South California - Preparing for Central America

USAPosted by Espen Thu, November 18, 2010 23:27:36

Hey everybody!

We have been hanging out in LA and San Diego for a few days now, trying to prepare and get organized before crossing the border to Mexico and head south. Traveling in North America is easy when it comes to things like drinking water and electricity, but we kind of expect that to change as we travel south. We also start to see some wear and tear on some of the equipment we have been using so far, and in particular on our tent. Fortunately, ARB wanted to help us out and replaced the worn parts. Marc at ARB even helped us out with a shipping contact in San Diego, so when the parts arrived we met up with Rodel (driving a really nice Nissan Pathfinder!) that gave us all the stuff we needed. Big thanks to you, guys!

Another stop was at Currie for an adjustable link to our rear sway bar, as the in-cab-disconnector stopped working a month or two ago. I guess I’ll open up the control box and see if I can make it work again a little later (on a nice beach in Baja with a cerveza…)

The parts for the roof top tent were a new transport cover, as the one we’ve been using for the last 7 months was wearing out at some points, a new hinge/lock for the fridge, and an aluminum bar with some plastic locks. I would say that I don’t think any of these repairs would have been necessary for normal weekend or a couple of weeks holiday use, but putting the tent up and packing it down almost every day for 7 months is hard on some parts of the equipment.

From San Francisco, we had got hold of some extra mounting brackets for the roof rack. This is also one of the things that have been on our minds for some time now, as we want to make sure that the weight from the roof rack is distributed as evenly as possible on the vehicle body.

Well, enough about repairs and maintenance! We also bought some new goodies that we hope will make our days of camping even better. With our setup (fully charged), we can camp for 3 or maybe 4 days if we only run the fridge and water pump. If we’re also using our laptop, it will be shorter. So in order to extend our stay “off line” for another day or three, we decided to get a solar panel. The Piranha isolator we have to separate our battery circuits, also has a small built in solar controller. This can take up to 50 watt, so even if we would like some more juice, we decided to go for a 50 watt Kyocera panel. It is not mounted on the car, so we can move it around with the sun when we camp. This way we probably get about the same effect as from a 80-90 watt panel mounted flat on the roof. So far the panel works great!

The next issue we wanted to solve before heading south was drinking water. In North America we have been filling up our tank from taps at campgrounds, and the water has always been fine. Going south we kind of expect this to change… After debating for a while if we should go for chlorine and a cheap filter for the taste, buying filtered water, or get a filter that would actually remove all the bad stuff, we decided to get a Seagull X1 that supposedly will remove all bacteria, all cysts, and 99,99 % of viruses. Will be interesting to see how this works….

The last piece we wanted to change was our propane bottles. We have been using the 1 pound cans from Wallmarts, and this lasts for about 4-5-6 days depending on what we are cooking. Now we mounted an 11 pound gas can in the back of the truck that hopefully will give us about a month or so with cooking. And the availability of propane should be fine all the way to Argentina.

In order to get all this stuff sorted out, mounted, and tested before setting off, we camped for a couple of days in Anaheim, LA, and in San Diego. In Anaheim we met Franc and Isabel from Switzerland in a really nice 1976 VW bus/combi, now on their way to South America. Check out their blog on http://travelpod.com/members/seeyou2011

The last preparations were made in a KOA campground just south of San Diego, and here we met Tiffany and Jamie also on their way south along Baja in their Chevrolet van. We crossed the border and drove the northern part of Baja together. More about that in the next post!

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Highway1, California

USAPosted by Malin Fri, November 12, 2010 01:55:24

Our chosen travel route has since Vancouver taken us inland along the Rockies and down to the Canyonlands. As we also wanted to see some of the US coast line, we traveled northwest from Arizona to San Francisco. After photos and movies we have seen over the years, we decided to drive south along the Pacific on Highway 1. It was an amazing drive and we had nice weather and great views the whole time. A couple we meet later told us they had driven the same road and not seen a thing because of fog.

We started our drive along the coast in Monterey and drove by all the expensive houses along the “17 Mile Drive” to Carmel –by-the-sea. The most beautiful part of the coast was from Big Sur and southwards where it hardly lives any people. Except for the winding road it is wild. Since the Californian coast is famous for its beauty, and with cities like San Francisco and Los Angeles not too far away, it attracts many tourists and the prices are steep. Normally we pay $ 15-20 for a night in a State Campground, but along the coast they cost $ 35…

One night we camped at Kirk Creek which has the most amazing views over the ocean. We were sitting in our chairs enjoying the view, the stars above us, and eating chili tortilla chips. After a quick trip to the restrooms we found that our bag of chips was gone!! There were traces left of chips going towards the bushes, and we figured that the thief must be a raccoon. We had forgotten about the warnings not to leave any food out. Felt a bit sorry for the raccoon that probably ate the rest of the chili chips, hope it did not get too bad stomach pains.

At Piedras Blancas we stopped to look at the young elephant seals that were sunbathing on the beach. Not to different from humans… J

From there Highway 1 took us to places like Santa Barbra and Santa Monica where we saw the “famous” lifeguards. Espen wanted to look for movie stars so figured Beverly Hills and Hollywood was a good place to start.

Unfortunately, the only stars we saw were the ones in the pavement on Hollywood boulevard. After driving around a hill and several other detours, we could finally see the Hollywood sign from Griffith Observatory.

From the Observatory there were also great views over the city, which is just huge.

Sunset was closing in and we had to find a campsite for the night. Best location for that in the LA area is in Anaheim next to Disneyland. This meant that we had to cross the city in rush hour….. Great.

That was the end of our drive along Highway 1.

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San Francisco

USAPosted by Espen Wed, November 10, 2010 19:26:46

San Francisco was marked in our calendar as “relaxing time”, and we had serious plans about having a good time and not rushing through. And so we had! Before arriving San Francisco, we had made plans with some friends to stay at their place just outside the city, in a place called Livermore. From here it is about 45 minutes into the city center by BARTH, the local city train. We also booked a night at a hotel downtown SF, so we shouldn’t have to worry about train schedules and last departures when checking out the city life.

When visiting friends that have lived here for years, they do have some cards up their sleeves. We had been discussing driving up to Napa Valley to expose ourselves to some wine culture, but what we didn’t know was that there were about 50 vineyards in Livermore! So, first activity on the list was wine tasting! Stopped by three excellent vineyards, and that was perhaps a little too much for the quality of the tasting, but we had a lot of fun!! At the last place I Think we taster about 10 wines. Hm…

Zinfandel discussions at Ruby Hill

Don Franklin explains the production process at McGrail Vinyard.

Final conclusions at Boa Ventura...

Another convenient consequence about staying with friends was to have a physical mail address. Incredible how many nice-to-have things available online are never in stock when you try to look for them in an old fashion store. Not an easy thing to have thing sent to you when you never are in the same place for more than a couple of days (and don’t really know where you are going to be next week..). There showed up ,among other stuff, a kit with new rear brake pads for the Patrol – came all the way from Norway as Patrol parts are relatively scarce here in the US.

Downtown San Francisco we took the “tourist route”; got off the BARTH at Embarcadero, walked along the piers, and found the stairs up to Coit Tower. From there we walked down the hill on the other side of the tower, and came down to North Beach.

Coit Tower from Embarcadero

View from Coit Tower towards North Beach and the city center.

North Beach is not a beach, but the Italian part of San Francisco. And as it was time for lunch, we found a table and had great, Italian pizza at Divine Café.

On our way back to the hotel (NB Park Hotel in the city center has rooms for only 60$ a night!) we walked through SF’s Chinatown. We are a little fascinated that all bigger American cities has a so uniform looking “Chinese” area.

In the afternoon we got on the tram for some sightseeing on the other side of the city, Fisherman’s Wharf. Looked around for a place serving fresh fish, but after finding this sign down by the piers, we ended up eating chicken at a Thai restaurant…

The next day we met up with Luis from www.lostworldexpedition.com which happened to be back home in California for a few weeks. He and his girlfriend have been on the road for almost a year and a half in a Toyota Landcruiser, and they are kind of in Panama now (if they hadn’t been in California…). It will be interesting to see if we will catch up with them. We also met Christian and Dave that also are overland travelers. Christian has been traveling in Africa and Australia, and he is also one of the guys behind www.expeditionportal.com. Dave and his wife are packing their Nissan Xterra as we speak, and will be driving south in a couple of days. Their destination is the same as ours – Tierra del Fuego, Argentina. We had a really nice day talking about preparations, travels, and Central America.

The last couple of days we stayed in the area, we spent in Livermore, and we really got to relax and recharge our batteries after a lot of driving the last two month.

A big thanks to Elin, Larry, Diane, Nina, Jan, Jackie, and Peter for a great stay in Livermore, and to Luis, Christian, Dave, Persephone and Matt for a fun and interesting day in San Francisco

(…and to Charles for an excellent white wine! It went really well with the beautiful ocean view at Kirk Creek Campground along Hw1)

And from San Francisco we take Highway 1 south along the Pacific coast in the next blog post…


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USAPosted by Malin Sat, November 06, 2010 20:27:31

One of the things that are amazing about travelling in the US is that sometimes within a short drive the landscape and climate can change dramatically. We woke up by the Eureka Sand Dunes in Death Valley, put on shorts and t-shirt and took off to our next destination, Yosemite. Tioga Pass was our entry point to Yosemite National Park, and there we were surrounded by peaks with fresh snow.

Our Death Valley clothing was swapped out with pullover, pants and shoes. Tioga Road was a beautiful drive into the park, but everything along the road like campgrounds was closed because it was late in the season. And because of this the campgrounds in Yosemite Valley was full, and if you are able to plan your travel a bit more than us, it is advised to book a campsite online ahead of time.

We meet up with our friend Tim who had driven his late 80-model Subaru south from Alaska and we pirate camped at a “nice” location outside the park.

Next couple of nights we were able to get a campsite inside the park at Upper Pines. One evening we had a big black bear running through the campground 30 meters away from our Patrol being chased by rangers.

For the first time on this trip we took out our climbing equipment and did a couple of two pitch climbs with Tim. It was great, and I hope we are able to get the dust of our climbing equipment a few more times on the way south.

Leaving Yosemite we made a stop at the Tuolumne Grove to have a look at the giant sequoias, and they were huge. Sequoias are in the coast redwood family and can get up to 3000 years old.

In one of the dead giant trees there were cut a tunnel in 1878, so that wagons and later cars with tourists could drive through. Today this road is closed and only used to hike down to the grove to walk among the sequoias. After seeing the sequoias we were ready to head north towards San Francisco.

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Death Valley

USAPosted by Malin Sun, October 31, 2010 00:13:26

We thought Death Valley would be really hot, dry, lifeless and a “dead” place. Now the summer and the hottest season are over, and tourists are slowly starting to arrive in Death Valley. The temperature was still pretty high for us Norwegians with 38 degrees Celsius. One of our first stops was Badwater with an altitude of 88.7 meters below sea level.

That makes it the lowest we have ever been on this planet, even lower than our deep dive on the scuba course we took years ago.

Death Valley was first seen by europeans on their way to the gold fields in California in the mid 18-hundred century. Then gold and other minerals were discovered in Death Valley and different mines were started up. One guy, Scotty, a con man, claimed he had a gold mine just to scam wealthy investors. Scotty was forgiven by Johnson, one of his investors, and they became friends. Johnsons built a ranch in Death Valley and Scotty lived and died on the ranch and today the ranch is just called Scotty’s Castle.

On our way to have a look at The Racetracks we passed through Teakettle Junction, but we did not have a teakettle to offer to the Gods of this junction. So fingers crossed that I can still have my tea in the morning… The Racetrack is not a place where cars are racing, but rocks.

The puzzle about these moving rocks has not been fully solved, but the main hypothesis is that the when the playa surface get wet and slippery the rocks slide with the wind.

From the Racetracks we drove over the Lippincott Pass, a narrow winding road with some washouts down into Saline Valley.We got down in the valley were we had a closer look at the salt flat and the remains of the salt mine that was operated here from 1903 until the 1930s.

In the middle of Death Valley we stumbled over an oasis with palm trees and hot springs. Wow.

That was one of the last things we expected, but a great surprise. It was a surreal experience to sit in a hot pool while enjoying the scenery of Death Valley. Later on Espengot a second bath at the Marble Springs.

In one of the most remote places in California someone have transported a bath tub out to the middle of nowhere and filled it up with blue marbles…… and ducks!!

Before leaving Death Valley we spent a night at Eureka Sand Dunes. The sand dunes rise up to 230 meters above ground in between the mountains. Waking up with the view of Sand Dunes was a great end to our stay in a park that surprised us with its great and varied nature and marks left by people with a good sense of humor.

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