Breaking Camp – Day 3 – Mojave Road

The third and final day on the Mojave Road trail was an idyllic morning.  I had woken up around 6AM and could feel the presence of peaceful air from inside by ground tent.  Not a breath of wind was to be heard and the brightness on the outside of the tent meant that there must not have been many clouds either.  I unzipped by door shade and revealed the cloudless, crystal clear blue sky that I was hoping for.  

I unzipped the door and let the cool air flow into my tent.  It was so quiet and perfect that I curled back up into my sleeping bag and dozed off for a bit longer.  

It was brisk, 50 degrees or slightly better.  But experience told me that a few hours later we would be up to the mid 70’s.  Today being our last day on the trail meant a small breakfast, a few hour drive to the end of the road near Zzyzx.  To this point on the trail, I had been wearing jeans/pants and boots for the uncertainty of the trail. What if something went wrong?  I can’t be recovering a truck in sandals! 

This morning had all the signs that it was time to relax.  I put on the one pair of shorts I had packed and pulled out the Sanuk flip flops and pretended today was a beach day.   The morning was uneventful. I broke camp and took down my tent, sleeping pad and cot in a slow pace as to make sure everything was packed correctly for the ride home.  I then took the portable toilet setup and headed off a few hundred steps to have a relaxing view of the landscape. I parked the seat up near some black volcanic rocks that had some old coyote holes burrowed into them.  We had scouted them before, and they appeared empty.  

Everything was right with the world…  Until it walked into camp… A Tarantula

The day before when we arrived at camp, one of the other campers, Mike, had been out looking for the hairy spider lairs.  We found holes in the ground that might have been the home to giant arachnids. Don, our resident desert expert said with some authority that the Tarantulas were not going to be active during our visit.  This was enough affirmation for me… Nothing to worry about here.  

Well…  Our new friend with 8 legs wasn’t listening to Don.  This 4″ or 5” spider was gingerly walking into the middle of camp.  He appeared out of nowhere under a truck and then started heading towards our fire-ring.  We took a few pictures of the guy as he was moving along. He did seem to be at a slow pace because of the temps.  As he was halfway across camp… Orin, another of our campers, used a small stick to interfere with his route. The spider didn’t care for this one bit.  I swear that he jumped 2 feet and started hustling his pace.   

I don’t know what happened to our spider from that point forward…   I stopped caring about him and started thinking about self preservation.  Immediately, I looked down and my flip-flopped feet and bare legs and realized that I might be unprepared for more spiders.  I turned back to the open field behind the campsite in fear that I be looking upon view from the film “Kingdom of the Spiders” or “Arachnophobia”.  Wave upon wave a newly awoken Tarantulas crawling out of their beds to visit our band of squatters set up in their territory. Nothing yet… But they could be preparing a calculated raid.

I then started thinking back over the morning… I had slept with an open door to the desert…  I had been on my knees in the sand rolling up my tent and bedding materials… My open air bathroom visit earlier was also fraught with peril as I had not been looking over my shoulder at any point during the day.  There were countless opportunities for a hundred spiders to have murdered me in the Mojave.  

As it turned out… We only had one tarantula visit our camp (that we know of).  But this was enough for me to realize that jeans, boots and some form of Kevlar are your best protection out in the desert.  Also, I don’t know if we have a snake bite or spider bit kit… But it might be something to pack for future trips!

Mojave Breakdown, Our Lucky Day?

When you are driving 1000’s of miles… Even in a newer car… You have to be ready to deal with a sudden failure.   We drive Toyota’s for a reason…  More reliability on or off the road no matter where we go.  But even with the best of odds, you can have a one small problem turn into something that will ruin the best laid plans.

This last trip our west had us dealing with a fluke event.  A 2017 TRD Edition 4Runner started leaking oil while on the way to Mojave California. 

Somewhere outside of Kingman Arizona…  Libbie started smelling burning oil while driving her 4Runner.  We stopped our three car caravan to check and see what it was.   At first glance… It would have appeared to have been the oil filter housing.  The leak was all over the skid plate and the engine was soaked behind the filter.  Immediately, we were ready to blame the guy who changed the oil last.  (I can tell you as the service manager that I was seeing red!)

With the TRD Skid on, the filter is nearly impossible to reach.  I was able to touch it from the passenger side, and did not feel anything out of order.   The oil was still topped off, so the decision was made to try and get to a town with a quick lube or any service station that could get us in to check the filter.  We hit the road again.

After a few miles of being in the chase vehicle to keep an eye on the situation…  Oil spatter was covering my windshield.  I used the three wipers and it just smeared oil all over my FJ.  We pulled over again and this time found an area where we would remove the skid plate ourselves and check the filter tightness.

After getting everything pulled apart… It did not appear to be the filter.  But honestly, I am not a tech.  I was pretty sure it was something else but felt better with a second opinion.  I called our Master Tech, James, and asked for remote assistance!

With the help of pictures and videos…  James and I deduced that the leak was coming from the oil pressure sender on the side of the engine…  Right above some coolant lines that run near the filter housing.

This was a fresh leak, and it was doubtful it had been doing it for very long.

We called the local truck repair shop at our exit, they said they did not work on smaller trucks like this, but referred us to a shop called ADAN in Kingman Arizona.  We called them and explained what was going on.   They said to “come on over.”  This was already going better than expected.

As we pulled out… I saw what I can only describe as a “gypsy” sitting on the curb with a gas can.  She looked to be 100 pounds.  I thought she might be hiding from the law with the giant sunglasses and wig she was wearing.  Her kids were decked out in footy pajamas and looked like they had been sleeping on the desert floor all night.   And their van… Oh my…  It was something.  An older Chevy conversion van with handwritten messages of “love everyone” and “peace” told a story of spending lots of days and nights at gas stations!

I asked her if she needed money for gas.  (She was holding a gas can)  She said “yes”.  I said “I need all the Karma I can get” as I handed her a ten dollar bill, she said something unintelligible and took the money.  I like to think it was a Gypsy blessing.  Because luck was starting to fall into place.

As we pulled into Kingman… I was getting bigger puffs of hot oil smoke and I knew that we could not keep up a drive with this truck spitting out more and more.   While on the road, I called the local O’Rielly Auto Parts store and told them what I needed.   An oil pressure sender for a 4.0L Toyota is not a common repair item in our shop… I was praying that the store would have one, or be able to refer me to where to get it.  Even so, if I had to drive to another town… We may have been looking at three plus hours for a return trip with the part.  Nothing is close in Arizona.

O’Rielly had one!  I told the others to head to repair shop with the truck while I headed for the part.  Once in the store, I inspected the “sender” and verified it was correct.  (Believe it or not… Sometimes parts stores say they have something… And its not correct!  Shocking right? )

My Gypsy luck was holding.

ADAN had checked in the truck and was getting ready to lift if when I pulled in.  They were very firm about a $100.00 rack fee and said they would not be responsible if my diagnosis was wrong.  We were just fine with those terms.  The techs at ADAN went to work on the repair.

An oil pressure sender is something that could be done with the small amount of tools we had in convoy, but it was much easier to do on the lift in a shop.  The $100 fee was a small price to pay versus doing it ourselves on hot Arizona pavement.

We started the truck after the repair.  No leaks.

We ended up being 2 hours late to our meeting point with another truck outside Ft Mojave later that day.  But, the alternative was far worse.  2 hours is small potatoes when weighed against getting a hotel room and being stranded.

Some say you make your luck.  Traveling with tools, experienced staff and having a master tech one phone call away dampen the chances of failure on the road.  I still say a little old fashioned luck never hurts and I’ll thank the Gypsy for her help as well.