N38° 35’ 10” W109° 32’ 21”
My husband, Bernie, and I are car enthusiasts! We’ve always loved building and modifying vehicles, whether for aesthetics and creative reasons or now for utility. We had customized eight Volkswagens together before we bought our first truck. Our Toyota Tacoma, uniquely named MilkTeacoma, is the first off-road vehicle we have owned! After purchasing the Tacoma, we wanted to learn more about what was available out there to do. So, we got to know people in the off-road community and started attending events. We became close with others in the community and joined them on off-road adventures, from local trail runs to out-of-state trips.
We almost got a Volkswagen Amarok pickup truck, but it became a toss-up between that and the Toyota Tacoma. Both vehicles were about the same price, even if we had to import the Amarok, but there is no comparison between the two regarding reliability and maintenance cost. The Toyota Tacoma won! We do like VWs a lot, and we’ve owned a few of them, but the Toyota brand runs deep in the family. Bernie grew up with his stepfather who owned a 4Runner, and his father owned a HiLux. Bernie’s first vehicle was a Toyota Celica.
A PLAY ON WORDS
Naming our Tacoma sort of has a funny backstory. When we bought the truck in the Quicksand color, the first thing our daughter said was, “it is the color of milk tea,” which was her favorite drink! We thought of a wordplay to incorporate what she said, and thus MilkTeacoma was born. The Tacoma is our first-ever off-road build, and we love that we can get up and go and have no problem getting to wherever we want the truck to take us! There hasn’t been one place we wanted to go to where it couldn’t handle the terrain.
When we got the Tacoma, we got a tip to focus on three main mods: armor, clearance and recovery. These three are so important when starting any truck build that will make off- roading and adventure travel more enjoyable. It has worked well for us, and we pass along this advice to anyone who asks. To fully understand our new truck’s ins and outs, we committed to doing most of the wrenching on the vehicle. We have done 90% of the work ourselves and have installed everything that is a bolt-on part.
We’ve also done some extensive custom electrical work on the rig. We gutted the entire vehicle and added Hushmat sound deadening. With HardWired Performance’s expertise, our electrical management system links to one central area, using a combination of the Bussman fuse block, SwitchPros, and Redarc Electronics. We have local friends, such as Kibbetech, that help with the other things on the Tacoma. We also like to drive to Las Vegas to get help from Rogue Off-Road.
THE PERFECT GETAWAY PLAN
MilkTeacoma is our family getaway rig, but she is also used primarily as my daily driver. We like to take her out and go on off-road and camping adventures as often as possible. The ability to get up and go to escape from our daily urban life and go on a turnaround trip to a local trail with little preparation is second to none. One of the trails we try to hit more often is Rowher Flats in Santa Clarita, California. It is a day trip off- roading spot that is local to us. There are a lot of opportunities there to experience driving on different terrain with some very tight turns. But the best part is a super steep decline right before the exit, where you get to oversee the dam and a lot of the surrounding area.
We made it a goal to make our MilkTeacoma unique and personal to us. We built a liquor bar that is easily accessible from the outside of our RLD canopy. It has to be our most unique and favorite mod on the Tacoma by far. We are whiskey drinkers and it is fun and convenient to have bottles and shot glasses so easily accessible. We also love our front grille, with the custom 3D printed MilkTeacoma emblem on it. Our light bar on our roof is custom-made by pairing together some KC HiLiTES G46 Gravity LEDs, using a modified overhead crossba,r and a custom wind faring made by Mercenary Offroad. Our setup is constantly changing based on our current needs or things we learn along the way.
Another favorite of ours is a set of Toyo Open Country AT III tires we’re currently rolling on. They are the perfect combination of being quiet on the pavement for daily driving and then handling rugged off-road terrain when we take the rig out to the backcountry. We also get much better gas mileage than the previous brand of tires we were running. We know the importance of good tires out in the bush, and we trust Toyo to get the job done out on the dirt. They give us the confidence that their tires will bring us back home safe from our trail adventures.
Our first off-road adventure ever in MilkTeacoma was to Calico Ghost Town (Barstow, CA). We were following other people driving similar rigs who have had off-roading experience in the past. We ended up in an area that was a very narrow pass through rocky terrain with many boulders. There was no way to turn back, so we did our best to spot and guide each vehicle through. Our truck, which was only a month old at the time, ended up with damage to the face of all of our wheels, a basketball-sized dent in our front skid plate, and dents and scratched paint on our rocker panels.
One of the most memorable outings we’ve done in MilkTeacoma was the FJ Summit trip to Colorado. We went with a few buddies to participate in the event, and on the road trip out there, we ended up at a bunch of unique places. We went to Toquerville Falls, Top of the World, and Alpine Loop in Utah. Then in Colorado, we enjoyed Engineer Pass and Imogene Pass, but the most epic was Black Bear Pass. It was truly remarkable to see so many places in our truck on that one trip.
PREPPING MADE EASY
Going on a long trip like that requires some planning and preparation. Our routine has changed over the years, learning what we do and do not need on trips. We used to overpack. We now have our recovery and camping gear stored in Front Runner Wolf Pack boxes in our garage, so they can easily be grabbed and packed for a trip. We pre-cool and pack our Dometic dual-zone fridge, pack our flat top grill, fill our water tank, make sure the sleeping bag and pillows are in the rooftop tent, and pack a duffel bag. We have found a routine to pack and get going much faster! We also always make sure our routine maintenance is up to date, such as oil changes. We make certain that our wheel alignment is good and rotate the tires, especially before a long trip.
A piece of advice we can give to our fellow adventurers is to avoid going on solo trips.
We typically do not go on trips to the middle of nowhere by ourselves. We prefer to travel with other rigs so we can work together when someone gets into a jam. Make sure to pack and learn how to use your recovery gear. Research the area you plan to explore beforehand to be somewhat familiar with what to expect. Do not be too hard on yourself if your vehicle gets some battle scars, as it is part of the adventure. As essential as it is to be safe out in the backcountry, it’s also important to have fun.