At 10pm, Las Vegas was the city of sweat. We were able to park behind Bally’s on the Vegas Strip, one of the most legendary streets in the world. The first place we went was this:
Taco Bell doesn’t usually serve alcohol, but this one had a wall of slushy concoctions. Our giant frozen margarita went down a treat.
The casinos are all piled up on one another that sometimes it’s hard to tell where one ends and the other begins. We did a “crawl” just to stay in the air conditioning, only gambling away four dollars.
We listed the things that reminded us of Dubai: 1. the heat, 2. the concentration of big gawdy buildings, 3. the fountains, 4. the fact that you step off the strip and there’s just you and a giant desert. And 5. prostitution, which is illegal in both cities but is advertised just like this:
A guy on the street was hang these out and Edd took a bunch. We played a variation of Go Fish with them. I imagine they’d also make an interesting “Guess Who”. I stuck the cards in my purse.
The next morning was a steamy 90°F. We drove out ASAP and somehow we didn’t get charged for the parking! We won!
We crossed into California. After hours of desert, the landscape started to look Mediterranean: the shapely hills covered with golden grass, Seussical Joshua trees and poplars popped up out everywhere.
Edd found a gorgeous free spot to camp on a reservoir called Lake Isabella. The evening was warm and breezy and we sat outside for hours and ate dinner by candlelight.
Remington Hot Springs
Naturally we didn’t pass up an opportunity to visit some hot springs just down the road in a spot called Remington. Hot water from the springs flows right into the side of Kern river. And you can stay overnight in the parking lot!
We walked down a hill to check them out. Someone had used sandbags to create a bathtub-sized ring on the river’s edge. Then they used used two pieces of PVC pipe to create a giant “faucet” which drew the hot water up from the river into the “tub”. It looked pretty janky, and inside it was a naked dude.
He told us that the bathing area can usually facilitate 20-30 bathers, but high water levels were currently flooding all of it. To be fair, California has desperately needed the water. But for now it meant we had to take turns in the small makeshift tub. Suposedly the springs are fantastic in normal season.
At about 11pm, we took a flashlight and hiked to another small “bath” in the hillside. It was concrete and decorated with stones. The water was slightly warmer than body temp, blissful in the cold air. We had it all to ourselves.
The breakdownThe following morning we drove an hour into Bakersfield for groceries. Does this part of California not look like Mexico? Guess we’re getting closer!
We were getting close to Sequoia National Park to see General Sherman, the largest tree in the world. We had been on the road for a couple of hours. The uphill driving became very twisty and in the heat I felt sick. We still had a while to go.
About 15 miles into the park, we smelled burning. And saw smoke… inside the van. I told Edd to stop the car and he grabbed the fire extinguisher.
But the engine wasn’t on fire. The transmission fluid had leaked out (again!) onto the sizzling exhaust.
People driving by asked if we needed help but we told them no, we were going to wait until the transmission cooled. But then we thought we should phone for our free roadside assistance, just in case the problem was something else. We were a long way from town. But we had no cell signal to call our insurance company!
Finally, I rode with a nice chatty family from Indiana down into a town called Three Rivers. Edd stayed with the van.
They dropped me off at a gift shop/bar/deli and I called the insurance company. They asked me for my social security number and for a minute, I forgot it. I was anxious, or just hungry.
They also asked for a phone number to call back. I quickly asked a waiter. He handed me the business card of the bar. Next to the number was the owner’s name, Pam. The insurance company said they’d find a tow service and call me back. It was 7pm.
I sat down at the bar and asked who Pam was. She was sitting next to me. Her bracelet had the Virgin Mary painted on it. She was drinking wine and her husband, Greg, tended the bar. They listened sympathetically to the whole story.
At 9pm, Pam insisted I call the insurance company to ask about the status of the tow truck. I got back on the phone and the representative unexpectedly asked me for my contact phone number. I groped around in my purse to find Pam’s business card. I took out all of my cards and laid them on the bar. Oops! The Vegas call girl cards were all out, with the little stars covering their cooches! Pam looked but then pretended that she didn’t notice.
In fact, after I was on the phone with various agents who told me they hadn’t found a tow service yet, she spoke to them very sternly on my behalf. According to the insurance rep, no one wanted to bring a “motorhome” down from the mountain! Especially in the dark.
After I emphasized that we had a camper van, Michael’s Towing agreed to come, but it’d be two more hours. Poor Edd had been waiting on the mountain, without a clue of what was happening. Pam and Greg had to shut the bar down and went upstairs to bed. I waited outside for two hours until the truck pulled up at about midnight.
The driver, Andrés, quickly steered the truck up the curvy road, now in pitch blackness. It seemed like forever.
I was so happy to hug Edd. He hadn’t eaten anything and had been worried sick about me. It was almost 1am.
Andrés crawled underneath the van to unbolt the drive shaft so that the back tires could roll freely. But he didn’t have the tools for it; he said the star-shaped bolts were unusual! He had to drive all the way back down the mountain, to the city he came from, to get the tools. He told us to get some sleep.
A little after 4am, Andres returned with the right tools. I made him some coffee. Soon we were driving down the long, winding road. “Next time”, he said, “take the northern road into the park.”
At 6AM, Andres dropped us off at an RV mechanic’s. Edd checked the transmission fluid and saw we had enough to drive to get some more.
But with the drive shaft unbolted, we couldn’t drive anywhere. Andres said, as a tow guy, he wasn’t “authorized” to reattach it, even though he’d taken it off! He said a mechanic had to do it. But the RV mechanic told us that bolting the drive shaft back on would cost 110 dollars and wasn’t covered by insurance! What kind of scam was this?
Edd pleaded with Andres to do it, who finally relented. We tipped him 20 bucks.
We topped up the ATF one quart and got an oil change right away. All seemed to be running well. In retrospect, we could’ve found some fluid and brought it back to Edd. But we had no idea roadside assistance would take 12 hours and be a serious pain in the ass.
Edd was eager to see his good friend Remy in San Francisco. Plus a temperature gauge was waiting for us there. So we spent the night at a rest stop in Fresno and then did some easy freeway driving to the coast. Heat, we surrender!