Category Archives: Rants, Raves and the Zen Art of Road Trip Management
Anything can show up here… life gets a little crazy but we manage to get through it. These are the stories of when the SHTF or something just pisses us off or just stuff we think is high on cool factor.
Whenever someone sees the truck, I enviably get the question “What is Last Great Road Trip”. And that is tougher than I thought.
Sure I could say “oh it’s a website about overland travel and off road adventures” but usually I smile and fumble around an answer like “Just a website”, because it’s embarrassing and that doesn’t really cover it. Be sides there is our YouTube channel and all the social media I try to keep up with as well as meeting people who have touched my life.
So for 2018 I sat down and tried to figure out what is Last Great Road Trip. What do you think?
Last Great Road Trip is about overland travel, performing your own routine maintenance and truck modifications.
We produce write-ups and videos that show you how to perform many of the basic maintenance activities on your FJ Cruiser and GX470 (we’ve been keeping her a secret). We also put together content to help you repair your Toyota truck when things break or you want to modify your truck and take it to the next level.
Overlanding is about remote destinations, unique experiences, self-reliance and the journey. Our goal to encourage you to create your own adventure and I invite you to come along on our journey and share the experience.
Too much market spam…. What do YOU think we are about? How would you answer the question? As I look to 2018 and plan our next overland adventure I want to know. Seriously… Let me know!
Growing 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 day.
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.
I 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.
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 changed.
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!
Take an idea, flip it on it’s ear and tell a story. After all we have to do something with the hundreds of hours of off-road adventure video we have in vault.
For us telling a story with video is harder than it looks. We’ve had a You Tube and Vimeo LGRT channel for six plus years and put out 90 some videos. In our own opinion our off-road adventure videos seem to lack entertainment value. But there is hope.
“The Grocery Getty” was two years in the making. Watching tutorials, reading scripts, taking notes and considering how to apply their story telling lessons.
For a long time I thought a better camera, better technique or better software would help. Unfortunately no amount of “better” could make up for the lack of a story. And while The Grocery Getty is only 36 seconds (not including all the credits and disclaimers) it has a beginning, middle and end along with tension and a twist.
It’s not going to win any awards but it gives us hope that we can start to break the mold and tell better off-road adventure stories.
Automotive nirvana by day, debauchery and broken dreams by night. This is SEMA.
By all accounts SEMA is the premier automotive specialty products trade event, period. It draws the industry’s brightest minds and hottest products to one place, the Las Vegas Convention Center.
The SEMA Show attracts more than 100,000 industry leaders from more than 100 countries covering the automotive, truck, SUV, powersports, and RV markets. Adding to its mystic, SEMA is not open to the public. Like a chichi Boho model gliding past the velvet rope of New York’s Up&Down club, at SEMA you have to be an insider to gain access.
The Las Vegas Convention Center (LVCC, apparently everything is Vegas simply goes by its initials now) has some 3,000,000 square feet of exhibition space and SEMA seemed to fill it all. The show even managed to spill into most of the parking lots, muscle cars burning rubber around a makeshift track, Baja trophy trucks fresh from their Nevada desert runs are poised in the loft ready for the upcoming Baja 1000 and tons of exotic builds filling every open space on the asphalt.
While outside SEMA is smoking hot fun, inside is all business. Manufactures and distributors do whatever they can to attract dealers and buyers to their booth where they can show off new product lines, discuss their M.A.P. policies and tout seductive quantity discounts.
And in order to draw the tens of thousands of SEMA buyers into the booth:
chichi models strutting around in stripper heels
outrageously over-built and flamboyantly wrapped cars, trucks, 4x4s and SUVs
TV celebs, racers and motor sport legends signing posters
flashing lights, mega booths and lots of highly polished bling
tons of swag
and anything else that will entice a buyer to stop in their tracks
We spent four days wondering through SEMA and still didn’t manage to see everything. We didn’t have time for booths showing off their tire balancing lead weights and lug nut wrenches. Spent most of our 4 days checking out the off-road manufacturers hall.
Jeep is he market leader when it comes to shear numbers so manufactures heavily target the brand. With Toyota calling it quits on the FJ Cruiser and no real successor named yet, the 2014 SEMA show was dominated by Jeeps and full size pickups on display. There was the occasional Land Rover, 4Runner, Tacoma and one or two FJ Cruisers.
Redline Land Cruiser’s new FJ-UTE was the only completely new to the market 4×4 on display. Their production run will only be in the dozens or so each year and they have deposits covering builds for the next 18 months. Justin Robbins the designer and builder behind the FJ-UTE shared with us his favorite thing about their new truck. Turns out he geek-ed out when it came to the CAD created CNC replica nobs. No one had ever done it before and he knew it would be one of those things that no one notices but adds big to the overall FJ heritage experience.
Our big scores at SEMA this year… How about a chance to chat with Jessi Combs, the fastest woman on four wheels. We discussed how to encourage more young women to become involved in off-road and the business side of motor sports. Ben from COMEUP winch gave us a glimpse of their new Gen2 product line coming out soon. Over at BesTop we were impressed with their RoughRider spare tire organizer solution which is great for keeping recovery gear handy.
The truth about SEMA, or any other trade show, is that for everyone working the floor, covering the event or maintaining the facilities… it is a lot of hard work! By Friday even the chichi models were a little less bouncy and a lot less excited about those platform heels. I’ve worked all side of these types of events. I love them and I always end up working my ass off. I’m not complaining. It’s SEMA. It’s Vegas. It’s automotive nirvana and I’ve already booked my ticket for SEMA2015!
Whether you call it an off-road adventure, car camping, or overlanding, making camp and sleeping under the stars in the great outdoors is a big part of the experience.
There was a time when I longed for a luxurious Shangri La roof top tent, retractable awning, stainless steel four burner propane camp chef stove, 82 quart portable fridge freezer combo, weathered sail cloth and teak hardwood folding camp chairs with matching distressed teak dining and end tables. I imagined a camp right out of the pages of Glamping Journal. A cross between pampered British upper crust and lone rugged American cowboy with a hint of African Serengeti safari and a touch of Everest base camp. I dreamed of eating fine meals, stopping for afternoon tea and ending the day with single malt in crystal tumblers by the fire as twinkling stars filled the darkness.
As appealing as this marketing driven outdoor dream was to me, at some point I realized it wasn’t my own.
Over the last few years I’ve taken a step back to transform my idea of and off-road adventure camp. Drawing from my backpacking and mountaineering background I mixed in a few childhood car camping memories and now have my own unique style of camp when I stop for the night.
First let me say there is nothing wrong with roof top tents and teak furniture, it’s just not me. Truth be told sometimes I wish it was.
These days I’ve dialed camp back to a minimalistic mindset. A Noa tarp to keep the dew off, provide shade from the sun and keep a spot dry if the rains encroach. The tarp is versatile, light weight and can be configured dozens of ways from trees, my truck or a poles. The real weather protection comes from the bivy sack I throw my sleeping bag into. My simple shelter protects without blocking out the nature I came to commune with. At night I can lay there with an unobstructed view up as the stars overtake the darkness.
A pair of African mingle mats lets me sit on the dirt or wet grass without tracking it everywhere.
Although I’ve pared back, I haven’t given up on a good night’s sleep. A whisper light, super compact cot creates a cushion of love that cradles me through the night for an incredible rest.
The gourmet chef shove has been replaced by a small bullet proof mountaineering blast furnace with two settings: off and full blast. This little white gas single burner stove will boil water or weld a spoon to the bottom of the pot in minutes but simmer is not in its vocabulary. Simmer, grill and toast occurs over an open campfire. A light weight, compact backpacking cook set, little french press and a spoon that doubles as stove wrench round out the kitchen. A compact aluminum table and three legged stool provides all the camp function and fireside comfort I need to call the woods home.
Had I stopped here it would be a nice spartan camp… But I had to make it mine. Prayer flags make me smile. Brilliant colors and prayer script blowing in the wind. Peace and loving kindness sent out into the universe. Belief in Karma is not required to know that what goes around comes around.
And then there is the alter where I hedge my bets. A spin on the Internet will tell you that every belief places certain reverence on protecting travelers. Ganesha the Hindu deity revered as the remover of obstacles and protector of travelers. St. Christopher the patron saint of travelers. A Catholic rosary offers universal protection. Seven day candles carry prayers to the heavens. Mayan worry doll, sitting Buddha, Indian incense, sacred sandalwood, dried chicken foot, Tibetan tin prayer bells and a New Orleans voodoo doll, all offer protection and draw positive energy into camp. Bruddah Ed, Hula Betty’s jolly grass skirted cousin, makes me laugh and that is good too.
This mix of minimalism, eclectic talismans and eccentric showmanship is definitely more reflective of my style than my original vision of camp.
I’m not camping in the lap of luxury. I’m not pampered while the Sherpa tend and clean up. Setting up camp is my meditation. I eat well, sleep soundly and enjoy a fine cigar around the fire as the Milky Way pours over me. I am living the dream.
Back in the 80’s Brad and I took a road trip to Yellowstone National Park. Miles from anywhere our car’s fuel pump gave out. We were stuck on a dirt road that maybe saw another car once every day or so. Fast forward to today and I can add a couple of dead batteries, several flat tires, black ice spin out, two snow closed passes and a blown engine to the list of things that have left me stranded on the side of the road in less than ideal conditions.
Changing a tire on a warm afternoon on a quiet level country road is no big deal. Changing a tire in the dark on the side of the highway when it’s 40 degrees and raining, lacks entertainment value. Over the years I have managed to put together an emergency roadside kit that takes the sting out being stuck on road and makes most bad situations bearable. These days I always have a emergency roadside kit in the trunk of all my vehicles even if I’m just going to the grocery store.
Our roadside emergency kit is easy to build up and is filled with items you probably have lying around the house.
Start with an old gym bag or duffel. Even your daughter’s pink “My Favorite Pony” school backpack will do. You just need something to keep all your supplies together. Once you have your recycled book bag in hand, gather up the following items and stuff them in.
Jumper cables – I’m surprised at how many people with a dead battery who have asked me for a jump, follow it by “Do you have jumper cables?”.
Wool blanket – Coming home from eastern Washington, WADOT closed the pass for avalanche control and I spent four hours waiting for the all clear under a warm blanket while the snow continued to fall. Wool retains it’s ability to keep you warm even when wet and is one of the most important items in the kit.
Household cleaning gloves – I’ve reached into mucky wheel wells to work snow chains around a tire and pulled crow parts from the grill. Waring long, heavy duty, rubber household cleaning gloves made it much less traumatic.
Personal first aid kit – No one enjoys driving with a throbbing headache or having you’re allergies kick into high gear as you drive by miles of hay fields. A simple first aid kit will let you take care of yourself (or one of the kids) and get you back on the road before it becomes a serious problem.
Duct tape – You can fix anything with duct tape.
Pocket knife / Leatherman tool – I’ve pulled out a pocket knife for just about everything including cutting duct tape in order to splint my finger after slamming it in door.
Bottles of water – You can go for weeks without food, but you will quickly start to dehydrate in dry conditions and can die within a few days without water. I’ve also grabbed a water bottle to wash dirt out a friend’s eye when the wind kicked up, swirling dust everywhere.
Road flares – Ever change a tire on the side of the road… in the dark? I have. It’s important to let on-coming traffic know you’re there. We like flare over reflectors since a flare can be used to start a signal fire in the wettest conditions if things really go south.
Safety vest – It’s not much of a fashion statement but the more visible you are the better. On the side of the road or from a rescue helicopter you want to be seen.
Whistle – Yelling for help will only be heard so far and eventually your voice will tire, but a whistle can be blown forever and is a universal call for attention.
Compass – Ff you do have to leave your vehicle and hike out, you want to know where you’re going. A compass will let you get your bearings and trek a straight line.
Plastic shower curtain liner – $7.00 at any Walmart and you instantly have an emergency shelter, ground tarp, rain poncho, oil catch, knelling mat for changing a tire in the mud, … There are no limits to what you can do with a plastic shower curtain liner, and it comes folded up in a neat little package that will take very little space.
Flashlight / headlamp (and batteries) – Be sides helping you look into the dark corners of your vehicle to find a fuse you dropped, a light waving by your side as you walk down the highway to a gas station will make you visible to traffic so you don’t become a roadside memorial.
Yard sized trash bag – From rain coat to dirty close bag to dead body disposal, the usage opportunities for a large trash bag rival that of duct tape.
Parachute cord – This is another one of those endless use items. Lashing down a loose tarp or turning that shower curtain liner into a shelter, in an emergency the uses are only limited by your imagination.
Toilet paper – If you’ve ever used leaves than you don’t need to ask why.
Lighters/matches/magnesium fire stick – You’ll need something to lite a fire if you are really in a bad situation and need a fire.
While these are the basics that should be in your emergency travel kit, there is plenty of room to personalize it with your own flare. Consider what your family needs are and plan accordingly to include other useful items such as: baby wipes, signal mirror, towel, travel pillow, rubber boots, work gloves or a good book to kill time while you wait for the tow truck. If you need other ideas take a look at the Red Cross’ survival kits.
Years of road trips have taught us that being prepared means being equipped with the proper supplies that you may need in the event of a road trip emergency or just a flat tire in the rain.