Who else has the goal to pack up life and head overseas for an off-road adventure? If it’s not already on your #4WDBucketList this cool couple from Vancouver, Canada may just rev you up for a trip of a lifetime! Ioana and DJ, proudly build and modify their vehicles to include specific mechanical and lifestyle add-ons that assist their ambitious way of travelling and they take all opportunities to get outside and push their trucks and skills to new limits. This is one couple we’d love to meet on a remote track and swap war stories with around a blazing fire. Enjoy what they have to share!
Name: Ioana and DJ
Where do you live? Vancouver, BC, Canada
Describe yourself in 5 words. As a team we are; Ambitious, Adventurous, Curious, Driven, and Caffeinated…. Haha.
What is your current off-road vehicle including your set-up/living arrangements?
As my 4Runner build is in progress, our main off-road vehicle at the moment is a one-ton solid axle swapped 2005 Toyota Tacoma. Mona started life as a completely stock, 2wd truck, and DJ (@mona_the_tacoma) has put countless hours over several years, into fabricating and building her from the ground up. As with any project, it’s never truly complete, but she’s currently sitting pretty with a 4wd conversion, ARB Air locked, D60 front axle with Yukon Gear and Axle innards, custom 3-link suspension, Radflo coilovers, and hydro assist, and an ARB air locked, shaved 14bolt rear axle with Yukon Gear and Axle innards, with 63” custom leaf pack suspension.
Besides the nitty-gritty mechanical aspects, Mona’s got fiberglass fenders and box sides, a custom exhaust, 40” Maxxis Trepadors mounted on beadlocks, custom-fabricated front tube bumper with Hella spotlights, custom “quicksand-style” paint job, and a custom bedrack with a color-matching rooftop tent (RTT).
Our camping setup is still a work in progress, but besides the RTT (which boasts a nice memory foam mattress, down duvet/pillows, and Egyptian cotton sheets), we’ve just recently acquired an awesome Camp Chef stove, and are in the process of snatching up a new truck fridge, as our old one was way too big. During this last trip we’ve come to realize a hot shower system would be ideal as well, so we’re hoping to explore options for implementing that soon. Eventually, we’d like to reconfigure Mona’s bed to include a drawer system, a swing-out rear bumper with a drop-down table, and, if I can convince DJ, a larger tent as it’s pretty tight up there with the dog (I might like to sprawl a bit…haha).
How old were you when you started your 4WD adventures?
I was probably 6 or 7 when my family began exploring off-road and camping. By the time I had my license I was ready to start pin-striping their brand new 4Runner on my own.
Who inspired you into this ‘adventurous’ lifestyle?
My parents, hands down. From teaching me to pursue exploration and appreciate what the natural world has to offer, to helping me harness my interest for the mechanics that ultimately became half the fun of any adventure, without my mom and dad’s support and encouragement I wouldn’t be who I am, doing what I do, today.
What was your first 4WD/touring vehicle?
Although my first “behind the wheel” experiences were in my parents’ old 2006 4runner, I’d have to say the very first vehicle that showed me the world was a turbo Volvo 240. Yup, that’s right, a Volvo. My parents and I were fresh immigrants with a passion for exploring that that darn thing satisfied immensely. It ensured an interest for adventure— and dust-filled lungs for that matter— were rooted deep in my very fiber from a young age.
What’s your all-time favorite 4WD track and why?
All the places we’ve wheeled in have been so vastly different and distinctly beautiful; it makes this really difficult… Although it’s not just one trail, I think I’d have to say nothing blew me away more than Moab, Utah, as a whole. The endless trails with insane features ranging from arches to canyons, to mesas and cliffs, coupled with the totally unique texture and color of the slickrock is completely jaw-dropping. Match the nuttiest terrain you can think of, with an entire town dedicated to off-roading, and you’ve got a wheeler’s paradise; it really has it all.
The most bizarre experience you’ve encountered on your travels?
The very first night of our month-long November 2016 overland trip was spent at hot springs in southern Oregon. We arrived at 10 pm or so, completely dead from driving all day, set up our RTT at the edge of the gravel field at the bottom of the trail, locked up our belongings safely as it wasn’t the greatest, safest area, and went for a much-needed relaxing dip in the springs. We came back down about an hour later to find Mona’s headlights on and the driver’s door wide open. Obviously panic-stricken, we sprinted across the field towards the truck, certain that we’d been robbed. Well, we came up on the truck and everything was still there; wallet, camera, laptop, passports— everything but DJ’s half-eaten sandwich. Upon closer examination, we found paw prints all over the dash, on the center console, ripped up wrappers, etc.
So, okay, fine; we got a squirrel or raccoon inside the truck… I guess it happens, right? Sure, if you leave a window open, or the door open… but no windows were open, and we 100% closed and locked the doors; DJ even pulled his handle after locking to ensure it was secure— after all, everything we owned, including our passports, was in there. And then we thought, even had the door been unlocked, what kind of monster raccoon can climb a rig this size, fully pull open a massive car door, then proceed to twist the headlight switch on the steering column, and leave no scratches nor marks on the paint, on the handle, on the switch; nothing? Needless to say, we slept lightly that night. To this day we have absolutely zero clues what got in, or how.
Fondest memory whilst exploring tracks?
Back to the days when we first met, DJ took me nighttime snow-wheeling with some friends on a local mountain. Got to the trailhead around 8 pm, aired down, dialed the VHF radios in, and set out to have some fun. Having nice big tires and the ability to plow new trails like no one’s business, we absent-mindedly drove ahead of the group and ultimately lost track of how far back they were. The snow got deeper and deeper with every turn until finally the rear end slipped into a ditch. “No problem, let’s just dig her out a bit; won’t be hard.” An hour goes by of us trying everything—stuffing branches under the wheels, removing and using the tailgate to hi-lift off of, digging snow out from under the diffs — nada. At this point, the 42” tires on the driver’s side were fully covered by snow, with the passenger side not making any contact.
“Alright, fine, let’s just call the others and shamefully get tugged out” …grabbed the radio, and quickly realized we were way out of range. Well crap, what now? Having exhausted our options, we figured the best thing we could do was keep warm and wait for someone to find us. So we turned up the music, cracked some brews, grabbed the box of 40 Timbits (mini donut-hole things from Tim Hortons; Canada, eh?) we bought earlier and sat back to watch the stars while Teeka (my dog) slept wrapped up in a blanket on our gear in the backseat. Over 3 hours later our friend Sam (@srobinson_01) finally managed to reach us— turns out the group was about 12 km behind and had to winch most of the way up to us, bit by bit in the deep powder.
Lesson learned: don’t stray too far without your winch, but if you do, make sure you’ve got great company and even better friends. Beer, Timbits, and counting shooting stars have remained “our thing” since then; gushy, I know.
Describe your ideal campsite.
It has to be completely remote at the end of a treacherous, forgotten off-road trail that promises to make your kneecaps sweat with every obstacle. There, you would find a crystal-blue lake above the treeline, atop a near-bald mountain, with views over endless mountain ranges. You would set up camp facing south, only meters away from the edge of the water so you can watch the sunrise from the RTT, but also the sunset, lakeside with a glass of wine. Engulfed in utterly deafening silence, broken only by the crackling of the fire, the shuffle of your feet on the rounded pebble footing, and the cyclical hum of your breath, you would know you’ve found nirvana.
…Just make sure there’s a flat space to park the RTT because there’s nothing worse than rolling into your partner in the middle of the night, except maybe your partner and your dog rolling into you… yeah, I’m talking to you, DJ!
Tracks on your bucket list?
On this continent, with our own vehicle? We’ve crossed a lot off our bucket-list, but we have yet to hit Fordyce and Mojave in California, US. Venturing up to Alaska is also in the works… Off this continent, and likely in a rented vehicle? Exploring Iceland for a couple of weeks in an arctic truck!
Advice to new 4WD enthusiasts?
Firstly, no matter what you drive, what kind of wheeling you do, or where you go, respect the environment. Take out more than what you’ve brought in, stay on the trail, clean up leaks, put out your fires completely, etc. I would hope this would be obvious, but unfortunately, my experiences dictate it needs to be explicitly said.
Secondly, have some (at the very least, minimal) mechanical knowledge. Know how to change/plug your tire, how to use a winch, how to safely tug out, what is likely to break on your vehicle, what symptoms mean what, etc. You can have all the tools, extra parts, and recovery gear in the world, but it’s pretty useless if you don’t know how to operate it, or you always depend on others to get you off the trail.
And lastly, remember that vehicles can be replaced, but people can’t. Have fun, don’t be afraid (and expect) to break parts here and there, but try and practice some self-preservation (yeah, safety).
Name one product you wouldn’t leave home without.
Product? Oh boy…uhh… Gas? Does that count? Haha, I mean, it’s all you really need; the rest is optional. I could name a million convenient bits and parts that I like to think I wouldn’t leave without, but I’d be lying. I’ve left the house with nothing but my dog and had an absolute blast, and made it home just fine.
I guess the one thing I tend to make sure I pack nowadays is my Nikon D750. Not so much out of necessity, but because I love being able to look back on my memories and recreate the setting and contexts for my family and friends to enjoy vicariously.