Rooftop 101: Make sure your relationship is strong!

Updated: Oct 6, 2019

All the YouTube videos in the world wouldn't prepare us for the physical and communication challenges we faced with installing a 150lb tent on a 7ft tall vechicle.


It looks so innocent...now that it's up and locked down.

The Tent Challenge

We headed into installation day knowing we had a challenge ahead of us. Dean picked the Zero23 Walkabout after a ton of research and discussions about what we wanted in a tent, including lots of sleeping space. We knew this would add to the size and weight of the tent. The huge box it came in was delivered in early May and proceeded to take up the front end of our garage, blocking the tool bench and storage cabinet, all summer. We had to move a car anytime we needed to get to the lawnmower. So when we finally had the roof rack in place and had a clear, free weekend day to install the RTT, there was excitement beyond just finally seeing the tent on top of the truck. It meant that the Overland Expo was not far behind AND I felt like I was getting my garage back.


We had been discussing HOW we would get the tent on top of the truck for more than a few weeks. The 2016 Toyota Sequoia leaves the factory floor at 77", almost 6'5". Add a 3" lift and 33" tires plus a roof rack that sits several inches off the roof and you end up with the daunting task of getting a large, 150lb tent 84" up in the air - a full 7ft.


Dean and I mulled over several options, including adding a lift to the ceiling of the garage so we could hoist up tent and slide the truck underneath, gently setting the tent down in place. Easy peasy. Unfortunately, while the ceiling height of the garage would accommodate the height needed, the garage door height would not. So we would be able to install the tent but we wouldn't be able to get the truck OUT of the garage. Not ideal...


We also thought about just muscling it up a couple of ladders to slide it onto the roof rack but decided that the tent was too big and cumbersome to attempt that method safely. We went back to all the YouTube installation videos and watched as people recommended, "just grab a buddy to help you lift the tent onto the roof rack", only to realize that the tents they were installing were much smaller and on much shorter vehicles. I loved how they made it look so easy but it just wasn't helpful in our situation.


We finally decided on a drywall lift. Yes, a bright yellow, $200 drywall lift from our local Mendard's home improvement store. Our tent just met the weight limit for the lift. The telescoping support arms and max height of the lift made it a viable option to help us get the tent up in the air and in line with the roof rack so we could just slide it over onto the truck. It was a little precarious as I cranked the lift higher and higher while we both held on to make sure the tent wouldn't slide off the lift arms, but it generally worked the way we planned. Success!


Or so we thought....


The Relationship Challenge

The real challenge came with getting the tent secured on the quick release brackets purchased specifically for the Front Runner rack. We read all the instructions and double and triple checked to make sure the brackets were installed correctly. Dean, the engineer, had a plan to get the tent installed into the brackets and then tighten everything down. To this point, we'd spend about 40 minutes getting all the parts installed on both sides and then another 20 minutes getting the tent on top of the truck.


It took another 3 hours before the tent was actually secured to the roof rack...


I won't bore you with all the details but let's just say that we'll blame it on a combination of poor instructions for the placement of the quick release brackets (turns out they need to be placed in a specific order on our truck that was different than was shown in the somewhat vague instructions) and physical, mental and emotional exhaustion. We both spent considerable time climbing up on ladders and on the truck. We were also constantly having to lift one end of the tent to adjust the brackets on the roof rack or the tent, which included having to reach inside the tent with a socket. Our arms were bruised, legs sore and the thought of having to get the tent down off the truck, thus admitting defeat, made tempers flare and patience short.


The breaking point came when I realized that, even though I had been trying to stand gingerly on both of the roof rail support points, I had created a small dent in the roof on one side of the truck between the windshield and roof rack. I started to wonder if my invitation to the Overland Expo might be rescinded.


But we persevered. I made the wise decision of holding off on any suggestions for what we might be able to do to fix whatever was no working, letting just one person make the decisions. The truth is, Dean is the problem solver when it comes to things mechanical so my suggestions were probably not realistic or the best path to resolution anyway. He finally came to realize that there was something off in the way the brackets were positioned AND found some large soup cans to place between the roof rack and tent so we could work on the brackets without having to hold the tent up at the same time.


This challenge reminded me of a couple of things. #1...relationships are hard and will always suffer through tests that have nothing to do with how you feel about each other but with the stressors around you. It's important to separate the two and communicate. There will be times when one of you just has to concede and let the other take the lead. There's nothing wrong with that. #2..as we embark on our discovery of the overlanding lifestyle, this will not be the last equipment challenge we face. In fact, this was an easy one. Easy in the fact that the truck was still sitting in our driveway and we had lots of tools and options within easy reach. There is no doubt we will, at some point, face a flat tire on a trail or a broken something or other while we're out in the middle of nowhere. These will be the times when sticking together as a team will be critical to solving the problem quickly and safely.


But, for now, all is good and we're leaving in 4 days for the 800 mile trip from Racine, WI to Arrington, VA for our first Overland East Expo. We'll be testing out all of our new overlanding equipment for the first time and learning tons from the overlanding community. I can't wait!


And there is no one I'd rather be with on this journey...


-D+D, MO69



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