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5000 miles from TX to CA and back in a 40hp '66 Beetle
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supercub
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PostPosted: Fri Nov 29, 2013 6:30 am    Post subject: 5000 miles from TX to CA and back in a 40hp '66 Beetle Reply with quote

Hello and welcome to my report of what turned out to be the most memorable road trip of my life. This will be a long story that I will split up into many posts with lots of pictures along the way. Feel free to read as much or as little as you want.

So this past July I found myself between jobs with money saved in the bank and some time to burn, so I decided to drive my old 1966 Volkswagen Beetle from Dallas, TX to the bay area in northern California. I wanted to go visit a good friend from college who I had not seen in 4 years. I have long dreamed of taking a road trip using as little Interstate as possible, and since my VW’s pokey '65 40hp engine as well as my driving style are ill-suited for high speed travel anyway, this was the perfect time.

First I should probably give a little background on my ’66 VW. I bought it for $700 in June 2010. It had been driven into the ground and then left out to rot in 1990. Time had not been kind to the little car. It had been wrecked at least twice, leaving it with a mismatched right front fender and door, as well as beaten and bruised to the point that there is not a dent-free panel on the car. The body had several stress cracks including one between the left rear wheel tub and quarter panel that was about 6” long, probably due to the broken rear body mount on that side. I could stand with both feet on the ground through the rust hole in the rear floor area. Mice had chewed the wiring and upholstery as well as nested in many areas of the interior, leaving poop covering the floor and old nests hiding in seemingly every crevice. Many generations of mouse urine, as well as crumbling window seals, had rusted away several areas of the inner structure of the body. The only functioning things on the car were the steering and the parking brake on one wheel. The engine had a chunk missing from one of the exhaust valves which I would imagine was why it was parked so long ago. Speaking of the engine, it is a ’65 40hp 1200 instead of the 1300 that originally came in the car. It was a totally botched build with one early and one late cylinder head. The problem here was that the early head has a smaller intake port and they had just jammed the intake down and cranked the crap out of the fastening nuts, ruining the head and intake. The rest of the mechanical components on the car were in a similar state of disrepair or had been poorly cobbled back together. It had basically suffered the same fate bestowed upon so many other VW Beetles that have long been used up and left for dead.

After about a year and a half of cutting, welding, painting, parts replacing, rebuilding, and reupholstering, the VW was back into a functional state again. I performed all of the work myself except for the transaxle rebuild. It is not perfect looking by any means but it is mechanically solid and the thorough rebuild resulted in a satisfyingly low occurrence of breakdowns since I resurrected it. I remember when I cranked the engine over for the first time; it started right up like it had just run yesterday, instead of the coughing and sputtering before eventually smoothing out that has graced other engines I have rebuilt. I spent the next year and a half driving the VW as a daily commuter and general runabout. An incident free 700 mile drive from Dallas to Fredericksburg Texas for the Texas VW Classic gave me the idea of a cross country trip in the VW, and the stage was set.

There is a build thread for the car here on the Samba titled "My 1966 Beetle Rebuild" if you are interested too see the resurrection of the little VW. Warning, the rebuild contains some less than perfect metalwork performed with leftover bits of a '65 Buick and an old refrigerator, fabricated with a basic claw hammer and scraps of wood, installed with a borrowed welder, and painted with Krylon.

The car.
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supercub
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PostPosted: Fri Nov 29, 2013 6:54 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Though I wanted to use as little Interstate as possible and know plenty of back ways out of DFW, I was eager to get out of Texas. I headed north on I-35E to Sanger where I exited onto Farm Road 455 and said goodbye to the Interstate until we would meet again in Utah. Farm Road 677 led me and the VW into Oklahoma, the first time in over 20 years the car had left Texas! I turned onto west OK-32 and in short order felt something on my leg above my ankle. Without looking I brushed at it and a wasp flew up at me. The wind sucked it out the window and all seemed well until a buzzing sound from the rear window area got my attention. It was another wasp! I pulled onto a side road, stopped the car, and mushed the wasp dead on the window. At this rate I was sure I would be inundated with bugs constantly on this trip but the rest of the day was blissfully bug-free. The VW’s little 40hp engine droned on as I past fence after fence and cow after cow. Towns of varying degrees of smallness came and went, and by late in the afternoon, I crossed into southwestern Kansas. My day ended on US-160 just shy of the Mountain Time Zone in Ulysses, Kansas. After a shower and a couple of bottles of Bud Light at the hotel bar, I went to bed.

When I woke up, I got dressed and went out to the VW to perform the daily maintenance checks. I checked the ignition timing, oil level, and generator belt tension every morning of driving on the trip and the valve clearances every few days. The only valve that required any adjusting on the trip was, no suprise, the number 3 exhaust valve.

After eating a bowl of cereal, I fired up the little VW and set off into the cool morning air. Outside of Ulysses, I turned north on KS-27 to Syracuse, Kansas where I turned onto US-50 which would become my primary route for much of the trip.

Somewhere early into eastern Colorado, I downshifted into third and the generator light started to glow. Suspecting I had just thrown the generator belt, I quickly shut off the engine, and coasted onto the shoulder. I popped the deck lid, but nothing seemed wrong. The belt was tight. I turned the car back on but the light is still lit. Further diagnosis is needed so I pulled onto a side road and got out my tools. Naturally when trouble arises the first tool to come out is the hammer, and I used it to tap on the generator and voltage regulator to no avail. I decided to repolarize the generator. This involves removing the belt and jumping it straight to the battery which turns the generator into an electric motor. It resets the magnetic field in the generator and if its good, it will start to spin clockwise. My generator started spinning easily. Hoping that repolarizing had fixed the problem, I reinstalled the belt and started it up. The light went out! I don’t know how downshifting would cause a generator to loose polarity but it was working now and did so the rest of the trip. By lunch time I had buzzed into Pueblo, Colorado with the mountains in view to the west. Let the fun begin!

Not the best picture but it's the first one of the trip. Finally getting away from the DFW sprawl on Farm Road 455.
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This abandoned school? in southwestern Oklahoma was strewn with broken cars, appliances and other junk. The "Victory" name on the building was ironic given the state of things.
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I apologize for this second through-the-bug-splattered-windshield shot. It should be the last. Leaving Pueblo, CO on US-50 headed for the mountains.
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supercub
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PostPosted: Fri Nov 29, 2013 7:14 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

The desert of Pueblo started to give way as the ever present sage brush started to become interspersed with small juniper-like trees. With each increase in elevation, I could feel the car starting to lose power as more throttle was required to maintain speed. US-50 was beautiful here as it wound around the hills following along the Arkansas River. The leisurely pace of the VW allowed for plenty of opportunity to look around and enjoy the view. I stopped at a turn-out to take a break and enjoy the sights. On the other side of the river I was surprised to see about eight or ten bighorn sheep. They were mainly lying down but two of them were wandering around and would occasionally butt horns with a loud clacking noise. The road continued along the river for a while longer and then headed into Salida, Colorado where I stopped and got gas.

I left Salida with mountains all around me, unaware what US-50 was about to lead me over. After some straight roads dotted with motels, camp stores, and rafting tour businesses, the road began to climb. The VW began to lose speed on the grade and I gradually pressed down on the accelerator more and more. Eventually I ran out of pedal as it was pinned against the floor, wide open but still slowing down. I shifted down into third gear as the seemingly never-ending climb continued. By this time I was barely holding 35mph in third at full throttle as the road wound up the mountain. Luckily US-50 has a passing lane on this climb because nearly everyone was passing me. Several groups, and pairs, and solo motorcycles whizzed by me at a higher rate of speed thought from the sound of their exhaust, their engines were feeling the strain of the altitude as well. However the scenery was incredible and I stopped at several pull-offs to enjoy the view and that mountain air while giving the little 1200 a break. Starting off from these stops even at full throttle, the car struggled to get going again.

Finally, full throttle in second gear and at a bit under 30mph, the little Volkswagen crested the top of Monarch Pass at 11,312 feet above sea level, and I turned into the parking lot of the store at the top to give the VW a much needed break. Considering this VW’s engine develops only 40hp at sea level, it felt like it must have been down to like 20hp at this altitude. The engine definitely worked hard getting up here and it was probably a little on the hot side as the oil light would just flicker at idle by the top of the pass, so I shut it off, opened the deck lid to let it cool, and went into the store to use the bathroom and gander at the little trinkets and souvenirs for sale within.

Finally getting into the mountains after leaving Pueblo, CO
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Driving along the flat section in between the mountains. Little did I know that I would be going up and over those mountains shortly. By the way, you could turn left here for County Road 210. Ugh, moving shot out the passenger window. I definitely stopped taking moving shots on the return trip because random signs and other crap like to poke their distracting heads into them.
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The view from a turn-out on Monarch Pass
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The proof that yes the VW was really here! 11,312 feet above sea level.
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supercub
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PostPosted: Fri Nov 29, 2013 10:44 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

After a break I started down the other side of the pass. I held it in third gear to prevent using the brakes excessively. Even with no throttle it easily coasted to over 40 mph, the exhaust emitting a chorus of popping an farting sounds as the engine struggled for oxygen in the thin air. As I went down and down, the engine ran better and better, and gradually the little pops and backfires became less frequent. Before long I was back in a sagebrush covered low land between the mountains. US-50 travels through the town of Gunnison, Colorado and then follows the Gunnison River which is dammed west of the city to form Blue Mesa Reservoir. The road crosses this man-made lake a couple of times before heading through the cities of Montrose, Olathe, Delta, and finally on to Grand Junction, Colorado, my stop for the second day of travel.

The temperature at end of the day was getting pretty hot and an unfortunate wrong turn led me straight into rush hour on I-70 for a couple of miles; probably the most terrifying experience of the whole trip. The VW’s rear view mirror was quickly filled up with semis and jacked-up pickup trucks bearing down on us at an alarming rate. Even with the throttle pinned to the floor, the little car just couldn’t keep up. The driver of a passing diesel Dodge truck gunned his engine excessively while passing, enveloping the VW in a cloud of black exhaust, disapproval of the unsatisfactory speed the car could struggle to maintain. Another day came to a close.

Blue Mesa Lake, Colorado
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The view of the ravine on the other side of the Blue Mesa Lake dam. Down there somewhere is the Gunnison River.
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PostPosted: Fri Nov 29, 2013 11:01 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

The next day brought me into Utah, my favorite part of the drive. Outside of Grand Junction, US-50 joins I-70 where it stays through about two thirds of Utah, and I wanted to avoid as much of that as I could. Google maps, which I have developed a slight addiction to, provided the answer to my dilemma prior to the trip. Wherever I-70 was not built directly on top of old Highway 50, the old two-lane highway was still there to be used, although these days it seems mostly used as a pipeline access road.

This old road is still in good shape in Colorado, but once I crossed the Utah border I was greeted with a “No State Maintenance” sign, and the real fun began. A long stretch of generally battered, potholed, eroding two lane strip of ancient blacktop stretched toward the horizon. Driving these beat up sections of road required a constant scanning of the road surface along with substantial dodging and weaving around in a desperate attempt to avoid a rim-bending, tire-popping hole. Some sections had been previously covered with gravel, and this was actually a welcome change from the bone-jarring ride on some that dying old pavement. No way would a car with low profile tires have survived ten miles on this road. Good thing I came across no other vehicles on this road because I was using every available decent section of road, regardless of the correct lane, to get through. A few times I even hung a bit off the road for the particularly bad sections.

I had a great time on traveling these practically forgotten Utah sections of old Highway 50, especially stopping at the few near ghost towns that dyed with the road. There was the old boarded up Thompson Hotel in the city of the same name. Seeing the boarded up windows and the trash strewn parking lot that was slowly being overtaken with weeds and sand, I imagined that once this was probably bustling with cars full of families seeking rest on the way to some exciting destination. I turned right at the main intersection in Thompson to take a little side trip to Sego Canyon to look at the Native American Petroglyphs as well as the ghost town of Sego.

Eventually the old road led to Green River, Utah where it disappeared into I-70, on which I would travel for about the next 60 miles. This stretch of I-70 goes over some pretty significant mountains, by Volkswagen standards anyway, but also had some amazing overlooks at Black Dragon Canyon, Devil’s Canyon, and the San Rafael Swell area. At the end of my time on I-70 I took one of those “No Services” exits for the best driving on my trip to California.

Welcome to Utah! I loved this neat old pillar, from a time when this was the main route through this part of Utah.
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Some of the nicest section of old Highway 50.
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One of the many decaying sections of the road. Some of the cracks were about 4" deep. The worst section that I remember was just before getting to Green River. I actually drove next to the road in a couple of places.
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One of the main concentrations of petroglyphs in Sego Canyon.
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Sego Canyon. The fence on the left is the edge of the little Sego Cemetery.
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An old building in the Sego ghost town.
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Leaving Sego Canyon.
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Black Dragon Canyon I-70 overlook.
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Mike Fisher
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PostPosted: Fri Nov 29, 2013 11:05 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Pretty & Rugged country, but that's what we like to see, hear about! If your 1200 won't do at least 60-65 mph with the trucks in the slow lane you should build a 1600 or 1776 dual port engine for a transplant.
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PostPosted: Fri Nov 29, 2013 11:14 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

The exit took me to the dirt access road that winds around parallel to I-70. The road crosses under I-70 several times through narrow little tunnels and also passes under two old rail tunnels through the hill sides. This road was cake compared to the busted up old highway 50 from earlier in the day. The road followed along this small river for the majority of the drive before tunneling under I-70 one last time and heading into Salina, Utah. US-50 joined I-15 leaving Salina, so I just took a little access road that followed along beside the interstate before it eventually crossed over and became US-50 leading me toward Delta, Utah. At this point I was getting pretty hot and those nice red vinyl seats had left my back and shorts damp with sweat. So with the temperature at 106 degrees in Delta, I got a quart of Miller Highlife, some unfortunately crummy Mexican food, and called it a day.

Delta is the second to last town on US-50 in Utah and after that there is about 90 miles of desert to a gas station on the border of Utah and Nevada. Then it was another 70 or 80 miles to Ely Nevada, the next town along the road. The great thing about the desert is that unlike Texas, it actually cooled off nicely overnight leaving me with a nice dry morning with temperatures in the mid 60’s. I performed the morning VW maintenance, packed up, filled up with gas and headed out into the desert. The desert was kind to the Volkswagen and me, with clouds covering the majority of the sky for about half the morning. The VW buzzed merrily along this practically empty section of highway, strained up a small mountain pass, and cruised along the next valley floor to the Nevada state line, only coming across four other vehicles the whole way.

Gravel road along I-70.
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One of the two old rail tunnels I passed through on this road.
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Coming down out of the mountains toward Salina, Utah
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Shoe tree at the edge of a Utah town.
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The Vanishing Point
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supercub
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PostPosted: Fri Nov 29, 2013 11:18 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Mike Fisher wrote:
Pretty & Rugged country, but that's what we like to see, hear about! If your 1200 won't do at least 60-65 mph with the trucks in the slow lane you should build a 1600 or 1776 dual port engine for a transplant.


I'm glad you like the story. Oh yeah my car will do 60-65 pretty easily. I just enjoy a slower pace on back roads. I went like 55-60 the whole trip except for struggling up the mountains, ha! Maybe some day it will get a 1600 after this engine gives out, but for now I like it just fine.
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PostPosted: Fri Nov 29, 2013 11:43 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

In Ely, Nevada I gassed up and continue west onto the “Loneliest Road in America”. This section of US-50, from Ely to Fallon, Nevada, definitely has very little traffic, but I would hardly consider it the loneliest road. Heck I was on some much lonelier stretches on my own trip, and I am sure thousands of miles of more deserted stretches of road exist than I was even on. I am sure the “Loneliest Road” title has probably contributed to more traffic than there was before the title. In any case, it was a really nice road with plenty of empty-black-top-strip-to-the-horizon views to be had. There is just something that captivates me about a long, straight road disappearing into the distance. It has that staring into infinity feel to it and I love those roads, even though the act of driving on them is less than exciting.

There were several passes to be crossed, and the one I remember most was Austin Pass. I pulled over at the crest to give the hard working Volkswagen engine a rest and there were three bicyclists also taking a break at the top. I had seen a bicycle or two here and there all through Utah and Nevada, loaded down for travel, as the three on this pass were. I asked them what all the bicyclists were up to and they told me that US-50 is also a bicycle route for Pennsylvania to California. They said they had left Pennsylvania 46 days ago and were on their way to the end in CA. I have great respect for that, as I could feel the elevation affecting me just walking around at the top of those passes, much less riding a bicycle up them all. The road wound down to the town of Austin, Nevada where I had lunch and continued westward.

While heading toward Fallon, NV I saw some dark objects swirling up and down by the side of the road ahead of me. It looked like vultures or something fighting over some road-kill. As I got closer, I realized it was a large dust devil tossing tumbleweeds into the air and it was now across the whole road right in front of me. The clouds had obscured the dust column from far away so I hadn’t realized what it was at first. With no way to avoid an impact I pushed down on the gas and braced the steering wheel. The VW was momentarily pummeled by a hail of tumbleweeds and wind. A small piece of tumbleweed was still stuck on the left rear fender when I pulled into Fallon and ended my day. Tomorrow I would be in California!

One of my favorite views of the whole trip. The picture doesn't do the scene full justice either. The absolute hugeness of that rocky peak was unreal.
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Four nicely spaced clouds and sagebrush to eternity. The acreage of land out west that is covered with sagebrush has to be astronomical.
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Taking a break in the Nevada desert. The VW's engine would get noticeably hotter when sitting after driving so I would always pop the deck lid to let the heat escape.
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Sand mountain almost glows against its darker surroundings.
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PostPosted: Fri Nov 29, 2013 11:57 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I woke up early, excited to be so close to my destination, checked the Volkswagens valves, belt tension, timing, and oil level, filled up with gas, and putted westward aimed for Carson City. Leaving carson City, I said goodbye to US-50 and turned onto State Route 88 toward the Sierra Nevada Mountains. 88 crossed into California and wound up into the mountains cresting at Carson Pass. On a particularly steep section just before the top, I had to downshift the Volkswagen to second in order to maintain a steady, blistering speed of 25 mph. The temperature was cool and the smell of the pine trees in the air was refreshing. The views from the turn-outs along this road were spectacular with pine trees as far as I could see. They almost seemed to grow out of the solid rock that surrounded them, as there was very little dirt or grasses to be seen, save for a couple of small meadows here and there.

After Carson Pass the road descended downward for many miles eventually leveling off close to sea level where I would remain for the remainder of the drive. The VW’s little 40-horse engine was much happier to be out of the mountains after almost four days of nearly constant over 4000 foot elevations. It was running smoother, and as ridiculous as it sounds, actually felt slightly peppy to me after I had become accustomed to its anemic high altitude sluggishness. I buzzed past vineyard after vineyard and many rolling golden fields dotted with black cows and small green trees. The latter is not the typical California scene that one thinks of, but it is interesting how much of this area of the state is actually very rural.

Small towns came and went. After missing it the first time, I turned onto California 12 in Lodi. Although CA-12 was a small worn out two-lane road, it seemed to be a main thoroughfare in this area. The traffic was bumper to bumper for many miles through the nothingness that surrounded the road. The wind was insane and it was a full-time affair fighting the little Beetle’s persistent attempts to swerve suicidally into oncoming traffic with every gust of wind. 12 merged onto an Interstate for a while and I exited as soon as possible for CA-29 which took me to my final main road of the trip, CA-37. This road skirts along a marshy sort of area just north enough of the San Francisco Bay that you cannot see the water. Eventually 37 started bending south and at about 2:00 PM on July 5, after five days and a bit over 2000 miles, I rolled into Novato, California where my friend lives. I was so proud of the little Volkswagen. We made it.

Going up Carson Pass
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A field on the way up the pass.
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This lake in the Sierra Nevadas was beautiful. It was amazingly clear and very cold.
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A view from one of the turn-outs coming down from Carson Pass on CA-88.
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I believe this is a much higher up shot of the same lake from the earlier picture, but I am not certain.
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The very windy, grassy, and hot area of California on the other side of the mountains.
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PostPosted: Sat Nov 30, 2013 11:04 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

good story and photos thanks for sharing
cheers
hank
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PostPosted: Sat Nov 30, 2013 10:47 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

That makes me want to take a road trip in my Thing! Great story, and a true life affirming adventure. Smile
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PostPosted: Mon Dec 02, 2013 6:37 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Very Happy Now that was a GREAT story!!!!! Thanks for sharing.
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PostPosted: Mon Dec 02, 2013 7:37 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Da TOW'D wrote:
good story and photos thanks for sharing
cheers
hank


I am glad you enjoyed it.
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PostPosted: Mon Dec 02, 2013 7:42 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

wbrown45 wrote:
That makes me want to take a road trip in my Thing! Great story, and a true life affirming adventure. Smile


You should do it. It was definitely one of the greatest experiences of my life. With a little mechanical preparation, a small supply of spare parts, and basic maintenance checks, I think most any other aircooled VW could do what mine did and much more.
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PostPosted: Mon Dec 02, 2013 7:43 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

jeffavatech wrote:
Very Happy Now that was a GREAT story!!!!! Thanks for sharing.


Thanks for following along and glad you enjoyed it.
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PostPosted: Mon Dec 02, 2013 7:57 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Here are some photographic highlights from the return trip back to Texas.

Pacific Coast Highway, California
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Above the fog on Mt. Tamalpias, California
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View of San Rafael, CA (if I remember correctly) from the top of Mt. Tam.
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PostPosted: Mon Dec 02, 2013 8:19 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Going back through Nevada and Utah.

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Nevada State Route 722
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US Highway 50, Utah
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The slow way through Utah.
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San Rafael Swell I-70 overlook.
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I-70 winding down into another desert valley.
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EverettB Premium Member
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PostPosted: Mon Dec 02, 2013 9:00 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Awesome report and photos - thanks for posting.
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Q-Dog
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PostPosted: Tue Dec 03, 2013 11:57 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I drove through a lot of that area many years ago. It really is beautiful. Thanks for posting, and making me want to go back.
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