Baja Ferry to Puerto Vallarta: A Tope Too Far!

Baja Ferry from La Paz to Mazatlan:

Late in the afternoon on Sunday January 20th 2013 Lynne and I were reunited on the ferry still anchored in La Paz, Baja Sur. As scheduled the large ferry left port at 5pm and we walked outside to watch land disappear. Dinner was served at 5:45 and for traveling coach it was a pretty good meal to be included with a fare. I had fish with my rice, beans and tortillas while Lynne had chicken. From the time I entered the boat a Men in Black movie about time travel was playing in Spanish with English subtitles. By the time the boat rolled out of La Paz that movie was over and Tin Tin began. After this The Hangover came on in Spanish with no subtitles- less useful for learning Spanish but about as useful for understanding the plot complexities or lack thereof. The last movie in our marathon was the Avengers. Hollywood action films seemed especially silly to us on a boat in the Sea of Cortez but it passed the time as we sat in seats similar to flying coach on a transatlantic flight. Little did we realize at the time of ticket purchase that without a cabin we were signing up for an experience to flying from the US to Japan. At least there was a deck to roam around on. I tried to buy a cabin around dinner time but they were all occupied. So when the last movie ended at 10:30 pm the lights were dimmed and we reclined in our seats. Lynne seemed to fall asleep. I laid there for 2 hours before deciding that was stupid and I was serious about finding a good spot on the deck. From our earlier roamings I had scouted a few possibilities. A number of Mexicans were laying on the boxes of life preservers on the main deck and various benches but I didn’t see anyone on the upper deck. Aside from all the people the strong smell of diesel exhaust and heat didn’t seem appealing on the main deck. I laid out my thermarest and 40 degree go light bag on a recess of the upper deck and fell asleep for a few hours. We joked this was our cruise for the trip. I at least had star views while Lynne had several vacant seats to lay down on. It wasn’t an ideal night’s sleep but it could have been a lot worse.

I was startled from sleep at 6am as Lynne found me on the upper deck. The stars were still out so I got up and gazed at the sky. She went back to sleep down below so I had the upper deck to myself for star gazing and soon the gradual fade to day over the water. After sunrise I went down to the cafeteria and tried to plug in my laptop to work on photos but outlets were unobtainable. We met some nice Kiwis at breakfast who were doing the Pan American on motorcycles and had started in Alaska in May. http://www.twomotokiwis.com After breakfast we headed upstairs and wrote in our journals soaking up the sun. Desiring only short bursts of the strong southern sun we were back down in the cafeteria by 10am expecting to be in Mazatlan by then. Finally we spotted land and went outside to watch it roll in. The harbor there is pretty with white rock islands beyond its reach. A tug met the ferry and guided us into port. Finally around 11:30 I was allowed to enter the car deck. This being Mexico everyone started their vehicles immediately as I’m sure those mainland lungs had missed the smoke while away from the boat’s stacks. A haze of exhaust hung in the upper car/truck deck as we waited. 5 or so minutes later a slap on the back of the Roo sent me on my way. Down the ramp and into the sun. I rolled over to the terminal to meet up with Lynne.
Mazatlan:
We set about scouting our next destination and I cleared memory space on the Go Pro for the next leg of our journey south. Man I’m so hungry! we found some food in the car. Finally we rolled out of the port with some confusion at the gate as it had been a couple hours since others left they thought we were boarding the boat which was about to head back to La Paz. On our second visit we convinced them to let us out! We headed for downtown and searched for the Tourist office listed in the 2003 Frommers guide we carried. After a big waste of time we concluded it was probably elsewhere by now. I went to another bank and once again couldn’t swallow the big atm but we needed cash so I found a reasonable place to exchange dollars for 480Pesos as we rolled through downtown. I was happy to finally exit Mazatlan!! Later I was happy to learn that although we had been in the state of Sinaloa here our tenure was measured in hours. Sinaloa is a big state jutting northward from Mazatlan towards the state of Sonora & the US. It’s best known today by folks in the US as being home territory of the ruthless Sinaloa cartel. Soon we passed into our 4th Mexican state, Nayarit.

We rolled south on MX 15D- the toll road and soon realized after the first toll this was going to drain us of pesos in a hurry. The first toll was 90 pesos! and when we got off the toll road to take the free highway we were hit with another 90P toll! We headed west towards the ocean. I checked hotels in a small town of Playa Novillero but no attendant at the decent looking one and cash only (400P) at the dumpy one was enough convincing to send me on a search for camping. I rolled south on the small road out of town. At first there were regular houses. Further down the road there were small huts followed by big beach houses followed by pasture.

Mainland Beach Camping:

As the sun was about to dip I found what I was looking for, a pasture with no fence. I drove out to the ocean treating it like Baja. Well, we were to soon learn Baja was a world away from us! It was hot and humid. Our night on the ferry had taken us across the Tropic of Cancer. We were officially in the tropics and felt it! No see-ems attacked our legs! This was one of the last days I would wear shorts for a long time. Driving as close to the beach as I could without getting stuck I ran to the ocean for the suns parting. We shared the beach with cows about a hundred meters down from us. A vaquero rode with them and was soon guiding part of the herd to another pasture for the night. I found a bit of shelter for the Roo shielding us a tiny bit from road visibility. The rest of the cows came on their own past us towards another fenced pasture with some horses. They gave us very inquisitive looks as they passed. Not a lot of gringos here we were to learn the next day.

In the tent I thought about the changes we witnessed as we came to the mainland. It seemed like everything was different! We were hot and sticky for the first time! I had already felt in need of a shower but doubly so now! Downtown Mazatlan felt crazy. The traffic was way more intense than Baja and Baja made US driving seem like a cakewalk. The city seemed to stretch on forever even though it’s small potatoes in Mexico. There seemed to be people and small towns everywhere on the mainland as we were used to the relative solitude of Baja. It was still over 80 degrees F in the car after dark!

Lynne didn’t feel well and didn’t want dinner. I was tired myself and settled on a quick easy meal of corn flakes and water. Classy! This was the day my dad had flown to Mexico. He made it from San Fransisco to Mexico City in the time we drove 140 miles from Mazatlan to our camp. Later I would realize this was a fast day of driving in Mexico while not exclusively on toll roads! Lynne’s misery index climbed as she coughed a bunch before bed and figured her plant allergies were red lining. After transferring more files off my Go Pro I went to bed at 9:15 and gladly slept until 5:45am when I awoke to the calls of vaqueros (cowboys) across the fields. It was neat to hear cowboys and the ocean simultaneously! The tent was soaked with dew! The instant switch from desert to humidity was really something.

The next morning we rolled south of our ocean pasture camp along the coast line. Our detailed mapbook showed a road connecting southward that promised good views. After about 10 km we went from narrow 2 lane pavement to dirt at Cuantla. Locals in this Pueblo gave us strange looks!  What were gringos doing in this tiny town!?! South we went as the road deteriorated to a walking pace. Cows parted from our path and soon were found ourselves in a teeny tiny fishing village of perhaps 15-20 people on the edge of a laguna. We looked at the map and soon realized it was flat wrong! There was no road across this laguna. North we went and after drying our tent in Playa Novillero we back tracked westward for 30 minutes via Tecuala (with fewer misdirections thanks to our ignoring the GPS unlike the night before) to the main route south, MX 15! We filled up with gas about an hour north of Toluca and found the right way to the small highway 54 to the coast after missing it the first time past. I found myself a good cowboy hat in Villa Hidalgo for 56 pesos. Sun protection was at the top of my list! Passing near San Blas we rolled down the coast on highway 76. I stopped at a Pemex station to recharge my Go Pro as it had died and I couldn’t find my spare battery and to recharge my brain. It slowly dawned on me that I was beat and we weren’t going to make it close to Puerto Vallarta that day!

Playa Amor:
I had seen a RV Park above the beach just north of us. We went back to check it out. I bartered a bit and we stayed at Playa Amor for 100 pesos. They had showers and internet- the first we’d really had either (aside from a few minutes of internet mid Baja). It was nice to call family on Skype and catch up with the world back home. Lynne was super excited about a shower (as was I!) and even had a nice cat to pet. We connected with my dad’s cousin Tim in Mexico City and talked to my dad a bit there too. I stayed up till midnight and woke up early due to the crashing waves on the rocks. So I headed out to take photos while it was still dark in the morning. I rested for a bit and shot sunrise. We skyped my friend Jesus who I met in Washington the other year. He’s back in Mexico enjoying life in Puerto Vallarta. We thought we would leave by 11am and be able to meet him by 2pm … well our day was about to get more complicated. In fact our month was about to be a lot more complicated but we didn’t know that yet. As I left Playa Amor our camp neighbors from Fairbanks AK told us to watch out for topes (Mexican speed bumps). I’d already driven over hundreds or possibly thousands already so I kind of shrugged it off.

A Tope Too Far!!
Just south of Playa Amor I accidentally turned into the town of Santa Cruz. Looping through the small town i ran over a tope at ~10mph or less. Bad sounds and I knew the Roo was injured. I got out and saw a trail of oil from the tope. Our driver’s rear shock absorber was in two pieces! EEEEEKKKK! I’d never seen this in person and trust me I’d had plenty of opportunities to attempt this wonderful feat in the past. The simple task of lifting the rear wheel off the ground was challenge enough. We finally found a use for the Frommers guide from 2003! It raised my bottle jack just enough to get the rear wheel off the ground. The upper shock came off without difficulty. The lower shock mount put up quite a fight but I finally removed it. Working in a street in some tiny Mexican town makes it even more fun! We drove back to Playa Amor and joked about prophesy to our Fairbanks camp neighbors. WOW! We let Jesus know we were running late. I also spoke with my friend Reuben who has friends in Puerto Vallarta. Finally we were on the road at 3:30pm, well after we had expected to arrive in PV. I stopped at an Autozone in Buceria. They said they could order a shock and have it there in 2 days if I ordered before 9pm. I seriously considered it but we were in a hurry to make it to Mexico City. In retrospect this was a big mistake!! Lynne ran in the Walmart there and soon we were on our way into Puerto Vallarta as the sun was setting.

Puerto Vallarta:
We headed to the Valllarta Sun Hostel where Jesus was volunteering in the evening. It was a nice hostel but I was taken aback by the price thinking it would be <100P total it was 195P each or $30. There are plenty of small town hotels in the US for this price and you don’t have to sleep in the same room with snoring Euro fems. Ok really this wasn’t a big deal but the price was shocking after camping for so long! Jesus met us at the hostel and we looked at maps together. He showed us a lot of neat places to see in Colima & Michocan! He treated us to dinner and thus began our extensive education in giving from the many generous Mexicans we have met. Here I had been fretting over money and he treated us to a wonderful dinner at his favorite restaurant in town enjoying a number of courses. Thank you Jesus! He took us out for a walk along the beach to see the sights as he headed towards home. After a long walk to end a long day I was exhausted back at the hostel but some folks had the lights on hours after lights off. It was so hot that it took me a while to get to sleep. Lynne turned the AC back on when she came in the room but someone turned it off later. I mainly listened to someone rasp away with a cough and others snore. I’m not so sure hostel life is for me.

In the morning Lynne polished off her blog post from Baja while I worked on catching my blog up from the Yukon! Jesus met us late in the morning looked over routes with us once again with his manager through Guadalajara. He took us for another walk to help us buy a sim card for our cell phone and to show us the market and more sights in Puerto Vallarta. It was quite enjoyable to walk through town seeing the things he enjoys! He treated us to a coconut/honey treat that has been one of Lynne’s favorite foods! (it’s sweet) we walked through the craft market and the art garden. and back down the beach as we returned to the hostel. I changed $60 for 780P and should have changed $20 more but still didn’t realize how expensive the toll roads would be or how important they are if you want to average over 30mph for a day! It was sad to cut our time with Jesus short but we left Puerto Vallarta late in the afternoon and slowly made our way out of town as Lynne convinced the GPS that Jalisco hwy 544 to Guadalajara actually exists. It was slow going but pretty! We were happy to be heading into the hills where it was cooler and not humid!

 

BCS- Baja California Sur!

Laguna San Ignacio:

On Wednesday January 16th, 2013 we rolled into Baja California Sur, BCS. This was our second state in Mexico. Our first order of business was a stop at a gas station in Vizcaino but they didn’t take visa so I just befriended by a cute puppy that Lynne was immediately attached to! On the road again we made our way to San Ignacio. There were tourists aplenty as it’s the hopping off point to a fantastic laguna with the best grey whale calving to be found. We added 200 pesos worth of fuel to the tank (depleting our peso supply further) and cooked lunch in the shade and protection of the town square’s big shade trees. The pemex attendant really liked the Roo and once again we heard the exclamation SOOB A ROOO! I showed him the engine as I added a quart of oil. He said it had been pretty windy for 3 days straight. We checked out the cathedral. I searched for a bathroom eventually settling on a vacant corner of a courtyard as the price was better. Oh my! I asked at the bank about changing dollars or using my card- no dice! Out we rolled on the road to Laguna San Ignacio. The road was good for a ways but eventually turned to dirt for the last 10 miles. The mexican spanish word for dirt road- terreceria- translates to rough road. YUP! It was slow going! Arriving at Laguna San Ignacio we found an abandoned wood building and used it as a windbreak with the ROO on the other side. We weren’t going to be battered like the night before! I shot pics of another beautiful sunset over the Laguna as well as some night shots before retiring. It’s satisfying to go to bed with some beautiful shots on your memory card, lulled asleep by a kinder & gentler wind thinking of the stars over the laguna 20m from the tent.

The next morning I wrote in my journal as Lynne slept in and considered how disconnected we were from the world of facebook updates and the daily lives our friends and family were living. How do you communicate such an experience to people a world away? Even well crafted words and photos seem to fall flat. My cold was still going strong. Being in the wind a lot didn’t help destroy the snot factory. Whatev, such things are temporary! After noon we drove out a bit further and watched vultures feast before turning around. Ethan had spoken highly of his time in a small boat on this laguna, greeted by a whale and her calf. Such experiences between two species communicating without language is beyond words. For us though the cold & wind combined with our colds was also beyond words in another way. We put that down on the ‘save for later list’ in our heads knowing we’ll return to Baja as it’s essentially an extended US road trip. Retracing the path out from the Laguna on the bone shaker we headed back to pavement and eventually the main route south from San Ignacio. At the transition to pavement we met a nice couple from California who had traveled down Baja 23 years before and were seeing some of the same spots this trip. They suggested Agua Verde. We wisely heeded their advice.

Heading south and across Baja from the Pacific side to the Sea of Cortez side we got gas in the old ferry port & mining town of Santa Rosalia while Lynne marveled at some of the wonderfully decrepit structures! Further south we took a drive through Mulege, an old french town. Although after driving through it both of us thought of the entrance arch to be the main visible french identification. Otherwise it was all mexican. But that’s just us. Leaving the faux frenchies behind we headed south to search for beaches. Seeing a dirt road leading off the highway just north of El Coyote we did some scouting and soon light 4X4 work took us to the shore. Looking out from the bushes across a small inlet we saw a RV park across from us set in a bay. We had neighbors for the first time in Baja! A few night shots and it was time for sleep again. In the morning we rolled south and gassed up in Loreto where they gladly accepted Visa. Wooo! Heading into town we stopped at a Mercado and bought tortillas, a tvp like veg protein and 20L of water for 15 Pesos but when we went to pick up our big jug of water they were out. I also stopped by banks but their exchange rates were terrible. We stopped for our only internet time in all of Baja and spent 10-15 minutes writing our family an email to say all was well from the southlands.

Along the Sea of Cortez- Agua Verde:

By Noonish we were on our way and found the turnoff to Agua Verde 30 some miles south of Loreto. I was happy the road was better than I pictured as I was able to crank out 20-30mph for the first half before the hill. The hill was steepish, narrow and pretty! The vally below revealed a number of secluded coves, the sort of landscape one sees in dreams. We passed up and over several hills dividing these valleys/ coves until we reached the teeny tiny town of Agua Verde. After some exploring we turned around and headed back a little ways to a cove we spotted on the way in. It took a bit to find the road to the beach but 4×4 and some skills took us out along to the beach proper. The search was worth it. Quite worth it! This was by far the prettiest beach we camped at in all of Baja! The views of distant hills and towering cliffs in the distance were beautiful along with islands out in the sea of Cortez!

We hiked to the far end of the cove and watched the clouds roll over us. The pretty green hills were soon crowned in crimson, a sky on fire! I was enthralled with the light show! After dinner I took some night shots and went to bed. Better night shots came in the morning with the moon out of the picture when I awoke early. Once the sun was up I shot more and watched a coyote rush past me on the beach at full tilt <4m from where I stood! Lynne was as excited as I was to see my shots as I showed her back at camp, convincing her morning wasn’t so bad after all. It was hard to leave Agua Verde! On the way out from the beach we passed a small house before the main dirt road. I thought they were asking for propane. It wasn’t until later we figured out they were asking for a tip. Whoops. I felt bad for that for some time but there wasn’t anything I could do days down the road. It took 2 hours to drive the 24 miles back to the main highway. 40 more minutes down the pavement and we were in Ciudad Insurgencia. we stopped at a grocery store and bought some yogurt (the best we’ve found in Mexico!), tortillas, bleach (for treating water), cereal and cheese. We stopped at another store looking for water and with empty stomachs we bought a kilo of hot tortillas!! Roosters would later finish some of these. The fresh cheese tasted like the cheese of Georgia- like cows.

Back to the Pacific Coast: El Conejo

Further south we drove the 10 mile dirt road to El Conejo (the Rabbit) to a surf spot back on the Pacific side of Baja. We had yet to witness this culture and since it’s the reason a lot of gringos head south of the border we figured we should learn a bit more. First we checked out the lighthouse. It was the most sparse beach yet- no other islands or land to see- just ocean. We rolled over towards where we saw people camping. A gal from Tofino, BC, Canada was laying in the sun becoming darker than most mexicans. Another gal greeted us with, “You’re obviously new here, you’re so white. Well, good luck.” Lynne’s response in her head, “I’m gonna stay white- I’m not a surfer.” Some have been coming to this spot every year for over 25 years now. There was a sort of cultish / elitist vibe but the few who spoke to us were nice. A tight community! It was breezy on the ocean but not as bad as some of the beaches we had stayed at to the north and we were protected by the dune. Lynne cooked a yummy dish of Polenta, garlic, cow cheese & salsa that we had on tortillas. All the surfers congregated in small groups or solo on the dune or beach to watch the sunset. I did the same with my tripod and camera in hand. Coyotes woke me up at 2:30am. The waves were crashing hard. Falling asleep again the coyotes woke me up for star shots around 5am. I stood on the dune to watch the pre-sunrise color ease into the horizon. There’s something special about that time of day where light gradually changes from night to day. Magical.

We ate breakfast and headed back out to the pavement. I added my last quart of oil from Spokane and we headed further south towards La Paz. It would have been neat to see Cabo San Lucas but that’s another trip. Baja’s easy remember- just like traveling in the US aside from the fact you’re in Mexico. Arriving in La Paz a couple hours later we stopped at a Walmart on the way- a store I never buy goods from in the US. Here it was our only easy place to find Mobil 1 Synthetic 5W-30 that I was running. It wasn’t cheap either- 160 pesos is about $12.60 for a liter! We picked up more food and some detergent imagining that someday we would do laundry. After a while we were winding our way out of town towards the ferry terminal. Once there we had to figure out where to buy our ticket. Upon finding this office we had to go back to the terminal and find the place to buy our vehicle import permit, the pre-req for buying a ferry ticket. That was ~$49 + a $200 USD deposit that should be refunded upon leaving Mexico. They calculated a weird exchange (converting the dollars to pesos with a poor exchange then charging me in pesos) making it come out about $8 more on my CC statement. Back we went to the Office to purchase our ferry tickets. The boat to Mazatlan from La Paz is almost double the fare to Los Mochis but we had no desire to be so far north in the narco state of Sinaloa. I paid the 3318 Pesos for us (2200P for car and I + 1000 for Lynne). We didn’t get a cabin figuring we could later if we wanted. Whoops. We packed our things in preparation for the 3pm boarding and soon it was time to go. After pressing a button that turned green I had no idea I had just randomly selected ‘no search’ on my way through customs. In fact I didn’t know we were passing though customs. There was another fee for use of the port- 148 pesos- before I drove to the boat’s entrance. There I learned Lynne had to get off at the terminal, go through customs and ride a shuttle over to the ferry. Only the driver is allowed on with a vehicle. After dropping her off I returned and soon the Roo and I were on a boat bound for mainland Mexico! YEAAAHHH!! WOOHOOO!

 

The Other BC- Baja California!!

We made it! Heading into Mexico for us was kind of like jumping off a high cliff into water far below. Something I don’t care for at all in normal life. It takes a lot of time to work up the nerve to jump. You stand there and think about it more and more. The more you think about it the less likely you are to jump quickly. Finally you say forget it, and jump. Done! It wasn’t that bad after all. This is how entering Mexico with the Roo felt. We weren’t heading north again with it so we needed to be ready for whatever we would encounter south of the US, the land where we knew our way around and could handle most everything that could come our way. South of the border everything is different. Quite different!

We made the jump into Baja California, Mexico via San Diego on Sunday January 13th, 2013. Stopping for gas at the last exit in the USA on I-5 and changing some dollars for pesos we got back on the freeway and headed south. “Are we in Mexico now?” “Yeah Lynne we’re in Mexico!! See the people walking across the highway and buildings that appear to be abandoned?” We had passed through the customs area following a bunch of other cars expecting to stop at some point ahead but just rolling on through and before we knew it we were on the highway rolling out of Tiajuana. We were nervous about not stopping at customs as we entered but I decided we would figure that out the next day in Ensenada. it was late afternoon and I wasn’t about to drive at night. from everyone we talked to that was the one thing everyone agreed upon- “don’t drive at night.” Later our friends in Mexico city would tell us this about Guatemala, worrying about us traveling in a poor country (similar to how Americans saw our travels in Mexico although more informed).

We rolled south and since we were interested in finding camping before the sun dropped over the Pacific we stopped north of Ensenada at Playa Saldomondo. It was $15/ night for a site. It’s funny to think how I have huge reservations to pay for camping in the US but this was a no brainer. We finally found the manager and decided to stay there so he lifted the gate and we rolled out through a string of deserted camp spots. We had the place to ourselves. Just above the ocean we took in the views as we set up the stove for dinner and pitched the tent. Wow! It was so beautiful. The Oregon Coast which people rave about back home has nothing on Baja Coasts! It was still chilly and even more so with the breeze rolling off the ocean. I set up the tent on the lee side (land side) of the Roo and shot some night photos after dinner.Lights from fishing boats showed up in the photos along with the glow of towns to the north and south of us. I slept hard that night until early in the morning when I moved the car to be on the land side of the tent as the wind changes during the night as the air cools over the land and heads back out toward the warmer water.

We were still bundled up well as it wasn’t warm by any stretch in northern Baja. At least it wasn’t as cold as San Diego had felt while we were sick, often frosting at night and remaining cool during the day, especially when it precipitated. Who knew SoCal and Baja got cold?! This was news to us as everything from Arizona down seemed like it would be tropical compared to Washington! Well the tropics line exists for a reason as we were to learn. We drove into Ensenada and struggled with Spanish sufficient to ask to charge our phone with a Tel Cel amigo plan. Well we figured out we needed to buy a SIM card at a Tel Cel store. We stocked up on cough drops, Kleenex and cold medicine as our bodies were still snot factories! Next we went to the Banjercito to pay for our tourists cards and have our passports stamped. They were kind enough to give us directions to a TelCel Store and somehow I found it easily. Unfortunately they didn’t take visa so I was off to a bank to get cash. Thus began our cash struggles. My credit union at home told me I could take my card inside a bank to get cash and avoid fees. Ha! I was told at every bank this was impossible but I could use the ATM (with about a $10 fee!) No thanks.

We went back and had a smoothie where we had parked and then ate a breakfast of eggs. Lynne was right it was a good idea I ate so I didn’t enter the head cold brain dead state early on as we thought we had a 10 hour day of driving! On the downside we burned through pesos before realizing it wasn’t going to be easy to procure more without taking a hit. We wound our way out of town through all the traffic and were finally on the open road!We climbed through green hills and saw fall colors! I had caught up with fall after loosing it in Spokane! Woohoo! Dropping into the next valley we were in wine country- Valley Santo Tomas! It was soo pretty! We passed huge complexes of hothouses, most likely for tomatoes. Later we learned there are camps of indigenous peoples who work these huge farms. We saw strawberry fields and many other crops along the road. Busload after busload of workers were being shuttled from the fields back to a camp. The secret to America’s cheap food (in part) no minimum wage in Mexico.

We passed San Quintin. I was relieved we were getting close to our destination for the night as I was getting close to the zombie state. You know the state where Lynne says I can’t understand English. Further south before the highway heads inland we saw a small village where there was beach access to the south of it. We drove out the sandy road to the beach and parked overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Bueno! Muy Bueno!! We picked a little wash to walk down the 15′ of elevation loss to the shore. Each of these little washes was littered with garbage- mainly plastic & glass bottles and such. We would soon accept this as our new norm aside from a few villages. In the US we’ve forgotten how things used to be before the laws and regulations against littering and pollution. How in those days of more liberty there was trash on the ground and polluted waters & air. Now days a bad person in the US is a person who litters. In the 1950′s life was different. Even when I grew up in the 80′s this was still changing. In Mexico there are road signs everywhere warning to not litter (throw garbage). Lynne has never been to a place with so many such signs. Yet garbage there is- EVERYWHERE! Our strict enforcement of stiff penalties along with public education seems to have changed American attitudes over a generation or more. I look forward to a day when this happens in Mexico.

We walked along the beach and returned to the Roo. After setting up the stove on the hood we soon had soba noodles with tika masala sauce, zucchini, mushrooms, coconut milk and garlic! After taking photos of the sunset I wrote in my journal. I was still behind from getting sick in San Diego. I shot pics of the stars and soon went to bed exhausted at 6:30pm. I love early darkness and camping away from people! It was time to sleep off this cold! As we had driven south that day we shed a layer of clothing. It was gradually getting warmer. Finally! During the night I had to wake up to take a decongestant so I wouldn’t cough too much or gag on the snot factory’s makings. Ahh good times! I rested more in the morning and we were underway the next day by 11:30am. Valle tranquillo lived up to its name! It was a restful place.

After driving for a few hours we stopped at 3pm to see Valle de los Cirios. It was quite windy and hence cold! We saw lots of neat cacti on the way! I wish now I hadn’t been in such a hurry to get to our camp for the night and had more energy to take more pics of all the different interesting cacti! We stopped at another military checkpoint. Each of these would ask us where we were going and we would say La Paz. With that we would be on our way. One of my most dangerous passes in Mexico thus far (after a month and a half now) came that day while passing an older medium size motorhome from the US. As I was passing they must have not realized I was there and began taking up both lanes. I came as close to the opposing road edge as I dared! My heart was pounding! Later a semi entered our lane from the opposing direction around a winding corner on a hill. I dove deep in the ‘shoulder’.

These situations are honestly the primary sorts of dangers you are likely to face in Mexico. Baja has one highway and it’s not wide! 2 lanes with no shoulder. Yet having said this, there aren’t a lot of people in Baja. The driving is way easier than on the mainland and the mainland is a walk in the park compared to driving in Mexico City. Yes, Baja is like the Old West, open and free. After fueling up in Rosario since it’s the last stop for a ways we climbed up to over 2800′ into a deserted desert. We skipped driving over to the east coast to see Bahia de Los Angeles as were were looking to ‘make time’ south. In retrospect Baja is an easy journey from the US. One does not need the temporary import permit or anything else really. This is why one finds a higher percentage of gringos. It’s like you never left the states in ways aside from the obvious things that scream “you’re in Mexico”. It has the open space of the American West and camping is easy. This is a sharp contrast from the mainland of Mexico!

According to our gps we had a rolling average of 44mph for the day, same as the day before. There were lots of twists in the highway and slow climbs. The day before was full of small towns and people, this day was just desert! I thought both of these were slow at the time but now we view a daily moving average of 44mph to be fast! Mexico time. Mexico roads. For stretches it seemed like we were in either Arizona, Nevada or California- vast swaths of remote desert! There was a mix of gringos locals and semis on the roads. A seemingly high percentage of vehicles lacked license plates. That pesky import paperwork for bringing a vehicle into Mexico gets in the way! Plus it’s tough (almost impossible) to import a vehicle to Mexico from the US that’s more than 10 years old. As the sun made its arc toward the Pacific we made our way toward the ocean, leaving the highway 16 miles south of Punta Prieta and taking the dirt road south of Punta Rosalillita. The road was rough rocky and slow (5-15mph) but we never thought of using 4WD. A few miles south of Punta Rosalillita we found ourselves a camp. We hadn’t seen another soul after rolling through the tiny fishing village. There were shelf rocks on the beach but we didn’t have time to dally. In the waning light I shot photos, & we set up camp & cooked dinner just above the rocky beach. The wind was blowing but we had no idea the force it held in its wings.

This was the first day I could see the road south stretching out before me. Panama no longer seemed impossibly far. Getting into Mexico and moving south had changed us into the moving phase of the trip from the long and laborious preparing phase. The Mexico border had somehow acted as a huge mental barrier blocking sight of everything after that. Even with our poor Spanish we had done just fine thus far and everything else ahead seemed easy. If I were to do it again I think I would buy a Toyota with a camper or a Sprinter and save all the time on vehicle mods! But even though some of the car work seemed like overkill I’m quite glad I did it now! Working on a broken car in a foreign land is not as romantic as it sounds. I thought of the image of Lynne’s face after we crossed the border, excited by people along the road, dilapidated buildings and all the things that scream, “you’re not in Kansas anymore!” That’s part of why we are here. I like these differences too, the colorful buildings & people, crumbling hillsides above the road and more chaotic traffic (although Baja was just the primer for things to come) along with fewer rules/ regard for them can make life a lot more interesting when not at dangerous levels. Things felt very safe and we were excited to see this trend continue.

The mental road block at the border was constructed of more than the blocks of a language barrier. It was the countless sermons we’d heard by friends and family, the most extreme whom told us we’d be cooked in a pot and eaten. Ridiculous yes, but that stuff wears on you over time. And news reports build up in the mind over time as well. Cartel violence exists in places- it almost always involves people who are involved themselves in cartel or gang business but this is the face of Mexico through the news that most Americans know. Just as most Mexicans think that every American is gun crazy, carries a gun and many are involved in gun violence. We’ve forgotten to look past the tails of the Gaussian, to see a world beyond extremes, sensationalism & idiocracy of the cable news media- an industry now based on entertainment value not journalism. Math is vitally important for our understanding of the world! See the chunk of the curve more than 4 standard deviations out? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Standard_deviation_diagram.svg That’s the where our media hype factories live. Good weekend reading here! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Normal_distribution

On our first night we slept with city lights in sight and saw a highway just above us a couple hundred meters. The second night we could see a small village within a couple hundred meters. On this night the only light we could see besides the moon and stars was our solar lamp and a few distant fishing boats on the ocean! It felt like Argentine Patagonia in ways! A rough dirt road and wind, strong wind, whipping across the desert. During the day we would see lone buildings along the road but the road is paved in Baja and we lacked the looming Andes to the west. After so many years of dreaming this trip and even years of planning it I was finally in the doing of it! Even though I still had a cold that made driving a lot more exhausting it felt GREAT!!

I woke up at 3am not to sleep again. Our sole companion the wind grew and grew! Near sunrise Lynne’s side of the tent was collapsing. Sand had blown in through the mesh under the fly and coated everything inside. I should have moved the car to shield us when I awoke but was too groggy to realize the importance. I simply laid there in my sleep drunk state and listened to the wind roar. I moved the car at 7am but the aluminum poles had already received their beating! It’s not a metal meant to flex repeatedly and two sections of pole had cracked. We tore down the tent with the stakes still in the ground and wadded it quickly to avoid it joining the Pacific Ocean. In the process of my haste however I lost track of the location of 2 tent stakes. We searched for an hour to only find one of them. We returned to Punta Rosalillita via a ‘path’ closer to the ocean where I did in fact throw the Roo in 4WD and give her the juice for some loose sand portions. We made our way back to the pavement and cranked along.

The military checkpoint 4km north of Guerro Negro was the slowest yet. Several vehicles were searched. Not us, the simply said SOOB A ROOO!!  after taking down my driver’s license number and plate # along with our destination. Next we stopped to pay 20 pesos and have the car fumigated- we were told to roll up our windows as we drove over the spray thingie on the ground. Safety 3rd! we were told no fruits were allowed to enter but they didn’t look through the car. I should have driven into Guerro Negro for gas (so I could have used my visa card as we were short on pesos) but didn’t realize many Pemex stations in smaller towns take cash only. We stopped in Vizcaino for fuel but only used the bathrooms as they didn’t take cards and I figured the next one would. We were officially on the next stretch of our journey, Baja California Sur or BCS!! YEEEHAWW!!

 

Kaleefornee

California, sunny California! The world’s eighth largest economy and the incubator of American culture was to be our home for a few days (we thought). In our world days were quickly becoming weeks! On December 24th we drove from just north of Searchlight Nevada towards Joshua Tree National Park. We left US 95 before I-40 in order to re-enact my no Interstate rule and rolled through ghost towns on a small road past Essex, CA. Gas prices in Amboy were $5.49/ gallon!! Yep we had arrived in California. Rolling further through the Mojave desert we reached 29 Palms where I filled the Roo tank at a more reasonable $3.45/gallon and then headed into the town of Joshua Tree. We had finally found warmth! It took a couple of weeks since I’d left Spokane but the sun was blinding and countless layers were no longer required. We stopped by my friend Ela’s new house that she was in the middle of renovating and preparing to rent out. After a short visit we headed into the park. I smiled as the entrance gate was not manned on the afternoon of Christmas eve. It would be the first Christmas eve or Christmas in my life that I wasn’t spending with family! It felt strange but I was happy to be nearing Mexico and getting into the meat of this trip.

In Joshua Tree National Park Lynne was happy to show me around a place I was visiting for the first time yet she had made many a trip to. In the late afternoon light we looked for camp spots at Hidden Valley but it was full so we were content to watch climbers for a bit. As the sun started to set we headed off towards Jumbo Rocks. Lynne’s many visits are still coupled with her sense of direction so once again I was navigator. “A mile or 2″ ended up being 10 miles. We watched a beautiful sunset on the way as I hopped out of the car a few times to snap some pics. The soft pinks and purples go well with the pastel hues of the desert! There were a lot of people in this campground also but we found a decent spot near the back. We ushered in Christmas 2012 at Jumbo Rocks campsite #71. The sun went down and the heat left. Tis the way of the desert! We ate sauerkraut and sausage fo dinner. It was chilly that night so I didn’t sleep a lot but I awoke early to see the sunrise. Just after first light high clouds came in and it remained chilly through the day! Those are the coldest sort of days when the heat escapes with a clear night but just after sunrise clouds block the day’s warmth. After a hike at Skull Rock to take some pics of rocks Charlie showed showed me photos of we made our way back to the Hidden vally area and set up shop at a picnic bench. We saw scores of families from India pass through. Most every tourist gawked at the Roo with its coat of red. Some took photos of one another in front of it! SOOB A ROO! (as the Mexicans say it). I spent Christmas morning catching up my journal as it had been neglected for the first 16 days of the trip! It was even more chilly with the wind so we packed up late in the morning and went to Barker Dam for another hike. Movement meant warmth!

For sunset we went out to Keys View Point. The light over Palm Springs and the Salton Sea warmed but I headed to the car for a bit to warm my body as the stiff breeze was chillleee! Sitting there I saw the sky start blowing up with red! I sprinted back to the overlook with my gear. Had I waited patiently in the cold my shots would have been better as I was setting up through the best light but it was beautiful to behold!! The deep red in the sky lasted a full hour! It was a breathtaking light show and a great Christmas gift! Through the dark we drove out of the park to Ela’s house. Heat felt sublime. I happily visited with Ela’s couchsurfing guests from Poland and Syria. It was interesting to talk of the situation in Syria with a Syrian. He opposed all violence at first but as time wore on it was evident Assad must go! and hopefully sooner than later. A concrete floor was a treat for us as the temps outside were irrelevant except for during my phone wanderings aroud the spacious yard. I gazed at the stars as I spoke to my grandma, dad and brother.

After a hot shower I packed the car and we headed out before 10:30. Light rain washed most of our red mud off the Subaru as we made our way towards LA. It had been a badge of honor and a good story so we were sad to see it go. Bye bye Utah mud! I was nervous driving into the heart of LA’s freeway system but it just took some adjustment time. I know how to drive aggressively even if the Roo isn’t able to respond quickly. By early afternoon we made it to Lynne’s college friend Cyndi’s place in Rodando Beach. At 9 months pregnant she had a lot of energy! Her 18 month old daughter is a cutie! We headed out just before 5pm and passed Santa Monica and made our way through the craziness of Malibu, north to Ventura and Oxnard. Lynne’s friend Kate from Whitworth also has 2 cute kids who are 3 and a half. We enjoyed a great dinner with them and spent another night in comfort as their kids offered “I love you”s a plenty. Kate and Greg Made waffles the next morning as we packed up and worked on logistics before heading to Santa Barbara. We had anticipated spending a couple days there before visiting some of my friends and family in the LA area, heading to see friends in San Diego and hopping into Mexico.

We arrived in Santa Barbara on December 27th 2012 and left on January 4th! We were as comfortable as cats on a lap! Lynne’s uncle Steve gave us a tour of the ranch near Santa Maria on Saturday and showed us around Santa Barbara after church on Sunday. The countryside and the town itself are quite beautiful! I can see why Ronald Reagan showed the Queen of England the courthouse in Santa Barbara on her visit to his ranch in the 80′s. It almost snowed a couple times and was cool a number of days during our stay. Lynne’s aunt returned from Seattle after a few days and we had many nice dinners and visits with them in the evenings as we did work during the day. Our list from October still had details left on it that took a lot of time not to mention a number of 14 hour days devoted to catching up the journal and going through pics from Alaska and Canada and writing blog entries! Keeping a blog and journal is a lot of work! In AK I estimated the blog to be about 30% of my time! I think it’s grown since then! We made walks to the beach and referred to our time there as the spa section of our trip! We skyped with Lynne’s family congregated in Seattle on new years eve and lit sparklers with Lynne’s aunt and uncle. It was hard to say goodbye as we thought this place would be the most like home for a long time but eventually we said our goodbyes and headed to Santa Monica on January 4th 2013. We had been in cali 10 days and it was my 26th day of the trip! we ran a bunch of errands in Oxnard on the way south and arrived at my friend Nick’s house at around 8:30pm.

We were all tired from a long day, Nick especially as he works 14 hour days on set. He’s been working with NCIS for a few years and worked on House before that. I was kind of embarrassed to say I’d never seen either of those TV shows but I’m sure he does great work as he’s been perfecting his craft since before we were roommates in Seattle 10 years ago! Word is NCIS is the #1 show in the US. We stayed up late until almost 1am chatting about a lot of interesting topics. Nick treated us to Sushi, only a short walk from his house on . We were 4 blocks from the beach but didn’t end up heading down as we had plenty to do! We spent another night with Nick and ran some errands that afternoon in Santa Monica making our last REI visit & finalizing our gear for the trip south.

He gave me some tips for shooting video and we chatted a lot about the crazy culture of SoCal & the influence of wealth. Always observing he has noticed the happiest person on set is usually the janitor, not the guy pulling in 50 million. We would soon see this in action as we dropped into Mexico. This is not to say poverty is an indicator of happiness, rather that money and happiness are far less correlated than many Americans live. Many of us may say we see the importance of other things in life rather than money but it seems many Americans live as if the 2 are directly correlated. I’ve seen Americans who have money yet value the things which are truly important and are happy. Likewise I’ve seen a lot of those in poverty both in the US and Mexico who have little and yet lead rich & full lives. We found it interesting that a bit of time in SoCal even rubbed off on me of all people! A person who’s generally been immune to caring what others think or following what others do the common thread we heard “start a business- buy your freedom.” has made some sense to me too. Affecting social change or conducting humanitarian work can be much easier with capital at hand rather than begging for scraps as many photographers or humanitarians seem to do.

We discussed the draw of the movie 180 degrees south- a movie about a guy who sets out to sail to South America and climb unclimbed peaks. When he gets to South America he realizes he knows little about this type of climbing much to the incredulity of Timmy Oneal. He spends much of his time hanging out with a girl on Easter Island. Why did so many people seem to like it when it wasn’t that great of a film? Would it have been as widely seen without the celebrity (and marketing) of Choinnard (and hence Patagonia) & Thompkins? Probably not but it was still the selling of a dream. Personally I enjoyed the historical footage of the 1968 trip Choinnard & Thompkins made through the Americas to Patagonia. Nick showed us some amazing videography shot by amateurs in the NW (enchantments) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-sBnepbX1rY & Yosemtie http://vimeo.com/35396305 . He showed us the importance of natural sound in video as seen in this Ikea ad of home. http://vimeo.com/4625390  And seen here in one of my favorite videos- In South America! http://vimeo.com/53673455

Once again I wished we could stay longer but we were back on the road. I drove north to Van Nuys to buy a Deep cycle Battery for the Roo from Sam at U Save Auto. South through downtown LA on 101 I405 & I5 we went. We stopped by Oceanside Photo and telescope in Oceanside CA to meet Larry from Sandpoint who had been VERY helpful when I bought my Astro Tracker back in August! On we went to have dinner with my friends Quinn & Dewi from Pasco & Jakarta respectively who I introduced back when we were undergrads. It was great to see them again and their growing family! I learned more about Quinn’s PhD and parts of his current work on classified and non-classified projects. A number of years ago we were the 2 white kids in our department studying Electromagnetics. He’s still in the field and somehow I’ve diverged to be a part time auto mechanic, part time photographer and full time traveler. I still like to talk about math but the language is becoming harder to recall than obscure spanish words. Life is a winding path! Quinn and Dewi were gracious to host a number of packages I had ordered in St Geroge UT so we added these new additions to the car. It was great to see long time friends & I’ve missed Dewi’s wonderful Indonesian food!

We headed back north after visiting to my friend Jason’s house who I hadn’t seen in well over 10 years! We caught up in whispers that night before retiring. We thought we would be in Carlsbad / San Diego for a day but once again, haha. Day== week in our world. Through the course of the week Lynne’s cold matured and after fighting it for days my immune system caved and I got a cold too as Jason & Jess’ youngest daughter was also sick and Jess picked it up as well. Their 3 kids are a riot! Jason stays at home and Jess is a nurse/ administrator in the Navy. Those who have kids already know how much time is tied up in parenting- all one’s time! During the week we made many a trip to places like O Reillys for a battery isolator, Best Buy, Frys and other such shops for GPS, Mexican cell Phone- gps memory card (after we finally found what we were looking for on Craigslist). I shot our pics for international driver’s licenses and printed them at Cosco and headed to AAA to procure them along with Mexican Auto Insurance. Lynne researched our travel insurance and we pulled the trigger on that as well. We had what seemed to be a million little details to work out before heading south of the border.

It was much cooler than we pictured for San Diego, frosting a number of nights that week and remaining cool during the day! I thought we were in Southern California near the Mexico border- ie land of warmth! We met their neighbors and spent a lot of time playing catchup on the journal and the blog when not socializing. Jason fixed a lot of scrumptious meals and we had a really enjoyable time visiting with them through the week! Thanks! It was a wonderful sendoff from the US! After a premature start on Saturday we finally made our way out of town on Sunday January 13th 2013! We had only to stop at Ikea for a solar desk lamp and Frys before we made our way to the Mexican border! Over ready or not here we come Mexico!

 

 

Land of Magical Light and Red Rock UT & NV

On the evening of December 19th, 2012 we arrived in the St George area battered by the elements! It had been cold in Colorado and even Arizona. Snow followed us all the way to the outskirts of St George. But in this place we found refuge from winter. It was time for us to regroup and finalize our logistics for the trip. Once again, little did we know how many details remained on our list. On our first day I worked on an electronics order and called the folks at Clik Elite, makers of quality photo backpacks & bags based in St George. We headed down in the afternoon to meet with them and told them about our trip. After a short chat we agreed to meet late the next morning.

I picked up a set of Bosch Platinum Spark plugs at Napa for $20 since my tach had been dancing more and more. I was worried of my distributor being on the fritz. A fellow I met at the Pull N Save north wrecking yard in Spokane, the kind gentleman who helped me pull a shift linkage, told me one of the weak links in this generation of Subarus can be the distributor. I almost pulled an extra distributor for the trip a couple of times on my many trips back to Pull N Save. Our extreme lack of space said otherwise though. I had seen my tach ‘ticking’ or ‘skipping’ for years without a distributor failure and when I replaced the plugs before heading to AK it cleared that nuisance up not to mention pulling harder up the hills. This is one of the most simple fixes a person can make on a gasoline car. Change your spark plugs! .. air filter, fuel filter & of course oil according to their service intervals! Your car will thank you!

The next morning we headed back to Clik Elite’s headquarters and talked gear. They hooked us up with a Venture 35 backpack, a hiker and Chest carrier in addition to some odds and ends. Their gear is is well engineered with attention to detail. Just as important, it’s well constructed- ie strong. I am putting it through the ringer on this trip and will see how it holds up. So far after about 2 months it’s doing well! A camera bag I started the trip with tore a seam on its first use- lame. We will be sending them images through the course of the trip and seeing how their products hold up to months and months of abuse through the Americas. We headed by the AAA office to pick up SoCal maps and headed back to Charlie’s house and had a yummy dinner. It was 4 days to Christmas so Kathy cooked us a turkey dinner.  Thank you!

The next morning Charlie and I woke up around 5am and headed out early for Valley of Fire State Park near Las Vegas for some sunrise shots. This place is beautiful! The rocks are so textured and have a lot of depth. Beyond the arches and red rock features I really enjoyed the variety of colors across the valley floor to hill tops. I gave the D800 some solid exercise that morning before we headed back in time for him to open his gallery in Kayenta Art Village. Check out his work at http://cdwood.zenfolio.com/ He has a lot of beautiful images that come to life as wall sized canvases. I’m fortunate to have him as a friend and to have gone on so many spectacular photo excursions in the Southwest!

Back in Ivins I worked on my electronics orders figuring out exactly what I needed for video equipment to accompany my D800 and how much storage to carry in the form of memory cards. This rounded out most of what I needed in that realm to shoot photos and video on this journey. We thought we’d make it back on the road that day but HA! We packed the following morning and finally left Charlie’s place at 1pm the next afternoon after a stop in Charlies gallery per custom. We were thankful for a wonderful visit and time to recharge with Charlie & Kathy! Up and over a pass and we found ourselves in the Mojave desert of the Arizona strip for 20 minutes before getting on I-15.

We purchased the cheapest gas of the trip in Mesquite NV at $2.79/gallon and headed over to Valley of Fire since Lynne had slept in the previous morning. The light was flat and other visitors abounded but it was still neat to look around again none the less. Lynne wanted to see Hoover Dam so we headed through lake Mead National Recreation Area. I balked at the $10 entrance fee since it wasn’t a NP to my (or Charlie’s) knowledge but the times are a changing. I avoided buying an annual park pass since we left so late on this trip and would be missing most of the parks I wanted to visit and didn’t want to be sucked dry by day fee after day fee. I was able to shut up about this rather quickly though as the light through the desert in Lake Mead was spectacular! The sun started to set just as we finally saw Lake Mead.

We motored on towards Hoover Dam after dark and passed through the security checkpoint and across the dam- the main highway when I was last over it. Gawking at the dam in the dark we headed out after a bit and made our way to US 95 & headed south towards Searchlight NV. I was tired and prefer to drive in the daytime anyways so I was happy to find a dirt road leading off the highway about 15 miles north of Searchlight. It took a spell to find the right way deeper into the desert and a level camp but eventually we had a good tent site for the night. In the morning I woke up early and was happy to see more nice light. I shot photos until the light started going flt. Back at the car I noticed we had a flattish drivers front tire. I aired it up with our 12V compressor. Its loss of air is still a bit of a mystery as it never lost air again even a bit after sitting for a couple weeks in Mexico City. We packed up camp after drying our tarp more from the deluge in Page, AZ and drove the dirt roads back out to US highway 95. South we went passing Searchlight NV faster than I thought and the last cheap gas for a long while. Before we knew it we were in California.

 

 

Through the Cold & Snow to the Land of Red Rock CO NM AZ UT

South to warmth! That was the name of the game. But on this evening of December 16th 2012 we would be playing a different game- the use every trick in the book to stay warm game but we didn’t know that yet. Late in the afternoon after a number of errands in Denver CO we rolled south on I-25. The sun set as we passed Colorado Springs. We stopped for gas near Colorado City but I only filled a gallon as I thought the price was high and it would be best to fill up just before heading into the mountains. About 20 minutes later we saw our exit to cut through the mountains but fortunately had to keep going to fill up with gas in Walsenburg CO. Stopping at a Western Gas Station/ Convenience store I ducked inside to escape the bone chilling wind after filling the Subaru tank. For good measure & warmth I decided to check out the CO Back-roads map-books. Strangely my google maps directions appeared to be routed through the Sangre de Cristo mountains on a hiking trail. Maybe we would save that drive for a time when it the temps weren’t in the tweens. Yes, the forecast for that night was calling for temperatures around 11 degrees Fahrenheit! Between us we had a 12 year old 20 degree go lite sleeping bag, 40 degree go lite bag of the same age and a 20 degree Kelty from the mid 90′s with a hole in it. Perfect sleeping bags for the tropics. Less so for the American West in winter. This convenience store was our home for a couple hours. We became buds with Sabina who worked there and is a Panamanian adopted by an American Serviceman. She was really excited to chat with us and hear about our trip. She told us of having her first kid just out of high school and of dealing with her mother’s death a few years ago. She even offered us a floor to sleep on in her small place.

Hot water from the coffee machines brought us warmth and comfort. From it we heated our dinner- Indian food- curry and lentils. We filled our three 1.5 liter water bottles with this steaming H20 goodness and reluctantly headed out into the cold wind. We drove west to Lathrop State park but it didn’t look very inviting (sheltered) or cheap so I plugged on into the night eventually finding a dirt road leading to some ranches. After a short drive I found a grassy patch next to the road and pulled the Roo off the road to act as a wind-block against the strong current from the west. We set up the tent against the Roo without guying it out for extra warmth and hunkered down for a chilly night. Chilly it was! But we survived and even managed to sleep some. It felt like we were having an adventure in the mountains rather than car camping.

In the morning we were happy to have the sun rejoin our part of the world and be on our way. Crossing westward over the mountains to more snow we drove to the next town along our route, Blanca CO. Once again we used the might of a Convenience store microwave & hot water to make breakfast-corn meal! We spent a decent bit of time at this convenience store warming ourselves. Once again we were on our way to our destination for the day. Great Sand Dunes national Park. Our friends in Denver & Boulder spoke highly of this place. Obadiah has some great photos of the dunes and I was excited to check ‘em out. We drove in on the small plowed road and headed to the trail head at the north end of the park for a hike into the dunes. We were both surprised to see how close the dunes are to the mountains. I thought they would be further offset- out by their lonesome. Negative. These large dunes which rise upwards of 700′ are are closely followed by the Sangre de Cristo mountains rising to the 13-14k’ range. “It makes the dunes look like they are really just a pile of dirt”, according to Lynne.

We stepped into about 6″ of fresh snow and hiked towards the dunes. It felt good to be out of the car after the long drives and be exercising once again. Hiking uphill on dunes is hard! Memories of hill intervals up steep sand from cross country came back to me. Rising off the valley floor we quickly left the snow since the dunes were wind scoured along the ridges. Some of the features made it look like we were on a glacier! Turning around we had fun running sections and made it down quickly. Back at the car by 2pm I found a flat snow-free spot in the parking lot and rotated the tires.  We ate a simple lunch of peanut butter and honey with crackers and headed out on the road by 3:30pm. For a more direct and adventurous drive we took Lane 6 west from the south end of the park. It was a rural road that was unplowed through sections encouraging the use of 4wd. This took a while and finally we were on the highway to Pagoosa Springs.

Darkness fell as we climbed the pass in a snowstorm. Exhausted we stopped at Pagoosa springs to have some chili &  a tamale at a Chevron. There was about a foot of compact snow in town but we headed over to ask some hotels if we could camp behind their buildings. Normally this would be ok but of course they are Americans and have deep concern for our safety (their vulnerability to lawsuits) & said it was far to cold to let us camp. I chatted again with my friend Marcie in Durango and even though this was a less than ideal evening to have us over she said we could stay with them. We made the slow drive with freezing fog on the window (and no defroster) making travel along the last 60 miles of road toward Durango CO more interesting. Driving through the national forest we saw that we would not have been able to get the Subaru up a forest road to camp. The thought of spending another night similar to our Walsenburg experience didn’t seem enticing either. We really wanted/ needed to find warmer weather! Exhausted again we made it to Ryan & Marcie’s house by 8:30 and had a nice visit with Marcie. Ryan was out late with a work function but we had a chance to visit in the morning for a bit. It felt so good to be sleeping indoors! We were quite grateful for the visit and the warmth!

After looking at weather forecasts the next morning we threw out our intended route due to a snowstorm about to pummel the region. I was sad to miss Chaco Canyon and Canyon de Chelly but I’ve been before. Driving remote dirt roads that become MUCH more remote with precip without much warm weather gear seemed like a bad idea. It was also sad to spend so little time with Ryan and Marcie but snowstorms added an element of urgency to our trek towards warmth. We pointed our compass towards southern Utah and supposed warmth in the land of red rock skipping snowy Mesa Verde national Park on the way. We passed through Cortez CO filled the Roo Tank and headed into New Mexico and the Navajo Indian reservation with the unmistakable signs one is on the rez. Lynne was excited to see Shiprock for the first time from a distance. We passed through 4 corners and kept on trucking through the rez. As the diffuse light began to change I looked for a camp site off a dirt road near Kayenta Arizona but we decided to see if there was a Walmart parking lot in town. Negative. We kept on going into the night. We ascended and the snow came at us hard in the dark. Lynne’s parents called around 7pm as they had finally landed in the US after being stuck in Kazakhstan since the weather was too cold for jets to come for a couple days! We felt 11 degrees sure was nice compared to -40! I checked more dirt roads but decided not to camp on the rez as it’s not respectful so I pressed on and finally arrived in Page Arizona in a complete state of exhaustion.

The first convenience store stop lacked our main staple- a hot water tap- so we searched for another. I was in that state where you stare at random things for chunks of time without realizing it. Lynne stating this is a partial description says I didn’t know the answer to *any* question “or even better, you don’t seem to understand English.” When we arrived it was calm with mild temps. That changed in a matter of minutes though as the wind began to rage! Locals were amazed by the downpour- sideways rain of biblical proportions. We ate cous cous with Indian Food in the convenience store. We waited and waited as the storm released its energy. Finally we headed out into the Roo and drove lower in town to find the Walmart and its parking lot- our fancy home for the night. The wind was still whipping as we set up the tent but the rain began to taper thankfully! We guyed out the tent with several shopping carts and all the large rocks we could find. I got up at 3am to guy out the side against the car. We were greeted by chilly temps the next morning and a stiff breeze. The sun was nice! From the Walmart lot we headed to the Glen Canyon Dam Visitor center and had a nice chat with Marcus, the manager at the bookstore/ gift shop. On the road again we re-entered snow as we climbed near the turnoff for House Rock Valley road- the access to white pockets & the Wave. It would have been pretty out there but we had neither the vehicle nor the gear to head out into this remote area this trip. Just before Kanab I visited some nice horses in the snow who were shy with Lynne.

We stopped for gas in Kanab, UT and asked a fellow from the road crew if he knew how the dirt road from Coral Pink Sand Dunes to Colorado City, AZ was. He said the Utah side was good and thought the Arizona side had been plowed the day before so we decided to head that way and hopefully make Gooseberry Mesa overlooking Zion by sunset. Coral Pink Sand Dunes state park was white as the dunes were blanketed in over a foot of fresh snow. As we walked past 2 mud covered SUVs up to overlook the dunes & two mothers walked away. We had stumbled upon a sledding party likely comprised of Mormon fundamentalists. no conversations about polygamy were to be had as they kept their distance and we had a date with a sunset over Zion.

Crossing the state line into Arizona we traded pavement for dirt. It was compact snow and ice at first with a few puddles. Easy. As we descended the puddles grew. Red mud multiplied. Giving it everything I had- years of 4X4ing experience we were doing just getting by. 2nd Gear in 4 High felt like it was about to bog so I kept my R’s up. The Soob isn’t a huge powerhouse so I knew if i didn’t keep my rpms up we’d be stuck … for who knows how long! Momentum, wheel-spin and a good line were our best friends. I was glad to have great mud & snow tires! Soon the  good line part of the equation evaporated as I ran out of wiper fluid! Darn! I drove like a blind person trying to feel the line through slush and mud and puddles filling the road like swamps. The windshield looked liked an abstract red canvas. Finally I reached pavement! Whew!! It’s one thing to go wheeling at home where you have friends or another vehicle nearby to yank yourself out after a walk … it’s quite another when you’re responsible for another person 1000s of miles from home and overnight temps are in the survival range rather than the sleep range. I was strung out from adrenaline for some time! WOWsers!

The Roo was coated in red mud/snow & ice. Back on the highway we passed Colorado City, AZ and looked at the huge shells of Mormon fundamentalist homes. Soon we turned off on the dirt road to Goosberry mesa. Boy were we happy to be driving on some Froze On Dirt! It was icy though and the road had a huge crown leading to froze on water below so I wasn’t in rally mode. The best light passed on the drive in and as I pulled my camera and tripod out of the car. That’s ok, it was pretty and I snapped a few shots of Zion before we headed back to the highway and civilization. Arriving in St George Utah we promptly picked up some washer fluid and headed to Lynne’s favorite Mexico restaurant in Utah- Albertos. Outside a guy looked at the Roo and gave an enthusiastic, “MUDDIN” (pause) “MUDDDDINNN!!” …. “NICE”. We made it to Charlie & Kathy’s house in Ivins just before 9pm- tired once again but happy for another wonderful visit- our second with Charlie for 2012.

 

On the Road Again- Attempting to Put Winter in the Rearview Through the American West

After what seemed like an epoch in Spokane I was on the move, solo again for the first stretch. My dad had decided in the days leading up to actual departure he would prefer to fly to Mexico City and meet us there. I didn’t blame him, it was cold out! In ways it was sad to ‘miss out’ on many National Parks we had planned to visit on our way through the US but I’ve enjoyed scores of trips through the American West in the past 12+ years. It seems silly now to consider the feeling of let-down that it wouldn’t be the ultimate trip as I’d be missing those sights but something even richer was in store for us. Due to the fact it was now winter in the West, camping in Wyoming or Montana with lightweight clothes and sleeping bags seemed nonsensical. Thus began a long series of wonderful visits with friends and family.

Passing through Western Montana I saw a friend whom I haven’t seen since just after high school! I look forward to exploring more of Montana with Jeff in the years to come! I made it far enough that night to stay with a great Aunt and Uncle. We visited late into the evening! I greatly enjoyed stories of the first time Keith met my mom when she was a baby and how he gained my grandpa’s respect. When they moved to Montana from central Idaho my grandpa told him they’d stay 2 years- that was 1956. Keith is the quintessential Montanan. From some of my early childhood memories of visits to their house I recall the bear and cougar skin rugs, mounted deer and antelope as well as his collection of firearms from the old west. He hunted for decades in the Bob Marshal Wilderness taking many friends from near and far out on pack horses. His German friends marveled at how far it was ‘to the next village’ from deep in the wilderness! He hunted 63 elk in his years! He showed me a pack-frame he received from some Nez Pierce Indians years ago who’s parents and grandparents used the elk horn frame to pack buffalo home from the plains back when the west was wild. Everything about their house is rich with history of the west. Pointing to a sign from a wilderness cabin they used to have with friends he told me the story of how the forest service made them burn it down in the 70′s after appealing the case in court. The exclusionary nature of US wilderness laws don’t seem to account for the fact humans are an integral part of the ecosystem and have been for quite a long time. Humans can do harm but they also live in balance and do good. Sadly I left the next morning bound for Jackson hole Wyoming, a big day of driving through wind and snow!

I passed near West Yellowstone and felt happy to be in a car with a functioning heater (even if the fan doesn’t work). The stiff head-wind was exchanged for compact snow and ice as I headed south back into Idaho. Not long afterwards darkness cloaked the land. Eventually I found myself climbing Teton Pass in second gear, the Roo taking the route of slowly but surely. Kevin is another friend I have seen only once in the past 10 years. When my Toyota was rolled in the Yukon on my first attempt to head north to Alaska in 2002 he was in the passenger seat when the roof crushed down on him after I had been ejected from a seat in the bed of the truck. We talked of this for the first time and spoke of the ways September 10th 2002 changed us forever. Both of us have also had the dream of rambling through the Americas for a long time. In his basement he has a world map with the seasons for destinations on all continents! We talked about the years gone by and the hopes and directions of years to come. We both dreamed of being back in South America. June I told him, “June is the time to meet again in the land of large mountains incomprehensible jungles and vast deserts.” And I hope we do meet near the equator in a land of mountains and jungles and deserts. Once again I had to say goodbye and was on the road again. South to warmth!

Well that would come at some point. I followed my friend’s advice and took the slower scenic route over Togwatee pass through Lander. The Subaru chugged its way up the pass through the snow but afterwards I was greeted by blue sky and orange & red dirt & rocks north of Lander. While google showed it was the same distance to drive the faster way from Jackson down through Pinedale to I-80, I had already driven that years ago. I always enjoy exploring small highways I haven’t seen before. As a bonus Kevin and his friends said that westerly section of I-80 can have a lot of blowing snow. The Roo & I are not friends with blowing snow so I was happy to avoid that for a more scenic drive. In March 2006 with the worst sinus infection of my life I was driving home from the American Southwest and had entered southern Wyoming from NE Utah on a remote road. Driving a cautious 25mph I was blown off the road by a strong gust. Thankfully a kind soul from Colorado came along & had a yank strap in his Toyota 4X4. He soon had me back on the road. I has happy to have no such complications this drive and simply enjoy the desolate scenery of central Wyoming as I made my way from one corner of the state to the other.

After a LOT of hours on the road I made my way into Boulder Colorado that night after 8pm. Lynne was excited to see me. I’m not sure I was capable of emotions after sitting in the Roo for so many hours. Lynne’s sister Katy was very kind to host us in her tiny apartment! The next day Lynne was off fulfilling her dreams, “I just want to have oatmeal and quesadillas a lot.” Well that and a yoga class I took her to. I was quickly over saturated with Boulder ‘culture’ while sitting in the parking lot outside the yoga studio and “Sprouts” a grocery store calling itself a farmer’s market. From the parking lot I wrote “Taking in the wonders of a town that makes Portland look unpretentious! This part of Collarada is a strange place. May their organic asphalt lead me southward.” Lynne said I was in a snarky mood. I’m not sure what that means but it may have had a lil something to do with the fact she was also tired of the place after spending an unexpected 3 weeks there mostly by herself while I was off having fun with the Roo in the driveway in Spokane. As good tourists should we were off to the Celestial Seasonings tea factory. To see how hippies from the 70′s became uber yuppies of the 80′s, wait no, we just just wanted to drink tea. The tour was neato. I enjoyed the robotic palletizer and the double walled mint room that made our eyes water. After the tour we drank tea for 2+ hours. I didn’t know it was possible to be drunk from tea. Whoa boy! Lynne’s amusement waned, “Jon’s a surly tea drunk.” I think this also had to do with our being in Boulder. Driving under the influence of tea we went to a nearby chocolate factory then a meadery. After dark we scurried back to Boulder proper and met up with Katy, her boyfriend John, and his roommate/friend Boramey. We talked about Acadamia and math. I miss the golden years of academia in my life but not enough to return. The next morning held oatmeal and quesadillas. Lynne was living the dream! We hiked through Chautauqua Park up to the Flatirons in the afternoon and had an awesome time at a Laundromat. At a nearby Argentine restaurant (El Rincon) we met a couple of my friends from Seattle, Ethan & Obadiah, as well as Katy, John & Boramey. Lynne was sad to miss more math talk when Ethan asked about their research as she headed over to the laundromat. pphhh! (“I learned enough math in college to
realize I like other stuff better.” I on the other hand enjoy math talk as I’ve missed it greatly living in Spokane.

The next day was Saturday so we went climbing! “Yeeeahhh” Obadiah arrived at the Chautauqua trailhead about 20 minutes late which was great because Lynne & I were running late as well. Ethan’s car wouldn’t start so Obadiah headed over to pick him up when I arrived. At the crack of 12:30pm we made it to the base of the 1st Flatiron. Boulder was no longer the balmy 70 degrees Lynne had described when I was in Spokane! With a cool overcast the rock numbed our hands and feet but maybe this is the best way to climb slab. We climbed fairly efficiently as a team of 4 and made our way to the ridge and the summit for great views of the city and the coal plant below! Hiking down in the waning dusk/ dark we spoke with the joy of a fun day with friends! Lynne and I stopped by Katy’s apartment to pack our things and head to Denver to stay with Obadiah that night. We enjoyed chats about the BC Coast Range with Obadiah and felt rested the next day to begin the next leg of our journey- driving and camping our way out of winter!

Obadiah has some great photos of our day climbing here http://goacrophile.smugmug.com/Cragging/121209-First-Flatiron/27515009_xCghSX#!i=2315589285&k=P7VgNFG

Many thanks to Keith, Kevin, Katy & Obadiah for hosting and a big extra thank you to Obadiah for filling in the holes to our lack of climbing gear (Lynne now wants to buy a purple climbing helmet that’s pony-tail ready :)

 

How 2+1=11 Part B: Spokane

In the first installment of 2+1=11 we saw 2 weeks become 3 in Seattle. No big deal, all we had to do in Spokane was exchange our winter clothes & camping gear for stuff more suitable to the tropics and swap out a headlight & wiper blades on the Subaru. No problemo. I’d taken care of all the heavy lifting on the car months before- even laboring much of the previous winter to prepare for this trip! I had even worked on the car the winter before that (2010-11) in preparation! We would still make it out to Montana before Halloween with time to spare to see Glacier National Park & Yellowstone. Little did I know what was in store for us! Cue laughter from Lynne.

Brace yourself for a mechanics saga! For those less enthralled by reading about car work, pictures are at the bottom (including your favorite- car work! :)

Leaving early from Seattle that Saturday morning October 20th 2012 we rolled into Spokane before noon and headed right back out to go north to Chewelah to visit my dad’s side of the family who was splitting the distance for his oldest sister’s birthday party. We had the added bonus of seeing my grandma as well. I was happy to be out of the Roo as it was a handful to drive overloaded! We met my brother in North Spokane and the 4 of us headed up together. Once again it was great to spend time with family! We spent the remainder of the afternoon at my grandma’s house and our timing was perfect to rototill her garden! I somehow managed to time my visit in the spring well also! It was the first year since I was a kid that I was able to till her garden in both spring and fall! It brings me a lot of joy to see my grandma still working in her garden at nearly 90 years of age and with a big garden at that! I have loads of admiration for this woman in countless areas of life. She’s a quiet pillar in her community who’s been affecting lives around her for many decades. Out of all the people I’ve known she’s lost more people close to her throughout her whole life- her father when she was young, her sister/best friend as a teen, her brother- a Marine killed on the beach landing in Guam, her husband when I was still a boy and most recently, her oldest daughter- yet she is always bright & encouraging. We don’t choose our family and in this way I won the lottery many times over!

Back in Spokane the next day I shot family photos for Lynne’s cousins as a small thank you for our time in Neah Bay. The weather turned that next week in Spokane for the first time in months as I edited images and organized things at my dad’s place. We attended a square dance with the Story family our near Mt Spokane and felt the chill in the air as fall had officially arrived down south. After 17 years I decided it was high time to remove the dead branches in my dad’s large birch tree. Lynne belayed me high into the tree as I cut out the parts that were the source of its ailments. We were only a few days from departure. … or so I thought- hahaha.

I began the process of researching the million and one little electronics details necessary to support shooting photos and video on the road for months. Initially I looked into cloud storage or a vpn connection to a machine back home but research and trials showed slow upload speeds would cripple such a plan. Eventually the plan became to just carry more hard drives and a few more memory cards. Being a person who wants the best possible deal this process drug on until the new year in SoCal!!! Halloween came. we were in Spokane. Just a few days to go now! Sadly I passed on an opportunity to head to the Banff Film fest in Banff Alberta with my friend Dave Ohlson for the premier of his film K2- Siren of the Himalayas. We needed those 3 days to be ready to go by that next Tuesday .. we could still make Yellowstone before November 5th when the road closed!

As a precaution I checked the front brake pads on the Roo as there was steering wheel wobble while braking. The passenger side inner pad was quite thin so I opted for Napa’s most heavy duty pads for cooler running & longer life. As a bonus, I replaced the rear shocks with new ones from Autozone. Lynne smiled. Just a couple extra tasks. No big deal- neither of those car jobs took over an hour. Somehow another week had passed. On November 4th we went for a hike to Rocks of Sharon & Big Rock overlooking the Palouse with my dad and his youngest brother as exercise had been lacking in our trip preparations. This lined up well geographically with a visit to see my best friend Dave and his family at their farm house out in the country southeast of Spokane. In between work the next week we got out to take Roscoe on a long walk above my dad’s neighborhood. He enjoyed it as much as we did! November 9th surprised us with snow! Not only did we miss visits to Glacier & Yellowstone but we were missing the main part of our plan to head south during fall and miss winter altogether. This would put a wrinkle in our packing plans as it’s tough to pack the same clothes for Montana in November and March in Panama. Three people in the Subaru does not allow the luxury of packing both (or anything at all according to Lynne)!

Yet another weekend was upon us! It was my brother’s birthday and the 5th annual Bonfire at Sekani! Snow and cold temps scared many usual suspects away. well at least we were only days from leaving. Another treat in our tardiness was catching a visit with my friend Sandra over from Germany and Chamonix. We celebrated Lynne’s birthday in the packing scramble of determining the minimal/ optimal gear for our time through the deserts & tropics followed by mountains of South America! At Pull N Save north in Spokane (one of the city’s wonderful U-Pull wrecking yards!) I found a comfy rear seat making Lynne very happy, trim strips to reattach the rear ceiling and create storage netting anchor points, and new sun visors- all worth their weight in gold. I checked the front wheel bearings and the drivers side was becoming malo! It had lasted the 10k+ miles since my alignment in the Spring when Tom, owner of Expert Alignment, told me I could make it about that far. He is one of the most honest and best mechanics I’ve met in a long long time! He’s the only person I would pay to work on one of my cars! I can’t say enough about this guy as he offered me a lot of advice and help over the phone and in person as I was working on building up the Subaru for this trip. Thanks Tom!

I built a more sturdy shelf for the back of the Subaru as the one on our dry run to Utah the previous spring had had issues with its 1/4″ plywood construction. I under-laid it with a smaller piece of 3/4″ plywood obtained from the garden and some wood screws. The date was November 19th!! EEEEEkkkkk! Lynne had been patient for weeks- four to be exact! But she was ready to be on the move. This trip had to start sometime! As a happy birthday present and an effort to keep her in good spirits (and on board with the trip!) I put her on a plane to Denver so she could have thanksgiving with her sister as planned. I would be on my way in a matter of days with my pops! Or so i thought! This was becoming much less of a hahaha sort of thing. After my nth trip to Pull N Save in north spokane to find a variety of Subaru Parts and braking a long 1/2″ drive breaker bar + a Craftsman 1/2″ drive ratchet while removing a hub (one of several front ends I removed for the hub/wheel bearing assembly per Tom’s recommendation), working through rain or snow days I thought I was super close. At this point things began to spin out of control.

I had violated one of the key rules of wrenching. Don’t work after dark in inclement weather out in the driveway when you’re tired and hungry!! Well rested and well lit, sure work in the rain or snow. But THIS is always a bad idea. My biggest mistakes have always occurred with this combo. It’s mainly the lack of sleep/ darkness combo but rain and snow don’t help. In the name of caution I had opted to replace a front brake caliper with one from Pull  N Save as my old pads had worn unevenly. I should have just put brake grease on ‘em and called it good. A couple days before thanksgiving I was working well after dark in the driveway while it was precipitating- perfect time to bleed the brakes right? On my first wheel cylinder I noticed the nuts retaining the wheel cylinder studs were loose. I Used a small 10mm combo wrench to tighten ‘em. Did I clean off the Alaska mud first and spray some WD 40 or equivalent on ‘em? No! SNAP!!! My inverse happiness index maxxed .. or so I thought. The next morning my pops picked up another wheel cylinder from Napa. unfortunately it lacked studs. I headed to Lowes that night before thanksgiving at it was the only store open. I’m not sure why they call themselves a hardware store because hardware they have not!! Especially in metric!! The next day I savored time with family. A treat as I thought I was going to miss my second thanksgiving with family of my life! The next day it was back to the brain bashing fest! My dad had picked up some all-thread as soon as stores opened. I cut studs to the proper length and cleaned the ends with a die/ thread chaser. With this on the car I thought I would be done with a routine brake system bleed in 20 some minutes. Wrong again. I somehow managed to strip the rear passenger bleeder valve threads on the wheel cylinder I had replaced the previous winter when I replaced the rear brakes!!  This was heading well beyond ridiculous. Yet another trip to Napa and I thought I was out of the woods. HA!! How I managed this is beyond me but even using caution I managed to cross thread the retainer nuts thus destroying another wheel cylinder!!!! Frustration levels were right up there with the inverses happiness index. The time pressure to be gone on this trip was felt more acutely with each mistake. After a lot of deep breaths I did the only thing to be done, strengthened my resolve and picked up another wheel cylinder at Napa. I installed it  with only one hitch. In my haste to head inside the previous night I had not capped the rear brake line adequately enough. Fluid slowly leaked out the line … not something you want to do .. as bleeding the entire system becomes quite difficult (air becomes trapped behind a lip in the master cylinder I learned). After yet another wheel cylinder I carefully installed it and bled the system. There was still air in the line (soft brake pedal on first depression). I bled it another time. I bled the master cylinder and and all 4 wheels … again and again. I should have gone to the effort to do a hydraulic bleed but oh well. I’m in Mexico now- todo tranquillo.

So the short of it, I spent a week fighting fires that we’re necessary in the first place had I left the front caliper alone. Then things really got interesting. The shifter has had a LOT of slop in it for as long as I’ve owned the Roo. Rebuilding the shift mechanism always seemed like a large endeavor so I’d left it alone. What better time to tackle such a project than after full on battle with the Roo in the midst of winter a month after I thought I’d be rolling south towards Mexico. It turned out to be more simple than I thought barring the exception of a tricky double drift pin. I was stuck out at Pull N Save north and had resorted to the bigger hammer methodology I used to chastise my pops for. It wasn’t until I bumped into a kind soul- Matt Gordon- a local Subaru expert who was also searching for parts. He had it off in a a minute telling me of the mysterious inner drift pin (after I had already removed the cotter pin in the middle and the drift pin it rode inside. Who wouldla thought that amidst all that grease the ridge that appeared to be part of the shift relay that housed the inner drift pin & cotter pin I had removed was actually another drift pin? In this process I also replaced snapped exhaust bracket off the transmission and battled over what sort of deep cycle battery setup to run. We made the switch to full synthetic oil after running the numbers and seeing it’s way cheaper and better in the long run + it avoids the hassle of oil changes between WA and Panama when using Mobil 1 extended wear 15k mi synthetic oil. A note from Mexico- the math breaks down however if your oil usage increases in different driving conditions.

While replacing the shift linkage mechanism on my Roo I noticed another ominous woe. The inner CV boot for the drivers side drive axle was torn and grease had splattered the surrounding area. Oh me oh my! I had just replaced this drive axle for a very pretty penny on the way to the Yukon the previous September … in a Canadia Tire Parkinng lot!!! But that’s another story. So I once again tore down the front end. In the process I also noticed a torn ball joint- another item I had replaced in my full run through of the car the previous winter!! I had lost count of the times I have taken the front end apart! With the drive axle out I once again visited my buds at Napa that night and picked up a new CV dust boot with new CV grease. Working on it well rested the next morning I could only laugh. The boot didn’t match my axle. The stock Roo boot (and axle) is round. My Canuk boot needed to have expanded portions- called a Tri Lobe pattern. I went to another Napa to see if they could find a boot to fit my special Canuk axles. They offered to sell me a new axle at a good price. I meandered on to another fun wintry day at Pull and Save North where I was well known as a regular customer! I pulled some axles and looked for one in decent shape as that would be the fastest/ least expensive solution. I picked one up but it looked oldish and had small cracks in the rubber boots. After a stop by Sekani and managing to get the Jetta stuck I headed to napa’s Regional warehouse/main store on Freya. Near closing it was quiet inside so the counter man spent a half hour measuring my boot and pouring through books to try to find one that would work for me. I was indebted to him as his efforts paid off and he found one that would work. It turned out to be for Chrysler minivans, Chevy 1/2 ton pickups, etc. Boy was I gad to have that adventure behind me. Well almost. The next morning while my dad helped hold the retention band from rotating while I reefed on it with a pair of dike cutters (the method recommended by my friendly napa advisor on north monroe who really does know his stuff) I somehow had exerted a bit of extra force on the band and …. POP!!! it snapped and I reeled back with all my force unleashed (had been holding the entire workbench back with my hips!) My dad took a dike cutter in the face not far from his eye socket!! I felt terrible and took him in to stop the bleeding. WOW! This about summarizes how things went in preparing for this trip. Later he said it felt like being punched pretty hard in the face … with a hunk of metal.

At this point, you’re saying to yourself. “Wow Jon, that was a lot of awesome detail about workign on a Subaru. Thanks Jon! I only wish you’d written more paragraphs!” I’ll see what I can do in the future to aid your quest for detailed Sooob info as I took many photos of the repair work. You’re welcome!

The calendar said December. I was finally moving away from car work to the simple packing work I’d envisioned back in early October taking a week to accomplish. I had a few new hard drives in my possession- mainly 2.5″ laptop drives to carry along for multiple backups while traveling and a large internal drive for a vpn backup at home (which soon became apparent was doomed to be in the solution set by slow upload speeds). One of the last thigns I had to do was agonize over the amount of tools to take. Every square cm in the Roo is precious as we would be packed to the gills. But being far from home is not when you want to discover you are missing a key tool to take on a repair job. it’s liek Alpine climbing- the bare minimum with everything you need. In the preceding weeks I had created a 16 page packing list in Workflowy with every single detail we could think of! After a zillion other little details not mentioned here, I had dotted every I and crossed every T! Eventually all that remained was driving my way out of winter to Colorado where Lynne claimed it was 70 degrees in Boulder. Snowstorms & freezing rain were hammering the my region causing a final 1 day delay. Then after a seemingly endless time in Spokane I hit the road on December 10th 2012 bound for Montana and my dreams that lay somewhere to the south.

I really appreciate the patience of both my dad and Lynne and especially her encouragement to make it through the countless frustrations! They both offered immense help in getting this trip on the road and pointed south.

 

How 2+1=11 Part A: Seattle

After arriving in Seattle on September 30th 2012 I rejoined Lynne and we spent most of our time with family for a couple of weeks. Lynne’s parents had flown home from Kazakhstan for a handful of days. Even though we were in a time of sadness we found much joy. Much of the family not living in WA headed home sometime that next week. That next weekend I made it out rock climbing with my best friend Josh and his wife Katie. It was her first time back to that area of exit 38 since her accident the previous April! It was great to see her climbing and I also relished being out there. The air was still smokey from all the wildfires burning in WA. It was weird to see nothing but blue sky over Western WA in October! weird in a very nice way.

We slowly turned our attention to trip prep for the long journey south. My computer was still ailing/dead so that didn’t help my blog which was already several weeks behind. I had several things to accomplish while in Seattle before heading over to Spokane to begin the bulk of the prep work. Namely I wanted to catch up with many dear friends and I needed to renew my passport in a week before leaving. I should have shot my own photo for it but due to the time crunch I had 30 minutes to swing by a Kinkos downtown on the way to my appointment at the Passport office. The first image was terrible, complete with a green color cast. Explaining the interaction of their flash and fluorescent lighting was of little use. They wanted another $17 to re shoot it. I left and stopped by a Bartell Drug Store. Wait a minute this was silly, I went back and talked another woman at Kinkos into reshooting it. It was an improvement but still not far from the horrible range. Oh well, I was out of time- this would be the image I would carry for the next decade. An hour wait, the proper paperwork submitted plus $200 and my passport would be ready in 3 business days.

We took a mid week trip out to Neah Bay for a dual purpose visit. I visited the family Doctor who heads the clinic there and we hiked out to camp at Shi Shi & Point of the Arches. I was hoping for some night shots but the sky turned grey for the first time in months in Western WA. That’s ok I needed the sleep! After an enjoyable time in Neah Bay including a stop at the Makah museum we headed back to Seattle and continued our education in Dementia. That’s a tough burden to carry and I now have a lot more understanding for the families and caregivers of dementia patients. Patience and love to the nth! Our fourays to other places were good stress relievers. we went down to Tacoma and stayed with Lynne’s other grandparents while she sorted out what she needed from the storage locker. We had hoped to squeeze in a quick trip to Mt Rainier on our way south but that was not to be. We headed down to Portland and visited my friend Matt Henzi overnight where of course we took a quick trip to the Circuit, Portland’s bouldering gym which is surging in popularity. I also picked up a new wide angle lens for both night sky and video. Lynne was not a fan of the Nikon 14-24 as it’s not a small lens. She thinks my tiny 50mm is my best lens, and in actuality she is right for non-landscape work! In my experience, 3 small inexpensive primes- 35mm f2, 50mm f1.8 & 85 mm f1.8- produce better work than heavy expensive zooms like a 24-70 & 70-200 2.8 Having said this I still use my 24-70 every day. /End Camera digression. The next morning we headed back to Seattle.

On our third weekend in the Seattle area we headed out on an annual tradition with friends, a Larch trip to the North Cascades. Being from the East side of the state I make sure to use the term from my regional dialect Tamarack! The several month ridge of high pressure over the NW had broken down in a big way and forecasts were calling for several inches to nearly a foot of rain!! Instead of our annual large backpacking trip we all decided a day trip near Washington Pass would be best, hopefully dodging the main fury of the storm coming later on Saturday. we had rain on the way in and rain during part of our hike but most of it was quite pleasant and a very fun & beautiful time with great friends! We shared much laughter! Soaked and satisfied we headed back to Seattle with a stop for Mexican food in Burlington on the way home. The rain came down in torrents! We ventured out of Magnolia a few more times to visit friends and run errands. On our last night in Seattle we had a fantastic showing of friends who came out to see us off. Some friends I hadn’t seen in a few years. It felt really good to spend time with dear friends and we were quite grateful to see the effort people made to see us before we left! Thank you! Before dawn the next morning we left Magnolia with the Roo packed to the ceiling and the rear end sagging even with 3″ lift!

Although the reason for our early return south was marked by sadness it was an extremely nourishing time. I feel very privileged to have such wonderful friends and family!

 

 

 

SOUTHWARD! A hurried exit from the North Kuntry.

We woke up early the next morning, Thursday September 27th 2012 to cook breakfast and head up to the airport by 8am. Security was a breeze. I waited with Lynne until then and walked back across the highway to my car. I watched her flight take off and snapped a pic of it going airborne. I decided then in my head I was going to try to make it back over 1500 miles (2400km) for the memorial on Saturday. I sat down in the Roo and drove. I drove like it meant something, because it did. With a tail wind through the southern Yukon I made the speedo point south for a stretch. Kilometers blurred as I explored the recesses of my mind. By 1:20pm I stopped for gas at Watson Lake and said hello to the fellow who helped me out with the tires last year on the Roo at campground Services just south of town. Back on the throttle I stopped again from 2:45-3:30 to spend some time with Bison along the Alcan. I spent 5-7pm at Liard Hot Springs- North America’s best. I had budgeted only an hour but that place is tough to pass up. The sun was setting as I moved into the Northern Rockies but I made it to Muncho Lake just after dark. I pulled the Roo down near the shore and called it a night shortly after I set up my tripod near the softly lapping waves. This is another favorite spot in the North!

The next morning I had a leisurely start getting underway just before 8am. After pausing to take pics of a pretty meadow with great clouds I filled up with gas at Toad River and stopped again not long afterwards and to gaze at one of my favorite slopes with Aspens above the river. By 9:20 I was heading through Stone mountain, a place we had planned on backpacking this year. Eventually you make your way to the east side of the Rockies and head down towards Fort Nelson. That section seemed to drag on as I had been told it’s one of the few speed traps anywhere in rural Canada. A couple people I’ve talked to in Watson Lake have been picked off by RCMP radar there. From here there is a lot of oil and gas exploration. Trucks and 1 ton pickups clog the road with traffic compared to places further north (out of tourist season). In other words you have to pass vehicles from time to time. It was super smokey when I dropped down out of the mountains but cleared out further south. At some point south of Fort Nelson it began to rain. I had my sights set on Fort St John or the turnoff to Chetwyend near there my next gas stop after topping off a bit further north. The rain came and went making for some interesting passes of semis. The cutoff on hwy 29 along the Peace River was twisty but super pretty, my favorite route through the region.

I had hoped to make it to Prince George or even Williams Lake by dark but that was not to be. A pretty sunset held back the night for a bit after crossing the Rockies again towards McLeod Lake. Stopping for a break (to recharge the Go Pro) I drove through fog and moonlight and made it to Prince George around 9pm. I drove another 45 minutes and stopped at a rest area off the highway. I crawled in the back to take a cat nap but was too amped up on adrenaline to sleep. I laid there for two hours and got back on the road before 11pm and made it to Williams lake after midnight and filled up with gas again at the husky station I often visit there. Now I knew I was within striking distance as we’ve often made big pushes home from here. However exhaustion was setting in pretty hard. I was bone tired when I stopped past Prince George but this is when the power of the mind comes in willing the body on and helping it stay alert. Finally around 4am I stopped again past Clinton BC where the Nar car threw a rod on the big push south in 2003 leading to an even bigger adventure. I laid down again right near the turnoff to Lillooet and after an hour was back in the saddle. Eventually daylight began to show itself as I sped down the fraser River. That stretch dragged on forever. Finally around 7am I made it to Hope and could feel the border. By now each stretch felt like an eternity. I made it to the US border by 8:20am on Saturday morning greeted with long lines of Canadians heading south. I pulled into the duty free to use the bathroom and had a fantastically simple entry back into the US. It felt great to be back in Washington. I called my family and Lynne surprising her I was in the US. Her mom said not to do anything rash thinking i was much further north. I replied I was already back in the states to her astonishment :D I made my way to Seattle and although I was in a zombie state I cleaned up at found some clothes for the memorial. I didn’t used to realize the importance of memorials until I lost the person most important to me. Then it was a big deal to me when friends made the effort to come over from Seattle. That show of support will stick with me the rest of my life!