All posts by Last Great Road Trip (LGRT)

FJ Cruiser chained up for snow

Steens Overland Adventure – Stuck on the Mountain

Steens welcome boardIt wasn’t supposed to be that hard! Everyone said the Steens Mountain area is beautiful in November. There just hadn’t been a November this wet in decades.  600 miles to get there and my windshield wipers do not get a break from the rain. Neither do I!

I hate camping in the rain. Everything gets wet. Packing up a wet tent (or in my case a tarp), running around in damp cloths, trying to dry out socks with the truck’s defroster…  it sucks.  Two days into this adventure and everything in the back of the truck is damp.  I it still have 150 miles to go.  When is the good part?

The appeal of the Steens Mountain area is that there is not much around it, at all.  Burns, Or. is the last real town I’ll see for the week,  next stop is at the north end of the wilderness, a little dot on the map called Frenchglen.  A historic hotel, a tiny general store and one working gas pump.  Grab a couple jugs of water, fill the truck and spare Jerry cans. It may be awhile before I see Fields, the only other spot on the map with gas and supplies down at the south tail deer

As I set up camp at Page Springs the sun is finally braking through the clouds and this promises to be a great trip.

The Donner und Blitzen, a beautiful little trout stream, runs right  through Page Springs campground. The fall colors are magnificent and a small herd of deer have made this campground their home.  Everything is starting to look up as I lay my head down under the tarp, shaking off the last of the dampness.

The Steens Mountain area is made up of 170,200 acres and was designated as a wilderness area by congress in 2000. Today’s plan, follow the mountain loop, a gravel road up to the summit, find a cozy  place up top to spend the night and enjoy an evening by the fire under the stars.

fj cruiser driving in snowThe sun is shining bright, the sky is cloudless and blue.  I’m making good time driving the gravel loop as it works it’s way up into the hills.  Continuing to gain elevation the road is showing light but increasing snow cover.  Passing Jackman park, the snow on the road is around six inches deep with no tire tracks.  I realize as I continue to drive, it is unlikely anyone will be coming along behind me if I get stuck.  I tell myself, it will be fine, just keep it slow and steady. Around Kiger Gorge lookout, the truck is starting to fishtail back and forth every once in awhile in the sloppy snow now 10-12 inches on the road.  Time to consider my options.

man putting on tire chainsThe easy choice, the safe choice, is to turn around and call it a day.  But I’m not known for hitting the easy button.  I weigh the risks, consider various ways I could die on the mountain and come to a decision.  Time to chain up.

Chains and mud tires were never meant to go together,  The tire lugs are making it a pain in the ass to get the chains lined up and tight.  At 9,000 ft(ish) I’m getting winded with all this work, humping chains around, setting up camera shots, shoveling snow to clear the tires…  Should have packed an oxygen bottle instead of that extra pound of bacon.  Time to get back in the driver’s seat.POV driving in snow

The FJ Cruiser is motoring along great but the snow drifts are quickly getting deep.  The rear wheels push the truck forward but the front skid is riding up like a toboggan in the deep snow and lifting the front off the ground.  Progress is limited to push forward 10 feet until the front lifts off the ground and before the rear tires lift, back up, get a running start and push forward another 10 feet.  Rinse and repeat for the next 20 minutes and hope the truck doesn’t high-center in the snow that is now about two feet deep.

Victory on the mountainI’m walking sections of the road to see were the edge is before charging forward.  I’m shoveling areas to clear the pile of snow my front-end pushes up.  This is frustratingly slow and taking a toll on my mental state.  We’re close to the top but it is getting late.

A couple more long pushes and I’m moving free again.  This is it.  Now hike the last bit…  Cold, windy, and getting dark. So worth it!fj cruiser in snow field

The flat spot if found for the night has a great view but the idea of setting up the tarp with the wind hollowing is more than I can manage.  I’ve napped in the truck’s front before…  how bad could it be.

Asleep in the carAs night falls I sleep a few hours, wake up, try to find a less uncomfortable position that doesn’t require master yogi skills and sleep a little more.  It’s a rough night.

First light lets me know I’ve survived the night. Time to get off this mountain.  But first…  Breakfast!

Episode 2 – Steens Overland Adventure on to the Alvord Desert

install lexus gx470 rear bumper

Installing Lexus GX470 Swing-Out Bumper

lexus gx470 rear swing-out bumperSo you may have noticed some Lexus GX470 discussions from us here and out in the forums…   Yes we did it, we added a Lexus GX470 to the fleet.  Just not this one.

Why you ask?  It’s built on the same J120 Toyota Prado Land Cruiser platform as our FJ Cruiser but with four doors, a bit more room, a whole lot more luxury and a V8 engine.  Our new Lexus GX470, affectionately named (by Hula Betty) Fat Girl, will be primarily used for overland adventures and as a daily driver for Hula Betty.  She wont get the massive mods we have on the Blue Bunny but she will be getting some upgrades to her suspension and armor.

While Fat Girl will remain stock for now, that doesn’t mean we haven’t started to consider options.  One option is the Metal Tech 4×4 rear swing-out bumper known as the Pegasus.  Mark over at Metal Tech 4×4 put all their Toyota Land Cruiser experience into creating this bumper.  No cutting, no welding, this swing-out bumper fits right into the design of the Lexus GX470 and allows you to carry larger spare tire, fuel cans and your Hi-Lift jack.

And when it comes to installation…  Well see for yourself.  We put together an installation video to help folks install their Metal Tech 4×4 swing-out bumper on the Lexus GX470 and give us an excuse to get an up close look at the Pegasus.

If you just want the highlights about this bumper than give this introduction video a look.  It walks you through some of the key features of this overland bumper.

What do you think?

fly fishing deschutes river warm springs

Mecca Flats and the Deschutes River

fly fisherman deschutes river warm springsGrowing up, fly fishing was my escape into the great outdoors.  In fact it was the desire to go further off the beaten path that spurred on the need for an off-road vehicle.  In those days it was an old VW Baja Bug that I built to explore the abandoned forest roads in search of a hidden creek or quiet lake.

Back then the Deschutes river, was 100 miles away, had a spot down an abandon dirt road that lead to place few people bothered to go known as Mecca Flats.  Mecca Flats was really just a dirt patch, a starting point from where I would follow a trail along the river, fishing riffles, runs and back eddies for the next five miles.  Mecca Flats was base camp for my adventure.

For all that driving and hiking I would get to wet a fly line on one of the best blue ribbon fisheries in the west.  Trout averaged 14″.  Wild salmon and steelhead runs were always strong. World famous Salmon Fly hatches and year round Caddis Fly would bring the trout to the surface almost anytime of flyfhishing deschutes river

Today the drive is closer to 300 miles.  The long dirt road has been graveled, but just barely. The open dirt camping at Mecca Flats now has designated numbered camping spots with tables and fire rings.  Day fishers have their own parking area and an outhouse.  But thanks to strict regulation trout, salmon and steelhead still fill the river and there is a good chance you’ll be into one within minutes of wetting a line.

Fly fishing is still one my favorite escapes into the great outdoors.

fried eggs in skillet

Overland Chef… Huevos Ranchero

One of my favorite times during a overland adventure is early morning.  Sun rising over camp, quiet in the air, warm coffee and anything is possible.  And I get to cook breakfast!  I love to cook.

My all time go to favorite camp breakfast, huevos ranchero. Hearty, probably not that healthy but oh so very tasty.  Let face it, really anything with chorizo and eggs is going to come out good and can’t really be screwed up…  although there was the “chorizo surprise” debacle a few years back.

The secret to this breakfast delight is in the chorizo…  It can’t be that farmstead, grass-fed, dry-aged, loin-based, hand-rubbed, hipster chorizo.  No, this has to be the chorizo of my people, true Mexican chorizo, made from grinding up pork salivary glands, lymph nodes and fat with spices that cooks down to delicious, spicy, coagulated, crimson oily paste.

huevos ranchero ingredientsIf you’re looking for an exact recipe, give Betty Crocker a call.  I roll pretty loose… This is it:

  • Get the stove going… and keep the heat on the low side as you cook down the chorizo in a heavy skillet.  Keep it moving, don’t let it burn.
  • After a few minutes, add a handful of chopped onions and continue to cook (and stir) until the onions take on a translucent state.
  • Next add a minced garlic clove, giving a few more stirs.
  • Toss in a bunch of chopped cilantro and mix it in.
  • Pull the mix to the sides of the skillet making room to cook the eggs. (fry or scramble the way you like)
  • When the eggs are ready, remove from the heat and sprinkle everything with grated cheese.  Any good Cheddar, Jack, Queso Fresco, Queso Anejo, Cotija, Oaxaca, Panela, Asadero will do. Cheese is its own food group in my mind.

Serve on a plate, wrapped in a flower tortilla, over a corn tostada shell and drizzle a little hot sauce over everything.

This is really just the base.  You can add in fried potatoes, poblano or anaheim peppers, or diced tomatoes to make the huevos rancheros your own.

man on fj cruiser roof

Overland Travel Washington’s Naches Wagon Trail

fj cruiser stuck between treesWe’ve gone across the Rubicon Trail in our FJ Cruiser twice without so much as a scratch… well without noticeable body damage.  But it is the relatively easy Naches wagon tail that seems to always cause us problems.  Sure we have followed the Naches wagon trail dozens of time to cross over Washington’s Cascade mountains but it’s this easy trail that has caused all of our body damage.  And this time we captured it on video!

We all have those places we cherish and this trail remains one of our favorite ways to spend a day.  You’re hard pressed to find a trail with more spectacular scenery.  There is just enough hill climbs, off camber and bumps to keep it fun along with several tight squeezes that prevent you from thinking this is walk in the woods.

Maybe it’s karma, maybe it’s just bad luck, or what ever that this wagon trail we love caused us so much pain.  Will it stop us??!! Absolutely not!   We really do love this place.

mountain tree view from car

Tube Door Lifestyle

tube door sunshineI love taking  the factory doors off to let the outside in.  Metal Tech 4×4’s tube doors give great visibility  and put you close to everything, but just like leaving the top of your Jeep at home, you have to accept, you’re committed to living a lifestyle.

That lifestyle includes breathing in trail dust that covers everything, and I do mean everything.  Giving up the AC when the mercury screams 100+.  In the case of rain…  well wear a wet suit.

Adventures are not meant to be easy.  If you want to be comfortable stay on the couch.  Adventures get uncomfortable sometimes but it rewards those who have the desire to push past it and discover what is around the next corner.

Life gets messy…  I want to enjoy it fully!

toyota bj60 and toyota fj cruiser

Camp Monty, End Of The Road

driving fj cruiser with tube doors in the rainIt’s Thursday, our FJ Cruiser, the Blue Bunny, is fully packed and sitting out front of work like a beacon to the weekend’s off-road adventure. Punch the clock at noon and I’m out the door to jump start the long weekend adventure. This is going to be great.

By 12:05p.m. I’m on I5, stuck in traffic trying to get out of Seattle.  The speedometer registers 10mph…  when we’re moving at all that is.  A cool breeze is caressing my face, uninhibited by the Meta Tech 4×4 tube doors that hang in the space once occupied by factory sheet metal and glass.  Other drivers wave.  Some inquire where we’re going.  I smile and shout back to each probe; “Heading off the grid in central Oregon.”fj-cruiser-overlanding-long-gravel-road

2:30p.m. and the traffic snarls of Seattle, Tacoma and JBLM are a distant memory. This is going to be great.

Just south of Olympia, Washington the speed limit jumps to 70 MPH.  It is at this point the clouds unload.  A few drops at first.  Then a bit stronger.  A mile further we’re driving in a monsoon with winds pushing rain sideways through the large opening to my left and right.  Every 18 wheeler that rolls by creates a mix of water, oil and road grime that washes into the cabin.  An inch of water is pooling in the floor mats.  I’m wiping down the inside of the windshield with a towel, everything I own is getting wet.cup of coffee

This adventure is not off to a great start.

By the time we reach Portland, Oregon the rain is a manageable sprinkle but commuters desperate to return home have created gridlock.  All ODOT message boards read: “Congested Traffic Ahead”.

I’m wet, in need of fuel and looking at cranky in the review mirror. Wilsonville, Oregon means a stop for gas and a quick howdy to family who offer a dry towel.

camp montyYou really can’t say a quick hello to family who live 300 miles away.  There is the obligatory one beer.  Stories of the girls soccer game.  How’s work going questions and the polite chit chat that follows.  The clock reads 8:00p.m. and I’m starting to fidget.  We have to get on the road.  It’s still another four hours to our destination.

Despite being off schedule, the time spent with John and the girls is exactly what was needed.  The rain has let up.  The traffic is light again and the sun is casting its late evening colors across a darkening sky.  I’m dry (ish) and heading south once more.  This is going to be great.overlanind young turk

You don’t normally consider hypothermia a threat while driving down the highway.  Cruising up the mountain passes the temperature is quickly falling into the low forties.  Add to that the windchill factor of tube doors, combined with a general dampness that clings to every article of clothing and you can see how the gods have conspired to lower the entertainment value of this trip.  I man up, one hand on the steering wheel while the other is perched over the open heater vent until it is warm enough to take its turn on the wheel.

I spent a great deal of my youth camping, fishing and exploring the headwaters of the Metollious River.  In those days, I never had reason to keep going.  These days, if you want to get away, you have to keep going.camping breakfast partner steel

Google map’s directions call for a right onto a forest road before Camp Sherman.  According to Google, forest road 1400 makes a few turns and intersects with FR 1490.  The problem is Google’s directions, the forest road numbers and my vague memory aren’t lining up.  Drive a mile or two down the gravel road, look at the directions, check the map, turn around try the other direction…  It’s 1:00a.m.! Emotional turmoil does not begin to describe this mess!  It’s time to stop!

noha tarp camp shelter prayer flagsCamp ground after camp ground along the headwaters and all spots are occupied with trailers, RVs and blaze orange tents or worse, big “reserved site” signs. Since when do they take reservations here!! Oh my hell, it’s the middle of the week, don’t these people have jobs??!!  The one open spot I can find in the dark is next to the outhouse, across from the garbage bins with ground that slops down hard to the left.

The night is black as ink, misty and cold.  No camp niceties tonight, just get the tarp up and sleeping bag down so i can warm up and grab a few winks.Lake Billy Chinook

The trip may have gotten off to a rocky start but morning brings a renewed vigor. Armed with a couple maps,  my sidearm,  and the desire to get off the grid we  orient  and motor past the general store, by Wizard Falls and beyond lower bridge where the pavement ends.  Twenty five miles of dirt road, not recommended for passenger cars, trailers or anyone concerned with their suspension separates us from our destination.Mt Bachelor

Crushed red lava rock gives way to exposed football sized stones and washboard as we endeavored to persevere This is going to be great.

The Metolius River’s head waters gush directly out of the mountain side.  It is a site that  seems to contradict conventional thought.   By the time the Metolius reaches Lake Billy Chinook, the gentle spring creek has turned into a raging river. Camp Monty sits where the two waters collide.  No cell coverage, no electricity, no potable water  and no one else here!  This is going to be fj cruiser long forest road

For the next few days we venture out exploring unnamed two tracks.  A few clouds break up the blue sky.  The sun’s rays warm our face and a light breeze is at our back. Song birds sing their tune. Ground squirrels dart back and forth across the trail ahead of us.   Our pace is slow, we’re in no hurry.  Each time we round a bend, the trees open up to valley views that stretch for miles before us.  In the distance Mt Jefferson and Black Butte make their presents known.  And still we haven’t seen anyone else.  This is a great adventure!

fisherman in river

Bamboo vs. Steel

It’s said a “bad day fishing is still better than a good day of work”.  These days I seem to spend a lot more time in the office than out on the river, but it does make those trips that much more special.

I grew up chasing steelhead across Oregon with Kevin, one of my best friends from college.  We where never all that successful but it didn’t seem to matter; we were skipping class, out on the water and enjoying each others company.  Roll the calendar forward…  a lot, and nothing much has tacoma water crossing

We still don’t have a lot of success but we do drive better trucks that get us to more secluded fishing spots.  Fiberglass poles have been replace by hand made bamboo spay rods that Kevin builds in his shop from canes he brought over from china.  And we still enjoy each others company on a river casting a fly.

A bad fishing, is only bad if you can’t remember why you go out on the water in the first place.  And for me…  it not about the fish!

2007 toyota voodoo blue fj cruiser tree

Exploring Ripplebrook Ranger Station

rear toyota fj cruiser two track roadWhen I was young I would follow the Clackamas River up into the mountains looking for a quiet place to wet a fly and spend a night under the stars.  One of my favorite areas was around the Ripplebrook Ranger Station.  Once again I find myself in Portland with my FJ Cruiser,  a free Saturday  and a desire to head back up the river to explore my past.

Late fall and the traffic is sparse as the river narrows and I close in on the ranger station.  I pass familiar camp names like Roaring River, Rainbow River and Alder Flats.  Not much has changed in the sparse camp sites.  Their only amenities  are a rustic hand pump for potable water, heavy wooden picnic tables, fire rings  and a couple of outhouses.  What they lack in creature comforts they more than make up for in natural surroundings.

Even 30 years later there is still room to explore up here.  The endless unpaved backroads go off into the hills, climbing over passes and dropping down into valleys filled with tumbling streams and small shimmering size lakes.   Views of Mount Hood and the sound of moving water seem to be around every turn.  It’s the water that draws me back here.  The sound of moving water causes a cascading flood of wonderful memories: Fly fishing for small, native Cutthroat and Rainbow Trout, camping along a babbling brook, quiet nights alone by a fire, exploring unnamed forest trails…  The water reminds me that life is best experienced by letting it wash over you and drinking it in fully rather than battling the currents in a rush to get out of its way.

fj cruiser two track roadAs darkness overtakes the day, I find myself sitting next to a small lakeside fire, listening to the forest as the flames push back the high mountain chill.  I’ll head back down into the hustle and bustle of PDX soon but for now I’m content to appreciate one of the places that taught me the value of looking beyond the next bend in the road.

FJ Cruiser hood work light

Let there be work light

FLOOD-IT pro LED under truck lightingAround the shop or in camp, light is always at a premium.  We always seem to have to work on parts that are tucked into a dark corner of the truck or start prepping camp meals as the sun is dipping below the horizon.  Until now the solution was head lamps, flashlights or old fashion trouble light.  These light sources are good but they don’t always provide enough light or put it where you want it.

Enter the FLOOD-IT pro LED rechargeable light.  This small but powerful free standing flood light has found it’s way into our kit.  So what makes it better than all the other 10w LED lights out there?

  • Compact free standing base with a handle that is easy to grab.
  • Magnetic feet.  Set the light on the ground, stick it to the hood, attach it to the truck frame.  This work light makes it easy to stage the unit so it illuminates where you need.
  • Cordless and rechargeable, lasting up to four hours. The work light comes with an AC adapter and a car charger making it easy to recharge in the shop or while driving to the next camp.
  • IP65 water and dust protection with a wide 120 degree beam spread.

For us its the compact size, rechargeablility and magnetic feet that make this work light a winner.  When on the trail the light sits magneticly tight on the rear floor where we can quickly grab it. In camp we stick it high on the truck and point the light right where we need it most, at the camp kitchen, and cooler.

The FLOOD-IT pro LED light is now a part of our off-road kit and a favorite around the shop.  Check out Red Kitty Industries for this and other rechargeable work lights.