Saturday, November 27, 2010

Annual Pre-thanksgiving campout

Bothe Napa State Park is just outside of the town of St. Helena, in the Napa valley. It is known for the old Christian Brothers Castle that is now the California Culinary Academy.

Beautiful place, changing leaves, and full of the kind of scenery that gets turned into postcards.

The Camper family does a couple of yearly campouts, this has become one of them.

I missed last years campout, but made this one. Pics ahead. Short summary here: lots of rain. Some thunder and lightning. Warm fire helped, but the winner was the return of the deep fried turkey. Much thanks to the duo of mandolin players.

There are more pictures here.

We like to laugh a little at ourselves at these campouts. It's cold, it's wet, it is not hospitable to most campers. We have our little portable homes, our turtle shells. And thanks to John, we have a big tent to keep our food dry, our fire warm, and our alcohol unwatered.

The constant snare-drum rattle of the rain on the fiberglass roof is a mild annoyance. The gusty wind makes it hard to sleep, and here in the back of the bus, I am warm, dry and content. It's a moment of victory against the elements that promise to make my drive home slow, full of traffic, and a mild fight against the cross winds on the golden gate bridge.

For now, I have a full belly, and happy amount of beer keeping me warm, and several friends nearby.

Monday, November 1, 2010

The Return. 1.5 days. 2.5 Failures

It's Saturday, October 9, 6:30 PM and I'm heading out the door. The car has been loaded up, tuned, valves adjusted, oil changed, brakes checked, and I have to do 1200 miles in two days. Tonight's plan is to head to Highway 80 and go as far as I can before I have to pull over.

Juliette is with me. She just finished a five day rotation at the clinic, and now needs to head to San Francisco for a three day externship, so she is coming along with me on the drive.

North on 287, we hit Laramie about an hour into the drive. We made it to Rock springs around 11:30, check in at the easiest to get to hotel, sleep and are out the door the next morning around 6:00am. We averaged about 70 MPH, which is better than expected.

Quick calculation time. Rock Spring to San Francisco 925 Miles. At 65 MPH that's 14 hours, putting us in at 8:00. Assume an extra couple of hours for gas and food, and we might be home at a reasonable hour.

Evanston. They closed the Starbucks.

Utah. We blow through the canyon outside of Park City, descend into Salt Lake and we don't stop until we pass the Salt Flats. This guy passes me and we share a moment.

We refill in Wendover and start across Nevada.

It's a little more boring out there. I start tweeting where I am since we have nothing else better to do.

And the inevitable road gremlin attacks:
Then the generator light goes on. I pull over and look at the engine(while noticing the feint smell of smoke). It's not a broken fan belt, I wish it were.

It is clear that the generator brushes have ground down, and I am no longer charging the battery. For some reason I ignore that smoke smell, and write it off to "something else". We make it to Reno and fill up once more. Once I hit the sierras, the sun has gone down, and I have to turn on the lights. I know that they are going to fade out once the battery dies, but right now, I'm aiming at getting as close to home as I can.

I'm also calling a friend to see if he has spare brushes. He does, he is in Sacramento, and if I can make it there, I'll be fine. My wife is pretty tense about this, but does a good job of keeping it to herself.

The lights completely die just outside of Sacramento. I drive for about two miles with no headlights on the freeway, everyone is flashing their highlights, and I'm realizing that this is both dangerous and stupid. I pull off the freeway and ask my friend to guide me to his house with his car lighting the way.

We make it to his driveway, and I start removing the generator brushes. I drop the screw. I try to keep my cursing down to a minimum. My friend loans me his car. We drive to San Francisco with the intention of returning the next morning.

I head back the next morning, finish installing the brushes. The generator light is still on. It's not the brushes.

Kombi house is less than a mile away, I drive the car there and have them install a new generator and voltage regulator. Little did I know that I've had a 38 Amp voltage regulator on a 30 amp generator for the past 12 years. Honestly, how often do you look at that thing and read the numbers on it. I can't remember who installed it, I can't remember when I replaced it. Regardless. It's dead, so is the generator. They get replaced. While it's there, the window regulator dies. The internal gears are stripped, I need to find a replacement. Kombi house has one, they give it to me and I replace it the next weekend.

So I'm driving in back home, and the generator starts making a noise. The bushing in the generator is bad. I now have generator grease all over my pristine engine. Sigh.

I drive back the next day, they replace it, but now the fan is rubbing. I hear it every time I start the engine, it makes that high pitched whirr sound that is similar to a loose fan belt on a water cooled engine. I have no time to return to Sacramento, so I adjust and tweak the generator positioning until I get it as close to correct as I can. For the record, it left Kombi house fine, and somehow started rubbing after I drove it for about 40 miles.

I'll fix it properly once I have more time.

Up next: post failure analysis and update.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Moab to Ft. Collins. Day 5

I'm still a little under the weather. This damn head cold has been around for a week and a half. A night in a hotel room has helped, but I'm still stuffed and not sleeping well. I'm awake and fighting getting out of bed. I still haven't seen any of Moab other than some cliff silhouettes lit by the night moon.

I check my oil, fill up the tank, grab a coffee, and head to road 128 that runs along the Sorrel River. I start out thinking that I need to move quick to make up for a slow morning, but the road tells me otherwise. It's time to slow down, enjoy each turn, and admire it.

This is red cliff country. It's stunning, and each turn of the road is another reveal of natural art. It's hard to keep your eyes on the road. 

I turn off the radio, and listen to nothing but the sound of the wind and the engine. The air smells like sage. My road trip was worth this road.

So I reconnect to highway 70 and work my way into Colorado. I've driven this road three times now, almost always at night, and each time in the middle of summer. The Aspen leave are just starting to change, and this is likely the last weekend I'm getting over the pass before the early snows start to hit.

The air is dry. I pull over to fill the tank and the air tells me just how dry it is - I have to sit in the parking lot for about 20 minutes to stop a bloody nose. The nose bleed is bad, the view isn't.

Back on the road, twists and turns through the mountain passes.

I'm getting passed by everyone, some of them slow down and stare. Some smile and wave. One trucker gives me the finger. I can see him mouthing an obscenity at me as he passes by. I can still picture his face, his scrunched up red cheeks, and the irrational fury that was behind the wheel screaming at me impotently. I remember it, because every other trucker out there has been a gentlemen of the road. Passing gracefully, reaching a distance that his draft doesn't make me bounce around, some waving, some with big smiles. At night they have flashed their lights to let me know when I could pass them. I have to drive in their lane, they share it with me even though I'm not one of them.

Vail. Breckenridge. Other mountain towns. And now the big hill.

The Eisenhower-Johnson memorial tunnel is 60 miles outside of Denver, and is 11,158 ft high. The only higher tunnel is in China, and you have to take a train through it. Coming from the west, the climb is a two mile ascension. I'm moving at 20 MPH, and drafting and being drafted by, a semi. We are all in this really slow boat together, and only patience is going to get us over this hill.

I reach the top. The bus finishes its chorus of "I think I can" and begins the "I thought I could" song as it reaps the reward of a downhill descent to 5280 ft.

The rest of the ride is uneventful. I'm in Ft. Collins at 7:30 that night.

For those who asked, full sized pictures can be found here.

Next. The drive back. Far less enjoyable. At least I had company.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Nevada to Moab - Day 4

It's about 9:00 am and I'm stepping out of the hot springs. The bus is already packed, and I decided that a quick splash before I hit the road sounded like a good idea. It was.

Note to self: put a hot tub in the garage so I can always take a nice mellow dip in the hot water before driving. It's better than beer.

I head out on the dirt road and see evidence of the old silver mine before I make it back to Highway 50.

Now begins the long drive to Moab - 528 Miles, several mountain passes, two desserts.
There aren't many signs out there, but when you see them, they have something to say.

I practice my rear-view mirror photography skills, there are no radio stations that I can get, and I have nothing to do other than stare at the horizon and try to remember the words to American Pie.

Mountain pass after mountain pass:
Pinto Summit -7376
Pancake summit -6517
Robinson Pass - 7607
Sacramento Pass - 7154
I'm climbing some of them at 40MPH, some at 20. Grade and momentum matter in this car.

Your imagination can run wild out there. You start remembering books that you read where people were alone and left to survive on their wits. Movies of people climbing from the weapons-tested rocks. I'm starting to think that much of this looks like Red dead Redemption. (Obilgatory video game reference)
After a while, the rocks start having faces.
Fortunately, they are smiling.

I reached the town of Ely NV. It is a small silver mining town with a couple of brothels (look for the rows of trucks with Utah license plates surrounding the buildings) and a few older victorian houses.

A quick note about fellow travellers on this road. There aren't many of them. The last time I took this road, I was travelling much like these two. They were heading from Moab to Reno - opposite of my drive, and twice as fast I'm sure.

I stopped in the middle of a dessert to help a Miata that had a flat tire. He couldn't find his jack and put the spare tire on. It was in the trunk - under the little flap on the right. He offered me a cold soda as thanks, I accepted. I had two grandfathers that taught me a little about self reliance. I'm driving away and thinking that I have never driven a car that hasn't had a jack and spare tire. I'm also thinking that I miss my grandparents.

Just outside of Ely, you head to Hwy 6 - The Grand Army of the Republic Highway. Its a grand name for a long straight a road that looks like this:

The sun starts to set and I use the light to my advantage. Yeah, I like long shadows.

The drive on Hwy 70 is normally beautiful, but I hit the turns too late to see the epic sunsets that light the buttes in Maxfield Parrish style.
It's getting late, so I pull into Moab around 10:45 and get a nice room at the "give them away" price. (About 40% less than the price of the room 30 minutes prior.)

Next: Day 5 - into Ft. Collins.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Onward to Colorado - Day 3

Sunday morning. It was my intent to head up Highway 50 into South Lake Tahoe, and on to Fallon Nevada. From there I was going to take Highway 80 to Wendover and find a hotel. Joe, Gene, Romy and Jen all told me otherwise. Apparently I would be heading to Spencer Hot Springs.

Hwy 50 is nicknamed the loneliest highway in America. The number of cars on it is less than 1/20th the number of cars on Highway 80. It is also the rout of the former pony express and the Lincoln highway. You can still see remnants of the Lincoln highway on the side of the road. It travels through three deserts, and has occasional small silver mining towns scattered at decent distances from each other.

I left Finnon Lake around 11:30 and took 50 up through Kyburz, and over the pass into South Lake Tahoe.

Moved on through Carson City, past the infamous road of legalized... um... physical services that are offered at the Kit Kat house and the Moonlight Bunny House (conveniently located across the street from each other, truckers and bikers welcome!).

Through some small towns, and stopped at a Sonic in Fallon for food. I parked next to this guy who was traveling back to Sacramento.

I head out to the dessert and cross through several small mountain passes. Some cars didn't do as well.

The shoe tree is a landmark of sorts. There isn't much else out there, so there's this tree. Why not decorate it with shoes?

The sun was just starting to set when I reached the little mining town of Austin. You twist up and down a road before heading out on a dirt path to reach my place for the night - Spencer Hot Springs. I arrive there around 8:00pm and climb in for a 20 minute wind down after a long day driving. There is nothing but the moon, the starts, and the clearest milky way that I have seen in years.

I arrived at night, so I woke up the next morning to see just how desolate it is out there.

The Burros who brayed all night competing for water won't come near me this morning.

Next up - days four and five - my trip to Moab. 

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Days One one and Two - Camping

I finished packing when UPS shows up with a tent. I don't need to bring a tent, I have the bus and the side tent, but my wife might want it, so why not? It goes in the last place I have any room, and I'm out the door, across the bridge, and on my way to Napa to meet Big Blue.

We worked our way to the lake, and I did a little engine testing through the turns on the hill. Works just fine! So does the suspension. Just Saying. ;)

We found our spots near John "Tent of Doom" La Torre, and had a beer with the rest of the usual suspects before zonking.

There were a few newbies, Brian and his sweet set up "ready for anything mobile", and John enticed a friend to show up in their tear drop trailer.

Fall Finnon Fest was not as hot as last year, nicely mellow, and and excellent chance to say good bye to joe who is off to China for at least six months.

Introducing, The Squirrel

I have another VW. I know it's a sickness. I'm cutting and pasting the post that I put on the samba: The Back story: My grandpare...