Operation Westbound Winnie: Day 3

Documenting our road trip from Austin, TX to Mountain View, CA with a 1985 Winnebago Lesharo and a 1974 VW Bus. Intro, Day 1, Day 2

The whole gang woke up refreshed on Saturday morning, ready to put down some serious miles. We lost a significant amount of time on Friday, so we really hoped for a day of smooth sailing to make up the difference. To start the day off right, we decided to ignore the small puddle of coolant underneath the Winnebago...

Honestly, we couldn't have asked for a better morning. Both the Winnie and the VW felt healthy and maintained a solid speed. We were shedding miles quickly and we all had some newfound confidence.

It felt pretty reassuring to leave New Mexico, where the majority of our troubles have been housed thus far. Of course, that only meant we'd be entering Arizona, the location of all our previous troubles. Whatever the case, the scenery was becoming increasingly more interesting. 

Ah, Arizona! So nice to see you again...

Our first gas-up in Arizona was of little note except for a Lesharo sighting at a gas station. Good to know that our fellow Lesharo Lunatics are out enjoying all the glories of this French machine. Jonathan suggested we leave quick before they sniff him out a master Renault mechanic and we have to spend the rest of the day at that gas station. 

Continuing on, we could see snow-capped mountains in the distance. Beautiful from a distance, but what trouble would they present when we had to drive up some of them? 

At our next stop, we prepared lunch. Yes, prepared. Sure the Winnebago has a kitchen, but we had loftier ideas in mind. We're road folks, so cooking on an engine is a must. 

In fact, we didn't really have to cook at all. Merely heat. Jonathan foiled up his leftover burrito from Sadie's in Albuquerque and affixed it to the top of the engine so that at our next stop, it'd be hot and ready to eat. We individually wrapped some tortillas as well and warmed them off to the side. 

With our food safely in place, we continued on through Flagstaff. We took the scenic Route 66 through town, a place I had never been before. We all wished we could have had more time there, but alas, we had to keep moving. If only we had made our deadline the night before we could have enjoyed dinner and breakfast in Flagstaff. Another time, I suppose...

An hour and a half later, it was lunch time. We pulled off in the tiny town of Ash Fork, AZ (population: 457), "The Flagstone Capital of the USA". To get settled for lunch, we parked next to the train tracks and Jonathan fashioned a table out of an old wooden spool head. It was like something you'd see on Pinterest. Or for sale at Pottery Barn for $500. 

We gathered our crappy camping chairs around and had ourselves a lovely roadside picnic. 

There was enough leftover chicken burrito available to make five fairly decent tacos. We had purchased some pico de gallo in Flagstaff to add to the mix and fill 'em up a bit more. They were freaking delicious. And yea, they were the perfect temperature. 

And then like that, we were back on the road. 


We were moving along just fine, all the way through Arizona and into California. Yes! We made it out of Arizona complication-free!

And then we started approaching longer and longer stretches of uphill highway. 

Jonathan, driving in the VW, was pretty far ahead of Pete and I in the Winnebago. There was no way we were catching up. After chuggin' along for a number of miles, the Winnie had had enough. The uphill climb was just too much. We had already been driving for over an hour and a half before this breakdown and she was tired. 

Ugh! The day had been going so well!

Once again, the fuel line collapsed. It started pulling a vacuum and we were slowly losing power. Pete and I decided it was best to pull over as soon as possible before the Winnie shut down on its own. Luckily, we found a spot with an extended shoulder so we wouldn't be mowed down by a big rig.  

Lovin' that madness. 

Eventually, Jonathan, realizing that we were no longer in sight, pulled over and called us. He was about a mile ahead of us. He told us to hang tight and he'd find a way to get to where we were. We expected to have to wait a while, being that there were very few exits and turn around points.

But, like a G, Jonathan put the VW Bus in reverse and BACKED UP along the shoulder to our location. He showed up in no time. Seriously, he's just too much awesome. 

The Winnie was hot from all that damn work (you know the feeling), so we decided to feed her some cool gas from the VW Bus to bring Winnie's gas temperature down. Again, VW for the win!

Pete and Jonathan took the fuel line supply off of the VW engine and disengaged the bus's starter electric supply (so when the key was turned, it would start the fuel pump but not the engine). We filled our handy dandy gas can that we (thank goodness) needed to retrieve on Day 1 when the VW humorously ran out of gas before we left Austin.   

The guys added about two gallons of gas to the Winnie as she sat with her hood open, blowing in the gusty wind. Oh, that wind!

To my surprise, we weren't waiting on the side of the road for very long. It seems that "Tori BH" had broken down in this very spot not so long ago and had copious amounts of time to write her name in rocks. 

The sun was setting and it was time for us to rally on. We swapped vehicles, so that Jonathan could get an idea for what was going on in the Winnie. And also because that thing was about to give Pete and I a freakin' heart attack.

The terrifying wind never ceased to abuse us. Jonathan said that he had never seen wind like he did on Saturday, even driving through the Mojave Desert in November and December, when the region has peak wind gusts. The bus is hard enough to drive as it is, but under a wind advisory, it's a hardcore workout. VW's are notorious for their poor handling in high winds. You tend to see them upside down on the side of the road. Fantastic visual.

It was scary. Especially going downhill, which much of our next leg was. I don't think my butt could have been clenched any tighter. Pete kept informing me how horrible the whole ordeal was. I continued to picture the van being picked up and blown off the side of the road while shouting, "Is this real? This isn't real!"


After our minor breakdown, we made it a point to stop every 50 miles to give the Winnie cool gas, which seemed to prevent the hose from pulling a vacuum again. Our first stop post-breakdown was a lovely little oasis in the middle of nowhere with reasonable gas prices:

I take it they get a lot of complaints:

I was fairly tempted to buy little license plates for the gang, but figured I had already spent enough money at this stop:

Fifty miles later, we stopped in Barstow, CA and grabbed some dinner at Mega Tom's Burgers on Route 66. It was starting to rain a bit and the wind wasn't letting up. But we were determined to carry on, despite the fear factor. (For me, mostly, and I have no say because I wasn't driving). 

We were finished with the three-state long, I-40 part of the journey. Now it was on to smaller, more petrifying thoroughfare. On top of the heavy wind gusts and rain, we were now facing two-way traffic, blinding headlights, slick roads, oncoming big rigs and the possibility of drunk Saturday-night drivers. Great.

I was pretty much an anxious mess. Pete too. That VW Bus is not really up-to-snuff on all its safety regulations, ya know? Why is my seat belt so saggy!? Where are the airbags in this thing!? Why is my door about to blow open!? I tried to keep my head down as to not look at all the frightful things happening out the front window. Not that you could really see any shit through the scratched and dead-bug laden front windshield: 

With my anxiety off the charts, I was hoping to breathe in enough gas fumes to just kind of forget about what the whole thing.

Isn't that ironic? We've got one vehicle that can't get enough gas to the engine and another vehicle that has way to much gas coming out of it! Hilarious, really...

Anyways, Jonathan and Pete were not only dealing with the mental stress of driving old/classic vehicles; they were also physically worn out from three straight days of intense steering and clutch maneuvering. Those vehicles are hard work to control, especially on days like this. They were both suffering from sore necks.

Finally, we were over it. There was a new rest area up ahead that was not indicated on either of our maps. So, naturally, we pulled off for the night. Doesn't that sound like the beginning of a horror flick? 

It was a cold night due to all the wind, but we were all pretty tired and passed out rather quickly. Perhaps we were all just high on gasoline.

Although our plan was to be in Bakersfield, CA for the third night, we had made up for quite a bit of lost time after all the fuel repairs on Day 2. We were only about 75 miles off target and had our longest drive of the road trip yet. 

It had been a long time coming, spending the night in the Winnebago in California. We had hoped for that milestone three and a half months ago. We were so close we could taste it.


Operation Westbound Winnie Continues: Day 4