LEAH AND AUSTIN: DRIVING OL’ BLUE – @4RUNNER4ADVENTURE
By Paul Strubell of Dirt Orcas – 9/18/17
For the forty sixth installment in our ongoing interview series here at Dirt Orcas we are very excited to speak with Leah and Austin of @4runner4adventure.
They recently returned from driving their 4runner down to the bottom of South America.
A very inspiring duo. I discovered them through their Instagram Gallery, @4runner4adventure. You can check it out to see photos from the trip and highlights form their exstensive travels.
I strongly recommend heading over to their website of the same name 4runner4adventure.com. Here you can find great info including their route map, information on shipping their vehicle, trip preparations and savings, packing lists, and much more. If you are thinking about taking a trip of your own like this, having a resource like this one is a sure bookmark as you learn about and prepare for you own journey.
Austin and Leah are terrific reminders that there is not one way to overlanding. Many people think you need to make the choice to forever become a person who lives out of your car or that taking a trip like this would be detrimental to your career or life plan. Clearly it doesn’t have to be a permanent lifestyle change, just one that will change you for the better.
Adventure is out there if you are willing to go after it.
Check out our interview with Leah below.
What do you consider to be your place of work?
Prior to this trip, we both decided to quit our jobs, so that we could have a fresh start once we reentered the workforce. We both have worked since the age of 16 without having any major breaks in employment so this was an opportunity for the both of us to take time and figure out what is important and what we want out of our careers and ultimately our lives.
Tell me about your vehicle. What do you call it?
Our car is named Ol’ Blue, it’s a 2004 Toyota 4Runner. It has upgraded suspension, bigger tires, interior cabinets and some additional overland goodies!
What other vehicles did you consider and what made you ultimately pull the trigger on the one you bought?
We owned the 4Runner prior to the decision to go on this trip, but Austin has always loved 4Runners, so we would have ended up with one anyway. Reliability was a major factor in our decision to go with a Toyota since we would have access to parts worldwide if we should need them.
Have you made any upgrades or changes to it?
We have changed a few things on the 4Runner to make it easier to live out of on a daily basis. We upgraded to Sway-a-way Coil-overs on the front, and the rear has HD long travel springs on the rear. The tires are Cooper Discoverer S/T MAXX; we like these tires for their highway manners and aggressive off-road handling. We built a custom rear bumper with a spare tire, gas and propane, plus a table for cooking. We have a Tepui roof tent, full interior drawers, and an Edgestar refrigerator. For our power needs, we built in a dual battery and 100W solar system. Aside from that, the car is all stock, which is the most reliable way to go.
What is your favorite part about it living/working out of your vehicle?
The best part of living out of our vehicle is the flexibility it gives us while we travel. Living out of our vehicle allows us to get out of the major cities and explore the local culture and landscapes more easily. It also alleviates us from any sort of time restriction, which is an incredible feeling. We go to places, when and where we want.
What is your least favorite part about it?
We really had a hard time coming up with an answer for this question. One disadvantage of living in a roof top tent is the dry time that is required before you can put the tent away, otherwise mold can grow. We had a couple rough days in Ecuador after it rained for five straight days, but we realized we could stuff the mattress inside the car and put the rest of the tent away wet until we arrived at our next destination, where we could open it back up and let it dry.
How many miles have you put on your vehicle?
20,000 miles from the border of Mexico to the shipping container in Montevideo, Uruguay. We hope to add some additional miles as we head up the East coast to Canada before returning home to Arizona!
What is the best place you have taken it?
Our favorite place that we visited was Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia. This place is just amazing! Years ago, we saw some pictures of the salt flats and that is truly, where the dream to overland the Pan-American Highway was born. Therefore, we were very excited to reach that point and drive through such an incredible place. We also got engaged on the flats, so this place is very special to us.
Is there just one?
Of course there are many more, but a major favorite was the town of Ushuaia, Argentina. This destination was of course the main goal of our trip, the southernmost city in the world. Plus, we were able to go snowboarding, which was a big win!
Favorite road you’ve driven?
We really enjoyed the trail up to Cerro Kennedy in Colombia. This rough, steep trail overlooked the Caribbean ocean from around 6,000 feet. We were in the clouds for most of the three-hour trail ride, then the clouds broke as the sun was setting, and we could see 15 small fishing boats out on the water—it was incredible!
In one word, what describes your approach to life?
If you could give a person one piece of advice when thinking about living from a vehicle, what would you tell them?
It’s not as difficult as you would think! When we moved to Denver, we rented a house that had 750sqft. Before we moved in, we were worried that the house wouldn’t be “big enough” for us, but quickly found out the tricks of maximizing space and the freedoms of downsizing. Now that we are living out of the 4runner, there are times when we ask ourselves, “why do we have so much stuff” and then realize again, how little we need in order to be comfortable. We also have utilized every piece of “stuff” we brought on this trip, but chaos is easily created in small spaces, which is why organization is key to staying sane.
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?
This is a great question, because we both continue to struggle to stay more in the present and to spend less time focusing on future goals.
(Leah) I am a very goal oriented, but there are many times in my life that I have spent more time focused on the goal rather than staying present in the moment and enjoying the process. I viewed this trip as an opportunity for personal growth in this area, but there are still times when I catch myself looking too far forward and I have to stop, catch my breath and refocus. If there are others out there that struggle with this, I would recommend slowing down your physical pace. I love walking, but I’m known to be a fast walker, so slowing down, picking my head up and taking in my surroundings has been a crucial part of my quest to stay present.
You have found a strong place in the community of travelers. What values do you think your home or family instilled in you, that you take on the road?
We really love being a part of the overland community. It is truly amazing to be instantly connected with people who are genuine, adventurous and best of all, fun!
You can’t leave home without patience and open-mindedness. These values are key when you live your life on the road.
I admire your outside the box approach to career and home. Do you see yourselves as people who took a leap of faith to live in an unconventional way or do you think it kind of just happened?
For us, this was definitely a leap of faith. Although we did a lot of research and read numerous blogs before we embarked on this trip, we were still hesitant about the whole trip, until we crossed the border into Mexico. In our hearts, we knew that we would not regret the decision to travel, but we had a lot of apprehension about the unknown.
Where do you want to go next?
Our next adventures overland might take us up to Alaska, or possibly Europe to visit all the people we have met while traveling. As for careers, we are still trying to figure that one out!