Mexico, Part 5: Baja Sur, Whale Watching in Guerrero Negro, and San Ignacio

Baja Sur and Whale Watching in Guerrero Negro

The peninsula that Americans know as Baja is comprised of two states, Baja California and Baja California Sur. Baja means lower, and refers back to Fransican's division of their Californian mission territory into Alta and Baja. The peninsula is still known as Baja, and the lower half of lower California is know referred to as Baja Sur, or southern Baja.

The border between the brother states is marked with limited fanfare: a large flag, some Grey whale bones, and a guy spraying down tires with pesticide. Like a never ending Phish set, Baja Sur is a continuation of the song of the north, with a few more subtle riffs on beautiful beaches and palm trees added for good measure. It's very nearly the same paradise, but "very nearly" isn't identical.

Our first stop was Guerrero Negro, home to the greatest salt mine in the world and a renowned whale-watching spot. Grey whales spend their summers eating and copulating in the rich waters of the northern pacific. When the weather turns and the days get shorter, the lady whales migrate to the warmer waters of Baja to birth their baby whales. The water is warm and the lagoons are protected, providing a perfect spot for teaching their little ones how to swim and breathe and get by.

We camped on the beach by a salt refinery for very, very little money, and caught a whale watching boat the next day. By a blessing from God we found ourselves alone on the boat, just the two of us and the captain and a boat hand. IT WAS AWESOME! No crowd, no one else to talk to, just near silence while we stalked a few pairs of enormous whales. The babies were pretty big and the moms just huge, to put it in bland and blatant terms. I grew up whale watching every summer on Cape Cod, and this is nothing like that. While our captain did keep us a respectful distance from the new mother-child pair, it was much more intimate than my expectations.

The camping spot was exquisite. We weren't actually charged for camping, but for entrance into the park, so technically the camping was free. There weren't a lot of other folks camped, and almost no light pollution, so the photo opportunities were outstanding. Chels broke out her big camera and tripod one night to capture some stunning shots of the sunset and the starry night.

Flag, whale bones, and somewhere down this road there is a lonely gentleman spraying tires with pesticide to protect the desert ecosystem.

Flag, whale bones, and somewhere down this road there is a lonely gentleman spraying tires with pesticide to protect the desert ecosystem.

Loulou, exploring yet another campsite, this time at Guerrero Negro.

Loulou, exploring yet another campsite, this time at Guerrero Negro.

Spectacular sunsets, as per usual, over the west side of the Baja Peninsula.

Spectacular sunsets, as per usual, over the west side of the Baja Peninsula.

She knows how pretty she is.

She knows how pretty she is.

Did I mention sunsets?

Did I mention sunsets?

The campsite was amazing at all times of the day.

The campsite was amazing at all times of the day.

Little Foot looks good in any light, no big deal.

Little Foot looks good in any light, no big deal.

Me, impersonating a whale.

Me, impersonating a whale.

All alone all day! No other tourists with us on the boat ride.

All alone all day! No other tourists with us on the boat ride.

Scared? I don't know.

Scared? I don't know.

Whale saying hi!

Whale saying hi!

There was no part of the trip that wasn't magical.

There was no part of the trip that wasn't magical.

We were super close to the enormous beasts of the sea.

We were super close to the enormous beasts of the sea.

I couldn't stop giggling.

I couldn't stop giggling.

The scars are from barnacles, boats, rope, nets, and other bad things.

The scars are from barnacles, boats, rope, nets, and other bad things.

Half the fun was searching for the whales.

Half the fun was searching for the whales.

Little Foot driving through the salt flats.

Little Foot driving through the salt flats.

San Ignacio

After leaving the Guerrero Negro lagoon and campground, we provisioned in the town and headed out. With tanks full of water and a stocked fridge, we made our way to San Ignacio, by way of some small highway town that gave us a foggy night of camping in a hotel lot.

We arrived in San Ignacio, parked in the town square, and explored the nearby mission. There are missions up and down the peninsula, and the one in San Ignacio is supposed to be the best balance of accessibility, originality (as in terms of structure), and quality (as in terms of upkeep and grounds). We're Christians but we're not Catholic, but that didn't keep us from really appreciating the grandeur structure. We recognize that the history of missions in both Mexico and the US is a history of bloodshed and subjugation, and while we in no way support the methods put forth by the missionaries in the name of God, we can't help but recognize a beautiful structure when we see one.

After pondering the beauty of the town square and its mission, we headed out of town to find a camping spot, only to run (pun intended!) into the Via PanAm team! Via PanAm is a team of four crazy people who are running marathon lengths (26.2 miles) from Prudhoe Bay, Alaska to Ushuaia, Argentina for charity. Weking and Seba are the runners, and Liesbeth and An are their support. "To Walk Again" is their chosen charity, and their goal is to support folks with physical limitations. Maybe that means keeping them active or maybe it means starting the process to get an expensive prosthetic made. To help the charity, the Via PanAm team runs a marathon EVERY DAY. Everyday there is one team member running, one recovering, and two supporting. The supporting team members drive two very cool Toyota Hilux trucks with custom built camping boxes, but the trucks are just there to carry the stuff. Their's isn't a vehicular trip. Their travel is supported by wheel, but driven by feet.

They haven't raised a lot of money, and they deserve your support. Give them the price of a latte or a draft beer, or something. Check out their website www.ViaPanAm.Today and maybe give a little, not because you must, not because you can, not because they are living an amazing story and it inspires you to push your own limits and realize your untapped potential, but because THEY RAN A MARATHON TODAY.  And they will tomorrow. And the next day. And then again. And then again and again and again. All the way to Ushuaia, Argentina. Oh you don't know where Ushuaia is? IT'S WHERE SOUTH AMERICA RUNS OUT OF THINGS YOU CAN RUN ON.

Our camp site that night was awesome. The Lagoon in San Ignacio is fed by a freshwater spring, a real life Oasis on the peninsula of desert. We camped, cooked, swam, and enjoyed the rope swing. Cost? 80 pesos (~4USD) a night. I love this country.

Digging out our water tanks to refill. Agua Purificada shops are plentiful and cheap. Even better…the water they produce is absolutely delicious.

Digging out our water tanks to refill. Agua Purificada shops are plentiful and cheap. Even better…the water they produce is absolutely delicious.

Chels' morning yoga and stretching ritual is often interrupted by head butts with Loulou.

Chels' morning yoga and stretching ritual is often interrupted by head butts with Loulou.

The foggy camp spot. Cool trucks camp together.

The foggy camp spot. Cool trucks camp together.

The mission at San Ignacio.

The mission at San Ignacio.

Chels shooting in the mission.

Chels shooting in the mission.

Mission beauty. 

Mission beauty. 

More mission beauty.

More mission beauty.

Contemplating benches.

Contemplating benches.

If your kid told you he was driving from Alaska to Ushuaia, or maybe riding motorcycles, you'd probably be terrified. These crazies are  running  that trip. On their  feet . Donate now: www.ViaPanAm.today

If your kid told you he was driving from Alaska to Ushuaia, or maybe riding motorcycles, you'd probably be terrified. These crazies are running that trip. On their feet. Donate now: www.ViaPanAm.today

San Ignacio camping. Super Sweet.

San Ignacio camping. Super Sweet.

Rope swinging.

Rope swinging.

Rope swing panicking.

Rope swing panicking.

Chels's jumping photo had an equally if not more terrifying face, but she wouldn't post it since she was in her skivvies. Alas, you'll have to take our word for it and at least see this photo of her soaking wet as proof that she jumped from the rope swing as well.

Chels's jumping photo had an equally if not more terrifying face, but she wouldn't post it since she was in her skivvies. Alas, you'll have to take our word for it and at least see this photo of her soaking wet as proof that she jumped from the rope swing as well.

Just buy a truck, a van, a camper, a rig, ANY RIG, and go exploring. This is what you'll get. (Cat not included.)

Just buy a truck, a van, a camper, a rig, ANY RIG, and go exploring. This is what you'll get. (Cat not included.)

Stretching and coffee with Loulou.

Stretching and coffee with Loulou.

Contemplating the day. Evidence of a fire in the background. San Ignacio.

Contemplating the day. Evidence of a fire in the background. San Ignacio.

Mexico, Part 3: Waiting for Christmas and Christmas

Waiting for Christmas

After spending a few days in the Valle de Guadalupe and Rancho San Carlos, we started playing the waiting game, passing the time in Ensenada until my father arrived. He had asked us months ago, when we were on the Oregon coast, where we would be for Christmas, and we had NO IDEA. It's pretty tough to schedule an overland trip, much less an overland trip in a 30+ year old Swiss Army surplus van. We glanced at the map, figured if we hadn't made it to Mexico by Christmas we'd be enormous failures, and therefore chose what we thought would be a home-run destination, a local wine region just over the border. 

What this meant in reality is that we had loads of time to kill in Ensenada. Luckily, our newly made Mexican friends, Mauricio and Abby, let us camp at their house for over a week, and we got some projects started and finished. We searched for some steel hardware to better secure our doors while we're away from Little Foot, and stumbled upon a small factory building Baja 1000 trophy and race trucks. We found a fantastic Spanish teacher and took some language lessons, and watched American football at a foreigner/expat bar. We even scoured the beach for mussels and made free dinner at Mauricio's seaside abode. By slowing down we got to explore even more of Ensenada and become closer with our new friends. It was great.

The Baja buggies at this factory took me by surprise! We were looking for small pieces of angle steel to make into locks and pulled into the lot of what looked like a scrap metal recycling center. Imagine my surprise when I walked into the workshop and saw this scene!

The Baja buggies at this factory took me by surprise! We were looking for small pieces of angle steel to make into locks and pulled into the lot of what looked like a scrap metal recycling center. Imagine my surprise when I walked into the workshop and saw this scene!

The finished lock project.

The finished lock project.

Scouring the beach with Pablo and Anna for mussels.

Scouring the beach with Pablo and Anna for mussels.

Preparing the mussels! (Hey Leatherman… we think this could be an ad photo for you!) (Is that how sponsorship works? You just write a caption and it happens?)

Preparing the mussels! (Hey Leatherman… we think this could be an ad photo for you!) (Is that how sponsorship works? You just write a caption and it happens?)

The best part: eating the mussels! A free protein from the sea for dinner. Very nice. 

The best part: eating the mussels! A free protein from the sea for dinner. Very nice. 

Overlooking northern Ensenada from a fantastic and mostly hidden cafateria at a local university.

Overlooking northern Ensenada from a fantastic and mostly hidden cafateria at a local university.

From right to left: Mauricio's 1961 Land Rover 2A, Little Foot the Pinzgauer, and the Cucaracha of Viajeros4x4x4 fame.

From right to left: Mauricio's 1961 Land Rover 2A, Little Foot the Pinzgauer, and the Cucaracha of Viajeros4x4x4 fame.

Loulou got used to her oceanside view at Mauricio's.

Loulou got used to her oceanside view at Mauricio's.

Chelsea took me on a date to watch the New England Patriots at a local expat bar.

Chelsea took me on a date to watch the New England Patriots at a local expat bar.

Spanish lessons might have been made more difficult, but far more entertaining by these two charismatic kittens.

Spanish lessons might have been made more difficult, but far more entertaining by these two charismatic kittens.

Helping Mauricio work his way through some designs for his Land Rover overland project.

Helping Mauricio work his way through some designs for his Land Rover overland project.

Christmas

Chuck, my dad, finally arrived in Mexico and the Christmas Festivities got underway. He chose to stay at boutique hotel named Hotel Boutique in the wine region of the Valle de Guadelupe. It rained for the first few days of the stay, but the sun cleared after that, drying out the vineyards and providing great weather for wandering around the agricultural region.

In addition to visiting the wineries of the Valle de Guadelupe, we toured parts of Ensenada, including the docks, the Mercado Negro, and Hussong's bar and restaurant.

The Mercado Negro, which translates to the Black Market, is a sizable warehouse full of fish vendors. Decades ago, captains returning from a day or week of fishing would hide some of their catch from the ship's owners and sell this portion to the people of Ensenada. Hiding the fish allowed the captains to make some side cash, while letting the people of Ensenada access the sea food without paying a middleman.

Hussong's is one of two restaurants that contend the title of "Home of the Margarita". The place is in the tourist district, and is itself a little touristy, but you know what you're getting when you find it. The margaritas were alright, and if there is a famous home for an iconic beverage near you as you're traveling, you've just got to go. It was worth it.

Wine Tasting.

Wine Tasting.

Ensenada's dock region.

Ensenada's dock region.

The Mercado Negro. The catch was SO fresh you couldn't smell fish, no joke.

The Mercado Negro. The catch was SO fresh you couldn't smell fish, no joke.

Hussong's!

Hussong's!

Loulou making friends with a wolf dog that wanted to eat her.

Loulou making friends with a wolf dog that wanted to eat her.

More wine tasting while we opened Christmas presents!

More wine tasting while we opened Christmas presents!

California Part 1: Northern Coast, Redwoods, and Expedition Imports

Northern Coast of California

Heading out of Oregon and into California was a big deal. Borders for us have been both finish lines and starting lines. With Oregon behind us, we started on what will HOPEFULLY be our last US state for a while, and definitely our longest. Our route, with no detours, would have us driving nearly 900 miles from north to south. With that in mind, we started in on California.

Northern California was nearly as beautiful as The Oregon coast, with a few spots that were beyond gorgeous. We took short walks where stopping wouldn't do a view justice, and we paid for camping where we had to. A note to travelers: California camping is expensive! Most state parks are at least $35 a night, and even trashy county parks are $25. Plan and beware.

Having fun.

Having fun.

Loulou exploring at a campsite. She gets to walk around once we park for the night, but we have to keep an eye on her.

Loulou exploring at a campsite. She gets to walk around once we park for the night, but we have to keep an eye on her.

We took as many coastal detours as we could, mostly because the roads were slower as we got closer to the coast. One of our many side excursions was on the Coastal Drive out of Klamath, CA. Definitely worth it. The road is a winding, one way snake of asphalt that leads to nothing but beautiful views. There is a small day-use park, the High Bluff Overlook picnic area, that is very worth the drive. There are a few view areas at the one bluff, and a 30 minute walk around will load you with Instagram and Facebook fodder.

Posing with a coastline At High Bluff Overlook. This is me looking greasy.

Posing with a coastline At High Bluff Overlook. This is me looking greasy.

It was windy!

It was windy!

The panoramas don't do it justice.

The panoramas don't do it justice.

Chels shooting the sea, looking majestic.

Chels shooting the sea, looking majestic.

Redwoods

After driving along the coast for days, we veered inland to visit California's beautiful redwood trees. Go once in your life, because these trees are enormous and they require visiting. Many are hundreds of years old, hundreds of feet high, and eerie, in that they don't really look like any other trees you've seen. The crowns start hundreds of feet in the air, so the forests are wide open on the floor but dark as can be from the thick canopy above. Its fantastic.

There are multiple pockets of redwood forests along the drive, and I do recommend visiting one or all. One morning we made a fantastic breakfast on the road under the emerald canopy thanks to the numerous and very large pull-offs that dot any road going through the forests. The municipalities, the state, and the federal government know that people want to pull over and stop here, so there is room for it to happen.

Walking in one of the many, many small redwood groves accessible off the 101.

Walking in one of the many, many small redwood groves accessible off the 101.

Fashion shoot!

Fashion shoot!

Standing inside a living, burnt-out redwood. Very cool.

Standing inside a living, burnt-out redwood. Very cool.

The light was magical at times.

The light was magical at times.

There are a handful of named, noticeable trees, including Big Tree.

There are a handful of named, noticeable trees, including Big Tree.

The redwood forests were punctuated with gorgeous lengths of coastline. Like a spaceship visiting different worlds, we rolled between entirely different ecosystems, one day walking on black beaches next to thunderous surf, and the next in nearly silent , 1000 year old forests.

One of these beaches, just above the Lost Coast, held a special memory for Chelsea, as it was one of the places her family had stopped on their camping trips. We stopped there and played in the tidal pools and climbed some rocks and said a prayer or two for Chelsea's late sister and dad, as they were there decades ago enjoying the beach as a family. We're thousands of miles from anything we've called home, and yet we consistently manage to find glimpses of places that hold familiarity and comfort for us.

Parked near tidal pools.

Parked near tidal pools.

Visiting the tidal pools she'd played among as a child.

Visiting the tidal pools she'd played among as a child.

We stayed that night in a pull-out on a road that would eventually dump us back into the Redwood State Park. It wasn't ideal, but there wasn't much traffic (and it all seemed to be local anyways) and no one hassled us. We got moving early the next morning and stopped only to make breakfast once we were among the giant redwoods.

Breakfast with the giants.

Breakfast with the giants.

We rarely have photos together, but a kind lady offered, so we took her up on it.

We rarely have photos together, but a kind lady offered, so we took her up on it.

Christian…being the fire.

Christian…being the fire.

A massive fallen redwood and the split wood that resulted. 

A massive fallen redwood and the split wood that resulted. 

As we approached San Francisco we ran out of viable camping options, but luckily with a little asking we could still find spots to "stealth-camp" in relative solitude. We asked a local merchant, the purveyor of fine goods at the Elk Store, in Elk CA, if he knew anywhere to park overnight, and he offered up his store's parking space! What a guy. If you are in Elk, CA, we recommend checking them out for some smoked tuna or salmon jerky.

The next morning we vacated our roadside campsite and headed down to one of California's many lighthouse for breakfast with a view. Our breakfasts rotate between quick and easy oatmeal (plus spices, raisins, almond milk, peanut butter, etc) and banana oatmeal pancakes. The pancakes dirty an extra dish, but the light house view called for extra effort!

Enjoying a sunset in Elk, California.

Enjoying a sunset in Elk, California.

Our view from the camper that evening.

Our view from the camper that evening.

Banana oatmeal pancakes by the seaside.

Banana oatmeal pancakes by the seaside.

The ladies sitting outside.

The ladies sitting outside.

Loulou enjoying the sun and the view.

Loulou enjoying the sun and the view.

Expedition Imports

Tucked away in a light industrial district of Vallejo California is a purpose built warehouse compound filled to the brim with Pinzgauers, Unimogs, G-Wagons, and all the parts you might need to keep one running. Expedition Imports was our destination since entering California, as we knew we needed spare parts for the most common breakdowns. I planned on buying some small rebuild kits and picking the collective brain of the guys at the shop, but we were in store for much, much more.

Scott, the owner of Expedition Imports, invited us into the compound and listened to enough of our story to know we needed help. Immediately he told us to drive Little Foot up onto his lift, and started in on a full diagnosis of our rig. With help from his mechanic Brian, the identified some weak links in Little Foot's current state, and started putting together a basket of goodies for us to bring on our trip.

The guys noticed that my muffler had a common wear/damage spot, but also recognized that Chelsea and I aren't the expensive-new-muffler kind of people, so Scott hooked us up with a deal. If we could tear the muffler off a parts truck out back, we could have it for a discounted price. Sounds good to us! As the sun set on central California, we grabbed some tools and got to work.

"Is this a problem? Is this a problem? Is this a problem?" - new Pinzgauer owner.

"Is this a problem? Is this a problem? Is this a problem?" - new Pinzgauer owner.

Little Foot on the lift, next to a 712M to the left and a really expensive Unimog to the right.

Little Foot on the lift, next to a 712M to the left and a really expensive Unimog to the right.

Parts parts parts!

Parts parts parts!

The guys offering me a good looking new/used muffler.

The guys offering me a good looking new/used muffler.

Putting in the wrench time for a discounted part.

Putting in the wrench time for a discounted part.

A panorama of all the rigs including Mogs spanning three decades, original Steyr-Puch G Wagons, and a handful of 4x4 and 6x6 Pinzgauers. It was beautiful. We felt normal!

A panorama of all the rigs including Mogs spanning three decades, original Steyr-Puch G Wagons, and a handful of 4x4 and 6x6 Pinzgauers. It was beautiful. We felt normal!

We worked for a full day under the lift. It was great. The exhaust played nice for the most part.

We worked for a full day under the lift. It was great. The exhaust played nice for the most part.

I don't think the guys at Expedition Imports know how much they helped Chelsea and I. I also don't think they need our endorsement, as they run a great business and offer an excellent product, but I would feel remiss if I didn't sing their praises at least a little. If you need parts, or more specifically a parts solution for your weird and awesome rig, call them. They are a wealth of knowledge, they know their vehicles inside and out, and they are very willing to talk you out of a purchase. That, to me, is the hallmark of an honest business man. You may want a truck, and you may be ready to buy one, but Scott and Brian won't sell you one until they have ripped those rose-colored glasses right off your face.

So that's that for the first half of California, next week we'll try to summarize the southern half, because we're getting closer to the border and more excited every day!

Oregon Part 3: Cousin AdVANture, Roseburg, and OREGON IS TAKING TOO LONG!

Cousin AdVANture!

As we drove down the coast, we met my cousins Jay and George, and Jay's wife Morgan, in the pretty little city of Eugene for an adVANture! Jay and Morgan have just recently purchased a built-up E350, with a 4x4 conversion by Quigley (no, not the Tom Selick Quigley, the motor company Quigley). Their rig is pretty cool, and all the hard parts (slamming an F350's suspension and driveline under an E350) were already done, but all the fun bits like customizing the interior are awaiting their hard work and design.

We headed out on the Coos Bay Wagon Road, a mostly paved, sometimes forested, and often steep road from Eugene to the coast. We had a great time, and Little Foot only broke down once!

Team photo!

Team photo!

My excitement about the chance to have our photo taken going through a covered bridge caused me to stall out Little Foot, and upon trying to restart him, he wouldn't fire. I had a sneaking suspicion the spark plugs needed to be replaced, and THANK GOD we had picked up a spare set the day before. After trying a few normal and easy fixes, like letting the engine breathe, starting with and without choke, and feathering the throttle, I decided to rule bad spark out of the equation by performing some roadside maintenance. New plugs, gapped to 32/1000 of an inch had Little Foot back up and running. For those wondering, Little Foot has an aftermarket solid state ignition manufactured by our friends at PinzSSI.com.

Broken down!

Broken down!

Tuttle cousins and some handsome rigs. Notice the size comparison between LittleFoot and a E350. The bodies are nearly the same length.

Tuttle cousins and some handsome rigs. Notice the size comparison between LittleFoot and a E350. The bodies are nearly the same length.

We set up camp in the rain, but had a great time under Jay and Morgan's excellent tarp. We made a fire, had some dinner, and generally carried on. It was a great adVANture!

Luckily all five of us hold honorary master's degrees in "Tarp-ology", so setting up the shelter was a breeze. Notice the crucial ladder.

Luckily all five of us hold honorary master's degrees in "Tarp-ology", so setting up the shelter was a breeze. Notice the crucial ladder.

Roseburg: Reorganization, Solar Power, and Shower Version 1.0

In Roseburg we stayed with Chelsea's fantastic Uncle Paul and Aunt Debbie. They opened up their driveway, home, and workshop to us for a few days, and man we needed it. Chels tore all our storage stuff out of Little Foot for a reorganization and pairing down of gear. We sent away a pair of skis to my brother, sent a box to storage with the rest of our moth-balled gear, and reorganized everything else.

Also, I spent some time finally wiring up our solar components, and fully charging our batteries. We also built what would turn out to be a leaky solar shower. We hadn't planned on failing, but we learned that you need to use big, full strength PVC instead of the lightweight irrigation tubing we used. Because we failed, we'll do a full post on our final product in the future, but there's some shots of me drilling holes and such below.

We can't thank Paul and Debbie enough for taking us into their home for a few days. Everyone out there who has helped and hosted us, thank you SO much, especially for the use of your bathrooms! Showers are like gold to us.

Taking stuff down.

Taking stuff down.

Taking stuff out.

Taking stuff out.

Our solar shower (version 1.0, super leaky!) was constructed from 4" PVC irrigation tubing , two caps, and a T-joint with a screw on inspection cover we use as a fill port. We included a tire tube valve to pressurize the chamber and a radiator drain plug to allow for the water gravity feed without air locking. Like I said, we'll do a whole breakdown in the future with version 2.0.

The solar power also got wired together, finally, and is charging our house batteries and powering our Whynter Fridge as I type. Pretty cool!

Installing valves into the screw cap on the T-joint.

Installing valves into the screw cap on the T-joint.

Wiring VERY CAREFULLY!!!

Wiring VERY CAREFULLY!!!

Chelsea painting the shower.

Chelsea painting the shower.

Finishing Out the Oregon Coast

Oregon took a while, in real life and in Blog updates! We're going to try to cram together some weeks of travel in the next updates. The end of Oregon was punctuated by AMAZING coastal views. We spent some time wandering around beaches, impersonating statues in seaside hamlets, and hiking up a forested trail to a coastal peak. Long story short, visit Oregon. There are too many adventures to be had in a single lifetime just inside this great state.

We found some statues. I had to impersonate them. For more BAD performance art, see our  Rusty Does Arches  blog post!

We found some statues. I had to impersonate them. For more BAD performance art, see our Rusty Does Arches blog post!

I  am  the seahorse!

I am the seahorse!

The beaches are outstanding. Check out the driftwood! It collects and naturally barricades the exit from the stairs in this photo. Pretty cool.

The beaches are outstanding. Check out the driftwood! It collects and naturally barricades the exit from the stairs in this photo. Pretty cool.

Chelsea looking pensive.

Chelsea looking pensive.

A great hike on Humbug Mountain

A great hike on Humbug Mountain

Me at the peak of Humbug, doing my Peter Pan stance.

Me at the peak of Humbug, doing my Peter Pan stance.

The light coming through the trees was AMAZING.

The light coming through the trees was AMAZING.

Moss on the trees in a coastal forest.

Moss on the trees in a coastal forest.

Chelsea looking a bit disheveled after nearly slipping and falling down some mud.

Chelsea looking a bit disheveled after nearly slipping and falling down some mud.

Shakedown drive and Layover day!

Polebridge Test Drive

With the windows and stove installed, and most of our gear packed away, we were in need of a test drive. We'd slept in Little Foot in the campground at work for a few weeks, but we hadn't driven anywhere and then lived out of the rig. A test or "shakedown" drive is a very important baby step on the way to on-road living.

Our friend Dre invited us to celebrate her birthday in a little town called Polebridge on the very northwest corner of Glacier National Park. The town is accessible only by improved dirt road, it borders the pristine North Fork of the Flathead River. The local mercantile has killer baked goods (if you visit, forego the overrated huckleberry bearclaws and get the poppyseed and chocolate pastry…or just get both!). Dirt roads, no crowds, and baked confections? We're in.

Just a little Austrian/Swiss military surplus van finding his way through the foliage!

Just a little Austrian/Swiss military surplus van finding his way through the foliage!

The drive went well, albeit slowly. The road was at times so rough that we were slightly fearful of rattling the contents of the box apart as we bumped across washboard sections with an unavoidable minefield of potholes. Amazingly, nothing of the sorts happened. The fridge walked it's way to a different spot about an inch out of place (which was easily remedied with another strap) and we lost the hitch pin to the pintle hitch on the back. Luckily, Chelsea's photos and videos provided evidence of when and where we lost the hitch pin, narrowing our search from 20 miles to ~6. We found it the next day driving back by looking HARD.

Posing.

Posing.

We got up to Polebridge early with the intentions of going on a walk, so after touching base with our friend Dre, we headed up to Bowman lake to get some fresh air and enjoy being out and about for the first time in a while.

It was a gorgeous fall day and the short few mile walk couldn't have been better.

It was a gorgeous fall day and the short few mile walk couldn't have been better.

After our walk, we headed back to Polebridge to find a free camp spot on National Forest land… one of our favorite traveling past times.

Free camping at the river launch.

Free camping at the river launch.

Getting the fire started for the cookout.

Getting the fire started for the cookout.

Dre and Caleb organized a superb campfire potluck, with dishes coming out all night, all cooked over coals. Brats, lamb, asparagus, root vegetables, shallots, and more.

Dre and Caleb organized a superb campfire potluck, with dishes coming out all night, all cooked over coals. Brats, lamb, asparagus, root vegetables, shallots, and more.

The test drive was great. As we said before, the dirt road out to Polebridge was moderate washboard, had a few sections of potholes, and gave us a good idea of how the stiff off-road suspension handles rough road driving (It doesn't do well going fast). On the road to Bowman lake we had a chance to climb some minor hills. I stalled out once, and subsequently got to practice a moderate hill start maneuver, using granny-1st gear, and shifting the Hi-Low transmission on the fly. I even put it in granny-1st in low gear, and it was awesome! Little Foot crawls in this configuration at only a few miles an hour at 1/2 throttle.

Layover Day

We've driven around the country a few times in both the Campbulance and Stubbs the bus. Before each trip, we promised to take it easy and enjoy days off while driving, and inevitably we don't make that happen. Inevitably we blast past stuff we want to stop and take a look at, only to keep a self-imposed and often arbitrary time-line. I think, in a way, this is a coping mechanism. Perhaps by rushing ourselves, we feel less like homeless vagabonds, and more like the rushed masses of modern, socially acceptable civilization. The drive to stay in line with the norm is strong.

Rocketing  along the Swan-Seeley highway with some evidence of controlled burns around us. The silhouette of the portal axels is profound.

Rocketing along the Swan-Seeley highway with some evidence of controlled burns around us. The silhouette of the portal axels is profound.

We had a long day of driving, with Rusty tailing Little Foot down the Swan-Seeley high way, through Missoula, and out to Hamilton. Chels found a beautiful free campsite at the Blodgett Creek campground in the Bitterroot National Forest. As dusk was fading into darkness, we were commiserating over the radio about not making it to the site in time sunset, when Chels said, "Why not take a layover day?" Why not indeed?

Loulou and I getting used to home on the road.

Loulou and I getting used to home on the road.

Layover days are definitely as important as test drives and shakedown trips; they are the whole reason we travel! The Bitterroot NF is amazing, and this little Blodgett Creek Campground is the best. The camp host mentioned that the area earned the nickname "Little Yosemite of Montana," and while he wasn't far off. The creek valley we hiked on our layover day bore many similarities to Yosemtie, albeit on a much smaller scale.

A big shout-out to Chris the camp host for recommending the hike.

A big shout-out to Chris the camp host for recommending the hike.

A great hike at a great time of year.

A great hike at a great time of year.

Our turn around point was Upper Falls.

Our turn around point was Upper Falls.

The Layover day was perfect, and got us ready to head out the next day for what would HOPEFULLY be out last day of driving separately for a while. Rusty the Samurai and a lot of our stuff is being stored in Salmon, ID as we travel, and from there on out we should be each other's copilots in Little Foot, the terrestrial spaceship of our dreams!