Bode in Bodie

This morning we climbed back up from the lake and headed up over the pass. We had no idea what was in store. We chose the Sonora Pass mainly because we had never been over it before, and sort of figured there would be very little traffic. What we didn’t really appreciate was the climb. It tops out at 9624 ft and is pretty darn steep by any standards. We climbed it – slowly – but we did it. Mostly 2nd gear, and occasionally 1st. Fortunately, there wasn’t anyone behind us for the entire ascent.

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Uphill just required patience and liberal use of all four limbs. Downhill was the real challenge. The Eastern descent is STEEP. How steep? We boiled brake fluid. I used low gears and engine braking the entire way – staying off the brake pedal as much as possible. It didn’t matter. A few thousand feet down, the brakes went to the floor (fortunately, right around a flat spot).  We were crawling downhill the entire time, so engine braking and the emergency brake helped us come to a complete stop.
I hopped out and the hubcaps were scalding, smoke pouring out of the front wheels, and a quick look at the transparent brake fluid reservoir and hose behind my seat indicated rapid boiling. I had no idea this was even a possibility. I suppose some of my chemist friends can probably tell me what the boiling point of brake fluid is, but I do know this – it’s freaking hot!
We spent some time just lounging and waiting for things to cool (Bode put together a puzzle on the table). Once it was safe to touch (about 45 minutes), it was clear that we had to bleed the brakes to get any residual bubbles out, and amazingly that was pretty much it. No permanent damage. A good warm-up for The Andes, I suppose. Onward to Bodie.

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Bodie is an old ghost town located at about 8500 feet, but you first descend down to Bridgeport before climbing up into the high desert. We’d been told to visit early in the morning because of the heat, and due to the slow ascents over the mountain passes we rolled in about 2pm. Luckily, there were some clouds and rain in the distance.
I’m not sure what we were expecting, but something along the lines of  “ye old ghost town” at a cheesy amusement park was in the back of Angela’s mind. Maybe somewhere you could get your photo taken in old-fashioned clothes in front of a saloon backdrop. Not quite – it’s the real deal. It was absolutely amazing.
The many houses and buildings nestled into the mountain made up just 5% of what the town once was in it’s heyday. Still, the largest ghost town anywhere, and an amazingly impressive slice of history preserved for eternity.

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Of course, Bode loved it. He wanted to check out the firehouse and jail, and loved walking through the vacant lots spotting well cranks and wagon wheels. There was lot’s of clue-gathering (thanks to Scooby Doo) and he quizzed everyone on their theories about ghosts and what happened to the people that lived here  (according to a Ranger that looked like an old prospector, there were just no more no jobs.  The government closed the Post Office and bank and that was the end.)

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Afterwords, we headed through yet another mountain pass – I think the third of the day at a mere 8400 feet – and rolled into Markleeville,CA around 7 pm. Before setting up camp we hit Grover Hot Springs for a couple hours. A great relaxing end to a long day of criss-crossing the mountains and desert. They have two spring-fed pools that get drained and re-filled everyday: one luke-warm and a  hot one at 104 F degrees.  Both had shallow ends of 2.5 feet deep – perfect for a 4 year old.

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A great part of the day was the variety of scenery. We started the day at a lake in the forest, climbed as high as I believe I’ve ever been in any car (much less a loaded down VW), saw glaciers, desert and prairie. Each mountain pass we took had yet another amazing view completely different from the last. One had a herder and sheep, another a military training operation. All the fields of cows and horses reminded me of Texas, yet the weather was perfect. You gotta love Northern California.


One last thing – there was an article about us in many of the local Bay Area newspapers today.  Many thanks for the offers to send us the article – we’ve taken a few of you up on them!

If you aren’t in the Bay Area, you can view the article here.

If you read the article and just found us – welcome to the journey!

43 thoughts on “Bode in Bodie

  • August 22, 2009 at 8:41 PM

    Sorry I posted a comment on yesterdays blog asking about your climb over the Sonora Pass. I had the same experience climbing the Sonora and Monitor Passes with my vanagon, mostly climbing in 1st and 2nd and using the low gears on the way down.

    Where are you headed to next? Take care have a safe trip.

  • August 23, 2009 at 1:02 AM

    Glad to hear the trip over Sonora Pass was almost uneventful. Sounds like you did a fine job getting Red Beard dialed-in.

    Stayed in Markleeville, years ago & had about the best biscuits & gravy breakfast there.

    Great pics, you guys are sure checking out some neat places.

    Also, we’ll check for an article & be more than happy to send your folks a copy or two of Sunday’s Oakland Trib. Just email their address & it’s done.

    Have fun & keep up the good work!


  • August 23, 2009 at 8:50 AM

    You made it into the San Jose Merc, if you didn’t already know. I’m loving the blog.

  • August 23, 2009 at 9:14 AM

    Sounds like an adventure already… you’ve convinced me not to sell my ’74 Westphalia… I ‘m not an expert but you might want to have your brakes fully checked by a pro at the next opportunity and maybe consider an upgrade… engine braking is hard on the tranny needless to say and you all have a few miles to go yet… hope you get some tailwinds… and consider another investment, those VW bumper stickers that say: Never, ever get behind a VW Bus ( helps turn those middle fingers into peace signs sometimes) .

  • August 23, 2009 at 9:18 AM

    You were in the paper today, and thus I looked you up. I found your article in the Contra Costa Times, since they are part of the Bay Area News Group…I am sure in printed in all the papers!

  • August 23, 2009 at 9:47 AM

    Saw you in the paper, will be following your escapades with great interest. You are living my dream. I didn’t get to do it when my kids were little but now they are grown and I’m running out of excuses. You are an inspiration. Thank you for letting us all share your journey. Safe travels.

  • August 23, 2009 at 9:54 AM

    In July 1971 my wife Anne and I (then aged 41) and our three young sons took delivery on a new 1971 red VW camper just like yours in Amsterdam and toured Europe for a month, visiting Holland, Belgium. France, Switzerland, Germany and Italy. The camper van cost $3000 and we shipped it back to California for only $300.

    Send me your email address and I will send you some photos of our bus in 1971.

    —Bob Louden

  • August 23, 2009 at 9:55 AM

    Read about your adventure in the Marin IJ Travel section today. Happy to send a copy to your parents if you send me their address. Sounds like a wonderful opportunity for many memorable experiences. Looking forward to reading about your travels. Enjoy!

  • August 23, 2009 at 9:58 AM

    Yes, you made the Merc! Which is why I am here and loving reading about your adventure so far. I would be happy to mail the article for you! Looking forward to following along on your awesome adventure, really quite jealous!!! Have fun!

  • August 23, 2009 at 11:16 AM

    read about you in CC Times today. have fun!

  • August 23, 2009 at 11:28 AM

    Cool two-page article in Oakland Trib titled, “A dream, a camper van and a year to hit the road” by Laura Casey. Got a couple copies & will be happy to mail for ya. You guys will be like rock stars pretty soon 🙂

    Have fun!


  • August 23, 2009 at 12:21 PM

    G Adler-
    The brakes are almost 100% new. New master, new slaves, new hoses, new pads, shoes, etc. I’ve been over them thoroughly before we left and since our little descent. Almost every day starts with a vehicle inspection as we get used to all the “character” of the vintage vehicle. We’ll be safe….

  • August 23, 2009 at 1:09 PM

    Read your story in today’s newspaper. Am so excited for you. 32 years ago my husband and I drove across the country with our dog. It was an exciting time, and I’ve never forgotten the wonder of it all. I look forward to reading all about your adventures. Thank you for sharing. Donna

  • August 23, 2009 at 2:23 PM

    just read your story have a ssfe and great trip .
    look forward to reading more about your trip

  • August 23, 2009 at 2:30 PM

    Hey Guys,
    Glad to hear everyone is doing well. Blog is fabulous, following ya’ll all the way. Hugs

  • August 23, 2009 at 3:42 PM

    Hey guys, it sounds like so far so good. I wish you the best of luck. You three are doing what a lot of us just dream of doing. You are very smart to do it while you are all young. I read the article this Sunday and that is how I found out about you. I will keep your website so that I can continue to enjoy the trip with you. Stay Safe…hugs from Joellen in Hayward California

  • August 23, 2009 at 4:00 PM

    I cringed to read about your brake emergency.
    The beauty of vintage VW (simplicty) is also its downfall (primitive technology). In case you haven’t already found this website, which promises “Everything you need to know to keep your VW Bus Type 2 1968-79 running its best,” I remit it here for your future reference. It might come in handy.

    Richard Atwell’s VW Bus Pages:

    PS. You have a wonderful adventure before you!

  • August 23, 2009 at 4:24 PM

    Hello,,,It’s fascinating the way the universe works!! My husband works in construction, and in this economy, we never know when lay offs will occur. We decided that the next time he gets laid off rather then staying home and fretting, we’re going to travel! Our 19 year old son has visions of crossing the country soon as well. We’ll be watching your site to see how your trip unfolds, and may be right behind you!! Wishing you safe travels.
    Mary and Ken

  • August 23, 2009 at 4:52 PM

    Angela, Jason and Bode, This is great! Good for all of you. We are a retired couple who wandered around Europe many years ago. But not with a child. This experience is fantastic for Bode. We have a cabin at Lake Tahoe on the West Shore we’d love to share with you. Need it?

  • August 23, 2009 at 4:55 PM

    Well, you missed your chance to do some deep-frying with that brake fluid. Fresh brake fluid boils at over 400 F (a deep fryer is usually at 360 F). Want fries with that, cowpoke?:>

    And just think, there are so many more adventures to go on this trip…I’m jealous-a lifetime of “ha, ha! remember when Bode mooned the State Trooper…and …” stories. Or, “he really looked like a regular guy and his car did have a flat, so we drove him to the next town…turns out that he was actually…”


  • August 23, 2009 at 7:47 PM

    Sounds so fun so far! Have you ever heard of letterboxing? Y’all should TOTALLY do that. Carve a VW van into a rubber stamp block thing (you can pick one up at a Michael’s or craft store anywhere) with an xacto and a flathead screwdriver, pick up a stamp ink pad and a little notebook, and go to and find letterboxes all over the world. It’s a hoot! Bode would love it too.

  • August 24, 2009 at 9:18 AM

    Safe Journey Wishes To You Three Vagabonds. Did a many mile trip in a ’67 VDub camper in ’72 … throughout the USA. What fun memories and to follow you will just be outstanding. Take a spare cable of two … gas pedal to carb … breakage happens. Also when it does get real cold … those side scoops can drag in too much frosty air and freeze your carb. Wishing you Good Luck … You are doing a such a fine thing for your son.

  • August 24, 2009 at 10:40 AM

    I am so excited to have spotted your blog. I am now on disability and you are living my dream! Thank you so much for sharing. I look forward to reading about your adventure’s everyday. Have a wonderful safe and fun filled trip.

  • August 24, 2009 at 2:39 PM

    Hey – glad you got this idea off the ground and it is super cool that you are getting the press you are. I see us near your route, but if you think we may fall off the route, let us know when you think you’ll be in Yellowstone. That may be the closest drive for us to meet you. Love the blog and thanks for keeping us all posted on your actions.

  • August 24, 2009 at 7:36 PM

    Great adventure!! My pregnant wife and I spent 7+ months in a 67 VW camper driving/camping through Germany, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Russia, Romania, Yugolslavia, along the Adraitic, Austria, Swuitzerland, part of France and back to Germany. We saw doctors about once a month. Great way to spend a pregnancy, I guess. Learned of Bobby Kennedy’s assasination just before drving into Russia. Did not have any trouble with van. It survived the Russians trying to break into in and many Swiss passes so high we were in 1st and 2nd with the engine door open for extra ventilation. Van camer back with us and had many advneture here afer baby was born (he is now 41).

    Looking forward to your postings.

  • August 25, 2009 at 7:58 AM

    Read the article about you in Sunday’s Marin Independent Journal. You are Bay Area news because half of us have similar stories. Our VW trip started when my daughter was 3 (she is now 22). We drove an 81 Westy from CT up, across Canada to WA and then back across the states. Have fun, stay safe, be patient & kind to the bus and it will serve you well. We’re here if you need us!

  • August 25, 2009 at 9:38 AM

    I was surprised not to read anything about the drive into Bodie – that is quite the experience too – and I would have thought even more so in the V-dub!

  • August 25, 2009 at 9:58 AM

    You guys look SO HAPPY and the blog is a great read! I miss you, but what an adventure you’re having, even here in Cali…love from Bree (and Rayray).

  • August 25, 2009 at 10:32 AM

    This is so awesome! Hey, if you guys are heading to Texas, I have a farm with a house in Athens (60 miles SE of Dallas) that you can stay at. Peace, JW.

  • August 25, 2009 at 11:22 AM

    The drive into Bodie is several miles of winding ascents on a gravel road. It’s bumpy – but the bus handled it easily. The views were amazing and when Bodie first comes into view you know you’ve arrived somewhere special.

  • August 25, 2009 at 11:28 AM


    Thanks for following along! If you’ve got any recommended destinations or places you would like (us) to see – please pass them along and we’ll do our best to help you visit through our blog.

  • August 25, 2009 at 11:29 AM

    Of course you know the boiling point of brake fluid! I knew you would!

  • August 27, 2009 at 9:55 AM

    yeah – bumpy! I called it riding on a washboard!! LOL

  • September 7, 2009 at 6:28 AM

    Hi, I just found your website and it is AWESOME

    You are doing what I dream of.

    I am a VW Vanagon Westie owner in Columbia MO (PhD too) and a uncle Tupelo fan. Let me know when you come through. My wife, Jessica, and I would love to meet you.

    John Thyfault

  • September 10, 2009 at 2:06 PM

    Drove across country in a 1970 camper back in 1984 with wife and two little daughters. It was something I will never forget. They are 28 and 27 now, I have a 87 vanagon now, and will drive across country again, maybe this time with grandkids{if I have some soon… hint… hint}. I live in northwest Alabama, 11 miles from Natchez Trace Parkway, so if you guys get close by you are welcome to stay with my wife and I, we love the little ones, the house seems empty when your kids move out, we would enjoy having you.

  • September 11, 2009 at 9:43 AM

    Glad you guys got to Bodie–I adore that place and have been three times. Its sanctity is occasionally threatened by a currently dormant Canadian mining operation up on the eastern bluff. Every time the price of gold soars, Galactic Resources makes noises about wanting to start mining again, promising that all their blasting won’t harm Bodie at all, blah blah blah. Not all of us believe that….

    Thanks for all the vicarious enjoyment of your travels!

  • March 28, 2010 at 10:32 AM

    I just met you today at the Moraga Farmer’s market…I love your website–your stories and photos are wonderful! I wish you good luck, fun, and wonderful encounters! I will keep up with your postings, and will love having Iris’ photo!


  • March 28, 2010 at 10:33 AM

    I just met you today at the Moraga Farmer’s market. I am sorry for the rudeness of the woman manager of the market.
    I love your website–your stories and photos are wonderful! I wish you good luck, fun, and wonderful encounters! I will keep up with your postings, and will love having Iris’ photo!


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  • December 2, 2010 at 5:18 PM

    My midlife crisis vehicle is an 88 Vanagon Camper, but as hard as I try, my wife won’t homeschool our kids (5&7) so we can travel in it. Oh well.

    My family has roots in Bodie. There is a Moyle Store and the Moyle House. I believe the Rangers actually live in the Moyle house. Two brothers from a mining family who came from Wales.

    Enjoying your blog very much.

  • January 15, 2013 at 4:55 PM

    When we were heading to Bodie, we explained our little daughter that we were heading to a ghost-town… she get really concerned: “Am I going to see ghost???”
    It was amazing!
    We are a portuguese couple and we just arrived from our RTW trip. We have been reading your blog since the beggining! we talk about you in our blog (www.pikitim) before we left. We left, we arrived, and you are still on the road… Lucky you!

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