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China and Platinum; an adventure to celebrate 20 years!

China and Platinum; an adventure to celebrate 20 years!

It’s hard to imagine that it’s been twenty years since Alana and I vowed to love and cherish one another for eternity, but it has. In an effort to not sound overly sappy (I can be), I’ll just say I feel very blessed to have found a partner so early in life that has not only been willing to put up with my crap but appears to be willing to continue doing so! 😛

For several years Alana and I have planned to be remarried by Elvis, an alien, or something silly in Las Vegas for our 20th anniversary. Earlier this year we started to make those plans a reality. Somewhere along the way we realized we were about to put a whole lot of money out for a long weekend to Vegas. Now, this wasn’t so much the issue, but rather our only plans that didn’t involve getting pretty far away from the city was the silly wedding redo that would take all of a couple hours. So, it wasn’t long before we set our sights a little more central to where we actually wanted to spend our time…. we were headed to northern Arizona!

As many of you know, we aren’t scared to put in some windshield time for a long weekend of exploring. This said, the 27 hours from our home to the hotel was a little too much travel for a 4-day weekend, so this exploration was going to be a bit different. We decided to fly in and get a rental car. There was a fair amount of deliberation on rental type as we are darn near incapable of staying on paved roads and, in-spite of the fact we ultimately went for a convertible car, this trip would be no different.

 

Luckily, between our VERY early departure from home and with us gaining time as we traveled west, we arrived in Phoenix with darn near a full day yet to enjoy. Alana planned to make full use of this and, after a quick pit stop to get lots of water and sunscreen, we were headed north into the Tonto National Forest where she had planned a little buggy time!

 

Unfortunately, Alana has never been overly good at handling heat and, with her not drinking as much as she should on the flight to avoid extra pit stops, it wasn’t long until the 111 degree heat got to her and we had to take a break. She came around pretty quickly once she got the hot helmet off of her head and a cooling towel on. About the time she started joking with me I knew I was in the clear to grab the camera and take some pictures of the sights from where we stopped.

 

With it being several klicks to the hotel and Alana already pushing her heat tolerance, we decided to put the top up, crank the air conditioning and meander our way in that direction pretty promptly after completing the buggy ride. This really worked out as we were feeling the time shift a bit and had to get up really early again for the next day’s plans.

 

There are many things about popular social media I don’t like, some I do. I put a fair amount of time in on Instagram trolling pages and finding new places to put on the bucket list and this is one thing I LOVE. On this day, we would be knocking a few Instafamous spots off the list. The first being Antelope Canyon.

Antelope Canyon just barely clings to Arizona and is located just south of the Utah line and to the east of the town Page. There are two sections, the upper and lower, each are overseen by separate families of the local Navajo. We were visiting the lower canyon. Both are products of rapid sandstone erosion and you can literally see where water churns and swirls through the area after heavy rainfall. When it’s dry, the caverns offer amazing sights as colors reflect off of the walls creating interesting shadows and textures.

 

The Wolf, The Monkey, and The Chief… (Alana says this sounds like the start of a bad joke. :razz:)

 

I know it sounds cliche, but as hard as I worked to capture the beauty of this place, pictures really can’t do it justice.

Once our tour of the canyon was done we decided to hit up a few other cool spots that are near this area. The first was the Glen Canyon Dam that creates Lake Powell.

 

Then, before the day’s heat got too out of control, we headed over to Horseshoe Bend which requires a little hike to see. While not even a mile, you are either going up or down the whole time and the fairly deep powdery sand makes it far more work than one would think. There is a pretty big reward for doing it though!

 

After getting back to the car we were on the back half of the day, so we set our sights back to the hotel for showers and a night on the town.

The colors that are present in Arizona always amaze me. In an hour drive you are likely to experience temperature swings in excess of 25 degrees and literally every color of the rainbow in the landscape. You will go through cactus filled deserts, pine filled forests, and rocky landscapes galore. All set below an amazingly blue sky.

 

I’m not sure how one ever would, but if you do find the landscape a bit boring, there is always the abandoned structures that are often covered in “art”.

 

The following morning we were up and at’em early again (still mostly on east coast time) and had our sight set on the Grand Canyon. With as much getting around as we have done, this spot has eluded us and we were about to rectify that.

True to form, we diverted from the pavement a bit and opted for a long cut through part of the Coconino National Forest.

 

I won’t lie, I was a little apprehensive about continuing after we passed a “Primitive Road” sign, but we rolled on. We figured what the heck, we had darn near a full tank of gas and could always turn around right!? In truth, we never did really travel over anything too crazy, but the fact that we were in a fairly low, rear-wheel drive, sports car kept me fairly attentive to the road.

 

The dirt and gravel continued for about 20 miles beyond the sign where we finally popped out on a road that was mostly paved.

 

This road wandered along a ridge and through the forest for a fair amount of time before pointing us toward Williams which happens to be on Route 66. How could we not indulge in this?

 

Having spent far more time in Williams and on Route 66 than we planned, we put more effort into actually making it to the Grand Canyon. Then, when we were about 30 miles out, we passed a billboard for helicopter tours. That was all I needed…. and after some sweet-talking Alana, we were standing at the Grand Canyon Airport in no time buying tickets. 😛 It seemed our first views of the Grand Canyon would be by air!

 

Once back on the ground, we decided to head into the park and out toward the Desert View Watchtower to work our way west. This way we would be turning right into the viewing spots. Before we got there we stopped off at the Tusayan Ruin. It was cool but we were itching to move along so we didn’t stay too long.

 

Luckily, the Watchtower was literally just around the corner so it wasn’t long before we were stopped again. I must say, the views were pretty amazing. But I must admit, it was very hazy out and it was very difficult to get decent pictures as a result. I won’t lie…. I used a lot of camera trickery and built in filters to try to find a winning picture that wasn’t so clouded.

 

As we continued along the canyon the haze continued to build and, as we neared the end, it was difficult to see the other side. Before this however, I spotted a lone Agave plant atop a ledge and really dug it’s yellow and green coloring with the pinkish/red rock in the background.

 

Just a few more pictures before we wrapped up the day.

 

…and almost as quickly as it began, our weekend was largely over. We still had one more day, but most of it would be spent flying home and giving those three hours up that we gained on the way out. We were treated to a very nice sunset on our way back to the hotel.

 

 

….If you are looking for a little humor…. Here are the top songs from the year we got married 😛

KL Cherokee Lift – A Second Look

KL Cherokee Lift – A Second Look

It’s hard to believe it’s been just over a year and nearly 17k miles since we installed the first lift on Klondike.

If you remember that install write-up (See it again HERE), you will recall that we decided to order and try a Hazard Sky AD2 lift. Upon receipt of this initial lift, we were slightly disappointed with a few things and offered some criticism. It seems the owner of Hazard Sky caught wind of these criticisms and, rather than getting upset, he simply (and quietly) improved the offering.

Today, there are several options when ordering a KL Cherokee lift or leveling kit from Hazard Sky. Whether you have a Trailhawk or any other type of KL Cherokee, there is a lift option available. Beyond the original UHMW (that is now water-jet cut), you can also select aluminum as a spacer material.

While everything has worked rather well for us with our original lift, we haven’t been completely suspension issue free either. The lift itself has been great! It’s keeping a decent alignment that has been an issue and, honestly, this has nothing to do with the lift. While dealing with the alignment issues and when we knew we were in need of another alignment anyway (again not related to the lift), we decided to take another look at the latest Hazard Sky AD2+ lift and give it a review, achieving just a bit more lift in the process.

Initial impressions of the new lift were good. The packaging is more than adequate for the contents and it’s hard to imagine shipping damage rendering it beyond use.

 

Upon opening the packaging I was relieved to see a very nice set of instructions right at the top. While we don’t really need them, we did give them a thorough read and review and feel they are very clear and detailed. It’s nice to see the extra cost put into color pictures. We know this isn’t cheap, but small black-and-white pictures that are all too common on manufacturer instructions are largely useless and leave the installer running to the internet with cruddy hands for clarity.

There really isn’t much to this lift. 4 spacers for the rear, a couple bolts for the front, a temporary jig for the front, and that’s it. Also in the box is a nice little sticker!

 

For the install, we began with the front. As with the initial install, the toughest part is opening/relocating the hole in the strut for the bolt that clamps the knuckle in place. I have seen where many are opting to simply remove this tab altogether rather than deal with opening up this hole. While we can see this as an easier approach, we personally like it there to ensure the toe stays in the ballpark. Below, you can see the material that needed to be removed. Because it was splitting the hole we knew drilling wouldn’t go well. So, this time we used a carbide deburr and a pneumatic die grinder to whittle away the material for bolt clearance.

 

The little jig that Hazard Sky provides really does make setting the front height pretty easy. One thing we’ve noticed is that the radius of the jig doesn’t perfectly match the strut, but it still works just fine. The deburr made pretty quick work of opening the hole and before long the bolts were in, torqued and front was done.

Moving to the rear:

Our original lift that we purchased from Hazard Sky was for an AD2. However, we ended up making our own spacer for the upper spring perch for a few reasons. The spacer we made caused the rear lift to be more like an AD1. Here is a picture of the old spacers (left) alongside the new ones (right).

 

The rear actually went a little easier than the last time we did this. I think this was likely due to some softening of the arm bushings. We also have some new spring compressors that work a little better than our old set. The bottom-line is, about 30 minutes after we began, both the front and rear were done and we were ready to set Klondike back down on the ground.

We worked really hard to get the before and after picture seen below. You can’t see any of it in the picture, but we taped and marked the floor for both the Jeep and camera to do our best to get everything back in exactly the same spot and from the same perspective. Still, the front isn’t represented as well in the after picture as in reality. Keep in mind, this isn’t a before and after from no lift to a lift, this is from an early version of the HS lift to the current AD2+ lift.

 

Now, a little more on the alignment issue. You may remember that we were actually out of spec a little bit after our initial lift install. To compound this, we had trouble holding a decent alignment. While we are still troubleshooting this a bit… We took our Jeep to the dealer for an alignment. What I am sure of is that our previous alignments were not done to current specs and the bolts were not torqued correctly. The bottom line is that we now have not only a totally in spec alignment, but its all darn near nominal. 😛

In summary:

We were pretty happy with our original Hazard Sky lift. While we did have some constructive remarks on it, it is priced very fairly when compared to other lifts on the market for the KL Cherokees. Hazard Sky has improved their products over the last year and they are still VERY well priced. What’s not to like?

For more information on Hazard Sky, please visit their website HERE.

For more information on our initial install write-up you can see it HERE.

Topless for Tatas 9

Topless for Tatas 9

Topless for TATAs is a non-profit 501(c)3 that raises awareness and funds for breast cancer research. While active throughout the year at various events and venues, TFT hosts an annual offroading event at Rausch Creek Off-Road Park in Pennsylvania. The first event was in 2009 with 65 participating Jeeps but it has rapidly grown from there and now sells out to over 500 jeeps in just weeks. In 2015, TFT boosted attendance to mark the 7th anniversary of the event and raised nearly $38k in doing so. This money was donated directly to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation (BCRF).

Our first time ever visiting Rausch Creek was to attend TFT5 in 2013. It was here we became hooked on both the event and park. This year we decided to get a little more involved with the event by being trail guides. As you can imagine, with so many Jeeps lots are needed. We left the level of trails we would guide up to the event organizers but lucked into running Blacks. (The park rates it’s trails by colors: Green being the easiest, followed by Blue, Black and ending at Red for the most difficult). While we have ran many of the Red trails, it was nice to take it a bit easier and back off a bit as guides.

Our group was a mix of participants and sponsors. Some of whom we knew and others began as strangers and ended as friends by the end of the first day.

Since many groups get fixated with trails that have cool names, we decided to play most of the weekend a bit differently and stick largely to the numbered black trails. The first of which was trail 5 which has a nice little drop-off obstacle almost immediately after starting it. Here is a pic of us nearing that spot.

 

Our friends Chad and Sam were behind us for most of the day. Their “2XtheCJ” has become pretty recognizable and you will likely remember seeing pictures of it if you’ve been following us for any length of time.

 

I think Jeff, who followed Chad all day, ultimately formed both a love and hate relationship with Chad’s 4BT Cummins powered rig and its exhaust…. But hey, at least he never had to worry about mosquito bites!

 

It’s tough to get pictures, spot, and work recovery gear when needed. I try my best, but sometimes action is simply missed. This was the case with our line-up as I missed a decent picture of Brian who was following Jeff. I was back on track though with Dave who tried a little bit of a different line. While he didn’t make the drop totally under his own power, this line did at least allow him to stay off the hook and he only needed a little rock to resolve the “turtling” all us with “school bus” JKUs had done previously.

 

Next up was one of the event sponsors, Jason who was representing Spiderwebshade. He opted to spot his wife on yet another line to avoid the drop altogether.

 

For the most part, avoiding the drop became the theme for all of the remaining rigs who were associated with JMG Designs, another event sponsor. Without this obstacle in play, we were rolling pretty quickly and I needed to get back in the Jeep to move on. Sadly, this meant no more pictures from here.

 

In spite of the fact that the Topless For TATAs trail is largely a blue trail, we felt it was an important one to run during the event. We simply made the most out of all the black offshoots and hills.  It was one of these small hills that Chad decided to try a rather interesting line on. Beyond the pretty spectacular flex everyone achieved, it was pretty amazing to see his 134″ wheelbase make a turn that not even the 2-doors were able to pull off without a rock or reverse.

 

After completing the TFT trail, we decided to dive into Cemetery. It was just feet into the trail where Chad’s behemoth came to an abrupt stop. Luckily, wire and parts were on hand to make a quick patch/repair and we were moving again in no time.

 

Cemetery is a fairly short trail. This said, for a long time it was our favorite. This changed a few years ago when the park had to deal with some logging that literally destroyed this area. The main portion of Cemetery used to be red with a blue trail that ran along side it and worked as a bypass. Sadly, this blue bypass was totally ruined by the logging and, shortly thereafter, the red portion was stacked out with rocks from the blue portion to the point it was derated to black. It was nice to see that some of the smaller trees have filled out and are returning some shade to this trail.

 

You may notice that our line-up has changed in the picture below. Unfortunately, Brian’s rig suffered a cracked weld or two on the front track bar bracket and a poorly functioning steering gear early on and he made the safe call to call it quits while his Jeep was still functioning well enough to get back to the lot and home.

 

Our plan was to head over to Boot Hill next but we got tied up in some traffic and, after reviewing the radar, we decided to try to beat the oncoming storm and head up to the festivities and raffle instead. This proved to be a good call as we just barely got settled prior to the rain.

The raffle was awesome (as always), but we were pretty quick to bed afterwards to rest up for the following day.

We initially thought we would have a pretty large group for day two, but at least one of the members of the JMG crew was not feeling very well and missed joining us at staging prior to our group’s release. We had hoped to rejoin them once they arrived but that never seemed to pan out. With that said, we decided to start Sunday a little deeper in the park on trail 16. This is a pretty neat trail but for some reason it doesn’t seem to get a lot of action.

 

Sorry for the redundancy with Dirty here, but with the missing JMG Jeeps we were down to just a trio and were rolling too fast through the trails for me to get many other pictures.

 

In fact, I was only able to snag one more pic of Chad and Sam as we wrapped up 16 and headed to 13.

 

Tackling 13 was pretty smooth and brisk… Before we knew it we were headed into 20, which we had decided would wrap up our day and event. We weren’t that deep into 20 though when we came across some stopped rigs. After a quick check on them to see if we could help, opted to take 15 out while heading toward the parking lot. It looked like they were going to be a while and we didn’t feel like waiting.

The picture below is the last we would take of the event.

 

We’d like to give a shout out to all the people that work to put this event on and the sponsors. Thank you so much! Next year will be TFT10! We can’t wait to rejoin the trail guide team and be a part of it!

For more information on Topless For TATAs visit toplessfortatas.com. You can also follow them on Facebook and Instagram. For more information on Rausch Creek Off-Road Park visit their website HERE.

 

Dirty gets new shoes!

Dirty gets new shoes!

This post is a little late, but we’ve been pretty busy prepping for our overlanding trip so time has been scarce. You may be wondering why Dirty is getting the love when the plan is to use Klondike for this trip… Well, there are a few reasons but the largest being we return from our overlanding trip for only a few days and then head out for Topless for Tatas 9 in Dirty. With laundry and gear to repack, we need her ready. Second, we had a scare with Klondike and were worried she might not be able to make the trip. Thankfully that has passed, but we still wanted Dirty ready in case she needs to step up and bail her sister out.

The very first thing that needed attention was the tires. The 37″ Goodyear MTRs we have ran on Dirty for the past ~2.5 years have been absolutely amazing. They have seen about 32k miles of fairly regular and hard use. They have been across the country several times and not only performed well on the trail but the pavement as well. Still, there is some room for improvement and one of them is in the sidewalls. The MTRs don’t have an overly aggressive tread on the side of the tire and this leaves them vulnerable to sidewall damage. In our case, the small cuts and chunks of missing rubber leave us uneasy with the often long interstate travel we have between destinations. With that said, what started as a tire cleaning and inspection resulted in the last time these MTRs would be mounted on Dirty.

 

Here is where things get interesting… We knew this time was coming and really wanted to try the Maxxis RAZR MTs. So much so, we reached out to Maxxis to discuss our uses and see if we could work together. Maxxis was interested in us using/testing their tires and after some paperwork, we were “sponsored”. We are not talking about full on sponsorship here, but rather we just have access to their tires at a discounted rate. In trade, we would review the tires, provide some media pictures, and of course, run their logo. Unfortunately, once the pricing was evaluated there was still far too much of a gap in tire cost to justify running them. We were literally able to go to a local tire shop and get 37×13.50r17 Cooper STT Pro tires mounted, Road-Force balanced, tax and everything for less than our tire purchase price from Maxxis. With shipping and mounting/balancing still to be added, running the RAZR MTs would mean spending nearly $80 more per tire and we couldn’t swing it.

With 5 Cooper STT Pro tires on order we went to work on a few other things I’ve had on the “to-do” list.

The first was something I’ve wanted to do ever since Poison Spyder came out with their body mounted tire carrier. We love our aluminum Genright tire carrier, but adjusting it for an easy open/close is kinda tricky. I’ve long thought it would be pretty easy and worth it to add an eccentric washer to the upper bolt and a jack screw to allow similar adjusting to the Poison Spyder and I finally put that idea into fruition. I gotta’ say…. It works GREAT!

 

Another thing that I’ve been needing to do ever since we got the Fox Shocks was make a little tweak to the rear sway bar. Dirty has a lot of down travel and the result is the sway links not being long enough to accommodate this. The thing is, if the links get any longer they will hit the brake lines that are along the frame at full stuff. The simple fix is just to lower the sway bar a bit and a $6 block of aluminum I ordered to fab some spacers did the trick.

 

Since Dirty was on the lift, I put Road Runner to work on transporting the new shoes. This ended up being pretty funny looking. The hitch shelf thing we have is made for the Jeeps that have a much higher hitch mounting point. When you compound this with the soft springs the 4-Runner has, she was sagging butt pretty bad all the way home!

 

Once the tires were home it wasn’t long before we had them on and, I have to say, the little bit of beef that was added by the inch of tire width is pretty nice looking! 😛

 

 

 

With the new rubber on, I wanted to verify the ball joints were still in good shape as I thought I found a little movement on the last inspection. Luckily, they are just fine… Unfortunately, the movement was in the unit bearing, so we have one of those on the way, and hopefully a maintenance write-up on the swap will follow. Honestly, the latter will come down to time. It’s WAY faster to just do the job versus taking video and/or pictures for a write-up, but we will see.

 

 

Backroads and Abandoned Awesomeness

Backroads and Abandoned Awesomeness

We’ve got lots to do before our big overlanding trip, but with this weekend’s amazing weather we just couldn’t focus on it and had to get out of the house for some exploring. We weren’t really sure what we wanted to do so we geared ourselves up for a potential hike, but also packed Klondike for some dirt work should we find ourselves way off the beaten path. After typing some GPS coordinates into the navigation to get us close, we were off!

The destination was the Zaleski State Forest and surrounding area, but we decided to start south of there a bit by the Vinton Furnace State Forest and explore our way north(ish).

It didn’t take us very long before we were winding our way along tree covered roads without another soul to be seen or heard. Almost as soon as we found our zen, we stumbled upon an abandoned tunnel.

 

Initially we thought we would explore it by foot, but visibility inside the tunnel quickly diminished to a point where we were unsure of our steps. So, after checking the depth of the mud hole at the entrance of the tunnel, we decided to nose Klondike in to shed some light on things!

 

After walking around a bit in the light and getting our feet good and covered in mud, we decided the path looked clear for Klondike to make the distance and, since we were dying to know what was on the other side, we did just that!

 

The picture above doesn’t really do justice to the length. I’m not certain, but I’d put it close to 900 feet long in all.

 

Once out the other side and with GPS signal regained, we realized we had essentially cut through the hill and were right back on the same road we’d left that took the long way around. This is our kind of shortcut!

After a short jaunt on pavement, we took a turn on some gravel. It was on gravel or dirt that we would spend most of our time for the remainder of the day. Alana and I love these rural roads and, while we love the scenery that often accompanies them and captivates us, Kegan often grabs a nap as he is put to sleep by the sounds of gravel under the tires. We are never sure if we should wake him or not… We see where it’s kind of boring for a teen so we typically don’t press the issue and are just happy he is hanging with us.

 

Since we had already stumbled upon one abandoned tunnel, we decided to make our way over toward the Moonville Tunnel which was nearby. It has been nearly 20 years since we were last there and we were curious how it was holding up.

 

Thankfully, the tunnel itself seems to be holding up pretty well. It’s biggest nemesis being vandals over father time. It is for this reason we are intentionally being a bit vague on the location of our first tunnel.  So many of these amazing spots are damaged by people which results in either closure or gating to prevent exploration. When we find something that has been relatively untouched we tend to protect it more and leave it for others to discover as we did.

 

Shortly after leaving the Moonville Tunnel we took a small track off the main road. It turned out that it lead to the old Moonville Cemetery. I know some think it’s a bit morbid, but we like visiting old cemeteries. Alana and I like to look for the old dates and wonder what life was like for them… What did they do? What was their life like?

I know this picture isn’t clear enough to read, but in person the dates are 14?? – 150? That’s right, this person was laid to rest here over 500 years ago! This is by far the oldest date we have ever read. In fact, we wonder if this headstone was replaced at some time as it’s usually on headstones of the early to mid 1700s where they become too weathered to read. Being that this date is precolonial and this person would’ve lived during Columbus’ voyage that landed him here, we studied it very carefully and are quite certain of the numbers. We can only wonder if this person was an early explorer from Europe or perhaps someone with Viking heritage (who explored North America from 1000-1200)? With the name portion of the headstone now missing, that’s all we are left to do…wonder…

 

After a quick snack, we were back in Klondike and stirring up dust.

 

We found some pretty amazing and remote roads, but nothing quite as neat as what had already been discovered. While there were some nice tracks that shot off to destinations unknown, they were often accompanied by a locked gate or “No Trespassing” sign which we always respect.

 

This is a major difference when exploring east of the Mississippi as compared to west of it (generally speaking). When we make our way out west it is generally accepted that you can explore and be just about anywhere unless it is posted otherwise. There are lots of public land and it’s uses are not nearly as restricted in the east. While the “law” still works the same way, actual land use is fairly challenging as many feel it should be considered trespassing unless signed you CAN be there. Even roads that are on county or township maps are regularly blocked by local land owners for their personal use and not much is done about it.

This has long been the way things work though and this picture shows that better than words ever could.

 

These roads are so infrequently traveled that you never know what you may stumble across. Case in point, being this downed tree we came across. While we worked to pull the tree clear so we could get by (which took about an hour and is an entirely different story), we didn’t see another car or person.

 

Between Klondike’s light weight and the way this tree fell, we ended up having to reposition and use a snatch-block for a better pull angle. This one is Alana scoping out the dog that showed up to watch the show.

 

Having gotten all sweaty clearing the road, we decided to make a lazy way for home. The road we took back toward pavement was pretty nice and ran along some marsh land for over a mile. I won’t lie, the road and land had a very southern feel to it.

 

…and just like that, we were home and prepping for our return to work and those responsibilities the day had distracted us from.

We hope you enjoyed!

Road Runner gets her first mod!

Road Runner gets her first mod!

It might seem pretty trivial, but a mod is a mod! 😛

Tonight we added a splash of color to Road Runner and we couldn’t be happier! The orange made the blue pop a bunch and with it being vinyl it will be an easy removal should it be needed.

Bonus points if you can pick out what else we did 😉 😈

Klondike finally gets a PTU skid!

Klondike finally gets a PTU skid!

Long ago when we first evaluated Klondike’s belly we noticed the PTU was left rather exposed. Since the independent suspension often means the best ground clearance is right down the middle of the vehicle, the PTU’s location there meant we needed some protection on it for when we attempt straddling rocks and logs.

Since the KL Cherokee remains largely unsupported by aftermarket part manufacturers, this means we had to break out the welder and metal and get fabricating. Luckily the PTU has some extra holes on the casting that allow for the mounting. This said, they are not really suited for taking much of a hit so my plan was to try to keep the skid as tight as possible on the PTU (touching) so the PTU itself still handles the weight of the vehicle, but the steel protects the soft aluminum from the abrasion of impacts.

Here are a few shots of the mounting holes I would be using. As luck would have it a 5/16″ bolt works perfectly in these holes.

A few of these hole location uses were fairly straight forward. The trickiest by far to use wad the two staggered ones on the front of the PTU. I knew all along it would mean making some sort of tab and drilling and tapping some threads for the bolt but just decided to wing it and start with bending up the main skid.

I honestly thought this part of the job (bending of the main skid) would be pretty easy, but it took FAR more time than I had anticipated. It seemed as simple as the idea of this skid was, the practice of making it was far more involved. I had anticipated a few hours for this project but it took the better part of the day. The bigger bummer to this is I had hoped to be able to take notes to share with others and maybe even make a few at one time, but this just wasn’t practical.

So, after a bunch of bending, tweaking, grinding, and welding, I had the bulk of the skid made up. The main lower skid is 3/16″ plate, the locker actuator and connector is protected by some slightly lighter material but I was working with what I had in the shop.

I am fairly happy with how it turned out. I did end up adding another piece to the driver side after these pictures, but this is pretty much it all fabbed up.

The front mounting did prove to be the most cantankerous. I was able to weld a nut to the plate for one mounting hole location, but the other did need a fancy little tab.

 

This is the side where I added the additional side skirt. The plate I used was barely wide enough and I wanted just a bit more coverage.

 

After I added this piece, it was time for some paint. I’ve had a can of hammered silver in the shop for some time. It’s the paint we used on the cage we had in Lil-Punkin’ (our 2-dr JK). I can’t see a need for it and, since this paint is more about rust protection than anything else, it seemed like a good time to make use of this paint.

 

There you have it… All painted up and mounted hopefully it will do the job!

I know some other KL Cherokee owners that are likely looking for more coverage. I can even see where this looks like I haven’t added much but in reality, the other bits are fairly hard to get to. I’m not saying it’s impossible, but if something is in there, we have other issues and it’s time to break out the recovery gear and Maxtrax.

As I mentioned, I had hoped to make a few of these and/or provide drawings, but once I set out making this it turned into more of a one-off project. Even if I had been able to do this, I’m not sure the hole locations are good enough to rely on.

HELLO Road Runner

HELLO Road Runner

For those of you that know us personally, you likely know that this has been coming for quite some time. For those that only follow the Seven Slot Syndicate blog or other social media stuff, it may come as quite a surprise that our next project vehicle is a Toyota.

There are lots of reasons for this, but the largest is the fact that it wasn’t until very recently that Jeep reintroduced a fleet vehicle package. This is why my last company car was also not a Jeep… With the 4-Runner’s high residual value (similar to the Jeep Wrangler), and Toyota having a fleet offering the decision was pretty clear. The 4-Runner suits our personal uses very well, and was the most bang for the buck.

Additionally, (this may be tough for many die-hard Jeeple to read) Jeep doesn’t really have a vehicle that is well suited for overlanding. Stay with me here; The Wrangler is great on the trail and it’s pretty easy to build it up, but it’s horribly lacking when it comes to storage and gear space. This lack of storage space hold true in about every model, with the possible exception being the Grand Cherokee. While I love the Grand Cherokee, it’s not overly supported by aftermarket and is a little too fancy for us to want to push it into the deep woods and be miles off the grid with. What Jeep desperately needs is a full framed larger capacity SUV or small truck. I know Jeep is finally working on the latter, but Toyota has had this for years and if you can put aside some Jeep arrogance they are pretty good at it.

I know for many of you I’m pushing the word count, so check out the video below which is a quick run-down of Road Runner….

 

If you are still with me and are interested in a mit more info and thoughts, I’ll break it down for you! ~ 😛

Driving & Handling

The 4-Runner’s general road manners are very similar to a stock JKU. Steering is light and very responsive. My initial thoughts on the suspension was that it was quite firm, but this seems to be settling in and softening and with ~1400 miles now on it is very nice. While some bumps and holes on the interstate are more harsh than in Klondike, washboards and gravel roads seem to be vastly smoother.

All in all, I really like how the 4-Runner drives. If I were to make any complaint in this area it would be directed at the brakes. They are certainly capable of stopping… but the pedal is VERY touchy. I am finding it very difficult to make smooth stops. An issue worsened after a drive in Dirty that really could use a bit more braking power.

The engine performance is adequate, but nothing amazing. I can see why it is recommended by many to do a gear swap when running more than a 33″ tire. In truth, I think it could use a bit more gearing stock.

Economy

So far, it’s far better than I had imagined… I’m averaging between 19.8 and 21.3 MPG with a mix of highway and city (slightly biased toward highway). On one rural road commute (60 MPH) I saw as high as 23 and change.

Given this and the fuel capacity, I am seeing real world ranges north of 400 miles. Another HUGE advantage when it comes to overlanding.

I’ll also point out that this is the first vehicle I have ever been in that it’s calculated versus my measures fuel economy actually matched! If anything, The vehicle’s average has been 0.1 MPG less. Every Jeep I have ever owned or driven lied about it’s economy, always reporting better than actual.

Interior and Storage

As I mentioned in the video and to put it simply, it’s amazing! From legroom to cargo space, it’s all plentiful.

While this may skirt more on tech… It is a total bummer that all of the rear accessory outlets are only powered while the ignition is on. When it comes to travel and overlanding, this is one that goes to Jeep. Our Wrangler came from the factory with full time powered accessory outlets, and the Cherokee only needed a fuse location swap to accommodate this. I haven’t fully investigated this, but I think I will need to run a new power source entirely for the Yota.

Seat comfort is not as good as either of our Jeeps, but it’s not bad either. I was able to make a 5 hour drive comfortably. It did take some fiddling with the seat adjustments to get here though.

Technology

Tech is where The 4-Runner is VERY lacking. It’s not that it’s bad, but it’s very outdated. I’ve had trouble getting my bluetooth to work correctly, and general phone integration (even when it is working) is nowhere near that of our Cherokee which is a year older (models released at the same time).

The Navigation seems to work well, but the screen on my phone is larger and there is almost too much information packed into the display. This causes far more “eyes off the road” time than I would like. I do really like the ability to add things like fuel stops and food to the view though. This helps be see where things are when I dive off an exit ramp for a quick stop.

 

Beyond the phone and bluetooth issues, everything else seems to work very well. Even things like the cruise control lever that seemed like a total afterthought to me at first has turned out to be the most functional and easy to use controls I have ever had on any vehicle.

 

I’m sure I’m missing some things, so please feel free to comment or send us an ask on anything. We are always completely honest about our thoughts and never sugar coat anything.

Hopefully you are excited to watch this build!

2017 Jeep Compass REVIEW (Walk Around)

2017 Jeep Compass REVIEW (Walk Around)

While I was at the dealership having some updates done on Klondike, I took a look at the new Jeep Compass. I was fairly impressed with it as a mild adventure and largely small family commuter, but it does lack some things that would keep me from tackling much more than an easy forestry road.

Interested in more? Check out this video of my walk around and thoughts.

 

All-in-all, I kinda dig it….. What do you think?

2017 Bantam Jeep Heritage Festival

2017 Bantam Jeep Heritage Festival

For the last few years Alana and I have made it out to the Bantam Jeep Heritage Festival in one capacity or another. This year was no different and we were happy to rejoin the on-site trail team and assist as a trail guides with both Dirty and Klondike. While Bantam has a lot to offer any type of Jeeper or Jeeping interest, it’s the trails where we have the most fun.

While this likely doesn’t come as much of a surprise to many of you, the reasoning might… Alana and I truly love reliving those moments when new off-roaders are not sure about their Jeep’s (or even their) ability to make it over or through an obstacle. We also LOVE to meet and chat with fellow Jeepers. If you were in line when I was supposed to be doing tire and Jeep checks, this was likely evident as I tended to talk and shoot the breeze far longer than I should have given my task at hand. 😛

We tended to assist beyond our assigned volunteering hours which was fun for us but did mean less pictures than previous years. Still, we did make our way over to the vendor and show-and-shine area mid-Saturday to visit and check out the awesome Jeeps on display.

This is where I spotted a row of flat fenders, each reminiscent of their military heritage and features we still love in today’s Jeep offerings.

 

These were hardly the only Jeeps to capture our attention and hearts. There were lots of relatively forgotten models on display. Some looked like they were coaxed back to life for the event after years of rest in a barn somewhere, while others had obviously lived more pampered lives.

 

I spent quite a bit of time eyeing this old FC. There is a big part of me that would love to turn one of these into an overlanding rig but the trouble is I either find one that is in too good of shape for me to feel comfortable modifying it or one that is too far gone to serve as a decent foundation. This one has already found a loving owner that plans to resurrect it to its former glory.

 

Alana, on the other hand, is lobbying for a J-series project like this J-10. I must admit I think it would work better for lots of reasons, but they seem to be gaining popularity like the Wagoneers and are becoming increasingly difficult to find for fair prices.

 

Speaking of Waggies…. How about this old “Cherokee” trimmed one that someone seems to already be breathing an overlanding life into?  This trim is where the name “Cherokee” began and, in spite of the fact that many XJ groupies now claim it as being sacrilege on anything else, especially today’s KL based ride, it was the 1974 SJ Wagoneer that wore it first.

 

It wasn’t all fun and games in the show-and-shine lot… It seems this very nice CJ got into a street fight with a deer somewhere between the Festival and the Friday night Invasion in town. We didn’t get to talk with the owners about it, but is seems they are in decent spirits about the event and hopefully everyone is okay.

 

As I mentioned early on, most of our time was spent assisting the Rausch Creek team at the on-site trails. This is us staging Sunday morning. Note: Klondike can be camera shy at times and was hiding a bit.  😆

 

I wouldn’t spend much time behind the wheel on Sunday and put in most of my time spotting/helping by foot on the black trail. I thought this would offer an opportunity to get more pictures, but the “on-foot” part turned out to be more running from spot to spot than I was comfortable doing with the new camera around my neck so it only lasted for one group.

Here is one of Troy, another Ohioan, working over the first batch of small rocks as they entered the trail.

 

The black trail featured a series of down-hills this year and I was able to catch one of the participants as they made their way down one of the lesser grade hills. This may not seem like much when you look at a picture after the fact, but I can tell you that if feels pretty crazy when you are in the Jeep and looking over the hood at nothing!

 

Here is another participant and member of that group as they made their way toward some rock piles that were nestled in a muddy valley.

 

Speaking of rocks in that muddy valley…. even the guide needs a spot every now and then… but it’s all part of the fun right!?!? 😛

 

I know you are expecting more and, if you compare to all the pictures I took at last year’s event (which you can see HERE), it isn’t much. But, we were vendors last year and were able to sneak away for more pictures than we could this year.

I know this may be a bit of a bummer for you followers, but I must say it was a pretty fun year for us. Unfortunately, this meant little opportunity for picture taking. 🙁