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Once more

“Once More unto the breach, dear friends, once more

–Wm. Shakespeare


Last minute preparation for a trek is nerve wracking. I have a day left to assemble everything I need for a nine-week ramble. Unlike previous motorized expeditions, this one will be augmented by feet, trains, buses and more feet.

Italy, Namibia and Corsica. The joy of this venture is that I know people in all of these places. I’ve known my Italian in-laws the longest. They are spread out through the entire peninsula from Matera to Milan.

My Namibian connection is Dominic Von Strosser (I am not taking the time to find WordPress’s umlaut plug-in. Those days are over.). A motorized explorer and photographer extraordinare. Then back to Milan for family conviviality before striking out for Corsica with my youngest.

Looking forward to connecting with the folks from Piu Luntanu, the round the world motorcyclists I met last year on the PCH. They got me thinking about Corsica as soon as I met them.

Road Music

What is Overlanding?

It’s an Australian term for self-sufficient vehicular travel. Typically to remote areas of Earth. Clay Croft produced a 12 part series about this style of travel. His videos were an inspiration to me and added to the success of Operation Windmill’s 15,000 mile trek to the northland.

I caught up with Clay at the Overland Expo West and he shared a few pearls of wisdom about one if his passions, 4X4 Overlanding.


Should You Eat Pacific Seafood?

Plume 2026_It’s insidious. An odorless, colorless, tasteless pollutant has entered our food chain. I’m talking about the vast plume of radioactive isotopes drifting eastward across the Pacific Ocean from Fukushima, Japan. We know the crippled reactors are bleeding cesium, strontium, tritium, plutonium and other byproducts of nuclear reactions into the ocean and it isn’t stopping. And the reassurances from Japan are not trustworthy. “Let me assure you, the situation is under control,” Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe said during lobbying for the 2020 Olympics. “There are no health-related problems until now, nor will there be in the future.”

What we don’t know is whether or not Pacific coast seafood is safe to eat. I spent the summer of 2014 in Alaska and Canada trying to answer that question. I spoke with experts and regular folks. Oyster farmers and sport fishermen. Their attitudes varied from existential fatalism to alarmist. For most it is out of sight and out of mind. The media reporting is thin and subject to manipulation from nuclear interests. It’s a complex topic that most people don’t want to know more about.

Alaska Island and OceanI asked the ranger at the Alaska Islands and Ocean Visitor Center in Homer, Alaska if he was getting many questions from visitors about radioactivity in Pacific seafood. “They asked more questions a few years ago” he said. “I really can’t recall anyone asking about it this summer.”

So it’s a potential crisis that’s flying under the radar. A lot of heads in the sand too. What to do?

JakalofFrank and Margot Reveil own the Jakalof Bay Oyster Company. It’s across the bay from Homer and sits in a pristine glacier-fed bay. Wednesday through Sunday they bring the most gloriously fresh oysters to the Homer Brewing Company. Freshly shucked with shallot mignionette or nothing at all, they are magnificent molluscs. CS071_Katchemak_357773

The Reveils have an interest in the quality of their water. When I asked Margot about it she said she spends time working with InletKeeper, a non-profit that works to protect the Cook Inlet, a significant Alaskan fishery.

They are participating in Ken Buesseler’s Our Radioactive Ocean project and have raised enough through CrowdRise to pay for one round of testing and are seeking additional funds to test the Kachemak Bay waters over time. Their first sample is in progress.

“But we don’t drink seawater” protests former licensed reactor operator Arnie Gundersen of Fairewinds Associates. “Sure, swim in the ocean, breath the fog but don’t eat fish without knowing the data.” Without data about the cesium Arnieand strontium content of seafood, Arnie and his wife Maggie are not eating any seafood from the Pacific Ocean. “The Government is not releasing data about the bioaccumulation of radioactivity Pacific Ocean fish.  Until there is fully transparent radiation data on fish, eating them is a risk I personally have chosen to avoid.”

When it comes to testing seawater and sea products for radiation it’s still a game of who do you trust. When asked about Kelpwatch’s samples, Arnie noted that they are being tested at UC Berkeley. He doesn’t trust their data. Their Nuclear Engineering Department is funded by government and the nuclear industry and are very pro-nuke. It’s the same with data from MIT. They even have an engineering chair endowed by TEPCO, the Japanese company that owns Fukushima Daiichi.

When I asked Arnie who he trusted he said “Virtually nobody. There just isn’t enough data yet.” He trusts the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution but they are only testing sea water at fixed locations. Testing seafood is what’s needed.


For the record, I’m still eating Pacific seafood. I’m 59 and at my age I’ll probably die of other causes before a radioactive induced cancer gets me. But that’s a selfish point of view. The bigger question is what is going to happen to those younger than me.

This is a slow motion disaster with effects that will last long after I’m gone. There’s not enough trustworthy information for consumers to make rational decisions about their source of seafood. The lack of information is one way to keep the problem off the radar of the seafood consuming public. Perhaps there are too many dollars at risk to test for radioactive isotopes in the food we eat.

The industry and government do not want to alarm us. Under these circumstances, the only comfort comes from Arnie. “The important thing to remember is that right now there is no risk free place to live on Earth.”



Who’s Been Everywhere?

I love the way Hank Snow’s version starts slow and ramps up.

Johnny Cash’s cover is more soulful.

Vehicle Outfitting: Storage

Without places to store and secure your gear the higher the odds are of losing, breaking or otherwise not finding essential bits of kit when needed. Inadequate storage encourages cargo chaos, that uncomfortable state of sitting among scattered possessions that shift with every hard turn. Avoid that at all cost.

One way to organize your gear is by frequency of use. There are high priority items that should be within the driver’s reach and there are things you’re carrying that you may never use. In between are the things you use daily or weekly. You should get to know all the locations well enough to find whatever you need in the dark.

The only way to combat cargo chaos it is to have a storage system and develop rituals around your objects. Your storage system’s design is driven by the extent to which your selection of gear is minimal or otherwise. The habits and rituals which return objects to the place they came from is a mental discipline I encourage everyone to master. Cargo chaos gets worse with more people in your caravan so make sure everyone gets a little OCD with their essential items.

Within the Driver’s Reach

For Alaska, the high priority items are:

  • Glasses
  • Wallet & passport
  • Phone
  • GPS
  • Maps
  • Lighting
  • Water
  • Camera(s)
  • Device charging cables
  • Bear spray
  • Knife

Most of these fit in the center console, door pockets or secured to the dash with velcro tape. Velcro tape is an essential expendible. It keeps devices from sliding around the dashboard or disappearing between the seat and the console. The right pieces of Velcro can help develop the skill of putting your phone back in the same place every time. That puts you ahead of the game.

Behind the Front Seats

I removed the rear seats to open up more storage space. It limited my passenger capacity to one but it was an important tradeoff to make. Large items like solar panels, 20 liter water cans, tripods and a chair all fit easily in the space.

Another reason to take out the rear seats was to make room for the drawer system. Taking the seats out allowed the drawers to sit flat and extend to the full length of the bed. The drawers are 12” high and contain two compartments. A 60” drawer that serves as my pantry and cook kit. The other locked compartment is for more secure storage. The top of the drawers leaves just enough room for Cody, my golden retriever, to stand up on his bed.

Cargo netting across the inside of the rear passenger doors was added after we got tired of picking things up when we opened the doors. That made a very convenient place to stuff sleeping bags, small duffels and dog bowls.

Up Top

Bunky-AlcanEz Awn is a South African company that makes a variety of overlanding products. Their roof rack extends the entire length of Bunky’s roof and holds my roof top tent, a couple of Front Runner storage boxes, an insulated water cooler, a large dry bag and a pair of MaxTrax.

Since the rack has a system of channels that accept eye rings, adjusting the hold down points is easy. You can even put attach points under the rack for flat items. Ratchet straps complete the rooftop system. Five or six are used to hold down everything on the rack.

The side of the rack has clamps for a shovel and axe. Things like fishing poles are easily secured to the other side.

Out Back

The CBI bumper has a swing-out rack for a spare _DSC5645tire, Hilift jack and two 20 litre fuel cans. There’s no better way to carry spare fuel than on a rack like that. Rotax containers are an option, but I went with the classic Jerry can. I already had one in the garage and the used ones are pretty cheap.

My least favorite piece of equipment is the hitch rack. It came in handy but got in the way while offroading. It’s hard to judge how far it sticks out while backing up. It was even run over by a hit and run early one morning outside my hotel in Homer, Alaska. In the end, it did its job and was a convenient place to store firewood, tools, tarps, etc…

Lessons Learned

A great way to store device cables are in old eyeglass cases. I carry two to hold all of my USB cables.

Ratchets on ratchet straps are fickle. They will refuse release the strap from time to time. Carry a screwdriver so you can release the stop from the teeth of the ratchet’s gear.

Carry more water than you think you need. Our total capacity was close to 40 litres. Next time, I want more.

Dry bags are awesome. The rubberized duffles that canoe and kayakers use are an essential part of keeping your stuff dry. Once you put your bags in dry bags you can toss them on the roof rack in a hurricane without a worry.

Don’t buy used fuel cans, stick with new ones. The used one I purchased had been repainted inside and out. When we used it for the first time the last bit of gas contained all sorts of paint chips from the repainting. Fortunately my funnel had a screen.

Some of our outside gear was secured with padlocks, some not. For those of you with further secure storage needs, Bryan Black covers the topic in Modifying an FJ Cruiser for Overlanding: Security Upgrades and Common Sense Vehicle Security Tips


Vehicle Outfitting: Up Armoring

My interest in vehicle armor comes from experience with rocky trails out west. The kind that dish out 12″ drops off rocky ledges onto a rock just waiting to crunch your oil pan. Those situations call for more than the original Toyota armor. Aftermarket skid plates, rock sliders, bumpers and suspension all play a role in keeping the rocks away from vital bits of your machine.

Skid Plates

skidsI ordered a full set of skid plates from RCI Metalworks in Boulder, CO. Their plates are available in steel or aluminum. I chose 3/8” steel for toughness but in retrospect aluminum may have increased my mileage by another few tenths of a mile because it’s lighter. Either product provides far more protection than Toyota’s stock skid plates. Those are as useful as aluminum pie plates. The plates installed easily. They bolt to pre-existing threaded holes in Bunky’s frame. After installing them, I’m pretty sure I could high point Bunky on a boulder and escape without a dent. They certainly did their job on the Dalton Highway. This road to Prudhoe Bay has long stretches of gravel that tends to get flung up and around your rig. The pinging of rocks off the skid plates was almost comforting.

Rock Sliders

IMG_7574The stock running boards on Bunky were aluminum and plastic. They are not strong enough to keep rocks away from body panels and would eventually bend and break. That’s why I removed them and installed the sliders from Budbuilt. Bud has 2 gauges of tubing on his sliders. Beefy and Extra Beefy. Again, I went with the tougher set, extra beefy. They proved their worth in the Eastern Sierra and Moab where they kept boulders away from crunching Bunky’s body panels. The second advantage is they are a step up when accessing cargo on the roof rack. I don’t think I’d be able to fold up my roof top tent as quickly if they were not installed. Bolting on the sliders was as easy as bolting on the skid plates. In both cases, the mounting holes lined up with exiting threaded holes in the vehicle frame. Handing big pieces of steel while maneuvering underneath a vehicle was awkward, but with the help of a few jacks and clamps I was able to line things up and bolt them on.


I wanted to install a front bumper and winch on Bunky but Toyota changed the styling of the 4Runner’s front in Bumpah2014. It takes a while for fabricators to catch up to new model year changes and nobody was making 2014 4Runner bumpers by the time I left for Alaska. In that regard I may have been better off with a 4Runner that was a few years old but people tend to hang on to them for hundreds of thousands of miles. A front bumper and winch is on my list for the future. The rear bumper comes from CBI Offroad Fabrication in Idaho Falls. After shopping around I thought they had the best design and workmanship. I made the drive to Idaho Falls and hung out for a day while they installed the bumper. CBI’s rear bumper solves several issues. It protects Bunky’s quarter panels and rear, provides storage for fuel/water, hilift jack, spare tire rack and recovery points.


The extra weight of the skid plates, rock sliders and bumper put a little strain on the stock suspension. That weight can be carried better with a set of heavier springs. I chose a set of heavy springs for the rear and medium springs for the front. That’s appropriate for now but I may revisit the decision when I install a front bumper. Lifting the suspension is another tactic that can protect your vehicle by keeping it a few inches further away from the ground. My mechanic installed a 3″ lift from the same company that provided the springs, ARB’s Old Man Emu suspension products. When lifting a vehicle the wheels need to be aligned after the lift kit is installed. The higher the lift, the more difficult it becomes to dial in the proper LRucacamber and caster. I was unaware of this, and ARB will say it’s not necessary to make accomodations, but the fact is that changing the upper control arms will allow you to achieve a proper alignment. Installing Light Racing UCA’s allowed my alignment to be adjusted properly.

Things to Come

I kept the stock Dunlop tires. Not because I like them but because it took me a while to lift the vehicle and could not fit much larger tires until after the vehicle was lifted. By the time that happened, I was behind schedule and decided to keep the Dunlops and wear them down. There’s a new, bigger set of tires in Bunky’s future.

The insect ridden swamps of Canada and Alaska require their own protection, too. It’s not uncommon to see some kind of netting over the front grill of vehicles in Canada and Alaska. It keeps the insect bodies out of your radiator. It’s something I’ll do next time.

Introduction to Vehicle Outfitting

This is the first in a series of blog posts that will walk you through the decisions you will have to make if you choose to modify your rig. It’s also the introduction to the Outfitting course I’ll be teaching at the Overland Expo East.

Overland travel has many styles. These styles are dictated by your vehicle, route and personal preference. They are all guided by the imperatives of this style of travel; be comfortable, self-sufficient, remain mobile and enjoy the experience.

My style of travel is not for everyone. Clearly it’s not the style of a massive motorhome that limps from one set of hookups to the next. Nor is it the minimal outfitting of a backpacker. It’s something in between.

Traveling to the Arctic Circle demands a certain level of mechanical reliability. Repair shops are few and far between and the cost of repair in dollars and delay are unpleasant at best. That’s why I chose to outfit a new vehicle. My 2014 Toyota 4Runner, Bunky. Another factor in choosing the 4Runner was that it’s one of the few 4WD SUV’s built on a ladder frame. This design is time proven and rugged. Just the thing for Alaska and the Yukon.

The Base Vehicle

Clean BunkyBunky came configured as a Trail Premium edition. That’s a designation that’s given to Toyota’s most trail-ready version of the 4Runner. It’s a 4 wheel drive vehicle with a high and low range of gears, locking differential and settings that provide more suspension articulation. In short, it’s a good start.

What Bunky lacked was armor, height, extra fuel capacity, a winch and more storage. I started researching my options for the equipment I needed. When I was able to sketch out my modifications, I found a local mechanic who specialized in modifying Toyotas and Jeeps. We went over my plan and he started contacting vendors and working out pricing.

A few weeks went by and I was eager to get started. I called the mechanic and his assistant answered the phone. Turns out that Ben, the mechanic, had been in a bad motorcycle accident the previous Friday. He fractured a number of bones and was going in for more surgery that week. Ben would not be back in action for some time.

Prepare for the unexpected. That’s the first lesson. The corollary to that is that things take time. Overland outfitting does not happen all at once. It’s a piecemeal evolution that happens over time. Every journey you make alters your view of what works and doesn’t work.

Night of the One Armed Drunk

OasisCache Creek, British Colombia is a Canadian desert town in rain shadow of Mount Whistler. On the way southward the green forests fade and the rolling countryside becomes brown and parched. It reminds me of my own drought stricken California.

I pulled into town and reserved a campsite at the Brookside RV Park. I usually avoid these places but it looked better than all the motels in town put together. Once checked in, I headed into town for dinner. The choices were of doubtful quality as is par for the course in these parts. When I stopped at a red light, the only light in town, and saw a blue and white sign for liquor I sensed that it was the only game in town. I drove in and parked beneath the larger sign for the Oasis Hotel.

I went in and asked the clerk about the local restaurant scene. He said the place next door had just opened. “The Greeks that run it used to have another place in town. It’s good food.” Taking a Canadian’s word for good food is hit or miss. Fortunately this one was a hit. I took a seat, placed my order and opened my book.

I wOne armasn’t more than a few pages in when the cook came to my table. He said “There’s a drunk outside, messing with your truck.”

I went out and saw the one armed man. He was the same drunk native I avoided on the way into the restaurant. I shouted, “Hey, don’t fuck with my truck.” He swung around flapping his empty short sleeve threateningly. “What’s the matter, you wanna fight?” he said.

I’ll fight a drunk, but a one armed drunk is beyond the pale. It’s so unfair. I decided to use my words. “There’s a mean dog inside my truck that will eat your motherfucking ass.” At that I opened the door and Cody leapt out to see what was happening. The sight of 100 pounds of canine energy had the drunk backing up. He was too far gone to see the golden retriever’s tail wagging.

The drunk’s attention was drawn to the cook now. “Come on you pussy, I’ll slap you around.” The cook said “do it, man” while dialing the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. He got the popo on the phone and started describing the perp. He gave the man’s description but he neglected to mention a key identifier. Finally he said “Oh yeah, he’s only got one arm.”

By this time I decided to sit outside on the patio and finish my excellent chicken souvlaki and enjoy another glass of white. The altercation continued and the drunk ambled about. At one point he wandered off the property. That was when the RCMP arrived. The officer started taking statements from the witnesses when someone from the side of the building said he’s over here…

The solo officer went to investigate. As he rounded the right corner, the drunk came out of the kitchen and disappeared around the opposite corner of the building. I assumed that they’d meet in the back and have a talk. When the officer came around to the front he didn’t have the suspect. I was beginning to think that Dudley Doright was not going to get his man.Perp&Cop

That’s when someone else yelled, he’s in the pub. The officer emerged with his quarry a few moments later. He questioned the drunk about his behavior and the drunk denied everything. He acted like a first grader caught in the act.

As he was being prepared for his ride to the jail cell I realized the officer’s dilemma. How do you handcuff a one armed man? After the squad car departed, I told the cook that I was glad he included the one armedness in the perp’s description. After all, how many one armed men are there in a town of 300? The cook paused and said “We used to have 2 one-armed men. The other one left a few years ago…”

Base of Operations: Alaska

From time to time we feel compelled to make a public service announcement (PSA). I’m not talking about where to find the cheapest gas, or the best poutine, or even how the fish are running. Operations Windmill’s PSAs are reserved for travel intelligence of the highest order. Information that you MUST know. Things that will make or break your journey. The Homer Brewing Company has made our journey a delight.

Homer LotWe left a mosquito infested campsite east of Soldatna and started our drive into Homer. As we neared the outskirts the navigator (me) spotted a sign. Highway litter pickup sponsored by The Homer Brewing Company (HBC). We decided it sounded like good place to regroup and hear what the locals have to say about where to bed down for the night. It turned out to be much more than that. It is the ideal entry point into Homer.

We parked in front and walked in. It was empty save for the guy pulling the handles. The white board listed a spectrum of quaffs ranging from light to dark. We filled out cards with our choices.

As he was pouring them I walked outside and heard someone say “hey, that’s a nice rig you’ve got there.” I’ve heard that before and it usually means a 15 minute convo with some motorheaded 4 wheeler. I turned around and saw a guy in a hat peering at Bunky through his glasses. After the perfunctory talk about 4 wheelin’ and modifications, the conversation took a more worldly turn. It seemed like this guy knew a lot about life on the road.

We introduced ourselves and retreated to the covered patio. Luca and Cody joined us as we sipped on the samples and talked about Alaska, Washington, Canada. There gmc-pd-4501-01was Texas and Louisiana too. Knute has plenty of stories to tell but he really didn’t get going until he admitted he owned a converted Grayhound PD 4501. I think he said that, but it could have been one of the later MCI models. Apparently the beer was organizing a beachhead in my brain.

Knute told us about his travels in the bus. He called them Quests. A Quest was quite an assemblage of individuals. Musicians, artists, layabouts and routabouts too. All traveling from venue to venue in search of music, nature and bliss. They were hippies. The kind we used to have in San Francsico before they were flushed out by the inevitable tides that move humanity this way and that. A rare sighting.

Knute introduced us to Steve, one of the owners. We moseyed over to the greenhouse to take a deeper dive into the forces that make Homer such a sweet spot on planet earth. The banter was good, and the stories tall but true. It felt like we had taken Homer 101 and the professors liked us. We decided to make The Homer Brewery our Base of Alaskan Operations.

The next day Cork told me the Gear Shed had good prices on hip waders. I grabbed a pair and waited in line to pay. That’s when Karen spotted me. She’s the other owner and partner in the Homer Brewing Company. She asked what I was doing and I said I was headed out to fish the Anchor River. She told me she had a pair of chest waders in her garage that would fit. I was silly to buy those when she could lend me hers. So she drew a map to her house and said I’d find them in the garage. No worries, nobody’s home. Go get them. So we did.

Fishing was semi-productive but still relaxing. A day later we swung by HBC to return the waders. Karen insisted I keep them longer and then invited us to stop by their place on Sunday. It’s their day off and there’s a flow of interesting folks that stop by. We took her up on it.

I’ve been taught not to arrive empty handed so we hit the local farmer’s market and put up a batch of spicy gPicklesarlic-dill superpickles. We even threw in some fennel for good measure. We made 8 jars with the intention of giving them away to folks we meet that are foodies one way or another. We brought them to Steve and Karen’s as our contribution to the afternoon’s grazing and drinking. As the sun did its curious dip towards the horizon the instruments came out. I even picked up a harp as Luca plucked at a stand up bass. Someone even wrote lyrics to one of Luca’s bits and pleaded for him to join them at a noontime gig on Sunday. He politely declined.Cats2

Enough beer was had to make the trip back questionable so Steve and Karen generously offered their guest bedroom. We slumbered well and were off in the morning with 6 eggs from the HBC chickens.

Homer chickensBefore we left, Steve impressed on me the importance of attending Salmonstock in the upcoming week. It’s a 3-day music festival that takes place in Ninilchik, just up the way. So yes, I’ll be there next weekend with a crew of some of the best people I’ve had a chance to hang out with in Alaska.