KEVIN AND SARAH McCUISTON: LIFESTYLE OVERLAND
By Paul Strubell of Dirt Orcas – 1/23/17
For the sixteenth installment in our ongoing interview series here at Dirt Orcas we are very excited to speak with the gang responsible for Lifestyle Overland. Kevin and Sarah McCuiston, along with their daughter Caroline, have been travelling the Western United States in their overland rig for several years now.
Their Instagram feed and Facebook page are great ways to follow along with their adventures but, you can also check out their personal blog www.lifestyleoverland.com for additional details about the vehicles, their overland blog, the Lifestyle Overalnd Store, and more in depth descriptions of their adventures.
You can also follow their adventures on their new YouTube Series. (You can catch part one below).
This is an adventurous crew. They have built their life in a way that embraces travel and exploration. Reading their blog, you quickly get a sense that Kevin is a person who enjoys quality. This is reflected in the choices he makes with their set up. He is also clearly very sensible and makes choices that solve problems.
These are qualities regularly found within people who embrace the overland community and it makes a lot of sense. If you choose to spend most of your time on the road, simplifying your life by choosing quality things, that do what they are built to do, is crucial. Less time troubleshooting and problem solving means more time seeing the world. Although many #vanlifers would disagree at this point.
The biggest thing that stands out to me about their travels and their vehicle set up is that they seem to be happily adventuring as a family with a young child. Adding a child to the equation means adding an entirely separate level of necessities, materials, and comforts that adults might for-go. It is inspirational to watch them do this with smiles. Although, as adults who embrace the overland life, aren’t we all just big kids who still love to hang out in forts, cook on open fires, and explore weird roads?
The McCuiston’s are a great reminder that home is truly where the heart is.
What do you consider to be your place of work?
I primarily work construction as an electrical field engineer so my job can take us many places across the country. Currently we are based out of southeast New Mexico while I wrap up what was originally a 6 month long job that has turned into 7 years. My wife works out of our home (a 320 square foot 5th wheel camper) selling jewelry while I manage our part-time blog “Lifestyle Overland” and business “Overland Style” which we hope will one day become our main focus and source of income. Dream big, right?
Year, Make, Model of your vehicle and trailer?
2014 Toyota 4Runner Trail Edition towing a 2016 Turtleback Trailer
Did you name your vehicle? What do you call it?
Quicksilver, or “Silver” as in, “Hi-Ho, Silver!”
When and how did you get it?
We picked it up brand new from the dealer, two days later we were putting desert pin-striping on it in the Guadalupe District of Lincoln National Forest.
What other vehicles did you consider and what made you ultimately pull the trigger on the one you bought?
We really wanted a family friendly, safe, read-to-go rig since our 1980 Land Cruiser HJ45 was turning into more of a project than an active overland rig. After some research, we set our sights on a Trails Team FJ Cruiser and set out to purchase one at a dealership not far from home. After several test drives, while crawling in and out of the rear seat each time to strap in our (at the time) 1 year old daughter’s car seat, it was becoming obvious that we were going to need something a bit more accessible. We also weren’t a fan of the very limited visibility out of the FJ and after some coaxing from the salesman, agreed to try out something called a “Trail Edition” 4Runner. Feeling a bit defeated, we reluctantly saddled up the 4Runner and took it for a spin, thinking we would be polite to the salesman who had been more than patient with us.
In less than a mile I saw my wife’s expression change from an uncertain scowl, to a restrained grin. At the salesman’s direction we edged off of the pavement into a dirt lot while he ran us through the off-road features of the Trail Edition. After a few minutes of playing with the traction control, locking rear differential, and crawl control I glanced back at the wife who smiled and silently mouthed the words “Let’s buy it!”. After some negotiating we were the proud owners of a silver Trail Edition 4Runner. To this day, we have had zero regrets with our selection!
Have you made any upgrades or changes to it?
We put a nasty gash in one of the factory tires on our very first outing so the upgrades began early in the form of some all-terrain BFG KO’s (now KO2’s). This was soon followed by a stage 2 suspension from Icon Vehicle Dynamics to help with handling and clearance issues and a set of Bud Built slider for those times when you just have to lean on something.
As our overlanding kit grew, we needed more storage capability so the Gobi Stealth roof rack was called into service, freeing up much more space in the cabin so our daughter and dog could feel a bit less like part of the luggage.
We then added a series of convenience, recovery and communication gear including an ARB Freezer/Fridge, ARB Dual Compressor, National Luna dual battery system, primary and auxiliary Odyssey batteries, Uniden Bearcat CB, Delorme inReach, Yaesu ham radio, and a Samsung S2 tablet to handle navigation, vehicle diagnostics, and traveling tune duty.
Our most recent additions include a Southern Style Off Road front bumper with a Smittybuilt 10,000 lb winch. We are currently awaiting shipment of our rear bumper, also from SSO.
What is your favorite part about it living/working out of your vehicle?
In the words of William Wallace (or Mel Gibson in Braveheart) “FREEEEDOM!”. We are ready to move at a moment’s notice, so if we don’t like the weather; we can relocate. If we land a better gig somewhere else, simply pack up and roll out. We aren’t tied down to a mortgage payment or home upkeep so we can pull up roots and not worry about leaving anything unattended for extended periods of time.
What is your least favorite part about it?
Moving to a mobile living platform means size reduction, so you can imagine it was a harsh transition from a 2,000 square foot home to a 320 square foot camper. You quickly learn what you need and don’t need. Surprisingly, we filled up a 10’ by 30’ storage unit with our excess “stuff” when we moved into the camper and you would be amazed at how little we stopped by to retrieve items after we had the camper set up.
The toughest part of living in 320 square feet of space is staying organized. If you don’t have a place for everything, and keep it there, the walls start to really close in on you. It can also be tough with an energetic child during the winter months when it’s not as easy to get outside. You just have to make up for these shortcomings by getting out and exploring more!
How many miles have you put on your truck?
65,000 miles of mostly adventure trips in 2.5 years.
What is the best place you have taken it?
Southern Colorado just can’t be beat. Ouray, Silverton, Lake City; that’s God’s country right there.
Is there just one?
We love all the southwest has to offer, it’s hard to pick just one. Death Valley, Joshua Tree, Big Bend, are all gems in their own right.
Favorite road you driven?
We recently developed and traveled a series of trails we have dubbed the “Enchanted Rockies Trail” which consists of 800 miles of primarily off-road travel through New Mexico and Colorado. This 10 day, 2,000 mile solo family adventure was our most ambitious adventure to date and will probably retain the “Favorite Road” status for quite some time.
In one word, what describes your approach to life?
Hmm, that’s a tough one. I would have to go with “Wonder”.
If you could give a person one piece of advice when thinking about living out of a vehicle what would you tell them?
We have been living full time in our camper for the past year and a half. The rest of the time has been spent living out of our Turtleback Trailer on the trail. The best advice for small footprint living is to reduce the clutter to what you absolutely need, then organize it and develop a routine for keeping it tidy. This will help you keep your sanity and everyone living with you in a much better mood.
It takes a special kind of person to recognize that the journey, not the destination, is the point of life. Travelers know this. Was there a point in your life where you became conscious that you were one of those people?
The past few years have been an uphill battle as life tends to be at times. We’ve been through trials and tribulations, endured the uncertainty of job stability, experienced the loss of loved ones, and fought through the struggles of physical well-being. We have learned many things through these challenges but the two greatest realizations have been; the short amount of time we’re given on this earth, and the fragility of life we possess. While these facts are seemingly self-evident, it takes real life events to bring them into sharp contrast with our own life perceptions. In light of these realizations, we have made the decision as a family to invest more time in enjoying the life we have, right now. We have chosen to devote ourselves to causes and pastimes that leave an impression on our child and others around us, long after we have gone.
You have found a strong place in the community of travel. What values do you think your home instilled in you, that you take on the road?
Growing up, I was very close to my grandfather, or “Pappaw”, as I called him. From the time I was born until my early twenties we rarely spent a day apart. Pappaw, never met a stranger and could brighten the day of most anyone he came across just by striking up a conversation. I strive to carry that same mentality and have come to love every interaction with the overland community. We usually can’t stop for fuel without spending 30 minutes to talk with strangers about our rig and adventures. We look forward to every chance encounter that comes our way, and carry on the spirit of friendship that Pappaw instilled years ago.
I admire your outside the box approach to career and home. Do you see yourself as somebody who took a leap of faith to live in an unconventional way or do you think it kind of just happened?
I would say it kind of just happened. My job is contract based so we sold our home in anticipation of my job coming to an end back in 2015. We weren’t too keen on renting since rent is very high in our area, so a friend offered to let us borrow his 5th wheel camper for the remaining few months to help us out. We debated this option; actually I let the wife debate this option since she would be in it most of the time with our daughter, and eventually took him up on his offer. Within days of my end-date I was granted an extension so we remained in the borrowed camper until we decided that it was a lifestyle we could take on ourselves. Not long after we found a great camper for a deal and invested 2 months renovating it and making it our own. The rest is history.
Where do you want to go next? (geographically and career wise)
Geographically, we would prefer to stay in the western United States. Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah all sound great to us. I myself would love to go to Alaska, if only for a short while, to see what life is like there. We hope to take a month or two this summer to explore all it has to offer, so maybe we will just stay!
From a career standpoint we want to continue to develop our personal businesses to the point we could sustain ourselves while traveling full-time. Most likely I will continue my work as an electrical field engineer or project manager until this can be realized.