Category Archives: Van Living

Saying Goodbye…

R.I.P. Pia

Guide dog, family pet, best friend, and lastly, our constant travel companion over these past two years. Goodbye sweet Pia. May your spirit soar high and free sweet girl. Your missed!

She was 14 ½ years strong and lived an amazing life!

A few memories of her life on the road.                                                          (Click through for enlarged versions.)


Bristlecone Pines, Bishop, California
Bristlecone Pines, Bishop, California


Folsom Lake, California
Folsom Lake, California
What a journey!   ❧


Engines, Mechanics, And Eurovan Brains – Oh My…

Anyone traveling along with us on this journey, might remember last year around this time, we were having some problems with Dear Ms. Keevan abruptly dying on us in inconvenient locations after heavy rainstorms. At least it seemed to happen after the rains, and it was nice to blame it on Something!

One time she died going up a hill. She just quit. No sputtering or grumblings to warn us.  The other time was at a stop sign, again with no warnings.

Both times, because of very inconvenient locations and less than superb settings, we had to have her towed. Both times it was a Saturday or Sunday. You do know there are VERY FEW if any garages open on weekends, right?

Both times by the time Monday morning came around, she started up again. Both times we spent copious amounts of money trouble-shooting the issue. Oh my, it’s so difficult to troubleshoot issues that disappear when threatened with wrenches and power tools!

It seemed like something was shorting out after getting wet. But we could never find anything either shorted out or wet.

So why bring all this up now??? 

Because not one, but a few different people have asked us what we did to fix the problem. Seems Ms. Keevan is not the only 95 Eurovan that prefers sunnier weather.

It’s so simple and crazy, but the most practical and immediate remedy seemed to be the fact that we started covering up her brain (that main computer component that controls all her signals, aka the ECU / ECM) with a plastic bag inside the engine compartment whenever a big rain was forecast. Don’t laugh!!! It worked! If we didn’t do this, she would jump around unhappily in the mornings, like she didn’t want to get going.

There were other issues along the way.

When a person lives in their vehicle, when a person drives that vehicle every single day, when its pressed to go 40,000 miles, when it goes between sea level and 12,000 feet in elevation, over mountain passes and down gravel roads, when that vehicle has now over 200,000 miles on it’s engine…there are always Other Issues.

We’ve replaced the air filter and fuel filter, changed the oil, changed out the spark plugs and wires, put in a new distributer cap and rotor, …all the normal stuff.

Then we put in a new motor mount, after one of our mechanics noticed one was broken. This definitely helped the van to run smoother and shift better.  We replaced the oxygen sensor. We tried to replace the EGR valve, but can’t find one that fits, so Fred took out the old one, and cleaned it up – it was badly clogged with carbon. He submersed it in boiling water with tongs for a few minutes, then dropped it in a can of cold water, then repeated this procedure again a few more times, and finally blew out any remaining loose material left over. We replaced two water temperature sensors, and a coolant temperature sensor. (Who knew there were so many sensors?) We replaced the EGR solenoid, which we neglected back when we cleaned the EGR valve up. We cleaned up the throttle, (which was very very dirty, and plugged with lots of carbons), we replaced some fuses, including one that went to the ECU. And finally, we cleaned up all the contacts on the infamous ECU, some of them being slightly corroded and rusty. A Volkswagen dealer at one point told us we needed a new $1,000,00 brain. *Never take a Volkswagen to a Volkswagen dealer, if possible.

I have to add in here, that once this last round of work was done, and the van was actually running fantastic, we were on the way home and the headlights went out. Honest! Somehow a wire had gotten torn loose! That one was an easier fix!

For those of you driving older VW Vanagons with the engines in the back. OK, please quit laughing now. We know, we know. They are easy to work on. These Eurovans, on the other hand, with the bigger more powerful engine in the front, which actually go up hills without pushing, and having their engines in front, therefore putting a little space between you and the highway and other high speed cruising vehicles, making you feel a bit safer, are notorious for being fickle to work on. Especially famous for being fickle is the 95 Eurovan with the 5 cylinder Audi engine, which is what Ms. Keevan is draped in. Mechanics love them and mechanics hate them.

Did I say mechanics?

Speaking of mechanics…if you can find a good one, hang on to them, don’t let them go away, offer to take them along for the trip, tie them on top, bake them cakes, do whatever possible to keep them around. Bad mechanics are easy to come by, good ones, not so much.

So what actually fixed our Rainy Day Problem?

Not sure. This is just what we did. It seems like a lot of work and expense. But this is our home. Just like a brick and mortar home, we have to keep it up, and we want it to be reliable. It’s where we sleep, eat, read, work on this blog, and so many other home type jobs.

Most importantly, during this process, we’ve cleaned up some of our other ongoing issues, especially the van running rough, it having too fast of an idle, it running too rich, and getting poor gas mileage. The running rich and bad mileage thing was due to among other things, a little lesser know  EGR valve solenoid, which was making the EGR valve become stuck open, causing too much fuel to be burned, thus the poor gas mileage, and the reason our engine light was coming on and off. When that solenoid was replaced, life got a whole lot better!

Whew! Hopefully we can get back to more pretty pictures and hidden away travel destinations soon. In the meantime, I hope this can help others trying to make sense of complicated Eurovan diagnostics!

We’d love to hear if any of the above tricks has helped anyone else in solving their problems.






The El Nino Effect



It’s a rainy, dreary, cold Sunday morning when we finally leave Santa Cruz, heading to San Luis Obispo.

But yet, the feeling is there. The open road calling.

Freedom, intrigue, anticipation, and wonder. We have no plans, but to be in SLO to get the van into the mechanic on Tues. We aren’t sure which way we are going to drive, or where we are going to stay, not even thinking it is a three day weekend.

We have until Monterey to decide.

After so much busyness the past few months, being on the road in a sense feels like being set free.

Just before Montery, we detour to Moss Landing State Beach, watching the sights through the mist from the protection of our van. This little sea otter doesn’t mind the weather. I wonder, does he/she know it’s an El Nino year? Did it do anything different to prepare?


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These folks must for sure know it’s an El Nino year. Yet they are out in the elements enjoying themselves.


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Already, we are starting to notice our surroundings more…see the details, smell the scents, and breathe in the air.

Back and forth we go, processing our options. Along the coast or inland. Meander or push straight through. Get the van to the shop, or take a chance of a breakdown along Highway 1. (Never a  good idea.) Fred’s feeling confident about the van, the sun peeks out just a bit, and we go the coast route.

It’s a good choice. The ocean is calm, after a week of huge waves and super high tides.  Nothing too eventful happens, no whales, no gorgeous clouds, no magical unicorns on surfboards, and thankfully no breakdowns. Just the serene ocean. That’s ok.

Even fog and mist so thick at times, you could cut it seemed ok. Floating on a travel high.

We pass the day this way, stopping here and there, noticing all the traffic, reminding us finally that it is Martin Luther King’s b-day holiday. Before dark, we arrive at Plasket Creek Campground. It’s fairly crowded for a rainy day, but we find a spot off to the  side, away from the big RV’s and party crowds.

We meet a nice young couple lusting for a van like ours. Then another nice young couple strolls by stopping for a chat, while inspecting our ride. It’s always fun, for us “older folks” getting high fives from the younger crowds that flock to Volkswagens and drool with envy over owning one themselves. Someday…we tell them.

Monday the clouds lift a bit, and we stop by to visit again with the “Big Ones” at Piedras Blancas elephant seal rookery.

Even the Elephant Seals are sedate. No fighting amongst the bulls, not too much irritation among the new moms, and babies just lying hither and thither. We are about a month earlier this year, than when we were here last year, so it isn’t quite mating season yet. Or maybe they are tired from the ravaging surf of last week. Or maybe it’s the “El Nino” effect.


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I didn’t know you could tell when an Elephant Seal was getting ready to give birth, but this lady really looks like she is bursting at the seams!  Her last moments of peace and calm perhaps?


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There’s lots of love going on between other mom’s and babies!


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Bonding together only to separate in just a short month or so.  Is it hard for them?


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This mom had a fresh newborn, and was definitely telling everyone to stay back!


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And this sweet matron here below. She is being so zen, practicing her yoga poses with no cares in the world. She must be getting ready for her own journey out into the wild blue yonder. Or perhaps she is breathing deeply before her own little babe comes into the world.


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It’s that Peaceful Easy Feeling…all over again.   ❧


An Amazing Adventure


Well hey there. It’s been over 6 months since posting on this blog.

So as is due, a quick catch up and then on to some reflections.

When we left off last June, we had arrived in Idaho to our rental house which had been trashed and defaced.

Although I could write a book just on that summer experience, let’s just say, that after being on the road for so long, we actually enjoyed our summer stay and all the hard work. We set up our camp inside the house (after lots of initial cleansing) and put our energy into creating something Beautiful from something that wasn’t.

Thinking back a few years ago, one of our initial goals when we set out on the road was that we wanted to travel for long periods, then to temporarily stay put in a community for a few months or so to get to know the local favors. Then this past summer we were forced into doing that very thing which we desired. Funny how the world works.

Now here we are into 2016 already!

Blessed with a new grandson in November, we are spending the winter months back in California, where we can be around the new baby and new parents, as well as enjoying the rest of our family.

We’ve had two house-sits to break up the winter, (and our van-stays) which were fantastic, both times taking care of lovey homes and lovely pets for wonderful people.

But really, it’s always so cozy to return to our little van home.

At years end, I spent time re-visiting this blog, and going through literally thousands of photos I’ve taken over the past two years.

I am amazed! And feel so blessed. And so unbelieving of all the incredible places we’ve traveled to, and all the beautiful experiences we’ve had traveling around in this little white van.

I have so many fond memories of gorgeous sunsets, amazing wildlife, ancient cultures, strange trees, bizarre inclement weather, solitary vistas, interesting people of so many different sorts, balloons in the air, red red rocks, birds of all colors, mile high camping, prehistoric looking animals, and on and on.

I think I could ramble on to eternity here, but I’ll spare whoever is reading this for the moment, and just say it’s a life worth living!  The times of feeling homeless, and worries of where to sleep for the night, well yes, there are challenges. But life is a challenge meant to be met head on, conquering fears, daring to be different, willing to try new experiences.

So thankful for the opportunity to make these choices. So thankful for all that has come our way these past few years.

In honor of those memories and a longing to make more in the future, I’m reposting some of my favorite photos of some of my favorite places.

Thanks to those who have traveled along with us through this blog. Hoping that there will be much more to come in the future.

Peace and Good Cheer as we roll along into 2016!


Bryce Canyon Amphitheater, Utah


Into Alberta, Canada


Waterton National Peace Park, Alberta, Canada


Jake at Grizzly Encounters in Montana


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Yellowstone River In Hayden Valley, Yellowstone National Park


Walking among the geysers in Yellowstone


Where else? But Yellowstone


Beartooth Pass over the Absaroka Mountains, Wyoming


Sunset in the Grand Tetons


Grand Teton Magnificence


Enjoying the Local Wildlife


The Amazing Pia Dog


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Finally a Moose in Colorado


Bosque del Apache, New Mexico


White Sands National Monument, New Mexico


Camping Keevan Style – Alabama Hills, California


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With Family Along the Coast, California


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Into the Pacific


birds of Lodi 4
The Beautiful & Majestic Sandhill Cranes


More Coastal Splendor, Why do we Like to Camp Here?


Showing Off for the Ladies. Elephant Seals at Las Piedras, California


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Solitude at Lake Mead, Nevada


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Wild Horses of Nevada


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Ancient Bristlecone Pines, Bishop, California


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Folsom Lake, California


The Salton Sea

The Salton Sea is a strange place.

Deathly. Beautiful. Intriguing. Smelly. It’s a dying sea, yet there is  abundant life there.




The seashore (if you can call it that) looks from a distance like beautiful soft white sand. Up close, walking upon it, it crunches. The “sand” is actually made up of billions of dead brittle barnacles!

Then there are these fish carcasses that litter the shore.




The water is disappearing…leaving salts behind. Salts that have drained here from irrigation.




The Salton Sea was formed when the mighty Colorado River broke through diversion canals and flooded a huge low lying basin in the early 1900’s. According to the Salton Sea Museum, approximately 600 tons of salt are added to the lake annually, due to runoff of irrigated fields in the Imperial Valley. As water evaporates from Salton Sea, the salt is left behind in high concentrations, killing off the fish in the water, and the soil around the lakeside.

The future is not pretty for wildlife, migratory birds, or recreational use.




Where will they all go?







There are groups and agencies trying to save the Salton Sea.

Fresh water would be nice, if there was more to be had. But everyone wants that.

The riparian areas around the perimeters of the sea support non-waterfowl, such as this pretty little Verdin.

This vegetation is dying off also.




These burrowing owls are numerous along the ditches.




Salts and toxic silts filling their homes???




Salton Sea Museum

For a great overview of the history of the Salton Sea. 

National Geographic News 

For an in-depth look at the environmental, economic, and political impacts of the Salton Sea

Long Snouts And Water Spouts

We’ve been cruising south on highway 1 along the California coast, finding our travel mojo again.


Cement Ship – Seabright Beach, Santa Cruz


Santa Cruz to Monterrey to Big Sur…along the winding road, following along with the whales also heading south. We stop often to watch huge water spouts emerge from the ocean, then spot the enormous dark blobs barely visible, looking more like tiny specks in the gigantic Pacific Ocean.

So refreshing it’s been, beautiful blue skies and perfect temperature in the 60’s and 70’s. Monarch butterflies flitter about, and golden poppies are already brightening up the green hillsides in some localities.

It’s feeling a bit like spring.

The campgrounds are wonderfully sparse, our fellow campers we meet also energetically embrace this glorious opportunity to enjoy the outdoors without the summer crowds.


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Morning bird songs wake us in the dawn, and orange sunsets announce the close of our days. So nice to be back in sync with nature’s rhythms again.


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Piedras Blancas, a little north of charming Cambria, is home to thousands of Elephant Seals. These massive pinnipeds, once so close to extinction, there were only 50 known animals off of an isolated island, have made a whopping comeback, and now are able to entertain us humans with their bizarre shapes, very unromantic love lives, and ever so cute babies.  From December through January, they haul their massive tonnage out of the ocean up onto shore, give birth, breed, and stay around only long enough to wean the pups, before swimming off into the depths of oceanic life again.


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A real treat and amazement to watch…the males can weigh between two and five thousand pounds!! The dominant and beta males constantly challenge each other for lordship over their harems, and the babies constantly try to keep from getting trampled as these massive males (incredibly fast) maneuver along the shore alternately mating the girls, and fending off the boys.



To add interest to the show, the California coast has been having many “King tides”…excessively high tides, which reduce the beach front real estate to a slender thread of sand, crowding the seals, and mixing up the harems, so the big Bull Elephant Seals have even more work to do, to keep everything straight! We watched this one little pup try so hard to get across the hurdle of rock to reach his mother, we just wanted to go give him a little shove to help out. (We didn’t) Poor thing was so exhausted.


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Laying down our tired bodies from much exercise and outdoor vitamin D, we are lulled asleep by the crashing of the ocean waves. So grateful and fortunate for this past week.

Holiday Cheer – Van Style




Who says you can’t decorate 70 square feet?

One simple strand of battery LED lights go a long way inside this tiny house, and adds an incredible amount of cheerful bright light.

We are back in Santa Cruz, spending this time of year with our family and friends, while taking a short break, house and kitty sitting for dear friends for a few weeks.

We wish everyone out there in Blogland a very happy Holiday Season however you happen to spend it.

Looking forward to more adventures to share in 2015…

Enjoy the journey.             ❧

Unexpected Holiday Gift


Slo town, USA…Volkswagon Mecca.




Driving or walking along the streets of San Luis Obispo, one cannot help but notice Volkswagon busses, bugs, and campers of all sorts and all ages parked in driveways on every street in every neighborhood.

Not only are they parked all over the place, but they are in prime condition – shiny, clean, loaded, and with pride written all over their smiley faces. I have a hunch the VW owners in this town, not only love their vehicles, but that they engage in a bit of classic car competition around here.

It’s not surprising really, since this is also the land of Go Westy, the notoriously famous Volkswagon Vanagon and Eurovan parts, gear, and toy provider, and notably the most famous and complete VW  camper van restoration folks in the U.S.

We had to pay them a visit, which provided us with loads of fun, checking out all the different vans and being treated royally to a private tour of the back, where old loved vans, are reborn from the bottom up to morph into like brand new camper vans and weekender vans after complete restoration work.




We’re about to head up to Santa Cruz, but the van won’t let us.

It’s pinging and knocking. We fear the worse, that it’s the engine, but really we think it’s mechanical issues stemming from the driveaxle that was replaced  back in Tucson, which I wrote about here. We’re so close to home, but don’t want to take this ailing van up crazy curvy highway 1 along the coast in this rainy weather.

We have to get it checked out again. Geico…Hello…Are you home???

Not really, as it take us a day and a half to get a response from the good ole insurance company, and get an ok to have someone  take a another look at the work done by the Tucson mechanics.

The first shop we go to tells us to just drive it on to Santa Cruz, the second place Geico sent us, said there was no problem. Everything looked fine they told us.

We try heading out of town again, but the grumbling unhappy noise still insists we don’t go too far, so we decide to have it checked out this time on our own by a real garage, a european auto repair garage.

Another very long story, another week long wait, but these european mechanic folks know their business. It seems that the Tucson mechanic improperly installed the drive axle with too long of bolts, causing the loose axle to beat the heck out of the transmission case, shredding it to smithereens.

So now we not only needed another new axle again, but in addition we needed an entire new transaxle replaced!

Which leads to the fact that Go Westy, remember, just a few miles away, happens to have a shelf full of rebuilt Eurovan transmission/transaxles that are not only rebuilt, but rebuilt with cooling components much better than the original trannies.

And that folks, is our unexpected Holiday Gift!

We now have an almost brand new vehicle, stronger than ever, and raring to go, with a new left axle, the new entire transaxle, more new ball joints, and  a new oil seal, to stop a small leak we had, all thanks to the poor workmanship in Arizona, the fantastic workmanship here in San Luis Obispo by Jim, Tucker, Taylor, and crew,  and our insurance company who stood behind the warranty.

Not a penny out of our pockets was spent.

Arizona may be a horrible place to break down, but seriously we couldn’t ask for a better place than San Luis Obispo to break down a second time, this land full of fantastic mechanics and more volkswagon parts than one could spend a week dreaming about.

The best customer service, the best mechanics, and the place everyone goes back to is German Auto of San Luis Obispo.

We’re pretty proud of Ms. Keevan for putting up with all of this. And we’re all very happy to be back together again!

We’re homeward bound.




We just can’t leave the desert behind.

Here we find ourselves in the Mohave National Preserve back in California. We always love the Mohave for it’s peacefulness and lack of crowds. This shot above was our camping spot for the night, nestled in among the Joshua trees, but ouch, the temperatures just keep getting colder and colder.




When we finally woke up to a couple of inches of ice in Pia’s dog dish, we decided it was time to make some serious miles. But it was Thanksgiving weekend, and we wanted to both enjoy a bit of indulgence and avoid the highways full of traffic.

So we headed over to Las Vegas, Nevada, where there was plenty of action and  a nice big Whole Foods Market, with a delicious Thanksgiving buffet all set up in their hot food bar.

We spent our first ever night sleeping in a casino parking lot, which was actually pretty quiet and secure feeling.




We took a Thanksgiving Day Drive and Hike around Red Rock Canyon Wilderness Preserve just outside of Las Vegas.




Signs all over the place said to watch out for wild horses and burros. And to be cautious of tortoise crossing, but no luck today…we didn’t see any of the above. But the rocks and trails were awesome.

Happy belated Thanksgiving to all.


Things Fall Apart


It seems that no VW long term journey is really complete without at least one good breakdown story.

Ours is a bit of a complex story…

You see, back in New Mexico along that wonderful Rio Grande River, one evening Fred sort of backed the van into a tree while we were getting set up for a night’s camping. Not a really bad encounter, but enough to mush up the bumper pretty good and ding up the back hatch door.

We did the proper thing and eventually turned it into our insurance, which promptly gave us a $900.00 check to go with our $500.00 deductible, to fix it at our leisure, anywhere between New Mexico and California. Sweet.

We decided to get it fixed when we got to Tucson. In fact, when we got to town, we arranged for an appointment, and for the Collision Center to get the parts before the appointment, since we would be without our home for three to four days and have to stay in a motel. All’s well.

We stayed out at Catalina State Park for the weekend, until our Monday appointment. On Sunday, we decided to run into town, just a few miles up the road to get a few groceries.

We only made it around the first corner out of the campground.

Bingo! Crash. Bam. What the heck.

It’s an ugly situation.




Our front ball joint just broke. The wheel fell off, and ugly oily stuff was leaking out the bottom. It was hot. AND it was Sunday.

Never, ever have a breakdown in Arizona on a Sunday.

After a very long wait, one park ranger, and two different Arizona highway patrol officers, our awesome tow truck driver arrived and artfully and skillfully got this mess up on his truck bed without damaging the entire front of the van.




In Arizona, nothing is open on Sundays. No auto dealerships, no repair shops, and after noon, no rental car companies. Yikes.

We managed to get into our motel room a night early, and thanks to the campground host, our stuff back at the campsite was safe and secured.

Monday was slightly better, as Geico gave us a nice 2014 GMC all wheel drive SUV for as long as we needed to drive around at no charge. Fun.

Of course, now the back collision work can’t be touched, until the front is fixed so the vehicle is mobile.

Very long story, shortened for this post…is two garages, different mechanics, one ball joint, one CVC and shaft, a new seal, and some new gear oil, and 11 days later, our beloved van is again on the road. Our insurance covered the second incident as well, but the rear end crunches are still not fixed. The first garage sent the parts back, when the van was moved to the second garage, and after 11 days, we really wanted our home back more than we wanted to wait around another week to get the back damage fixed. So we’ve put that off until we get back to California in Dec. to deal with.

During this time of van repairs, we had also arranged to meet up with some family in the little town of Laughlin, Nevada for a few days for a pre holiday get together. We were on a minute by minute standby, waiting for the van, and after waiting for us for a couple of days, they had to head home. No meeting up with them.

But wait, on Thursday afternoon, moments after we picked up the Keevan, they called and guess what?  Their car broke down. In Laughlin.

Geeze…Friday we headed up there for our visit as now they were stranded for the entire weekend while the garage was closed.


We had a lovely visit with them.

And we had lots of fun in Tucson, got to visit another cousin of mine up near Phoenix, see some sights, and feel like locals for awhile.

And enjoyed some more beautiful Arizona sunsets.




Oh, those desert sunsets…                 ❧