I’ve been reading Anthony and Astrid’s Blog (http://www.overlandnomads.com) for some time now. They are currently doing something most of us have, and may always have, on our bucket lists. The duo and their appropriately named ’94 Toyota Land Cruiser FZJ80, Hank the Tank, are setting out on an overland adventure across 5 continents. In their words, “Who wants to live a life doing what they have to do versus what they want to do? Not us, life’s too short. It’s time to “sail away” from the comfort of a nice apartment, good-paying jobs, and convenience for a life of no-holds-barred living! Remember, you’ll never get to do the things you want to do in life unless you get off your ass and do them!” Indeed, indeed.
I reached out to Anthony and asked if he would like to share some of his journey with our readers. He agreed and I am very honored to have even a small share of what they are doing. Maybe some of this will rub off on me and I will get off my butt and find more adventure! Recently, they set to trek across a famous section of the Southern California desert, The Mojave Road. This three part story will be shared over the course of the next week. Please, sit back and enjoy the first installment!
The Mojave Road, Day 1: 140 Miles The Hard Way
In devising the plan for Overland Expo in Flagstaff, Arizona this year, the last thing I wanted to do was tick off hundreds of miles of on-pavement driving. To me, that’s not adventure. That’s painful. So my thought was to get together with some good friends and drive the Mojave Road, a 140 mile (139.8 miles to be exact) dirt road that bisects the Mojave National Preserve in the Mojave Desert.
The Mojave Road is a historic dirt track used by the local Paiute, Mojave and Chemeheuvi Indian tribes as a trade route to the sea, by the U.S. Government as a stagecoach mail route, and by early California settlers as an emigration route. The dry, dusty, rutted dirt track runs for 140 miles between natural springs. A necessity in this harsh environment. You might think that traveling this route today is easy, but I’m here to tell you it is not simple. It is remote and desolate. You can experience any type of weather on the road. From snow at the high elevations, to torrential rain at the low elevations with flash floods that can cut you off from civilization, to 120° temperatures in the height of summer. There is no gasoline for miles, there is no hospital if you are injured, there are no creature comforts of any kind. The only way to travel the road is to be completely self-sufficient, carrying your own food, water, and gasoline. It is not a journey to be attempted alone or without the aid of a four-wheel drive vehicle or motorcycle. Driving in the desert is serious business.
Luckily I had friends who wanted to experience this road with me! David Croyle of Backroad Navigator and Bryon Dorr of Exploring Elements both jumped at the chance to drive this road. As the departure day approached, I felt like a kid getting ready to visit Disneyland for the first time. That strange mix of excitement and fear of the unknown that fills your dreams with visions of possible scenarios. No one knows what could happen out here…and that’s what draws adventurers to places like this. Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia once said, “For me, when everything goes wrong, that’s when adventure starts.” That’s exactly what I wanted. ADVENTURE!
David and I met Bryon in the Von’s parking lot in Barstow, CA, at about 1:00 pm after a long slog from the Bay Area on Interstate 5 and such exciting waypoints like Bakersfield and Buttonwillow. We quickly grabbed some cold drinks and snacks and hit the road for the start of the trail. We had plenty of time to barrel through the first part of the Mojave Road and still get to our first campsite at Afton Canyon Campground before dark. Little did we know that things were about to go wrong. Very wrong.
After a series of missteps where we drove east from Barstow, up the Interstate 15, back west to Harvard Road, south to Interstate 40, east to a defunct gas station and then west again to Newberry Springs to try to find fuel, we finally hit the trailhead and began our drive to Camp Cady. After about three miles of offroad, we came to a private property sign and we turned around to try to find the real trailhead. With David in the lead, we found Manix Wash and began our journey on the Mojave Road in earnest. It was now 3:30 pm and we had about four hours of light. Easy peasy, right? Wrong.
The first couple of miles of Manix Wash was fantastic, hard packed dirt that led us deeper into the Mojave River Wash. As we entered our first deep sand area, Bryon began to bog down in the silty, dusty sand. I quickly passed him to conserve my forward momentum and all I could do was watch as 10,000 lbs. of Sportsmobile began digging a van-sized grave. Bryon was stuck, and there was no way he was getting out of this one without recovery gear. I radioed ahead to Dave who was having similar problems about a half mile up the wash. He called back to inform me that he was airing his tires down and that he’d be back to help as soon as he could. I found a hard-packed area of the wash where I could stop and air down as well. Once I did that, I backtracked to Bryon and pulled out my set of Maxtrax sand ladders to assist Bryon out of his predicament.
Unfortunately, digging a five ton vehicle out of sand is easier said than done. Our recovery effort went something like this:
Dig out rear wheels
Place Maxtrax under rear wheels
Drive slowly to gain traction
Pop the Sportsmobile out of hole
Proceed to bury five tons of vehicle in the sand once again
Total distance gained = 10 feet.
Repeat multiple times.
After 45 minutes of recovery our total distance gained was about 50 feet. At this rate, we would get to Overland Expo sometime in June. Something else needed to be done. Assessing the situation, I saw that Bryon was inching closer and closer to the hard packed part of the wash. If we could get him up a small incline and onto the hard pack, we could turn around and get out of the wash once and for all. At that point, Dave rolled up and I told him my plan. We decided we would turn Bryon toward the high-ground and then winch him up the incline. There’s only one thing…his Sportsmobile had no recovery points so there was no hook to attach the winch cable. We got down on the ground and looked for something, anything that might work. We settled on wrapping a recovery strap around his axle and attaching the winch cable to the strap. Not a good solution, mind you, but one that came out of necessity. With the recovery strap secured, Dave started his 12,000 lb WARN winch and began easing Bryon up the slope. Except it wasn’t working. Bryon was going nowhere fast. We needed more power! So I spooled out my winch line, attached it to another recovery strap and Dave and I began the first double winch pull of my career. 24,000 lbs. of power trying as hard as possible to get the Sportsmobile out of the wash. It worked! With our winches and a lot of gas and transmission fatigue on Bryon’s part, we finally got him up the incline and onto hard-packed sand!
It all happened not a moment too soon. The sun was starting its slow descent behind the mountains, we had very little time to get to camp. Where did our four hours go? With Dave in the lead once again, we followed his GPS track along the railroad, through washes and canyons, and up large hills finally arriving at Afton Campground around 8:30 pm. Thankfully Dave and I had lights on our roof racks to light the way. There’s no way we could have made it without them.
Before all of this started, I promised to cook dinner for the crew that night. The plan was for carne asada tacos, beans and tortilla chips with salsa fresca. If I hadn’t marinated the meat at 1:00 pm that afternoon, there is no way I would have cooked that night. I was exhausted. All I wanted was a beer and the inside of my sleeping bag. The marinade would have destroyed the meat by morning, so I had to cook. I quickly set up the tent, laid out my sleeping bag, grabbed a beer and got to work prepping dinner. That’s when the wind started howling through the canyon. These weren’t winds as much as gales. 50-70 MPH screaming winds that blew over Dave’s completely full can of beer. It was also then that I learned of Bryon’s new issue, gunning his engine trying to get out the wash earlier had done something awful to his transmission. He heard metallic noises and was missing gears. This was not good news.
After dinner, more beer and a visit from a kangaroo rat, we retired to our sleeping quarters and crashed out. Here’s hoping that tomorrow would bring better luck. We seriously needed it.
The lone picture from that afternoon explains it all.
Editor’s Note: Stay tuned for Day 2 coming soon!