So, it didn’t start well. Yesterday afternoon and we crossed into the USA. It took us about four hours to travel thirty miles to Browning and were lucky enough to find the casino to overnight. We woke up to freezing conditions both within and outside. The truck heating system had coped well for the living area, however the water pipes in the “garage” area remained frozen for a couple of hours. Still, we are in a casino, in the US, with a cafe/restaurant and our first example of an All American breakfast. My estimation was about 3000 calories in the one hit, on one plate. We shared, well mostly. (What’s yours is mine and what’s mine is my own, unless I want to give it away, under very specific circumstances and with beneficial conditions to me – (engraved upon my heart apparently)).

Let’s get somewhere warmer, and we hit the road again. The roads continued to be hazardous but the scenery breathtaking. We headed over the Glacier National Park towards Kalispell and our first stop to obtain supplies, and more importantly, contact with the outside world. We have found we are not reliant on phone/data signal but it does relieve a lot of stress when you are in the middle of nowhere with a 28 year old, that has issues. (The truck that is! Mandy is not 28 although she thinks she is). We got a phone deal that would work faultlessly anywhere in the USA and provide unlimited data and phone signal, (Was promised-more later) and set off to look around. Like most northern areas of the continent there is a certain bent towards outdoor activities and hunting/guns in particular. We visited a store and was told if we could provide and address we were able to purchase whatever we wanted from their very extensive firearms range. What could possibly go wrong ?

We had to get out of here. We spent the first night in the woods above Flathead Lake, very much alone, in a pine forest, at about 3000 feet. It was a lovely setting, if quite steep access. We settled in to update the family etc, no phone signal – what, but the salesman promised, best coverage in the USA. Turns out that America is quite big and phone coverage is “a bit patchy in places”. Cheers for that. And is was still quite cold.

The next day took us out of the forest and into the sunshine. An uplift of spirits was required and we happened across a small town called Hot Springs which immediately sparked interest amongst certain members of the expedition, “Let’s have a look”. It was very small town America on an Indian reservation. We bumped into a local guy, Antonio, a fellow traveller, who was very helpful and basically invited us to stay in his town, anywhere we wanted. He also pointed the way to Big Medicine Hot Springs and Mandy effectively willed the truck in that direction. (Other bathing areas are available). The sun was out, the temperature cool, but pleasant, and after a few freezing days the 40° springs were fantastic. And a happy spouse to boot.

We met another couple at the Springs, Kim and Tom, who told us about some live music that evening in one of the town bars. The rest of the day was planned out and a suitable spot was identified about 2 minutes walk from the venue where we could overnight. We walked over to the bar where Tom was knocking out some great country tunes, the beer flowed, and the phone signal worked, heaven!

We continued into Utah and stopped in a few different places as we travelled in the general direction of the west coast. As we crossed into Washington State we were a bit shocked to find this sign !

It has been erected by Klickitat County in memory of those who had given their lives during various conflicts and were from the local community. It was very nicely done, quiet, respectful and, despite the size, not ostentatious.

Mount Hood was beckoning and we headed south into the mountains of Washington State and into Oregon (Utah is very narrow at that point). We climbed (Very slowly) up hairpin turns until we reached a level where there were numerous ski areas. Yes, very high up and in the cold again, but it was worth it for the vista. We spent a night in the shadow of the mountain. Initially we were in the company of a small transit size van in this vast car park area, however blue and red lights arrived, some intense conversation with the occupants of the van and we were suddenly alone. No idea what went on, the Police didn’t come over to us at all! (Which was good because at that time we had not managed to purchase our National Parks Pass).

Next the west coast and the Pacific Ocean. The weather was not great with a fairly constant drizzle, strangely just like autumn (Or fall as it is here). Oregon is famous for its sand dunes that extend for much of the coast. This in turn attracts ATV’s, off road bikes and buggies of all natures, who are permitted to race around the area. It looked like great fun but a vehicle recovery plan was vital and the thought of getting embedded, on a beach, with 25′ waves forecast, failed to generate the enthusiasm to taking the truck for a circuit!

It was becoming very apparent that we lacked power on some of the long hills, and there were lots. How the locals loved us, able to just sit behind us at 20 mph and enjoy the view whilst ascending the lengthy hills.

Conversations with some of my more knowledgable Daf owner friends in the UK revealed a fix for such a problem. It involved replacement of a small diaphragm in the CAV fuel pump, on the engine. They are prone to sometimes split and causes a lack of power. Now ordinarily this would be a fairly simple job in a warm workshop with mechanics, tools and a clean, firm surface. All we could find was a firmish gravelly beach area close to the sea. Still, it had to be done. Mandy was promoted and now held the rank of chief mechanical assistant and adviser. (The latter part added as she chose to repeatedly tell me how to do the job!) not true

The job could have been made a bit more difficult by the vehicle designers but not much. Situated in a place where having the hands, the size of a very small children would work without a problem. Unfortunately I have hands like shovels and struggled to get access, however, eventually the new diaphragm was fitted and it was like having a new engine, literally flying up the road. I’m slowly getting the hang of this mechanical stuff (As long as we keep it very simple). With new found vigor we were back on our way, ready for the next mechanical failure, that, as it happened, was just round the corner – and down the road a bit.

Heading further south in a quest for sun and warmth we entered the forests of the famous Californian Giant Red Woods. We took some time to take in these magnificent trees and even visited the legendary home of Paul Bunyan (Giant lumberjack back in the day).

Then the Avenue of the Giants and the Chandelier (drive thru) tree. The truck would not fit! But we were getting closer to nature.

We stopped that evening in a small town close to the forest area and woke the next morning to some noisy neighbours, literally outside the window. They eat breakfast early here with no consideration to sleeping wives! Still their appearance kept all happy.

We continued and refilled with water in a small village as we were exiting the main forest. The intention was to hit the west coast road, Route 1. However we met a very nice guy who suggested we visit a “cool” place called Shelter Cove on route. He didn’t mention that the road there was the narrowest, steepest in California. Obviously you had to go up one side and down the other to reach the ocean. The brakes were smoking, wheels rims glowing and our nerves shot by the time we got there. And there is only one way in and out. I wasn’t looking forward to the next day!

Shelter Cove itself was very pleasant we we opted for (the only) camping in the bay. The camp host was surprised that we had decided to bring our “RV” down that road. They don’t get too many big trucks down here (Surprisingly, not everyone is that stupid). I can’t imagine what it would be like in winter.

There was a micro brewery in town and we wandered over to relieve some of that stress. We always seem to fall on our feet and tonight was no exception. We took a place at the very cosy fire pit and were engaged by some of the locals. Live music played and the evening drifted away together with the memories of the drive down.

The next day brought a reverse of the drive down and we were very relieved to regain the comfort of the Route 1 tarmac. This coastal road is far from straight and level as it hugs the Pacific Ocean. It travels along the cliffs revealing fantastic, picturesque views throughout, highly recommended.

The weather was improving and rays of bright sunshine began to stream through as we entered Fort Bragg. We visited Glass Beach in the town, so called because the whole beach is strewn with small glass fragments. These particles originated from the town dump. Many years ago the locals literally threw rubbish off of the cliffs and into the ocean. (Good job we’ve learnt since then!). The power of the sea has ground the glass down to small pebble size pieces and can be found everywhere.

We found a great overnight spot just down the road at Arena Point where seals basked on the coastal rocks. Other than the lighthouse we were pretty much alone.

The next morning was the first suggestion that not all was well in the world of truck mechanics. The clutch felt spongy and only engaging halfway down. As previously mentioned we were very alone, off the beaten track and didn’t think the Lighthouse keeper had a sideline in old British Vehicle repairs. We decided to hot foot it onto San Francisco where help may be more available.

Coming down the west coast you enter San Fransisco over the Golden Gate bridge, an iconic structure with views over the City. Just before the bridge is a “vista point” that overlooks the bridge and the city. Parking here overnight is permitted and free (Overnight parking is very scarce in the city proper and there are several reports of RV’s being moved on by Police). We ended up staying at the vista point for three nights, driving into the Marina area during the day to visit the various sites.

First things first, let’s get that truck sorted. We drove into a smaller part of town looking for an area where we could tip the cab and have a go at bleeding the clutch slave cylinder. Sounds like I know what I am talking about but in reality I had a load of advice from a mate in the UK (Thanks Paul) who had had the same problem. (And the phone signal was still working!) This was to be the first step to identifying the problem.

As we cruised around with the clutch deteriorating we were stopped by a guy taking an interest in the truck, falling on our feet yet again we asked if he knew anywhere we could work on the vehicle and he offered his boat yard. He also mentioned that his son, Matt Linder, who was initiating a project to build overland type RV’s based on Toyota Pickup. (The site is not up yet but some pics can be found at his Instagram site – Yotahome). How’s that for luck. Hardstanding, warmth and a garage full of Snap-on tools. Plus a very enthusiastic Matt who was keen to help AND who knew a man who knew what he was doing, Andy!! A couple of hours work reverse bleeding the clutch and we were back on the road, for now anyway. We owe a great deal of thanks to Matt and Andy. Cheers. (Why am I the only one filthy?)

Back to some serious sightseeing and we powered into San Fransisco Marine parking area (The only free parking area that will take a RV size vehicle). From there we were on foot towards the Fishermans Wharf area and much needed sustenance. There are restaurants galore and the theme is, not surprisingly, seafood which made a nice change to ribs, burgers etc. A ride on the old fashioned trams was included, this was made so much better when I saw the hills we would have had to walk to get to the shopping area, as obviously, this was a compulsory part of the visit. There was also a strange tree that was sprouting fresh rocks as fruit. Art apparently! (I know, i’m an uneducated heathen, but someone should consider the risk assessment, The young Isaac Newton would have had more than an “aha” moment hanging around under this tree).

The next day was a highlight for me, we acquired tickets for Alcatraz Island, normally you have to buy about three weeks in advance, but I think they saw Mandy was coming and didn’t want to upset her! A short boat trip across the bay and we arrived. Costing about $40 each I actually think it was well worth it.

A free audio tour is provided which takes you around the whole cell area and explains the extensive history of the prison and subsequent devolvement to a National Park. Obviously, the main story is the epic escape by Clint Eastwood (Aka Frank Morris), filmed back in the 1979 (It can’t be that old, can it?). The majority of it filmed on location, and why not, the set was already built and authentic. The cells are tiny and offer no privacy at all. The whole place is pretty daunting, still, do the crime, do the time! I mean rehabilitate obviously, but it doesn’t rhyme.

Nobody really knows whether Clint and his buddies survived the escape although this link suggests they may have done.

Leaving the island it was time for more retail therapy as the Alcatraz trip had been for my benefit and now Mandy wanted to do something for her. I, gleefully, tagged along (Maybe I was going to get something ??? – er, seems not). Back to the truck and the car park. We downloaded the film “Escape from Alcatraz” which despite its age, still commands a financial burden! and settled down for the night. It’s still a great film.

We had had enough of city bustle (and the vista point car park) and the next morning we were off to higher, a lot higher, pastures new. Yosemite here we come.