Saturday, June 23, 2012

PanAm Prep: Vehicle Planning

One fine morning, on the 13th of June of 2012, I decided to skip the auto auction to get some extra sleep. At around 10am, I get a phone call from Tyler: "Miguel, here's something that might interest you, a 300TD diesel wagon with 143k miles and no rust. The owner wants fo'rteen nahnta-naahn". I asked him if this was one of his jokes; it was not. I told him I did not need any more projects, that I would be satisfied with a 30MPG, 4WD Isuzu trooper. However, ten minutes later I realize a daily driver could not hurt, so I headed to the auction to take a look at the car in person.

Perfect color, perfect mileage, runs great, converted suspension... as if it had fallen from heaven!

The car was just what I was looking for, from the beautiful khaki paint, to the aftermarket battery cutoff switch under the glovebox. Excellent. The engine was shaking a little, and made a familiar sound that Mercedes diesels do when their valves are not properly adjusted. There was also an envelope containing some maintenance records from the previous owner, who had replaced the motor mounts and the entire cooling and braking system. $1499 later, I drove it out of the lot.
The hydraulic suspension had been removed, so it sagged a little. Nothing a set of heavy duty springs/shocks won't fix!

For the next days I started doing some basics. I took it to my mechanic, David, who serviced the transmission, changed all the fluids and gave me a refresher on how to adjust the valves, shoulder to shoulder. It took me a while to set them right, but towards the end, with the help of a factory set of wrenches and two feeler gauges, I got the hang of it fast enough. The next day I swapped two manual window regulators from my –now– parts wagon, Orwell, and did a few quick fixes, like replacing the wiper arms or rebuilding the instrument cluster. The next two things on my laundry list are to replace the tailgate struts –Tyler has been hit in the head already– and figure out the vacuum system.


Because I am going to be living in this car for a year, I must make it somewhat of a habitable space. I have thought about the modifications I should make to it, to a point in which I almost loose sleep:

-Sleep: the options should be narrowed to thee, including a roof tent, a hard shell or just sleeping inside. After much thinking, and from a safety/inconspicuousness standpoint, the best option will be to create a living cell inside the car and put curtains and mosquito nets around it. A roof tent would not make the vehicle suitable for urban environments, and a hard shell would have to be extremely tall –and not aerodynamic at all– to accommodate me comfortably.

-Liquids: there are two main fluids in this car, fuel and water. In the event that I drive through an area where fuel is scarce, it is always a good idea to make a fuel cell, which I will mount to the roof of the car and will feed the main tank. Regarding water supply for drinking and hygiene, I decided to take the second row seat out and make it a pressurized water tank with the help of a small 12v compressor. That should make me able to take civilized showers as opposed to the Round-Up pump bottle I have been using in my previous trips. The compressor will be immensely useful to fixing flats as well.

-Electricity: I was gladly surprised at the cheap prices of small solar panels. One should be enough to charge a small motorcycle battery that should punctually power some LED lights and the compressor. There is no point in overdoing this system in such a small vehicle; anything that could charge my laptop is welcome but not required –appliances are more of a luxury than a necessity.

-Storage: the inside of the wagon will be personalized with custom lightweight cabinets in a U-shape around the sleeping cell. All of them will be covered by some kind of fabric to protect them from unwanted attention. A small safe will be welded in the little compartment where the 3rd seat is. Two shelves in the back hatch should provide enough room and clearance for two jerrycans.

-Suspension: obviously, the car needs to be raised a few inches for ground clearance. Nothing a set of heavy duty springs with the correct shims and heavy-duty Bilsterins will not fix.

-Protection: Mercedes-Benz offers a factory skid plate, but it is quite small. A custom one should be made for this long and arduous expedition. I also found a cheap brush guard off a 1980's Ford Ranger, which should fit with little modification.

-Other goodies: additional equipment includes mud ramps, a small shovel, a winch and a dashboard fan to compensate for the lack of AC. At $1000 to repair, I will be almost as happy with a $20 fix.

A quick doodle trying to figure out the best use of the space in the wagon.
Many people have asked why I would put my life in the hands of a byzantine German vehicle, and the answer is simple: it is simple, it is very reliable, I know the car already, and parts are available throughout the trip –a few minutes of research online on the Craig's List equivalent in Latin America, "Mercado Libre", should clear any doubts on the W123 Mercedes being a true world-class car.

During the testing of this Mercedes model, several cars were taken to remote locations and put under severe circumstances (ovens, freezers, wind tunnels, purpose-built tracks) to test its durability. Over 6.7 million sales later, the W123 Mercedes is still ubiquitous all over the world, many a time as a taxi.

The way these cars are designed may seem complex, yet their sturdy construction rarely allows for a catastrophic breakdown. In the event of something being non-functional, the car could still limp to a safe location. This happened to me in the Texas desert, when my alternator and battery died: I still managed, though the sheer power of cylinder compression, to drive for 600 extra miles.

Finally, there is the sentimental factor. The Mercedes W123 wagon has been one of my childhood's favourite automobiles. I have always wanted to own one, and now that I do and I know how to work and troubleshoot them, I have decided to make them the vehicle of a one-in-a-lifetime journey towards the unknown in the depths of the American continent, to the very tip of Argentina.


In the following weeks the material shown here will get exponentially more and more interesting. I will have separate entries for tools, supplies, spare parts and the modification process of this unique, beautiful car. Stay tuned for upcoming updates, and don't forget to make a contribution on my Indiegogo fundraiser to make the absolute best out of this journey and get some perks and goodies!

Friday, June 15, 2012

PanAm Prep: Fundraising

I remember when I started this blog a year ago: just a little virtual notepad floating online, where to keep a diary of a road trip that ended up changing the course of events in my life. Who would have suspected it, that something without any physical shape, that this cluster of electrical impulses, zeros and ones, would make me not only move to Kansas, but spend a year tied to a classic Mercedes in foreign lands? Never in my wildest dreams I would have ever imagined this happening!

For the sake of play and imagination, I picture myself walking to my child-self, telling him that he would not only end up in the United States expressing himself freely in a language other than his own, kissing foreign women at the top of skyscrapers, fixing his own car and crossing the Golden Gate on a frequent basis. My child-self would just give me a incredulous look, sigh, and walk away from this stranger from the future. Oh well, here I am now!

Adding to the list of "nevers", something I never thought about since I founded This European Life was to ask for money through the blog. It just did not seems possible that such a detached medium as online writing could have the power to bring any income. Ask any web journalist, however, and you will prove me wrong; ask Mark Zuckerberg; ask anyone selling anything on eBay: that glowing screen can turn intangible numbers into the groceries of tomorrow.

While many of you may have heard of platforms like Kickstarter or Indiegogo, let me give you a refresher on the philosophy of crowd funding: it consists on proposing a project, usually backed by a video an a comprehensive list of perks, in exchange for small donations to make this project happen. In this light, I started to prepare for my Kickstarter project a few days ago, to only be disappointed at the fact that they will only allow US permanent residents to pitch projects.

For that matter, I dusted off my editing skills, took the Open Roads production camera, and sat in front of it for close to three hours trying to figure out what to say. I am quite happy with the result!


I edited it with a few pictures of my past road trip and my experience volunteering in Guatemala and Mexico, as well as the map that I am using to keep track of all the non-profits I want to work with.

This is how my project looks currently on Indiegogo.

Dear friends: I always feel awkward to ask for other people's money, but this time is the chance of a lifetime to make something wonderful happen. I would like to ask you for your support with my project, and I guarantee that, in return, you will get your due rewards as noted on the list in the website: anything from a secret photo album, to books, to drawn letters from exotic locations. I have a lot to give, to you, and to the world! Allow me the chance to make a difference in the life of others!

All help is welcome and deeply appreciated! I am very thankful that we have made it this far together, past the 50th detailed post on my life journey, and I can't wait to make another fifty, hundred, thousand posts appear, packed with beautiful images of remote places and narrations of spiritual resonance for everybody, regardless of your creed.

Thank you for your loyalty, and let's make this happen!

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Drive-bye: Western Edition

Welcome to the 50th post of this blog. This is a substantial one!

Goodbyes are always tough. I have said goodbye many times before, to many of my dearest relatives, friends, and friends who feel like relatives. However, this time echoes the farewell that David Livingstone wished Britain, with a degree of uncertainty and determination that only a grand, risky expedition could bring; the kind of goodbye that feels saddening a few hours later because one suddenly realizes it is not the usual "see you later". I will miss the people, and the meaning that they have given the landscapes around them: no environment is whole without the human prism.

I am thankful for the gift of the Internet, and the immense power to connect with those far away –including my own family-, narrate my whereabouts, learn from others, teach and inspire many, and, lastly, generating that little bit of sustenance that allows me to have my basics.

Crossing the Golden Gate, once again, to drop the Mooneys at the airport.
The weeked that I house-sat in Petaluma was not too remarkable. I sold some Mercedes parts –meeting at midnight with the buyer, as we could not find any other time!- and went down to San Francisco a few times to help my friend Alex look for some housing and stay away from all the cat fur at the Mooney home zoo. One of these times I went down to Burlingame Motors to drop a Mercedes 280SE rear end; I also went on one last junkyard adventure to the local pick-and-pull in Newark to find a regulator to fix the window in my former landlady's Mercedes E320 estate –free of charge–; and finally, I got an antique painting I had forgotten to pick up when I left. The day prior to leaving I met with Jim B, a loyal friend from the PeachParts community, a blast –as usual- full of car talk and classic San Franciscan good food nooks.

Before leaving for Los Angeles I identified an opportunity on Uship: a 325lb bronze sculpture needed to be delivered to Santa Fe. I offered to transport it for my cost in gas, and the shipment was booked almost instantly. The day I left San Francisco towards Los Angeles I picked up the massive statue and fit it in the back of my LandCruiser with the help of a forklift and two other brave souls –including poor Alex, who this time sported a very appropriate tank top to add to our blue collar glamour. After loading the piece we stopped by a gallery where Alex knew RISD graduates worked, a gorgeous space full of beautiful clothing and good wine. On the way down I-5, Yoda, the Toyota, performed excellent, even on the feared hills of the Grapevine. Ahead awaited two days in the City of Light, where many friends expected our arrival!

$250 worth of gas for a little deviation in my way to Wichita. Bought two blankets at Goodwill and sealed the deal!

I tried to meet with everyone I knew in the Los Angeles area with mixed success: while most of my college friends showed up –with the exception of one-, I could not meet with Nate, a mechanic-adventurer from the LA area. That did not stop me from having a worthy phone conversation and meeting with Benzguy300 to pick up some Mercedes parts for myself, and Rollguy (Rich), a genuine role model and a true jack of all trades.

Desert around Hesperia, CA. One year later, it's just as beautiful.

Ah, the morning sun! The anticipation for the journey, lingering in the air!
 The night I left Los Angeles I stayed with Rich and his wife, showing bits of the upcoming episodes from Open Roads, including the hilarious 30-second animated intro. The next morning we picked up some waste vegetable oil to turn into fuel and had breakfast at a local diner. We talked about the upcoming PanAmerica trip, as well as cultural differences with exchange students from Germany –one of the being the theft of Denny's mugs– and future projects.

Rich's impressive collection of player piano scrolls. In this trip I used a Canon 60D, my production camera.
We soon parted ways, and by 7.30am, after a quick refuel –the FJ80 LandCruiser average up until that point had been 17/18mpg– I headed into the desert towards Barstow, passing through miles of deserted land and solitary buildings, shells of dry wood like ships in an empty ocean.

So much nothing! Nothing everywhere! Soon thought of A Horse With No Name.

In the middle of the desert, on an uphill, I passed a mysterious woman, dressed in black, texting on her phone by the side of the road. A mile ahead I saw a Mazda with its hood up, and quickly turned as soon as I put the narrative together. All my life I have been warned about picking hitchhikers, but this time, in the middle of the desert, with absolutely nothing for miles, I decided to turn around and offer my help. Still, my paranoid side made me put a screwdriver under my thigh as I approached the lone wanderer. Upon picking her up, it so seemed that she had gotten to a place where she could get cell phone reception to ask for help, which was now a few minutes away. She was very thankful for the lift, and I offered to take a look under the hood. All her engine oil was gone, sprayed all over the bay, perhaps due to a broken hose next to the dipstick; I instructed her not to even start the car to avoid seizing the engine. More help arrived almost immediately, so I waved her bye once the situation was under control. I definitely felt relieved I took those few minutes to take her back to her car instead of driving mindlessly down the endless desert road.

One of the Insterstate 40 business loops, a chunk of the legendary Route 66.
Soon I hit the interstate, but, due to the weight of my camera, I could take very few pictures on the go. In fact, this heavy DSLR made it too risky to photograph while driving, as it had been the custom with my lighter point-and-shoot in previous trips. Every picture that you see on this blog entry is taken while the car is still, or entirely by random, with one hand on the steering wheel and my forearm strained by the substantial weight of the camera. One out of every twenty pictures taken at random came out looking somewhat passable.

This is the only good picture in several dozens taken at from this beautiful canyon.
I crossed Arizona and New Mexico in the blink of an eye, windows open, roaring at 70mph, singing several opera concoctions from "O Fortuna" to "Con Te Partiro". I stopped for some refueling and miscellaneous beauty hunting, especially on the long stretches of Route 66. Much of it was run down, yet I could spot some beautiful examples of googie 50's design and passed a 55 Corvette wagon. Too bad camera operation was too clumsy to handle from the driver's seat.

Virgie's restaurant and lounge in Route 66.

More Route 66 signs with googie flair, the Colonial Motel at Gallup, NM.

Absolutely gorgeous Ford Lincoln Mercury sign, still linked to an original, working dealership!

Run down signage at Gallup, again. Makes me wonder about how it was before the days of the interstate!
By 10pm I had arrived to Albuquerque, still with one hour ahead of me towards Santa Fe. As many hours as I had driven, the only signs of fatigue came to bother me in my shoulders. By 11pm, I was parked in Canyon road, where I walked around a few pretentious nighthawks sipping alcohol late at night, quoting intellectuals and throwing swearwords all over. I went back to my truck and snuggled awkwardly next to my massive bronze cargo. I think it's the first time I have slept with a man!

Morning in Santa Fe with two hours to spare. What should I do?

Canyon Road is a little street with stone gutters and adobe haciendas in the heart of Santa Fe. It zigzags slightly, displaying its full array of colors like a bright toucan, mixing colonial Spanish architecture with sophisticated art galleries. Real estate, I bet, is not cheap in this area!

It seems that all buildings, by some town ordinance, must adjust to this colonial adobe style.
Absolutely stunning portico in Canyon street, housing a –guess what– gallery of fine arts.
My candidacy to work for National Geographic. Classic tourism office photo. Thanks, Canon 60D!
Characters in this street are quite... spicy, yet full of flavor.

Two happy artists chatted lively in the threshold of the Ladell Gallery. I met one of them, Arlene, the owner, who showed me inside. We soon got talking about RISD, and the difference between the art scene in the New York City area and Santa Fe. "We do not miss the hipsters", said her friend. And it is true: it felt refreshing to be surrounded by art as a means of colorful and relaxed self-expression, of seeing the world with happiness, rather than a half-assed statement of ironic disdain. I quite did not miss those hipsters either! It's so disheartening to see that many artists follow that trend –in art school I have witnessed many a complete, gruesome metamorphosis– because they do not know of any alternate lifestyles! Just you, and your art, and the sun, and the New Mexico sky! Simple, plain life.

Color, color, color! I was thankful to be let free to snoop around Arlene's studio!

As we chatted a friend of theirs stopped in in the middle of the street in his Lincoln town car to talk. With calm and care, people circled around him, until a very angry woman stopped violently and started sounding her horn. "It's a double line!", she said, to which I responded "It's Santa Fe!". "Boy, there's someone who hasn't living here for too long!", said one of the animated artists. "She acted quite like a New Yorker", I responded. We all laughed and waved each other goodbye.

Taste of Old and New Mexico... what I would give for a glass of fresh horchata in the shady porch!
Finally my cell phone struck 10 o'clock. I ran down to the Turner-Carroll gallery and was greeted with enthusiasm. "I come to deliver the sculpture of the man sitting", I said, to which I was responded with a surprised look: "You don't look like it, with that camera!". Soon I got the Land Cruiser and parked in front of the gallery. Two other men came out to help unload my quiet travel companion.

160 Kg of bronze, finally in place!
After some struggle we finally positioned the sculpture in front of the gallery, so I was free to take some pictures around. I talked to the secretary of the gallery, Natalie, about Native American villages in the area, which I would have LOVED to see if I was not in a hurry to return to Wichita. Darn it.

If you wonder where this is, check out the website for the Turner-Carroll gallery.
I turned the ignition and Yoda purred once again, ready once again for loyal service to the confines of the Earth. And so, with $250 extra in my pocket, I kept driving through hills and vast, flat roads in the middle of nowhere, towards the infinite plains of the Heartland.

Bye, bye! Note my friend's pensive face as I drive away from Canyon Road...
The drive from Santa Fe was uneventful to a point in which I decided to stop by Las Vegas, New Mexico, just for the sheer curiosity of its name. There was not much to see other than turn-of-the-century constructions, many in great shape; so I stopped in the local Salvation Army to see if any of their curiosities could catch my eye.

Parts of Las Vegas looked pretty similar to New Orleans, with an Old West touch to them.

Nu-Way Cafe. Again, on the eternal quest for cool googie signs. Gotta love their style!
There was a point at which I arrived to Route 54, which would take me all the way to Wichita. I turned by GPS off and I sighed in boredom, with some giggles in between (Hooker, KS –followed by Beaver, KS... yes, very mature of me) until I found a sign full of meaning, tragedy and rebirth: Greenburg, KS.

John Deere dealership, with several windmills in the background –source of the town's power.
Founded by a Stagecoach tycoon, Greensburg used to be an in-between town where the big railway companies would stop for water –sourced from the world's biggest hand-dug well–. However, in 2007, the entirety of the city was deeply devastated by a tornado, which leveled the town and left behind a high number of injured and dead. However, the relentless spirit of its inhabitants made it into what it is today: a town built to energy-efficient standards, powered in its entirety by wind turbines –ubiquitous around its landscape. It is just heartwarming to see how a town, despite extreme adversity, can rethink –and improve- the way it rebuilds itself, scratching past conceptions.

Andy Warhol would get a kick out of the repetition of this agricultural machinery.
Donald's Serva-Teria in Pratt, Ks. Space-era signage at its best. Where did this basic degree of creativity go?
I arrived to Wichita at 10pm, where I crashed into my bed immediately, waking up the next morning as if these landscapes had been a dream. Soon this blog will get 10,000% more interesting, as soon as I reveal a new change in my expedition vehicle and the preparations for the long PanAmerican journey start taking place. Until then, stay glued to your computer screen, and follow This European Life on facebook! Be good and stay out of trouble! ;)

Friday, June 1, 2012


I would like to start June's first post by thanking Alex Finis for his steady hand with my camera while I drove for close to 2,500 miles in two days straight. The span of this post covers a weekend in Chicago and a road trip crossing Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada and California.

How did I end up going on yet *another* road trip, driving mindlessly across the plains of the Midwest, ushering into the West Coast in a matter of hours? Well, the answer is simple: friends, and a situation that made the trip financially feasible.

The story starts on the PeachParts Mercedes forums, where I found a buyer for Orwell's interior. I also found a Mercedes 280SE 4.5 rear end in local yard, a part that René at Burlingame Motors had been looking for. All parts fit flawlessly in Yoda, my loyal Toyota LandCruiser, so, with a little planning and a little courage, I headed up for Chicago to help my friend, Alex, make his move to the sunny San Francisco Bay Area.

That weekend was spent in Glen Ellyn, with a short visit to the Volo Auto Museum, a must-see for anyone who is simultaneously into cars and film. What this museum holds is something completely unexpected from a cluster of barns in rural Illinois...

The real-life Mach Five, Speed Racer's race car.
The first room was a cabinet of wonders, starring a handful of immensely historically significant automobiles in film, the Mach Five being the crown jewel in the room. However, my mouth gaped wide open as soon as I got into the adjacent building...

The original, the only... Ecto-1, the Ghostbuster's 1959 Cadillac ambulance.
It seemed as if the glory days of this museum had been somewhere in the 1980's, back when some of the greatest American blockbusters were taking place in the Windy City –the Blues Brothers or Ferry Buehller's Day Off being two of them-. From this time period we had the Ecto-1, the famous Ghostbusters company vehicle; the Bluesmobile –with that gigantic speaker to announce their last concert- and the most famous DeLorean in the world, one that would take you... Back to the Future.

A 1974 Dodge Monaco police car... is this the Bluesmobile or what?!
Many of the cars in this museum were for sale. From a $150,000 1939 Lincoln Limousine to a $34,000 Mercedes pagoda 280SL, there were cars for all kinds of tastes!

Eleanor, the Ford Mustang Fastback from "Gone in 60 Seconds".

 Amongst the big Detroit steel, an Edsel Wagon sat proudly in the center of the room. This sparked the following conversation between my friend's father and his brother:

B: Cool wagon! It's huge and not that expensive!
F: I would never buy this for you.
B: But why?!

F: It's an Edsel.

Very appropriately,  Alex's father was right: one of the reasons the Edsel company went out of business was not only their unusual styling, but their mediocre reliability. To this day, they still hold their value for their rarity and well, the fact that they have one of the googiest, most distinctive, unique noses in any car ever made!

General Lee, the famous Challenger from "The Dukes of Hazzard".

That afternoon I also met with my friend Emmi, a Finnish girl with a passionate taste for typography, clean design and Star Trek. We drove to the last bastion of the Boston Blackie's franchise to test if their burgers were as good as their –now extinct- downtown Chicago branch. I was not disappointed.

Yoda, refueling somewhere in interstate 80 in Iowa.
 The next day we left at 6am. We were blessed by Alex's family with two turkey-bacon sandwiches, Arizona ice tea and a whole bagload of Brick-a-Bracks. Our first stop was Iowa-80.

Iowa 80, the World's largest truck stop. Paradise for any road animal!
Much to our disgrace, as the trip wet on, the Brick-a-Bracks slowly turned into a gigantic ball of chocolate lasagna. The landscapes we drove through, however, compensated for this mess.

I really do not really know what to say about this cheese-wedge building...

One could drive through Illinois, Iowa and Nebraska and completely forget about state lines. The land is flat and the sky is wide, with nothing but a few spare farms and the occasional hill.

And, somehow, we knew how the next few hours were going to turn out...

The 94 Toyota Landcruiser fared very well for its EPA MPG: with a heavy foot and several hours at 75mph, the mileage dropped to 16mpg. However, with cruise control, the A/C turned on occasionally and a lot of car parts in the back, we went up to 18.3mpg. Our mileage from then on fell in between these two numbers, never surpassing the dream 20mpg mark. This was going to be the vehicle that I would be taking to Argentina... would the gas mileage kill it? Should I even start to have second thoughts about this gas hog? Close to the California border, at $4.22 a gallon, I cringed at the pump.

Cattle ranch somewhere in Nebraska... what a beautiful clutter of colors!
Other than that, the truck worked flawlessly. No hiccups, no noises: just plain, relatively quiet cruising through the land, with eight windows open to the expansive landscapes of the Midwest.

My Egoraptor "O-Face" keychain... they do not make them anymore!
Alex and I had realized that the route we were taking from Chicago was very similar to my first American Road Trip with him and two other friends; this time, Colorado was not in the equation. All the memories from those times surfaced with each mile: we were such different people now! How much we had changed from the two grieving, heartbroken college sophomore that we were! Despite our struggles and our uncertainty about the future, how much more confident we became!

I rarely feature vertical pictures, but when I do, they feature beautiful skies.

The transition to Wyoming was one of the most noticeable ones between states. Alex's father had commented on the beautiful geology of the region, but it wasn't until we crossed the State line that we had the chance to take a look at it by ourselves...

Gorgeous clay formations from centuries of erosion, in Wyoming.

The colors changed as well. From the deep green of the Midwestern fields we transitioned slowly into more washed-out tones, sprinkled with hints of red from the clay in the region.

Truck nation. This actually sparked a conversation on American trucks vs. European lorries.

Looking at the great plains, the great meadows and prairies, I imagined those landscaped two hundred years before I had the chance to drive in complete comfort through them. I imagined the pioneers, struggling, fighting with the native tribes, the heists and runaways of the train lines heading to the Pacific, the strive of railroad workers and miners with their eyes glowing in the thought of gold.

More sculptures of clay, sand, water and wind.

Whoever crosses those landscapes is pretty much on his own. The emptiness in Nebraska, Wyoming and Nevada is so absolute, so barren and inhospitable, a breakdown could make the whole difference between life and death, even with today's new GPS technology and cell phones... we had no reception for a good, good while. I was then thankful that Tyler had the fuel pump relay replaced on the truck.

I always found the notion of roll-down grass very foreign. This truckload just clarified things.

At 7,000 feet, the Landcruiser started feeling the effects of the thin air, still pushing forward with relentless spirit and monstrous appetite for gasoline. We stopped in Cheyenne, the state capital, where we fell on our beds in complete exhaustion, giving up on the possibility of dinner.

We came across some of the most beautiully solemn grain silos. This one is on the Wyoming-Utah border.

The following day was followed by lots of nothing, with a few villages sprinkled in between long tracks of Interstate. Alex learned what a "Business Loop" was, from the days prior to the Eisenhower administration building the Interstate system, making it infinitely more convenient to travel between cites, but leaving many roadside towns –literally- in dust and ruin.

Halfway through the trip, Alex became bored and photo-sniped around 150 drivers.

Alex, armed my my heavy DSLR camera, started testing his reaction times and his hand at sniping quick pictures of moving object. Just for giggles, he started photographing by-passing drivers, getting all kinds of –mostly positive- reactions to the moving paparazzi.

The border with Salt Lake is lined with abandoned electrical posts.

Eventually we transitioned into beautiful Utah, passing through Salt Lake City and cruising past Salt Lake into the Bonneville rest stop, were we, three years later, admired the landscapes once again, and played a commemorative game of Frisbee in the utter flatness of this salty plains.

Film crew in the Salt Flats rest stop, shooting an advertisement,
Not much happened after Utah. While driving through Nevada we considered stopping in Reno to catch some sleep, but the late arrival time filled us with enough courage to push through the California border, past Sacramento, into Petaluma, were we would be greeted by the Moonies.

Off the bucket list: to drive on the Salt Flats. Real salt, but no different in feel from asphalt!

And so, half-dead but happy to be back in the Golden State, we slept a little bit that morning and had a ceremonial burger at Mike's at the Crossroads up in Cotati. Life was good, with very promising prospects for the two of us...