Aaron Rich is a kiwi native with a passion for exploring the world, though not in 5-star accommodation walking through museums and taking guided tours. He’s packed up his life and family into a 4WD and headed out on an expedition through Central Asia. We talk to Aaron about the challenges and planning of his journey and will check in periodically to share in some of the exotic places and experiences.
- Vehicle: Mitsubishi Shogun, 2007, 3.2 diesel.
- Where: Central Asia
Rhino-Rack: Tell us about your rig and the modifications you’ve made?
Aaron: It’s branded a ‘Shogun’ because I originally purchased it in England, but it is otherwise identical to 4th Generation Pajeros sold in Australia and New Zealand. The list of modifications has grown over the years and is now a bit lengthy to list here. It would have to be one of the best setup Gen 4 Pajero’s around – though there are quite a few others similar to mine getting around in the Aussie Outback. My website has a page detailing the build of the vehicle and its modifications.
The Mitsubishi Shogun/Pajero originally came onto my radar when I was researching 4wd’s with the strongest reputations for reliability. In my view reliability is by far the most important attribute for a touring 4wd, especially given the extended international trips we embark on. When you’re out in remote places alone you become acutely aware just how reliant you are on your vehicle. Some prefer to go old school and avoid anything with modern electronics, but some vehicles offer solid dependability despite being more modern. Of course, even the best 4wds can suffer a breakdown. For anyone interested in looking further into it you’ll find that there’s a big difference in known reliability statistics between the best 4wd’s (usually made in Japan) and the rest.
It might seem odd to some that I rate reliability even above capability. This is because for a majority of people their vehicle shortlist should only consist of ‘real’ 4wd’s anyway, meaning vehicles with dual range transfer boxes and locking centre differentials at minimum. By the time you do the minimum essential modifications to any ‘real’ 4wd in preparation for regular off-road duty (I.e. suspension upgrade/lift, bash plates, wheels/tyres) and maybe throw in an extra diff locker or snorkel, any of them should be plenty capable enough for 4wd touring.
Rhino-Rack: Why have you chosen to take on such a significant endeavour?
Aaron: Perhaps it’s an as yet undiagnosed illness! We started out a few years ago exploring Europe, Morocco and the Balkan countries off-road and it expanded from there. We spent ten years living in London before moving back to New Zealand, which made the places mentioned above accessible to us…and also explains why my Pajero is a ‘Shogun’. Morocco was a particularly strong influence. At first, Morocco seemed daunting; venturing out into vast desert landscapes. South of the Atlas Mountains the routes are long, and the terrain was then unfamiliar - it is not without risks, especially travelling solo. We learned so much in Morocco and expanding our comfort zone.
Consequently, the 4wd expedition we’re about to embark on right across Central Asia feels like a logical next step, more so than daunting. I stress that I don’t claim to be an expert in this endeavour, though certainly not a novice either. We’re always learning, and by the end of this expedition, we’ll have learned so much more about this mode of self-reliant international exploration, as well as the different countries and cultures we’ll have experienced along the way. We greatly enjoy experiencing how other people live in different parts of the world.
Rhino-Rack: What do you foresee to be the most significant challenge?
Aaron: I anticipate numerous challenges along the way, from the kids keeping up with their home-school curriculum, to the prospect of having to self-recover from muddy bog hundreds of kilometres into the wilderness, or finding enough diesel to keep us going in remote parts of Uzbekistan. We haven’t gone into this blindly, and past experience of what has gone right and wrong is a great teacher. I know that a single batch of bad fuel could cause the engine to fail irreparably in a remote place and I know there will be plenty of bad fuel around along our route this year. I also know how difficult and exhausting it can be to free a bogged 4wd without help. There would be numerous risks waiting to take down an ill-prepared or novice 4wd adventurer out here… possibly a more experienced one too. I have considered many probable/possible risk scenarios and have taken all practicable steps in advance to mitigate as many of these as possible. We’re well equipped with recovery gear and my 4wd is extensively prepared and maintained.
Past experiences in Morocco showed me that we can’t always rely on local mechanics in the less developed places we visit. Consequently, over the years I’ve become a reasonably proficient DIY mechanic. But I’m under no disillusion that it’s possible to eliminate all the things that could go wrong – at best we can minimise them and I am conscious of this. But if you want to know something new that I’m concerned about this year, it’s the Police in Russia and Central Asian countries. New Zealanders won’t be used to having to be cautious of police and on our past adventures police and military were fine to deal with, but in the places, we’re about to go the police are not always trustworthy.
Rhino-Rack: What was the planning process?
Aaron: If I were starting from scratch the amount of planning and preparation that goes into a trip like this would seem rather daunting, possibly so much so that we wouldn’t do it! Fortunately, we’re able to build on past experience and so it feels ‘incremental’ in nature. By this, I mean that many things are already in place from previous trips, such as vehicle, mapping & GPS systems and familiarity with finding our way in countries/cultures where we don’t speak the language. This has permitted me to focus on what’s different about this trip. Visas have involved some difficulties, there have been vehicle shipping issues and for the first time I’ve had to plan an altitude acclimatisation programme into the itinerary (this because part of our route is above 4,000 metres). Research has involved such details as knowing which remote border crossings are open to foreigners, which border regions require a special permit to be shown at military checkpoints (along the Afghanistan border for instance) and dealing with corrupt police, just to pick out a few things. The existing 4wd has been largely good to go, but with the addition of a second fuel tank (total diesel capacity now 170 litres) and additional layers of fuel filtration/water separation.
Rhino-Rack: Why did you get roof racks?
Aaron: With a family of five in a single 4wd wagon, we’re necessarily very reliant on our roof cargo space. My first Rhino-Rack was an extra-large steel mesh basket, which worked very well for us. Initially, I just mounted it on top of the existing crossbars that were on my 4wd, thinking they were all much the same. That was five years ago, at the time of our first big expedition, and early on, we had to contend with the cross bars being unable to control the mass of the loaded steel mesh basket. Fortunately, I was able to pick up a pair of Rhino-Rack heavy duty cross bars from a stockist in Romania on that trip; fitting these immediately resolved the issue, so it was a lesson learned.
Notwithstanding that function far outweighs fashion for our intended use, I do like that the Pioneer Tray is a very nice looking piece of equipment. But the primary attraction in renewing my roof rack setup recently was to replace my aged/worn factory roof rails with something much more robust. In this regard Rhino-Rack’s new Backbone mounting system offers just what I wanted; it’s really solid and is a great compliment to the Pioneer Tray.
Rhino-Rack: Tell us about your website?
Aaron: At this point, the website exists to facilitate anyone with an interest in following our 2019 ‘Russian Far East to England’ family expedition, and those that follow. For our past adventures, I set up an online blog, which was kept private and accessed only by family and friends. Whilst preparing for our latest expedition I became aware that more people are interested in following what we’re doing than I had anticipated, and this prompted me to evolve our online presence from the blog to an all new public access website. It’s not a surprise that people already into 4wding are interested in following our adventure, but I hadn’t anticipated how many people neither into 4wding nor adventure travel who would also be interested.
Beyond this year’s expedition, I have been considering how I might be able to leverage my international overlanding experience to assist others to realise the magic of this mode of adventure travel. In future, I may look to evolve into a business model that serves people interested in undertaking foreign adventures of this type, but perhaps lacking the confidence or experience to go it alone.
Follow Aarons' Journey on Facebook , Instagram, YouTube, or through his 5gooverland.com