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.

bolivian top gear toyota fj40

4×4 Adventure BBC Style

Awhile back our friends at Metal Tech were approached by the BBC to help them with a Toyota FJ40 they were taking on a off-road adventure from Bolivia to the Pacific Ocean. And in true Top Gear antics, it was not your average off-road adventure.

Mark and LT spent time in the jungle, the desert and in the mountains of South America with Top Gear crews on a race where the BBC purchased sight unseen and not quit what they expected (they would have you believe), a Suzuki, a Range Rover and a Toyota FJ40. Than set out to drive them on 1,000 miles of hell has no mercy South American roads.

We wont spoil the ending, but see how many Metal Tech stickers and products you can spot on the Toyota FJ40 after it goes through its transformation.

I laughed… I cried… This video is all about what I love in off-road adventures. Who knows… Someday the Blue Bunny may make the trek over the Andes.

fj cruiser dash pod console

For The Love A Good Woman

broken fj cruiser passanger windowThe day started out perfect…  one of those beautiful crisp sun shinny fall Seattle days that mark the start of school and have you forgetting the cloud covered drizzle that you will soon be immersed in as the price for living in God’s country.  Parked on Western below Pikes Place Market like thousands of times before we left rig and set out to explore the local vendors’ quirky NW offerings…  did you know you can still buy a dragon shaped paper weight made from Mount St. Helens’ ash?

Back at the FJ Cruiser, as always, we left Hula Betty and Brenda, our GPS system (named by wife and girl for her voice when she tells us where to turn).  Over the miles, Brenda and Hula Betty have formed a deep bond of trust and friendship as they stood their posts on the dash.  Sure like sorority sisters fighting over a guys attention (ok that is my mid-life crises talking) they had their arguments but they always ended the day as friends.  And who knew that on this day that friendship would be put to the ultimate test.

Walking back to the rig, it wasn’t until I was at the passenger’s door that I notices the pile of broken glass shards twinkling on the ground and the gaping hole where a window  had once protected the interior form the NW’s elements.  AND THEN I HEARD IT…

Barely audible, a soft tear filled quivering voice came from the dash as Hula Betty struggled to find the words… She’s gone…  Brenda… is gone.  My eyes immediately fixed on the corner of the windshield, now empty, where Brenda had shouted out her navigational commands.  Still trying to collect herself, Hula Betty, shook and wiggled on the dash as she explained how Brenda sacrificed her life to save the rig from further damage and performed the ultimate act of friendship to keep Hula Betty affixed to the dash.

fj cruiser front seat full of shattered glassApparently as some crack tweaker smashed in the window, Brenda set off the alarm and distracted the thief screaming take me, leave the rest…  I’m the pretty shinny one… Take me leave everything else…  Hula Betty said those were the last words she heard and the last she saw of her friend as the crack whore ripped Brenda, sparkling like justice, from her stand leaving behind exposed wires and the little suction cup stand that she had once so proudly perched on.

Thanks to insurance and the Poulsbo Auto Glass Clinic, within less than 24 hours, the rig is getting repaired, Hula Betty is attending therapy to help with her post traumatic syndrome and a small private ceremony for family and friends was held that celebrated the electronic life taken from us too soon.  But I swear last night lying in the dark, drifting between consciousness and that half dream state I heard Brenda’s voice carried in over the breeze lovingly barking out “Stay Left, Drive 5.3 miles on I-5 and take exit 423 North”.

A day after our loss which we can still barely speak of, Hula Betty and I sit here in the driveway about to hit the road for Rubicon.  We observed a moment of silence and thought of all the miles we’ve seen with Brenda and how we’ll miss her…  All of us will be a little less without the love of a good woman.

sunset seen between pine trees

It’s My Blog and I’ll Ramble If I Want Too

mount angeles at hurrican ridgeThose of you who follow the Last Great Road Trip know to expect: FJ Cruiser How To articles,  off-road adventure  stories, Hula Betty’s off-road videos, diversity discussions and the occasional rant or rave on whatever it is that we feel like ranting about…

Well since I had time to think on a trip out to Hurricane Ridge and Obstruction Peak in the Olympic National Park this is one of those rant times….

Like most, I have a Facebook (heck even Hula Betty has a FB and she can barely reach the keyboard from the dash) with several of you friending me or joining the Last Great Road Trip fan page.  I want to thank so many of you for joining us on Facebook sending messages and posting comments.  It means a lot…  Thank you.

This website started as a way to connect with family and friends, and to let them follow along on our Arctic Circle off-road adventure now more than two years back.  Since than it has turned into so much more…  We’ve gone on all sorts of off-road adventures and posted hundreds of stories with thousands of folks (I know because I check our Google Analytic) reading them, watching the videos, down loading pictures and few even buying decals.  Sure the topic is 4×4 off-road adventures and it leans toward the Toyota FJ Cruiser crowd, but really it is about the friends we’ve met along the way and the relationships that form on the trail, by the camp fire or over a cup of coffee at a truck stop diner.sunset with moon over olympic mountains

The more we see and travel, the more it becomes true… Everyone has great stories tell… we want to hear them all…  We’ve met friends who faced cancer, joblessness, hearing loss, and death…  and they all seemed to go out of their way to lift the spirit of others and maintain a zest for life.

When I hear how someone connected with their dad on a road trip or decided to start a crazy adventure of their own… I crack a smile knowing how great that can be.  So thank you all for following along and I hope this website will continue to entertain, inform and inspire others to take on adventures in their own lives.  Who knew my mid-life crisis was going to be so much fun.

idaho spud king building sign art

Michelangelo Never Painted In The Rain

idaho construction wall artArt is amazing… It inspires, confuses, questions and touches people is ways they can’t explain.   Some seek out their art in churches, others in museums and galleries and some in private collections.  On my road trips and off-road adventures, I look for it outside, on the road and away from the crowds. commercial building art Whether it is Buddhist sand art, sand castles on the beach or back alley tags, out door art speaks to me.  And one of my favorite forms is building murals.  The older the building, the older the mural…  the better.

I don’t know what it is about the art on the side of buildings but it seems to be alive. Maybe it’s the quest since usually you need to hunt for it in back parking lots, alleys or off the beaten path.

Bull Durham building sign artBut building murals are not often shiny and new. Rather after years of ware and fading, the textures seem to tell the story of life.   The brilliant colors that once adorn the building become tired under the grind of daily life until its spirit begins to peal and crack.  However when you look closer, you see it is the aging tears in the paint against the texture of the building that gives the work its depth and sense of maturity.  You realize the art has stood against the elements and won.  The art is not fading, it is wearing its battle scares as a badge of honor and what looks like blistering and cracks are really welts taken in defense of its place in the sun.

roslyn cafe an oasis fj cruiserSure that is a lot to read into a an old building mural, but isn’t that better than thinking you really should smoke camels.

Art is everywhere and the next time you’re out on the road looking at a building mural, snap a picture and send it to us at off-road adventures on Facebook.  We can’t get enough.

compass map

Adventure Puzzles For Your Mind

This post turned into a bust!

The difficulty with using web based items on our blog is we have no control over the other websites.  And what started out as a fun on-line puzzle has become an eye sore.  The other site that provided the puzzles replaced all of the overland pictures with kitten pics.  Ugh!!

So know we were trying to help you kill time and do something overlandy during those endless zoom meetings…  But the internet has no love.

yellow sun fusion fj cruiser rock crawling

The Press Can’t Stop Complementing The FJC

Seems like this year which is probably its last, Toyota’s FJ Cruiser has received more press than ever before. Take for example “FJ Cruiser does its off-road namesake proud, Toyota’s rock-crawling mud eater is the real deal in an era of phonies” on the Edmonton Journal site.

Like most of the reviews, it talks about the more than capable off-road qualities of the Toyota FJ Cruiser, ranks it at the top above Jeep, Hummer or Land Rover (some combination of price, quality, and capability), and informs you that the seats are little uncomfortable (I don’t get that one), the nobs are big (I like Fisher Price sized toys) and of course the now legendary blind spots.  But they also let you know that all great rigs of the past have had their quarks.

With the phasing out of the FJ Cruiser at the end of 2014 there remains hundreds of thousands out there and like their older brothers, these will be handed down, sold, traded and reincarnated by thousands more new off-road enthusiast  for decades to come.

My prediction from back in the day seems to have been pretty close…

Look for a big hand off with many of the 4×4 technologies and styling ques showing up on the Toyota 4Runner.  I believe the FJ Cruiser allowed Toyota to test a number of engineering and styling ideas as well as 4×4 goodies in a smaller package that are now ready to land on the Toyota 4Runner, their more mainstream vehicle.  But that is just my prediction… 

To bad I couldn’t have found a line on it in Vegas?

2007 toyota fj cruiser dirt

Show Your Support

thank youA friend asked if she could add the Last Great Road Trip banner to her forum signature.  I didn’t know anyone would want to, but how could you deny a request like that.  So on the off…  way off… chance anyone would like to jazz up their email or forum signature here you go.

Every email client and forum software is a little different but they will generally let you upload a file and place a link on it.  Copy any of the images below to your desktop by left clicking the mouse and saving the image to your desktop and than load it into your signature following the forum or email instructions.  To add a link back to the Last Great Road Trip blog add the following URL link:

Desert Sunset Last Great Road Trip Banner

banner sunset

Back Roads Last Great Road Trip Banner

banner backroads

Original Last Great Road Trip Banner

banner original

Thank you in advance to anyone who adds one of these images to their signature.  Really Thanks! We appreciate the support.

metal tech beer pint glasses

Loose The Shirt – Win The Battle!

It’s funny how friendships develop.  You never really know until it is too late and you’ve gone and made a new friend.  One such friendship was struck up purely by accident.  A couple of years ago when we started to build up the rig for off-road adventures, I went looking for a shop that focused on Toyota trucks with a reputation for quality work and great service.  I found Metal Tech 4×4.

From the start there was something about Mark’s quiet confidence, patience and deep knowledge of all things Toyota Land Cruiser that struck me.  Mark chatted with me for hours about our plans for the rig, explained where he thought we should focus our mods and how to best prepare for the perils  of off-road travel. Mark took the time to explained the pros and cons of different suspensions, how to approach obstacles with an IFS vs. a solid axle, and even where to look for other resources.

At the 2008 FJ Summit Boy and I had a chance to wheel with Mark and LT.  To this day Boy still comments how much fun he had on Day 6 Blue Bunny,  thanks to Mark and LT’s ability to make a 14 year old boy feel like one of the guys.  Since then I’ve had a few chances to swing by the shop and it never fails that we spend a significant amount of time catching up.  Sure we talk about Land Cruisers, wheeling and upcoming activities.  But we also talk about our lives, kids and the zen art of small business management.

Only another entrepreneur can understand what its like to bet on your own business skills and stare down the responsibility of being the accountant, sales guy, bill collector, product developer and head bottle washer.  When I talk business with Mark his passion for creating quality products that allow others to enjoy off-roading as much as he does, really comes out.  But you still have to pay the bills and not too long ago Mark told me his story: “Loose The Shirt – Win The Battle”.

Intuit, the guys who brought you Quicken software, are running a competition for users of their business software.  The competition involves writing a story about your business and exposing yourself to the public vote for best story.  The top 50 stories will move on to the next phase of the competition with the winners eventually receiving cash grants to build their business.

It is not often that I ask you to take action.  Sure I ask you to click through a Google ad or two, but that is nothing compared to this request.  This is important.  Please take a moment:

  • Read the story Mark submitted Really go read it!  I’ll wait…
  • Vote on the story as Inspiring, Useful or Funny…  did you vote yet?  how about now?  NOW?
  • Leave a comment letting Mark and LT know what you think about their story

You will need to register with Intuit in order to vote.  It only takes a minute and you’re not having to give up any family secretes. No emails, no waiting just sign up, vote and done…  It’s that easy and a minor price to pay for the opportunity to make a big deposit in your good wheeling Karma account.  Remember…  Vote Early…  and Vote Often!

Thank you for helping a friend  out and the next time you find yourself in Newberg, OR. say hi to my friends at Metal Tech.  You just may strike up a friendship of your own.

4 siberian husky sled dogs in harness

Boys Night Out

snow covered meadowThe sun began to dip below the tree line as we came over the last hill into Government Meadows at 4800-ft elevation, where the Pacific Crest Trail crosses the Naches trail. Way back when off-road was all there was, the Naches trail saw wagon trains searching for a pass through the Cascades.  After working our way up hill for the last 11 miles, the meadow was a welcome site and meant we had reached our goal for the night.

In mid February the Naches trail is closed to off-road vehicles so the boys (Tundra, Glacier, Chinook and Juneau) and I left the rig behind at the snow park.  We hooked up the sled, filled it with a few essentials and headed out to see how the landscape is transform in the winter months. The day was beautiful with the sun warming our faces as we worked our way through the woods. Occasionally the winter silence was broken by the snow machines as they went by us making the hill climbs seem so easy. Always as they passed by, they would slow, wave and make sure we were ok. Every once in a while one would stop and snap a photo… I guess they don’t see a lot of sled dog teams in these parts.

government meadow ulrich cabin snowFor the boys, Government Meadows meant their work was done. It also meant it was time for me to start working; getting them feed, watered and bedded down for the night. After taking care of them, I still needed to unload the sled and get the my gear inside the cabin.  And the light was fading fast.

In the 90’s, a couple of very courageous and ambitious souls built a cabin known as “Camp Mike Urich” that looks out over Government Meadows. Despite the lack of support from the forest service or other government agency these guys found funding, permits, and a couple of swinging hammers to erect a wood floor, tin roof log cabin with a loft and a few small windows. I wouldn’t call the cabin spartan, but the furnishings consist of two long bench on either side of the room and a big old wood stove in the back. But as the mercury began to fall, the cabin was dry and it felt as comfortable as any room at the Four Seasons as I stood there out of the wind and blowing snow.

Inside the cabin, I unpacked my tea kettle and searched for matches as my breath hung in the cold air. Mountain travelers know how fickle the weather can be and generously share what they can with others. A previous visitor had taken the time to cut and split a pile of wood for those who would come after. In no time I had a fire going and the cabin began to thaw. Although a fire feels good, lifts your weary spirits and lights the darkness, it won’t boil water anytime soon. For that, I brought the little camp stove capable of more blast furnace rolling boil than dainty sauce simmering. In no time the water in the little tea kettle was a boil. Drop in a little bouillon cube and before long I’m sipping chicken broth followed by a little green tea, all the while my glasses are fogged-over with steam.

two lead sled dogs in harness siberian huskyCold winter nights are quiet, some times scary quiet, at least until the wind starts howling through the trees. But up in the solitude of the cabin loft, tucked inside my sleeping bag I enjoyed a few hands of Texas Holdem on my iPhone, warm, dry and extremely grateful for this oasis. By 8:00 p.m. I had run the virtual poker table, the fire was out and it was lights out.

I always worry about the boys and think they are warn out. The morning check -in found them barking and straining on the picket line ready to go. And even though I told them we would be leaving soon, their vocal desire to get started had me hustling to pack up and hit the trail.

2 red siberian husky sled dogs in harnessElven miles up hill means eleven mile down hill. The ride down the mountain matched the thrill of any Six Flags roller coaster. What took nearly eight hours on the way in. The ride out was over in less than two with me holding onto the sled with both hand and slamming on the break with my feet. The boys can fly when gravity is working in their favor.

Winter in the North West is spectacular but short. Before long the Naches trail will be open to off-road vehicles. Maybe there is a summer trail run to the cabin in our future.  Got the maps (Naches Lower West, Naches West, Naches East) and we could always go up and stack a little wood for the next guy.

toyota fj40 land crusier

Land Cruiser’s Heritage

Browsing the web you find all sorts of good stuff that is fun to share.  I’m not talking about the winner of the Darwin Award or the staged picture of little kids whacking dad with a bat in the…, well you know.  I’m talking about cool interesting stuff you can store away in you mental rolodex and pull out to impress friends at your next off road outing.

To that end, Toyota put together a nostalgic look at the heritage of the Land Cruiser (at least until they took it down). You would have seen how the Land Cruiser is referred to as Shamowang “King of the Desert” or how Hollywood failed to blowup a 40 series despite several tries.

Their Land Cruiser time line ended with 2005, showing a glimpse of the FJ Cruiser in concept with the statement “Will the FJ Cruiser become reality”.  We’re glad it did. The FJ Cruiser is helping to make our adventures a little bigger and the world a little smaller.