A few years ago, sitting at my desk job playing on the internet; I stumbled upon the blog of a couple traveling south on the Pan-American highway in a first generation 4Runner. The more I read, the more excited I became at the possibility of such a trip. I went home and shared the dream with my girlfriend (now fiancée) Leah. That evening we became lost in the magic of an adventure of this magnitude, and our minds began to whirl as our future goals changed. Over the next couple of months, as the enormity of the trip sunk in, we realized that we would need a lot of time to plan and save to pull off such an endeavor. Leah was just about to start a two-year MBA program, and I was nearing a career change. We forecasted our budget, crunched the numbers, and realized that we could be debt free and have our required funds ready by the end of her MBA program. After a few months of intensive research and the beginning stages of saving; we were well on our way to our Pan-American Highway adventure that would take us from Denver to Ushuaia.
Earlier that year I had purchased our 2004 Toyota 4Runner for camping, off-roading, and as my daily driver. Since the 4Runner is such a reliable and well-built vehicle, we knew it would be the perfect vehicle for an overland trip. As our budget allowed, I started to purchase the desired suspension and various other upgrades that we would need. Since the 4Runner had just over 100,000 miles, I rebuilt most of the front suspension and changed the stock front shocks to 2.5” Sway-A-Way coil-overs and SPC upper control arms. The rear suspension was changed to MetalTech4x4’s version of long travel suspension with custom built control arms. Since much of our driving would be highway, we decided that a tall, skinny tire would be the best option to help with fuel consumption while still performing well off-road. The tire of choice was the 33” Cooper S/T Maxx because of the unique size and the semi-aggressive treadpattern that would be able to handle any type of terrain.
At times building an overland vehicle on a strict budget can get very frustrating; such as the large price tag on a rear bumper with a spare tire swing out. With prices hovering around $2,000, we had to discard the dream of the new beautiful steel bumpers. Instead, I drew up some plans and custom made one specific to our needs, saving us $1500. I also made and installed a full set of drawers with easy access from the back that would also allow us to sleep inside if necessary, all the while keeping an extra seat for a third traveler. We did invest in a Tepui rooftop tent, which has made for a very comfortable home in nearly all types of weather and has been by far one of the best investments we have made for this trip. I built and installed a 100W solar and dual battery system to power up our 43-quart refrigerator and to keep us self-sufficient in remote places. The build turned out to be a reliable and comfortable setup, and hopefully tough enough for the grueling 30,000 miles of paved, potholed, dirt and sand roads ahead.
The 4Runner has been a great vehicle for us on this trip. Except for Mexico (which doesn’t sell 4Runners), we have felt confident that in the event we encounter a problem, we would be able to find and replace parts. We have come across all types of roads and all types of weather along this trip. The 4Runner has powered through every type of terrain with such grace that it almost makes the trip seem, dare I say, easy. Mudslides that have stood in our way, hundreds of miles of dirt roads & sandy beaches, there was even a road in southern Mexico that had in excess 300 speedbumps in 150 kilometers! All of which the 4Runner has made its way through with relative ease.
We have been to some pretty amazing places so far on this trip, but there are really a handful that stick out in our memory. In Mexico, Chichen Itza was a great visit. We also enjoyed just about every cenote that we dove into, especially the one in the town of Valladolid.
If you were to ask us what beaches we would recommend, well we would have to ask, what are you looking for? If you’re looking for the surf culture, then the Pacific beaches of El Salvador are for you. If you’re looking to scuba and snorkel, we would point you in the direction of the Caribbean coast because of its clear blue water and tremendous reefs. One of the most clean and beautiful countries in all Central America is Costa Rica. The parks are very pretty and full of wildlife, the beaches are clean and free of trash, and the lakes are top notch since there are not hundreds of speed boats zipping back and forth all day long. The greatest city that crossed our path in Central America was undoubtedly Panama City, Panama. The cityscape is one of the most amazing scene from the docks of Panama Bay, which is south of the city off a small strip of land. This city was very clean and well planned, which is something every trip navigator will appreciate, although traffic is an absolute nightmare.
One of the best aspects of this trip that was unexpected was the relationships that we would forge with other overlanders. When you meet another overlander – the connection is automatic. You immediately fall into deep conversation and form a bond as if you have known each other for years. It is these spontaneous relationships with other overlanders that has given shape to our trip. Prior to leaving, we believed that we would have a plan of what and where we would be a month out. This view changed very quickly.
The best example is how we spent this past Christmas. We were headed across the border to Belize, when we started talking with another overlanding couple and, decided on the spot to join them for the Holiday. This involved driving three days to Lake Atitlán in Guatemala, where we celebrated with eight couples from eight different countries. We came together, shared our favorite dishes from home and shared stories until the early hours of the morning. Since then we have traveled on and off with these same overlanders.
The only regret we have is that both of us should have taken our Spanish lessons more seriously. Don’t get me wrong, we have made it a long way with our broken Spanish, but we completely miss out on being able to connect with locals on a deep and meaningful level. We have had to rely on our overlanding friends who speak fluent Spanish, or the grace of the locals with whom we are trying to communicate.
For those who dream of a trip like this, we have but one piece of advice for you... Do it! If we have learned one thing on this trip, it is that the world is continually changing and not always for the better. Experience it while you can, learn to explore and adventure will unfold at every turn, including learning a lot about yourself. If you are afraid of what lies beyond our borders, let us tell you that we feel just as safe on the road as we would in any national park in the United States. People south of the US border have been friendly, helpful and generous.
A major topic around the overland campfire is the issue of bribes. We do our research prior to entering a new country; we try our best to follow the letter of the law and are respectful to any officer that we come across. We are firm believers that being polite and giving a big smile are all you need, and of course the proper documents to get out of any situation bribe free. Early in our trip we had the pleasure to meet a couple that has been on the road since the early 90’s; the best advice I took away from our lengthy conversations was that the best tool you have in non-ideal situations is time. As an overlander you must be patient, and willing to go with the flow.
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Overland Expo West 2017 set up at a new venue just south of downtownFlagstaff - the Fort Tuthill County Park. We found ourselves balancing nostalgia for the rustic Mormon Lake site against the reality that Overland Expo outgrew its former home. Expo has become so much more than enthusiasts gathering to swap stories, tips, and skills.
The informal Texas Overland Facebook group was launched by several Toyota off-roaders from the Austin, TX area back in 2015. Since then, the group has grown as a rather popular movement with over 2,000 members. The Devereaux brothers, Andrew and Chris, along with friend Laud Maroney, organized the 2nd annual Texas Overland Spring Round Up event, which took place in April 2017. It was held on the scenic Palo Pinto County, Texas ranch owned by Martin Spencer, who also owns CB Adventure Supply. Registrants received an email containing the GPS coordinates to the campsite on the ranch.
When you walk into the machine shop you immediately notice large state-of-the-art CNC milling machines with plexiglass doors and humming away behind them the whirring of cutting bits and splashing lubricant turning someone’s idea into reality. The neat rows of shiny chunks of aluminum parts on rolling carts nearby. The plethora of milling and cutting bits organized on racks throughout the space. That unmistaken smell of amachine shop, the raw metal it transforms and its workers shuffling about from station to station, concept to completion. Even the shop dogs have their place sleeping to the sounds of ideas being born. Here is where Factor55 machines all its parts in Nampa, Idaho.
I wanted to upgrade the electrical on my 2006 4Runner since I was going to be adding some electronic upgrades that I knew would really tax the factory electrical system. I started with the heart of the system: the alternator. I ran some quick calculations to see what kind of power I would need to supply and size my wire accordingly. After doing some research and contacting a few companies, I decided on Mike Singer of Singer Alternators. His website is rather barren and he prefers it that way. He runs a smaller shop and he prefers customers contact him via the form on his website so he can address their individual needs properly.
The experiences, sights, and sounds of Lone Toyota Star Jamboree are forever engrained in the heads of the participants. The reddish-brown dirt is forever part of every truck that hit the trails. Deep in the piney woods of East Texas, this annual TLCA sanctioned event, affectionately referred to as Jambo, is held at the 1,850-acre Barnwell Mountain Recreation Area OHV park (BMRA). The event has gained in popularity due to the first-rate marketing, word-of-mouth, numerous trails, and massive raffle. Once again, Lone Star Toyota Jamboree broke an attendance record.
While our friends from Expedition Overland are exploring South America, they've been releasing a steady stream of videos covering a variety of subject. Their newest series is called "In The Shop", and they started off with an excellent vehicle: Clay's 2013 Supercharged Tacoma.
Another wonderful issue of amazing Toyota Adventure
From Overland Expo to Bears Ears National Monument, our spring issue is here!
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Overland Expo WEST 2017
New Mexico Enchanted Rim Trail
Manufacturer Profile: Factor 55
2017 Toyota Overlander List
Bears Ears National Monument
Texas Overland Adventure
High Performance Dual Battery Install
New & Noteworthy from Vintage Air & OEM Audio +
EPIC [FRAMED] Photos!
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