Thursday, March 26, 2015

Monday, March 23, 2015

3 years of Toyota motorhome living - how goes it???

1989 Toyota Odyssey 4x4 (1 of only 6 ever made - I was lucky to come across it!)

  It's been a while and  I've had several folks ask what's up, so here's an update.  First, the Toyota 4x4 motorhome lives on!  Although the V6 3.0 liter engine has a blown head gasket and is limping around, I'm currently in the process of installing a larger, custom V6 3.4 liter engine.  It should boost my horsepower from 145 hp to 190 hp.  55 hp will make a huge difference driving "Nelly" all around Alaska.

  I've done quite a bit of research, and Toyota's 3.4 L is a significant improvement in reliability, power, and fuel economy, so I should literally be a happy camper once the engine swap is complete by mid-April.  It will also
be pretty sweet to have the capability to drive faster than 40 mph down the highway.  Thanks all you patient people out there, I'm sure I've pissed you off at some point, but just remember... I'm not in a hurry cause' I'm already home.

     We haven't had much of a winter in Alaska this year.  It's been one of the warmest and least snowiest winters on record (warm ocean currents have not shifted much from last year, causing oddly warm weather patterns), and you can really see it in the mountains.  Snowmachines are still not allowed in most of the public use areas due to lack of snow.  People are still skiing, but it's pretty sad this year... even my interior RV garden (pictured below) was growing into mid-October this year, unbelievable!

Crow Creek Road, Girdwood, AK
     I just realized this coming April will make 3 years of living in the Toy home.  It's been a crazy adventure and I've met a lot of incredible people along the way.  2 more years to go and I'll have the Toy home paid off!

     I've found Alaska to be an awesome place to live in a camper off-grid, however I have also noticed a lot of potential camping areas and public parking areas have been closing down the last 3 years, and I feel like I need to do my part by speaking up.  There are a few other people out there living in vehicles and some people have been ruining the free camping spots, primarily by staying in one spot too long and then the spot is permanently blocked off or "No Camping/No Overnight Parking" signs are put in place.

     One example of prime spots to stay the evening, but have closed do to excessive, multi-day camping:
Home for the night at Alyeska Resort in Girdwood - skiing and live music, yup!
The Seward Highway pull-offs.  There used to be a dozen different pull-outs to park and stay overnight in (provided you are low-key and move along in the early morning).  Unfortunately, people camped too long, and now there are 3 ft. ditches and large boulders blocking the pull-outs, rendering them completely unusable... even if passerbys simply want to rest for a moment.  It is sad to see these spots permanently erased from the list of places to potentially camp for a night.  To everyone out there staying overnight in their vehicles... please be responsible, leave your spot early the next morning, take your trash with you, and be respectful about using the bathroom (if you don't have a bathroom or porta-potty in your camper, then make sure to dig a hole and bury your waste/burn your toilet paper).  If you ever go to New Zealand, the free camping has literally been ruined by tourists and locals that use the bathroom and leave their waste and toilet paper exposed everywhere.  We don't want Alaska to begin closing our free camping areas down, so do your part!

     That is all.  If we can all educate ourselves on being more responsible campers and stewards of the environment, then we will continue to enjoy free camping and no hassles in Anchorage and all around Alaska.

                      Another free overnight camping spot...  I make sure to camp responsibly and move early the next morning so there are no issues.
Kage & I at an abandoned gold mine in the Talkeetna Mountains.

      Kage and I recently returned from a trip to New Zealand and Fiji.  We had an incredible time overseas and all I recall is a blur of incredible experiences: scuba diving, whitewater pack rafting, speed flying, paragliding, canyoning, hiking, caving, busking and played a few shows with our instruments, fire spinning, stopped by the Lord of the Rings "Shire/Hobbiton," oh... and consumed a healthy amount of lamb pies with an occasional salad.  We bought a van (1992 Toyota HiAce diesel cow), converted the van into a fully self-contained camper (installed a toilet, sink, and fresh/grey water tanks) and toured both islands of New Zealand.

   Below is a quick video of one of the adventures: 

A Hobbit home in The Shire, Lord of the Rings movie set, New Zealand.

     As I mentioned above, free camping in New Zealand has become next to impossible.  Tourist and locals alike have absolutely trashed the land.  Almost every scenic pull-out we came to or trail-head has toilet paper literally everywhere, and plenty of trash found nearby.  It's actually really sad, as this was my 5th time visiting New Zealand, and now there are "No Freedom Camping" signs everywhere.

     Unfortunately, campervans have become the target for irresponsibility, as locals and police assume that campervans staying overnight without an onboard bathroom or porta-potty are leaving the toilet paper behind, when the reality is that day-hikers or sight-see'ers just passing by also leave behind trash and toilet paper.

     The only way to camp for free in New Zealand these days is by obtaining a "Self-Contained" sticker from local auditors who inspect your van after you have installed a plumbed sink, sealed fresh water and waste water tanks, and a sealed porta-potty system (see pictures below).

Our fully-converted Toyota Hiace diesel van: plumbed a sink and freshwater/wastewater tanks, added a toilet behind the drivers seat.

The required "Self-Contained" sticker you need to camp for free in New Zealand
Kage with a celebration float after running the whitewater upstream on the Kawaru River, South Island, NZ.
The "Embrace" sculpture burning at sunrise completely surrounded by over 50,000 people.  Small-scale tornados were created from the intense heat produced by the fire! Unreal! Another beatiful moment at B.M.

  Another highlight of the year was getting to experience and participate in the Burning Man festival this past August/September, held in the Black Rock Desert in Nevada.  If you are open-minded and want a mind-blowing experience that you can't experience (to this magnitude) anywhere else in the world, then you absolutely have to go to Burning Man at some point in your life.
     Over 50,000 people of all ages, all walks of life, all personalities and oddities, come together for a week in the Nevada desert to create Black Rock City.  I read and heard how large and overwhelming this city becomes, and man did it live up to all the hype!  I think I'm still residualy dancing over half a year later... and we're definitely going back this year!
     What do you do at Burning Man? Well, I remember: riding on pirate ships across sand,  climbing into a box of mirrors and losing all direction, chasing a flaming mechanical octopus,  riding a bike through a tornado, camping with the owner of a pro baseball team, wandering from live show to live show with fire-blasting canons and stacks of speakers taller than a hotel - so much sound the hairs on your arms would stand up...  and I made many great friends I'll know or remember for a long, long time. Incredible!
Taking a break somewhere in Black Rock City.  It's hard to get lost when you can make anywhere your home.

Kage and I playing pickin' some grindage' for passerbys.

  The Shoot Dangs! have had another awesome year of shows in ridiculously awesome places.  Arctic Man, Tailgate Alaska, Salmonstock, Forest Fair, SnowFest, Trapper Creek Bluegrass Festival, Six Mile Creek Whitewater and Bluegrass Festival, I can't even remember them all!  We had the opportunity to play shows at bars and music venues in Valdez, Homer, Denali, Talkeetna, Seward, Girdwood, Hope, Fairbanks, and Anchorage, and we'll be doing it again this summer!  Thanks so much to the fans, friends, and strangers that encourage us to keep keepin' on!

     We're currently in the process of recording a new album, which should hopefully be ready for release at the Trapper Creek Bluegrass Festival on May 22nd, 2015.  A lot of new, original songs inspired by outlaws, freedom and times long gone.

Thanks to our friend Katxia for drawing (a tiny version) of our banner!! We love it!

     The band is also planning a fall tour from Alaska down to Burning Man 2015.  We are hoping to take the Alaska Marine Highway ferry system and play shows along the southeast Alaska coastal towns (like Juneau, Sitka, Ketchikan, Wrangell, etc) the last week of August.  We'll be taking the Toyota motorhome down.  Can't wait!  Well, until next time... oh, and for a list of show dates, booking information or music samples, go to

A show at Down East Saloon, Homer, AK.