The quest for organization

The back of my 4Runner is a constant state of organized chaos. I’ve been wanting to organize it, but hadn’t found what I wanted yet. After attending the Overland Expo 2012 in AZ, I saw plenty of ideas on how. The rollover recovery demo that showed what happens when cargo is not secured sold me on getting better organized.

I looked in the stores and online, but still couldn’t find what I wanted. I know I’m picky, but I wanted something that would be lightweight, leave room for other gear, and of course be inexpensive. 

Anyone else dumpster dive? I do and am amazed at how many working items I’ve retrieved and repurposed. One lucky day I found a vertical organizer that had 2 large plastic slide out drawers. This might just work!

With the top cover, it was too tall to fit under the retractable cargo cover. The plastic pieces snap together, which means they also snap apart. After I removed the top cover, the unit was still about an inch too tall.

I was determined to make this fit and under the cargo cover. I thought about cutting it shorter, but then I realized the problem. The main cover mounting was the hinderance. That’s only a few inches wide.  Aha…..I tilted the organizer at an angle so the rear posts cleared that lower roll up section and then set it upright. Perfect fit!! It’s snug and doesn’t slide around. Course I had to paint it to be a closer match to the interior. The color is nutmeg in case you’re wondering.

The drawers are wide and deep and easily hold much more than the previous two plastic containers with snap on lids. They don’t slide around like my plastic bins did and the slide out drawers are easier to access. The whole assembly measures: 13 inches wide, 21.5 inches long, and 15.75 inches tall.

It’s so much easier to find things now and a relief to not see stuff all over.  It fits, is light weight, and was free….perfect.

Hella 700 FF Driving Lights

It was a dark night on a lonely stretch of road when my father said “hey son, watch this!” In an instant, night become day as the road was flooded with light on all sides and far away. What a difference!! He had replaced the crappy stock lights in the bumper of his Kenworth with airplane landing lights. I don’t know where he got them, but he loved using them.

Even though that was some 30 years ago, some things you never forget. Every vehicle I’ve owned has either had auxiliary driving lights and or headlight replacements.  In fact, lighting is usually the first upgrade on the list of a new vehicle.

My current vehicle, a 1998 Toyota 4Runner SR5, is no exception.  Even with upgraded headlight bulbs, I still needed more light on the road. Okay, maybe it was wanted more light on the road. My Hella work lights on the rear bumper work great so I grabbed another Hella product; the 700FF driving lights. The 7 inch round is perfect size for the 4Runner, not too big or too small. I wired them to a Toyota fog light switch to make it look stock.

The first time I turned them on at night, I was a bit disappointed. My Phillips extreme headlight bulbs were brighter than the 55w halogen bulb in the Hella kit. While the driving lights provided more usable light, it just wasn’t that bright white light I wanted.

I wanted to maintain the simplicity of the install so I purchased Hella 100W Xenon bulbs for $17. If I didn’t like them, it was a cheap lesson.

One screw removes the light housing so the entire bulb swap took all of 10 minutes. I did the swap around dusk. Just looking at the lights on in the daytime, it was obvious these bulbs were brighter.  I could hardly wait for full darkness to try them out.

(Xenon bulbs vs Halogen)



 (Both bulbs upgraded)





A flip of switch and the lights produce a bright white light that outshines my headlights. Now this is how they should’ve come from the factory!!

The 700FFs are fun to use while exploring at night and are a great for spotting wildlife before they run into the road.

Getting Lost in Style

Wow, what a nice day for June!! Usually June in S. Florida is hot and humid. Today was sunny, breezy and low humidity. Almost felt a little like fall. No matter how much writing I have to do, I just can’t sit inside on days like this!!

Due to my recent travels, my mountain bike had been shed bound for a few weeks. It was time for a ride!

Jonathan Dickinson state park has plenty of mountain bike trails ranging from novice to expert. I was looking for a different experience though. Having just hiked in Colorado and Arizona, I wanted to explore the unknown sections of the park. The places where others don’t normally go.

At the end of the dirt road for the youth camp is a gate to a fire road. Not accessible via my SUV, but easy for my mountain bike. I really enjoy my bike because I can go almost anywhere quietly and with little trace.

I headed down the dirt fire road into the slash pine landscape and into the unknown. Hawks and Swallow tail kites glided overhead on the breeze. The Swallow Tail kites are easily recognizable by their large split tail. Another hawk circled noisily above letting every animal within earshot that I’m headed their way.

I’ve gone East, or so I think, and decide to follow the power line road West back to the education center.  As I stop to adjust my backpack, a doe sauntered over to me. It appeared she was going to walk right up to me. At the last second, she bounded off through the green saw palmettos with her large white tail held high. Of course, my camera was inside my backpack.

I resumed peddling and encountered bridges, the north section of Kitching Creek, and traversed different landscapes; wide open spaces dotted with green, saw palmettos, wetlands with dark, brown mud, and thick shady forests.  The best part; I didn’t see anyone! All I heard was the wind blowing through the trees and the birds that flew over. Thank god for the breeze! Otherwise it’d been brutally hot.

I  circled back onto the power line road which is wider and more civilized. I was treated her to a primitive bathroom and a working well. The well water felt refreshing on my arms and face, just don’t drink it.

I expectantly drain the last drops from my hydration pack so it’s time to make my way back to civilization.  I find a road that has beautiful yellow and purple flowers and tall green grass. It looks like the road hasn’t been used in ages. That’s good and not so good.

I continue on my trek but I fail to find any signs of civilization. Everywhere I turn, looks the same; trees and saw palmetto. My compass says I’m heading south which is the right direction. Finally, I break out my phone and pull up a map. Wow! I managed to pedal to the far west side of the park. A few more miles and I’d be at the interstate. Ok, no wonder I didn’t see anyone.

I turned around and searched for a well-used road or any signs of civilization. The scenery continued to be peaceful. Even though I’m a bit lost, I’m still enjoying the new scenery and seeing vistas that haven’t been touched in ages. You should always enjoy being lost because you’ll probably never be there again:)

At points I did get concerned about where I was, but I realized that I’m not hopelessly lost (yet) and could call for help me if I absolutely needed it.

Surprisingly, the maps on my phone are very accurate for dirt roads and I finally found a trail across the creek and to the parking area. Course it’s not all without frustration.  I reached an intersection and finally some signs.

The “signs were wooden arrows on each road; 1 is blue, 1 is red. That’s it; no words, just brightly colored arrows. I’m used to the orange markings on the trees to designate the trail, but these brightly colored arrows at intersections are an annoying mystery.

Further down, I reach another intersection; this one has yellow arrows and red arrows, one on each road. Is this some cruel joke!!

Seriously, how hard is it to put up a sign that says “exit-this way”!!!

I kept going the way I thought I should and 10 minutes later joyfully rolled into the parking lot.

I made it!! The adventure was well worth it and I did what I intended to do; see the unknown parts of the park and areas that most people don’t see. Next time, I’m bringing more water and maybe a map. Be prepared, what a concept…..

Self Sealing Bicycle tubes

Only 4 more miles till we’re back at the visitor center. We were nearing the end of our 15 mile ride around Shark Valley. Just then I heard an unfamiliar sound from my front bicycle wheel. It wasn’t a hissing sound, but a rhythmic rubbing sound.

I looked down at my front wheel and was not happy at what I saw. The front tire looked flat or very, very low. That explained why it seemed harder to pedal. I thought I was just getting tired.

Course, my on frame bike pump was in the 4Runner. I took the pump off while the bike was on the bike rack and forgot to put it back on. I was a bit disappointed to see a flat considering I have wheel liners and tubes with that green self sealing goo inside of them.With all of that protection, I should be able to ride through anything.

It was too hot to walk and as long as I kept moving it seemed to be fine, so I rode the 4 miles to the visitor center parking lot.  Back in civilization, I grabbed my full size, floor pump, and pumped up the tire just to see where the leak was. Hmmm, no hissing or any noises to indicate air leaking.

We ate lunch and hung out for about an hour. The tire was still holding air when we left.  Two weeks and 15 miles of riding later,  the tire is holding air just fine. I guess those self sealing tubes work after all. Just in case, I’m carrying an extra tube with me and will make sure  my air pump is on the bike before I leave.


LED interior bulbs installed

Have you ever looked for something inside your SUV at night? It’s like looking in a dark basement with a candle. It’s especially apparent when camping under the stars. A flashlight works, but having two hands to move items around is a big plus.

LED lights are an inexpensive and easy solution.  Replacing the 4 bulbs took about 15 minutes total and was one of the easiest upgrades.

All you need for installation is a small flat blade screw driver. The rear cargo and dome light are the same style housing. Gently pop off the cover, remove the old bulb, install the new one, and snap in the cover. When installing the new bulb, be careful not to have it pop up into hole and into the headliner. You’ll have to remove the headliner to get it out or be really creative in finding it.

To access the map lights above the mirror, the whole cover comes off in one piece. Just gently pry it loose from the headliner. If you encounter resistance, check for any tabs that may snap in like behind the rear view mirror.

The difference is amazing. Searching inside the truck at night during our last camping trip was a breeze and those small items were easily found. The cargo light now lights up the area behind the bumper which also comes in handy.

Here’s the part number from the vendor I purchased mine from.…_3022-xHP4.htm

3022-xHP4: 4 High Power LED Festoon Bulb | $ 6.95 |
3022-CWHP4: Cool White

Oscar Scherer State Park

Laurie has been studying Scrub Jays for a couple of years, so when the Scrub Jay festival came to Oscar Scherer State Park, it was time for a road trip.  We hadn’t been camping in a while so it was a great excuse to go. Course, who needs an excuse to go camping!

It’s only a 3 hour drive to the West coast of Florida, but the scenery changes dramatically from the sandy, scrubby and beach terrain of the East coast.  Across central Florida, you’ll find vast, wide open, grassy prairies for cattle grazing and various types of wildlife call home. Wood Storks, Spoonbills, Osprey, Cara Cara, Eagles, Foxes, and of course you can always find an alligator.  Those guys are everywhere and just because you don’t see one, doesn’t mean it’s not there.

We had never been to Oscar Scherer so we weren’t sure about the camp sites. Sometimes camping in a state park, the hum of generators, stereos, and other reminders of civilization often intrude your space. Not so here. Our campsite was right on the river, complete with electric, running water, and an alcove to launch kayaks.  It was perfect!!

The campground was filled with a variety of trees of all shapes and sizes. South Florida isn’t known for tall trees so it was a welcome treat to camp among them. Although the gentlemen who had to back his 4 door, full size pickup and travel trailer into his campsite would’ve preferred a few less trees. Or at least preferred them at different locations.

After setting up camp, we hopped on our bikes and went exploring the area. The Scrub Jay festival was the next day so it was a good time to see where everything was happening.

Around dusk we returned to camp and enjoyed one of my favorite camping pastimes; sitting around the fire and eating.  I can sit and watch a campfire for hours.  Cooking is always fun to plan because you want to eat something besides PB& J sandwiches, but you want something as simple as PB& J sandwiches.

For this trip, we decided to try the one pot meal concept. I’m sure I’m not the first person to think of this, but it worked really well. Surprisingly, there are some great things you can put in one pot. We had beef tips, broccoli, onions, and yellow rice. Cook the yellow rice in beer for added flavor; it doesn’t taste like beer, but it has a nice flavor. The next meal was simpler; chicken strips over Caesar salad.

For the vegetarians in the group, we used the Guardian brand of products and those were really tasty. I’ve compared the Guardian beef tips to regular beef and it’s very close. Much closer than other products I’ve tried in the grocery store. I still enjoy a good hamburger or steak though.

After breakfast the next morning, we explored a couple of the peaceful hiking trails along the water. While Laurie headed to the festival, I found the perfect bike path. It was a rails to trails path which is an old railroad bed; flat, straight, zero cars, driveways, curbs, or other obstacles. There are very few bike lanes at home, so I relished riding on the trail free from the usual obstacles.  An open road or open bike path, there’s just something about being able to just go.

The trail did cross one street via a cross walk and then it went over a 4 lane highway. The ascent up the pathway over the highway was steep, but the descent was fun.  The trail follows the water along the water all the way and ends near a nature center. The whole scenic trip was 21 miles which is enough to enjoy without wearing you out.

The last day we hiked and explored the trail along the water. The shaded trails were a welcome change from the open, sandy trails that we hit the previous day. The walk along the water was very peaceful with the tall trees, various birds, and variety of vegetation.

We sat on a few benches and soaked it all in. Could’ve relaxed on a few of those benches all afternoon, but it was time to head home.

All in all, a great trip not too far away and yet far enough. The park is filled with large trees, a gentle river, hiking and biking trails.  The rails to trails bike path is a fun place to just ride uninterrupted. The camping is peaceful, the facilities are great (actually had hot water two nights in a row!), and modern conveniences are just a few miles down the road. If you’re headed to the West coast of Florida looking for a little oasis, be sure to swing by Oscar Scherer state park and stay awhile.

I Love Dirt Roads!

There’s just something irresistable about a dirt road!!  Every time I see one, I want to explore it. Where does it go? What wildlife will I see? What trails will it connect with? All the possibilities!!

Whether I’m in a well equipped SUV, rental car, or mountain bike, I’ll go exploring. Oregon, Utah, North Carolina, or even Florida, there’s always something unique to see.

Recently I was biking in a state park and skipped the bike trails in favor of the forest roads. They were gated, but a mountain bike can go most anywhere. Plus I volunteer there so I know most of the rangers. It was one of the best rides! I saw parts of the park that the general public never sees.

Thanks to the road, I didn’t destroy any of the vegetation or leave any lasting impressions. I kept exploring to the point, I got a little lost.  In my quest to find my way home,I saw camping areas, rivers, and places I’d only heard about. It was great!!!

So next time you see a dirt road, take the time to check it out. You may find a fish camp at the end, beautiful flowers, deer, connecting trails, tall trees, shimmering lakes, or just a beautiful meadow.  You never know what you’ll see, which is whats so great about dirt roads.