Off-road | Twin Mountain Offroad Adventure & Meadow Knob

Off-road | Twin Mountain Offroad Adventure & Meadow Knob

It is becoming an annual custom now that FORCE (Frontier Off-Road Club East) hosts a MLK Jr weekend event. This year, it was a joint even with VAXC (Virginia Xterra Club – It was to visit a relatively new off-road park in the hills of West Virginia, Twin Mountain Off Road Adventure. This park was created by John Bradshaw, who has been off-roading his entire life and has been competing in many overlanding trophies. He decided to build this park to continue his passion.

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John’s Unimog

The event was set, and we had a decent group signed up go. The days before were to have crazy weather however, and due to that weather, a potential requirement for chains. Many of us did not have chains, and though they are great to have, I wanted to use the money for other modifications to the truck. So the days up to the event were a big question mark for some, and it was up until the few hours before leaving that we weren’t completely sure we were heading out. After some conversations with other members, we were a go no matter what. The park had temperatures drop in the negatives for windchill, and the ground was frozen solid a few days before the event. This meant that the upper layer was essentially slick mud on ice. As we arrived, John wasn’t even recommending hitting the trails with chains, as most hills were off camber and cut into the mountain side. Meaning, if you slid, you slid hard, and potentially over the side of the mountain. The park has a camping site, big fire pit, and facilities. Some of the members camped the night before, and it looks like something to remember for the future, as there is nothing else close by.

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Some of the mud picked up in the skills portion.

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Group photo.

So to make something out of nothing, we decided to play on the skills portion of the park. There are a few water/mud pits, step inclines, off camber areas, log bridge crossing, and plenty of ground to play on. We had a few guys get stuck in various locations and one even centered on the logs. The biggest pride moment was to take it to the steep grade hill, made much more difficult with the mud layer. After cresting, the vehicles just slid down the remainder of the obstacle. Though we only got a few hours of wheeling in, it was great fun, and we all agreed that we needed to come back when conditions were better. With this park only a few hours away from DC, we have much to look forward to in it’s development. Big shout out to John for letting us wheel, and for breaking out the Unimog a few times.

While grabbing something to eat, the group was discussing what to do next. It was decided that a late afternoon to evening run was going to be made in the George Washington National Forest to set up for the following day’s ride. After gassing up, we headed down interstate 81, picked up a few passengers from JMU, and continued to the trail head. We took Union Springs Road up the mountain. It was a bit of a bumpy ride, had some areas of snow and ice, but didn’t have too many obstacles. There were a few rocky and steep incline areas, but the majority of the ride was smooth sailing. We did hit a small play area that had a few frozen over puddles. After breaking the ice up and running through a few times, we pushed forward. We made it to Meadow Knob, which is a clearing on the ridge. From what I understand, a bunch of people camp here. It was pretty dark, but looked like a solid camp site for future rides. Great view of Harrisonburg, and so we decided to take a group photo.

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Playing in the mud. Photo by Ian Barry.

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Rock climbing.

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Group photo at Meadow Knob. Photo by Ian Barry.

We ran into a few more obstacles. One of which was a rock drop off. Those of us who didn’t have the correct armor and ground clearance decided to go around, but there were a few who went over. Cell phone video capabilities just weren’t there, and so what we captured wouldn’t provide enough detail to what actually happened. We had another rocky incline requiring some spotters, and once everyone was up, we took the opportunity to bid farewell. Part of our group was going to continue camping in the forest that night, while the rest of us headed into Harrisonburg. We headed down the mountain on Dunkle Hollow and exited around Switzer Lake. It was a shame to leave the comforting darkness of the woods and enter back into cell phone service, but it was late and time to grab dinner and beers.

During this trip, we did stop at a fair amount of breweries and beer centric restaurants. Feel free to read about it here.

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The next morning before heading home.

Twin Mountain Off Road Adventure
N 39 11’34.73″ W 79 00’36.89″
Williamsport, WV



Breweries | Escutcheon, Backroom, Lost River, Three Notch’d, & Pale Fire

Breweries | Escutcheon, Backroom, Lost River, Three Notch’d, & Pale Fire

We were heading out to visit an off-road park for the weekend, so of course, we made sure to hit some breweries and beer spots along the way. You can read about the off-road portion here if you like.

We left Friday afternoon and headed out towards Winchester. Luckily the traffic wasn’t that bad, and we made good time. We prolonged grabbing a bite to eat, as some of the breweries we had planned for the night were closing earlier than we initially thought. We arrived in Winchester between 6-7pm. The darkness was sitting in, making our first stop more foreboding than we had hoped, as there were no lights to great us. The farthest north stop on our trip was going to check out Winchester Cider, however they were closed Friday night. A bit of a surprise to us, however we pushed on and took it as a good way to save some time.

So our first stop was Escutcheon Brewing Company. It was raining hard and dark by the time we pulled up, so their sign was a beacon of hope (there was a car accident just down the road as we pulled up, and the sign apparently drew them in afterwards as well, they were fine and in decent spirits). The tasting room is decently sized, with bar tops and bar seating. Plenty of nautical decorations around and cool bottle chandelier. There is a window that looks into the brewery itself, though most of the action would be hard to see as it is behind fermentation tanks and the cold room. There is also a small area with games in one corner. They had Route 11 chips and nuts to snack on, so the hunger pains were starting to creep in.

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Escutcheon – Outside signage.

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Escutcheon – Tasting room.

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Escutcheon – Brewery

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Escutcheon – Flight of beers.

Beers Sampled: Growler Kolsch, John Riggins 4th and 1 Pilsner, Agonic Line Lager, Bowditch APA, Plimsoll IPA, Blackstracke Stout

After our flight, we pushed on. Our next stop had an early closing time, so we skipped checking into the hotel and went straight there. Nearly missing the turn off the lonely back road, we realized we were in the right spot when we saw Steve’s rig, a member of the off-road group. We had been keeping in touch during our trip, so that we could coordinate meeting up, as they are also beer heads. The darkness eliminated many possibilities of me being able to describe what it was I could see, and the rain was not letting up enough to allow me to take an exterior picture. We realized that there was a screened in porch, as we headed into the main building. Backroom is a farm brewery that grows herbs. They use many of these herbs in their beers, making for some unique flavor profiles. The tasting room definitely felt like it’s namesake, and had a loft area that looked to be used for storage. The tables and seating were pretty homey, and there was a fire place in the corner. Flights were served on what looked like a ping pong paddle on steroids. They did serve food, and we were lucky to grab some pretzels and sandwiches before the kitchen closed. The pricing was a bit more than we expected (especially after Escutcheon), but definitely worth finding your way out to this place if you are in the vicinity.

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Backroom – Tasting Room

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Backroom – One paddle of a flight.

Beers Sampled: Backroom Blonde, Golden Strong, Rosemary Orange Amber Ale, Holiday Market Ale, Hop Harvest Party Ale, Black Truffle Pig, Oatmeal Stout, Peter Peter Pumpkin Drinker Porter

We headed to the hotel afterwards, and resorted to a few beers we brought along as we caught up and chatted (Backroom didn’t have any growlers left). This of course resulted in a horrible idea to walk over to McDonald’s for a completely unnecessary late night snack.

The next morning we woke up at a decent time, as we had the rest of our group over at Twin Mountain Off Road Adventure Park. It was going to be a bit of a drive into the mountains. After spending a few hours at the park, we headed back down the mountain and stopped in Lost River, West Virginia. There is a small brewpub taking over the town’s name, Lost River Brewery. Not sure if we caught the brewery at a bad time or not, but they only had two of their beers on draft. Didn’t seem like they had many others on tap either. So we sampled the two they did have and got some food for a late lunch. The space looks to be a small house that had been converted into a pub. It is deeper than it looks, and has low ceilings which contributed to how dark it was inside.

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Lost River – Brewpub

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Lost River – Gotta love kegs in the window.

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Lost River – Wait only two beers?

Beers Sampled: Black Ale, Pale Ale

Leaving Lost River, we hit I-81 and went south. We decided to do a trail ride in the George Washington National Forest before calling it quits. After spending a few hours in the woods and riding a ridge line, it was time to head into town and find a few libations. Town was actually Harrisonburg, Virginia, so after checking in at the hotel we visited Capital Ale House. I had been here before on a previous off-road adventure, and it’s pretty solid. Not only does the impressive beer list draw me in, but they have some of the best ketchup I’ve ever had. The wings are solid as well. Getting close to closing time, we retired back at the hotel for the rest of the night. The next morning, we decided to hit a couple of the Harrisonburg breweries before heading home. They opened later than we were hoping for, and so we stopped in at Jack Brown’s Beer & Burger Joint for lunch. This is a cool little dive bar that really only does burgers, fries, and fried oreos. The beer list is on point, and they have a beer club. For each beer, you get a notch, and once you hit a certain number, they put your name on the wall on a plate made of a beer can. I always love places like this, as you can’t make up the atmosphere. The burger and fries hit the spot, and now some of the breweries were open.

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Capital Ale House – Beers

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Jack’s Brown Beer & Burger Joint – Outside

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Jack’s Brown Beer & Burger Joint – Inside

Not too far from Jack’s Brown in the downtown area is Three Notch’d. It wasn’t quite open when we got their, but they were kind enough to let us in as it was freezing outside. It’s a nice open tasting room, with a variety of seating types. It seems that they have food provided by outside vendors, we didn’t see much else. They do have games and are dog friendly, so that’s always a plus. Though Three Notch’d is from Charlottesville, this is a small extension of the bigger brewery. They carry some of the flagship beers, but also have their own brew system and brew locally inspired beers. They have a cool system for picking your flight, as they have these tabs that you put on your flight paddle. Nice way to help the server and for you to remember what you ordered. Some of the beers are bottled and growlers are available for purchase, so we picked up a Java Espresso Stout to take home.

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Three Notch’d – Outside

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Three Notch’d – Tasting Room

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Three Notch’d – Beer list & Swag

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Three Notch’d – VA Beer Map

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Three Notch’d – Build your own flight

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Three Notch’d – My built flight.

Beers Sampled: Ghost of the 43rd, “Yam Mon” Sweet Potato Jamaican Curry Ale, Shenandoah Alley, Hydraulion Red, No Veto English Brown, Oats McGoat’s Oatmeal Stout, Jack’s Java Espresso Stout

We hung out for a bit and were enjoying hanging out, but knew that we had to get moving. Just a little ways down the street was Pale Fire. Reading through reviews, this one was high on our must list. The brewery is built into a not so typical strip mall. It is an old converted Ice House, complete with big metal insulated doors. I always love the reuse of old spaces. The interior has plenty of garage doors that open to the outdoor seating, and has a family entertainment area. It comes complete with TV, bookcase, and couches. They also had a variety of other seating types, and opposite the garage doors is a storefront allowing a view of the brewery. Honestly, the first thing I noticed upon walking in was the huge pile of bagels near the front entry. Appears these get dropped off and are up for grabs to nosh on while sampling. Other food available were more Route 11 chips. We met some interesting people (a hop farmer for instance) in the brewery, and we recommended that they needed more kid’s toys with the setup they had. Sounds like they are running a decent size system and are even doing collaborations with other breweries, Adroit Theory for example.

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Pale Fire – Ice House

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Pale Fire – Tasting room

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Pale Fire – Brewery

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Pale Fire – Flight & Bagel

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Pale Fire – Beer List

Beers Sampled: Saving Grace, Red Molly Irish Red, Electric Sheep, Deadly Rhythm, Loop & Lil, Salad Days, Village Green Double IPA, Momo Belgian Chocolate Stout

At this point, we had to call it quits. Hanging out had gotten the best of us, and it was starting to get later than we intended on staying. It was recommended that we stopped in to a few of the other breweries, so looks like we will need to come back. Harrisonburg definitely left a lasting beer impression on us though, and we are looking forward to another visit.

Escutcheon Brewing Co
142 W Commercial Street
Winchester, VA 22601

Backroom Brewery
150 Ridgemont Road
Middletown, VA 22645

Lost River Brewing Co
155 W Main Street
Wardensville, WV 26757

Three Notch’d Brewing Co
241 East Market Street
Harrisonburg, VA 22801

Pale Fire Brewing Co
217 S Liberty Street
Suite 205
Harrisonburg, VA 22801

Capital Ale House
41 Court Square
Harrisonburg, VA 22801

Jack Brown’s Beer & Burger Joint
80 S Main Street
Harrisonburg, VA 22801

Hike | Cactoctin Mountain Park & Cunningham Falls

Hike | Cactoctin Mountain Park & Cunningham Falls

Jan 1, 2016

Since our little guy was born, I’ve been wanting to do more hiking. We love hiking, and can’t wait to take him along. At his current age though, it’s been a bit tougher than we thought. We did purchase a carrier for him, which I’ll have to share sometime, but doing a serious day hike with 40 or more pounds on my back can be a bit much. So while he was with his grandparents for New Years, we decided to go out for a hike. New Year’s day, we headed up to Catoctin Mountain National Park. We have been here a few times before, but never hiked the Cunningham Falls trail. As seems with most places, the state park adjacent supposedly is better, but we haven’t been able to tell a difference.

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Catoctin Mountain – National Park Visitor Center

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Parking lot and Cunningham Falls Trailhead.

It was chili, and we got a bit of a late start. Arriving at the parking lot, a lot of other people were heading in from the trails and we were losing sun light quick. The visitor center was closed, no surprise being a holiday. On the right side of the visitor center, at the end of the parking lot is access to a couple of trails that take you to Wolf & Chimney Rocks and Thurmont Vista. To the left of the center is another parking lot and the trail head to the Falls. So we started on our way. It’s a decent little hike, the trail guide calls it moderate, it’s under 3 miles with a few ascents and descents, though nothing real steep. Some of the other trails definitely have a steeper ascent. We didn’t run into a lot of other hikers, though I’m sure the weather and timing had more to do with it. The Falls Trail is the most popular trail at the park, which is understandable due to it’s length and difficulty.


Posing in front of the falls.

After hiking for a bit, you come upon an intersection which leads to Hog Rock. With sunlight fading fast, and the chill setting in, we decided to skip this today and continue onto the falls. After crossing a street and entering the Maryland State Park, you pass by another parking lot and walk on a raised wooden walkway to a view point of the falls. These falls are the largest cascading falls in Maryland, stretching about 78 feet. After a quick drink, the cold and setting sun kept our time at the falls short, and we decided to return back.

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Heading back – rock outcroppings

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Heading back – rock outcroppings

We were able to catch some nice views of the waning sunlight on the rock outcroppings on our return trip. The trail was now pretty empty. We reached the parking light with some light left and loaded up in the 4Runner with the heat blasting. Was nice to get out into the woods again. I wasn’t able to take a good picture of the map, and with the visitor center closed I couldn’t pick up a new one either. Below is one I snatched from the NPS online.

Catoctin Mountain National Park Map-sm


Catoctin Mountain – Cunningham Falls Trail


Breweries | Ballast Point, Intergalactic, AleSmith, & Saint Archer

Breweries | Ballast Point, Intergalactic, AleSmith, & Saint Archer

We were visiting family for the holiday, and as normal always try and hit a few breweries while in the area. This trip had the addition of family from Germany so four of us headed out for some sampling. One of our party wasn’t feeling so well, so we had our designated driver. We decided to head north of Miramar (this is the base where Top Gun was based off of), as there is a cluster of breweries in the area, some of which are consider craftbrew leaders.

Our first stop was at Ballast Point. Driving up the road, it appears as a beacon. Finding road parking, being shared with the other industrial buildings adjacent has the potential to be more daunting on other days, but we found a spot not too far away. The smell of roasting malts hit us while still in the car, and after a quick walk, we were inside. The space inside is a bit smallish, with a keg pickup and merchandise area off to the left, and the tasting room off to the right. The outdoor seating area is larger, and on nicer days, the best place to post up. They had just had their Victory at Sea event, with a lot of specialty brews on tap (all of which were 10%), but we decided to hit their standard offerings. They did have a few snacks, such as nuts for purchase, but we didn’t see any food. It was a bit chilly for us, so after hitting the sampler and picking up some swag, we carried on.

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Ballast Point Brewery

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Ballast Point – Samples

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Ballast Point – Brewery

Beers Sampled: Longfin Lager, Even Keel Session IPA, Wahoo White, Pale Ale The Original, Grunion Pale Ale, and Calico Amber Ale

Our next stop was Intergalactic Brewing Company. This is a smaller brewery, but had some great reviews so we threw it in the mix. Located a short distance away we initially thought we may be able to walk. However, that would have required crossing a highway, so driving was the best option. Took us a minute to find the location, as it was hidden on the back of a maze of industrial/office buildings. Luckily there are many flying saucer signs pointing the way. This is a small brewery, open to the public by a roll up door leading directly into the tasting room. The tasting room has a bar and some bar tops, and is covered in plenty of space themed decoration. The propane heaters weren’t working this day, so the chill crept in the entry. They had a large fun assortment of beers, so we requested some recommendations to help build our flight. Cake is A Lie truly smells like cake by the way.

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Intergalactic – Building

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Intergalactic – Entry

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Intergalactic – Samples

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Intergalactic – Bar

Beers Sampled: Terran Sour Plum Ale, Galactic Milk Stout, The Cake is A Lie, Space Oasis and Coconut Porter

Onward and upward, after a quick drive down the road, we ended up at AleSmith. I’ve been familiar with their beers, but was in for a surprise when we pulled into their facility. It is always nice to see a brewery take design seriously, and AleSmith definitely does. They even had renderings located throughout showing some of the plans for the future. Walking up, you are first greeted a large outdoor patio with plenty of heaters and a food truck (Gwynn Gourmet Food Truck was there this day). The main entrance takes you into their retail space, where you can buy bottled beers and merchandise. Continuing through brings you into the large high ceiling tasting room. The volume of the space truly has a bit of an awe-inspiring effect, with the tasting bar anchored by the fermentation vessels behind. There are a variety of seating options, from the more loungey to bar tops. They have a kids area in the back, and even allow dogs to come on in. Surprisingly, with a volume such as this, it still felt cozy. The flights are broken up into a variety of profiles, for example, if you are into Belgians, they have a flight for that. We picked up a couple extras in addition to the Belgian flight, as they had some Xmas Specials going on. We were starting to get hungry, so the food truck provided a nice sustenance boost. It was a bit harder to leave our comfy couch seating, but we knew we had a few more stops.

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AleSmith – Building

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AleSmith – Tasting Room

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AleSmith – Samples

Beers Sampled: Lil Devil, Horny Devil, Grand Cru, Quad, Lemon-Ginger X, Nut Brown Ale, and Old Numbskull.

Another brewery that I have run into is Saint Archer, since it was nearby, we made sure to stop in. In a typical industrial building, and somewhat assuming (at least it was at night) is the entry. To the left of the entry is a small outdoor seating area for sampling. Inside comes off as a raw brewery space with a tasting room in the middle. There are some partial height walls and bars, clad in a mix of metal and rustic reclaimed wood. One bar sports some of the merchandise options, and there are a few bar tops for seating. The look is one that I have seen replicated a decent amount. They had a good mix and line up for options to sample, with one side being more pale malts and the other more roasted. Seemed to be a lot of stout and coffee options.

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Saint Archer – Signage

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Saint Archer – Brewery

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Saint Archer – Samples

Beers Sampled: Nelson IPL, Hoppy Pilsner, Wee Heavy, Gose, English Brown, and Coffee Brown Ale

At this point, we were ready to call it a night, but since we were in this great mix, figured we would try and hit Green Flash. We arrived a couple of minutes after 8:00 pm, and they were closed. Parking lot was already pretty empty by then. Was a shame, but I guess we can save it for the next time. It was a good time hitting this breweries, and offered a good mix of options and styles. I believe my family enjoyed exploring this wide variety of flavor profiles, some of which are not at all what they are used to. We picked up an updated Brewer’s Guild map, and will continue to check off more as we visit.

Ballast Point
10051 Old Grove Road
San Diego, CA 92131
9835 Carroll Centre Road
San Diego, CA 92126
AleSmith Brewing Company
9990 AleSmith Ct
San Diego, CA 92126
Saint Archer Brewing Company
9550 Distribution Ave
San Diego, CA 92121
San Diego Brewers Guild Map –

4Runner | Tie-Rods

4Runner | Tie-Rods

A while back when I had my brakes done, the shop recommended that I fix the steering bushing and my passenger side tie-rod, as it was starting to go. It was now noticeable to the steering wheel, as at some speeds there was noticeable vibration and twitch. Considering these were the original tie-rods from ’99, it wasn’t a bad idea anyway. I ordered Moog replacement parts, inner and outers, as well as the lower ball joints. These parts sat in my garage for a few months at least before I found a good weekend to try and tackle this and be able to bring it to a shop for re-alignment. I had done my research, watched plenty of videos, and read up on forums to make sure I was prepared. I had assisted on a tie-rod replacement back when we had the Jeep Wrangler, but this would be my first at it alone. From what I had read, 4Runner’s were easy to do, so that made me happy.

So on Black Friday, I decided to tackle this. Figured that I would get it done on Friday and be able to bring it to a shop on Saturday. After getting the tire off, I sprayed it heavily with PB Blaster to loosen up the old bolt and cotter pin. At this point, I took a measurement of how far the outer was threaded into the inner. This would allow me to get somewhat close when putting it back together. The pin came out with some jiggle, and nut loose with some effort. I had a pickling fork from the timing belt work (we used it to jam the flywheel), so I figured this would be an easy pop. After all, all the material I read and saw said you had to have the tool, and I figured I had the tool. It did not though. Some videos even recommended hammering on one part of the joint, and it would just pop out. Not so here. Nope, this was a pain and it was in there. After a few moments of frustration, I headed to AutoZone and Pep Boys to find a “The Tool”. I didn’t see said tool in the loaner book, and found a tie-rod tool on the shelf. When I got home, it was tool small and wouldn’t fit around the joint. So I returned this one and got a bigger one, though it was called a Pittman Arm tool. This one wouldn’t fit either. So, it was time to put the tire on, and limit driving the 4Runner (the pickling fork had killed the gasket and nicely removed all the grease in it). Day lost.

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Tire off (placed under for added safety) and view of old outer tie-rod with tie-rod boot.

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Measuring remaining threads on the outer. Took a picture so it would be easier to remember the measurement.

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Nut & cotter pin thoroughly doused in PB Blaster.

The following weekend, I made sure I got the right tool. I stopped in Advanced AutoParts and purchased the one I had seen in a couple of articles. This tool made all the difference. I was able to keep the Pittman Arm tool, as it worked on the lower ball joint, so that was a plus. However the bolts holding the old joint on was rusted and stubborn to remove, add in the difficult angle (it really wants you to access from below rather than the side or the top) and so this portion of the replacement was put on hold. Figured when I mess with the suspension and control arms down the road, I’ll just replace them then. Fiddling around with the LBJ cost me some time on the passenger side, however the driver side was done in 30 minutes. Truly amazing how quick this can go with the right tools.

So once the cotter pin and bolt is removed. Use “The Tool” to separate the joint. You will notice how bad your inner tie-rod is at this moment if it drops quickly. Loosen the finger clamp on the boot and push it back to gain access to the outer tie-rod. Since I was replacing the whole piece, I was hoping to just take it all off at once. I ended up cutting the boot clamps off at the steering rack, and then compressing it towards the outer to gain access to the inner tie-rod. Using a plumbers wrench, I loosened the tie-rod and removed it. I had to use my table clamp to separate the inner and the outer, as the locking nut that came with the new parts didn’t fit. Not sure why it was different. I used the old locking nut though. I also used the old inner washer, as these already had the nice indentions on them. If you use the new, you have to use a ball pein hammer to indent the washer around the new inner. I’m not too crazy hammering on sensitive parts, and since I couldn’t get under the vehicle for accurate swings, this was a better method for me. I put the inner into the steering rack end, and then screwed the outer to the measurement I took earlier. Make sure to put the boot on before you screw the outer on. Slide the joint together and used the wrench to tighten up. Used a new cotter pin, and put the tire back on. Since I cut the old clamps, put new ones on.

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Finally, the joint has been separated!

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New inner tie-rod. Notice how it holds itself up and is stiff. Worn out ones would flop down from it’s own weight.

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Everything going back together, joint secured again.

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Cotter pin and nut tightened. Nice new gasket ready to be filled with grease.

Now I just need to fix the steering rack bushing, but I already noticed a big difference in the steering. The shake and vibration is already noticeable much less than before. This truly was an easy replacement with the right tools. I would recommend having a plumber’s wrench, 27 MM wrench, Tie-rod tool, wire cutters, and of course “The Tool” in addition to your normal tire removal and jacks.

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“The Tool” that I wish I had from the beginning. This thing makes this job super easy.

Hike | Angel’s Landing

Hike | Angel’s Landing


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Early morning at the hotel.

Angel’s Landing is considered one of the top hikes in the world. It is located in Zion National Park in Utah. Though it is not the highest point in the park, it has some great views and provides a strenuous climb.

We decided to get an early start for the Angel’s Landing hike, to make sure we were ahead of the crowds. We made it to the park still covered in dark and had to wait for the facility to open and the shuttle to start running. We spoke with the Ranger’s and the only warning they had was potential flash floods. We didn’t think this would effect us, as we were going up, not down. We filled our Camelbaks and loaded on the shuttle. It was a quick and short ride to the Grotto, and after crossing the street, we started heading into the wilderness, or somewhat. The beginning was gradual and was a dirt path in most areas, and somewhat paved in others. The gradual quickly made way to steep switchbacks with dropoffs on one side, as the path was carved into the side of the mountain. At one point, the path cuts into a valley. After the path flattened out for a little bit, we ran into The Wiggles, aptly named as the switchbacks are very steep and tight. We had to take a couple of breathers here, as the ascent was dramatic. Once we hit the summit point, it started to rain. The summit had a couple of restrooms and there were a lot of people taking a break. Of course, this is when it started to sprinkle a little bit. The girls pushed on as the guys debated the impact of the rain. The next portion was steep cliffs, basically traversing a ledge, with a chain to help you along. It does level out in some areas, with a three foot wide span and dropoffs on both sides, while other areas require some boulder climbing. 

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Crossing the river & the start of Angel’s Landing Hike.

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In the valley before the wiggles.

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Crossing the bridge heading towards Angel’s Landing.

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Looking up to Angel’s Landing.

The views are great at this point, creating a distraction, good or bad, from the effort it is taking to move on. We were able to catch up with the girls, and then stopped to put a jacket on as it was getting colder with the wind and higher altitude. During this time, the rain picked up, and looking off in the distance, looked like a storm was coming. The girls were out of view at this point, and we decided it was time to head back, as the rocks were getting more and more slippery. As we worked our way back, we realized the girls were also on their way. So we paused briefly to fill in the group and continued moving across the slippery stone and chains. Obviously heading down was much easier than heading up, and the weather was back and forth between sun and rain.

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The view from the Landing.

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Heading back down & letting others pass.

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Group photo on the way down.

We were all starving so we met family at the Zion Canyon Brew Pub. After all that hiking, a full sampler of beers was deserving. While getting ready for dinner, another bad storm swallowed Zion, dropping .63 inches of rain in an hour. This rain created the flash floods we were warned about earlier in a neighboring community, and in the park itself. We found out later that seven people went missing from these floods while canyoneering at Key Hole Slot Canyon. Later to be confirmed dead. 

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Sampler at Zion Canyon Brew Pub.


Angel’s Landing E-Hike

Angel’s Landing Info

Zion Canyon Brew Pub
95 Zion Park Blvd #2
Springdale, UT 84767

4Runner – Timing Belt & Water Pump

4Runner – Timing Belt & Water Pump

Started 8.16.2015, finished 8.20.2015

The 4Runner has some miles on it, a little over 180,000, and so I want to make sure that I’m doing some preventive maintenance.  This rig was very well taken care of before, but I enjoy knowing everything that has been replaced.  Gives me piece of mind. It is recommended to check the timing belt after 60,000, and replace at 90,000.  I believe we were pushing the latter on the current belt, so I am replacing it.  While in there, might as well take care of some of the other items that tend to have similar life expectancy, such as the water pump, and other belts.  It was recommended to change out the thermostat, but I didn’t read that till after tear down begun.

There are a ton of posts on forums ( and to name a couple, though I’m sure there are many other forums that have this as well) and plenty of videos on YouTube.  I found this post most useful though:

I also referenced this video on YouTube more than the others.

Because there is so much already posted on doing this work, I don’t want to provide a step by step, but did want to mention a few hardships and tricks we figured out.

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Getting to the spark plugs and wires.

Before we launched into the timing belt and water pump, we changed out the spark plugs and spark plug wires.  This is just part of the maintenance that I wanted to do, and has nothing to do with the other project.  I picked up some NGK Iridiums and NGK wires.  I’m a bit partial to NGK, but that may have to do with me being an Amsoil dealer and NGK having a past relationship.  I’ve also used them in my motorcycles and are pretty happy with their performance. Toyota recommends the use of double electrode plugs, but after reading through a bunch of threads, figured the single Iridium would be fine.  There is also a bunch of discussion on using a mix of Denzo and NGK, as that is how it came stock.  However, there is a bunch of evidence pushing towards this theory, that the engine each half of the engine was manufactured in a different factory, and each factory had its own preference.  I pulled all Denzos out, so obviously the previous spark plug change by a Toyota dealership didn’t warrant a mix.  This change was fairly easy, the passenger side especially.  The driver side required a little wiggling of parts out of the way, but wasn’t an issue either.  We cleaned up the coils and added some dielectric grease.

150816 - Timing - 02

Plugs and wires all done, nice and clean.

My dad was in town for my son’s first birthday, so I luckily had a helping hand to tackle this. The tear down to get to the timing belt and water pump started easy enough.  Drain the radiator, remove fan shroud, fan, hoses, radiator, belts, timing belt covers, etc (the link above has a nice step by step).  The part that got us was the crank nut.  In posts and videos alike, there is a reference to a specialty tool.  I have yet to see a manufactured tool though, and many look like some welded scrap metal put together.  This tool is supposed to hold the crank pulley while the nut is loosened.  This nut requires 250 pounds of torque, so it’s on there pretty good.  We of course didn’t have the tool, or scrap metal and a welder to make our own.  My pneumatic impact wrench couldn’t shake it, and we bent many screw drivers and allen wrenches trying to hold the pulley while using the breaker bar.  My friend Will came over to see if he could help, but it wasn’t budging.  After speaking to another friend of mine Jazz, who was a mechanic back in the day, he recommended isolating the flywheel.  I’m chicken when it comes to sticking screwdrivers into flywheels, or many other parts of vehicles that screwdrivers are not supposed to be stuck in. So the project grounded to a halt.   Sadly, my dad had to fly back home and couldn’t help me finish this project.

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Removing the fan and belts.

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Removing the covers and exposing the timing belt.

The next day, Jazz was able to stop by.  We first tried to access the flywheel by going through the transmission access plate.  However, he wasn’t able to get a good enough angle.  So he took the starter off.  My shop is a bit limited on tools, so we headed to the auto store to pick up something a bit more substantial.  He was able to jam a tie rod separator tool (think hefty tuning fork) into the flywheel.  It was amazing how little effort it took now to get the nut loose.  With the nut and pulley off, Jazz had to head home.  It was already late, and I spent the majority of what little time was left in the evening putting the starter and access plate back.  Apparently, putting the rig in 5th gear and e-break on helps loosen it too.  I can’t say that it would have worked, as I didn’t see that till later, but worth a shot.

With the nut now off, the following day saw a lot of progress to some degree.  With everything off, it was easy to remove the old water pump and replace it with the new one.  I changed the o-ring seal for the thermostat and cleaned up the hose connections.  I made sure to scrap off the old gasket.  It was recommended to use a 400 grit sand paper.  I did so, but also used a razor, as it was a pain to get your hand in there to scrap.  Carefully putting the water pump back on as to not mess up the gasket and sealant.  One note here, when putting the thermostat back in, make sure you have the little whole at the top, in the “noon” position.

150816 - Timing - 05

Water pump removal.

With the water pump done, it was time for the timing belt. I removed the idyler pulleys, timing belt, and covers.  Comparing the timing belts, I realized that the new one didn’t have the marks to align TDC.  After I slight freak out and some research, this apparently isn’t an issue.  I also noticed that one of my cam pulleys had shifted and was no longer aligned.  I was able to adjust it back into place.  If you have the “special tool”, you can use it for that adjustment as well, but since I didn’t, I just used a ratchet.  I’ve heard that’s not the best thing to do as you can loosen the pulley if you aren’t careful, but I didn’t have many other options.  Once aligned, I tried to put the belt on.  This was near impossible, as I couldn’t slip it over all of the pulleys.  I tried to sneak it through with the top idyler pulley off, but it just wasn’t budging.  Looking back at the instructions I posted, I remembered that a bunch of other items needed to be removed to make this easy.  I was hesitant, as some of the posts and videos I saw, showed people doing the whole operation without removing all these additional parts and pieces.  Looking back, I should have just followed his very thorough instructions.  Not sure how some of those other peopled pulled it off, but I’m obviously not them.  In order to loosen the tensioner idyler pulley, I had to reduce the tension.  In order to get there, I had to unbolt the power steering pulley and the AC pulley, and remove a few other plates to gain access.  Using budgee cords to hold some of these parts in place so that tubing and other connections wouldn’t stretch or deform.  With the tension low, I was able to get the timing belt on, aligned correctly, and ready to go.  After putting all that I just had to take off back on, it was late again and time to call it quits for the day.

150816 - Timing - 06

Releasing the tension.

Now going into my fifth day of this project, which some say was a three hour job, I was happy that this was just a finishing day.  Time to put everything back together.  This was the least crazy day, as it was just bolting everything back in, adding coolant, and reconnecting everything.  While the radiator was out, we made sure to spray it with water to clean it.  There was a significant amount of dirt build up, so a good idea if you wheel with your vehicle.  We also used a brillo pad to clean the hose connections, since you want a nice tight seal for those areas.  Once all back together, I crossed my fingers and started her up.  So far she is running well.  I have had a couple of Check Engine Lights (CEL) come and go, but she had that issue before hand (the O2 sensors are playing games with me at the moment, and I’m steadily changing them out as well).  The only thing that I have noticed so far is the power steering belt squeaks.  It’s pretty tight, so need to look into that a bit more.

150816 - Timing - 07

All put back together and clean.

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It was great to get to know my rig more by doing this process.  Luckily I’ve bought myself 90,000 more miles before having to do it again.  I’m sure doing it a second time will be easier, but hopefully that will be a while.  If you aren’t very handy and haven’t done any work on a vehicle, I would definitely recommend you take this somewhere to be done.  There were a few moments where I found myself severely concerned about having messed up the engine (if the timing is off, things can go very bad).  I would also do the water pump, thermostat, and belts while in there.  Glad that’s done, so now onto the next thing.

Catoctin Creek Distillery

Catoctin Creek Distillery

I have been wanting to stop in Catoctin Creek for a while now, and during our Purcellville brewery run, we made it to the area after the tasting room was closed.  I happened to be out in the area again, this time earlier in the day, so I made sure I stopped in.  My son is about to turn one, and I had heard some dads have gotten their sons a bottle of whiskey to age till they are of age.  I thought this was a nice touch.  I hadn’t had Catoctin Creek, but figured since they are local, it would be pretty cool.  There are more local whiskey distilleries, but they don’t have any whiskey at the moment.

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The Stills

Right in the middle of downtown Purcellville, sits the one story building.  It looks like a old shop or warehouse space.  There is plenty of parking on the side, so no worries about street parking.  If for some reason it is packed, there is additional public parking garages in the downtown area.  The building is split, with the distillery on one side, and tasting room/shop on the other.  The bar in the tasting room is set up in the center of the space, so that there is access from three sides.  Along the sides of the space are retail items for sale, everything from glasses and shirts, to local food and whiskey related items.  The wall that is shared has a lot of windows and large doors providing visual access to the distilling process and the beautiful Kothe Stills inside.  During my visit, Becky was busy at her desk while staff was cleaning up.  I had to wait a little bit, as a perspective distillery owner was hitting up the bartender to get some insight or speak with the owners.

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The Bar

I’m not a big liquor person, I love my beer.  But taking the time to taste the beer has helped me take the time to investigate tasting other liquids and foods.  So I may not know what to expect, but I do know how to examine what I’m able to sip.  I love the sampling process, so I of course ordered the flight.  I ordered the standard flight, which is a small sampling of all three of their spirits straight.  They have other flights which are cocktails and paired tastings.

20150806 - Catoctin Creek - Flight


I started off with the Mosby’s Spirit, which is their 80 proof white whiskey and named after John Mosby a civil war and local hero.  Some refer to it as a legal moonshine.  It skips the aging process.  My initial sip had a bit of that burn to it.  One of the reasons why I’m not a big liquor fan.  The next sips calmed down somewhat.  I did get a sense of some of the citrus and floral that was promised, but was still sucking wind.  I could see this mixed into a cocktail, rather than drinking it straight.

If you aged the Mosby’s Spirit, the result would be an 80 proof Roundstone Rye.  The aging definitely mellowed down the heat for me.  The wood smoothed it out and added a sweet, caramel edge to it.  I could see myself sipping this on a regular basis.  This is one of those whiskeys that definitely makes me want to sample more.  Since I was there looking for a bottle to age, the bartender was nice enough to let me try the higher proof Roundstone 92, which as the name suggests has 92 proof.  Sometimes upping the alcohol diminishes the flavor (at least it can in the beer world), but the additional alcohol seemed to only intensify the flavors previously noted and increased the smoothness.

The last sample in the flight was Watershed Gin.  I may not be a big liquor drinking, but I know I’m not a fan of the pine needles I have found commonly with Gin.  After a quick sniff, my nose crinkled with that familiar scent, here we go again.  Not sure if they used less juniper, but I got more cinnamon and spice notes than anything else.  Guess this breaks that Gin stereotype for me, and I’ll have to be more open in the future.

At the end, I picked up the Roundstone Rye Cask.  It was recommended to hold the flavor longer, since I’m looking at keeping it in the cellar for the next 20 years.  I didn’t get a sample of this, but it’s supposed to be a kick in the pants, especially at 116 proof.  Guess one of my sons first sips of good whisky will be an eye opener.  A shame that we have to wait this long to enjoy it.

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Roundstone Rye Cask

Purcellville continues to have a brewery boom, so if you are in the area sampling beers, definitely stop in at Catoctin Creek.  Since I missed it the first time I came through the area, I was thrilled to be able to make another visit.  It may have been a little lonely, but great none the less.

Visited on 08.06.2015

Catoctin Creek Distillery
120 W Main Street
Purcellville, VA 20132

4Runner – Snorkel

4Runner – Snorkel

After much debate and research, I decided it was time to add a snorkel.  Even when I had a Jeep Wrangler I always wanted a snorkel.  Looking back now, I realize that had I had this piece of equipment on that Jeep, I probably would still have it.  There was an incident in a deep puddle near the beaches of Corolla, North Carolina that changed that stock engine.  It was never the same after that.

Now many people like to debate on whether or not you need a snorkel.  Some feel that you shouldn’t be driving through water that deep.  And a snorkel alone won’t save everything if you do.  This is true, some other steps are needed to cover more of the waterproofing if you plan on river crossing a lot.  However, a snorkel does save you a bit if you tip in too deep by accident.  Take that puddle in Corolla for instance.  It was deeper than the air intake was happy about, and so there was plenty of water in the engine afterwards.  I firmly believe that a snorkel would have saved me that day.  Also, snorkels are not only for water.  Believe it or not, they provide better quality cool air.  The current location of the air intake is in the fender, where dust and water can get into, but heat and minimal air circulation are prevalent as well.  Having a snorkel allows for a cooler, cleaner air to be introduced into your engine.  Depending on the head you use (I have picked up the Ram Air head for now) it also forces more air in.  There are many who have documented an increase in gas mileage after they added their snorkel.  Anyway, some food for thought.

One big thing about snorkels is that they are a bit of a pricey mod.  The second issue for my 4Runner in particular is that there is no direct model made for it anymore.  There was a Safari Snorkel, but that was discontinued.  The ARB one that a lot of guys are installing, is actually a retrofitted Tacoma version.  Luckily I was able to find on the forums a thread that showed the installation of a Hilux 167 Snorkel that works for 3rd Generation 4Runners.  To top it off, you could get it on Amazon for around $130.00.  Pretty good compared to a lot of those other name brand snorkels.  This snorkel actually reminded me a lot of the Safari one in the look and not requiring a bunch of retrofitting to make work (supposedly made harder if you want to keep your automatic stock radio antenna).

The snorkel was delivered faster than expected and noted in the transaction.  Not sure who packaged it, but it was a box completely covered in packaging tape.  The protection inside was a bunch of styrofoam sheets broken up and placed inside.  So of course I quickly made sure I had all the parts and pieces and there was no damage.  Time to get to work.

20150718 - Snorkel Packaging


For easier access, it was recommended to take off the tire.  This allows access from the wheel well.  I second this action, as it’s going to be tight as it is, and coming from below is a definitely.  Removal of the fender may have helped this process, but I wanted to make sure everything lined up.  I added the flimsy template and cut my big hole.  I used a 3 1/2″ hole saw and then I believe a 3/8″ bit for the main holes.  This template isn’t the greatest, and it doesn’t align exactly.  I lined mine up with the top, and looking at it now, the alignment with the edge of the door may have been the primary alignment.  In addition, once you cut the main hole, it is best to locate your drill holes on the template yourself.  The ones provided don’t line up for some reason.  Many suggested this is the scariest part.  Yeah, cutting a big hole in the side of your truck is scary and it will never be the same.  But it is fixable, so other than it being super hot, I wasn’t sweating the cuts.

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Template alignment and cutting holes.

The thread on the forum recommended to buy some screws for the windshield attachment and to use black chalk.  After I drilled my holes, I cleaned up the edges with a dremel and then added some clear coat to eliminate any rust.  Honestly, I never figured out where he put the chalk, but I used it in the holes as well and along the edges to provide some protection to rubbing for the snorkel, and additional protection against rust.  I’ll keep an eye on it to make sure.  The rubber hose that attaches to the hard plastic is a pain in the butt.  It was really hard to stretch over the air box connection and even tougher inside the fender for the snorkel.  I’ve also read that this hose compresses during high RPMs, so I plan on making an adjustment there.  The bracket for the “A” pillar came with rivets.  Apparently the thread writer than know that, hence the buying of extra screws.  I picked up a cheap rivet gun ahead of time and popped those in there.  The screws that attached the bracket to the snorkel were definitely cheap as one replier mentioned and are already rusting a bit.  I wanted to pick up some stainless replacements, but metric bolts are not my nearby Home Depot’s forte.  I added a bit of sticky weather stripping to the front, as there is a bit of a gap (seems the Hilux and 4Runner don’t have all the same curves).  Once installed, I went ahead and closed everything back up.

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20150718 - Snorkel - After


20150718 - Snorkel - After Side

After – Side View

I’m pretty happy with the overall construction of the snorkel.  I haven’t been able to test it out yet, or driven it long enough to really report any gains.  I’m just happy that it is there. The 4Runner has a high air intake as it is, but this is just additional insurance for that engine to keep running.

Recovery Gear Tool Box

Recovery Gear Tool Box

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Previously I had a big plastic foot locker that was from my college days that I would cram a bunch of random camping and recovery gear in.  It wasn’t very organized, and was kind of a catchall for any off-road trips that I may have been headed on.  With the addition of the winch, picking up a tree saver (had the tow strap already) and a couple of other items, I decided it was time to have a tool box that would cover the recovery and tool basics.  I didn’t want to pick up one of the very pricey options that you can find all over the place, and after searching Home Depot and Lowes, finally settled on a box that I saw for sale at Lowes.  It’s pretty sturdy, has a gasket to protect the interior from water infiltration, has a nice handle, and was a decent size.

At the moment, here is what I packed into it:

  • Tow strap
  • Tree saver strap
  • Camo tarp
  • Bear Grylls Gerber knife w/ fire flint
  • Gloves
  • Entrenching tool for shoveling needs
  • Axe/Machete sharpener
  • Knife sharpener
  • Head lamp
  • D-Ring
  • Safety glasses
  • Winch remote
  • Machete
  • Survival waterproof bag (has more fire starting material, 550 paracord, and other survival odds and ends)
  • Bundle of rope
  • Carabiners and other fasteners
  • High calorie nutritious snacks
  • Not Pictured – allan wrenches, screw drivers, and some other tools

I think over time, some of this will grow and develop further.  Some of these items may end up finding other homes, but for now, I felt that this covered at least a decent amount of  my recovery and tool concern for the time being.  Wasn’t able to add some of my other camping gear, and I’ll have to find a temporary home for the growler cooler. I’m planning on adding a drawer system and some other storage components that will help down the road.  Still think this is a good start none the less.