Living with Khaya: Part One

Changing vehicles was an exciting prospect.

The Jeep, which has served as my full-time residence for well over a year, would get a much-needed rest. In its place, I’d move into OK4WD’s well-built Toyota Tacoma for a few weeks, with the ultimate goal of driving it back to OK’s shop in New Jersey.

The truck is a 2017 model, equipped with an ensemble of ARB accessories, Air Lockers, an Old Man Emu, BP-51 suspension system, and a Khaya Camper from Alu-Cab. The Khaya can best be described as a hybrid camper for truck beds. Deployed, it has a form-factor similar to that of a rooftop tent, but at its base is a camper box that slides neatly into the bed of a pickup truck.

The Khaya is built-to-spec by Alu-Cab in South Africa, and can be as spartan as a bare box, or it can be fully-outfitted with a host of systems and accessories. OK4WD’s camper is thoroughly outfitted with a water tank, dual-zone refrigerator, sink, propane stove, pressurized water, propane hookup, hot water heater, on-board shower, interior seating and storage, and a complete electrical system with a roof-mounted solar panel.

 

Making the Transition

I met with Jeremy from Alu-Cab in Denver, Colorado, where he would relinquish the truck to me following a thorough orientation. First and foremost, he showed me how to access the box, its various storage compartments, and then how to deploy and stow the tent platform. Then he showed me how to use its systems, such as the on-board stove, water, and any electrical components.

I was grateful that he took the time to give me a tour, as I was fully prepared to have to figure everything out on my own!

After transferring only the bare necessities from my Jeep to the Tacoma, I bid my beloved orange Wrangler Rubicon a fond farewell, and I set off in the Toyota, in search of adventure in the mountains of Colorado.

While it was my intention to love and care for the Tacoma as if it were my own, I wasn’t about to baby it. It was a high-mobility, four-wheel drive vehicle, purpose-built for adventure, and I was well-suited to put it to proper use.

 

Experiencing Ouray

I set my sights on Ouray, Colorado, which is a bustling mountain town located along the Alpine Loop; a scenic and, at times, very technical four-wheel drive route.

Ouray was wrought with charm, as the city streets are lined with shops, cafes, restaurants, breweries, and businesses offering Jeep rentals and 4x4 tours. The town is regarded as America’s Switzerland, as it is flanked on all sides by towering mountains which seem to invite adventure and exploration.

I spent a few hours wandering around on foot, to experience the town first-hand.

Following a delicious pizza that was adorned with an assortment of succulent meats, I pointed the Tacoma to the mountains, and made my way to the Alpine Loop.

 

The Alpine Loop

The signs at the trailhead for the Alpine Loop recommended high-clearance, short-wheelbase four-wheel drive vehicles. The Tacoma was moderately lifted with an Old Man Emu suspension, and wasn’t exactly short-wheelbase, but I was willing to take my chances.

Almost immediately, the trail demanded low-range, as the truck crept up the deteriorated mountain road. I traversed some erosion to put the suspension to work and found its limits as the unloaded wheels spun in open air. I abruptly hit the Air Locker buttons on the dash-mounted Spod control panel. The ARB Air-Compressor whirred to life, and the truck resumed its forward crawl.

It was a great first test of the Tacoma’s supplemental traction systems!

The road continued up the mountain, next to a raging stream, past waterfalls, abandoned mines, and eventually, past patches of snow that lingered in the mountain’s shadows.

Since I had been hanging out in Ouray well into the afternoon, I got a late start on the trail. Therefore, after only a few short miles, I had to seek out a place to spend the night. I found a nice campsite at the junction of Engineer Mountain and Poughkeepsie Gulch, deployed the camper, and enjoyed a pleasant night of sleep, as the double-lined canvas walls of the Khaya’s tent kept the chill at bay.

The following morning, I woke up, prepared oatmeal and coffee using the on-board stove, broke camp, and continued up the mountain.

 

Cresting the Pass

The road continued to get more technical as it wound its way above the treeline. It passed over rock formations and skirted harrowing drop-offs. Snow became much more prevalent at the higher elevations, and it even began to flurry as I passed through a late-May squall.

The Tacoma, equipped with its Old Man Emu Suspension, soaked up the terrain effortlessly, and in the event of wheel-slip, the ARB Air Lockers helped to maintain forward progress.

After winding through snowy basins, and traversing narrow switchbacks, the truck and I crested Engineer Pass at nearly 13,000 feet!

I stopped for a few photos and then resumed driving down the mountain toward Lake City. This was a much less technical section of trail, which I was grateful for - because even though the Tacoma was ready for more, I was happy to be able to relax and enjoy the scenery!

 

Descending on Lake City

Lake City was also charming, but in a different way than Ouray. Ouray is a bit more of a tourist destination, and those you meet are likely on holiday. Lake City, on the other hand, is far more quiet and rustic.

The paved streets are wide and lined with gravel, and the sidewalks through the center of town are composed of wooden planks. It’s an enticing mix of art galleries, shops, and residences. The folks I encountered in a small cafe all seemed to know each other, lending to the small-town vibe.

I enjoyed a couple more days in the area, exploring more four-wheel drive trails and taking the time to catch up on some work in the cafe. It was certainly my kind of town!

 

Onward to Buena Vista

While I would’ve loved to continue exploring the 75 mile Alpine Loop, I opted to save the rest for another time, as I was on a self-imposed timeline in order to return the truck to New Jersey!

I made my way to the outskirts of Buena Vista, Colorado, where I stayed at Turtle Rock Campground within San Isabel National Forest. This was a bit more of a relaxed setting for my temporary home-on-wheels, and allowed me to focus more on the camping element than on the four-wheel drive element.

There, I deployed the Alu-Cab Shadow Awn, which is a very large and sturdy awning that opens up 270 degrees, wrapping around the side and the back of the Tacoma. It is the perfect complement to the Khaya Camper, offering a ton of outdoor living space.

Like clockwork, the wind picked up as soon as I deployed the awning, and it endured the weather gracefully, unlike some other vehicle-mounted awnings…

 

Freshening Up

It was also time for a shower, as I had been in the truck for nearly a week by this point, and I wasn’t feeling very fresh.

OK’s Khaya is equipped with a hoop that deploys over the cab of the Tacoma, to which one can attach the provided shower curtain on the passenger side of the vehicle. This shower shelter is adjacent to the compartment that houses the retractable hose. With the flip of a switch, you have a private, pressurized, heated shower.

The camper stores over 20 gallons of water in its on-board tank, so one can take one’s time and enjoy a luxurious, prolonged soak.

It was a much-needed shower, and very refreshing!

 

Eastbound and Down

This week offered a considerable and significant taste of the Toyota Tacoma with the Khaya Camper. It had been my goal to get a feel for all of its capabilities and its merits, and I truly feel like I have. Furthermore, I’m extremely grateful that I got to use the truck to explore some of Colorado’s most amazing terrain.

Now it’s time to hit the highway, and take the truck back east…