(Editor note: We always love hearing stories from the EarthCruiser owner community and your travels and adventures. The owners of #59 recently went on a trip with founders Lance and Michelle and offered to share about the experience. If you have a story you’d like to share with the EarthCruiser team and community, please send a note to: [email protected]
By: EarthCruiser FX Owners #59
We don’t have a “crystal ball”, but having taken delivery of our Earthcruiser FX in September 2019, it seems like we are more prescient than we really are.
Having upgraded from Karakoram, (the name we gave our van) an incredibly capable 4×4 Ford E-250, with off-road upgrades provided by Agile Offroad, and an interior designed by us and built in our workshop by a master craftsman, Carlos Chavez, we were already woke to the magic of boondocking from our SoCal base, along with our 75lb Doberman.
The capability of the Earthcruiser may actually exceed the smaller Ford, and the fuel-efficient and torquey drivetrain is pretty amazing. Also, the comfort of long haul driving is unmatched as we often felt pretty banged up in the Ford after long sprints. The reality is that you spend 90% of the time on the highway getting to the places you’re actually escaping to. In early July, we made our first trip to Montana and had the pleasure of meeting up with Earthcruiser’s Founders, Lance and Michelle in their new EXP Earthcruiser V8.
We’ve embraced the idea of minimal planning when venturing out, basically deciding where we are going to begin the trip, and where we will begin our ride home. In a previous trip, Lance and Michelle inspired us to be less structured in our planning, and more adventurous in exploring the spur roads off of scenic byways that have afforded us the most beautiful and special campsites we’ve found.
We began the Montana adventure at Lake Koocanusa, a 90-mile man-made lake that stretches to the Canadian border. Even though we arrived on July 3rd, the closed Canadian border meant that the only real lake adjacent campsite was only ¼ full. By 10am on July 4th, we had Koocanusa, its fish, birds, deer and almost midnight sun to ourselves. We picked up a small inflatable 9’ dinghy before our trip, and this became an amazing addition to our quiver. Lance and Michelle arrived the next day, and with our collective dinghies and dogs, we enjoyed Koocanusa’s perfect weather for another couple of days.
We appreciate that nothing beats local knowledge, and a stop at a local organic market in two EarthCruisers had the local Eureka, MT overlanding “coconut wireless” buzzing and new friends social distancing around us. We got the word that the 10 Lakes Scenic area in the Kootenai National Forest was a must-see. We were warned that it was at altitude and mostly unpaved road, but that’s all good for us. Two hours later, at the end of the road, we found ourselves at magical little Lake Thibodeau. Temperatures were nearly 60 degrees cooler than Koocanusa the day before, but that’s what the Webasto heater, Solo stoves and layering are for. Hiking around the lake before we left the next day was really special.
The other tip we got at our stop in Eureka was to drive the 122.5 mile Magruder Corridor (see video here)between Darby, Montana, and the Red River Ranger Station, on the Idaho side of the Nez Perce National Forest, near Elk City, Idaho. We had planned on driving through Yellowstone, but a COVID outbreak that week meant Plan B. The trail had just opened over the holiday weekend. With little to go on but a quick check with the Forest Rangers at Darby, we began a daunting, inspiring and exhilarating 2-day journey that boosted our skills and confidence and increased our respect for the capabilities of our Earthcruiser.
Over two days we luckily encountered only 6 motorcycles and 4 side by sides as the single track rose to over 9,000 feet, with snow, ice and fallen trees in our path. My reciprocating saw was no match for the fallen, windscreen level timber, and Lance’s electric chainsaw saved us on 5 occasions, including getting into an epic forest clearing which became our campsite.
Magruder was grueling, sometimes scary, but amazing. It changed my attitude about my abilities and increased the respect I already had for the Earthcruiser. With no cell service two miles in, I’m glad to have both a sat phone and modem, and also felt lucky that we didn’t need to use them.
After arriving in the one-stoplight town of Elk City, we kept driving south through the pastoral rolling hills of Montana, passing through tribal lands and exploring the side roads when they looked particularly interesting. Our Garmin Overlander showed a small river to the west, and we crossed a mix of dirt and semi-paved roads until we reached a bluff above the river. We made this our campsite for the night. Lance dazzled us with the origami that is the ISI bike rack, as he took his mountain bike to look for a path to the river’s edge as both trucks needed water the next morning.
We were keen to try pulling water from the river, and we have now made a duplicate of Lance’s filtered hose set up so we can do the same when needed. It must have been the bumps along Magruder that caused the oil light to activate, so we stopped, tipped the cab, topped the ½ cup of oil that our Earthcruiser would take and we were back on the road.
We drove beautiful scenic byways alongside rivers and tributaries until we arrived at our final campsite along the Salmon River’s majestic Hell’s Canyon.
The next morning we bid farewell to Lance and Michelle, as they headed to Bend, and we began the journey back to SoCal.
With one quick night of camping in Nevada, we vowed never to drive two-lane truck routes at night again, if at all possible. We were home by 3pm the following day, with rolls of film—yes film, more confidence in ourselves and the intrepid Earthcruiser FX and the memories and inspiration to get out again very, very soon.