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John and Mandi

us --> van --> overland
7 yrs and 6 days - end of the road

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Seeing the Forest for the Trees

Jun 11, 2015
by John
in: USA

Leaving Expo West we knew we had to be in San Diego in about four days. Wanting to slow down, proverbially smelling the roses and all, we decided we should pick one major destination and see if we have time for anything else.  After a bit of deliberation, Joshua Tree became our target and we set off stopping to spend a night on Lake Havasu along the way. Being east coasters, we love bodies of water. Lakes, rivers, creeks, sink holes, clean doesn't really matter. Mandi is always thrilled to be able to swim and not worry about being eaten by an alligator, she's a wee bit apprehensive.

Cattail Cove Campground, Lake Havasu, AZ, USA

Nothing vicious lurks beneath

Having successfully pruned ourselves both the evening and morning of our lakeview stay we completed the drive to Joshua Tree. An obscure post on TripAdvisor helped us score a campsite inside the park. Lesson three, if the campground sign or entrance says full it might not be. Even the ranger said there might be one or two, half the sites were available but it filled up by evening.

We were able to work in a short hike to Skull Rock after we arrived and ended up scrambling over the boulders bordering our campsite as the sun was beginning to fade. Given the chance, Mandi would probably take up climbing so it's something she may incorporate as we travel. I'm fortunate that I can walk without causing major devastation to self and others so I'll concentrate on hiking for now.

Skull Rock, Joshua Tree National Park, CA, USA

This ain't the goondocks but we swear we saw Chester Copperpot

Jumbo Rocks Campground, Joshua Tree National Park, CA, USA

Quite the pile there babe

Mandi had previously torqued her back, we have no idea how, so we were trying to keep things fairly low key (yes she was climbing around on rocks with a hurt back - what can I do to stop a monkey). By weird happenstance there was a mobile chiropractor, Chiro on the Go, staying in a campsite not far from us. Dr. Bruno didn't have any of his equipment but his practice is located in the town bordering the one my sister lives in so we jotted down his info to make an appointment. (Sorry again doc for barging in during your nap.)

On our way out of the park we stopped and hiked the Split Rock Loop, we're glad we got there early as it was getting pretty hot by the time we were done. The hiking was helping Mandi's back as opposed to just sitting in the van. We barely scratched the surface of Joshua Tree so if Mandi decides to take up climbing we'll have to visit it again for sure. We loved that the trails had official signs posting the nearby climbs and their difficulty.

Joshua Tree National Park, CA, USA

OK Joshua Tree, yours is bigger

Joshua Tree National Park, CA, USA

No people, that is not a backboard, they're recovery tracks damn it, so stop asking

We figured we should get to my sister's place a day early to have time to get some van and Mandi maintenance performed. It took all day, slackers we be now, but we were able to get Mandi adjusted and a much needed oil change and tire rotation for the van. Learning this a bit late, the fuel filter for the JaMvan is industrial sized and not stocked by the dealers. We located a couple at CarQuest, we should have had one already, and worked a deal to have it changed by Ford since the van would be on the rack already. Ujoint Offroad installed a fuel bowl delete which is why our filter is different than stock. If you've ever changed the fuel filter in a Ford diesel van you'd know why we had it moved. Dealing with locating extra fuel filters is way easier than what is involved with changing a stock filter. We'll take plenty south to cover the rest of our journey.

Soon we were hurling through the air with my sister and nephew to Florida. My dad was turning 70 and almost the entire clan was getting together to raise hell. We told my parents that we wouldn't be able to make it so we could be a surprise. My mom was, someone slipped up and told my dad but he was enamored nonetheless. It is wonderful to get to spend several days just shootin' the shit with family. We tore up St. Augustine one day and had a mean game of Crimes Against Humanity another, something we may need to pick up sometime.

Palatka, FL, USA

The reason I'm here, all complaints should be sent directly to them

Palatka, FL, USA

Icky sister cooties

It is rare that we all get together but it is always a great time. Getting to see all of my aunts, uncles, cousins, nephews, and in-laws as we set off on our big adventure was fantastic timing. We all always complain about not getting together enough so many ideas were tossed out on where we could meet up in the coming years. We lobbied for destinations along the Pan-Am of course, Belize and Costa Rica perked up many an ear. Kisses and hugs were shared by all as everyone bid farewell. Love, the most wonderous of things. (Sorry there are no full family photos, the ones on FB were too compressed.)

Arriving home we were pretty spent. Switching from east coast time to west coast then back to each again had our internal clocks quite confused. We had made a second appointment with Dr. Bruno before we left to help with Mandi's back, we weren't rushing away the next day. What started as a couple days of lazing about turned into four. Each evening was spent with my sister and nephew, we'll crash with them again on our way to Baja. Prying ourselves away, freeloading is definately the way to go, we set off back to Arizona.

The Grand Canyon must be etched into the minds of every single U.S. citizen. We had driven by it twice now, when we purchased the van and drove it to Florida and on our way to San Diego a little over a week ago, this time we were determined to finally set our eyes on its wonder. Of course we couldn't drive straight there, why on earth would we do that, so we headed towards Lake Havasu until we checked the weather. 105 degrees, no thank you, Mandi found some BLM land near Prescott to bed down for the night. Free and cool, just what we were looking for.

The next morning we rolled onto the South Rim and snagged a campsite. By luck we arrived during the morning mass exodus so it was easy to grab one. We set off on an unnofficial but "obvious" rim hike that wasn't so obvious at all but provided some stunning views of the canyon. It was a great tip from the camp host which resulted in us crossing paths with an elk and then a coyote, I wasn't fast or good enough with the camera even though it was around my neck.

South Rim, Grand Canyon National Park, AZ, USA

What's the big deal, Evil Knievel could totally smoke that shit

Being a bit too warm for us we decided to cut our time at the South Rim short and head towards the North Rim. On the way we stopped at Horseshoe Bend for the all popular photo opportunity and to marvel just a little. Starting to long for the touch of water we then beelined it to Lee's Ferry and clamped on to the first ranger we could find. Explaining our east coast roots and lust for the feel of water, Ranger Eran shared an access spot for the Colorado River where we could get our feet wet.

Horseshoe Bend, AZ, USA

At least it isn't another effing roundabout

It sounds dumb but we were relieved to freeze our damn toes off just to be in some kind of water. We were also a bit deprived of trees, not the stumpy sort but more of a towering grown up looking variety of tree. Ranger Eran had given us directions to an overlook that was deep inside a forest, ahhh. Needless to say we've learned a valuable detail about ourselves. We most definitely prefer to be near water and trees, possibly a requirement to our mental health.

Kaibab National Forest, AZ, USA

Be vewy vewy quiet, we're hunting sasquatches

Marble Canyon, Kaibab National Forest, AZ, USA

That'll do sun, that'll do

Reaching the North Rim the following morning did not disappoint. The hues in the canyon are amazing and there are plenty of amply sized trees. Feeling a bit more comfortable we strolled along a rim hike near the visitors center. We splurged and bought lunch at the lodge and took it all in. We were starting to relax, oh how one's environment makes such a profound impact.

North Rim, Grand Canyon National Park, AZ, USA

That damn stone samurai was creeping us out

After some deliberation, we decided to alter our route and begin meandering further north. For us it's not the right time to visit Canyonlands, Vermillion Cliffs, Arches, or Moab. Nothing against those places, we aren't ready for them. Our affinity for greenery is too strong so we must move on. The comfortableness that forests bring takes us home. Not a place, a warmth and known from inside. One day we'll be wooed by the desert sun.

Having no plan can sometimes be a real pain, especially when AT&T seems to not be a carrier for this part of the country. Our Verizon MiFi has been limping us along but its connection has been spotty at best. We began our journey under an unspoken premise that it would be easy to just wing traveling the U.S., we have books for all the other countries along the Pan-American highway. The lack of planning and internet service has us flailing around at times, rangers and strangers have saved many a day. It's obvious that we don't know our own country as well as we should, tsk tsk. Lesson four, leaning on the kindness and advice of others could never be overvalued.

Bumping into kindred spirits has helped us sort out which places to visit and which to save for another trip. When we have completed the Pan-Am we plan to ship to Mexico and drive back into the United States. Budget willing, we hope to explore Colorado and the parks we have decided to bypass that border it. Even though we feel we have allotted a respectable amount of time for this trip we are finding that we prefer to spend more time in a given area than just rushing through. We also don't have A/C so sweating it out in the dessert is not our thing.

We've also struggled a bit with pace. We have felt quite rushed, makes no sense when you have no plan-we know. Settling down somewhat to find our groove will take a while. Mooching off of my sister for so many days kind of broke our previous groove. So many times have we read and heard that it's hard to switch from thinking you're on vacation to life on the road. Some things have to be lived to be learned.

Say what? (2)
Jun 12, 2015 at 02:22 PM
Informative and last 3 paragraphs clearly explains how you felt while you are in the trip. I like the picture of Mandy sitting on pile of rocks and your van in the frame.
Jun 12, 2015 at 05:18 PM
Hey Sri,

We're having a great time, just sorting out this long term travel thing. Mandi says hello, hope all is well.
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