Mr. T, what the hell were you thinking?

IMG_5545

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.

IMG_5546

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.

10250188_10204462590103041_8364132456257131694_n

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.

IMG_5552

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:

002 (2)

015 (2)

014 (2)

017 (2)

019 (2)

020 (2)

028 (2)

029 (2)

031 (2)

034 (2)

Measurements! TJM kit soon

IMG_4753 (2)

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

IMG_5483

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.

IMG_4239

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:

IMG_5505

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:
IMG_5482
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:
IMG_5484
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:
ResizedImage_14108037015061

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:

IMG_5506

Finalizing the choice for a roof top tent

006

Part of the choice of what equipment we bolt to our trucks comes to looks; hell, even what we drive or list as our dream vehicles comes down to appearance. Defenders, 70-Series Land Cruisers, G-Wagen, Nissan GU Patrol… they all look badass. Roof racks, snorkels, bull bars… they’re functional, sure, but we really love them for their looks. And it’s the same with roof top tents, a soft tent in it’s storage bag looks safari. It screams Africa. Australia. Adventure travel.

Sure, we see a few hard roof top tents (like Autohome) out there. But, they aren’t as common as the soft tents and they look like those little aerodynamic storage boxes people put on top of their Subarus or Toyota Sequoias (what do people keep in those things anyway?). The added cost and weight of the hard tents are a couple of extra reasons why we don’t want one (you should research them yourself though, they do have advantages: easier to pack up, better betting, aerodynamic on the roof…).

On our trip to South Africa, we made sure to stop by off road shops to finalize the list of things we wanted in a tent. From our initial thought on size, we realized that a smaller one would be perfectly comfortable for the two of us; a 1.3M x 2.4M tent is a great size for sleeping; the addition of an annex would make it not so cramped when changing. A smaller tent would be lighter, and more compact on the roof rack which makes it a win-win all the way around.

One of the places we stopped at was Front Runner to look at their Feather-Lite tent:
TENT031_1605_20140416172507
It really fit the bill. They do have a branch in California and would make a great option. I did ask the sales guy if it was manufactured in South Africa… and no, they are made in China.

That prompted me to quickly check Cascadia Vehicle Tents when we got back to a place with internet. I knew they had a couple of smaller tents coming, but they hadn’t posted a pic of them. Their new Mt. Bailey tent looks a lot like the Front Runner, has about the same specs, they are based in Oregon (driving distance), and have a strong reputation. This tent looks to be our choice:
1406667471

Knowing this, I’ve made some changes to my African Outback roof rack. I’ll post a brief write-up and photos on that and keep you posted on us making a tent purchase.

Spotted Hyena, our favorite sighting.

Yes, the bone crushing predator/scavenger, the ugly one, with it’s laugh and strange gait, gave us a show that we’re still talking about.

I really wanted to see hyena on this trip because we didn’t see any on our honeymoon. Well, we did see one patrolling the fence around one of the Kruger’s camp, but I didn’t feel that counted. We did hear them though, with that strange and beautiful whooping howl blasting through Africa’s early morning air. It made me want to see them that much more.

In the past, I hated the hyena. Or, at least the idea of hyena. I only knew them from nature films where they always show up as the antagonist to the lion. Evil. Dark. Thieves. Cowards They’re typically portrayed as stealing kills that the lions worked so hard to get (I still don’t know why any coward would steal something right from the mouths of lions). Nasty creatures.

But, newer documentaries have been a bit more kind to them. They are predators, successful ones. Yes, they steal kills the lions have made; lions still theirs. They harass the hell out of lion prides; lions do the same to them. Nature is brutal and one creature isn’t more deserving of our admiration than another.

This time around, we saw a really young hyena cub by the side of the road; we were only a couple of minutes into the Kruger and, like an amateur, the camera was still in the bag in the trunk of the car. It didn’t take long for us to start seeing more of them though: in pairs loping through the bush or in small parts of clans with the cubs… Then, our last morning, we left the gate of Olifants camp at exactly 6:00am and saw these little guys with their mom by the side of the road:

014

019

The hyena had killed an impala in the night; the cubs were trying to get mom to regurgitate some venison for breakfast. In the background, another hyena was crunching the skull of the impala.

045

040

This was an exciting viewing; we sat there for quite a bit of time, just watching. It was a long time before another vehicle showed up to share it. Definitely one of the cooler things I have ever seen.

050

049

Elephants and me…

173

This is not the best picture of elephants; Natasha and I were driving back to camp just before the closing at 6:00pm and we saw these two in the sunset. I pulled over quickly and just snapped a photo with the camera on one of its automatic settings; the camera focused on a bush between me and the elephants. But, that’s okay, I got another pic to add to my hundreds of photos of elephants.

I love them that much. When I was in my teens, I decided my dream was to get a biology degree and spend time in Africa around elephants. I didn’t care or even think about what I would do; I just wanted to be around elephants. And then chemistry happened.

Chemistry defeats me. I’m okay with the math and generally get the concepts, but putting everything together to pass even a basic class? Nope. Fail. Multiple times. It was basically the class that took me out of college the first time around and then life happened.

But I still dreamt of elephants and seeing them in the wild. Of course, I went back to school to pick up an English degree, then went on to my MFA in poetry. That is where I met my wife. She was born and raised in South Africa; she took me home for our honeymoon where I got to see elephants in the Kruger.

Once again, I snapped every elephant I could. We watched them eat, play in water, even saw a young calf suckle…

They do create traffic jams when then cross the road. We give them plenty of space and look around to make sure we haven’t split the heard up. We saw this heard before they crossed the road and stopped way back and just watched.

051

065
029

083

084

This elephant is close, really close. We were in the back of one of the open trucks on the Sunset Drive out of Olifants Camp; I didn’t have the flash on and there was no spotlight on the elephant.

010

There aren’t the best photos. Elephants are hard to capture in the Kruger, even though you see quiet a few of them, because you’re in your car. But, they are so wonderful to see.

059

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 216 other followers