Ross Ruddell is about to embark on an epic journey down the pan-American highway, surfing his way from California to Tierra del Fuego, over the course of three years. This is his story. You can keep up to date with Ross’s adventures right here, and at Project Bliss.
“I should lay everything out one more time.”
I say this to myself at least once a day. I like to lay everything out in front of me, take inventory, and re-assess every single possible scenario of life on the road for the next 4 years. Where am I going to sleep? What if it rains? Where will my electricity come from? I have had to run-through all sorts of crazy situations in my head and appease my own fears that everything might not be ok.
I started all of this with a car. A 2001 Subaru Forester to be exact. I purchased the car in Rhode Island in 2013 from an old guy who just plain didn’t need it anymore. Being from the Northeast it had some rust, but it was mechanically sound. I dumped about a grand into it and it became my daily driver. When this trip started to become a reality I knew I wanted to overland. I wanted to have my car with me and the freedom that a vehicle provides. I could’ve bought a new van, and stripped it down and built it back up, but I already had my dream car — I had my wagon. It was all-wheel drive, it had a manual transmission and a small 4-cylinder engine. The platform that this whole trip is built on is based off my car.
When I drove across the country this spring I had it packed full of camping, surfing, climbing and photography gear, and in that respect — I was kinda set. I had been stockpiling my Christmas REI gift cards and getting everything I thought I would need to live out of a car. However, the car itself hadn’t gotten much treatment.
Luckily for me, my friends from home love to tinker. They love to fabricate, they love to build and they love to make things badass. My Subaru was their new project. The first decision I had to make was whether I wanted to make platform to hold all my stuff inside the car or if I wanted to completely fabricate a trailer to hold all the gear. After a few beers, my group of friends and I decided a trailer was the way to go.
The only thing I bought assembled was the axle. We got steel from the local brewery (they used channel iron pallets to move the large kegs) to cut out the frame. Our local welding supply store received some of my savings when I bought the rest of the angle iron, square-tubing, and sheet metal. Through blood, sweat and beers, little by little, my friends and I built a rolling metal box. We mounted the axel, put on the leaf springs, and framed up the walls. My friend Kyler, who works as a steel fabricator by trade, would come over after work and hop right into getting stuff done on my trailer (Thank. When I left to go to Colorado for a month, my friends kept working. My own fabrication skills are pretty lacking and I hadn’t touched a welding torch since I was in high school. But when I was around they let me cut, weld, torch, bolt and fit things up. Slowly, it got finished.
Having this adventure trailer behind my car is a huge relief. It gives me a fortified steel layer of security. I can lock all my worldly possessions and gear inside and safely surf without having the fear of being robbed.
Next up in trip prep was my car. A solid platform, but it needed some work. Some run-flat tires were added. New spark-plugs, wires, radiator, fuel lines, brakes, hoses, starter, alternator and battery were swapped out with the old parts being stored for spares. We built tube bumpers for the front, adding a layer of Mad Max while beefing up the off-road capability. We put a winch on the front, added a LED light-bar, as well as LED fog lights. We welded up a custom rear bumper with a hitch receiver for the trailer. I put on a 2.5” lift, added a second battery hooked up to solar panels (on the roof), and used probably 6 cans of black spray paint. My best friend Josh helped me put a new exhaust on, coupled with a high-flow, cold-air intake. The resident mechanic Spanni (his real name is Eric but he moved here from Spain in high school and the nickname stuck), went through the whole car with me, checking wheel bearings and CV joints and gave me his vote of confidence.
So, the vehicle is all but set and my next step is to see if everything fits. 4 years of gear. 4 years of clothes. 4 years of pots and pans and cups and spoons. Wetsuits for warm water all the way to the coldest on the Planet (you’ll see). Surfboards and fins. Climbing rope, shoes, my harness and chalk. Camera gear, tripods, lights and lenses. My fly-rod, waders, flies and net. Rain gear and rain flys. My cot, my hammock, my sleeping bag and my favorite fleece blanket. So I’m gonna do what I do best and lay everything out. I’m not sure if it’s all gonna fit, but if I have learned anything over the last few years of being on the road — I can pack a bag pretty well. A Subaru and an adventure trailer shouldn’t be much different.
Till next time,
Ross Ruddell, 29, Atascadero, Calif.