Sunday, July 8, 2012
I learned some very important lessons which are driving some of my build decisions going forward. A few off the top of my head are as follows:
1. Reserve Fuel
2. Winch Accessibility
3. Equipment Choices & Access
1. Reserve Fuel
I wish I had thought to take a photo for item #1: Reserve Fuel. When I bought my generator, I thought to also pick up two (2), 5-gallon gas containers for it. The local hardware store only carried plastic fuel cans and I thought nothing of the choice at the time. The trip to Moab was very much spur of the moment. And with a dwindling time line and limited funds, I tried in earnest to make due with what I already had where I could. Well, putting the plastic fuel cans into service in the hot desert heat was a poor decision. Those things were swollen up like hot air balloons after the first day. They held up well on the drive out to Utah. I guess the moving airflow at highway speeds exceeding 70mph kept them from heating up too much. Well out on the trail, where we're climbing and crawling at much less speeds, the heat accumulation became too much. I swapped them out for one metal, NATO style can. And I really wish I had heeded the advice of two of the guys there from California that were perhaps the most excited I've seen anyone get about a fuel can. The relatively recent CARB legislation changed what is to be a fuel can in America. And in Utah, there was a cache of the now unavailable nozzle and cap kind. I tried to find a second metal can here locally and was disappointed with the inferior, "compliant" designs now available.
So I'll have to decide if I want just one really good can, or will also add an inferior can to the mix as well. Once I've made that decision, I'll move forward with designing my own Jerry Can mounts for the truck. My dilemma at present is that I don't want to take up any more bed space than what is already given up for the toolboxes (side mount on either rail and one in-bed mount). I like the idea of the swinging rear gate carrier, but I don't want to replace the rear bumper needlessly. (Similar constraint with item #2). So once I get my winch configuration done, this will probably be the next build that I tackle.
2. Winch Accessibility
I thought that the idea of having a winch that could be installed in front or rear of the vehicle would be the ultimate in versatility. In theory, yes. In practice, it would be a pain in the @ss. On the White Wash Sand Dunes high centering catastrophe of 2012, I had my own winch and front receiver and front receiver mount. So why didn't I pull myself out? If given the option of having another driver with their winch already mounted, and wired, and ready to be put into service, would you really go through all of the fuss that my setup entailed to pull off the extrication? Not at all. "Why not just ride around with it out front all the time?" Well that would be fine as long as I stayed on pavement. The moment I attempt anything higher than curb height, that winch was going to be smashing into the obstacle headlong due to the relatively low ground clearance and virtually non-existent approach angle. The cliche is often stated as "that's where the rubber meets the road", but in actuality, my deficiency crops up 'where the rubber leaves the road' and things get real.
Now, if money were no object, I do have interest in maybe carrying a second smaller winch which could be wired up and installed in the rear. Again, it wouldn't work to have it installed and left back there full time. For one, it would preclude me from being able to ever tow anything without relocating it. Further, and perhaps I did not illustrate this sufficiently in the prior posts, the Frontier has a pretty tough time with departure angles when descending stair step formations due to the long wheel base. On some particularly challenging runs, I pretty much was leaving a cursive signature on the rock faces where my trailer hitch was digging into the rock faces. Absolutely nothing can be mounted back there when on the rocks. This also cancelled my notion of using the rear cargo carrier that mounts into the rear receiver hitch. I had toyed with the idea of having it in the 'flipped-up' position while trail riding, and then if, while riding around town, I needed the extra cargo capacity of the bed, I could move the in-bed tool box to the rear cargo carrier. That won't work offroad. I did recently employ that Transformer-esque maneuver while assisting my wife from moving to one temporary apartment to another while she completes her residency out of state. It worked reasonably well on the tamer side of things driving around in suburbia. I even made good use of the off-road cargo basket (subject of another build thread that I've yet to publish) to carry her mattresses. So offroad things do have their suburban contributions, but I am finding that suburban ideas don't translate so well in the converse direction.
The pictures above are from my exploration into learning how the stock bumper is attached, and more importantly, how to go about removing it. I am interested in keeping the chrome shroud. The bumper itself, the steel underframing is exactly at the ideal mounting height of my winch. If you've seen my ride in real life, you probably witnessed the epic fail that occurred where I thought I could weld a receiver bracket to the bumper itself, while still installed on the truck. That was stupid. If nothing else, I should have at least removed the bumper to do the welding. Then, in the process, I would have seen that the metal that makes up the bumper is not of sufficient thickness to withstand the manner and magnitude of the loads that would have been imposed upon it. What I was trying to avoid is the process that is entailed with removing the bumper. Every narrative I've ever read indicates that the grill must also be removed. I was apprehensive of doing this for fear that I'd force one of the tabs too hard and fracture it, forever after having a flimsy, floppy grill unless I wanted to fork over big bucks to replace the whole thing. Fortunately, once you get into it, it is a very easy process not only to remove but also to replace it. I put my bull bar back on to serve as a temporary 'bumper'.
3. Equipment Choices & Access
How about some good news? I was very impressed with how the cargo basket held up. It was my first full-on welding project and it was subjected to some pretty significant forces due to the abrupt shifting of the truck while on the trail where it was pressed into service to transport my full-size truck spare tire. The two sets of maritime deck lights were a great touch as well. Sometimes I want to have a switch at the control console to throw them on, but since they are not DOT highway lights, it is probably for the better that I don't have that switch. Their intended function is to be utilized when at a camp site to illuminate the surroundings. They do a good job of lighting the area immediately near the truck without being a nuisance to others nearby. The switches to the front and rear are in the toolbox and are connected to the dual battery system's auxilliary battery. That setup works great because I found I was generally going into the toolbox anyway to access the inverter to power some other accessories and needed some light for activity around the truck. The only noted deficiency was in my paint job. Two coats weren't sufficient at the edges. Many edges are showing signs of rusting. Other than that, it was a good build.
Things that weren't so great. I tried to improve upon our practice from the first road trip of just throwing all of the luggage and souvenir bags haphazardly into the back row of seats. It was very disorganized and difficult to retrieve anything in a timely manner. Not only was there a risk to something being damaged, it also created a conspicuous enticement to any-would be thieves. The tinted rear windows do help to some extent, but a determined thief could still spy the contents if they were so inclined. I'd rather they make off with the goods and deal with that loss then also have a smashed window to boot. For this most recent trip, I put a Stanley rolling tool chest in the back of the bed. I kept all of my luggage and souvenirs in this box, which came equipped with it's own lock. Further, I used a bike chain lock to secure the rolling tool chest and the gas cans to the bed of the truck so that no one could just easily walk off.
The pros: Very easy to organize. Easy to transport on wheels. Freed up space in the vehicle for additional passengers and also my cooler.
The cons: Not water proof (only moderately water resistant. Infiltration at lid seams when subjected to water hose test). Took up the remaining cargo space in the truck bed and made it difficult to retrieve recovery gear stashed in the in-bed toolbox. When my buddy joined me on the return leg of the trip, we quickly outpaced it's capacity and still ended up with a few miscellaneous items in the rear seat. Not nearly the rats' nest that my wife and I had on the first trip, but still not my desired outcome.
I'm still noodling a solution to this issue. I've never been a fan of the truck cap. That would solve the storage problem, but I've always felt that if i was going to go the way of a cap, I might as well just get a Ford Explorer or some other boxy alternative. In reality, having an Xterra would not be a bad way to go. I have a lot of respect for those vehicles after seeing them in action on the trail. I may have stated here elsewhere, but there is a certain appeal to the pick up truck's open bed format that I feel is lost once you throw a cap or a tonneau cover on it. I can't very well overload the roof. For one, it is not rated for much over 150 lbs. And even if it were, I wouldn't want to sacrifice handling by raising the center of gravity or further compromise fuel economy by introducing more drag. We've also covered that extending anything behind in a rear carrier is not an option due to departure angle. And finally, a trailer is not desirable as it limits one's ability to make evasive maneuvers if you've got to quickly reverse direction and high-tail it out of a hostile area. Think about anytime that you've ever had to back up a trailer. Now imagine doing that under duress. Not an easy constraint to overcome with this platform. Still working on it.
I'll be looking into planning another road trip. Maybe something in the December/January time frame. I need some time to save up some money and/or engage more sponsorships. I've also only got a few vacation days left for this calendar year. It was so worth spending the ones used so far. No regrets there. Finally, as new ideas or solutions come into play, I'll be in the garage working up some modification to derive more utility and (more importantly) fun out of owning this truck.