The goal was to escape the August Texas heat and land me in an ideal spot for the solar eclipse. My plan was to start in Colorado by hitting sections of the Enchanted Rockies Trail, stop off at Canyonlands National Park for an early morning sunrise photo at Mesa Arch (bucket list item), head north into Glacier National Park, Waterton Lakes National Park in Alberta, Canada, Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks, then finish the trip by meeting a group of fellow Toyota off-roaders in central Wyoming for the solar eclipse.
I already had a long list of things I wanted to get done for my 2007 4Runner, but planning didn’t stop there. I had just sold my XVenture trailer in hopes of buying a teardrop style enclosed trailer rugged enough for medium difficulty trails. This meant getting a new trailer ready. For eclipse preparation, telescope and lens filters had to be researched and ordered. Wildlife photography was my primary goal in the national parks, so I bought a few guidebooks on where to locate wildlife. Books don’t do much good if you don’t have time to read them, and time was quickly working against me as the trip date approached.
Singer 240-amp Alternator and NorthStar 27 AGM Battery
My 4-year-old 31 group Marine battery had already toasted 2 alternators, and was struggling to stay above 50% after 3 days of being parked. The need for a new battery and a higher output alternator prior to the trip was the top priority. I jumped on a group buy for a NorthStar 27 group AGM battery. Having edited Brian Patton’s dual battery article in the Spring issue of TCT Magazine, I knew about Singer Alternator. Knowing I would be charging a 2nd 27 group battery located in the trailer while driving, the higher amperage was a requirement. After spending an hour on the phone with Mike Singer, I was confident the recommended 240-amp alternator with lifetime warranty was the right solution. Toyota specialist Pablo Moreno, owner of Tandem Automotive in Fort Worth, TX, did the alternator install and testing. During the alternator swap, he noticed my belt tensioner was in bad shape and possibly wouldn’t make the journey. Glad he discovered it before I hit the road.
Kenwood DMX7704s and Kenwood CMOS-230 Backup Camera
My 4Runner came with the JBL audio system, which sounds pretty good. However, at 173,000 miles, the head unit was suffering signs of potential failure. For a replacement, I wanted a large screen, but the units with built-in navigation cost nearly double of those without. I also didn’t want a CD/DVD player. The Kenwood DMX7704s seemed like the ideal solution: priced at $500, 7-inch screen, no CD/DVD, digital equalizer, and it comes with a GPS antenna, but no navigation software. Instead, it relies on a smartphone to provide the navigation software via Apple Car Play or Android Auto. Coupled with the TYTO-01 amp interface, the Kenwood unit utilizes the JBL amp and the result is an improved sound quality. Even Sirius XM sounds great. I added the Kenwood CMOS-230 Backup Camera for safety.
4x4 Labs Rear Bumper with Dual Swingouts
My previous rear bumper had a single swingout, which became quite heavy when spare tire, HiLift Jack, and 2 cans of fuel were attached. I struggled to get it closed at times. Worse, I couldn’t open it when a trailer was attached. I sought out a dual swingout solution that would meet my needs and decided on the 4x4 Labs model. In addition to designing the rear bumper to my specs, Luke at 4x4 Labs suggested I go with the optional drop-down aluminum table and drop-down cutting board. I placed the order and started psyching myself up for the install—there were 2 install steps that had me a bit nervous: cut off the rear crossmember, and cut 3-inches off the rear frame. Doing so allows the bumper to be positioned further into the truck while serving as the new rear crossmember. The swingouts come with small shocks to prevent slamming them shut. The table and cutting board drop-downs are mounted with bicycle quick-release axles, and can be removed when not traveling. The bumper angles offer superb clearance and the fabrication pieces offer excellent protection.
GOBI Roof Rack and Front Runner Monsoon Bag
I always wanted a GOBI. My previous 2 roof racks were lower cost solutions, but lacked the ability to haul gear securely and were noisy. I joined in on a group buy and 3 months later, I had the roof rack I should’ve purchased years ago. My aluminum travel boxes fit snuggly in the rear while the Front Runner Monsoon Bag fits securely in the middle. I used a pair of Front Runner Stratchits to keep the bag to the rack. The newly released bag (see the New & Noteworthy section of this same issue) is waterproof, rugged, and carries a sizeable amount of cargo. The bag has an air release valve, which is necessary to open when sealing the bag. Once the bag is tight, close the valve and everything inside stays dry. I was in the Colorado Rocky Mountains for 2 days of solid rain, while the bag was mounted on the roof rack. All of the bag contents remained dry.
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Summer 2017 Issue: