Monday, April 23, 2018

THE ULTIMATE VW DIESEL ROADTRIP

I did a post on my VW Diesel roadtrip many years ago, but I feel like I didn't give it the proper attention and detail it deserved. Many pictures of the car were left out of the original article, especially ones from my cell phone that showed the car in relation to the story. I also didn't tie together the landscape images I captured, which are still some of my best. I had great weather for most of the Pacific Coast Highway, and since that area is still recovering from landslides and fires, it may still be many years before I can get out there and try again.

I am really just jumping out of my skin for another road trip this summer, so to calm my nerves a little, I am going to go back and give this story the detail it deserves!

The backstory is, this was a really bad time in my life. I was recovering from my Dad's passing, I had just gone through, sold or gave away a lifetime of possessions, and sold his house, which was my childhood home. I had enough in the bank to not work for awhile, and was deciding what to do with my life. If I didnt take this time off, who knows how I would have ended up. If it ever happens to you, I advise you without a shadow of a doubt, to take the time off. Worry about nothing and just live in the moment. You need to give yourself time to exist again. This story is exactly about that.

I was looking for a fun project to stay busy and potentially take across the country. I bought this crappy but mostly rust free 98 MK3 TDI from Bonalle's in Cleona PA. It needed a lot of love, it had vacuum leaks and was permanently stuck in limp mode. Suspension and tires were also shot. But it had potential to be a good cheap roadtrip car.

After switching out the blown struts and rotted mounts for a nice bilstein/eibach setup, R Miller Auto in Palmyra also fixed the vac leaks and installed bigger injectors. I was able to use my 14" Ronals and got some new tires on it, and gave it a nice detail. I gave the peeling hood some bedliner, I had no desire to spend the money to paint it. It came a long way for the budget I set, and I felt it was ready for the open road.


I planned my route. The goal was to leave from PA, head out west all the way to Washington, go down the coast, and leave the car in FL since I was moving back there in a few months. Highlights on the list were the Badlands, Yellowstone, The Pacific Coast Highway, Big Sur, and Joshua Tree National Park. I would finally get the landscape images I dreamed about, and would no longer have to browse Flickr with longing eyes.

With my GoPro in timelapse mode, I set out from PA in September.....God I hated my neighbor's Windstar....
I headed straight out I80 to visit my friends in Iowa where we got to catch up for a few days. Let me tell ya, there is nothing to see on that damn road so don't bother, just get through it! Although, I did cross the Mississppi in a car for the first time.

First stop was the Badlands National Park. It was a gloomy, windy day, which was perfect for a place with a "dead" feel. I got some awesome panoramas before I charged further west, completely energized from my first National Park experience.
Next on the list was Mount Rushmore. Sadly, mother nature and poor planning resulted in this experience being less than stellar. It decided to snow and rain just before I got there, and I didnt realize Mount Rushmore looks rather different when its raining:
I drove a little further and decided to sleep in the car to save some money. Devil's Tower was next.
I was treated to a beautiful sunrise the next morning, and a wonderful neckache from sleeping in the car.
I got to Devil's Tower early and decided to snap a few pictures and continue on my way, I had a lot of ground to cover to get to Yellowstone. It was awesome to see the formation in person since it's so famous in the sci fi world.
It was still very cold for September, and the road to Yellowstone was full of climate changes and glorious views.
I finally arrived at Yellowstone just before evening, and was able to get a section of this cabin for the night. It was wonderful to have a shower and a bed after sleeping in the car the night before.


In the morning, I found out at some point during the trip, my glow plug fuse failed, so I was treated to a smokey start.
In a cloud of soot, I set off with my map of Yellowstone and did the full tour, hitting every landmark I could. I only had one day, and planned on leaving the park that night, so there was a lot of ground to cover.
If only I could have spent more time here, the views were breathtaking as expected.
I stumbled across a Porsche club too, somewhere near Yellowstone Falls. Talk about living the dream, I'd love to come back here with an aircooled Porsche, but I'd say thats a longshot.
When evening fell, it was time for me to head out of the park and head towards Jackson Hole. I managed to get pulled over on the way out, but received only a warning. Apparently I thought it was 55, but it was in fact 45. The ranger was nice though, he seemed genuinely concerned for everyone's safety as there had been a lot of large animals hit in the past few days.
As I was leaving, I stopped to see if I could get some astro photos, and I was treated to one of the clearest nights I'd ever seen. I still think about it to this day. 
I packed up my gear after stargazing for hours, and continued on to Jackson Hole. It was already too late to get a room so I figured it was time to sleep in the car again. 
I woke up to a beautiful crisp morning in Jackson Hole, and set out on a search for coffee and breakfast. 
I felt like I was really hitting a stride now, just really content in the moment, and incredibly happy I chose to do this. Little did I know it was about to come crashing down. I left Jackson Hole and began my trek over the Grand Tetons. As I went up Teton Pass, I was stuck behind a line of cars because a work van was going very slowly up the mountain. As we reached the top, I saw there was two lanes leading down the mountain, and everyone seemed to be still asleep, so I dropped down a gear and left them in a cloud of diesel. I'm so totally cool I thought, as I passed the work van that was holding everyone up. O wait, where's 4th? Its not going into 4th. Its not going into any gear. Dammit!
The car was still running and in neutral, so I found the next road to pull off onto and see what happened. It wasnt good. I quickly discovered that the clutch counterweight snapped clean off. "Thats an OEM part", I thought. I'm really screwed. I had no service at the car. None. 
I walked to the top of the lane, as I was in some kind of basic campground, and miraculously two bars appeared. I searched for the nearest dealership, and again, another miracle. There was a VW dealership called Teton Volkswagen just within a 100 miles of my tow plan. I called and was able to get a tow truck on the way. Saved! I couldnt believe it, especially with the surrounding view. 
After the tow truck picked me up, I had zero service for an hour. It was just that one little spot where I called. Someone was looking out for me that day. I had a lot to think about as I stared through the tow truck's cracked windshield.
As I got to Teton Volkswagen, which to me, looked like an oasis in the desert at this point, the staff greeted me with a friendly smile and knew my situation from the phone call earlier. I planned on asking for a shuttle to the nearest hotel in Idaho Falls, but before I could, the service manager asked me how I planned on getting out of here. After I told him, he laughed and said "Nah man we will get you a loaner". Talk about service, a brand new car for my crappy 98 TDI? How is this happening? I planned on being stuck in a hotel room for days, as the broken part was being overnighted from Cali, and now I have a free car to drive. 
Still just shocked at the whole situation, I hopped in my sweet beetle convertible and started to explore nearby Idaho Falls. I discovered a gorgeous windfarm that stretched for miles. A great photo opportunity. 
I headed back into town and got a room, then searched out the nearest watering hole. I found a great Irish pub to sit down at and think about all that happened. Yeah it sucked that I broke down, but man, nothing could have went better after that. What a day.
A few days passed, and the dealership called and said my car was ready to go. I was a little nervous knowing they had me by the balls, I mean they could basically charge me anything they wanted. Nope. Again the price was amazingly fair. They even washed it. I asked the service manager what places I could give them a good review, and hopped on that immediately. If you need VW service near Idaho Falls or are looking to buy a car, I recommend these guys at Teton VW for sure. 
I said goodbye to my loaner, and got back on the road. It was thrilling to be in the Jetta, after dodging such a big bullet. I was a little behind on time, but figured a few late nights would fix it. I had to high tail it to Seattle immediately, as a quick stop at the space needle was on my list.
After the space needle, I had to quickly get going, I was supposed to be at Shi Shi Beach before dark. I had to get a few permits for the hike, as it's a secluded beach on an Indian reservation. I underestimated the time badly, and didn't realize my route took me onto a ferry, which put me behind even more.
Once I got there, I realized I had to get not one but two permits for this place. I got the car parked just before sunset, it was on the property a known resident I found, and they give people rides to the trailhead. I hopped in the back of the man's truck, and watched the shoreline pass by until I reached the entrance. Night was falling fast. The hike was not very enjoyable, and scaling down the side of the mountain was not fun in the dark. I set up my tent and got a fire going, and passed out. Another awesome day.

I woke up to a smokey fire and the fresh ocean air. Not a soul in sight. Totally worth it. The weather was very foggy, so not a lot of drama for photos, but I took a long walk and snapped a few panoramas. I would love to come back again when the tide was better, I heard this place can be amazing when the tide is out. 
As I packed up my gear, I realized getting back was going to be a lot tougher, since I didn't have a ride. Oh well. The most anticipated part of my journey was coming, and that was the drive down the Pacific coast. 

My first stop was Astoria, Oregon. This place is just awesome for photos. I stayed the night and set out in the morning. 

 Buoy Beer Company is a cool place!

I'm just going to leave you with some pictures and light captions for the portion on the Pacific Coast Highway. This drive is simply amazing. 

Overlooking Neahkanie Beach

Yaquina Bay Lighthouse

Any VW fanatic needs to stop at Beaver Creek Bobs.
I highly recommend Seal Rock RV Cove for camping. Its right along the PCH, and a quick walk across the road will lead to the beach. This was my first time seeing the sun set in the Pacific Ocean. 
The morning that I set out from Seal Rock RV Cove was one of the best drives of my life. The ocean mist was something I never saw before, and will forever be in my heart. 
After staying Eureka for the night in a cheap hotel, I would be driving through San Francisco next. I debated on stopping, but the weather just wasn't great, and I decided to keep going towards Big Sur where I would be camping for night. 
It was a good job I skipped San Francisco for now, I was treated to a gorgeous sunset near the Bixby Bridge. 

My campground at Big Sur was dream like. I arrived at night again, but once my tent was set up, I walked through a path in the woods to this pub they have built into the basement of the main lodge. Very cool. I had a few beers, stared at the stars through the narrow opening above my campfire, and set off to bed.

Morning at the campground yielded some more great VW views.

I checked out and kept heading south along the coast, taking it all in.
Jedediah Redwoods State Park

Its hard not to stop everywhere. 

Sunny Blue Malibu

Joshua Tree National Park was my last stop. I wish I could have stayed the night, but I had a deadline I had to meet in FL. Next time! 

My plan was to take some scenic roads and try to stay on the old Route 66 on the way back, but instead I had to take boring I10 all the way across the country. Not my first choice, but the breakdown put me behind. 

I think about this trip every day. I was able to start healing, and it inspired me to take other trips in the years that followed. I learned my lesson though, the car is newer!

Check out the time lapse:

Cameras: Nikon D800, iPhone 5C
Car: 98 Jetta TDI

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