We finally crossed the border!!!

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After a long journey across America, we came back west and spent some time with family prior to crossing the border into Mexico. We thought the day would never come. We spent an entire month at my brother’s house in Arizona, bought a grocery getter and had some much-needed engine work done. After the shop had the Ambulance for a month, I was terrified it was going to break the bank. When John handed me the bill, I was shocked. I gave a little chuckle and said “seriously, that’s all?” He said he’d be more than happy to charge me more, but they weren’t in the business of ripping people off. They gave us an itemized list of all the work performed, and with them pulling out the engine and fixing cracked heads (anyone who’s ever had cracked heads knows they’re VERY expensive to replace) and deleting the EGR, putting in a new coolant filter, replacing the turbo lines (even though we had them replaced prior to this they didn’t come with the flange that it needed to prevent the lines from blowing off) to get the ones that came with the flange. They flushed the engine over 5 times to get the casting sand out of the engine. The guys were amazed at how much casting sand was still in the engine after we already had a ton of engine work done already. They actually were embarrassed that other diesel mechanics didn’t notice any of the other problems that they did after driving it. They expressly told us that any good diesel mechanic should have noticed certain elements which were causing all of our engine and turbo problems to begin with.

With no particular time frame to cross the border, I was more than happy to leave Ambulicious with them for a month and get all the necessary work done properly. We came out with a bill of roughly $5600. I was very pleased, to say the least. If only we had done that sooner, it could have saved us another $12K plus hotel rooms.

We finally picked up the ambulance January 25 and drove it a few miles, had some issues which the mechanic came out to fix on the side of the road and sent us on our way. We spent an additional week in Arizona driving the rig around just to make sure the engine was solid. We got the windows tinted and headed out the next day. We finally crossed the border in Calexico on January 31.

The border crossing didn’t take too long. I went in and got our Visa’s while Bronson was out with the Border Agents having the vehicle inspected. They noticed the world map on the side and were instantly more interested in our trip than inspecting the ambulance.  They even took pictures of themselves with Ambulicious. Within half an hour we had our Visa’s secured for 6 months and our vehicle inspected and given the all clear. It was probably the easiest border crossing/Customs I’ve ever had to go through. The Visa’s were $30 USD each, they didn’t require any paperwork for our dog, even though everything I read online said you had to have a health certificate and proof of vaccinations and it was required to have within 10 days of crossing the border.

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There were also numerous people who said there were vets everywhere that could give a health screening for your dog at the border. Well, just so you know, NOT IN CALEXICO! But make sure you make an appointment at least a week in advance whichever border you decide to cross. Most vets will be booked up and are found in El Centro (7 miles north west of Calexico) if you’re crossing in Calexico. I don’t know if this is the case for all border crossings, but it sure was in Calexico. You’ll even find that Petsmart’s that have pet clinics will usually have a doctor that can do the screening, but there isn’t one near Calexico with a clinic.

After crossing the border, we traveled through Mexicali and were surprised at how well marked the roads were directing you to the next major town or city. They were simple signs and easy to see. Some of the merging lanes though were a bit confusing to navigate. I was thankful we only have 21 feet end to end that we have to navigate with. The streets and lanes get narrow and I have to wonder how Class A and 5thwheel vehicles maneuver through these roads.

We continued to San Felipe and got in just a couple hours after crossing the border. We stopped in at an Oxxo store and picked up Mexico Telcel sim cards and switched out our Verizon sim cards so we didn’t have to worry about internet service and over charges and the headache of a huge bill from Verizon, even though they claim to have an international plan, it never works for us. I’ve tried in many different countries and I didn’t want to pay $5.00 per day per phone for our phones. That would have been very expensive, an additional $450/month! No thanks.

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The setup was really easy, but I speak a little Spanish, so I understood the instructions. We recharged the sim cards and in total for three phones, spent $75 for a month of unlimited calls, texts and social media and 30 gigabytes of data. This has been really helpful since Kaden’s schooling is all online. We headed over to Kiki’s RV park and got in a little before dusk. We got the last camp spot and set up for the evening.

 

Frustration is getting the better of us

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As we ventured across the country starting in October, we hit some major highlights along the way. We trekked around and saw the Great Salt Flats and Mormon Tabernacle in Utah (and amazing hotpot), Split the Dinosaur National Monument in Utah/Colorado where we were able to see where mass amounts of dinosaur bones had been unearthed and protected. We soaked in some natural hot springs in Steamboat Springs and Hot Sulfur Springs in Colorado and even visited a friend down in Colorado Springs.

We left Colorado and when we got to Kansas we started having vehicle issues. We knew it would eventually happen and prepared ourselves for it. We ended up getting stuck in Topeka, Kansas for a week, getting the brake drum fixed, which turned out not to be the problem. Turns out that when the 4wd system was installed, Advanced 4WD didn’t put a seal between the transfer case to the drive-line brake assembly and we kept spewing out fluid from the overflow tube of the brake. That was a $5000.00 fix. Yikes.

We got back on the road thinking the issue was fixed, but when we got to Columbia, Missouri, things were still the same. We were still losing Transmission fluid from the transfer case. So Bronson went to the local auto parts store and we again got stuck at another hotel, trying to find out how to fix the problem. After acquiring the correct parts, Bronson and Kaden sat in the parking lot of the hotel and tried fixing the transfer case to no avail.

 

We left Missouri and headed out to Louisville, Kentucky. We had gotten an appointment at the local Ford dealership and when we showed up, they couldn’t take us because we are considered a heavy-duty commercial vehicle. They referred us to All State Trucks for service. We got there and had them take a look. They couldn’t figure out why we kept spewing fluid and took the entire assembly apart to find there was no seal. They also couldn’t fix it, because the parts that had been put it were not Ford parts, rather they had been made specifically for our build up by Advanced 4WD and we’d have to take it back to Utah to get them to repair/replace it. They ended up putting an overflow filler tube in to recirculate the ATF fluid we kept losing. A temporary fix until we could get back to Utah.

Finally we were on our way. We got to Virginia and started our American History tour. We went to Jamestown, Yorktown and Colonial Williamsburg. After spending time exploring around that general area, my laptop decided that it didn’t like the new hardware I had put in it, and it fried the logic board. Now I had to buy an entirely new laptop to replace my old one. I use a Mac, so it’s not cheap and I have some very important documents on it, so I couldn’t just go buy a PC  (proprietary issues and all). There went more money.

We left Williamsburg and headed up to Philadelphia and hit Mount Vernon along the way. We were able to see the tomb of where George Washington and his family are entombed and tour his home. We even got to see original furnishings including the bed in which GW died. It is an amazing estate. When we got to Philadelphia, we checked out Independence Hall, where the Declaration of Independence was signed and got to take a tour. We went to the Constitution Center, the Liberty Bell and Penn’s Landing. We even went to Benjamin Franklin’s old alley way to where he used to live and we toured Betsy Ross’s house. It was a successful 5 days in Philadelphia, complete with Philly Cheesesteak sandwiches and a case of the pukes. We got to taste beer that was still made from the old recipes that George Washington and Thomas Jefferson used when they brewed their own beer.

We left Philly and started heading to Washington DC when we lost power in the Ambulance. We couldn’t figure out why we weren’t getting any turbo boost. We just had everything fixed during the bullet-proofing process before we headed out in September. We limped the vehicle in to the campground and set up camp. We found a great dog sitter and became quick friends. She watched Roxy all week while we went and saw the sights. We would drive every day to drop the dog off and park close to the metro and take metro into the city down to the National Mall.

 

While in DC, we toured the Supreme Court, Library of Congress and the Capitol. It was fascinating. Did you know that pre-9/11, during one house session, representatives from Puerto Rico brought in guns and shot a couple of people during session? I didn’t. They still have the hole in the ceiling and a hole in the desk where the Majority Leader sits as a reminder. You can’t take pictures in there for security reasons. You’re searched and required to leave all electronics out with the security detail. They return your things on your way out. There are two cameras, (which is what we view on C-Span) that are allowed in the room. Members of the press can have their phones and laptops, but are not allowed to take photos. Even the Congressional staff aren’t allowed to have their phones with them.

Security is tight, the lines aren’t long and they move quickly. Everywhere you go has security scanners and metal detectors. If the scanner isn’t available, security searches your bag. On the plus side, all these things are free. We visited 4 of the 17 Smithsonian Museums and those are all day trips in themselves. You can actually see DC for pretty cheap, minus the food. We wanted to take a tour of the Washington Monument, but it’s closed until Spring 2019 for repairs. We walked along the reflection pool and went to Lincoln Memorial. We even took a couple of days to just chill out and do nothing. But I think a highlight for Kaden was the International Spy Museum. This is not free, but it’s pretty reasonably priced. We even paid for a package that let us be spies for an hour. It was actually pretty fun.

About the 4th day in DC, we noted that while driving, we could barely accelerate and we were barely climbing small hills at less that 20mph. Again, we took the vehicle into the shop and had everything looked at. We replaced the Backflow sensor, when that didn’t work we stopped at the auto parts store, bought and replaced mass airflow sensor. That didn’t work either. There went another $700.00. We brought it back to the shop the following Monday. They ran a ton of diagnostic tests, pulled and cleaned the EGR, tested it and made it actuate. Then they pulled and replaced the turbo because main shaft had broken loose. However, that didn’t solve the power boost problem either. It improved the boost, but when they drove it after letting it warm up, the turbo boost was still failing. They resorted to trying to find an electrical issue. We are now in day 3 of it being in a shop and having to get a hotel. Another thing that sucks? We returned to our campground to get our chairs that we had left there and when we got back, they were gone! Somebody likely stole our nice camping chairs!

We seem to be hemorrhaging money left and right and all I want to do is gorge out on the most unhealthy, artery clogging foods most days. We knew this would happen, but it’s still incredibly frustrating when it does. We are not happy.

After getting our bill from the repair shop, it seemed they took pity on us and charged us for a quarter of the labor and just replacement parts. Thank goodness, because I was dreading having to pay $5k. We got out with barely a scrape and only paid $1800.00. However, 4 days later, that Turbo blew on our way to Asheville for the Overland Expo East and we had to rush it in to the Ford Dealership first thing Tuesday morning.

Those guys at Asheville Ford were awesome. They replaced the turbo (again) and found the EGR cooler had a crack in it causing it to leak, and bleeding enough that we kept losing power. This was just checked by the other repair shop and had been fine for the last 4 days. These guys worked diligently all day and put some overtime hours in and had us on the road the next morning. Yay! Only one night we had to pay for a hotel on this breakdown! I call that a win.

 

We did, however, walk out and had to pay $3800, with $2100 of it being labor. Well, so much for not paying the 5k… We made it to the expo and had a very rainy, wet and muddy weekend! All in all, the show was a success. We made some friends along the way and got some very valuable information from some of the vendors. A must do for anyone wanting to travel the world by vehicle, especially if you plan to be off grid like us. More on that in the next post!

 

 

 

 

Ruby Mountains

We took a small detour on our way to Salt Lake City, through the Lamoille Canyon to the Ruby Mountains, just outside of Elko, Nevada. I had heard from a late friend about this magical place many years ago. He had once told me it was his favorite place to go to escape the crowds and have breathtaking views. I’ve been through Elko and all over Nevada and always thought, beside Reno and Las Vegas, this state had really nothing to offer beyond the Great Basin National Park. When my friend told me of this place, I’m not gonna lie, I totally dismissed it. Then just a short year after he told me of this place, he passed away from Leukemia. I’ve often thought of him when I would drive through on an adventure elsewhere and once told myself that I was going to go there one day.

That day was today. We drove up the canyon and were immediately struck by the beauty that unfolded before our very eyes. The amazing contrast of colors as the summer season came to an end and welcomed fall. Vibrant yellow and red hues set so picture perfectly on a blanket of green. Enormous mountainous spires towering tall above us, reminding me of how small of a creature I really am.

As we continued up the canyon, we found campgrounds galore. We also found dispersed camping down some rough roads. We decided to put Ambulicious to the test and see what she could do on these rocky dirt roads. We ventured down this road to pass a parked trailer with a man and his family out on the back deck of their enormous trailer. They watched in awe as I got out and helped spot Bronson through the steep and rocky terrain. I was sure we were going to blow a tire at one point. After handling the road like a champ, we came across a site that was far down that road, tucked away down an even steeper rocky road (that just made me think of ice cream). We maneuvered Ambulicious into a spot and proceeded to set up camp.

The following morning, we set out to Spring Creek. A small town on the way to Ruby Mountains. We had an interview for the Overland Expo East as Volunteers and needed internet service as the canyon is- well, like any other canyon. There’s no service anywhere out there. We set up shop at a coffee house and completed our interview. Then it was on to completing a little bit of homework for Kaden.

Once homework was done, we stopped at a small market, picked up groceries and headed back out to the canyon. We continued driving past our campsite to the end of the canyon road. It literally ends at a trailhead that will allow you to take anywhere from a short 2-mile hike straight up the mountain to a 43-mile, 5-10-day backpacking trip. There are numerous hikes for you to choose from and all of them are rated moderate to hard. I wasn’t thrilled to be doing this hike in the middle of the hottest part of the day, but I was so happy to be doing anything but sitting in the Ambulance, driving.

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As we trudged up the mountain and looked behind us, I could see that we immediately began gaining elevation and were looking down on this magnificent canyon, littered with color. I tried so hard to capture what I was seeing, but no matter how I adjusted my settings, the camera could never see what I see and I don’t like to HDR my images too often. My phone does it automatically, but my actual camera doesn’t. I feel like the HDR portrays an image that doesn’t exist in that kind of vibrancy. When the sky is a deep blue, I want to show the real blue color. When I’m taking pictures of scenery, I want it to look in my photo’s like what I remembered seeing.

We hiked a mere 2-miles in and made it to the first set of lakes. The lakes were beautiful as was the natural scenery surrounding them. The dog made quick work of the lake and all the dirt around. We decided to stop here and just take in the scenery as I said a quick and quiet “thank you” to an old friend for the suggestion to come to this place.

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As we ventured down the trail, back out to the trailhead, Kaden engaged me in some very interesting conversations, asking questions like “would it be bad if we were on a plane and had to fly upside down?” and “if we were flying upside down, wouldn’t we be flying down toward the ground since the wings are supposed to give the plane lift?” Good questions kiddo. I told him I would hope we’d never be flying upside down (unless we were in a jet doing tricks) and that it would make sense if the wings were shaped to give lift that if we were inverted, we would be flying down instead of up, but I really don’t know.

We reached the end of our hike and were walking out when Bronson met a man who was parked behind us in the parking lot, admiring the Ambulance. So, as we get to talking, it turns out, they were traveling East to visit family and were coming from Truckee too. To make matters more interesting, they live in the same neighborhood as we do and are doing something similar to us. Small world. As the sun started setting, we said our good-bye’s and headed back to camp. We made the treacherous journey down the rocky, dirt road and settled in for the evening. Tomorrow we head to Salt Lake City. Who knows what we’ll find there, but no matter what it is, I’m sure we’ll meet some great people and do amazing things!

 

 

 

 

 

Just Passing (back) Through

So… When we first left to go to Thailand this past summer, Kaden’s best friend, Sierra, asked if he would be staying in town long enough to see her for her birthday and spend it with her. He promised her he would be with her for her birthday, tailing it with “that’s what best friends do.” After hearing him say that, we couldn’t not come back for it; which kind of sucked. We were already on our way to pick him up last week when Sierra’s mom texted that she was going to be having a birthday party/sleepover and wanted Kaden to be there.

Well, shit. I had been asking for a couple of weeks what the plan was for her birthday, and there hadn’t been a definitive plan. I figured we’d pick her up from school one of those days as we were passing back through and spend the entire rest of the day with her and take her to do something special. With that thought, I figured we’d have a couple of weeks to spend getting up to Washington and back. I was wrong. It was Saturday when I got the text, and her party was going to be on Saturday, 7 days from then. So, we kinda rushed our trip, which was fine. We still enjoyed our time spent with family and even took a day trip to Victoria, BC so Kaden could go to the Royal British Museum. He LOVED it.

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We came back, spent two more days with family and headed home. Since Bronson’s back is pretty messed up still, we had to make lots of stops. We would drive the equivalent of 6 hours in 10 hours. We’d stop and get coffee, do homework, let the dog out and stretch our legs and get some fresh air. It took us 3 days to get home. We arrived on Friday, picked up some groceries and made our way to Sierra’s house.

When we got to Sierra’s house, Sierra rushed out of the front door and impatiently waited for us to finish parking Ambulicious. Once Ambulicious was parked and we set foot on the ground, Sierra came running up to us, jumping into my arms so excited to see us. Tears of joy nearly streaming down her face when she realized that Kaden kept his promise. She didn’t think he’d really be able to make it back. He gave her a big hug and said “that’s what best friends do. We keep our promises.” Heart broke just a little hearing this exchange.

Friday night was great. We spent time with Sierra and her mom and talked the night away. Saturday morning came quickly and with it, a small list of responsibilities when I realized our tenant had texted me to ask if we could come over and set up some of her electronics and I had to pick up the mail and take pictures of our piano to hopefully sell. We also had to wait for some guys that were coming to pick up our truck we were to sell to them (who at the last minute, said something had come up and they’d need to come on Monday… Yeah, yeah, likely story.) and my sister-in-law was flying in to Reno and had a 15-hour layover before her next scheduled flight. We diligently checked the boxes on that list and I went to pick my Sister-In-Law up from her hotel and bring her back to what was now, full blown child chaos as Sierra’s party had started. We chatted until the wee hours of the late evening before Bronson and I took her back to her hotel so she could be up flying by 6:30 am.

We returned to Ambulicious and the chaos of the party. I walked into the house and there were still tons of kids still awake and moving around, whispering loudly that they couldn’t find a place to sleep.

I walked out after checking on Kaden and found him fast asleep, returning to Ambulicious and retiring for the evening, knowing the next day was filled with visiting other friends.

We spent the entire Sunday visiting with Kaden’s other best friend, Dylan. They took the whole day and built tons of stuff out of Lego’s, while we caught up with his mom. Kaden asked me if I would get the game Fortnite for him to play. After doing some research, that was a big, fat NO. I don’t care that there’s no blood or gore. I care that you’re talking to random people online, most of whom you’ll never know and can’t trust, and the entire game is about survival from other online, real people playing the game with avatars. They’re still real people, with real voices. And the fact that you can’t respawn, that you have to restart from the beginning with a new avatar to try to be the last person standing, meaning you have to kill other people to win the game, I’m really not on board with teaching my kid that just because it’s cartoonish, that it’s okay to kill people. Call me crazy, but kids these days are too desensitized to violence anyway and somehow, the lines between fantasy and reality have become quite blurred. That’s just my personal take. Maybe when he’s older, but for an 11 year old?

I was so happy to be able to spend this time with our friends. We all have busy lives and it’s rare that we actually get to see each other outside of picking the kids up from school or dropping them off at school. Now that Kaden is homeschooled, it’s imperative that we keep him socialized. I’m finding that to be difficult. I just haven’t done enough research and am having a hard time finding information on families that are doing the same thing as ours, figuring out how to keep them in social activities and engaged with other kids. Going and playing is one thing, actually making long-lasting friendships, well that’s our next challenge.

First Couple Days as Vagabonds

It’s been a whirlwind of emotions this past month. First, angry because it felt like this day would never come and everything kept getting backed up. So, what did I do? I procrastinated the hell out of the time we had left in our house, knowing I would be missing all the amenities I’ve come so used to enjoying.

Then it was frustration. The rig was supposed to be done the second week of August, well that week came and went and it still wasn’t done while in the back of my mind, we’d already rented out the house and needed it to be done. Our move date was September 1, that’s when our new tenant was supposed to be moving in and we still needed to plumb the water and propane lines, install a Propex heater, Hot water heater, water pump, water tank and 2 propane tanks to power the heater and water heater. So quite a bit of stuff left to do and only a week or less to get it done.

 

From frustration came panic. Holy shit, we have one week until move day and we have to pack up the whole house and put stuff in storage still and figure out what we can take in the Ambulance space wise. Whatever didn’t fit just went into storage and I sure as hell hoped we had enough space for all our stuff.

After panic came nervousness. We just weren’t going to be able to get on the road as quickly as we wanted. A bunch of our friends offered us their homes to crash at and plug in while still slaving away on the ambulance, but we were determined to make it happen.

Then came happiness, the point at which we got the rig back and she was mostly complete. 400 watts of working solar; installed awning; fabricated, powder coated and installed side ladder and winch bumper. We waited for so long for this to happen and the day finally came (with a hefty bill attached to it) to pick her up.

After picking her up, then the reality of work-to-be-done-still set in and panic mode set in again. We diligently got to work, well, Bronson did on the plumbing and heat. I’d say he did a damn fine job. Took 3 days of work and too many trips to the hardware store to count. I started downsizing our belongings to what would fit in the Ambulance and began throwing stuff in boxes with labels like “breakable kitchen shit” and “random shit” and “I think this goes in the bedroom”. This panic mode kept with us just about until the end. As the time approached, we made numerous trips to storage and reconfigured the interior of the ambulance and downsized more stuff in it.

Finally, we were three days out, just a few hours of cleaning needed to be done. I’d called numerous places to see if I could get a cleaner, nobody would call me back. I called movers to move our heavy stuff, nobody called me back, I called landscaping companies to set up scheduled maintenance and again, nobody called me back. We were just shit out of luck. So, here we were 3 days to go Tasmanian deviling the shit out of the house and property just hoping to make the deadline. We rented equipment to move our heavy stuff and voilà, the house was empty and just needed to be cleaned. 4 hours of deep cleaning and we were on our way!

Finally, the happiness set in as I texted some of my friends that we were off on our new adventures. We drove for a few hours and pulled off to camp somewhere off the highway across the street from a lake. We set up our bed and for the first night in a very long time, I slept. I woke up this morning at 0730 and we set out on the road again.

Somehow, in some way, though the skies are darkened with smoke, I feel like a kid again. No real financial responsibilities and a whole uncertain future ahead of me, the skies are bluer, the air fresher and I’m excited to see where I end up tomorrow.