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A look at trailer life with the Jackwagon Basecamp. – The one quality I appreciate most about a manufacturer, beyond making a good product, is their willingness to listen to customer feedback and continually improve the product based on that feedback. Jackwagon Off-Road is just that kind of company: when we returned the first trailer JR spent the afternoon chatting with us about our ideas. A week later he invited us to swing by and check out the new improvements. You already know how we feel about towing the Basecamp—here’s our take on packing and camping with this nimble and versatile trailer. Packing the Basecamp As mentioned previously, the cargo hold of the trailer is cavernous. We opted to pack as the name suggests: with a full set of oversized “basecamp” gear, plus two full sets of backpacking gear for an overnight hike away from the trailer. The basecamp gear consisted of: one huge cabin tent, two winter-weight sleeping bags, two camp mattresses, two ARB camp chairs, eight-foot camp table, dual-burner stove, full kitchen kit (in a Pelican 1550), cast-iron cookware, lanterns, and the “expedition” sized medical kit (in another Pelican 1550). The backpacking kit consisted of two full sets of: Nemo two-person backpacking tents, Nemo backpacking sleeping bags and pads, lightweight JetBoil-based kitchen kits, and a few pouches of dehydrated food. Sure, we didn’t have actual backpacks handy, but you get the point: all this gear filled just over half of the cargo hold. In it’s stock configuration the Basecamp features a simple twist-lock rail down each side for securing cargo. While it works well enough, I much preferred the optional L-track system, or the super beefy E-track option pictured above (rated for 6,000 pounds). If your cargo leaves a mess, the trailer also features a drain hole for easy clean-up. While it seems like a no-brainer, Jackwagon is the first manufacturer to offer this feature. Up front on the cooler rack we added a large cooler. We also tossed yet another Pelican 1550 (filled with charcoal and lighter fluid) next to the cooler, but a few bundles of firewood would fit much better here. Generous spacing between the floor and the frame allows for drainage, and easy lashing of cargo to the frame rails. Optionally, the cooler rack can be bordered with L-track. Our Hi-Lift and shovel tuck in neatly below the full-size spare tire. The tent bars bolt onto the sturdy reinforcement of the lid, and can handle even the largest trailer-top tents. Optionally, tie-downs can be… BASECAMPED
Life with Living Overland’s clever plug-and-play 12-Volt Overland H2O System – The debate over stand-alone jerrycans versus integrated RV-style water systems has raged on since the first time a family went overland. Cans offer all the rugged reliability you could want and are easy to transfer from vehicle to vehicle, but lugging a full can out of the truck at each campsite is a pain. On-board water is the ultimate in convenience, but rough terrain can cause leaks and flood your interior or worse: leave you with no water. What if you could have your cake and eat it too? Living Overland’s 12-Volt Overland H2O System aims to provide just that. The Overland H2O System is available as a pre-assembled drop-in unit or as a DIY kit. The latter option is a good choice if you like to tinker or have any intention of customizing the setup (Anderson 12-volt connection, different style water tank, etc). I’m glad Beau sent us the DIY kit version, because popping a pre-assembled unit onto a jerrycan and saying “Look, running water!” would not have made for an informative evaluation. Yes, the completed assembly is really that easy to use. First up in building the kit is reading over the directions, then slicing off part of your beloved Scepter’s lid to make way for the faucet. The rest of the process reads like a Daft Punk song: drill it, tap it, splice it, solder it, heat it, thread it, fit it, fill it and in about an hour the assembly is ready for testing. I had doubts, but the grommet/wire combo seals quite well and passed the 5-gallons-upside-down-for-30-seconds test drip free. It’s a good idea to add a little silicone when you thread the faucet into the lid, especially if the hole wasn’t tapped cleanly. The finished product is ready for kitchen duty as quickly as flipping the faucet over and plugging it into a power point. The faucet folds nearly flat for travel, and transfers from can to can as easily as swapping lids. While the exposed faucet hardware does make the system a little more fragile than a regular can, that shouldn’t be a problem if you’ve properly strapped in your 45-pound can of water. The variable-speed Whale pump used in this system has plenty of pressure at over two gallons per minute, and at full-tilt will empty a can in just over two minutes. As a bonus, it also has a low enough draw to run directly off a 30-watt solar panel (at a slightly slower speed). Find the 12-Volt Overland H2O System in DIY kit or… Water System in a Can
We spent an evening zipping, latching, clipping, and weathering out a storm in the biggest and baddest Tepui available. – I’ve never been a fan of rooftop tents, and frankly, I’m still not. Oh they’re an excellent solution in an area where wildlife is a concern, but I’ve always preferred either the stealth afforded by a ground tent or the warmth of a hard-walled camper. I suppose that’s why this review was handed to me—disliking the general concept means I have no bias toward or against any particular manufacturer’s tent. Tepui is an example of a manufacturer that listens: they’ve done a great job accepting customer feedback over the years, and answering that feedback with a continually improving product line. The Kukenam XL Ruggedized is one such creation, its feature list reads like the wishlist from a certain forum thread. If my feelings on the matter of roof tents ever change the Ruggedized line of Tepui tents will be on my short list. The Kukenam XL Ruggedized is no lightweight. It’s a massive tent that weighs in at over 200 pounds (with annex) and provides more than fifty square feet of sleeping space when open. Even closed, the tent’s sizable 76″ x 48″ x 12″ bulk has a staggering presence, and it looks right at home on a large overland vehicle or trailer. The first thing to catch my eye when we sliced open the box was the Kukenam XL’s shiny metal floor. Most manufacturers use wood here, and though I’ve never seen wood become a problem it’s nice to see the added durability of aluminum finding it’s way onto roof tents. D-rings are present at each corner of the aluminum floor and make a great place to hang lanterns or muddy boots in camp. The next thing I noticed was the sharp looking black transit cover. Tepui included generously sized Velcro corners to ease zipping and unzipping of the cover, which double as a catch to keep the zipper pull tidily tucked away while on the road. The zipper is heavy duty, but it would have been nice to see a ratchet-and-strap method used for securing the cover (in fairness, most manufacturers use zippers here). Removing the cover reveals not two, but four compression straps securing the clamshell shut. Enough space is provided to keep bedding in the tent when folded up. An additional strap runs down the center of the folded tent to keep the ladder from bouncing around on the trail. A half-inch anti-condensation mat is included and does an excellent job keeping the underside of the mattress dry even in foul weather. Setting up the Kukenam XL… Kukenam XL Ruggedized
A first look at Jackwagon Off-Road’s flagship model: the Basecamp. – Jackwagon Off-Road Trailers is a small manufacturer based right in or own back yard, who produces a bling-free and relatively inexpensive option for hauling more gear out on the trail. Shortly after speaking with the owner, JR, about what we had in mind, a beautifully modest black-and-green Basecamp showed up at our door for testing. We’ve spent a few weeks with the trailer so far, and it’s made a good first impression. At first glance the trailer feels much longer than the mere 11-feet it measures. A 6 x 4 x 2-foot aluminum cargo box rides centered over the axle providing 48 cubic feet of secure, weatherproof storage space, with a 4 x 2-foot open air cargo rack and spare tire mount sitting farther forward. Empty, the Basecamp weighs in at 950 pounds and has a 1,050-pound payload capacity. An additional 2-inch receiver is provided out back for bike racks or other accessories. When paired with 33-inch tires the ground clearance is about 17 inches (to the frame). Access to the cargo hold feels endless—with a tailgate, strut-assisted lid, and a drop-down hatch at the front of each side loading and unloading cargo is very convenient. Inside the box, adjustable tie-down rails run down the sides for securing cargo and double as extra reinforcement for the fenders. The floor is fitted with an easy to remove, easy to clean, protective mat. A pair of crossbars are bolted to the top of the lid for mounting a trailer-top tent or handling additional cargo such as a canoe or bikes. All points of access are lockable. As if the cavernous cargo box wasn’t enough, an additional exterior rack is nestled between the box and the spare tire for coolers or any dirty gear you don’t want on the inside. The spare tire carrier doubles as a High-Lift mount, a shovel mount, and an extra layer of security for the front rack’s cargo. On the rear of the trailer an integrated channel accepts the included counter-height work table. Despite the extra chassis length required for the forward cargo rack, our first experiences with the trailer on obstacles left us pleasantly surprised. The Basecamp proved just as nimble as our tow vehicle, and met every challenge without complaint. At higher speeds it follows along smoothly and predictably. In-camp convenience is on par with the better off-road trailers on the market. Thanks to the low-slung stance the Timbren Axle-Less suspension affords, minimal lifting is needed to get… Jackwagon Basecamp
Lighting the way with Lightforce’s rugged LED driving light. – I’ve long been a fan of LED lighting on vehicles. Spending a great deal of time behind the wheel at night, the usefulness of a color-rich, long-lasting, low-current solution for running lights, dash illumination, and indicators was an easy sell for me. Like many fellow campers and wheelers I even went so far as to use them for rock lights on the trail and work lights around camp, but found the early examples of main driving lights to be laughable at best (“dangerously lacking” would be a more accurate statement). As recently as two years ago even the most expensive LED auxiliary lights barely achieved “almost as good” status when pitted against their halogen cousins, unacceptable when paying ten times the price. Needless to say, I was biased against the very idea of an LED driving light, and skeptical that anyone would be bringing even an adequate model out anytime soon. Still, when I heard Lightforce was confident enough to put their name on a new set of spot- and combination-beam LEDs I jumped at the opportunity to see what they came up with. Breaking open the boxes to reveal the new lights I was immediately impressed by the clean, subdued looks and solid feel of the black and gray metal chassis. The included pedestal-style bracket mounts vertically or horizontally to the vehicle with either one or two bolts, and supports a wide range of angles when attaching the light housing. Additional mounting holes on either side of the housing are provided for direct mounting, as well as a top mount for attaching a stabilizing bar if the lights will be used for racing. Like most of Lightforce’s lights, the LED 180s are ruggedized against dust, water, impact and vibration (IP68 and mil-spec standards)—so they can handle the stress of being mounted low on a vehicle’s bumper. The LED modules are rated for a service life of 50,000+ hours. With the flexibility of the mounting options, installation and final adjustments are a breeze. Since the vehicle we would be testing the lights on had not been decided yet, we received a generic harness with the basics necessary to wire up the lights. Lightforce does offer harnesses with several different plug options for a plug-and-play connection with a variety of OEM vehicle wiring setups. Output from the LED 180 is nothing short of amazing—Lightforce has done a fantastic job bringing so much light out of an LED system while minimizing the negative effects typically found… Lightforce LED 180
A Budget Overlander, Part III – Wrapping up the Forester Project with a few simple upgrades to both vehicle and driver. The first time I packed up the Forester for an overnight camping trip the rear end sagged down to the bump stops, it clearly wasn’t the kind of “truck” I’m used to driving. Building this car has been a long lesson in keeping things simple and light. Though Subarus are built like Legos, modifications and cargo have to be carefully planned out to maintain a good balance between weight, handling, and power. Mechanical Upgrades The Forester’s brakes are adequate out of the box, but if you’re the type that enjoys long “spirited” drives through the mountains you might find them just a bit lacking. Brake fade is a particular endurance problem on the base model, which has drum brakes out back. Fortunately the fade can be minimized without the complexity of swapping in rear disc brakes. After looking at the Brembo option (which would have cost as much as the car itself), I decided to take a chance on the off-brand but highly praised Power Stop set of drilled and slotted rotors with high performance pads. The gamble paid off: for about $125 the brake fade is all but gone and the car now stops with confidence. The only other mechanical weak point we’ve run into are the front CV axles. Fortunately, even with the suspension lift they’re good for at least 50,000 miles. At first blush that might sound nuts, but bear in mind they only cost $45 and about 2 hours of work to replace. Electrical Upgrades A 90-amp alternator comes standard in the Forester, which seems perfectly matched to any reasonable accessory load for a vehicle this size. We’ve had no trouble running a variety of accessories simultaneously, from air compressors to radio equipment, so we chose instead to focus on preventative and convenience upgrades. First up was a DieHard Platinum Group 35 AGM battery (essentially an Odyssey PC1400) to replace the original lead-acid unit and ensure reliable power in the field. The DieHard features 850 cold cranking amps, plenty of reserve power for in-camp use, and a 4-year warranty. I love drop-in upgrades… Next we addressed communications. Though surprisingly capable, the Forester is more about adventure outside the vehicle than inside, so we opted for the flexibility of a hand-held radio. The Yaesu VX-8R ruggedized handheld allows for the convenience of a mobile unit when pared with an external mic and antenna, while retaining… Kitting It Out
Using the KISS method to strike the perfect balance between useful truck and comfy camp. – A completely self-contained camper—whether a slide-in, pop-top, or a custom built box—is a wonderful thing to have if you’re in the position of dedicating an entire truck to your adventure duties. For the rest of us, some sort of compromise between a home-on-wheels and a daily-driven truck needs to be found. Randy’s 2013 Power Wagon Tradesman is one such way to find that compromise. By opting for as many “factory original” options as possible and installing only essential modifications he’s created a reliable (and warrantied) tool that serves as a workhorse for the daily grind, and much more than a tent when out adventuring.… Power Wagon Perfection Link: Expedition Portal
A look at Ironclad’s flagship leather work glove – Let’s face it, the six-dollar “railroad engineer” gloves so many of us have been carrying around are quite dated. They’re clumsy, uncomfortable, and lack the durability to survive the abuse our hands routinely face in the field. Their unnecessary bulkiness makes a good grip all but impossible, leading to dropped tools and damaged gear, or worse: injured hands when we throw off the gloves in frustration so we can actually get the job done. It’s time for something better. Enter Ranchworx®, a durable, extremely comfortable, well fitted glove from Ironclad. The glove is loaded up with old-school ingenuity and modern technology alike: Bullwhip™ leather, Kevlar® and Duraclad® reinforcement, Exo-Guard™ impact protection for the fingers, terrycloth sweat wipe, and a clever design for the stitching arrangement—dubbed Rolltop® Fingertips—which maximizes dexterity. All this adds up to a grippy and comfortable glove that’s tough enough to handle winching and trail work, yet provides enough control and tactile feedback for wrenching or driving. Bonus: the gloves are also machine washable and clean up well after a hard day’s work. So how well do the Ranchworx® hold up to prolonged torture? The team at Expedition Portal has been beating on these gloves for the last six months with everything from engine repair to chopping firewood, moving boulders to vehicle recovery. In spite of our continued abuse the leather and fabric are still in great shape, and the gloves continue to fit like a glove should fit. We like them so much they’ve become standard equipment in all of our vehicles. Consider the Ranchworx® gloves an investment in personal safety and convenience. Though a bit more expensive than those old engineer gloves, you can expect them to last for years instead of months. Pick up a pair directly from Ironclad, or for a limited time free with a one-year subscription to Overland Journal—your hands will thank you. Originally licensed to Expedition Portal for publishing on October 29th, 2014.… Ironclad Ranchworx®
We head to California to see first-hand how teardrop trailers are built. – There’s no disputing the cult-like following “teardrop” trailers have managed to achieve, and placing the little campers onto an off-road chassis for some backcountry fun seems only natural. So we headed out to California to pick up the next Expedition Portal camper project, spend the morning touring the So-Cal Teardrops facility, and chat with Gabe Pari to find out just what makes these little trailers so great.… So-Cal Teardrops Link: Expedition Portal
Mike and Geneva build a Ford-powered VW AdventureWagen for life on the road. – The 1985 Volkswagen Vanagon Westfalia rested alone and unwanted in a field, baking under the Arizona sun until Mike and Geneva rescued the little camper from her gloomy fate. It wasn’t long before the modifications and updates started, including a hightop AdventureWagen conversion, Bostig Ford engine swap, and a multitude of clever alterations to enhance comfort and convenience for the long run. Dubbed Alta (Spanish for “tall”) for obvious reasons, she’s begun her new life as a home on wheels to Mike, Geneva, and their three dogs Seri, Zeb and Mango while they travel to points unknown.… Slow Car, Fast House Link: Expedition Portal
A gathering of Volkswagens and enthusiasts at a gold mine outside Jerome – We set off from the safety of Prescott early in the morning to brave the steep, winding tarmac of Highway 89A over Mingus Mountain. The tantrum throwing, oil dripping Vanagon we’ve affectionately come to know as “Lana” was being uncharacteristically well behaved as we made the climb, caffeinated elixirs in hand (for lack of cup holders), toward Jerome, Arizona. Our destination: the 24th Jerome Jamboree put on by the folks at the Arizona Bus Club and hundreds of fellow Vdub aficionados. Some of our travels are best accompanied with narration. Other times, the storytelling is best left to the photography…… Jerome Jamboree XXVI Link: Expedition Portal
Four days of wandering along the Mogollon Rim and eastern Arizona’s Coronado Trail. – Winding through dense forest for 120 miles atop the most prominent section of the Mogollon Rim, the Rim Road (FR300) crosses the eastern half of Arizona from north of Payson to Apache country at the White Mountains. With a maze of roads twisting through the pines on top of the rim FR300 is a little tricky to follow on a map, but it’s fairly easy to stay with it on the ground. A few miles of pleasant driving through the trees reveal little, until the road reaches the edge of a 2,000-foot cliff as it turns sharply east. Starting out on a Tuesday, we’re able to explore in solitude and our focus stays with the scenery for much of the drive along the smooth surface of the Rim Road. In the entire length of FR300 between Highway 87 and 260 the face of the Rim is breached only once, where the Arizona Trail climbs to the top of the rim at Big Dry Wash. Good camping and lunch spots dot the sides of the road, some in the cool shade of dense pines, others with wide-open panoramic views of the lowlands to the south. In dry weather most of the Rim Road and historic locales are accessible by a 2WD vehicle with good ground clearance. The most scenic and secluded of the campsites on the Rim are hidden down the many side roads, but be warned: most degrade to rutted, rock-strewn trails shortly after leaving the main road. Lakes, ponds, and streams litter the countryside and support a variety of wildlife including deer, elk, mountain lion, and black bear. Camping is not allowed on the shorelines of most vehicle-accessible lakes in the area, but we had other plans… One of the many rutted, rocky and overgrown side roads designated FR764 leads south not far from Bear Canyon Lake. With a little patience and perseverance, the trail leads out from the Mogollon Rim to the edge of a 7,800-foot high mesa known as Promontory Butte. There, a small fire ring overlooks Christopher Creek and Highway 260 some 2,000 feet below. The road continues on for another 60-65 miles as the valley below gains elevation and the Mogollon Rim slowly disappears from sight outside the town of Pinetop, where the Rim Road rejoins Highway 260. Our route continues east, the pines giving way to groves of aspen, high plains, and blue lakes below the 11,421-foot peak of Dził Łigai (Mt. Baldy). Knowing sunset was just minutes away,… Running the Rim
9 common mistakes, and how to avoid them – Are you an aspiring photographer dreaming of getting your imagery published, or an author suddenly tasked with shooting your own photos? From a guy who gets stuck fixing all your photos, here’s a list of the most common—and easily avoidable—photographic mistakes made by both novice and experienced author-photographers alike. We’ve all done some (ok all) of these at one time or another, often without even realizing it. Watch for these mistakes every time you shoot and the quality of your photos will improve dramatically. Dust, Dirt, and Stains on Product No one wants to buy a muddy tent, a hair-covered jacket, or dust-covered kitchenware. Contrary to how easy a good photo editor makes it look, sweeping up your dirty floor while keeping the scene realistic takes an incredible amount of time, concentration, and skill—it’s far easier to simply wipe it down before shooting. It’s a dusty planet, so get in the habit of checking before each press of the shutter. A mini-broom, soft cloth or feather duster works well for dust; a damp rag or small mop comes in handy for difficult spots. In a pinch, I’ve even used my Rocket. Exception: deliberate filth to show how dirty something is, such as a blown shock leaking oil or a mud-covered trailer in a “torture-test” article. Inappropriate Scenes or Backgrounds I was working on a camp oven review when, about five shots in, it dawned on me there was a fuzzy-but-unmistakable roll of toilet paper in the background (the perfect garnish for medium-rare filet mignon and garlic mashed potatoes). Likewise, if your subject is a camp chair review, your chairs should be in an environment that at least somewhat resembles a camp, not your downtown apartment balcony. You can’t rely on a shallow depth-of-field here either, make sure anything that detracts from the subject is completely out of the frame. Keeping the scene realistic and true-to-purpose helps legitimize a product review. Would you trust the “stability rating” of a camp chair when all of the photos show it placed on a solid, flat balcony? A note on pets: we love animals, but it is best practice to keep the dogs and cats (and other pets) out of the background unless they are relevant to the story. Even then, do so sparingly—Fido should not be the subject of every single photo from your trek across South America. Inappropriate or Incomplete Props True story: during a table review for a certain… Photographic Faux-pas
Sometimes it’s best to put away the maps and just wander. – There are few places in the world quite as spectacular as southeastern Utah. Pinnacles of stone tower over a parched red desert floor, dusty backroads wind thousands of feet up narrow switchbacks precariously cut from vertical rock walls, and aspen forests reach for 11,000-foot snow-capped peaks. Late spring is my favorite time of year, when the summer thunderstorms are just getting started but the roads are still dry enough to be passable. With a canoe on the roof and a prototype trailer to test out we wandered north from Overland Expo in search of that picture-perfect mountain lake. As the first decent camp beyond the Navajo Nation, Valley of the Gods has become a kind of obligatory tradition when traveling north from eastern Arizona. That’s not to say it isn’t worth a visit—it’s only slightly less impressive to behold than Monument Valley, a campsite and campfire are practically guaranteed, and it’s absolutely free. Our first night’s camp greeted us with fierce wind-driven sand that blew well into the evening, but our spirits would not be diminished. As we huddled inside the massive canopy of the Kakadu tent sipping Corona and waiting for the storm to pass, the only smart member of our expedition mocked us from his clean, comfortable lair. Eventually the wind subsided and we settled into a fire-lit evening of tall tales and tall plans for the following day. I awoke to the smell of bacon and poked my head out into a calm, overcast morning to see if the scent was a lingering dream—it wasn’t. Adding to the delightful smell, bits of left-over filet mignon from the previous night’s dinner were joining the bacon, along with eggs, veggies, cheese and hot sauce. Minutes later, the Bacon Filet Mignon Breakfast Burrito was born. Departing from our mile-high camp we climbed higher up the Moki Dugway continuing our search for the perfect lake. Pulling in to the tiny Mormon settlement of Fruita we made a quick stop to top off our water tanks, and grab a bite for lunch… and pie. Ignoring the signs warning us of road closures and impending doom, we turned south to follow Pleasant Creek in hopes of winding our way up the massive form of Boulder Mountain in the distance. The first water crossing was little more than a trickle and a fun off-camber exit this time of year—while Google Maps will send you over Lippincott Pass in a Camry without a second thought, the slightest hint of water is enough to… Utah: Sand and Mud
For the better part of a week I’d been sifting through piles of search results, weeding out cheap knockoffs and overpriced fashion statements trying to find a quality, mid-weight field jacket for less than $400. We were going through a warmer-than-usual winter, and with only a parka on hand I was ill prepared for it. I was hovering over the confirm order button on Filson’s Tin Cloth Field Jacket when our editor walked into my office carrying the 1816 Safari Jacket for review, it was precisely the jacket I had envisioned.… 1816 Safari Jacket Link: Expedition Portal
Few things make mornings in camp quite as pleasurable as waking up to the smell of bacon, steak, and eggs. But all too often long days filled with hundreds of miles on the road make dragging out the cast iron for a proper breakfast an impractical luxury. Here’s what you’ll need to enjoy a hearty breakfast burrito in the morning without washing a single pan. Ingredients (serves two) 2-4 flour or corn tortillas 4 eggs 1/4 pound of crumbled bacon A left-over steak (use filet mignon… worth it) Shredded cheddar cheese Bell peppers, onions, hash browns or other veggies to taste Cholula, Tapatia or your favorite hot sauce A boiling pot of water 2 quart-sized Ziploc freezer bags Start in the evening with a bacon-crumbled steak dinner, and cook up one extra steak. When the steak is finished cut it up into small cubes, toss it in a bag with crumbled bacon, and store it until morning. Of course, you can always pre-cook the meat before the trip, but then you’ll miss out on a bacon-crumbled steak dinner. In the morning fill a large enough pot for two freezer bags with water and set it on the stove to boil (a 2-liter JetBoil pot is just large enough). While you’re waiting for it to boil, crack two eggs into a freezer bag and whip them up until ready to scramble; repeat this step for each breakfast burrito you’ll be making. Next dump in bacon, steak, veggies and sauce to taste. Add in the cheese if you prefer it cooked in, or save it for later to sprinkle on top after cooking. Squeeze the air out of the freezer bags, close them up tight, and drop them into the boiling water for about 10 minutes while you pack up camp. Once the eggs, meat, and veggies are done cooking pull them out of the water, scoop out the contents onto your tortilla, and enjoy!… Bacon Filet Mignon Breakfast Burritos