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Home on the Highway - San Francisco to Ushuaia, Argentina in an 87 4Runner
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Chuck Cheese
(defrag4) - F
Home on the Highway - San Francisco to Ushuaia, Argentina in an 87 4Runner on 11/07/2011 02:22:50 MST Print View

Since we all seem to dig the same stuff around here, I invite you guys to follow along on my PanAm trip, We are camping in the back of 4runner and backpacking around wherever we please.

Howdy folks! Figured it was about time to get this thread going. After saving and planning this trip for the past 3 years, Lauren and I are set to leave TODAY for the first leg of our Pan-American journey.

We are leaving from San Francisco to travel back to our home-state of Florida to say adios to our family and friends, from there we will trek back to Texas and cross the border into Mexico. DESTINATION: USHUAIA, ARGENTINA :bowdown:

We have no set plans, No real set destination other than getting to the bottom. Our timeline for the trip is at least 1 year. We are planning to extend the trip by hooking up with volunteer organizations, couchsurfing, and house-sitting when possible. We have modified my 87 4Runner into a quasi-camper with most of the luxuries of home. ie: Bed, Stove, Shower, 110v etc.

The truck is fitted to tackle some serious off-roading, we look forward to exploring tons of backroads and trails all up and down Central/South America. Any suggestions on places to go, people to see, beers to drink will be appreciated!

I am still waiting to pick up our truck from the 4x4 shop today where they are mounting a rear-swingout for 2 jerry cans, Our lease is up and my last day of work was yesterday so we are OUTTA HERE as soon as we get the truck.

We are going to take about 2 weeks or so to drive from Northern California to Florida. Lauren has never seen much of Utah, Nevada, Colorado so I believe we will be journeying that way. We plan to just look at the atlas and pick out national/state parks/monuments/forests to camp at along the way. Again we are open to ANYTHING so throw up your suggestions.


Here is our blog with more information, feel free to subscribe and follow us on the facebook

Home on the Highway | Our adventures driving the Pan-Am.


Edited by defrag4 on 11/07/2011 02:26:12 MST.

Chuck Cheese
(defrag4) - F
update1 on 11/07/2011 02:28:57 MST Print View

November 1st came and went, we were antsy to get going but the world had other plans. Luckily we only ended up two days behind “schedule”, which I am now declaring as a dirty word. Schedules are for people who have someplace to be.

Darren and Marc at Any7 got the truck all finished up, they did a great job putting our ideas for the truck into action. We picked it up and headed home to cram all worldly possessions into the back.

Thanks guys!

Luckily this process only took about 30 minutes. Impressive! We bid our landlords and our cabin farewell and headed out the door. It was too late to actually make it anywhere and the truck was too full of crap to camp in the back. Darren let us crash on his couch for the night, the first of many couch surfing experience to come I am sure.

Re-arranged the back of the truck in the morning and hit the road. Our destination for the night was the Sierra mountains.

Excitedly we headed off into the rolling foothills of the Sierras.

The clouds looming overhead did not look very inviting, and as we approached the mountain range we saw signs stating the most of the mountain passes were closed. I thought this was odd since I was just up here last weekend and there wasn't any snow on the ground. Cranked up the weather report on the radio…


Perfect, so pretty much exactly where we were heading? Looks like our “schedule” is about to change again. A quick look at the map and we decide we are going to go up and over the Sierra range and camp at a ghost town called Bodie on the eastern-side foothills. The storm was not scheduled to hit until 730, was only 430 at the time. We were about 2 hours from the other side. No problemo. We press on determined to beat the storm.

Not much time for pictures this visit to the Sierras.

Approaching 8000FT

Making good time, should make it easily before the storm hits. …until

What the hell!? Construction delays on the Carson pass! A bunch of bozos trying to build a road as the storm approaches, A long line of trucks idling waiting for the road to clear. The white flakes starting to fall and winds picking up!

Eventually we make it over and haul ass down to Bodie as the storm picks up gusto. We find a side-road up in the hills and setup camp for the night as the storm set in. It’s going to be a cold one…

OUCH! 11F at 830AM, Had to have got down to 5F or so overnight

We awake to all the windows completely iced over, rear window and side windows frozen up, only way out of the truck is to move all the crap piled in the front back onto our bed and then climb out the front seats.

Iced over

She still started on first crank!

Froze our ass off trying to repack the truck in 11F weather, headed into town to grab a coffee then headed south. We wanted to check out the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest. Home to the oldest living things in the world.

Weather was still crappy but we knew if we waited any longer they would shut the road down (We have tried 3 times to get up here, every time it has been closed due to inclement weather/snowed out roads)

Road to nowhere?

The ancient bristlecone pines are only found in the highest elevations of the Inyo forest, from 8000-12000ft these beasts have lived for over 4000 years. Older than the next oldest living thing by over 1000 years! I had to see them!

Conditions worsening, 4Runner can take it. My buddy Jimbo gave me my first 4x4 lessons driving in a Sierra blizzard, I think I can handle a little powdering.

Made it!

Quick poses! too cold to hang around

Back to the truck and crank the heater up!

Chuck Cheese
(defrag4) - F
update2 on 11/07/2011 02:29:46 MST Print View

Drove back out of the park and camped on another backroad near the back entrance to Death Valley

Not a bad sight to wake up too.

Headed up the backroad into Saline Valley, Death Valley National Park

blech, cooties!

DV has some of the most breathtaking scenery in the U.S, the weather/light was crap most of the day so I couldn't get very good pics.

Abandoned homestead

Stopped for some lunch, you can somewhat see our current “organization” system. Still a work in progress.

Saline Valley Rd.

Part of the old trolley system that carted salt from the Saline valley up and over the mountains to Bishop, CA. quite a feat in its day.

Driving down Saline Valleys dirt roads was a blast. The new OME suspension ate it up! I could haul ass now over every type of rock, pothole, dip, whatever. The suspension ate it up and asked for more. I am really happy with it, Thanks again to Any7 Offroad for putting it all together for us.

Riding down the road we came across a Toyota FJ60 broken down on the side of the road. Not being one to leave a fellow Toyota behind we pulled over to see what was up.

Hmmm… 20 year old spare didn't cut the mustard in Death Valley?

Turns out these guys were from LA and were out here cruising for the weekend headed to the Hot springs. They caught a flat the day before and the spare blew out them just a mile down the road. They had been stuck there for about 24 hours now.

At least they had a nice view…

10 minutes with the plug kit and the punctured tire was repaired, took about another 3 hours wrestling with the jack and the stock sagged out springs to get the blown out spare off. Luckily they had beer, which is about all it takes to keep me around for 3 hours.

Stock spare off, not enough clearance to mount the fixed tire though.

Gotta air it down! Ladies… We need your butts.

With the tire aired down we were able to clear the lugs, get it bolted on and air it back up. Back on the road!

We set our separate ways and setup camp somewhere down in the valley.

Woke up in the morning, pack the truck up and headed out. Destination Las Vegas.

Joshua Trees in DV.

Lauren says this is where Dr. Seuss came to write his books, the truffala tree looks oddly similar to the Joshua Tree

Off out the valley, into Nevada.

Reason #1 why Nevada rocks! Was paying ~$4/gal in CA.

We are now lying in bed in a hotel in Las Vegas, couldn't pass up the cheap deal and a hot shower! The adventure continues…

Chuck Cheese
(defrag4) - F
re on 11/07/2011 02:34:37 MST Print View

I am having some issues with the truck though, looks like when the motor got rebuilt they put a O'Reillys thermostat in there instead of the dual-spring OEM one so I am getting tempature overshoot constantly, espciailly in this cold weather, the block cools down instantly and the thermostat slams shut until the truck is practically overheating, then it drops back down to normal temp, i gotta keep the RPMs up the keep the temp up to prevent the thermo from slamming. Calling the Las Vegas Toyota dealer in the AM, hopefully the have the thermo in stock, if not Ill call ahead to my next town and have them order it for me.

Also looks like I am seeping oil from the oil pan gasket and possibly someplace else, I thought I saw some red ATF fluid under the truck at one gas station but have not seen it since.

Going to give everything a scrubdown tomorrow and evaluate, anyone know know a spot in Las Vegas that I could get some work done if need be?

Ben Crocker
(alexdrewreed) - M

Locale: Kentucky
Pan Am on 11/07/2011 09:00:01 MST Print View

Very jealous of your trip. We were down in death valley last month and really loved it too. Its hard to explain what's so special about it but it really is. Looks like you'll hit the southeast just about in time to be among the barren trees. Some like the views it gives but I like my leaves.
I have traveled a lot of Mexico and central america. I am a fan of the volcanos and west coast beaches. We loved Nicaragua. Its beautiful and the Nicas are really fun people overall. Make sure to stop in Granada, Ometepe, and the beaches south of San Juan del Sur (you will be glad to have your 4 wheel drive there).

Chuck Cheese
(defrag4) - F
re: on 11/07/2011 11:49:58 MST Print View

thanks Ben, sounds like some awesome sites, I am really looking foward to Central/South Am

I found a dealer in St. George, Utah that ordered me the t-stat going to check everything out here today, if we look good I am planning to drive the Tuweep trail down to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, then head back to St. George to pick up the part tomorrow.

Hk Newman
(hknewman) - MLife

Locale: Western US
RE: Home on the Highway - San Francisco to Ushuaia, Argentina on 11/07/2011 12:13:21 MST Print View

Sounds like an excellent adventure and one of these days ..... I assume at least one of you speaks Spanish?

Advice: Get through the Texas-Mexican border during early daylight hours due to the troubles in their major cities and stay away from the Mexican states with a state dept advisory. All the restaurants on the MX side of the border towns are relocating on the US (Texas) side now - about to go eat in one now actually, so there's no real reason to stop. The border culture is much different from the interior culture. Read you were drinking coffee: Many other cultures prefer Nescafe instant (including south of the border) or something similar, so you might want to slowly limit your caffeine intake. However, I've read where some countries do not want you to leave with a sample of their coffee as well, so meh.

Edited by hknewman on 11/07/2011 12:26:26 MST.

Eugene Smith
(Eugeneius) - MLife

Locale: Nuevo Mexico
"Home on the Highway - San Francisco to Ushuaia, Argentina in an 87 4Runner" on 11/07/2011 13:23:04 MST Print View


This was an awesome little report, enjoyed it tremendously. You have a killer Runner there. I'm a Toyota FJ60 owner and love seeing these things out in their element.... scraping along somewhere out in the desert. Mine is sitting over 300,000 miles and has a leaky tank, need to drop that thing and throw some JB weld in there when I get a chance. ;-)

d k
(dkramalc) - MLife
Re: "Home on the Highway - San Francisco to Ushuaia, Argentina in an 87 4Runner" on 11/07/2011 17:45:14 MST Print View

Sounds like a great trip you have planned. If you haven't read it already, you MUST MUST MUST pick up a copy of Tim Cahill's "Road Fever" and read it either before or as you drive down there. One of the funniest true books ever, covering the journey in the opposite direction (Ushuaia all the way up to Alaska).

Chuck Cheese
(defrag4) - F
Re: "Home on the Highway - San Francisco to Ushuaia, Argentina in an 87 4Runner" on 11/09/2011 20:25:06 MST Print View

ha nice, love those FJ's, hate the gas mileage though, thats why I went the 4Runner. Wish I had more ROOM sometimes though

Chuck Cheese
(defrag4) - F
re on 11/14/2011 21:43:10 MST Print View

Wow! We had a great response to our first post. I am glad you guys are enjoying our adventure. I know in our last post we said that the Sierras and Death Valley is some of the majestic scenery in all of the U.S. I think I need to keep my mouth shut because the past 7 days of traveling the “4 Corners” area of the U.S. has been AMAZING.

The Colorado Plateau is a geographic region of the U.S which covers over 130,000 sq miles of land shared between Arizona, Utah, New Mexico, and Colorado. This area has the greatest concentration of National Parks in the U.S and it is easy to see why. Developed over billions of years and uplifted and modified by faults and receding oceans this area is chock full of geological, ecological, and historical splendor. We had a blast.

Leaving Las Vegas!

Our night in Vegas was spent mostly holed up in our room enjoying the HEAT! and updating the blog. We did make it down for a few drinks and some midway games at Circus Circus

Lauren won a Rhino, He got some free drinks

Headed up to St. George, Utah and camped off some forest road.

Our first taste of red dirt

Snow Canyon State Park, St. George Utah

Since leaving the Bay, we have been having overheating issues, the thermostat on the truck has been malfunctioning. I had read about this issue in the past happening with your standard Autozone thermostats and knew it was fixed by getting the expensive Toyota OEM dual-stage thermostat.

$45 later and 1/2 gallon of coolant onto the NAPA parking lot and we were fixed up, issue solved, no more overheating.

Off to the Grand Canyon! We read about a 90-mile backroad from St. George to a remote area of the Grand Canyon National Park called the “Toroweap Overlook”. Talked to a few people in town who said that it would be snowed and we would not be able to make it up and over the Mount Trumball pass. We’re used to naysayers and of course headed off anyway, the 4runner could make it.

Sunset on the Toroweap Rd.

Nightfall hit by the time we made up to the mountain pass, It was covered in snow and mud, I had a blast mashing through it all in 2 wheel drive, slipping and sliding all over the place and making a big ol’ mess of the truck.

Eventually made it to the campground, setup shop and went to sleep. Awoke in the morning completely alone and surrounded by the majesty of the red rocks and Grand Canyon.

Headed out on a hike to the Toroweap Overlook, no one around for miles but us and the canyon. No guardrails, no tourists, just the way we like it.

Played around in the Canyon for a while, then headed off again back to Utah. Headed to Zion National Park.

Spotted some Coyotes

We arrived in Zion in the middle of the night, awoke surrounded by huge canyon walls and beautiful CLEAR weather! Something we have been lacking most of the trip.

Spent most of the day hiking around Zion, then headed off to explore more of Southern Utah.

Headed to Bryce Canyon. Amazing Scenery of course.

Bryce Canyon was pretty well snowed out when we got there, Still checked it out.

Spent most of the time running out the overlook then back to the car, was about 30F outside at the time! Too cold for this Florida boy.

From Bryce we headed down another backroad towards Capitol Reef National Park, sun went down and we setup another freezing camp. Awoke in the morning to frost covering the truck once again and dreary cloud cover.

The beautiful dirt road through Capitol Reef made up for the weather. This is a great drive and there was no one out here but us. We enjoyed taking our time cruising through this beautiful place.

Eventually the dirt road led us to Glen Canyon National Recreation area, which is home to most of Lake Powell. Similar to Hetch Hetchy in the Sierras, a environmental tragedy took place here where we dammed up the Colorado River and flooded the majestic Glen Canyon to increase water supply to the surrounding area. The created reservoir was named Lake Powell after one of my heroes.

We hit the highway once again and headed towards the 4x4’er mecca. AKA MOAB, UTAH!

Got to Moab in the middle of the night, shacked up in a cheap motel. I thought I had heard some strange noises coming from our trash bag we had been carrying since Grand Canyon. Messed around for a bit with it and didn’t see anything, figured I was just crazy. Next morning Lauren is doing Yoga and hears the same noises coming from the bag. We snatched it up and dumped it into the bathtub to investigate.


Screaming like little girls and dancing around the room in our underwear trying to catch him but he ended up escaping somewhere in the motel room. Sorry Motel6!

Now that our adrenaline was pumping it was time to go beat on the truck some. We headed to the “Poison Spider 4x4 Trail” to try our luck and see how far we could make it. Lauren has never been 4wheeling before and was pretty much peeing her pants the entire time as we drove all over this place. The 4Runner with little 31 inch tires and open differentials is still a pretty capable machine.

After mashing around in Moab for most of the day we were headed up to Grand Junction, CO. An awesome guy from MarlinCrawler forums had offered to help us fix up a few issues with the truck that we did not have the tools or knowledge to tackle ourselves.

Drove around Colorado National Monument looking for a campspot, eventually found some dirt road that we took, kept getting higher and higher into the mountain. Eventually we were driving through deep snow in the middle of no where, figured we should turn around. Well the rear wheels dropped into a icy rut and we were stuck. 30 minutes of winching later we were turned around and headed back down the road. The Smittybuilt winch is no longer a virgin and it worked like a champ!

Next morning headed over to Phillip’s shop in Grand Junction. The shops name is Karnage Fabrication, Phillip knows Toyota’s like the back of his hand. He has owned over 50 of them and had ours torn apart and fixed back up in no time. This guy was a lifesaver, The Toyota community is an great group and I feel honored to have met such an awesome guy and his beautiful family. We replaced the oil pan cork gasket with the proper sealant, fixed up a leaky inner shat oil seal, and replaced the failing AUTO hubs with some beefy AISIN manual hubs. Thanks again Phil, you are our hero! And Thanks to Sean and Ace for grabbing some much needed parts. It was great to meet all of you!

Lauren and Phil’s daughter became bestest of friends.

4x4 Fabrication/Arts and Crafts. Karnage Fabrication has it all!

Headed off today for Vail to meet up with one of my dad’s old friends. Speaking of which… I should probably get on the horn and let him know were coming!

Edited by defrag4 on 11/14/2011 22:09:37 MST.

Chuck Cheese
(defrag4) - F
re on 11/23/2011 15:25:29 MST Print View

New post up on the blog if you want to check it out!

With Thanksgiving quickly approaching we had to step our game up. No more dilly dallying! We still have a few obligations to our parental units to uphold and one of them was Thanksgiving dinner in Florida. Unfortunately this means we had to pick up the pace from Colorado to Florida in order to hit our deadline. We missed a lot of great stuff and look forward to coming back someday to revisit lots of sites along the way. Luckily we have lots of friends along the way to stop in and crash for the night. Less camping shots on this post.

Heading out from Moab towards Colorado. We stopped off in Beaver Creek, CO to visit an old friend. Tommy is one of my dads best friends and basically an uncle to me and my brothers. It was great catching up with him and nice to get out of the cold for a bit. Tommy is a wild man, loves deep-sea diving, heli-skiing, dragracing, and basically raising hell. When I was younger he gave me my first job, let me get away with all my shenanigans, and was there to kick my ass when I needed it. A good guy indeed.

Beaver Creek, Nice little ski town. Still needs more snow to get pumping.

Fellow hellraisers

A little further up the mountain, Vail, CO had runs open and people skiing.

From Beaver Creek we stopped in Denver to see another old friend. We all call him Howie, I think his real name is Chris. But he has always been Howie to us. I met Howie back during my brief-stint with college. A lifetime friend and accomplice, how we got away with 1/2 the stuff we pulled I will never know. We stopped in unexpectedly and they were planning to go to a concert that night...

more on the blog

Chuck Cheese
(defrag4) - F
re on 12/15/2011 19:46:46 MST Print View

Howdy folks, new post up on the blog. Check it out

Sorry it has been so long since our last post, things have been busy on the Home on the Highway front. When we last left you we had just entered Florida right around Thanksgiving time. We spent the holiday bouncing between our two parents houses and seeing friends anywhere and everywhere in between.

Beautiful Ladies, Impressive genes!

Vacation Dad! and his beautiful daughters out for a pleasure cruise on their boat.

You get two opinions of Florida, those who think it is a tropical paradise and others who think its nothing but a muggy retirement home. Like most things in life, Florida is all about the timing, and November is PRIME TIME for adventuring in our homestate. The mercury drops, humidity vanishes, bugs and tourists are banished, and we get to enjoy these pristine months in shorts and t-shirts relaxing on the beach while the rest of the country is bundled up fighting off Jack Frost. Needless to say, I love Florida.

November? Yep!

After we wrapped up Thanksgiving in Tampa with Lauren’s folks we headed down to Miami for a bit to hang out with my family. First order of business… FISHING. My crazy Uncle Wendell was happy to take the family out for a day of hunting dolphins. My Uncle is a true Old man of the Sea, not a lick of electronics to be found on the boat, no fancy GPS, no fish finder, none of the gauges actually work, hell I don’t even think there was a UHF radio on the thing. We fish by sight, smell, and feel out here.

My brother Jonathan and Mama Dukes, 80’s stylin on the fishing trip


Nice little Dolphin, To take the skunk off the boat

Laurens turn at bat

Sushi time! Blackfin on the menu

Put a few more in the boat and headed back in for dinner.

Happy Captain and Crew!

Next day we headed on down to the Florida Keys, one of my favorite places on earth. My folks have had a timeshare down in Key Largo forever and I have been exploring these mangrove waters as long as I can remember. I love it down here. Old Florida still survives in places like these.

Mom, Daddio, and yours truly.

Continue Reading....

Edited by defrag4 on 12/15/2011 19:48:25 MST.

David Thomas
(DavidinKenai) - MLife

Locale: North Woods. Far North.
Re: Re: "Home on the Highway - San Francisco to Ushuaia, Argentina in an 87 4Runner" on 12/15/2011 22:16:14 MST Print View

I totally agree that you must read Tim Cahill's "Road Fever". But it appears you haven't since you did all those mods to the Toyota. All my Toyotas stay totally stock. No mods. At all. I took the first one to 294,000 miles with two $100 repairs (fuel gauge sender unit at 100k and a new clutch master cylinder at 200k). I didn't want to give it up but the wife (with the big pay check) felt it had gotten too doggie smelling. Someone else is still driving it around town, 23 years old now and coming up on two Earth-Moon distances. And every Toyota I bought since is still running except those that hit a moose. And you are totally safe from moose for the next year.

It sounds like a GREAT trip and I hope it goes really well for you.

But I'd paraphrase my standard travel packing advice ("Half as much luggage and twice as much money as you think you'll need") as "dump half the stuff you've brought and alwys keep a few bucks in your pocket." Overloaded vehicles break much more often. And spare parts and extra gas solve only a few problems. Extra money solves all problems.

Chuck Cheese
(defrag4) - F
re on 12/16/2011 08:39:59 MST Print View

ha tell me about it Dave, I should have just drove it stock. Shes a tough cookie though. Love Toyotas

stephan q
(khumbukat) - F
Re; Home on the Highway on 12/16/2011 18:47:56 MST Print View

Wow, sounds like a great trip. We went from Quito to Lima by road( mostly buses)this May/June. Crossed into Peru at the frontier crossing south of Zumba and made our way to Chachapoyas before heading to the coast. Fuel in Ecuador is only $1.25 per gallon for unleaded, and the country is fantastic for travelers. If you have any ?'s about the area we will be glad to help. Some great info can be found at our friends blogs, vnextstop and/or polarbearstopenquins. These folks are on bicycles, but you will find great info and local tips from them. stephan.

ben wood

Locale: flatlands of MO
Re: Re; Home on the Highway on 12/17/2011 08:41:41 MST Print View

James, this is awesome, i don't know how i missed this until now.

sounds like like all kinds of fun.

Chuck Cheese
(defrag4) - F
new post on 01/10/2012 10:58:10 MST Print View

Hey guys, Things are going good here in Moreilas, MX. We are just about to head out from here up into the mountains to check out the Monarch Butterfly reservations. Apparently there are millions of these guys all over the place up there. From then we are headed to Mexico City!

We have been getting lots of requests on how we actually setup and organized the interior of the truck, This is Laurens department and she just put up a new post on how we manage it. Check it out!

Sleep mode, activate!

David Thomas
(DavidinKenai) - MLife

Locale: North Woods. Far North.
Re: new post on 01/10/2012 11:47:56 MST Print View

Nice set up. A flat place to sleep is such a quality of life thing. It can also help you make miles when you need to by sleeping / driving in shifts. But I'd suggest you limit using that trick to US interstates - NOT Central and South American roads. Stick to daytime driving with seatbelts fastened. Goats, chickens, bandits, and potholes all come out at night and you don't need any of that kind of excitement.

Chuck Cheese
(defrag4) - F
re on 01/11/2012 17:51:01 MST Print View

Ya we dont drive at all at night, its enough fun driving in the day avoiding cows, kids, topes, pigs, horses etc... We try to start finding a place to camp at least an hour or two before sundown.