Posts Categorized: Volkswagen

Miles and Miles

Felt like thousands of miles driving through Canada. Partly because it’s true, we have driven more than a “few” thousand miles by this point. This sequence is from the very beautiful Glenn highway corridor, coming into Alaska.

How a Border Agent Pushed our Bus Back into America

Having driven more than 2800 miles since leaving our garage, there have been ZERO technical difficulties as far as Vanessa came. I watched the CHT (cylinder head temperature) gauge like a madman, and religiously checked the oil level at each gas up. She was running like a top, and at idle was purring like a tiger.

Alas, on a normal gas up routine in Watson Lake in BC, I turned the key in the ignition, and heard the oddly familiar sound of the *click* of a dead starter. Familiar, because Kat and I have gotten tired of crawling under the bus, and had already installed a ‘hot-start relay’ a few years ago to address this very problem. Everything else checked out – the battery had lots of juice, but the starter wasn’t turning.


Hey man, nice rug.

A quick inspection revealed a blown out 15 amp fuse. The massive amounts of driving and stop-starts we were doing must’ve done a number. No worries. I had no spare 15A fuse, so I popped in a 10A and she fired up.

Things were going fine, until we hit the last stretch of highway in BC before hitting Alaska, when I managed to blow 2 more 10A fuses in succession. We knew we had a problem, and we’d keep blowing the 10’s. The plan was to not shut off the engine, until we bought the proper 15A fuse. I held one last 10A spare to get us by, and sneak us back into America. Or so we thought.


I was kinda hoping this RV would crash into the ceiling.

Upon crossing into the US border, we lined up to the single customs/immigration lane that was open. A line of vehicles waiting behind us was starting to grow. As we pulled up, the officer asked me to shut off the engine.

Shit.

Well, that’s fine. I had a spare fuse in my pocket, and could pop it back in to start again after our interrogation was over. We answered the typical questions. No officer, we don’t have weapons. Yes, the plates are really HEY 1979. No, we don’t have any “plants”. We’re on our honeymoon, and driving into Alaska for a few weeks. And when he says “Okay, thanks, you can drive through” while handing us our paperwork, I cross my fingers and turn the ignition.

*Click*

Shit.

I look at the officer and shyly explain that we’ve been having start issues, and that I’ll need 30 seconds to pop in a new fuse under the bus. By the time I finish my sentence, I was already on the ground replacing the one that bombed when I tried to start it. I ran back into the bus, and turned the ignition.

*Click*

Shit. That was the sound of my last fuse that just exploded.

Quickly assessing the situation. I was holding up a sizable line, and we were the only lane open. I looked at the officer in the eye, and said “Well, looks like we’ll need to push her out of the way”. Guys, you should’ve seen the look on his face. He gets out of his stall.

My last memory is having him push the bus with Kat, and hearing him shout to pull it over the edge and try to push-start the engine. I kick the clutch, gear into second, release, and BOOM the engine turns over into a happy idle. Kat squeals and jumps triumphantly from the back, and runs up into her seat. High fives all around, while Nickel gives us a dirty look.

Hello, Alaska

And that, is the story of how the Border/Immigration agent, pushed our little VW bus back into America.

Avenue of the Giants

Avenue of the Giants

Taken along the way up the beautiful California redwood forests.

We are much further along now, with a massive backlog of pictures and other things I wanted to share, even before the trip started. Not much time to sit, especially now that we’re so far away from home. I had wanted some semblance of chronological order to my pictures, but it is starting to push everything back. Shame, but what can you do when you’re literally more than a thousand miles away from your zip code, and momentarily call a breadbox your home? That and we’ve spent the last 4 nights in various degrees of forest, and after the physical and spiritual drain of slaving away over countless miles of asphalt in a 33 year old vehicle, I prefer not to look at anything else except for the soft glow of the moon and stars when we pull up into night.

Don’t drive too fast along your road – there are avenues where giants like to roam. You might just miss them.

Along the Oregon Coast

Looking forward

To the thousands of miles, we look forward with anticipation. To the thousands of miles, we look forward towards the horizon.

The Oregon coast is not a stranger to me, as I’ve traversed through the exact same route via Vespa several years back. Yet familiarity does not diminish character, as we pass through the quaint towns and say hello to fellow Bay Window breadboxes on the road and ride alongside the beautiful crashing waves of the Pacific.

Calm Before the Storm

I’ve been primarily incognito, wallowing in filth, and sniffing all kinds of volatile compounds. We’ve been laying down serious hours in the garage, getting Vanessa in tip-top shape for the first leg of our honeymoon.

A few days ago, we were paid a visit by Colin. He is a wandering VW ninja of sorts, the type that converts mere key-holders into full fledged owners of an air-cooled machine. And in a span of 9 hours, Kat and I found ourselves completely transformed, stepping into the enlightened role of Volkswagen owners, taking over the basics of maintenance and tuning onto our own hands. This has been, by far, the greatest preparation we have undertaken for this trip.

Why learn ourselves, you ask? While I certainly agreed in the past that certain things should be left to experts (i.e. hire a damn mechanic), I have come to accept that owning an air cooled VW in this day and age simply cannot be (to a certain degree) entrusted to the supposed experts. With the type of travel we choose, and the situations we typically find ourselves in, there is no substitute for knowing to diagnose and having a basic understanding of your vehicle, when you find yourself stranded on the side of the highway in the middle of the night with no one to call.

Another pertinent example, Colin pointed out that whoever had rebuilt my engine – I had pistons replaced a few years ago – had not bothered to warn me that two very important pieces of cooling tin were missing in the engine, one of which provides air to the oil cooler. If you want it done right, you really have to know, and do it yourself.

I’ve taken Vanessa over several thousand miles since we got her in 2007, and while it’s always a blast taking her on the road, there is a constant fear and worry that sits in the back of my mind the entire time. Is the engine making weird noises? Am I smelling gas? Am I going to get stranded soon? This fear, was really just compounded by the lack of understanding.

And so here we are, with thousands upon thousands of miles of pavement ahead of us. We took notes, tightened our bolts, and did our homework. Let’s do this.

Adjusting ValvesPoints on DistributorBad Vacuum connectorsChloe the 1970 BusGreasing out the Front SuspensionCracked and danger-mouseAssembled Fuel line rail

Lost Hills

Loves Love

Greetings from earlier today. Headed south towards the grapevine, cruising 55 on the 5.
We’re back, Los Angeles.

Zoom zoom

EMPI HD Front Sway bar on VW T2 Bus

This morning, I finally completed installing the EMPI heavy duty sway bar on the bus. It was pretty straightforward, but it took me awhile to figure out and get the tools I needed (c-clamps) to get all the clamps back together.

To be honest, I forgot about them as soon as I pulled out of the driveway. I had already gotten used to the ‘boat-y’ handling characteristics of the bus, which after all is shaped like a breadloaf. But while I was cruising the highway several minutes later, I quickly noted how I didn’t have to grip the wheel as a semi truck passed me – less buffeting from the wind. And when I took the curved exit ramp out of Sherman Way, I broke out into a smile. The bus seemed to hug the road and actually leaned into the turn, instead of feeling like we’re all about to capsize and flip over. Vanessa, are you turning into a sports car? Pretty darn amazing, I can’t believe I didn’t do this upgrade sooner. She handles like a charm!

In a few hours, I’m taking her back up to the Bay Area. I need to sleep. Now.

Repairs

A few weeks ago, I took Vanessa out to LAX to pickup my friend Joesy and his wife Abigail. I was waiting on the intersection of Howard Hughes and Sepulveda a few minutes away, when the light turned green. I advanced on first, and was about to shift to second when all of a sudden the clutch pedal fell to the floor with a loud thud, the bus shuddered violently to a stop and the engine stalled. Clutch cable, dead. Hooray!

Since I wasn’t sure if the local shops would have a spare clutch cable lying around, and the fact that Joey and Abi were already waiting (ironically just a few blocks away), we figured it might be best for them to take a door-to-door shuttle and meet them back at my house while I used up my AAA to tow the big V back home.

Replacing the clutch cable was a relatively easy task, and had the bus running within a few days.

Yesterday I ordered new H4 headlights and a thicker gauge sway bar, both to make the upcoming trip to SF this holiday season a little bit safer. Another item on my to-do list is to replace the old style seatbelts with modern retracting ones, but it may have to wait with the ever growing laundry list: windshield rust leak, replacing the battery tray, rotating the tires. I think it’s safe to say that the love and attention you put into a Volkswagen will be repaid several times over, with the adventures it takes you on (and off) the road.

Off the Road

Camping along a ridge at Sequoia National Forest

Got back a few hours ago from the depths of the Sequoia and Sierra National Forest. Left Friday after work, and met up with Ismael, Alessandra, and Katrina at a developed campground around Lake Hume. I got detoured for an hour thanks to my impeccable pidgeon-like navigational skills, compounded by the lack of a GPS nav unit (aside from me being cheap, the ’79 VW bus does not have a cigarette light accessory charger. I know.)

Saturday was spent “exploring” the back roads, which consists of lots of dirt, the occasional washout and a few deep ruts. At some point, I was even second guessing how the hell Basso convinced me to take a 30 year old VW into the forest trails. Yet Vanessa performed admirably, the engine kept its cool and she meandered gracefully across deep ruts and danced on the gravel. Almost as if she’s more comfortable in the outdoors than she is on pavement! The main goal was to take a specific trail down to the Kings Canyon River, but we were faced with a giant muddy puddle that scared me and we settled on Plan B instead, which is on a small meadow with a great view. :P

Among the highlights of the weekend was going up to “Delilah’s Lookout”, which is this fire lookout point which we chanced upon at a dead-end after getting lost on the trails. We scaled the 70 foot metal structure (and slightly soiled my pants since I’m deathly afraid of heights), met the two volunteers manning the station, and soaked in some pretty awesome 360 degree views of the entire forest. They showed us a few tools they used to track and report wildfires, and I got a kick out of this small 2’x2′ wooden platform raised by glass bottles that they need to stand on during the duration of a storm to insulate themselves from lightning. Plus, Kat scored a vintage copy of “The True Story of Smokey Bear” comic book that they gave us while he was going through the stuff for a fire permit. Very cool stuff.

The other highlights I need to point out are Korean BBQ short rib tacos, chicken skewers glazed with dijon honey mustard, blue cheese hamburgers, and lots of ice cold Tecate. Mmmm. Pictures tomorrow!

Long Drive

Well, that “comfort behind the wheel” turned out to be 7 hours on my butt each way, fighting strong head winds and praying that the bus could make it up the next big hill, cursing myself for taking the 5 northbound where I was bound to hit two enormous cow factories that instantaneously filled the cabin with methane and other toxic ass fumes. FUN TIMES!

IMG_0045

And, an old problem resurfaced. The dreaded ‘hot start’ problem manifests after long journeys, characterized by idiot lights firing up on the dash but the starter not engaging when the trigger is pulled. Fortunately, previous experience with this demon left me adequately prepared with the correct tools (a remote starter, flashlight, and a nice rug to lay on) and a calm collected consciousness. I will admit though, that I miss the days when I would have Ms. Kat crawl underneath the bus and have passer-bys gawk in horror as they find out I made my girl crawl under the car, not me. This time, people just gawk at the dog as he paws on the windows in a valiant attempt to get some fresh air and prevent himself from pissing all over the driver seat. Which, as it turns out, is another story that only a few close friends shall ever know the real deal about. Hooray.