I was trying to figure out how to describe my location, for my mom, who consistently worried about where I would decide to set up camp each night. As I sat behind Beastie in my camp chair, eating the dinner I had just prepared on my Jet Boil stove, asparagus and chicken sausage wrapped in a spinach tortilla, with a well deserved beer in hand, I thought I was exactly where I wanted to be, nowhere.
I found myself sitting in an empty campground along the Canadian River a mere 11 miles, but 40 minutes away from pavement, on the western side of the Kiowa National Grassland in the Northeast corner of New Mexico. No one was in sight, exactly how I wanted it. I was content.
I was unwinding my nerves after driving some of the toughest terrain I had been on up to that point. I began to think about why I do this, why do I enjoy driving dirt roads with rock obstacles which often put my four tires off kilter? This is often a question I am asked from family and friends outside of the Land Cruiser community.
Once I shared my location with my mom via my InReach, a GPS and two way communication device, I settled into my sleeping quarters, which tripled as my living room, sometimes kitchen, and all around get out of the elements room, or in reality, the back of my Land Cruiser. I had cracked open a book and begun reading when I heard my InReach ping. Must be mom. It was. Her message read, “It looks like you're in the middle of nowhere, is anyone around?”. I typed back, “Nope, that’s exactly how I want it, I love it here.” My travel style and desire for solitude has always baffled my mom, and on occasion my dad, but he voiced his concerns less, allowing my mom to act as his mouth piece in most instances. I thought more about my drive to push my comfort zone, push the boundaries that my parents had envisioned for me. The act of pushing these boundaries is exactly the reason I’ve come to realize why I have fallen in love with off-road travel. My anxiety melts away on the road even if my pulse quickens a bit on uneven terrain, because after working through tough sections of road I always come out the other side in a stronger stance, taking that strength back to my life outside of road travel.
I have never quite understood, myself, why I enjoy solitude so much, but it was clear having one of the most capable off-road vehicles afforded me the opportunity to truly explore my fascination with getting off the grid. My enjoyment of solo travel stems from being my ‘true’ self on the road, feeling little pressure from societal structures and norms that we all face on a daily basis. On the road there is less pressure to fit in because most times you are not in one place long enough to feel like you have to ‘fit in’, you can just be you.
It was 9 years ago when I fell in love with Toyota Land Cruisers. I had searched 4-Wheel drive vehicles on craigslist and a mint 1982 FJ40 came up on my search. After viewing that car and then the inevitable onslaught of research, I was hooked, I had to have a Land Cruiser. Over the years the obsession grew and my knowledge expanded. With my older brother traveling overseas, I was in the clear for a few years to use the family spare car as I saved up for my dream car. I was in search of a diesel, which of course led me to the import market. As I did with the FJ40, I soon fell in love with the BJ40, the diesel iteration of the FJ40. I wanted a reliable car I could take anywhere, and not spend my entire paycheck on gas.
I soon found that clean left hand drive BJ40s were a bit out of my price range, by a bit I mean a lot. So right hand drive imports soon filled my searches, and I quickly found many BJ70s. I loved the look 40 series but liked the creature comforts that came stock in the 70 series, including power steering, a radio, front disc brakes and the like. June 2014 is when I really ramped up my search. I had done the research, I had saved enough money, and I was ready to buy my first car. Yes, my first car. Over my many years of infatuation, I had talked to many importers, but somehow did not come across Land Cruisers Direct until late June 2014. I would spend the slow nights at my work, managing a climbing gym in Santa Barbara, CA, scouring his inventory. Every time, a silver 1986 BJ70 JDM import kept catching my eye. The price was right, a little cheaper then the typical 70 series due to some frame rust that had been fixed in Japan.
On another painfully slow night at work in mid-August, I ogled over this 70 and then it clicked, that was my car. Not just any 70 series, this specific vehicle. It was everything I wanted, and more. It has a factory PTO winch, auxiliary lights; it was my car. I have since been asked why that 70, and I still cannot fully answer. Something simply clicked. That little silver box was to be mine. I called Steve Jackson, the importer, the following day and asked all the necessary questions. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary, I had already looked at the nearly 100 photos of my car on Steve’s website, I already knew about the good and the ugly. I knew what I was getting into, or at least I thought I did, with purchasing a nearly 30 year old car. I was going to be replacing parts, some big parts including my radiator, and dealing with the rust I already knew had been a problem. I exchanged a few more calls with Steve over the course of the next week, asking about shipping costs etc. I came to the conclusion that it was going to be cheaper for me to fly to Missouri, where Land Cruisers Direct is located, and drive back to Santa Barbara, California. I called Steve on my 22nd birthday, August 25th, 2014 and committed to purchasing my cruiser.
Two weeks later I boarded my one-way flight to Missouri to begin my journey into car but more importantly Cruiser ownership.
I found myself in Ozark, Missouri September 9, with my mom in tow. My parents were not excited about my decision to purchase my car, and my dad convinced my mom that she needed to come with me on my adventure to bring my car home. Mainly because I did not know how to drive a manual before boarding our flight to Springfield, Missouri, and my dad figured I would need help getting through the Rockies being a first-time manual driver. I later learned, he would be right.
Steve usually picks up every buyer from the airport in the vehicle they are purchasing, but seeing as I did not know how to drive manual, we were picked up in an automatic so I could get used to piloting a car from a drivers seat situated on the right, before tackling driving a manual. As I drove the 40 minutes to the shop in Ozark, my excitement building, lined by the occasional heart pump due to drifting into the right lane. A hazard, I discovered, as a first time right-hand drive driver. That and hitting the windshield wiper every time you go for the blinker. This, years later, is still the one thing that trips me up when switching between right and left hand drive.
I pulled onto the freeway exit, guided by Steve’s shop hand. My excitement continuously growing, while I could see my mom’s bewildered face in the rear-view mirror. It was not hard deciphering her expression, “I still can’t believe Maggie is doing this, and I can’t believe I’ve flown to Missouri, and I’m escorting her back.”
A right turn from the freeway offramp, a left at the next light, and another left and a nondescript road in an industrial area. One more right turn and we were at the shop. There on the left of the driveway was my purchase. Sparkling silver, clearly fresh from a detailing job.
There, little did I know was my future. There sat a little silver box sitting on a slowly rusting frame, waiting to shape my life and myself as an individual. There sat, not just a vehicle for road travel, but a vehicle into a better understanding of myself. I had no idea the people Beastie would bring into my life, and those Beastie would help me move past. I had no idea how many times Beastie would shelter me from the elements, and act as my solace to the hardships of life, my shelter from pain. Standing at the shop in Missouri, I could have never guessed the many turns my life was about to make because of a mechanical genius and well assembled piece of metal.