Route 66: Kingman, AZ to Flagstaff, AZ

September 8, 2015 Categories Camper Van, Road Trips, Travel, USA

Miles driven: ~200
Engines exploded: 1

Today was interesting. I’ll begin at the end, because that’s how all stories are told, right? No? Well, too bad. Around 1pm I was driving on I-40, as Route 66 in Arizona jumps on and off the Interstate for a good portion of the state. I was about 40 miles past Flagstaff and I hear this clinking sound. I had my music on, so I didn’t even notice it at first, but I did think the van felt a little sluggish getting up to speed. Once I noticed the noise, I paused my music and listened to try to figure out what it was. You see, the van is kinda beat up from when I got it, so there’s some metal around the driver’s wheel well that I thought may be rubbing on the tire or something. It’s done it before and I just hammered it back in place, so that was my first thought as to what was happening. Then I thought, “I hope that’s not a piston misfiring or something”, at which point my engine light started blinking, a loud noise happened, and smoke was everywhere. Luckily I was able to steer the van off the road and it promptly died.

Now, I may have said a couple words of profanity immediately after I got off the road. I got out of the van, opened the hood to a waft of smoke and oil smell, and then looked underneath to see oil spilling everywhere, including a massive trail of oil behind the van where I got off the road. Upon a closer inspection, I saw what appeared to be a complete piston rod sitting on the cross-member and a massive hole blown through the oil pan.

I’m not sure exactly how a piston rod exploded through the motor or what caused it, but I can only imagine the amount of damage that it caused and know that the motor is essentially non-repairable. I have to imagine that the camshaft and/or crankshaft are destroyed and the cylinder that piston rod shot out of probably has gouges torn into the sides. The cost of a new (or used) motor and to pay for someone to install it would be more than the cost of a cheap used car, and probably more than what I paid for the van to begin with, so I decided to abandon it and take whatever little cash a junkyard would give me for it. During the hour I waited for the tow truck to arrive, I started ripping out what I could.

I talked to the junkyard people to make sure they didn’t start “picking” through the van as I went to the nearest rental car place and got a vehicle to come back and load up as much as I could. Anything that was attached to the van I chalked up as a loss and basically grabbed all my personal stuff, which is worth quite a lot. I had almost my entire tool collection in the van (about $2k worth), all my backpacking/camping equipment ($4-5k), my camera gear ($4k), and my laptop ($2k), among other things. I was gonna rip out what I could from the electrical system, but the rental car I got was pretty packed from everything else and it would have been a lot of work to take the electrical system apart, as I built the bed around the bulk components.

Surprisingly, I found the van exploding to be more funny than upsetting. Yes, it sucks I just spent a lot to fix the cooling system, but that’s part of what makes it so funny. If it exploded three or four days ago, I would have saved a lot of money, but of course it had to wait until today to do it. On top of that, just three months ago I bought brand new tires and had the radiator and transmission flushed. Oh, and I got an oil change five days ago. I mean, come on, how funny is that? I have to laugh; there’s just not much else to do about it.

On another plus side, if I build another van, I know what I used and didn’t use in this one that would just be a waste to do again. For example, I pretty much never used the stove, the fridge, the microwave, or the water heater. I enjoyed having running water, electricity, and a large bed. I loved the “cabin” feel inside the van, but I realize that it made the van weight a lot. In fact, the van weighed in at 7,800 lbs on the junkyard scale, and the base weight is only 4,816, so all the stuff I added weighed a ton and a half! Even though I loved the “cabin”, I wouldn’t do it again; that way it would weigh a lot less. Regardless of what I decide to do next, the van was a fun project and I enjoyed building it and learning from it.

Ok, now that the end is covered, lets go back to the beginning, before things went bad. My first stop was at the Hackberry General Store not too far North (66 East) of Kingman. It’s a pretty cool store with a lot of old Route 66 collectibles, old fuel pumps, and old cars on display. I was looking at some Route 66 photos yesterday that were taken in Arizona and wondering where they were taken at specifically, and today I immediately realized it was the Hackberry General Store. Definitely a place worth stopping at.

I kept driving until I saw the Grand Canyon Caverns and the giant metal dinosaurs out front that were one of the things featured on my Arizona Route 66 map. I’m glad I stopped. Other than the metal dinosaurs, they have a bunch of old cars on display and a lot of it is modeled after Radiator Springs from the movie Cars. Coolest thing there is definitely Herbie, the #53 Bug. Makes me wanna watch some of the old Herbie movies.

One of the last things I got to see today was the Twin Arrows Trading Post. It’s no longer functioning and there isn’t even an area you can “legally” stop to see it and get pictures. Something like this is too awesome to not get pictures, so I parked anyway (directly in front of a No Parking sign) and did my best to hurry. I won’t tell if you won’t.

Not too long after that is when I started hearing the clinking sound and the van engine exploded.

All things considered, today was still a pretty good day. Sure, the van exploded, but I got to see some cool stuff. I was hoping to make it to New Mexico today, but oh well. A huge chunk of Route 66 is on I-40 for a lot of Arizona, so I don’t think it’ll take that long to get there. I only rented a car for the next seven days, so I may have to be picky about where I stop and how often if I want to make it to Wisconsin within that timeframe. I already have a feeling I’m gonna extend the rental by a couple days.

For sure I wanna stop at the WigWam Motel in Holbrook, AZ; Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, TX; the midpoint sign in Adrian, TX; the Route 66 Museum in Tulsa, OK; the Golden Driller of Tulsa; the Blue Whale of Catoosa, OK; Pops in Arcadia, OK (largest soda selection anywhere); Springfield, MO to see someone awesome; St. Louis, MO for the Arch; the Gemini Giant Muffler Man in Wilmington, IL; and Tall Paul, the Muffler man in Atlanta, IL. Other than that, I’m just gonna stop when I can.

Hoover Dam, Nevada

September 7, 2015 Categories Camper Van, Road Trips, Travel, USA

Miles driven: 231.6

Today I made a little side adventure back to Vegas, but only because that’s the closest Midas and the work I got done the other day on the van is all under warranty there. I’m glad I made the trip because the leak I saw yesterday was because they didn’t tighten a hose completely. It sucked that Vegas was the closest Midas, but at the same time it was cool because I stopped by the Hoover Dam on the way.

I’ve been to Vegas a few times now and had never made the short trip over to the dam before. It’s quite massive (that’s what she said).

I’m back in Kingman, Arizona again tonight so I can head back out onto Route 66 tomorrow where I left off yesterday. To make it a little easier, I backtracked through town a little tonight so I wouldn’t have to do it in the morning, as there was a short section of 66 that I skipped and was gonna do later… and now later has arrived. I really like the Mr. Magoo thing.

Route 66: Barstow, CA to Kingman, AZ

September 6, 2015 Categories Camper Van, Road Trips, Travel, USA

Miles driven: 242.3

So, I didn’t drive yesterday. I took the van to a shop and had them check things out. I was right, the thermostat was shot. On top of that, the water pump was leaking and so was the intake gasket. The leaks are obviously why the coolant was low, and it’s probably because the coolant was low that the thermostat became damaged. While they were fixing things, they said my ignition coil was also damaged, which wasn’t honestly a surprise to me. I had them fix everything. I spent more money in one day getting everything fixed than I spent for the first two months of traveling. Frankly, I wasn’t happy about it, but I have a long drive to make and don’t want to get stranded.

Today began perfectly; I wish I could say it ended that way. The drive East from Barstow was my ideal Route 66 experience – simple road, vast landscapes, and almost no traffic. In fact, I only saw four cars in the first three hours of driving today. It was beautiful. It wasn’t until I reached Amboy (about two-thirds of the way through California) that traffic started to pick up, but even then it was only a handful of cars at a time.

Due to a road closure, I missed a pretty large chunk of the Route today not too long after Amboy. I didn’t get to drive through the towns of Chambless, Summit, Danby, or Essex and instead had to take I-40. I think I missed 20 or 30 miles of the road because of that closure.

The weirdest part of today was driving through Oatman, Arizona, as the streets were completely filled with people and donkeys. I wish I was joking, but I’m not. There were jackasses everywhere – some on four legs and some on two. There were too many people there and I didn’t wanna stop. I took a picture, but it was almost out of town and most of the people had cleared away.

The first section of Route 66 in Arizona wasn’t the most fun to drive. It’s apparently the original Route and wasn’t used after the 50s; lots of sharp curves, narrow road, and slow going. It was nice scenery, though.

It was close to 50 miles before I reached Kingman and stopped for gas, at which point I noticed coolant below the engine. I stopped a few times during the day and hadn’t noticed anything prior to that. After spending so much money yesterday getting it “fixed”, I’m not that happy today to see another possible problem. I’m pretty concerned because of how rusty/murky the coolant looks, especially since it’s only a day old. It’s too dark now to get a good look, but I’m gonna check the oil in the morning to see if it looks like there’s any coolant mixing in there and vice versa. I swear if I have a blown head gasket, I’m just gonna set the van on fire. Things are not going my way.

Route 66: Santa Monica, CA to Barstow, CA

September 4, 2015 Categories Camper Van, Road Trips, Travel, USA

Miles driven: 196.4

Today was the first day of driving Route 66 from Santa Monica to Chicago (yes, I’m doing it “backwards”). I’ll warn you now: all the pictures from today are pretty crappy. Today was mostly driving through the really congested areas of California and the majority of it doesn’t even have the old-timey look or feel that I think is worth stopping for. I think I spent more time hitting the brakes than the gas pedal; it was constant stop and go. My mileage is the equivalent of three and a half hours of driving, but it took me nine hours to travel it.

In case you’re not aware, Route 66 cannot be traveled as a continuous road anymore. It’s been a mostly defunct road since the 60’s and officially decommissioned in 1984 after the town of Williams, Arizona lost a final legal battle. All that remains are a few segments of the original highway pieced together by access roads, local highways, and parts of the Interstate. Traveling the road can be quite tricky and confusing and that’s why awhile back I bought a set of maps created by Jerry McClanahan and Jim Ross. There’s a map for each of the eight states Route 66 goes through and each map has (simplified) driving directions for both Westbound and Eastbound travelers. I also bought the EZ66 Guide by Jerry McClanahan, which has more detailed directions, as well as attractions and historic details. For the most part, I’m just using the maps because I like that they simplify the directions. If you ever drive Route 66, I’d definitely recommend buying yourself at least the set of maps, as they are amazing.

I started this morning by driving the 34 miles from where I was to get down to Ocean Avenue in Santa Monica where Route 66 ends. Since I was on Santa Monica peer just a few days ago and got a picture of the sign indicating Route 66’s end, I didn’t walk back out there this morning. I “cheated” and began driving where Ocean Ave and Santa Monica Blvd meet.

Not too long after getting on Santa Monica Blvd, I saw a Route 66 Museum so I thought I’d stop and check it out. However, it was just after 9am and it appeared to be closed. I didn’t see a sign stating the hours, so I took a couple pics from outside and got back on the road.

I followed the map, sticking to Santa Monica Blvd and driving through West Los Angeles, Beverly Hills, West Hollywood, and shortly thereafter turning onto Sunset Blvd until I reached the Pasadena Freeway (110) which I took North to Pasadena. It was 10:40 by the time I got to Pasadena and finally I saw a Historic Route 66 sign. Of course, I had to take a picture because it was the first one I’d seen so far.

There’s a section of Route 66 after Pasadena that follows Foothill Blvd. Eventually Foothill changes names and the map says to take a left on Citrus, then a right back onto Foothill, drive a short ways, then turn right and head back to the exact same road you started on. I did not do that. Looking at an actual map, I noticed Foothill simply became Route 66 and so I just stayed on that road. The road itself had Route 66 painted on it and there were signs in the median saying it was Route 66, so I don’t feel like I missed anything. This was also the first area I started noticing business with the Route 66 logo, which was pretty cool.

Around 11:30 I noticed the van’s temperature gauge fluctuating, which it has never done before and it only went up when I stopped. Now, normally I’m not in city traffic playing red light, green light for four hours so my first thought was that the van was just not used to the stop and go driving and wasn’t getting enough air flow, but I decided to stop at the nearest Autozone and let the engine cool so I could check the antifreeze level just in case. I let it cool for an hour and a half before opening the radiator. The coolant definitely looked low, so I bought some more and filled it up, hoping that was all that was wrong. However, the gauge was still fluctuating after that and I’m a little worried that I might need to have the thermostat replaced. Since the temperature gauge hasn’t gone above 220 yet, I’m not completely worried; I just kept an eye on it all day.

I stopped and got a picture of the highway after leaving San Bernardino and traffic cleared up.

I arrived in Victorville at 3:48pm and made my way to the Route 66 Museum that’s on the road out of town. I didn’t get to the museum until just after 4pm and apparently they close at 4, so this was the second museum of the day that I didn’t actually get to go inside. I got pictures from the outside, though.

After Victorville, the road becomes the National Old Trails Rd and goes through Oro Grande, Helendale, and Barstow. I got to Barstow around 5pm and walked around the Main St area to get pictures, as it was the first town that seemed to have historic buildings. In the EZ66 Guide, it talks about how the El Rancho was built from salvaged railroad ties.

At the El Rancho Motel, there was also this Route 66 display. Check out the different state signs along the top. Does it bother anyone else that Kansas and Missouri are in the wrong order? It should be Illinois, Missouri, then Kansas; not Kansas then Missouri.

I’m camping out in Barstow tonight and should easily make it into Arizona tomorrow, but I’m debating on stopping at a car shop along the way to see if they agree that my thermostat might be bad. I really don’t want the van to get worse and overheat in the middle of nowhere, especially if I can prevent it from happening now.

Yosemite National Park, California

September 2, 2015 Categories Camper Van, Road Trips, Travel, USA

Miles driven: 616.7 (last 3 days)
Miles hiked: 9.2

The last few days have been tiring. First, Szilvia decided to split off and go separate ways. We stayed near Reno a few days ago and on the way there she was talking about how she originally wanted to go to the Burning Man festival and on the way to San Diego she sat next to a guy who was going and said he had an extra ticket. Since we happened to arrive in Reno while the festival was ongoing, she decided to message the guy who had an extra ticket and go to that instead of continuing the road trip (the festival is about a week long). It was nice having someone to share the gas cost with, but I’m also glad to be alone again.

Since the route we were taking was designed around some of the things Szilvia wanted to see, I no longer had a reason to stick to it. I really didn’t want to go to Vegas (again), the Grand Canyon (again), Phoenix, or back to San Diego to drop her off. Granted, since she announced her decision that morning, I didn’t really have time to think of something else to do and I drove as if nothing had changed and went down to Lake Tahoe. It wasn’t as I had imagined it’d be (being able to just show up and go to the beach). The road I was on was high above the water and the one place I pulled off at wanted $10 for parking and I’m too cheap for that. I managed to get a couple pics of the lake and that was about it.

The day was essentially a complete flop. I kept on driving until I got to a town called Sonora on the West side of Yosemite National Park. I stopped there because that was the closest town to the park that was more than just two buildings on the mountainside; plus it had a Walmart, where I camped at. The only thing I’m happy about was I got to drive through two National Forests: Toiyabe and Stanislaus.

I went to Yosemite yesterday, to check things out and try to get a feel for the park. On a map, Sonora looks a lot closer than it actually is to the park. It took me about two hours to drive into Yosemite that morning; Yosemite is deep in the mountains and the road in was quite winding.

After getting a park map and looking at it for a bit, I decided to head into Yosemite Valley, as that’s where most of the well known stuff appears (Half Dome, El Capitan, Glacier Point, JMT trailhead). The park is quite large (over 40 miles across, not sure how tall) and most of it is all wilderness. It was possibly ten o’clock by the time I got into the valley and parked. I immediately headed to the visitor center to get postcards and a park token as my souvenirs.

Once I was squared away, I thought it’d be fun to hike up the Four Mile Trail to Glacier Point. Since I already had a parking spot and the trail didn’t look like it was that far from me on the map, I thought I’d try to walk over to it. A good hour or more went by while I just crisscrossed around the valley area trying to match the map up with the roads and landmarks and none of it was making sense. Even when I thought I had it right, I’d see a sign for something that should have been nowhere near where I was. Being a typical guy, I’m far too stubborn to just go and ask for help, so instead I gave up and just got in my car and figured I’d drive there.

Turns out, the first direction I was walking was the right way, but there’s a sign for Yosemite Falls and it completely threw me off because Yosemite Falls should have been North of where I was. Anywho, after driving around the loop in the van, the parking area in front of the Four Mile Trail was packed and I couldn’t even stop there. It was close to 11:30 by this point and I was just irritated at how much time was being wasted. I left the valley and drove Tioga Road across the North end of the park instead. At one point, I picked up a backpacker who was hitching and she told me she just came from Kings Canyon (where I wanted to go to next) and there’s so much smoke in the area that it’s impossible to really enjoy anything. I guess there’s a fire there (not sure if it’s a controlled burn or not) and she was complaining about difficulty breathing in the area and could barely see anything around her. Today I heard it was actually the Sequoia National Park that had the fire, so I don’t know which is true (the parks border each other, so it’s all the same area). Regardless, it kind of rules out those two parks being my next stops.

I didn’t find Tioga Road very interesting, probably because I was still irritated about not getting to hike, so yesterday was mostly a flop as well. After that, I left the park. It turns out the Four Mile Trail was closed yesterday, so even if I got to it, I still wouldn’t have been able to hike it.

And now we finally get to today. It was another long drive into the park, but I arrived at the Four Mile Trail a little after 9am and started hiking around 9:20. Frankly, that trail is a beast to climb up. From the valley floor, you have to climb up 3,200 ft over the course of 4.6 miles to reach a final elevation of 7,214 ft. The entire trail is up. No up and then down; no up, flat for a bit, then up some more; it’s just up, up, and more up. Around 2.6 or 2.7 miles in, there was a locked gate across the trail saying the trail was closed until 1pm on Sep 1 (yesterday) because crews where spraying some chemical due to risk of people catching the plague. And yes, you read that right – the plague. Talk about a motivational booster to make you wanna keep on hiking! By the way, if I die anytime soon because of the plague, blame Yosemite. Anywho, I called the park rangers to make sure it was alright to go ahead and they said they forgot to open the gate, but the area was for sure open for hiking so I continued on. It took me almost exactly two hours from when I started to reach Glacier Point at the top. From there, you get a really good view of the entire valley and a great view of Half Dome.

Oh, and Half Dome… grrr! I talked to the park rangers yesterday about hiking it and apparently it’s by permit only and to get a permit, there’s a lottery. It costs $4.50 to apply for the lottery online, and then IF you get selected it’s another $8 per person for the permit. Oh, and you have to apply two days before you want to hike it. You’d think I’d look this stuff up before I go to parks, but I don’t. I honestly just show up and figure it out when I get there. So, needless to say, I was a little disappointed.

The hike down the Four Mile Trail was easy, since gravity did most of the work, but it was still tiring on the feet. I was happy to finally get a good hike in, but I was so thrown off from the past couple days that I left Yosemite and drove pretty far, not intending on going back tomorrow. Only now did I realize that I didn’t even hike any portion of the John Muir Trail, which I wanted to do while there. Mainly because he’s the reason we have National Parks, but also because he’s from Portage, Wisconsin – a town I once lived in long ago. Oh, and I drove through the Sierra National Forest on my way out of Yosemite today, so that was fun.

I’m not too sure what I’m doing or where I’m going next. I’m debating on going back to Wisconsin to make some changes to the van and pick up some of the things I left there, but if I do that, then I wanna take Route 66 for most of the drive back. At the same time, there’s a job I inquired about in Utah when I was still there to work for a company that builds tiny houses – which I think would be awesome, as both a learning experience and because tiny houses rock. I’m not sure if the job is still available, but I can hope. I have other ideas, but those are the ones I’m leaning towards. There’s a good chance I’ll (try to) do both. I’ve also thought about taking 18 months off from doing any travel and going to UTI. I have no intentions of ever being a mechanic or working in the automotive industry in any way, but I am interested in the extensive knowledge they can offer. I’ve torn apart and rebuilt small engines, but never a car engine.

So many choices. I wish I could do it all at the same time, as well as intern or work as an apprentice for six months as both a plumber and an electrician. I only know the basics about plumbing (PEX, copper pipe, and PVC assembly), but I’d like to learn more. Same with electrical; I know basic household electrical things (breaker install, wiring, amp limits, outlet/switch install, etc), but I’d like to learn more about the National Electrical Code (NEC) without having to read some boring book.

Lassen Volcanic National Park, California

August 31, 2015 Categories Camper Van, Road Trips, Travel, USA

Miles driven: 226.5
Miles hiked: ~10.2

Today I almost fought a bear. Ok, not really, but I did finally get to see one. And not only did I get to see a bear, but I almost ran directly into his big, fat butt.

So I guess I should start by saying we drove over to Lassen Volcanic National Park today, if you didn’t guess that from the title already. It just so happens you pass through the Lassen National Forest to get there, so it was a double win. We started off with a simple, 1.8 mile loop hike around Manzanita Lake. This trail was about as well marked as the visitor center at the Redwoods yesterday. Assuming that by “well marked” you mean not at all marked, but we still found our way… eventually.

From there we headed over to Kings Creek to check out the falls, only to discover the overlook trail for the falls was closed and we had to take a different route. We weren’t able to get close enough to get good pictures of the falls, but the view was nice in the area and gave us a decent 1.4 mile, one way, hike. On the way out, the trail intersects with the 1.7 mile Sifford Lake Trail and we decided to hike that one as well. About a mile into the trail we came to a clearing. On the right, you could see blue ridges of the mountains in the background, filled with a massive lake. On the left, there was a large, rocky area blocking the view of the trail as it wrapped around to the left. I tried getting a picture of the mountains in the background with the lake, but my shot was blocked with too many trees in the way. As I turned back to face the trail, I immediately stopped and grabbed Szilvia and told her not to move. Right on the trail, literally 20 feet in front of us, stood what I’m guessing to be at least a 300 pound black bear. He was looking in our direction, decided we weren’t of much interest, and went about his business of being a bear. Meanwhile, we slowly backed out of the area since he was right on the trail and it would have been impossible to continue hiking without getting closer to the bear. Even though it was a black bear and luckily not a grizzly, I wasn’t gonna take any chances of making it mad, especially since I left my bear spray back in the van.

I was honestly pretty excited about finally seeing a bear, especially that close. Of all the parks I’ve been to so far, not once have I even seen a bear from a distance and here I am standing 20 feet away from one. If I hadn’t have tried taking a photo of the mountains in the background, we would have literally stood face to face with that bear, as he was impossible to see in that rocky area since the trail followed it around to the left. We would have come around that left corner on the trail and I can’t even imagine what the outcome would have been, because I’m sure that bear would have been just as startled as we were.

After that we hiked a short, one mile, round-trip, hike to Cold Boiling Lake which is indicated on the map as being a geothermal area, but it looked like a regular lake to us. Wasn’t even boiling. The pictures honestly aren’t even worth posting.

We stopped at Lake Helen for a couple minutes to get pictures.

Then we hiked the 2.6 mile, round-trip, trail to Bumpass Hell – a geothermal area that almost has a mini-Yellowstone feeling; mostly because of the sulfur smell and hot steam coming up out of the ground.

On the way out we stopped at Emerald Lake and got more pictures.

That was pretty much it for the park. We did a good deal of hiking and I was definitely wore out for the day. We drove Southeast and stopped just outside of Reno, Nevada for the night. On the way, we saw a cool tree with a bunch of shoes hanging from it.

Tomorrow we’re gonna head to Lake Tahoe.

Redwood National Park, California

August 29, 2015 Categories Camper Van, Road Trips, Travel, USA

Miles driven: 427.8 (+224.3 yesterday)
Miles hiked: ~3

Today was a lot of driving. About eight hours worth, maybe more. We even drove up to Redding from San Francisco last night so that we wouldn’t have as long of a drive to do today in order to get to the Redwoods, but it was still quite the drive there and back. In Redding, we camped out in a Camping World RV Sales parking lot and, frankly, that’s one awesome business. Not only do they gladly let you park in their parking lot overnight, but they had two electrical hookups on the side of the building that were completely FREE to use. Electricity can be expensive, especially to power an entire RV for a night, and I’m amazed that Camping World (at least the one in Redding) just gives it away for free to help out travelers.

As I was saying, the drive to the Redwoods took awhile and was largely due to Highway 299 that runs between Interstate 5 and Highway 101 in Northern California. The road is about 120 miles long and I swear is 90% made up of sharp turns, causing you to slow down to 20-35 mph in most cases; a few turns you only have to drop to 45 mph. The fun part is not only are there a lot of turns that are sharp, but many of them aren’t marked with a speed limit sign warning you of the recommended maximum speed. It’s kind of a “hope you get it right” situation. Oh, did I mention that if you where to accidentally go off the road because you didn’t slow down enough that you’d probably go careening off a cliff or down a mountain? Because yeah, there’s also no guard rails for most of the road; it’s just road and the long drop to where there is no road. Highway 299 easily makes it onto my list of the craziest roads I’ve ever driven, but the drive itself is quite beautiful… when you have the time to look up from focusing on all the turns.

Eventually we made it over to Highway 101 and up into the Redwoods area. It was honestly a pain to find a park visitor center to get a map, as the location and indicators for the visitor center we eventually found defy all means of logic (we pretty much had no cellphone reception, so looking things up wasn’t easy). For anyone wondering, the good visitor center is actually back on the coast of Highway 101, when the road starts to turn to the right and lead you away from the coast. Right there, where the road begins to turn, there’s a sign that says “Redwood State and National Parks Information”. You can’t see the building from the road and there’s no sign indicating it’s an actual visitor center or even that it’s on NPS land, but it is. All I know is that whoever is the idiot in charge of making the signs for that park needs to be fired. “Information” is not the same thing as “Visitor Center” and throw a damn National Park Service logo on it. There’s other places in the park where the signs don’t make much sense or aren’t that helpful, but the visitor center one really bothered me.

I think most people have seen how massive a Redwood tree is and since I’ve been there before, I didn’t take a lot of pictures. Without anything else in the pictures to give perception to the trees’ enormity, the pictures mostly look like run-of-the-mill trees. The big trees are about 16 feet wide or more and there’s plenty of “smaller” trees that are around six feet wide. The big trees are so old that they’ve been here since before the days of Columbus sailing the ocean blue.

After walking around in the woods for a bit, we headed further North to Route 169 where there’s a tree you can drive your car through. Let me say that again in case it didn’t sink in. You can drive your car through a frickin’ tree! I saw the signs for it when I first went to the Redwoods back in 2009, but somehow we missed it. I wasn’t able to drive the van through it, as ol’ Henrietta just has too big of a caboose to fit. The opening is seven feet wide and over nine feet tall, but it tapers in at the top and the extended roof on the van would have hit the sides. Instead, we just walked through it.

Then began the long drive back to Redding so that tomorrow we’ll be close to Lassen Volcanic National Park. Let me tell you, if you think driving Highway 299 with all the curves would be fun in the daytime, it’s more than double the fun driving it at night in a large van, especially with all the turns that don’t have a speed limit posted. Even before I got on the road I wasn’t looking forward to it; and once on it, I was only looking forward to the end of the 120 miles. The one thing that was pretty nice was the moon. I have never seen a brighter and more full moon than the moon on the drive back. It was humungous (that’s what she said).

Oh, and Highway 299 drives through the Six Rivers and the Shasta-Trinity National Forests. So other than one more National Park visited, I am also able to cross off two National Forests. Pretty successful day, if you ask me.

Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, California

August 26, 2015 Categories Camper Van, Road Trips, Travel, USA

Miles driven: 171.6
Miles walked: ~4

Today we drove up more of Route 1 until we hit San Francisco sometime around noon. We managed to get out to the Golden Gate Bridge and it was a pretty clear day. Last time I came through San Francisco six years ago, the bridge was completely covered in fog. Even driving across it, we could barely see three feet above the car. This time was quite different.

We walked the 1.7 miles across the bridge to the other side, took some photos along the way, and walked back.

While walking, we noticed a group of people up on the hillside near the bridge and decided to head there next. We had a few problems getting there, but we found our way. The view from on the hillside is what I was looking for. To me, it’s the vision I see in my head when I think of the Golden Gate Bridge. Definitely worth the drive up there.

We camped out at a Walmart in Oakland. It’s probably not the best Walmart to camp at, and even the Walmart employees told us they’re not liable for anything that happens to the vehicle or if it gets towed. I guess there’s a lot of crime in that area, but we didn’t have any issues all night.

Route 1, California

August 25, 2015 Categories Camper Van, Road Trips, Travel, USA

Miles driven: 331.0

Today we continued up Route 1 along the coast of California; we’re taking Route 1 all the way up the state of California, but it’ll be a few days before we finish since we’re stopping in San Francisco for a couple of days. Most of today was just consumed with driving, but we made stops here and there to take pictures. I honestly don’t know where most of the pictures were taken, as we just made random stops. The only one I do know is the pictures with the waterfall – that was taken at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park.

Route 1 is a beautiful drive and I can’t wait until I can say I drove the entire thing. Though, if anyone else wants to drive it, don’t drive Northbound like me, start from the top and work your way South; not only are you on the ocean side of the road going South, but there are more pullouts to stop at and take pictures.

A good portion of today’s drive was through the Los Padres National Forest.

Here’s a couple videos:

We stopped for the night just North of Monterey at another Pilot Travel Center.

I Love Truck Stops

August 24, 2015 Categories Camper Van, Road Trips, Travel, USA

Miles driven: 177.8

Today was Szilvia’s day. We began the morning still in Los Angeles and headed out to Long Beach. Personally, I think a beach is a beach; not much differs between one or another, but Szilvia likes them and wants to see as many as possible and swim in the water, so that’s where we went. There weren’t many people there (it was early) and we didn’t stay long. There was a lot of trash everywhere; all over the pier, as well as the beach itself. It’s sad, really, how people treat it without any regard and just leave garbage everywhere.

From there we headed up to Mulholland Drive to attempt to get a look over Los Angeles. I wasn’t very interested in it and think it’s probably something that only looks nice at night. Then we headed over to UCLA because Szilvia enjoys looking at architecture and wanted to see the campus. I stayed in the van and read a little because I’m not interested in what any university campus looks like… unless it’s sprawling with half nude models or something.

Then we headed up Route 1 to Malibu and hit up two more beaches. First was Zuma Beach, which was basically the same as Long Beach in appearance; sand and water. Afterwards, we stopped at the El Matador State Park beach, and I’ll admit, this was probably the only thing I thought was interesting all day. It’s not your ordinary beach. Sure, it has sand and water, but you also have to climb down a couple staircases to get there and then there’s massive rocks jutting up out of the water and cliffs all along the backside with waves crashing in. Quite beautiful, but I didn’t take any pics.

We decided to stop at a Pilot Travel Center not too far North of Los Angeles so we could take a shower and camp out for the night. Although they have signs that say there’s only two hour parking, we talked to the people inside and they said it was cool if we camp out for the night as long as we were off to the side of the building. Frankly, I love truck stops because of stuff like that – they understand travelers. When businesses are willing to do something as simple as just let us (or other people) park there overnight, I’m more willing to spend more money there to help out said business. All-in-all, we spent about $116 there, specifically because of how nice they were (I even forgot my shampoo and soap in the shower, and the cleaners saw me and brought it back). Comparatively, I didn’t spend any money in San Diego because of how big of jackasses they were about overnight parking and I only spent money on gas in Los Angeles because they were bastards about parking, too. Maybe it’s just a Southern California thing.