Background info: After seeing all the photos and videos from last year's Syncro de Mayo and reading all of the "best one yet!" comments, I marked my calendar for this year's SdM. One problem: The original organizer of the event came back from a long-
In the meantime, I had contacted the 2nd owners of Old Blue who live in the Bay Area to see if they were interested in seeing their old RV again. They were thrilled to have an opportunity to see Blue! And, Dad had won a permit to raft the Colorado River. Timing was such that he couldn't join along on the road trip, but since Mom was left to do the river trip shuttle, she wanted to go to Syncrofest and hit the national parks on the way back with me. So, Dad had a guys' trip and we had a girls' trip!
We we had planned to pack the mountain bikes, but in looking at the weather forecast (and fuel prices), we opted to leave the bikes behind (which ended up being a very wise decision).
Day 1: Phoenix, AZ to Lake Mead, AZ; 230 miles
Loaded Blue and hit the road to rendezvous with Mom. MPG: 17.6
Day 2: Lake Mead, AZ to Mojave, CA; 337 miles
Said "adios" to Dad and stopped in Kingman for lunch and groceries, then it was onto I-
We arrived in Barstow and made the change to highway 58. The winds were still raging and my foot was still firmly planted on the floor and we're speeding along at 55; at every hill the flashers were turned on for safety's sake. At first, this wasn't a problem since 58 was a divided 4-
Our initial destination was Bakersfield, but given the wind and the cluster light issue, we pulled off in Mojave and found a sign pointing to an RV park. We couldn't locate it, so we pulled into a convenience store to ask. While Mom asked the store clerk for directions, I checked out the cluster lights. Jiggling a wire on the main connector turned them on/off. Bent the wire just-
Day 3: Mojave, CA to Gilroy, CA; 273 miles
Leg I: Mojave to Bakersfield. Woke up to the sounds of trains and planes. Took a peek out the tent window to find the RV park was more permanent residence for low-
Back on the road, the winds were still raging. According to the weather report, it was just breezy in Bakersfield; so, if we could make it over the mountains, life will be sweeter! The drive through the mountains wasn't too bad and was, in fact, quite pretty being that is was so green. A burgundy Westy was going the other direction; unfortunately, a cement divider gave us a view of only the roof so we didn't wave. Made it to Bakersfield where we fueled up and pressed onward. The original plan was to go up Highway 1, but a week or two prior a large chunk of the road fell down the cliff near Big Sur. So we opted to go a short way up Highway 1 and then cut over to 101. But because we fell a bit behind schedule yesterday (thank you, Mother Nature), we decided to play it safe and just go up Highway 5. MPG: 14.6
Leg II: Bakersfield to Gilroy. Leaving Bakersfield, there was a lot of right-
Well, ain't that typical?! So, now what? Drive on to Gilroy! Back out at Highway 152, we waited to turn left... which proved to be an impossible task given that it's a semi-
Another beautiful mountain pass along the rather large (main) San Luis Reservoir. Approaching Gilroy, we discovered why Gilroy is the "garlic capital of the world": It was as though we had stuck a piece of garlic in the vents! We made plans to meet Old Blue's second owners, Dave & Vickie, at an RV park they recommended tomorrow, so we opted to stay there for the night. Not realizing that highway 152 was the road we needed to turn off of (came into town from a different direction than originally planned on Google Maps), we got onto the 101. After a brief tour of Gilroy, we realized the error and went back, stopping to fuel up the van along the way. Wow! What a lovely RV park! So spacious, clean and modern! MPG: 17.0
Day 4: Gilroy, CA; 0 miles
Had a leisurely morning. While waiting for Dave & Vickie to arrive, Mom and I set about counting M&Ms in a 42oz. bag. Mom really wanted the M&M Syncro candy "jar" to be given away at SyncroFest so, naturally, we had to go about it in a scientific manner. Dave & Vickie finally arrived and they were so pleased to see Blue (and us too)! They loved the "new" blue awning and the blue plaid curtains & accessories! And they didn't arrive empty-
After lunch and saying farewell to Dave & Vickie, Mom and I walked over to the shopping center across from the RV park to get a few supplies: felt and sewing utensils. Back at the van, Mom sewed new felt onto Blue's metal bra tabs. Unfortunately, it was predicted to be somewhat wet the next few days so the repaired bra stayed off and the rainfly went on. It also became windy, so we put the awning in. That night, we enjoyed nice hot showers; being without a hairdryer, I dried my hair in the van using the little space heater (worked great!). After a game of Scrabble and dinner it was off to bed. A few hours later, after about 30 minutes total of sleep, I abandoned the master suite. Between the wind, the highway, the trains and the rainfly flapping around, I couldn't take the noise any more. I tried to be as quiet as I could so as not to wake Mom, and all was going well until it came time to put the rear seat down. The dang seatback wouldn't unlock from the seat bottom; typical! Well, so much for trying to be quiet. Finally got situated and got some sleep. It was the first time for me sleeping on the lower bed. It was quite comfy! Would've been even more comfy had it not been for a crate I didn't move completely out of the way.
Day 5: Gilroy to Hollister Hills State Vehicular Recreation Area; 22 miles
Wanting to get additional groceries (and dessert for the potluck dinner), we went in search for a grocery store. Mom asked the park manager who told us how to get to Safeway. Instinct said, "Just go to that Walmart right there," but instead we pressed onward to Safeway, which was... way the heck out of our way and the lady gave us, basically, the scenic route to take. So, we got off to a later start than we wanted to. Everything was going just dandy until we got to the intersection of Highway 25 and 156. Navigator Mom, "I think we should've turned right back there." "No, this map shows taking 25 all the way to the town of Hollister then turning; we haven't reached Hollister yet." "But this map and directions show turning right on 156." So, we go back to 156... Mom: "No, this isn't right!" So, we turn around and go back to 25. We get to Hollister and, oh, look, Highway 156 again! GPS anyone? Finally, we see signs that we're headed in the right direction! Winding through the very green Hollister Hills we, alas, arrive at the big event. We sign in, get our goodie bag, find a place to park for the weekend and start setting up. In the process, several folks walked over and introduced themselves... the Vanagon community is so friendly! One of those folks was Lance, who we parked near. He later asked if we'd like to go for a Syncro ride. YES! And what a ride! Up and down steep hills, through bushes, through a pond, over bumps, up a rock hill, through ruts... totally awesome! Thanks for the introduction to Syncronitis, Lance!
Funny, Old Blue was the only (as I recall anyway) Westfalia to use a gray water tank, and the only one to use a rainfly (I put it up for two reasons: keeps the inside of the van a bit warmer, and because of the threat of rain throughout the weekend; sure enough, it rained Saturday night!). A couple of questions were asked of us: 1) "What's that box underneath the van?" "Gray water tank." "What's that for?" "For catching waste water so it doesn't make a mess under the van." 2) "Why did you not get a Syncro?" "While I appreciate and admire what Syncros can do and where they can go, I don't go to places, usually, that require 4WD." And you know what? A lot of people with full-
Day 6. Another leisurely morning. After breakfast we perused the raffle goodies, the trophies and later took measurements of the M&M Syncro for additional calculations. Shortly after lunch we heard that someone had a rollover mishap. We decided that, after sitting for days driving, we needed some exercise so we walked up to the beginner obstacle course. No one was around, at first. Then, one by one, vans started rolling back to camp and into the playground where we were. Simply amazing what these boxes can do!
Overland Gourmet, from Phoenix, arrived to prepare a wonderful taco dinner. They don't usually cater events, so it was an extra special meal.
Day 7. Final day for competition for those unique trophies, particularly the Warren Chapman Syncro Cup! At around noon, everyone headed up to the obstacle course. Everywhere you looked there were Vanagons and Transporters having fun and drivers showing off their skills... even 3-
There was a trophy to be given out to the "Best 2WD" and I thought for sure the guy with the $200 Vanagon ripping it up around the obstacle course (seen above in the rock garden) was going to win it. But something told us that may not be the case when Seth & Eric paid a visit to Old Blue, holding clipboards.
Lots of folks stayed up late around their campfires, while others hit the hay. Will we be among the first group to leave tomorrow, or the last? My money was on the last... I should also mention that I opted to sleep downstairs at Hollister (rather than move in the middle of the night like before). Quite comfy down there! Mom, on the other hand, opted to be chilled in the master suite.
Day 8: Hollister to Yosemite National Park, CA; 165 miles
Leg I: Hollister to Merced. Yep, I was right! While we didn't get up late (for once), we were indeed the last one's to leave. Well, actually, Lance was the very last to leave, but only because he stopped for a shower. Funny, as we were driving out, a Westy drove in; driver asked if everyone had left. We had to break the news that we were the last ones out. In keeping with the trip's navigational triumphs thus far, we once again took a couple of brief wrong turns (thank you, California, for your fabulous signage!!) in getting on the right path towards Merced. GPS anyone? MPG: 16.6
Our first leg destination on this Easter Sunday was Merced, specifically a Walmart in Merced. Mom's new camera crapped out at Hollister and the return deadline was Monday or Tuesday. We found Walmart, Mom exchanged the camera and we were off. But first, it was time for lunch. As we approached the empty parking lot of In-
Leg II: Merced to Yosemite. Beautiful drive to Yosemite! Rolling green hills, old homestead buildings, sprawling ranches, no traffic, blue sky... Northern California is definitely the better side of California. We passed through a number of small towns as well. One of these towns had a "Your Speed: ##" mobile radar units and, get this, the van's speedometer was off. According to that radar machine the speedometer was reading nearly 10 mph fast. So, is the radar machine accurate, or is the speedometer really that way off? The speedo was dead-
We arrived at the fee station in Yosemite, which had a "Closed; pay on your way out" sign posted (more on that later). Right after the fee station was a very neat spot to take a photo: two giant boulders leaning against each other to form an arch. No one was behind us so I told Mom to jump out and snap a picture! We stopped at most of the turnouts to see the fast-
Our last waterfall stop was at Swinging Bridge, where we learned a valuable lesson: Don't let your guard down for a minute. At the previous stops, we were pretty close to the van the entire time. At this stop, I parked at the end of the parking area as I usually try to do, we got out and locked the doors, I made a brief stop at the restroom and Mom continued down to the bridge. When we were done taking photos we began walking back and passed 3 young men... who looked very much not like tourists (no cameras, etc.). As we stepped off the bridge I looked over to see a red Chevy truck parked right next to the van, and I mean right next to it. Before going to the van, we stopped to ask the two ranger ladies if they had a park map (none were at the entrance). After getting a map, we continued on to the van, the rangers left and the 3 suspicious guys were walking back. The parking lot was practically empty, yet this truck was parked so close to the van we had to use the slider door to get in. No sooner did we sit in the seats, the three guys approached the truck and got in (we made damn sure the driver didn't hit the van), the driver kind of smirked as he did. They drove off and we both look at the dash at the same time and realized our stupidity: I left the iPod on the dash, Mom left her phone on the dash and we both left our purses in the "aisle" (not that the small, dark bags could be seen). We determined that these punks were going to do a smash-
I can understand why Yosemite has a reservation system for camping, but it's a system that needs revamping. We drove into Curry Village's dirt, er muddy parking lot and Mom went to the reservation office. Of course, it was closed and a sign was posted saying that Lower Pines was full, the others were not and to follow the directions at the campground itself for site selection and fee payment. So, we drove to the Upper Pines campground area and were greeted with a ranger kiosk. It, of course, was closed (it will reopen at 10am), but there was a notice indicating which sites were available for that night (only!) due to cancellations. Several of those spots were already taken, or so we assumed, so we pulled into #170. While I got the van ready for the night, Mom walked back to the kiosk in the dark to pay and was met with the following notice: "To pay your fee, please go to the reservations office." Now, as already said, the reservations office was closed and the sign over there said to pay at the campground. Since this campground has no tag system, had we actually left and driven back over to the reservations office (which would've been pointless), someone else could've taken our spot! Oh, but it gets better tomorrow morning!
Knowing it was going to get down to freezing and possibly rain, for the first time ever we left the roof down. We installed all of the insulating window blankets, played a game of Scrabble, ate dinner and went to bed. The next morning, the van's interior temperature was a pleasant (compared to freezing) 55 degrees; the noise was pretty low as well for we didn't even hear our neighbors pull in during the night/early morning.
Day 9: Yosemite National Park, CA to Fresno, CA; 100 miles
Leg I: Seeing Yosemite. After a scrambled eggs & toast breakfast, we packed up and headed out. At the ranger kiosk, we had to stop. There was a lady volunteer sitting in the booth and an official standing outside talking to her. Mr. Official said, "Checking out? Yeah, I saw your van while driving through earlier. It'll be ten dollars with your discount." "Can we pay here?" "Yes, if you have the exact change; otherwise you'll need to go to the reservations office. We can't take checks here and don't have change to make." "I don't think I have ten," Mom said. Knowing that I had one and not wanting to waste time stopping at the reservations office (we were starting our day late, again), I dug into my purse and pulled out a ten. Driving out of the campground it dawned on me: What a moron! Had I not pulled out the ten, we would've camped for free! I wonder how much money Yosemite loses with this stupid reservations system? And, the system is quite inconvenient for those folks who decide at the last minute to go to Yosemite. The smaller campground should be set aside for first-
Mom wanted to see Mirror Lake, so we opted to leave the van parked where it was and hop on the shuttle bus (quite convenient; back in '86 there was no bus system so we kids had to walk everywhere). Walking to the bus stop we spotted yet another Westy! By this time it was after noon and we were both a bit hungry. We decided to get off at Curry Village and get some lunch. Debussing, there was yet another Westy waiting! We noticed a sign pointing to burgers, pizza, ice cream, etc. "Great! I could go for a pizza!" We rounded the corner, walked up the steps to the patio and found the doors locked and "closed" signs hanging in the windows. We spotted another information sign that read: "Pizza opens at noon." Well, the clock showed it was long after noon. We then decided to just get a snack or two in the convenience store. Mom smelled coffee percolating and asked the clerk for a cup. "We don't have coffee." "But, I smell it and I can see there's coffee warming in the pot over there." "We stopped serving coffee at 11am." "But your coffee maker is still on; is it for employees only or something?" "Sorry, we stopped selling coffee at 11." "Okay, so what's the deal with the restaurants? The sign says they open at noon, but they're closed." "Yeah, the restaurants don't open until 5." We both thought: "Um, then why don't you change your freakin' sign?!" Upon walking back outside we saw a number of people sitting at the tables eating; we could also smell something cooking. Odd. As we began walking to the bus stop we looked over and saw that there was a taco "stand" open and serving food. We got in line and ordered some nachos, a lemonade and... a coffee! Now, why in the hell didn't the dumbass store clerk tell us that the taco shack was open and serving coffee when we inquired about the restaurants?! The whole place is run by Aramark so what difference would it have made?
Finished the nachos just in time to hop on the next bus. At the Mirror Lake stop, there were two routes we could take: the road, or the forest trail. We like taking paths less traveled, so we chose to go the scenic route. The trail winds along the Merced River through dark green pine trees and huge boulders, all covered in bright green moss. Eventually, we turned off the main trail and walked out to where Mirror Lake used to be. Yes, Mirror Lake was basically a pond, but the valley floor was still beautiful.
We arrived back at the van and ventured onward. Taking the south exit, we made a stop at Bridal Veil Falls. We could not have timed it better! A gorgeous rainbow spanned the waterfall and remained long enough for us to get some fabulous photos! There was so much mist from the waterfall that water was literally running down the path; standing at the viewpoint it was if it was raining!
Driving on, we came to a viewpoint overlooking the entire Yosemite valley (we parked in the "Bus Zone"). Since the sun was just beginning to set and the sky was pretty clear, it was perfect for more photos!
For most of the drive out of Yosemite National Park, there was lots of snow still on the ground and fast flowing waterfalls at almost every turn. We thought we'd stay at the campground near the south entrance, but the kiosk said "Full" (not only that, it was quite smoky from all the campfires). Now, here's 'the rest of the story": As you recall, entering the park we didn't have to pay because the fee station was closed. Well, we didn't have to pay going out either! So, a little tip for going to Yosemite: Drive in after 5pm, drive out after 5pm and you'll see the park for free! (In the spring, anyway.) Just outside the park boundary a herd of deer were munching on grass.
Leg II: Yosemite to Fresno. Since camping near Yosemite was out, we determined that Bass Lake would be our next destination. By the time we reached the turn-
Day 10: Fresno to Kings Canyon/Sequoia National Parks, CA; 98 miles
Leg I: Fresno to Kings Canyon. Somewhat early start today! I went to the bathroom and couldn't help but notice: 1) Bugs crawling in and out thanks to a large gap below the door; 2) an open window that, if you weren't paying attention, would allow any passerby to get a great look at you; 3) remodeled? If this bathroom was remodeled, I hate to ask what it looked like before. It wasn't a bad place, but it certainly wasn't "the best". Not wanting to hang around at this RV park, we went down the block to Denny's for breakfast.
While eating, we continued the topic of a GPS. Mom: "So, if we had a GPS it would've told us turn back there at 145 to get to the lake?" "Yep." "If we had a GPS, we could've plugged in the address of the RV park and it would've told us exactly how to get there?" "Yep. And it would tell us what speed we're going, which would be nice so we can verify the van's speed." Leaving Denny's, we headed for the nearest Walmart to pick up additional groceries... and a GPS! First destination plugged into it: Millerton Lake. Ah, yes, there it is! "We should've bought this when we started!" We changed the destination to Kings Canyon and were off. Hmmm; driving towards the freeway the speedometer was reading faster than the GPS... by seven miles per hour! You know what that means? That means A) the radar machine was right; B) when we were driving in that horrendous wind in the construction zone of highway 58 between Barstow and Mojave, we were, in fact, not doing 55. No, we were doing 48! Now it all makes sense! People were justifiably pissed off because were, in fact, not doing the speed limit, but were going damn near ten miles under the limit! Oops. In hindsight, I suppose I should have downshifted.
En route to Kings Canyon, we couldn't stop playing with the GPS: "Oh, cool, look it shows the canal!" "Oh, cool, look it shows elevation!" "Oh, neat, it changes the speed limit almost right where the signs are!" Anyway, towards the top of the mountains, we suddenly drove into a fog bank and 6-
Leg II: Kings to Sequoia. Following the very twisty highway 198 over to and through Sequoia, we encountered more fog, more snow, and more waterfalls and streams. The rangers told us that the road to General Sherman was closed to general traffic and that we needed to take a shuttle from the relatively new Wuksachi Lodge (built in 1999 and it's beautiful!). Arriving at the lodge, we read on the shuttle sign that we were about 30 minutes late in catching the last shuttle. Bummer. While eating lunch in the van, a family pulled in and asked for directions back to Bakersfield. After telling them that they needed to go back the way they came, the wife said, "Oh, that means going through all that road construction again." Hmm. Driving through Giant Forest, we stopped for a few impressive photo opportunities.
Well, the lady was right. We rounded a turn and found a line of cars parked: road construction! After sitting for 10-
Day 11: Sequoia National Park to Ridgecrest, CA; 208 miles
Leg I: Sequoia to Exeter. After breakfast, we hiked a trail that's right there at the campground over to the Kaweah River and crossed the bridge to see the river's tributary, Paradise Creek. Beautiful area! We were going to continue following the creek until Mom stopped dead in her tracks: "Snake!!" We turned back. It was getting late anyway!
When stopped at the creek/bridge on the way out, just before the main highway (to take some photos), an old, ratty air-
Leg II: Exeter to Ridgecrest. We stopped in Porterville for gas and had a sandwich lunch in the van. Looking at the map, we initially planned to take highway 65 down to highway 155. I turned left back onto 65, but the GPS said that we're, basically, going the wrong way and that we need to go back in order to get onto Old Stage Road. I wanted to continue on 65, but Mom suggested we follow the GPS; since it was taking us through California Hot Springs and ultimately Kernville. Okay. It was the scenic route to say the least. Pretty green rolling hills, with scattered boulders and mushroomed-
Just as the sun was disappearing, we arrived at highway 14. Taking 14 north to 395, there was a sign advertising an RV park in Inyokern. This RV park was a type we've yet to ever encounter: "No restroom facilities; no laundry facilities! You must have your own toilet and shower!" So, that nixed that idea. Do we continue up 395, or head toward Ridgecrest? "There must be a place in Ridgecrest!" We arrive in Ridgecrest, pull into an Exxon station and Mom whips out her computer. Yep, there's an RV park at the fairgrounds. Fairgrounds? Well, this should be interesting. I plug the address into the GPS and Ms. Nuvi leads us right to the place. It's definitely fairground parking. One problem: No lights, no office, no sign pointing to the camp host (but he is in space #1). After driving around the place, we finally happened upon the host who said that we had two choices: 1) Park right there in the tiny spot next to the bathrooms. "No hookups, but it has a nice table." 2) Park in the main lot. "There's a real nice spot under a eucalyptus tree with water & electric. It's right next to the road, but there's not a lot of traffic this time of night." We opt for the tree. I immediately hit the restroom, where I saw showers. One problem: The exterior door doesn't lock and there are no doors into the showers. Back at the van, I realized that popping the top would've hit the tree. Not only that, there were several ant cities all around, right there at the van. We decided to split and head for the nearest Walmart. Walmart was lit up like Las Vegas and the only motorhome there looked like it just left the junkyard. Walmart was out. We were starving by this time, so we went to McDonald's. After dinner, we drove down the road to Motel 6.
Day 12: Ridgecrest, CA to Boulder City, NV; 293 miles
Leg I: Ridgecrest to Death Valley. Woke up at a decent hour for a change and took a nice, hot, glorious shower. Only problem was: It was a corner shower, so water sprayed out of the door when it's opened; the showerhead was so friggin' low even I, at 5'8", had to perform yoga tricks to get my hair wet! Once again, we stopped in at Denny's for breakfast (hey, they do good breakfasts!). However, it was a little unnerving getting there: The van didn't idle well at all and nearly stalled leaving the parking hotel parking lot. I was thinking maybe the ISV or CTS was fouling up, but Mom suggested it was bad gas. We stopped in at O'Reilly and picked up some fuel system cleaner. The van had around a 1/4 or so tank left, so we drove onward up 395 and stopped in Olancha for gas. I dumped the fuel cleaner in and filled up. Off to Death Valley! The van ran great from Denny's onward... almost (details later). About ten miles after turning onto highway 190, we passed a late model silver Westy going the other direction. We waved and received a very enthusiastic wave back! Before we went over the mountains into the valleys, we had a great view of the snow-
It had been a long while since I'd been to Death Valley. I forgot that the first valley you come to is not thee valley. This resulted in an "Oh, crap!" moment seeing what lay ahead of us: A very long, steep mountain road. Needless to say it was 2nd gear the whole way, foot on floor and still not going the speed limit. Poor Blue... Of course, what goes up, must come back down. On the other side was a long, steep mountain road going down into Death Valley. It was in and out of 2nd gear and lots of braking. The braking actually got to be a tad scary because the front end was vibrating worse and worse with every press of the brake pedal (warped rotors?). We stopped at Stovepipe Wells to not pay, get our park pass, buy some trinkets and get my passport stamped. Before leaving the ranger station, a whole herd of Harley's rode by -
Leg II: Death Valley to Boulder City. Onward and upward! Mom wanted our destination to be Willow Beach (below Hoover Dam), but I didn't care to drive down there with the van's front brakes being in the condition they were (I still had to make it home too!), plus we weren't 100% sure that the new campground was open so there was no sense in wasting time and fuel. The trip basically ended the way it started: between Death Valley and Las Vegas, the wind was raging. Not as bad as out on I-
Day 13: Boulder City, NV to Phoenix, AZ; 330 miles
Leg I: Boulder City to Lake Mead. Woke up to a beautiful day!
After a pancake breakfast we headed to the other end of Lake Mead. En route on highway 93, we passed another Westy; we waved, but they couldn't see us thanks to the tall cement barrier. At Lake Mead, we told Dad of our adventures and viewed hundreds of pictures. He pulled the front wheels off and verified that the brakes were indeed shot; right rotor was warped and the pads were down to the wear limits. After a couple days of relaxation and a fuel-
Fabulous, fun trip! Can't wait to do it all again next year! Only, next year, the Pacific Coast Highway better not be washed out!
|Solar & Fridge|
|Hitch & Accessories|
|Bringing Old Blue Home|
|South Arizona 2010|
|Park City 2010|
|Syncrofest I 2011|
|Palm Springs 2011|
|BBB XVI 2012|
|Woods Canyon 2012|
|BBB XVII 2013|
|Blue Ridge 2013|
|Santa Fe 2013|
|BBB XVIII 2014|
|Lee's Ferry 2014|
|BBB XIX 2015|
|Lake Mohave 2015|
|BBB XX 2016|
|Lee's Ferry 2016|
|BBB XXI 2017|
|Electrical & Mechanical Projects|
|Sliding Door Screen|