Owner stories: Stephen & Caroline and EarthCruiser FX “Molly42”

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Owner stories: Stephen & Caroline An EarthCruiser FX “Molly42”

Recently, we got to catch up with EarthCruiser FX #42 owners Stephen and Caroline who share their vast travel and overlanding experience in “Molly42”.

EC: Let’s start with telling us a little about yourselves

We love to travel.

Our first overland trip was in 1991 when we left England to drive to South Africa. All started well, but we ran into issues getting our Range Rover across the border from Morocco to Algeria. So, the car went back to England with friends, and we continued our journey combining hitch-hiking, buses, trains, and planes. Hitch-hiking through the desert of Algeria seems a little crazy now, but back then we were young and fearless, we each had £4,000 of hard-earned savings, and we wanted to see the world. About 6 months later we did make it to Cape Town in South Africa.

In 1995 we left England for good and immigrated to Australia where being between jobs, we bought a super cheap car (a Ford Falcon we called Frank the Tank) and set off for a 3-month lap of Australia. Amazingly we did not break down too many times. The adventure bug was clearly beginning to dig its claws into both of us.

The year 2000 saw us leaving Australia and moving to the USA as part of a work transfer. While working in California we started dreaming of driving to the bottom of South America. In 2002 our next car purchase was with that objective in mind. We became the proud owners of a Series II Land Discovery and started preparing it for the trip South. We named the car Sterlin. This word and name have a double meaning: it is associated with the color silver and the color of our Land Rover and also means a person of decent character. Sometime later we noticed the letters are also in our names, STEphen and caRoLINe.

In 2004 we left our jobs and headed North to Prudhoe Bay on the northern shores of Alaska and turned around to head South in the direction of Argentina, via Chicago and some site-seeing stops on the way. However, 6 months into the journey and back in San Francisco, travel was placed on hold again to re-start work to secure our Green Cards and US permanent residency.

In 2013 we quit working yet again, put a rooftop tent on Sterlin, and set off on our biggest adventure so far, a trip we call The Big One. We shipped Sterlin to Sydney, Australia, drove to Perth, and shipped him to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. From there we drove through Southeast Asia, China, Mongolia, Russia, Central Asia, and into Europe ending in Eeklo, Belgium, Caroline’s hometown. This was an amazing 18-month adventure, seeing and experiencing about half the world.  And still, South America and the Pan American highway were beckoning.

In 2018 we upgraded from the Land Rover and rooftop tent to an EarthCruiser, which allows us to continue what we love to do in total comfort and badass style. Currently, we are working hard on finding a way to stop working and start overland adventuring again.

We are a family of 4: Caroline from Belgium, Stephen from New Zealand, Sterlin our 20-year-old, slightly unreliable but much-loved Land Rover from England, and Molly, our new dream overland adventure vehicle being an EarthCruiser FX from Bend, Oregon. Recently we moved from San Francisco, California, to Seattle, Washington.

EC: What led you to EarthCruiser?

We first learned about EarthCruiser when a friend sent us a link to a Youtube video in 2013, while on The Big One. We could definitely see the added value of some extra comfort while exploring. Then one day in 2016, by pure chance we saw our first EC in the wild, well in a parking lot, and we drooled over what we could see.

A year later we drove up to Oregon to view the total solar eclipse from a ridge about an hour outside of Bend, and lo-and-behold we happened upon two EarthCruisers camped for the night. We introduced ourselves to the owners, which turned out to be Lance and Michelle, the owners of EarthCruiser USA. A month later we arranged a factory tour and ended up putting down a deposit.

EC: How do you use your EarthCruiser?

For the time being, until we sort this ‘stopping working thing out’, we use Molly as a weekender and the occasional multi-week trip. We are typically out every other weekend; it is our way to escape inner-city living and see wonderful places in the greater area. Our recent move to the Pacific North-West gave us a whole new area to explore. We love the mountains and trail walking, and Molly, not Sterlin, is what we use to access the trailheads. It has more comforts, like a Nespresso coffee maker. And a toilet.

EC: Why do you think it’s the best option out there?

The EarthCruiser is built from the ground up for (inter)national overlanding travel. While we’re doing our weekend trips, we learn what extras we’d like. We customized Molly with more water capacity, more solar generation, larger capacity batteries, extra storage, and satellite-based emergency communication systems to support extended self-reliant travel.

The EarthCruiser is a little bit bigger and more comfortable than your typical van-build, and this extra size is a definitive plus for extended travel. We are not rock crawlers or wheelers, but the 4×4 allows us to go places where other campers cannot without having to have to ask ourselves: ‘should we be doing this?’ Yet the truck is small enough to park at the supermarket or navigate smaller streets and service roads.

We also like the materials used in the build. Like Sterlin, we plan to have Molly for at least 20 years and want to avoid the type of horror stories that you hear about where the camper is full of rotting wood or rusted components.

EC: Tell us about a favorite trip in your EarthCruiser?

 We have had a few great trips deep into the desert of Death Valley and the forests of the West Coast. But the trip that we want to share, is one a few months after we picked up Molly from the factory. 

We drove to Flagstaff, Arizona to go to Overland Expo. It was May 2018 and our first Overland Expo, and we were quite overwhelmed with just how big the overland community was.

We signed up for everything, attended lots of training classes, went to listen to the speakers, and got inspired by their stories, last but not least, we were able to camp with 12 other EarthCruisers and their owners. It was so nice to meet other owners in this setting. We sat around the campfire, drank and shared stories, and started to make new connections. We also learned a lot about our new truck.

EC: What is a favorite feature?

The mud-room entrance with the retractable toilet is great. We kick off our dirty or wet boots and step across the threshold into the luxury of the rest of the house. Having said this our favorite feature is the control panel. When people enter Molly for the first time, usually the first thing they notice and comment on is the control panel. It becomes the immediate center of attention, which is fun. Much of the control panel is old-school, meaning it is simple, reliable and field repairable. It is also easy to use, with just a glance at the panel we can determine the state of the entire house and with the flick of a switch, push off a button or turn of a knob we can control everything. We have really grown to love this control panel and now would not swap it out for a fancy computer-based touch screen style of controller.

EC: We love your website highlighting your modifications, what made you start that?

We started our blog in 2004 when we traveled around North America for 6 months. Back then Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram were not a thing, but blogging was. We created the website for our friends and family, so they could follow along on our trip. We also used it to document our 18 month trip around the world in 2013/14. When we acquired Molly in 2018, we started a dedicated section for her, mainly to document changes and enhancements we have done in preparing her for longer trips and to personalize to our taste. We enjoy documenting and sharing the details, maybe too many details, but a blog is a good way to share details vs social media.

We are passionate about overlanding. We read overland books, journals and participate in forums; we watch way too many YouTube videos and follow many overland travelers. For us Overlanding is more than driving from one place to another, it is also a craft we want to learn and be good at. The website provides a way for us to share this broader view of what is involved in overlanding for us.

EC: Do you have a favorite type of terrain or geographic area you like to take your EarthCruiser?

The chance to see new places and experience different cultures is what we will use our EarthCruiser for over the next 20 or so years. We are not planners, but we are dreamers. We have a single sheet of paper listing all the places we want to go to. This obviously includes driving the Pan American highway all the way to Ushuaia Argentina and back. And we continue to prepare for this trip. But the list also includes other cool places like Iceland, where we hope to spend 2 to 3 months traveling around, and doing this in Molly seems like a pretty darn good way to experience that land and people. 

EC: What are common mistakes with people jumping into overlanding?

This question immediately made us think about one very specific mistake an Overlanding couple we met, made. We were in Laos heading to China when we saw this expedition truck parked on the road. We left a note on the windshield suggesting we meet up for dinner and exchange travel stories. Later that night we met the retired couple, and during the meal the conversation inevitably turned to the design and build of their custom expedition truck. The man was an engineer and very proud of his achievement. Although it was a beautiful and very expensive truck, the man had decided that there was not enough room inside the living space of the house to include an indoor toilet, and, instead felt a simple bucket to be used outside would be sufficient. Clearly, this was a big mistake. There is always enough room for a toilet, he had just decided not to include one. Let’s just say his wife was not very pleased with that decision.

We enjoy vehicle-based travel, both locally and internationally. Yes, we have made our share of mistakes. But that is part of the fun, to discover what works and what does not. The above little story and the type of mistakes we have made, are quite common and can be categorized into a more general class of mistakes, where people don’t adjust to the realities they’re faced with. They have an idea or vision of how they will be Overlanding and what they think will be important, and organize accordingly, only to find out later when they are actually overlanding, that reality is different from what they initially thought. For example, it is hard to find toilets or a private place to use a bucket in South-East Asia. So, adjust and install a toilet.

Anyone new to Overlanding should probably go on a few trips, experimenting to find out what your own preferred style of travel is, what is important to you and what you enjoy most. This is probably the best way to avoid this common mistake of having a perception of overlanding vs the reality.

 EC:What advice do you have for people who are new to it?

We started Overlanding in 1991 and managed to cross a good part of Africa over those 6 months and had an amazing time while creating lasting memories of that adventure. This was where we first developed our skills on how to avoid paying bribes. We made mistakes along the way, but the bigger mistake would have been never to set off in the first place. As mentioned earlier, we are not planners, sure we like to have big dreams and an overall picture of where we are going and what time of year makes sense, but we very much like to keep the itinerary flexible and typically only plan a few days out. We don’t book too much in advance, as plans always change.

Based purely on the way we like to travel, we would advise anyone new to overlanding to just get out there and start doing it and don’t worry too much about the details. If you are like us, you will find you need less stuff than you have in your vehicle; the meals prepared in a Dutch oven over a campfire taste better than the same meal cooked at home, even if they taste exactly the same, and things will go wrong and break, but everything can be fixed regardless of where you are in the world.

When you are going to cross international borders, however, research and planning is very useful. Always make sure you have the latest information on what documents you need, to get yourself and your vehicle across the border. 

EC: We love learning the meaning behind the names EarthCruiser owners give their vehicles. Your truck’s license plate says MOLLY42. What’s the story there?

Every EarthCruiser coming out of Bend, Oregon, is assigned a sequential build number. When Michelle told us that we were build number 42, we got extremely excited, and it was clear that Michelle had no idea why we were excited and probably was not even sure if we were pleased or disappointed.

The number 42 is a very special number, as fans of the sci-fi book Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams will know. It is, in fact, the Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, The Universe, and Everything. Meaning Of Life stuff really.

We assured Michelle that we were very pleased to be building number 42. It was a no-brainer to name our EC FX Molly42; M(eaning)O(f)L(ife)42.

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