Although I’ve been planning a long range Overland trip from my home in Northern Michigan to Colorado and Utah for some time now, the date has finally arrived. And it kinda snuck up on my in all honesty. I know that doesn’t make much sense but with all the prep to the vehicle and gear acquisition, I kinda lost track of time a bit. Well, 4 days until departure and I’m still waiting on a few key parts. Go figure.
Most of the prep work went into the 2017 Toyota Tundra TRD Pro. A perfectly capable vehicle in its own right but there’s always room for improvement, right? That’s what I thought. After binge watching some YouTube videos of guys in Jeeps crawling through some epic mountain passes in Colorado and Moab, Utah, I realized there were a few items on the truck that could use some attention. Now I know a full size truck like a Tundra is no “rock crawler” but some of the obstacles we may encounter could potentially damage the truck. Plenty of late nights with the internet and a credit card led to several pallets of parts mysteriously showing up at my garage.
First up was the CTE Bumper from Camburg Racing. I chose this bumper for it’s fantastic clearance improvement for the front tires. This will allow me to get the front of the tire on larger rock obstacles and ledges without damaging the bumper. Along with the clean, not over the top design that seems to compliment the overall appearance of the truck. Finally, a hidden winch mount and light integration was the icing on the cake. With no other vehicles to pull me out of trouble, a 12,000 lb Warn winch with synthetic rope is now my life line. I also added a pair of 10” Rigid Industries E-Series flood lights as well as A-Series rock lights near the winch and wheel wells. What I didn’t plan for was the increased weight that could adversely affect the front end. Which led to a few more late nights researching.
Originally I planned on upgrading the original TRD Bilstien springs to a heavier pair of coils. When I had trouble finding a definitive answer wether they would be compatible with the original shocks, I just decided it would be easier to swap everything out. And ICON Vehicle Dynamics is were my search landed. A few conversations with Joey from SDHQ Offroad and we decided on the Stage 8 kit from ICON. New adjustable 2.5″ shocks with remote reservoirs for added cooling, upgraded 700 pound springs for the added weight up front, and new progressive leaf packs for the rear. We also added new upper control arms to increase wheel travel and alignment specs once lifted. Mike, a friend and certified mechanic helped wrestle the new parts into place which was greatly appreciated. Not a difficult install but having an extra set of skilled hands was most reassuring.
A lot of the videos I watched showed Jeeps and trucks screeching across rock obstacles on their rock sliders. Basically what appears like a running board but directly attached to the frame and capable of bearing the full weight of the vehicle. Rock sliders are the sacrificial pawn built to take the potentially damaging hit by large rock obstacles and ledges in order to protect the vehicles delicate sheet metal, rocker panels and doors. Fortunately, Victory 4×4 in my home state of Michigan makes some of the best armor on the market. Although it was a 4 hour drive to Portage, MI, it was totally worth it as I was given a full tour of their impressive manufacturing operation. Now I’m awaiting Victory 4×4 to come up with a rear bumper option with dual swing-outs. Because that would be completely unnecessary and badass.
Light Force was nice enough to hook me up with 6 of their ROK20 LED work lights to mount to my bed rack. I mounted 2 lights on either side and 2 rear facing. If I ever need to back into a campsite after sunset, these lights will illuminate the sides and rear of the vehicle giving me a clear picture of any potential danger lurking in the dark. But their main purpose is to illuminate the working area around the sides and rear of the vehicle when parked. Wether for repairs or cooking omelettes, these lights are always there and just a flip of the switch away.
The next few days before we launch will be spent laying out our equipment, tools and toys to make sure we have everything. As well as a trip to the grocery store to stock the Dometic CFX75-DZ. Ultimately, we will be in a truck with access to anything we may have forgotten. But it’d be nice to know we have the ability to plan and pack for most of the situations we’ll encounter. Some additional items I installed over the winter were an ARB Dual onboard air compressor. Mainly to re-inflate tires after airing down. And a Genesis Offroad Dual Battery set-up to help with the additional electrical demands. All in all, I feel we’re as prepared as we can afford to be right now.
The realistic goal of this trip is to explore the Rocky Mountains of Colorado including the old mining towns that litter the southern parts of the mountain range. And follow some the trails and high mountain passes used by early settlers that can exceed 13,000′. Then move into Utah and explore the crazy martian landscapes found around the Moab area. But most importantly, connect with my 15 year old son Kevin as we work together to overcome any obstacles we may encounter. All while enjoying the natural beauty of this part of America.
About the Author:
Erik Meisner served in Attack Company, 2nd Battalion 75th Ranger Regiment as a rifle team leader with deployments to the Middle East, Central America and Asia. He’s a licensed pilot, SCUBA diver and enjoys Alpine skiing, shooting, Overland camping, boating, sea kayaking, traveling and golf. Growing up in a military family, Erik had the pleasure to live and ski all over North America and Europe. Now residing in beautiful Northern Michigan with his wife and 2 sons, they continue to enjoy the outdoors as much as possible.