No hotel, running water, or cell service for miles. I couldn't take a shower, check my emails, or scroll Instagram. What the hell did I get myself into?!
Let's take a step back, and I'll give you a quick backstory... Your lowly pbskids editor-in-chief is born and raised in Seattle, currently living in Hollywood. I like big cities, bright lights, and, of course, being around cars. I'm far from a nature boy; in fact, I've never camped a day in my life. I can also be a little OCD, so, as you can imagine, when I was offered to join a group of journalists on an off-road adventure from Colorado to Utah, my immediate reaction was "Hell no!" But, after mulling over my thoughts and considering all the risks and opportunities, I said "F*ck it!" Who knows the next time I'd be invited to go off-roading with experienced guides? (Except I later discovered I wouldn't just be off-roading.) In my head, I pictured sitting inside a lifted truck, flying over hills, and doing donuts in the mud. Little did I know, I was about to get schooled on overlanding.
In its simplest form, overlanding is self-reliant traveling to remote destinations where the journey is the principal goal. What this really boils down to is: Whenever you're going from point A to B, you don't need anything else but your vehicle and what you've packed inside it to endure multiple days away from civilization. This includes food preparation, cooking supplies, sleeping quarters, first-aid, water—you name it. More importantly, your vehicle needs to be capable of handling the elements. In the case of my 160-mile, off-the-beaten-path expedition from Montrose, Colorado, to Moab, Utah, treacherous terrain was ahead, and there was no motel or gas station in sight. There was no turning back.
I could ramble on for hours about how I constructed my first campsite, slept next to cows, and went through an unspeakable amount of baby wipes to cleanse myself, but the real story here is the Toyota trucks, which, to my surprise, are all 100 percent stock (minus our support vehicles from Expedition Overland).
Sitting in L.A. traffic, it's not uncommon to come across a 4Runner, Tacoma, or Tundra, even in TRD Pro form. While not the greatest on fuel economy, they're comfortable enough for daily driving and useful on those trips to Home Depot or to pick up a set of wheels and tires. What I quickly learned on the first day, climbing 13,000 feet to the peak of Imogene Pass, was that these TRD Pros are turnkey off-road monsters. They're equipped with 2.5-inch Fox internal bypass shocks to handle high-speed desert runs and slow-speed rockcrawling, yet they're not too bouncy for regular city commutes. They're also fitted with the right all-terrain tires, and I'm still baffled to this day how we didn't pierce a sidewall or catch a flat bouncing over sharp-edged rocks. The trio of TRD Pro trucks also use specific lifted springs, and a couple of the models feature things like a skidplate, intake, exhaust, and LED lights to separate them from base model vehicles.
After six days out of the office, conquering territory I'd never thought possible, I learned a few new things: 1) It's great to be disconnected from your phone; 2) I can pitch a damn good tent; and 3) off-roading and overlanding are badass! It's a completely different thrill—one that really takes experiencing it before knocking it. Instead of enjoying a high-performance car for its speed and handling, you're enjoying a high-performance truck for its ability to overcome obstacles and unpredictable terrain. Also, reliability and longevity play a larger role in overlanding. If you break down in the wild, you can't depend on AAA to tow you home. Hell, you can't even make a phone call. With that in the back of my head, I appreciated the level of performance these TRD Pro trucks possessed. Off-roading and overlanding is dangerous; however, with a properly engineered vehicle and the right mindset, it'll be one of the most memorable experiences of your life. I can attest.