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Thread: The Long Way South- A Pan American Adventure

  1. #11
    Join Date
    Sep 2011
    Staffordshire, England
    Not got time read now, but I can't wait to. Subscribed.

  2. #12
    Join Date
    Sep 2012
    Pope Army Air Field-- North Carolina
    1977 CJ5

  3. #13
    Join Date
    Jan 2006
    Reno, NV
    Looking forward to the updates

    2007 2500hd, Max/Alli, Hawk FWC (the new explorer)
    Build thread:
    2006 Jeep LJ Rubicon-Sold
    1985 4Runner 22rte-Project...

  4. #14
    Join Date
    Jan 2010
    by Nate

    Building your sleeping and storage amenities is just as, if not more, important than your vehicle choice in my opinion. For many overlanders, there are three general choices: a camper (ie: a slide in truck bed camper), a roof top tent, or a sleeping platform either in an SUV or pickup truck with a cap.

    I am not going to knock any one specific set up because they all have their advantages and disadvantages. Each choice is made based on vehicle choice, budget and living/lifestyle needs of the traveler.

    Initially, we had a dream of a custom slide in/pop up camper. This camper was going to be sick! Aluminum framing, low profile, custom storage, energy efficient and ultralight. It was going to be the best of everything we could dream of. But… we eventually fell down from our dream cloud and looked at our budget and the calendar. It was not going to coincide with either. So we settled on what we had and what we knew.

    Our list of pros and cons for living in a truck is as follows:


    Stealth Camping: You can park pretty much anywhere and no one can tell you are sleeping there
    Weight: relatively light weight compared to a camper
    Size: there is no question if we can fit into a cargo container
    Set up convenience- there is no set up required to go to bed at night
    Hard sides are more weather resistant and secure
    Custom built to suit your needs
    Cheaper than purchasing a camper or tent

    Can be cramped at times when you are both forced to hang out in there in poor weather
    Storage: you are limited in a direct relationship between sleeping area vs storage
    You pretty much always have something on your bed, even when you try not to
    A simple life required…also a pro
    More work involved designing and building
    Additional requirements/features for this trip:

    Auxillary battery system with auto disconnect
    700w inverter
    Multiple 12v plugs
    A fan that will actually move air (purchased an Endless Breeze thanks to Home on the Highway’s recommendation)
    Lighting inside and outside of the truck
    Storage area for dirty shoes. There is nothing worse than sleeping with your dirty, smelly shoes
    The fridge needs to be relocated to the back. The dog needs his sleeping space!
    The spare will need to fit underneath the bed this time. The tires are too big for the original location, and on the roof is not ideal
    We wanted a full length drawer for ease of access to items such as food, cooking gear and everyday clothing
    Everything needs it’s own spot. No more stuff on the bed!
    Better curtain mounts
    A cap that does not leak
    Sarah and I had an advantage of a long haul road trip in this truck already. We knew what worked and what didn’t. Building a sleeping and storage area in a truck cap can be a very livable way to travel assuming it was built correctly. We may not have every possible flaw designed out of our build, but we came up with what we think will do the trick!

    Check out the whole gallery here

  5. #15
    Join Date
    Jan 2010
    by Sarah

    On September 18, 2012 at approximately 7pm we officially finished packing our gear and departed on our trip in a total downpour of rain and tears. As we were throwing some last minute things into the back of the truck, we discovered a leak forming a river in our new cap. It was draining right into the bed area due to the pressure from the newly installed roof rack. Oh well, we threw some good ol’ duct tape on it and hit the road!

    Our first stop was North Conway, NH for some delicious eats. For some reason leaving was more emotional this time. Possibly due to the fact that we are leaving for a much longer period of time or because this has been something we have only dreamed of for the past two years… until now! As we were sitting at the bar feeling a bit homesick, in walks two of our close friends from home, Jay and Alexis! We were pumped! After hanging out and sharing some laughs for a while, we attempted to continue our drive through the windy, forest roads of the White Mountains in the pouring rain. It became too difficult to see and was a little too late so we decided to park at a trailhead and spend the night.

    The next couple of weeks were spent relaxing in Vermont at Nate’s family’s cabin, tent camping on Grout Pond in southern Vermont, and driving long days to make it to Ohio to visit with family. We had a great visit with them… full of love, laughs, doggie licks and talks of guns and other “man stuff” that I only pretending to be interested in. We were also given the secret to long-term travel from Nate’s little cousin Izze- “All you need is a Twix bar” she says. Well alright, we will have to give that a shot!

    From Ohio, we were on a deadline to make it to Arkansas to meet up with Danny from Dodge Off Road. Prior to leaving home, we attempted to complete the rear shackle flip to finalize our rear suspension. As standard in Maine, everything was seized with rust. We got in contact with Danny who had a custom solution for us. While we were there, we learned what true Southern hospitality was all about! We had dinner with Danny and his wife Janna consisting of delicious rib-eyes, french fries and Dr. Pepper. It was the first Dr. Pepper I had ever tried. Danny couldn’t believe it as he essentially lives off of the stuff! We spent about a week in Arkansas, staying at one of the most beautiful state parks we have ever stayed at, wrenching on the truck, touring through caves and also getting interviewed by the local newspaper about our trip! You can check out the article here.

    After leaving Arkansas, we decided New Mexico was our next planned destination. We drove to Taos, New Mexico- an eclectic, artsy town also home to the largest existing pueblo structure in the US. We visited Taos Pueblo and learned all about adobe buildings and got to see a native village firsthand. We spent Nate’s birthday there as well, where we over-indulged on delicious food and beverages all day and night.We asked a couple of locals where a good 8-10 mile hike would be and they told us about this loop trail that goes through the ski valley. What an incredible hike! The view from the top was beautiful and we even had the opportunity to see our first Bighorn Sheep. The hike was strenuous and at 12,110 feet, the elevation made it difficult on us. Seeing as how we both grew up pretty much at sea-level, our lungs were not very happy with us!

    We have had a very eventful and fast paced first thirty days to our trip. We have had to re-learn how to live out of the truck, find places to bush camp and work with the everyday to do list while on the road. It has taken us a little while to decompress, get back into the swing of things and find our rhythm. The pace is finally slowing down and the true living has begun!

    Full Article with gallery here
    Attached Images Attached Images

  6. #16
    Join Date
    Jan 2010
    by Nate

    The Mojave Road is 140 miles of unforgiving dirt trails loaded with history and some of the most beautiful desolate country you will ever see. The trail ranges from washboard fire roads, washed out rocky hills, knee deep silt beds and whoop sections for miles.

    The history states the Mojave Road started off as a trade route by the Mojave Indians and later turned into a wagon trail by pioneers, settlers and military. It was a way for the American pioneers to get to California until the railroads were built, which made for much easier travel. It is now used primarily as a four wheel drive road through the Mojave National Preserve for people who are adventurous enough to complete the 2-3 long days off road.

    Fully stocked on food, water, diesel, and beer we were ready to start our adventure! We had our trusty guidebook Mojave Road Guide by Dennis Casebier (purchasing this book is highly recommended if you plan on driving the road- we couldn’t have done it without the book!)

    Starting the road from the East in Laughlin, Nevada, we pulled over, checked our GPS coordinates to make sure we were in the right place and let some air out of the tires to smooth out the small stuff. Insert air out picture here We spent the majority of the first day taking it slow through the old wagon roads and taking in the beautiful scenery around us. The desert is an amazing place filled with solitude, peace and a general sense of calmness. Within the first 10 or 15 miles, there was a section of road that had a pretty mean washed out section. Our truck was too wide to take the Jeep line to the left so we had to straddle the 4‘ drop off. I asked Sarah to get out and guide me through to make sure we didn’t tip the truck over or nail the differential cover on rocks. It was a learning lesson in spotting…for both of us. Sarah did not realize that I can’t hear whispering directions from 30’ away over the sound of the diesel. Needless to say, we both now understand the proper hand signals to guide the driver!

    The first stop we made was about 20 miles in at Piute Creek. Piute creek was the first natural watering hole that we had seen on the Mojave Road. There are not many along the road, so when a source of water was found, it was used to it’s advantage. In 1867, a Fort was built there by the US Infantry. To get to the fort, you drive along an incredibly rocky section of trail- we really put the truck to the test! So far, so good, only a few complaints from the steering box. Continuing down the desolate road, we passed old cattle ranches, washes, an abandoned school bus and tons of Joshua Trees!

    Our guidebook said that there is a spot along the road where a tin can hangs from a Joshua Tree. For good luck, those who drive the road put a penny in the can. We got out of the truck and as Sarah is grabbing a penny for each of us to put in the can (including Brady), I notice that the GoPro we had mounted to the outside of the truck is missing! Crap! I start running down the road where we had just come from to try to find it. It was really far away! Good thing I look out for these things. I’m pretty sure Sarah didn’t notice that the GoPro was missing, or even me for that matter, because when I got back she had a penny in one hand and a the camera in the other taking pictures of this momentous occasion.

    About 70 miles in, we camped down an old wash near Marl Springs for our first night. Having made it to our campsite just before it got dark, we immediately started making dinner. It was a beautiful night, but was ridiculously windy which made making dinner a treat

    The next morning, we got up, made some coffee and hit the road. There is a mailbox with an American flag about 75 miles in with a book for people who travel the road to sign in. We checked in, took a few pictures and continued on for another 20 miles or so where we got to Soda Lake. There is a monument in the middle of the Lake called Travelers Monument where you pick up a volcanic rock along the Mojave Road and add it to the pile in the middle of the lake. We had our rock and were ready to cross.

    Having heard that the lake can be impassible at times, we had called the ranger station before setting out to check on the condition of it. “No way, it’s not passible”. There is a way to go around it, but it takes you off of the Mojave Road, taking away from the feeling of solitude you get when driving this epic road. I am the type of person who has to see it for myself to believe it so I assure Sarah that we can do it despite all of the warnings. Pulling up to the edge of Soda Lake, I get out and check the status of the ground. Dry, and hard as a rock! Sarah is sitting in the passenger seat reading the “extreme caution” section in the book about crossing the lake and is mentally checking into panic mode. As we were about halfway across, you could see the dust getting kicked up behind the tires. No doubt in my mind, we were going to make it! Midway we stopped to place our rock on the monument and continued on towards the Mojave River.

    The river is all dried up which makes it possible to bomb down it at a pretty good speed. The faster you go, the smoother the ride! However there were a few deep sand sections which I would not want to get tangled up with by myself. Four wheel drive helped in the hairy sections. Up near Afton Canyon, we found a perfect spot to set up camp. We prepared our dinner while watching the sunset playing shadow games on the walls of the canyon and headed to bed early. The long days of driving can really wear you out.

    The last day of our journey we only had about 30 miles left to drive. Once we packed up camp, we drove up and out of the river bed towards the railroad tracks. The Mojave Road runs right along the railroad tracks for about a quarter of a mile before crossing through the river- which actually had water in it! Stoked to plow through the water, I hopped out to make sure we wouldn’t drown the truck in the last few miles of the trip. Once finding out we were good to go, I made Sarah (who is deathly afraid of dark waters) walk through the water to the other side to take a picture of ‘Truck’ swimming

    The Mojave Road winds through a final river bed before reaching Camp Cady; the ending point of the trail. There were a few sections of river closed for rehabilitation so we hopped on the BLM roads and headed to the end. Camp Cady was established by US Dragoons in 1860 to protect the road from Indians who were defending their homeland. The protection of the road enabled travelers, merchandise and mail to boost California’s economy. Once peace was achieved, the military withdrew. There is not much left to Camp Cady except for a few rocks which were a part of the corner of the building and a couple of pieces of pipe from an old boiler.

    With a feeling of great accomplishment, covered in sand and silt from head to toe, inside and outside the truck and with a dog who had never been so dirty we headed back into civilization. All in all it was an incredible trip, one I highly recommend to anyone traveling through southeast California!

    Full write up with gallery here

  7. #17
    Join Date
    Jan 2010
    by Sarah

    Driving the Mojave Road was a blast, but after weeks in the desert it was time to move on, plus we knew beaches and tacos awaited us! The first order of business after the Mojave was a place to camp. On the map we spotted Big Bear Lake which looked on the way to San Diego and our trusty GPS told us it was only about 15 miles out of the way- no biggie! We wondered what we had gotten ourselves into after about an hour of driving up through mountain pass after pass, but we finally arrived. We pulled in, paid the lady at the booth, found our site and settled in. We were a bit confused as to why she had given us a site right next to four couples who were clearly camping together even though there were over 100 sites in the campground. O’well, bruscetta chicken for dinner it was!

    While making dinner, one of the campers next to us walked up and asked “Are those surfboards?” “Why, yes, yes they are!” And that is what started our extensive conversation with John about travels and surfing. He invited us over to their campfire and by the end of the night, we had met some of the most down to earth people we have ever met- and they are so much fun to be around too! John, who grew up in San Diego, gave us some good pointers on Anza Borrego, and the most scenic routes to take on our way to the border, plus an invite to come and stay with them. They even tempted us with a lift in the garage to do some last minute maintenance!

    John and Kitty were phenomenal hosts, and have a beautiful home in the mountains of San Diego. We stayed with them for a few days so we could tune up the truck a bit and we even got to take ‘real’ showers and sleep in a ‘real’ bed!! In the mornings, Kitty and I would sit outside and talk about our families, share stories and talk about our future as travelers. Nate and John would hang out in the garage and talk about man stuff, and all of Johns crazy life travels. He literally could have a book written about his accomplishments, travels and stories! And they’re all ‘true stories’ . They became not only our friends but also our mentors while we were there.

    Kitty and I talked about some of the things that have not gone according to plan thus far on the trip. As we talked through it, I said “Well, everything happens for a reason, right?” She assured me that everything does happen for a reason and this is when I came to the realization that all of the things I was having a difficult time with were just ways of making us stronger and forcing us to step back and slow down a bit. It is difficult to teach yourself a new way to look at life. Everything that doesn’t go according to plan can actually become an adventure and a great story to tell.

    Our last night in Valley Center, we had a potluck dinner with all of John and Kitty’s friends. What a great time! Who knew that being placed at a campsite right next to them would lead to meeting such wonderful people! The next morning we packed up and headed for the border.

    We felt confident in our border crossing having read LifeRemotely’s book and had written down step by step directions on how to cross, where to go, GPS coordinates; the works! One problem; they had been building a new post in San Ysidro scheduled to open the day we planned to cross. Being hopeful that the border was late to open we drove toward Tijuana. We saw all the signs saying ‘International Border: 1 mile’, ‘Last USA exit’, etc. Oh boy! We are finally here!

    We pull up to the gate where a new electronic eye scans your truck and gives you a signal when to move on. Green means go and red means pull over to the side to be searched. RED! Okay, no biggie. We pulled off to the side where they opened the back of the truck. They pulled open our drawer, looked in our fridge, and checked under the bed. “Esta bien.” Okay, we are on our way! We pulled out of customs and were immediately dumped onto a freeway. We had no idea where we were going because the directions we had written down didn’t seem to apply anymore. In a sort of panic, we got off an exit in Tijuana in search for the migracion/banjercito office so we could get our tourist visas. Winding through the the streets of Tijuana, we got totally lost and had no idea what to do. After about an hour of driving around, we decided to turn around and head back to the border. Maybe we would see the migration office on our way! No such luck.

    We got stuck in traffic going BACK through to the states with no way out of it. Crap! We passed through U.S customs, told him we are idiots and asked how to get back through the San Ysidro border. Twenty minutes later, we were back in Tijuana. We pulled up to customs, red again! We felt like professionals at this point. Well, professionals at being idiots that is. We started doubting ourselves. How are we going to be able to make it across 17 or more borders if we screwed up our very first one?!

    We pulled into the station, got searched and asked him where to pay for our tourist visas. He told us to pull up into the parking lot where the officials park and walked us over to the Migracion office. We went in, filled out our tourist cards, he stamped it and sent us on our merry way. We asked the nice man who walked us over where the Banjercito was so we could pay for the tourist cards. He didn’t understand what we were asking and tried to send us to an ATM. We decided to just drive South, out of Tijuana, and figure it out later.

    FOR FUTURE OVERLANDERS: We later found out that what we were actually supposed to do was stay to the right toward the signs that say ‘Declaro.’ Pull in, park, and walk up to the migracion office. You will fill out the card, he will stamp the back and you will go back to your car. From this point stay left and get off of the first exit. We assume the Banjercito is still in the same place as before- LifeRemotely’s GPS Coordinates for that are: N 32°32’24.19” W117° 1’54.76”. At this point you may pay for your tourist cards and get your vehicle importation permit if necessary. As an alternative you can pay for the tourist card in Ensenada, however they told us we need to go to La Paz for the vehicle importation permit. The migracion/banjercito office in Ensenada is on a side street when you pull into town on the right. You will see big sign for it. The catch is that they charge you an extra 2 or 3 dollars per tourist card to do it here but it was worth it for us to not feel lost/rushed. Ensenada is a really touristy town, but it makes a good place to stop for the night and get an early start the next morning.

    Our first few days in Baja consisted of driving down Mex 1, pirate camping as close to the beach as we could get. We would look at our Baja Almanac (thanks again to Home on the Highway for the recommendation!) for dirt roads that looked like they would get pretty close to the ocean. We found some pretty sweet spots!

    On our third or fourth day in Baja, we spotted “Coco’s Corner” on the map. Nate had heard of Coco before- he is famous within the off-road racing world!! We decided we would try to camp at the end of one of the dirt roads and visit Coco- he is a character! We got some useful tips from him and were on our way. Coco really took a shining to me, and even gave me one of his newly designed t-shirts as an early Christimas present!

    From Coco’s Corner we headed out to Bahia la Asuncion via Vizcaino. It is a pretty remote stretch of coast with a few nasty roads to get yourself lost on. We set up camp on a shell beach and enjoyed the sunset. The next day, the plan was to head for the east coast again and enjoy the calm waters of the Sea of Cortez. We had a couple hundred miles of dirt roads ahead of us so we were cruising pretty quick, and may have taken a few too many hard hits. Pulling into Punta Abreojos we smelled an unfamiliar burning smell. Burning smells aren’t uncommon when pulling into towns, but this was a bad burn, like chemical burn. Gross! We cruised about ten miles across a section of compacted beach then Nate pulled over to use the “facilities” and do his usual walk around inspection of the truck. “Oh…my…God!, what the HELL is that? There is fluid everywhere!” I have learned from Nate’s methods that the first way to figure out what kind of fluid it is is to smell it. Not transmission fluid, good! Not motor oil, good! Not differential fluid, good! Not power steering, hmmm., then what the hell is it? A quick look around resulted it finding a blown out shock, crap. Well, that explains the burning smell.

    *A side note, over the course of 10 minutes on the side of the road we had three different people pull over to ask if we were ok and if we needed help…tell that to the Americans that won’t go to Mexico!

    Anyway, with 100 miles left to go, we pushed on with a real funny feeling truck. Once we got to Mulege, we collected our thoughts, got a cell phone up and running and ordered some new shocks. Which luckily will be in a pickup of some of the guys chasing the Baja 1000. Awesome!

    So here I sit, writing and reflecting from my beachfront office waiting for the arrival of our new shocks (fingers crossed), enjoying life in the sun!

    Write up and gallery here

  8. #18
    Join Date
    Aug 2010
    Phoenix, AZ

  9. #19
    Join Date
    Jun 2010
    Pacific Grove/Monterey
    Definitely subscribed.

  10. #20
    Join Date
    Oct 2011
    Brisbane Australia

    Default Suspension thoughts?

    Nate, are you happy with the suspension package overall now that you have experienced a bit of varied driving.

    Did you just get a bad shock that blew out or do you think this is normal given the terrain?

    I would expect that a bit more than 4000 miles (my estimate) would be indicated by a quality Fox shock.

    I have a similar vehicle, but a shorty with a camper on the back, so am very interested in a suspension improvement (comfort and reliability) for my trip to Ushuaia.

    Two drifters off to see the world. There's such a lot of world to see.
    Johnny Mercer

    1998 Dodge Ram 2500 4WD QCSB Cummins TD and FWC Hawk
    1998 Holden Rodeo 4WD
    2004 Toyota Landcruiser TD
    2008 V Strom 1000

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