It’s been a while since the last update and a lot has happened! I’ll preface this by saying that my camera was left in the van last week, so no new pictures from us (except one from my phone), sorry everyone! The pictures in the post below are credited in the captions.
We last left off in Mexicali/Calexico where we were getting some repairs on the “agua pumpo”. Once repairs were finished we headed north to Joshua Tree National Park
for some camping and rock climbing. We arrived late at night and set up camp at the Jumbo Rocks campsite. In the morning we found ourselves surrounded by massive boulders in every direction. Joshua Tree is truly an amazing place. After a brief morning of work in town we headed to Indian Cove campsite for some rock climbing. Many of the routes at JTree start in various campsites. The prevailing rule is to ask the occupants if you can use the route before setting up your ropes and gear. This day the campsites we wanted to trespass on were vacant, so no permission-asking needed.
We climbed a few routes before sunset and headed to a new campsite for that night. Hidden Valley is the “climber campsite” in the park. Earlier in the day we had been driving around, but no sites to be had in that spot. Finally, another climber couple waved us over and offered to share their spot with us that night. We were very grateful! While setting up camp, a new couple wandered through the site on the way back to their tent. We struck up a conversation and decided to climb together the next day. Vanessa and Colin are from Belgium and are traveling by bicycle from Seattle to Mexico. Check out their blog here
(warning, it's in French). We discussed how most of the routes at JTree are trad climbing routes (meaning that there is nothing permanent in the rock to clip your rope into, you have to insert gear into the cracks in the rock to prevent yourself from falling) and the four of us only had sport climbing gear. By teaming up, we could set up multiple ropes and switch off climbing different routes.
Joshua Tree Photo credit c3y.net
The next morning we met up with Vanessa and Colin at “climber coffee”, a weekend morning gathering set up by the park rangers. They offer free coffee (BYO-mug), tea, and hot chocolate and climbers can peruse park guides, learn about regulations, meet up with climbing partners, and generally socialize. It was really great and much appreciated by everyone. We also met up with a single climber, Natalie, who joined in with our group. Check out her blog here
for some awesome climbing pics and videos. She also had some trad gear, so we would be able to get on more routes than we initially thought we’d be able to. It was a fantastic day with really fun people. Hopefully we’ll get some pictures soon from Natalie, who had an amazing camera with her all day.
Climber Coffee at Hidden Valley Photo credit leavenotracecommunity.blogspot.com
That night we invited Vanessa and Colin over to the van for a “dinner party”. They brought their dinner and we cooked ours all in the van (it was cooold that night). We even had appetizers (chips and salsa) and dessert (creme cookies)!
The next morning we headed out from Joshua Tree in the direction of Las Vegas. Just outside Vegas is Red Rock Canyon
, where there is some amazing climbing as well. It was only a 3-ish hour drive, so we figured we would have plenty of time to get in a few days of climbing before heading to Salt Lake City, where we would fly out to Boston for Thanksgiving. Unfortunately, the Westy started acting up after about an hour on the road. The engine would suddenly cut out and the car would buck violently in the middle of the highway, before picking right back up again and running smoothly for a few more minutes. Not good. We just barely made it onto the Strip before it finally quit picking back up again. We got a super cheap room at Bill’s Gamblin Hall and Saloon
(cheap and small casino, but in the best location!) and called it a night. That night I won enough money to cover the room and dinner with extra to spare! Nothing like making money in Vegas!
The next morning Tom found a shop who was willing and able to fix our Westy-woes and also could store the van until January, when Tom would fly out for a ski trip. The initial plan was to leave the Westy with friends in Salt Lake, so we were very grateful for the alternative given the pickle we were in. They even let us borrow a truck for the afternoon so we could get in a little climbing. The rest of the Vegas weekend was a blur. Let’s just say that Margaritaville, blackjack, and gin were involved.
Would you like some gin with that lime, Tom?
Wednesday morning as we were getting prepared to fly back to Boston, we found out that Tom’s grandfather was nearing the end of his life. He had been in a nursing home and on hospice care for a little while. He was 96 years old and had a great life. Traveling was a huge passion of Tom’s grandfather and grammy and we were inspired in part by them to take a trip like this. Not knowing how long before he would pass, we boarded our flight to Boston. By the time we landed, it was clear that Tom needed to go home to be with his family. We decided that he would catch the first flight to Detroit the next morning. So with 3 hours of sleep, we headed back to the airport. Tom’s grandfather passed away shortly before he arrived on Thanksgiving morning, surrounded by family. We were so grateful that Tom was on his way already and could be there with his family to celebrate his grandfather’s life. I stayed in Boston and had a great Thanksgiving and a few days with my family before joining Tom in Detroit for the funeral on Sunday. It was an amazing service with Tom, his mother, and his uncle all giving wonderful eulogies. His grandfather was a Navy veteran of WWII, so a full honor guard and flag presentation was a part of the memorial. It was a great celebration of a wonderful man. Check out our very first post on the blog about visiting Grandfather
in July of this year. You can also read his obituary
Today, we flew back to Boston in order to catch our original flight to Costa Rica early tomorrow morning. For those of you keeping score, that’s 8 flights in 8 days (if you include layovers) so we will be excited to spend some time on the Nocara beaches! We were so lucky to be able to see both of our families for the Thanksgiving holiday and to be with Tom’s family especially during this tough time. We can’t wait to see them all again at Christmas! We are sad to be coming to the end of this amazing adventure. Thank you so much to everyone who supported us and who has been keeping up with us via the blog. We can’t wait to see you all soon in Chicago!
Looking back on the past 9 weeks of awesomeness that have been this trip, I realize that we have had some really great times that we never could have planned for; spending our first night on the road
at the gas station, facing down a ferocious T-rex
, being stampeded by bison
and nearly eaten by bears
, seeing the world’s only folding catamaran
in a ski town, double rainbows
, Feldner Fest (part 1
, part 2
, and part 3
), discovering the Wet Westies
, meeting Jim Henson
, scuffles with the law
, finding Purdue grads in wine country
, falling in love with SLO
, exploring electric cars and old Porches
, and so much more! If we had started this trip with a concrete plan or itinerary, I doubt we would have experienced half of those things.
This past week has been a true testament to the “go-with-the-flow” style of our travels. From San Luis Obispo we drove south in the direction of LA. Our “plan” was to head to Joshua Tree for some rock climbing and camping. We had both really been looking forward to climbing ever since we left Smith Rock in Oregon. That evening we stopped off for about an hour in Los Angeles to drive through Hollywood and see some of the sights. I know a lot of people who l-o-v-e love LA, but I don’t think it’s for me. Just being there stressed me out, so we headed a little further before camping for the night just outside of Palm Springs, CA.
That night and the next morning it poured down rain. For anyone who has ever walked on slick, wet rocks, climbing and rain do not mix well. The forecast was for at least 2 days of rain, after which the rock would need even more time to dry out before we could think about climbing. Being the spontaneous, flexible people we are, we decided to scrap the Joshua Tree plan for now and explore the area we were in. Palm Springs used to be a hopping place, but it seemed to be suffering the effects of the recession more than other places. We headed a little farther south to the Salton Sea.
The Salton Sea is the result of poorly planned irrigation systems in the early 20th century. The “sea” is almost 250 ft below sea level, and when a dam broke during a flood, a basin surrounded by higher ground filled, creating the Salton Sea. Given the mineral deposits in the area, it is 30% saltier than the Pacific. During the 50s, real estate developers created resort towns around the Sea, calling it Palm-Springs-On-the-Sea. Movie stars and politicians frequented the resorts on the shores and thousands of people purchased residential property. Unfortunately, the Sea started to dry up a bit in the desert and the fish started dying off, leaving the stench of rotting fish throughout the area. The resorts and neighborhoods are now pretty cool ghost towns, with only a handful of hardcore residents remaining. It’s also a huge destination for bird-watchers given that many species stop over during migration and some are only found in that location.
Ghost town at the Salton Sea today
After a morning of exploring both past and current recession cities, we had built up quite the appetite. Tom suggested that we head down to the border and get some lunch in Mexico! We were only 90 minutes from Calexico (“Cal” ifornia + M ”exico” = Calexico) which is right on the Baja California border. The Mexican sister-city is called Mexicali (I’ll let you work out that one on your own). The border is similar to crossing into Canada, you can even walk across and back without trouble. As we rolled into Calexico, the Westy started making a horrible screaming noise. I should note that she was running beautifully since we had work done in SLO. This noise was concerning, so we rolled into a gas station to investigate. Tom took one look at the engine and saw that the water pump was at an unfortunate angle. It would need to be replaced before we could drive anywhere else. After much searching he found a mechanic shop nearby that was willing to tend to our wounded baby. (The mechanics spoke only Spanish, I speak next to none and Tom speaks a little - there was a lot of gesturing and talk of the "agua pumpo"). The part that they needed to order would not be available until Tuesday, we were stuck for the weekend in Calexico!
There isn’t much in Calexico - lots of fast food, Mexican car insurance shops, and auto dealers. We walked across to Mexicali for dinner and stopped at a roadside ceviche stand. It was delicious - shrimp and octopus - and the two men working there were hysterical. I guess it was a risk to eat semi-raw seafood served from a bucket on the side of the road in Mexico, but SO worth it.
We then decided it was worth renting a car to get out of town for the weekend. We decided to take the 5-hour drive over to Tucson, where Tom’s parents were staying for 2 weeks at their winter house and surprise them! We knew that they were in town that weekend and were pretty sure they wouldn’t mind a visit. We showed up around 10pm at their door and shocked their socks off. They were super excited to see us and we had an awesome weekend hiking in Sabino Canyon and hanging out with their Tucson friends (they have quite the social calendar!).
Tuesday morning we headed back to Calexico to see about getting the car fixed now that the part had arrived. We called ahead to let the mechanic know where the spare key was hidden, which involved a lot of googling of spanish phrases and names of car parts. When we got there, the wrong part had been delivered. The correct part would be there the next morning. We decided to head back to Mexicali and stay at a hotel there. Tom found an awesome place online in a nice part of town. The garage owner gave us a ride to the border where we crossed over and jumped in a taxi to our hotel. The Hoteles Lucerna
was amazing! It had two fantastic pools and a great view from our balcony. We got a recommendation for a place for dinner and split the largest plate of meat I’ve ever seen in my life. After dinner we headed to the brand new casino across the street. The casino only had slot machines, which are surprisingly difficult to operate when in a foreign language! We both thought it was totally fun and awesome that almost no one spoke ANY english. Most people spoke as much english as we spoke spanish which was not much at all. It made everything that much more interesting, from getting around town to ordering dinner.
This morning we had brunch and laid out by the pool in the sunshine before heading back to Calexico and the Westy. They say that the van will be done tomorrow and hopefully that’s true. We’d love to see a few more places before this part of the trip is over. We spend Thanksgiving in Boston and then head to Costa Rica for the last week before heading back to Chicago. But, like we said, we don’t have a plan, and we’re sticking to it!
I forget what comes next...
Apparently we really did forget the rest of that little gem, because here we are, back in SLO fixing all the things that aren’t broken on the Westy! Not that we’re complaining. This is the happiest place on earth according to Oprah herself
. There is so much to do here that we could never be bored.
Last weekend we flew to Detroit for Tom’s cousin’s wedding. We had a blast celebrating with family and friends and we totally dominated the cousin dance-off! Here are a few pics from the beautiful reception.
After the quick trip back home, we flew back to Sacramento and spent the day with Scott Blunk and his family. It was great to see him and catch up. Since the drive from SLO up to Sacramento, the Westy had been acting up quite a bit. We had taken her in for a few minor repairs which in turn seemed to have caused a whole new slew of problems. We decided to drive back to the shop in SLO that had been so great to us to see if they could figure out what was going on.
On the way south, we decided to take a new route. Since we had already driven down the coast on Route 1/Pacific Coast Highway and we had driven back north via I-5, we decided to split the middle and drive back to SLO via Route 101, which follows the historic El Camino Real
(The Royal Road). The Camino Real was used to connect all the Spanish missions in California for the stagecoach drivers.
First we hit the Tesla
factory and headquarters in Freemont, CA. Unfortunately they don’t give tours to random fans who show up in green buses, but everyone there was really nice. We toured around the parking lot a bit and checked out some of the employee Tesla vehicles.
Next we headed to Pinnacles National Monument for some hiking and possible rock climbing. We ended up finding a great hike up to a 360 degree panorama of the park. Then we headed down to another trail which went through a bunch of caves (requiring headlamps and MASSIVE control of this girl’s claustrophobic tendencies). We got a great video of the view, but Tom’s camera pooped out and we got a pretty grainy shot of me proudly exiting the cave without having a panic attack.
From Pinnacles, we continued back to SLO and had a lovely Westy dinner parked by the pier in Pismo Beach. That night we camped in the parking lot at Broad Street VW
so we would be there first thing in the morning for them to check out our girl!
The next day we left the Westy in the capable hands of the guys at Broad Street. We headed out on our bikes to explore more of downtown. After lunch we headed back to Madonna Mtn for more mountain biking and hiking. On the way Tom rode through some brush and some unfortunate briars that immediately gave him two flat tires! So much for the biking! We called the guys at Broad Street and John, the owner, drove out to pick us up. He even stopped with us at a bike shop on the way back so Tom could drop of his bike for repairs. These guys are really amazing. They had checked out the Westy and found a few things that needed tightening. They also gave us a small list (the length of my arm) of things that we should consider replacing/updating in the future. We decided since they do such great work (and there is nothing like this place in Chicago!) we would have them work on the exhaust the next day and then we would be on our way.
That night we camped at Avila Beach, where they have pullouts all along the beach road specifically for camping! We had amazing views and even made some animal friends (raccoons, pelicans, and sea lions).
The next day John offered us the use of his car for the day, since he felt bad that we were kind of stranded on our bikes (even though we were having a blast!). Not just any car, but his personal 1973 Porche 914! It was super fun to drive around town. He recommended a hike along the ridge at Shell Beach that was amazing. We came back to the shop and found out that the exhaust work was going to take another day (apparently they needed to take apart a few other things to access the exhaust leak) so we called up our SLO Hero, Will King, to see if we could crash at his place for the night.
We picked up the keys from Will’s roommate and headed to his place for a shower. We had managed to get a reservation at the opening night of a new restaurant in town, Sidecar
, so we headed out for some awesome food. Every Thursday night in SLO is an incredible farmer’s market, so we were also able to check that out on our way to the restaurant. Sidecar was awesome, if you are in the area definitely check it out!
Today we are hanging out in Pismo Beach again while waiting for the green light on the Westy. It’s Veteran’s Day and there was a big ceremony out on the pier this morning. Thank you to all the vets out there who make our country safe for Tom and I to travel around like fools. We really appreciate everything that you stand to protect!
Our final destination for this week was San Luis Obispo, CA where we stayed with our friend Will for 3 nights. SLO is a truly amazing town. The first night in town was Halloween so we cooked dinner at Will’s new house and waited (in vain, unfortunately) to hand out candy to trick-or-treaters. The next morning we headed downtown to explore. We had dropped off our dear Westy for a tune-up and it was great to be in a town that was so bike-friendly!
**An aside about the Westy tune-up, we had planned on bringing her to GoWesty
, the renowned Westfalia shop here in SLO, but as of September they no longer do repairs, only rebuilds. They recommended Broad Street Automotive
for our tune-up. We LOVED the guys there. They totally know what they are doing in regards to Vanagons and could not have been nicer. They even bumped us up in the queue given that we were just passing through town. Check them out if you are in the area**
Back to our SLOventures! After checking out downtown, we met Will for a lunch-break mountain bike ride. Will works for SRAM
and is encouraged to take up to two hours to ride during his lunches. Pretty awesome company to work for! The guys biked up the trail and I decided to trail run instead. The route was up and down Madonna mountain. The ascent was one continuous hill with a few switchbacks, pretty tough for this flatlander! The descent was even crazier. The trail is called “Rock Garden” so you can imagine what it looked like. Super rocky single-track at steep grades for 2/3 of the way down that eventually flattened out to more switchbacks across a meadow on a hill. We were hurting by the end, but it was gorgeous and challenging and all-around a great workout. The video below is not ours, but gives a good overview of the trail and is pretty fun to watch.
That night we headed out to SLO Brew
, the local microbrewery and restaurant for their $12 pizza-and-a-pitcher night. It was delicious and at 9pm they even switched to $1 pints of all their microbrews on tap! That’s a serious deal and we definitely took advantage.
The next day Tom and I headed out to find the local rock climbing spot (about 15 minutes from Will’s house, pretty amazing). We hiked in and found a couple of walls, but had a really hard time finding exactly the one we wanted (one that Tom wanted to lead and that was relatively easy enough for me to top-rope). Tom got in a few climbs before we were too starving for lunch to keep going. We headed back to town for some grub and to rent a surfboard for that evening.
Around 5pm Will got back from work and we loaded up the boards and headed to Pismo Beach for some sunset surfing. It was one of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve ever seen. Tom and Will were out catching waves and there were 2-3 seals out playing in the surf with them. Every time they would paddle back out to catch more waves, the seals would pop up 2-3 feet behind their boards. The boys surfed until it was too dark to see the waves. Not a bad way to end a workday!
We have truly had so much fun in SLO, it’s an adventurer’s paradise. Biking, climbing, surfing, hiking, snorkeling, diving, boating, and who knows what else all within an hour of town. Skiing and snowboarding not too far away, 70 degree temps year-round, and a thriving downtown area. Not sure what else you could ask for! We will definitely be back!
The past week has been spent in what might be the most amazing place on earth, the central coast of California. The central coast area is bordered by the endless Pacific ocean on the west side and a range of hills and peaks to the east side. Perfect for anyone who enjoys both the water and the mountains (as we do!) We started out in Mill Valley, just outside of San Francisco with Jeff and Michelle Tripp and their awesome kids, friends who used to live in Chicago. We had an awesome night with them after our brief foray into wine country
. The next day we went with Jeff for a short hike through the John Muir Redwoods Monument. It was great to head out there with someone local. We were able to avoid the very slow-walking hoards of tourists and hike some of the backcountry trails.
That night we drove towards San Francisco and ended up staying the night at the Sausalito marina. Sausalito is an upscale tourist town just before the Golden Gate bridge. The next morning we checked it out on our bikes. We discovered a GIANT indoor replica of the entire San Fran water system built by the Army Corps of Engineers
in the 50s. It was initially built to help scientists understand the behavior of the water system and impact of human-made changes, but is now an educational center and tourist attraction. The whole model is completely to scale and covers almost two acres of indoor space! We also discovered an entire neighborhood of houseboats just north of the marina. There were many sailboats and trawlers, but also quite a few homemade floats pieced together from found materials. It was a really neat community!
We headed back to the marina to catch the ferry to San Francisco for the day. It was gorgeous, sunny and 75 degrees, and there were a ton of boats (power, sail, and open-water scull
). We docked at Pier 1 near the absolutely amazing Ferry Building. Saturday was the famous farmer’s market, so we checked out the fresh produce stalls and food trucks before heading inside. The Ferry Building is a sort of indoor mall filled with fine food shops and little restaurants. Similar to Boston’s Fanueil Hall, but less jam-packed and with more upscale vendors. We sampled fresh-shucked oysters, chocolates, and fruit before heading on our way.
We had our bikes with us and decided, despite San Fran’s reputation for monster hills, we would bike around as much as possible. So we headed up from the downtown area to Chinatown. They are not kidding with the hills. Seriously. There was a lot of pushing versus riding of the bikes! We arrived in Chinatown and locked up the bikes to search out some lunch. We found a place jammed with locals and figured that was probably a good bet. We ordered some fish ball curry, chicken congee, and sweet and sour broccoli chicken to share.
After lunch we caught a cable car to Fisherman’s Wharf to look around. The cable cars were pretty cool, on the hills you really felt that at any moment the packed car would break loose from the underground cable and plummet to the intersection below. Very exciting! After touring around we headed back to Sausalito on the ferry. We had dinner that night at a little Italian cafe with a live 50s/60s retro quartet a la Beach Boys/Beatles.
The next two days we spent cruising along the prettiest stretch of Route 1 so far. Santa Cruz was an awesome surf and marina town. The curving road through Big Sur cuts right into the cliffs, so you have a sheer drop-off to the ocean far below on one side and a cliff face directly on the other. It was pretty exciting driving! Especially when the fog rolled over in the early morning. It was amazing to look over the cliff and see the tops of the clouds, knowing the the ocean was somewhere underneath. We found an amazing hike right off the side of the road. It went way down towards the ocean, through a tunnel built in the rock and out onto the surf. Apparently it used to be a delivery point for illegal shipments during prohibition. We camped at the very awesome Limekiln State Park in Big Sur and stopped for some awesome smoked fish tacos at Ruddell’s Smokehouse in Cayucos, CA. The next stop was San Luis Obispo to visit Will, a friend and recent Chicago transplant to the West Coast.