Category Archives: everything else

If it doesn’t belong anywhere else than let’s dump it here and hope for the best. But don’t let that convince you it isn’t worth reading… this holds some of our best stuff.

landrover defendor D90 utah backcountry discovery route

You May Be Addicted

baja_dirt_roadIf you’re off-road more than in your own bed at home you may be an off-road adventure junky…  But if you’re still in denial about your addiction to adventure and no amount of family interventions can prevent you from purchasing one more mod for you your rig, we have a test to help you face the truth head on.

  1. Are you more comfortable boiling water from a lake to fill water bottles than using the tap?
  2. Did you fail to completely unpacked from the last off-road adventure and can be ready to go on the next one in less than ten minutes?
  3. Do you spend hours at work planning your next off-road adventure despite the fact your boss might walk by?
  4.  Can you find a fully-functioning toilet behind every tree?
  5. arctic circle signWithout an adventure in your future do you start to get antsy and stammer about the house mumbling incoherently.?
  6. Can you sleep pretty much anywhere – on the ground, in your rig, under a bridge…
  7. Can you brew coffee in at least five different ways over a camp stove (one of which may or may not involve a sock)?
  8. Do you religiously check off-road adventure websites (hopefully ours) every morning?
  9. Do you prefer sleeping under the stars, even in the rain, rather than having a solid roof over your head?
  10. Does the majority of your paycheck goes towards funding your next off-road adventure?driving two-track trail
  11. When you talk to your friends about your last adventure do they added it to their bucket list?

If you answered yes to any of these you have an off-road adventure addition…  and you are the luckiest guy (non-specific gender neutral use of the term) around!

cooper tire ride-n-drive video

Look At Me Ma… No Hands

A couple of months back we were tweeting #ridendirve and rubbing elbow with the big guys at the Cooper Tire Ride-n-Drive.  I know we told you it was all fun and games hanging with rock stars like Brian “Woody” Swearinger and Scott Brady, dining out on Texas size steak, bar hopping, and checking out San Antonio…  But thanks to the Z-Girls who just sent over this video…  There is proof that I really was working my ass off.  I think they got my good side!

We really do need to thank the folks at Cooper Tire for inviting us to the Ride-N-Drive event.  We had a great time and learned a lot more about what goes into making a great all terrain tire like the DISCOVERER AT3

jeep wrangler off-road

Ride-N-Drive Test Results

wet vehicle dynamics areaCooper Tire’s ride-n-drive event is an opportunity for the media to test all terrain tires and see how they behave in tough conditions. In this case, we’d be testing Cooper Tire’s DISCOVERER A/T3 and DISCOVERER S/T MAXX.  Now remember this is a tire test, not a suspension or gearing test, so we did not get turned loose on a wild Rubicon Trail off-road adventure.  We did get placed into situations that could demonstrate tire performance and handling.

driving on wet vehicle dynamics areaThe first test placed us on a 14 acre wet vehicle dynamics area (skid pad to you and me) that tests how well tires behave under wet, slick conditions.  We would be driving two rigs.  One equipped with BFGoodrich T/A KO tires, while the second rig was equipped with DISCOVERER A/T3.  The instructions were simple, drive the course out-lined by orange cones, complete a couple of laps remaining safely in control and see how fast you can comfortably complete the course.  While driving, notice how the tires allow you to drive through the corners and brake without loosing traction.  Of course you bring a bunch of gear-heads together and put up a lap time clock…  Yeah there is a chance it may get competitive.

jeep in mudDriving around the course with the BF Goodrich, we could feel the rear cutting loose in the corners and the front wanting to  push into the orange cones rather than track through the curve.  With the DISCOVERER A/T3 at the same speed we were able to hold the corners better and maintain control…

On the last corner… of the last lap…  yeah we wanted to know what it was like to throw a rig into a turn, far exceeding the speeds conditions warranted… mud trackThe resulting 360 degree spin that sent orange safety cones flying in all directions can only be described as heart pounding…  Then after restarting the engine and driving into the staging area I could hear a voice call out… Nice, but that wont help your lap time!

The mud field is one part Texas clay, three parts water and hundreds of yards long.  I’m not a huge mud fan.  On our off road adventures, mud is something separating you from where you want to go not the playground you’re heading too.  That means having a tire that can drive smooth and stick to rocks but still clear mud and keep plowing forward when you have to cross the swamp to get to the other side.  Climbing behind the wheel I aimed the rig straight, gave it a slow steady peddle  and watched to see how it went.  The tires kept going, they held their line without slipping around or spinning wildly.  It was fairly effortless jeep mudto remain on target down the length of the mud field without getting bogged down.  Of course it was fun to watch the mud fly as other drivers got into the mud with a little more gusto.  Although the driver will remain nameless…  if you want to watch professional videographers cringe, driver hard and fast at them through the mud, turn sharp at the last minute and send a wall of mud flying directly at ten’s of thousands of dollars of video equipment…  But the shot that results….  priceless.
http://youtu.be/d6H1y08KMo4

Place a dozen little fountains atop a 30  degree concrete incline and you can find out how well tires hold when gravity is working against you.  One lane of smooth concrete (think garage floor), another grooved concrete and a third lane with exposed softball sized rocks.  Driving up the hill at a snails pace the tires crawled up the smooth surface without slipping or spinning. Over the rocks, the DISCOVERERs reached from rock to rock biting into them and motored the rig up.  Then on the grooved surface they never missed a beat, even when we came to a complete stop half way up. The DISCOVERERs allowed us to easily regain forward momentum.

muddy jeep on inclineA question we had was around sidewall strength.  On an off road adventure, a tire’s sidewall takes a lot of abuse: airing up and down, carrying extra weight and the ever present rocks reaching out to cut them open.  Ali showed us the v-groove area where they test sidewalls.  The v-groove’s width means as they drive a rig through it, the sidewalls of the tire are carrying the weight of the rig. They will spend hours driving back and forth to see how the sidewalls hold up.

v groove tire testAfter completing a day behind the wheel, we learned that the DISCOVERER tire is capable of taking you through the mud, can climb steep inclines and keep it’s manners on wet roads.  With any luck we’ll have a chance to strap a set of DISCOVERER ST Maxx to our rig and taking them through one of our adventures and give you a long term report.

Want more pictures from the event?  Check out our photo spread in this July’s FJC Magazine.

And what do you think about our comment in their video…  Too Much?

 

mustang GT on skid pad

Cooper Tire and the Z Girls

zimmerman agency girlsIt all started with an email… “Cooper Tire, one of the top tire manufacturers in the country is interested in your blog”, the note went on to say, “We are sending an exclusive online community to an event coming up, called Ride-N-Drive… We would love to see you fit this into your adventures!”

We may be a lot of things but part of an “exclusive online community” is not usually what rolls off the tongue when describing our collections of road trips and off-road adventures. Midlife crisis gets thrown around more often than not. But before we knew it, emails were exchanged, flights books, rooms arranged and carry-on packed.doug of cooper tires

The Ride-N-Drive event is designed to allow the media to test Cooper Tire’s DISCOVERER AT3 and S/T MAXX for themselves under all sorts of conditions. This is also an opportunity to learn about what goes into developing a rugged, go anywhere tire and how engineers test their new products before they ever go into production.

San Antonio, Texas, is where they host Ride-N-Drive. A short drive from Cooper Tire’s proving grounds located in Pearsall, Texas. In order to test all the conditions that a tire faces, the facility includes a 2 mile oval track, a 1.3 mile dry handling circuit, a 14 acre wet vehicle dynamics area and an off-road course spread around the 1,000 acre grounds.

ride-n-drive mediaTire companies have a problem, their products are absolutely necessary in our daily lives and for most of us they are a grudge purchase. Think about it… When was the last time you said to yourself… “I can’t wait to spend money on new tires”. So a lot of them try hard to sell you on an image of trophy trucks screaming through Baja and smoking hot girls wearing nothing more than a logo and a smile (political correctness takes a holiday). Not that there is anything wrong with hot chicks and trophy trucks, but for us tires are more important than that… Which is why we want to share what went on behind the scenes at Ride-N-Drive so you can see what makes Cooper Tire a unique company and why this was experience unforgettable.

Cooper Tire thinks differently about their tires and their customers. They understand that they make tires for people, not cars. People with families who drive to school plays, soccer games and family reunions. People who want to explore the back roads and not stop when the asphalt ends. They understand that their tires can get you there, but its your life that drives you to explore. But a company is more then its marketing and each of the folks we met from Cooper’s (and we met a bunch) seemed to genuinely embody the idea that life is a road trip.pre-runner truck

It takes a lot of confidence in your product to invite folks to try your tires under harsh conditions and then tell everyone openly what they think.  All of the Cooper Tire folks were eager to turn over the keys and let us decide for ourselves.

I was first up to ride along for a couple of hot laps with Johnny Unser on the circuit track. For those who don’t follow racing, Johnny is the real deal… Johnny has raced the IndyCar series, won the 12 hours of Sebring, competed in the 24 hours of Daytona eight times and finished second in the 24 hours of Le Mans. Our personal favorite are his three wins in the grueling ALCAN 5000 mile rally.  These days, he spends time working with Cooper Tire engineers, testing and providing feedback on tire designs.Ali Aljibouri, Cooper Tire professional driver

Put a Ford Mustang in the hands of a professional race car driver and he can do some amazing things with it… Johnny had the car flying down the straight away, snaking through S-curves and getting its drift on around tight corners. Bouncing around in the passenger seat, grinning ear to ear as the orange cones blurred… this was a “closed course professional driver” ride of a lifetime for me.

Yes we drove the Baja 1000 course in our rig, but we barely broke a sweat compared to what Cooper Tire had in store for us next. Their proving grounds is filled with different off-road terrain zones designed to see how tires handle in and transition from sand to loose rock to hard pan and back again. I climbed into the Baja pre-runner with Ali Aljibouri, Cooper Tire’s professional test driver and took off for the dirt. Ali worked the skinny peddle like he meant it and in no time the pre-runner was up to 100+ mph, giving us a real Baja race experience. Three miles of dirt, sand and rock were over as quickly as it began but the adrenaline rush lasted for hours.scott brady overland journal

Throughout the event, safety was a prime concern.  Everyone checked to ensure safety belts were buckled, helmets fit and that we kept hydrated.  Tires are the only part of a vehicle that is in contact with the road and with 8,000 some pounds rolling down the highway, safety needs to be top of mind when engineers are designing new tread patterns and selecting silica compounds that can increase gas mileage, last longer and improve handling.  The focus on safety reminded me how often I take for granted that off-road adventures do come with danger and it is good to know that Cooper Tire people think about it everyday.

The event included evening activities and dinner at a couple of very nice steakhouses (remember this is Texas). Growing up, I spent countless time with Motor Trend and poured through Auto Trader looking for cars. The Overland Journal was a big inspiration on our first Arctic adventure. Now, I am hanging out with Scott Brady, Brian “Woody” Swearingen and writers from dozens of publications and on-line properties such as IH8MUD, Gunaxin and Today I Found Out. I get that they put their pants on one leg at a time but there is something humbling about breaking bread with the guys who inspired me to step out and explore.

downtown san antonio at nightIt’s midnight and hot out.  Looking over the balcony to the street seven floors below, I feel the urge to explore. The lobby is empty and the valet post abandon as I stepped out onto the street and began wandering downtown San Antonio armed with my camera and a curiosity for anything new. The river walk is a network of walkways along the banks of the San Antonio River, a story beneath the downtown streets. Lined with bars, shops and restaurants the river walk provides an opportunity to stroll the night away when you’re still on pacific time.

I could hear hip-hop, the blues and dubstep seeping from the bars along the way. On a Tuesday night, most of the patrons look to be from somewhere else as they make a final sweep of the bar stools, before spilling out and heading back to their hotel. Travel, bars and hotels…  what a combination.

Street musicians play for any number of reasons…  but after midnight they play for themselves.  A doorway becomes an amphitheater for a  saxophone slowly wailing into the dark.  The bus stop bench serves as a shrine for an old guitar plucker as his raspy voice tells the story of the woman who broke his heart, sold his truck and shot his dog….  Just another Texas love song.tower of the americas san antonio texas

As Chris in the morning once said “it’s not the thing you fling but the fling itself” and it is not what you find but that you go out looking.  I walked around the Alamo, gazed up at  the Tower of the Americas (San Antonio’s version of the space needle), watched old glory fly above and listened to conversations of strangers as they strolled by. The 6:00 am wake-up call would be coming way too soon but in this moment of a quiet walk on a hot dark night, exploring was exactly what I needed.

It takes a lot of planning to put together Ride-N-Drive. The Zimmerman Agency was responsible for event coordination, logistics and making sure we all stayed hydrated in the Texas heat. The Z-Girls, as they liked to call themselves, were a half dozen smart, professional young women who kept us on task and the schedule moving comfortably along. In a word they looked out of us. Sure it’s their job but they went beyond. They were organized and ready before we dragged ourselves down to the lobby at the crack of dawn and than up late with last minute planning the next day’s activities.  The Z-Girls brought their own brand of fun to the event making it as much about new friends as it was about tires. kress building san antonio texas

Remember the Alamo… (That is not rhetorical) Men gave it their all, literally, for what they believed in. We found this same spirit in everyone we met from Cooper Tire and Zimmerman. They made Ride-N-Drive an great experience for us and one more adventure. Mental note to self… Got to start using better media terms now that we are part of the club… But we’re still not going to wear long pants.

Next we’ll share with you how the ride-n-drive tire tests turned out…

outdoor video shoot

Everyone Has A Story

fj cruiser mobile video studioIf an off-road adventure happens and nobody records it…  did it really? Everyone has a story and we want to tell them is Hula Betty’s motto. That iconic, dashboard bobble doll has been helping tell our stories with off-roading videos going on five years now.

Frequent visitors to our website know we write off-road stories filled with pictures and videos.  Recently we received a note from Steve suggesting a little more behind the scenes exposure on how we record it all.

In 2007 when this craziness (my mid-life crisis as Hula Betty refers to it) all started, the only things we had were a slightly modified FJ Cruiser, an Apple laptop and a Nikon.  That was was all we needed for our Arctic Circle Adventure.  Over the years, we’ve had scores more off-roading adventures and picked up more camera and video gear to record it all.  So we thought we would break it all down.

When it comes to photos, we primarily shoot with our Nikon 200D, using an AF-S NIKKOR 24-120mm f/3.5-5.6G IF-ED and AF-S NIKKOR 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6G IF-ED lens.  This set up has served us well covering most situations and taking a tremendous amount of abuse on the trail.  Dust, bumping around and banging into stuff hasn’t seemed to hurt it.Arctic circle fj cruiser

For our Baja adventure we borrowed a Cannon PowerShot G10. It is a very good point-and-shoot camera that fits into a pocket and available at a moment’s notice. We find that the smaller G10 is less intimidating than a full SLR when pointing it at people to capture a smile and you can easily hold it out for the obligatory Facebook self photo.  The little PowerShot produces great high-res photos with little or no fuss.

Back in collage I took a photography class and learned the ins and outs of B&W film development. Thankfully, today it is all about digital image editing.  The GNU Image Manipulation Program, GIMP for short, is by far the absolute best, amazingly powerful image editing software for the money.  As open source software the price is free…  but the cost is less than perfect documentation and a somewhat complicated interface.  However, once you climb the learning curve and with all the tips and tricks available on the interwebs you can usually find out how to do anything you need.  All of our photos go through the GIMP to clean up poor F-stop choices or pull out a little detail as well as adding our logo and border decorations.

The best image editor still wont turn out Pulitzer prize winning photos.  Great photos are created in the view finder, composing a shot that expresses emotion and draws you in can not be created in the editor.  Our good friend Dan, from Daniel Grayson Images, who is a real bona fide professional with truck loads of lenses, camera bodies, lights and cool studio equipment, has taken amazing images with nothing more than his iPhone.  He continues to amaze us with his ability to see and capture a moment regardless of the camera in his hand.

skate tripSomewhere in 2008 we took the leap into video. We knew we wanted HD (back in 08 that was new at the consumer level), we also wanted to be able to capture sound in high fidelity to put the full experience of the adventure in the can.

For capturing video our primary camcorder is a Canon XHA1.  We ditched the on-board mic for an Audio-technica AT897 shotgun microphone.  The XHA1 is a bit bulky and uses now hard to find MiniDV tapes but it has taken all our abuse (we are not easy on stuff) and when it comes to crisp clean video it is hard to beat the three, 1/3″ CCDs.  This is the camcorder we primarily use for how-to videos and capturing the big shots on our adventures.

Over time we’ve also added other camcorders in an attempt to get different perspectives.  The first one we added was the Bullet DVR 550TVL Pro Series camera which plugs in and uses the Canon to record its images. This little camera gets mounted on the dash or stuck to the side of the rig with a magnet.  Since it is rugged and water proof we don’t have much to worry about hanging over the side.

We also picked up a used, palm sized Panasonic PV-GS90P.  Nothing special, just aim it and record.  It is small and lite which fits the bill for quick grab and go shots, or sticking it out the window while driving down the trail.  It has a 42x optical zoom and the ability to off the digital zoom (for better results stay away from digital zoom).  Although basic, it produces reasonable quality HD video and provides fill-in shots.  This is also a camcorder we can hand off to other drivers or their kids and ask them to record what they want.  I’m amazed at the perceptive you’ll get by giving a kid a camera.

Getting video while moving means mounting a camera and keeping it stable over the bumps and ruts.  We did a Ram Mount install a while back.  With a little ingenuity, we had the Ram Mount holding our tripod’s center column with the XHA1 on top.  With a fluid head we were able to adjust the height and get nice pan movement.  The setup worked well on pavement but the Canon was too heavy to remain stable off-road.  The little Panasonic is lite enough but the Ram Mount just doesn’t remain steady once you raise the center of gravity above the dash.

The newest addition is a little Contour HD 1080P POV recorder. This little camcorder is one of those you mount on your snowboarding helmet or  mountain bike and with a little Velcro it can be stuck just about anywhere.  It also has a little water proof case when the elements get nasty. The camera uses a CMOS sensor so it does suffer from the “jello” effect when the camera shakes or if panned too quickly, however the wide 135-degree field of view really helps with that jello thing.  The sound quality is ok (doubt we’ll use the sound portion) but the video is nice and easy to pull the files off the micro SD card.  We’ve just started to play with this POV camera but so far its wide angle and crisp video should provide some nice angles similar to the bullet cam without having to drag the bulk of the XHA1 along.go exploring

The usual method for creating our videos is to record everything as it happens, hope for the best and then take it into post production to figure out what we have and what we can make out of it. Editing is handled with Final Cut express. It took a while to figure out but was easy enough once we got the hang of it.  We just upgraded to Final Cut Pro X which has a completely different interface and is requiring us to change some of the sloppiness in our workflow.  But we should be able to more easily synchronize multiple camera angles, adjust contrast, brightness and color as well as hopefully create more dynamic action.

While photography is about composing the shot… video deals in story boards.  Telling stories in video is not something we’ve master yet.  We understand the concept of story arcs, lighting, sound, movement and angles but we have never been able to put it all together and create the epic tale we’re after.  At least not yet.

There is something rewarding about sharing what you enjoy with others. We know our photos are amateur and our videos campy. But I believe it is important to keep your mind engaged and continually work on new things…  Hula Betty will tell you I don’t need another hobby.  She is probably right. But to be good at anything, it takes 10,000 hours of practice.  So if we need to keep going on adventure in order to learn how create real story dimension in our 4×4 videos…  Well than that is what we’ll have to do.

We could hurt ourselves…  for your entertainment.

 

blue soap box racer

Back To Our Roots

soap box derby cars in a rowWhen we started this off-road adventure website almost five years ago, we had one goal. Put it out into the world and see what comes back. Don’t take it too seriously and above all… don’t worry about the destination, just enjoy the journey as it unfolds.

This morning the big hand was on the twelve and the little one pointing at the ten… That’s analog for 10 o’clock to the digital kids in the crowd. The rig was load and we were burning day light. Lots of plans ahead of us before meeting up with the NWFJCC and wheeling in the Tillamook State Forest. No time to waste, we had to get going.

A few blocks out of the driveway and around the corner we saw a group of 40’s vintage cars gathering in the Home Depot parking lot. We honked… they waved… and we kept going. Just past the parking lot, parents and race officials were setting up cones and unloading soap box derby cars. We’d seen them setting up here before and had thought, one of these days we have to stop and watch… but we’re on a mission and have a schedule to keep, so we kept going.

Five miles down the highway and it hit me…  like a slap in the face from a woman scorned… it hit me hard. What the hell am I doing… If Hula Betty and I don’t have time today to check out cool vintage cars or watch a soap box derby, when will we have time?  And what is so important that we can’t stop? The universe is opening a door… why not go through? We have six hours to make a three hour journey to the meetup, so what is the rush?

blue soap box derby carWe took the next exit and promptly turned the rig around, driving back to check out what other folks were up to on this brisk spring morning.  To my dismay, the vintage car club had already headed out for part unknown but the derby was still defining the race lanes with bright orange safety cones on the street they had closed off for the race.

Something interesting happens when you show up with an SLR and act like you know what you’re doing (ACT being the operative word).  People let you poke around and ask all sorts of questions.  Turns out these kids are part of the All-American Soap Box Derby.  These local derbies are held throughout the country to award points to racers who have their eye’s set on racing in the championship held every year in Akron, Ohio.

I chatted with some of the young racers who were very eager to tell me about the different classes, how they built their car and the speeds they attain down the track. It was amazing to see how intense these kids were; discussing race strategy with their parents, glaring down the track looking for the fastest lines through the slopping turn and making last minute checks on their race cars.  The excitement isn’t just limited to the kids.  Talk to any of the parents or grandparents on the side lines and beams of pride almost blind you as they tell you about their young racer.  How they sold lemonade on the corner and worked odd jobs to save up for their car kit or how they way they worked endlessly on the car to get it just right or where they are in the standings this race season.  It reminded me of watching girl and boy play basketball back in they day when they were little and how I’d shout out with excitement every time they put up a shot.  Didn’t matter if it went in or not, I was so proud that they were out there trying, doing their best and having fun… they were my kids on that court and MJ couldn’t even hold a candle to them out on that floor as far as I was concerned.red soap box derby racer

Before today, I knew about soap box derby but hadn’t actually experienced it.  No, racing in the soap box derby is not on my bucket list or even some unfulfilled childhood dream.  But it is apart of Americana, our collective psyche where individuals chase their dream of doing something special.  Everyone has something they enjoy… that they call their own. These kids are racing with gravity, others are restoring vintage automobiles and a few drive thousands of miles to take perfectly good rigs through crooked, muddy, tree lined, rock encrusted off-road trails, trying to avoid the carnage that comes when metal and granite attempt to occupy the same space.

We all have something that makes us smile.  Today what made me smile was remembering life is too short to not stop and watch the soap box derby…

fj cruiser used spark plug

Broke The Cardinal Rule

Hula BettyWhen I was young, I learned to wrench on a Baja Bug.  That little VW bug was all I had to get to work and school but I really wanted to build it for bombing down old logging roads. I would tear it apart Friday night and then work like hell to get it all back together by Monday morning. Soon I got cocky and figured I could go out partying Friday and Saturday night then do an oil change or swap out shocks on Sunday. After all, it only takes a couple of hours and what could go wrong!

Inevitably on Sunday night after all the parts stores were closed and the local VW shop guys were long gone… I would unexpectedly break something (as opposed to expectedly braking something)… Shear off one of the bolts that holds the oil cover to the bottom of the engine block or rip the gasket for the oil cooler or loose one of the four bolts that holds the engine to the transmission (all true stories).

The great thing about VW Baja Bugs is that you can hold them together with duct tape and bailing wire for a couple of days until you get the part you need… and almost anything can be fixed for very little cash. But after any number of these little episodes I came up with one simple cardinal rule… Never wrench on a Sunday! Start on Friday or Saturday and only plan to work on the stuff that can be completed by the end of the day Saturday… Even if that is midnight… Plan on finishing before Sunday. The simple reason for this rule is that if something goes wrong I have Sunday to fix it.

This last Sunday I decided to change the spark plugs.  Saturday had been a good day wrenching, re-installing our HID flood lights, changing the cabin air filter and rotating tires. I had purchased spark plugs but Hula Betty suggested dining out, so I called it a day before getting to the spark plugs.

I’ve performed a spark plug change a number of times without ever having a problem… Even worked up a spark plug video to help others.

Sometime around noon on Sunday I rolled out the tools, set the radio on loud, grabbed a soda and popped the hood.  The plugs seemed to be gapped correctly out of the box (I may have missed a plug or two…) The ignition coils all looked good and everything went back together just like it is supposed too. Everything was going fine. I was even taking breaks to do a little clean up of the garage, rearranging where the recovery is stored and repacking camping gear so we’d be ready for the next outing… I was having a regular A.D.D day… Everything was going fine… Until I took it for a test drive…

After getting the rig on the road and opening it up… The rig sputtered and lugged when it hit the hills. It was lurching as if not all the plugs were firing or the timing was off and for a moment the dashboard Christmas tree lights started flashing. This was not good and now it’s 6:00 pm, dark, starting to rain and the engine is warm (you change plugs on a cold engine). I checked to see if all the vacuum hoses had been re-connected, tugged on the ignition coil wire harness and looked for anything dangling… nothing obvious.  Now the parts stores are closed and I have no way to get to work until I get the rig back up and running.

Monday, I grabbed Hula Betty’s car and picked up another set of plugs. Pulled out all the tools, double, triple and quadruple checked the gap, applied anti-seize and dabbed on a little dielectric grease to the coil boots. Then as I changed out the plugs… I looked at each plug as it came out to see if there were any noticeable things I’d missed the first time. I checked their gap and looked for damage. Putting in the new plugs I followed the same process of torquing down to spec. and listening for the click as the wire harness engaged. And when it came time to test everything with a drive around the block…. dramatic pause goes here to build a suspense… the engine ran like a champ! Climbing the hills was easy and the rig maintained smooth even acceleration through the power band.

So what happened… I don’t know… but most likely the gaps were off a bit, or one of the ignition coil’s wire harness had not quit engaged or their was just a bad plug.  Any of which I could have easily dealt with on Sunday had I run into the issue Saturday night. Instead  I wrenched on Sunday, braking my cardinal rule and cost me Monday’s wages.  But it did feel good to get it right… even if it was on the second try.

off-road adventure QR code

High Tech meets Off-Road Adventure

You’ve probably seen those little black square bar code like things all over the place… on web sites, in magazines, on business cards… all over.  Turns out they are quick response codes or QR codes for those in the high tech geek circles.  These little bar codes can contain all sorts of cool information such as web site URLs, contact info, Google location coordinates or text messages.  Anyone with a smart phone and an app like NeoReader can decode all those little bits of digital info.  Think of this as the equivalent to the Little Orphan Annie  secrete spy decoder ring.

And while corporate marketing types in tall glass buildings are scheming on how to use QR codes to track your every movement through Walmart and separate you and your money, we have noticed a more intriguing  small under ground movement.  Regular folks, like you and me, have started to take ownership of these QR codes to do all sorts of stuff like making city wide scavenger hunts, create street art or push them out into the webisphere creating a new kind of message in a bottle.

We are much better at getting lost than creating great art but we did decided to give it our best shot and send out our own text message to the world.

We’re not sure exactly how we’ll be using QR codes but we plan on playing with these to see if they can provide another way for our website and Facebook friends to follow along on our next off-road adventure.  How knows maybe there is a giant QR code rig sticker in our future.

man in sleeping bag camping

Holiday Greetings Off-Road

Dashboard hula dollGreetings from the road less traveled.  Another Christmas quickly approaches the Last Great Road Trip clan. This will be our most recent Christmas yet!

We made it through another year without wrecking the blue bunny, despite our best off-road adventure efforts. Hula Betty continues to live the life of an iconic dashboard bobble doll, wiggling her way down the road under a new set of prayer flags. Despite her new found Zen state, she still gets mad when we leave the driver’s seat up.

The guys explored the hills, deserts and beaches of Baja Mexico. While the peso made delicious meals cheap in Mexico, the rocks, dirt, cactus and endless whoops cost us a pair of rear shocks. This was our navigator’s introduction to wheeling. Although we’re pretty sure the seat got a little soiled when we popped his off-road cherry on the first washed out section, he still swears it was the best time since the old days of our Yellowstone road trips.party girls showing off

What the flight out to the 2011 FJ Summit lacked in entertainment value, the Metal Tech party made up for in reunions with old friends and even a few new ones. Wheeling the orange Metal Tech rig around Ouray gave us a big case of suspension envy that now has a growing pile of new parts showing up in their shop with our name all over em.

Who can forget the adventure that never was… The WABDR showed us why you wait until summer is in full swing if you don’t want to spend the day digging rigs out of the slushy snow. But the huckleberry pie, shakes and burgers in Trout Lake brought us back for a second try. If at first you don’t succeed wheel, wheel again. Take two on the WABDR found us completing two 200 miles through some of the most beautiful and remote areas of Washington.

driving baja sunriseBy the time Black Friday came around we were back at it in the Tillamook Forest with the NWFJCC. The trails may not have been as dangerous as shopping the pre-dawn Walmart sale for the last pair of retro Air Jordans, the friends, weather and trail conditions made it a great day to behind the wheel.

In our on-line adventures, our friend count on Facebook and Youtube continues to grow. We still can’t believe anyone would find all our adventures worthy of following but we’re as excited as a convention of shoe salesmen at the site of a Vegas stripper pole every time someone adds us on-line.

We are thankful for another great year of off-road adventures and the support our friends and sponsors have given us.  Without folks like Mark and LT at Metal Tech, Beau Jaramillo over at Amsoil, and the guys from Discount Tires much of this would not be possible.

Yes Virginia there is a Blue Bunny and Hula Betty does exists. This will be the best holiday season of 2011 and as the snow falls, Last Great Road Trip wishes you and your family a happy holiday and great 2012.

dirty fj cruiser leaving haul road

Road Trip Junkie… 12 Step Program

You won’t find Road Trip Addiction Disorder (RTAD) in any medical journal but more and more folks are finding it harder and harder to stay away from the tarmac.

A few experts have tossed around numbers like 30 million suffer from RTAD – just a handful of the 196,165,667 drivers in the USA. But if you have a road trip monkey on your back you know the pain and suffering that comes with this debilitating addition.

Ok, at this point you might be saying to yourself; “these guys are looney!” “I enjoy road trips. I don’t have a problem.” If that’s the case take the following quiz and see if you might be certifiable — like we are.

  1. Do you take the long way on your commute avoiding short cuts and looking for new routes?
  2. When sitting in your office cube, do you find yourself fantasizing about driving to destinations halfway across the country?
  3. Do you long to see: The world’s largest frying pan, the biggest ball of twine, or the dinosaur fossil and petrified forest museum?
  4. Have you driven your vehicle through a tunnel carved out of a giant tree?
  5. Does the perfect date involve a drive-in?  Is an old A&W with car hops the ultimate date destination?
  6. Have you re-financed you home to ensure you have gas money for that planned drive down A1A?
  7. You know what a TripTik® is.
  8. To fall asleep you picture passing white highway lines, instead of counting sheep ?
  9. Have you ever crazy glued your eyelids open to keep from falling asleep so you could drive to the beach at night and be back to work by morning?
  10. After a fight with your significant other do take a victory lap in the car rather than having makeup sex?

If you answered “yes” to any of these question you may have RTAD. If you answered “yes” to more than half the questions you are hopelessly addicted.  If you answered “yes” to #10…  we’re sorry.  But fear not!  There are many high functioning RTAD people in the world, many right in your neighborhood.  If you feed your addition properly using all your vacation time, long weekends and commute you should be able to satisfy that monkey and maintain some assemblance of an ordinary, less fulfilled, boring life.