*notcot in travel , 18:15

NOTFZJ80: Test Trip, Big Bear I- 08.27.14

maincamp0.jpg The NOTFZJ80 Project is being sponsored by our friends at AutoNation: America’s largest auto retailer with 270 stores selling 33 brands nationwide backed by industry-leading policies like SmartChoice pricing and no-hassle money back guarantee. They are helping us turn our 1996 Toyota Land Cruiser into an overland adventure rig to go discover inspiration off-grid! Follow the progress here as we build up to our first trip.

I can’t believe we’re finally at this stage… TEST TRIP! For our first quick test trip there are two big things that need testing: #1 Camping! #2 Offroading! It still blows my mind how quickly we’ve gotten here, and how much we’ve done. It looks like such a different car from when we first brought it home. Looking back for a moment - we’ve been asked “Why THIS project car?” quite a bit, and without a doubt, it’s all about the experience for me. This isn’t exactly the type of setup you can just rent - and there’s something different when you do it all yourself bit by bit to make your ultimate setup! And as NOTCOT closes in on 10, I can’t even count how many incredible experiences i’ve been exposed to as i’ve run around covering events, exploring brands, testing (new) cars all over the world, but what has been lacking are the random vacations and goal free explorations I used to have. So the NOTFZJ80 is our way to do something that none of our other vehicles can do, and a reason to simply venture out, get lost, and get inspired by the unplannable unknown. Will it work? I can’t wait to find out!

So back to first test trip… having just gotten back from Atlanta, and heading to Iron Mountain, Michigan tomorrow… we didn’t have much time to squeeze in a little test trip. So it had to be close to home! A bit of research landed us on Big Bear! Only 2.5 hours away, gorgeous lake, and an easy spot to camp for a night and off road a bit… so take a look at part one (Camping!) on the next page!

As i was trying to figure out where to go - dropped this image into Instagram. bigbear1.jpg

As we were packing the car, we realized we needed a good spot for Bucky to both ride and sleep (flat, level, and padded) … so after researching car safety harnesses (which you can pull off yourself just attaching a regular harness to the car seatbelt system), hammocks, and platforms… we decided we could easily make our own that was stronger and comfier. So some wood, leftover dynaliner, and one of his old fleece blankets… and i think he may like it better than his usual lounging spots! Additionally, it can easily be put in the trunk to accommodate more passengers. buckyplatform.jpg … also, being able to hide bags under his platform and out of plain sight is a bonus!

First stop after filling up the car with the basics… fill up gas, and the backup reserves in the jerry cans! ready1.jpg

Heading out into the San Bernardino Mountains, it was a stunning day! ready2.jpg

As we got into the Big Bear Lake area, headed to the Big Bear Discovery Center - where the ranger filled us in on where we could Dispersed Camp and where their Yellow Post Sites are.

As you can see - it’s all about the Forest Service Roads! Mostly dirt roads of varying terrain, all with numbers and codes to help you find your way. We were told yellow post #31 was one of the best spots, so we decided to head there first. map2.jpg

There’s a detailed map of all the Forest Service Roads they gave us, as well as a Yellow Post map that looks like it has been photocopied hundreds of times, so it all took a bit of deciphering while navigating. map3.jpg

En route! ready3.jpg

Wandering through the forest in search of #31… ready4.jpg

Found it! Turns out it is a huge camp space (though only 2 cars/8 people are permitted) nestled into the valley, and setup with a fire pit (but no fires allowed right now!) and picnic table. ready5.jpg

So we picked our perfect spot near the trees to start setting up camp. camp1.jpg


Pop the awning out, tent open, annex on, table out from under the roof rack… and even hammock hung between the trees! camp4.jpg

I was amazed how large the tent annex/room is beneath the tent when you stake it all out (not something that was easily tested in the driveway tests we’ve been doing thus far.) camp5.jpg

The setup is also perfect for creating more space sheltered from the wind, and leaving car windows facing into the annex opened up for Bucky when he’s sleeping in the car. I guess you could say there’s the Ground floor (which could totally fit sleeping bags!)… Bucky’s on the 2nd floor in the car… and we’re up top in the rooftop tent on the 3rd? camp6.jpg

I love this picture - suddenly the NOTFZJ80 doesn’t look quite so big tucked away amongst those trees! And not a person around - yellow post camp spots can be completely isolated! camp7.jpg

Setting up camp to cook… camp8.jpg

My favorite view of camp as Bucky runs around exploring and Shawn relaxed in the hammock… camp9.jpg

Sunset was spectacular… sunset1.jpg

… it created stunning reflections on the hood… sunset2a.jpg

… and the colors through the car! Looks like clouds are coming from the snorkel! sunset3.jpg

The sky was glowing pink on the other side… sunset4.jpg

No cell service… no people… tons of birds chirping away… we were off grid and it felt amazing! sunset5.jpg

This was also the perfect chance to try out the Alite Bison Chairs we’d been sent. Toss these two tiny bags in to the car, and instant camp when combined with the roof rack table! Like a modern twist on the Butterfly Chair and the big version of their amazing super light chairs - with a base that pops together with aluminum tent pole style pieces and 500D waxed kodra, this full sized chair weighs in at a mere 4.6 lbs. bisonuse.jpg

For kitchen setup - we picked up a Coleman Gladiator 2 Burner Hyperflame Stove - and it’s fantastic! A bit windy, and with the starter and burner design, we had no problem cooking and heating things quickly. Keeping things simple, we made some tacos, banana boats, hot chocolate, expresso, and breakfast burritos with ease. kitchen.jpg

Picked up the Kelty LumaTwist LED Lantern for camp - and it was even better than i expected. The two LED panels that you can swivel to whatever angle you want, was ideal for keeping camp lit with more ambient light when needed, and directing light to two different areas was more useful than expected. You can also turn only one side on. lumatwist.jpg

All in all, it was a great first getaway. Popping camp up is getting faster and faster as is closing it all up (you can do it all in around half an hour with two of us)… Between the awning, Coleman stove, roof rack table and Alite chairs, you have an instant lounge/cook area in minutes. Apparently you can close the roof top tent with bedding in it - but sleeping bag seems like a better base option than doing sheets/duvet/etc - so a Mammoth sleeping bag for two is on the way… but as is with a comforter, it was quite comfortable! Though i’m tempted to upgrade the foam mattress… Also the Roof Top Tent VIEW is stunning - it feels like oyu’re hanging out in a super treehouse/fort! Bucky’s dynalined platform may be working too well, because when he gets tired from running around he stands next to the Land Cruiser door until you put him in there… where he promptly passes out.

Here’s my view waking up the next morning… morning1.jpg … surprisingly quiet, dark and star filled night… with quite a few planes flying by here and there. But upon waking up we made some espresso and breakfast burritos and headed on our way to explore the Forest Service Roads in Part II!

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