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August 2011 From The Back 40

Posted in Features on August 1, 2011
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“Overlanding?” We used to call it “sleepin’ in the truck.”

It was the summer of 1987, and after hearing “Rocky Mountain Way” by Joe Walsh on my truck’s radio on the way home from work one day, I had a sudden urge to go wheeling in Colorado. I informed my trusting wife that I thought it would be a great idea if we threw some gear in the back of our ’77 International Scout II and took an off-highway vacation. She looked at my crapped-out Scout, and then at me, saw I was serious, flicked back a shock of her red hair, and then rolled her green eyes. So much for the trusting wife.

To understand her reaction you have to understand the Scout. It was nicknamed “The Toilet” by the previous owner because it was white and crappy. There were no creature comforts aside from cloth seats, and like almost all Scouts, the body was incredibly rusty. (We eventually had to put a new tub on it after our daughter was born because numerous toys and even a juice bottle fell out of the truck through the giant rust holes in the floor.) A pair of unpainted rocker panel covers masked horribly corroded rockers. Out back was a pair of unpainted fiberglass fenders. The rig sported about four shades of white.

My wife drove a ’77 280Z 2+2 that wasn’t white and it wasn’t crappy, and in her point of view would be much better suited to a 3,000-mile vacation. The Z had a fuel-injected inline Six (very rare for its time), five-speed transmission and four-wheel-independent suspension. The Scout was old-school. It had a carbureted 345ci engine, TorqueFlite transmission, a leaf-spring suspension, and Dana 44 axles. I pointed out to her that the Z wouldn’t make it where we planned to go, like up Mosquito Pass near Leadville. But as it turned out, neither would the rusty Scout.

We had no rooftop tent or off-highway trailer, so all of our stuff had to go in the cargo area of the Scout. This meant that the same stuff had to come out at night so we could have room to sleep. And speaking of sleeping, the cargo area wasn’t that big, so we slept in the ol’ “spoon” position, crammed between the wheelwells. This arrangement created several challenges, including the requirement that we had to roll over in unison.

The old Flot-Trac RV tires we swapped on once we got to Colorado had been patched numerous times by the previous owner, and once we aired ‘em down and bounced ‘em over rocks, the old patches began to loosen up at a fascinatingly rapid rate. This resulted in numerous flat tires. On the way up Mosquito Pass, our old rusty Scout began to shed parts as it was forcibly twisted in ways unheard of in the flatlands of Illinois. This forced us to retrace our tracks back to Leadville so I could get it on a lift and repair a laundry list of problems.

With a pair of radial street tires chained to the roof of the Scout and another pair crammed into the cargo area along with all our other stuff, we resembled the Beverly Hillbillies. More than once during the trip did folks stop us to “talk Scout,” inquire if we really did drive the “pile of Scout” all the way from Illinois, or ask if we were homeless.

The take away from this story is this: Overlanding is an activity that you can engage in whether your rig is new or old and whether you have the latest overlanding accessories or if you go bare-bones. You’ll use your rig as a tool to access backcountry not accessible to the car crowd, and the rewards are great. We had a fantastic time exploring the Colorado high country in our old Scout, and it’s probably the most memorable four-wheel-drive vacation we’ve ever had, and we’ve had many. We have great memories from that trip including being warm and snug as rain fell on the steel roof of the truck while we were sleeping high in the Rocky Mountains, far from any paved road or other people. And that’s what it’s all about.

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