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Preparation in Colorado


Africa '04 Homepage

The idea for a trans-Africa trip was formed over many years. Graham's parents, who had moved to Lesotho from England, had originally intended on returning to Europe overland. That never happened because the family moved to the USA, but the idea probably came from there. Graham and Witt shared adventures in Europe backpacking, as did Graham and Connie. In the early 1990s, Graham applied for the Camel Trophy but, due to varying team rules, was not eligible for either the US or the UK teams. For a period in the middle 1990s, Witt and Graham shared an apartment and the solid plan for the trans-Africa was developed there. We talked about it continuously, and then one day decided that if we didn't set a date it would never happen. So we set a date and a timeframe of 6 months on-continent.

Graham and Connie got married in 1998, and Connie was very unsure about the trans-Africa plan. Graham came up with the Africa honeymoon idea, and so for 4 weeks he and Connie traveled through Southern Africa exploring the ins and outs of African travel. We rented a Land Rover and went up through Botswana to the Okavango and then back down through Zimbabwe. After the honeymoon, Connie was convinced that the trans-Africa was a viable vacation.

Jen and Witt married in 2001 and Jen was immediately on-board with the trans-Africa idea.

From the formulation of the plan and the team, all that remained was the long list of details. Getting the cars, outfitting them, saving enough money to be out of work for 6-months, getting visas and insurance and doing all the research necessary to formulate a route. We kept things very fluid and didn't meet our original departure date (or our timeframe). Our route was kept intentionally fluid as conditions in Africa can change radically overnight. The tentative route was to enter Africa through Tunisia, go south through Algeria and Niger (or Mali) to Chad and then go east to Sudan and turn south through Ethiopia and east Africa. Due to the escalation of the Darfur conflict and the kidnapping of tourists in Algeria, we modified the route to enter Africa through Morocco and then go from there.

Below is a brief date-by-date timeline of preparations. From there follow the trip! Most of the journal entries were done by Witt, except for the regions where the group split. Pictures are from Graham, Witt, Krissy, Elza and Brian.

Date: September 20, 2002
Location: Louisville Colorado

Land Rover World has agreed to cover the build story of our vehicles in their magazine. So watch LRW early next year for our story!

Date: September 29, 2002
Location: Louisville Colorado

Land Rover Flatirons in Superior, Colorado reiterated their support for our trip by placing a link to our site on theirs. See them on our sponsor page. They have agreed to give us tire rack mounts for both trucks.

Date: October 22, 2002
Location: Louisville Colorado

GPSy has agreed to sponsor us by giving us a free copy of GPSy for the Macintosh. This is a fantastic GPS software package that allows maps to be uploaded to and downloaded from GPS units along with waypoints and tracks. GPSy also allows the importation and calibration of custom maps. A really great piece of software.

Date: November 16 - 17, 2002
Location: London, UK

Witt, Jen and Graham attended the Royal Geographic Society Explore 2002 conference in London. This conference is a treasure trove of contacts and information for those planning expeditions in remote locations. It is geared mainly toward scientists doing field research, but is open to anyone with an interest. We attended talks on overland planning and logistics, desert, savannah and tropical forest expeditions, earth sciences in expeditions, GPS/GIS mapping and recording expeditions in words and images. We came away with the Royal Geographic Society book on Expedition Medicine as well as contact with other groups planning on heading from London to Cape Town around the same time we are. I'm sure we'll see them on the road and swap ideas before we leave. The conference is a great source of information, inspiration and contacts.

Date: July 5, 2003
Location: Southern California

Connie and Graham picked up their Land Rover and took it to Safari Gard in Southern California for outfitting.

Date: July 29, 2003
Location: Louisville Colorado

Graham, Connie, Witt and Connie's parents picked up the parts for Witt and Jen's truck. Graham's garage became a construction zone throughout the month of August as we put the truck together from the frame up. By the end of August the truck was running and in great shape!

Date: September 4, 2003
Location: Louisville Colorado

Connie and Graham flew to California and drove their truck back from Safari Gard along with a bunch of parts and their roof-top-tent.

Date: September 5, 2003
Location: Aurora Colorado

Witt drove his truck to the Colorado emissions technical center to find out how to get an emissions test for his truck, since there is no facility in Colorado that can test a full time four wheel drive diesel vehicle. The man running the testing facility came outside, looked at the tailpipe while the engine was running and said, "Looks okay to me." Emissions test done.

Date: September 6 - 7, 2003
Location: Louisville Colorado

Witt and Jen installed a mounting system for two batteries underneath the driver's seat of their vehicle. When wired, the dual battery system will cause the starting battery to be disconnected from the "house load" (refrigerator, lights, laptop computer, etc) when the engine is not running. This will allow us to use our electrical accessories without fear of draining the main battery. More on this project as it progresses.

Date: September 10 - 14, 2003
Location: Louisville Colorado

We took both trucks to the National Land Rover Rally in Moab Utah. Both trucks performed flawlessly and we are all very happy with the progress so far. While in Moab we ran into Esther and Petr from Switzerland. They have been traveling all over North America for over a year in a TD5 Defender 110. They we wonderful people to talk to and gave us a lot of ideas and encouragement. Visit them at estherundpetr.ch

Date: September 20 - 21, 2003
Location: Louisville Colorado

During the week, Graham wired the Superwinch X9 that had been installed by Safarigard.

On Saturday we installed a long range fuel tank in Witt and Jen's truck. The tank fits between the fuel filler and the main fuel tank and sits just inside the right rear quarter-panel of the vehicle. Installation took Witt and Graham the entire day and left them both smelling of diesel fuel. The tank holds about 10 gallons, which brings the total capacity up to about 33 gallons. The truck has been getting 22-23 mpg, which gives us a total range of 600+ miles. With a couple of 5 gallon Jerry cans, we should reach our goal of an 800 mile range.

Graham and Connie's truck, which is newer (and has a plastic fuel tank!), is not compatible with the same long range tank. We'll have to come up with an alternate solution.

On Sunday, Witt and Jen replaced the center console in Graham and Connie's truck with a lockable Tuffy box from Pangaea expeditions. Meanwhile Graham and Connie installed a water tank that fits just inside the left quarter panel, opposite the long range fuel tank installed on Saturday. The tank has a capacity of about 7 gallons and a convenient spigot mounted on the rear bumper. Nick arrived to help install the winch on Jen and Witt's truck and mount the controlling solenoid under the left wing. While attempting to build a similar dual battery mounting system for Graham and Connie's truck, Witt stumbled across a much simpler way to mount the batteries, saving a valuable half-day's work. If only he'd thought of it sooner . . .

Date: September 27 - 28, 2003
Location: Louisville Colorado

We installed Safari Gard rock sliders on Jen and Witt's vehicle along with a water tank for drinking water. We finished the task of hooking up the winch and Jen completed the re-carpeting of the interior and applied sponsor logos to the outside. Meanwhile Graham and Connie's truck got new springs and shocks up front, which gives it a much higher stance.

Date: October, 2003
Location: Louisville Colorado

The dual battery system in both trucks is hooked up and working properly. A new stereo was installed in both vehicles as well and the speakers were upgraded. The stereo will play MP3s recorded onto CDs, which should give us more listening time while taking fewer CDs. We installed Hella 4000 driving lights and Jen and Witt's truck finally looks complete with a grill up front. Ed and Annette replaced the shocks on Jen and Witt's truck and Graham, who is becoming more and more skilled with the welder, repaired a broken spring mount. Witt is getting a little less nervous when he sees Graham don the welder's mask and start to weld on his truck.

Witt did some welding of his own when he shorted out a power connection while trying to hook up the Hella lights. "Hmm. This wire's hot. That doesn't seem like a good thing." He found and fixed the problem, but discovered later that evening that he had welded the parking brake cable to the inside of it's housing. Since the parking brake was engaged at the time, there was no way to move the truck. As if there wasn't enough to do without causing extra problems. A little work with the sawsall released the parking brake. Total cost of that little adventure:

Parking ticket because you have to leave the car in the alley over night: $10
New parking brake cable to replace the one you chopped with the sawsall: $90
Learning that "I'll install a fuse as soon as I get everything hooked up and working" is a bad idea: priceless.

We've hired Spidertrax, a small shop in Hygene, Colorado to build external roll cages for our vehicles. The purpose of the cages is to provide extra protection in the event of an accident, and to provide a stronger mounting point for our roof rack. Spidertrax is working on the cages during the week; we get the car back on the weekend. We are now working primarily on interior fittings and what has affectionately become known as "Stupid little electrical stuff." I just hope that I can remember where all those wires go.

Date: November, 2003
Location: Louisville Colorado

With a shipping date of December 1st, the vehicles are close to being done, whether they're finished or not. Spidertrax has completed the external roll cage, and included a few additional features at no extra cost. Justin Hardine custom built our roof racks, finishing the job welding the mounting brackets on in the middle of a snowstorm. Our thanks to Justin for his quick and high quality work.

Alpine Rodman set up a painting booth in Graham's garage to paint the roof racks (unfortunately there was not enough time to have them powder coated.) Once the racks were installed on the cars, we mounted the rooftop tents, and installed the Hella FF lights on the roof rack. We mounted an ex-military cargo box on the roof rack along with our high-lift jacks and shovels.

Both trucks now have on-board air compressors installed. This will help us with tire repairs, as well as enabling us to air up the tires after reducing pressure to traverse a sandy section.

Brian Slobe dragged us out of bed early one morning to take photos of us and our vehicles.

On Monday, December 1, a 40' shipping container was dropped off at Graham's house. We hired a flatbed tow truck and loaded the vehicles on the tow truck one at a time. The tow truck then backed up to the container and we drove it in. Alpine and Graham secured four 10,000 pound ratchet straps to each vehicle to prepare them for their trip across the Atlantic.

The vehicles should arrive in England on December 29. We will then have about a week's worth of work fitting parts we couldn't find in the US prior to our departure for Africa.