Monday, August 27, 2007

Prince George British Columbia 26 aug 2007

We have been covering quite a bit of ground again in the last few days,
and are at present in Prince George, British Columbia, Canada.

California was left behind after 8 days. Driving north through the
redwoods of California, and Oregon we entered the beautiful waterway
areas of coastal Washington. The magnificent Columbia River and rugged
coastline around Crescent City were indeed spectacular. Washington was our
15th state in America, with Alaska still to go.

In Port Townsend, on the peninsular opposite Seattle, we met up with Eric
Durfey, who we first met when he did the electrical outfitting on the Vimy
back in 1993. Eric has recently purchased a 100 year old 40' wooden boat
just perfect for the surrounding area. He is currently moving from his
fantastic home in the woods to a house in town but we did manage to spend
a couple of wonderful sunsets on the deck he has built on the cliff above
the ocean overlooking the surrounding islands.

Lang had been concerned about the Bambino's alternator for some time so
took advantage of having some experts around with the equipment to remove
and repair the bearing. Eric and he removed the alternator and had it back
(well overhauled) from the very helpful auto electrician late in the
afternoon. The car now does not sound as though there are a dozen parrots
trapped under the engine lid.

Early on Friday morning we travelled to Port Angeles and caught a ferry
that took one and half hours to Victoria on Vancouver Island, and entered
Canada. Our passports were stamped when we landed and that was the only
formality required.

From there it was just a short trip to Sidney and a wonderful meeting
with my father's 93 year old cousin with whom I have been corresponding
with for over 10 years, but have never met. Alfred (Fred) is hale and
hearty and was able to give me loads of information about our family
roots a century ago in England. His daughter Christina and her husband
Norv, who also live in Sidney came over in the evening. Their children
are both married and live elsewhere in Canada. I have always enjoyed
researching our family history, so to have had a family reunion this far
from home was just fantastic.

From Vancouver Island we caught another ferry at Nanaimo back to the
mainland just north of Vancouver. We decided to push the little car over a
few more high passes so took Highway 99 north passing pristine lakes and
spectacular mountains, many still snow covered, passing through Whistler,
which is hosting the 2010 Winter Olympics. We have already found that
Canada does not have fuel available on lesser roads every few miles like

Today travelling through the Cariboo region of British Columbia we have
followed the historic Gold Rush Trail which runs adjacent to the mighty
Fraser River. Many thousands of gold seekers in 1858 made their way into
the interior using this route. We stayed last night at Lilooet, which in
1858 was the second largest city west of Chicago, and north of San
Francisco (after Bakerville further north). It, along with Bakerville, now
boasts a few hundred people. The towns along the highway are still named
100 Mile House, 150 Mile House etc. distances measured from Lilooet.

We are now just above the 53rd parallel and the weather has turned quite a
bit cooler, so we have unearthed our long sleeved clothes and jackets
again. Today for the first time since we arrived in America we had rain,
fortunately the wipers still work after being idle for so long.

Tomorrow we actually start on the ALCAN (Alaska Highway) proper with the 0
mile post in Dawson Creek. Looking at the information available it seems
we will have to plan our stops as the little settlements are a long way
apart from now on – plenty of camping spots but not many motels.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

California 20 Aug 2007

We have had such a great week here in California. We have not driven many
miles but have thoroughly enjoyed ourselves catching up with old friends
and making many new acquaintances.

We left Peter and Tessa's house on Wednesday and, accompanied by a
neighbor in his sporty Lotus 7, we set off to Monterey down the scenic
Highway 1. We had not gone too far when we broke our clutch cable. Lang
managed to get rolling with the starter motor and we got ourselves back on
the freeway and sailed along, driving without a clutch for the next few
hours until we got into a traffic jam. We were able to peel off into an
industrial yard where they had a large jack and did a temporary repair
that saw us the rest of the way to Carmel Valley.

We had been lucky enough to be invited to attend the exclusive Quail Lodge
Car display, which is part of the Concours Week held in the Monterey area.
It is described as a display of all things elegant which includes not only
the 120 entrant cars and 3,000 spectators who pay $200 a ticket to attend,
but also the food and wine that is available all day featuring French,
Italian and Californian themes. The garden party setting is arranged on
the lush grass of the driving range of the Quail Lodge, Resort and Golf
Club, accompanied by appropriate music and the most perfect weather

The event director Mathias Doutreleau, a Frenchman, and also a Fiat 500
owner, made our little Bambino very welcome into this most prestigious
company. He insisted we bring the car unwashed and had it displayed in a
very central position. He also arranged accommodation with his friends
John and Vickie Edwards who were wonderful hosts and made as feel as if we
had been their friends forever.

Over the weekend there is also the Concours d'Elegance held at Pebble
Beach , Concorso Italiano, vintage car racing, air shows, etc. We
certainly had the most fantastic three days, sightseeing, eating,
drinking, and meeting so many wonderful people from all over the world.
In between all this Lang was able to use the golf buggy workshop at the
Lodge and do a more permanent repair to the clutch cable with some
clothesline wire, and also more running repairs and maintenance that had
been needed.

We again headed north meeting up with John Lanoue, at his hanger in Novato
before going up to St Helena in Napa Valley to join his wife Brenda who is
a Chief Instructor Chef at the CIA (Culinary Institute of America). We had
a wonderful Indian meal cooked by Shyam and Andrew two of Brenda's
students. On Sunday we were given a tour of the college which was
renovated in 1995 on the site of the former Christian Brothers Winery. The
100+ year old building was preserved with its cathedral ceilings and
massive hand cut stone walls.

The whole of the Napa and Sonoma Valley area north of San Francisco is
covered in vineyards, many of the vines with bunches of grapes hanging
ready for picking. There are hundreds of wineries and wonderful
restaurants, it is very much a tourist destination.


Thursday, August 16, 2007

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

San Francisco 15 Aug 2007

 Last night I lay in bed and listened to the fog horns in San Francisco Harbour, bringing back memories of the year we had previously spent here. It was thirteen year ago almost to the day we left San Francisco aboard a United States C5 Galaxy with the 1919 Vickers Vimy tucked into the cargo hold and the Vimy entourage on the upper deck bound for England. Again we were sleeping at Peter and Tessa's house, but now with the addition of three gorgeous children.


Yesterday we stopped off at John Lanoue's (builder of the Vimy) hangar at Novato airfield where he helped Lang fix the broken starter cable on the Bambino. For the last few days we had been push starting the car.


From there we drove into San Francisco over the Golden Gate Bridge and had our first glimpse at the Pacific Ocean that we had left behind 77 days ago, and 20,000 kms back at Vladivostok. We really feel as if we are now over a major hurdle and even though we still have 5,000 kms still to go we feel we are on the final stage of our trip.


To get here to San Francisco we travelled from South Dakota into Wyoming  crossing the Powder River Pass in the Big Horn Mountains at 9,666ft. The poor Bambino struggled at these altitudes with drastically reduced power, but the scenery was spectacular.


We continued west going through Yellowstone National Park, somewhere I had always wanted to visit. While we were driving through the park we saw a herd of buffalo at close quarters also a coyote, and numerous varieties of birdlife. We drove around Lake Yellowstone and out the southern entrance then through the Grand Teton National Park with it's awesome mountain peaks still with glaciers visible.


We stayed overnight in Idaho Falls in Idaho, famous for their potatoes as their number-plates extol. Here Lang discovered a problem with the alternator, which he thinks is the bearings. Being the weekend no workshops were open, so we crossed our fingers and continued westward. Fortunately we have got this far without it causing any further trouble and over the next few days we have a Fiat expert going to go over the car for us. Also we will have the ding on the side repaired.


From Idaho we went across the hot, dry and very barren landscape of  Nevada. The monotony only relieved by crass casino settlements forming artificial oasis along Route 80. We overnighted in Battle Mountain not quite by choice. Here we filled with fuel and as we were going to leave and do another hours drive the car stopped dead and no persuasion would get it started again. I booked into a conveniently placed motel and we pushed the car back to their parking area and Lang fiddled until dark to no avail.  He sent out e-mails with the symptoms to our fiat experts, and Dave in California, Torsten in Hamburg and Damen in Melbourne all came back with lots of possibilities but each ended his email with the same question - have you checked what went in at your last fuel stop?  Petrol engines don't run too well on diesel!


None the less it was a sense of relief, after a restless night, that it was not a major problem, and we did not need to arrange trucking for the car. After draining the tank we filled up with the good stuff and managed 750km to San Francisco Bay area. It was a pity to find that after 5,000km of great roads the I-80 freeway from Reno to Sacramento over the Donner Pass had a surface as rough as the worst Russian efforts. Maybe all those California taxes should be directed a little more to road maintenance.


We intend to enjoy a few lay days here in San Francisco and catch up with many of our friends in the area.



Friday, August 10, 2007

South Dakota 9 Aug 2007

In my last report we were in Cleveland, Ohio heading west on Route 80. From there we starting thinking how boring this was going to be, so after our next overnight on the outskirts of Chicago we decided to take Route 90 further north..
We contacted Greg Herrick (who now owns our 1927 Avro Avian) in Minneapolis, and after passing through Wisconsin and into Minnesota we drove north along the Mississippi. Here we visited Greg's fabulous collection of historic aircraft at the Anoka County airport. He had just returned from Oshkosh where he had six of his aircraft on show.
After a nice dinner we stayed the night at Greg's 100+ year old house, with the boys up until all hours of the morning reliving their many previous flights in vintage aircraft.
Along the way passing through into South Dakota we were seeing more and more cruising bikes. We learnt from the riders that this is the week that the Sturgis Rally was being held, so this gave us a purpose to continue on Route 90. While crossing South Dakota we stayed one night at Chamberlain on the banks of the Missouri River and then the following day we stopped at a Pioneer Auto Show in Murdo. This is a private collection of the Geisler family and is a pioneer village as well as a collection of over 300 cars. Dave Geisler the current owner manager was there to greet us and took a real interest in our Bambino.
On Wednesday night we managed to find some accommodation in Keystone and took the opportunity to go to Mount Rushmore to see the gigantic sculptures of the four presidents' heads. It is very well presented by the National Parks and not over done like a lot of other tourist attractions.
Keystone was an attraction all on it's own, with wall to wall bikes and the riders taking over the entire frontier type tourist town. We were impressed by the cleanliness and behaviour of such a large group of people.
On Thursday morning we drove into Sturgis and spent the morning enjoying the spectacle of hundreds of thousands of bikes of all shapes and sizes. The main road through the town is closed to all cars with only the bikes having access. Every store seems to be selling memorabilia or bike accessories. There are hundreds of stalls along the streets again selling bike-related gear. They get over half a million entrants to the rally which started in 1938 with only 200 riders. When I say we were being passed by thousands of bikes along the interstate it is no exaggeration.
For about a radius of 200 miles around Sturgis for this whole week, there is a huge concentration of people, bikes, trailers, caravans and mobile homes. The majority of bikes are cruising bikes and all fairly new. Most were Harley Davidson with a percentage of Honda Goldwings . We saw no antique bikes and very few sports or trail bikes. Many riders in the burning sun showing large amounts of bright red skin, both male and female, and few wearing helmets just amazed us.
The countryside has been ever changing from the heavily treed hills of Pennsylvania to the corn and potato crops right through to the Missouri River. From there the main crop becomes wheat. As we travelled more inland we passed into the grasslands. Here on the Prairie is where the Sioux lived, buffaloes roamed and "Dances With Wolves" was filmed. As you progress through South Dakota you go through the badlands with it's moon like appearance and this is bordered by the pretty Black Hills around Rapid City.
Even in this extreme heat – over 100 degrees - the car has been performing well and Lang and I, although uncomfortable in the heat, find it tolerable as long as we are constantly moving with the air conditioning on!!!

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Ohio 4 Aug 2007

After marking time for the last two weeks while the Bambino enjoyed it's
sea voyage across the Atlantic, we are on the road again. We were reunited
on the dock in Newark, New Jersey on Friday 3 August, with the car looking
as good as when we left it in Zeebrugge.

Lang and I arrived back in New York late on Wednesday and Lang went
straight to the customs office in Newark. He had feared that we may have
trouble clearing the car but he was gone barely half an hour when he came
back beaming with everything stamped - first hurdle crossed. Apparently
everyone in the office was a car buff and after being shown a few photos
they were extremely enthusiastic and helpful.

This just left the clearance from the shipping company who had already
told us that we would not be able to take delivery until after the
weekend. Lang rang Dudley Waterman, Operations Manager of Wallenius
Wilhelmsen who had his staff make a special effort for us and we drove
out of the yard at lunch time on Friday, only hours after the ship

On Thursday before the ship arrived we went into the city to see the
sights. Lang's patience for such things faded after a few minutes so I
headed off to go to the top of the Empire State Building while he went off
to do something "more constructive". Two and a half hours on the open-top
bus allowed me to get a shallow but wide-ranging "must see spots" overview
of New York – far from the cleanest city in the world.

After collecting the Fiat on Friday we then had to return the hire car. So
we ventured across the middle of New York with me driving the hire car and
Lang following in the Bambino on Friday afternoon with the temperature at
100 degrees. Thank heavens for our GPS and the lovely voice that, when
you make a wrong turn, just so calmly tells you that it is recalculating,
no gritted teeth or raised voices - a truly marvelous invention. It took
us hours to drop off the car, repack the Bambino and then retrace our
steps back into peak-hour traffic out of New York. Quickly across New
Jersey, by 7pm we had crossed the border into Pennsylvania, where we
stayed for the night

For a number of reasons we have now decided to cross USA on Route 80.
Today we have driven right across Pennsylvania and are overnighting in
Cleveland, Ohio. In all we will cross twelve States.

In the owner's manual, written in 1950's, there is a whole chapter on air
conditioning, and as it was another hot day today we put it into practice.
First you roll down the window, then you position the quarter glass window
at an angle so you get a breeze, then the third step is to open the
sunroof – which is counterproductive in 100 degree sunshine. Actually when
we renewed the original sun roof, before we left Brisbane, Lang attached
an extra lining of light carpet, and today we decided that it was a very
smart move, as it has provided great insulation.

The reaction to the car here is amazing. Everything on the road is huge.
Unlike Europe, all the vehicles seem to be big pickups, large 4WD's,
monster Winnebago's and plenty of armchair style Harley Davidson's so we
really do stand out as "gee that's the smallest car I have ever seen."

From the web site written on the side of the car we have already had
people e-mailing who have seen us on the road, and one person, "Gooose (3
O's)Chicken", stopped and took a video and has already put it on U Tube. I
think that by the time we reach the West Coast we will have an incredible
following. As Gooose Chicken said it's all about putting a smile on
someone's face.