Into Africa – Distributing Wheelchairs in Uganda

February, 2017
Free Wheelchair Mission – My favorite charity…

For me, what could be better than putting wheels under less fortunate people like the many I have encountered in my travels?

I first learned about FWM back in 2003 when it was a two-year old nonprofit, struggling to deliver its first 1,000 wheelchairs; I have been a staunch supporter ever since. For $78.90, the equivalent of an overpriced dinner for two, one can change an unfortunate soul’s life and the lives of his/her family forever. This past summer, Free Wheelchair Mission gave away its one-millionth chair, thanks to the generosity of thousands of donors over the last sixteen years! To learn more about it, click here: www.freewheelchairmission.org.

Kat and I donate monthly and have attended numerous fundraisers over the years…and have been gifted, in return, with glimpses of recipients during our travels, going about their lives, sitting in their chairs, from Vietnam to Peru. But the best rewards have been the two distribution trips we have participated in; one to El Salvador in 2012 (read the story our Charlottamiles website) and one to Uganda this past winter.

The trip to Africa is the subject of this blog. To see these people up close, to touch them and be touched by them, to view their despair, to smell their lives, to hear their cries, to observe their pain, is an experience beyond humbling. To be able to lift them off the filthy ground and place their havoc-racked bodies into a wheeled contraption, then witness the transformation on their faces as they realize the freedom they have just received, see their pain be slightly relieved and their dignity slightly restored, is priceless. To see the relief on their family’s faces as they roll their burdens away, back to their cardboard-shack neighborhoods, no longer having to carry a son, daughter, brother, sister, grandparent, gives one a different perspective on things to whine about in our cushy American lives.

Africa is magical and the Ugandan people, captivating. Nowhere have I wanted so much to be friends with someone I just met. Their vibrancy, humor and just plain happiness, is something I find missing in the western world. Being with the Ugandan people was like a journey into the soul of what human”kind” should really be all about.

Kat and I spent just ten days last February with these wonderful people. It took four more getting to and from their small, landlocked country in central Africa. We spent three days assembling 250 wheelchairs and two more gifting them to pre-selected recipients, documenting details of their lives and fine-tuning the chairs to fit their new owner’s specific needs. After these intense days, we unwound at Murchison Falls National Park, viewing amazing African wild animals, sleeping in comfy beds and eating abundant, delicious, tourist food. The contrast to the real Uganda we had been immersed in was not lost on our traveler’s psyche. Tourist attractions never reveal the soul of a country.

We apologize in advance for the blurry, fuzzy photos. Our poor, old, trusty, point-and-shoot camera, which faithfully shot all of the Americas, decided to pack it in on this trip. We’re lucky we got the shots we did to share this incredible experience with you. Enjoy…
Ned

After two arduous travel days, we were greeted warmly at the Entebbe Airport by our in-country host’s incredible volunteer teem and were whisked off to our hotel in Ggaba for much-needed rest.
We stayed in Ggaba for two days where we were treated to, not only a heart-felt church service, but also a wonderful native presentation, arranged by our hosts, and performed in the courtyard of their apartment!
As Ned mentioned above, we were overwhelmed by the warmth, kindness and smiles of the Ugandan people.

From Ggaba, we were to travel by van to the town of Iganga, several hours away, where we would assemble and distribute the wheelchairs. Along the way, though, our hosts, led by the fabulous Maureen, offered the chance to visit the SOURCE of the Nile. We were just getting to know the rest of our American team, a family of five (fellow Free Wheelchair Mission donors), and when we all enthusiastically agreed to the side trip, we knew we would be a harmonious group. We arrived at the water’s edge and scampered on to a rustic, rickety little boat for our tour…

The country of Uganda sits partially on the northern shore of Lake Victoria, which is the actual source of the Nile River. The Nile, all 4,258 miles of it, is widely considered to be the longest in the world, flowing north through eleven countries and finally emptying into the Mediterranean Sea in Egypt. Between the geographic and the historical significance of the Nile we all thought that the SOURCE would be a grandiose tourist attraction. Instead, it was an inconspicuous group of thatch-roofed shacks…

…selling a dusty, faded array of locally made crafts. The fellow above was our exuberant, but difficult to understand, boat pilot and guide. And the naked mannequin? She was dis-robed because I bought a lovely dress (not dusty or faded) for my sister!

In spite of the underwhelming appearance, it was a thrill to see, first-hand, the birthplace of the mighty Nile. And the local beer? Ahhhh!

The fun and rest were now over, and our work began. The wheelchairs are made in China and arrive by container ship, individually boxed, but completely unassembled. We seven Americans joined up with the Ugandan team of six and, with perfect unity and coordination, spent two days, sleeves rolled up, assembling 150 chairs…to fulfill 150 dreams of mobility.

Once again, we have to apologize for the photos this time. As Ned said, our Panasonic decided to malfunction badly, causing us to miss many great shots. The photos we did get are edited within an inch of their lives but are still of poor quality. Hopefully, though, you will find the subjects and content as fascinating as we did.
This is Francis Mugwana, a native Ugandan. He and his wife, Adrianne, a Canadian, are the founders of the Father Heart Ministry group in Uganda and were our official trip hosts. Francis was born deformed and has experienced, first-hand, the deep-seated demonization and humiliation of crippled people in countries like his. He has become a strong advocate and champion for the disabled. The Mugwanas employ two full-time people, but most of their team are volunteers. The Father Heart Ministry is Free Wheelchair Mission’s Ugandan distribution partner and is responsible for identifying recipients and arranging the distribution days.

Andrew, on the right is one of Francis’ two full-time employees and was our funny and caring driver for most of our time in Uganda.

The American team (the white people, as we jokingly called ourselves) in the church in Iganga where people would gather to receive their wheelchairs. The assembled chairs are in the background. Lissa and I were allowed to wear shorts for the assembly days, but were strictly told to wear long, well-pressed, conservative skirts for the actual distributions.

Our first assignments on distribution day, were to deliver two wheelchairs to homes of people, who, for some reason were not able to get to the church. The town of Iganga, we were surprised to learn, has a population that is 75% Muslim immigrants, and we were greeted at the first home by a very serious, stoic, Muslim man. The home was obviously very poor, the family’s clothing dirty and tattered, but the dirt on the walkway and courtyard had been meticulously raked in honor and appreciation of our arrival.

In general, we found the Muslims to be much more subdued than others with whom we have worked on other distributions, but Arafat, this ten-year-old recipient was too happy to hide his enthusiasm – as was the rest of the family.

This is fourteen-year-old Mahad…

 

…and Mahad’s mother who was extremely grateful for no longer having to carry Mahad.

Back at the church, people were gathering…even more than we expected!

The wait was tortuous for some in the scorching heat, while the local politicians were humored and pacified by allowing them to make long, grandiose speeches. Note that many are sitting on the discarded wheelchair boxes. All of these cardboard boxes ended up going to new homes to be repurposed in many ways. What was considered trash to us, was an invaluable resource to these clever, impoverished people.

How can any of us begin to imagine the indignity of being carried, helplessly, everywhere and/or crawling in the filthy dirt like an animal?

And how can we begin to imagine the joy of having a wheelchair of her own, a once impossible dream?

Most of the adults were too proud to have us help them into the chairs. It was agony just to watch, but amazing to witness their courage and strength of will.

We worker-bees were broken into three-people teams, Ned and I working together with a local pastor/translator. Ned fit and adjusted wheelchairs to their new owners while I interviewed the recipients (through the translator) and wrote down their stories, asking questions such as:
“What is your disability?”
“When did it happen?”
“How did it happen?”
“Did you ever dream of, or pray for, a wheelchair?”
“How will it change your life having a wheelchair?”
“Do you go to a church or a mosque?”
“Will you be able to go to school now?”
The stories were heart-breakingly similar; most became deformed and disabled, at around three to eight years old, by either cerebral malaria or by bad polo vaccinations. Nearly all of the disabled and their families had prayed for years for wheelchairs, but sadly, they never really believed they would have one.
Of the sixty to seventy families I eventually interviewed, roughly 80% were Muslim, attending mosques. These people were much more reticent to engage, giving short, unemotional answers to my questions. Some of the men would not even look at me or answer me directly. They would only address the male translator. The distribution we did in El Salvador in 2012 was different to a point that I became distressed, thinking that I was doing something wrong or offensive. Fortunately, I was able to have a quick conversation with Francis’ wife, Adrianne, who told me that was just the Muslim culture and that I was doing fine. I persisted, but, as a highly interactive person myself, continued to find the task emotionally difficult.
Many of the recipients had a tough time expressing how the wheelchairs would change their lives, but a few brought tears to my eyes, saying that now they could sell bananas…or used clothing…or…whatever, on the streets, to make extra money for their families. Some kids would be able to go to school now, but some were just too disabled and could not even speak.
All of the recipients and their families were incredibly grateful in their own way, but for some, the gift was too overwhelming, their pride already too badly bruised to express appreciation. We Americans had brought many bags of clothing to give out, and it was odd to witness how much more excited the people appeared over the used clothes than the wheelchairs. As we were to find out, the Ugandans, in general, dress better than Ned and me (not saying much!). They take pride in their appearance, and dirty, tattered, wrinkled clothes are offensive. The people we served were the poorest in the country, and their grungy, threadbare rags were shamefully embarrassing for them. For new (used) clothing they could, and did, show excitement, but for the wheelchairs, it seemed too big an offering to even comprehend.
It was an intense and exhausting day. We were dirty and, at the same time, both emotionally drained and uplifted. We have seen this level of poverty and filth before, but this time we touched it; we hugged and caressed it and ignored the impending doom of potential disease.
Then, by the end of the distribution day, we faced the biggest distress of all…we had given out all 150 wheelchairs, but still had many, many more disabled souls who had shown up, by unimaginable effort, only to stare at us longingly, knowing they had missed out. As if our hearts had not already been wrenched enough, this was practically unbearable.
Thankfully, Francis is a determined, resourceful man. That evening he sent two of his team members over 200 miles to Entebbe. While we rested, the two Ugandans drove all night on wretched roads to get one-hundred more wheelchairs from a storage unit. Francis had instructed the hopeful recipients to come back tomorrow, but we worried that the trust had been broken and that some would not.
We all met back at the church early the next morning, and with herculean effort, the torment in those people’s eyes driving us, we all (including the two who had driven to Entebbe) pitched in to assemble the one-hundred chairs in a fraction of the time it took us the first days…and more people began to arrive…

This poor sweetie had already been crippled from malaria, but later contracted an eye infection. He was not able to speak for himself, but his mother told me that she had taken him to a witch doctor for the infection and that the ensuing treatment caused his eye to fall out…

…That he could still gift us with such a smile was incredible.

And then there were these two (one above and one below), who, because of their disabilities had NEVER left the dirt floors of their homes. With the noise and commotion of throngs of people, these young girls were terrified beyond comprehension. I am crying now, just as I cried then, remembering their distressing wails of fear.

This one (yes, a fourteen-year-old girl) had even messed her pants she was so frightened…and never stopped screaming.

This eleven-year-old girl had brought her little brother, by herself, by hired “moto,” many miles, to get him a wheelchair. They had no father, and the mother was working and could not come…

…Such a relief to these families.

Hmm…flip-flops worn on the hands, dirt on the knees, feet put on backwards…and smiling…just what was it I was complaining about this morning??

Pride and dignity radiated from this grandmother’s face and through her clean, best dress. We as Americans cannot begin to fathom the pain and suffering she has endured in her lifetime.

This boy had no legs, but apparently did go to school and was a star pupil. He spoke excellent English and seemed highly intelligent. Note the missing buttons on his school uniform and the reserve of the mother.

How shameful for people, especially the elderly, to have to crawl in the dirt. As much as some folks want to complain about our country, no one in America has to face such indignity.

To see such hope and pride on these people’s faces as they begin to realize how their lives can now change is a true gift to us.

This white wheelchair is the Generation I model. Some, like this sweet lady and the one below, could not sit up well enough to be comfortable in the blue Gen II model.

It is sometimes shocking to see such intelligence and “normalcy” in one with such a hopeless body. This amazing woman had little to no control over her badly deformed torso and limbs, but carried on a conversation as if we were sitting and chatting over coffee.

These curious children were not disabled, but watched the goings on with interest…and begged me for some bottles of water (which I did sneak to them).

So now you and/or you loved one has a wheelchair…how do you get it home??

Very resourcefully!

Note all of those cardboard boxes going home, too!

Our final assignment was to bring three wheelchairs to the prison to give to some inmates in need. This is a shot of the women’s side, which we did not visit. We were invited inside the men’s unit (no photos allowed, too bad) which was fascinating and maybe a little frightening. The inmates had been gathered in an outdoor area, sitting on the ground, and we sat on a bench in front of them, not ten feet away, while presentations were made. No security was present, and Lissa and I were the only females. Had a riot ensued we would have been in deep trouble (we found out later that some were interred for rape and murder), but I looked at the faces and into the eyes of those men and saw no malice. I saw openness, curiosity and gladness for their fellow inmates who received wheelchairs, but in the end, felt no threat whatsoever. I can’t even imagine in what other prison that would have been possible.

Now finished with our “work,” we were driven, along with the intrepid Maureen (Francis’ other full-time employee), a full day north to the Murchison Falls National Park.
These are just some street scenes taken from the van along the way…

This friendly fellow used his best smile to beg for money.

Once at the Park, we were able to relax and enjoy ourselves after, what turned out to be, a highly intense and emotional experience. We decompressed, enjoying nice lodge rooms, with great beds and wonderful, plentiful food….

…and several game-watching tours led by the wonderful Sammy.

Come with us now as we drive through the Central African savanna, watching wonderous animals (apologizing again for the poor photo quality)…

Baboon

Warthog

Jackson Antelope are humorously called “food” by the guides because they breed plentifully, but are slow and clumsy!

Giraffes!

Lions!

Water Bucks

(Two) hyenas. Evidently, the females are bigger and lead the packs.

Besides the land tours, we also went on a boat ride up the Nile to see the Murchison Falls…

…where we saw lots of hippos (which can run 70 mph!)…

…and Kingfishers…

…and…I forgot…sorry!

…and crocs…

…and skunk monkeys…

…and elephants!!!

Let’s be wise and never forget how great our lives are.
See you in December when we report on Israel! Stay tuned!
All our best,
Ned and Kat

Charlottamiles South and North – New Book Announcement

 


Hi Everyone!
Welcome to all of you who are new to our blog!
Ned and Kat (and Charlotte!) are happy to announce the publication of our second book, Charlottamiles South and North, Nevada to Argentina to Alaska – A Circuitous Sojourn in a VW Syncro. As most of you know, in December 2013, we took off in Charlotte, our 4×4 VW Vanagon, and spent fourteen months driving to the southern tip of South America. Then in 2016, we racked up another two months on the road, making it to the top of the continent, Prudhoe Bay, Alaska. This book is a compilation of our entire blog (which we posted along the way) and has been formatted into an enormous eBook! It is 2,187 pages and has 2,300 color photos. It is so large that our publisher said we could only offer it through Amazon Kindle or Apple iBooks. Apologies to those of you who still love paper books, but we really are thrilled to offer the blog in a much easier to read format. There are so many large posts that it has been difficult to navigate the blog site! We had a lot of fun reliving the adventures as we went through the publishing process, and for any of you who would like to do the same, just click here for Kindle and here for iBooks.
Both of us feel strongly blessed to be in a position to travel and would love to share our adventures with as many people as are interested in riding along. Please help us “pay it forward” by sharing and writing online reviews.

Below is the published book description:

Follow Ned, Kat and Charlotte (an intrepid 1987 Volkswagen 4×4 Vanagon) as they wander the Americas, turning the 10,000 crow-fly miles from Ushuaia, Argentina to Prudhoe Bay, Alaska into 40,000 circuitous ones. With no route planning, no internet research and a penchant for bush camping and remote, dirt tracks, Ned and Kat’s experiences and unexpected encounters while living on the road will leave you breathless. With 2,300 fascinating photos and plenty of exciting, unpredictable and electrifying stories, you will find yourself along for the ride of a lifetime.
“At 6am, December 21st, right on schedule, Ned and I looked at each other in the pre-dawn dark of the bus, gulped a couple of times and said goodbye to all the comforts of home. The future was now an immense unknown. I felt this crazy fluctuation of feelings bouncing around somewhere between the anticipation of elated excitement and the apprehension of sheer terror. But how incredibly fortunate we were; the road ahead was not so much a black hole as a blank canvas.” Excerpt from Charlottamiles South and North
From the vivid color and vibrancy of Mexico, to the jungles of Central America and the soaring elevations of the Andes, Ned and Kat delve into a rich diversity of people, culture and food with honesty, humor and insight.
“Following Charlotte and her human counterparts, Ned and Kat Bacon, through the Americas is to live a vicarious adventure. Their plan was to “have no plan at all;” simply travel south until they reached land’s-end. During this multi-year trek the trio navigates, in a zigzag kind of way, a gauntlet of third-world challenges with the prowess of a kayaker through Class-V rapids. They seek out the roads less traveled, immerse themselves in foreign cultures, and savor the aroma of street food cuisine. I am inspired by those who step away from the norm, take adventure into their own hands, and let the trip take them in the direction that the wind blows.” Chris Collard, Editor-in-Chief, Overland Journal

While we are shamelessly promoting our books…don’t forget our first one, Saving Charlotte, Fumbling Across America with a Reluctant VW Bus, the story of how we found Charlotte in Hartford, CT and brought her home. This book is more widely available at booksellers like Amazon in both paper and eBook formats and is shorter, but a lot of fun. Below is the published description:

“We drove away in an unlicensed car that we did not legally own, complete with a bashed in front end, a badly cracked windshield, and a headlight propped in with duct tape, a tree branch and a piece of foam found lying on the ground. It was not an encouraging way to start our 3,000 mile journey!”
Ever dream of buying a one-way airline ticket to purchase a sight-unseen, salvage titled automobile and drive it across the country? Join Kat and Ned as they “rescue” Charlotte, an unlicensed, reluctant, but endearing VW Syncro bus who drags her wheels at first, but eventually really gets rolling. Kat and Ned had a vision of building up a Syncro into a cool, capable overland adventure vehicle, dreaming of the advantages of “bus living.” But would the dream turn into a nightmare?
The adventures and mis-adventures are hilarious, turning a four day drive from Connecticut to Nevada into a two week escapade of mysterious mechanical issues, cop-dodging, heat waves, torrential thunderstorms, missing credit cards, and Mississippi mud baths.
Can’t get out of Hartford…Can’t get out of Buffalo…Can’t get out of Elkhart…you can’t imagine what can go wrong on a trip like this! Charlotte balks, spits, sputters and lurches but never stalls, while Kat and Ned persevere, finding that, in spite of her VW idiosyncrasies, Charlotte has a truly endearing soul. They also find that their dream of “bus living” has become an addictive reality.
“Only in a VW Bus would somebody attempt something like this…and get away with it! What a great story! A must-read not only for the VW Bus crowd—but for the wanna- be’s too!”
S. Lucas Valdes – GoWesty Campers

Happy trails for now! Stay tuned for more adventures!
Ned and Kat

Fishing, Flying and Final Frolics – Alaska Part 3

Monday June 6, 2016

From my comfy position, propped up on pillows in the back of Charlotte, I can see the spruce and birch lined gravel road wind ahead of us with Ned, always the road warrior, driving…and driving. The ice capped mountains of Alaska have given way to the endless rolling forests of the Yukon Territory in northwest Canada. The occasional lake dots the landscape, and if I look hard enough I swear I can even see giant mosquitoes whizzing by my window. We are rolling along, heading southeast, on the beautiful, lonely, 350 mile long, Campbell Highway.

East of Ross River (where our infamous Canol Road ends), the Campbell Highway turns to smooth, graded dirt and is one of the quietest and best roads we have ever driven; in fact, last night around 9:30 (yes, the sun was still up) we pulled into a big, flat gravel area next to the road but behind some trees to camp for the night. We spent a peaceful night, got up leisurely, ate breakfast and did exercises. Ned even changed Charlotte’s oil and rotated her tires, and in all that time, not a single person drove by.

Now, back on the road, with a lot of uninterrupted miles ahead of us, this is a great time to reflect back on our trip and write this blog.

Overall, our travels through Canada and Alaska have been, not only gorgeous, but also pretty easy compared to Latin America. The countryside is so wide open that finding places to camp every night has been a breeze, and while we were consistently in bear territory, both black bears and grizzlies, we didn’t have a single close encounter. We were aware that a bear smelling food in Charlotte would be capable of tearing her doors off to get inside, so our best (honestly) preparation was to park facing outward with the key in the ignition, ready to climb in front and drive away if we were awakened by any suspicious noises. Not a single four legged (or two!) critter came sniffing, though, and every night was perfectly peaceful. There were also (unlike Latin America) plenty of opportunities to do runs and hikes, but the threat of a charging mama moose or a hungry grizzly kept us on rather short leashes, and we never did more than a few miles.

The other comparatively easy aspects of our travels north vs. south were language and drinking water. It felt odd but effortless to be talking to new friends without straining to converse in Spanish, and almost everywhere we went, the water was great out of the tap; either well, spring or filtered river water. In Latin America, English was rare and finding good drinking water (to buy) was a constant concern.

Heading to extreme northern climes in May was a bit of a risk, and while many businesses along the way were not yet opened for the season, it turned out to be wonderful for several reasons. First of all, it had been a light winter up here, so the snow was already mostly melted. Secondly, because it was so early we spent most of the time bundled up in winter clothes, which, under normal circumstances would not have been on the plus side. Obviously, we would rather have had the comfort and ease of summer clothes, but I am here to verify that every rumor you’ve ever heard about Alaska’s mosquitoes is true! It really should be their state bird. They swarmed and attacked with lightning speed, some of them nearly the size of hummingbirds (well, maybe not that big…). Winter clothes left it unnecessary to slather up with DEET, for which we were extremely grateful. Having to crawl in bed every night without a shower, covered in sticky, smelly, toxic slime would have been awful!

The final benefit of traveling through Alaska in May was that there were relatively few tourists and not many other vehicles on the roads; by the time we left Alaska in early June, the motor homes were literally pouring in.

Despite the mosquitoes, the scenery up north is absolutely stunning and well worth fighting off the pesky buzz bombers. I could go on and on about the beauty we enjoyed, and I do have lots of photos to show below, but first I want to share our biggest “takeaway” from the trip.

Alaska is rich in history, albeit a rather short one, and the many stories of settling, mining, and homesteading in such an extreme environment got me thinking of our unique American history. We heard tale after tale of brave men and women crossing massive ice fields and glaciers to reach gold claims, of rebuilding entire towns after devastating earthquakes, and of building huge railroad bridges in the middle of winter in record times.

To me, Alaskan (and even northwest Canadian) history embodies the true spirit of our entire country. From the Revolution to wagon trains; from the Wild West, gold rushes and hard working immigrants to the influence of native cultures; I can’t think of another country that can match the American experience, and it has shaped us well. We are free thinkers who cut our teeth on freedom and liberty, and unlike other countries, we have been given the priceless gift of being born into a culture ripe with individualism and a sense of self reliance. Traveling always makes me aware that taking pride in our history and keeping the stories alive for future generations is the best way to pass down our legacy of freedom and preserve our American way of life.

Now, on with our story.…follow along as we take a wildlife/glacier cruise, go dork fishing (us, not the fish), visit a historic copper mill, fly over massive ice fields with a bush pilot, and finally, suffer the worse border crossing ever…

…Speaking of individualism and free thinking…this is my favorite photo from downtown Anchorage, and yes, they do sell lots of fur hats and coats too! (And no, we didn’t buy any!) We did spend two nights in town, doing the previous blog and taking lots of showers. Finally on the coast, we did find a lot of seafood, but it was very expensive and almost universally battered and deep fried. Seafood chowder is also a local, coastal favorite and Ned assured me it was fabulous!

…Speaking of individualism and free thinking…this is my favorite photo from downtown Anchorage, and yes, they do sell lots of fur hats and coats too! (And no, we didn’t buy any!)
We did spend two nights in town, doing the previous blog and taking lots of showers. Finally on the coast, we did find a lot of seafood, but it was very expensive and almost universally battered and deep fried. Seafood chowder is also a local, coastal favorite and Ned assured me it was fabulous!

From Anchorage, we drove southeast along the famous Turnagin Arm, a 45 mile waterway in the northwestern part of the Gulf of Alaska. The Arm is famous for its wild bore tides that form surf-worthy waves as incoming tide meets outgoing. We missed this particular phenomenon, but there are some fun videos on YouTube under Turnagin Arm or Bore Tide.

From Anchorage, we drove southeast along the famous Turnagin Arm, a 45 mile waterway in the northwestern part of the Gulf of Alaska. The Arm is famous for its wild bore tides that form surf-worthy waves as incoming tide meets outgoing. We missed this particular phenomenon, but there are some fun videos on YouTube under Turnagin Arm or Bore Tide.

One of our favorite (and easy) camping hidey holes…not devoid of mosquitoes, but gorgeous.

One of our favorite (and easy) camping hidey holes…not devoid of mosquitoes, but gorgeous.

We were heading toward the Kenai Peninsula, but got side tracked by a sign and a dirt track leading to Hope on the opposite shore of the Turnagin Arm. At this point we realized that we had plenty of time, so we went exploring. Hope looked a little like a ghost town, but further investigation revealed that it was only in hibernation. None of the three restaurants were due to open until next week, but the owner of the funny little gift shop, Dru kept us entertained for a bit.

We were heading toward the Kenai Peninsula, but got side tracked by a sign and a dirt track leading to Hope on the opposite shore of the Turnagin Arm. At this point we realized that we had plenty of time, so we went exploring.
Hope looked a little like a ghost town, but further investigation revealed that it was only in hibernation. None of the three restaurants were due to open until next week, but the owner of the funny little gift shop, Dru kept us entertained for a bit.

Playing in the crazy mud of The Arm outside of Hope…

Playing in the crazy mud of The Arm outside of Hope…

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…and then onward to beautiful Seward on the Kenai Peninsula. Once there, we got ourselves signed up for a wild life and glacier cruise for the next day, had a good meal at The Roadhouse and then went for a night hike!

…and then onward to beautiful Seward on the Kenai Peninsula. Once there, we got ourselves signed up for a wild life and glacier cruise for the next day, had a good meal at The Roadhouse and then went for a night hike!

It was amazing to be doing a technical, rocky hike to a glacier at 9:30 at night, but it was a great way to work off dinner! The highlight of Exit Glacier is a graphically displayed view of how much the glaciers are receding. Beginning more than a mile below the glacier, year markers begin in the early 1900’s. The sign in the photo shows where it was in 2005. The name comes from being the exit point of the Harding Ice Field which was trekked across by settlers to access the Kenai Peninsula.

It was amazing to be doing a technical, rocky hike to a glacier at 9:30 at night, but it was a great way to work off dinner!
The highlight of Exit Glacier is a graphically displayed view of how much the glaciers are receding. Beginning more than a mile below the glacier, year markers begin in the early 1900’s. The sign in the photo shows where it was in 2005. The name comes from being the exit point of the Harding Ice Field which was trekked across by settlers to access the Kenai Peninsula.

This sign showed an overview of how long the glacier had been in previous years. There was no judgment on the interpretive signs implicating whether the melting/global warming was naturally occurring or human caused.

This sign showed an overview of how long the glacier had been in previous years. There was no judgment on the interpretive signs implicating whether the melting/global warming was naturally occurring or human caused.

Having spent a peaceful night parked (illegally) in the Exit Glacier parking lot, we embarked on our cruise on this lovely, brand new ship. We did share the journey with a gazillion other tourists, but it was fantastic anyway. Come along and enjoy the incredible scenery and wildlife of the Kenai Fjords National Park…

Having spent a peaceful night parked (illegally) in the Exit Glacier parking lot, we embarked on our cruise on this lovely, brand new ship. We did share the journey with a gazillion other tourists, but it was fantastic anyway. Come along and enjoy the incredible scenery and wildlife of the Kenai Fjords National Park…

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Seals.

Seals.

Orcas!

Orcas!

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Massive glaciers.

Massive glaciers.

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What the heck?! This mama goat was on a thousand foot sheer rock wall, just above the sea. Not really sure why she wanted to be here - except because she could!

What the heck?! This mama goat was on a thousand foot sheer rock wall, just above the sea. Not really sure why she wanted to be here – except because she could!

Puffins!

Puffins!

Sea lions.

Sea lions.

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Not a great shot, but an entire school of dolphins escorted us back to port, swimming under the boat side to side and frolicking in front of us. It was incredible to witness their speed as they easily kept up with the ship!

Not a great shot, but an entire school of dolphins escorted us back to port, swimming under the boat side to side and frolicking in front of us. It was incredible to witness their speed as they easily kept up with the ship!

Entering Seward by boat…

Entering Seward by boat…

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Another beautiful camping spot outside of Seward.

Another beautiful camping spot outside of Seward.

From Seward we drove north to the Sterling Highway, then west and south again heading to Homer.

From Seward we drove north to the Sterling Highway, then west and south again heading to Homer.

Sadly, these have been pretty common on the roads in southern Alaska.

Sadly, these have been pretty common on the roads in southern Alaska.

So many beautiful bald eagles in Alaska!

So many beautiful bald eagles in Alaska!

Charlotte just can’t seem to stay away from Mexico! At the sight of this sign, she pulled straight in to this awesome restaurant in Soldotna.

Charlotte just can’t seem to stay away from Mexico! At the sight of this sign, she pulled straight in to this awesome restaurant in Soldotna.

Enchiladas, gooey cheese, rice and beans beat fried fish and chips any day!

Enchiladas, gooey cheese, rice and beans beat fried fish and chips any day!

Entering Homer at the very bottom of the Kenai Peninsula. This shot was taken by our new friend from South Africa, George Ferreira, who has ridden the Dalton Highway to Prudhoe Bay by motorcycle. His blog is: www.riding-the-usa.com.

Entering Homer at the very bottom of the Kenai Peninsula.
This shot was taken by our new friend from South Africa, George Ferreira, who has ridden the Dalton Highway to Prudhoe Bay by motorcycle. His blog is: www.riding-the-usa.com.

Homer sits on the Kachemak Bay in the Cook Inlet and is famous for the Homer Spit, as seen in the photo above. The spit is naturally formed, but strong, human made sea walls have preserved it from eroding to oblivion.

Homer sits on the Kachemak Bay in the Cook Inlet and is famous for the Homer Spit, as seen in the photo above. The spit is naturally formed, but strong, human made sea walls have preserved it from eroding to oblivion.

The boat harbor out on The Spit.

The boat harbor out on The Spit.

The countryside around Homer is gorgeous. We spent a day wandering around and eventually drove to the very end of East End Road which winds through lovely, green hills, overlooks the turquoise bay and is surrounded by ice capped mountains.

The countryside around Homer is gorgeous. We spent a day wandering around and eventually drove to the very end of East End Road which winds through lovely, green hills, overlooks the turquoise bay and is surrounded by ice capped mountains.

East End Road ends at the beach at the bottom of an extremely steep dirt track…

East End Road ends at the beach at the bottom of an extremely steep dirt track…

…where we found a very reclusive (no photos) Russian village/ranch and lots of coal! The locals still harvest coal to burn in their home stoves. Evidently there are several Russian Orthodox “Old Believer” villages in the area that were settled in the 1960’s. Generations before, these families had escaped religious persecution from Russia in the early 1900’s, subsequently journeying to China, South America and, finally, Alaska. We heard that they tend to stay to themselves, but we did spot a few women wearing colorful, traditional dresses.

…where we found a very reclusive (no photos) Russian village/ranch and lots of coal! The locals still harvest coal to burn in their home stoves.
Evidently there are several Russian Orthodox “Old Believer” villages in the area that were settled in the 1960’s. Generations before, these families had escaped religious persecution from Russia in the early 1900’s, subsequently journeying to China, South America and, finally, Alaska. We heard that they tend to stay to themselves, but we did spot a few women wearing colorful, traditional dresses.

Having just read an autobiography by the singer/songwriter, Jewel, we knew that she was raised on a modern day homestead in Homer, Alaska. We also knew that her last name was Kilcher, and that she is the granddaughter of a Swiss man named Yule, who crossed the Harding Ice field to arrive in Homer in the 1940’s. Yule homesteaded 160 acres in the hills east of Homer and raised his family of eight children without running water or electricity. Jewel, the daughter of one of Yule’s sons, Atz, was also raised without modern plumbing (we have heard that because of remoteness and harsh temperatures, many Alaskans still live with no running water and obtain electricity only via generators). Curious, we Googled the Kilcher Homestead and found two things: First, that it was located right there off of East End Road, and secondly, that the two brothers, Otz (Jewell’s dad) and Otto have a reality TV show called, Alaska, on the Discovery Channel! Of course, we had to go investigate.

Having just read an autobiography by the singer/songwriter, Jewel, we knew that she was raised on a modern day homestead in Homer, Alaska. We also knew that her last name was Kilcher, and that she is the granddaughter of a Swiss man named Yule, who crossed the Harding Ice field to arrive in Homer in the 1940’s. Yule homesteaded 160 acres in the hills east of Homer and raised his family of eight children without running water or electricity. Jewel, the daughter of one of Yule’s sons, Atz, was also raised without modern plumbing (we have heard that because of remoteness and harsh temperatures, many Alaskans still live with no running water and obtain electricity only via generators). Curious, we Googled the Kilcher Homestead and found two things: First, that it was located right there off of East End Road, and secondly, that the two brothers, Otz (Jewell’s dad) and Otto have a reality TV show called, Alaska, on the Discovery Channel! Of course, we had to go investigate.

Evidently we were not supposed to show up on our own without a tour bus, but one of Jewell’s cousins, Connie, was gracious enough to give us a mini tour. The homestead is now considered a living museum, and is still a working farm. Being such big TV watching fans, we have no idea what the show is all about. Connie, herself, admitted she tends to keep her distance from the cameras and other media goings on as well, but she still gave us a good impression of how life was growing up in remote Alaska in the ‘70s. (that’s 1970’s, not 1870’s!!)

Evidently we were not supposed to show up on our own without a tour bus, but one of Jewell’s cousins, Connie, was gracious enough to give us a mini tour. The homestead is now considered a living museum, and is still a working farm. Being such big TV watching fans, we have no idea what the show is all about. Connie, herself, admitted she tends to keep her distance from the cameras and other media goings on as well, but she still gave us a good impression of how life was growing up in remote Alaska in the ‘70s. (that’s 1970’s, not 1870’s!!)

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We had fun wandering around the farm in its beautiful setting, and Connie invited us to use the long, steep farm road to walk down to the bay so we could get some exercise. It was a really gorgeous hike!

We had fun wandering around the farm in its beautiful setting, and Connie invited us to use the long, steep farm road to walk down to the bay so we could get some exercise. It was a really gorgeous hike!

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Walking around the touristy Homer Spit on our first day, we had spent two hours trying to talk ourselves into going deep sea fishing. Neither of us is really patient enough to be interested in fishing, and I had never even held a pole before. Many friends insisted, though, that if we were in Alaska, we HAD to go fishing! We hemmed and hawed, checked out charter companies, and found out about fish processing and shipping. We were told that a whole day charter would be nine hours…nine hours??? Really?? How about a half day?? Ok, we talked ourselves into a half day…just five hours…surely we could handle that. Our fearless leader, Captain Billy, we were assured was “amazing” and that he would take excellent care of us. We forked over $400. Uggg. At 8:00am, perfectly refreshed from sleeping illegally (again) in the parking lot next to the harbor, we set sail. I had no idea what to expect…

Walking around the touristy Homer Spit on our first day, we had spent two hours trying to talk ourselves into going deep sea fishing. Neither of us is really patient enough to be interested in fishing, and I had never even held a pole before. Many friends insisted, though, that if we were in Alaska, we HAD to go fishing! We hemmed and hawed, checked out charter companies, and found out about fish processing and shipping. We were told that a whole day charter would be nine hours…nine hours??? Really?? How about a half day?? Ok, we talked ourselves into a half day…just five hours…surely we could handle that. Our fearless leader, Captain Billy, we were assured was “amazing” and that he would take excellent care of us. We forked over $400. Uggg.
At 8:00am, perfectly refreshed from sleeping illegally (again) in the parking lot next to the harbor, we set sail. I had no idea what to expect…

Ned looks like he’s doing just fine; well maybe a little unenthusiastic.

Ned looks like he’s doing just fine; well maybe a little unenthusiastic.

Me? I look like an enthusiastic hog with a wrist watch, but I will share the whole tale via my raw, unedited journal notes… 5/28 Oh boy, goin’ fishing! Never done that before. Really gorgeous day, but our much vaunted Captain Billy was arrogant, unhelpful and looked like a hipster fisherman. Never even bothered to ask our names. Only 10 paying customers, but 3 of his free-riding buddies got all his attention and competed with us for room to fish. Was kind of weird. They only had two deck hands, Ishod and Doug for all of us. I've never even held a fishing pole before and no one showed me. Was pretty puzzling at first. I even told them I never had and would have expected more help, but they were short handed, and our Captain was surely not going to bother with us. There was a mad scramble as poles were thrust at us. Huge chunks of "bait" were skewered on huge hooks and we were set free. I've heard it called combat fishing before, but we were assured by the nice folks who sold us the tickets that this was smaller and would not be like that. Sure felt that way to me! Lines kept tangling; I was constantly being told to move up or move down the deck, even with a fish on the line. “Hey, I'm fishing here, leave me alone!” So it turns out there is really no skill involved in this "sport fishing;" the first time my line fumbled out and hit bottom at 100ft (so we were told) something took hold of my line and pulled. Someone (another customer) mercifully told me to quickly flip the bale. “What? What's a bale?” They reached over and moved a lever which stopped the line from going out more. Ok, so now I have this fish yanking on me. I couldn't figure out how to hold the damn rod; to keep the fish from taking the whole thing in with it. AND I have to reel it in? Right. I kept pitifully looking for help from our deck hands, but they were too frantic trying to keep up. So I braced the butt of the rod on my belly; this thing must be enormous! That didn't work; between my legs? Got it! Kind of. I started reeling. I yelled "Fish on!" like I was supposed to, but no one came. I wrestled the rod and kept reeling. Then I saw the fish! I yelled "Color!" like I was supposed to and miraculously, Ishod was there to haul the thing in. We were fishing for halibut, and I could catch one of unlimited size and one 28 inches or under. "What did I get?!!" A cod. Ok, throw it back. "Bait!" I yelled, like I was supposed to, and somehow a hunk of fish ended up on my hook. Well, I'm a pro now. Flip the bale, thumb on the line to keep it from tangling, wait till it goes slack having hit bottom; bale goes back. Wham! Another fish! Ok, reel away. Whew, is this hard. It must be a monster! Captain "I'm too cool to really help" Billy tells me to move again. Really? I have a fish here! But this time I've moved up to where I can brace my back against the cabin of the boat, put the rod between my thighs and calmly reel away. "Color!" (I hadn't bothered with the "fish on"). Doug pulled my fish in and this time it was a halibut! A 28 incher! I had my small one. On to the big one. Bait on. Line in. I had a real rhythm going. Fish on. Now Mr. Bossy boots tells me to move back to where I can't brace my back. No way. I’m not going. Wrestle the fish. Another cod! But a big one this time. Ok, I'll keep it. That's pretty good eating, right? We're already going to be shipping fish home, right? I am such a good fisher now that I’m catching fish every time I drop my line. I had the deck hands throw back fish after fish, looking for "the big one.” Kept getting 25-27 inchers. Are there really bigger fish down there? How long do I keep trying before I cave in and settle for a second small one? Oh, we have another hour and a half to keep fishing? Game on! Several more small halibuts, then another big cod. Keep that. But where is my BIG halibut? Ned already threw in the towel having gotten a 28" and a 27". He just wasn't groovin’ with the whole thing and was "over it." Me, no, I'm not tired! Another hour to fish? Bring it on! 10 minutes later my body said "no friggin’ way." All in all I think I caught 12 fish. My arms were jellied, numb and useless and my back ached like there was a fish hook in it. I "settled" for a 26 incher and gave up my pole. We watched a few other intrepid fishers finish and then the time was up. We weighed anchor and took off back to the harbor, watching, fascinated, as Ishod and Doug (Ishod anyway) quickly and efficiently cleaned and filleted all of our fish. An hour and a half later we were handed our 3 bundles of fish; one for our dinner tonight (1 fillet and 4 "cheeks") another of halibut and the third of cod. We tipped Ishod $20 as she was clearly the one who worked the hardest, was most helpful and who bothered to learn our names. We then proudly (exhaustedly) marched our fish to the processing folks, asking them to freeze it and hold it till we got home in a month. Dinner went into Charlotte's fridge. We had survived fishing.

Me? I look like an enthusiastic hog with a wrist watch, but I will share the whole tale via my raw, unedited journal notes…
5/28 Oh boy, goin’ fishing! Never done that before. Really gorgeous day, but our much vaunted Captain Billy was arrogant, unhelpful and looked like a hipster fisherman. Never even bothered to ask our names. Only 10 paying customers, but 3 of his free-riding buddies got all his attention and competed with us for room to fish.
Was kind of weird. They only had two deck hands, Ishod and Doug for all of us. I’ve never even held a fishing pole before and no one showed me. Was pretty puzzling at first. I even told them I never had and would have expected more help, but they were short handed, and our Captain was surely not going to bother with us. There was a mad scramble as poles were thrust at us. Huge chunks of “bait” were skewered on huge hooks and we were set free. I’ve heard it called combat fishing before, but we were assured by the nice folks who sold us the tickets that this was smaller and would not be like that. Sure felt that way to me! Lines kept tangling; I was constantly being told to move up or move down the deck, even with a fish on the line. “Hey, I’m fishing here, leave me alone!” So it turns out there is really no skill involved in this “sport fishing;” the first time my line fumbled out and hit bottom at 100ft (so we were told) something took hold of my line and pulled. Someone (another customer) mercifully told me to quickly flip the bale. “What? What’s a bale?” They reached over and moved a lever which stopped the line from going out more. Ok, so now I have this fish yanking on me. I couldn’t figure out how to hold the damn rod; to keep the fish from taking the whole thing in with it. AND I have to reel it in? Right. I kept pitifully looking for help from our deck hands, but they were too frantic trying to keep up. So I braced the butt of the rod on my belly; this thing must be enormous! That didn’t work; between my legs? Got it! Kind of. I started reeling. I yelled “Fish on!” like I was supposed to, but no one came. I wrestled the rod and kept reeling. Then I saw the fish! I yelled “Color!” like I was supposed to and miraculously, Ishod was there to haul the thing in. We were fishing for halibut, and I could catch one of unlimited size and one 28 inches or under. “What did I get?!!” A cod. Ok, throw it back. “Bait!” I yelled, like I was supposed to, and somehow a hunk of fish ended up on my hook. Well, I’m a pro now. Flip the bale, thumb on the line to keep it from tangling, wait till it goes slack having hit bottom; bale goes back. Wham! Another fish! Ok, reel away. Whew, is this hard. It must be a monster! Captain “I’m too cool to really help” Billy tells me to move again. Really? I have a fish here! But this time I’ve moved up to where I can brace my back against the cabin of the boat, put the rod between my thighs and calmly reel away. “Color!” (I hadn’t bothered with the “fish on”). Doug pulled my fish in and this time it was a halibut! A 28 incher! I had my small one. On to the big one. Bait on. Line in. I had a real rhythm going. Fish on. Now Mr. Bossy boots tells me to move back to where I can’t brace my back. No way. I’m not going. Wrestle the fish. Another cod! But a big one this time. Ok, I’ll keep it. That’s pretty good eating, right? We’re already going to be shipping fish home, right? I am such a good fisher now that I’m catching fish every time I drop my line. I had the deck hands throw back fish after fish, looking for “the big one.” Kept getting 25-27 inchers. Are there really bigger fish down there? How long do I keep trying before I cave in and settle for a second small one? Oh, we have another hour and a half to keep fishing? Game on! Several more small halibuts, then another big cod. Keep that. But where is my BIG halibut? Ned already threw in the towel having gotten a 28″ and a 27”. He just wasn’t groovin’ with the whole thing and was “over it.” Me, no, I’m not tired! Another hour to fish? Bring it on! 10 minutes later my body said “no friggin’ way.” All in all I think I caught 12 fish. My arms were jellied, numb and useless and my back ached like there was a fish hook in it. I “settled” for a 26 incher and gave up my pole. We watched a few other intrepid fishers finish and then the time was up. We weighed anchor and took off back to the harbor, watching, fascinated, as Ishod and Doug (Ishod anyway) quickly and efficiently cleaned and filleted all of our fish. An hour and a half later we were handed our 3 bundles of fish; one for our dinner tonight (1 fillet and 4 “cheeks”) another of halibut and the third of cod. We tipped Ishod $20 as she was clearly the one who worked the hardest, was most helpful and who bothered to learn our names. We then proudly (exhaustedly) marched our fish to the processing folks, asking them to freeze it and hold it till we got home in a month. Dinner went into Charlotte’s fridge. We had survived fishing.

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All in all we brought home four halibut and two cod, but my arms were too tired to hold mine up!

All in all we brought home four halibut and two cod, but my arms were too tired to hold mine up!

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A fabulous reward! Captain Sally’s, a restaurant on The Spit, cooked up our own “fresh catch,” and we hungrily wolfed down über fresh halibut…yummm!

A fabulous reward! Captain Sally’s, a restaurant on The Spit, cooked up our own “fresh catch,” and we hungrily wolfed down über fresh halibut…yummm!

Leaving Homer and the Kenai Peninsula, we drove back past Anchorage then eastward along the Glenn Highway. Our next jaunt was a 94 mile dirt side road off of the Richardson Highway which took us to Wrangell-Saint Elias National Park (the largest national park in the country at 13 million acres) and the Kennecott Copper Mill. This steel bridge was built in 1911 as part of the Copper River & Northwest Railway and would serve the Kennecott copper mines and mill from 1911 to 1938. The railway, the CR&NW was nicknamed “Can’t Run & Never Will” by skeptics. Despite incredible challenges, including mid-winter construction, the railway was completed in just five years. Built over raging rivers, sheer cliffs, frozen ground and even ice fields by a team of 6,000 tough-as-nails men, the railway was said to be a feat of amazing engineering skill and astounding perseverance and determination. This is a quote from the placard in front of this bridge: “By November the teams reached the vertical walls and raging waters of the Kaskulana River gorge. The weather was brutal, but they refused to wait for summer. Crossing the Kaskulana mid-winter could prove to be one of the greatest challenges of the “impossible” northern railway. Although temperatures dropped to -54 degrees, with true Alaskan spirit, the men bundled up and continued to toil above the canyon through long, cold hours of darkness (remember it’s dark all day in the winter), their work lit by the glow of acetylene torches. Amazingly, construction of this bridge through the bitter cold and darkness took only two months, but this, engineers estimated, was twice the time it would have taken if it had been constructed in the ease of summer.”

Leaving Homer and the Kenai Peninsula, we drove back past Anchorage then eastward along the Glenn Highway. Our next jaunt was a 94 mile dirt side road off of the Richardson Highway which took us to Wrangell-Saint Elias National Park (the largest national park in the country at 13 million acres) and the Kennecott Copper Mill.
This steel bridge was built in 1911 as part of the Copper River & Northwest Railway and would serve the Kennecott copper mines and mill from 1911 to 1938. The railway, the CR&NW was nicknamed “Can’t Run & Never Will” by skeptics. Despite incredible challenges, including mid-winter construction, the railway was completed in just five years. Built over raging rivers, sheer cliffs, frozen ground and even ice fields by a team of 6,000 tough-as-nails men, the railway was said to be a feat of amazing engineering skill and astounding perseverance and determination.
This is a quote from the placard in front of this bridge:
“By November the teams reached the vertical walls and raging waters of the Kaskulana River gorge. The weather was brutal, but they refused to wait for summer. Crossing the Kaskulana mid-winter could prove to be one of the greatest challenges of the “impossible” northern railway. Although temperatures dropped to -54 degrees, with true Alaskan spirit, the men bundled up and continued to toil above the canyon through long, cold hours of darkness (remember it’s dark all day in the winter), their work lit by the glow of acetylene torches. Amazingly, construction of this bridge through the bitter cold and darkness took only two months, but this, engineers estimated, was twice the time it would have taken if it had been constructed in the ease of summer.”

57

Another bridge on the CR&NR, this one wooden, was built to strategically “collapse” during the worse weather so that it could be more easily repaired.

Another bridge on the CR&NR, this one wooden, was built to strategically “collapse” during the worse weather so that it could be more easily repaired.

The 94 mile dirt Edgerton Highway ends at a footbridge almost a mile before the town of McCarthy.  Evidently, the automobile bridge was built by a private land owner who charges the few residents of McCarthy an annual fee to use the bridge.  We tourists are reduced to walking or taking a $5 shuttle.  We chose to walk of course!

The 94 mile dirt Edgerton Highway ends at a footbridge almost a mile before the town of McCarthy. Evidently, the automobile bridge was built by a private land owner who charges the few residents of McCarthy an annual fee to use the bridge. We tourists are reduced to walking or taking a $5 shuttle. We chose to walk of course!

We did pay the $5 fee to take a shuttle five miles up to the historic Kennecott Mill where we also paid for a mill tour. This scene along the shuttle ride is actually a dirt encrusted glacier called a moraine.  It’s hard to believe that is all ice under there!

We did pay the $5 fee to take a shuttle five miles up to the historic Kennecott Mill where we also paid for a mill tour.
This scene along the shuttle ride is actually a dirt encrusted glacier called a moraine. It’s hard to believe that is all ice under there!

The Kennecott Mill is where the copper ore from the surrounding mines was crushed and separated. It operated from 1911 to 1938.

The Kennecott Mill is where the copper ore from the surrounding mines was crushed and separated. It operated from 1911 to 1938.

The mill is the largest wooden structure in Alaska.

The mill is the largest wooden structure in Alaska.

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Can’t keep Ned away from machinery.

Can’t keep Ned away from machinery.

The mill’s power plant could be run by coal, wood or oil.

The mill’s power plant could be run by coal, wood or oil.

After a nice pub dinner at the Golden Saloon in McCarthy, we spent a quiet night camping back on the other side of the footbridge. The next day we fulfilled our final, must-do Alaskan tourist adventure, we went flying!

After a nice pub dinner at the Golden Saloon in McCarthy, we spent a quiet night camping back on the other side of the footbridge. The next day we fulfilled our final, must-do Alaskan tourist adventure, we went flying!

Kelly was a thirty-five year veteran of Alaska bush flying and was also the owner of the company, Wrangell Mountain Air. The only reason we were able to fly with this amazing pilot was that, being early in the season, his hired pilots had not yet arrived.  The only pilots available were Kelly and his wife, Natalie; another perk for visiting Alaska in May!

Kelly was a thirty-five year veteran of Alaska bush flying and was also the owner of the company, Wrangell Mountain Air. The only reason we were able to fly with this amazing pilot was that, being early in the season, his hired pilots had not yet arrived. The only pilots available were Kelly and his wife, Natalie; another perk for visiting Alaska in May!

Bush flying has a long and illustrious history in Alaska; very few roads means that small aircraft are a must for reaching the many homes and small villages forsaken (for good reason!) by Alaska DOT.    Come along now and enjoy the incredible scenery as seen from our four-seat Cessna 172…

Bush flying has a long and illustrious history in Alaska; very few roads means that small aircraft are a must for reaching the many homes and small villages forsaken (for good reason!) by Alaska DOT.
Come along now and enjoy the incredible scenery as seen from our four-seat Cessna 172…

Another rock encrusted glacier.

Another rock encrusted glacier.

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A confluence of two glaciers!

A confluence of two glaciers!

727374757677
Coming in for a dirt landing.

Coming in for a dirt landing.

An incredible hour!

An incredible hour!

From the McCarthy cutoff, back on the Richardson Highway, we drove south to the town of Valdez, famous in recent years for two things:  It’s the terminus for the Alaska Pipeline where all that oil flowing from the fields at Prudhoe Bay gets loaded onto tankers; and it served as Command Central for the giant oil spill from the tanker Exxon Valdez in 1989. Valdez can boast a gorgeous setting, surrounded by ice covered crags and a beautiful harbor, but it's really all about the harbor and boat based tourism on Prince William Sound.  The town itself, having been hastily relocated and rebuilt after the devastating earthquake of 1964, lacks any kind of quaintness…

From the McCarthy cutoff, back on the Richardson Highway, we drove south to the town of Valdez, famous in recent years for two things: It’s the terminus for the Alaska Pipeline where all that oil flowing from the fields at Prudhoe Bay gets loaded onto tankers; and it served as Command Central for the giant oil spill from the tanker Exxon Valdez in 1989.
Valdez can boast a gorgeous setting, surrounded by ice covered crags and a beautiful harbor, but it’s really all about the harbor and boat based tourism on Prince William Sound. The town itself, having been hastily relocated and rebuilt after the devastating earthquake of 1964, lacks any kind of quaintness…

…but has one of the best museums we have visited.  From native artifacts to the oil spill, gold mining, earthquake and pipeline, this was a wonderful representation of all things Alaskan. Above are waterproof Alutilq parkas made of bear and sea mammal intestines.

…but has one of the best museums we have visited. From native artifacts to the oil spill, gold mining, earthquake and pipeline, this was a wonderful representation of all things Alaskan.
Above are waterproof Alutilq parkas made of bear and sea mammal intestines.

This intricate, glass lens crowned the area’s first lighthouse.

This intricate, glass lens crowned the area’s first lighthouse.

A piece of the hull from the tanker, Exxon Valdez, which was navigated onto a reef due to human error.  Note the long scrape mark from the rocks. Depending on whose stats you believe, 11 to 38 million barrels of oil were spilled on March 24th, 1989. While we could not see visible signs of the oil disaster in the harbor, we learned that much of the coastal environment, including several marine species, is still struggling to recover twenty seven years later.

A piece of the hull from the tanker, Exxon Valdez, which was navigated onto a reef due to human error. Note the long scrape mark from the rocks.
Depending on whose stats you believe, 11 to 38 million barrels of oil were spilled on March 24th, 1989. While we could not see visible signs of the oil disaster in the harbor, we learned that much of the coastal environment, including several marine species, is still struggling to recover twenty seven years later.

This was the very first barrel of oil to be transported 800 miles from the fields of Prudhoe Bay to Valdez in 1977; but not by pipeline…

This was the very first barrel of oil to be transported 800 miles from the fields of Prudhoe Bay to Valdez in 1977; but not by pipeline…

…by a dogsled team!

…by a dogsled team!

The story of the 1964 earthquake was a moving one.  30 people lost their lives in the 9.2 magnitude quake, and the entire town, having been built on loose soil close to shore was leveled, much of it buried in mud.  Valdez was rebuilt several miles southwest in a new, safer location. We had heard similar stories from all the towns we visited on the Kenai Peninsula.

The story of the 1964 earthquake was a moving one. 30 people lost their lives in the 9.2 magnitude quake, and the entire town, having been built on loose soil close to shore was leveled, much of it buried in mud. Valdez was rebuilt several miles southwest in a new, safer location. We had heard similar stories from all the towns we visited on the Kenai Peninsula.

Hmmm, I guess they won’t let us go see the end of the pipeline!

Hmmm, I guess they won’t let us go see the end of the pipeline!

The gorgeous Thompson Pass out of Valdez.  From here we headed back northeast towards the Top of the World highway and the Canadian border.

The gorgeous Thompson Pass out of Valdez.
From here we headed back northeast towards the Top of the World highway and the Canadian border.

Last stop in Alaska was Chicken. Ned’s been telling me about Chicken, Alaska since we first met.  From the stories I’ve heard told by him and good friend, Rick Pewe, the two of them were returning south in a 1943 military Jeep and spent a rollicking night in the Chicken Saloon…subsequently spending the night passed out in the dirt outside!   Chicken is a tiny hamlet 40 miles west of the Canadian border and 100 miles west of the Canadian town of Dawson City. There is no running water; outhouses only, electricity by generators, and drinking water filtered and pumped up from the river.  It turns out that in Alaska, the severe cold makes septic tanks unusable and wells rarely continue producing.   Chicken has around fifty summer residents, but only three brave souls who stay year round.

Last stop in Alaska was Chicken.
Ned’s been telling me about Chicken, Alaska since we first met. From the stories I’ve heard told by him and good friend, Rick Pewe, the two of them were returning south in a 1943 military Jeep and spent a rollicking night in the Chicken Saloon…subsequently spending the night passed out in the dirt outside!
Chicken is a tiny hamlet 40 miles west of the Canadian border and 100 miles west of the Canadian town of Dawson City.
There is no running water; outhouses only, electricity by generators, and drinking water filtered and pumped up from the river. It turns out that in Alaska, the severe cold makes septic tanks unusable and wells rarely continue producing.
Chicken has around fifty summer residents, but only three brave souls who stay year round.

Robin, the Postmaster and ambulance driver is one of the three full time folks.  She came to the area 34 years ago when she moved into her new husband’s 13x15ft log cabin, which was his old family home.  It was 40 something miles outside Chicken, had no plumbing, no electricity, and was heated by a wood stove.  Chicken is also far enough north to boast all day sunshine in the summer and all day darkness in the winter.  Robin and her husband raised two daughters in that 13x15ft cabin; they were home schooled, but Robin claims that her daughters eventually got the packets and schooled themselves.  Robin is blind in her left eye and jokes that she's blind on one side and blonde on the other.  Seriously though, she raised two very bright daughters, both of whom are now getting their PhD’s; one in New York City, the other in Paris.   It had been raining off and on for the last few days, but had just let up.  We spent several leisurely hours chatting with Robin outside her post office.

Robin, the Postmaster and ambulance driver is one of the three full time folks. She came to the area 34 years ago when she moved into her new husband’s 13x15ft log cabin, which was his old family home. It was 40 something miles outside Chicken, had no plumbing, no electricity, and was heated by a wood stove. Chicken is also far enough north to boast all day sunshine in the summer and all day darkness in the winter. Robin and her husband raised two daughters in that 13x15ft cabin; they were home schooled, but Robin claims that her daughters eventually got the packets and schooled themselves. Robin is blind in her left eye and jokes that she’s blind on one side and blonde on the other. Seriously though, she raised two very bright daughters, both of whom are now getting their PhD’s; one in New York City, the other in Paris.
It had been raining off and on for the last few days, but had just let up. We spent several leisurely hours chatting with Robin outside her post office.

Robin’s “pet” Grosbeak.

Robin’s “pet” Grosbeak.

Robin also told us about a nice hike down to the river.  The exercise felt great, the views were lovely, but the mosquitoes were vicious; we ran and hiked very fast!  Unfortunately, we also got very sweaty and there would be no showers in Chicken.  Our last ones had been in Homer, after fishing, six days ago and we were pretty ripe. It would have just have to wait until Dawson City.

Robin also told us about a nice hike down to the river. The exercise felt great, the views were lovely, but the mosquitoes were vicious; we ran and hiked very fast! Unfortunately, we also got very sweaty and there would be no showers in Chicken. Our last ones had been in Homer, after fishing, six days ago and we were pretty ripe. It would have just have to wait until Dawson City.

Alaskan humor from the Chicken gift shop.   Another great sticker now adorning Charlotte’s refrigerator says, “There is not a single mosquito in Chicken; they’ve all grown up, gotten married and raised large families!”

Alaskan humor from the Chicken gift shop.
Another great sticker now adorning Charlotte’s refrigerator says, “There is not a single mosquito in Chicken; they’ve all grown up, gotten married and raised large families!”

Of course, we had to visit the infamous Chicken Saloon where we met Mark from Edinburgh, Scotland.  In the time it took us to put down two IPA’s each, Mark had swallowed four Bud Lights and four rum and cokes - and looked no worse for wear!  We enjoyed the company of Mark, several other travelers from various places and the bartender, Max, whose mother, Susan, owns the place. Max lives in Paris during the long Alaskan winters while Susan hangs out in southern Nevada! She would like to move to northern Nevada (!) fulltime if she could find a buyer for the bar, restaurant and gift shop. Any takers?   Yes, those are panties, hats and miscellaneous other personal items decorating the saloon.

Of course, we had to visit the infamous Chicken Saloon where we met Mark from Edinburgh, Scotland. In the time it took us to put down two IPA’s each, Mark had swallowed four Bud Lights and four rum and cokes – and looked no worse for wear! We enjoyed the company of Mark, several other travelers from various places and the bartender, Max, whose mother, Susan, owns the place. Max lives in Paris during the long Alaskan winters while Susan hangs out in southern Nevada! She would like to move to northern Nevada (!) fulltime if she could find a buyer for the bar, restaurant and gift shop. Any takers?
Yes, those are panties, hats and miscellaneous other personal items decorating the saloon.

We spent our final night in Alaska down by the Chicken River, ate breakfast in the Chicken Café with our new buddy Mark and then headed off to the Canadian border to begin our long trek home.  Having passed into Canada twice already, we never suspected that we'd have any trouble… The nice young woman at the border grilled us in the normal Canadian manner:  What do you do for work? What did you used to do? Do you own any fire arms? How many?  What kind? What are you bringing into Canada?  Etc, etc.  We took off our sunglasses, answered and smiled like we always do at border crossings.  She took our passports, saying she was going to do a passport check.  Ok, fine. Then we waited…and waited…and waited.  Ergggghh.  What's the problem?!  The woman finally arrived back at Ned’s window, but without the passports!  Uh oh.  What's happening?  She sternly explained that we were to get out of the car…only one at a time!  We were going to be interrogated!  My stomach did a flip flop.  In my worse imaginings of third world borders I would be separated from Ned, but I never was, and I never thought it would happen in Canada!!  I waited anxiously in the car while Ned was interrogated.  I couldn’t see them, but I could barely make out the conversation through Ned’s open window. I heard her ask him to empty his pockets and she took his pocket knife.  She had him lift his pant legs.  Ned asked sarcastically if she was going to do a cavity search (it turned out that she had donned rubber gloves!)  She said no, they don't do that.  Next, she asked him if he did drugs.  When he said no, she asked if he'd ever done drugs.  He said, “Yes, but over 20 years ago.”   "What kind of drugs?"  Now she explained that they were going to be looking for drugs, searching our van thoroughly.  “I will swab it, and even drugs from years ago will show up.”  Then her face contorted angrily (according to Ned) and she stabbed out, "Are you ready to change your answer about doing drugs?!"  “I told you it was 20 years ago!”  She let it go and told him to wait inside their office.   By then my butterflies were really flopping around.  It's not that we have anything to hide, I just don't like authority figures and I hate it when someone exerts power over me. Besides, being separated from Ned was excessive and unnecessary. By the time she came around to my window and asked me to step over to the interrogation table I was practically shaking in my boots. She asked if I had anything in my pockets. I gave her an incredulous look (I was in yoga pants and a pullover shirt).  "I, uh, don't have any pockets."  She almost cracked a smile, but moved quickly on to the drug questions.  I said I didn't do them.  She asked, “EVER?!" I shrugged and answered “Yeah, when I was a teenager!"  She got that smug, "I knew it" look.  Finally giving it up, she started the whole spiel about how they were going to search the van.  I interrupted her and said, "Look, (I out aged her by about 30 years) why don't you quit talking about it and go look at the van?!"  I turned and walked to Charlotte.  She reached out to stop me from opening the sliding door myself, but I told her it was tricky and that I would do it.  She actually acquiesced!  I opened it and she started her search, but not before I told her to be respectful, that it was my home and asked if her shoes were clean.  Right about the same time Ned lost patience with being sequestered (neither of us is any good at doing what we're told).  He got out saying that if they were going to search our home he was going to watch over it.  That's when I noticed the “they” part.  A big, dark haired, bearded (t-word looking) guy appeared, telling Ned to settle down and go stand way over in front of the van. Ned angrily answered that they were profiling us (in the time we had been detained, they had let a Prius AND the boozy Scotsman, Mark, in his Ford VAN through with absolutely no questions). After some in-the-face arguing, Ned finally stood where they told him to.  The guy looked very serious and threatening, but by now we were both just plain pissed. The woman told me to go stand next to Ned.  I told them both that they were being disrespectful.  Mr.Tough Guy turned to me, replying that it was not their intention to be disrespectful.  I retorted, “It sure feels that way. Of all the border crossings we have done, even in Central America, this is the most we've ever been personally hassled.”  I also said that I never expected Canada to be so inhospitable.  In the end, the woman only did a very cursory inspection of Charlotte. By now Mr. Tough Guy had become Mr. Congeniality and was relaxed, explaining that they have had a surge in cocaine smuggling through Alaska, the drugs having been brought in by boat on remote shores (this remote, northern border had just opened for the season, so we imagine they had just gotten the big pep talk).  The woman ended up joining our little group (we were all buds now), and both guards were being respectful.  We are all on the same side after all, right?!  We chatted a while more (it's a sleepy border) and off we went; rattled, but never cowed!   Oh ye fellow travelers, beware the Canadian border…if you're in a VW van and your man wears a pony tail!

We spent our final night in Alaska down by the Chicken River, ate breakfast in the Chicken Café with our new buddy Mark and then headed off to the Canadian border to begin our long trek home. Having passed into Canada twice already, we never suspected that we’d have any trouble…
The nice young woman at the border grilled us in the normal Canadian manner: What do you do for work? What did you used to do? Do you own any fire arms? How many? What kind? What are you bringing into Canada? Etc, etc. We took off our sunglasses, answered and smiled like we always do at border crossings. She took our passports, saying she was going to do a passport check. Ok, fine. Then we waited…and waited…and waited. Ergggghh. What’s the problem?! The woman finally arrived back at Ned’s window, but without the passports! Uh oh. What’s happening? She sternly explained that we were to get out of the car…only one at a time! We were going to be interrogated! My stomach did a flip flop. In my worse imaginings of third world borders I would be separated from Ned, but I never was, and I never thought it would happen in Canada!! I waited anxiously in the car while Ned was interrogated. I couldn’t see them, but I could barely make out the conversation through Ned’s open window. I heard her ask him to empty his pockets and she took his pocket knife. She had him lift his pant legs. Ned asked sarcastically if she was going to do a cavity search (it turned out that she had donned rubber gloves!) She said no, they don’t do that. Next, she asked him if he did drugs. When he said no, she asked if he’d ever done drugs. He said, “Yes, but over 20 years ago.” “What kind of drugs?” Now she explained that they were going to be looking for drugs, searching our van thoroughly. “I will swab it, and even drugs from years ago will show up.” Then her face contorted angrily (according to Ned) and she stabbed out, “Are you ready to change your answer about doing drugs?!” “I told you it was 20 years ago!” She let it go and told him to wait inside their office.
By then my butterflies were really flopping around. It’s not that we have anything to hide, I just don’t like authority figures and I hate it when someone exerts power over me. Besides, being separated from Ned was excessive and unnecessary. By the time she came around to my window and asked me to step over to the interrogation table I was practically shaking in my boots. She asked if I had anything in my pockets. I gave her an incredulous look (I was in yoga pants and a pullover shirt). “I, uh, don’t have any pockets.” She almost cracked a smile, but moved quickly on to the drug questions. I said I didn’t do them. She asked, “EVER?!” I shrugged and answered “Yeah, when I was a teenager!” She got that smug, “I knew it” look. Finally giving it up, she started the whole spiel about how they were going to search the van. I interrupted her and said, “Look, (I out aged her by about 30 years) why don’t you quit talking about it and go look at the van?!” I turned and walked to Charlotte. She reached out to stop me from opening the sliding door myself, but I told her it was tricky and that I would do it. She actually acquiesced! I opened it and she started her search, but not before I told her to be respectful, that it was my home and asked if her shoes were clean. Right about the same time Ned lost patience with being sequestered (neither of us is any good at doing what we’re told). He got out saying that if they were going to search our home he was going to watch over it. That’s when I noticed the “they” part. A big, dark haired, bearded (t-word looking) guy appeared, telling Ned to settle down and go stand way over in front of the van. Ned angrily answered that they were profiling us (in the time we had been detained, they had let a Prius AND the boozy Scotsman, Mark, in his Ford VAN through with absolutely no questions). After some in-the-face arguing, Ned finally stood where they told him to. The guy looked very serious and threatening, but by now we were both just plain pissed. The woman told me to go stand next to Ned. I told them both that they were being disrespectful. Mr.Tough Guy turned to me, replying that it was not their intention to be disrespectful. I retorted, “It sure feels that way. Of all the border crossings we have done, even in Central America, this is the most we’ve ever been personally hassled.” I also said that I never expected Canada to be so inhospitable. In the end, the woman only did a very cursory inspection of Charlotte. By now Mr. Tough Guy had become Mr. Congeniality and was relaxed, explaining that they have had a surge in cocaine smuggling through Alaska, the drugs having been brought in by boat on remote shores (this remote, northern border had just opened for the season, so we imagine they had just gotten the big pep talk). The woman ended up joining our little group (we were all buds now), and both guards were being respectful. We are all on the same side after all, right?! We chatted a while more (it’s a sleepy border) and off we went; rattled, but never cowed!
Oh ye fellow travelers, beware the Canadian border…if you’re in a VW van and your man wears a pony tail!

The Top of the World highway looks pretty much like the top of the world, but it's only 4,000 feet elevation; beautiful, wide open tundra and rolling hills.  We crossed the free ferry over the Yukon River and into the fun, historic town of Dawson City where we spent two nights in a cute cabin, ate lots of good food and listened to live music (at midnight!). We hit the road again around noon on June 5th; our next goal…Edmonton, Alberta, Canada to visit our friends, Bryan and Debbi, a whopping 1,500 mile drive! Our travels north have been wonderful, and it feels great to have completed our exploration of the Americas.  We are signing off for now, but stay tuned for more adventures!  Not sure where we will end up next. As usual, we have no concrete plans, just a few vague murmurings about Europe or Australia and New Zealand. We’ll keep you posted! Thank you all for your continued support. It’s always fun to have you along! Hugs, Kat and Ned

The Top of the World highway looks pretty much like the top of the world, but it’s only 4,000 feet elevation; beautiful, wide open tundra and rolling hills.
We crossed the free ferry over the Yukon River and into the fun, historic town of Dawson City where we spent two nights in a cute cabin, ate lots of good food and listened to live music (at midnight!).
We hit the road again around noon on June 5th; our next goal…Edmonton, Alberta, Canada to visit our friends, Bryan and Debbi, a whopping 1,500 mile drive!
Our travels north have been wonderful, and it feels great to have completed our exploration of the Americas. We are signing off for now, but stay tuned for more adventures! Not sure where we will end up next. As usual, we have no concrete plans, just a few vague murmurings about Europe or Australia and New Zealand. We’ll keep you posted!
Thank you all for your continued support. It’s always fun to have you along!
Hugs,
Kat and Ned

Turn Around Charlotte, Ya Ran Out of Road…Again! – Alaska Part Two

Before we headed to Alaska many friends asked us what we were going to do up there. Many offered wonderful suggestions of great places to visit and things to do. As usual, we didn’t pay enough attention, study ahead or make many plans. Our only goal was to drive to the top of the continent. Since we’ve driven as far south as one can go in the Americas, we figured we just had to drive as far north as allowed just to balance things out.

We decided we’d get this northern itch out of the way first, and then, if Charlotte was still willing, we’d check out what else this State has to offer. We first stopped in Fairbanks in the center of the State. It is the third largest city in the Alaska with a whopping 32,000 people. We hung out a couple of days, wrote the previous blog and stocked up on provisions for the big 500 mile trek north to Deadhorse and Prudhoe Bay.

The Dalton Highway officially starts roughly 84 miles northwest of Fairbanks. Here the pavement ends and it’s 415 miles to Deadhorse. The Dalton is also known as “The Haul Road.” It was built in the ‘70s as a supply line during the building of the Alaskan Pipeline. This infamous and controversial pipe dissects the entire State delivering crude oil from the North Slope oil fields to the shipping port of Valdez in the south on the Gulf of Alaska/Pacific Ocean. The majority of the vehicles on the Dalton are semis hauling goods to the working oil fields up north. There aren’t many other travelers on the road except for hunters and curiosity seekers like us. This welcoming sign was plastered with stickers from other overland travelers doing the road for the same reason we were. Of course we had to add our own.

The Dalton Highway officially starts roughly 84 miles northwest of Fairbanks. Here the pavement ends and it’s 415 miles to Deadhorse. The Dalton is also known as “The Haul Road.” It was built in the ‘70s as a supply line during the building of the Alaskan Pipeline. This infamous and controversial pipe dissects the entire State delivering crude oil from the North Slope oil fields to the shipping port of Valdez in the south on the Gulf of Alaska/Pacific Ocean. The majority of the vehicles on the Dalton are semis hauling goods to the working oil fields up north. There aren’t many other travelers on the road except for hunters and curiosity seekers like us. This welcoming sign was plastered with stickers from other overland travelers doing the road for the same reason we were. Of course we had to add our own.

Lots of interesting signs at the beginning like these two: Speed Limit 50 Next 416 miles! Others we liked were: “Pavement ends” “Heavy Industrial Traffic, Proceed with Caution” “Next Services, 240 miles” “Ultra Low Sulphur Fuel Not Guaranteed Beyond This Point” (Don’t bring your fancy new diesel pickup I guess!)

Lots of interesting signs at the beginning like these two: Speed Limit 50 Next 416 miles! Others we liked were: “Pavement ends” “Heavy Industrial Traffic, Proceed with Caution” “Next Services, 240 miles” “Ultra Low Sulphur Fuel Not Guaranteed Beyond This Point” (Don’t bring your fancy new diesel pickup I guess!)

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The graded road surface was in good shape and we could clip along at around 40-45 mph when it was dry. They spread a lot of Calcium Chloride on the surface for ice control in the winter. This time of year it makes the road muddy and greasier than snot if it’s even slightly wet. Since it seems to rain every day, it’s always wet! The pipeline is visible from the road most of the time but sometimes it vanishes underground or can be seen way off in the distance, far from the road.

The graded road surface was in good shape and we could clip along at around 40-45 mph when it was dry. They spread a lot of Calcium Chloride on the surface for ice control in the winter. This time of year it makes the road muddy and greasier than snot if it’s even slightly wet. Since it seems to rain every day, it’s always wet! The pipeline is visible from the road most of the time but sometimes it vanishes underground or can be seen way off in the distance, far from the road.

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Of course we had to touch it the first chance we got (having negotiated Charlotte around a nice red keep out gate to get there!). The pipe itself is 48 inches in diameter. Most of the time it is elevated above ground on pylons. The oil flows through the pipe at around 150 degrees. It is above ground because the heat would melt the frozen tundra and cause the pipe to sag, crack and leak. The aluminum finned towers on top of the rusty steel pylons are filled with Freon and designed to keep the pylons cool! Evidently the pylons can heat up from the heat of the pipe and then melt the ground causing things to sag.

Of course we had to touch it the first chance we got (having negotiated Charlotte around a nice red keep out gate to get there!). The pipe itself is 48 inches in diameter. Most of the time it is elevated above ground on pylons. The oil flows through the pipe at around 150 degrees. It is above ground because the heat would melt the frozen tundra and cause the pipe to sag, crack and leak. The aluminum finned towers on top of the rusty steel pylons are filled with Freon and designed to keep the pylons cool! Evidently the pylons can heat up from the heat of the pipe and then melt the ground causing things to sag.

After 115 miles something happens! You reach the Arctic Circle. We spent the night here in the provided campground.

After 115 miles something happens! You reach the Arctic Circle. We spent the night here in the provided campground.

11

The next morning we did 60 miles to Coldfoot and the Trucker’s Cafe for a big greasy trucker’s breakfast. Coldfoot is not a town but an outpost with food, fuel, rooms, showers and camping for travelers on the highway. It lies at about the half way point on the road.

The next morning we did 60 miles to Coldfoot and the Trucker’s Cafe for a big greasy trucker’s breakfast. Coldfoot is not a town but an outpost with food, fuel, rooms, showers and camping for travelers on the highway. It lies at about the half way point on the road.

We ran in to Demis (Switzerland) and Nancy (Mexico) at Coldfoot. They had flown their bikes to Deadhorse and were riding to Fairbanks!

We ran in to Demis (Switzerland) and Nancy (Mexico) at Coldfoot. They had flown their bikes to Deadhorse and were riding to Fairbanks!

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Heading north from Coldfoot it started to get colder as the road got steeper. Although there wasn’t a lot of traffic, every time a truck came along, throwing stones, we cringed for Charlotte’s windshield, waiting for the “big one” to land in our laps. In the end she suffered six “bruises” but no cracks, so her Mexico and Belize insurance-sticker-infested windshield lives on!

Heading north from Coldfoot it started to get colder as the road got steeper. Although there wasn’t a lot of traffic, every time a truck came along, throwing stones, we cringed for Charlotte’s windshield, waiting for the “big one” to land in our laps. In the end she suffered six “bruises” but no cracks, so her Mexico and Belize insurance-sticker-infested windshield lives on!

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We headed into the Brooks Range, a major eco-changing point along the road.

We headed into the Brooks Range, a major eco-changing point along the road.

At the top of Atigun Pass while crossing the Brooks Range. It is the highest pass in Alaska at a whopping 4,800ft!

At the top of Atigun Pass while crossing the Brooks Range. It is the highest pass in Alaska at a whopping 4,800ft!

First look at the famed North Slope.

First look at the famed North Slope.

Tundra.

Tundra.

More tundra. Note the flexible horizontal road markers. We asked the truckers why are they sideways? They told us sometimes in the winter there are whiteouts and they can’t see the road so they drive from one marker to the next, slapping them with their trucks in a kind of drive-by-brail process to find their way.

More tundra. Note the flexible horizontal road markers. We asked the truckers why are they sideways? They told us sometimes in the winter there are whiteouts and they can’t see the road so they drive from one marker to the next, slapping them with their trucks in a kind of drive-by-brail process to find their way.

Not fit for human habitation. If it weren’t for the pipeline no one in their right mind would come up here. Since we weren’t there for the pipeline, just the end of the road, I guess we are not of right mind – but you knew that already! We did, however, meet some young military guys who had been hunting for a week while camping in tents. Talk about nuts…

Not fit for human habitation. If it weren’t for the pipeline no one in their right mind would come up here. Since we weren’t there for the pipeline, just the end of the road, I guess we are not of right mind – but you knew that already! We did, however, meet some young military guys who had been hunting for a week while camping in tents. Talk about nuts…

Close to Deadhorse, the Sagavanirktok River was breaking up with the spring (?) thaw.

Close to Deadhorse, the Sagavanirktok River was breaking up with the spring (?) thaw.

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We made it! Unlike Ushuaia, Argentina at the other end of the world, there was no fancy park or big sign marking the spot. We had to settle for this stop sign where the Dalton runs into Lake Colleen, a holding pond for all the runoff from the muddy roads around Deadhorse. Deadhorse itself is an industrial wasteland of pre-fab buildings, heavy equipment parking lots, oil tanks and gated compounds housing offices of the many companies doing business in the oil fields.

We made it!
Unlike Ushuaia, Argentina at the other end of the world, there was no fancy park or big sign marking the spot. We had to settle for this stop sign where the Dalton runs into Lake Colleen, a holding pond for all the runoff from the muddy roads around Deadhorse. Deadhorse itself is an industrial wasteland of pre-fab buildings, heavy equipment parking lots, oil tanks and gated compounds housing offices of the many companies doing business in the oil fields.

This screen shot from our map app on our iPad kind of puts it all into perspective! Charlotte’s done about 35,000 miles now going top to bottom.

This screen shot from our map app on our iPad kind of puts it all into perspective! Charlotte’s done about 35,000 miles now going top to bottom.

The gas station in Deadhorse was a 24 hour self serve affair. No one would want to stand around selling gas in this weather. The tanks were above ground as the whole place is built up on top of the tundra and frozen water that makes up the area of Prudhoe Bay.

The gas station in Deadhorse was a 24 hour self serve affair. No one would want to stand around selling gas in this weather. The tanks were above ground as the whole place is built up on top of the tundra and frozen water that makes up the area of Prudhoe Bay.

There was A LOT of very expensive, cool (literally) equipment just sitting around stockpiled. We were told things are very slow because of cheap oil prices. It costs too much to bring oil out of Alaska when Middle Eastern prices drop.

There was A LOT of very expensive, cool (literally) equipment just sitting around stockpiled. We were told things are very slow because of cheap oil prices. It costs too much to bring oil out of Alaska when Middle Eastern prices drop.

Double Decker office moving. No worries about overpass clearance up here!

Double Decker office moving. No worries about overpass clearance up here!

Legoland? Premium high-rise apartments for oil workers. Who in their right mind would want to live up here?

Legoland? Premium high-rise apartments for oil workers. Who in their right mind would want to live up here?

Who picked THAT number?

Who picked THAT number?

The parking lot at the Aurora Hotel featured electrical plugs in every space so you can plug in your engine block heater. No cars anywhere. All pickups. All Chevys, Fords and Dodges. Not a Toyota in sight – and certainly no Volkswagens!

The parking lot at the Aurora Hotel featured electrical plugs in every space so you can plug in your engine block heater. No cars anywhere. All pickups. All Chevys, Fords and Dodges. Not a Toyota in sight – and certainly no Volkswagens!

Deadhorse/Prudhoe Bay skyline.

Deadhorse/Prudhoe Bay skyline.

The light never changed. This shot was taken around midnight. It didn’t look any different than 12 noon!

The light never changed. This shot was taken around midnight. It didn’t look any different than 12 noon!

We stayed in the parking lot of the Prudhoe Bay Hotel after eating in their cafeteria and yes, the food was just what you’d expect… The two “hotels” in town are really more like dormitories for transient oil field workers.

We stayed in the parking lot of the Prudhoe Bay Hotel after eating in their cafeteria and yes, the food was just what you’d expect… The two “hotels” in town are really more like dormitories for transient oil field workers.

That’s 9:25 PM. The sun is still high in the sky. It never did set.

That’s 9:25 PM. The sun is still high in the sky. It never did set.

Charlotte is not equipped with black out curtains. I took this shot of Kat snoozing away with her blackout mask on - at 2AM.

Charlotte is not equipped with black out curtains. I took this shot of Kat snoozing away with her blackout mask on – at 2AM.

Just after leaving Deadhorse we had our first caribou sighting.

Just after leaving Deadhorse we had our first caribou sighting.

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Musk Ox!!

Musk Ox!!

Musk Ox are only found at these northern arctic latitudes. They were hunted to extinction in Alaska by the 1920s but in 1930, thirty-four were re-introduced from Greenland. Now they are doing well enough that we are sending them back to Russia to help their dwindling populations. The truck drivers said they are the only critter they are afraid to hit! “They’re like cinder blocks with hide,” we were told.

Musk Ox are only found at these northern arctic latitudes. They were hunted to extinction in Alaska by the 1920s but in 1930, thirty-four were re-introduced from Greenland. Now they are doing well enough that we are sending them back to Russia to help their dwindling populations. The truck drivers said they are the only critter they are afraid to hit! “They’re like cinder blocks with hide,” we were told.

About halfway back down the Dalton we took a little side road to the only “town” along the road. Wiseman (pop 16) is an old mining town that dates to 1916 and its location just happened to be situated close to the pipeline route. We knocked on the doors of several log cabins but couldn’t find any life. It was Sunday, so maybe all 16 of them were sleeping off the night before when they were undoubtedly contributing to their totem pole building project!

About halfway back down the Dalton we took a little side road to the only “town” along the road. Wiseman (pop 16) is an old mining town that dates to 1916 and its location just happened to be situated close to the pipeline route. We knocked on the doors of several log cabins but couldn’t find any life. It was Sunday, so maybe all 16 of them were sleeping off the night before when they were undoubtedly contributing to their totem pole building project!

Our first stop after finishing the Dalton was Chena Hot Springs just outside of Fairbanks. A hot springs seemed like just the thing after the frosty arctic.

Our first stop after finishing the Dalton was Chena Hot Springs just outside of Fairbanks. A hot springs seemed like just the thing after the frosty arctic.

So what is the first thing we do at the hot springs? Go to their Aurora Ice Museum where it is 26 degrees inside the building that houses it.

So what is the first thing we do at the hot springs? Go to their Aurora Ice Museum where it is 26 degrees inside the building that houses it.

Joust anyone?

Joust anyone?

They had some pretty “cool” sculptures in there.

They had some pretty “cool” sculptures in there.

And a bar that served appletinis in hand cut ice glasses.

And a bar that served appletinis in hand cut ice glasses.

The date was May 16th, our first anniversary! So we had an ice cold anniversary toast.

The date was May 16th, our first anniversary! So we had an ice cold anniversary toast.

And finally, a nice warm soak.

And finally, a nice warm soak.

Caged reindeer at the hot springs. We were told reindeer are domesticated caribou. This guy was pretty friendly, but he needed a red nose.

Caged reindeer at the hot springs. We were told reindeer are domesticated caribou. This guy was pretty friendly, but he needed a red nose.

China Hot Springs has its own geothermal plant than supplies power to the resort as well as the neighboring community.

China Hot Springs has its own geothermal plant than supplies power to the resort as well as the neighboring community.

Back in Fairbanks we met with some folks from the local antique car club for dinner at The Pump House, a famous Fairbanks eatery.

Back in Fairbanks we met with some folks from the local antique car club for dinner at The Pump House, a famous Fairbanks eatery.

The closest we want to get to a grizzly.

The closest we want to get to a grizzly.

I was blown away by the Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum in Fairbanks. Willy Vinton, the museum manager, gave us a personal tour. They have a collection of pre 1915 cars unmatched by any I have seen. There were also many early local Alaskan vehicles complimented with great displays and photos depicting their lives in the rough and ready early 20th century Alaska Territory.

I was blown away by the Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum in Fairbanks. Willy Vinton, the museum manager, gave us a personal tour. They have a collection of pre 1915 cars unmatched by any I have seen. There were also many early local Alaskan vehicles complimented with great displays and photos depicting their lives in the rough and ready early 20th century Alaska Territory.

After leaving Fairbanks we headed south down the Richardson Highway to the turnoff with the Denali Highway. We can’t stay away from dirt and the Denali is 134 miles of it. It runs east towards Denali National Park and used to be the only way to get to the park before the modern George Parks Highway was opened in 1971 connecting Fairbanks with Anchorage. The Denali is closed in the winter and had just barely opened when we crossed it. None of the resorts and roadhouses along its length were open yet.

After leaving Fairbanks we headed south down the Richardson Highway to the turnoff with the Denali Highway. We can’t stay away from dirt and the Denali is 134 miles of it. It runs east towards Denali National Park and used to be the only way to get to the park before the modern George Parks Highway was opened in 1971 connecting Fairbanks with Anchorage. The Denali is closed in the winter and had just barely opened when we crossed it. None of the resorts and roadhouses along its length were open yet.

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We took a hike along this ATV path to get some exercise…

We took a hike along this ATV path to get some exercise…

…and crossed paths with this moose cow and her yearling calf. Yikes, glad they were running the other way!

…and crossed paths with this moose cow and her yearling calf. Yikes, glad they were running the other way!

Heavy traffic along the Denali Highway.

Heavy traffic along the Denali Highway.

We next visited Denali National Park, home to North America’s highest mountain, 20,310 foot high Denali (formerly mount McKinley.) The park covers approximately 6 million acres and the mountain itself is buried deep within, making photos of Denali very hard to get without an airplane. Also, the mountain is often shrouded in clouds, as it was when we were there, making even distant mountain sightings rare. We took this nice photo instead, somewhere just inside the entrance, to prove we were there. We also suddenly found ourselves in a people-overload haze. After turning off of the Denali Highway onto the Parks Highway were overrun by tour busses and all that goes with them. Before Denali, we were living in a northern dream world of few cars and fewer people. Everywhere we’ve been since leaving Vancouver, BC has been quiet and half awake from a long winter’s nap. Many places, and attractions have not been open for the season yet and we’ve been taking the solitude and peace for granted. Then BAM; the George Parks Highway and Denali National Park. Traffic, stuffed tour busses, crowded restaurants; ahhh, the summer people are here!

We next visited Denali National Park, home to North America’s highest mountain, 20,310 foot high Denali (formerly mount McKinley.) The park covers approximately 6 million acres and the mountain itself is buried deep within, making photos of Denali very hard to get without an airplane. Also, the mountain is often shrouded in clouds, as it was when we were there, making even distant mountain sightings rare. We took this nice photo instead, somewhere just inside the entrance, to prove we were there.
We also suddenly found ourselves in a people-overload haze. After turning off of the Denali Highway onto the Parks Highway were overrun by tour busses and all that goes with them. Before Denali, we were living in a northern dream world of few cars and fewer people. Everywhere we’ve been since leaving Vancouver, BC has been quiet and half awake from a long winter’s nap. Many places, and attractions have not been open for the season yet and we’ve been taking the solitude and peace for granted. Then BAM; the George Parks Highway and Denali National Park. Traffic, stuffed tour busses, crowded restaurants; ahhh, the summer people are here!

But, visiting the park had its payoff. Grizzlies!!! Two of them at once. These guys were eating roots in a riverbed just off the road and seemed unperturbed by all the tourists taking their picture.

But, visiting the park had its payoff. Grizzlies!!! Two of them at once. These guys were eating roots in a riverbed just off the road and seemed unperturbed by all the tourists taking their picture.

One even lay down and posed!

One even lay down and posed!

In Healy we checked out the bus used in the film Into the Wild. It’s a replica of the Fairbanks City Transit System Bus #142 that Christopher McCandless died in. Locals told us the real bus is still out in the wilderness, 35 miles west of Healy.

In Healy we checked out the bus used in the film Into the Wild. It’s a replica of the Fairbanks City Transit System Bus #142 that Christopher McCandless died in. Locals told us the real bus is still out in the wilderness, 35 miles west of Healy.

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After Denali we continued south down the Parks Highway towards Anchorage. We took a side trip to the touristy but fun town of Talkeetna where we camped at the baseball park and partied to this blues band at the historic Fairview Inn.

After Denali we continued south down the Parks Highway towards Anchorage. We took a side trip to the touristy but fun town of Talkeetna where we camped at the baseball park and partied to this blues band at the historic Fairview Inn.

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Our last stop before Anchorage was the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Headquarters in Wassilla. (We could have looked up Sarah Palin, but we were told she moved to Arizona for better political posturing.) The sled dogs were way more interesting. We watched a movie on the history of the race and learned the importance of sled dogs and their history in Alaska. We checked out old race sleds, kissed babies, posed with in-harness dogs and then took a (fast) ride in a cart pulled by the eager dogs through the forest. It was a very worthwhile stop. We are now in Anchorage, holed up in a motel for showers and to write this blog. Stay tuned for more adventure as we explore the Kenai Peninsula, maybe try some fishing, and then on eastward to Valdez…

Our last stop before Anchorage was the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Headquarters in Wassilla. (We could have looked up Sarah Palin, but we were told she moved to Arizona for better political posturing.) The sled dogs were way more interesting. We watched a movie on the history of the race and learned the importance of sled dogs and their history in Alaska. We checked out old race sleds, kissed babies, posed with in-harness dogs and then took a (fast) ride in a cart pulled by the eager dogs through the forest. It was a very worthwhile stop.
We are now in Anchorage, holed up in a motel for showers and to write this blog.
Stay tuned for more adventure as we explore the Kenai Peninsula, maybe try some fishing, and then on eastward to Valdez…

North to Alaska – The Journey Continues…

I can’t get Johnny Horton’s song “North to Alaska” out of my head as we roll along, passing incredible snow capped peaks, crossing huge rushing rivers and gawking at large critters who seemingly pose for our camera.

Ned, Kat and Charlotte are on the move again. Having spent a restful but restless year at home in Nevada after returning from our sojourn to the bottom of South America, we are now rolling to the top of North America – the top of Alaska. Our destination is the outpost of Deadhorse and Prudhoe Bay, which is as far north, we are told, as one can drive up the Dalton Highway out of Fairbanks. We are in Fairbanks as I write this, having just spent the last two weeks driving 3,580 miles from Minden, Nevada. From here we get on the dirt for the last 500 miles to the top. Unlike the “big one,” our 30,000 mile, 14 month odyssey south, this trip is a quickie – just two months and maybe 9,000 miles. But, if you go to one end ya gotta go to the other, so follow along as we tell the tale thus far…

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After South America Charlotte needed a little love… like a new engine, transmission, brakes, tires, lots of cracks welded up and on and on. However, she has not been idle, having rolled up another 15,000 miles this past year taking us to our wedding, as well as to places like Baja, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and Oklahoma. Along the way her heater fan quit. We froze for a while, but a trip to Alaska, we decided, required a working heater. I dove into one of the nastier jobs in auto repair – digging buried heater cores out of dashboards.

After South America Charlotte needed a little love… like a new engine, transmission, brakes, tires, lots of cracks welded up and on and on. However, she has not been idle, having rolled up another 15,000 miles this past year taking us to our wedding, as well as to places like Baja, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and Oklahoma. Along the way her heater fan quit. We froze for a while, but a trip to Alaska, we decided, required a working heater. I dove into one of the nastier jobs in auto repair – digging buried heater cores out of dashboards.

We’re not sure about “the best place on earth,” but British Columbia, Canada is gorgeous. We spent a quick three days getting from northern Nevada to the Canadian border, having already explored Oregon and Washington quite extensively in the past. The border crossing was a five minute affair, a big contrast to some of the arduous ones we experienced in Central America. The guy did ask some bizarre questions like, “Are you seeing friends in Canada? What are you bringing them?” and “Did you travel for work? Where? Why?” and the best, “Do you own any guns? HOW MANY?”

We’re not sure about “the best place on earth,” but British Columbia, Canada is gorgeous. We spent a quick three days getting from northern Nevada to the Canadian border, having already explored Oregon and Washington quite extensively in the past. The border crossing was a five minute affair, a big contrast to some of the arduous ones we experienced in Central America. The guy did ask some bizarre questions like, “Are you seeing friends in Canada? What are you bringing them?” and “Did you travel for work? Where? Why?” and the best, “Do you own any guns? HOW MANY?”

Once over the border the trip really began. We spent a fun night at the home of our friends, Ian & Susan. The same Ian & Susan we ran into in Mazatlan, Mexico on the trip south. The next day we crossed this beautiful bridge over the Fraser River and skirted around the city of Vancouver, heading north on scenic Hwy 99 to the ski town of Whistler.

Once over the border the trip really began. We spent a fun night at the home of our friends, Ian & Susan. The same Ian & Susan we ran into in Mazatlan, Mexico on the trip south. The next day we crossed this beautiful bridge over the Fraser River and skirted around the city of Vancouver, heading north on scenic Hwy 99 to the ski town of Whistler.

The “Sea to Sky” Highway 99 is a much more scenic and remote route to Hwy 97. 97 is considered the milk run way to get to Dawson Creek (Mile 0 of the famed Alaskan Highway). As usual, we didn’t take the milk run. In fact, we’re avoiding the Alcan as much as possible on our way north, picking all the alternate, less traveled roads we can find. The Sea to Sky reminded us of the Austral in southern Chile.

The “Sea to Sky” Highway 99 is a much more scenic and remote route to Hwy 97. 97 is considered the milk run way to get to Dawson Creek (Mile 0 of the famed Alaskan Highway). As usual, we didn’t take the milk run. In fact, we’re avoiding the Alcan as much as possible on our way north, picking all the alternate, less traveled roads we can find. The Sea to Sky reminded us of the Austral in southern Chile.

Tourist stop at Shannon Falls.

Tourist stop at Shannon Falls.

Amateur Tree Hugger.

Amateur Tree Hugger.

Our second night in Canada was spent in the ski town of Whistler in the parking lot! It wasn’t very memorable and we don’t have any photos. Ski season had just ended and the place was quite dead. After our third night however, we woke up to this view out our living room window. The previous day we had finished Hwy 99 and turned north on the 97. That evening we had followed a dirt road off the 97 which led us to this glass smooth, deserted lake.

Our second night in Canada was spent in the ski town of Whistler in the parking lot! It wasn’t very memorable and we don’t have any photos. Ski season had just ended and the place was quite dead. After our third night however, we woke up to this view out our living room window. The previous day we had finished Hwy 99 and turned north on the 97. That evening we had followed a dirt road off the 97 which led us to this glass smooth, deserted lake.

Morning stretches and exercises are still the norm. Sitting on your butt all day takes its toll, so we try to get a little workout and walk/run in every day.

Morning stretches and exercises are still the norm. Sitting on your butt all day takes its toll, so we try to get a little workout and walk/run in every day.

Professional Tree Hugger. This guy was our first Black Bear sighting with many more to come. He was right along the highway and when we stopped he ran and tried to climb a power pole!

Professional Tree Hugger.
This guy was our first Black Bear sighting with many more to come. He was right along the highway and when we stopped he ran and tried to climb a power pole!

Ho hum, just another snowcapped beautiful mountain range. We have now passed the town of Prince George and have headed west on Hwy 16 to Hwy 37, the Cassiar Highway. 37 took us north again all the way to Watson Lake.

Ho hum, just another snowcapped beautiful mountain range. We have now passed the town of Prince George and have headed west on Hwy 16 to Hwy 37, the Cassiar Highway. 37 took us north again all the way to Watson Lake.

Travelling up Hwy 37, we took a detour west out 37A to the town of Hyder, Alaska USA. This is the furthermost point south you can drive to in the State of Alaska. The 40 something mile drive is gorgeous with several views of glaciers like this one and dead ends in Hyder. There is no way to continue further into Alaska by car, only boat. So, after visiting Hyder you must backtrack into Canada and continue north in that country for hundreds of miles before entering the rest of Alaska that is accessible by car.

Travelling up Hwy 37, we took a detour west out 37A to the town of Hyder, Alaska USA. This is the furthermost point south you can drive to in the State of Alaska. The 40 something mile drive is gorgeous with several views of glaciers like this one and dead ends in Hyder. There is no way to continue further into Alaska by car, only boat. So, after visiting Hyder you must backtrack into Canada and continue north in that country for hundreds of miles before entering the rest of Alaska that is accessible by car.

This is pretty much all there is to Hyder, Alaska. There isn’t even an official USA border crossing but there is an official Canadian crossing to go back into Canada –where they asked us the same kind of crazy questions they had asked in Vancouver! And we were only in Hyder a couple of hours!

This is pretty much all there is to Hyder, Alaska. There isn’t even an official USA border crossing but there is an official Canadian crossing to go back into Canada –where they asked us the same kind of crazy questions they had asked in Vancouver! And we were only in Hyder a couple of hours!

Although the town is only one block long we found much to do in Hyder. This is a view from the “port” looking out on the sound that leads to the Pacific Ocean.

Although the town is only one block long we found much to do in Hyder. This is a view from the “port” looking out on the sound that leads to the Pacific Ocean.

This walkway has been constructed along Fish Creek so tourists can safely view bears catching salmon in the creek. Unfortunately, we were too early in the season for the fish so there were no bears. Fortunately, there were no tourists either!

This walkway has been constructed along Fish Creek so tourists can safely view bears catching salmon in the creek. Unfortunately, we were too early in the season for the fish so there were no bears. Fortunately, there were no tourists either!

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Bear rules for tourists.

Bear rules for tourists.

I found the local junkyard about as interesting as Fish Creek!

I found the local junkyard about as interesting as Fish Creek!

…Especially the seating arrangement in this rotting Toyota Land Cruiser. Kinda gives a new meaning to the old Land Cruiser nickname “Toylet!”

…Especially the seating arrangement in this rotting Toyota Land Cruiser. Kinda gives a new meaning to the old Land Cruiser nickname “Toylet!”

The final order of business in Hyder was to stop at the Glacier Inn and get “Hyderized.” I was here 15 years ago with fellow journalist and oldest friend, Rick Pewe so I knew the drill… but Kat didn’t.

The final order of business in Hyder was to stop at the Glacier Inn and get “Hyderized.” I was here 15 years ago with fellow journalist and oldest friend, Rick Pewe so I knew the drill… but Kat didn’t.

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Straight Everclear. “Don’t sniff or sip. Down it in one shot or you buy the house a round!”

Straight Everclear. “Don’t sniff or sip. Down it in one shot or you buy the house a round!”

Once Hyderized things got a little fuzzy… So we had lunch before facing the border guards going back into Canada. We were lucky - turns out it was the first day of the season the restaurant was open for business.

Once Hyderized things got a little fuzzy… So we had lunch before facing the border guards going back into Canada. We were lucky – turns out it was the first day of the season the restaurant was open for business.

Black Bear #2, or 3, or 4???

Black Bear #2, or 3, or 4???

Right at the crossing from British Columbia into Yukon Territory at the end of Hwy 37 Charlotte was due for a 5000 mile adjustment. Living on the road you do things when you have to. Oil was changed and tires were rotated.

Right at the crossing from British Columbia into Yukon Territory at the end of Hwy 37 Charlotte was due for a 5000 mile adjustment. Living on the road you do things when you have to. Oil was changed and tires were rotated.

By now we were getting a little ripe so we got a clean room and shower at Johnson’s Crossing, one of the nicer roadhouses along the Alcan. We had passed several that were still closed for the season, but others seemed abandoned. When we asked about them at Johnson’s we were told that many roadhouses have had to close their doors because they can’t get people to work. Sad.

By now we were getting a little ripe so we got a clean room and shower at Johnson’s Crossing, one of the nicer roadhouses along the Alcan. We had passed several that were still closed for the season, but others seemed abandoned. When we asked about them at Johnson’s we were told that many roadhouses have had to close their doors because they can’t get people to work. Sad.

Our next adventure after showers at Johnson’s was the Canol Road. It turned out to be our best adventure between home and Fairbanks. The Canol was cut in 1942-44 to serve the Canadian Oil Company’s four inch diameter pipeline from Norman Wells to Whitehorse. The pipeline venture was a failure after only two years, but the dirt road it left behind offers a fantastic alternative route for those of us trying to stay off the Alcan. At the road’s southern entrance these Chevy truck carcasses are a stark reminder of a time when life was much tougher in these parts. The trucks are leftovers from the road’s rushed construction during WWII and their remains, along with other heavier equipment, can still be found rusting away quietly in the forest.

Our next adventure after showers at Johnson’s was the Canol Road. It turned out to be our best adventure between home and Fairbanks. The Canol was cut in 1942-44 to serve the Canadian Oil Company’s four inch diameter pipeline from Norman Wells to Whitehorse. The pipeline venture was a failure after only two years, but the dirt road it left behind offers a fantastic alternative route for those of us trying to stay off the Alcan. At the road’s southern entrance these Chevy truck carcasses are a stark reminder of a time when life was much tougher in these parts. The trucks are leftovers from the road’s rushed construction during WWII and their remains, along with other heavier equipment, can still be found rusting away quietly in the forest.

Just after passing the old trucks we thought our adventure was over before it began. Signs proclaimed the road was still closed for winter. But, there was no gate and no one around to stop us so… the sign did say “travel at your own risk” and the best adventures usually come with a bit of risk… Onward!

Just after passing the old trucks we thought our adventure was over before it began. Signs proclaimed the road was still closed for winter. But, there was no gate and no one around to stop us so… the sign did say “travel at your own risk” and the best adventures usually come with a bit of risk… Onward!

The South Canol Road is 132 miles long and runs through some beautiful and very remote country. There are no towns, services or even signs of humans besides the road itself. It felt like one of the most remote places we have ever visited.

The South Canol Road is 132 miles long and runs through some beautiful and very remote country. There are no towns, services or even signs of humans besides the road itself. It felt like one of the most remote places we have ever visited.

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Adding to the remoteness were all the signs of big hungry critters that we’ve never seen before. First off were the big egg shaped pellets we figured were moose. Next came wolf tracks…. Then grizzly bear (a small one) and finally moose hoofs. Onward!

Adding to the remoteness were all the signs of big hungry critters that we’ve never seen before. First off were the big egg shaped pellets we figured were moose. Next came wolf tracks…. Then grizzly bear (a small one) and finally moose hoofs. Onward!

For the first 60 miles or so we saw tracks from other vehicles proving we were not the only ones ignoring the road closed sign. However once we reached Quiet Lake all the vehicle tracks ended and there were signs the final ones turned around. We motored on until we reached this downed tree, a sure sign that no one had been through the road since the previous fall.

For the first 60 miles or so we saw tracks from other vehicles proving we were not the only ones ignoring the road closed sign. However once we reached Quiet Lake all the vehicle tracks ended and there were signs the final ones turned around. We motored on until we reached this downed tree, a sure sign that no one had been through the road since the previous fall.

Charlotte made quick work of dragging the tree out of the way. Onward!

Charlotte made quick work of dragging the tree out of the way. Onward!

Another 10 miles up the road was this Charlotte-averse washout. Down came our Australian made MAXTRAX recovery devices from the roof rack. We carried these four stackable plastic land mats all through South America and never used them! Then last January in Baja, they saved a friend’s van from the rising tide when he got stuck on the beach. Now they made great ramps to allow Charlotte to ease into and out of the washout. Onward!

Another 10 miles up the road was this Charlotte-averse washout. Down came our Australian made MAXTRAX recovery devices from the roof rack. We carried these four stackable plastic land mats all through South America and never used them! Then last January in Baja, they saved a friend’s van from the rising tide when he got stuck on the beach. Now they made great ramps to allow Charlotte to ease into and out of the washout. Onward!

The road became muddier and snow began to appear.

The road became muddier and snow began to appear.

Then about 85 miles in we came to this avalanche that had buried the road.

Then about 85 miles in we came to this avalanche that had buried the road.

We got out and surveyed our options. We really didn’t want to backtrack all the way to Johnson’s Crossing and (uggh) the Alcan. The pros were it was still a beautiful, warm day and only 4pm. The sun didn’t go down until about 10pm and the avalanche was only about 75 yards across. We had stuff to help us when we got stuck and we like to use it. The cons were we were 90 miles from nowhere in the complete wilderness. No one knew where we were and no one had been to this spot by car all winter. There had been lots of big, hungry feet prints all along the way we had come. We had no idea what lay ahead. More snow. More mud. More hungry feet. There were at least 40 more miles before any civilization. If we got really stuck there was no option of walking for help. We would have to sit and wait for days until some other nut came along hoping to get through the road. The pros won…Onward!

We got out and surveyed our options. We really didn’t want to backtrack all the way to Johnson’s Crossing and (uggh) the Alcan.
The pros were it was still a beautiful, warm day and only 4pm. The sun didn’t go down until about 10pm and the avalanche was only about 75 yards across. We had stuff to help us when we got stuck and we like to use it.
The cons were we were 90 miles from nowhere in the complete wilderness. No one knew where we were and no one had been to this spot by car all winter. There had been lots of big, hungry feet prints all along the way we had come. We had no idea what lay ahead. More snow. More mud. More hungry feet. There were at least 40 more miles before any civilization. If we got really stuck there was no option of walking for help. We would have to sit and wait for days until some other nut came along hoping to get through the road.
The pros won…Onward!

Charlotte did a good job of staying on top of the snow for about half the distance…

Charlotte did a good job of staying on top of the snow for about half the distance…

Then she sank to her belly! Time to get to work.

Then she sank to her belly! Time to get to work.

There was nothing to winch to and our Pull Pal winch anchor has proven iffy in snow, so down came the MAXTRAX for the third time this year (second time the same day!)

There was nothing to winch to and our Pull Pal winch anchor has proven iffy in snow, so down came the MAXTRAX for the third time this year (second time the same day!)

The MAXTRAX gave Charlotte big feet and she was able to leapfrog across the snow. It took five “settings” of the devices in this manner with much digging for placement before she was able to claw her way to the dry road on the far side. As soon as we were on the other side we found tire tracks and footprints coming from the north. This told us the road was clear from there on. Whoohoo! We were the first to cross the Canol for 2016! Hah! We’re SUCH great white explorers. LOL.

The MAXTRAX gave Charlotte big feet and she was able to leapfrog across the snow. It took five “settings” of the devices in this manner with much digging for placement before she was able to claw her way to the dry road on the far side. As soon as we were on the other side we found tire tracks and footprints coming from the north. This told us the road was clear from there on. Whoohoo! We were the first to cross the Canol for 2016! Hah! We’re SUCH great white explorers. LOL.

After another 15 miles or so we came to this little cabin on a frozen lake. It was the first sign of life and we thought maybe the black pickup had made the tracks we had been following since the avalanche (turns out it hadn’t). We turned up the muddy driveway.

After another 15 miles or so we came to this little cabin on a frozen lake. It was the first sign of life and we thought maybe the black pickup had made the tracks we had been following since the avalanche (turns out it hadn’t). We turned up the muddy driveway.

Art was the first person we met when he came out to greet us with a warm smile, kudus for getting through the road, an offer to stay for dinner and a “come meet the family,” all in about two minutes! We felt very welcomed and right at home.

Art was the first person we met when he came out to greet us with a warm smile, kudus for getting through the road, an offer to stay for dinner and a “come meet the family,” all in about two minutes! We felt very welcomed and right at home.

Art’s not-wife Yvonne and Muffy, their not-daughter, whom they have raised since she was two, standing in the doorway of Art’s summer hunting cabin. We were getting a crash course in Canadian First Nation family life! Art and Yvonne have been together 14 years but don’t live together. They are from two different tribes. Art is Kaska and Yvonne is Tahltan. Muffy, or Yahlayla (her tribal name) is Yvonne’s daughter’s daughter but her grandmother (Yvonne) and her boyfriend (Art) have raised her. Got all that? It all didn’t matter. They were the kindest, nicest, happiest folks you could ever meet and referred to themselves as “Caninguns!”

Art’s not-wife Yvonne and Muffy, their not-daughter, whom they have raised since she was two, standing in the doorway of Art’s summer hunting cabin. We were getting a crash course in Canadian First Nation family life! Art and Yvonne have been together 14 years but don’t live together. They are from two different tribes. Art is Kaska and Yvonne is Tahltan. Muffy, or Yahlayla (her tribal name) is Yvonne’s daughter’s daughter but her grandmother (Yvonne) and her boyfriend (Art) have raised her. Got all that? It all didn’t matter. They were the kindest, nicest, happiest folks you could ever meet and referred to themselves as “Caninguns!”

Kat and Kath. This is Yvonne’s friend Katherine. All of the girls had driven the 70 plus miles in from their villages up north to cook a Mother’s Day dinner for Art and Ken. Ken is Art’s not-son but the son of Art’s best friend who is like a brother. OK, got it? Art and Ken are living at the cabin for the summer, but the girls all live in Ross River and Faro up north at the end of the Canol Road. Like our Native Americans, First Nation Canadians have designated tribal lands. The family explained that they can put up a cabin anywhere they want on their tribal lands, hence this camp which was only about two years old.

Kat and Kath. This is Yvonne’s friend Katherine. All of the girls had driven the 70 plus miles in from their villages up north to cook a Mother’s Day dinner for Art and Ken. Ken is Art’s not-son but the son of Art’s best friend who is like a brother. OK, got it?
Art and Ken are living at the cabin for the summer, but the girls all live in Ross River and Faro up north at the end of the Canol Road. Like our Native Americans, First Nation Canadians have designated tribal lands. The family explained that they can put up a cabin anywhere they want on their tribal lands, hence this camp which was only about two years old.

Yvonne loves to cook and we hit it just in time. We had a feast including steak, ribs, sausage, veggies plus all of our beer and all of their wine. When the sun doesn’t go down until after ten, a lot of eating and drinking occurs!

Yvonne loves to cook and we hit it just in time. We had a feast including steak, ribs, sausage, veggies plus all of our beer and all of their wine. When the sun doesn’t go down until after ten, a lot of eating and drinking occurs!

Shortly after we arrived Muffy took us to see her “pet” fox that had a den quite near the cabin. The family hadn’t seen any pups yet but they expected them to come out of the den any day. The fox was beautiful and huge, the size of a large German Sheppard dog.

Shortly after we arrived Muffy took us to see her “pet” fox that had a den quite near the cabin. The family hadn’t seen any pups yet but they expected them to come out of the den any day. The fox was beautiful and huge, the size of a large German Sheppard dog.

A shot of the inside of the cabin. That’s Ken working on the bed.

A shot of the inside of the cabin. That’s Ken working on the bed.

The view from the cabin was just jaw dropping.

The view from the cabin was just jaw dropping.

Needless to say, we camped there for the night and were reluctant to leave the next day.

Needless to say, we camped there for the night and were reluctant to leave the next day.

After dinner Art and Yvonne had a project to clean a duck and a goose they had shot. We watch with interest, feeling like dumb city kids with no survival skills in the wild. Here Art singes the goose down off the carcass.

After dinner Art and Yvonne had a project to clean a duck and a goose they had shot. We watch with interest, feeling like dumb city kids with no survival skills in the wild. Here Art singes the goose down off the carcass.

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The old and the new. Think Yvonne’s Fitbit bracelet can count how many birds she can clean in a day?

The old and the new. Think Yvonne’s Fitbit bracelet can count how many birds she can clean in a day?

After leaving the “Caninjuns’” camp we drove another 35 miles to the end of the Canol where we turned west on to the Campbell Highway. After another 20 miles or so of dirt the pavement began again. The views however did not change!

After leaving the “Caninjuns’” camp we drove another 35 miles to the end of the Canol where we turned west on to the Campbell Highway. After another 20 miles or so of dirt the pavement began again. The views however did not change!

A moose! We finally saw a moose! We were beginning to think they were only tracks.

A moose! We finally saw a moose! We were beginning to think they were only tracks.

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Selfie.

Selfie.

Hope to see a set of these on a live one. We thought about procuring these from this semi-abandoned building for the front of Charlotte to replace Vaca Muerte. Sharp eyes may notice Vaca is absent from his perch this trip. After a failed attempt to re-unite him with his body in Baja this past January (we couldn’t find it), he now hangs proudly on our living room wall. His travelin’ days are through! This awesome rack would have been a bit much for Charlotte’s nose, we reckoned, not to mention the border guards at the upcoming crossing into Alaska, USA would probably not have taken kindly to it.

Hope to see a set of these on a live one.
We thought about procuring these from this semi-abandoned building for the front of Charlotte to replace Vaca Muerte. Sharp eyes may notice Vaca is absent from his perch this trip. After a failed attempt to re-unite him with his body in Baja this past January (we couldn’t find it), he now hangs proudly on our living room wall. His travelin’ days are through! This awesome rack would have been a bit much for Charlotte’s nose, we reckoned, not to mention the border guards at the upcoming crossing into Alaska, USA would probably not have taken kindly to it.

It’s a long damn drive up through Canada to Alaska!

It’s a long damn drive up through Canada to Alaska!

Mile 1422. This white post marks the official end of the Alaska Highway from Dawson Creek, BC to Delta Junction, Alaska. For us it is just the beginning, though. From here we traveled another 98 miles to Fairbanks where we are holed up for a couple of days to write this blog and take multiple showers (!) Next we’ll go north on the Dalton Highway to the top, Prudhoe Bay; then back down to the south of this beautiful, huge state to explore what else it has to offer. Stay tuned…

Mile 1422. This white post marks the official end of the Alaska Highway from Dawson Creek, BC to Delta Junction, Alaska. For us it is just the beginning, though. From here we traveled another 98 miles to Fairbanks where we are holed up for a couple of days to write this blog and take multiple showers (!)
Next we’ll go north on the Dalton Highway to the top, Prudhoe Bay; then back down to the south of this beautiful, huge state to explore what else it has to offer.
Stay tuned…

Ned and Kat’s Perfect Wedding – Charlotte’s a Bridesmaid!

April 24, 2015, Hanalei, Kauai, Hawaii

“So, Em, ummm… your Dad and I were kind of thinking of getting married while we’re here…what do you think?”

Silence. Then Emily, Ned’s 26 year old daughter, wisely said, “You guys don’t really love Hawaii that much, right? And besides, you’ve been together for ten years, and I already think of you as married. Don’t have your wedding here on my account. Go somewhere more fun for you!” She was right. We were only in Hawaii now to celebrate Ned’s niece’s wedding. Ned and I are desert rats after all. Hawaii would never have been our first choice. Had being at our wedding been more important to Emily we would have happily done the deed just to have her with us, but it wasn’t.

So no Hawaiian wedding. After ten years and thousands of miles traveled together, Ned and I had finally decided to tie the knot. But where? How? In the entire fourteen months of driving to the tip of South America in Charlotte, not one place materialized as a fun/unique/romantic place to get hitched, not even our favorite foreign country, Mexico. What could we do, where could we go that would be special in a “Ned and Kat” kind of way?

In the meantime, I had asked Ned to take me out to the Black Rock Desert in northern Nevada to camp at the hot springs in Charlotte for my 55th birthday, which was on May 7th. So far, we had two couples joining us, Leonard and KC and Segis and Kathy, and I couldn’t have been more excited. That’s where I belong, where I’m the happiest, the Nevada Desert.

Suddenly, while sitting on the front porch of our lovely rented house there in Hanalei, with the sultry air caressing my skin, the exotic smell of flowers tickling my nose, the surf providing a soothing backdrop (none of which I was appreciating nearly enough), my mind turned to the Black Rock Desert, and I knew.

“Yogi!” I said excitedly. “Let’s ask Leonard to get ordained so he can marry us out on the Black Rock! Wouldn’t that be perfect?” Ned’s eyes lit up. I could see his wheels spinning. And then he said slowly, still thinking, “Yeaaahhh, Boo Boo, that could work!”

I immediately called my friend, KC (Leonard’s wife), who became instantly and infectiously elated with the idea. I asked her to speak with Leonard and to text me right back. Ten minutes later the text came…Leonard not only agreed, but was also very enthusiastic. Wow, what a dream. I had visions of wearing my new dress (having bought the blue flowy, flowery concoction for the wedding we would be attending here on Kauai) right on the “playa” of the Black Rock Desert. White playa (picture an immense, dry alkali lake), blue sky, me in my gypsy dress of gorgeous blues and hints of white. Barefoot. Yes, how perfect would that be?

Arriving back home on April 30th, we confirmed our date for the weekend of May 15-17, and began asking other friends to join us. Between the short notice and the rough camping venue, we had no other takers. Then it occurred to Ned that he had his best Porsche buddy, Leonard and his best VW Vanagon buddy, Segis (owner of GoWesty), but he did not have a jeeping buddy. That’s when we thought of Jim and Tona. But how could we ask them to drive up all the way from Southern California and then out to the Nevada desert for a 3 day event? Well, not only were they totally excited, but they even cancelled other previously arranged plans so they could join us. This was going to be fun. None of the three couples had ever met before, but we knew that all six people were exceptional and that it would be perfect.

With only a week and a half to prepare, the only plans we made were for food to bring for the camping trip/wedding party. We didn’t even plan which day to get married, trusting that it would happen when the mood struck us. Would it be Friday, when we first arrived, or Saturday after we’d had time to settle in? We later joked that we put more time and energy into planning jeep events than we put into our own wedding, but I guess that’s just who we are. The only thing we decided for sure was that we would have a Mexican taco and tequila feast for the wedding party and steaks for which ever turned out to be the other night.

Then two things happened that put a little damper on my exuberance. First, watching the weather, we could see that it had been raining out in the Gerlach area and that more weather was heading in. That meant not only wet camping, but also that driving on the (usually) dry lake was impossible. No blue skies and white playa to go with that frilly dress. To make matters worse, if we could not cross the playa from Gerlach to the hot springs, it would require an additional three hour 4-wheel-drive go around to get there. We prepared everyone for the worse while also informing them that the three hour detour would pretty much guarantee that we would have the hot springs to ourselves. With Burning Man having taken over the Black Rock Desert for one week a year, the hot springs were no longer a secret. And the go around was a beautiful wheeling trip through the desert. The bad weather just might turn into a blessing in disguise.

The second thing that had me momentarily sobered was that in sharing our upcoming nuptial plans with all of the friends and family that could not be there, it occurred to me how fortunate we are to have such close relationships with so many amazing people. In all of my life, I have been of the odd opinion that any wedding of mine needed to be very private between just the two of us. Even in my twenties when I married the first time, I did not want the 30-people-wedding I eventually agreed to. But here I was in my fifties now, finally understanding the importance of community, and I felt a little sad, a little selfish. I also know how Ned and I are, and having a wedding that would be special to us in our own private way was essential. I let the revelation bathe me in gratitude for having such a rich life, full of fantastic people and inspiring experiences and focused on the upcoming wedding weekend. I knew it would be perfect.

Thursday, May 14, 2015, JT Basque Restaurant Bar, Minden, Nevada “Here’s to the bride and groom!” Six glasses clinked merrily as strangers became friends and our “rehearsal dinner” began. We were a lively group, sitting and standing around the JT Bar, drinking our Picons (a traditional Basque cocktail), and chatting excitedly. Our entire wedding party had arrived safely; Segis and Kathy from Los Osos, CA, Jim and Tona from Huntington Beach, CA and Leonard and KC from across the valley. Everyone was hitting it off, and the mood was wonderful. Then it got better. First, our amazing friend, Renee, floated gracefully through the front door, carrying, of all things, a traditional bride’s bouquet (perfectly designed to go with my wedding dress) and a matching boutonniere for Ned. Who on earth would ever have thought of including a traditional bouquet in a non-traditional camping wedding? Renee, of course! And I was delighted. And then my brother, David, from Roseville, called. “Is it too late to come on the trip?” “Are you kidding? That is fantastic! Meet us in Fernley at 11:00am tomorrow!” Our Basque dinner was delicious, plentiful and full of laughter and high spirits. The weather was looking really bad, but somehow I still knew our wedding would continue to be perfect.

Thursday, May 14, 2015, JT Basque Restaurant Bar, Minden, Nevada
“Here’s to the bride and groom!” Six glasses clinked merrily as strangers became friends and our “rehearsal dinner” began. We were a lively group, sitting and standing around the JT Bar, drinking our Picons (a traditional Basque cocktail), and chatting excitedly. Our entire wedding party had arrived safely; Segis and Kathy from Los Osos, CA, Jim and Tona from Huntington Beach, CA and Leonard and KC from across the valley. Everyone was hitting it off, and the mood was wonderful. Then it got better.
First, our amazing friend, Renee, floated gracefully through the front door, carrying, of all things, a traditional bride’s bouquet (perfectly designed to go with my wedding dress) and a matching boutonniere for Ned. Who on earth would ever have thought of including a traditional bouquet in a non-traditional camping wedding? Renee, of course! And I was delighted. And then my brother, David, from Roseville, called. “Is it too late to come on the trip?”
“Are you kidding? That is fantastic! Meet us in Fernley at 11:00am tomorrow!”
Our Basque dinner was delicious, plentiful and full of laughter and high spirits. The weather was looking really bad, but somehow I still knew our wedding would continue to be perfect.

Friday, May 15, 2015, Pilot Gas Station, Fernley, Nevada The drenching rain fell steadily as we pulled into the gas station and spotted David pumping fuel into his 4WD Ford truck. I jumped out of Charlotte and happily greeted him with a big hug. We made the rounds of introductions there in the parking lot with our hoods pulled up against the wind and wet. Everyone fueled up, and we headed north toward Gerlach. We were all excited about lunch at the (in)famous Bruno’s Country Club, renowned for their homemade raviolis (and a great bar). Gerlach is (normally) a dusty little town (population around 200) on the edge of the vast, 40x60 mile dry alkali lake called The Black Rock. In recent years, Gerlach has become recognized as the gateway to the annual Burning Man festival, held in the middle of the playa (dry lake). But to local Northern Nevadans, it has always been famous for Bruno’s Country Club, bar, restaurant, gas station and motel. Ned’s Dad, Ted, even bused 100 of his friends in to celebrate his own 70th birthday party back in 1997. The destination had been a surprise. The guests were told one thing only - to pack an overnight bag. From the stories I have been told, it seems Ted’s party was a huge success. Bruno’s bar is rustic and fun, and that’s where we headed first, having driven the hour and a half from Fernley in continuous rain. Gerlach was not dusty when we arrived, it was a muddy mess! The street sign entering the hamlet proclaimed: “Gerlach, The Center of the Known Universe.” We all ran into the bar where we were plied with plenty of Bloody Marys and Tequila Marys. The rain had not drenched our moods one bit. This was turning out to be an intrepid little troop of friends. The bartender, waitress and local bar flies were all friendly, helpful and enthusiastic about our impending nuptials, even gifting me a bunch of lovely roses (left over from Mother’s Day). They were, however, not encouraging with regards to the go around road to the hot springs, shaking their heads gravely and telling us how muddy it would be out there. Nonetheless, I’m pretty sure they found the whole thing amusing, and we were happy to provide their afternoon entertainment. There was even some alcohol induced talk about having our wedding right there in the bar at Bruno’s. When asked if anyone had ever gotten married here, the bartender, Celia, said, “Not that I know of. Let’s do it!” Instead, we opted to enjoy massive plates of gigantic homemade raviolis.

Friday, May 15, 2015, Pilot Gas Station, Fernley, Nevada
The drenching rain fell steadily as we pulled into the gas station and spotted David pumping fuel into his 4WD Ford truck. I jumped out of Charlotte and happily greeted him with a big hug. We made the rounds of introductions there in the parking lot with our hoods pulled up against the wind and wet. Everyone fueled up, and we headed north toward Gerlach. We were all excited about lunch at the (in)famous Bruno’s Country Club, renowned for their homemade raviolis (and a great bar).
Gerlach is (normally) a dusty little town (population around 200) on the edge of the vast, 40×60 mile dry alkali lake called The Black Rock. In recent years, Gerlach has become recognized as the gateway to the annual Burning Man festival, held in the middle of the playa (dry lake). But to local Northern Nevadans, it has always been famous for Bruno’s Country Club, bar, restaurant, gas station and motel. Ned’s Dad, Ted, even bused 100 of his friends in to celebrate his own 70th birthday party back in 1997. The destination had been a surprise. The guests were told one thing only – to pack an overnight bag. From the stories I have been told, it seems Ted’s party was a huge success. Bruno’s bar is rustic and fun, and that’s where we headed first, having driven the hour and a half from Fernley in continuous rain.
Gerlach was not dusty when we arrived, it was a muddy mess! The street sign entering the hamlet proclaimed: “Gerlach, The Center of the Known Universe.” We all ran into the bar where we were plied with plenty of Bloody Marys and Tequila Marys. The rain had not drenched our moods one bit. This was turning out to be an intrepid little troop of friends.
The bartender, waitress and local bar flies were all friendly, helpful and enthusiastic about our impending nuptials, even gifting me a bunch of lovely roses (left over from Mother’s Day). They were, however, not encouraging with regards to the go around road to the hot springs, shaking their heads gravely and telling us how muddy it would be out there. Nonetheless, I’m pretty sure they found the whole thing amusing, and we were happy to provide their afternoon entertainment. There was even some alcohol induced talk about having our wedding right there in the bar at Bruno’s. When asked if anyone had ever gotten married here, the bartender, Celia, said, “Not that I know of. Let’s do it!” Instead, we opted to enjoy massive plates of gigantic homemade raviolis.

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Somewhere along the way a decision was made to stay the night right there in Bruno’s Motel. While Segis and Kathy and Ned and I both have water tight Vanagons in which to escape the weather, everyone else was either tenting it or staying in the backs of pickups. Having secured dry beds for everyone, we set off on a wheeling excursion in the steady rain, spending the afternoon exploring possible alternative hot springs and enjoying gorgeous scenery and the intoxicating smell of rain soaked sage brush. We had also heard from the man at Bruno’s gas station that there was a guy with a 5th wheel stuck out there somewhere, so there was even a possible rescue to undertake! Everyone drove well on the muddy roads; David in his 4WD Ford, Leonard and KC in their Chevy ¾ ton 4WD truck, Jim and Tona in their Jeep JK, and Segis and Kathy and Ned and I in our 4WD VW Syncro Vanagons. We did eventually find the guy who had unwisely chosen to pull his 5th wheel into a mud bog. Both truck and trailer were buried to the axles. The man was in the process of unhitching when we arrived on the scene, so Ned and Charlotte were able to winch his truck free. There was no hope for the trailer, and it turned out he had a wife and kids in there (none of whom emerged). We offered to take them all back to town, but the man declined. We shrugged and giggled and left them all to their happy camping, the trailer tilting crazily in the boggy mess.

Somewhere along the way a decision was made to stay the night right there in Bruno’s Motel. While Segis and Kathy and Ned and I both have water tight Vanagons in which to escape the weather, everyone else was either tenting it or staying in the backs of pickups. Having secured dry beds for everyone, we set off on a wheeling excursion in the steady rain, spending the afternoon exploring possible alternative hot springs and enjoying gorgeous scenery and the intoxicating smell of rain soaked sage brush. We had also heard from the man at Bruno’s gas station that there was a guy with a 5th wheel stuck out there somewhere, so there was even a possible rescue to undertake!
Everyone drove well on the muddy roads; David in his 4WD Ford, Leonard and KC in their Chevy ¾ ton 4WD truck, Jim and Tona in their Jeep JK, and Segis and Kathy and Ned and I in our 4WD VW Syncro Vanagons.
We did eventually find the guy who had unwisely chosen to pull his 5th wheel into a mud bog. Both truck and trailer were buried to the axles. The man was in the process of unhitching when we arrived on the scene, so Ned and Charlotte were able to winch his truck free. There was no hope for the trailer, and it turned out he had a wife and kids in there (none of whom emerged). We offered to take them all back to town, but the man declined. We shrugged and giggled and left them all to their happy camping, the trailer tilting crazily in the boggy mess.

The rain paused briefly as the sun was setting over the playa, and the view was breathtaking. We stopped to bask in the beauty, and Kathy pulled out the clam shells we had found and used in Baja, Mexico for “shell shots!” Ned produced a giant bottle of tequila, filled the shells and passed them out…another toast of well wishes in a spectacular setting with great friends. Coincidentally, Kathy had brought 9 shells, the exact number in our group. Perfect again.

The rain paused briefly as the sun was setting over the playa, and the view was breathtaking. We stopped to bask in the beauty, and Kathy pulled out the clam shells we had found and used in Baja, Mexico for “shell shots!” Ned produced a giant bottle of tequila, filled the shells and passed them out…another toast of well wishes in a spectacular setting with great friends. Coincidentally, Kathy had brought 9 shells, the exact number in our group. Perfect again.

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Back at the motel, having deemed the roads passable enough to make our bid for the hot springs tomorrow, we literally circled the Van-agons! The two motel rooms that we rented sat in an L-shape around a dirt parking area, so we positioned the two Vanagons in an opposite L. With the awnings up on the Syncros and virtual “walls” on four sides, we had a perfect little courtyard, sheltered from wind and rain. We were all delighted by the arrangement, and started preparing our yummy steak dinner. Suddenly, all four of us girls gasped in horror…as the boys started digging a fire pit! “Yikes! We are so going to get in trouble, you guys!” But we laughed anyway as they pulled firewood off the roofs of the Vanagons, doused it with gasoline and torched it. Whomp!! Flames leapt into the night air, mere inches away from our awnings and glaringly obvious to any and all authority figures in the vicinity. But none came. Our steaks were expertly cooked by Leonard and David on the fire pit coals, and we had yet another fabulously fun pre-wedding party. Everyone agreed it was perfect. Feeling a bit tired, I opted to turn in early and crawled into our cozy bed in Charlotte. That’s when they hit me. The butterflies. “Oh my God, I’m getting married! This is serious!” Gulp. “I can’t believe I’m nervous. Ok, just go to sleep!” Ned came to bed later, giggling and tickling me back awake. We sighed contentedly, warm and dry, listening to the rain patter on Charlotte’s tin roof. There was nowhere we’d rather be. This was the man I was marrying. Perfect.

Back at the motel, having deemed the roads passable enough to make our bid for the hot springs tomorrow, we literally circled the Van-agons! The two motel rooms that we rented sat in an L-shape around a dirt parking area, so we positioned the two Vanagons in an opposite L. With the awnings up on the Syncros and virtual “walls” on four sides, we had a perfect little courtyard, sheltered from wind and rain. We were all delighted by the arrangement, and started preparing our yummy steak dinner. Suddenly, all four of us girls gasped in horror…as the boys started digging a fire pit! “Yikes! We are so going to get in trouble, you guys!” But we laughed anyway as they pulled firewood off the roofs of the Vanagons, doused it with gasoline and torched it. Whomp!! Flames leapt into the night air, mere inches away from our awnings and glaringly obvious to any and all authority figures in the vicinity. But none came. Our steaks were expertly cooked by Leonard and David on the fire pit coals, and we had yet another fabulously fun pre-wedding party. Everyone agreed it was perfect.
Feeling a bit tired, I opted to turn in early and crawled into our cozy bed in Charlotte. That’s when they hit me. The butterflies. “Oh my God, I’m getting married! This is serious!” Gulp. “I can’t believe I’m nervous. Ok, just go to sleep!”
Ned came to bed later, giggling and tickling me back awake. We sighed contentedly, warm and dry, listening to the rain patter on Charlotte’s tin roof. There was nowhere we’d rather be. This was the man I was marrying. Perfect.

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At some point during the outrageous evening, my brother, David, picked up a gun shaped bottle of tequila, and decided that this should be a shotgun wedding!

At some point during the outrageous evening, my brother, David, picked up a gun shaped bottle of tequila, and decided that this should be a shotgun wedding!

Saturday, May 16 2015, Bruno’s Country Club, Gerlach, NV – On the edge of the Black Rock Desert I yawned and stretched languorously as the warm sun touched my face.  Wait…sun??  It had stopped raining. There were even patches of blue in the desert sky.  I turned happily to Ned and said, “Yogi, this is going to be an amazing day, but I do have two requests.”  I chuckled at his very alarmed, very male facial expression and continued, “Nothing too demanding…uh, it’s just that I really want to make every attempt possible to get to the Hot Springs, and…I want us to be sober for our actual ceremony!”  Ned answered in the only way possible for him…an eye roll, but laughed with me anyway as we jumped into our clothes and greeted our awakening wedding party. With a unanimous decision to skip the camp cooking in favor of Bruno’s café, we scampered in to be plied with copious amounts of coffee and huge plates of eggs and potatoes.  The wait staff and locals sent us off with well wishes and best-of-lucks getting to the hot springs. We had around ten miles of pavement to drive before reaching the turn off to our “go around,” but eight miles into it, Segis pulled over to the side of the road.  His Vanagon was running on only three cylinders.   He opened the rear hatch and all of the guys excitedly huddled around to take a look.

Saturday, May 16 2015, Bruno’s Country Club, Gerlach, NV – On the edge of the Black Rock Desert
I yawned and stretched languorously as the warm sun touched my face. Wait…sun?? It had stopped raining. There were even patches of blue in the desert sky. I turned happily to Ned and said, “Yogi, this is going to be an amazing day, but I do have two requests.” I chuckled at his very alarmed, very male facial expression and continued, “Nothing too demanding…uh, it’s just that I really want to make every attempt possible to get to the Hot Springs, and…I want us to be sober for our actual ceremony!” Ned answered in the only way possible for him…an eye roll, but laughed with me anyway as we jumped into our clothes and greeted our awakening wedding party.
With a unanimous decision to skip the camp cooking in favor of Bruno’s café, we scampered in to be plied with copious amounts of coffee and huge plates of eggs and potatoes. The wait staff and locals sent us off with well wishes and best-of-lucks getting to the hot springs.
We had around ten miles of pavement to drive before reaching the turn off to our “go around,” but eight miles into it, Segis pulled over to the side of the road. His Vanagon was running on only three cylinders. He opened the rear hatch and all of the guys excitedly huddled around to take a look.

We happened to have stopped at the main access point onto the Back Rock playa, the one used by the Burning Man folks to drive into the annually temporary Black Rock City.  But today it was lonely and beautifully peaceful.  Kathy, KC, Tona and I walked down to the edge of the lake to explore.  Normally, the playa surface is dry alkali and fabulous for driving or enjoying on foot.  We have seen it wet and slippery, but never with actual standing water.  That was a lot of rain.  We girls all took pictures and sighed in unison in the blissful silence.  Then I looked around.  The surface here was dry and gravely.  There were still a few patches of blue sky.  It wasn’t raining.  The Black Rock Desert provided a perfect backdrop…we should get married here!!  I shared the inspiration with my friends, and they wholeheartedly agreed.

We happened to have stopped at the main access point onto the Back Rock playa, the one used by the Burning Man folks to drive into the annually temporary Black Rock City. But today it was lonely and beautifully peaceful. Kathy, KC, Tona and I walked down to the edge of the lake to explore. Normally, the playa surface is dry alkali and fabulous for driving or enjoying on foot. We have seen it wet and slippery, but never with actual standing water. That was a lot of rain. We girls all took pictures and sighed in unison in the blissful silence. Then I looked around. The surface here was dry and gravely. There were still a few patches of blue sky. It wasn’t raining. The Black Rock Desert provided a perfect backdrop…we should get married here!! I shared the inspiration with my friends, and they wholeheartedly agreed.

In the meantime, Segis had driven back to Gerlach in search of a spark plug wire leaving Ned, Leonard, David and Jim hanging out by the side of the road.   Unbeknownst to me, Ned then walked off into the sagebrush, looked out over the gorgeous dry lake vista, saw the sun peek through the clouds, noticed the dry ground and had the exact same thought as me…we should get married here!!  Ned was divulging his idea to the guys at the same time I was sharing with the girls.   A moment later, we ladies ran back up to the roadside where boys met girls in an excited jumble of perfectly concurring ideas.  Our wedding was on!  I jumped into my dressing room (Charlotte) to change into my beautiful dress.  There was nothing much to be done for my rained on, camped in hair, but it didn’t seem to matter.  I was excited and nervous.  My entire body buzzed with anticipation, and butterflies danced enthusiastically in my belly.

In the meantime, Segis had driven back to Gerlach in search of a spark plug wire leaving Ned, Leonard, David and Jim hanging out by the side of the road. Unbeknownst to me, Ned then walked off into the sagebrush, looked out over the gorgeous dry lake vista, saw the sun peek through the clouds, noticed the dry ground and had the exact same thought as me…we should get married here!! Ned was divulging his idea to the guys at the same time I was sharing with the girls.
A moment later, we ladies ran back up to the roadside where boys met girls in an excited jumble of perfectly concurring ideas. Our wedding was on! I jumped into my dressing room (Charlotte) to change into my beautiful dress. There was nothing much to be done for my rained on, camped in hair, but it didn’t seem to matter. I was excited and nervous. My entire body buzzed with anticipation, and butterflies danced enthusiastically in my belly.

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Segis returned, and we joked and laughed and gathered around Charlotte.  There, on the edge of the Black Rock Desert, in the Center of the Known Universe, with a cold wind beginning to pick up, a broken down Vanagon, KC as my maid of honor, Kathy, Tona (and Charlotte) as bridesmaids, desert flowers in my hair (that Kathy had found) and a formal bouquet in my hands, we had the funnest, funniest, most informal, most romantic, most perfect wedding. Ned had picked a blue shirt to match my dress and was the most handsome man in The Known Universe, in my opinion.  Jim, Segis and my brother, David, provided warm, caring support, and Reverend Leonard carried out his duties with love and humor.  Ned and I declared vows that reached into the deepest part of our connection to each other, and I could have sworn it was all a dream.  It was too good, too perfect to be real.   I kept asking if I could kiss Ned yet, because I needed to, and finally I could.  We had to go back and exchange rings, having forgotten to do so, but we were finally declared husband and wife to the happy sound of Champaign corks popping and wild cheering from our extraordinary wedding party. In a moment of sheer providence, we were able to connect (way out here) to my mother via Facetime.   Mom was waging war against lung cancer, so we were all thrilled to have her join in our celebration.

Segis returned, and we joked and laughed and gathered around Charlotte. There, on the edge of the Black Rock Desert, in the Center of the Known Universe, with a cold wind beginning to pick up, a broken down Vanagon, KC as my maid of honor, Kathy, Tona (and Charlotte) as bridesmaids, desert flowers in my hair (that Kathy had found) and a formal bouquet in my hands, we had the funnest, funniest, most informal, most romantic, most perfect wedding.
Ned had picked a blue shirt to match my dress and was the most handsome man in The Known Universe, in my opinion. Jim, Segis and my brother, David, provided warm, caring support, and Reverend Leonard carried out his duties with love and humor. Ned and I declared vows that reached into the deepest part of our connection to each other, and I could have sworn it was all a dream. It was too good, too perfect to be real.
I kept asking if I could kiss Ned yet, because I needed to, and finally I could. We had to go back and exchange rings, having forgotten to do so, but we were finally declared husband and wife to the happy sound of Champaign corks popping and wild cheering from our extraordinary wedding party.
In a moment of sheer providence, we were able to connect (way out here) to my mother via Facetime. Mom was waging war against lung cancer, so we were all thrilled to have her join in our celebration.

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Ned carrying me over the threshold!

Ned carrying me over the threshold!

Now it was time to make our bid for the hot springs, the perfect place to have our Mexican Wedding Feast!  I climbed into the back of Charlotte to change into real clothes while bouncing down the road.  I did my time honored yoga-esque move to slide into the front seat, and Ned, in a rare, but precious, romantic moment, played our favorite Loreena McKennitt song and called me “Wifey.”    The go around was muddy and challenging, but we made progress.  Somewhere along the line, at one of several beer stops, “Just Married” was inscribed in the mud on Charlotte’s back window, and we forged on.  Just three more miles…oh, how I want to get the hot springs.  More mud, more difficult 4-wheeling.  Just two more miles…we can make it, almost there!  Just one more mile...there it is!  Three hours later, against all odds (and the advice of the locals), we made it.

Now it was time to make our bid for the hot springs, the perfect place to have our Mexican Wedding Feast! I climbed into the back of Charlotte to change into real clothes while bouncing down the road. I did my time honored yoga-esque move to slide into the front seat, and Ned, in a rare, but precious, romantic moment, played our favorite Loreena McKennitt song and called me “Wifey.”
The go around was muddy and challenging, but we made progress. Somewhere along the line, at one of several beer stops, “Just Married” was inscribed in the mud on Charlotte’s back window, and we forged on. Just three more miles…oh, how I want to get the hot springs. More mud, more difficult 4-wheeling. Just two more miles…we can make it, almost there! Just one more mile…there it is! Three hours later, against all odds (and the advice of the locals), we made it.

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Even some of Nevada’s wild horses showed up to mark this auspicious day!

Even some of Nevada’s wild horses showed up to mark this auspicious day!

The hot springs sit at the base of the famous “Black Rock” itself…almost there!

The hot springs sit at the base of the famous “Black Rock” itself…almost there!

We made it!

We made it!

As predicted, the Hot springs were deserted.  Who else was crazy enough to be wheeling in this mud and rain?  We made camp and jumped into the fabulously hot water.  Having partaken of the joys of these hot springs many times, we knew that the water on top was crystal clear, but that the bottom was mucky alkali mud and silt.  We came prepared with plastic lawn chairs for all so that we could sit without offending our delicate sensibilities.

As predicted, the Hot springs were deserted. Who else was crazy enough to be wheeling in this mud and rain? We made camp and jumped into the fabulously hot water. Having partaken of the joys of these hot springs many times, we knew that the water on top was crystal clear, but that the bottom was mucky alkali mud and silt. We came prepared with plastic lawn chairs for all so that we could sit without offending our delicate sensibilities.

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Our Mexican party was incredible.  Everyone contributed.  We had fresh made corn tortillas, pork, chicken, carne asada, beans, chips, guacamole, taco fixings, Margaritas, tequila shots, beer, and of course, Mexican music playing from Segis’s Serius XM  radio.  Ned and I even had colorful Mexican hats to wear…you know the fancy, flashy ones usually found in Mexican parades or hanging on the walls of Mexican restaurants?  Segis and Kathy had coerced the sombreros from the owner of their favorite taqueria in Los Osos and presented them to us as perfectly appropriate wedding gifts.

Our Mexican party was incredible. Everyone contributed. We had fresh made corn tortillas, pork, chicken, carne asada, beans, chips, guacamole, taco fixings, Margaritas, tequila shots, beer, and of course, Mexican music playing from Segis’s Serius XM radio. Ned and I even had colorful Mexican hats to wear…you know the fancy, flashy ones usually found in Mexican parades or hanging on the walls of Mexican restaurants? Segis and Kathy had coerced the sombreros from the owner of their favorite taqueria in Los Osos and presented them to us as perfectly appropriate wedding gifts.

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Because my parents were not at my wedding, I felt a need to have a part of them with me, so I brought two special items.  First was a coffee mug that used to be a favorite of my Dad’s.  Second was one of my mother’s favorite recipes.  With a pretty blue foil pinwheel (a picture of Ned and I glued to the center) as decoration, Mom’s famous banana bread, covered in whipped cream became our wedding cake.

Because my parents were not at my wedding, I felt a need to have a part of them with me, so I brought two special items. First was a coffee mug that used to be a favorite of my Dad’s. Second was one of my mother’s favorite recipes. With a pretty blue foil pinwheel (a picture of Ned and I glued to the center) as decoration, Mom’s famous banana bread, covered in whipped cream became our wedding cake.

We did all of the traditional things in the most untraditional way. Ned and I smooshed cake in each others’ faces and danced around a roaring campfire to our favorite Blackmore’s Night song, “Loreley.”  The rain held off for the entire day, and the temperature was amazingly mild.  I still felt like I was dreaming.  It was the perfect wedding reception.

We did all of the traditional things in the most untraditional way. Ned and I smooshed cake in each others’ faces and danced around a roaring campfire to our favorite Blackmore’s Night song, “Loreley.” The rain held off for the entire day, and the temperature was amazingly mild. I still felt like I was dreaming. It was the perfect wedding reception.

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When we had set out on Friday, we had no idea exactly when (or even where) we would have our wedding.  It was bantered around that had we chosen Bruno’s Bar in the pouring rain, we would have a nifty 05-15-15 as our wedding date, and I thought that was cool enough to fudge the date on our wedding papers even if we did it the next day.  Ah, but it is so very human to never know how we will feel about something until we are actually there.  By the time I had a ring on my finger, a belly full of tacos and whipped cream on my nose, today’s date was so indelibly precious to me, I would never change it.  Jim and Tona, with amazing prescience, had had a beautiful blanket specially embroidered and presented it to us at the party.  It reads:   Ned and Kat To Our Favorite Newlyweds! Married May 16, 2015 From: Jim and Tona Perfect.

When we had set out on Friday, we had no idea exactly when (or even where) we would have our wedding. It was bantered around that had we chosen Bruno’s Bar in the pouring rain, we would have a nifty 05-15-15 as our wedding date, and I thought that was cool enough to fudge the date on our wedding papers even if we did it the next day. Ah, but it is so very human to never know how we will feel about something until we are actually there. By the time I had a ring on my finger, a belly full of tacos and whipped cream on my nose, today’s date was so indelibly precious to me, I would never change it. Jim and Tona, with amazing prescience, had had a beautiful blanket specially embroidered and presented it to us at the party. It reads:
Ned and Kat
To Our Favorite Newlyweds!
Married May 16, 2015
From: Jim and Tona
Perfect.

Another romantic gesture of Ned’s:  Our Champagne corks glued to Charlotte’s dashboard… I Do, I Do, 5/16/15.

Another romantic gesture of Ned’s: Our Champagne corks glued to Charlotte’s dashboard…
I Do, I Do, 5/16/15.

Charlotte Comes Home -The Final Leg, April, 2015, Long Beach to Gardnerville

Better late than never! I meant to write this blog shortly after we returned home way back in Febuary, but… life just kinda got in the way… and marriage! (See next blog by Kat) Anyway, as a refresher, you might remember this shot from our last blog post showing Charlotte being loaded into a YELLOW container in Valparaiso, Chile, bound for Long Beach, CA USA. Note the RED container placed right next to the yellow one.

Better late than never! I meant to write this blog shortly after we returned home way back in Febuary, but… life just kinda got in the way… and marriage! (See next blog by Kat)
Anyway, as a refresher, you might remember this shot from our last blog post showing Charlotte being loaded into a YELLOW container in Valparaiso, Chile, bound for Long Beach, CA USA. Note the RED container placed right next to the yellow one.

Charlotte all tied down in the yellow container. The entire loading process took over an hour as I had to crawl around under her to reach the tie downs, disconnect her battery and drain her gas tank dry. (Shipping rules)

Charlotte all tied down in the yellow container. The entire loading process took over an hour as I had to crawl around under her to reach the tie downs, disconnect her battery and drain her gas tank dry. (Shipping rules)

We sealed the door and watched our mobile home get hauled off by this huge “Stacker”. We were told Charlotte’s boat trip would take about a month, but the strike situation going on in Long Beach might delay our picking her up for as much as an additional month! We flew home for the final time from South America on February 19th and began the wait. A couple of weeks later the receiving company in Long Beach contacted me to confirm all of our papers were in order. This is when we discovered that the container number we had did not match the container number they had! Our number from the yellow container was bound for Oakland, CA. Their number was for the red container and said Charlotte was in it bound for Long Beach! Twilight Zone! We even looked back at our pictures to make sure we weren’t loosing it. Yup, we had put her in a YELLOW container and the RED container was sitting right next to it, the new container number clearly emblazed on its side! A quick call to poor Sebastian resulted in him driving once again all the way to the port to find out what happened. The Valparaiso athorities gave him a picture of Charlotte loaded in the RED container just before the door was closed and sealed and it was loaded on the ship. They NEVER admitted to having switched her, and we guess they never planned to tell us. Clearly someone screwed up the paperwork and those sneakly port workers moved her as this was deamed easier than redoing all the bloody papers - easier despite her flat tires, no gas, no battery and my trusted tie down labor. We had no idea what shape our poor Charlotte would be in when we finally got to open that red container.

We sealed the door and watched our mobile home get hauled off by this huge “Stacker”. We were told Charlotte’s boat trip would take about a month, but the strike situation going on in Long Beach might delay our picking her up for as much as an additional month!
We flew home for the final time from South America on February 19th and began the wait. A couple of weeks later the receiving company in Long Beach contacted me to confirm all of our papers were in order. This is when we discovered that the container number we had did not match the container number they had! Our number from the yellow container was bound for Oakland, CA. Their number was for the red container and said Charlotte was in it bound for Long Beach! Twilight Zone! We even looked back at our pictures to make sure we weren’t loosing it. Yup, we had put her in a YELLOW container and the RED container was sitting right next to it, the new container number clearly emblazed on its side!
A quick call to poor Sebastian resulted in him driving once again all the way to the port to find out what happened. The Valparaiso athorities gave him a picture of Charlotte loaded in the RED container just before the door was closed and sealed and it was loaded on the ship. They NEVER admitted to having switched her, and we guess they never planned to tell us. Clearly someone screwed up the paperwork and those sneakly port workers moved her as this was deamed easier than redoing all the bloody papers – easier despite her flat tires, no gas, no battery and my trusted tie down labor. We had no idea what shape our poor Charlotte would be in when we finally got to open that red container.

The big wait was finally over on April 7th when we were united with the red container in a warehouse in Long Beach, CA.

The big wait was finally over on April 7th when we were united with the red container in a warehouse in Long Beach, CA.

Cutting the seal which I never put on in the first place! What would we find inside?

Cutting the seal which I never put on in the first place! What would we find inside?

Whew! A happy Ned and Kat breathe a collective sigh of relief after realizing our trusty travel partner was none the worse for wear after her ordeal. The gas fumes were staggering when we opened the door. They must have put some gas in her to move her around.

Whew! A happy Ned and Kat breathe a collective sigh of relief after realizing our trusty travel partner was none the worse for wear after her ordeal. The gas fumes were staggering when we opened the door. They must have put some gas in her to move her around.

She fired right up and placed her tires on US ground for the first time in 16 months.

She fired right up and placed her tires on US ground for the first time in 16 months.

Vaca Muerta was dutifully re-installed from his hiding place. The old cow head had made the whole trip despite almost meeting its demise at its first border crossing into Belize. Strangely, we had no visits from U.S. Customs inspectors of any sort!?! They had no suspicions of a smelly VW bus that had just spent 14 months in South America. Go Figure?

Vaca Muerta was dutifully re-installed from his hiding place. The old cow head had made the whole trip despite almost meeting its demise at its first border crossing into Belize. Strangely, we had no visits from U.S. Customs inspectors of any sort!?! They had no suspicions of a smelly VW bus that had just spent 14 months in South America. Go Figure?

Gas was added…

Gas was added…

Air was added…

Air was added…

Many thanks go to my sister, Kate, who lives in L.A. She picked us up at LAX and hung with us at the port until we were sure Charlotte was ready for the last leg of the journey, a return to the starting point – our driveway in Nevada.

Many thanks go to my sister, Kate, who lives in L.A. She picked us up at LAX and hung with us at the port until we were sure Charlotte was ready for the last leg of the journey, a return to the starting point – our driveway in Nevada.

First stop naturally was an auto parts store, this time for gear oil, all of which had leaked out onto the container floor during the boat trip. The transmission had leaked badly the entire trip, necessitating refills every 500 miles or so. By this point I had developed a relatively clean way to fill it without groveling in the dirt too much.

First stop naturally was an auto parts store, this time for gear oil, all of which had leaked out onto the container floor during the boat trip. The transmission had leaked badly the entire trip, necessitating refills every 500 miles or so. By this point I had developed a relatively clean way to fill it without groveling in the dirt too much.

We got out of L.A. quickly and headed north up the PCH to visit my Mom in Santa Barbara.

We got out of L.A. quickly and headed north up the PCH to visit my Mom in Santa Barbara.

Shortly after we stopped for tacos (container on dash) at a roadside taco truck, it started pouring rain. The last of the South American dirt and dust was washed away in this deluge – at least on the outside.

Shortly after we stopped for tacos (container on dash) at a roadside taco truck, it started pouring rain. The last of the South American dirt and dust was washed away in this deluge – at least on the outside.

After an overnight stay with my Mom we hit US395 for home. We were soon back to our routine of stopping every 50 miles to add water. The crack in Charlotte’s engine case, the final result of our trip-long battles with the vibrating alternator, was getting worse and we wondered if we’d cook her in these last few hundred miles.

After an overnight stay with my Mom we hit US395 for home. We were soon back to our routine of stopping every 50 miles to add water. The crack in Charlotte’s engine case, the final result of our trip-long battles with the vibrating alternator, was getting worse and we wondered if we’d cook her in these last few hundred miles.

Even after 30,000 miles of the Americas, US395 and the Eastern Sierras remain a breathtaking drive.

Even after 30,000 miles of the Americas, US395 and the Eastern Sierras remain a breathtaking drive.

One last restaurant photo! We stopped for dinner at our favorite BBQ in Bishop, CA.

One last restaurant photo! We stopped for dinner at our favorite BBQ in Bishop, CA.

After dark somewhere near Mammoth, I stopped for a water fill and noticed we didn’t have any tail lights. Ah Charlotte, one more trick in your bag. Driving a Vanagon makes one resourceful if not crazy. I asked Kat if we had any red cloth and she produced pink bikini bottoms from somewhere. I wrapped them around our manual backup light, hit the switch and viola, a pink tail light! Ironically we were passed by no less than two cops in those last 100 miles. Guess they approved.

After dark somewhere near Mammoth, I stopped for a water fill and noticed we didn’t have any tail lights. Ah Charlotte, one more trick in your bag. Driving a Vanagon makes one resourceful if not crazy. I asked Kat if we had any red cloth and she produced pink bikini bottoms from somewhere. I wrapped them around our manual backup light, hit the switch and viola, a pink tail light! Ironically we were passed by no less than two cops in those last 100 miles. Guess they approved.

Around 10 pm we rolled into our driveway. The trip was now complete and all three of us were home safe and sound.

Around 10 pm we rolled into our driveway. The trip was now complete and all three of us were home safe and sound.

153,620 was the final count.

153,620 was the final count.

The final repair in the daylight.

The final repair in the daylight.

You never know when bikinis will come in handy!

You never know when bikinis will come in handy!

When we left our driveway in December 2013 I wrote the mileage at the time on the overhead consul with a Sharpie. The final touch was to write the current reading. How bizarre the entire trip fell just 22 miles shy of being exactly 30,000 miles! Stay tuned! Next up: Charlotte goes from World Traveler to Bridesmaid!!

When we left our driveway in December 2013 I wrote the mileage at the time on the overhead consul with a Sharpie. The final touch was to write the current reading. How bizarre the entire trip fell just 22 miles shy of being exactly 30,000 miles!
Stay tuned!
Next up: Charlotte goes from World Traveler to Bridesmaid!!

The Road Back North – Patagonia Perspectives and So Long South America

Yes, we know. It has been six weeks since our last blog post and many of you are wondering what the heck happened to us. We have been home in Nevada for over a month already and the reality of regular life sure has a way of jumping right in and taking over. Several times in the last couple of weeks Ned and I have looked at each other and said, “did we really go to South America?!!”

Despite the high expectations of exploring the Chilean side of Patagonia and the Carretera Austral, Ned and I couldn’t shake our slightly deflated feelings of the trip being over. Having reached our “goal” of driving to the tip of South America, our journey back north again to Santiago was definitely wrought with Short Timer’s Disease. To top it off, my mother was dealing with serious health issues, and the pressure to get home was immense.

Nonetheless, we made the most of the drive back up to the closest port from which we could ship Charlotte home. Our amazing friend, Sebastian was already working on Charlotte’s ship passage from Valparaiso to Long Beach. It took us 18 days to cover the 2,000 miles north, and as usual, there is a lot to tell about! Please enjoy this blog as we rattle down more bad wash board roads, do four ferry crossings, chase pigs, fix broken Charlotte parts, don Gore-Tex in rain forests and, of course, enjoy more spectacular scenery.

After two fabulous nights camping (with our equine neighbors) in the Parque Nacional Tierra del Fuego, we made our way back to the town of Ushuaia where we stayed another two nights.  El Wagon restaurant became our home away from home in this surprisingly touristy town at the end of the world.  Alejandro (above) and Vierna (below) were warm and friendly, and we enjoyed three wonderful meals with them.   We had no idea what to expect either on the island of Tierra del Fuego or in Patagonia proper, but somewhere in our minds we had visions of harsh landscapes and lonely outposts.  So far we were finding rampant tourism, complete with crowded cities and the burned out clerks and restaurant staff who wait on difficult visitors day after day.  Our friends at El Wagon provided a refreshing respite.

After two fabulous nights camping (with our equine neighbors) in the Parque Nacional Tierra del Fuego, we made our way back to the town of Ushuaia where we stayed another two nights. El Wagon restaurant became our home away from home in this surprisingly touristy town at the end of the world. Alejandro (above) and Vierna (below) were warm and friendly, and we enjoyed three wonderful meals with them.
We had no idea what to expect either on the island of Tierra del Fuego or in Patagonia proper, but somewhere in our minds we had visions of harsh landscapes and lonely outposts. So far we were finding rampant tourism, complete with crowded cities and the burned out clerks and restaurant staff who wait on difficult visitors day after day. Our friends at El Wagon provided a refreshing respite.

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On our final day in Ushuaia, we stayed at El Wagon until 6:00pm, finishing up the last blog, so we only made it 70 miles north to camp on the shores of lovely Lago Fagnano.

On our final day in Ushuaia, we stayed at El Wagon until 6:00pm, finishing up the last blog, so we only made it 70 miles north to camp on the shores of lovely Lago Fagnano.

High-Fiving each other for making the final turn north, we retraced our steps, crossing the border back into Chile and saying farewell to Tierra del Fuego and the Straights of Magellan as we made the short ride ferry off of the Island.   We were running low on supplies, and the previous night’s über satisfying camp dinner consisted of peanuts, cheese and beer.  Breakfast had not been much better, so we were looking forward to a good meal and a good market in Puerto Natales, about 100 miles west and north on the Ruta 9 from the ferry crossing.   Unfortunately, fate had other ideas.  The three of us were cruising along near dusk, peacefully enjoying the wide open windswept steppes when we heard a terrible grinding noise coming from Charlotte’s rear end (no, we did not put beans in her fuel tank).  Needing to get off of the highway and investigate the problem, we limped down a long driveway leading to this desolate, tumble-down estancia (ranch).

High-Fiving each other for making the final turn north, we retraced our steps, crossing the border back into Chile and saying farewell to Tierra del Fuego and the Straights of Magellan as we made the short ride ferry off of the Island.
We were running low on supplies, and the previous night’s über satisfying camp dinner consisted of peanuts, cheese and beer. Breakfast had not been much better, so we were looking forward to a good meal and a good market in Puerto Natales, about 100 miles west and north on the Ruta 9 from the ferry crossing.
Unfortunately, fate had other ideas. The three of us were cruising along near dusk, peacefully enjoying the wide open windswept steppes when we heard a terrible grinding noise coming from Charlotte’s rear end (no, we did not put beans in her fuel tank). Needing to get off of the highway and investigate the problem, we limped down a long driveway leading to this desolate, tumble-down estancia (ranch).

Having heard of the famous hospitality of Patagonia’s many estancias, we hoped this might be a great opportunity and fantasized about joining a big ranch cookout where lots of cordero (lamb) was being roasted on open pits and gauchos serenaded us with Chilean folk music…nope.    Daniel and Marilynn were about as run down as the ranch (the Estancia Cacique Mulato), but were very nice, welcoming us to camp for the night (a good thing since Charlotte wasn’t going anywhere!).  Marilynn offered me the use of the kitchen, but not a morsel of food.  The ranch was huge and signs of former grandeur were everywhere.  The main house was an enormous Victorian, sad and boarded up while Daniel and Marilynn lived in a small hovel near the pig pens.  Although Daniel told us that he ran 20,000 head of sheep, it looked as though they were too poor themselves to offer us a meal.   Ned and I tucked into Charlotte for the night, munching on more peanuts and cheese and dreaming of cordero asado.

Having heard of the famous hospitality of Patagonia’s many estancias, we hoped this might be a great opportunity and fantasized about joining a big ranch cookout where lots of cordero (lamb) was being roasted on open pits and gauchos serenaded us with Chilean folk music…nope.
Daniel and Marilynn were about as run down as the ranch (the Estancia Cacique Mulato), but were very nice, welcoming us to camp for the night (a good thing since Charlotte wasn’t going anywhere!). Marilynn offered me the use of the kitchen, but not a morsel of food. The ranch was huge and signs of former grandeur were everywhere. The main house was an enormous Victorian, sad and boarded up while Daniel and Marilynn lived in a small hovel near the pig pens. Although Daniel told us that he ran 20,000 head of sheep, it looked as though they were too poor themselves to offer us a meal. Ned and I tucked into Charlotte for the night, munching on more peanuts and cheese and dreaming of cordero asado.

After a rainy night and another snack breakfast, Ned went to work on Charlotte, uncovering a very broken CV joint.   The good news was that the intrepid Car Whisperer had, not one but two, spares.  He tucked in for a long greasy job, while I went off to see about lending a hand on the estancia.

After a rainy night and another snack breakfast, Ned went to work on Charlotte, uncovering a very broken CV joint. The good news was that the intrepid Car Whisperer had, not one but two, spares. He tucked in for a long greasy job, while I went off to see about lending a hand on the estancia.

From a nearby field I heard the frantic squealing of unhappy pigs.  Taking off in that direction, I ran into two old ranch hands pushing a wheelbarrow loaded with a lumpy white sack.  I said hello, then noticed that the bag was moving! Actually it was writhing.  Afraid of what I would find, I asked, “Que es?” “Cochinoitos!” they said, grinning from ear to ear while untying the bag for me to take a peak.  Sure enough, eight tiny piglets poked their little pink noses out and my heart sank to think that they were just too cute to eat.  It took a bit of diplomatic probing, but I happily found out they were simply moving the babies to get them out of the cold and would return for the mother.  More questions revealed, however, that they would be ready for the market in another five months.

From a nearby field I heard the frantic squealing of unhappy pigs. Taking off in that direction, I ran into two old ranch hands pushing a wheelbarrow loaded with a lumpy white sack. I said hello, then noticed that the bag was moving! Actually it was writhing. Afraid of what I would find, I asked, “Que es?” “Cochinoitos!” they said, grinning from ear to ear while untying the bag for me to take a peak. Sure enough, eight tiny piglets poked their little pink noses out and my heart sank to think that they were just too cute to eat. It took a bit of diplomatic probing, but I happily found out they were simply moving the babies to get them out of the cold and would return for the mother. More questions revealed, however, that they would be ready for the market in another five months.

You’ve just gotta be smarter than a pig.  I never did find out why Mama Pig did not frantically follow the piglet laden wheelbarrow, but she did seem to have fun toying with poor old Juan.  She calmly let him approach, even offering her nose to the lasso…

You’ve just gotta be smarter than a pig. I never did find out why Mama Pig did not frantically follow the piglet laden wheelbarrow, but she did seem to have fun toying with poor old Juan. She calmly let him approach, even offering her nose to the lasso…

…then wheeled away only to stop and happily begin to root around in the dirt.  This went on for at least ten minutes.  I kept asking if I could help, and Juan breathlessly kept saying, “No gracias.”  It was a pretty comical show to watch but even more fun when I finally joined in.  Enrique (slightly younger than Juan) eventually got the lasso on one of Mama’s back feet, and they began to herd her toward her babies.  With a twenty foot lead on the rope, Mama Pig led us on a merry chase, darting off in every direction but the right one.  Poor Juan even dropped the rope two times, giving me the heroic opportunity to jump on it and stop the pig.  Yeah right.  At one point the three of us, waving our arms and hollering like madmen, nearly had her cornered.  I am ashamed to say this would have ended the fun had I not given quarter when the pushy pig barreled right toward me.  Yup, I was a chicken, but Mama outweighed me by several hundred pounds, and I do value my life.  We all looked like idiots, but it was very entertaining, my only regret being there are no photos to share.

…then wheeled away only to stop and happily begin to root around in the dirt. This went on for at least ten minutes. I kept asking if I could help, and Juan breathlessly kept saying, “No gracias.” It was a pretty comical show to watch but even more fun when I finally joined in. Enrique (slightly younger than Juan) eventually got the lasso on one of Mama’s back feet, and they began to herd her toward her babies. With a twenty foot lead on the rope, Mama Pig led us on a merry chase, darting off in every direction but the right one. Poor Juan even dropped the rope two times, giving me the heroic opportunity to jump on it and stop the pig. Yeah right. At one point the three of us, waving our arms and hollering like madmen, nearly had her cornered. I am ashamed to say this would have ended the fun had I not given quarter when the pushy pig barreled right toward me. Yup, I was a chicken, but Mama outweighed me by several hundred pounds, and I do value my life. We all looked like idiots, but it was very entertaining, my only regret being there are no photos to share.

Happy reunion.

Happy reunion.

By now I was (as Ned said later) an official pig farmer, and there was more work to be done.  Another mother and her babies needed to be relocated so the game was repeated.

By now I was (as Ned said later) an official pig farmer, and there was more work to be done. Another mother and her babies needed to be relocated so the game was repeated.

This time there were eleven of the cute little things, and Juan and Enrique showed their confidence in my newfound pig husbandry by letting me pick a couple of them up by the back leg (the only way to do it so they said) and plunk them into the sack.  Mostly I just held the bag.  By the time we got Mama #2 and babies moved, Ned had finished changing the CV.  We said our goodbyes to Daniel, Marilynn, Juan (who gave me a hug) and Enrique, and trundled on north.

This time there were eleven of the cute little things, and Juan and Enrique showed their confidence in my newfound pig husbandry by letting me pick a couple of them up by the back leg (the only way to do it so they said) and plunk them into the sack. Mostly I just held the bag.
By the time we got Mama #2 and babies moved, Ned had finished changing the CV. We said our goodbyes to Daniel, Marilynn, Juan (who gave me a hug) and Enrique, and trundled on north.

After blissfully devouring cordero asado in a restaurant in Puerto Natales, we restocked our larders and drove on to the famous Parque Nacional Torre de Paine.  It was late when we arrived, so we opted to camp at an official scenic lookout.  Thinking that the majestic towers would look fantastic in the morning sun and that the place was deserted, we saw no problem with the plan.

After blissfully devouring cordero asado in a restaurant in Puerto Natales, we restocked our larders and drove on to the famous Parque Nacional Torre de Paine. It was late when we arrived, so we opted to camp at an official scenic lookout. Thinking that the majestic towers would look fantastic in the morning sun and that the place was deserted, we saw no problem with the plan.

We were right about the morning sun…

We were right about the morning sun…

…but just about half way through our morning exercises, buses and vans carrying dozens of tourists showed up to shatter our peace.  I even caught one snapping a shot of Ned as he finished his pull-ups.  Ok, I admit, we were in a Park, camping at a posted lookout, doing funny looking exercises in a funny looking van, but we still felt like monkeys in a cage.

…but just about half way through our morning exercises, buses and vans carrying dozens of tourists showed up to shatter our peace. I even caught one snapping a shot of Ned as he finished his pull-ups. Ok, I admit, we were in a Park, camping at a posted lookout, doing funny looking exercises in a funny looking van, but we still felt like monkeys in a cage.

The weather was typical of Chilean Patagonia, extremely cold and so windy I was nearly knocked off my feet several times.  Cliffside hiking didn’t sound very fun, so we just drove the big loop around the park enjoying the fantastic scenery.

The weather was typical of Chilean Patagonia, extremely cold and so windy I was nearly knocked off my feet several times. Cliffside hiking didn’t sound very fun, so we just drove the big loop around the park enjoying the fantastic scenery.

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We passed dozens of cyclists braving the wind and cold and making us feel like old weenies living in the lap of luxury.  These two teenage boys from France were pedaling a tandem bike the length of Patagonia. They should have incredible stories to tell their kids.

We passed dozens of cyclists braving the wind and cold and making us feel like old weenies living in the lap of luxury. These two teenage boys from France were pedaling a tandem bike the length of Patagonia. They should have incredible stories to tell their kids.

The road north in Chile ends after Torre de Paine, so we crossed back into Argentina, retracing our steps until we reached Paso Roballo, east of Cochrane where we were able to cross back into Chile and finally onto the famous Carretera Austral.   Toward the bottom of Paso Roballo in the Valle Chacabuco we entered land owned by the shiny new Patagonia Park.

The road north in Chile ends after Torre de Paine, so we crossed back into Argentina, retracing our steps until we reached Paso Roballo, east of Cochrane where we were able to cross back into Chile and finally onto the famous Carretera Austral.
Toward the bottom of Paso Roballo in the Valle Chacabuco we entered land owned by the shiny new Patagonia Park.

Rescued from overgrazing, these 170,000 acres, previously a huge, hundred year old sheep ranch, were purchased ten years ago by Kris and Doug Tompkins, well publicized environmental rights activists, and, respectively, the former CEO of Patagonia (the clothing company) and the founder of The North Face & Esprit clothing empires. Their goal has been to restore the land to nature, removing all the fencing, as well as all foreign flora and fauna, while introducing human tourists, providing them with hiking trails and fancy lodging. Eventually they plan to give this preserved land to the Chilean government to manage as a national park.

Rescued from overgrazing, these 170,000 acres, previously a huge, hundred year old sheep ranch, were purchased ten years ago by Kris and Doug Tompkins, well publicized environmental rights activists, and, respectively, the former CEO of Patagonia (the clothing company) and the founder of The North Face & Esprit clothing empires. Their goal has been to restore the land to nature, removing all the fencing, as well as all foreign flora and fauna, while introducing human tourists, providing them with hiking trails and fancy lodging. Eventually they plan to give this preserved land to the Chilean government to manage as a national park.

PATAGONIA WITHOUT TOMPKIN$ Without getting into touchy details (I’ll save that for the book!), it turns out that there is quite a controversy surrounding the land’s purchase and the Tompkins in general.  Sheep ranching in the valley has been the mainstay of the local communities, and many people lost their livelihoods.  Weighing human needs against the need to preserve beautiful places on our planet is a tough challenge.

PATAGONIA WITHOUT TOMPKIN$
Without getting into touchy details (I’ll save that for the book!), it turns out that there is quite a controversy surrounding the land’s purchase and the Tompkins in general. Sheep ranching in the valley has been the mainstay of the local communities, and many people lost their livelihoods. Weighing human needs against the need to preserve beautiful places on our planet is a tough challenge.

The brand new Estancia Valle Chacabuco.

The brand new Estancia Valle Chacabuco.

The creators’ vision when building Estancia Valle Chacabuco was to capture the grandeur of the old lodges at Yosemite and Yellowstone.  We were actually a little surprised and put off by the excessive opulence.  To us, the upscale country club atmosphere appeared quite out of character with the Patagonian surroundings.

The creators’ vision when building Estancia Valle Chacabuco was to capture the grandeur of the old lodges at Yosemite and Yellowstone. We were actually a little surprised and put off by the excessive opulence. To us, the upscale country club atmosphere appeared quite out of character with the Patagonian surroundings.

Despite the Tompkins’ obvious distain for all things requiring energy and motorized vehicles, and their hype about the irresponsibility of leaving large “carbon footprints,” this lodge was build on a massive scale, involving a lot of machinery and fossil fuel to construct, and it now requires more energy use to sustain it.  The hypocrisy of it all rubbed us the wrong way…

Despite the Tompkins’ obvious distain for all things requiring energy and motorized vehicles, and their hype about the irresponsibility of leaving large “carbon footprints,” this lodge was build on a massive scale, involving a lot of machinery and fossil fuel to construct, and it now requires more energy use to sustain it. The hypocrisy of it all rubbed us the wrong way…

…as did the prices for lodging.  It would have cost us $500 per night…

…as did the prices for lodging. It would have cost us $500 per night…

…to stay in this small room.  It was obviously beautiful, but the snobbery of the staff and the inability for average income people to enjoy the place was off-putting to us.

…to stay in this small room. It was obviously beautiful, but the snobbery of the staff and the inability for average income people to enjoy the place was off-putting to us.

No shoes allowed in the entire lodge…a Doug Tompkins quirk, but never my favorite.

No shoes allowed in the entire lodge…a Doug Tompkins quirk, but never my favorite.

This reading room was full of coffee table books co-authored by Doug Tompkins, berating everything from energy use to mass food production.  We agree that the glaring challenges of pesticides, GMO’s, pollution and animal extinction are terrifying.  I also pragmatically know that rare is the person who is willing to give up driving, flying, boating and eating mass produced food.  Doug Tompkins, himself, soars all over Patagonia in his own small airplane, burning plenty of fossil fuel.  My issue with the offering of coffee table books was not in pointing out the problems, but in not offering practical solutions. Suggestions on par with sending our daily living conditions back those of the poorest villages we passed through in Guatemala (for example) or reducing our offspring to one child per couple are not practical solutions in this modern world.

This reading room was full of coffee table books co-authored by Doug Tompkins, berating everything from energy use to mass food production. We agree that the glaring challenges of pesticides, GMO’s, pollution and animal extinction are terrifying. I also pragmatically know that rare is the person who is willing to give up driving, flying, boating and eating mass produced food. Doug Tompkins, himself, soars all over Patagonia in his own small airplane, burning plenty of fossil fuel. My issue with the offering of coffee table books was not in pointing out the problems, but in not offering practical solutions. Suggestions on par with sending our daily living conditions back those of the poorest villages we passed through in Guatemala (for example) or reducing our offspring to one child per couple are not practical solutions in this modern world.

Ned was particularly amused to find this book. In his words, “Isn’t Tompkins’s airplane as much a “thrillcraft” as my Jeep, race cars or Charlotte?  Hypocrite!”

Ned was particularly amused to find this book. In his words, “Isn’t Tompkins’s airplane as much a “thrillcraft” as my Jeep, race cars or Charlotte? Hypocrite!”

Thrillcraft? Seriously? A riding lawnmower burning hydrocarbons. Where are the sheep?

Thrillcraft? Seriously? A riding lawnmower burning hydrocarbons. Where are the sheep?

Carretera Austral literally means the Southern Highway, which is kind of funny since it was the roughest, slowest, most washboard infested road we’ve been on yet.  Nearing the end of our journey, Charlotte was exhibiting a worrying number of ailments.  Rather than being exciting, the rugged terrain only gave us visions of poor Charlotte literally shaking apart. We were also on the wet, cold Pacific side of Patagonia now, and while beautiful in its own way, rainforests are just not our favorite.  The constant rain, cold, bugs and lack of open land made camping less fun and exercise scarce.  (And yet we still saw many cyclists toughing it out here, battered by the elements…really making us feel wimpy!)

Carretera Austral literally means the Southern Highway, which is kind of funny since it was the roughest, slowest, most washboard infested road we’ve been on yet. Nearing the end of our journey, Charlotte was exhibiting a worrying number of ailments. Rather than being exciting, the rugged terrain only gave us visions of poor Charlotte literally shaking apart. We were also on the wet, cold Pacific side of Patagonia now, and while beautiful in its own way, rainforests are just not our favorite. The constant rain, cold, bugs and lack of open land made camping less fun and exercise scarce. (And yet we still saw many cyclists toughing it out here, battered by the elements…really making us feel wimpy!)

We’ve seen these falling rock signs all over Chile and have dubbed them “The Fast Rocks Sign.” Do rocks really fall faster in Chile?

We’ve seen these falling rock signs all over Chile and have dubbed them “The Fast Rocks Sign.”
Do rocks really fall faster in Chile?

The sun came out and lifted our mood as we drove along the magnificent turquoise Lago General Carrera, the largest lake in Chile and the second largest in South America.

The sun came out and lifted our mood as we drove along the magnificent turquoise Lago General Carrera, the largest lake in Chile and the second largest in South America.

We passed this sign advertising the Marble Cathedral and natural camping.  We had no idea what it was, but it sounded intriguing.

We passed this sign advertising the Marble Cathedral and natural camping. We had no idea what it was, but it sounded intriguing.

We drove down a very steep dirt road, enjoying the scenery but worry about breaking another CV which was making horrible noises as we descended the grade.  If another one broke, Charlotte would never make it back up the arduous climb. Once at the bottom, we found that we could bush camp for free and were able to book a boat ride to the Marble Cathedral in the morning.  We met several fellow travelers (even a VW enthusiastic Argentinean couple in an early splitty Bus) and had a quiet night in semi privacy.

We drove down a very steep dirt road, enjoying the scenery but worry about breaking another CV which was making horrible noises as we descended the grade. If another one broke, Charlotte would never make it back up the arduous climb.
Once at the bottom, we found that we could bush camp for free and were able to book a boat ride to the Marble Cathedral in the morning. We met several fellow travelers (even a VW enthusiastic Argentinean couple in an early splitty Bus) and had a quiet night in semi privacy.

By morning the rain had returned but we were determined to see the Catedral de Mármol, whatever that was.

By morning the rain had returned but we were determined to see the Catedral de Mármol, whatever that was.

When we arrived we were stunned.  This is the Catedral de Mármol, but the spectacle did not stop here.

When we arrived we were stunned. This is the Catedral de Mármol, but the spectacle did not stop here.

The lake shore was lined with marble caves carved by wind and water, suspended over the glacial turquoise waters.  Despite the rain, I could not stop taking photos.  It was truly one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been, certainly one of the most unusual.

The lake shore was lined with marble caves carved by wind and water, suspended over the glacial turquoise waters. Despite the rain, I could not stop taking photos. It was truly one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been, certainly one of the most unusual.

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Look closely.  Can you see Ned under Charlotte (again)?  Taking advantage of our nice camping spot and using the last spare CV, Ned got Charlotte repaired and up the hill.  Now it was a race to get to Santiago before another CV (or something else) broke.

Look closely. Can you see Ned under Charlotte (again)? Taking advantage of our nice camping spot and using the last spare CV, Ned got Charlotte repaired and up the hill. Now it was a race to get to Santiago before another CV (or something else) broke.

Getting exercise wherever we can…

Getting exercise wherever we can…

…Taking showers wherever we can.   Desperately in need of a good wash, we spotted an abandoned campground and drove in to find clean water for Charlotte’s heat exchange shower and rare privacy.

…Taking showers wherever we can.
Desperately in need of a good wash, we spotted an abandoned campground and drove in to find clean water for Charlotte’s heat exchange shower and rare privacy.

Continuing north we came to the Tompkins’ first Park, Pumalin.  The park is immense, covering 760,000 acres.  This was the Park entrance at the south end, near Chaitén.  Unfortunately, signs everywhere indicated camping was only allowed in walk-in campgrounds.  Camping in or near your vehicle was glaringly prohibited.  In light of the obvious usage of gas powered mowers to manicure the vast amount of lawns in the park, we found the bias against motorized vehicles puzzling.

Continuing north we came to the Tompkins’ first Park, Pumalin. The park is immense, covering 760,000 acres. This was the Park entrance at the south end, near Chaitén. Unfortunately, signs everywhere indicated camping was only allowed in walk-in campgrounds. Camping in or near your vehicle was glaringly prohibited. In light of the obvious usage of gas powered mowers to manicure the vast amount of lawns in the park, we found the bias against motorized vehicles puzzling.

Pumalin Park, named for the Pumas being preserved here, was a steep, mountainous rainforest…

Pumalin Park, named for the Pumas being preserved here, was a steep, mountainous rainforest…

…and a botanist’s dream!  The forest was full of unusual and beautiful plants, including these mammoth leafy things (we are obviously not botanists)…

…and a botanist’s dream! The forest was full of unusual and beautiful plants, including these mammoth leafy things (we are obviously not botanists)…

…and giant ferns! (They are ferns, aren’t they?)

…and giant ferns! (They are ferns, aren’t they?)

The unfortunate thing about Pumalin park, is that it essentially cuts Chili (being very narrow) in two.  With the Pacific archipelago on the west, and the Argenitina border on the east, there is no way to drive north/south through the park.  To go north, we needed to take a series of ferries to continue our journey, or make a 500 mile detour east back in to Argentina. The town of Chaitén was the jumping off point for the first ferry, and we were very much looking forward to having a nice breakfast in a warm restaurant.  When we arrived, however, we found the town in horrible shape.  The houses and buildings were ramshackle and/or boarded up, and the only restaurant open was freezing cold and the employees unwelcoming.   This van (above) says “Chaitén is Not Dead.”  We disagreed.  It was Sunday when we arrived, and we were dismayed to find that the ferries were all booked until Wednesday.  At this point, we just wanted out of there.  We made the decision to drive 100 miles back south and then east on the bad washboard roads to what we had heard was a cute town called Fulaleufú.   Note:  We did find out in Fulaleufú that Chaitén was buried in ash in 2008 when Volcan Chaitén erupted, essentially killing the poor town.  Perspective really is everything.  Doing a little homework beforehand might help, but we really do like discovering as we go.

The unfortunate thing about Pumalin park, is that it essentially cuts Chili (being very narrow) in two. With the Pacific archipelago on the west, and the Argenitina border on the east, there is no way to drive north/south through the park. To go north, we needed to take a series of ferries to continue our journey, or make a 500 mile detour east back in to Argentina. The town of Chaitén was the jumping off point for the first ferry, and we were very much looking forward to having a nice breakfast in a warm restaurant. When we arrived, however, we found the town in horrible shape. The houses and buildings were ramshackle and/or boarded up, and the only restaurant open was freezing cold and the employees unwelcoming.
This van (above) says “Chaitén is Not Dead.” We disagreed. It was Sunday when we arrived, and we were dismayed to find that the ferries were all booked until Wednesday. At this point, we just wanted out of there. We made the decision to drive 100 miles back south and then east on the bad washboard roads to what we had heard was a cute town called Fulaleufú.
Note: We did find out in Fulaleufú that Chaitén was buried in ash in 2008 when Volcan Chaitén erupted, essentially killing the poor town. Perspective really is everything. Doing a little homework beforehand might help, but we really do like discovering as we go.

Fulaleufú was a wonderful stopover.  We stayed at this great lodge, a welcome respite from cold, wet camping.

Fulaleufú was a wonderful stopover. We stayed at this great lodge, a welcome respite from cold, wet camping.

Ned spent most of our two days in Fulaeufú working on Charlotte, trying to shore up an increasing bad coolant leak – another curse stemming from our alternator bracket issues. I worked on photo editing and relaxed in the warm luxury of our beautiful room.

Ned spent most of our two days in Fulaeufú working on Charlotte, trying to shore up an increasing bad coolant leak – another curse stemming from our alternator bracket issues. I worked on photo editing and relaxed in the warm luxury of our beautiful room.

On the way back to the coast from Fulaleufú, Ned and Charlotte rescued another vehicle which had slid off the road and into a ditch. It was only the third time we’ve used the winch, once to pull ourselves (Bolivia) and twice to help others (Mexico and here).

On the way back to the coast from Fulaleufú, Ned and Charlotte rescued another vehicle which had slid off the road and into a ditch. It was only the third time we’ve used the winch, once to pull ourselves (Bolivia) and twice to help others (Mexico and here).

Finally it was ferry time.  It took us three boats and 12 hours to travel 30 miles, but we finally were able to continue north.

Finally it was ferry time. It took us three boats and 12 hours to travel 30 miles, but we finally were able to continue north.

Another broken alternator bolt, another clever Ned fix (note the green wire).  It seems baling wire and duct tape are holding Charlotte together these days.

Another broken alternator bolt, another clever Ned fix (note the green wire). It seems baling wire and duct tape are holding Charlotte together these days.

Our final camp, just south of Santiago was quiet, but it was a little anticlimactic.  We were suddenly aware that the trip was coming to an end and were feeling a little sad.  It was fun, though, looking back and coming up with some intereting statistics.  Since returning to the trip in December, we have spent 75 nights on the road; 55 camping in Charlotte (46 bush camps and 9 in campgrounds or driveways) and 22 nights in hotels.

Our final camp, just south of Santiago was quiet, but it was a little anticlimactic. We were suddenly aware that the trip was coming to an end and were feeling a little sad. It was fun, though, looking back and coming up with some intereting statistics. Since returning to the trip in December, we have spent 75 nights on the road; 55 camping in Charlotte (46 bush camps and 9 in campgrounds or driveways) and 22 nights in hotels.

Over the last 14 months of the journey we have come up with a very technical method for determining which way the wind is blowing. This is necessary so we can park Charlotte to block the wind for cooking.

Over the last 14 months of the journey we have come up with a very technical method for determining which way the wind is blowing. This is necessary so we can park Charlotte to block the wind for cooking.

And speaking of paper products, this has been an ongoing topic of deep discussion as, in country after third world country, we’ve found next to useless paper towels and toilet paper.  We were delighted to find in Chile a brand comically subtitled “Evolution.” They are almost as good as the dozens of brands we are offered in the U.S. and are capable of absorbing at least some liquid before disintegrating.

And speaking of paper products, this has been an ongoing topic of deep discussion as, in country after third world country, we’ve found next to useless paper towels and toilet paper. We were delighted to find in Chile a brand comically subtitled “Evolution.” They are almost as good as the dozens of brands we are offered in the U.S. and are capable of absorbing at least some liquid before disintegrating.

Back in Santiago, I just had to show Ned the MallSport (the one where I got an army knife and dumbbells back in December).  We ate lunch in the warm sunshine, watching surfers try their skill on this man-made wave.  Very cool.

Back in Santiago, I just had to show Ned the MallSport (the one where I got an army knife and dumbbells back in December). We ate lunch in the warm sunshine, watching surfers try their skill on this man-made wave. Very cool.

Ned tested his balance on this awesome hanging jungle gym…

Ned tested his balance on this awesome hanging jungle gym…

…and did very well!

…and did very well!

MallSport is also the first place I have seen a kid’s only bathroom.

MallSport is also the first place I have seen a kid’s only bathroom.

How fun would this be if you were a kid?

How fun would this be if you were a kid?

It has been summer vacation and all the schools have been on holiday since we arrived back in December, so we have not been able to give away any more of the world maps we bought in Ecuador.  Sebastian and Luz’s kids, Seba and Amelia turned out to be enthusiastic recipients.

It has been summer vacation and all the schools have been on holiday since we arrived back in December, so we have not been able to give away any more of the world maps we bought in Ecuador. Sebastian and Luz’s kids, Seba and Amelia turned out to be enthusiastic recipients.

In the meantime, Sebastian, a true gift to us, had busily been setting up Charlotte’s shipping. He was able to line up passage for her the same week we rolled back into Santiago. Despite it being a very hectic time in Sebastian’s normal work life, his hours of preparation made everything go smoothly when we all arrived at the port in Valparaiso.  Ned was able to load her and tie her down himself, so we felt more secure about her month-long boat ride up the Pacific to Long Beach. We had to air her tires down to almost flat to get her into the container, then drain all the gas and disconnect her battery.

In the meantime, Sebastian, a true gift to us, had busily been setting up Charlotte’s shipping. He was able to line up passage for her the same week we rolled back into Santiago. Despite it being a very hectic time in Sebastian’s normal work life, his hours of preparation made everything go smoothly when we all arrived at the port in Valparaiso. Ned was able to load her and tie her down himself, so we felt more secure about her month-long boat ride up the Pacific to Long Beach. We had to air her tires down to almost flat to get her into the container, then drain all the gas and disconnect her battery.

After fourteen months and 29,400 miles, our South American odyssey came to an abrupt end. A million thanks will never show our appreciation for the selfless Sebastian who, along with his wonderful family and friends, made our time in Chile extra special. The day after loading Charlotte, February 19th, 2015 we said goodbye to South America and flew 30 hours home to face reality… Stay tuned next time as we reveal a mini-trauma that occurred in the shipping process and cover the retrieval of our beloved Charlotte from her watery vacation. As this goes to press, her ship is supposedly docked in Long Beach waiting to be unloaded…  Our plan is to fly to L.A. and drive her home to Minden on her own power (questionable at this point). If she rolls into our own driveway she will have covered just 100 miles shy of 30,000 miles since rolling out of it back in December 2013. What a THRILLCRAFT!

After fourteen months and 29,400 miles, our South American odyssey came to an abrupt end.
A million thanks will never show our appreciation for the selfless Sebastian who, along with his wonderful family and friends, made our time in Chile extra special.
The day after loading Charlotte, February 19th, 2015 we said goodbye to South America and flew 30 hours home to face reality…
Stay tuned next time as we reveal a mini-trauma that occurred in the shipping process and cover the retrieval of our beloved Charlotte from her watery vacation. As this goes to press, her ship is supposedly docked in Long Beach waiting to be unloaded… Our plan is to fly to L.A. and drive her home to Minden on her own power (questionable at this point). If she rolls into our own driveway she will have covered just 100 miles shy of 30,000 miles since rolling out of it back in December 2013. What a THRILLCRAFT!

“Turn Around Charlotte, There Ain’t No More Road!”

It feels like a month has passed since our last blog from Viña del Mar, but it’s only been a couple of whirlwind weeks, packed full of adventures and stories.  We’ve driven nearly 3,000 miles, crisscrossing back and forth from Chile to Argentina several times, enjoying fantastic food, great people and scenery that still astounds us.  Enjoy this new blog post as we drive to the End of the World and have some fun along the way! Ned and I left Viña del Mar, Chile (North of Valparaiso, near Santiago) on January 10th, hitting the I-5 (PanAm) to make some time getting south.   We found Chile’s central agricultural region similar to California’s San Fernando Valley and oddly named the same.  Chile’s San Fernando Valley boasts the same I-5 running north/south, is nestled between the coastal range and the Andes and has McDonald’s and Shell gas stations dotted along the highway.  It even has lots of fruit stands and highway exits with names like Tracy and Santa Cruz.  It was eerie, and we had a hard time believing we hadn’t dreamed the whole trip, ending up back in Fresno.

But then we turned east to cross the Andes into Argentina.  Definitely not in central California!  I almost want to call this post, the blue water blog.  This lake was just the first of many of the most incredibly blue bodies of water I’d ever seen.  From azure to turquoise, these last two weeks have been a blue lover’s paradise.

But then we turned east to cross the Andes into Argentina. Definitely not in central California! I almost want to call this post, the blue water blog. This lake was just the first of many of the most incredibly blue bodies of water I’d ever seen. From azure to turquoise, these last two weeks have been a blue lover’s paradise.

Having exported ourselves from the Chilean side of the border on the Paso del Guanaco, we were in the 20 mile No Man’s Land stretch between Chile and Argentina when we heard a horrible pop followed by metal on metal grinding.  Ned got out to take a look, and from somewhere under Charlotte, I heard a stunned, "Holy Shit!"  Not a good thing to hear from the driver/mechanic/car whisperer.   The left front radius rod had snapped in two.  It was a freak (“never seen that before”) injury to poor Charlotte, and Ned said we weren’t going anywhere until we got the broken part to a welder.  A welder?  You mean like the one we have on board that we can’t use due the alternator fiasco?  Yup.        Ned managed to get Charlotte off of the road onto the shoulder with much noise and histrionics from the broken suspension.  At that point I took inventory of the situation.  We were on a nearly deserted dirt road, 50 miles from the nearest town of Malargué.  It was hot and violently windy.  Hundreds of huge, biting flies were attacking us with the speed and accuracy of professional snipers. And we hadn’t imported ourselves into Argentina yet.  We were in No Man’s land and had no legal papers.  Hitchhiking to Malargué would involve getting in and then back out of Argentina.        Then there was a decision to make.  Would I stay to watch over Charlotte while Ned hitchhiked the 50 miles to town?  Or do we both go, leaving Charlotte unprotected?  A horrible choice either way.  With no cell signal, no way to communicate and only the vicious flies for company, I knew my wait would be torture.  It could be hours or days before Ned got back, and it was too hot to stay inside Charlotte.

Having exported ourselves from the Chilean side of the border on the Paso del Guanaco, we were in the 20 mile No Man’s Land stretch between Chile and Argentina when we heard a horrible pop followed by metal on metal grinding. Ned got out to take a look, and from somewhere under Charlotte, I heard a stunned, “Holy Shit!” Not a good thing to hear from the driver/mechanic/car whisperer. The left front radius rod had snapped in two. It was a freak (“never seen that before”) injury to poor Charlotte, and Ned said we weren’t going anywhere until we got the broken part to a welder. A welder? You mean like the one we have on board that we can’t use due the alternator fiasco? Yup.
Ned managed to get Charlotte off of the road onto the shoulder with much noise and histrionics from the broken suspension. At that point I took inventory of the situation. We were on a nearly deserted dirt road, 50 miles from the nearest town of Malargué. It was hot and violently windy. Hundreds of huge, biting flies were attacking us with the speed and accuracy of professional snipers. And we hadn’t imported ourselves into Argentina yet. We were in No Man’s land and had no legal papers. Hitchhiking to Malargué would involve getting in and then back out of Argentina.
Then there was a decision to make. Would I stay to watch over Charlotte while Ned hitchhiked the 50 miles to town? Or do we both go, leaving Charlotte unprotected? A horrible choice either way. With no cell signal, no way to communicate and only the vicious flies for company, I knew my wait would be torture. It could be hours or days before Ned got back, and it was too hot to stay inside Charlotte.

While I was pondering our predicament, Ned was busy removing the broken part.  I had just grabbed my backpack (having made my decision to go) when, to our utter disbelief a truck pulling a small trailer came trundling down the dirt road...In a stunning display of providence, on the trailer was an arc welder!      Ned flagged the truck down, and two very nice construction workers got out.  We showed them the broken part, and with absolutely no fuss or fanfare, they proceeded to do a professional job of welding the piece.  The whole thing was surrealistic.  There.  Fixed.  Like it never even happened.  All of my worrying for naught.  The world never stops amazing me.

While I was pondering our predicament, Ned was busy removing the broken part. I had just grabbed my backpack (having made my decision to go) when, to our utter disbelief a truck pulling a small trailer came trundling down the dirt road…In a stunning display of providence, on the trailer was an arc welder!
Ned flagged the truck down, and two very nice construction workers got out. We showed them the broken part, and with absolutely no fuss or fanfare, they proceeded to do a professional job of welding the piece. The whole thing was surrealistic. There. Fixed. Like it never even happened. All of my worrying for naught. The world never stops amazing me.

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With all three of us legally imported into Argentina, we got back on the iconic Ruta 40 and continued south.  We drove through beautiful arid country, stopping by a river to barbeque steaks and veggies, eventually finding a camping spot in a dry wash, hidden from the road.

With all three of us legally imported into Argentina, we got back on the iconic Ruta 40 and continued south. We drove through beautiful arid country, stopping by a river to barbeque steaks and veggies, eventually finding a camping spot in a dry wash, hidden from the road.

The next day, after breakfast and exercises in our peaceful wash, we continued following the zigzagging Ruta 40, making 400 miles.  By dark we found ourselves in a ranching area, still arid and open, but completely enclosed by fences.  We had nowhere to camp for the night.  We drove and drove, but found no hidey holes, no dirt track, nothing.  We were just outside the resort town of San Martin de Los Andes when we spotted a sign for camping.  We rarely succumb to campgrounds, but it was 10:30 and we were exhausted.  We pulled in, parked in a corner, and fell fast asleep.

The next day, after breakfast and exercises in our peaceful wash, we continued following the zigzagging Ruta 40, making 400 miles. By dark we found ourselves in a ranching area, still arid and open, but completely enclosed by fences. We had nowhere to camp for the night. We drove and drove, but found no hidey holes, no dirt track, nothing. We were just outside the resort town of San Martin de Los Andes when we spotted a sign for camping. We rarely succumb to campgrounds, but it was 10:30 and we were exhausted. We pulled in, parked in a corner, and fell fast asleep.

We awoke in a cool, quiet forest, surrounded by dense oak and pine. The campground was whisper quiet, immaculately clean, civilized and very…comfortable!   It was as if we had suddenly been airdropped overnight and woke up on a different planet.   Gone were the mud huts, the dust, the native people, the garbage, the harshness of life.  I couldn’t decide if it felt fabulous or flat-line.  There was nothing very foreign or exotic, but it was pretty nice.       We had breakfast in the touristy, but charming, San Martin de Los Andes, and continued on following the gorgeous Ruta de Siete Lagos (Road of Seven Lakes).        Clear turquoise water pooled in sparkling streams and tranquil alpine lakes, while stark, snow speckled crags stood sentinel.   But gone were the soaring heights of the more northern Andes.  Snow at elevations of 4,000 to 6,000ft in the height of summer was a sure sign that we were getting to southern latitudes.

We awoke in a cool, quiet forest, surrounded by dense oak and pine. The campground was whisper quiet, immaculately clean, civilized and very…comfortable! It was as if we had suddenly been airdropped overnight and woke up on a different planet. Gone were the mud huts, the dust, the native people, the garbage, the harshness of life. I couldn’t decide if it felt fabulous or flat-line. There was nothing very foreign or exotic, but it was pretty nice.
We had breakfast in the touristy, but charming, San Martin de Los Andes, and continued on following the gorgeous Ruta de Siete Lagos (Road of Seven Lakes).
Clear turquoise water pooled in sparkling streams and tranquil alpine lakes, while stark, snow speckled crags stood sentinel. But gone were the soaring heights of the more northern Andes. Snow at elevations of 4,000 to 6,000ft in the height of summer was a sure sign that we were getting to southern latitudes.

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We landed in the bustling city of Bariloche with high expectations, but, having sped through two lovely resort towns along the Ruta de Siete Lagos to get there, were disappointed.  Gone was the alpine setting, gone was the charm.  It just wasn’t our kind of town.  We stayed one night and had a nice dinner where this accordion player, who was very charming, entertained us.

We landed in the bustling city of Bariloche with high expectations, but, having sped through two lovely resort towns along the Ruta de Siete Lagos to get there, were disappointed. Gone was the alpine setting, gone was the charm. It just wasn’t our kind of town. We stayed one night and had a nice dinner where this accordion player, who was very charming, entertained us.

By sheer accident (needing gas) we stumbled upon the very cute town of El Bolsón, where a lively festival was in full swing.  Street musicians were playing, and the atmosphere was relaxed and uplifting with a decidedly bohemian feel.

By sheer accident (needing gas) we stumbled upon the very cute town of El Bolsón, where a lively festival was in full swing. Street musicians were playing, and the atmosphere was relaxed and uplifting with a decidedly bohemian feel.

Unlike many “Artisan” fairs, where it seems most of the wares are mass produced, the artists here displayed beautiful, hand crafted art.  This man was carving lovely designs on gourds for drinking mate (pronounced ma-tay).  Mate, short for Yerba Mate, is an herb which is packed in a mate vessel (of choice), covered with hot water and drunk through a straw-like contraption (called a bombilla).  Argentineans love their mates and are often seen ambling down the road, sipping on their mates with hot water thermoses (for refills) slung over a shoulder.

Unlike many “Artisan” fairs, where it seems most of the wares are mass produced, the artists here displayed beautiful, hand crafted art. This man was carving lovely designs on gourds for drinking mate (pronounced ma-tay). Mate, short for Yerba Mate, is an herb which is packed in a mate vessel (of choice), covered with hot water and drunk through a straw-like contraption (called a bombilla). Argentineans love their mates and are often seen ambling down the road, sipping on their mates with hot water thermoses (for refills) slung over a shoulder.

We ducked off of the 40 to drive down the RP 71 through the Parque Nacional Los Alerces (named for an alpine tree), but it was getting dark.  Just before the park entrance we spotted a small opening in the fence, and followed a dirt track into paradise; a lush meadow surrounded by beautiful trees and craggy mountains.  There was also a wonderful, old split rail corral, but it looked like no one had used it for years.  The night was star-filled and fabulously peaceful.  We read later that Butch Cassidy and Sundance had a ranch very near this area, hmmm…?

We ducked off of the 40 to drive down the RP 71 through the Parque Nacional Los Alerces (named for an alpine tree), but it was getting dark. Just before the park entrance we spotted a small opening in the fence, and followed a dirt track into paradise; a lush meadow surrounded by beautiful trees and craggy mountains. There was also a wonderful, old split rail corral, but it looked like no one had used it for years. The night was star-filled and fabulously peaceful. We read later that Butch Cassidy and Sundance had a ranch very near this area, hmmm…?

Morning in paradise.   Ned, having bought a gourd in El Bolsón, is now our resident mate expert, but still generously makes me my morning coffee.  We spent the whole morning in our tranquil cow pasture, relaxing with our hot beverages of choice, eating breakfast and working out, even romping through the meadow like youngsters.

Morning in paradise.
Ned, having bought a gourd in El Bolsón, is now our resident mate expert, but still generously makes me my morning coffee. We spent the whole morning in our tranquil cow pasture, relaxing with our hot beverages of choice, eating breakfast and working out, even romping through the meadow like youngsters.

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Ah, but we do still love the wide open desert.  Another lovely camp down a lonely dirt track off of the 40.  Dipping from arid to alpine provided refreshing contrasts.

Ah, but we do still love the wide open desert. Another lovely camp down a lonely dirt track off of the 40. Dipping from arid to alpine provided refreshing contrasts.

Another festival, another sharp contrast.  In Rio Mayo, we spotted a sign saying “30th Annual Festival Nacional de la Esquila.”  We had no idea what an esquila was, but there were lots of people milling around with a totally different feel than El Bolsón.  No hippies here.  We were now in Argentine Patagonia, sheep country, so we weren’t surprised to find lamb roasting on open fire pits.  We had heard that “cordero asado” was the traditional food in this area, but we had no way of knowing…

Another festival, another sharp contrast. In Rio Mayo, we spotted a sign saying “30th Annual Festival Nacional de la Esquila.” We had no idea what an esquila was, but there were lots of people milling around with a totally different feel than El Bolsón. No hippies here. We were now in Argentine Patagonia, sheep country, so we weren’t surprised to find lamb roasting on open fire pits. We had heard that “cordero asado” was the traditional food in this area, but we had no way of knowing…

…just how wonderful it was!   We jumped in line for our cordero and sat with the locals to enjoy the tender, crispy, succulent treat.  The funny dudes painted on the wall behind Ned were comic renditions of different gaucho personalities.

…just how wonderful it was! We jumped in line for our cordero and sat with the locals to enjoy the tender, crispy, succulent treat. The funny dudes painted on the wall behind Ned were comic renditions of different gaucho personalities.

The locals thought we were amusing but were very welcoming.

The locals thought we were amusing but were very welcoming.

Carnivores to the bone.

Carnivores to the bone.

Walking off our lamb feast, we found, not handmade crafts, but tons of cheap Chinese clothing and plastic crap, items useful in rural and ranching homes.  It was a dose of reality.   Then we found the contest and figured out what esquila was…shearing!  It was a sheep shearing contest and it was brutal.  And exciting.  And real.  I know for some of you who are vegetarians and/or animal lovers, watching us munch on lamb bones is a bit tough, but this will be worse.  We spared you some of the most graphic shots, but these are still pretty harsh.

Walking off our lamb feast, we found, not handmade crafts, but tons of cheap Chinese clothing and plastic crap, items useful in rural and ranching homes. It was a dose of reality.
Then we found the contest and figured out what esquila was…shearing! It was a sheep shearing contest and it was brutal. And exciting. And real. I know for some of you who are vegetarians and/or animal lovers, watching us munch on lamb bones is a bit tough, but this will be worse. We spared you some of the most graphic shots, but these are still pretty harsh.

The sheep were dragged onto the stage, hog-tied by painful looking twine…

The sheep were dragged onto the stage, hog-tied by painful looking twine…

…and roughly sheared within an inch of their lives.

…and roughly sheared within an inch of their lives.

It was a contest, and speed was the name of the game.

It was a contest, and speed was the name of the game.

And the sheep definitely looked worse for the wear.

And the sheep definitely looked worse for the wear.

A Patagonian gaucho.

A Patagonian gaucho.

Another favorite sign…yes, wind has been our constant companion here in Southern Argentina.       At this point we were feeling a bit of urgency. We were around 700 miles from Ushuaia, a town on the island of Tierra del Fuego and the southernmost point we could drive to.  But we were somewhat on tender hooks. Poor Charlotte was suffering with coolant leaks and subsequent overheating, a gear oil leak, an exhaust leak, a clacking CV joint, a brake squeaking and tires that kept plaguing us with flats. We were feeling the need to beeline south to Ushuaia.

Another favorite sign…yes, wind has been our constant companion here in Southern Argentina.
At this point we were feeling a bit of urgency. We were around 700 miles from Ushuaia, a town on the island of Tierra del Fuego and the southernmost point we could drive to. But we were somewhat on tender hooks. Poor Charlotte was suffering with coolant leaks and subsequent overheating, a gear oil leak, an exhaust leak, a clacking CV joint, a brake squeaking and tires that kept plaguing us with flats. We were feeling the need to beeline south to Ushuaia.

But there were just so many wonderful diversions along the way.  We spotted a sign saying Cuevas de Los Manos (Caves of the Hands) and just had to go look, following a nasty washboard road 30 miles to this canyon.

But there were just so many wonderful diversions along the way. We spotted a sign saying Cuevas de Los Manos (Caves of the Hands) and just had to go look, following a nasty washboard road 30 miles to this canyon.

The Cuevas de Los Manos are actually a big deal.  It is a huge archeological site, and we paid to have a tour.  There were 20 people in our group, but the energetic guide spoke rapid-fire Argentinean Spanish (which is nearly undecipherable).  Juan (or John as he asked us to call him) was not an official guide, but was a youngster proud of his English and working here for the summer.   He tagged along to translate, but ended up giving us and two Germans our own private tour.        When asked if he liked his job, he replied, like any 21 year old would, that the 15 day stints without Wi-Fi or a cell signal were torture.  John did a fantastic job and had a dry, witty sense of humor.  His English was heavily accented but very good.        At one point when the German couple was lagging behind, taking photos, John turned to us, and with absolutely no trace of an accent said, “Oh for the love of Christ,” and tramped off to round up his wayward tourists.        John is hoping to get accepted to a university to become a biologist.  I think he’ll do just fine.

The Cuevas de Los Manos are actually a big deal. It is a huge archeological site, and we paid to have a tour. There were 20 people in our group, but the energetic guide spoke rapid-fire Argentinean Spanish (which is nearly undecipherable). Juan (or John as he asked us to call him) was not an official guide, but was a youngster proud of his English and working here for the summer. He tagged along to translate, but ended up giving us and two Germans our own private tour.
When asked if he liked his job, he replied, like any 21 year old would, that the 15 day stints without Wi-Fi or a cell signal were torture. John did a fantastic job and had a dry, witty sense of humor. His English was heavily accented but very good.
At one point when the German couple was lagging behind, taking photos, John turned to us, and with absolutely no trace of an accent said, “Oh for the love of Christ,” and tramped off to round up his wayward tourists.
John is hoping to get accepted to a university to become a biologist. I think he’ll do just fine.

There were thousands of hands “stenciled” on the long wall, preserved by an overhanging cliff.  The astonishing thing is that they were done 9,300 years ago in a two color process.  One color (paint made from local minerals, flora and spit) was put down as a base.  The second was sprayed by mouth through a straw over the artist’s own hand.

There were thousands of hands “stenciled” on the long wall, preserved by an overhanging cliff. The astonishing thing is that they were done 9,300 years ago in a two color process. One color (paint made from local minerals, flora and spit) was put down as a base. The second was sprayed by mouth through a straw over the artist’s own hand.

These ancient people relied heavily on the guanaco.  Archeologists believe this was painted during a time of thinning herds and depicts pregnant guanacos with the fertility symbol of the full moon.

These ancient people relied heavily on the guanaco. Archeologists believe this was painted during a time of thinning herds and depicts pregnant guanacos with the fertility symbol of the full moon.

Hunting guanaco (local alpacas).

Hunting guanaco (local alpacas).

Onward, toward the town of El Chaltén, the “Trekking Capital of the World” and the jumping off point for mountaineering in the area around the famed spires of Fitz Roy.

Onward, toward the town of El Chaltén, the “Trekking Capital of the World” and the jumping off point for mountaineering in the area around the famed spires of Fitz Roy.

Driving into El Chaltén, we got our first glimpse of the stunning Fitz Roy.  Chaltén is a relatively new town, built only in the 80’s to support the booming interest in trekking.  We stayed two nights in the town campground (which was filthy), but enjoyed some really great meals…

Driving into El Chaltén, we got our first glimpse of the stunning Fitz Roy. Chaltén is a relatively new town, built only in the 80’s to support the booming interest in trekking. We stayed two nights in the town campground (which was filthy), but enjoyed some really great meals…

…and a fantastic 14 mile hike to the base of Fitz Roy.

…and a fantastic 14 mile hike to the base of Fitz Roy.

Ned’s cousin Charlie had told us, “Fitz Roy is loved to death.”  That’s an understatement.  We found ourselves on the trail with dozens of hip 20-something Bobby Backpackers.  We thought we were pretty cool too, until we saw this photo of Ma and Pa Kettle.

Ned’s cousin Charlie had told us, “Fitz Roy is loved to death.” That’s an understatement. We found ourselves on the trail with dozens of hip 20-something Bobby Backpackers. We thought we were pretty cool too, until we saw this photo of Ma and Pa Kettle.

Well worth the 14 mile effort.

Well worth the 14 mile effort.

Our next stop in Argentine Patagonia was El Calafate, the gateway to the area’s most spectacular glaciers.  Here we happily found wonderful hardware and auto parts stores, both with incredibly helpful guys at the counters.  Ned was able to get critical supplies needed to work on some of Charlotte’s ailments.  We spent only one night, anxious to get out to the park to see the glaciers.        Our first cordero asado had been at the shearing festival where we paid 100 pesos (about 12 bucks).  Our second was in El Chaltén where we paid 150, but it was equally as delicious.  Now addicted, we had some here in the higher end tourist area of Calafate.  The presentation was certainly nicer, but we paid 230 pesos and it was dry and tasteless by comparison.  Lesson learned.

Our next stop in Argentine Patagonia was El Calafate, the gateway to the area’s most spectacular glaciers. Here we happily found wonderful hardware and auto parts stores, both with incredibly helpful guys at the counters. Ned was able to get critical supplies needed to work on some of Charlotte’s ailments. We spent only one night, anxious to get out to the park to see the glaciers.
Our first cordero asado had been at the shearing festival where we paid 100 pesos (about 12 bucks). Our second was in El Chaltén where we paid 150, but it was equally as delicious. Now addicted, we had some here in the higher end tourist area of Calafate. The presentation was certainly nicer, but we paid 230 pesos and it was dry and tasteless by comparison. Lesson learned.

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Approaching the Parque Nacional los Glaciares, we got our first look at the mammoth Perito Moreno Glacier.

Approaching the Parque Nacional los Glaciares, we got our first look at the mammoth Perito Moreno Glacier.

An hour long boat ride gave us an impressive, up close view from the lake.  It was cold and rainy, but beautiful.

An hour long boat ride gave us an impressive, up close view from the lake. It was cold and rainy, but beautiful.

Perito Moreno (named for an early explorer) marches at its glacial pace to the edge of Lago Argentino, covering 97 square miles in ice.   It is 19 miles long, and averages an incredible 240 feet above the surface of the lake.

Perito Moreno (named for an early explorer) marches at its glacial pace to the edge of Lago Argentino, covering 97 square miles in ice. It is 19 miles long, and averages an incredible 240 feet above the surface of the lake.

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Looming 25 floors above us, the ice creaked and groaned ominously.  From time to time, massive chunks “calved,” falling into the lake, producing a mighty splash and booming thunder.

Looming 25 floors above us, the ice creaked and groaned ominously. From time to time, massive chunks “calved,” falling into the lake, producing a mighty splash and booming thunder.

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Once off the boat we took the hike to the northern side of the glacier to see it from a different perspective.

Once off the boat we took the hike to the northern side of the glacier to see it from a different perspective.

Wow.

Wow.

The park campground was accessible only by a 20 mile washboard road.  Not really excited about another campground, we followed a faint track in the grass to this abandoned ranch.  We parked next to the fence, over a rise and completely out of sight of the road.  It was one of the best camps ever.

The park campground was accessible only by a 20 mile washboard road. Not really excited about another campground, we followed a faint track in the grass to this abandoned ranch. We parked next to the fence, over a rise and completely out of sight of the road. It was one of the best camps ever.

Ned serenaded me while I made dinner.

Ned serenaded me while I made dinner.

And then we went off to explore the old ranch.

And then we went off to explore the old ranch.

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Believe it or not, these were taken around 9pm.  This far south, it’s been getting dark at 11pm.

Believe it or not, these were taken around 9pm. This far south, it’s been getting dark at 11pm.

A local passerby was startled by our presence.

A local passerby was startled by our presence.

Crossing back into Chile to the town of Puerto Natales, we finally found new shoes for Charlotte.  Unfortunately we had to wait until morning to have them installed, so we stayed at this funky campground for the night.

Crossing back into Chile to the town of Puerto Natales, we finally found new shoes for Charlotte. Unfortunately we had to wait until morning to have them installed, so we stayed at this funky campground for the night.

Never trusting anyone to do the job right, Ned supervised while the guys installed Charlotte’s new tires.  The Car Whisperer had also put a new gasket in the leaking exhaust and stop-leak gunk in the radiator.  Both fixes, while temporary, appeared to be holding, so tires were the next big relief.

Never trusting anyone to do the job right, Ned supervised while the guys installed Charlotte’s new tires. The Car Whisperer had also put a new gasket in the leaking exhaust and stop-leak gunk in the radiator. Both fixes, while temporary, appeared to be holding, so tires were the next big relief.

Cool sculpture in Puerto Natales.

Cool sculpture in Puerto Natales.

The Estancias (Ranches) in Patagonia are gorgeous.  Tidy and well kept, each ranch sported uniform colors on the roofs of their buildings.  Some roofs were bright red or yellow, some a mellow green like this one.

The Estancias (Ranches) in Patagonia are gorgeous. Tidy and well kept, each ranch sported uniform colors on the roofs of their buildings. Some roofs were bright red or yellow, some a mellow green like this one.

It’s all about the sheep down here.

It’s all about the sheep down here.

Oh no, how did we get here?  Am I that bad a navigator?!

Oh no, how did we get here? Am I that bad a navigator?!

From Puerto Natales we took the Ruta 9 south, then the 255 east where we came to this big water way.  Looking on our map app, I could see that it was the first place where the waters of the Atlantic meet the waters of the Pacific.  It seemed pertinent.  And then it hit me.  This was the Straights of Magellan!  I don’t know why, but this got me very excited.   A place we learned about in grade school!  Explorers!  New world!  And we were getting so close to Ushuaia.

From Puerto Natales we took the Ruta 9 south, then the 255 east where we came to this big water way. Looking on our map app, I could see that it was the first place where the waters of the Atlantic meet the waters of the Pacific. It seemed pertinent. And then it hit me. This was the Straights of Magellan! I don’t know why, but this got me very excited. A place we learned about in grade school! Explorers! New world! And we were getting so close to Ushuaia.

Along the beautiful blue waters of the Straights, we came upon this historic Estancia and decided to look around.  We were in for some big surprises.

Along the beautiful blue waters of the Straights, we came upon this historic Estancia and decided to look around. We were in for some big surprises.

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Around the back of the biggest building we found some work going on.  Gauchos were herding and separating sheep.

Around the back of the biggest building we found some work going on. Gauchos were herding and separating sheep.

There were fleecy ones…

There were fleecy ones…

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…and fleeced ones.

…and fleeced ones.

Reality sucks.

Reality sucks.

Exploring inside the building, we discovered hundreds of huge bales of wool.  We thought we were trespassing and crept around stealthily…

Exploring inside the building, we discovered hundreds of huge bales of wool. We thought we were trespassing and crept around stealthily…

…only to walk right into this scene.  Instead of being angry, these gauchos welcomed us, and invited us to get closer to the action.

…only to walk right into this scene. Instead of being angry, these gauchos welcomed us, and invited us to get closer to the action.

By another stroke of good fortune, we had arrived at this Estancia’s shearing time.  But this was no contest, this was the real deal.  The guys worked so fast that all of the photos of hands are blurry.  I felt guilty being in their way, as they had obvious deadlines to meet, but they could not have been kinder.

By another stroke of good fortune, we had arrived at this Estancia’s shearing time. But this was no contest, this was the real deal. The guys worked so fast that all of the photos of hands are blurry. I felt guilty being in their way, as they had obvious deadlines to meet, but they could not have been kinder.

The sheep were also treated much more gently.  They were not tied and quietly submitted to the shearing.  The whole time we were there, we saw no bloody cuts, but the work still got done fast.

The sheep were also treated much more gently. They were not tied and quietly submitted to the shearing. The whole time we were there, we saw no bloody cuts, but the work still got done fast.

The gaucho behind me thought it would be fun (or funny) to see if I would hold a fleece (yes, this is an entire sheep’s coat).  I knew the fleece was filthy and greasy with lanolin, but I couldn’t resist.  It was really dirty, but sooo soft!

The gaucho behind me thought it would be fun (or funny) to see if I would hold a fleece (yes, this is an entire sheep’s coat). I knew the fleece was filthy and greasy with lanolin, but I couldn’t resist. It was really dirty, but sooo soft!

More manual labor.  These guys were hand (and foot) packing the wool into bales.

More manual labor. These guys were hand (and foot) packing the wool into bales.

Another visual treat on the Estancia…two shipwrecks! Both ships were in use in the Straights in the late 1800’s, wrecked in the early 1900’s.

Another visual treat on the Estancia…two shipwrecks!
Both ships were in use in the Straights in the late 1800’s, wrecked in the early 1900’s.

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Getting closer!  We were on the Ruta Fin del Mundo…the Road to the End of the World!  This was also the first sign pointing to the island of Tierra del Fuego.

Getting closer! We were on the Ruta Fin del Mundo…the Road to the End of the World! This was also the first sign pointing to the island of Tierra del Fuego.

We arrived at the Puerta Delgada and boarded the ferry to the island.  It was an efficient 20 minute crossing of the Straights of Magellan.

We arrived at the Puerta Delgada and boarded the ferry to the island. It was an efficient 20 minute crossing of the Straights of Magellan.

Tierra del Fuego?  Land of Fire?  Really?  It looked more like Nebraska.  But it was still very exciting to be here.

Tierra del Fuego? Land of Fire? Really? It looked more like Nebraska. But it was still very exciting to be here.

After nearly 100 miles of torturous washboard roads, we drove back into Argentina for our final push to Ushuaia.  But it was getting late when we made the border crossing, so we had some dinner at this fine hostel in San Sebastian, a dusty, border outpost.  The gal at the counter said they had Chicken Suprema or Bisteca Milonesa.  “What’s the difference?” we asked.  “One’s chicken, the other’s beef.”  Ok, we’ll have the chicken.   We waited an hour and half, finally eating our mystery chicken and fries at 11:00pm (have I mentioned that these people eat late??!!).  We were so tired, we drove around to a road construction site a couple of hundred yards from the hostel. We bedded down, thinking that tomorrow was Sunday and no one would show up at the site.

After nearly 100 miles of torturous washboard roads, we drove back into Argentina for our final push to Ushuaia. But it was getting late when we made the border crossing, so we had some dinner at this fine hostel in San Sebastian, a dusty, border outpost. The gal at the counter said they had Chicken Suprema or Bisteca Milonesa. “What’s the difference?” we asked. “One’s chicken, the other’s beef.” Ok, we’ll have the chicken. We waited an hour and half, finally eating our mystery chicken and fries at 11:00pm (have I mentioned that these people eat late??!!). We were so tired, we drove around to a road construction site a couple of hundred yards from the hostel. We bedded down, thinking that tomorrow was Sunday and no one would show up at the site.

Wrong!   We woke to the sound of tractors firing up. Oh crap!  We scrambled to get dressed and out of there as the grader worked back and forth right in front of us.  But the guys were cool, smiling and waving as we drove away.   Ned grinned and said, "You want to drive to Ushuaia today?"   How cool is that?   That's exactly what he said the day we left home 13 months ago. 13 months ago we were 27,000 miles away.  Now we only had 170 miles to go to get to Ushuaia!

Wrong! We woke to the sound of tractors firing up. Oh crap! We scrambled to get dressed and out of there as the grader worked back and forth right in front of us. But the guys were cool, smiling and waving as we drove away. Ned grinned and said, “You want to drive to Ushuaia today?” How cool is that? That’s exactly what he said the day we left home 13 months ago. 13 months ago we were 27,000 miles away. Now we only had 170 miles to go to get to Ushuaia!

Looking more like the Land of Fire.

Looking more like the Land of Fire.

Ushuaia!!  We made it!  All three of us still kicking after 27,000 amazing miles.

Ushuaia!! We made it! All three of us still kicking after 27,000 amazing miles.

Ok, getting to Ushuaia was cool, but, checking the map, we found it was not the farthest point we could drive.  We needed to go another 20 miles into the Parque Nacional Tierra del Fuego, where the Ruta 3 would finally end at the southernmost point.  We weren’t done yet, and neither of us was ready for a city.

Ok, getting to Ushuaia was cool, but, checking the map, we found it was not the farthest point we could drive. We needed to go another 20 miles into the Parque Nacional Tierra del Fuego, where the Ruta 3 would finally end at the southernmost point. We weren’t done yet, and neither of us was ready for a city.

“Turn around Charlotte, there ain’t no more road!!”  Driving through the park we finally arrived at the Fin del Mundo…

“Turn around Charlotte, there ain’t no more road!!” Driving through the park we finally arrived at the Fin del Mundo…

…the End of the World!   A happy moment for Ned, Kat, and Charlotte (and Vaca Muerta too, who has been our good luck charm since Baja Mexico).

…the End of the World!
A happy moment for Ned, Kat, and Charlotte (and Vaca Muerta too, who has been our good luck charm since Baja Mexico).

“Here ends the Ruta 3” Note the reference to Alaska…that’s our Charlottamiles goal for this June!

“Here ends the Ruta 3”
Note the reference to Alaska…that’s our Charlottamiles goal for this June!

Holy Sh*t!  We are the blue dot at the bottom tip of the continent.

Holy Sh*t! We are the blue dot at the bottom tip of the continent.

Straights of Magellan, Cape Horn. Wow.

Straights of Magellan, Cape Horn. Wow.

Note the low elevation and the southern latitude.

Note the low elevation and the southern latitude.

Exploring the park, we found it gorgeous, but very cold and drizzly, even now, the warmest time of a southern hemisphere summer.

Exploring the park, we found it gorgeous, but very cold and drizzly, even now, the warmest time of a southern hemisphere summer.

Beautiful horses seemed to have the run of the park.

Beautiful horses seemed to have the run of the park.

Ushuaia was infamous for its brutal prison in the early 1900’s and this historic train that runs through the park was the prison train.  Now it carries happy tourists through the lovely park.        As I was trying to get this great photo of horses grazing peacefully with the train going by, the horse behind ruined my shot by nagging and pushing the other one into action.  I swear it was a dare because he finally got the other one going and I watched in amazement as they raced over the tracks right in front of the train.

Ushuaia was infamous for its brutal prison in the early 1900’s and this historic train that runs through the park was the prison train. Now it carries happy tourists through the lovely park.
As I was trying to get this great photo of horses grazing peacefully with the train going by, the horse behind ruined my shot by nagging and pushing the other one into action. I swear it was a dare because he finally got the other one going and I watched in amazement as they raced over the tracks right in front of the train.

Our entrance fee included two free nights in this incredible, primitive campground.  Our only neighbors were very quiet (and four legged).

Our entrance fee included two free nights in this incredible, primitive campground. Our only neighbors were very quiet (and four legged).

They did want to know what was for dinner, though…and they would have liked it!  Not being well provisioned with fresh food, I scrounged up a vegetarian dish: Sautéed onion and garlic in olive oil Add: 1/2 beer Some water Diced potato  Quinoa Can of lentils Diced tomato Hot curry powder Tandoori spice Dash of cumin Basil Salt and pepper Splash Balsamic vinegar Not bad for a veggie meal!

They did want to know what was for dinner, though…and they would have liked it! Not being well provisioned with fresh food, I scrounged up a vegetarian dish:
Sautéed onion and garlic in olive oil
Add:
1/2 beer
Some water
Diced potato
Quinoa
Can of lentils
Diced tomato
Hot curry powder
Tandoori spice
Dash of cumin
Basil
Salt and pepper
Splash Balsamic vinegar
Not bad for a veggie meal!

The next day we did a wonderful 5 mile hike to a lookout over the Beagle Channel which lies south of the island of Tierra del Fuego.   The forest had a mysterious, quiet feel, aided by the fact that we saw no one else the whole hike.

The next day we did a wonderful 5 mile hike to a lookout over the Beagle Channel which lies south of the island of Tierra del Fuego. The forest had a mysterious, quiet feel, aided by the fact that we saw no one else the whole hike.

It felt wonderful being here at the End of the World.  The three of us have driven 27,000 fantastic miles together, and it’s not over yet.  We still have to drive 3,000 miles back to Santiago, Chile, the closest port where we can feasibly ship Charlotte home to the west coast. We focused on southern Argentina on the way down. On the way back north we plan to cover southern Chile.  Still to come…exploring Chilean Patagonia and the famous Carretera Austral!

It felt wonderful being here at the End of the World. The three of us have driven 27,000 fantastic miles together, and it’s not over yet. We still have to drive 3,000 miles back to Santiago, Chile, the closest port where we can feasibly ship Charlotte home to the west coast. We focused on southern Argentina on the way down. On the way back north we plan to cover southern Chile. Still to come…exploring Chilean Patagonia and the famous Carretera Austral!

Chile Part Two – Geysers, Ghosts, Dunes and Dakar

Kat and I are back in central Chile after a couple of amazing weeks in the northern parts of this country doing and seeing some unusual things. When we left our story in the last blog, we had just entering into Chile from Bolivia on the right side of the map (top finger). We spent the New Year holiday in and around the quaint, if touristy, town of San Pedro de Atacama, crawling around in surreal caves and freezing while watching hot geysers blow off steam. From San Pedro we once again took the back (i.e. dirt) way south across another salt flat and miles of empty desert before hitting the Pan American Highway at the finger on left side of map. But before we could make a quick run to Copiapó (a small city we spent time in last September trying to get Kat well) we had to spend a day and two nights with some ghosts while attending to Charlotte’s needs… Read on.

Kat and I are back in central Chile after a couple of amazing weeks in the northern parts of this country doing and seeing some unusual things. When we left our story in the last blog, we had just entering into Chile from Bolivia on the right side of the map (top finger). We spent the New Year holiday in and around the quaint, if touristy, town of San Pedro de Atacama, crawling around in surreal caves and freezing while watching hot geysers blow off steam. From San Pedro we once again took the back (i.e. dirt) way south across another salt flat and miles of empty desert before hitting the Pan American Highway at the finger on left side of map. But before we could make a quick run to Copiapó (a small city we spent time in last September trying to get Kat well) we had to spend a day and two nights with some ghosts while attending to Charlotte’s needs… Read on.

Within 10 miles of crossing the border into Chile we were back on pavement and already seeing signs we were in a much more advanced country. This particular border crossing is unusual as the Chilean entrance is in the town of San Pedro de Atacama, 27 miles southwest from the Bolivian exit border. In between is a no-man’s land that runs between the two countries and also touches the border of Argentina. Within this no-man’s land is the Reserva Nacional Los Flamencos. We headed there to kill some time and to eat up all the fresh food we still had, not wanting to hand it over to the Chilean border guards. Chile is the only border we have crossed that is extremely strict, enforcing its laws to the letter when it comes to protecting crops by restricting the importation of foreign food.

Within 10 miles of crossing the border into Chile we were back on pavement and already seeing signs we were in a much more advanced country. This particular border crossing is unusual as the Chilean entrance is in the town of San Pedro de Atacama, 27 miles southwest from the Bolivian exit border. In between is a no-man’s land that runs between the two countries and also touches the border of Argentina. Within this no-man’s land is the Reserva Nacional Los Flamencos. We headed there to kill some time and to eat up all the fresh food we still had, not wanting to hand it over to the Chilean border guards. Chile is the only border we have crossed that is extremely strict, enforcing its laws to the letter when it comes to protecting crops by restricting the importation of foreign food.

We marveled at some more amazing rock formations within the Reserva…

We marveled at some more amazing rock formations within the Reserva…

…no comment.

…no comment.

Done playing with the rocks, we headed into San Pedro and officially crossed the border – only losing some eggs in the process. The adobe town of San Pedro is full of tourists from all over the world. Some are there to take the Land Cruiser 4X4 tours we saw in Bolivia; some for the numerous attractions around San Pedro itself. The town is brimming with trinket shops and good restaurants. We stayed in a cute hotel, washed off the Bolivian dust, wrote the previous blog and re-stocked Charlotte for the journey south.

Done playing with the rocks, we headed into San Pedro and officially crossed the border – only losing some eggs in the process. The adobe town of San Pedro is full of tourists from all over the world. Some are there to take the Land Cruiser 4X4 tours we saw in Bolivia; some for the numerous attractions around San Pedro itself. The town is brimming with trinket shops and good restaurants. We stayed in a cute hotel, washed off the Bolivian dust, wrote the previous blog and re-stocked Charlotte for the journey south.

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We spent one day exploring the Valle de la Luna Parque Nacional (Valley of the Moon).

We spent one day exploring the Valle de la Luna Parque Nacional (Valley of the Moon).

The scenery was spectacular…

The scenery was spectacular…

…and did look a lot like the moon (we guess).

…and did look a lot like the moon (we guess).

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A maze of caves and caverns was a highlight. All were open with no restrictions or safety precautions for anyone to crawl around in to their heart’s content.

A maze of caves and caverns was a highlight. All were open with no restrictions or safety precautions for anyone to crawl around in to their heart’s content.

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Some heads are as hard as rocks.

Some heads are as hard as rocks.

On New Year’s Eve we drove 70 miles up hill to Geysers el Tatio. San Pedro is at a low 8,000ft, but once again we found ourselves back at 14,000ft for the night. We passed these guys munching a watery meal along the way.

On New Year’s Eve we drove 70 miles up hill to Geysers el Tatio. San Pedro is at a low 8,000ft, but once again we found ourselves back at 14,000ft for the night. We passed these guys munching a watery meal along the way.

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Boiling hot water for the unwary to step right into. No warning signs or ropes around here!

Boiling hot water for the unwary to step right into. No warning signs or ropes around here!

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This pool was designated for swimming but we found it rather tepid – except when a boiling hot jet would suddenly shoot out of the bottom and burn your butt! Yikes!

This pool was designated for swimming but we found it rather tepid – except when a boiling hot jet would suddenly shoot out of the bottom and burn your butt! Yikes!

We arrived late in the afternoon and found we had the entire place to ourselves. The dozens of tour busses and hundreds of tourists that visit these geysers every day were long gone. We soon found out why. First, the wind… we took cover behind this crumbling shack in order to cook our New Year’s Eve dinner. Even at 8pm it was still this light out.

We arrived late in the afternoon and found we had the entire place to ourselves. The dozens of tour busses and hundreds of tourists that visit these geysers every day were long gone. We soon found out why. First, the wind… we took cover behind this crumbling shack in order to cook our New Year’s Eve dinner. Even at 8pm it was still this light out.

Shots!! Bummer, the last of our Mexican Tequila for the last of 2014.

Shots!! Bummer, the last of our Mexican Tequila for the last of 2014.

Then the cold… It was 19.7F inside Charlotte at 6am New Years Day when we got out of bed. However, at 4am when I checked, this thermometer read 14.6F! Note the ice on the window glass. Yes, we have a heater – a very expensive gasoline powered one that I installed especially for this trip. But, it won’t fire up above 11,000ft! I think it has something to do with jetting but I can’t get parts for it anywhere. So we freeze.

Then the cold… It was 19.7F inside Charlotte at 6am New Years Day when we got out of bed. However, at 4am when I checked, this thermometer read 14.6F! Note the ice on the window glass. Yes, we have a heater – a very expensive gasoline powered one that I installed especially for this trip. But, it won’t fire up above 11,000ft! I think it has something to do with jetting but I can’t get parts for it anywhere. So we freeze.

Ah, but the good ol’ Coleman stove (28 years and counting) always fires up and makes hot water for tea and coffee and warms Charlotte in the process.

Ah, but the good ol’ Coleman stove (28 years and counting) always fires up and makes hot water for tea and coffee and warms Charlotte in the process.

The reason we got up so damn early was to see the geysers at daybreak, a time when all the tour buses show up, so we figured it must be good. It was.

The reason we got up so damn early was to see the geysers at daybreak, a time when all the tour buses show up, so we figured it must be good. It was.

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The cold air really makes the steam show up and puts on quite a show. Despite the cold, we both agreed camping alone at this desolate place and waking up to this display on New Year’s Day beat the hell out of getting up at 4am in San Pedro and riding a bus for two hours to share the scene with us, as dozens of tourists did.

The cold air really makes the steam show up and puts on quite a show. Despite the cold, we both agreed camping alone at this desolate place and waking up to this display on New Year’s Day beat the hell out of getting up at 4am in San Pedro and riding a bus for two hours to share the scene with us, as dozens of tourists did.

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Back in San Pedro for a late New Year’s Day breakfast we were even happier we had our quite night at 14.000ft. The main drag looked a bit worse for wear the morning after.

Back in San Pedro for a late New Year’s Day breakfast we were even happier we had our quite night at 14.000ft. The main drag looked a bit worse for wear the morning after.

On the road and goin’ south. The Salar de Atacama salt flats are a bit rougher than the Bolivian ones.

On the road and goin’ south. The Salar de Atacama salt flats are a bit rougher than the Bolivian ones.

Ah, we love the desolate Atacama Desert.

Ah, we love the desolate Atacama Desert.

Those Chileans think of everything… designated pee areas in the middle of nowhere.

Those Chileans think of everything… designated pee areas in the middle of nowhere.

There are some huge mines in remote northern Chile and huge trucks to go with them. Check out this monster in relation to the power pole.

There are some huge mines in remote northern Chile and huge trucks to go with them. Check out this monster in relation to the power pole.

Monster trucks make monster tailings.

Monster trucks make monster tailings.

Late on New Year’s Day we came across this sad, desolate graveyard, pretty much in the middle of nowhere. There was no town of Yungay to be seen but the ‘yard did sport the remains of a Model A.

Late on New Year’s Day we came across this sad, desolate graveyard, pretty much in the middle of nowhere. There was no town of Yungay to be seen but the ‘yard did sport the remains of a Model A.

We had to stop and check it out. It seemed odd that in a country full of rocks and not a tree for miles, there were few headstones and everything was made of wood. Most of the dates ranged from the ‘20s through the ‘50s with a few as new as ten years ago.

We had to stop and check it out. It seemed odd that in a country full of rocks and not a tree for miles, there were few headstones and everything was made of wood. Most of the dates ranged from the ‘20s through the ‘50s with a few as new as ten years ago.

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The ornate designs of some of the crosses made eerie statements in the waning light.

The ornate designs of some of the crosses made eerie statements in the waning light.

Returning to Charlotte we found the ghosts didn’t want us to leave. This was the second of two flats we had had that day. Our trusty Generals that have treated us so well are getting pretty thin after a year of torturous roads. We had a slow leak in the morning in the right rear after returning from the geysers. That tire had a tube in it due to a sidewall rock slash back in Columbia, so I couldn’t plug the new leak. All the llanterías  (tire shops) in San Pedro were closed for NYD so I opted to just put air in it every hour or so… that worked until about noon when POW, the tube let go. On went our brand new Bridgestone spare which had been along for the ride since Arequipa, Peru. I attacked this new left rear “ghost flat” with the tire plugs, but after wasting five of them, trying to plug the rather large stone cut in the center of the tread (which kept whistling air like the ghost winds blowing around us), I resigned to the fact that bigger labor lay before me.

Returning to Charlotte we found the ghosts didn’t want us to leave. This was the second of two flats we had had that day. Our trusty Generals that have treated us so well are getting pretty thin after a year of torturous roads. We had a slow leak in the morning in the right rear after returning from the geysers. That tire had a tube in it due to a sidewall rock slash back in Columbia, so I couldn’t plug the new leak. All the llanterías (tire shops) in San Pedro were closed for NYD so I opted to just put air in it every hour or so… that worked until about noon when POW, the tube let go. On went our brand new Bridgestone spare which had been along for the ride since Arequipa, Peru. I attacked this new left rear “ghost flat” with the tire plugs, but after wasting five of them, trying to plug the rather large stone cut in the center of the tread (which kept whistling air like the ghost winds blowing around us), I resigned to the fact that bigger labor lay before me.

We made camp where we broke, right in the middle of the road next to our new friends. So much for that pact about finding a hiding place every night. We hadn’t seen a car all afternoon so we figured it would be a pretty quite night. It was.

We made camp where we broke, right in the middle of the road next to our new friends. So much for that pact about finding a hiding place every night. We hadn’t seen a car all afternoon so we figured it would be a pretty quite night. It was.

I opted to wait until morning to take the obstinate tire off the rim and patch it from the inside. All went well and our Australian Tyre Plyers tool had the tire dismounted in no time…

I opted to wait until morning to take the obstinate tire off the rim and patch it from the inside. All went well and our Australian Tyre Plyers tool had the tire dismounted in no time…

…then I discovered all our rubber cement for the patches was completely dried up!

…then I discovered all our rubber cement for the patches was completely dried up!

After some head scratching (fleas?) and “what would McGyver do?” thinking, I decided that maybe silicone would hold a tire patch at speed and in this heat…?  It won’t vulcanize the rubber like cement, but it is pretty tough…??

After some head scratching (fleas?) and “what would McGyver do?” thinking, I decided that maybe silicone would hold a tire patch at speed and in this heat…? It won’t vulcanize the rubber like cement, but it is pretty tough…??

Pleeease Work! It’s a long way to somewhere hitchhiking with you oh rubber buddy, Old Pal. Reading the silicone tube three times I confirmed that for the stuff to reach maximum strength you must wait a full 24 hours. Kat and I have not sat in one place for 24 hours since we meet each other 10 years ago. Not on this trip, not with ghosts, never.

Pleeease Work! It’s a long way to somewhere hitchhiking with you oh rubber buddy, Old Pal. Reading the silicone tube three times I confirmed that for the stuff to reach maximum strength you must wait a full 24 hours. Kat and I have not sat in one place for 24 hours since we meet each other 10 years ago. Not on this trip, not with ghosts, never.

We waited a full 24 hours! All day and another night with the ghosts. In that time ONE car drove by – and he didn’t stop.

We waited a full 24 hours! All day and another night with the ghosts. In that time ONE car drove by – and he didn’t stop.

Kat took pity on fallen Angel, his/her cross was burned through and tossed carelessly out in the lonely desert, away from the others.

Kat took pity on fallen Angel, his/her cross was burned through and tossed carelessly out in the lonely desert, away from the others.

Repositioned on an unmarked grave we figured we’d earned some ghost brownie points – unless it was the other residents that cast Angel out into the desert…?

Repositioned on an unmarked grave we figured we’d earned some ghost brownie points – unless it was the other residents that cast Angel out into the desert…?

I christened the Model A with a Charlottamiles sticker. Hey, waiting 24 hours is a looong time!

I christened the Model A with a Charlottamiles sticker. Hey, waiting 24 hours is a looong time!

Home on the highway.

Home on the highway.

The second morning I aired ‘er up and voila, silicone holds rubber patches! In fact it is still holding as of this writing about 900 miles and 10 days later!

The second morning I aired ‘er up and voila, silicone holds rubber patches! In fact it is still holding as of this writing about 900 miles and 10 days later!

After the graveyard we rolled 250 highway miles down to Copiapó where we restocked the fridge and headed out to the beach. There we met our good friends, the Varas family, and a bunch of their friends, all spending their summer vacation at Basecamp, a cool, private campground with showers, a kitchen, clean campsites, a beach and security for all one’s toys. Since we are all gear-heads, our main goal was to watch the famous Dakar Rally Race pass through the huge sand dunes nearby. After Dakar we shot straight south, retracing the route we took last September towards Santiago, the furthest point we’ve driven south so far. As I write this we are again on the coast in Viña Del Mar, a resort town northwest of Santiago. It’s a good place to scrub the sand out of every orifice, do our laundry and have good WiFi for this blog, but we are anxious to keep going south, south, south and make it to the tip of the continent by the end of January.

After the graveyard we rolled 250 highway miles down to Copiapó where we restocked the fridge and headed out to the beach. There we met our good friends, the Varas family, and a bunch of their friends, all spending their summer vacation at Basecamp, a cool, private campground with showers, a kitchen, clean campsites, a beach and security for all one’s toys. Since we are all gear-heads, our main goal was to watch the famous Dakar Rally Race pass through the huge sand dunes nearby. After Dakar we shot straight south, retracing the route we took last September towards Santiago, the furthest point we’ve driven south so far. As I write this we are again on the coast in Viña Del Mar, a resort town northwest of Santiago. It’s a good place to scrub the sand out of every orifice, do our laundry and have good WiFi for this blog, but we are anxious to keep going south, south, south and make it to the tip of the continent by the end of January.

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This is a terrible picture but it gives an idea of what camping at Basecamp looks like. Good friends, good times, happy kids, campfires, good stuff.

This is a terrible picture but it gives an idea of what camping at Basecamp looks like. Good friends, good times, happy kids, campfires, good stuff.

The Varas family has quickly become very special to us since we first arrived in Chile. Sebastian, his beautiful wife Luz and their two awesome kids, Amelia and Seba have gone way above and beyond to make us feel at home in their country. It was a joy to see this happy, close family at play on their summer vacation. It was Sebastian who arranged storage for Charlotte when we had to go home in October/November. He has hooked me up with shops in Santiago where I could work on Charlotte, introduced us to his friend, Boris, who races a Mini in Dakar and who loaned us our indispensible Polaris UTV to chase the race. He even visited us back in Nevada when we were home in October and he was in the States for business. He designed and built his Willy’s Jeep from scratch and it is one of the finest I have seen anywhere in the world. This machine ROCKS, especially in the sand where its owner is a master at driving in the stuff.

The Varas family has quickly become very special to us since we first arrived in Chile. Sebastian, his beautiful wife Luz and their two awesome kids, Amelia and Seba have gone way above and beyond to make us feel at home in their country. It was a joy to see this happy, close family at play on their summer vacation. It was Sebastian who arranged storage for Charlotte when we had to go home in October/November. He has hooked me up with shops in Santiago where I could work on Charlotte, introduced us to his friend, Boris, who races a Mini in Dakar and who loaned us our indispensible Polaris UTV to chase the race. He even visited us back in Nevada when we were home in October and he was in the States for business. He designed and built his Willy’s Jeep from scratch and it is one of the finest I have seen anywhere in the world. This machine ROCKS, especially in the sand where its owner is a master at driving in the stuff.

Amelia drew us this sweet portrait of Charlotte while we were watching the Dakar. It is so special to us! We plan to frame and hang it permanently in our rolling home.

Amelia drew us this sweet portrait of Charlotte while we were watching the Dakar. It is so special to us! We plan to frame and hang it permanently in our rolling home.

Our “golf cart.” When Sebastian’s friend Boris Garafulic offered us the use of his Razor for watching the Dakar Rally I had no idea how perfect it would be and how much it would add to the whole experience. This generous offer by a man we barely know, so completely contributed to this experience of a lifetime, that I am at a loss for words on how to thank him. I don’t even know how to reach him since, as I write this, he is still out there competing in the two week long Dakar.

Our “golf cart.” When Sebastian’s friend Boris Garafulic offered us the use of his Razor for watching the Dakar Rally I had no idea how perfect it would be and how much it would add to the whole experience. This generous offer by a man we barely know, so completely contributed to this experience of a lifetime, that I am at a loss for words on how to thank him. I don’t even know how to reach him since, as I write this, he is still out there competing in the two week long Dakar.

The big day arrives. Here we have just unloaded all of the toys for an epic day in the Atacama dunes; both watching the Dakar race up close, and having an indescribable blast romping through these mammoth mounds going from one race point to another. The experience and memories of this day will be etched in our minds forever!  I won’t go into detail about what the Dakar is and bore all of you non-motor -heads. Those of you who are, already know, but if you’re curious, Google: Dakar. I could spend pages explaining. Suffice it to say, it is by far the largest and most grueling motorsports event in the world. This year it pitted 665 competitors and 414 machines against nature for a full two weeks, covered three countries and 9,000 kilometers. It was watched by 3.9 million spectators worldwide in 2014 but strangely, it is not well known in the USA.  Being in South America during a running of the Dakar, there was no way I was going to miss it, even if we had to drive half way across the continent. As it turned out, Sebastian and friends never miss it either and know the dunes around Copiapó like the backs of their hands. These incredible sand dunes are also one of the toughest parts of the race. Having the best local guides and being loaned a perfect machine for the sand (our Razor) we were about to experience a chance of a lifetime.

The big day arrives. Here we have just unloaded all of the toys for an epic day in the Atacama dunes; both watching the Dakar race up close, and having an indescribable blast romping through these mammoth mounds going from one race point to another. The experience and memories of this day will be etched in our minds forever!
I won’t go into detail about what the Dakar is and bore all of you non-motor -heads. Those of you who are, already know, but if you’re curious, Google: Dakar. I could spend pages explaining. Suffice it to say, it is by far the largest and most grueling motorsports event in the world. This year it pitted 665 competitors and 414 machines against nature for a full two weeks, covered three countries and 9,000 kilometers. It was watched by 3.9 million spectators worldwide in 2014 but strangely, it is not well known in the USA.
Being in South America during a running of the Dakar, there was no way I was going to miss it, even if we had to drive half way across the continent. As it turned out, Sebastian and friends never miss it either and know the dunes around Copiapó like the backs of their hands. These incredible sand dunes are also one of the toughest parts of the race. Having the best local guides and being loaned a perfect machine for the sand (our Razor) we were about to experience a chance of a lifetime.

Motorcycles made up 168 entrants this year. The leaders showed up first, about an hour before the first cars. At this point these athletes had already raced 500kms that day and had been at it for four days straight!

Motorcycles made up 168 entrants this year. The leaders showed up first, about an hour before the first cars. At this point these athletes had already raced 500kms that day and had been at it for four days straight!

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The factory team to beat this year, and for the last several, is Mini (aka BMW.) I thought these micro-cars looked silly as race cars tearing through huge sand dunes, but with enough factory money and backing, anything with wheels can be a contender.

The factory team to beat this year, and for the last several, is Mini (aka BMW.) I thought these micro-cars looked silly as race cars tearing through huge sand dunes, but with enough factory money and backing, anything with wheels can be a contender.

This is Boris Garafulic racing a Mini under the colors of Chile. He was running about 17th overall on this day. He is the owner of our Razor so graciously loaned to us. He gave us a wave as he flew by. It was great to know he saw us, undoubtedly by spotting Sebastian’s unique Jeep.

This is Boris Garafulic racing a Mini under the colors of Chile. He was running about 17th overall on this day. He is the owner of our Razor so graciously loaned to us. He gave us a wave as he flew by. It was great to know he saw us, undoubtedly by spotting Sebastian’s unique Jeep.

Then came the trucks! These things are the show of Dakar. Huge diesel rigs with over 1,000 horsepower and four wheel drive, they run faster than many of the cars and were flying through the huge sand dunes like our little Razor, except that they weigh 14,000 pounds. Here a Russian Kamaz is running down a lowly Toyota pickup. The Razor with the Chilean flag in the background is a spectator.

Then came the trucks! These things are the show of Dakar. Huge diesel rigs with over 1,000 horsepower and four wheel drive, they run faster than many of the cars and were flying through the huge sand dunes like our little Razor, except that they weigh 14,000 pounds. Here a Russian Kamaz is running down a lowly Toyota pickup. The Razor with the Chilean flag in the background is a spectator.

The size of these machines is daunting. It’s a rush to stand 10 feet from them as they thunder by.

The size of these machines is daunting. It’s a rush to stand 10 feet from them as they thunder by.

The top truck teams are these Russian Kamaz monsters.

The top truck teams are these Russian Kamaz monsters.

This roller coaster-like area was particularly fun to watch as the competitors wound their way through huge bowls of sand. Here the scale of the dunes can sort of be realized as the huge trucks look like little toys. I have driven the sand dunes of Glamis, Dumont, Pismo, the Oregon coast and even a bit of the Sahara in Africa, all famous dune areas. All of them combined would make up a tiny toy sandbox in a corner of this immense dune system in the Atacama Desert of northern Chile. The sheer size (some are over 3,000ft tall!) and vastness of these dunes is incomprehensible.

This roller coaster-like area was particularly fun to watch as the competitors wound their way through huge bowls of sand. Here the scale of the dunes can sort of be realized as the huge trucks look like little toys. I have driven the sand dunes of Glamis, Dumont, Pismo, the Oregon coast and even a bit of the Sahara in Africa, all famous dune areas. All of them combined would make up a tiny toy sandbox in a corner of this immense dune system in the Atacama Desert of northern Chile. The sheer size (some are over 3,000ft tall!) and vastness of these dunes is incomprehensible.

YeeHah!  Don’t mess with a pissed off big truck when you are in a little buggy.

YeeHah! Don’t mess with a pissed off big truck when you are in a little buggy.

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“Robby! Robby! Robby!”  Robby Gordon obviously has a bigger fan base down here than he does at home. You could hear the chant rise through the crowd as his bright orange Gordini approached. Putting on a show as always, the car was off the ground more than on and was obviously carrying more speed than most, but he was still running way back in the pack due to a breakdown on day two. Robby Gordon has been trying to win Dakar for ten years and is the only American to persistently try to conquer this European dominated event. His one-man, one-car, underdog approach is commendable when stacked up against the huge, multi-car, mega-money factory teams. Unfortunately, it looks like 2015 won’t be Robby’s year either.

“Robby! Robby! Robby!” Robby Gordon obviously has a bigger fan base down here than he does at home. You could hear the chant rise through the crowd as his bright orange Gordini approached. Putting on a show as always, the car was off the ground more than on and was obviously carrying more speed than most, but he was still running way back in the pack due to a breakdown on day two. Robby Gordon has been trying to win Dakar for ten years and is the only American to persistently try to conquer this European dominated event. His one-man, one-car, underdog approach is commendable when stacked up against the huge, multi-car, mega-money factory teams. Unfortunately, it looks like 2015 won’t be Robby’s year either.

As night fell the dunes became surreal as shadows played havoc with depth perception. Still, late running racers thundered on, their multiple HID lights making crazy patterns across the mounds of endless sand.

As night fell the dunes became surreal as shadows played havoc with depth perception. Still, late running racers thundered on, their multiple HID lights making crazy patterns across the mounds of endless sand.

For some the shadows took their toll. These poor guys were just two kilometers from the night’s bivouac which was just over this one last dune. Instead, they rolled and may have spent the whole night there. Sebastian tried to winch the 14,000 pound monster over but all he did was drag his own Jeep and the Toyota attached to it several feet forward. The bivouac itself was yet another unbelievable sight, a huge tent city which is erected every night and covers maybe 20 acres. It travels with the race, complete with kitchens serving meals and showers and bathrooms to accommodate all the teams. Huge team-owned semis, set up as support shops for the race cars, are lined up in rows with mechanics working all night rebuilding the race machines so they can tackle another grueling stage the next day.

For some the shadows took their toll. These poor guys were just two kilometers from the night’s bivouac which was just over this one last dune. Instead, they rolled and may have spent the whole night there. Sebastian tried to winch the 14,000 pound monster over but all he did was drag his own Jeep and the Toyota attached to it several feet forward.
The bivouac itself was yet another unbelievable sight, a huge tent city which is erected every night and covers maybe 20 acres. It travels with the race, complete with kitchens serving meals and showers and bathrooms to accommodate all the teams. Huge team-owned semis, set up as support shops for the race cars, are lined up in rows with mechanics working all night rebuilding the race machines so they can tackle another grueling stage the next day.

Race fun over, we left our friends to their peaceful vacations on the beach and buzzed 500+ miles down the coast to the seaside resort town of Viña Del Mar. Here we holed up in a fancy hotel, regrouped and wrote this blog. Next… south, south, south to the tip of South America!

Race fun over, we left our friends to their peaceful vacations on the beach and buzzed 500+ miles down the coast to the seaside resort town of Viña Del Mar. Here we holed up in a fancy hotel, regrouped and wrote this blog. Next… south, south, south to the tip of South America!