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Portland, Lava Beds, Bishop, SF, Lost Coast, Portland


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#1 natjwest

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Posted 25 February 2011 - 11:15 PM

On Jan 27th, my 6.5 year old daughter and I kissed mom goodbye and headed out on our annual climbing trip to the boulders in the Bishop area. For the last few years, we've gone in our little Mazda Protege sedan, which was never very comfortable, but it was continuing a longer tradition of dirtbag climbing trips so I was used to it. But fatherhood has certainly made me expect more creature comforts. Last winter, we met some friends in Bishop who hauled their shortbed Alpenlite and I was a convert. So after that trip, I bought a used Chevy 2500 (diesel of course!) and 1991 Grandby in great shape. If you can believe it, this was our shakedown trip despite buying the camper in August.

Day 1, Portland to Lava Beds National Monument

We left Portland on I-5 and cut over to US 97 via route 58 at Eugene after slurping some biodiesel at Sequential. I've done a lot of mountain biking in the Oakridge area along route 58 so it was nice both to see it in the winter (cold and snowy) and briefly show it to my daughter.

Our next stop was in Klamath Falls, the last major town in Oregon along our route. It was getting late, but we needed batteries for the CD-walkman, and a bathroom break.

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Last stop in Oregon: Klamath Falls by natjwest, on Flickr

We crossed the state line, passed Tule Lake and rolled into Lava Beds National Monument as it was getting dark, finally arriving at Indian Well Campground in full darkness after passing a jillion deer along the road. As we all know, setting up camp does not involve much outside of the camper, so we ate a quick meal and took a night walk to enjoy the stars. The white no-name water pump in the Grandby finally gave up the ghost, but I got water from the exterior tank drain for cooking and washing. We did about 340 miles that first day, not bad since we left around noon.

Day 2, Exploring Lava Beds NM, replacing the water pump, and The Bobcat Encounter

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We got up early the next morning and waded through a traffic jam of deer.

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Lots of deer by natjwest, on Flickr

We headed to the Visitor Center to figure out which caves were best for us and get a map of cave locations. I did some cave guiding many years ago in the limestone caves of Virginia and West Virginia, and my daughter is a real adventurer who isn't scared of much, so we opted for one of the "most challenging" caves. But first we had to visit the quick Mushpot Cave right next to the VC.

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That "most challenging" cave was Hopkins Chocolate cave, which I highly recommend. The chocolate-ness comes from the brownish colored dripping look. The drips appear like that because the roof really did melt when lava was flowing through there.

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I can't speak for the difficulties of the other caves rated "challenging" but Hopkins was a walk in the park, if you've ever done any caving. Unlike all the caves I've guided in the east, the caves in Lava Beds NM are pretty much straight lines. They were formed as rivers of lava, so they vary about as much as any river with an occasional side-shoot, or a brief dead end or a couple threads. The level of challenge comes mainly from the physical activity required to get through them. For Hopkins, I was on my hands and knees for a few minutes and the footing was occasionally very rough, requiring use of your hands. We each had knee pads, and headlamps taped to our bike helmets. That's all the protection you need, plus gloves if you're an adult. The pictures we got from a small tripod, no flash and keeping our headlamps and flashlights as still as we could.

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After Hopkins Chocolate cave, we checked out Skull Cave because it has an ice floor at the bottom of the cave, and supposedly had a bunch of antelope skulls in it when first discovered. My daughter enjoys morbid, scary things so we had to give it a go. It's nothing like Hopkins or Mushpot or the upcoming Golden Dome as you can see in the picture. Absolutely no crawling required, it's mostly like a straight-line walk, with some metal stairs, ending in a metal gate. Not very exciting or worthwhile.

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But the park redeemed itself with a visit to the spectacular Golden Dome cave, back in the Cave Loop. Much like Hopkins Chocolate cave, Golden Dome required some hands-and-knees work for me, and a little bit of routefinding since its path is a figure eight. You could theoretically get lost in it forever, going around and around in an infinite circle, but you'd have to be really unfortunate to do that. In the end of the cave is the "golden dome", a high-ceilinged room covered in what appears to be gold. We asked at the VC was it was and they said some kind of bacteria working in concert with the lichen. It's really a nice sight.

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At this point, it was nearing 1 o'clock and I had been planning to blast all the way to Bishop, so we hit the road, heading south-east out of the monument on a nicely graded high-speed gravel road to get on CA-139. I have never been on that highway. For our Bishop trips, I usually take I-5 south to Mt Shasta, then cut over to Susanville via 89 and 44, but this was a great road to take, with a little more civilization but nowhere near the high-speed annoyance of a freeway.

Before getting too far down the road, I did the mileage-math with my new TomTom iPhone GPS app (really enjoy this app) and realized we could either pull into our Bishop campground at midnight, or take another day to get there, fixing the broken potable water pump along with way. Now that we were far from home, I couldn't see the point of hurrying, so we stopped in Adin, CA for some burgers at the only restaurant in town. It's a good thing we had an American-made truck since that's all that was parked in front of the only restaurant (one of two retail establishments) in town. Our truck fit right in, even if we didn't so much.

My wife helped me find an excellent RV parts store in Susanville to buy a replacement water pump. I also put in new tubing and some adapters to get the pump to fit the tiny barbed line coming from the water tank and going to the faucet. I still need to get a proper faucet, one with a handle so I can adjust the flow, now that I have an auto-shutoff pump. I did the replacement in his parking lot, about an hour job, just as daylight was waning.

That night, we stayed in a great campground along 395 south of Carson City called Davis Creek Campground, operated by Washoe County Parks. I say it's a great campground because, relative to offerings in the area, it is great. If you are traveling along 395 in the winter (when Tahoe CGs are snow-closed) this one can't be beat. I also say it's great because we had an up-close encounter with a bobcat.

My daughter and I were eating dinner in the camper when I heard a thump on the hood. There was no one else in the camp except for what appeared to be a vacant camp host in a 5th wheel. I thought the bump could be a pinecone or a bird or something, but it was loud enough that I wanted to check. As I was getting a coat and headlamp, there was the sound of scritch-scratching on the upper canvas. At this point, I thought it was some local yokels having a bit of fun with the out-of-towners or maybe the camp host investigating. As I exited the camper, I summoned my most stern, most masculine voice and pronounced, "Hello, can I help you?" More skittering sounds and then about 20 feet away I saw a bobcat, staring back at me.

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I was instantly sure what it was, so I said, "Lily get out here as fast as you possibly can without making a huge racket." She appeared quickly enough to see its glowing eyes, puffy cheek fur, short tail and banded legs. We were both pretty flabbergasted. That was an amazing experience. After dinner, we took another night walk, but failed to see any prints. The heated bathroom was nice.

Day 3, Arrival in Bishop

The original impetus for purchasing a camper was to make it easier and more comfortable for both of us while on climbing trips. I don't love camping, and if I wasn't a climber, we wouldn't have a camper. But now that we have a camper, I thought it a valuable waste of time to see some sights and have some experiences beyond just climbing. Faced with the choice of spending three days driving and eating in tiny diners and and caving and meeting bobcats or blasting 780 miles in a day, from now on, I will always choose the former. But I needed to get my climbing in, so we headed on to Bishop. It was at this point that my daughter made the first of many proclamations that, "We are on a real road trip!"

That first day, we climbed at an area called the Happy Boulders, just off Chalk Bluff Rd, north of Bishop in the Volcanic Tablelands.

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Bouldering at Happy by natjwest, on Flickr

I first visited there in 1997 or 1998, but it hasn't changed much over the years other than the hordes of weekend crowds. Being a Saturday, it was busy, but my daughter is very gregarious (and charming, according to most everyone she meets) so she enjoys the crowds. We climbed that day, then met up with some friends who were in town from Bellingham, WA. These were the very same friends I had met up with last year with the Alpenlite. But this year (courtesy of a big mule deer buck in November) they were driving a new truck and a brand-spanking new FWC Hawk. (No human injuries.) They had just picked it up in Woodland a few days prior and were still "moving in" a bit. We took tours of each others' rigs and I answered a few questions about their camper and we tried to find the hot water heater thermostat to no avail. Man, the Hawk is so much tighter than my Grandby!

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Days 4, 5 and 6, Climbing in Bishop, Viewing the Petroglyphs

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For the next three days, we had a regular schedule. Wake up around 7, take a long time getting breakfasted, take a long time packing up, head to a climbing area in the Tablelands, climb and hang out and explore for five or six hours, then mosey back to camp where we'd slowly make dinner, then watch a movie on the laptop and read before going to sleep around 9 or 10.

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Sometimes we'd go into the town of Bishop before or after climbing for more supplies or a treat at Eric Schat's bakery. I got the driver's side mirror replaced (it had been mostly smashed for a few weeks) and my daughter bought a book at Spellbinder and I bought a new headlamp at Wilson's Eastside Sports. The nights were cold - a low of 14 F for a few nights, so we ran the furnace all night. I didn't like doing that because at its lowest setting, 50 degrees, it was quite warm in the camper. Also, because we were only driving a few miles each day, the camper batteries weren't getting a full charge. Sure enough on the morning of our last day in Bishop, the batteries were so low that my inverter wouldn't turn on due to "lo-pwr". I thought I could get away with just charging off the alternator, but now I realize that on climbing trips, I don't put on enough miles to charge the batteries. I need a big solar panel and a Wave 3.

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Hiking up to Happy Boulders by natjwest, on Flickr

While climbing with a local friend, she pointed out a few faint petroglyphs. We saw some last year, and I was a bit underwhelmed. But she gave me directions to the amazing Chidago site which she promised would wow us. And wow us it did.

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The whole site is about 50 feet tall, a big jumble of rocks. Some of the rocks are very heavily marked, and others next door are unmarked. The predominant designs are circles with stuff inside and a checkerboard-type pattern. Why did they only mark some rocks and not others? Who were these people? How many people drew on the rocks? What do these symbols mean? We've been unable to find solid answers to any of these questions in our cursory research online.

It really is an amazing site. I highly recommend you check it out if you're in the area.
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#2 natjwest

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Posted 25 February 2011 - 11:16 PM

Day 7, Two Kidney Stones, drive to San Francisco

On Tuesday night, the 1st of February, as we were watching Ewan McGregor and Charlie Boorman's The Long Way Down, I felt a pain coming on in my lower back. I have a moderately sensitive back, and had been doing some very twisty, gymnastic climbing that day so thought the pain was related to that. Despite trying to get comfortable, it was getting worse. Eventually, I managed to get up onto the bed, my daughter got out an ice pack which seemed to do nothing, I took six ibuprofen, and thought an internal organ had exploded or my aorta had ruptured or I spontaneously broke my back. I have never had a kidney stone, nor anyone close to me, so it was not on my radar. I managed to get a few poor-signal phone calls out to my wife the nurse practitioner and she ran through some possibilities while we checked them against my symptoms. We concluded that it was a massive muscle spasm. Eventually, my daughter went next door to my friends' camper and asked for help. The pain was subsiding a bit by that point, so they helped me get properly set up for bed, washed some dishes and offered to be on-call throughout the night if I needed anything.

At 1:30 am, I woke up to pee and felt the pain coming back. At this point, I was sure it was a back spasm, but not sure if I could handle the pain, so we woke up the neighbors and were on the road in under an hour, heading to the Inyo County Hospital emergency room. By the time I got there, the pain had subsided again. These waves of pain were confusing to the ER doc since that's not a classic kidney stone presentation. After a blood-urine sample and a CT scan, he discovered another stone in my kidney. Knowing the problem was a relief, but knowing I had another stone to pass was not a relief. At this point, that third stone is still in my kidney, biding its time, ready to strike when I least expect it. If you've never passed a stone, let me briefly quote this passage from MedScape's eMedicine [link]:

Acute renal colic is probably the most excruciatingly painful event a person can endure. Striking without warning, the pain is often described as being worse than childbirth, broken bones, gunshot wounds, burns, or surgery.


By the time I was done with the hospital, it was getting to sunrise, I felt like the third stone would pass imminently, and my daughter and I had gotten about four hours of sleep. So we left Bishop and drove straight for San Francisco, where my sister and grandmother live. My daughter was a real trooper through the whole ordeal thus far, but I wanted to make sure she would be in a good place when that third stone passed.

We packed camp, my truck took about three minutes of cranking to start (due to the cold and the almost dead alternator which I did not suspect at the time), and we hit the road, profusely thanking my Bellingham friends for the help. We could have gotten through it without them, but it would have been much worse. I got a Vicodin prescription filled at Dwayne's Friendly Pharmacy on the way out of town.

We made it all the way past Sacramento, when at a pit stop, the truck would not start up. The batteries were dead. I didn't have an explanation for that since they were new-ish batteries and we'd just driven a couple hundred miles. After trying a jump start from a fellow motorist, along with jumper cables from the camper batteries, I called AAA. In what is surely the world's fastest AAA roadside assistance, I was back on the road in about 10 minutes. The tow truck driver didn't have any advice about the root cause, and my mind was a bit hazy so we just plowed onward. As we approached the Bay Area, the truck started to show signs of alternator failure - fast/slow turn signals, radio clock dimming, in-dash voltage meter jumping around. We managed to limp to my sister's boyfriend's house near Half Moon Bay, the last 20 miles being stuck in first gear since the electronic transmission control didn't have enough voltage to up-shift.

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On-street parking in SF by natjwest, on Flickr

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San Francisco! by natjwest, on Flickr

Day 8, Alternator Number One

The next day, after a lot of sleep, I handed my daughter off to my sister and I limped in to a repair shop, GF Automotive in South San Francisco (which I can recommend against) for an alternator replacement and oil change. Kudos to the shop guys for getting me in on short notice, and I know it's not their fault, but the alternator they installed never put out a charging voltage. What's worse, the next evening I discovered that the negative battery cable to one of the engine batteries was disconnected. They should have tested the alternator and caught the missing cable. That's just sloppiness and should not happen. We spent the night at my sister's house in San Francisco proper. I found a hospital parking garage nearby and was prepared to pay the $18 overnight charge, but on the way out in the morning, the booth attendant was so happy to see that I parked in a good, corner, out-of-the-way spot that he charged me the minimum, $3.

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Tight fit in the parking garage by natjwest, on Flickr

Day 9, The Exploratorium

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Lunch in an SF parking lot by natjwest, on Flickr

For the last few days, my daughter had been excited about visiting The Exploratorium, San Francisco's amazing hands-on science museum. We regularly visit Portland's OMSI, a similar place, but The Exploratorium is easily the best museum of its type on the west coast. We ate an early lunch on the rooftop of a parking garage, then went with a friend who hadn't gone before. It was great fun. That night, we drove to my grandmother's house in Hayward where, with the help of her husband, I confirmed my suspicion that the alternator wasn't working right. Unfortunately, this was Friday night, and the repair shop in South San Francisco is closed on weekends, so had to find another place to help me.

Day 10, Alternator Number Two

While my daughter hung out with my grandmother, I managed to find a 140-amp alternator (via the help of the great guys at thetruckstop.us) at Kragen/O'Reilly, and took it to a mechanic to install. After that installation, the voltage still wasn't quite right, only getting up to 13.2 at the batteries at idle, so I began hunting around. Eventually I discovered that the alternator was wired to my Surepower Isolator 12023A and back to the battery via 12 gauge wires :o I couldn't believe that none of the mechanics who've had their head under the hood failed to notice that. Using the help of some online voltage drop calculators, as well as a tech support email to Surepower to determine the expected voltage drop across the isolator (0.8 to 1.0) I confirmed that the wiring was the problem. But it was late, and we were tired, so we read some more of Phillip Pullman's The Golden Compass and went to sleep.

Day 11, Quick Re-Wiring, Humboldt Redwoods and Mattole Beach Campground

I awoke Sunday morning with a newfound sense of optimism. I had concluded that I might never pass that third kidney stone, so I couldn't let it dictate how to live. I also felt great about the new high-power alternator, and once I upgraded the wiring, I felt sure I would have the truck electrical problems licked. After an hour in the Kragen parking lot bypassing the Surepower altogether (and thus stranding my camper batteries with no way to recharge) with a short 4 gauge wire from the alternator directly to a battery, we headed off over the Richmond-San Rafael bridge to the rolling mediterranean hills of Sonoma County with a final destination of Mattole Beach.

That was a great drive. We played car games, I listened while she read Harry Potter aloud, the sun was shining, and 101 was quite enjoyable. Last summer, my daughter, wife and I visited the northern Redwoods, Jedidiah Smith, and the Gold Coast so we were looking forward to spending some time in the southern reaches. While cruising along 101, she again proclaimed, "You know what? We are on a real road trip." :)

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We got off 101 to take the Avenue of the Giants, which I don't believe I've ever driven on, despite going up and down 101 numerous times. It was that kind of trip - we took every excuse to see something off the road. Daylight was fading as we wound through Humboldt Redwoods SP via the insanely twisty road to Honeydew. I wasn't sure how long the road would take, I was skeptical of the GPS keeping track of all the twists, and I had to constantly and drastically adjust my speed between 35 mph and nearly zero. At one point, my daughter said, "This is what the 'middle of nowhere' is, right?" And I couldn't agree more. It was amazing to think that people lived out here. I had to stop once to let my brakes cool down.

By the time we reached the hamlet of Honeydew, it was a little after six o'clock. I needed to fill up the water tank and didn't know if the Mattole Beach CG had water so I found a hose and faucet at the little Honeydew general store, which was closed. My daughter played with a friendly cat who appeared while I filled the tank.

After Honeydew, the road was a breeze and we pulled into the campground in the dark. There were no other campers so we had the run of the place. We didn't know how close we were to the beach, or the layout of the campground, and we were too tired for our usual night walk, so we bedded down and were quickly asleep.

Day 12, 450 Miles to Home

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The next day, I managed to get out of bed earlier than usual, and we also tried a new sleeping arrangement with her on the lower bunk and me on the upper so I could escape the camper without disturbing her too much.

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After breakfast, we spent an hour or so on the beach, looking for shells (nearly none) playing along the waves (plenty) and walking the circles of a stone labyrinth. I was in no rush to leave since the second half of the day would be all freeway and we could get home late and have a meal ready for us and nothing to unpack for bed. There were a few vehicles in the backpacker's parking lot, and one person showed up on the beach as we were leaving, but we had the place to ourselves otherwise.

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A whale bone in a stone maze by natjwest, on Flickr

On the way out of the area, we stopped in Petrolia to support the local economy. I wasn't keen on repeating such a twisty road as it took to get in here, and the general store clerk said the road to the north was almost as bad. We got an Orangina soda and a couple overpriced, freshly-made, still-warm spanakopitas. The drive to the north was less twisty but no less scenic along the ocean. We got cell reception in Ferndale, having lost it on the way in to Honeydew the previous day, so we did our check-in with mom and then more-or-less blasted through Eureka, Crescent City, Cave Junction, Grants Pass, and one last stop in Sutherlin, OR.

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Last stop before home by natjwest, on Flickr

We were home to Portland at 8:30 pm. Mom had homemade pizza and banana chocolate chip muffins ready for us. I still haven't fully unpacked the camper. Despite all the kidney stone and alternator difficulties, I would repeat the entire trip, it was that good.

Here's a scan of my daughter's trip list of the animals we saw and the best times we had.

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Lily's Bishop Trip List by natjwest, on Flickr
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#3 RJones

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Posted 25 February 2011 - 11:26 PM

Great trip and pics! Your daughter will never forget this trip.


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#4 MarkBC

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Posted 25 February 2011 - 11:33 PM

Great report, Natjwest!
Sounds like you really had the full experience.
It's very rare to have an up-close encounter with a bobcat and pass multiple kidney stones and get two alternators in the same trip! Posted Image
Thanks. Posted Image
- Mark
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#5 ski3pin

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Posted 25 February 2011 - 11:53 PM

What an adventure! What a great traveling companion your daughter is! Trips like this will give you all memories that will last a life time. Thanks for sharing. As I was reading this the Lady sat down and joined me. We loved your trip report and are glad you got all the "difficulties" handled! Thanks!
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#6 Casa Escarlata Robles Too

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Posted 26 February 2011 - 12:58 AM

What a great experience for you and your daughter.Years from now you will be sitting around and she will have some friends over and tell them all about that trip.Thats when you really know that you two had a great time.

Thanks for the great report

Frank
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#7 Barko1

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Posted 26 February 2011 - 02:11 AM

Great trip, for you and especially your daughter! The solar and Wave will make you invincible, well not from the stone. Nrxt time you'll know what is going on, and worse, what you are in for. I went to ER the 1st time but after than just find some drugs and grin and bear it :(

Oh and you think you have it bad check out the kilo kidney stone :lol:
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#8 highz

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Posted 26 February 2011 - 02:25 AM

Really enjoyed your trip report, and loved Lily's list. Lily, you rock!
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#9 Ted

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Posted 26 February 2011 - 04:12 AM

Wow! The adventure of the trip. The turns it takes with health and vehicle problems. The help of good friends in a time of need. The wonderfulness that is your daughter. Your trip report accomplishes in one trip the kind of memories that usually take a lifetime of trips. What a fantastic trip report.
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#10 craig333

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Posted 26 February 2011 - 04:18 AM

Quite the expediton. Did you get the surepower hooked back up? Did you visit the battleground while you were at the lave beds?
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