While Tess flew from Moab to San Francisco to catch up with family Dillon drove to Salt Lake City for some fishing. And then Elko, Nevada for some more fishing.
Then on to Reno where he was able to do some serious bus work in his friend’s garage. His buddy builds off-roading vehicles so he was a huge asset to the bus maintenance. Actually let me rephrase that, he pretty much single-handedly fixed the rear suspension on the bus while Dillon worked on other projects. Tess was able to soak up some much needed cousin lovin’ in the bay area and catch up with friends. The gang rendezvoused in Tahoe for the Winter Wondergrass Music festival in Squaw valley. The bus fam was back together, plus a few friends and Tess’ mom. We kayaked during the days and danced our booties off at night. It was an unreal and exhausting weekend in a beautiful place. We were our partied by Tess’ mom on more than one occasion. The lady can dance until the wee hours.
From Tahoe we were headed south towards Sacramento but didn’t make it far before we were flagged down by a lady on the side of the road, with no vehicle in sight. When she approached the car she was barefoot and her clothes were shredded. She informed us that she had been lost in the woods for 72 hours she approximated. We got her in the bus, got her warm clothes and blankets and my mom snuggled her on the floor for warmth as she was severely hypothermic. She was very disoriented and didn’t know how she got lost or separated from her car. We picked her up right before nightfall and there was no way she would have survived another night out there. The closest emergency room was fortunately only 20minutes away. We called her parents who spoke with the nurse and it sounded like this didn’t come as a huge surprise. We anticipate that she has suffered from a mental illness for a long time and our hearts broke for her. I left the hospital shaking with anger about how the nurse treated a woman that was clearly in shock and struggling to stay alive. Regardless of her mental health status, which he wasn’t even fully aware of, it broke my heart to see one human treat another human with such disrespect and lack of compassion, especially in a hospital which is supposed to be a safe place.
With nothing else we could do for her we continued the drive south to Sacramento for an open bus party with Tess’ extended family in the area. We got set up at our family friend Denise’s and ended up throwing social norms to the wind and staying for way longer than was appropriate. We were able to find a custom shop in the area that had built a swing away bumper for another bus which would hold our spare tire, gas cans, and our bikes. While that was getting made we headed to Oakland for a night to fill our bellies with gourmet Ramen and our hearts with some friend and family lovin’. Then we blew that popsicle stand. The bus dislikes cities arguably more than we do. It is not exactly an agile vehicle to drive in city traffic, to say the least. After battling SF traffic we were on the open road…smooth sailing north, or so we thought. The engine started overheating on the highway, the method of travel we thought was most suitable for the aircooled beast, as the airflow is most ample the faster we cruise. Not only do we not have AC in the bus, we had to crank the heat (in 87 degree weather) to cool the engine down. After a cool down stop (for the bus, and us) we (Dillon) burped the coolant system and that solved the issue for the time being.
Winding our way up north on the 1 to Bolinas, what has come to be one of our favorite stops on the trip thus far, we soaked up the unexpected jaw dropping views. Within five minutes of arriving there we were welcomed by an old hippie named Canyon. He invited us into his home and played Native American drums and flutes for us. We knew we were right where we needed to be. Bolinas on the weekend was packed with surfers and ocean people getting away from the city on the weekend. Bolinas on a Monday reminded us of sleepy little towns in Alaska. Locals only, picking their guitars on the street to the slow pace of life. Unfortunately we went for a short hike just south of Bolinas in search for hot springs in a cave on the ocean and while we were away from the bus someone stole Dillon’s Alaska-grade wetsuit off the top of the bus. It was a temporary buzz kill. I mean who steals off a VW bus, the vehicle of peace and love?
From Bolinas we went back to Sacramento to pick up the custom bumper. New bumper in tow we were cruising south along the coast through Santa Cruz then to Big Sur. A road trip up the 1 through Big Sur was our first out of Alaska road trip together and the one that really planted the seed to make this form of travel a long term lifestyle, so it felt like a full circle experience to be driving in that road in the bus. We made reservations at Eschlon Retreat a bit south of the town of Big Sur to take a dip in the natural fed hot springs. It is an old hippie retreat from the 60s that has morphed into a very ritzy, upscale resort for week long workshops. The resort is on public land so they are mandated to open it to the peons, I mean public, which they choose to do from 1-3am. This was past our bed time but well worth it. There were beautiful stone pools sitting on an overhanging structure clinging to the cliffs, perched right above the crashing waves. Nestled in the cliff side, we were happy to have hit it on a full moon allowing us to fully experience the magic, with us and 20 other of our naked newly best friends.
We also swung by Gowesty and Ben from Hasta Alaska was randomly there. It was great to talk to him about the trip.
We woke up early to head south so Tess could catch a flight out of LA to surprise her mom for her 60th birthday in Alaska. We made a pit stop at GoWesty, a company we had used for how to videos and parts orders throughout the restoration project. The stars aligned and we overlapped with Ben of Hasta Alaska, who bought a bus in Chile that he has been driving north for an anticipated 1 year adventure which quickly morphed into a 3 year plus trip, with almost 10 engine rebuilds. He is the first ‘mobile hostel’, picking up other world travelers along the way for varying lengths of time. Ben is hoping to reach Alaska this summer. It was a treat to hear his travel stories and get tips for our trip south.
We were cutting it close on time while rushing to LAX and received what might be the first ever documented speeding ticket in a VW bus. After experiencing our initial bout of LA rush hour traffic, we agreed to stay as far away from LA as possible and Tess hopped on the plane to Alaska.
Dillon spent time in the small gem of a town Encinitas surfing while Tess got some short but sweet time with family and friends up north. The night before Dillon was picking Tess up at LAX he was in a ritzy shopping area when the starter to the bus fell out. Literally just dropped onto the ground. ****D
The starter fell out in a parking lot of the Fashion Island, a high class joint. Dillon was parked next to a Bentley, inside to use the wifi really fast. Upon returning the starter was laying on the ground, the ears had sheared off. The Subaru requires a modified Jetta starter, this one was over modified. The replacement went in after about 4 hours of careful modification so this wouldn't happen again. You have to swallow your pride to do this type of work in a parking lot, but that's vanlife.
Upon Tessa’s arrival back to LA we rendezvoused with Jonas, her brother, in San Clemente National Park. We were surprised to pay $35 to camp amongst hundreds of other people. Our Cliffside campsite was as fine of a view as you could get, but it didn’t make up for being three feet from our neighbors. Alaskan friends joined us for surfing, margaritas, and a campfire. From there we caravaned with Jonas down to Enicnitas for a few days of surfing, eating, and beer drinking in the laid back, mellow town. After bidding farewell to Jonas after a few days in Newport working on the bus at a friend’s house, we drove inland to Renogy Solar company. We had contacted them about a sponsorship and they were up for it. We picked up two 100 watt flexible solar panels that Dillon installed in the luggage rack on the top of the bus. One is fixed up there and the other has 30 feet of wiring allowing us to move it into direct sunlight while we are camped. ***
Our final stop before the border was to a friend’s place in Ocean Beach, just outside of San Diego. We were pleasantly surprised to find out that their extra room for us to crash in was actually a little casita out back with a hot tub that we used as our staging area for getting last minute errands and bus projects done. While Dillon spent the day attempting to solve overheating issues by getting the coolant system flushed, burping it multiple times etc., I spent the day at a coffee shop. With the book I was reading titled ‘Vagabonding’ sitting out and a man asked me if I had considered that style of travel. We got to talking and Paul/Apollo, whichever name you prefer, was in his 50’s and had recently quit his corporate banking job in Vancouver to move into his Vanagon with the intention of ‘leveling up’. We spent the afternoon talking about what life on the road has taught both of us. His favorite part of van dwelling and leading a simpler life is its conduciveness to slowing down enough to fully experience of all that is happening in the natural world around us. Apollo and I discussed extensively the pressure people tend to put on themselves about what they ‘should’ do, rooted primarily in societal pressures and fear. He is living in a van in southern California and doesn’t surf. He doesn’t have any desire to surf, yet daily people tell him that’s what he should be doing. He has found that when you slow down and make time to listen and learn yourself, the pressure of what we should or should not do subsides.
Southern California left me feeling not completely fulfilled with bus life and it took me a while to peg down why. The inability to get away from other people and the constant freeway/traffic/concrete jungle vibe made us all the more thrilled to soak up the desolation of Baja. With one last night before we met up with the caravan crew we spent our first night in a Walmart parking lot and are living proof that their marketing ploy of free camping assuming the people would come shop at 11pm is effective. After an early wake up call, we were headed to meet the caravan for the border.
We did some last minute repairs, installed a Solar system (write up coming soon) from our friends at Renogy and then met up at 6 AM south of San Diego to cross the border. We were going with Robert, a guy we met on the Samba who has traveled a lot in Baja, and Ben a guy with a vanagon we had met on Instragram who is doing the same trip. It was fantastic being able to travel with a posse, but more on that when we post on Mexico. Until then...