Desiring to get further off the grid and spend more time playing outside, Mike and Lauren bought a 1981 Toyota Land Cruiser and transformed it into the ultimate overland rig. After spending all of quarantine gutting and rebuilding their Land Cruiser, Mike and Lauren were ready to hit the road. With a newly installed Battle Born Batteries electrical system, they’re ready for their next adventure.
Meet Mike and Lauren
New York City native, Mike Choi, headed west following the completion of his Mechanical Engineering degree. While a job as an Engineering Project Manager drew him to San Diego, Mike couldn’t wait to explore the vast and diverse beauty of the west coast. Despite growing up in the midst of the concrete jungle, he spent much of his childhood camping. He fell in love with being immersed in nature and spending time outdoors.
While in San Diego, Mike took up snowboarding and rock climbing. Any time he wasn’t at work, he spent outdoors enjoying the beauty of the world around him. Searching for someone to enjoy this beauty with, Mike went on a dating app and met Lauren Berra. In a typical 21st-century love story, they bonded over a love for the outdoors and passion for environmental conservation, fell in love, and the rest is history.
Lauren is also a California transplant who loves being outdoors, especially while snowboarding and rock climbing. She left her hometown in Michigan to pursue her degree in San Diego. Lauren fell in love with the West Coast and Mike, and they decided to make San Diego their home. Working remotely as a Project Manager allows Lauren to have the flexibility to spend more time immersed in nature with Mike and Cooper, their favorite adventure buddy and Shiba Inu pup.
The love for the great outdoors that brought Mike and Lauren together only continued to grow as their relationship blossomed. Every chance they got, they visited national parks, went rock climbing and snowboarding, and spent weekends camping. Many of these trips were spent car camping, which left them feeling tied to campgrounds and facilities and wanting a more authentic experience.
Building an Overland Rig from the Ground Up
Wanting to take full advantage of public lands and get further off the beaten path, they began looking for the perfect adventure vehicle. Countless hours of research later, Mike determined the best way to find the perfect, unique overland vehicle was to build their own.
With his engineering background, Mike’s head was spinning with the endless possibilities ahead of him, and he began searching for the perfect base. After coming across an “old-school” Toyota Land Cruiser, Mike fell in love with it. When a model from 1981 popped up on the market in early 2020, he and Lauren knew they couldn’t pass it up.
Their timing couldn’t have been more perfect as they purchased the Land Cruiser and had it shipped to their home in San Diego just as the pandemic hit. Not wanting to spend a ton of money on the remodel and having extra time during quarantine, Mike and Lauren decided to tackle the project on their own. “What started off as a COVID-19 quarantine project transformed into something more than we could have ever imagined.”
The Land Cruiser was a former emergency response vehicle in Australia. It has a smaller footprint but incredible offroad capabilities that allow them to get further off-grid. Although they sacrificed some living space, Mike and Lauren were able to pack all of the features they wanted into it. The side walls of the main living space were made out of four-panel doors creating an open concept that utilizes outdoor space. By creating an outdoor kitchen and shower, Mike and Lauren were able to add a full-size bed, 75L fridge, 21-gallon freshwater tank, composting toilet, propane cooktop, sink, shower, and full electrical set up into their rig.
Creating the Perfect Rig to Go Play Outside
As weekend warriors, their rig is the perfect size for their adventures, allowing them to truly embrace being out in nature. “We really love how unique our build is, and it turns a lot of heads when we travel. We wanted to feel like we were in a wood cabin and love the midcentury modern design.”
While they couldn’t imagine having another rig, their Land Cruiser does present some unique challenges. Since it was originally built in the eighties, Mike and Lauren had to put in a lot of initial maintenance. Additionally, they don’t have AC and have to go slow while traveling uphill, making longer trips, especially in the summer, much more difficult. Although these challenges require extra planning and preparedness, they are working to find long-term fixes as they continue to get to know the innerworkings of their Land Cruiser.
Through their experiences, Mike and Lauren learned that extensive planning is the key to success when tackling a unique overland build. It’s essential to begin by determining exactly what is needed for the off-grid lifestyle you’re looking to live. Then, start making lists of steps and supplies needed to accomplish it. Saving pictures of other builds for inspiration helped Mike and Lauren get ideas to adjust to fit their specific needs and desires.
After the planning phase, the next challenge was simply getting started. “It’s easy to stay in the planning phase, but at some point, you really just need to start and get things moving. There are many unexpected things that pop up, and you need to be adaptable to come up with solutions.”
Powering Overland Adventures with Battle Born Batteries
One of the initial considerations in their build was the electrical system. With plans to take their overland vehicle as far off grid as possible, Mike and Laurent knew they needed a robust electrical system. One that would be able to keep up with them no matter where they went. After doing some research and getting opinions from fellow nomads, they equipped their system with 200Ah of Battle Born Batteries, 360W of solar, and various accessories.
“Everyone we’ve talked to raved about the batteries and the customer service, so it made sense to go with Battle Born Batteries.” After struggling with their old AGM batteries, they were ready to upgrade to a reliable source of power. Hoping to significantly decrease their weight and reduce the strain on their old engine, they switched to Battle Born Batteries. “Now we’re able to fully utilize our power without worrying and keep our vehicle weight down. Having clean electricity when we’re outdoors is such a comfort we often take for granted.”
With the assistance of Tony from Adventure Power Solutions, their new electrical system was installed in no time. He answered all of their questions and ensured they had proper wire gauges and lengths. Then he easily swapped out the existing batteries for 2 – 12V 100Ah Battle Born Batteries. Mike and Lauren helped complete their system and wired in all their lights, switches, and ports. This ensured they both knew the ins and outs of their electrical system. Following the completion of their electrical system, they were ready to head off grid and start adventuring.
Overcoming the Adversity of Overlanding
Mike and Lauren set out on their first, real overlanding trip filled with excitement and anticipation. They were making their way to the Grand Staircase Escalante Monument. Covering 1.87 million acres of public lands in Utah, it’s comprised of a series of plateaus that covers the distance from Bryce Canyon south towards the Grand Canyon. After several weekends of prepping, they made the trek to Utah and started down the “infamous washboard road.”
A few days into their trip, they came across a stranded family. After locating a bolt that had come loose from their vehicle, Mike and Lauren helped them find a temporary solution. Sending the family on their way, Mike and Lauren continued down the road. Midway through the trip, they noticed their rig making a strange noise. They pulled over to find a slow coolant leak, two fan blades missing, and a punctured radiator. At this point, the nearest town was 17 miles away. Slowly, they made their way back to town and were able to resolve the issue at a local shop.
In spite of the many challenges they faced, this trip remains one of Mike and Lauren’s fondest memories. “This is our favorite memory of overlanding in our rig because it was so eventful and was a great example of how the community can come together to help each other. You can prepare for months, but something can happen where you need to quickly adapt and solve the problem. Overlanding, especially in an older vehicle, will make you face challenges prepared or not.” For Mike and Lauren, being able to overcome adversity is an invaluable skill for the overland lifestyle.
Experiencing the Joy of Playing Outside
Although adversity comes with the territory of overlanding, there are endless amounts of joy available to those who endure the challenges. Exploring the incredible landscapes across the Southwest US has been one of Mike and Lauren’s favorite parts about overlanding. From Yosemite to Zion and Grand Staircase Escalante and everywhere in between, they have been awestruck by granite giants, tall sandstone formations, and desolate wilderness. Everywhere they travel, Mike and Lauren fall more and more in love with the diversity and wonder being out in nature offers them.
Being able to access more remote places and do more outdoor activities is what drew Mike and Lauren to overlanding. “We are very passionate about climbing, snowboarding, and hiking, so naturally, when we travel, we love to visit crags, mountains, and national parks. We really enjoy pushing ourselves mentally and physically while connecting with nature and taking the scenery in.”
While the beautiful scenery and fun activities are highlights of any adventure, the company is the most important part. Even though Mike and Lauren love adventuring together, their overlanding trips would not be the same without their pup Cooper. They even designed the rig to ensure he had a place to sleep and sit while they drove. Cooper loves being outdoors, hiking, making friends with other dogs, and enjoying camp food. He’s the perfect overland adventure buddy for Mike and Lauren.
What’s Up Next for Go Play Outside?
As Mike and Lauren look forward to the rest of this year, they want to spend even more time outdoors. Mike and Lauren are hoping to hit Big Sur, Anza Borrego Desert State Park, and head back to the Grand Staircase Escalante. In between bigger trips, they’re planning on going on as many climbing trips as possible.
They also have quite a few build projects they want to tackle. Even after 3 years with the Land Cruiser, they still continue to find things that they can improve. “We have to complete our outdoor shower and sink setup and improve the ergonomics of our kitchen and living space. After every trip, we add more ideas to the list to make it feel more comfortable. Everyone says that it’s a never-ending laundry list, and it’s very true!”
In addition to working on their current Land Cruiser, Mike and Lauren recently bought a second one to build out. They’re excited about this new, blank canvas and can’t wait to have another adventure vehicle.
As Mike and Lauren take on the next year, they can’t wait to spend more time outdoors doing what they’re most passionate about. “We believe in built not bought, leaving it better than we found it, and protecting our winters.” To follow along with their latest build and upcoming adventures, be sure to follow Go Play Outside on Instagram, Facebook, and their website.