Show Notes for Podcast Episode #33
Interview with Kurt Williams, overlander, Baja Champion, and the Land Cruiser Whisperer
For this interview, Scott chats with overlander Kurt Williams of Cruiser Outfitters about travel around the globe, racing Land Cruisers, building Land Cruiser, and the joys of international overland adventures.
This episode is presented by Scout Campers: scoutcampers.com
Scott is the publisher and co-founder of Expedition Portal and Overland Journal and is often credited with popularizing overlanding in North America. His travels by 4WD and adventure motorcycle span all seven continents and includes three circumnavigations of the globe. His polar expeditions include two vehicle crossings of Antarctica and the first long-axis crossing of Greenland. @scott.a.brady
Matthew is a leading expert in automotive adventure. He has extensively explored the world's most remote places by 4WD and is considered an industry authority on overland travel. He is the only American to ever become an editor of a major Australian 4WD publication and has over 15 years of competitive auto racing experience. @mattexplore
Scott: Kurt, thank you so much for being on the podcast. It's really great to see ya. I’m here in Salt Lake and this is home town for you right?
Kurt: it is, this is home. Thanks For having me.
Kurt: Looking forward to it.
Scott: And we are in your new facility.
Kurt: We are.
Scott: And how long have you been in this building?
Kurt: Just over a year. About 18 months now. Just still growing in, getting everything dialed in but were here rollin’ and running.
Scott: I mean, your whole story is fascinating. Not only as a traveler but as an expert on Land Cruisers and also the story of Cruiser Outfitters. And as long as I have been in the industry you have been doing this as long as I can remember. When did you first acquire Cruiser Outfitters?
Kurt: I took ownership January 1, 2002. I had worked there a couple years before but, ya it was officially my problem as of January 1, 2002.
Scott: How old were you when this all happened?
Kurt: I was 21.
Scott: I thought so.
Kurt: Young and dumb.. *laughs
Scott: *laughs It's amazing the things that we get away with at that age. You can just throw time and energy behind it and somehow make it work.
Scott: It was an existing business at the time, but it was relatively small. You kind of bought it as a working entity right?
Kurt: You got it. It started here in about 1992, in Salt Lake, and really it was a full Land Cruiser restoration shop. It did paint, tune ups and even engine swaps. But had zero internet presence. In fact, it didn't even have a website, of course in that day the early 90’s all the way into the 90’s, it wasn't as prevalent to be online. But definitely didn't even have an email address. The previous owner, Darel, a dear friend. He kind of had no interest in taking it anywhere in that realm. That was kind of the direction I needed to take it, I was still a full time student at the time so it needed to be a part time business that I could run all hours of the day so I had to go online.
Scott: What is your educational background, because you and I have traveled around the world together and that's always been one of the things that has been most impressive to me about you is you are a very smart guy but you are also very well studied individual. So what was your background in education?
Kurt: Well thank you for the kind words.. My background was mechanical engineering. So I graduated with a mechanical engineering degree from the University of Utah in 2006. So, Cruiser Outfitters was never meant to be a full gig for me. In fact it was to get me through the end of school. Have some cruiser money, play with Land Cruiser and then you know, “go get a real job” in the “real world.”
Scott: Talk to me about that. What was that point in time or that transition where you realized this little lifestyle business you built to get your through college was now going to be your career and was there some challenge around that decision or did you just know it was right?
Kurt: No. Definitely some challenges. I didn’t even know it was right until the last minute. In 2006 I was getting ready to graduate and I was starting to do X interviews, starting to do career fair days at the university. They were having companies from the industry coming in. I was interviewing. I was looking ahead to see where I was going to land after school. It was actually an undergraduate professor of mine that I worked a lot with that he knew what I was doing and he had been supportive and had been interested in this little Land Cruiser business I had and said.. “You gotta keep doing what you're doing.” You didn’t go to school to be an engineer , you came to school to be a problem solver. You gotta use that and run this business. If it doesn't work after a year or two, you can always be an engineer. You won't ever pick that back up if you’ve got this little business churning away.”
Scott: One of the other things that I have noticed about you and your business is, having been in the Overland industry for as long as I have, I’ve actually never once heard someone say a negative word about you or your business and that is very difficult to achieve. To have the customer rapport, and it doesn't mean you don't have problems, but I’ve never heard anybody complain about Cruiser Outfitters. What do you think are some of the things that have allowed you to accomplish that. What are the things about your business, or maybe even you as an individual, how you train your team, that has allowed you to go essentially 2 decades without having any negative part of your reputation…
Kurt: That's a great question and we don't always hit home runs. I mean certainly we know we are always learning and sometimes we experience the hard way and we don't make every transaction the way we wanted to, but we do everything we can to make it right. I think the big part of it is that we are all Toyota guys. We’re all automotive guys here, my employees. Pretty much everyone here understands what it's like to order and get the wrong part or have it show up late. So we really try to think of it like how we would want to be treated when we place an order. How do we want to be treated, how would we like to be treated when we have service done on a vehicle. Just holistically look at it and treat others how we want to be treated as a consumer ourselves. So we’ve looked at it that way. Another big part of it is being part of the community. Being active in the forum, being active in those facebook groups. That's how you and I met…
Kurt: A couple decades ago now, was through different forums through Expedition forum back in the day and being involved in those communities you really get a vibe for what people are looking for product wise but also you can be out in front of any of those issues before they pop up. Get it solved before it was ever a problem.
Scott: I remember, this was the early 2000’s. I had purchased a 1977 FJ40. It was this reat uncut truck and I remember ordering a front axle rebuild kit from you guys. I don’t think that we, in fact I’m almost certain that we didn’t know who each other was, but I remember part of what made that experience so positive was to be able to call and have the person that answers the call be totally familiar with the vehicle and it gave me a lot of confidence in purchasing hte rebuild kit because to be it seemed like this black art. I was like how in the world am I going to get this, I knew it was just one bolt at a time But you want to make sure you don’t get your daily driver torn down then half way through you've got the wrong part or the wrong bearing or whatever. So to be able to talk to someone on the phone who understood was like “oh yeah.” There was no question in your voice like; “I think it will work.” And it may have not even been you that I talked to, it probably was but, I think that was my first memory of interacting with you and your company. It was just this wealth of knowledge around Land Cruisers. And I think that is probably part of the success. I think that you guys have done a good job of staying focused on the Toyota mark. You guys do some parts for Lexus as well but you guys have really stayed focused on those vehicles that you know well and that you can service your customers well. Do you see that as being one of the strengths?
Kurt: Absolutely. That's been a focus. We realize with some of the brands we rep and some of the parts we carry, we could certainly branch out and start carrying parts or even selling those parts for other platforms. But i’ll be the first to say I don’t know enough about those to confidently sell those parts. And I don’t want to sell something that we can't provide customer service for when they call and ask: “Hey, will it fit?” But also after the fact maybe when they are installing it or perhaps if they do have a problem with it we can’t solve that. We don’t want to be the company that always puts that back on the manufacturer and say: “we sold it to you but call them, they made it.” We like to be able to solve those problems. And like with the knuckle kit you mentioned, we’ve really focused on kits that come with everything you need. Be it a suspension system or a knuckle rebuild kit, or a transmission kit. We’ve just worked with good manufactures and good vetted parts. A lot of them are OE components (8;24) manufactures that make the OE components and then assemble those as a full comprehensive it. SO you don’t have to walk into a parts store and say “I need 37 different parts” that make a rebuild kit. We give those to you with one part number.
Scott: And you buy a lot of this stuff direct from Japan don’t you?
Kurt: We do. Ya, we import from quite a few different places but particularly Japan and Australia we bring in a lot of components. Obviously Land Cruiser and Toyota are big in those markets, so we can find good manufacturers there that have the parts we're looking for.
Scott: And all the success you've had in business it's so notable but some of the stuff that really makes you interesting is your passion for Land Cruisers and the amount of traveling that you've done in recent years and also your success as a driver as part of a racing team as well. WHich congratulations on your first place finish in the Baja 1000 a couple days ago.
Kurt: Ya, two days ago. *laughs*
Scott: I can’t believe you're awake right now. *laughs*
Kurt: Got home less than 24 hours ago, we did have a good run. I’ve always been, that's why I got in the business. It wasn't an inverse, sometimes you see companies, they see a market and they take advantage of that and hop in and seize that opportunity. That's a great way to do it if you see an opportunity. Mine was from a different approach. I bought a Land Cruiser when i was 15 years old. And my dad and I started fixing that up as a highschool vehicle. It was a 1968 FJ40. And I quickly fell in love with Land Cruisers and like anyone who's got a unique vehicle; be it an older Land Rover or a Jeep, you don’t go anywhere without running into somebody that used to have one of those. And has an endearing story about why they love that and I think I kind of gravitated to that and it was just fun to get to know other Toyota and Land Cruiser owners specifically. That kind of grew into my love and every part of my life. I work with Land Cruisers all day long, but my weekends usually involve Land Cruisers of some kind. Whether it be driving in some remote place or just racing one or working on one at my house. I guess I’m not burned out on them yet if I have made it this far. *laughs*
Scott: *laughs* Totally!
Kurt: And I still get giddy when I see a Land Cruiser that I have never been in before or get to go drive something that I have not had the opportunity to yet.
Scott: Absolutely. And do you still have that original Land Cruiser?
Kurt: You know I don’t. I know where it's at. It belongs to a customer and a friend. They say you know you should never sell one. I sold it for a reason then and I don’t necessarily regret it. I have had the opportunity to buy it twice, buy back twice. But, I’ve got some others that kind of fill that role and maybe one day it’ll end up back around. It's fun to see someone out still using it and enjoying it and he does. Makes me happy to see it's still getting used.
Scott: So if you were to summarize, now that you have traveled so much around the world, in Land Cruisers, in addition to your early childhood and adult years loving Land Cruisers. What is it about Land Cruisers for you, if you were to summarize why they are such an important option for you when you purchase a vehicle?
Kurt: For meI’d say just the reliability. And there are a lot of great platforms out there. You and I have talked about a lot of neat opportunities and options that are on the market these days, but I just fall back on it’s the reliable choice for me. It’s not always the cutting edge. It’s not always got the most latest and greatest features. But I just know that it’s always going to get me home. Through that I have met a lot of fellow travelers and dear friends, and people that I spend a lot of time with and also have that like mentality so it's easy for us to plan and go do a trip al knowing that we don’t worry about the vehicle. That's not even the big part of our trip, it's just a hey we all know he has a vehicle that will get us there and get us home. It's not a biggie to plan a trip down to Baja, I know what they're bringing. I know that they've got that dialed, they're set. We can just go experience and have a good time.
Scott: Ya, it’s interesting. Some of the places that you and I have been. Whether it's the Road of Bones in Russia or in the MIddle of South America, or in the middle of the Greenland ice sheet in a Toyota. I’ve never had a Toyota leave me stranded. Have you ever had a Land Cruiser leave you stranded?
Kurt: No. Nothing catastrophic, and anything that did it’s usually something we did to it. You know, if you race the Baja 1000 anything can happen.
Scott: That's true, yeah.
Kurt: But it’s always like an aftermarket something we’ve done or just the nature of racing. But as far as travel like that, no. Nothing that's been a catastrophic failure, they've always gotten me home. And it’s never been a worry. I’d say that's the bigger component too, it's never been a worry about your vehicle. Because it's stressful to go into a trip thinking hey am I going to be the guy that holds up the entire group? Am I going to be the guy that's calling for help. It's nice that it's just not in the picture. It’s a good reliable vehicle. Anything can happen, they are not infallible. We rely on them. I mean when we were in greenland, did we ever worry about the Toyota making it? No we were worried about whether we had enough fuel, that's on us..so. (13:41 Greg?) works with the planning of that so we always did. We were worried about whether we were going to have enough food? But we never worried about these trucks going to get us back.
Scott: Ya. And even anything we started working on it was… although watching Torvy work on a Toyota was an impressive thing.
Kurt: He's the ice ninja..
Scott: Ninja for sure, it was incredible. But they all did get us across that ice sheet and back again. So for you then it sounds like it's the trust that you have in the Land Cruiser to allow you to have the adventure that you want to have. What are some of the other things that make a Land Cruiser special?
Kurt: I think the community is a big part. Like a lot of unique vehicles you can find a community around it. That's interesting, it's neat, it's fun, it's great to get out with like minded people in similar vehicles. That's not an emphasis, I’ll travel anywhere with anybody, the point is the travel. I don’t get too vehicle centric, but it is fun to be out with a bunch of old FJ40’s out on the trail. There is something special about bouncing down the road there. And I would say the ability to accessorize them and build them the way you want. There are so many great options. Being that they are global platforms. Not all the solutions are the easiest to find in the United States, because the Land Cruiser is so big in other markets and less so here. But you can find anything you want to build them and this is a more difficult thing with some unique platforms or different options, but with Toyotas you can usually get front rear bumper, a variety of different suspension options and different accessories to dial it in for the needs you have.
Scott: I've definitely found that the 200 is a great example, that this is a vehicle that is sold everywhere in the world essentially. It may have a different engine, but for the most part the vehicle is the same. So if you were to buy a new Heritage edition Land Cruiser and you needed to get a lower control arm somewhere in Uzbekistan, they're going to have the ability to fix a 200 series Land Cruiser there. Because they see those vehicles, they sell them to the dignitaries, the diplomats and local governance. A lot of the militaries use them. One of the first times I saw a heavily modified 200 series was in 2010. I think I was in Uzbekistan or maybe in Georgia, I was in the country of Georgia. ANd this black 200, lifted, snorkel, everything rolled into this gas station and I was like “Look at that thing!” Then all these guys step out with MP5’s..
Kurt: It was the real deal…*laughs*
Scott: It was the real deal and you could tell it had been up armored and everything else like that. But those vehicles, they're not only so durable in the civilian form but because they're so strong that's why they are used as a military platform as well. It's just unfortunate that we don’t see more of them sold because the more 20 series Land Cruisers that are sold the more opportunity there is for that second buyer to really enjoy them and use them for decades of travel. Because they are expensive new.
Kurt: Ya, they really are. They are a premium vehicle that comes with a premium price. That does make it more difficult to look at them as a new car option but certainly we have customers that do and a lot of travelers do. But most of them you are looking at them on the second hand option.
Scott: you’ve had dozens of Land Cruisers. What is your most favorite Land Cruiser of all the ones you’ve owned?
Kurt: You know I’m going to steal a line from our good friend Greg Miller, and it’s what I’m driving currently. *laughs* It’s my de facto answer, and he says it so eloquently and it's true. But if I had to choose one, I love… I have a little Japanese import BJ74. It’s a turbo diesel, right hand drive, I haven't had any problems driving it around the US and I’ve had it all over the US. It's just a fun little Land Cruiser to drive.
Scott: It is! That one is really cool. I remember how excited you were when you got it.
Kurt: Ya. It’s not the fastest, it certainly doesn’t have the room inside of a 200 series. It's not a pickup truck that I can throw things into the back of but it's just the perfect little Land Cruiser. For the things that I do most here in Utah heading up to the mountains that I love, it's the perfect little land cruiser that you can just hop into. THeres never a time that I'm driving that I don't have a smile on my face. Even if I’m the slow guy going up the canyon, and cars are swerving to get around me. I’ve still got a smile on my face. Nobody gets mad at you when you're driving an old land cruiser going slow. They get it.
Scott: It doesn't, everybody gets it. And we both have a mutual friend, Steve, who imports those 70 series Land Cruisers directly and they do a great job at bringing these cars in. Is that something that Steve is still doing?
Kurt: He is! And that exact BJ74 came through Steve.
Scott: Mine did as well.
Kurt: That 74 of yours was really clean. They are just a good size wheel base, a great truck. And he does find really good units out of Japan that are good clean known history, so you kind of know what you're getting before it lands over here. That BJ74 has been a perfect example for me. It’s never once left me wanting or stranded.
Scott: Ya I was really impressed. You expect the trail capability to be quite good and it was. In fact I found that the leaf springs were more capable than the coil spring trucks, more articulation. But it was surprisingly easy to drive on the road. WIth that 5 speed, it settles the diesel down nicely, that turbo actually lets it do regular highway speeds. It's a lot more quiet than a 40 or even a 60. I was really impressed with how easy that car was to drive. It’s nice to see that we can finally get them in because they literally are the pinnacle Land Cruiser for travel because they are so ubiquitous and they are easy to modify and the interior space and stuff. And for me the first time I ever drove a 70 series was when I raced in the Outback Challenge. So it was a PZJ73..
Kurt: Ok, so the 5 cylinder.
Scott: So they turbo charged it so it got some decent power out of it. That was the first time I ever drove a 70 series, back in 2006. Talk about getting thrown into the deep end of the pool, that thing, but... umm, that was why it was so fun to get a 74 because it was the same wheelbase. It kind of put that car back in my life for a little bit.
Kurt: Ya that would have been a neat experience to hop right into a 70 series and drive one for the first time. But also drive one in a race for the first time. *laughs* That’s quite the trial by fire. They are neat platforms, wheelbase and great trail manners too. I find it just a fun truck to drive on the trail. It's kind of a narrow body on the 70 series. Makes it easier to move around compared to a bigger chassis, I’d say it's the most modern version of an FJ40. Everyone thinks that the FJ40 is the perfect rail vehicle and I wouldn't disagree. For many situations it is a great answer. The 70 series is a little longer, a little more modern drivetrain and like I said a little quieter inside. You can certainly stomach a long road trip in it. It's a nice vehicle.
Scott: They address a lot of the corrosion issues and the frame is a little better, a little stronger and less flex in the frame. And less likelihood of the shackle points failing. They fixed a lot if the FJ40 issues with 70 and of course are still being made today. Another thing I thought would be really fun to talk about, for the listener to really understand some of the benefits of competitive driving, I mean you and I have done: we’ve crossed the Road of Bones together, we drove across south america together, we did a lot of driving in Africa together. One of the things that I’ve always noticed with you was your competency as a driver. And it wasnt that you were driving fast, or being excessive. It's just the general competency of all the drivers we had along for Expedition 7, it was the consistency. You were the one guy I never had to worry about when you were behind the wheel because as we find with travel, the unexpected can happen in a moment and those close calls even if you are being very careful and you're being very competent those close calls do come up and sometimes you barely evade them through that combination of experience and muscle memory. Have you found that racing Land Cruisers has made you a better driver as an overlander and in what ways? What have you learned by that process of being a racer as well?
Kurt: I’d absolutely say it’s definitely put a different perspective on a lot of different directions both from the driving aspect and also the mechanical sympathy behind the wheel too, knowing what that vehicle can handle and how to treat that and make it last as long as possible. That's a big factor in the race car. You and I, it's funny that you mention it, I don't remember if you remember that we were at Paul Mays house for a BBQ during one of the outdoor retailer shows here in Salt Lake. We were talking about the Baja 1000 and this was once of the early ones so this would have been 8-10 years ago now. I remember you said your only job is to hand that car off to the next guy running the vehicle and we still look at it to this day to that point like, we can go out there and drive as fast as we feel comfortable and that's ok, as fast as you feel comfortable but also knowing my only job, my job is not to finish the race right out of the start line, or if I'm driving a middle leg, its to hand off a car that still works back to the next driver that's going to hop in there. And I think you can take that to your everyday driving and certainly overland trips and if you push the vehicle too far, That's on you. It’s your own fault if you out drive your own capabilities, but the vehicle, that's when disasters happen. We always said with Expedition 7, we always said the most dangerous thing we were going to do the whole time despite traveling through very remote places and sometimes you know.. The media would tell you less than friendly or hostile places, that our only worry ever was driving. ANd a lot of times it was the other driver. I would say having a healthy respect for the capabilities and also the vulnerabilities of any vehicle. It’s an important part to take into the planning of the trip and the way you drive. Definitely with Expedition 7 I always had the utmost respect for those vehicles. One, it didn't belong to me and the other part was it still had a long way to go and, not just a long way but we are talking multiple continents to go. So if we were to break something or heaven forbid we have an accident when we were in Africa, South Africa doing the Namibia coast there, that may kind of ruin a trip for other people or the whole duration of that event or the whole plan of Expedition 7, that would have been heartbreaking. So I just always came into it with a healthy respect of what the vehicle could do, what my skills were and didn’t outdrive those. Look at it as don’t outrun what your skills are behind the wheel.
Scott: Often Times people will do that, they will say: “I only drive at 100% occasionally, just for fun.” That always worries me. I want to hear 80% for fun. Because if you don’t have anything left in the tank, when one of those things.. Let's just say you have a blowout at high speed. Do you still have enough , does the vehicle have enough control, do you still have enough as a driver to correct for a blowout when you're pushing things to the limit and one of the things we learned through Expedition 7 it reinforced that idea of mechanical sympathy. That’s our job as a driver is to be mechanically sympathetic to the vehicle we are driving. It's really easy to get caught up in an idea of a Land Cruiser being indestructible. A Land Cruiser is very durable but everything has its mechanical limits. You and I were talking last night about you going through the whoop section just recently on the Baja 1000 and you said that every once in a while you’d get it wrong and you’d plant that front end really hard and you’d realize this truck only got a few of those in it. And that's a 200 series Land Cruiser which is one of the strongest vehicles available on the market. But you realize those knuckles and all of those suspension connection points and shocks. They've only got so many of those hits in them before somethings going to fail. And that’s where for those that are listening, when we drive our vehicles and we are in challenging terrain, we always want to give a significant buffer because we don’t know who’s coming at us, we don’t know the other vehicles on the road. We don’t know if there's going to be a wash out or a giant boulder in the middle of the road. It’s even more important on motorcycles as you have experienced Kurt. So that mechanical sympathy is really critical because the goal is to preserve the asset, that is what we talk about in vehicle and mobility training, but, it really is preserving the vehicle for future adventures. Or for the next driver if you are a race car driver, like you do. And I think that is such an important thing to remember and remind ourselves of. Doesn’t mean you can’t have fun. Doesn’t mean when the road straightens out and you have a good line of sight and you can see what's happening and maybe there's a couple turns in that road. Doesn’t mean you don’t have fun and drift it a little bit. But it's about making sure when you do that you're not going to end your trip as you waft the thing up.
Kurt: Right! ALways leave yourself an out, always have a backup plan. It’s hard to get into the mentality when you're racing but even if you are overlanding and bombing down a dirt road. Leave yourself an out. Where am I going to go if something goes sideways. Where am I going to go if I have a tire blowout. Always leave that out and leave yourself a little bit of room. We like to say exactly that, 80%. If you are driving 100% you're driving way too fast. Can the car handle it? Probably. But you can’t if something pops up.
Scott: You start writing checks you don’t have the skills to cash.
Kurt: That's it..
Scott: Plus, you can't do it for that many hours and expect yourself to not make any mistakes. There are drivers that are much better than me in the world that probably don’t make those mistakes. But I realize that I am human and I am foulabe as a driver, and even with the experience that I have, there are scenarios that can come up. Maybe I am a little tired. Or maybe I am a little under nourished or I’m not well hydrated. Or I’m driving a left hand drive vehicle in a right hand drive country. There's all of these variables that start to stack up. We talk about those cascades of events and that's exactly how that starts. You’re a little tired, you got away a little later in the morning than you wanted so you're in a rush. You didn’t do your morning check on the vehicle, you didn't realize that the shock had come off the night before. So being very mindful of that as a driver is key.
Scott: So anything thing that came to mind, kind of along the same subject matter but, what are some of the preparations you have done for the 200 series for the Baja races that you think directly correlate to the overlander that is preparing a similar vehicle, what are some of the things that you have learned in that environment where you thought; “Wow, that has really changed my perspective.” Maybe something that was new for you that came from racing in setting up a car?
Kurt: Absolutely. A lot of takeaways we found. Say that 1000 miles in a desert race on that chasis is probably equivalent to perhaps 100,000 miles even with fair or moderate, a lot of off road use in a daily driver 200 series. Say like my personal one. The things that fail or start to get weak or wounded are probably the kind of things we need to look at addressing in a 100-150,000 miles in a normal vehicle. It’s kind of been interesting to see what those items were. We run in a stock class in the 1000 in desert racing, so we are limited on the things that we can modify and change and ironically, that helps us. Because we can’t modify some of those systems that would perhaps be better as a short term fix, maybe make it handle or have more power. Instead that drive train in that Land Cruiser is 100% stock. Stock engine, stock tranny, stock T case. We don’t have problems with those. They are never the things we have problems with. But the takeaways I’d say, you kind of touched on preventive maintenance and inspection. I think a key to our success and a number of races a car has finished, traditionally desert racing has about a 50% attrition rate. Half of the people that start that race will actually finish that race. We do significantly better. One, we are a slower class. So, that helps, admittedly. We’re not like goyes out front, it’s a lot harder to pace yourself when you're the guy in the front. You are more prone to have a significant failure or accident. We are a little slower, we start in the back of the pack and start with a stock class. THe big thing I think is our prep. THe time we take dismantling everything and inspecting, and I found as you carry that over to your personal vehicle, you mentioned the vehicle walk around. That is a very important portion of everyday, every morning on a trip doing a quick vehicle walk around. The things that we have experienced together on our trip and what we’ve all had on our own days fail, it's usually something that you might have spotted the night before, very likely would have. A hole in the tire, a damaged sidewall. I mean sure a side wall can fail immediately if you hit something but a lot of times it's going to be a side wall that already had damage and you're going to suffer that the next day and unfortunately perhaps speed. Could be a broken shock, damaged steering, something loose, something bent. And if you do that walk around both the morning of a trip or each day before you head out, but more importantly before you leave on a big trip. How often do you see people finding something that's probably been worn out for months, but you're finding it on day two or day three of the trip and now it’s presenting a serious issue and now you are running behind or scrambling to find parts in often places they are not available.
Scott: I’ve been so grateful for those daily checks, I can think of several scenarios on E7 where I noticed a bolt backing out of a lower shock mount and if I hadn't checked the car daily the bolt would have been gone eventually. So to just be able to throw a spanner on it and just tighten it up, as opposed to now trying to find a shouldered bolt like that in the middle of nowhere. That's an appropriate fix. That can be a lot more difficult. So those daily inspections and those weekly deeper dive inspections into the vehicle, where you are checking all of the fluids and double checking all your electrical systems, you're putting your hand on a lot of these components and testing a lot of these components before you need them. Plugging in the winch on that weekly inspection and cycling the winch to make sure it works because when you get into that situation of the rising tide on the coast, and you’ve got to winch out, that is really important to know that those systems work.
Kurt: It’s not the time to be troubleshooting, it's stressful.
Scott: It’s really not. And I think that was one of the great joys for me during E7. We were able to vet out the things that people talk about which is best practice. I’ve become a lot more careful of using that term because I think anything we say as a best practice probably has a falsify ability to it so. If you talk about a daily inspection, how often do you find something in a daily inspection? Probably very rare or would you have found it in a weekly inspection. And is maybe the falsifiability of you having taken all of this time every single day and that less time you have been traveling or it maybe leads to more issues with, or your coming into camp later now because you took that time in the morning. But one of the things I really liked about E7 is we were able to come into it with these very well focused ideas as would be best practice for us as a team on that trip. We were really able to validate what worked and I think that doing those daily inspections for me was very reinforcing how important that is. Did you find the same thing?
Kurt: Yeah, totally. We always knew the vehicles were going to get us there. To where we were heading each day. I think part of that is we were doing our due diligence and checking those things. Back to racing, every single pit when we stop that car we do a driver change, we take fuel, we also inspect the steering before the driver hops out and hands off the car to the next guy. He sits there and wiggles the steering wheel back and forth, that is a procedure we’ve got 2 eyeballs underneath the car looking at those components. We check every suspension bolt at every pit. Not necessarily putting a wrench on them but a paint mark. And I think to carry that back over, I do that on my personal vehicles. And you are right, you can get over the top if you are doing that everyday, maybe over inspecting. But more people would fall guilty of never inspecting those items. And it could prevent problems and with E7 I think we had a good system down. Every morning we were spending just 5-10 minutes while you're packing up. It doesn’t have to be a big orchestrated affair. But certainly before your trip you should be doing those things. Before you leave home. On the morning of, just do a quick walk around and make sure everything looks right. Are there lugnuts missing? You are going to see those big problems. A lot of times you can stop a catastrophic failure by just a quick eyeball on parts.
Scott: I also found for me it was almost like setting the intention for the day. Because we would get up and break camp. ANd you would spend that time with the vehicle you were about to drive. And a lot of time we would be swapping drivers and swapping vehicle to vehicle and if you are now checking the next vehicle it’s another set of eyeballs on that truck. And it reminds us of the fact we are not just hopping in for another daily commute, we’re about to cross the Namib Desert. Or we’re in the middle of the Road of Bones in Russia or in the deepest part of Patigonia and repairing those problems is going to be a difficult challenge if we don’t do that at the beginning of the day. So I think that was really important. And we would always have our daily driver meeting where, and I actually look back on that and there were some things I probably would have done differently, like that I realize now that we did better on the Greenland crossing. Where we did more of a check in on us as individuals. We were keeping an eye on how fatigued people were, what was their general countenance or mood. Were people hydrating, were they eating well. Having Dr John Soldberg with us in Greenland, I think he did a really good job and in many cases we didn’t know he was doing it, but he was constantly checking in on how we were doing as individuals because it was so fatiguing.
Kurt: Ya, absolutely. Something definitely I appreciated keeping an eye on while we were in Greenland. Another is Clay Croft with Expedition Overland, who I have been fortunate to travel with a lot. Clay’s really good about that Like a daily check in; hey man where ya at on a 1-10? How are you feeling? And if that number is sliding over time, you're pushing it further and further each day running those long marathon runs, you know getting into camp late and still getting up early and moving. That starts to cascade and stack up, that's when accidents are going to happen, problems are going to take place when you start getting fatigued behind the wheel. So I think that is a very important thing to recognise and it doesn't have to be a big trip to have that conversation either. It could be your weekend trip with buddies and we just talk it out, are we over driving somebody, pushing too hard trying to get too many miles each day. That’s when someone is going to have a bad trip or an accident or just not enjoy themselves because they are going too fast. I think we kind of with E7, with some part, we didn't need to have that conversation too much because we all knew everybody loved to drive so..*laughs* we kind of embraced that, but there were definitely times that we pushed late into the nights for many, many days in a row. It was definitely stacking up.
Scott: Ya there was one story I remember we hit those frost heaves on the Road of Bones in Russia. I think there was somebody sleeping in the back of the Land Cruiser when we jumped..
Kurt: *laughs* got airborne
Scott: At about 100km an hour we jumped a 70 series on a highway. *laughs*
Kurt: Those were some gnarly frost heaves. *laughs* That was a road you could just never let your guard down. Be it other drivers or the traffic, but just the road itself was probably the most dangerous part was how rough that road was in portions.
Scott: I still remember coming up on that bridge. I was in the lead vehicle and there were only two vehicles on that particular trip. And I think it was an Audi or a 7 Series BMW that was passing me as this semi was coming the other way and I got as far over as I could without going off the bridge. How he threaded that needle, they were nuts. I mean wonderful people but when they got drunk and were driving, I mean there's a reason there are so many compilation videos on YouTube from Russian drivers. That was what we experienced everyday.
Kurt: Ya, when you picked us up at the airport and you said buckle in there's some pretty crazy driving over here.
Kurt: And we though.. Ya sure.. Sure it is. We’ve done a lot of other travel together at that point and I definitely put a little more emphasis on how crazy it would be just from the drive from the airport back to where we were picking up the vehicles. Traffic was all over the place, nobody was paying any attention to red lights, there were trains coming through the intersections. It was definitely every man for himself on those roads. *laughs*
Scott: I do remember that. By the time we got to the hotel you guys were like “Ok, I think we understand.” We can do this but this is the real deal. *laughs*
Scott: And you did five or six of the seven continents with these seven.
Kurt:I did five of the seven expedition continents.
Scott: And then you have done several of the big trips with Clay. This is just a shout out to a mutual friend of ours, Clay Croft with XOverland and make sure you guys check them out on youtube. I think that they have got their series now on Amazon..just wonderful human beings. Incredible organization and all of their work is inspiration. Some of their recent solo series is really great. They are not a sponsor of this, obviously we just really love them as people. But make sure you check them out. But, you’ve done several big trips with the X Overland crew. You did Central America and South America, is that right?
Kurt: Correct. Ya, actually been a part of all the seasons in the last I think 5 years now. We started in Central America, we had known Clay and he had done some E7 trips with us. I had just finished driving through Central America with E7. We had just made our way up through ships in South America into Panama and finished the drive up to the United States. Clay was looking at heading down that direction so we were just having a bunch of phone calls “Hey man where did you guys … what did you do in this country… how did you handle this border..” I was helping him wherever I could and he finally just said “hey, can you go?” You’ve come the other direction and just did that trip. Of course I never turn down those opportunities when they present themselves whenever possible and say: “ya, let's do it.” I really thought it was just going to be a Central AMerica trip and just go do that with them. It was a fantastic crew and a lot of fun to get to know them all and that turned into South America. And since we’ve done Mekenzie trail in Canada, the Whipsaw in Australia. So we’ve been really fortunate to be spending a lot of time doing other trips with the team and they're fantastic humans.
Scott: And what were some of the key takeaways you’ve had with X Overland, you just mentioned how good of a job Clay does checking in on you guys everyday Is there anything else a couple other hacks or processes that they use that you really like that you think [people who are listening can benefit in their own travels?
Kurt: I think simplicity. We get too caught up in how those vehicles are built. I think in the earlier days of XO and myself included in my own personal travel we all, it was all about how much gear you could have in the vehicle. Clay has really taken emphasis the last few years and few trips, let's start leaving items behind. I mean we left and donated a set of jack stands in Central America. Just like man, why are we packing these things around? We can find these if we ever need them. And that is just one little micro example. Scaling back the amount of gear we bring makes the trip that much more enjoyable. We certainly found that on the XO trips. Being more mindful of what you bring? Does it have a couple uses? Can we find that stuff in the country? Why are we bringing that. Why bring a whole ton of food if we're traveling down to Central America where they have fantastic food.
Kurt: Why take spare parts that we can find at any auto part store along the way so don’t get too over the top. If you are going to be in remote areas, obviously it makes sense. I just say being mindful of your packing and along with that I would say be mindful of the components you choose. Choosing a high quality component obviously has a little more sting up front.. Maybe when you purchase it, because it is a higher cost. But that higher cost comes at a greater satisfaction when it lasts forever. When it's a lifetime piece of gear, maybe a sleeping bag that you will have for the rest of your life. Maybe it's a part of your vehicle. It’s easy to look at a less expensive option and say it does the exact same thing. If it breaks half way through your trip, that's going to sting far more than the cost of that better known component. I think the gear that XO has chosen and worked with is a good example that we never feel those stings of equipment. Perhaps we overplan the equipment, but we never actually feel the sting of that when we are on the trips. You never even think twice about what that costs or the pains it took to get those. You just enjoy it.
Scott: Ya.Because oftentimes these are trips of a lifetime and to buy a less expensive winch, you’re probably better off just not having a winch at all. They can be sources of frustration. If you're going to modify a stock vehicle, particularly a stock Land Cruiser, if you're going to modify it in any way you better make sure that it is an excellent component. Because you are better off leaving it stock. In most cases you are better off just leaving the car stock if you're going to go with something less expensive. If you're going to change out suspension, make sure that you go with a really high quality suspension. If you're going to swap out something in the driveline make sure that you really need to do that because they can be difficult. Imagine some of these races, the suspension for example some of these people put on these vehicles. If you need to wap back to a stock coil, oftentimes the buckets are modified, or they've gone with wider control arms. Imagine trying to replace a wider control arm in the middle of south american. You can't. You're going to be shipping that part in. Whereas if you went and kept it stock, there is probably a 200 series lower control arm somewhere in South America that you can get. Umm, so I think minimizing those modifications, absolutely that is really key.
Kurt: So that's a good take away I would say the last one is just working as a team. Clays did a remarkable job at Expedition Overland, Greg did it with Expedition 7 just choosing the right people to be in the right place. Where they are there to be a driver or do other functions. Capture video and photography. You're choosing a good team and I think that goes for even personal trips. You don’t have to be super over the top organized, but choose people that you want to spend time with on your tips. You are going to find that you have a far more enjoyable adventure.
Scott: Ya, you are way better off bringing the person with less experience with a better attitude then the person with a little more toxicity. Especially when you are driving modern vehicles, you just don’t have that many problems anymore. WHen you are going to be spending a lot of hours in a car with somebody *laughs* that reminds me when we were on E7.. what was the total number of businesses that Jerimiah and you devised on that trip? Hundreds?
Kurt: Hundreds, ya probably into the hundreds *laughs* ya. Ya. We came up with a business that would provide a solution for any problem if we encountered it. Most of it were pretty facetious problems but *laughs* importing beef jerky to places we couldn't find teriyaki jerky. *laughs*
Kurt: It wasn't always plausible but they were fun road conversations.
Scott: Ya, we would have so much fun. Just the music you end up listening to and the fun you end up having along the way if you don’t take travel too seriously. And that is the key to who we surround ourselves with, not only in life but even more importantly in our travels. Because when things go bad you want someone to remain calm and to be kind and mindful of others in the group. And it's really interesting to someone who's really anxious or someone who's really toxic. They degrade really quickly in those settings and they can be very destructive.
Kurt: I would agree. You are better to surround yourself with people who have invested in themselves with quality training and are competent in what they are going to be doing in travel. But less so about how built their vehicle is. If you are looking at that as an index of whether they should join you on a trip or whether you should invite them or plan a trip with them. That’s probably the wrong way to look at it. Choose someone who’s invested in themselves and who’s a good traveler and somebody that you want to spend time with both in the car and around the campfire.
Scott: Absolutely. So a couple rapid fire questions. What is your favorite trip you’ve done to date?
Kurt: That’s a tough one. I would say it's hard to top Greenland. That was a pretty amazing adventure. Definitely type 2 fun there were plenty of moments we were having fun while we were doing the trip I would say the bulk of the fun is when you unpack the memories when you got home. *laughs*
Scott: like a stove catching fire *laughs*
Kurt: Ya, Scott putting out a stove fire in the tent. All of the many vehicle breakdowns. It got to the point where any of the vehicle breakdowns got comical. Things wearing out the severe and harsh conditions. THe trailer hitches, breaking a cv in that cold weather and such large tires in the demanding terrain. It got to the point where we were like alright let's go fix this, what's next. Bring it on.
Scott: It was incredible the things that happened. None of them was catastrophic but youre right they were just like a coil spring would break or a cv would break. Replacing a cv axle in -30F is a chore. I was so impressed by everyone on that trip where they stepped up where they needed to step up and that just made a huge difference. Alright so non type 2 fun, type 1 fun, what was the most fun trip you've been on?
Kurt: That's going to be a tough one to put…. Australia. THe E7 trip through Australia. There was just never a moment where there wasn't a smile on my face. Of course you can’t throw a stick over there without seeing a cool Land Cruiser, so. I was just all day long spotting out Land Cruisers.. “There's one.. And there is one .. and there's one.” *laughs* I could have spent a year there just looking at Land Cruisers. That’s an enjoyable one, Australia is such a neat place to travel.
Scott: It really is.
Kurt: Such legitimate travel and so remote in those areas. But so plausible to go do and achievable. Plan a trip over there and hire a vehicle. I've been fortunate to go over there a handful of times now. My wife and I spent a month there traveling with some dear friends. Nothing about Australia turns me off. And out trip there with E7 and being able to cross the Canning Stock Route. We had failures and we had some rough nights but we were always smiling about it. Just laughing and smiling.
Scott: I remember when we got, I think it was 12 hour stuck or something like that.. And Kyle and you.. There was literally something in the water that was biting you.
Kurt: We called them assassin tadpoles. I don’t know what they are to this day. It was like little fish nibbling on ya.. I don't know if it was a bug of some sort. It was a wormhole night. We were driving and then we were looking for camp and then it was two days later *laughs* We never quit driving. We had some obligations to get to Kun Karogi . We had some team members getting out and it turned into a push but.. That's the memory I have of that and how fun that was.
Scott: That was amazing.
Kurt: being stuck in the water for about 12 hours seems about right.
Scott: I think that is about where we were.. One of my highlights from the trip. It was just amazing to watch everyone work together and overcome that challenge. Of being really, really stuck in a Land Cruiser.
Kurt: Ya we used all the gear we had. We were highlifting and we were winching. I think we had 12 Max Tracks out at one point.
Scott: That's right, one of them is still out there.
Kurt: Right, one we never found and it wasn’t for lack of effort. *laughs* we probed with a shovel.. It’s in the mud somewhere. We never left anything like that behind before but.. Who knows where it's at.
Scott: It is somewhere still in Australia. We just couldn’t find it.
Scott: So speaking of gear.. If someone is getting new into this and they just bought a 200 series Land Cruiser or bought a 100 series Land Cruiser, what do you think are the first three components, accessories or modifications.. What do you see that are the most important thing that people do to their vehicles to get them ready for travel?
Kurt: I think it’s going to be specific to the way they plan to travel and the type of trips they have in mind. I’d say 3 that you can never go without or kind of always makes sense is: suspension upgrade. While a stock Toyota is phenomenal, they ride really well, they are a reliable system, it doesn't really accommodate the loads we start putting in aftermarket loads. Remote travel you’ve got a lot of tools, spare parts, fuel, water, and those weights come up. In any stock vehicle system will start to become compromised when you start to add that additional weight. So choosing a well vetted, known good solution high quality suspension is a big part. Does not have to be tall, I’m not even saying a suspension lift necessarily, sometimes that can just be improved shocks to handle the payload. We’re going to spend a lot of time on washboard roads and that's where things are going to start failing as you overheat stock components, stock shocks particularly. So I’d say suspension is a big one and maybe increasing the height of the vehicle and primarily to accommodate a larger tire. And that is number two for me; choosing a good quality wheel and tire combo. Something that is going to be good for offroad use but also let's face it anywhere we go offroading, we still use a lot of pavement to get there. So the answer isn't always just defacto choosing the most aggressive off road tire and in some terrains offroad that's not always the best case scenario …
Scott: Sand dunes.. *laughs*
Kurt: Sand dunes.. Exactly. You don’t always want the tire that is just going to auger in and dig a hole everytime you push the gas. Be mindful of where you are going to be traveling and choose an appropriate tire, but a good durable tire. And if it’s a little bit larger size or a lot larger size.. There is no right or wrong answer there. Kind of keep that in mind as you choose the suspension. So those two really play together as my top two. I can’t think of any vehicle that couldn't probably benefit. Can you go do a trail with the stock vehicle and tires it came with it? Absolutely. People have driven around the world in that. But as you load the vehicle up more those become more compromised and manufactures don’t always include a tire that vehicle that is necessary suited for all off road vehicle use. They are kind of mindful that most owners are going to be driving them on the road.
Scott: Ya, fuel economy.
Kurt: Fuel economy, noise is a big issue and handling. Be mindful of those and larger tires are going to have an impact on your fuel economy and that's important and be mindful of all those as you wrap it all together. I would say my number three.. I’m going to bounce around here and kind of make it a 3.5 or maybe call it a 4th but additional fuel capacity. I’m a big fan of auxiliary tanks or having a way to safely and comfortably store fuel. A lot of the trips we can do that's an issue in the planning where you can go based on the fuel you have. If you choose a Land Cruiser 200 for example it benefits really well from having an auxiliary fuel tank and they are available factory in other markets, which is not an option here in the US but fortunately there are some good aftermarket options you can have for additional fuel. It doesn't have to be a built in tank, just a quality fuel tank that is rack mounted or bumper mounted. There are some good solutions there just to have that capacity to get out to those places you like to travel. If you’re not going to be traveling super long distances then I would scale that one back on importance of course. My next one would be just some mindful interior storage mods to safely carry your gear. We all too often, certainly myself included. You start off and you just want to throw everything in the back of the vehicle. You pop the hatch, you lay the tailgate down and you stak it to the roof. You're Not mindful of how that gear moves or shifts during travel but also in the event or an accident or rollover or even just a panic breaking scenario, where does all that stuff go and how accessible is it. So just being mindful as you set up the inside of the vehicle, plan that out. Where is your winch controller when you need it? Is it buried in a drawer in the back. Where is your recovery gear, where is the first aid kit or the fire extinguisher. Thinking of your interior buildout. That doesn't mean go over the top. You don’t have to have every gadget, every mount, every cell phone camera holder all over inside. Sometimes less is more and just be mindful of what you bring.
Scott: Otherwise it can be a real frustration to get to that thing that you use everyday. If you don’t have that interior layout design properly. And using good quality cases and lashing it all down properly, ya that is so key. Alright so what are some of your.. And this is something I always like to ask and it's totally a selfish question because I end up buying these books later.. What are some of your favorite books that you have read in the last well.. Whenever?
Kurt: I am a total Utah, well you know I love traveling in Utah and have been fortunate to travel a lot of neat adventures around the globe. And see some amazing places and would love to go back but some of my favorite places are just a few hours from Salt Lake here. So I love anything Utah related. So when it comes to boks anything about Utah history. I love Edward Abbey books Desert Solitary about times down in SE Utah are inspiring to read. I often keep one in my glove box. I have read that cover to cover a dozen times. I will just pick it up and I won’t even start at the front. I will just choose a random chapter and kind of read through. But mostly Utah history books. I could definitely give you some examples of my favorites but in my library I am kind of a book nerd and have collected a lot. It depends on where I am going but definitely some of the Moab travel books and Canyonlands guides. I love reading through what it was like to travel through there before it was a national park, some of the old travel guides. So anything Utah history related.
Scott: Ya, there is so much here. One of the most amazing states for overlanding in the country.
So one of the other things that I have started to ask in these interviews is how do you think you travel, I mean you have been around the world a few times. How has travel changed you as a person?
Kurt: Wonderful question. I think about that a lot. Both from a personal standpoint like personal growth and my desire to experience other cultures. I’ve really embraced that. I traveled a bit before I got into the kind of vehicle travel. Did some family travel and was fortunate to make it down to Central America with my brothers and my parents, but really just embracing the cultures you are in and just living while you are there. Eating what they eat, visiting their restaurants. We went to a circus in Central America, just do as the locals do and really embrace that. Bringing it back home, just looking at the people and cultures here in the United States, it's easy to find that people live and experience things differently than ourselves. You can really learn alot from the way they live. Don’t get too over the top. A lot of people are scared to go to Central America as an example that we keep bouncing on just because it's so close, or even Mexico just over the border. And part of that is I think the fear of other cultures and other food. But that's what makes travel so fun for me. The vehicle gets us there and it's fun to plan your vehicle and build your vehicle to go do a trip to Baja or head up to Canada or go up to Prudhoe Bay but its meeting people along the way that's been the most memorable moments I have. It's not necessarily the vehicle or the things we did each day in the vehicle, it was the people you meet along the way, the experiences you have the chicken you had in Nicaragua that you want to go back and get again. Those are the memories to me and I think of those everyday. There's not a day that goes by where I don't have a flashback or a memory of a trip. THeres a business perspective of that too. We travel a lot of these countries, E7 included we had the opportunities to visit 4x4 shops, maybe we were there to get parts and a wheel changed on the vehicle. It was fascinating to see how businesses run in other countries. Australia is obviously a major overland and 4x4 market so they have these grand extarvent off road shops that are just amazing. The ability to go into a ARB facility and see how well stocked they are and the number of vehicles getting built. It's pretty fascinating, just seeing their system is fun. With the build of the sherpa truck I was able to spend a week in Australia and go to the facility where they were building that truck. It's awesome just to see how they do it differently than we do here in the US. And then the polarized side of that is we went to a Toyota dealership in Magadan it was in like a basement of an apartment building and they probably had more parts than a lot of dealerships than in the US in this thousand square foot basement apartment. It was packed wall to all and they had everything we needed and everything we asked for. They were very resourceful and it was interesting to see some businesses' perspectives from that. Some takeaways of how it operates in different countries.
Scott: That's great, what a cool story that is for sure. So thank you for spending the time where people can find more about you. Let us know your website and your business here and how do they find you on social media.
Kurt: Absolutely. So the day to day is Cruiser Outfitters. We are working and in the middle of launching the E-Commerces site. And that is Cruiser Teq. And eventually Cruiser Outfitters will point to that, we're just launching the E-Commerce site but its’ live and going and we are really happy with how things are going and it's working out. I’m on FaceBook as Kurt Williams, I’m on Instagram as @cruisercurt. So pretty easy to find on both of those if you want to follow along with the crazy things we are doing. Our race team is: Cangaru Racing and we’d love to have you watching on FaceBook or Instagram there. Follow along. There is always something fun going on.
Scott: Thank you for the time today Kurt, it has just been amazing and over a decade of knowing you and the places we have had laughs around the world. WIth usually one or the other expense. *laughs* That is the thing to take away, those of you that are listening, that travel should be a joy and we don’t need to take any of this stuff too seriously. You don’t need to buy much of anything you heard it from kurt. Put a good set of shocks on there, maybe a little bit of a lift and some high quality tires and make sure that some of your stuff is latched down in the back and go. It doesn't mean that modifying vehicles more is wrong it just means that you don’t have to. The goal should be to go to spend less money on equipment and more on your travels. And we will talk to you next time!