Second project on Zoe’s 4Runner

IMG_1754After getting new wheels and tires on my daughter’s 4Runner, the ride, power, and fuel mileage greatly improved. But the shocks! They were horribly worn out; each bump or pothole just sent the truck bouncing: not safe, especially a young driver.

At first, I was going to have her purchase Rancho RS5000 or some comparable “off-road” shocks. Her driving needs don’t warrant that type of shock. I figured a good stock quality stock replacement shock would better suit her for now. A quick look at RockAuto Parts and we found a set KYB Excel-G shocks for really cheap. Done.


Shocks are super easy to do on your own; it does help if you have somebody with you. This was the prefect project to start Zoe wrenching on her truck with. We did the swap with the truck parked and the wheels on; there is plenty of room to work under these 4x4s.

On the rears, simply remove the old shock by taking out the bolts top and bottom. To install the new ones, bolt up the top, cut the plastic strap that keeps the shock compressed, and guide the bottom mount into position as it slowly expands. Bolt it all up and you’re done!

The fronts are a bit tougher, but same concept. The top mount is a stud; rotating the mounting nut will cause the dustshield and top mount to rotate; you’ll never get it off solo. I used some water pump pliers to grip the dust shield while Zoe removed the top nut. We removed the bottom bolt, took out the old shock, and slid in the new.

The ride of the truck has greatly improved. Zoe text me this morning and says that not only does it ride better, but she feels safer in it. It’s great to tackle a project that isn’t expensive and has immediate seat of the pants improvement! And it’s nice to get Zoe started on DIY vehicle maintenance and modifications!

NOTE: Always wear safety glasses! I’ve had too many pieces of rust or greasy debris get into my eyes. The top pic shows Zoe without eye protection: an oversight on my part that we quickly remedied.

Brief update on the work lamps..

…on the back of our 100 Series.

I posted awhile back about mounting two Hella Optilux lights on the rear of our roof rack (one long range work lamp LED, one short range work lamp LED).

On Thanksgiving, we finally made it out on a camping trip to test them. Due to a few technology failures, I’ve lost a bunch of photos, but I do have one left of the camp.

This photo was taken by me standing at the back corner of Cruiser. The table is about 6ft away or so from the rear of the truck; the tent is about 25ft away.


You can see that the light is a little hot that close to the truck, but nothing to bad. The two lights definitely make the need for lanterns in camp unneeded. Because they are LEDs, the draw on our battery is super low; we left them on for hours with no fear of draining the battery.

This was a an easy-ish mod; rear facing flood lamps are a great addition to our camping life.

I once got a sucker punch from a Land Cruiser…

I had driven my mom’s FZJ80 the 4 hours from Alamosa, CO to Denver, CO. When I got to the parking garage I needed, it started overheating. I was quite confused because it had ran beautifully all day.

I popped open the hood, leaned into the engine compartment… BLAM! I was knocked straight down into the engine… Holy shit that was a surprise. I pulled myself out and looked around to find nobody around. Yup, the lift supports just gave out (or the Cruiser was trying to kill me).


Our UZJ100’s never really held itself up; I’ve always used a pair of locking pliers on the rod to hold it up. Same for the lift gate; sometimes it would sag just enough that I would ram my head into it when I expected it to be fully up (what is it with these killer Cruisers?)

On our last camping trip, the pliers on the lift gate slipped and Natasha took a shot on top of the head from the hatch. Yup, time to replace them.

I picked up some Monroe lift supports from Rock Auto. It’s a super easy swap… kind of. On the rear hatch there are two bolts on the top, and a ball mount on the bottom to remove. But, trying to get the ball mount out of the support was hell.  No matter what I tried: small screw drivers, hooks made with paper clips, curse words… I couldn’t open the clip.


I finally gave up and took a Dremel tool and cutoff wheel to them; lots of sparks later, I had the mounts on the two rear supports out:


I installed one side and when I moved to the other, guess what I found? Yes, Monroe includes new bottom mounts (the clip is from the mount I had needlessly cut out of the old unit).



I made sure to check the hood support packages before I started working. Yes, they included two new ones per side. That made that job far easier: remove the mounts (while still clipped into the supports), install the new ball mounts, clip on the new supports… done.

Now I don’t have to worry about that Cruiser sucker punch…

People shouldn’t name things “Dick”


Not sporting good stores, or burger joints… or your kids for that matter.

Maybe it’s just the middle school boy in me, but I sometimes chuckle at things named Dick.

The name Whiskey Dick Unit? For a wildlife area? Now that’s just odd. I know that there’s Whiskey Dick Mountain and Whiskey Dick creek in the area, but I really don’t know how the word Dick and Whiskey got combined to a name…

I do know that it’s a gorgeous area. Natasha and I had a day and a half to spend camping and we left a rainy Seattle for the sun of eastern WA. We drove east on I90, exited at Kittitas, WA (a VERY sleepy town), and caught the old Vantage Highway to Vantage, WA (with only 70 people in it, I’m not sure that’s even a town). The Vantage Highway is a great drive; it’s a small highway through farm and ranch land, curvy and hilly, and just better than any interstate. We took it all the way to Vantage to tank up the Land Cruiser (again) before heading into the openness of Whiskey Dick.


To get into the wildlife area, we had to backtrack from Vantage and went a few miles before turning right on the first turnoff. It’s not clearly marked, but you really cant miss it. Right past cattle guard is all the rules and regulations pointing out that you have to stay on the Green Dot roads and that you need a Discover Pass.

The area is stunning. Open steppes, sagebrush, rock, lichens, dirt, wind… It really reminded me of home. It was nice to experience the sounds and smells I’m familiar with; it’s a much different experience than camping in western Washington.

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Our initial plan was to follow the Green Dot marked road until it got close to the Columbia River and camp near water, but this area is big. Too big for the day and a half we had. So we drove until 2pm or so and found a camp in a draw with a creek in it. No, it wasn’t a burbling creek, but it meant that there were trees and tall grass. And being low, it broke the wind to an actually enjoyable breeze.

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We spent the evening having sitting around, and not doing much. Which is how it should be.

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(I had to include some cheesy shots of us… because we never take photos of ourselves and we need to get better about doing that).

The only regret I had is that we didn’t plan this as a multi-day trip; if you go, give yourself plenty of time. Also, let some air out of your tires; your ass will thank you (it’s a rocky road). If it’s dry, a good 4×4 with low range and healthy tires will have no problem (be prepared for steep descents and hill climbs). From the looks of the soil and tracks before us, it looks like it’s slicker than snot in the wet.

Natasha and I try not to revisit places… but this is one area I hope we return to explore…

More on our CVT tent: some advice when pitching in the wind

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Natasha and I got away for a quick camping trip in Whiskey Dick Wildlife Area. This area in western Washington is open, rocky, and treeless. And windy.

Our camp was set down in the bottom of a draw between some hills and behind a knoll; this cut the wind to a strong but pleasant breeze. It wasn’t so bad we couldn’t sit outside and we enjoyed tea followed by setting up and dinner. Because it was only an overnight trip, we didn’t open all the rainflys on our CVT tent.

There was too much tall dry grass around the fire ring for me to feel comfortable building one; without a fire, we ended up climbing into the tent pretty early. There, the wind started to torment us. It came in gusts that caused the  closed rainfly to flap. At times the wind would strike the tent in a way that would cause the folded flap of the fly to pop: pop, pop, pop…

Needless to say it was a restless evening. At 11:00pm, Natasha sat up and listened and noticed there was no noise coming from the door of the tent where we had the fly open. We crawled out and deployed the rainfly on the back of the tent. while keeping the ones on the side windows closed.

The noise was gone. We fell asleep (and of course, wind quit).

Lesson learned: in wind or breezy conditions, open the rainfly; the rods that hold them open have enough tension to keep everything taught and relatively quiet.

Every time we use our CVT tent, the more I like it. It is really well made and we love the comfort of sleeping on top of the truck. Click the link for my first review of our CVT tent.

Africa is calling. Loudly.

Natasha’s blog:

Pitstops and Padkos

Jason and I have been talking a lot more about traveling.


we have a business in the United States, children in school, a lease, and bills to pay.

How do we leave it all?

Damnit if life doesn’t always seem to get in the way. Our dreams have to ride shotgun for a while, shouting their thoughts to us over the blaring radio, but unable to take the driver’s seat.

As painful as it is to wait–I am not the most patient person–I am a firm believer in planning. We plotted and planned to make our tea house a reality for at least two years before it finally came to fruition. Those were two very painful years, where most days were filled with frustration at having to wait for it all to come together. I had to keep teaching, something that at that point made me miserable, but there…

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A crazy idea taking shape…

My wife and I really want to travel as much of the world as we can. Much of it overland.

We’ve been trying to come up with an idea to make money while traveling (while starting off with a some seed money too). For now, we’ve created a website Iron Kitten Adventures. This site will be about the adventure as well as how we finance and plan our future adventures.

Of course, this blog won’t go away; it’ll still be about the truck, gear, smaller trips, and other things…

Check it out and watch it grow.


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