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.

night camp cooking

The 4×4 Gourmet

cooking over open fireGetting ready for the Rubicon Trail off-road adventure has us going in all directions…  meals on the trail is one of them…  Rule #1 on the trail…  everything, even cardboard re-hydrated with sweat and seasoned with dirt, tastes good after a long day wheeling on the trail….  but don’t let rule #1 get in the way of enjoying the finer things in life.

All too often we seem to go from one extreme to the other…  on the one end you have dehydrated back packing food, military rations, or a bag of beef jerky.  On the other is the steak, baked potato and corn on the cob grilled over a giant propane blast furnace that has a Turkey deep fryer for Thanks Giving around the camp fire.

Sure wheeling gives you a lot more choices than when you are having to hump all your food and gear in on your back, but there is a lot to be said for minimizing the weight in your rig and leaving a little room in the back for adult beverages and a good Cuban.Medaglia Doro

Over years of backpacking and driving off-road I have achieved a type of cooking that works for me.  It works because I can meet all my needs and still enjoy eating well in the outdoors.  On the trail I hate clean up.  I hate complicated.  I hate having to spend too much time in the kitchen.  I enjoy simple prep, easy cooking and complex flavors.  One pot meals work best for my needs…  cook in the pot that you eat out of and clean up becomes a breeze.

Coffee…  Starbucks has seen to it that our national addiction to caffeine is fully developed.  Like a junkie on the street when it hits 8:00 a.m. I’m jonesing for my second cup.  Since I don’t bring my local barista to brew me the perfect cup of espresso, I’ve had to experiment.GlaceDePouletGold

These days there are lots of new options out including, french presses, drip coffee packs, hand crank coffee grinders and  even backpacking mini espresso makers.  And They all work well but they also have one thing in common.  They take work to set up, tear down and clean.  On cold mornings, my pre-caffeinated energy level is at boiling water.  Which brings us to Medaglia D’Oro instant espresso coffee.  Yes I said instant.  Medaglia D’Oro is rich, full bodied and smooth.  You can make it as strong as you like and clean up is nothing more than licking the spoon.  While I’ve tried a number of instant coffees, Medaglia D’Oro keeps showing up in my camp kitchen kit.

ShiitakeMushroomsOne pot meals tend to rely on good stock for complex flavors as well as forming the base of the meal.  Chicken or beaf boolean cubes seem to have two ingredients, salt and fat.  Canned stock provide real flavor but you can not control the intensity without lengthy reduction time.  Using Glace de Poulet Gold from More Than Gourmet delivers on both accounts.  Requiring no refrigeration, Glace de Poulet Gold is a 20-times reduction of French chicken stock with deep, rich, toasted color and syrupy consistency.

Simplicity of ingredients and complexity of flavors are the Yen and Yang of Asian cooking.  Dried Shiitake mushrooms ,  add a great earthy flavor and rich chewy texture.  Adding dried Shiitake mushrooms to most one pot meals changes the character from bland to savory.

VIGO has two rice packs that I usually keep in my kitchen “Yellow Rice” and “Black Beans and Rice”.  The yellow rice is a recreation of a Spanish classic complete with saffron. The black beans and rice is Cuban fare made easy.  Both of these provide great flavor and will fill up the hungriest explorers on the trail.VigoYellowRice

Top Ramen was always a staple in my backpacking youth.  Filling, light weight and easy…  but of course the main ingredient seemed to be salt and fat.  These days I make my own ramen for the trail and it has much more flavor without all the salt.  A big part of making good ramen (hand-pulled noodles) is starting with quality noodles.  Most markets these days have a good Asian section where you can find chuka soba (Japanese style noodles).Chuka Soba

While beef jerky will give you the jaw muscles of a great white shark, it may not provide much to your meal.  And trust me when I tell you, adding beef jerky to boiling water does not make soup.  Brown water and soggy cardboard yes, but not soup.  Landjaeger on the other hand…  protein with a flavor punch.  These dried sausages traditionally made in Southern Germany and Switzerland can be found at your local meat market or delicatessen.  Consider it a bonus if you can find them made from venison or elk.  While I can live on these alone, when you cut them up into rounds and drop them in the pot, they release all sorts of goodness.

So with all this stuff good stuff what can you make?  How about breakfast…  Really this is one of my favorite breakfast items to get the morning started.Landjager

  • One package of Vigo yellow rice
  • a handful of dried Shiitake mushrooms
  • Glace de Poulet Gold (chicken)
  • 3 or 4 Landjager cut into rounds
  • Water according to the Vigo package plus about 1/2 cup more

Toss the water, Landjager, Glace de Poulet Gold and Shiitake mushrooms in a pot and bring it all to a boil.  When the water boils, dump in the yellow rice give it a stir, cover and reduce to as low a simmer as you can with a camp stove.  In 15 minutes give it a little stir and let it go for 5 more minutes or until all the water is absorbed.  In the mean time you should be on your second cup of Medaglia D’Oro.  Done right this dish will be creamy, full of texture and buttery rich with just a hint of smokey overtones.  Really…  or it will be hard, crunchy and burnt.  Remember…  Good cooks eat their mistakes.

CB Talk For Your Off-Road Adventure

fj cruisers colorado trailsEvery once in a while we get to share advice from real experts.  This time, Andrew Youderian from Right Channel CB Radios helped to explain some of the basic components that make up a complete CB package for off-road communication.  So give this a read and don’t hesitate to let Andrew know you appreciate his contribution…

While the CB radio remains the most popular method for vehicle-to-vehicle communication on the trail, assembling a off-road CB system can seem complex.  The vast array of available radios, antennas and mounting solutions can cause confusion and uncertainty for those unfamiliar with CBs.  Fortunately, CB systems are simple and assembling a complete off-road installation is straightforward if you understand a few key principles.

cb antenna flexableCB Antenna

While there are lots of different types of CB antennas, fiberglass antennas are usually the best choice for off-road vehicles.  They generally are the most durable, provide the most mounting flexibility and are affordable.  When selecting a fiberglass antenna, you’ll want to consider:

  • Length:  The longer the antenna, the better performance you’ll receive.  A 3’ to 4’ length is generally recommended.  You want to make sure that, at a minimum, the top of the antenna is slightly above the roof-line of the rig.
  • Flexibility:  You want to make sure your antenna can survive a few hard shots on the trail;  breaking an antenna half-way through an off-road adventure is no fun.  It’s smart to get a flexible antenna (which are marketed as such), or to add a spring to a stiffer antenna to provide flexibility and prevent breakage.
  • Type:  The Wilson FLEX and Firestik FS are two of the most popular off-road antennas available.  The Wilson is ideal if you want a really flexible antenna, and the Firestik is the better option if you want the best possible performance.  While there are other quality antennas available, these two are very popular and are highly recommended.

uniden cb radioCB Radio

When picking a radio, the most important thing to remember is that all CB radios are limited to 4 watts of transmission power by the FCC.  This means that all CB models will transmit at the same range, everything else equal.  Picking a radio really comes down to deciding which bells and whistles you want.  The good news is that it’s possible to get a basic, bare-bones radio for around $50 that will transmit just as well as a high-end $150 unit.

So what should you consider when picking a radio?  Space is at a premium in most 4×4 off-road rigs and you should strongly consider size when picking a radio.  Also, you’ll want to consider durability and reputation.  Cobra and Uniden are two well respected manufacturers to consider.  Specifically, the Uniden 510/520 series and the Cobra 75 models are extremely popular with off-road drivers due to their compact size and reputation for reliability.

You’ll also want to consider getting your radio “Peaked and Tuned”.  With this upgrade, a CB shop will adjust your radio’s output power up, generally to between 8-14 watts, increasing the transmission range of your CB.  Is this a necessary upgrade?  It really depends on how you’ll be using your radio.  If you plan to talk to other vehicles in your caravan on the trail, it’s not necessary.  A “stock” CB with a 3’ fiberglass antenna should have no problems talking a mile up and down the trail.  However, if you want additional range for your CB and increased performance when the terrain gets tight and varied, a “peak and tune” will give you 2x to 3x the range of a stock radio. Just remember this is not in line with the FCC rules.

fj cruiser bandimountMounting Hardware

Deciding on a CB antenna mount is often the most difficult decision people make when selecting new equipment.  As fiberglass antennas make use of a standard 3/8 x 24 inch thread, they are compatible with a wide variety of different mounts.  When considering a mount and mounting location, you want to ensure that:

  • The mount allows the antenna to be at or above the roof-line
  • The mount is made from high quality materials (stainless steel, powder coat, etc)
  • The mount is well grounded

For FJ Cruiser owners, the most convenient and popular way to mount a CB antenna is to use the Bandi Mount.  A proprietary mount created by a member of  FJCruiserForums (blue forums), the Bandi Mount allows FJ owners to install a CB antenna using the rear door hinge – no drilling required.

Other popular mounting options include “L” brackets that allow mounting on the bumper and vertical vehicle surfaces, as well as hood channel mounts which make it easy to install a CB antenna along the vehicle’s hood.

When purchasing coax cable to connect the antenna mount and the radio, make sure to buy from a quality manufacturer such as Belden or Firestik.  Cheap coax cable can be poorly manufactured, resulting in premature failure and/or sub-par system performance.

Final Thoughts

Once you finally get everything installed, make sure to tune your CB antenna before use.  Not to be confused with a radio “peak and tune”, antenna tuning makes use of a SWR meter to adjust your CB antenna for peak performance on your specific vehicle.  Most antennas will included detailed tuning instructions on the packaging.

Make sure to purchase quality components and choose a suitable mounting location and you should enjoy years of trouble-free CB operation on the 4×4 trail.

Video instructions for installing Cobra 75 wx st CB Radio install FJ Cruiser.

map and compass

Finding Your Way

You may have noticed a new tab up top that links to our off-road adventure map page. Maps are invaluable on the trail and in planning your off-road trip. How do you get to the trail head.  Where are the closest roads if you have to hike out or if medical attention is required and you need to cut your adventure short? Where are good camping locations when your covering multiple days? Where are your water or fuel stops? Where does that trail spur reconnect with the main trail…  Where the hell am I?

Don’t under estimate the value of a good map. Good maps are important and can save your life.

There are truck loads of free resources out there but don’t forget you get what you pay for. In planning our off-road adventures we use lots of  resources including road Atlas and Gazetteers as well as BLM, Green trails and National Geographic TOPO maps.

If nothing else, maps let you dream about and plan your next off-road adventure on those late nights when you’re stuck at work.

Go to our Map Page for down loadable maps we’ve found handy in planning some our off-road adventures.

fj cruisers colorado trails

FJ Summit 2009

engineer pass trail signIf you’re an FJ Cruiser enthusiast, it is hard to participate in an on-line forum or read the FJ Cruiser off-road news flying about and not have heard about the FJ Summit.  This is a gathering of FJ Cruiser (now open to all Toyota off-road rigs) owners and supporting vendors in the little town of Ouray, CO.  The trails are filled with amazing scenery. The vendors have great give-a-ways and Metal Tech has their annual party.  The event is famous for its friendships that are formed between folks from around the country.  The Summit is held in mid-July every year.

In 2008 Boy and I turned this 4 day event into a week long adventure (2008 Ouray Colorado), exploring Idaho and other parts of the west along the way.  Boy and I both got out of it way more than we put in, exploring mountain trails and the skate parks along the way.

You can read descriptions of the trails, find lodging and register on the FJ Summit web site.  The numbers are limited and it is a great way to meet others who are just nuts about Toyota’s, driving 4×4 trails and having fun with family and friends.

fj cruiser packed up

Ten Things, Don’t Leave Home Without Them

airing up fj cruiser 4x4 tireAs I’m getting ready for the next off-road adventure it occurred to me there are certain things I wont go without.  Some of these are practical, some are personal but for me these things make all the difference in the world when it comes to dealing with issues I may encounter and adding to the fun.

  1. First on the list, my head!  Don’t go Freud on me here.  A big part of my preparation for even a little off-road adventure is to wrap my head around what I’m going to be doing.  I’ll review the maps, run through my mental checklists, and consider the situations I may run into.  This includes thinking about the things that could go wrong.  Since I often go out alone I know that I wont have the perfect piece of equipment for every situation and getting out of a jam is going to be up to me.  This is why I always make sure one person knows where I’m going, when I’ll be back and what to do if I’m late.  Being in the right frame of mind makes all the difference to me and helps ensure I enjoy the adventure no matter what happens out there.
  2. A big part of these off-road adventure trips is capturing and sharing the adventure with others.  I always grab the photo and video equipment including the tripod, microphones, lenses, extra batteries, chargers and video tapes.  All this equipment takes up space and it becomes a trade off with what other stuff I’ll leave at home (see #9).  But when I get a comment telling me how much someone enjoyed the story, pictures or video it brings it all home for why I do what I do.
  3. Water. Lots of water!  Way back in the day, I was out on a long hike and did not bring enough water.  The migraine and weakness of dehydration I experienced was enough to ensure I would never run out again.  I carry plenty of fat reserves around my waist to go without food for longer than I would like.  In fact a cleansing fast would do me good.  But water is an absolute must.
  4. New to the list is my iPhone.  Not that I count on cell coverage, but with all the apps. available these days I find the chance to play  Texas Holdem or listen to a few songs can be relaxing after a long day on the trail or on a lunch break.  There is even a little app that turns your iPhone into a level that can be handy when trying to make sure the rig or camera isn’t listing to one side.
  5. Of course I have my recovery gear.  This includes tree savers, snatch blocks, yank straps, shackles, shovel and hi-lift jack.  I’ve also added a new item, Maxtrax recovery system that makes for easy sand recovery.  I’ve seldom had to use the recovery gear on the trail, but I often pull it out to practice and check that all the equipment is working correctly.
  6. My tool kit is basic but has what it takes: box wrenches, sockets, pliers, box cutter, wires, fuses, crescent wrenches, screwdrivers, zip ties, duct tape, mallet and other bits. I grew up working on Baja bugs where there was nothing you couldn’t fix with a screwdriver and a big hammer.  I also count the air compressor as a mandatory tool for airing up and down as we travel between tarmac and dirt.
  7. A fold up stool…  Yes that is right a fold up stool.  My brother-in-law gave me this little gem a couple of years ago and I did not fully appreciate what a great gift it was at the time.  Every time I’m bent over airing up, peering into the front hub or checking the brakes I thank Mickey for the support!
  8. I have a bucket of fluid bottles in the back just in case something starts to leak or runs low.  Although I do a thorough pre-run check (daily on long trips) the fluids include motor, transmission and gear oil, coolant, brake, steering and windshield.
  9. Kamp KarmaIn the overnight gear department, I’ve attained a Zen like minimalist approach reducing the cooking, sleeping and living gear to what fits in a small bucket.  A bivy sack and tarp replaces the tent, a tea kettle, a small pot,that doubles as a cup, a second cup (it all fits inside itself), a compact stove that puts out enough BTU’s to contribute to global warming, a spoon, head lamp w/ extra batteries, fire starter, fuel and small repair kit.  There is also a hand full of nuts, chicken broth base and enough green tea to relax in the evening as well as get started in the morning.  The grocery list may increase on long trips, but really that is about it for an overnight adventure.
  10. I don’t always know when I’ll get to go on an off-road adventure.  Sometimes it comes down to grabbing the gear and go.  This means all the gear needs to be packed and ready…  Always ready.  All the gear is stored in a few canvas tote bags.  Each bag with its own category of gear.  The last bag is filled with the miscellaneous stuff that falls under the “just in case” title.  Here you’ll find a first aid kit, work gloves, jumper cables, wool blanket, tarp, duct tape, flash light, bungees, parachute cord, and a pair of coveralls. I dipped into this bag a number of times helping others out of a jam including jump starts and the donation of a bungee cord to keep tension on another rigs tire chains.
  11. I know I said ten things… and this is eleven…  this one is my confession of what I don’t carry that I should.  Spare parts!  It is hard to predict what is going to break but there are some basics I still have to build a kit around.  Starting this week I’m building up my parts kit to include: Axle shaft (IFS is a weak point  and no one will have one that fits…  remember the TC long travel build), belts, hoses,  nuts, bolts and …. Your ideas are welcome and encouraged.  What parts do you carry?

This is my top ten and for me it works.  I don’t expect that it will work with anyone else but I hope it will encourage you to think about what you need to be prepared and enjoy your adventures.  Leave your recommendations and help everyone including me build a better kit.

bill burke training

Bill Burke Is Coming To Town

It is not everyday that you get the opportunity to learn from the best in off-road. And when you have that opportunity by all means take it.

Bill Burke is an internationally recognized 4×4 trainer who teaches back country driving techniques, winching and extrication methods, vehicle preparation and maintenance, land navigation and woods’ skills. And with every outing comes additional training on environmental awareness and trail etiquette.

Among his accreditation, Bill is a permitted outfitter guide through the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management. Bill also travels the globe to consult and to lead back country expeditions, and serves as a technical consultant in the areas of 4-wheeling expertise and environmental concerns to various businesses, the media, 4-wheel drive manufacturers, dealerships and government organizations.

Bill is going to be in the Northwest to conduct a number of classes in the Portland and Seattle areas. Several clubs and groups including the North West FJ Cruisers Club and Northwest Overland Society are already making reservations for their members.

We have our reservation.  Now is the time to make contact with one of the clubs or Bill Burke’s Off-Road Driving to secure your place in one of his up coming classes in the Northwest.  Everyone who has ever taken Bill’s training class, many have taken it multiple times, say it is one of the best training sessions they ever took.

Hope to see you at a training session and if you can’t make the training check out some of Bill’s videos and other training materials.

voodoo blue fj cruiser driving through snow 4x4 trail

Snowpocalypse Weather Watch

FJ cruiser in snowKnowing what you’re getting into on an off-road adventure and planning for the weather is a big part of finishing an off-road adventure safely.  Currently the Northwest is experiencing cold, snow and ice that is a little more than usual.  Before we go out on a trail run we usually check with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

NOAA can tell you what to expect just about anywhere in the nation and have a number of good educational resources to go along with all their maps and data.  And when the weather gets really bad, they put out special reports to explain exactly what your in for.  NOAA’s NW region put out this December 20-21 weather advisory.

Snow and extreme weather can add to the fun of an off-road adventure creating an additional challenge to an otherwise easy trail.  It can also turn a fun trip into a ugly mess if you’re not prepared for what mother nature throws at you. Be prepared before you go out and check with NOAA and stay safe.

fj cruisers on rubicon trail

Everyone Was A Noob Once

Brian “Woody” Swearingen and Last Great Road TripOver the last couple of years I’ve had an opportunity to wheel with a number of experienced guys who have forgotten more than most will ever know.  And because of those opportunities my abilities have improved.  But I am still working on the basics.

When we started this off-road adventure idea I would read and talk to anyone who would take the time to chat, then go out on easy logging roads to test what I learned.  Luckily I found a number of people willing to teach the new guy (the really great overlanders, are eager to help others).

Although the Toyota FJ Cruiser has a lot of technology such as A-TRAC and E-Locker to help you out, it is important to get comfortable with the right approach to an obstacle in the first place and know which technology best fits the situation.  You will also want to learn the low tech items including building a sand anchor or safely operating a Hi-Lift jack.

When I looked through some of the archives, I came across a few resources that stand out as belonging on everyone’s reading list:

And when you’re ready for the complete manual on all things overland adventure, be sure to read “Planning and Leading An Overland Expedition“.

If like me, you struggle with dyslexia and reading quickly looses entertainment value, check out the videos from Bill Burke, Getting UNStuck and Getting PREpared.

This reading list will not substitute for practice, but it will provide you with a solid understanding and a strong foundation.  To really go further and get the most from your 4×4 experience, consider joining a local 4×4 organization such as the NW FJ Cruiser Club or Rising Sun Four Wheel Drive Club of Colorado. A club will provide an opportunity to wheel on trails where members can teach you the finer points of picking a line as well as demonstrate moving over, through and around obstacles on the trail.

We were all noobs once and every time I get together with experts to chat I’m reminded of just how much I still have to learn.  If you’re starting out, read everything you can, join a club, find a mentor and hang in there.  Before long a newbie will be knocking on your door asking for a little advice.

go farther explore the road less traveled

Fame And Glory (aka Getting Lost With Purpose)

Livingston I presume…

We have been exploring our world ever since the day we first climbed down from the trees.  Some expeditions have been more successful than others.   Hilleray climbed high, Cousteau went deep and it cost Scott his life.  Explores of the past followed the road less traveled to satisfy their curiosity of the unknown.  Modern explores continue the tradition and although there is less unknown, the opportunity to go further has never been greater.

Just like the art of war, a successful off-road adventures succeeds before it ever leaves the garage.  Planning, team selection, fund raising, did I mention planning, all go into making an off road adventure a success rather than a catastrophe. Even in this high-tech world, initially you only need a piece of paper, a pencil and a quiet corner where no one will disturb you as you start to plan your off road adventure.

As before, modern day off-road adventure leaders face an overwhelming responsibility when planning, undertaking and even returning from an expedition.  The Royal Geographical Society (RGS), a learned society and professional body for geography (you’ve got to love the pomp of the Brits) has been collecting information since 1830.  Thankfully the RGS has compiled nearly two hundred years of exploring into the RSG Expedition Handbook to assist today’s explorers.  This is no wimpy pamphlet.  The handbook is 482 pages of valuable information.  Everything you’ll need from project management, leadership, nutrition and field medicine to fund raising, film-making and post expedition lectures.  This truly is a complete handbook which every explorer should study.

Whether your off-road adventure goal is to satisfy personal curiosity, pursue scientific investigation or simply attain fame and glory, a well planned off-road adventure increases the chances that you will reach your goal and return safely.

2007 baja 1000 trail

The Greatest Race On Earth…

baja mexico dirt road cactusIf you’re into desert racing, and who isn’t, you feel me when I start going off on this tangent.  You know what I mean… I start waxing about $250,000 trophy trucks flying through the sand and rocks at break neck speeds, where just finishing is as much an accomplishment as winning, where good times are measured by the amount of dirt removed from body cavities not intended to hold dirt and the number of night terrors you experience while driving the course.

Yes I’m talking about the desert race to end all desert races, the SCORE BAJA 1000.  Depending on how you define started, the race can be traced back to just after midnight on March 22, 1962.  Legend has it Jack McCormack and Walt Fulton of American Honda decided to hold a long distance run to prove the reliability of Honda’s new CL72 Scrambler. They approached well known off-road dirt biker and local Honda dealer Bud Ekins for suggestions. Bud suggested the Tijuana to La Paz route (Mexican Highway 1) which was 950 miles (1,530 km) of rocks, sand washes, dry lake beds, cattle crossing, mountain passes, and paved road.  It was this very story that spurred us onto our Baja off road adventure.

During that first run, Dave Ekins recorded the first official timed run in 39 hours 56 minutes covering a distance of 952.7 miles (1,533.2 km for the rest of the world). The event found its way into the Globe, Argosy, and Cycle World magazines, earning awe and respect for Honda and the Baja run.  Rumors of near death encounters and dangers of epic proportions over the years have elevated the race to legionary status in the eyes of racers and fans alike.

The BAJA 1000 race unites drivers from around the world and across multiple platforms.  Although the heavily sponsored trophy trucks grab the spot light, you will find just about everything on two and four wheels has a class to race in.  Many of the teams and crews are not much more than friends who got together and worked through the nights the week before to assemble (or strip down) a little Volkswagen buggy.  This remains a wide open race with classes for professionals and their crews as well as amateur drivers and backyard mechanics who just as often beat more serious racers through the shear luck of simply crossing the finish line or at least breaking down further into the course.

The course changes each year and this years BAJA 1000 promises more of the same great racing.  Starting on November 20, 2008 and finishing November 23, the course will begin and end at the convention center in Ensenada, Baja California Mexico.  With a time limit of 31 hours to cover approximately 631.35 miles racers will drive continuously, stopping only for fuel, flats, and to roll their rigs back onto the wheels.  Remember this is the BAJA 1000 you don’t stop for bio-breaks, deal with it!

While the lucky fans will be camped out along the course to encourage their favorite drivers, the rest of us can still experience the race.  BF Goodrich Tires and Volkswagen of America announced the launch of a new online experience designed around bringing the captivating sights, sounds and real-time information of the 41st annual SCORE Baja 1000 to everyone.