I don’t remember…


…exactly when I got this Hot Wheels car. Birthday? Christmas? Just picked up by my parents at KMart (when that was the biggest store in Alamosa)?

It’s been with me most of my life. I don’t remember actually playing with it though… who remembers exact scenarios played out with toy cars? It probably won a few drag races, cruised the strip, parked by a hastily put together Lego house… I remember going to one kid’s house a few blocks away; there were three of us and we’d build roads and towns in his dirt back yard: lots of “driving” the cars around, races, all while imaging what it would be like to grow up to have a Porsche 911, a hot rod, a 4×4… all in one garage.

Yup, always a gearhead.

I also had to do body work on it. It has a small plastic hood scoop that has fallen through the hole on the hood; it’s still in there. It would fall into the body of the car often and I would shake, rattle, and grab it with a pencil tip or with tweezers to get it back on to the hood. My uncle Paul would help me glue it into place… we used model glue, Super Glue, clear nail polish… anything to make it stick. And it would just fall back in.

The paint would wear off too. I don’t even remember what color it was originally. Uncle Paul would help me paint it, usually with model paint– I think a few times we used nail polish. I remember it being a deep green, candy apple red, and the last coat was copper. It was the late ’70s, early ’80s, so the colors always had a heavy metallic flake. Most of the time they wouldn’t dry properly and the coupe was always sticky. Well, until the last paint job wore off and it faded into this scoopless primer gray hot rod.

My oldest daughter is a natural gearhead too. She slept with piles of cars under her pillow and loved nothing more than playing cars. We’d get out all the cars (even the old coupe) and build a town on the living room floor… And with her, the cars had to have names, get married (a ’32 Ford coupe married to a Toyota Celica Pike’s Peak race car? What?), have kids… Yeah, playing cars with her wasn’t like playing with my friends in the dirt.

Most of my cars survived it all– even “family life” with my daughter. And the coupe managed to stay with me… to this day.

I asked Santa for a map…

… and he brought me a globe. I was quite confused at seeing that under the tree. How could Santa mess that up? He knows me, right?


I can imagine “Santa” seeing my list and wondering why a kid would want a map. And a map of what exactly? I’m sure he thought that I didn’t know that they were globes, not maps. Funny, I wanted a map because I thought it was cool as hell when the generals in a World War II film would stretch one out on a table and contemplate troop movements and what structures to call in air strikes on. They always seemed as big as a table too and everyone crowded around them. I can imagine that I would have used my army guys to make plans to invade some small town on whatever map that Santa gave me… But not so much on a globe.

Maps are also beautiful with their greens and yellows, purples, white, solid lines, red lines, perforated lines, swirls and contours. I never did lose my love for them. As an adult I finally got to use maps for hunting. My dad and I would study areas, then scout, and compare what we saw to the maps. With overlanding taking over as my main life hobby, I get to study maps to decide where Natasha and I are going to wheel and camp. They hold even more of an attraction to me now.

And Santa isn’t confused when I ask for one now.

The Nuts and Bolts of it all…

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When installing the new (used) tow hooks, I found that the OEM bolt heads with a marking of II.

What the hell?

I didn’t know what the specs of these bolts were and I looked online to see if I could match them to a metric equivalent such as 8.8 or something… The search pulled up lots of confusion even in the Toyota about bolts and nuts with many people quoting the SAE grading system such as Grade 5 or Grade 8.

Remember: the size of the bolt isn’t the head size, but the diameter of the

Doing a quick google search I found that for a 1/2″ SAE bolt:

Grade 5= 85,000psi proof load, 92,000psi minimum yield strength, 120,000psi minimum tensile strength

Grade 8= 120,000psi proof load, 130,000psi minimum yield strength, 150,000psi minimum tensile strength

The confusion begins when you see the ratings for metric bolts and you’re used to thinking in terms of SAE. Using a 12mm bolt as an example:

Grade 8.8= 580MPa proof load,  640MPa minimum yield strength, 800MPa minimum tensile strength

Grade 10.9= 830MPa proof load, 940MPa minimum yield strength, 1040MPa minimum tensile strength

The info (and other bolt ratings) was here at Bolt Depot.

PSI, of course, stands for Pounds per Square Inch. MPa though is Mega Pascal. Pascal is used to measure pressure and tensile strengths all over the world. It’s easiest to use an online conversion calculator to get the specs. Doing so with 10.9 (the bolts for the tow hooks were 14mm and I went 10.9):

Grade 10.9= 120,381psi proof load, 136,335psi minimum yield strength, 150,839psi minimum tensile strength

As you can see, the grade 10.9 Metric rating is closer to a Grade 8 SAE bolt.

Bolt Depot has the following to define the specs:

Tensile Strength: The maximum load in tension (pulling apart) which a material can withstand before breaking or fracturing.

Yield Strength: The maximum load at which a material exhibits a specific permanent deformation

Proof Load: An axial tensile load which the product must withstand without evidence of any permanent set.

1MPa = 1N/mm2 = 145 pounds/inch2

Okay, but what about the II stamped on the OEM Toyota bolts? It appears that Toyota uses it’s own ratings and the II probably equals 11T. From looking at the torque specs, it looks like the 11T is a bit stronger than the 10.9 I replaced them with (I should’ve gone with 12.9 Metrics, but I have confidence in the 10.9s). This page is from the FSM for a 100 Series Cruiser:


Of course, pay attention to your torque specs and use a torque wrench on fasteners. You don’t have to memorize them, just use Google and find a chart! Or, consult a FSM for them…

Finally, don’t buy cheap bolts or not buy Grade 8 or Metric 10.9 or better when you need the strength…

Hooking the 100


All 4x4s or overland vehicles have to have recovery points front and rear. In my opinion, it’s not an option. If you’re stuck or you need to recover another vehicle, you need proper and safe points to attach a strap or winch line to. Period. I personally prefer having one on each corner too. Recovery points should be attached directly to the frame with quality hardware. Don’t skimp here, shit will fly off and kill/hurt somebody during a hard pull.

My FJ60 had the single hook on the top of the frame rail for the front, but nothing on rear. Brilliantly, the hooks had the same bolt pattern as the common 10,000lb Universal Tow Hooks that you can pick up anywhere… and, the rear of the frame had the same holes. I simply went to the local farm and ranch store to pick up a few made by Erickson Manufacturing (you can get these types of hooks from all over: Smittybuilt, Warn, etc.).

The 100 Series Land Cruiser has one front hook and one rear hook. The hooks have a factory tie down (for shipping, not recovery) under them; the opposite frame horn has just the tie down. You can see this in the photos of the rear factory set up:

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I trust the hooks, but wouldn’t the tie downs. One option to get recovery points is to buy Universal Recovery Brackets (URBs–and they’re available for 80 Series Cruisers and others) to attach shackles to. This is the sexy option. All the serious looking trucks have shackles hanging from them…

I like to eliminate as much hardware as I can and a hook is perfect for attaching the loops of a strap to. So, I found a couple of hooks for $20 on Craigslist that somebody was replacing with URBs. Twenty bucks is a lot cheaper than what URBs sell for. I would recommend posting an add on Craigslist, IH8Mud, etc. to get another pair.

It’s a simple process, remove one bolt from each hook (front and rear), measure them, buy new bolts from a local source, and bolt up. Buy strong bolts (next post will be what I found out about bolts): in a recovery, these are going to take a hell of a load.

The fronts were super straight forward (I mounted it so that the tie downs are still in their spot):

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On the rear, I ran into a snag. The factory tow hitch has gusseting that blocks the second hook from being mounted. I am reluctant to remove the hitch because it protects that ass end when I smack a rock and, every now and then, I do need to tow. As soon as I can, I will figure out what to do with the rear recover points, but the best solution may just be a receiver shackle bracket (which is good to carry because it can go from vehicle to vehicle).

Next: bolt specifications for mounting recovery points.

A contiuation of the cold Sunday night on Colockum Pass


Earlier in the afternoon, long before we got to the pass and the halfway station marker, the Cruiser read of the outside temperature was 37 degrees Fahrenheit. I thought: “I’ve camped in colder during hunting season in Colorado.” Of course, that is how I always react to “cold” weather here in Washington state; I compare it to the brutal cold that is a San Luis Valley winter… Growing up and surviving in a place where temps in the -20’s is normal in winter makes you feel like a badass. Especially when you’re living in Seattle and it’s mild climate. “Ha, 37 degrees…it won’t be bad at all.”

The road passes through a wildlife reserve with more restrictions than the Colockum Wildlife Area. Signs clearly mark this area and once past it, we started looking for a camping spot. I was told that there were plenty of old elk camps to use and we started seeing them to the sides of the road.  Some of these elk camps have been used by several generations of the same family; they camp in the same place hunting season after hunting season. The camps have a good flat area to park in, a fire ring, and sometimes a meat pole (although we really didn’t need one of those).

The first camp we found was perfect: lots of trees to serve as a wind break (I hate the wind), and a large area to back the truck into. It was still early so we continued looking; the second one wasn’t as nice and the third was in the open on top of a ridge. The view was amazing: Columbia river and beyond on one side, nothing but hills and mountains on the other.

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Okay, so I am a badass until the wind comes up. I vetoed this spot and we kept looking for a compromise… Finally, on a Green Dot rode that veered away from the main one, we found a fire ring with a tree wind break on one side, a knoll giving us protection on the other, and a good view of the canyon below. We quickly set up camp, busted out the propane stove, and had a cup of tea…


A quick hike to the edge of the ridge gave us some great views, even with the power lines running through.

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Even our portable toilet and tent looked beautiful in the hills:


Dinner was chicken apricot sosaties and afterward we just hung out by the campfire watching planets emerge, the stars come out, and even spotted satellites zooming across the sky.

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With the beauty of that night came the cold; we stuck our feet by the fire for one last warm up, hustled up the tent ladder, changed and got under the covers. And froze. So much for being a badass. Our body heat, had the tent fairly warm, and under the covers was good…. but it was best when we stayed cuddled together with the blankets over our heads. At 2:00am we both needed to pee; down the ladder we went into the cold, and we both rushed back to get warm.

In the restlessness that was that night I did here coyotes off in the distance and we had a rather talkative owl in the trees behind camp for awhile. Later in the morning we both fell asleep pretty well and made it until 7 something in the morning. It was warmer , but not warm. After breakfast I did spot a few elk feeding in an open park across from us and a turkey was gobbling up quite a storm in the canyon below us.

We slowly broke camp. Nicely, the roof top tent took us only 10 minutes to close, secure, and cover with it’s bag. With that, we made the slow descent toward Wenatchee. It’s a steep run, but not difficult. Trees and forest give away to ranches nestled in the hills at the bottom. Colockum road turns into Malaga Alcoa Highway and we used that to get into Wenatchee.


Because I let air out of our tires, and I don’t have an adequate air pump, I limped the Cruiser to Discount Tire in Wenatchee to get the tires refilled. DO NOT drive over 40mph with deflated tires (I only let 10psi out–without an air pump, I wouldn’t go lower).

As I said before, you can’t get more than 100ft off the main roads in your vehicle–the camps we saw were well within that.

I don’t think this road is difficult by any means, but good ground clearance and health tires are a must. Low range is necessary to make the descent without toasting your brakes.

Colockum Pass on a cold spring Sunday (Part I)


Last weekend, my wife and I managed to schedule or selves off on Sunday… and Monday… and half of Tuesday! Holy shit! I know, it doesn’t sound that big of a deal, but for us, running a family business, a break like this doesn’t happen often.

Sunday morning, we woke up and loaded the Cruiser with cooler, bedding, and our trusty banana boxes of cooking supplies. We put Seattle behind us and headed to Ellensburg, WA to run Colockum Pass over to Wenatchee, WA. I didn’t know much about this route other than it had a reputation of being rough (not difficult, just rocky/bumpy) and it marked on maps as “not suitable for passenger vehicles.” Right on.

The pass marks the halfway point for early miners and ranchers between The Dalles, OR and British Columbia mining camps. It is also midway between Ellensburg and Wenatchee, with the road serving wagon trains carrying supplies between those two towns. I did find a short and nice write up of the history of the area here: The Sunset Highway.

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On the map, getting to the trailhead looks a bit convoluted, but Natasha’s phone’s GPS lead us right to it. We passed right through Ellensburg and then out into the farm country. After a few turns and bends the pavement ends right at the sign for Colockum Road. It looks much like home to me (the San Luis Valley of CO) with open land and sage brush… well, except the sage brush here gets rain so it’s actually green rather than a light gray color.

The beginning of Colockum road the Ellensburg side leads through some private property before coming to a sign warning you that you need a Discover Pass as well as other rules and regulations of the area because it passes through wildlife reserves. Also only green dot roads are drivable (white markers with a green dot on the top are on the sides of the road designating them). Roads that are for authorized vehicles only are clearly marked, so there isn’t a chance of mistakenly getting on one.

We ran the first 1/4 of the road with full air pressure in the tires; that’s a rough ride. We wanted to see what a difference the TJM heavy suspension made (it was significant) before we aired down at our lunch break.

Natasha is always on about how we don’t see wildlife when we’re out in the wilderness… Who can blame her? She’s from Africa where a quick trip to the Kruger National Park has you seeing tons and tons of wildlife. But, while we were there eating our very good tuna salad sandwiches in the truck, I saw one cow elk bust out of the timber behind the truck and disappear into the woods to our left. Sadly (and as usual), Natasha didn’t see it. The elk definitely didn’t stick around long enough for a photo… the tuna sandwich barely did.


With lower tire pressures, the ride was that much smoother even though road was still rough as hell. The road passes through The Colockum Wildlife Area– and much to Natasha’s dismay: no wildlife. Okay, so we saw some Blue Jay, chipmunks, squirrels… and the elk I saw. But I don’t think that counted in her book.

Once out of timber though, the road runs along a ridge and we were rewarded with some spectacular views:

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This is when we started to seriously look for a camping spot…


As noted, you do need a Discover Pass.

I was told that DNR Green Dot maps are available, I couldn’t find any at Metsker Maps in Seattle so we used a combination of a DeLorme Washington Atlas & Gazetteer and a BLM Central Washington Cascades map.

At the sign for Colockum road I would suggest locking your hubs, if you have them, so that you’re ready for any obstacle. Deflate your tires a bit here too (on all 4x4s); it’ll make the ride much better.

On my AWD Cruiser, I didn’t lock the center differential until well into the trail; it was only a few sections and dropping down into Wenatchee that we used 4L. A part-time 4WD truck may just need 4H for much of the beginning of the trail and 4L on the descent.

Improve your cooking and eating while outdoors!


Marry somebody that is really great at cooking and loves camping and traveling. Seriously, I can’t say enough about how much better camp food is with Natasha than just on my own!

You can also cook to your strengths… In the past, I would spend a time camping, snowshoeing, and hunting solo. My Toyota FJ60 served as my tent and I cooked on a Coleman two burner camp stove that ran on white gas. I was pretty good at priming it and get the damned thing to light in all kinds of weather conditions and at different elevations. It suited my cooking ability fine too: I can do eggs, bacon, or boil things in a pot.

Back then, I would pack cans of Campbell’s stew, different Chef Boyardee cans, SpeghettiOs,  instant oatmeal, and that type of food. Easy. Light the stove, dump contents of some an into a pot, heat, and eat. It wasn’t the best for me probably; during archery season I would eat so much canned pasta in red dyed sauce that I would shit a reddish color and it didn’t do anything nutritionally for me. Also, packing that much canned food is just silly and it made packing all the recyclables back a pain in the ass (there aren’t many things that smell as bad as not fully washed out cans of stew left in the back of your truck that is baking in the sun).

Why didn’t I cook meat over a fire? Building a fire and grilling meat are two things that I’m good at. But cooking over a fire can be a pain in the ass too if you don’t have the right tools (and you want to do more than make hotdogs and crap). That is, until I found out about HotRods Braai grill and stand.

It’s a South African product (let me tell you, South Africans know how to braai!) that I found out about by reading a review in SA4x4 Magazine about different braai grids for overlanding. This one is their Roadster: a simple stand and braai basket. The stand is hinged stainless steel that allows you to open a it to fit over different sized fires or fire rings.


This allows you to put the basket at different heights above the fire to control the heat your food is getting. You just  pull the handle out, open the basket, place food inside it, close it, and lock it and braai like mad.


The other great thing about it is the handle collapses so that it fits into it’s own bag. It was designed to fit perfectly into a South African sized ammo box (which you can buy  here in the States for overlanding storage) and as a bonus, into a dishwasher too!

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We have used it wild camping and in State parks fire rings… We’ve grilled meat, done pizza on it, even dessert. It is one of my favorite pieces of kit and I think it would be worth either shipping one here or fabbing up something similar…


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