Total Chaos Fabrcation

Kevin O’Brien’s Cross Country 3rd Gen Overland Tundra

NOTE: While many trucks are purpose-built for the sand dunes or desert racing, the beauty of an overland vehicle is that you can use it for everything from daily driving to backcountry exploration to cross country trips.  That is exactly what Kevin O’Brien did in his TOTAL CHAOS equipped Toyota Tundra, as he documented below in his trip from South Carolina to Flagstaff for Overland Expo, as documented by Kevin below.


overland 3rd gen tundra off road driving suspension upgrade


Growing up in Maryland, my family took the obligatory road trips to visit vacation destinations, but most trips were on the East Coast and within six hours of home. After attending the University of South Carolina I grew to love the South, and after graduating stuck it out in Columbia establishing a new life and career for myself. Even after moving here road trips were short; its two to three hours to get down to the beach, another two to three hours to get deep into the mountains, and a short trip to major southern cities like Charlotte, Charleston, or Atlanta. After building my latest truck and outfitting it for overlanding, my road trips remained short so that I could make the most out of a weekend hitting trails and camping throughout the beautiful mountains of upstate South Carolina and western North Carolina. It wasn’t until after partnering with TOTAL CHAOS Fabrication that the idea of a grander more substantial road trip began to fester. I decided to take two weeks off of work and travel across the United States to exhibit my truck with them at Overland Expo West in Flagstaff.



Getting There Is Half The Fun

As I began to map out my journey the road ahead of me seemed daunting. I had just three and a half days to make it to Flagstaff and four days to drive back home. I wanted to make the most of my journey and explore different parks and trails, but the sheer scale of the days ahead was a sobering reality check. With my truck loaded, gas tank full, and route prepared I headed out to start my journey. In the beginning, I dreaded the long drives on crowded highways. I worried that I’d be cramped in the driver’s seat, having to pull over every few hoursto stretch my legs. I worried about boredom. I wanted to see the sites and put my rig to the test, but asphalt was a necessary evil of this trip in order to stick to my schedule. To my surprise, I found solace in the long hours spent driving on the interstate. I enjoyed to quietness of an empty truck with just the comfort of my thoughts to keep me company.

As I headed westward the major interstates gave way to scenic byways, the sprawling cities turned into small towns, and the landscape became flatter and more rural. I was initially wary of traversing the center of the country. I envisioned flat brown landscapes with little vegetation to interrupt the mundane. But as I drove down KS-177 I was delighted by the impressive beauty that the Kansas prairie held. Rolling green fields punctuated with color from a variety of wildflowers lined both sides of the solitary stretch of pavement I was on. I stopped at several scenic overlooks to take in the tranquil beauty of this landscape. When you’re on the road for hours on end, it doesn’t feel fabulous or adventurous. It feels mundane, impractical, even. It feels like something you have to question. When you arrive to your destination, when you see the national and state parks, when you visit the monuments, when you’re forced to talk to strangers, when you remember what it’s like to be daring, free and ready, that’s when you find some truth in the whole life happening for you thing. The placid reservoir at El Dorado State Park provided that setting to reflect on my first few days of travel; and as the sun set with its orange hues stretching across the surface of the water, I began to appreciate the magnitude of this journey.

New Mexico brought my first opportunity to explore some tougher trails in the Cibola National Forest. Even after over ten hours of highway driving, I was giddy to test out my truck and see how it would handle the rocky terrain of the high desert. I was rewarded with an idyllic campsite sitting at over 6,000 feet elevation with a beautiful view of the valley around me. Watching the rain roll in across the area I was grateful for the opportunity to be there. The great American road trip is romanticized in popular culture and an oft discussed idea among friends or families, but actually embarking on such an adventure is a commitment.  It is a commitment to embrace challenges, a commitment to open yourself up to new experiences, a commitment to be flexible when things change. A trip across the country invokes a feeling of smallness. Not of insignificance, but in a world where so often you can hop on a plane and be at your destination in an hour or two, driving on the ground gives you a true scale of distance and how small you are as an individual in the larger world around you.




Overwhelming Expo

The next few days of my trip were a whirlwind. I spent the weekend at Expo West thanks to the hospitality of the team at TOTAL CHAOS. They welcomed me in and treated me like family during my stay with them. As the halfway point in my round trip being able to take a hot shower, do laundry, and enjoy air conditioning was a pleasant break from the long hours on the interstate. I was able to meet a number of incredible vendors and connect with the companies like Baja Designs,  sPOD, and Apex Overland that have been a part of getting my build to its current stage. Although I embraced the solitary nature of a solo cross-country road trip, my time in Flagstaff was a welcome weekend of social interaction, making new friends and swapping stories. I left Expo West with a new appreciation for how wonderful the overlanding community is and how easy it is to strike up a conversation with a stranger when you have the foundation of a shared interest.



Eastbound and Down (To Explore)

My journey back east was an experiment in flexibility as I decided to change my route on the fly. After spending Sunday afternoon and evening hitting trails around Sedona, I found a remote campsite for the evening and set to work trying to use my limited cell signal to plot a new course home.  This allowed me to make the most of the time I had and explore more of the sights due to my reduced time constraint. I limited my driving time to less than nine hours each day, saving daylight to enjoy the communities along my trip and allow more time to relax at camp instead of the hurried pace of setup and tear down I went through on the westward leg.



Final Thoughts and Reflections

With the more relaxed pace of the trip home I had more time for self-reflection on what I was accomplishing and was able to venture two general observations about America at scale — maybe banal ones, but I’ll take that risk. The first is a sense of wonder at the uncrowded availability of sights and spectacles on the Western roads. I’ve read all the stories about surging American travel and overcrowded national parks, but the I hardly ran across even a small crowd at any stops that I made and the only traffic was due to single lane passes on remote stretches of road. Although these sights are available, it doesn’t make them entirely accessible: despite having a rig outfitted with nearly every amenity required for life on the road, I dropped a pretty penny just on gas alone, and remote stretches of road with limited access to help or conversation may not be everyone’s cup of tea. But if you’re accustomed to the crowded spaces on either coast, you should know that it really does all melt away — and not just into cornfields or pastureland or desert, but into a landscape filled with places that are made for travelers, and offer immediate rewards to even the most casual visitor. This connects to my second observation, which is the intense difference between America experienced as a geographic entity, and America experienced as a virtual landscape, via the screens and apps through which we increasingly discover our world, especially in the post-pandemic era.

The comparison does not reflect well on the virtual America, which feels crowded and exhausting, a thousand-odd people screaming at one another in a medium-size hotel ballroom. I don’t mean to say that adventuring across the physical America exposes the online version as “unreal,” because virtual reality and social media are quite real in their own realm, and roadside attractions and rural vistas aren’t the neighborhoods that most Americans inhabit on a daily basis. But the state-to-state spaciousness of this country, its complexity and diversity and simple wildness, still feels like a potential asset to be set against the claustrophobia of small-screen life and its ever-increasing divisiveness. Having the freedom to explore is a release valve that enables self-reflection and self-expression in the escape of the open road. Take a chance, pack a bag and hit the road, you never know where it may lead you.



Kevin O’Brien’s Toyota Tundra Build List

Lighting by Baja Designs
  • LP4 Ditch Lights
  • Xl80 Fog Lights
  • Amber S1 Fog Lights
  • OnX6 Pro Light Bar
  • Xl Linkable 7 Light
  • Rock Lights
  • S2 Flood Lights
  • S1 Amber Chase Lights
  • Red Dome Camp Lights
  • All Controlled through sPOD BantamX
  • Fab Fours Vengeance Front Bumper
  • Fab Fours Overland Rear Bumper
  • RCI Aluminum Skid Plates
  • Bash Fabrication Custom Rock Sliders
  • ICS Fab Dash Mount with phone and Mic Holder
  • Midlands MXT275 Radio
  • SHW OffRoad Rear Seat Delete
Camping Equipment
  • UpTop Overland Bravo Roof Rack
  • UpTop Overland Adjustable Height Bed Rack
  • DECKED Drawer System
  • Terrapod Adventure Systems RTTx XL Tent
  • 23Zero 270 Peregrine Awning
  • Mountain Hatch Tailgate Insert
  • Phalcon Overland Fridge
  • ROAM 83L Rugged Case
  • ActionTrax Traction Boards
  • VRE-Trax Traction Boards
  • WARN Evo12S Winch
  • Factor 55 Fairlead
  • Factor 55 UltraHook
  • Cascadia 4×4 Hood Mounted Solar Panel
  • Barnes 4×4 Propane Tank Mount


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