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Archive for November, 2015

For some of you that follow my blog, you’ll recall an older post about our 1983 CJ7 Jeep, lovingly named El Blanco.  We purchased El Blanco for $4000 and have put roughly about $2000 into him to make him trail worthy.   This last weekend all his upgrades got put to the test as we spent three days traversing the Mojave Road Trail.  The Mojave Road Trail is the famous trail that brought American Pioneers to California.  The trail is very unique to this day in the fact that most of the trail is still in the condition it was when the pioneers traveled.  The trail is approximately 140 miles long starting from an old Military fort and ending at Zzyzx Road.  We added on a couple additional miles by starting in Laughlin.  Traveling along the Mojave Road isn’t just any picnic.  There are virtually no trail markers along the way.  You’ll constantly be needing to check your trail map to make sure you’re on the actual Mojave Road.  Thankfully, “Friends of the Mojave Road” erected rock cairns at some intersections to show the way.  As long as these rock cairns are on your right side, you’re still on the trail.  However when it came to some washes, these cairns had been washed away so staying on the trail became pretty challenging.

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El Blanco was one of four Jeeps, three Land Cruisers and one Toyota Truck that made this journey together.  El Blanco was the oldest vehicle in our group and his old technology just couldn’t keep up with the newer suspensions of the other Jeeps and Land Cruisers.  Yet even through our slowness and the creaking and groaning of El Blanco’s 1983 parts, we completed the trip without a single hitch!

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We started the trip in Laughlin Nevada on Saturday morning.  At the trail head most of the Land Cruisers and Jeeps aired down the tires to around 20 PSI.  It really is amazing how much of a difference lower air pressure can be for the ride comfort factor especially on washboard sections.

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Our first stop was the military fort that kept the Mohave Indians in check while the pioneers were using the trail as the “Old West Highway”.  Today all that’s left of the fort is some old fencing, building foundations and real petroglyphs on rocks.

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We continued along the trail, which by the afternoon became pretty rough.  We all turned on our 4-wheel low and just rock crawled over some sketchy sections of the trail.  I can’t imagine horse drawn wagons going over this terrain.   It must have been one rough ride with many wagon wheel changes along the way.

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As the skies got darker and darker, we diverted off the Mojave Road and approached our first base camp for the night at Mid Hills.  We were at approximately 5,123 feet in elevation and it was freezing.  There was a strong wind blowing which made the outside temperature feel even colder.  As everyone finished setting up their tents for the night it was great to sit around the camp fire and talk about the days’ adventure.  That night was a COLD night.  Even with my 30 degree sleeping bag and me wearing socks and a jacket inside the sleeping bag, I was cold.  Finally the morning came and with it the warmth of the sun.  Slowly everyone packed up their camp and we were back on the trail.

Day 2 took us through some AMAZING Joshua tree forests.  The beauty of the scenery is amazing.  It’s incredible how you can distinctly see elevation changes in the landscape.  From desert scrub to Joshua trees to cedars and junipers.  Each live in a distinct elevation and you’ll see it switch from one landscape to another in just a couple miles.  Once back on the trail we made our way to the next landmark.  It’s a collection of money, survival gear, traveler’s signing book and frogs.  Yup you read that right… frogs.  Just past the monument there is a HUGE collection of various frog statues.  There are hundreds of frogs, some the size of large boulders.  Some small as a dime. Just past the frogs was a collection of bobble heads and past that a, collection of toy trucks.  So if you’re going to be traveling along the Mojave Road, bring a frog, a bobble head and a toy truck to add to the collection.

Around noon we diverted off the Mojave Road and made our way to the Lava Tubes to explore and have lunch.  Unfortunately the road to the Lava Tubes has the WORST washboards I’ve even been on.  It was so bad that both El Blanco and another Jeep’s hard top bolts loosened up and was rattling something fierce.  The Lava Tubes are amazing.  I really didn’t even know that volcanoes were so plentiful in Nevada/California, but you see the evidence of extinct volcanoes and domes everywhere.  The entrance to the Lava Tube is a staircase and unfortunately I noticed evidence of a recent tube collapse on the opposite side and saw the various cracks in the ceiling of the tube, so for me entering the tube was a definite NOPE.  However others in the group had no problem going into cave and snapping pictures.  They said it was amazing, and I’m sure they’re right, but I just didn’t feel warm and fuzzy about going into that cave.

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Around the late afternoon, J and I noticed that the gas gauge on El Blanco was reading ¼ full.  Yes we brought extra gas (6 gallons) but we had no idea if El Blanco’s gas gauge was even reading correctly.  There was another older Jeep and an older Land Cruiser that were also running a little low on fuel, so it was decided that us three vehicles would divert from the group just before the salt flats and make our way to Baker to refuel while the others scouted a base camp for the night.  I am SOOOOO glad that we did refuel, as even if we had used our 6 gallon backup, the sandy washes on the third day would have used up more than what we had allocated as a backup.  After refueling, we made our way back to the main group and the camp for the night.  Even though this base camp was at a much lower elevation (sea level) by 2:00 in the morning it was colder than at 5,125 feet.

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For you off-roading/camping/backpacking ladies… You know that doing your business with a group of people and with very little tree, bush cover can be challenging.  Hence the reason I purchased a FUD (Female Urine Device) just for this trip.  We nick named it Lady Jane!  Basically it’s a funnel like device that allows women to stand up and pee!  It’s a miracle!  No more squatting freezing your butt off while cowering behind a scrub bush.  Instead, unzip pants, arrange Lade Jane and pee like a BOSS!  Worth every penny!

On day 3 we were to traverse over the salt flats.  Depending the area rain, this section can be a nightmare.  Numerous people who didn’t pay attention to weather reports have attempted to cross, and got stuck halfway through.  But since it hadn’t rained in two weeks, we had no problems crossing.  At the edge of the flats there’s a travelers monument where each traveler deposits a rock onto the pile.  There’s also a geocache and a plaque in the middle of the pile.  I’m not allowed to tell you what the plaque reads as that’s part of the Mojave Road trail etiquette – DO NOT SHARE WHAT THE PLAQUE READS.  People wanting to know what the plaque reads need to travel there!

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There are two water crossings on the Mojave Road.  The first crossing was very minor, just a small slow moving steam.  The second crossing however was rather deep and for us nubie off-roaders, created some serious pucker factor.  We were the last vehicle in our group and we watched one by one each vehicle go across the water.  The plan was to put it into 4-wheel drive and NEVER let off the gas as to prevent water from being sucked up into the exhaust.  So as our turn neared, we crossed our fingers and slowly pulled into the water.  The water was probably a little under waist deep and halfway through we quickly learned that El Blanco is not watertight.  Shortly after submerging into the crossing, water was seeping through the doors crevices and even through the gear shifter!  We could hear the gurgling of the exhaust underwater and unfortunately we stalled 2/3rd the way through. But tried and true El Blanco started back up and pulled out of the water, draining from every crack, rust hole, and door crevice.

Past the water crossings you’ll enter the sandy washes.  This is where referring to the trail map is a must.  Some of the rock cairns has been washed away so it can be difficult to read which path you need to take.  More than once we had to double back or trail blaze to get back on the real Mojave Road.  This is also the section that you need to make sure you have enough gas.  Sand not only sucks up gas faster but also heats up engines quick.  One of the Jeeps learned this the hard way.  During the river crossing some mud and muck had built up on the radiator and blocked the airflow to cool the vehicle.  This caused some serious overheating the resulted in a cracked radiator.  But with a little bit of help from some JB Weld and some replacement water, the jeep was good to go!  NOTE:  If you’re going to off-roading anywhere – BRING JB WELD!!!  It’s a lifesaver!!!

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As we neared the end of the Mojave Road, J and I celebrated that El Blanco made the trip without a single problem!  All the effort going into making him trail capable was well worth it.  We were so grateful that we all made it out safe and were with such great friends.

 

Have a 4-wheel drive vehicle?  Then you MUST make this three day journey at some point in your life.  The scenery is amazing!  It’s not the simplest of trails, but if a nubie like J and I can do it, you can too!  Below are some notes just in case you do decide to run this trail.

 

Vehicle Paint – You will scratch your paint.  There are some sections of the trail that are narrow and you will brush against branches.

Gas – BRING EXTRA GAS!!!

Map – Refer to your trail map constantly!

Group – Travel in a group of people.  Most parts of the trail are in the middle of nowhere and miles and miles from help!

Insurance – Bring several tubes of JB Weld, extra tools/parts and water; Just in case.

Warmth – Bring jackets and warm clothes.  Even though you’re in the desert, the nights are frigid!

HAVE FUN!  – The comradery of the group you’re with, being isolated from civilization, combined with the beauty of the Mojave Road simply can’t be beat!

 

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There are some birthdays throughout one’s life that are true milestones.  These birthdays can include:

13 (Earning that “Teen Badge” and some serious attitude that comes along with it)

16 (Earning the License to Drive, and a means to escape the house)

18 (Earning the ability to Vote!)

21 (Cheers to binge drinking and damaging the liver!)

40 (Here’s to being middle aged and officially at the top of the hill!)

Last year one of my friends said that she wanted to celebrate her upcoming 40th birthday by going somewhere special.  That special place was going to be Iceland.  She asked a couple friends if we wanted to come join her on this 40th birthday adventure.  So there we were, three girls planning a 9 day vacation to Iceland!

View of Iceland

View of Iceland

The trip was planned for middle October 2015, but we started planning our trip well in advance.  In April we booked our flights via WOW Airlines from Boston to Keflavik Iceland and by July 2015 I booked a two bedroom cottage in Sangerdi just outside of Keflavik.   Things were coming in to place and we were getting so excited as the days counted down.

Our Sangerdi Cottage

Our Sangerdi Cottage

Everything was coming into place.  We had booked some tours in advance but most of them we booked directly at the Iceland tourist center when we arrived.  I was coming in two days later as I had to work a trade show in Orlando.  Knowing that I was going to go from the 80 degree weather in Orlando to 32 degree weather in Iceland, I packed two separate suitcases.  One for Orlando and one for Iceland.  The Orlando bag I sent home with a co-worker.  As the day of departure for Iceland came, I had that familiar panic attack of “WHERE THE HELL IS MY PASSPORT?!  Oh yeah, here it is.  Right where it’s been for the last four days…” That happened a couple more times on the connecting flights over to Boston.

We flew WOW Airlines which is Iceland’s UBER economic airline.  WOW is so economical that they charge you for water!  The flight attendants are dressed in these vintage purple dresses with little flight attendant caps.  It’s all very charming even when they take your money for a glass of water.  But I prepared well and brought my trusty HydroFlask.  The flight going to Iceland is approximately 5 hours.  Really not so bad at all.  The best part is that leaving from Boston at 7:30pm means that as the plane passes over Greenland and heads towards Iceland you just might get to see the Arora Borealis.  Thankfully my window seat faced north and I was able to see the northern lights.  Unfortunately they weren’t the vivid bright green hues that you see in “I WAS HERE” postcards.  The lights I saw were a pale green that morphed to white.  It really is fascinating the way the lights dance and move about.  Truly mesmerizing.

It was completely dark when the plane landed in Iceland at 4:05AM.  The other two girls came to pick me up at the airport and we drove back to the cottage for me to get some sleep.  I arrived on a Tuesday and all that was planned for the day was to tour the main city of Reykjavik and visit the Penis Museum.   You read that right… The world famous Penis Museum in Iceland.  Dedicated to various exhibits of the Penis.  We arrived at the museum and you are surrounded by penises.  From the smallest penis of some kind of shrew to the largest penis of the blue whale, this museum has a specimen from hundreds of species.  Penises in jars, taxidermy penises, Penis telephones, Penis and testicle water vessels and even Penis bones!  It’s a giant world of the PENIS!

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On the Penis Phone

At the Penis Museum

At the Penis Museum with a giant elephant dick behind us.

What’s really nice about Iceland is that everyone speaks English.  I don’t mean this as the typical arrogant American who expects everyone in a foreign country to speak English.  But in Iceland they speak Icelandic.  Which in itself is a very difficult language and because it’s only spoken in Iceland, the residents do not expect to hear their native tongue spoken by foreigners.  Granted we did learn the familiar phrases like thanks (Tak) and hello (Hallo), but otherwise everyone spoke English.  Funny thing is that Icelandic people learn English from watching American and British television shows.

If there’s one thing we learned while on this travel adventure is if you want some keepsakes that aren’t the typical tourist trap crap, then go to the goodwill or what they call the RedCross in Iceland.  It’s a secondhand shop very similar to what we have in the US.  So instead of buying a brand new Icelandic scarf for over $100 I bought a secondhand Icelandic scarf for $13!  The same goes for if you wanted one of those Icelandic jumpers (Icelandic hand knit wool sweater).  They sell for over $120, but at the secondhand shop they were $30.  Not too shabby!  So hit the secondhand shop for souvenirs!

The other very very strange custom in Iceland is that parents who take their babies to dinner leave the children OUTSIDE the restaurant in their stroller.  YUP! You heard me right.  The babies are left outside the restaurant in their baby carriages.  Granted the kids are bundled up tight in these cute baby sleeping bags and then the stroller is covered by this clear plastic rain fly.  But it was very strange to see two to three strollers outside the restaurant with babies inside the stroller waiting for the parents to finish dinner.  Could an American parent in the USA ever do such a thing without someone calling the police over child abandonment?  NEVER!  What about someone stealing the baby you ask?  Well crime in Iceland is virtually non-existent; so parents do not worry about someone kidnapping their waiting child.  It was actually very refreshing to see such faith and trust in a society as a whole and I greatly admire Iceland for that virtue.

Iceland is renowned for its fresh fish hauls and its grass fed lamb.  I truly have never had such fresh tasting fish.  One evening I even ate the traditional meal of lambs head with turnip puree and cauliflower mash.  It wasn’t weird eating the head of a lamb, what was weird to me is that it was served cold!  The cheek meat was very good and I would eat it over again, just maybe warmed up a bit.

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Eating the traditional Lambs Head

On Wednesday we had booked a horseback riding tour for six hours.  On the tour you’d ride for three hours have a lunch then go back on the trail for another three hours.  The trail horses were Icelandic Horses which are the ONLY horses allowed in Iceland.  They are small, stocky horses that are very furry and have cute personalities.  They also have a gait called the tolt.  It’s fast walking trot pace that is VERY comfortable! You basically wiggle in the saddle and that’s it!  IF you can get your horse to do it.  There’s a fine line between the Tolt and the Trot, and I had a hard time finding that line.  I’d get my horse to do it for a while, then he’d increase speed to the trot, a not so comfortable pace.  But overall it was a blast.  It wasn’t the typical horse tour “Let’s go for a slow walk on a horse.” Nope this was “OK Ready? Let’s tolt!” or “Ok ready for the gallop?”  We were moving!  Thankfully all us girls were experienced horse riders so we felt comfortable with all the various paces thrown at us.  If I go back to Iceland, I’m not doing any other tour except the horseback riding.

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My Icelandic horse “Emma”

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Us girls on our ride

On Thursday we decided to visit the world famous Blue Lagoon Spa.  After our six hour horseback ride the previous day, our butts and thighs would need the heated relaxation.  The Blue Lagoon is the “waste water” from a geo thermal heating plant.  The spa is HUGE and the temperature of the lagoon ranges from tepid to scalding.  There is a natural current in the lagoon that moves the heated water around so you’d be standing in one place then get a touch of very hot water followed by tepid water.  And the color of the water is a very pale white/blue.  One you stick your hand in the water you don’t see it anymore.  The water is supposed to be very good for your skin and heal many acne problems.  There are even stations throughout the lagoon with silica-clay buckets that visitors rub on their skin and let dry.  It’s kind of funny to see half the people walking around the lagoon waters looking like a geisha with white face makeup.  Even the men slather on the clay which is a sight to see.  The only bad thing about the “healing waters” is that because of the extremely high mineral content the spa is extremely drying to hair.  It was recommended that you put conditioner in your hair and wrap it in a bun and don’t rinse it out until you exit the spa.  There were a couple of stands of hair I missed that got wet in the spa and they felt like straw when I exited the spa.  Even our bathing suit fabric had this weird rough texture as the material dried.  After three hours of soaking in the thermal pools we decided to call it quits.  We had booked a caving touring later in the afternoon and it was time to get moving.

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The Blue Lagoon Heated Geo Thermal Spa

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The Blue Lagoon



Iceland is the land of fire and ice and volcanoes alive and dormant are scattered throughout the country.  These volcanoes during and after eruption can create long running lava tubes and these tubes make for some subterranean fun!  So we put on our caving helmets and crawled underground.  Some of the tubes had partially collapsed, which made for some interesting traversing.  I’m glad I had been working on my core strength because there were some sections of the lava tube cave that we had to plank across or frog crawl.  Minerals throughout the tube created a diamond dust like effect in some sections of the tube.  It was hard to capture in a picture, but it looks like diamonds are embedded in the rocks.  Halfway through the cave tour the leader told us to have a seat on the rocks and turn off all our lights.  For several minutes we just listened to the cave sounds.  The soft sound of dripping water.  The whisper of a cold cave breeze.  It was amazing how tranquil it was just sitting there on the rocks in the dark.

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The Lava Tube

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Getting ready to go caving

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Standing next to the Troll Tooth

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Glittering ceiling of the lave tube

On Friday we decided to not do any tours but instead drive halfway around the country.  We were hoping to make it to town called Hofn, however after making a couple of detours to see some amazing waterfalls we decided to stop in a very small town called Vik.  The first hotel we stopped at didn’t have any rooms available.  Which we thought was strange because there was only ONE car in the parking lot.  But the concierge pointed out another hotel that might have rooms available.  So we check it out and indeed they have one three-bed room available!  We’ll take it!  Come to learn that room was the only room left at the hotel because busloads of teenagers were arriving in an hour.  All I heard was “Hundreds” and “Teens” and my eyes got all squinty.  “Great!”  I imagined hundreds of teens rampaging up and down the hallways of the hotel all night long.  In preparation for the “Teen Horde” we decided to visit the hotel restaurant early.  Ah this is nice… The three of us, sitting in the restaurant; soft gentle music playing, sipping our Icelandic wine. Then a moment of pure terror as the first bus load of teens arrive.  One after another stepping off the bus. Will it ever end?!  Then another bus arrives! Then another!  All the teens having arrived now are stampeding towards the front desk!  Thankfully we are halfway finished with dinner when the first group of teenagers arrive at the restaurant.  Heather and I have prepared our eye daggers in the event of teenage disorderly conduct.  We are expecting the usual unruly group of teens who are loud, obnoxious, rude and generally uncaring about anyone else except themselves.  Thankfully we are beyond surprised when these teens sit at their table quietly, get their meal from a prepared buffet and eat respectfully.  WOW! That wasn’t a bad experience at all! Not at all what I expected.  Perhaps the teens weren’t in our section of the hotel, but if they were we didn’t hear a peep from them all night long.  Who would have guessed you could get a good night sleep when the hotel guests are 90% teens.  AMAZING!

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Our vehicle passenger description to a tee!

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In the small town of Vik

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Standing next to a gianatic glacier

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On Saturday we decided to continue our drive towards Hofn however we made two detours.  One for a plane crash on the lava sands beach and to walk a two hour hike towards the Column waterfall.  The hike was amazing, the views spectacular.  There was a bitterly cold wind blowing on the hike so we donned our beard hats!  The hike had taken a little longer than expected so we decided to start our journey home to Sangerdi which was at least a five hour drive.  It’s interesting, in Iceland they believe in the “Unseen People” AKA Trolls and elves.  So if there are a grouping of rocks that looks like a troll or elf home, instead of destroying the rocks to make way for a road, they’ll build the road around the rocks.  There were several spots on our drive home of rocks with tufts of grass growing out of the tops that looked just like trolls just sitting on the rocks.

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It’s Beard Hat Time!


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We were scheduled to leave Iceland on Sunday afternoon.  So as soon as we arrived at our cottage, we started packing.  Packing seemed like it took forever.  But eventually everything was packed, and the cottage was cleaned.  The flight home was exceptionally long because of a severe headwind.  Instead of 5 hours, the headwind added an additional hour to the trip.  We were hoping to see icebergs as we flew over Greenland, but the skies below us were cloudy from the moment we took off till the moment we landed in Boston.  Since we were arriving late in Boston on Sunday we decided to stay one night in Boston fly home the next day.

Overall it was an amazing trip.  I’m so glad that I had the opportunity to go on this adventure and celebrate a birthday milestone with two close friends.  Would I go to Iceland again?  Hell yeah!  After all said and done it was actually a fairly inexpensive trip even though Iceland can be very pricey.  We three girls contributed to everything.  We shared the cost of the cottage, the food we cooked, the rental car, etc.  It made for a very affordable adventure.  Looking for an exciting vacation where you aren’t just being lazy?  Explore what Iceland has to offer. I assure you, you won’t be disappointed.

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