Tuesday, September 1, 2015
Around the West in 95 Horsepower: Intro and Preparation
By Andy Lilienthal, photos by Mercedes Lilienthal
We just returned from a 3,000+ mile trip that took us to incredible places such as the rugged San Juan Mountains of Colorado, the red rocks of Moab, Utah, the expansive Bonneville Salt Flats, and the barren areas of northern Nevada and southeastern Oregon. Our chariot of choice? Our 1995 Suzuki Sidekick, aka "The Teal Terror," and its sidekick, our lifted Dinoot trailer equipped with our CVT roof top tent. The Teal Terror only makes 95 horsepower from its 1.6-liter 16-valve engine, but it proved mighty enough to tackle not only the roads to these destinations, but the off-road trails once we got there. And while the 80 MPH speed limits in Idaho and Utah proved to be mostly unobtainable by our little 4x4 (we cruised around 65-70 most of the time), the truck and trailer did great with very little objection. With regards to off-road duty, the trucklet did fantastically. Yes, it was a bit more anemic than usual at elevations as high as 13,114 ft., but it got the job done without protest. Well, OK, very little protest.
As you may know, Mercedes and I have a lust for travel and adventure that's off the beaten path, or at least off the pavement. During my time in the off-road industry (of which I still work full-time), I’ve had the opportunity to visit some amazing destinations; places I may never have went if it weren't for my career. These include Johnson Valley, California, Moab, Utah, and Ouray, Colorado. But work trips are always different than traveling for pleasure. When you're working—even in amazing places—there's never as much time for exploration and you seldom get to go at your own pace. Regardless, I've been extremely fortunate to see these places. However, I've always longed to go back in my own 4x4 and bring Mercedes with me.
Taking The Teal Terror and Mercedes with me to some of these locales has been on my bucket list for years. I'd had the opportunity to drive extremely well outfitted Jeep Wranglers on the trails of both Utah and Colorado, but it's different when you bring the vehicle you built; the rig you put your blood, sweat, tears, and money into. It's also extremely rewarding to bring your significant other to these locations. These are locations that she's heard about for years and years, but has never had the opportunity to visit.
So for months Mercedes and I planned a trip from Portland, Oregon to Ouray, Colorado, then up to Moab, Utah, and back to Portland. And yes, we'd have to take the Sidekick and trailer. We'd go overland style with all of our food, water, and gear with us. We'd camp along the way and see the sights; take it all in. It had the potential to be epic. And it was.
There were some goals for this trip. The first was to simply make it there and back in the Sidekick without breaking down. Our 20 year old Suzuki had around 162,000 miles on the odometer—not exactly low mileage. We also wanted to camp along the way and bring everything we needed to get by: food to cook, water to drink, a tent to sleep in, and all of our related supplies. Once we made it to our destinations, we wanted to explore the famous off-road trails of the area. This included Imogene Pass, which ascends to 13,114 ft.; the famous trails of Moab; and the barren lands of southeastern Oregon.
There was a lot to prep for our adventure, much of it revolving around getting our vehicle ready for such a long journey. While we'd taken the rig on trips to Canada and around the Pacific Northwest, none of those were longer than about 800 miles at max, or about four times less than what we intended to accomplish on this trip.
We covered many of the recent upgrades to the truck already. If you didn't catch the article, this included new installing new rear Old Man Emu Nitrocharger shocks; wiring up an ARB fridge/freezer to run of off the truck's 12-volt system; adding an Optima Yellow Top deep-cycle battery to power the fridge and other accessories; installing AVS Ventvisors; and having the five-speed manual transmission rebuilt along with the installation of a new clutch and driver's side front axle, which turned out to be bad.
Of course, there were scads of smaller tasks that needed to be completed, such as adjusting the throttle position sensor, changing the oil, and replacing the front driveshaft seal, as the transmission was leaking the day before we were supposed to leave! Talk about cutting it close. We tightened all the bolts on the trailer, many of which needed tightening because of other off-road adventures we'd taken, lubricated the trailer’s leaf springs, put our bedding in the roof top tent, gathered all of our camping gear, and probably 50 other things I'm forgetting.
We were crunched for time during our prep period, as we were in Pebble Beach four days before leaving. Plus, we had to work our 9–5 jobs, too.
Of course, there was the other non-car-related stuff like grocery shopping, packing, and making sure our first aid kits, vehicle recovery kits, and such were in order. We let family know where we were going to be in case of emergency, too—always a good idea when venturing out.
Friday night before our trip, we were as ready as we were going to be for an adventure, and an adventure it would be. Stay tuned for the next leg of our trip: Portland to Murtaugh, Idaho.