The test drive of a lifetime!
Perhaps the biggest test for the R2.8 Cummins Turbo Diesels came perched precariously on the side of Pico de Orizaba.
Drivers Nathan Stuart and Steven Ploog took a wrong turn in their Land Cruisers, re-powered with Cummins crate engines, about 13,000 feet up Mexico’s tallest mountain, the third highest peak in North America, and they were quickly running out of options.
It seemed like such a good idea, climbing to a base camp at 14,000 feet as part of their Clean Cruiser Project from California through Central America and back to demonstrate overlanding, a form of adventuring in four-wheel drive vehicles, could be done in an environmentally sensitive way.
The friends had managed to get past some of the deepest ruts they had ever seen on the way up, but now they were on an out cropping of slippery, shale-like rock with no easy way to turn around without flipping over. Adding to the challenge: each vehicle had a trailer attached with supplies for planting trees to help offset the environmental impact of their trip.
RETREAT TO THE TOP
Slowly and painstakingly, Stuart and Ploog backed up, inch by inch, counting on their engines to provide the torque they needed despite the altitude and rocky trail. Eventually, they reached a place where they could slowly turn and head up the narrow trail they’d found earlier using a drone they had packed for the trip. Upon reaching the base camp, they shared a bottle of wine with those waiting to summit the mountain.
“I can’t emphasize enough how hard we worked those engines,” Stuart said, recalling not just the wrong turn, or the climb up Pico de Orizaba, but the entire 9,000-mile journey from California to Nicaragua and back.
Once they warmed up after a cold night half-way up Pico de Orizaba, the crate engines performed flawlessly on the climb despite the colder, thinner air. Four hours after Ploog and Stuart wore down jackets toasting with others at the base camp at 14,000 feet, they were driving in tropical conditions at sea level. The R2.8 Cummins Turbo Diesel never missed a beat.
Over the course of the trip, tires blew, bearings in the trailer wheels failed, and, in one particularly scary instance, one of the trailers flipped over several times on the road in Nicaragua (thankfully, no one was hurt). But the Cummins crate engines just kept going, through deep ruts, over sand, across streams and in all kinds of weather.
It should be noted the engines were running on bio-diesel, the same B20 mix available at many U.S. service stations. The fuel blend was another step Ploog and Stuart took to reduce their carbon impact.
The trailer flip would prove a salient moment for Stuart, who manages a herd of more than 200 sheep at a California winery, and Ploog an Army veteran, accomplished backpacker and full-time student who took a break to work on the project.
They had planned to drive through Costa Rica and all the way to Panama. But with their 600 trees planted, and after the various challenges along the way (repairs took much longer in remote areas than they anticipated), as well as some particularly difficult border crossings – one, Stuart said, was like the worst trip to the Bureau of Motor Vehicles you can imagine – they decided to turn back.
Neither man is a professional mechanic and they were grateful the R2.8 Turbo Diesels worked so well. Cummins helped sponsor their trip in part to show that hobbyists could install the new engines and benefit from their clean, dependable power.
The trip home would prove to be the final challenge. Stuart and Ploog were eager to get back after so long on the road. They drove their Land Cruisers at eight and 10 hour stretches, at 65 mph most of the way.
From Mexico City to Texas, across New Mexico and Arizona, and finally back to California, the stretches of desert never seemed to end, always up a gentle incline. Temperatures reached 100 degrees, but the engines never faltered.
“We just wanted to get back to our wives and families,” Stuart said.
After six weeks on the road starting in mid-May, Ploog and Stuart arrived home. Over time, their memories will focus on the incredible things they saw and the amazing people they met. They truly demonstrated off-road adventuring can be done in a low carbon way.
But now, it’s still difficult to get past all the hard work that went into the trip.
“With all that we faced, it was nice we never had to worry about the engines,” Stuart said.