Taking my 60 for a long drive - Alaska, Yukon, BC, Western US, Mexico and More?
I've been driving my 60 around, camping and taking photos. Canada, Alaska, the southwest and west coast, now Mexico and hopefully points further south.
Here are the photos I took on the northern leg:
The truck started the journey with an OME suspension, turbo glide turbo on the 2H diesel, single swingout rear bumper with jerry can & spare tire holder, an aluminum bull bar, worn out all-terrains and some interior mods for comfort & entertainment. That got me through North America.
Very beautiful pictures. Thank you for sharing. I like foot note on each picture on camera setting and camera use.
Thank you kindly for the photo compliments. When I shoot film I am a fastidious note-taker ... but sometimes I lose my notebooks so there are gaps
I will try to add images to my replies here but keeping up with BB code on the various fora in addition to my blog is time-consuming and well, there is beer to be drunk and tacos to be eaten. I gotta have my priorities
On now to Mexico day one. Click the link for the post with photos: http://www.wideanglewandering.com/2012/08/a-mexico.html
Camp Betsy by WideAngleWandering, on Flickr
After several nights at the El Centro Motel 6 (recently renovated with new veneers and everything, quite nice) I was really ready to move on. The heat was wearing me out but I still managed to fix my broken a/c, a windshield washer line and hardwire the chargers for my various gadgets from the parking lot.
In Calexico I stopped at a bank to get some cash. As I stepped out of the truck I saw a young woman frantically trying to open the doors of her running car as her mother sat in a wheel chair in the sun. In Spanish she asked me if I had a stick that we could use to try and unlock the car door. Amazingly, I understood most of what she said. In the tailgate I found the perfect implement – a 3' length of aluminum flat stock, which I bent into shape and forced through the door jam and down to the lock button. While saving the day I noticed I had left my fuel cap back in El Centro.
An hour later I was back at the border, now with cash and fuel cap, and made the easiest border crossing of my life. Simply drive on through – no hassles! On the Mexicali side, however, confusion reigned almost immediately. My Garmin is nearly though not completely useless. Eventually I gave up finding my way in the truck, so I found a place to park and promptly locked my keys in the car. Unlike the woman in Calexico, I had planned ahead for this and used the spare from my wallet to get back in. I need to establish a routine or by the time I get home I'll have nothing left but the shoes on my feet.
While not necessary in Baja (norte), I wanted to get my tourist card at the border to avoid having to figure it out when I reached Baja Sur. I walked back towards the border until I found a Grupos Beta emblem, which I recognized as the sign for immigration from some photos on bajanomad.com. Determined not to get stuck with a 30 day visa like the first time I came into Mexico (requiring a confusing revisit to immigration for a renewal) I chatted up the officials, told them I was visiting Mexico on my “gran aventura” and asked for a 180 day visa. No problema. Next time I will just fill that line out myself but I couldn't spot it on the form before he snatched it away from me.
FMT in hand, I got back in the truck and set out to find my way to MX-2 to La Rumorosa. The Garmin insisted that the best route was back across the border, over to San Diego and down through Tijuana. I turned off the routing and ended up using it as a really small, really annoying map and compass. Between the compass and the mish-mash of signs for Tijuana I eventually found my way.
La Rumorosa is nearly a straight shot up MX-2. The only maneuver required came at the junction of the free (libre) and toll (cuota) roads. Even though I was on the free road I still had to pay 20 pesos to intersect the toll road. I passed through one military checkpoint where I was waved through after a cursory peek through the windows. Betsy was doing fine, for the most part, but I was usually forced to keep the a/c off and I had to stop several times to let the engine idle and cool down. It was 115f when I left El Centro so this was understandable, albeit annoying.
In La Rumorosa I found my turn-off to the Parque National Constitucion easily thanks to the one thing the Garmin does well – notify you of upcoming waypoints. Had I thrown it out the window like I considered earlier, I would have just stopped for directions and probably found my way just as easily.
I followed the dirt road past numerous ranches. The scrubby brush gave way to taller brush and then to pine trees – they look like the Ponderosa Pines you found in the southwestern U.S. There were myriad trails and paths leading off from the road I was on so I guessed which paths were most likely to lead to the park and after two hours I did find my way. I was surprised on arrival to see so many people camping in the park. I'd been forced into low range twice to climb over steep stretches of road to get up here and I didn't quite understand how the 2wd pickups and passenger vehicles I'd seen had made it. Perhaps with long running starts and Dukes of Hazard-style jumps. One of the inclines was so steep it caused my jug of diesel additive to leak through the closed cap. I got to enjoy that smell for a couple of days afterwards.
At 1600m it was still hot up here but the mountain breeze made it all quite comfortable. I built my camp, complete with a hammock strung between Betsy and a tall pine, had a snack and laid back to relax and reflect.
By about 11PM, however, it was too cold to stay out in the hammock, even with thermals, a fleece, heavy socks and a wool blanket. Reluctantly I retired to the truck for a more comfortable sleep.
Post with Photos: http://www.wideanglewandering.com/20...na-hanson.html
Baja After the Storm by WideAngleWandering, on Flickr
I woke up this morning with a splitting headache. I figured it was dehydration but drinking water didn't help. That headache didn't go away until I had a cup of coffee. Apparently my daily visits to the Chocolate Fish in Sacramento left me a caffeine junkie.
After coffee I moved to the hammock. I lounged all morning. The last week in the heat of the Sonora really wiped me out. Once the sun had reached an annoying height, I erected an aluminet shade over the hammock and went back to napping.
While camping in Canada and Alaska, I found I had forgotten how to tie some of the knots I find most useful, like the bowline. I brought a book of knots with me for reference but for the life of me I could not translate the diagram into a proper bowline. The only way I can tie a bowline is one-handed and around my waist as I'd learned to do in rescue training as a Boy Scout 20 years ago. It is strange what one remembers and one forgets. All I have to do from now on is pretend my left arm is broken whenever I want to hang my hammock. These days I wish the scouts weren't being directed by a bunch of bigoted ultra-right religious fundamentalists. Why should one have to stand on the wrong side of history just to learn to tie knots?
With camp set and napping taken care of, I set out to explore the park on foot. This late in the season, the lake was more of a mud flat, though still intriguing with the huge granite boulders scattered in and about. A herd of cattle wandered through and then a group of horses, leaping and snorting and generally making a fuss over nothing. I saw raptors flying overhead and a pair of feral dogs hiding in the grass with only their ears poking up – looking more like coyotes than dogs.
The people were the real novelty. It seems that when Mexicans visit a national park, they like to pile into their pickup trucks and drive around the park honking and yelling and waving at each other before returning to camp to crank up their stereos. I was bombarded by norteña, ranchero and banda music by day and latin electronica at night. Occasionally some classic Madonna was thrown in.
During the day this didn't really bother me but as night fell and I lay back in my hammock I was dissuaded from night photography by the trucks driving around with blinkers flashing, the people shining flashlights in every direction and the moron across the lake playing with his high-powered spotlight. This went on well into the night.
Instead I just lay back and looked upward. As the sky turned black, a dusting of stars was revealed and to my delight, the satellites and meteors that one never sees when a city is nearby. I counted nine shooting stars - some faint and in the periphery, others bright but momentary and a few so brilliant they were like tracers from a celestial machine gun, each destroyed by the atmosphere, leaving a bright trail.
Come morning I resolved to move on to a quieter and more photogenic location – the National Observatory to the south. I packed up the truck, got some directions from a neighbor and hit the road at the crack of noon. The Garmin, even loaded with their official maps of Mexico, doesn't show any of the roads in this area so I just started driving south. I made it to MX-3 in an hour, only 10km off course to the west.
Last edited by WideAngleWandering; 08-29-2012 at 05:08 AM.
Reason: screwed up bbcode and had wrong photo
full post with photos: http://www.wideanglewandering.com/20...an-felipe.html
Fleeing the Storm by WideAngleWandering, on Flickr
There was a seemingly large storm coming up behind me as I reached MX-3. As lightning flashed in the distance, I turned west towards Ensenada to get some diesel at the Pemex. I drove through another military checkpoint to get to the Pemex 100m further on. The soldier waved me through without much of a glance. At the Pemex I found the big diesel sign was a lie. The attendants weren't sure where I could find some.
I turned back towards the checkpoint. Although they had just seen my oddball vehicle pass through 2 minutes before, the soldier working the eastbound lane was curious about me and directed me aside for a search. I chatted him up, both to distract him from his poking around and to try and figure out where to find some diesel. He wasn't sure but figured there'd be something an hour or so to the west. Betsy is full of gear in all her nooks and crannies. Between my mishmash of random stuff and my constant questioning he didn't get very far before passing me on with a smile.
I hadn't acquired any provisions yet on the trip. While camping at the national park I used my emergency supply of spam and ramen noodles (mmmm). Feeling quite peckish, I stopped for a coconut and asked the coconut lady about diesel. She figured there'd be something about an hour or so to the west.
By this point the storm had caught up with me. Lightning strikes, thunder and giant raindrops cut visibility to nothing but Betsy handled it with aplomb. At one point the road was pretty heavily washed out and a line of traffic was backing up on either side. If I'd been alone I probably wouldn't have tried to cross the torrent but I watched a less capable vehicle than mine make it. I pulled out of line, bypassed all the pansies and plowed through sending 10'of muddy spray off each fender. It was a glorious scene.
At this point I decided to scratch my trip to the observatory. I wasn't sure how far south the storm would move, making for potentially ugly roads on the climb up and a cloudy sky once I got there.
Instead, I pushed on to San Felipe. I wandered around town and found most of the hotels were in the $550MX range. Not wanting to start blowing my budget on fancy hotels this early in the trip, I opted for a $250MX spot in a campground, 50 feet from the water, with an electrical hookup and wifi connection. It seems I'm the only idiot visiting San Felipe in the dead of summer so I've got the place all to myself.
To Mike's Sky Ranch
full post with photos: http://www.wideanglewandering.com/20...sky-ranch.html
Towards Mike's Sky Ranch by WideAngleWandering, on Flickr
Last night was tough to sleep, even with the fan. The fisherman use the beach access from the campground to launch and retrieve their boats, I assume with the tides. Between the heat, the noise and the fish smell my campsite was becoming less desirable.
San Felipe, for travelers, is a town past it's prime. This much is evident by the table dance bar and the shuttered nightclubs on the malécon, the trash-strewn beach, the dearth of budget accommodation and the greasy soup, shrimp and cheese sunk under a mass of tomato broth, I found for dinner.
Ramón, the waiter who brought the fatty bowl of soup last night, spoke exuberantly about his life. Between trips to other tables he stopped to show me pictures of his infant son and to talk about his tortilla business. On one pass he asked why I was in San Felipe and I told him I was escaping the thunderstorms but that soon I'd be fleeing the heat. Eventually I wanted to be on the mainland. He told me about his last roadtrip through México and with a smile lamented that he wouldn't be able to take another, on account of his son.
This morning I woke with sunrise and was driven from the truck by the heat around 8AM. I had breakfast at a cafe, took a swim (dodging diapers and plastic bags on on the beach) and then set off for supplies and to re-attempt my trip to the Sierra Pedro Martír park and national observatory.
On my way back north I re-crossed the military checkpoint. This time I went through the most invasive search yet but it still wasn't that thorough or inconvenient. I know the military in México are the good guys but I still bristle every time I approach a checkpoint. Whether it be police, military, border patrol, TSA, at home or abroad, I resent the intrusion. To keep my blood pressure down I make a game of it. I ask questions, distract the soldiers, answer their questions with a smile, try to get information out of them, crack jokes, whatever it takes to feel less like I'm being examined by an authority looking for an excuse to up the ante. This time I spent a good while talking about my first-aid kit. I explained that I wasn't a doctor, just “bién preparado,” to which the soldier pointed out that I didn't have any snakebite anti-venom. Not so preparado after all.
Driving west on MX-3 I saw a local police truck on the side of the road with it's lights flashing. The officer waved me on and I passed by a semi that had flipped on it's side. It looked like the truck just drove off the side of the road and flipped over for no apparent reason. It was probably overloaded. Just past the truck was another officer, who looked me over as I drove by. He whistled and through the rear-view mirror I could see him waving. Did he want me to stop? I figured he wasn't too likely to leave the scene of the accident to pull me over so I just kept driving. Betsy is about as far from non-descript as it gets in México so I'm hoping I don't drive by that guy again.
If I do get pulled over, assuming I've done nothing wrong, I have a multi-step plan for avoiding the gringo shakedown.
- Speak and understand no Spanish. Since many folks down here know some English, I'll use the only German I know to keep the officer confused. “No, no, apple strudel with ice cream. Two beers please. Airport. And no eggs!” Once I run out of German I'll use the only Thai phrase I know: “I'm an American. I like big boobs.” If desperate, I have one Cantonese phrase: “my kung-fu is better than yours.”
- If that fails, I'll pull out my Guía Roja and ask for directions to random places in the area. "Do you know how to find the road to the place with the hot springs and the good tacos?"
- Next I'll start taking notes and perhaps pull out my camera and take pictures while smiling like an idiot. No cop wants to be photographed asking for a bribe.
- If the officer won't have it, I'll hand over my old spare driver's license. As long as he doesn't have my real license there's no leverage.
- If he still insists on extracting a bribe, I'll call his bluff and offer to follow him to the police station to sort it all out.
Fortunately he didn't give chase. I turned off the a/c to continue climbing to the turn-off for Mike's Sky Ranch, about 30 minutes up an old dirt road. It used to be a popular stop for pilots but they say the military made Mike shut down the airstrip (or post a 24/7 security guard). Now the place serves off-roaders.
The drive up was good. The road was just rough and steep enough to require low range and while 4wd wasn't needed it gave me an excuse to try out Betsy's new autolocking front differential. I pulled into the ranch around 5. The place was empty aside from the three folks who run it.
Since I was the only guest, I opted against a room. I didn't see a point if I wasn't going to be staying up and socializing. Instead I got a $10 camping spot in the parking lot and asked them if they could make something for dinner, which they seemed willing to do.
An hour later I sat down to a well lubricated fried steak, surrounded by gobs of semi-solid beef fat, some rice and vegetables. In some ways it was my first decent meal since arriving in Mexico. Although it was strange to dine alone in a room that could have easily served 50, with only the ticking clock to keep me company, I imagined the place full of loud tourists who would have arrived on dirt bikes and quads and appreciated the solitude.
At sunset I retired to the truck, to read from Paul Theroux's Patagonian Express, and fall sleep early.
All Part of the Adventure (i.e. carry a spare birf you dolt)
full post with photos: http://www.wideanglewandering.com/20...adventure.html
Ridge Leading to Rancho Coyote by WideAngleWandering, on Flickr
Last night I asked Pedro to wake me when the coffee was ready in the morning. At 7AM he knocked and I crawled stiffly out of the truck and found a new vehicle in the lot, belonging to Chris and Lucky, father & son returning home from a fishing trip in Baja Sur. The staff offered us breakfast, but with the caveat that it would be $10 each. They seemed surprised when we accepted. I did so for the chance at an English conversation.
Lucky had been working in Montana until recently, and spoke fluent Spanish from working with hispanic laborers. He and his father, from San Francisco, told me about spots along the coast of Baja where the fishing is fine and the villages free of gringo resort homes.
After our mediocre breakfast of scrambled eggs, potatoes and tortillas, we asked Pedro about the road and routes out to the national observatory. He told us that the road would be rough, with loose rocks at first, but then it would smooth out. I paid my tab (somehow they extracted $40 USD from me on top of the camping fees) and organized the truck for the drive. Lucky decided against it since he didn't want to waste the day if his Volkswagen didn't have enough clearance to make it.
As he and his father drove off, Lucky told me he hoped I would find what I'm looking for. I think he was speaking philosophically because at this point, nobody thought I'd actually get lost looking for the observatory.
Following Pedro's directions, I set off for the observatory via Rancho Coyote. For two hours I followed the road, which quickly degraded into a 4wd trail. I climbed up over loose rocks, followed ridges overlooking brown valleys mottled with green shrubs, crossed arroyos smeared with dried waves of mud, drove through quartz deposits erupting from the roadbed and found occasional oases.
Eventually the road ended in a washed out creek bed. I never found the turn-off that Pedro had described, through the cattle gate, to Rancho Coyote. As I made my way back out to look for the gate, Betsy let out a squealing and crunching sound that surely indicated a problem. Nothing critical looked awry, though the steering stabilizer was hot to the touch and had a sizeable dent in it. Satisfied that this was probably the cause of the noise, I resolved to ignore it and continue on. Further up the trail I hung up one of the rear leaf springs on a rock but freed myself with a traction mat and a pile of stones. Getting out was a bit harder than getting in.
Back at Rancho Mike Sky, Pedro laughed and insisted I had missed the cattle gate. He didn't seem to know anything about the washed out road but since trucks went back there every few days and usually didn't return, the way through must be possible. He described two other routes, one a rough road through a neighboring ranch where I'd be charged by the owners to cross (a reasonable requirement given the number of off-roaders who pass through here) or a longer route across easy dirt roads via Valle Trinidad. I opted for the latter route in case Betsy decided to start squealing again.
At the turn-off for Valle Trinidad, I discovered I could no longer turn more than a few degrees to the left. Instead, I continued slowly up the road to a driveway marked by beer cans overturned on the cactus plants. Fortunately it was on the right and I eased my way in.
Inside I found Juan, the owner of this ranch. I explained my problem and he grabbed a tarp while I got my tools from the truck. He too suspected the stabilizer but after removing it we found I still couldn't steer. I said this must be some bad luck but Juan replied “No, no, this is part of the adventure!” While we pondered the problem, I gave him and his friend Emilio some of the beef jerky I had brought from California. Juan gave me a roasted ear of corn and a handful of fresh pine nuts.
We decided that the best thing to do would be to drive slowly up to Ensenada, two hours away. Since it was already late afternoon, I speculated that the morning would be a better time to go, to which Juan unreservedly offered to let me camp on the ranch. “Very tranquil here”, he said, before going back to work. Emilio showed me around the ranch, a ramshackle collection of structures surrounded by goats, geese, roosters, fields of beans and vegetables, apple and pine trees. The roosters, he said, were for cockfighting. I declined to share my opinion of blood sports at that point, yet he went to explain with a shake of his head that “that's what people want, so we raise them.” The largest of the fighters, he said, was always sad in the off-season but perked right up when it came time for combat.
Emilio too had work to do so he left me to relax in an easy chair under a corrugated tin roof where I munched on pine nuts and read from Dove, Robert Graham's story of circumnavigating the planet alone at the age of 16. In between pages I thought about how to fix my steering. At nightfall I went to sleep early, to the sound of barking dogs and growling roosters.
In the morning I woke up to find Juan making tortillas and Emilio pouring me a cup of coffee. I gave them the coconut I'd been carrying for the last few days and Emilio gave me an apple from their orchard. I countered with a bag of frijoles that I wouldn't be eating due to my aborted camping trip.
When I was ready to hit the road, Juan told me to come back anytime. Emilio asked that if I did, to bring them a book of apple marmalade recipes as they were inclined to make some for sale.
full post with photos: http://www.wideanglewandering.com/2012/08/ensenada.html
Freelensing Ensenada Ships by WideAngleWandering, on Flickr
I left the rancho in the morning. Before pulling out I checked my turning radius. Now left turns were ok but right turns were limited. Then neither were limited. The problem seemed intermittent but my troubleshooting wasn't as deliberate as it should have been either.
The drive back up to Ensenada was uneventful, though I found that nothing concentrates my mind more than a mountain drive with the prospect of limited steering. As I approached the city, the sprawl of squat square buildings laid out over the surrounding hills came into view.
Not knowing anything about the city other than "it's bigger than San Felipe, you'll find a mechanic there for sure" I elected to stop and ask around at the first mechanic I could find. He looked and listened and declared the problem was with the steering box. I wasn't convinced by his confidence but it didn't matter - he said I would have to find and bring him a steering box as he couldn't get one. I moved on.
I drove down to the central area, near the waterfront, and found a hotel offering rooms for $29 a night or $149 per week. I checked in for a week and hit up bajanomad.com and and my friends and mechanic in the states for advice via hotel wifi. In the evening I walked the malecón and sought out fish tacos. Most of the stalls in the fish market were closing early, but one, the best one as it turned out, was open. 10 pesos for tacos and each was better than the last.
On Friday I spent the day talking to folks in the states. A further range of diagnoses brought me from stabilizer to power steering pump to steering box and finally to an axle.
I jacked up each wheel and found that with one hub locked, it was binding and hard to turn. This would be a clear sign of a problem with the axle except that I have an autlocking front differential - a noisy contraption on a good day. Clearly I was going to need to take it apart to go any further.
Fortunately, http://www.bajanomad.com came through with a recommended mechanic in Baja, but I would have to wait until Monday to connect. Over the weekend my notebook gained two more contacts and hand-written maps. It seems that everyone has a favorite mechanic down here.
I spent the weekend wandering the streets of Ensenada. I had a fantastic molé at one of the many small joints away from the tourist district, tried fish tacos at several places before deciding the first really was the best, photographed the malecón in the evenings and found two bars with decent draft beer. By Sunday night I was getting quite bored with this pleasant, easy routine.
very nice, thanks for posting!