Category Archives: trail talk

What happens off-road stays off-road… But we’ll tell you anyway. We cover cooking, why we installed certain mods or discuss first aid for wilderness adventures and more. This is life on the road less traveled after the driving is done.

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.

 

essential off-road equipment

Chasing The Gear Whore

land rover defender 110 camel trophy“He who desires more gear, knows not what he wants from his gear”- unknown source.

Whether you call it car camping, off-road adventures or overlanding, an off-road based adventure requires stuff and as a group, we overlanders do not travel light.  If you search the Interwebs, you would think that in order to start overlanding you must have a Land Rover, preferably a Defender 110 (Camel Trophy insignia optional), capable of carrying months of supplies, sand ladders, roof top tent (RTT), titanium cook sets,  wind sail canvas & teak lounge chairs with matching tables and an engine manifold hot water heater with power shower head.

loaded dual sport motorcycleI have a theory and it holds true for all major activities not just overlanding…  It goes like this:

  1. Looks interesting phase – This (insert activity name here) looks like something you would enjoy.  You have little to no experience but the activity seems interesting so you tag along with a friend or give it a try on a limited basis.
  2. Let me open my wallet phase – You tried it, you like it and you’re hooked.  You surf YouTube videos and hang out on the forums during work taking in everything you can about this life changing activity.  moto vendors nworYou imagine yourself living the dream that allows you to quit your job, take the kids out of school and spend all your days doing “this”.   If the “so called experts” tell you, you need a thing-a-ma-bob, you get a thing-a-ma-bob.  If you see a new whats-it’s that promises to take you to the next level you save up and order a whats-it’s.  You check out whats-you-ma-call-its that others have and compare detailed specs of each new piece of gear to hit the market.  You become a gear whore… and you’re proud of it.  In fact you show off your gear and tell everyone how it makes life much better…  and you are happy.yellow land rover discovery
  3. Attaining Zen phase – If you stick with the activity long enough eventually you know what works for you.  Your gear is not so shinny anymore but it performs well and meets your personal needs. You’ve pared down your gear to the minimum you feel comfortable with.  You use all your equipment regularly and your favorite piece of gear is one of your oldest items.  You have repaired much of your gear yourself.  New guys (those wide eyed newbies entering phase 2) look at you and can’t imagine how you do without the newest most talked about piece of gear they just bought.  You are old school.  off-road trailYou are more interested in experiences than buying your way into the club… and you are at peace.

I have a friend who explores very remote locations in her Forester.  That’s right, a stock Subaru with nothing more than a good set of all terrains.  She sleeps in the back, keeps her creature comforts to a minimum and only brings along the essential gear.  Most of her equipment comes from the backpacking world so it is light and compact.  She eats volvo driving snowy passgranola trail mix, energy bars and PB&J sandwiches.  She is comfortable with her style and she has seen more remote North West destinations than just about anyone else I know.

There is nothing wrong with the gear whore.  In fact it is that willingness to purchase new stuff that fuels the overlanding community.   Gear purchases encourage manufactures to sponsor rallies and shows that bring us all together.  Profitable vendors contribute to the fight for open access to places less known for all of us to explore more.

I84 sunsetWhatever phase you’re in…  don’t let anyone mislead you into feeling that you must have a truck with lockers, 33″ tires, armor or top-of-the-line suspension or other cool stuff before you can start enjoying off-road adventures.  They will of course allow you to go to more difficult locations but  all it takes to start is imagination and a desire to explore. The key to great off-road adventures is that you grab a map, pick a destination and explore the road less traveled.  Over time you will find your own way and discover what gear is right for you.

blindfolded driver

Driving While Blind – The Off-Road Spotter

4x4 trail spotter d90 bj60Driving off-road can feel like you have your head on a swivel.  You need to see what’s in front of you, behind you and on both sides.  And when things get really though you wish you had an extra set of eyes.  It’s at this point a trail spotter becomes your best friend.

The job of a spotter is to driver the truck “remotely” through the obstacle.  By seeing what the driver cannot, the spotter instructs the driver which way to turn, how fast to go and when to stop in order to get the truck past a difficult obstacle in the trail.

two men fj cruiserIn order to perform this feat, driver and spotter have to trust each other.  The driver will need to follow the instructions to a tee and the spotter needs to know how the truck will behave as she has the driver put a wheel on a rock or come down a ledge step.

Before the driver and spotter get to the driving part, they need to talk and agree on the line and signals as well as honestly discuss driving skills and concerns.  This is no time for ego.

turn driver spotting signalWhen it comes to spotting signals, bigger is better.  It is incredibly hard to tell what the spotter is trying to communicate if they are simply pointing a finger.  The spotter needs to get into it.   She needs to use big gestures when directing the driver and hand signals should be accompanied with loud vocal commands.

Start with the basics:

  • Come Forward – The driver should drive forward with the wheels as they are.
  • Turn Driver – The driver should turn the wheel to their left.  The spotter’s left and the drivers left are different so get into the habit of using “driver”.man spotting fj cruiser on trail
  • Turn Passenger -The driver should turn the wheel to their right.  The spotter’s right and the drivers right are different so get into the habit of using “passenger”.
  • Stop – The driver should stop the truck and maintain control.  “Wow”  can sound a lot like “go” so avoid it and stay away from ambiguous phases like “hold up”, “that’s good” or “wait”.  Let the driver know to “STOP”.
  • Backup – Drive the truck in reverse with the wheels as they are.

There is a common problem that can creep up, when there are several bystanders around the truck as it is being spotted.  A number of folks may start to give suggestions to the driver, distracting her with “turn left, your other left”, “watch out for the rock”, or a dozen of other misguided directions.  They are trying to help but it only makes things worse.  This is where the spotter needs to step in, take control and tell everyone to stop helping.  There can be only one spotter. man 4x4 trail spotter

ADVANCED: The spotter may ask another observer to step in and perform one function for her.  That function is to yell “STOP”.  This is helpful when the spotter is backing the driver up or trying to have the driver make very minor adjustments.  The observer does not provide any directions or advise to the driver, she only shouts out the command “stop” based on what the spotter requested.  The spotter will relay the “stop” voice command with a stop hand signal when she hears the observer shout “stop”.

A good spotter can help a driver get through obstacles  unscathed  that they never could have driven on their own.  Like any valuable skill,  spotting takes practice in order for you to guide the blind down the trail.

2007 Toyota FJ cruiser

3 Quick Off-Road Adventure Tips

These off-road adventure tips have served us well and we hope they help you.

  1.  If you have read “The Checklist Manifesto” by Atul Gawande you know how valuable checklist can be to jog your memory and prevent you from forgetting an important step.  We laminate our checklists in clear plastic to protect and keep them clean when using them on an adventure. Make your own personalized checklist or download and use our off-road adventure checklists so that you don’t forget something important on your next big adventure.
  2. Every time you wash your truck or at least once a month exercise your winch. Spool ten or 15 feet of rope out and back in about a dozen times.  This will make sure the gears stay lubed and any moisture that finds it’s way in is evaporated off of the drum and winch motor.  By regularly using your winch you can ensure it is operationally ready if needed on your next off-road adventure.
  3. Look inside of your engine compartment.  You will certainly find a few nooks and crannies perfect for stowing a few quarts of engine oil and gear lube.   Make sure oil bottles are kept snug and avoid any sharp edged areas. This trick will keep a spare quart or two handy where and when you need it.

Do you have a tip that you find extremely useful when exploring the road less traveled?  Let us know.

Blue Bunny the FJ Cruiser Walk Around

2007 voodoo toyota fj cruiserOur 2007 Toyota FJ Cruiser has gone through a number of iteration since we first purchased it in late 2006. We thought it was time to record exactly what she has these days.

We’ve discussed why we’ve made some of the off-road modification choices we did with our build.  We’ve also told you why you should not modify your off-road truck.  We obviously didn’t take our own advice so here it is…  the Blue Bunny a Toyota FJ Cruiser walk around:

Trail Armor:

Front Suspension:

Rear Suspension:

  • Metal Tech custom built 3-link
  • Metal Tech long travel progressive rear springs
  • Metal Tech bump stop re-locators
  • Sway-A-Way 2.5″ bypass shocks
  • Custom rear shock hoops

Drivetrain:

  • ARB air locker front and rear
  • 4.56:1 ring and pinion gears
  •  Custom Curry rear housing (4″ wider to track with front tires)
  • Custom Curry rear axles
  • Ford 9″ third-member
  • Atlas 4 speed: 2.72:1 reduction gear, 3.8:1 low range gear

Miscellaneous:

fj cruiser broken tail light

Dented My Dream

fj cruiser dented fron fenderNever set limits, go after your dreams, don’t be afraid to push the boundaries. And laugh a lot – it’s good for you! ~ Paula Radcliffe

You spent forty, fifty, even sixty thousand dollars on a new truck and its modifications. You want to take it off-road to explore the 4×4 trails you’ve read about in search of solitude in the great outdoors. You just can’t seem to reconcile the idea of denting up a perfectly good truck in the name of getting away from it all.

If you take your truck off highway you will get some damage. That damage could be as little as paint chips from gravel kicked up on a forest road to full-on body damage caused by flopping your truck on the Rubicon Trail trying to navigate Little Sluice or Cadillac Hill. I say “you will” because eventually it happens. Maybe not on your first outing or your second but if you wheel long enough you will see damage on your truck.

There is something incredibly rewarding about driving a trail more difficult than the last and applying what you have learned in order to make it through the challenge unscathed. But as the saying goes; you learn more from your mistakes than you do from all your successes. In this case, an off-road fail can be a bit expensive. I recently learned a hard lesson. After driving thousands of miles of dirt roads and two tracks, the Baja 1000’s route to Cobo, The Rubicon Trail… TWICE and lots of 4×4 trails relatively unmarked, I got careless.

On a 4×4 trail I’ve driven several times before, I was working an easy stretch when another group of trucks approached from the opposite direction. I made a poor choice of places to pull out, miss judged the stability of a rock and before I knew it, my front fender and rear taillight were trying to occupy the same space as a fallen log which seemed to operate at a quantum level. I didn’t hear a bang or feel a big jolt. It was more of a soft kiss as the two came together leaving me with the sensation that something wasn’t right.

I’d be lying if I told you it didn’t hurt. For eight years I’ve kept my FJ Cruiser free of dents and dings. Sure a bit of pin striping but no body damage. This felt as if I’d somehow failed my truck, a broken promise to keep it out of harms way in return for it’s continued reliability and the assurance it would get me home. I’d screwed up. I was over confident in my ability and all the trucks fancy mods so I had tried to wedge the truck into a small crease instead of taking the time to look for a more appropriate turn out, and forced a bad choice. This mistake can be fixed. I will replace the taillight myself. The fender, well, it will get a little professional love after a few more off-road adventures we have lined up for the summer.

Now, before you give up on the dream of exploring the road less traveled in your new truck let me talk you off the ledge. I’m not telling you this story of carnage to scare you. Rather, I tell this tale so you will know there are much worse things than accidentally banging up your truck. The sting is temporary. It hardly even compares to the rewards you receive for exploring the fringes of your ability and discovering you have pushed out the boundaries that once held you back. This is the zen that eludes those who fail to try. These rewards are not given to the careless who thrash their junk against the rocks but is reserved for the thoughtful who attempt to live life without limitations and refuse to let setbacks stop their progress.

But the fact of the matter is: Sheet metal is repairable. Chicks dig dents. And the United States of America has the best body-shop to off-road-adventurer ratio in the world!

willys jeep

Oregon’s 4-Wheeling Gem

red toyota bj60 cedar treeOregon’s Tillamook Forest  Off Highway Vehicle area offers off-road adventurers one of the best 4×4 areas in the west.  250 miles of trails that range in difficulty from easy forest roads to sever, you’re going to have to trailer your rig right to the shop and everything in between.  While the 4×4 trails are open to all, there are several trails designated for motorcycle and quad use only allowing everyone to find the off-road experience they are looking for.voodoo blue toyota fj cruiser woods

The off-road trails are well marked and the Oregon Department of Forestry puts out  the Tillamook Forest OHV area map clearly identifying all the trails, their difficulty level and vehicle usage. This area is a working forest and occasionally sections will be closed for logging.  Trail closures are posted on the OHV trail report along with lots of other useful information.  To help ensure this area remains cared for and open for recreational 4×4 use a permit sticker is required for each vehicle using the OHV area and can be purchased at many of the local stores along the highway in route.prayer flag tent camping

The Tillamook Forest OHV area is very family oriented with day use and large improved camping areas such as Browns Camp or Jordan Creek.  If you enjoy a little more rustic experience, you will find numerous secluded dry camp areas throughout the OHV area.  As you would expect camp sites fill up quickly on the weekends while you will have your choice of sites during the work week.

red toyota bj60With so many trail options, the Tillamook Forest OHV area is the perfect location to build up your driving skills, and there is nothing that can replace seat time behind the wheel when it comes to off-road adventures.  Because of the hours we’ve spent driving trails like “Firebrake 5”, “Hog’s Back” or “Cedar Tree”, when we came to a washout that had completely destroyed the route, on our Baja off-road adventure, dropping into a boulder filled dry river bed felt comfortable and allowed us to keep going.  In fact many of the situations we run into on our more secluded, solo overland style off-road adventures, present little worry because of the hours of practice we’ve put in drifrench press camp coffeeving all levels of 4×4 trails in OHV areas like the Tillamook Forest.

Only a couple of hours from Portland, Oregon and even less from the Oregon coast this area provides endless opportunities to wheel hard all day and still enjoy the many other sights and sounds of the pacific northwest.  The Tillamook Forest Off Highway Vehicle area is truly Oregon’s 4-wheeling gem.

SAM splintted arm

First Aid First

green land rover defender 90We’ve always taken wilderness first aid preparedness seriously as a part of our off-road adventures but it was not until that fateful day in Moab that our training got put into use.

There are two requirements to help produce a successful outcome in a wilderness first aid situation.  First you and preferably everyone in the group, need to have the knowledge on how to treat victims for a wide range of accidents and (b) you need to have the medical resources to treat  the problem.

When you get off the beaten path by bike, hiking, horseback or 4×4 it is important that you have a solid understanding of how to treat accidents of all kinds. This includes: second or third degree burns, deep cuts, sprains, broken bones,  heat exhaustion, hypothermia, animal bites and more.

In order to learn how to treat accident victims, start by taking a basic first aid and CPR class taught through the Red Cross, the American Heart Association, local community college, outdoor club or private company. These courses will provide you with a basic understanding of first aid and how to work with victims in an emergency situation.

woman taking injured man pulseIn addition to the course materials print off, read and keep with you on your adventure:

If you are the leader of an off-road adventure you have an increased level of responsibility and leadership role as medical support for the group.  You may want to take a more intense wilderness first aid training course or assign the medic role to one of the other member of the group who has additional training.  In extreme off-road adventures where first aid is the only aid you can expect, you may want a paramedic, ER nurse or doctor to join the team.

wilderness first aid splinting injured man armWhen it comes to medical supplies we recommend braking it down into two categories, personal first aid kit and group trauma pack.  The group trauma pack should contain a wide list of supplies  such as: scalpels, scissors, tweezers, forceps, nitrile gloves, splints, burn creams, eye wash, ice packs, heat packs,  space blanket, ACE bandages, blood clotter, antibiotic ointments, antiseptic creams, alcohol swabs, hydrogen peroxide, aspirin, non-aspirin pain relievers, mole skin, butterfly wound closures, large sterile gauze pads, triangle bandages, non-stick pads, sterile gauze rolls, adhesive tape and lots of various sized band-aids and sterile gauze pads.  The group should carry a  trauma pack with enough supplies to support several team members being involved in an accident.

Each person in the group should carry a personal first aid kit that is kept with them.  The individual first aid kits are a combination of simple basics as well as personalized medical needs.  At a minimum we recommend each personal kit include: antacid tablets, Pepto-Bismol tablets, aspirin/non-aspirin, antihistamine, insect sting relief, insect repellant, lip balm, sunblock, Moleskin, antiseptic cream, large and medium sized band-aids as well as several 3×3 sterile gauze pads, adhesive tape and tweezers.  Every individual should personalize their kit to support any prescriptions or medical needs they may have such as allergy meds, asthma inhalers, insulin kit or EpiPen.

yellow land rover discoveryMore than likely you’ll never pull out the group trauma pack.  Most little  scraps, blisters and upset stomachaches can be handled by the individual using their personal first aid kit.  More serious needs will utilize both the personal first aid kits, the group trauma pack and other do-dads such as duct tape, Velcro straps, leatherman tools, blankets, water, hi-lift jack bars, hoses, what ever it takes, in order to bring all available resources to bare .

The last piece of the first aid preparedness puzzle on an off-road adventure is to have a pre-departure check-in to assess everyone’s skills, discuss any team members’ special medical needs and drug allergies,  verify individual kits and ensure everyone knows where the group trauma pack is kept as well as what protocol to follow in case of an accident.

Most off-road adventures never encounter a serious injury but without a doubt you have to be prepared to provide medical aid in locations where first aid may be the only aid for a long time.

stock fj cruiser and modified fj cruiser side by side

Before You Modify Your Vehicle For Off-Road Travel

total chaos long travel fj cruiserDon’t modify your truck!  No, I mean it! Don’t MODIFY Your Off-Road TRUCK!

Ok, let me explain. No showroom vehicle is perfect for serious off-road adventures so depending on your adventure you will most likely need to make some modifications to your vehicle.  However, before you start, be clear on why you are making the modification, what you are looking to gain and what effect it will have on the entire vehicle.  Based on our experience, we put together a few thoughts to consider before modifying your off-road vehicle.

Suspension plays a critical role on and off-road. Suspension is responsible for handling in normal driving, emergency situations and maneuvering through obstacles on the trail.  It is important to keep in mind the manufacturers geometry ideals when deciding how you will achieve increased lift and articulation.  Good quality suspension component upgrades in the right configuration will improve off-road performance and allow your vehicle to drive down the highway as well mannered as it did right off the showroom floor.  It won’t do you any good to be able to crawl up 18 inch rock shelves if you cannot swerve to avoid hitting a cow on the road in Baja.  Your goal should be to increase lift and wheel travel while keeping the center of gravity as low as possible and maintain on road handling performance.land rover d90 toyota fj cruiser 4x4 trail

Keep the tires sized right.  Suspension provides lift but tires give you ground clearance.  Larger tires add weight, which in turn puts stress on steering components, reduces gas mileage, strains performance and often contributes to broken axles.  The ground clearance difference between 33″ and 35″ tires is less than an inch and it decreases more as you air down.  If you absolutely need 37″ tires for your adventure, make sure all your steering and suspension components are matched to safely drive highway speeds and still perform emergency maneuvers.  Choose a durable, high quality tire, with strong sidewalls and tread matched for the terrain without over sizing it. We ran 33.5″ (according to the tape measure) tires for both adventures through Rubicon and ground clearance was never the problem.

A big part of keeping the center of gravity low is to avoid putting weight on the roof.  It’s easy to pack a large roof rack with fuel cans, storage boxes, spare tire, roof top tent, awning and even a kitchen sink.  But all that weight becomes a liability in off camber situations or in an emergency maneuver to avoid the cow.  We’ve watched several trucks easily drive through a tight trail section only to see an identical truck with a heavily packed roof rack take a ding as it leaned into a over hanging tree or rock face everyone else slipped by.  Additionally all that wind resistance up top has a very negative affect on your fuel mileage and highway driving manners.  Select a light weight roof rack and use it sparingly, limited  to lighter items such as a shovel, camp chairs or duffel bag of cloths.  If you cannot pack all the items you need for your adventure in the back of the rig, you may have the wrong off-road adventure vehicle.ultimate fj cruiser trail flexing

Recovery gear is extremely important and an often overlooked modification.  A good winch can be an invaluable tool for getting you unstuck or pulling a fallen tree clear of the trail.  A winch should be considered in conjunction with an aftermarket bumper.  Select a bumper that gives you a clear view of and easy access to the winch.  Like any tool, it is very important that you know how to use your winch properly before you need it and follow all the safety precautions.  There are situations that will not require a winch or a winch it not appropriate.  The right tool for the recovery may be a shovel, hi-lift jack, snatch strap or traction device such as Maxtrax. When your stuck, a good situational analysis and well developed recovery plan is far better (more productive and safer) than hastily grabbing your favorite item without a thought.

land rover d90 toyota fj cruiser airing downWhen it comes to electrical modifications, keep them on separate circuits using properly sized fuses and relay switches.  To make troubleshooting and maintenance easier, clearly label the wires and auxiliary fuse box for your CBs, off-road lights, HAM radios, compressors and fridges.  Poorly wired electronics can cause fires, drain batteries or damage other electrical components including your vehicles engine control unit (ECU).

Weight is the enemy.  Heavy bumpers, sliders, full skid plates, winches,  and steel guards of all kinds add a lot of extra weight.  This weight effects handling, performance and reduces the carrying capacity for your other stuff.  A fully loaded truck ready for an adventure should not exceed the manufacturer’s gross vehicle weight rating.  Ideally it should be less than 90% GVWR.  We’re always looking to pair down the weight while still maintaining the right level of protection.  We run a skid, but only for the engine.  Our Metal Tech tube bumper is significant lighter than a shell style bull bar.

FJ Cruiser on the rackLower gears, after market transfer case, beefier third member, air lockers,  or super charger can increase your truck’s off-road capability but it comes at a very high price.  For us these items take you across a very real line in the sand.  By modifying your engine or drive train you now have a maintenance intensive truck that will require a significant amount of work to keep running smoothly.  You also go from carrying a basic tool set to hauling a full mechanics chest and a host of spare parts in order to make adjustments and repairs in the field.

Stronger is not always better.  For example we’ve talked about how the half shaft on an IFS vehicle is a weak link.  However if you opt for beefier CVs with stouter axles you have now moved the breaking point from an easy to fix IFS field repair into the differential gears which were never design for field repair.  The same is true for beefing up tie rods that than pushes the weak point into the rack and pinion.fj cruiser rear suspension components

A poor quality modification component is worse than no modification at all.  For example: if you attach thin walled, flimsy sliders that cannot carry the weight of the vehicle, you run the risk of significant damage on the trail.  On the trail your spotter, who assumes your sliders are more than looks, will guide you through an obstacle that may involve using them. Better to not have them and take an appropriate line than drive with a false sense of security.

One of the best investments you’ll ever make has nothing to do with your off-road vehicle.  Spend as much time as you can driving off-road.  Start out on easy trails learning how your vehicle behaves and build your skills as you progress to more complex off-road adventures.  A good off-road driving course  such as Bill Burke’s 4-wheeling America, can also help jump start your adventures, better than most vehicle modification.  Nothing beats seat time, the more experienced you are behind the wheel, the less modifications it will take to safely complete your off-road adventure.

Modifications are part off-road vehicles.  Every modification has both positive and negative effects on your vehicle’s performance. To get the most from your modifications it is important to understand their full impact in order to choose the ones that are right for your next off-road adventure.

race truck parts currie axel fj cruiser springs ford 9 inch

Thoughts Behind The Change

fj cruiser flexingThe second universal truth of the Buddha, and off-road adventures, is that everything is continuously changing. Our rig has been going through immense change.  Sure the changes are very bad ass…  but what is important, is to understand why we’re making these changes.

Read through our website (go ahead, we’ll wait) and you will see our rig, the Blue Bunny, has successfully taken us on many amazing off-road adventures so why would we change it.  Seven years ago, in order to go to the North Slope, AK we upgraded the suspension with a three inch lift relying on Sway-A-Way (SAW) coil-overs, rear shocks and springs.  We needed a suspension that could provide lift for larger tires, take constant jarring and improve the handling of our FJ Cruiser. These changes fit the bill for driving over 2,000 miles of nasty unpaved roads. But we wanted more travel to soak up the endless jarring of long off-road adventures.

currie axle with ford 9"Chasing our desire for more travel and a smoother ride we upgraded to a  Total Chaos long travel kit and bigger set of SAWs coil-overs that extended the front travel from eight  to about 12 inches.  This upgrade made a huge difference as we crawled the Rubicon, bombed down Baja and wound our way on the Utah Backcountry Discovery Route or any number of local NW 4×4 trails.  But this front suspension upgrade left us wanting more for the rear.  While the front remained confident in everything we threw at it, the rear just couldn’t keep up.  That is when we turned to LT from Metal Tech 4×4 and arranged for them to build a custom rear suspension that was worthy of our adventures.

LT went to work replacing our original axle with a Currie that was four inches wider than stock so it would match the width of our extended long travel front end.  The Curie is a bullet proof housing with huge axles that we will be hard pressed to damage.  A Ford 9″ third member  with 4.56:1 ring and pinion gears was mated up to the Currie.  We needed the gearing to gain back the power that has been lost with the bigger tires, armor and all the gear needed for long expeditions. A Ford 9″ is used extensively in desert racers because of it dependability and parts are readily available throughout the world.  An ARB air locker replaced the stock E-locker that was left behind in the stock third member. A custom rear drive shaft to direct power back to the new rear end completed the circuit.  All these changes were in response to our request for rock solid dependability.  But what about the suspension.Atlas transfer case

Stock FJ Cruisers come with a 4-link rear suspension and nine inches of travel.  LT replaced this with a custom 3-link.  Starting with Metal Tech’s long travel lower link design, LT lengthened the design for our setup while still retaining all the engineering that has gone into Metal Tech’s original design.  Our links incorporate 2 1/2″ forged Johny Joints® with 1 1/4″ threaded studs and tube steal capable of supporting the weight of the rig if it is drug over a rock, ensuring the lower links will remain true regardless of where we go.  The links were paired with Metal Tech long travel progressive springs and bump-stop off sets to maintain proper positioning as the rear axle travels the entire arc.  When it came to shocks we knew we needed both length and girth to give us the travel we desired and the stamina for endless rough dirt roads without fading.

With the extra width of the Currie, LT add outboard shock hoops to hold 2 1/2″ triple by-pass, remote reserve shocks from Sway-A-Way that are capable of 12″ of travel. Sway-a-way triple bypass shocks By increasing the shock diameter from the 2″ to 2 1/2″ we equaled the dampening power of two, 2″ shocks and effectively doubling our previous setup’s stamina. The by-pass feature will let us dial in both the rebound and compression dampening to match the terrain we are traveling on.  And what is good for the rear…

Up front we added another set of 2 1/2″ triple by-pass, remote reserve Sway-A-Way axillary shocks to our Total Chaos long travel so we can tune the front and share the load with the coil-overs.  And since the front transfer case was going to be pulled apart to match the gears in the rear, LT added an ARB locker up front giving us complete wheel locking capability front and rear if needed.

new gear shiftsThe Blue Bunny is a six speed manual and driving a manual off-road is all about having options in the gears.  We’d been thinking about changing out the transfer case for a number of years and since we had everything pulled apart it was time to make a decision.  High and low are pretty standard transfer case options and we could choose some crawler gears to improve control over gnarly trails but that is still a compromise since we face mud, sand and crawling over rock on our off-road adventures.  In order to ensure we can crawl slow, pull a load up a steep hill and still run with speed where we want, we chose an Atlas 4 speed.  The Atlas’ planetary 2.72:1 reduction gear along with the 3.8:1 low range gear provides all sorts of options: H-H, H-L, L-H and L-L along with the ability to engage front or rear independently. You can do the math with all the gears involved to figure out our final crawl ratios but what it comes down to is we can now ooze slower than molasses over rocks, climb a tree fully loaded, sail over sand dunes and still drive to work.

There is a price for all these high end off-road modifications.atlas transfer case mounted

  • You’re running with mods that take adjusting to get right and tune it all in.  These are not just drop in and forget it components.  But get it all right…  and wow!
  • No parts store has spare parts on the self for any of the custom work.  You are running a one of a kind rig.
  • You need to know how it all fits together, comes apart and then goes back together because no one else will.
  • You need to learn your rig all over again…  it’s new sounds, feel and driving capabilities…  but that is half the fun.

When it comes to our off-road adventures we aren’t satisfied with one style of wheeling, we love it all. Sure you can put together a purpose built rig that will exceed the Blue Bunny’s capability on any one terrain but we think we’ve built a solid rig to conquer all terrains.  Of course there will be times when we’ll have to finesse a situation or let a faster rig pass but with the trade offs we’ve made (like IFS for the desert over straight axle for rocks, or a short wheel base for maneuverability over tons of room for expedition gear that comes with a longer wheel base), the Blue Bunny should get us through anything we encounter as we continue to look for the last great road trips left in the world.