ProtectionA Budget Overlander, Part II With the necessary capability upgrades sorted, our focus shifted to protecting the soft underbelly of the Forester. Subaru did a fine job keeping most of the vehicle’s components tucked even with the frame rails, but not so well offering skid plates for the vulnerable oil pan, transmission and rear differential. Fortunately, the simplistic design of the chassis makes aftermarket protection both affordable and easy to install. I have a confession to make: when I accepted this assignment I had serious doubts. Before this project I had never thought of a Subaru as anything more than gravel-flinging fun. I found the idea of a mere Forester attacking moderate trails laughable, and I pushed forward expecting to gain little more than a rally-inspired softroader. During a recent trip over the Mojave Road the little Foz shattered all doubts with it’s nimble capability. In the sand and washboard it was the speed demon we expected, cruising along comfortably at around 50mph. On the rocky hill climb after Fort Piute, a trail which rates nearly a 3 after recent storms, it was shockingly unstoppable. We managed to run the entire 140-mile trail in under 24 hours (sight-seeing and camping included) without a single issue. Primitive Racing There are two big names in the Subaru off-pavement aftermarket, but Primitive Racing is the only manufacturer to offer comprehensive protection for the SG Forester (model year 2003-2009). Their full armor package includes three thick aluminum skid plates which provide ample protection to the most vulnerable areas on the undercarriage for about $500. The front skid plate is formed like an upside-down 3/16ths hood, and provides complete protection for the bottom of the entire engine bay. Integrated vents allow for airflow, and options are available for an extra-length “stinger tail” and oil drain plug/filter access ports (we opted to skip the access ports for the best possible protection). Installation is extremely easy: remove the factory mud shield, then install the new skid plate onto the pre-existing threaded holes in the frame. Removing the plate for service is an even simpler four-bolt process. The 4EAT transmission skid plate takes a little more thought to install: an area on the forward corner of the plate is pre-notched for easy removal, as some Subaru exhaust systems can interfere with the plate (ours did). Otherwise, installation is fairly straightforward using existing bolts on the transmission housing. Ample venting is provided, as is a convenient opening to access the drain plug. The rear skid plate is the most difficult… NSFW · Explicit
CapabilityA Budget Overlander, Part I My first introduction to Subaru was a rally-ready “bugeye” WRX I happened upon while visiting a Jeep dealership many years back. It looked like a blast to drive, but I was too wrapped up in the rock crawling thing to give it a second thought. Somehow, that bugeye stuck in the back of my mind, and years later when Scott asked if I’d like to take over the ExPo Forester project I immediately thought “oooh, FUN!” It’s All Yours, Now Make It Go The first order of business on our little project was to get the vehicle running. The 2003 Forester had been flogged hard for the first 100,000 miles of it’s life, and the rebuilt EJ251 motor sourced to replace the original motor turned out to have the exact same problem—disintegrated bearings. Our little project was not off to a good start, but clinging tight to Subaru’s reputation for reliability we pressed on. With a little help from our friends at AT Overland I was able to pull the motor and tear it down for rebuilding, then build it back up on the new block over two weekends. The post-rebuild fine tuning tasks such as adjusting the valves and replacing the broken valve guide rod proved simple enough to do in an afternoon. Replacement parts for the EJ251 motor are both cheap and readily available. Do I still recommend the vehicle as a budget-minded overlander, after putting in the work to get the car running? Absolutely: it’s very easy to work on with a minimal tool kit and little knowledge, a valuable trait for any adventure vehicle to have. I have complete confidence I’d be able to find and fix any problem I’m likely to encounter in the field. Note: I am not a mechanic—this was my first experience with anything more complicated than a fluid change. The Most Boring Fun Car I’ve Ever Driven I’d be lying if I said the Forester was nothing but fun. Driving the twisting mountain roads outside Prescott, tires squealing out in pain through the torture of every turn is fun; launching over cattle guards at foolish speeds is fun; drifting around dusty backroad switchbacks is fun. But when it’s parked, it is one of the most generic looking vehicles ever created… A tastefully built-up SG Forester is a true sleeper. Simple, subtle, and unassuming in it’s appearance; devoid of anything flashy that… NSFW · Explicit
BorregoFest 2013 In mid-October each year, Outdoor Adventure USA’s BorregoFest brings together a small gathering of adventurers for a long weekend exploring the scenery and history of the Anza-Borrego region. Highlights of the event include trail runs from easy to intense, a delicious potluck, and the chance to visit with like-minded folks from all over. Most of the group arrives Friday afternoon to set up camp, take in a lecture on the history of the area, and enjoy the sharing of drinks and stories around the campfire before Saturday’s outings. This year we had the privilege of joining the OAUSA-exclusive Julian Mine Tour on Saturday for an up close look both around and inside the region’s most noteworthy mines with local historian and author Leland Fetzer. The “hike” was not the easiest, but the trail’s end was well worth the effort. Back at camp the scent of barbeque fills the air to signify the start of the official potluck. Wine and beer tastings make for the perfect refreshments after a long day in the field, and a wide variety of vehicles and equipment go on display for the ogling. Sunday morning caps off the event with a raffle of gear, tools, and swag, followed by an amateur radio testing session. For those that stick around after lunch, a short exit run offers one last taste of the region before heading back home. On-site camping for the three-day event runs $55-65, which includes access to the shower facilities, swimming pool, and one raffle ticket (additional tickets may be purchased). Swing by the OAUSA Forum to check out photos and stories from previous events, or to sign up for the next BorregoFest. Originally licensed to Expedition Portal for publishing on November 15th, 2013.… NSFW · Explicit
Weather & Ruins12 Days across the Navajo Nation Practically every form of precipitation in Mother Nature’s arsenal was being thrown our way. White-out conditions gave way to freezing rain, then fog, a little sun, then more snow. The Navajo had reopened the roads just weeks before our departure, with words of caution that the weather might close them again any day. With optimistic fingers crossed, we pressed on under breathtaking skies expecting to encounter the unexpected. A belly full of omlette-in-a-bag, we began our introduction to the Tséyi’ (Canyon de Chelly) region with a crisp morning hike down to the Three Turkey ruin. The somewhat difficult access to the site preserves the small cliff dwelling in pristine condition for the few adventurers able to make the climb. Following the climb, a relaxing afternoon drive winding through the rugged Navajo backcountry brought us to the ancient multi-colored graffiti of Painted Cave. Handprints and pictographs depict the history of the many Navajo who once called this settlement home. Daniel, our guide for this leg of the journey, led us to his aunt Winnie’s hogan for a demonstration on Navajo weaving. The techniques and tools used to produce the rugs create an impressively tight fabric which is far more durable than modern machine-made versions. Leaving Winnie’s hogan, Daniel informed the group that he had a surprise in store for us. Due to the harsh second winter the floodgates of Tsaile Lake had to be left open, keeping the water level too high for vehicle access in the canyon. Instead of our planned campsite, Daniel brought us to the edge of the slickrock overlooking Spider Rock… and by edge, I do mean edge. The first rays of the rising sun brought with them the scent of Frank’s Fresh French Toast—why is it we seem to eat better on the trail than we do at home? With the canyon floor still flooded, a rim-top tour of Standing Cow, the Spanish Invasion, and the Navajo Fortress followed, binoculars and long lenses were key. Back at our own cliff dwelling, Daniel regaled us with the legends, stories, and songs of his people. A late start the next morning set us on a spirited but beautiful drive through the still snow-covered Lukachukai mountains. Arriving hours later than intended we managed to track down our next guide, a surprisingly difficult task in the tiny village, just in time to set up camp at the foot of the mountain.… NSFW · Explicit
Camp-spressoThe Moka Pot It’s Overland Journal’s fault. I’ve long appreciated the pleasures of the morning coffee ritual, an easy vice to maintain in the city, but one that is typically tolerable at best in camp. Working in an office with a well-stocked espresso bar has sharpened the addiction to such a point the instant solutions often served tent-side simply won’t do. As Scott Brady reflected while showing me how to work the espresso machine “Life’s too short for bad coffee.” Espresso is without a doubt the ultimate form of coffee, imbued with three key features we strive to find in our gear: versatility, durability, and performance. It’s concentrated nature makes for the maximum quantity on a minimum of water, with the right tools it’s nearly impossible to ruin espresso, and from espresso you can make practically any coffee drink (including the good ole hot cup of joe—just add water). Thanks to Luigi de Ponti, espresso can be a hassle- and mess-free pleasure in camp. Most commonly used on the stovetop at home, the Moka pot is equally capable of brewing on the trail with a backpacking stove, larger camp stove, or even over charcoal with care. Unlike the variety of portable espresso makers out there, the Moka doesn’t require special fuels, tools, or filters. In fact, you only need three things to run a Moka: water, fire, and coffee grounds. The Moka pot isn’t picky about the type of grounds you feed it either. A fine grind (slightly more coarse than espresso) works best, but even “percolator ground” beans will yield an excellent (though weaker) result. Espresso purists may point out that a Moka pot is incapable of reaching the precise 9 bar of pressure required for “true” espresso, but the end result is indistinguishable. Use is simple, just fill the base to the fill line with water (about an inch from the top), drop in the basket and fill it with grounds, then twist on the pot and place it over heat. In about five minutes you’ll have a pot of flavorful espresso. Clean up is just as easy—the brewing process tends to draw out most of the moisture, leaving a solid clump of grounds easily tapped out into the trash. Rinse out the few remaining grounds, dry the pot, and pack it away. The Moka is available as small as a 1-shot, but I find the 6-shot variety well worth the… NSFW · Explicit
Practical HAM: A Beginners Guide"I don't want to talk to China." ere’s always someone in the crowd that makes this statement whenever there is a discussion about communications in the field. It usually happens right after someone brings up amateur radio (HAM). Ignorant as this statement may be, the fact remains: most of us really don’t want to talk to China. Let’s Face It: CB is Terrible The good ole Citizen’s Band radio has poor range, limited power, and terrible clarity even after considerable time, effort, and money have been poured into “tuning” a CB setup. More often than not they are big and ugly, and the few decent-looking models are expensive. If the setup is kept 100% legal, you’ll be lucky to talk over 5 miles—if there are no trees in the way. The common consumer FRS/GMRS two-way radios don’t perform much better, and almost none of them allow for a vehicle mounted antenna (essentially trapping the signal inside a metal box). It’s time for something better. Though I sit alone in a concrete-walled building, I can already hear the grumblings of my fellow HAMs. I’m going to say it anyhow: For the average, non-technical, backcountry traveler wanting for communications that just work, HAM really is “just like CB, only better.” This article is intended for the CB’er and FRS’er that simply wants performance and reliability in the backcountry, and is merely an overview on achieving that goal. I’m going to skip over the few rules, regulations, and etiquette that should be followed as these will be covered in your learning when you study for your license. Fear not, for the most part it’s simple common sense. The best place to learn and practice is with a group of fellow amateurs—check out our Communications forum or search the ARRL Club Directory to find one near you. What You’ll Need Amateur Radio License Fortunately, the FCC agrees with the need we have for better radios regardless of technical experience or interest. They have dropped the “difficult” portions from the Technician exam (the most basic level of amateur radio license), and a license can be picked up today for $15 and a few hours of effort (including study time). With the license, you will gain access to the two most important frequency bands: 2-meter and 70-cm (often referred to as 440). Study guides and practice exams can be found here: HamExam.org. When you’re ready to pass the test you can find an exam session here: ARRL Exam Search. Amateur Radio Equipment… NSFW · Explicit
WaterField SleeveCase The iPad has continued to evolve as an essential piece of travel kit, mastering everything from navigation to photo editing, but cases for carrying the mighty ‘Pad are often devoid of style, functionality, durability, and protective ability. Enter the SleeveCase from WaterField Designs—a thick neoprene-cushioned pocket wrapped up in rugged ballistic nylon. The SleeveCase features a soft Ultrasuede® interior which doubles as an automatic screen cleaner, impact-resistant inserts in the walls to protect the screen, and checkpoint-friendly construction. There’s also a slim pocket on the back for papers, a camera connection kit, or a slim charger. Options include natural leather trim and convenient detachable shoulder straps for hands-free carry. The case is durable and well made, with beautiful styling and excellent attention to detail. Check out the SleeveCase line and other fine gear by WaterField Designs at SFbags.com »… NSFW · Explicit