Overland Expo West 2021

I was not paying attention that the overland expo west had been postponed to September and after seeing a post by A2A expedition (Graham Bell) that they were racing to be there. I headed up the night before and camped overnight and managed to make it to the Bell’s presentation. What a neat story and a great journey and such a nice family. (https://www.a2aexpedition.com/).

Graham Bell -A2A Expedition

The interesting thing for me at this expo that was so much different than the last one two years ago was that I was not comparing trailers and sale tactics for the trailers we were representing at the time. I also noticed that all of the tools and gadgets are not needed in my setup. I was looking for two specific things; a better cook system and a solution for more comfort for the next big trip.

Old Jeep truck like my dad’s

I did not find something for cooking that was what I was looking for…but I did see something in a product that resonated with what I was thinking. It is not a bolt in solution, but it is something that I might be able to create or adapt. I did some searching afterwards and still there is nothing like it out there. I am letting the idea percolate and we will see.

Dream vehicle. 89 Landcruiser troops.

The second thing is a more comfortable environment when out on long-term travel. I like the van conversions but there are sometimes places I want to go that those vehicles will not take FJ is amazing and can get just about everywhere, but when Carl and I were above the Arctic circle and mosquitos were insane, it would have been nice to have a couch to sit on or a kitchen to prepare meals. It also has to be as easy to set up. With this in mind, I opened my mind and looked around. Truck slide ins caught my mind.

I found one that really appealed to me. It was open and airy and had a simple setup. Th problem with it was the hefty price. I can probably find a good truck for $30-40k if I look around, but adding on another $45k seems excessive. There were several other brands and some that caught my attention were the ones that had the basics, but also could be modified. That is my sweet spot. And after some looking on Craigslist and some other sites, it turns out there are several models in the $15-20K range or less if I get a good used one. So now my head is spinning and I am working a plan.

Potential options

Maybe my better half can find some time to connect with me and we can discuss what I am thinking.

Camping again – A long time coming

I had not camped with the FJ since May 2021 and I had to get out. I did a trip to Maine by airplane and hiked 87 miles of the Appalachian Trail, which was fun and painful. It is so beautiful up there.

Abol Bridge campground at sunset

Finally in September I got tired of the incessant heat here in Arizona and headed up to northern Arizona. I first did a bike ride on a day trip and then did a two nighter bike trip with the FJ Cruiser Overlander. It is funny now that I have tuned it to such a point that all I have to do is find a fairly level spot and within 10 minutes I am completely set up with a chair and beer in hand.

Camping mongolion rim
Camping mongolion rim

I noticed I wanted some better camp lights and had a friend years ago that used rock lights under the truck. I ordered a set and will have them installed this week so I am ready for the Moab camping trip in two weeks.

Biking the Arizona Trail
Arizona Trail
Camping with the elk herd

Power solution nearly complete

After moving to Mesa, AZ, the fridge gets incredibly hungry in the summers. Basically, what would last 2-3 days on an AGM battery in Colorado, lasts barely a day in this incessant summer heat. So I abandoned the AGM battery and upgraded to a Lithium Iron Phosphate battery. The advantages of these batteries are surprising. The best thing is that a 100AHr battery will discharge 95% before going dead. An AGM is done after 45% discharge. The LiFeP battery is also less than half the weight. These batteries are not suited for hot environments, so engine compartments are not ideal. I have solar attached to the FJ, but even in direct sun, can get 5-6A max, so if the battery is at 50%, it will take 10 hours to recharge, ridge running.

I decided to move my RedArc DC/DC charger from the engine compartment to the rear cargo area. In the cargo area, with my cargo there is exactly enough space between the side and the small space under the rear pocket window. I fished a 2g battery cable through the firewall and to the rear compartment and created a fused link to the DC/DC charger. Due to the solar low charge capability, I purchased a 20A AC/DC Renogy charger to manage the battery more efficiently. And as long as I was doing this, I purchased an AC plug adapter used in RVs and mounted it through plastic rear quarter panel into the cargo area. Since these were two AC wired one up to the charger and the other to the fridge. The effect of this is when in the garage, I can plug in AC to the back of the FJ, and it will power the charger and switch the Fridge to AC. Perfect for FJ while I work from home.

The only thing I have left, is to add in a fuse box and an DC/AC inverter. This will allow me to power computer and a monitor for working on the road, and possibly will power a cook-top, leaving the need for propane to emergency only.

I’ll add some pics, but in all reality, it is boring as the wiring, battery, and charging are tucked away and hidden.

next project….water pump connected to power and with and ability to take a road shower when needed.

The FJ Cruiser Project

I decided I wanted to rebuild my FJ to get all of the add-ons installed with a proper plan rather than over 11 years of ownership. But it’s my daily driver. So I decided to purchase a scratch and dent FJ. Here is Project Zins after my favorite wine, 7 Deadly Zins.

She is a 2007 burgundy FJ with a complete title, not salvage. I purchased her for $5k from a guy in Maryland. The draw was the price and the fact it was almost drivable. I figured it would require a fender, door, and hood. There is a bit more damage, but It looks as if he hit a guard rail. He already replaced the UCA and LCA and steering knuckle. He said it needed a half axle.

I flew out to Maryland to pick it up. I should have added in the half axle right away but thought I’d make it to the hotel. Forgot the front wheel requires the axle to be attached so I had to do some road repairs to get it to the hotel.

Well after some investigation, it needed front brakes and a half axle. I brought the half axle with me as I had some spares (TSA was confused). It took a trip to Harbor Freight to get some additional tools and Autozone for calipers, rotors, and pads. Then I got to work. Getting the half axle out was tough, but I won. Then I tightened the suspension and steering up and began on the brakes. I had called the guy and asked about the brakes and he said he changed them for tundra brakes but couldn’t tell me the year. So I put them back to stock.

It turns out this guy is one of those that doesn’t do regular maintenance, but thinks upgrades improve the vehicle. He hadn’t changed the oil and hosed up the engine. It cost him $5k to have Toyota completely rebuild the engine about 80k prior.

Well, I got the brakes installed, and the first thing in the morning on Saturday, I bled the brakes and took it for a test drive. It ran great and now stopped perfectly. A few other checks and I was in my way back to AZ around noon.

The steering was a bit off, but it drove well. The first few tanks I averaged 19mpg, until I started in the mountains and then with the headwinds across the plains. Overall trip was 16mpg.

So now the work begins.

To Solar or not to Solar

That makes more sense…

I have lots of favorite upgraded in the FJ Cruiser and one of the many bests is the ARB Fridge in the back that keeps the water, sodas, and beers cold. I have been tuning it for years and made it a full-time item over two years ago. I ran into problems with battery fatigue caused by too many discharges. It turned out that the battery was not being adequately charged with the solenoid circuit and the alternator. So instead of purchasing another battery, I added in a RedArc BCDC2525D charging system. It conditions the AGM battery properly and during the Alaska trip, as long as I didn’t keep the 300W inverter running overnight, the battery would never go below 12.3V. However, now that I live in Mesa, Arizona and it is F****NG hot here, the fridge has a hard time keeping things cold. In its valiant efforts in a 150 degree vehicle, it sucks current from the battery and in less than a day can decimate the battery.

Since the RedArc charger has a solar circuit, I bought a 100W solar panel on Amazon Prime days and hooked it up. It puts out 4-6A of current consistently during the day and since the fridge should not take more than 1-2 Amps, It should not suck the battery dry. The problem, however is that it seems to maintain 12.2V when charging, but when I am driving, it ignores the alternator input and just uses solar. This would be OK if the system would boost charge at 14V, but it will not. I decided to send a note to RedArc and ask for some advice.

To RedArc: I have a yellow-top battery as a secondary in my FJ Cruiser. It is isolated from the main and I use a BCDC2525D system to charge it. The battery is only 55AH, but its primary job is to power USB and an ARB 60L fridge. It has worked great so far on a 7 week overlanding trip. However, I have noticed that if the temperature outside is in the 80’sF (26C), the battery will last up to 2 days with the fridge and the truck off. It has so far charged the battery perfectly with daily driving.

However, I recently moved to Phoenix Arizona, which has temperatures outside above 100 deg F (38C). This makes the truck interior hot and the fridge has to work extremely hard to keep the temperatures down. I generally keep the windows cracked, but basically the fridge will drain the battery in less than 12 hours in this heat. So I purchased a 100W solar panel and in full sun it puts out 4-6 Amps of current throughout the day, so I thought this would keep the battery charged. It seemed to work the first two days with the truck sitting. But the battery was down to 12.0 V about mid day today so I drove it around for an hour on errands and I noticed an issue: the solar keeps the charging voltage to 12.2 to 12.4 V rather than the normal 13.5-14.3V that it was charging from the alternator input alone (through the BCDC2525D). Is this how it is supposed to work? Tonight the battery was at 11.7V and I shut the fridge off to keep it from draining the battery to cutoff.

I understand the temperatures are hot here this time of year, but I would expect the RedArc charger to kick charging up to max 14V when the truck is operating, especially if the solar is only putting out 4-6A.

Should I rig up an isolator that disconnects the solar circuit when the truck is running so the BCDC2525D will use only the vehicle alternator charging circuit?

I will see what they say.

Day 41 – Nevada, Las Vegas, and Home

Before turning in last night, we shared some good laughs, reminisced on some of the great parts of the adventure, and celebrated with a deep glass of Middleton Whisky. I awoke as the sky began to become bright experienced one of those amazing desert sunrises. The temperature was a cool 61 degrees and the silence was broken by a distant rumble of a lone Harley Davidson rider as he rode across the deserted desert road.

Morning view of our last campsite

I made coffee, packed up the tent for the last time, and prepared for the 4 hour drive to Las Vegas. Carl was flying back to San Antonio today to get situated a couple of days before normal life starts again. His best flight options were from Vegas so I would finish the last leg of the journey to Mesa solo.

Mining claims are staked in all over the Nevada desert

It was 102 degrees when I dropped Carl off at the airport. It was a contrast to the 60 degrees in Colorado Springs at the beginning and the 30 degrees and snow in the Arctic 12 days into the trip. I fueled up the truck, picked up some quick food, and drove down the newer Interstate 11 towards Phoenix. The views along the road are dynamic and contrasting and completely different than the majority of the journey. A beauty all of its own.

Snow capped mountains in the distance.

I stopped at a small campground about half way through when I saw the sign that it had water. It had been a couple of days and I wanted to clean up a bit before home. The pools looked inviting for a swim and after a quick dip, I used my bucket and the campsite water for a makeshift shower. The desert water source was about 80 degrees and comfortable, another contrast from the glacial pools.

It took about 90 minutes to get across from the northwest entry into Phoenix to our home in eastern Mesa. Traffic was moving fast and I matched the music to the tempo. I backed the truck into the driveway at 6:20 PM. It has been a full 42 days, almost to the hour, since I left my previous home in Colorado Springs and camped my first night in the Bass Pro Shop parking lot.

The Overland trip lasted 42 days. We traversed over 10,966 miles on and off road. We crossed international borders 6 times between Canada and the USA. We traversed a total of 11 states: Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, Idaho, Montana, Alaska, Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada, and Arizona. We spent time in, walked on, and experienced the 4 of the 5 types of climate types on this planet; Dry, Temperate, Continental, and Polar, missing only the Tropical. Within these types, we drove through all of the 4 sub categories of the Dry type; one of the Polar types, 5 of the 9 Temperate climate sub types, and probably 6 of the 13 sub types of Continental. What a blessing.

Day 40 – Smith’s Rock to High Desert, NV

We got up from the dusty spot on the BLM land outside of Smith’s Rock and packed up. We did a swing by a local store and I stocked up on creamer and found a breakfast burrito and coffee. The first stop was a quick hike around Smith’s Rock State Park, a climber’s mecca. It was definitely formidable, and as Carl would say, terrifying. The rock had a beautiful stream running in front of it that worked great for photos.

We pushed down out of Oregon and into the northeastern part of California. The road took us along the eastern Sierra Nevadas through some ranching country, some beautiful lakes, and endless views of high desert. We stopped for lunch in a town called Janesville, which apparently is home to the county seat and two prisons. Nothing much to see here at the visitors center so we pushed forward with Carl at the helm.

We made it to Reno about 5 PM and filled up with gas. The trip meter had us at 588 miles and we still had a half of the main tank, which means another 100 miles. I am really pleased with the Long Range Automotive auxiliary tank for this trip. It has made it easier to travel and not be hitched to the passing gas stations.

We finished the night in another wild camp on the middle of the Nevada desert. We have mountain ranges all around and views of the sunsets and sunrises were astounding. The stars at night were bright, even with a half moon. The beauty of the deserts. The next leg is to drop Carl off in Vegas and then head onward to home in Mesa. I am grateful for this trip and the opportunities is opened. And I am so happy to be getting home to my wonderful wife.

Day 39. Vancouver, WA to Smith’s Rock

We decided to stay another day in Portland and cut the long day into two pieces.  Rich suggested Smith’s Rock state park north of Bend and so we packed up our stuff, left the truck, and headed back into Portland.  This time instead of the boroughs, we were in the city center. 

Carl is an angel

Our first stop was a huge bookstore called Powells.  Apparently it’s famous.  We had some coffee, chatted, looked at books and then left to find food or beer in some food trucks. We ran across the Deschutes Brewery and had some pretty good beer and then proceeded to the trucks.

Apparently Portland is filling itself in and building high-rise apartments in any place they can find.  One block was famous for the food trucks, but recently was cleared and re-appropriated.  We found some of the food trucks and had a pretty decent lunch before heading to our second stop at an outfitter store.  We looked around and bought a couple of things. 

Portland is the City of Bridges

Rich had to stop by a re-store to pick up some floor boards for his home (he’s re-doing the bathroom) so Carl and I waited for him across the street at The Mississippi Pizza Pub. Rich got his boards and then we headed back to the house, finished loading the truck and then Carl and I headed south-east.  

Some city art

We camped in a BLM area across from the state park.  The juniper and weeded forest smelled kind of strange and took a bit to get used to.  Something strange must have been blooming.  

Day 38. – Portland for a day.

I planned to meet with some friends of Kristina and mine for coffee at 9 AM.  I got up around 6 and got started on the repairs for the truck.  The high pressure AC line had been rubbed on the bumper for years, but the Dempster apparently was its demise.  The part had been sent to Rich’s house and after removing the grill and a support bracket, I got the old one out and the new one in by about 8 AM.   

I had a great visit with John and Linda at a local Starbucks for about 90 minutes.  They suggested a mechanic and I checked their availability and they could take the truck at 1PM.   I gassed up and headed back to Rich’s and we took both vehicles to drop it off.  (Kudos to Top Performance Automotive for a fast and rea$onable recharge).  We had lunch while it was in the shop and then dropped it back off at Rich’s before we headed into Portland for some guided tours.

Local pubs

Rich showed us one of the houses he recently sold and then we had some gelato and walked around the area that is strewn with shops, restaurants, homes, and interesting nooks and crannies.  Carl and I agreed we could hang out here for several days and still not see all of the cool stuff.  Rich took us to a mountain park in the city and we hiked around a bit.  We then went out and visited his sisters, one whom was visiting from Bend, OR, and enjoyed some great conversation and lemonchella.  

Brewery under the trees

Dennys for a late dinner and we headed back to his house for the night. 

Rich and Carl amongst the local artistry

Day 37. Olympic National Park and Vancouver, WA

We drove around the western part of the park and turned to the Hot National Rain Forest.  Carl got his Jr Ranger pin and patch and I took a small hike.  This is another place I really want to head back to and visit.  This park has a discovery trail for bikes and tons of hikes and overnight options.  One campground across from where we camped, is beneath ancient Cedar, Hemlock, and oaks covered in moss and mushrooms.  

A view into the lush rain forests in Olympic NP.

We stopped a couple of times along the road, first at a giant cedar tree and then at the beach.  We stayed at the beach for about an hour checking out the cool tide pool creatures, rocks and driftwood.  The Pacific is cold, but nothing like the Arctic Ocean.  

Sea creatures exposed by the low tide.

About an hour further down the road we stopped at a roadside diner called Dino’s Diner.  I got the special of fish, shrimp, and fries and it was great.  Carl loved his burger.  We checked out an interesting mercantile next door that had everything from food, beverages, fishing gear, to muffin baking pans.  The interesting thing was that it was built on a slope and one side was several feet higher than the other and the floor was sloped in the store.  

Dino’s Diner daily special. Cod, Shrimp and fries.

We decided to turn inland instead of continuing down the 101 and got to our friend. Rich’s, house about 6PM.  We talked for a while and caught up for many hours.  Rich fixed some light dinner and then we all headed to bed around midnight.