And, that’s just from my Mum! Mandy has also chimed in, moan moan moan! Yes ok, i’m “a little” behind with the blog, but i’m a busy man. Anyway I have caved and am currently  sitting in a spacious pasture in the Florida heartland. It’s about 32 degrees today with a light breeze. I understand it’s about 6 degrees, cloudy with a strong suggestion of rain at home, or so my weather app says. In the words of Chas and Dave, “Musn’t grumble”.

So we left San Fran and headed inland, generally towards Yosemite National Park (NP). We couldn’t stay in the park as all of the formal campsites were closing down for the season and wild camping is not allowed. We had stayed just before the main entrance a couple of nights and I had recce’d it on the bike. A couple of days later found us in the Park with the truck and what a sight it is. More twisty roads with huge drops to the side but the views were absolutely fantastic. It’s just after the formal holiday season so the crowds were down in numbers and movement was easier. It still amazes me that we stop to take in the views and record pictures whilst other people stop to look at the truck and take pictures, and then look at the views. We travelled over the pass, up to 11,000 feet in places and even better views. Mandy generally viewed these through linked fingers and without looking down. Silly really because there was a lot worse to come at Death Vally! But she didn’t know at that time. More about that later.

We left Yosemite heading to Route 395, to the east, and towards the Sierra Nevadas Mountain Region. At a stop one of the locals suggested a visit to Mono Lake nearby and we found this amazing place, again, almost by accident. 

Again, the pictures only partially reflect the beauty of this place. The rock formations  are formed by mineral springs that percolate from below the surface and leave deposits over the centuries. The lake has receded over recent years as the source was redirected to feed the needs of Los Angeles, hundreds of miles away, however this has now been rectified and it is slowly refilling. It would be a terrible shame to lose something like this.

We (Mandy sniffed out) found another local (Travertine) hot spring and sped towards it arriving after dark and alone. It  was great to take a hot, soothing bath under the stars and at about 5° C, almost romantic one might say, but i’m not like that. (No photographs due to poor light, and the nakedness of the occupants!) It was also at that point we found that we had lost the fuel tank cap, apparently some idiot had forgotten to replace it at the last filling station!  I had a strong word with myself, which involved one or two expletives, and then remembered we had a spare.

Over the last few days it became apparent that we were losing the clutch again. The pedal was getting lower and lower. A stop was required and further reverse bleeding to keep it on the road. We discussed this over the next few miles and came to the conclusion that a new clutch slave cylinder was required. Naturally we couldn’t get this in the USA and had to import it from UK. We found a small, cheap campsite in the small town of Big Pine. When I say small, I mean blink as you enter it and you would be through the other side. That being said it was very pleasant and had a gas station that sold beer and wine! what’s not to like! We set up camp and, for the first time in the journey, hooked into the power supply via a few adaptors and voltage transformers. Nothing caught fire and Mandy could watch as much advert infested US television as she wanted. We found the replacement part on UK Ebay and Mum came to the rescue by receiving and despatching said part to our local (US) postal office. (A service provided by all US postal services and worth noting when travelling the US). Resigned to a couple of weeks being stationary, we settled in, it was just like being on a holiday. (which obviously, it wasn’t). 

Most people are really friendly and we fell on our feet again when we met Rosie and Wells in a neighbouring trailer (Caravan). They were on a break from their home in LA and they had large 4×4 vehicle. They were visiting lots of local vista spots, with which they were already familiar, and “insisted” we travel with them. Over the next few days we went to places including the Ancient Bristlecone Forest, amount the highest trees in the world at 10,000 feet and date back 4,500 years. Mining has taken place here previously and abandoned shafts still remain. Nothing was quite as cute though as the local wildlife battling for some (frozen) water in this barren area.

Rosie and Wells were visited by friends who joined the team and equally embraced us into their group. (Some more sensible than others! Del!!) More hot springs were to discovered a few miles distant, and as usual a visit was mandatory. However, on this occasion, a dip was not on the cards. This picturesque area has led to the death of up to sixteen people over the years, some due to sudden increase in water temperature in pockets of the creek (Stream for British readers). it’s called Hot Creek for a reason. Not the nicest way to go (Boiled spuds).

Further local sights included Convict Lake and Lake Sabrina, both stunning areas of water. These are fed by mineral springs and are crystal clear. A little hiking was the the order of the day.

After a few entertaining days Wells and company had to depart and we were left at the campsite to “relax” a little. We met another couple, Donald and Margeret, who were on a similar mission to us and were from Scotland. That obviously leant itself to a couple of evenings reminiscing (drinking) and northern interpretation- More about them later. We had the bike down and spent a couple of days touring some more of the local area, up into the mountains and smaller towns, when we discovered Lone Pine and its Western history. It has a museum that reflects years of filming in the area, specifically in the Alabama Hills. We visited the museum which was adorned with some great memories of my past, watching westerns with my Dad. The Virginian, the original Lone Ranger, and Clint Eastwood flicks like Joe Kidd.

Eventually our truck part arrived and, with the assistance of a local garage, I was able to fit the shiny, new, clutch slave cylinder. Naturally (as mentioned before) this is located in the most inaccessible place on the truck and required two people to get into it, but eventually we were back on the road.

We didn’t get far as the first stop was back to Alabama Hills and onto the trail itself. Wild camping is completely free here as long as you respect the area. The local hostelries were proud of their images of famous people, we were lucky enough to bump into a couple of stars at one of them – no seriously, it’s a real pic – cheers guys.

We moved on the next morning. Mandy said she fancied a bit of sun and sand! Death Valley National Park it was then, coincidentally just down the road, a hundred miles or so. Out of sunny California into the even sunnier deserts of Nevada. Fuel prices immediately fell by over $1 a gallon and gaming machines appeared everywhere.

Death Valley was something to behold. Barren is not the word, but beautiful certainly is. It has a wide variety of landscapes from Desert style sand dunes to rolling artistic palettes in the mountains shingle. Very long straight roads and little obvious life, hence the name! We came across Wylie Coyote who had worked out that tourists were a source of sugar filled treats and harassed roads users at Stop signs for titbits. Not a Road Runner in sight!

Also in Death Valley is Titus Canyon. Donald and Margeret recommended this little jaunt. It consists of a oneway “road” track that was identified by gold hunters back in the day and appears not to have been touched since. Acting with unusual caution I thought it best to consult the local rangers as to its suitability for the truck. Three responses, “if you have clearance you will be fine”, Question “Have you been through there? “eh, no” Next person, older lady ranger, “Yes, if you have clearance it’s fine”, Q, “It’s quite a big truck?” produce photograph, “Yes that’s fine”. And the last Ranger “Never been up there buddy, so can’t help you!” Turns out this latter response was the most appropriate and honest.

Titus Canyon trail is a challenging track on which you cannot turn around. Once up there you are committed. The middle of the trail is over hairpin bends with massive drops to the sides and the ungraded roadway is about as level as a fun ride at Disneyland. Mandy was not a happy bunny (at all) there was much shouting, some screaming and definite threats regarding our future. From my part I was just scared. A small 4WD would be fun, but 9.5 tonnes of truck with a 2.5 meter width is not. Photographs cannot capture the theatre of this route. Maybe you can explore it yourself! All of that being said, the actual canyon is very impressive and I think it made us stronger. (Yeah right, i’m still paying for it!)

Having exited the National Park we looked for somewhere to overnight and found a very quiet area near Shoshone Town on the edge of California. Again stopped in the middle of the desert we were rewarded with the best sunset I have ever seen and we were completely alone to enjoy it.

The following morning we nipped into the town for a spot a breakfast and try to catch up with world news with some wifi. Signal is very scarce in this area and Mandy was worried she had missed the lottery result and we were, as yet, unclaimed multi millionaires! We found a small restaurant and sat down to eat. The waitress, Cindy, was very welcoming (I think we were the first, non local, customers that month!) and rushed around to keep us topped up with condiments and jelly (Jam). Mandy got into the wifi and was downloading the up to date news when the waitress came out with the bill. Just at that moment Mandy exclaimed “The service is rubbish here!” Cindy’s jaw fell and she appeared devastated, naturally I leapt to the rescue with a full explanation of eccentric British ways and simple internet confusion, quickly paid, leaving a conciliatory hefty tip, and we were off.

Next on the road was Las Vegas and a ticking off of the bucket list. We decided we needed a break and would be staying at Bally’s Hotel, well actually it was the hotel car park, but it did very nicely. We arrived in the middle of the Vegas half marathon and did our bit to enhance the chaos on the “Strip”. Somehow we managed to get ourselves onto the valet forecourt of the hotel. Staff looked on in horror, we waved politely and ploughed through. Towards the rear we were intercepted by a very unhelpful local Police Officer. We listened to his obstructive assistance, took it all on board, totally ignored him and circumvented his very important position at a traffic junction. Eventually we got into the staff carpark where we met up with Donald and Margeret again. We spent a week taking in the sights, losing a bit of cash and dining very well. An interesting place and, as you would imagine, very over the top. A Rat Pack show was a great evening especially when “Dean Martin” took Mandy’s newly delivered dirty Martini from the table and spent half the show consuming it! Her face was a picture. There was also some late night dancing at the Paris, not involving me obviously!

Mandy met a couple of guys in the street that were clearly down on their luck and were begging for money to buy a few clothes. Always the Samaritan, Mandy was willing to help out with a few dollars. Poor guys.

Obviously a bit of shopping was on the cards, what is it with woman and shoes!! More food and an un expected meet with a legend whilst at the MGM. We also managed to fit it a hockey game seeing the Vegas Golden Knights.

In the interest of the blog we persevered with Vegas like the martyrs we are, but it was far too much like being on holiday so we were off. AND, NO, I didn’t get the bike!

Not sure exactly where this was, discovered on a random back road in Arizona with a genuine Police vehicle parked next to the main house. American cops do have a sense of humour!!

Moving on we were heading for the Hoover Dam just south of Vegas and spent a few days there before moving on to the Mojave Desert National Preserve. A cold front was forecast with lots of snow. This was definitely not in the itinerary, especially in the desert, and we didn’t want to miss it.

The Mojave did not disappoint. Free camping in the middle of a vast vista leant itself to some unequalled star scapes and lonely views across the distant desert. With the rapid advance of the holiday period there were very few people around and it was very peaceful. We had some great trail walks that ended with a bit of climbing, always going to bring out the funny side of things. Mandy always embraces these outdoor pursuits. It was getting cold and the heavy bout of snow was en route! The Mojave is not a place to get snowed in!

We holed up in Flagstaff initially pulling into the Walmart carpark for refuge. All seemed fairly normal and we settled in the for the night. A couple of hours later it sounded like all hell was breaking loose outside. We opened the door to find the car park absolutely rammed and people running around everywhere with super large TV boxes and other goods. Apparently it was the Thursday before Black Friday and the sale had started at 1800hrs. It was all being taken very seriously and queues extended around the carpark. It lasted a few hours before a form of peace returned. We popped into the store the next morning and managed to secure a great deal ourselves, 6 pairs of socks for $5, bargain. We moved out the next day to a quieter Cracker Barrel car park (We know how to live) whilst the snow came and went blocking the more rural roads (That we generally use).

Once the roads had been cleared a bit we headed west, towards Winslow, Arizona, so we could have a stand on a corner. (Think about it). On route we passed the worlds first proven and largest preserved meteor strike in the USA so we had to visit and it was pretty vast and intact. As well as being privately owned and expensive! Apparently the astronauts trained here before landing on the moon. Conspiracy theorists crack on!

A couple of peaceful nights beside a lake just outside Winslow and we were then back on the road. Grand Canyon here we come.

Sorry there are lots of pictures in this one which will be a pain to download, but some of the views cannot be put into words alone.