So where were we......
After the indulgence of Las Vegas we crossed the state border to California to get back to nature.
Our first stop, Death Valley. Anyone who is not sure why it is named Death Valley would understand as you drive out into the desert from Nevada, the dry and hot geography just gets hotter and hotter. As you drop in altitude into the valley basin, we started our decent at a temperature of 30ºC (we cleverly timed our drive in with the midday heat) culminating in our arrival in Bad Water, the lowest point in continental America with an altitude of 86m below sea level. We were not surprised that this has the second hottest EVER recorded temperature in the world of 54ºC; the temperature that day was around 43ºC. We were literally cooking. Needless to say we rapidly jumped into our climate controlled Landy- also 43 ºC and got the hell out of hell.
On our way into Death Valley we came across, not only another touring overland Defender, but the exact model and colour as Lodzi. Bernd and Babel, a retired couple from Germany have been on the road for 2 years and have more or less completed the same journey as us. After agreeing to catch up in the evening, we located a free campsite at a higher, cooler elevation in Death Valley and spent an enjoyable evening catching up on travels and experiences.
Bernd had a few Landy problems with his 300Tdi and was on his way to San Francisco to a reputed Land Rover mechanic, we were about to head south to LA to a different Landy mechanic. After an in depth discussion, we agreed Bernd would be ahead of us in our travels and he would visit the mechanic in San Francisco first and let us know his opinion.
We then travelled the next 4 days with the Germans; spending 2 days free camped beside the Kern River, popular with white water rafters, kayakers and trout fishermen. James purchased a couple of lures and got to dig out his fishing rod for the first time in ages! The first day was no success but the second we had a delicious pan fried fresh trout dinner.
We then spent 2 nights camped in Sequoia National Park and Kings Canyon National Park. In Sequoia we joined the hundreds of tourists visiting the world famous Sequoia trees, first driving in the Giants Grove, a daunting experience, surrounded by towering trees, many over 1000 years old, in a setting as old as time itself. We climbed Moro Rock, a massive granite boulder giving stupendous 360º views over white dusted snow peaks and snaking canyons. The infamous General Sherman was next, possessing the accolade as the "largest tree" in the world; we were not disappointed with the sheer size and presence of old General.
The following day we meandered down into Kings Canyon and at this time of year, the snow melt turns the Kings River into a raging torrent of white froth. Not one section of this part of the river is navigable and the wild ruggedness makes this neck of the woods another one of California's most popular trekking areas.
After bidding farewell to our new German friends, we drove north further into the Sierra Nevada mountains, free camping in the woods and once again James being successful supplying us with fresh trout for dinner. Much to Kerry's dismay still no sight of a bear!
We entered Yosemite National Park from the south and were not quite prepared for Americas second most visited NP. Wow, the tourists were in their droves, all the campsites in the park are fully booked out, normally booked in January for June! Attempting to wing it, our first stop was camping reservations in the hope of a late cancellation. As James walked up to the desk, two young ladies had just been given the last available campsite in the whole park! As a last alternative we approached them and asked to share their site for the night. Bonus, the answer was yes! We spent the evening getting to know Angie and Paula from Missouri.
The following morning we were approached by another visitor who had to cancel the next 3 nights booking in a campsite in the valley. We scored again and shared the site with the 2 girls for the next 3 nights. Cool fun and the girls introduced us to S'mores, a very American camping tradition. This involves placing 2 toasted marshmallows, between two sweet crackers around a slab of chocolate. Extremely delicious, but sickeningly sweet.
We also had a number of black bears visit the campsite, but alas, no sighting for us. We toured the valley, drove up to the northern part of the park, did a 6 hour trek to Nevada and Vernal falls and the highlight of our trip was a rare sighting of a "moonbow" at the base of Yosemite falls. When all the conditions are perfect, the full moon casts a bright enough light into the base of Yosemite waterfalls to produce a refraction of light resulting in a moonbow. After waiting in the freezing cold for almost 3 hours, at about 11pm, we were privileged to see our very first moonbow.
Monday morning we headed into Livermore on the outskirts of the San Francisco Bay area to visit Mike from West Coast British, a Land Rover specialist shop. With a leaking sump and ladder rack gasket at the base of the engine, blow by and oil escape at the top of the engine, loss of power and large clouds of smoke out the exhaust we knew we had to do something. After an initial diagnosis, the prognosis was to continue driving or take the engine out and try see what the problem is! Twice in just over 1 year, what rotten luck.
Fortunately Mike is a really relaxed and chilled out guy, he allowed us to camp in the car park, yep car park while we were broken down, and also to save costs we could take the engine out of the vehicle. Mmm. Well we have a workshop manual so we set about stripping the engine down right away. Kerry started of as a very good "spanner boy" but after about an hour promoted herself to supervisor. Great! Well we soldiered on for two days undertaking all the work ourselves all the way to removing the engine out the vehicle. Cool work.
Mike is probably the best Land Rover restorer in the world and currently has two projects on the go. Wow, these Landy's come out much better than they ever did new from Solihull and are valued at almost x3 the value of current Landrovers. One of the restorations is being undertaken for Todd a local fireman who helps out in the workshop in exchange for help with his restoration. He was kind enough to invite us over for dinner at the Fire House for an excellent meal with the other 2 firemen on duty and we took the laptop along and gave a presentation on the laptop of our trip through South America. All in all it was an excellent evening.
Well after we took the engine out Lodzi, Mike opened it up and had prepared us for the worst. On initial examination, the cylinders were scored a tiny bit but not worthy of making a difference. However on taking the pistons out, it looked like the rings had not been aligned correctly in Argentina and 3 pistons had their rings more or less aligned resulting in the blow by. Mike corrected these and reassembled the engine.
While we were at it, we also replaced the clutch plate with a reasonable spare we were carrying and the back end oil seal which had not been replaced in Argentina. We also had the radiator cleaned and re-cored and the intercooler apparently had a hole in it which we had welded. Just for these two things a whopping $500 - Ouch.
As we were without a vehicle for the weekend and the shop would be closed for a long weekend, we contacted Craig, a friendly guy we had met in Belize while he was on holiday whom lived in San Francisco. After inviting ourselves to his house for the weekend, he apologised as he had plans for an extended weekend away but we were more than welcome to house/cat sit. BONUS!! Thursday afternoon we packed some weekend belongings and made the journey into San Fran, Craig picked us up at the tube station, took us out for an excellent Mexican dinner and made us feel very welcome. Once again American hospitality coming into its own. We settled in very quickly to the four wall experience which we have not had since staying with Sian and Ted in Texas. Kerry loved it. It was like being pampered.
We spent the first two days just vegged out in front of the TV where James caught a few of the world cup soccer games from Germany. Craig also had WIFI in the house so we were able to use Skype.com and phone all the relatives whom we had not spoken to in quite a while.
Sunday we prised ourselves out of the luxury of 4 walls and caught the BART train into San Francisco downtown area. After a quick pit stop in the Visitor Centre, we started a full day walking tour through the streets of San Francisco following the "Barbary Coast Trail" This took us through the heart of China Town, down through the Financial District and into North Beach. Here a festival was in full swing with tonnes of curio stalls, exotic food stands and numerous live band bars open to the public. The centre stage was Union Square where a free live concert was being fully supported by thousands of people enjoying the good weather.
After hanging around for an hour or so we climbed straight up a hill to Coit tower which offers sweeping views over San Francisco and the Bay area including an excellent view of Alcatraz. Yep the Alcatraz! From here we walked down to fisherman's wharf, a bustling tourist area where trendy Pier 39 is the focal point. Unfortunately it was late in the day and the wind had whipped up, blowing straight off the sea and sending temperatures way down where we were both chilled to the bone.
Unfortunately it was very expensive here so we just window shopped. Continuing on we climbed several very steep hills before coming across Lombard Street famed "Most crookedest street in the world". Here scores of tourists photographed cars coming down the famous street. All the cars coming down were tourists filming their decent. It was very amusing although we both agreed Lodzi would probably struggle to come round some of the sharp switch backs.
After waiting at the top of the street for the famous San Francisco Tram, missing 2 due to already being fully occupied, we decided to walk all the way back down town to catch our train back to Craig's house.
The following morning we packed early and caught a bus, train, bus all the way back to Livermore airport where we hooked back up with Lodzi. And see what could be done to help our ailing sidekick....................next page