After I retired from law enforcement, I struggled with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). I had problems with hyper-vigilance. I couldn’t sleep at night due to nightmares and I’m unable to go to places where there were large crowds of people. This went on for a long enough time that I even considered suicide several times. I went to counseling, was prescribed medications, and did everything I could to overcome these issues. These things helped me find a somewhat normal life again, but not peace or calmness.
In 2017 I was invited to an Overland trip to Death Valley National Park. On our fourth night, we were camped at an old talc mine, located near Ubehebe Crater and Hunter Mountain. As I sat behind my rig watching the sunset, I had a feeling of calmness come over me. It sounds kind of corny but it felt almost spiritual. For the first time in a very long while, I wasn’t watching everything and everyone around me, I was just there in the moment. This time, the desert-inspired me to go farther and stay out longer, chasing the sense of peace I had found.
Q. What’s the story behind the name of your rig?
We named our rig “Serenity.” No, it wasn’t taken from the television show Firefly. It was named this because of how I feel every time I drive her on the trail. How I feel whenever I’m working on her or when we’re installing a new modification. I know it sounds weird but this rig has given me a new lease on life.
Q. What made you decide to purchase this specific truck/SUV and build it?
We chose our 2015 Toyota 4Runner SR5 4X4 because of Toyota’s inherent reliability and I have always loved the 4Runner platform. I’ve had Toyota vehicles all my adult life and to be honest I’m a Toyota guy! I’ve had many other types of vehicles – Jeep YJ, Chevy pickups, Ford Ranger, and even a Nissan, but I love my 4Runner.
Q. What is the philosophy of use behind your build? Do you use it for photography, camping, getting to your hiking spots, exploring new trails and locations, family travel, etc.?
Our rig is my daily driver, but she has been built for a specific purpose and this purpose is when Deb retires in ten months we will be transitioning to a full-time overland lifestyle. Just us, our dog (Gunner), our 4Runner, and our Patriot Camper X1H trailer.
Q. How long was the build process? Do you follow a philosophy when selecting aftermarket parts and accessories for your build? How did you pick the parts for your build?
We officially started building our rig in November 2017 and it is still ongoing. When I began thinking about what modifications I wanted to do, the list seemed extremely daunting, to say the least. I decided to let our trips tell me what we needed, not just what I wanted. It is very easy to go out and buy thousands of dollars of needless parts and accessories, which may not help you on the trail. Luckily for 4Runner owners, there is a very robust aftermarket support network out there. This abundance of aftermarket support is a double-edged sword, so whenever I decided on a new modification I would research the different products and absolutely would not purchase something because it had a cheaper price tag. What I’ve learned throughout my life is that on a lot of things, “you get what you pay for.” I figure it like this I prefer to, “buy once, cry once” for a lack of a better term.
Q. Can you tell us about any custom parts or fabrication done on your rig?
Due to a large amount of aftermarket support we haven’t needed too many custom parts manufactured for our rig. For about 99% of this build Deb I have taken the “Built, not Bought” approach. We have decided to save money by doing all the installations ourselves. Our vehicle is regularly maintained by me and Deb as well. We feel this approach has given us both a much better understanding of our vehicle and its capabilities. I have fabricated many of the small items myself, in an attempt to further save money for other modifications. Some of these include antenna mounts, our iPad navigation mounting system, converting our ARB fridge slide into a tilting slide, and doing the FJ Cruiser transfer case conversion myself.
Transmission flush and fluid change are done by the professionals at Auburn Toyota.
Our 24-gallon Long Range America auxiliary fuel tank was installed by the professionals at Valley Hybrids in Stockton, California. The front and rear ARB air lockers and Revolutions 4:88 re-gear were installed by Dan Taylor at Taylor Axel Works in Diamond Springs, California. Our body mount chops were done by the professionals at Califabrication in Carmichael, California.
Q. What was the biggest challenge in putting together your build?
The biggest challenge to this build was what type of rig did I want to build. Was it going to be a straight Overland rig or something like a rock crawler? I truly love the Overland aspects but I like doing the harder trails as well. What I came up with was truly a rig that can take us almost anywhere we ask her to.
Q. Some say that upfitting a rig is a never-ending process. Are you done with your rig or do you plan to do more to it? If you’re doing more to your rig, what are they?
I get asked all the time, “are you finished building it yet” and all I can do is smile. As far as the absolute needs category goes the only thing I still need to do is spindle gussets. Our girl is super heavy now and Toyota spindles are well known for failing. I want to deal with this possibility before we have a trip destroyed. Once this is done I’m pretty sure our girl will be pretty much bulletproof.
If you’re talking about “wants”, then that’s another story. What I would like is to install a Marlin Crawler “Taco Box”. Why do you ask? Because Marlin Crawler that’s why. Then some RCV axles and good headlights! 4Runner headlights are the worst!!
Q. What is the most memorable trip you’ve done with your rig? Tell us about the trip and the final destination.
Deb and I have done Overland trips in almost every state in the Western United States, but I have to say the most epic trip we have done thus far was this past August. We completed a month-long trip through the Pacific Northwest. This trip included the Washington State Backcountry Discovery Route (BDR), the Washington State coastline, Oregon State coastline, California coastline, numerous National Forests, State Parks, and the trip culminated at Dillon Beach, California, before heading home.
I think the greatest part of the entire month was the Washington State Backcountry Discovery Route. The route is 592 miles and only about 80 miles of it was on pavement. It starts on the border between Washington State and Oregon. At the end of the BDR, you find yourself at the Canadian border, wishing there was more. The trail itself isn’t hard, most vehicles could make a majority of it, but there are thousands of beautiful places to camp and hundreds of epic mountain vistas. You start the trail in rainforests, then you’re in the high desert and then back into the mountains again. I think the most epic camp spot we’ve had to date was on Bethel Ridge. We will never forget it.
Q. Any shoutouts to anyone who helped you put the build together?
I have to give my wife Deb a huge shout out because without her help and support this build might not or most likely wouldn’t have come to fruition. I would also like to thank my good friends Jade Sotelo, Dan Creason, Ron Pierce, and my daughter Amanda for always being available to help me when it was needed.
- Toyota 1GRFE 04-11 4.0 Liter V6
- ARB twin compressor CKMTA12
- ARB steel braided air lines
- ARB air lockers front & rear
- Revolution gears (4:88)
- FJ Cruiser manual transfer case conversion Safari Snorkel
- Long Range America 24-gallon auxiliary fuel tank
- Front Suspension: King 2.5 Extended travel, adjustable remote reservoir coilovers, with 700-pound coils UCA’s: SPC adjustable
- Total Chaos stock length Expedition lower control arms
- Swaybar End links: Overland Custom Designs adjustable
- Rear Suspension: King 2.5 Extended travel, adjustable remote reservoir shocks
- Control Links: Califabrication adjustable heavy-duty upper & lower control arms
- Pan Hard Bar: Califabrication adjustable heavy duty
- Rear coil Springs: Old Man Emu 998, 980 pounds
- Bump Stops: Timbren active off-road bump stops
- Sway Bar End Links: Overland Custom Design adjustable links
- Air Bags: Firestone 4135 Coil Rite air coil assist
- Black Rhino Armory 17X9
- BFGoodrich 315/70/R17 KO2 All-Terrain
- Front: Demello Off Road three hoop full coverage bumper
- Rear: Brute Force Fabrication dual swing-out bumper
- Armor: RCI Off Road Engine, Transmission & Transfer case steel skids,
- Califabrication rock sliders
- KC Hilites 50-inch Gravity Pro6 LED light bar
- KC Hilites dual Flex ditch lights
- KC Hilites 28-inch rear chase bar
- KC HiLites C2 scene lights
- DV8 30-inch front bumper LED light bar
- DV8 5-inch LED fog lights
- sPOD HD 8 Circuit accessory management
- Redarc BCDC 1225 DC/DC charger
- Redarc Tow Pro Elite
- DieHard Gold group 34R 55 AH battery
- National Luna dual battery monitor
- C4 Fabrication group 34 battery tray
- Blue Sea 12 circuit fuse block (rear of vehicle)
- Boss Strong Box 4Runner Overland Drawer System
- Expedition Essentials T4R accessory dash mount
- ARB large fridge freezer slide
- Frontrunner 10-gallon floorboard tank
- Yaesu FTM 400XDR dual-band Ham Radio
- Cobra Electronics 75 WX ST 40 channel CB radio
- Garmin Outdoors InReach Explorer Plus
- WeBoost RV OTR fleet cellular phone extender
- Diamond NR770HB dual-band ham antenna
- Firestik CB radio antenna
- Apple iPad II (navigation)
- Ram Mounts iPad stand
- Front Runner Slimline II full rack
- Rhino Rack 270-degree Batwing Awning
- Expedition Essentials 10-pound propane tank mount
- Quick Pitch Shower unit
- Smittybilt XRC 9,500-pound winch w/ synthetic line
- 10-pound Power Tank Co2 tank
- Agency6 Fairlead
- Agency6 Billet Winch shackle
- Agency6 Adventure mini shovel
- Agency6 Mega mount
- Hi-Lift 40-inch jack
- Echo 355T chainsaw with 16-inch bar
- Council Tools large ax
- Council Tools 16” camp ax
- Maxtrax traction boards
- Full-Size Shovel
Camp Kitchen Gear:
- Coleman two-burner propane stove
- Maple fire single burner cooktop
- Front Runner camping utensil kit
- ARB 63-quart low profile fridge/freezer
- Alpine Mountain small table
- Overland Vehicle Systems UFO camp light
- Nemo Outdoors Stargazer chairs
- Nemo Outdoors 10 gallon shower unit
- Goal Zero tent light
- Thermacell Mosquito repellent pods
- Northbound Expedition GARB
- Northbound Expedition chainsaw carrying bag