you’re a guy in a room full of women waving needles in the air…  keep your mouth shut, listen and when asked, agree…  agree a lot.

Over time Jacqueline and I shared ideas and opinions on art, music, business and just about anything else that would keep my mind distracted.  Hearing her stories of growing up in Michigan reminded me of the time I spent in Lansing.  Discovering her tech background allowed me to share work stories knowing she could relate. I learned I’m not bothered by the pain as much when I watch and see it coming… Which made the knee pit a killer since unlike the exorcist, my head could not spin all the way around.  Although occasionally I thought it would.  Jacqueline was there to talk me off the ledge when she took the needle and ink to my knee pit, shin or ankle (worst).  I talked her down after she drew Hula Betty for the third time and it still didn’t feel quit right.  Did I mention I’m not visual and really bad at explaining what is in my head.  We collaborated, hung in there together and eventually ended up with a sleeve we are both proud of.

Then there is Ruby.  Ruby gives as good as she gets and has a sarcastic biting sense of humor, much like my favorite sister in-law.  Ruby never missed a chance to express her love for me by knocking me down a few rungs on the ego ladder.  Did I mention that relationships are born from pain.  Ruby taught me how the machines work, shared what she found rewarding in her art and definitely celebrated the diversity of others.

Susie, another artist, always checked on my progress as she came riding in on one of the cleanest Triumphs I’ve seen in a long time.  Following a day of dealing with tech guys and accountants, Susie’s take on life was refreshing.  And apparently, if you’re an artist at Madam Lozonga’s there’s a 50/50 chance you’ll marry a drummer.

The newest addition to the crew at Madame Lazonga’s is Caitlin.  And if you think she is just another pretty face…  how about this for a resume: personal assistant, model and she is now starting a line of hip tee-shirts.  Must be something in the air under the Pikes Place Market that brings smart women altogether.

Many people say tattoos are addictive.  For me the addiction is the chance to spend time with friends who opened up an entirely different world to me.  One I will never forget…  What started out as a tribute to an adventure with my dad has transformed into so much more.  This sleeve will always remind me of my dad and the amazing women who helped me turn it into a permanent reminder of a temporary feeling.

And as for the tattoo.  Boy always tells me “Go big dad or go home”.  You can see  Jacqueline pulled together several big ideas to make one great sleeve:

  • rout map with some of my favorite stops including Dead Horse, Inuvik and Chicken
  • the rig that we lived in for 6,200 miles
  • Hula Betty herself (not just your average iconic dashboard bobble doll).

Because this piece took shape over 12 months, If you look closely at Hula Betty you’ll notice she is sporting a tattoo herself.  Remember the story of “Day 6 Blue Bunny“?  With that little blue bunny on her side, my son joined his grand father (my dad) in this generational adventure forever preserved in flesh and ink.

Power Block Goes Digital

I don’t know about you but when I can’t get out on an off-road adventure or work on rig, I’m still looking for something power oriented to do.  Around here, Saturday mornings are filled with Power Block TV.  While I’m checking email, picking up the room or making breakfast, Power Block is on in the back ground.

Power Block is really four different shows packed into their own half hour segments.  Those shows are:

  • Extreme 4×4
  • Horse Power
  • Muscle Cars
  • Trucks!

Power Block is doing more than just competing with Saturday morning cartoons.  Their web site PowerBlockTv.com now lets you watch full episodes anytime you want and they just launched Power Block Magazine.  The magazine is 100% digital and 100% free.  You can download it, search it, share it or print it. Best of all it’s FREE

So the next time you’re jonesing for a little power oriented fix and can’t get away, give Power Block a try…  It just may get you through withdrawals.

Of course if you’re not in the mood for more power…  There is always the queen of speed, Courtney Hansen Power Block’s host and author of “The Garage Girls Guide to Everything You Need to Know About Your Car“.  While she may not be turning the wrenches, she is no stranger to the garage.  Her father, Jerry Hansen won 27 national SCCA stints for Sports Club of America titles and she grew up around the family owned Brianerd International Raceway in Minnesota.

To All FJ Lovers

Happy Hallmark Holiday

Those who know me, know that I hold fast in my belief that Valentine’s  Day was created by card and candy shops aiming to compensate for the business lull separating Christmas and Easter.  However, if nothing else Last Great Road Trip stands for diversity and the tolerance of the beliefs of others.

So on this Hallmark Holiday when we remember how much we depend on those we love, think how much more it will mean if you give an FJ Cruiser instead of a heart shaped box filled with assorted chocolates.

If anyone is interested, I like a good milk chocolate with a creamy nuget center on my off-road adventure.

Not All Glitz And Glam

You may not believe me but going on off-road adventures, driving 4×4 trails, performing mods and conducting gear reviews is not as glamorous as it seems.

Take our upcoming article in 4WD Toyota Owner magazine.  The first set of action shots for the article showing the Total Chaos front end working on the trail… not so good.  That meant I had to go out again and get to work.

Work you say…  How hard can it be doing what you enjoy, driving 4×4 trails?  Well, driving is the easy part.  The hard part is documenting it all and not sounding like my third grade “Summer Vacation” theme that Sister Mary Knucklebuster turned into her year long example of how not to structure a sentence.

And while I’m sure hanging out with Cosmo glamazons at a Sports Illustrated swimsuit photo shoot has its perks, our photo shoots mostly involve me crawling around in the dirt trying to get the right angle.  But unlike stiletto healed Victoria Secret models in nothing but a pair of angle wings, the FJ Cruiser looks sexy wearing full trail gear and is not so high maintenance.

I always liked the show “Survivor Man“. It’s entertaining to watch the host, Les Stroud, survive in the middle of no where for a week on his own, but the cool factor goes way up as you realize Les is not accompanied by a film crew, sound engineers or a team of producers.  He really is out there on his own, humping all his camera gear, setting up, tearing down and filming, all the while trying to keep his cameras dry and survive with nothing more than a paper clip, four feet of twine and half a stick of chewing gum.

In our videos, what you see is the rig coming down the trail or driving over an obstacle and than heading off into the sunset.  Like Less, what I do, is pull off the trail out of the way, run up ahead with equipment in tow, plan the shot, set up the video camera, check sound levels, press record and run back to the rig… drive down the trail… than pull off the trail, jump out, run back, stop recording, tear down and load the camera and tripod back in the rig and head off to the next obstacle and do it again.  I could seriously hurt myself…  for your entertainment.

After a day on the trail, its back at the office to look through about two hours of video tape hoping to yield five minutes of usable stuff.

So the next time you read one of the stories, watch our videos or enjoy our pictures thinking I have a great job, remember…  There is nothing I would rather do! It is so worth it and how lucky am I to be able to share with others the fun we have out on the road of life.

Dad always told me “You’ll appreciate it more if you have to work for it” and I wouldn’t want it any other way.

Never Say Never, Baja 20??

The best laid off-road adventure plans of mice and men still depends on luck and it looks like ours is running a little short.  Based on the US State Departments Travel alert and some conflicts with team members’ scheduling we are putting our Baja trip on the back burner

Hopefully as things settle down we can get this trip back on track.  In the mean time we are working to fill the travel calendar with NW adventures and club runs.

——– follow up ——–

No the situation did not change in Baja.  But we threw caution to the wind anyway and decided it was a good day to die.  We took off on our Baja Off-Road Adventure.  It was so worth it…  don’t ever let fear of the unknown hold you back. Be cautious but move forward.

Best Auto Review’s Top 10

Best Auto Review recently came out with their TOP 10 SUVs.  Unfortunately they did not include any information on what went into their ranking, how they evaluated the rigs against their criteria or even what value their rank carries in the market place.  But, we do like their choice for #2 although we might have ranked the FJ Cruiser a little higher.

  1. Mercedes-Benz GLK Class 2010
  2. Toyota FJ Cruiser 2009
  3. Honda CR-V 2009
  4. Acura MDX 2009
  5. Toyota RAV4 2009
  6. Ford Flex 2009
  7. BMW X6 2009
  8. BMX X5 2009
  9. Mercedes-Benz GL Class 2009
  10. Toyota Highlander 2009

Let us know where you would put the FJ Cruiser in your Top 10.

IFS Axle Disassembly (Old School)

I don’t always disassemble an IFS half shaft…  But when I do I use kinetic energy. The world’s most interesting Land Cruiser Guy.

It does not happen often, but when you need to rebuild your font axle, its good to know how it all comes apart. Recently Metal Tech upgraded our front end, which involved rebuilding the front axles with longer shafts. While we where there, Mark Hawley demonstrated how to disassemble the front axles. The typical IFS method involves duct tape and a chop saw followed by cutting and throwing away the shaft. Instead of cutting, Mark went old school, calling on trick from the cruiser guys that uses a little kinetic energy release the shaft from the CVC.

For the price of some pipe or tubing you have laying around save yourself the cost of replacing the shaft or rounding up a chop saw.

Bill Burke Is Coming To Town

It is not everyday that you get the opportunity to learn from the best in off-road. And when you have that opportunity by all means take it.

Bill Burke is an internationally recognized 4×4 trainer who teaches back country driving techniques, winching and extrication methods, vehicle preparation and maintenance, land navigation and woods’ skills. And with every outing comes additional training on environmental awareness and trail etiquette.

Among his accreditation, Bill is a permitted outfitter guide through the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management. Bill also travels the globe to consult and to lead back country expeditions, and serves as a technical consultant in the areas of 4-wheeling expertise and environmental concerns to various businesses, the media, 4-wheel drive manufacturers, dealerships and government organizations.

Bill is going to be in the Northwest to conduct a number of classes in the Portland and Seattle areas. Several clubs and groups including the North West FJ Cruisers Club and Northwest Overland Society are already making reservations for their members.

We have our reservation.  Now is the time to make contact with one of the clubs or Bill Burke’s Off-Road Driving to secure your place in one of his up coming classes in the Northwest.  Everyone who has ever taken Bill’s training class, many have taken it multiple times, say it is one of the best training sessions they ever took.

Hope to see you at a training session and if you can’t make the training check out some of Bill’s videos and other training materials.

Off Road Adventures In Social Media

We know many of you enjoy the social atmosphere of Facebook, Tumbr, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, even Google+ and you can now get your fix of our off-road adventures.

Yes we have a Facebook fan page.  Although Facebook calls them fan pages, we prefer to think of everyone as friends.  Some we know well, some we know a little and some we hope to get to know. But we all have one thing in common.  We all love getting off the beaten path and exploring the road less traveled.

Beside our website you can find us at Last Great Road Trip on Facebook. If you prefer you can follow us at Last Great Road Trip on Tumblr or Last Great Road Trip on Twitter. See our pictures on Instagram Last Great Road Trip. If you like videos you can watch ours on our Off-Road Adventure You Tube channel or Off-Road Adventure Vimeo video channel. Like pinning your favorite things, you can find our pins on Pinterest Off-Road Adventure. We’re even of the new version of an old favorite myspace Last Great Road Trip.

If there is a way to share our off-road adventures you’ll find us there…  please join us and help spread the word.