A NEW CONTINENT - USA, THE SOUTHWEST
We knew a lot would be different as we touched down on a sunny morning on 20-Dec-2016 in LAX. AA170 carried the three of us across the international date line from Narita to Los Angeles; Luckily the guy who was weighing Mutlu with his crate at check-in didn’t realise that the crate was too big for the balance and thus Mutlu stayed below the 100 pounds weight limit allowing him to join the flight full of ex-pats and military service personnel heading home for Christmas.
We cleared customs without any questions, picked up our rental car and checked-in in our hotel in Los Angeles. It was only early afternoon but for us the 20th of December already lasted 36 hours as we went for our first burger in years. Over were the times of heated toilet seats, endless offerings of delicious raw fish and illegible store signs. Life just got really easy, being able to communicate with almost everyone, being able to read and understand what is written and being able to buy groceries we haven’t seen in years.
Of course this is also somewhat less exciting but it was nice to experience, especially as we suffered from the worst jet-lag ever, even Mutlu had completely lost track of time and wandered around at night. We still had to wait until January 6th for the arrival of our Rouletout and we spent the time in L.A. and in Joshua Tree National Park with some climbing and hiking. Unfortunately Triton Ace, our RoRo carrier from Nissan, was delayed and arrived on a Saturday which meant for us waiting till Monday to get Rouletout out of the dock. We went for chicken and waffles (yes, this is a specialty) with our friend Beckett - whom we had met in China and Laos - and were able to get the temporary import organised without Rouletout even having seen the US! And then finally the moment had arrived, we had our house back and simply drove off the dock - no checks, no questions asked, no fees to pay - we jumped into the traffic of L.A., had Rouletout’s body fluids changed, got some admin stuff done and headed west into Arizona.
We first observed it in L.A. but didn’t pay real attention to it, people seemed to be really interested in Rouletout and our story. Latest since Iran we were used to being exotic and that people simply come to visit and talk to us - too obvious are our looks and our truck to blend in. However, we didn’t expect that in the US - the country of huge RV’s wherever you look. Our daily life in the US proved us wrong, no petrol station, no shopping mall parking, no national park and no climbing spot where people simply don’t drive up to us, take a look at Rouletout, invite us for coffee or even dinner or simply want to chat and learn about our experiences. We got tons of hints that way, met a lot of awesome people, some of them even became friends and our list of places to visit is becoming longer every day. The curiosity and helpfulness of almost everyone we encounter is a really pleasant surprise.
In Phoenix we tried to organise some spare parts and for the first time we had to learn that Mercedes is not that global as you might think. Although Freightliner (part of Mercedes Benz) is one of the biggest truck brands in the US it is impossible for them or anyone else to order spare parts for “European” Mercedes trucks. Luckily the “remote support” from Kestenholz in Lörrach (Germany) and my dear friend Jo was able to organise a shipment of the required parts to Phoenix. We took the time to explore one of our first major climbing spots in the Southwest, The Homestead, in a rather lost area of eastern Arizona. What an amazing place, completely remote, even with our Rouletout almost impossible to reach but with great climbing in a very special countryside full of giant cactuses and other desert plants. We made a lot of great encounters and learned about many more climbing spots, exchanging stories around desert camp-fires.
Unfortunately Berna made a rather violent encounter with one of the giant cactuses and we had to rest for a while, time to explore southern Arizona and parts of New Mexico. We stopped at Biosphere 2, the famous site of an experiment where a couple of scientists were locked away for more than a year in complete autonomy in the 80’s and now a research facility, visited Spaceport America - the first privately run spaceport - and the Very Large Array, the worlds biggest array of radio telescopes in the middle of nowhere in eastern New Mexico. We also took the time to visit some of Berna’s family (the Dokmeci-family) in Albuquerque and then headed west again where we had one of several encounters with the winter in the Southwest.
While checking out the Enchanted Tower (a climbing spot) temperatures dropped to -18°C at night and the (Californian) fuel froze in the heater lines at about 2 in the morning - as we were about 60 miles from the next village somewhere in the woods we decided to move as long as we can, what a spectacular drive through the wilderness with howling coyotes, and lots of deer and elk along our way - needless to say that Berna didn’t want to climb at these temperatures anyways…
Back in Phoenix our spare parts had arrived and we fixed a few things. We climbed a bit more at The Homestead, climbed one of Arizona’s famous mountains, Weavers Needle and then headed north towards Jacks Canyon through endless wilderness that was just awakening from winter. On the way we had some issues with our fan belt (or better, the bearing of one of its roles) but with the help of the friendly people of NAPA (a car part store chain) we were able to find a fitting replacement bearing and continue.
After some nice climbing winter caught us again. One morning we woke up to fresh snow at Jacks Canyon. We tried to drive out of the wilderness but the mud decided otherwise, it took us a bit more than a day to dig us free and out of the mud. Who would have thought that we were going to spend so much time on dirt roads in the US ;-).
We headed further north to visit the Grand Canyon and drove into Nevada, precisely to Mesquite and a climbing spot not far from it (but again in Arizona!) - called Lime Kiln canyon - what a place. We stayed for quite a while, met Linette & Gabe with their son Ethan, who were also travelling and climbing from Washington state for the winter. Together we explored some more climbing areas in southern Utah near St. George. Going back and forth between Arizona, Nevada and Utah resulted in some confusion as these states are on different time zones or don’t respect daylight savings time (I don’t add some Indian reservations that sometimes do or do not follow daylight savings time) - but in the end we decided to follow Utah time.
Of course we also had to visit Las Vegas for a few days and enjoyed the craziness of the city without limits. Casinos that look like Venice, Paris, ancient Rome or New York, crazy night-life and spectacular shows were a welcome change from our life in the wilderness but after three days we had enough and went back to St. George where we met again with Linette, Gabe and Ethan and climbed for a few more weeks until they had to get back home.
Our next rest period brought us to Zion National Park and we were again impressed by the beauty of the landscape and the remoteness of most places. Via Dixie National Forest we drove to Kolob canyon - so much for resting - when we saw the rock there we simply had to climb! We stayed for a few days, did some nice and long hikes and drove every evening to a lost place nearby where we were surrounded by dozens of deer and jack rabbits.
It was also the place were we met Raymond - a mechanical engineer turned farmer who made it clear that we were actually parked on his property, but of course it was ok and we had a few interesting discussions with him on politics, the different property laws in the states and many other things…
The winter seemed to last a bit longer this year up north so we decided to stay south a bit longer, heading back to St. George before exploring northern Utah and Idaho, but as aways, more on that in our next blog entry.