Categories
Overlanding

Making the Best of it

Our lunch spot for the day.

Sometimes, adventures don’t turn out the way you planned. Sometimes, whole new adventures appear when one slips away. That happened to us this weekend. We set out to go to a National Forest in Huntsville that was reported to be open (including a phone call to them confirming their being open) to ride our mountain bikes. There are lots of trails and wooded areas we were looking forward to riding through.

When we arrived, however, we found the gate chained. Not to be deterred, we drove down the road some more and found another park, but this one was closed for day-use and restricted to RV overnight use only. Running out of options, we found a boat launch that had a nice long wooded road that we were able to set up our lunch at. We opened up the awning, pulled out our food, and had a lovely time looking at Lake Livingston and watching some people catch fish. I rode my bike for just a little bit to stretch my legs, but the day’s trip turned more into driving than riding bikes.

The awning is getting a lot of use!

The highlight of the trip for me wasn’t the beautiful and scenic views or listening to the birds chirp. It was when my wife told me on our way back home that when I first told her I wanted to get a 4Runner to go off-roading and do overlanding, she was skeptical and wasn’t enthusiastic about it. She said she preferred hotels and wine trails over the outdoors. But then COVID-19 changed everything, and the types of places she likes to go to were unavailable, yet she still wanted to get out of the house. She said that the 4Runner has really opened up the world to us, and it allowed us to go out and do things we otherwise would have been unable to do. She is now enthusiastic about picnics, camping, off-reading, and she even bought two Tucktec kayaks for us!

I knew I’d enjoy having a 4Runner, but I didn’t realize how dramatically it would change our view on adventuring and how my wife and I spend our spare time together. I am looking forward to going on wine trails and staying at bed and breakfasts in the future, but now we also have the option of camping, going off-road, and seeing things that wouldn’t be possible in the old sedan.

Categories
Overlanding

Off-Road Adventures: Matagorda Beach, Texas

This photo makes it look like I’m on a sliver of land, but it wasn’t nearly this perilous.

This past weekend, my wife and I took some time to get out of the house and socially distance in the Gunship (our 4Runner). We drove from Houston down to Galveston and then went West along the coast until Freeport. From there, we went inland and then back down toward Matagorda. Once there, we went to a public-access beach area that was open and allowing vehicles to drive on the sand. This gave me an opportunity to put the Gunship into 4WD (4-Hi) and go through some soft sand. I didn’t air down, and fortunately I didn’t need to. The sand was soft and I did have to make sure to keep momentum and speed up, but the 4Runner made it through without nary an issue.

My feet were in the water to get this photo; we were very close to the inlet.

We ended up stopping for a picnic lunch close to an inlet to the inland waterway that extends along the entire Gulf Coast and then up the East Coast. The weather was very windy, and I was worried that our Yakima Slim Shady awning wouldn’t be able to handle it, but I was wrong. I was able to use the anchors (long tent poles) that came with the awning and they held in the sand just fine.

These cattle provided a soundtrack to our lunch.

Our lunch was delicious, and the views were amazing. We watched a herd of cattle on Matagorda Island, just across the inlet, wandering, mooing, and even getting into the water to cool themselves. We watched a squall line pass to the North of us, and fortunately miss us with its downpour. After eating our lunch, we drove straight up back to Houston. I then took time to wash the Gunship off and make sure that all the salty sand was off the underside while cleaning off the 400+ dead “Love Bugs” from the front-facing surfaces of the vehicle. I made it just in time; drops of rain started falling the moment I pulled the Gunship into the garage.

Texas weather sometimes provides some beautiful sky for photos.

This is the second time I’ve been able to take the 4Runner out and get off-road, and it was thoroughly enjoyable. Even my wife, who was rather skeptical of going off-roading and of me getting a 4WD vehicle, has admitted she’s enjoying our adventures. I look forward to far more as more parks open and we return to a semblance of normalcy after the COVID-19 pandemic winds down.

Categories
Overlanding

X-Bull Recovery Board Mounting System

Gunship with the X-Bull recovery boards mounted on the Sherpa Equipment Co. Crestone roof rack.

My son gave me some X-Bull Recovery Boards (also known as Recovery Tracks) for Christmas, and I was very happy and grateful to receive them. I plan on doing a lot of four-wheeling and overlanding, and I want to be prepared for soft ground. Recovery boards help get you unstuck quickly. The problem with these recovery boards, however, is that it’s impossible to find any mounting system for them. There are lots of folks online who have found ways to make their own mounts, but they are, frankly, not nearly as professional looking or sturdy as I’d like for my vehicle.

I was talking to my son about the lack of mounting solutions when he remembered that his best friend from junior high school’s family owned a hot rod custom shop nearby. He contacted his friend who told us to come on by.

Some of Bruce’s private collection of classic hot rods.

We drove to Bruce’s Rod Shop in Spring, TX where we met with Danny who gave us a tour of the shop, the showroom, and the facilities. We got to see many really net hot rods including one that was stolen by Bonnie and Clyde during their robbery spree through East Texas.

This Ford was stolen by Bonnie and Clyde and used in a bank robbery.

After the tour, Danny asked me what exactly I was looking for. I showed him the X-Bull recovery boards and the mounting holes. I showed him the mount that I purchased that turned out to not work due to the bolts not lining up with the holes in the board, and he said, “Give me a few minutes.” He disappeared into his office and within about 5 minutes came back out with a sheet of paper with a printed image of a mount on it. “Will this do?” I said, “Absolutely!” He told me to come back Monday afternoon and he’d have them done for me.

Monday afternoon came, and I drove over to Bruce’s Rod Shop. Danny was just finishing up the first mount. It was amazing. I then got to watch the second mount being made in the CNC machine, milled from a solid piece of half-inch thick aluminum. Once he was done with both, I paid for mine and went home to mount it to my Sherpa Equipment Co. Crestone rack.

I ended up mounting them on the driver’s side rear portion of the roof rack. In this location, it will be easy to get to by standing on the Shrockworks rock slider and up onto the driver’s side rear tire. They screwed in very easily and the boards mounted flawlessly. They are on the rack very solidly, and I have no worries about them moving or coming loose. Oh, and they look great, too!

Danny at Bruce’s Rod Shop told me that he can make these for anyone interested. He can customize it as necessary for different boards, different bolts, etc. Give him a call at 281-376-5932. Please tell him E.J. (me) sent you.

Categories
Overlanding

How to Up Your Grocery Game with Rago Fabrications and S-Biners

When I installed the Rago Fabrications shelf into the back of my 4Runner, I wanted to find something to replicate the functionality of the grocery hooks I had in the back of my Audi and VW Passat before it. These hooks would pop out of the top of the trunk and hold bags to keep them from rolling around on the way home from the store.

The cargo area of my 4Runner with the Rago Fabrication panels and shelf installed.

The Rago Fabrications shelf is a great item to organize the back area of the 4Runner, and it attaches easily to the Rago Storage panels on either side of the cargo area. I attached my shelf a little lower than the instructions specify, but that’s the beauty of the system; you can raise or lower the shelf as needed (it’s not a quick process, but it is relatively easy). However, I didn’t want to install the shelf so low that it would negatively impact the usable space of the cargo area, but I wanted to have some kind of hook to hang grocery bags from.

The S-Biner.

I thought of using carabiners, but settled on the S-Biner. The S-Biner is a perfect fit for easily putting plastic bags onto while hanging from the Rago shelf. It keeps the bags from rolling around, while leaving the floor of the cargo area available for the heavier items that won’t roll around or be damaged if they do.

Provisions for two weeks fit in nicely with S-Biners and the Rago Fabrications storage system.

We kid about our “Mall crawlers,” but most vehicles are used as daily drivers, only going off-road for 10% of their operational time (or less). Most of us will find ourselves getting groceries more often than on a trail, and while it’s cool to make our vehicles more capable off-road, it’s also important to make our vehicles more capable of their daily duties. This is one small modification that improves our vehicles for daily use as well as Overlanding. The S-Biners can be used for hanging other small bags and items from the Rago Fabrications shelf. They are quick and easy to use, and they are very strong.

The one down-side of using S-Biners with plastic shopping bags, however, is that there is a small indentation on the inside of the body of the S-Biner which allows the clip to lock in which always catches on the plastic bag handles when I try to remove them. I think that if these were solid, it would make taking bags off the clips much easier, but I do understand why they are designed this way. I may modify my S-Biners to get rid of these cuts, but I haven’t thought much yet about how I will do this.

All in all, the Rago Fabrications shelf coupled with the S-Biners makes for an ultra-useful modification to the cargo area of any 4Runner.

Categories
Overlanding

Sherpa Equipment Co. Crestone Roof Rack

It finally happened: the Crestone roof rack I ordered from Sherpa Equipment Co. arrived on Monday! I put it mostly together (front, middle, and rear cross bars only to make it easier to lift and maneuver) and with my son’s help, we got it mounted to the roof of my 4Runner.

Gunship on the grass for a beauty shot.

The build itself was very easy and straight-forward. The directions (available at Sherpa Equipment Co.’s website) are easily downloaded and printed, and as long as you follow the directions, it will assemble quickly and easily.

If you’re like me, however, and gloss over some key points that are clearly made in the directions, you will make mounting it more difficult on yourself. You see, I missed an important note about the front and back mounts being different, and I had reversed them on one side. I stood there scratching my head wondering what was wrong when my son asked me if I was sure I put the right mounts in the right location. He read the directions and wanted to make sure I read them, too. I told him that I did read them, but he was incredulous that I paid attention when reading, so he double-checked my work and found the error. Once corrected, the rack was mounted to the roof of Gunship within 5 minutes.

After the rack was mounted on the roof, I installed the remaining cross bars evenly spaced and left the cross bar that would be placed over the moon roof off until I need it. It wouldn’t hinder the operation of the moon roof at all, but I just prefer the clearer view.

My 4Runner, “Gunship,” with the awning mounted firmly.

Two days later, the awning mounts from Sherpa Equipment Co. arrived, and I quickly mounted my Yakima Slim Shady awning to the passenger side of Gunship. My wife, who has been somewhat skeptical about how fun this 4Runner could be, immediately said we should go for a picnic this weekend under the awning somewhere out in the country where we can be socially distanced and out in the open. She also said she likes the look of the rack on Gunship better than the OEM roof rack. I can’t agree more.

From the front. Such a pretty rig.

The Crestone rack is made specifically for 5th Generation 4Runners, and is all-aluminum with stainless steel hardware. I opted for the all-black bolts and hardware, and I really like how it looks. The construction is very sturdy. The cuts are clean, and the powder coating of the side and front wind deflector is very good.

Why the Sherpa Equipment Co. Crestone Roof Rack?

There are lots of other roof racks to consider, and I spent weeks researching all the available options out there and settled on the Sherpa Equipment Co. Crestone for the following reasons:

  • Quality and reputation. Everything I’ve read, seen, and heard about Sherpa Equipment Co. praised the craftsmanship and quality of their product.
  • Configurable mounting via slots for mounting cross bars. This is unique to the Crestone from Sherpa Equipment Co., and was actually a very strong selling point for me.
  • Solid construction. The sides are thicker than most, and even has handles cut into the sides to help climb up on the rock sliders or rear tire to get stuff on or off the rack.
  • No-drill full rack. There are no modifications necessary to the vehicle, and it uses the factory mounting points.
  • Rubber mounting to the roof has better waterproofing than alternatives.
  • Upgradeable. If I decide to get a light bar or lights later, it’s very easy to add a different wind deflector with cut-outs available from Sherpa Equipment Co.

Final Thoughts

Of all the racks available on the market, I personally believe that the Crestone roof rack from Sherpa Equipment Co. is an excellent value, is structurally well-designed, well-built, and looks great. It’s configurability and modularity makes it adapt to any load situation you can throw at it without having to make painful and permanent modifications to your rig. While I didn’t factor cost into my decision, it’s reasonably priced, and in-line with the competition. However, with it’s superior features, I feel that it’s a bargain at its price.

I hate shooting photos on cloudy days. The sky looks so boring.

Features

From Sherpa Equipment Co.‘s website:

DESIGNED FOR: 2010-2020 TOYOTA 4RUNNER
PRODUCT DIMENSIONS: 95”X47-1/2”X2”*
CROSSBAR DIMENSIONS: 1”X2”X 47”
LOAD RATING: 300 LBS. DYNAMIC || 700 LBS. STATIC
NUMBER OF CROSSBARS: 9
OVERALL WEIGHT: 51 LBS.

Categories
Overlanding

Accessorizing the 4Runner

My 2020 Army Green 4Runner TRD Pro in the driveway.

I realized today that while some of the changes I’m making to the Gunship can be considered mods, most are just accessories. So, in a sense, I’m accessorizing.

I ordered a ladder from Baja Racks, and it will arrive next week. I will be out of town, so the mounting of it will have to wait until next weekend. I also received a bottle jack last night which promptly went into the back of the rig.

As I was putting the bottle jack in, I realized just how many accessories I’ve purchased for the Gunship and I haven’t listed, so I’m in the process of creating a page on my blog where I will list all the mods, accessories, and supplies that I’ve purchased and links to them. I might even get creative and make an image map with clickable locations (like on the rock sliders, the hatch ladder, roof rack, etc).

So, what accessories are on your 4Runner or off-roader? What accessories are you looking at getting?

Categories
Overlanding

Ordered More Parts

Sherpa Equipment Co. awning mounting brackets

I was thinking about how I’m going to mount items to my Sherpa Equipment Company roof rack when it arrives (in a few months… ugh!), and I realized that the mounting hardware for my awning is made for round tubes. I needed to get an attaching mount for the Sherpa, so I went to their website and found accessories for the roof rack.

“Smileys!”

I also ended up purchasing two sets of “Smileys” which can be used to attach slings and straps to keep cargo tied down, and I also purchased two accessory boards with aid in attaching Rotopax and recovery boards (of which I have both).

Accessory boards. These will allow easy mounting of additional stuff.

The hilarious part is that the accessories will likely arrive far before the roof rack does. That’s okay; at least I’ll be completely ready to go to assemble my roof layout before putting it on my Gunship which will make it easier to try different layouts.

Overlanding isn’t cheap, but I’m adopting the mindset of, “Buy once, cry once.” Everything I’ve been buying so far has been high-quality and made to last, most of which have lifetime warranties. I can’t wait to start putting this stuff to good use!

Categories
Overlanding

Jacks, Jack Stands, and Lifting

Jack stands aren’t visible here due to lighting.

I went to Harbor Freight to purchase a jack and jack stand last night. Sure, I could have ordered on Amazon, and I could have bought some brand name stuff (which, in some cases, I absolutely prefer), but I’ve come to respect the higher-end tools and equipment Harbor Freight sells based on reviews, and personal experience.

I picked out a jack and jack stands based on features and price, and got them home. My son looked at the jack and jack stands and started smiling. “Umm, I don’t think these will work for your rig,” he said. I looked at the stuff I bought, and I looked over at my 4Runner, and I knew exactly what he was talking about. The jack stands were too short, and the jack would likely be unable to lift a tire off the ground lifting from the frame.

We tested the jack; sure enough, it didn’t lift high enough. I had to take the jack back and exchange it for the most expensive jack they had which lifted to 24”. When I got it home, we tested it, and sure enough, it can get the tires off the ground. I wanted to get a new jack stand, but they were all out. I’ll likely pick up a pair on Amazon. As for the jack stands I bought, my son kept them and paid me for them. He needed a set for his project car, and the set I bought are really nice and light-weight.

When purchasing jacks and jack stands for 4WD vehicles, you have to take into consideration not only the weight and lifting method (frame, jack point, etc), but also the height of your vehicle prior to lifting. You should make sure that the jack has enough lifting ability to get your vehicle off the ground enough to change a tire.

As for any jack operations, you should always use wheel chocks and jack stands. NEVER go under any vehicle without a jack stand. Hydraulic and mechanical jacks can fail with fatal consequences. Jack stands should be rated for the weight of the vehicle, at a minimum, and more is always better than less.

Categories
Overlanding

Today’s Motivation

Gunship

I went out and took this photo today in an open field near my home. I took my fancy DSLR to get some really high-res photos, but the lens wasn’t cooperating. Either that, or the camera body isn’t recognizing aperture changes on the lens. Either way, I had to revert to using my iPhone 11 Pro, and while the DSLR takes better photos, these ended up really nice.

Categories
Overlanding

Apex Overland Recovery Points

My “Gunship” with Apex Overland Recovery Points mounted (visible at the sides of the TRD skid plate)

This afternoon, I finally had a chance to mount my Apex Overland recovery points onto my 2020 4Runner TRD Pro. The process was pretty simple once I figured out how to make the anti-sway bar fall way from the frame.

This is the first mod I actually purchased for my 4Runner back in December, three months before I took delivery of the Gunship. I knew I wanted them, as I plan on going off-road, and I knew that the factory tie-down points were not strong enough to safely recover the vehicle if necessary. These are a great option for those who don’t want to mount a full or partial steel bumper onto their vehicles. Since I don’t intend to put an aftermarket bumper on my 4Runner anytime soon, these will fit the bill nicely.

Mounting them was easy.

1. Place wheel chocks in front of and behind a wheel to keep the vehicle from rolling.
2. Loosen the bolts that hold the anti-sway bar mount in-place.
3. Jack up the vehicle, but only enough to allow there to be a 1/2” gap between the sway bar and the frame.
4. Remove the bolt from a bracket above the factory tie-down point.
5. Remove sticker over a threaded hole in the frame directly above the factory tie-down point.
6. Place the Apex Overland recovery point and thread in a bolt to hold it in place.
7. Thread all bolts in but do not tighten completely.
8. Lower vehicle and tighten all bolts.

Repeat for the opposite side (exactly the same process).

All in all, it’s a very easy mod, and one that can make the difference between a successful recovery and damaging your vehicle. More importantly, the chances of the recovery point coming away from the vehicle is far less than the chances of the factory tie-down coming off the frame which can result in serious bodily harm or death.