RUX Rides: Danny's Central American Overland Adventure
by Joseph Schwartz on Jan 19, 2023
This is an epic instalment of RUX Rides, coming to you from North Vancouver based Danny Jacobsen (@jacobsend) and his buddy Cole Nichol (@cole.nichol) as they currently navigate the wilds of Central America in their modded Toyota trucks (79 Series Cruiser and a 2nd Gen Tacoma). Such a rad adventure!
Who are you? What do you do? Where do you live? What makes you happiest? Explain the trip you're heading on!
The name is danny! I’m sort of between careers at the moment, trying to utilize the transition period to do things (like driving and camping through central america) that can be challenging to dedicate time to when in the thick of the grind. Before the trip I was working as “graduate engineer + concept lab - fabrication lead” for a Vancouver-based structural engineering firm, splitting time between structural design, woodworking, and lab development projects in their new office’s lab facility dubbed ‘concept lab.’ Before that, I worked for myself under the name ‘Jacobsen Wood Design,’ which is a company that designs and builds high-end furniture, millwork and interiors; this is what I will be returning to once I get home in the spring.
Many things make me happy, including: riding my bike, good design (buildings, objects, vehicles, tools, lots of things), going hard physically, the feeling of pushing past fears or limitations in any interest or job that I develop or undertake, designing and building things to the best of my ability, four wheel driving, our natural world and the animals and environments that inhabit it, taking photos, and the cliche answer of ‘being around people you care about and helping others’ because it’s true, despite being mostly introverted.
The trip that Cole and I are on is a four-to-five-month-long vehicle-based camping trip where we drive our own trucks through the US, Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, Al Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama, with a focus on four wheel driving and dirt tracks to access remote places that would otherwise be unreachable. Many have done similar trips before us and hopefully more people will do similar trips as a result of seeing ours, because it’s been incredible so far and is something I would recommend to nearly everyone.
Describe your vehicle: make, model, etc.
The vehicle I’m driving is a restored, almost entirely rebuilt, 2007 toyota HZJ79, or 79 series landcruiser. it is a single cab, part-time 4wd pickup with an inline-six, non-turbo diesel engine (1hz) and a solid front axle (which is an annoyingly 95mm wider than the rear axle on vehicles made in 2007 and later) sold in Australia, Africa, the Middle East, parts of Central and South America, and a lot of places outside North America. New 70 series trucks do enter Canada and the US, but under special contracts specifying their use for mostly underground mining or other industrial applications.
Describe your favourite feature of your truck.
The canopy; it’s what allows to truck to be used as a camper and what I would consider necessary for long trips. increased storage, security, things don’t get wet, you can mount things to it, etc.
Best location/adventure you've ever had with your truck?
Writing this response about 1/3 into the Central America trip, but so far I would have to say Belize! We cross into Guatemala from here tomorrow.
Most epic stuck/breakdown/wrong turn?
About a year ago, driving a rental troop carrier (the van version of my truck) in Costa Rica, a GPS map took us pretty far down the wrong path and it might have been the steepest track I’ve had to reverse up; the rollover risk was too high to turn around. I’m sure this answer will change into something more interesting over the next few weeks.
Any advice to someone thinking of getting into a custom adventure vehicle?
While not necessarily needed to access amazing spots in nature, they can certainly provide easier and sometimes exclusive access into a lot of cool areas. The vans are cool and comfortable if you’re ok sticking to mostly paved roads, I used to live in one and have built a few for clients, but something with high clearance and 4wd is likely a better option for most people interested in getting off the beaten path. There are a lot of really good vehicles in great condition you can import from Japan, the Middle East, occasionally Australia (Australia’s current used 4wd market is hectic, so it might not apply) for less money than what you’d typically see for sale in North America; some of these vehicles, like Toyota Landcruisers, Nissan Patrols, etc., are designed more around durability and repairability than North America market vehicles, often meaning fewer electronics, stronger engineering of critical parts, and reduced comfortability as an economic compromise. it’s not to say vehicles like these aren’t without flaws, they definitely have them, but it’s why these vehicles are sold in third world countries and places with harsh environments and rugged roads as part of their normal infrastructure, and a reason why they are popular among the military, NGO’s, heavy industry like mining, 4wd enthusiasts, and those that travel the world by vehicle. That’s also not to say all North America market vehicles or all electronics are bad, there are some amazing options here, i’m just fond of simple things that are hard to break; maybe a more utilitarian approach.