MAX SHEEHAN: @LIFE.TO.THE.MAX
By Paul Strubell of Dirt Orca’s – 4/16/18
For the seventy second installment in our ongoing interview series here at Dirt Orca’s, we are very please to speak with one of the mightiest weekend warriors on Instagram, Max Sheehan. You may know him as @life.to.the.max.
I was pleased to receive my interview back from Max recently. We had had some discussion about featuring him here on Dirt Orca’s but he was a little apprehensive because he felt that he didn’t fit into the box of overland traveler. Perhaps he had seen some of my interviews with the likes of Desk to Glory or Overland the Americas and their fantastic trips through the America’s to Patagonia and beyond. I assured him that his story is just as important to tell. Not everybody is in a position to do the drive to Patagonia, but I am certainly interested in people who make the most of their time to explore the outdoors in vehicle supported travel. While it is important to dream big and work towards realizing those dreams. It is also important to make the most of your weekends and time off if that is your current situation.
You can check out Max’s website, www.explore4r.com, to get a sense of the trips he takes. I also recommend checking out his Instagram Gallery and giving him a follow.
Max is a self professed weekend warrior. I am happy to hear him embrace this moniker. Too often we see people who get out far less than Max boasting about their builds or trips on the web. Though his trips may be limited to the time he has available, his content is interesting and enjoyable to follow.
Max is a great reminder to use the time you have wisely.
Check out our interview below.
All photos by @life.to.the.max
What do you consider to be your place of work?
I have a job as a landscape contractor based in the San Francisco Bay Area. We create custom landscapes to match our native California flora while adding function to our client’s outdoor space. It allows for some creative outflow and time spent working outside of the office, which is all some can ask for. (If you live in San Fran area and want to hire these guys here is their website (www.confidencelandscaping.com)
Tell me about your vehicle. What do you call it?
I drive a 2016 Toyota 4Runner aptly named the Mountain 4Runner. I have never been much of a person to name a vehicle with a personified name, they have always followed some sort of a characteristic. An example was my first truck. A 1991 Chevy 2500 4×4 that I called “The Tank” due to its massive stature and amazing ability to chug gasoline. When it came time to name the 4Runner, all that I could think about was where I wanted it to take me. The mountains. Any mountains. And there it stuck.
What other vehicles did you consider and what made you ultimately pull the trigger on the one you bought?
Ask anyone that knew me 3-4 years ago and they will tell you that I was hell bent on a Toyota Tacoma… Access cab… Pyrite Mica… with a 6 speed manual transmission. It was very specific. When the time came that I started looking seriously at purchasing a new vehicle, I sat in and drove a Tacoma very similar to my ‘ideal truck’ and it just felt….. old. 10 years with a similar interior will do that to a truck, no matter how good it might be. I had thought about the possibility of a 4Runner as well, but had never taken the time to see one in person. So, while I was at the dealer fresh out of the Tacoma, I got into one and closed the door. The solid “thunk” and increase in pressure afterwards really stood out to me in terms of quality. After a test drive in the same loop as the Tacoma, I decided that I wanted to research the 4Runner more. And after an extensive amount of research and a very thorough pro / con list, I decided that the 4Runner was the vehicle for me. Quality of build, reliability, off-road capability. It was all there. As for the 4Runner I purchased? I was in Bend, Oregon on vacation and it was my now fiancé’s birthday. On the way to town, we stopped in to “take a look” at one particular 4Runner they had. A test drive, some negotiation, more driving, more negotiating later, I was in the finance department signing paperwork. When you get a deal you can’t refuse, things tend to happen quickly. Naturally, his was all followed by a lot of brown nosing towards the lady that gave up her birthday so I could make a deal 🙂
Have you made any upgrades or changes to it?
The 4Runner aftermarket is the perfect example for what social media and forums do to influence how people ultimately modify their vehicles. I don’t say that negatively, but there tends to be a quick turnover on a lot of these vehicles from when they leave the dealership to when they are “fully built”. I wanted to take a slower approach to my modifications, spending money on upgrades that were needed for my personal needs and trying not to get sucked into the 4Runner mod black hole. To keep it brief, in the last two and a half years I have added a list of functional upgrades including additional lighting, tires, sliders, custom built platform system that I have designed, and some basic interior organization gizmos. I spend almost 40k miles like this, really getting to know the vehicle and what it’s capabilities as a mostly stock vehicle are. I have taken notes on what I like / don’t like on all of my trips to help develop my desired modifications and set a budget. In doing so, I had identified my weakest points and I would upgrade accordingly. Recently I completed my suspension upgrade, as my stock shocks were more than tired and it was steady at number one on my list of things to improve. Keeping things simple has allowed me to stick to my budget and keep the vehicle light. This is my favorite part of the build. Keeping it all simple, and functional.
What is your favorite part about being a weekend warrior?
Having a full time job in one place means that my trips are typically limited to weekends, and when planned, extended trips. My favorite parts about my “restriction” is that I have to be as efficient as possible to get the most out of my time on the road / trail, and I get the opportunity to really explore the areas that I can versus spending a little time in a lot of places. I have to plan when I leave, time on the road, where and when I stop, and how long I can spend wherever I end up before coming home. It sounds like a lot, and when I first started it was. While it is challenging at times, I have gotten better and more efficient in getting away for the weekend by figuring out the best times to leave and avoid traffic, the best ways to pack and prepare for trips in different areas, and the places I can travel where I get the most out of the effort I put into it. My location and time available limits where I can go in 2-3 days, but it really allows me to explore the places I can get to because I end up exploring new sections of the same general areas every time I go. Next time you go somewhere, really look at the map and see where you can go within that area. I was amazed when I started to explore the Sierras with how many places there were to see within a seemingly small area. I might not get to travel the country, but I really enjoy getting to know my own backyard.
What is your least favorite part about it?
My answer to this question is likely exactly what you would expect it to be; that there is never enough time. As I said above, I try to make the most out of where I can typically go in a short period of time. This makes it hard when I wind up going on longer trips as I want to take the same level of detail on my route when I ultimately don’t have the time for it. It is something that I am getting more used to now as I try to expand my range, but it can be challenging. I hope to spend more time challenging myself and taking longer trips in the near future.
How many miles have you put on your vehicle?
In the last two and a half years, I have put just under 45k miles on the 4Runner. It is not my daily driver, so thankfully many of those miles have been spent doing fun things versus sitting in traffic 🙂
What is the best place you have taken it?
I took the 4Runner to Death Valley twice last year. Both times on 4-5 day, 250+ mile adventures that dramatically changed my perspective on “open space”. The ability to drive for days at a time off the pavement was something foreign to me and exploring these areas wouldn’t have happened without the capability of that vehicle. It really opened my eyes to what I wanted to see more of in my travels and introduced me to some amazing places I had never seen.
Is there just one?
Absolutely not. Admittedly I do have a few choice favorites such as the one mentioned above, but it seems anytime I pull up to a new campsite somewhere I haven’t been I end up thinking to myself “this place is amazing” for one reason or another. I hope I never have a best place, as I want to keep enjoying everywhere I have been.
Favorite road you’ve driven?
I think that if I had to pick a road it would be US Route 395, namely in the Eastern Sierra corridor. The drive itself is absolutely stunning in every season of the year, and the opportunity for adventure is endless. High sierra trails, Death Valley, hot springs galore. Oh and plenty of breweries along the way. What more could you want?
In one word, what describes your approach to life?
If you could give a person one piece of advice when thinking about building a vehicle for traveling, what would you tell them?
Take it slow. Decide for yourself what you really need and go from there. Falling prey to the norms on social media and forums can lead to outspending your budget on things you may not really need. Spend less on modifying and more time figuring out what you really need to make the best out of a trip.
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 those people?
When I was finishing my undergraduate program, I was talking to a friend of mine about the idea of living for the day versus waiting for the day. My parent’s generation, like those before, idealized hard work and the reward of retirement when they had earned what they needed to allow them to do so. My friend mentioned someone that he knew, a family friend. This man had worked his whole life, harder than most, with the promise of a well-earned retirement. Months before he was planning to finish his career to enjoy the rest of his life, he had a sudden heart attack and passed away. What he worked for, had skipped time off for, was taken away from him. While I did not know this man directly the story always stuck with me. The journey that we take will always outweigh the destination.
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?
When I was a kid, almost every weekend we would leave the Bay Area to head to the foothills of the Sierras where we had a small bit of land that my dad was piecing together a cabin. He would work during the week, head to the hills on the weekend to get work done up there and then start all over again. He instilled the value of “getting away” in me. For him, it was getting away from his self-started business to enjoy time with his family. For me, it’s getting away to somewhere where there is no traffic, smart phones are something you forget in the car, and your surroundings are all you want to experience. Even though we never camped when I was younger, what we did in a way still shaped me into who I have become now.
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 me, the leap of faith was less dramatic than someone who might have had to alter their entire lives to take to living on the road. For me, my leap was expanding myself into new areas that I had never experienced before. Camping, traveling, exploring. I had never done any of these extensively before, so for me to spend time teaching myself what was what was a leap of faith in itself. I have had great help from those around me in the community along the way who collectively know an incredible amount. I have been fortunate to spend many nights around a campfire with these people learning as much as I can.
Where do you want to go next?
My soon to be wife and I are planning a two week trip from our home here in California through British Columbia and back. It will be our longest trip to date on the road, a new adventure. Beyond that there will be a number of weekend trips exploring my backyard and beyond as I try to see the best of what the Western United States has to offer. My career will remain the same for now. It’s a steady source of income that allows me to spend my time off doing what I love. Until we decide we want to move, I see no reason to change that portion of my life.
Hi! So I’m Max’s officemate, Lori, and I literally work back-to-back with this bearded dude in a 80sf dusty office with two desks, one massive printer, and dog beds for each of our pooches. I can tell you honestly that Max is the real deal — constantly researching the latest vehicle mods while documenting and posting his own, offering his past Gaiagps tracks for me to explore (he knows I’m directionally challenged), and incessantly persuading me that I REALLY DO NEED to get outta Dodge for the weekend. Max’s love for the outdoors and his finesse for beautifully documenting his every crazy adventure makes him insanely fun to hang with. And did I mention he’s an awesome teacher? Yep — whether it’s how to run an excavator or installing Ram Mounts (which I didn’t know I even “needed” …) or how to properly pull someone (er, that’d be me pulling Max) out of a snowbank. He lives to teach and loves to share. But the best part is he’s a really good guy and his enthusiasm for life and the great outdoors is infectious!
This is fantastic feedback Lori! Thank you so much for checking out the interview. Please say hello to Max for us in person. Cheers