Colockum Pass on a cold spring Sunday (Part I)

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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 stick around long enough for a photo… the tuna sandwich barely did.

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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…

Notes:

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!

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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.

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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.

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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…

I am not going to use a cliche about light in this title… (a product review)

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No “let there be light” or “let the light in” or anything like that… It’s tempting though.

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If you haven’t heard, South Africa is experiencing rolling blackouts which has people coming up with all kinds of interesting solutions to their light or electricity needs. When my mother-in-law visited late last year, she found that her sister and husband were using these little “Cape Union” branded LED lights in hallways and around the house.  She brought one back for me and my wife to use while we’re camping.

We haven’t been camping since I got it (we’re headed out this weekend), but I do use this light all the time. It’s size means that it’s easy to pack in things even though it’s shape makes awkward to carry in your pocket. I use it mostly when wrenching on the truck. I place it flat on the ground under whatever I am working on, or hang it with the hook or the magnetic back to get light where I need it. I discovered you can use the hook as a monopod to hold it up at an angle too.

It has the LEDs that are on top, plus three on one side. Twitch either has the three on, off, the surface LEDs on, off. The magnet is right in the back; the hook is too; it folds to be flush with the housing. Batteries are inside the housing (you have to remove three screws to get to them).

Is it bright? No, not really. It’s more of a supplement to other light. The garage I work in is fairly dim and it’s nice to get a light source right on what I’m looking at. It’s compact enough to go into tight spots too. I think in the tent it’ll supply a good non-blinding light.

I know what you’re thinking, why review a light that is from South Africa? Because I keep finding all over the place in different stores. Sears has one that looks just like it (they charge $22). Home Depot does also, but for $8.95. I also saw the exact same light (branded differently) at the local Fred Meyer in the flashlight section for under $8.00. Even TJM 4×4 has one listed on their website with their own branding. The more expensive versions I have seen may have different switch options (on, bright, flash), but I’m not sure exactly (I hope so for the jump in price). I think the lower priced versions are a good value for what they do.

It seems to be a good value, and I’ll probably pick up another one for use around the camp. It’s nice to be able to direct light down to cover an area…

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Tale of the Tape: How much lift did I actually get?

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Here are the measurements before and after for the complete TJM Heavy lift kit on our 2000 UZJ100:

The measurements for the front:

Left wheel, center to fender lip: before = 49cm(19.29in)  now = 50.8cm(20.08in)

Right wheel center to fender lip: before = 49.5cm(19.49in)  now = 50.8cm(20.08in)

The measurements for the rear:

Left wheel, center to fender lip: before = 49.5cm(19.49in)  now = 56cm(22.05in)

Right wheel, center to fender lip: before = 50cm(19.69in)  now = 56.5cm(22.25in)

Bottom of hitch receiver: before =32.5cm(12.80in)  now = 40.5cm(15.94in)

The truck did gain a good bit of lift and it’s easy to see. I didn’t crank the front torsion bars up too much though. In the future I will go with Slee’s differential drop kit so that I can keep the torsion bars at a lower setting while still gaining lift.

TJM lift complete!

Installing the rear shocks and springs on the back of our UZJ100 kicked my ass, hard. I rented tools for the entire day and by the end of it I only managed to get the rear done… the shocks were an absolute pain in ass.

With my lack of time and a good shop to work in (especially after installing the roof top tent), I hadn’t installed the matching TJM torsion bars and shocks; the truck has been running around with a stinkbug stance:

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During this time I got more active on Northwest Overland, including going to a couple of their Seattle Area Meetups. After one, a member of the group, Jon Davis, suggested a wrenching party starting with my front lift and moving on to other trucks. Honestly, I didn’t expect that from a group that I just met/joined and I jumped at the thought of doing it.

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We scheduled a Saturday afternoon for wrenching. I pulled in, there were already guys and trucks waiting. It was like a 24hr of Le Mans pit stop (but a little slower): pulled the truck in, floor jacks were rolled under it, tires off, and wrenches were spinning. We followed Slee Off Road’s instructions for their Old Man Emu lift (open that link and scroll down for the PDF) and I wont rehash that out.

The front shocks are straight forward and easy to deal do; those were first… old off, new on. Then, the torsion bar adjustment bolt (you can clearly see the head of it in this photo of the back of the torsion bar set up; it’s a 30mm head):

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And the torque arm was unbolted (this bracket on the front of the torsion bar):

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We did gently tap the torque arm off with small hammer in order to remove the torsion bar.

The new TJM heavy torsion bars compared to one of the OEM units:

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We followed Slee’s process for marking and keying the new torsion bars to the torque arm; we used a tire crayon for ease and visibility. We simply reversed the process of removal and checked, double checked the key marks to make sure it went back together correctly.

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The opposite side was a little bit faster. The thing we learned was to make our own marks on both the torsion bar and the torque arm in several spots for added visibility under the truck. I

Once the bars were on, everything bolted up, and tires back on, we measured from center of wheel to fender lip to make sure we had it even. We did on the first try.

Was it easy? Yeah, torsion bars are easier than leaf springs, but not as easy as coils. The truck came out with a slight rake (I’ll post measurements and adjustments in a separate post).

The truck came out with a different stance than it had before front was done:

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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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