All posts by trailteam

Colorado 2019 – Part 2 – Bear!

In 2018, when the Trail Team came out to Ouray… We had scouted out an area for camping on the south side of town, up about halfway on the route out of town.  The spot had not been ideal for one camper in our group with an adventure trailer. (There’s a whole conversation we could have as a sidebar to this post)  The trail to the campsite had a few rough patches of rocks and some sharp elevation changes. This year, with the three 4Runner sans the adventure trailer, we again scouted the area upon arriving to Ouray.  The trail was actually kind of fun, and when we reached the camping area, we found 3 empty spots set beside each other, up against a creek in an empty mountainside valley.  

This new-to-us camp spot was ideal, as we were close to Ouray and all of the local mountain passes.  Ouray is called Little Switzerland for a reason, for a good chunk of the year, its surrounded by snow capped mountains.  In a typical late-June trip, we were going to have our pick of a half dozen mountain trails to head over to the surrounding communities of Telluride, Silverton and Lake City.  

As we setup, the three girls took a walk to large boulder that was about 150 yards away, sitting neatly in the grass near the edge of the woods.  This single rock was as big as a Large Airstream Camper. The girls climbed it and watched us setup camp from their perch. 

Two of us with tents setup on the ground while Don, found a level spot to park his truck to use his rooftop tent (RTT).  Don and I were carrying food prep supplies as well… So we unloaded his custom made “chuck box” and my cooking gear to make the trucks easier to deal with on the trails.  Lets be clear, the trucks could handle the weight of the cargo. What we could not handle being on the trail with all of our gear getting bouncing around and the endless rattles of pots, pans and cutlery!  

At our base-camp for the next three days, we started off every morning with homemade breakfast.  I don’t want to brag, but we made breakfasts that would rival anything we could cook at home. As we have done more and more of these trips, I would be lying if I didn’t say that we are getting more extravagant with our meal prep.  That’s not to say we have elaborate meals, but we are not scared to use real ingredients to get the job done. On a recent trip, two days out in the field, done fixed homemade biscuits and gravy using a dutch oven to cook the biscuits… And his skottle to cook the sausage and gravy.  

Our trip seemed to his a high note on day two when a visitor came close to camp after breakfast.  While cleaning up our breakfast, Sophie yelled “Bear”… We all looked at her with question marks over our heads…  “huh?” “Not possible” all of us Dad’s thought in unison. It wasn’t till she yelled it again that we took her word for it and started looking around.

Sure enough… Sophie had witnessed a decent sized brown bear crossing the pasture in front of our campsite.  He was actually terrifyingly close to the boulder the girls had been playing on that first night of camp setup.  The “what-ifs” start flashing through your head when you think about the vision of your kid being on that rock while a bear would have been way closer than us Dads!  No worries… This guy took a look at us and kept up scooting into the woods towards town.

Dear readers… A bear passing by camp is a bucket-list event.  We have been going out west for over 5 years now, and I have never seen a bear in the wild.  We have camped and driven all over Colorado! So, seeing one in the wild, near our campsite… Well, this is one for the folks back home… We will be telling them all the tales of the bear that visited camp!  (And we have!)

10 minutes later…  Those stories got a whole lot bigger!  Summer, was walking to the backside of the camp when she saw a big brown face looking at her from the blades of tall grass behind Jake’s tent.  It was a bear! Probably that same bear that was passing by a few minutes ago. She yelled! Several, short, shocked yells! The bear backed off and started walking away.  Summer’s yell was a whole different vibe than Sophie’s. Sophie’s had been a fun “hey looky” thing… Summer’s was more of a mortal fear blurt!

What happened next was pure Dad instinct or something…  Don, our California guy proceeded to yell in the loudest and biggest fashion I had ever witnessed.  He puffed up his chest and began a guttural yell that said I pretty sure was meant to freak the bear out.  “Go Away Bear” was the words coming out of his mouth… But it sounded as primal as a dog bark! In the meantime…  I grabbed some pans and followed Don with some banging. I know Jake was doing something as well… But I was transfixed on the location of the bear.  (Sorry Jake!) The bear proceeded to wander down to the stream and disappeared into the woods.  

When the excitement was over…  One thing was clear… The RTT was the preferred location to be when a bear shows up.  We had all three girls up in Don’s tent looking out the window at us. Nobody was taking sanctuary in a ground tent!  NOBODY!  

Was this guy hungry and ferocious…  And possibly looking to recreate a scene from the Revenant?  Not likely.  If you had to guess, this bear is probably closer to Yogi and BooBoo in his habits.  I am not denying the danger of a wild animal like a bear… But this guy was on a route.  The valley where we were staying was a series of camping spots that are probably used quite a bit during the summer season.  This bear, like a Midwestern raccoon, probably runs a route through the campsites looking for scraps that campers left in their fire rings or trash from careless campers.  It was probably no accident that he walked right up to our site. (Another opportunity for a conversation about Leave No Trace could be inserted here!)

This was day two of the trip…  We had to question whether leaving out all of cooking gear in the open was going to be a good idea today.  Again, we don’t want to drive the mountain passes with our gear… But we also don’t want items with the smell of fresh cooked breakfast laying around for the sensitive nostrils of the local wildlife.  What do you do? We cleaned up… Pulled all trash out and left our gear out in the open. If he was going to come back… He could really do whatever he wanted, regardless of how much of the campsite we pulled up.  Who’s to say he wouldn’t sniff something on a tent from a camp out years ago? (Again, more conversations about the dangers of eating in your tent, or sleeping in clothing that you have cooked in could be added.)

When we came back that night from our short day on the trail to Telluride (Part 3, coming soon-ish) the campsite was pitch black.  We turned into the campsite, looked the site over with our headlights, and found everything in order. It was doubtful that our new found friend had come back, or that any of his other friends had swung by.  A quick inspection verified the lack of wild animals frolicking in our tents or cooking  gear. That was a relief.  

I would be lying if I didn’t tell you that sleeping that night in my Cabella’s ground tent was done with a slight tinge of trepidation, knowing that a giant man eating bear with razor sharp claws could be plotting to eat my daughter and I alive during the night!  Exaggeration? Maybe. But when you hear creaks and snaps in the woods around your tent… You wonder what the intentions are of the beast that is making all that racket. Fortunately, we made it through the night with no incidents.  

Colorado 2019 – Part 1 – #3dads3daughters34runners

For the past few years we have made the trip to Ouray Colorado for FJ Summit or to be near the area to catch a bit of “Summit”.  FJ Summit is an annual event that brings in 300+ Toyota trucks to a little town in the middle of the San Juan Mountains of Colorado with some of the best mountain pass roads in the United States. 

This year… Complete madness at work had left me in a position where I was not sure I could plan a trip to the grand scale of years past.  Adding to the confusion… My kids were not cooperating either. One kid was graduating High School and the other had a social agenda that was hard pressed to spend time with “Dear ole Dad”.  

Never fear…  Other Trail Team trip members were making sure that something was going to happen this summer.  Three families were making plans with our without me being along for the ride. When the smoke cleared… Two Trail Team Dad’s, Don and Jake, had grabbed their daughters and started a trip to Ouray by way of the Rimrocker trail in Moab Utah.  If I hustled… I could meet up with them in Ouray for a long weekend of camping pre-FJ Summit.

When the time came to take flight and catch up with the others out in Colorado…  I was lucky enough to have my newly graduated Daughter along for the trip. We headed out early from Central Illinois to make the rendezvous for camping near Ouray.  Pekin to Denver is a 14 hour trip. Ouray is another 4 hours past that. We stopped in Denver after the first day of driving.  

There were a 100 different combinations of drivers, co-pilots and kids that could have shown up this year to Colorado.  Ironically… The other trucks, like me, had all come in 4Runners with their daughters. The trip could have just as well been 4 dads, 4 kids and 4 4runners…  On the 14 hour ride out to meet up with Jake and Don… It started to fall into place. Three Dads… Three Daughters…. And Three 4Runners. Serendipity? Kizmit?  Who knows. But it was a great trip vibe starting and a great tag for Instagram.

#3dads3daughters34runners

Stay tuned… More to come about this trip!

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.

GSMTR 2019 – The video

The official Fort’s Trail Team video for our trip down to Windrock Park in Tennessee for the Great Smokey Mountain Trail Ride.

Warning!  There are a few bad words in this!!!  Sorry!

We had a blast and made a lot of new friends… Be sure to read all about it on the previous post.

This version includes some music, enjoy the rockabilly tones of The Screaming Blue Messiahs.

The 8 Cent Trail Repair

Oh sure…. you are reading the headline, and are ready to call my bluff…. what can you get for 8 cents?

This past July while on our Colorado Expedition with the Trail Team, I developed a small problem.  It all started while making the trek to the top of Mosquito Pass. My 2010 4Runner, which has performed flawlessly across any obstacle I ever asked of it for the past 4 years, decided to get a little hot.  

Nearly ¾ of the way up the trail to the 13,185 foot pass…. I got a whiff of something hot.  Thank God I smelled it, because when I looked down at my dash I could see that my engine temp was a good 80% towards the top reading.  I quickly cranked up the heat on the truck and rolled down the windows. Within a minute, the temp started falling as I sat and idled.

This was a big shock to me…. The day before, I had been in gridlock traffic in Denver, and the temp was nearly 100 degrees.  Even with the AC blasting… I don’t recall seeing or smelling anything unusual. Before that, I had driven over 500 miles from central Illinois.  

With the heat on and the windows open, I was able to creep up to the top of the Pass.  We took pictures of the trucks in the caravan and I popped the hood. I was dreading a low coolant level, as I was not sure if this probably had been going on without me noticing.  The coolant was completely full in the overflow. That was a great sign. I kept the heat rolling for the trip back down…. by the time we hit the halfway down mark…. I was in the clear.

The mechanics and educated drivers out there probably know what happened.  After some inspection later when the engine cooled off…. Our “Trail Tech”, Dustin,  found that the cooling fan was spinning freely at the end of the crank. Unlike cars, thr 4Runner does not have electric fans at the radiator.  The viscous fan clutch fully engages when the temperature in the engine increases. From what we could tell…. This fan was idling at a lower speed even when hot, thus. not removing heat from engine as quickly as designed.  Low 4 climbing with its higher RPMs and the the higher altitude had created a bad mixture that led to my hot temps on the Pass.

Now…. what to do about it?  The nearest Toyota dealer on our route was in Montrose.  We gave them a call and found they did not have a part on hand.  But, they were willing to expedite one that could be in sometime the next day.  That sounded pretty good, but a call to Autozone gave us better news…. They could have it by noon, guaranteed.  We ordered the autozone part and prepared for a repair the next day. We could get into why I didn’t get the manufacturer part…  But as a dealer, I know that the possibility of not getting a part exists in this neck of the woods. We have the luxury of getting parts nearly within hours in Central Illinois… Whereas these dealers in the western states have to have parts dispatched out of Dallas Tx and rely on FedEx.

Ah-hah!  We busted you Eric, this repair was more than 8 cents!  Yes, but you have to read on… This is not the repair in question.

The part arrived on time to Montrose.  We grabbed the box and headed to our campsite in Ouray looking over the town.  For the next 90 minutes we proceeded to make repairs. In order to make this happen, we decided that pulling the shroud and taking off a radiator hose would make it easier.  This called for some improvisation. Coolant is not something we take lightly to spilling, so we ended up making a funnel out of camp tin-foil in order to direct the flow into a catch bucket.  

From past experience, I have been witness to aftermarket parts that do not look the same as their factory counterparts. This visual helps me understand why I am  paying more for OEM. This fan clutch is no exception. The ribbed heat diffusers on the Autozone part are a much smaller surface area than the factory part. You have to wonder if it can do the same job.  When we made a turn on the shaft by hand to feel the tension in this new part versus the factory part… It was obvious that this new part was working correctly. The old part was nearly “free-wheeling”. We were feeling much better about the diagnosis.

We had the new part secured and installed pretty quickly.  After that, we reinstalled the shroud and topped off the coolant with the fluid we removed.  It all looked great. It sounded great as well. If you have heard the difference in an engaged fan clutch versus one not working…It becomes audibly obvious.  Unfortunately, its a sound you become tone deaf too as it slowly fails. After idling… We took another look. Hmmm… Something didn’t look right. The fan blades appeared to be a little closer to the engine than we remember.  So much so that they were eerily close to the black rubber hoses coming off the front of the engine. Coolant hoses. We had spun the fan blade and inspected the clearance. It was not much. 1 to 2mm?

1 to 2mm might be spec?  Hard to say looking at it while making a repair at 9000 feet where we were camped.  We fired up the truck… It looked fine. I drove around the campground and we made more inspections.  All clear.

The next day, we headed up to another trailhead to make a new campsite.  After we had that done, I took another quick look at the fan. Better safe than sorry right?  My worst fear had started showing itself. The hoses had probably expanded a bit when we moved the new campsite that morning.  In doing so, they had started making contact with the fan blade. You could see the smallest trace of black debri and dust on the fan.  

This is where the OEM part would have been far superior.  This Autozone part was probably made to Toyota SPEC… But it was shorter than the factory part.  

Our options included:

Gambling and hoping that it will be ok?  (Never the best option)

Cut off parts of the fan blades that are rubbing?  (That plastic is hard!)

Remove the inner hose and chop it down about a quarter inch?  (Would require a lot more coolant being handled)

Shim the part from autozone?  (Might create a balance issue for the fan)

Our “Trail Tech”, Dustin, came up with a better idea.  The fan can be removed from the new clutch… We could attempt to shim it at the front.  While that sounded great… We were pretty far removed from town. We started looking for washers or some way to space out these bolts.  It couldn’t be anything too big, as we had limited threads to work with. We were at the point of removing bolts from the expedition trailer when Dustin started asking for loose change.  Coins? There was not a vending machine for miles, what was he up too?

He started with 4 pennies.  4 pennies stacked in a vice grip and drilled with a small bit turned into 4 perfectly matched washers.  After taking a look at the end results.. We decided that another 4 cents would probably give us a bit of insurance.  Everyone dug through their cupholders. (For folks worried about defamation of currency, see link at end of the article)

We figured out that draining the coolant was not completely necessary to make the repair a second time…  We loosened up the fan shroud and installed 2 pennies on each bolt holding the fan to the clutch. The end result pulled the fan away from the hoses that were risking being ruptured.

Upon firing up the truck…  We could see that we were free and clear.  Disaster averted!

For just 8 cents we had improved the Autozone part, and it would handle the rest of our trip without incident.  

This is the third time we have seen a fan clutch fail on the trail.  One time we witnessed it on the trails at Southern Cruiser Crawl. Altitude was not an issue…  But a mud soaked radiator and low speeds with a high idle are just as potent of a mix. A second time, while only 4 miles into the Mojave Road.  Both of those previous times, we had to grab an aftermarket part.

I would like to tell you that there is an interval that you should start paying attention to the replacement on this item… But we have seen it on new and old trucks alike.  I would recommend at 100,000 miles that you pay attention to the sound of the fan and keep an eye on the coolant temp whenever you are in a high engine temp situation. I would also recommend cleaning your radiator out vigorously after any wheeling trip…  A dirty radiator can enhance this problem.

Unfortunately, since we don’t use L4 until we are at the trailhead, you may not know till you have a problem until that moment you are looking to have a little fun with your truck.  

 

Post Script:

I had taken some pictures of the repair in action… And a few people quickly became concerned that posting the pictures may put us in a position of an illegal operation.  Currency mutilation. It was a fair question as none of us are experts in currency laws!

I did some research and found various statutes and legal speak.  The most common concern was regarding the machines at tourist attractions that smash a penny into a souvenir.  

What we can take from the law is this.  If you deface these coins and then attempt to parlay them into a transaction… You are breaking the law.  You should not mutilate currency and then try to spend it. That would be illegal.

https://www.parkpennies.com/pressed-penny/are-penny-press-machines-legal.htm