Tim and Kelsey Huber are not afraid of getting down in the muck dozens of miles from help and fixing a busted piece of their beloved Toyota Land Cruiser. They are not afraid of picking down a difficult trail with no idea of what’s around the next rut.
In fact, if you were to pick an ideal pair to successfully tool around the world in a badass off-roader, you couldn’t do much better than the Hubers.
They met five years ago at Overland Expo, those twice annual gatherings of the adventure travel off-roading tribe. Kelsey is a certified off-road driving instructor and teaches women’s driving classes at Overland Expo. Tim is a former desert racer and off-roading teacher for the military and also works as an instructor at Overland Expo. They can drive anywhere and fix everything.
Take away their off-roading expertise though and the Hubers aren’t all that different from their fellow overlanders. They too felt the itch to be mobile, to live where adventure took them. Sold all their stuff, quit their jobs, bought a truck. The Hubers are just better at the driving and fixing parts than most. You can follow their adventures, literally, at their website, Dirt Sunrise. As of this writing, they were somewhere near Quito, Ecuador. “On a dirt road near the Equator,” according to their Garmin-tracked location.
Year, make, and model of your rig?
1995 Toyota Land Cruiser FZJ80
What a beauty. Have you named it?
Yes, we named him Goose. On an offroad trip to Colorado many years ago we saw one of the old grey school buses that were modified in the early 1900s into trains, called the Galloping Goose line. The sides of the trains were emblazoned with the awkward running bird. We both immediately thought of our big gray truck and how ungainly and long-legged his suspension was, so we called him Goose and it stuck.
How long have you owned Goose?
How did you get your hands on it?
We had been looking for a replacement for our 4Runner, which had well over 200,000 miles (many of which were on dirt) on the clock. We knew we wanted an 80 series Land Cruiser because it would give us a bit more room, more suspension travel, and was the right mix of simple to work on yet new enough to be a daily driver. We saw a low mileage 80 for sale in Oregon and the owner had kept a website documenting every bit of maintenance and all modifications done to it. We decided it was worth the chance and bought it sight unseen then shipped it all the way to Arizona. In the end, the truck actually needed tons of work from a head gasket to a completely new cooling system (so it wasn’t exactly the dream truck we’d imagined). Since then we’ve spent many hours together under the truck rebuilding the axles and replaced just about every bushing, amongst other things. Having done all this work gives us peace of mind though. We’ve worked on just about every inch of the truck, and we know when things were done and that they were done right.
Well, besides nursing the basics of the truck back to health, what sort of off-road mods have you done?
We do all the work ourselves (you can follow along on YouTube). It is nice to be competent working on the truck, doing all the regular, and sometimes not so regular, maintenance ourselves has saved us a lot of money. We do have quite a few modifications although our goal is always to keep it relatively light with a low center of gravity, we really tried to make sure everything stayed practical and purposeful on Goose.
Our current modifications: Homemade auxiliary fuel tank with an extra 18 gallons and a dual filler neck. We added a Flexitank 7 gallon internal water tank. We mounted a 10-lb propane tank and a table for our Partner Steel stove. We installed a ham radio inside. For the suspension and drivetrain, we added OME heavy springs, 2.5″ compression adjustable shocks, custom bump stops, and a part-time 4WD conversion with manual hubs. We’ve got ARB air lockers and a winch up front. And a snorkel as well as raised diff breathers. For the most recent mods, we cut the roof off of the truck and epoxied on an old poptop by Campteq. We also stripped the entire interior down to the metal and sprayed Lizard Skin to insulate and deaden sound. The truck also has an ARB fridge/freezer and extruded aluminum bench seat/counter with storage.
How often do you find yourself elbow deep in the mud, making complicated off-road repairs? Since you do the wrenching yourself, is that kinda part of the fun?
Since we live in the truck we do all of the normal maintenance offroad, which can be interesting. The most difficult repair was finding new brake pads after a caliper got stuck. It wore one set of pads down to metal prematurely so we pinched off the brake line and had an exciting drive down a mountain, engine braking as much as possible. We were in a remote area and it was not easy to find an auto parts store let alone one that would have what we needed. We drove around as gingerly as possible while we searched. Eventually finding what we needed and making the swap in a parking lot as our floor jack decided to blow a seal and give out. When all was said and done the rotor was pretty scraped up, but we had some fresh brake pads and decided to continue as is until we could get new parts.
What’s the easiest country to break down in, in terms of resources, friendly locals, or logistics?
We think that wherever you break down people and help will come out of the woodwork. But Mexico was a tough one to get parts for our Land Cruiser because they were never sold there. We had to get creative. The easiest country for us so far has been Columbia because there were hundreds of FZJ80’s there.
How many states and countries have you visited with Goose?
Been through all the western states of the US and from Canada down to Ecuador. 10 countries in all.
Did you make any special security mods for international travel?
We already had a locking Tuffy center console and we added a hidden case on the chassis with emergency cash and spare ID’s. We mounted a Deny Lock to secure the only things we have on the outside of the truck (the spare tire and jerry cans.) Other than that we really didn’t change too much. Before we left security was on our minds more, it’s the fear of the unknown, but now that we’ve been on the road for almost a year we don’t feel in danger or worry much about security. Anything can happen anywhere, but we find that being aware of our surroundings and having these basic deterrents we haven’t had any issues.
What kinds of things do you get up to on your travels when you’re not driving?
We shoot and edit videos, so a good chunk of our time gets spent working on that, but we like to get out and hike, fish, free-dive, bike ride, really anything we can do to be active and outdoors. There is a fine balance in carrying too much or too little gear. We sometimes wish we had more toys like mountain bikes, but other times we’re so happy to be traveling light.
How do you typically ship the truck around?
We have only shipped via…well, a ship. So, we pack it up in a container. We made sure that whatever modifications we made, the truck would still fit into a standard shipping container.
Do you live in the truck? Or sleep out in tents or in hotels?
The vast majority of our time is spent living out of the truck, taking advantage of nature, washing in streams or the ocean, but we do enjoy getting an Airbnb about once a month. There we can have a real shower, do laundry, and take advantage of wifi.
Best and worst parts?
We don’t have any regrets. Before we left we looked at so many different types of vehicles and how that would affect the type of trip we wanted to have. We weighed the pros and cons of them all, and in the end, we decided to slightly alter the vehicle we already had and knew. With Goose it can be tough to live out of such a small space, but he is so capable and reliable that the pros definitely outweigh the cons for the trip we are currently on. For us, there is no perfect vehicle. The more space you have, the less capable the vehicle becomes. Everything has a trade-off. The vehicle we travel in will change as our lifestyle does over the years, or due to the goals of any particular trip.