Photo Tales: Windsong

Poetry Overland:

My friend Tom challenges writers to caption photos of his… it was a fun writing challenge. Unfortunately, it took me forever to do, but this is what was created:

Originally posted on Captioned:

IdaliaShack

By Jason Lovato

I hate the wind as it slides down
the slopes, running to the plains.

It strips yellow off of grass, splits
grain of an old barn, stacks clouds shoulder

to shoulder in the Colorado sky.
When it’s strong, it lifts brown earth,

mixes it with  blue of the sky,
wraps it around pine trees, shrubs,

whitetail deer, and fence posts.  Speak
in the wind and your words crash into

barbed wire and tumble weeds. Listen,
you can hear the voices of people

before you, their sentences shredded,
only vowel sounds remain.

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The Dumb Phone Experiment

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My Oakland Raiders were pounding the 49ers and I couldn’t watch the game (I was at the tea house working). When I could, I would check the score on the NFL app. It was late in the game, I tried to sneak a peak at scores, and I dropped my phone. It hit the tip of my foot, rolled across the floor, and stopped face up. I saw a thin line across the screen. Damn. It was a crack and the phone no longer recognized touch.

I had never dropped, lost, or damaged a phone until a little over ago I dropped a Motorola Photon Q. It didn’t take a hard hit, but the screen cracked and it no longer worked. I replaced it with another  Photon Q and now the it suffered the same fate.

Now I decided to see what would happened if I moved a little bit away from being so tethered by technology (no, I’m not a hipster; yes, I still have a laptop and a tablet) and I went with a Samsung dumb phone. This may be a temporary move, but it’s still a fun experiment to see if I can live like it’s the 1990s again.

I’m now in the second week with it and my observations so far:

I miss having a camera. I take so many photos. Yes, most of them are of trucks/cars that I see around (or of our cats), but I love having the ability to take photos wherever I am. Also, I’m pretty addicted to Instagram.

Texting sucks with the Abc setting; the damn phone’s default is T9 (ugh) and I couldn’t text. My wife had to look up how to access the Abc texting (yes, she used her smart phone to do it). I used to be really fast with this type of pad and Abc, but not so much now. Swype has spoiled me. The upside is that I call people and, you know, actually talk to them.

Getting around without GPS is okay. It means I just have to know where I’m going (go to Google Maps, print or memorize the directions, off I go). There are always maps too.

Oh, not having a phone with a flashlight app sucks at times. It’s amazing how much I actually use that in a week.

I’m not as distracted by technology now that I don’t have a smart phone around all the time. It’s nice. I read, write, or talk to people during down time. Way better.

One of the hardest things to get used to is not having something to take with me to the shitter. Yup, no Instagram or sports news on the toilet. Nothing to look at or read. It sucks. I think it would be awkward to take a collection of Neruda’s poetry every time I have to use the toilet.

Next month I will decide what phone to buy… or if I’ll stay dumb. Until then, I will enjoy this slight disconnect.

Tent choice made and it’s on top of the truck!

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We went with the Mt. Bailey.  from Cascadia Vehicle Tents. It’s a smaller tent (48in x 48in closed), so it fits perfectly on the front of the rack while the Jerry can holder and spare tire can ride in the back; the tent is also light (96lbs) which is good considering the other things I have in the rack it’s roomy enough for the two of us and pretty tall too. We also purchased the annex/changing room to give us a better way to get dressed for bed.

We opted to have CVT install it, so we made the drive down there. Yes, their tents do fit any rack. This one took a little bit of work to get the brackets just right (if it was one of the bigger tents, I think it would have been a simple and perfect fit).

I will do a full write up as soon as we take it out on a camping trip (hopefully in the next couple of weeks). For now, I can say that set up and take down is easy. The ladder is good; we didn’t need an extension even with the suspension lift and slightly taller tires.

Bobby and the crew at CVT are friendly and easy to work with, the product is solid. We can’t wait to camp and overland with it.

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Mr. T, what the hell were you thinking?

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On Thursday I rented tools: two pair of jack stands, floor jack, and a torque wrench. We drove the truck up to my in-laws’ house in Edmonds to throw on the TJM lift.

I was pretty confident in my ability to do this (even though I’ve never dealt with coil springs or IFS). In my late teens, I owned a 1972 FJ40. I installed a Superlift suspension system on it using nothing more than some cheap Ace Hardware hand tool on a Saturday. With that truck, I was worried that the spring bushings and bolts were going to be hard to remove, so I hit them with PB Blaster for about two weeks (spray, drive around, spray, drive around). Everything came apart easy, went back together well. Simple.

So yeah, I felt like I could easily conquer the 100’s suspension. Armed with Slee Offroad’s instructions (the TJM instructions were pretty non-existent), under the truck I went, starting with the rear suspension. First problem I ran into (first clue it was going to be a tough project) was the floor jack I rented wouldn’t hold the truck up. I got the truck up and then it started sinking, but the jack wouldn’t release so it got stuck under the diff. I had to use my trusty Hi-Lift jack to lift it from the tow hitch to get the jack out. A little maintenance on it had it working like it was supposed to.

The first step (after having the front wheels blocked, tires off, secure on the stands) was to disconnect the sway bar. Easy: two brackets with two bolts each. Done. Starting with the left side, I worked to remove the shock; it’s a 22mm bolt on top and there is NO room to work. I used a combo-wrench, but a ratcheting one would have made life a little easier. The directions said that it may be necessary to hold the shock body to keep it from spinning. May? No, it’s absolutely necessary and damn near impossible.

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You crank on the nut and the shock spins around. No, you’re not going to be able to hold the shock with one hand and wrench with the other. I had my wife try and hold the steel dust shield. Nope. She just couldn’t keep it from spinning. Then we put some water pump pliers (adjustable pliers) on the shock; even with that extra leverage, she couldn’t hold it. I cursed. And wrenched. Cursed. Thought. Cursed.

Finally we hatched a plan. I placed the pliers so that they were wedged against something and had Natasha just hold the pliers clamped on the shock. That meant she could just fight the grip and not worry about the torque. I spun the wrench and POP! Off the nut came.

With that removed, I simply took off the bolt on the bottom of the shock, let the axle droop all the way down (the opposite side keeps it from completely dropping because the shock is still in place, this is why you do one side at a time), and let the coil fall out. The new coil just fit into place, I put the new shock in place with the top bolt (still not easy) and jacked the rear axle up to line up the shocks bottom mount and bolted it all together.

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Yes, it was that easy after the shock was removed. And I thought… well now that I know what I’m facing with the shock, the right side will be easier.

Yeah, no. There is way less room under there because of the exhaust routing. I had my arm bent in all kinds of weird positions trying to get on that top nut. It left me without the ability to apply pressure. There wasn’t an easy way to do the trick we used on the other side; there just wasn’t anywhere to wedge the pliers against.

I cursed. Cried. Natasha tried to help, but there wasn’t any way she really could. She was frustrated. I was. She went back into the house. I cussed some more. Beat the shit out of the shock, beat the rear bumper (surprisingly, the bumper cover doesn’t show a mark). I openly missed my old FJ60, FJ40, FJ55… wished I was working on anything simple and dirty and made to come apart with minimal wrenching.

Then I tried to wedge the wrench on something and then cranked on the shock with the pliers, but the wrench kept popping off the nut. Ugh. Finally, I slid the wrench between the frame and the body (tiny gap there), leaned forward, and braced the wrench with my forehead. With my hands free, I pushed with the pliers. That finally did it (I still have the mark on my head).

And just like the left side, once the shock was off, the coil was easy to swap. To get the sway bar back on, I remounted the wheels, got the truck back on the ground, and then used the jack to just lift the sway bar a little to line up the holes.

Simple. Except for those damn upper shock mounts. It is one of the worst designs I’ve seen on a Toyota.

It took me 6 hours, 5 of which was spent on them. I ran out of time and never did get to the front, so the truck is sitting ass high like a stinkbug (it gained 10cm under the rear hitch!). Technically, it’s not a hard job. My advice is to get a 22mm ratcheting wrench, a chain or strap wrench, and a large brute to help. I also advise spraying every bolt you have to remove with PB Blaster way ahead of time. I didn’t on the upper shock mounts until I was struggling. I know it helped with my FJ40, and probably did a little on this job too.

Also, give yourself a lot of time just in case and keep kids out of earshot… the words you’ll use wont be nice.

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Random pictures: Joburg

I meant to take more photos of Johannesburg while we were there; I wanted to show people here in the States what the city is like since so many have a rough time imagining Africa as anything but wildlife, bush, and poverty.

Of course, it was easy to take pics in the Kruger, but it wasn’t as easy for me while we were in Jozi. Between driving, and spending time with family, I didn’t take my camera out very often (too busy just enjoying myself). One Saturday we did get down to Braamfontein for the Neighbourgoods Market (I’ll post about that later with a few pics from inside the market) and I managed to just snap some city shots there. Not much, but fun to look at:

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Measurements! TJM kit soon

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Forever ago my wife bought me a TJM heavy suspension system for the Kitten. I was going to put it on tomorrow, but honestly, I’m tired as hell (no days off since we’ve been back from South Africa) and I need to make sure I have all the tools I need to make it as clean of an install as possible.

I left a lot of tools behind in Colorado, so I just reserved what I need (jack stands, floor jack, torque wrench) for Thursday, Sept. 25th.

Right now, I just took measurements:

Center of wheel to bottom of fenders, front: Left side: 49cm Right side: 49.5cm

Center of wheel to bottom of fenders, rear: Left side: 49.5cm Right side: 50cm

Ground to bottom of license plate: 52cm

Ground to bottom of receiver: 32.5cm

Ground to bottom of door sill (center): Left side: 41cm Right side: 41cm

The wheel arch measurements are for reference when I do the lift; the others are for my own curiosity… Looking at how low the receiver is on the hitch, no wonder I smash that thing on every little thing.

It’ll be fun to see how much these measurements change and how much the suspension has sagged.

Big Country/African Outback roof rack add-ons

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Ahead of FINALLY installing the lift kit and getting a roof top tent, I decided to perform some changes to the African Outback on the 100. The rack came from a friend of mine, Sean; he had it on his truck and we transferred it to mine as he was retiring his from being his main overland truck (he built a J7 Cruiser pickup).

The rack came to me with a basket portion and mounts for a shovel, Hi-Lift, and jerry cans. I had the basket portion on the front of the rack while the shovel and Hi-Lift were on the back on either side. Pretty simple.

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I decided to move my spare tire to the rack now. Why? Because Toyota slung the spare tire under the rear cargo area… Now that I run LT285/75R16s, I bounce, drag, and smack the spare on all kinds of obstacles; I really don’t need to damage a tire. Plus, in snow or mud, it’s just something extra to get packed with stuff and kill my momentum. Just look how far it hangs down from my hitch reviver:

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I wont be putting a rear bumper with a swing-out carrier on it (expensive, heavy, puts the weight super far back). Mounting the spare to the rack keeps the weight in the right spot, but unfortunately puts it above the center of gravity. I do think because I’m putting a TJM lift on it, and I run tires with a good footprint, my stability will be fine.

While in South Africa, I stopped by the Big Country/African Outback showroom and grabbed a spare tire mount. I didn’t open it until I got home, it came with no directions or mounting bolts. And as you can see from the top pic, it’s a threaded rod with a welded single tab on the bottom (with one bolt hole). But, African Outback uses a system where there are two grooves in the rails, you slide their custom nuts into the rail and use that to bolt whatever accessory on:
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It’s a strong set up and allows different configurations of the rack’s brackets. But this mount looks like it was designed to go under the rack on one of the support rails.

I didn’t know the rack had mounts there; you can see the groove in this photo as well as how tight of a fit it is:
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Yes, you have to remove the rack to reach this groove (it’s okay, I used it as an excuse to give the truck a bath). In this shot you can see the wide section of the groove where you insert the square nut; I found the best way to slide them where you want is to run a bolt into them and use a wrench to pull them into position:
ResizedImage_14108037422651 To figure out which rail to mount it on, decide where you want the tire, and measure. I placed mine on the rear of the rack and more on the right side of the truck. I measured 17in (a little over half my tire’s radius). from the back and another 17in from the side. After that, just bolt the mount with the threads pointed up through the top of the rack:
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Getting it back one was easy; I did take off the basket portion of the rack, but I left the shovel and axe holder where they were. The tire sits with the threaded bar through the center hole, then the bar slides on, and finally the threaded wing-nut (you can see these two pieces in the top photo). It is a sturdy mount. Everything feels very secure up there.

If you do have, or plan to purchase an African Outback rack and accessories, make sure that you get extra mounting bolts and nuts from them for various brackets. Most of the installation of their products look self explanatory, so I wouldn’t worry about instructions: a simple test fit will show you how it goes.

Now, the truck looks a bit more overland:

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