Setting out on this journey was the fruition of years of hard work and meticulous planning. To take two years to drive from Alaska to Argentina in my dream vehicle, an overland prepared Toyota Land Cruiser HZJ78 ‘Troopy’. Our journey so far has seen us camping at the base of active volcanoes, forging our way through flooded tropical rivers, sleeping in sweaty inner city parking lots, exploring ancient Mayan ruins, fishing in Caribbean seas and breaking down more times than I care to remember.
Living on the road is a lifestyle of contrasts, contrasts more distinct and regular than any I have otherwise known. When times are low, they are low in such a way that they grind you to your core, and leave you either in a state of sheer panic, or deflated apathy. The lifestyle tests you, makes you beg yourself for a reason behind your choices. It strains a relationship and challenges your health. It tears you from family and replaces your home comfort with dirt and difficulty. It is through the lens of the low points, however, that the highs delivered give you the stock to carry on.
As with any great adventure, the ability to overcome these challenges rests in two things, having the skills and resolve to stay calm and tackle problems head on and having good quality gear that you can rely on.
Limited for space, we spent countless hours researching every single piece of equipment that we would take on this journey, optimizing on weight, price, size and quality. I wanted a compact tool kit that was quickly accessible and comprehensive enough to handle everything; from quickly tightening a bolt, to rebuilding an entire transmission. The choice we landed on was the Teng tools TM127 socket set and while the vehicle and most of our gear has failed us, it never has. The tool kit has always performed far and above its intentions to keep the vehicle running, and keep us on the road.
With nothing but this small tool kit, we have rebuilt transfer cases on park benches in the USA, overhauled axles on mountain sides in Guatemala, and replaced head gaskets in the rainforests of Colombia. I have gotten to know the idiosyncrasies of my home on wheels so well now, that I feel I can repair anything sufficiently to keep us moving with just my Teng Tools set and a little elbow grease.
Driving once, on a hot and dusty stretch of rural Mexican highway, I realized, to my immediate dismay that my brakes had gone entirely. Thinking on my feet and using the thankfully powerful engine breaking of the Cruiser’s 4.2 NA Diesel block, I dropped a few gears and gradually rolled to a halt on the hot tarmac of the shoulder. Looking under the vehicle, I could see the snapped break line and spray of fluid across the underside. Without spares, all I could think to do was clamp the pipe with a Teng mole grip, and cable tie it to the chassis rail. I then topped up the brake fluid, restoring braking to 3 of 4 wheels. With hazard lights on, I managed to drive the 100 odd kilometers to the next town and find a proper replacement, despite the vehicle trying to veer off the road every time I even touched the brakes.
On another occasion, pushing hard up a hillside in Honduras, we blew a radiator hose. On a dirt road, and with no chance of recovery, we grabbed the Teng ratchet set, whipped off what was left of it, and between stitching, superglue and duct tape, got it to a point where it somewhat held water. We then carted buckets of water some 1/2 km back up the hill from the nearest stream, and filtered it back into the radiator. We set off, and this quick bush repair managed to tide us over for nearly 400km until we could find a replacement hose.
I was once told that the difference between an expedition and a holiday is that you only enjoy the expedition in retrospect, through the achievement, and through the grueling days. In these black and white terms, my lifestyle seems to be a strange hybrid of the both. I have days doing little more than reading a book in a hammock on a secluded beach, but I also have days where everything goes wrong and I have to put my mercy in my surroundings, the good will of the people around me and faith that staying calm and processing things one step at a time will see me coming through in prosperity.
In honesty, I love this challenge, I wouldn’t want the trip to be easy, I find far more fun in making it work despite the obstacles. We now head into the next stage of the trip, pushing our way through the high peaks, glaciers and deserts of the Andes to attempt to reach the southern tip of Argentina before the depths of winter. While I am sure that we will have plenty more challenges to overcome, I am certain that, as always the places we will experience will reward us tenfold.