Last November, Ned and I spent three weeks in Israel, followed by four nights in Paris. It was an incredible trip, and I had taken 1,500 fantastic photos. Then, on our final day in Paris, just outside the cathedral of Notre Dame, I did the unthinkable…I set the camera down to put on a jacket, got distracted by some street performers…and walked away from it. It was mere minutes before I remembered, but the camera was long-gone. I felt awful for weeks; the loss of the photos weighed heavily, and I could not picture how a blog would be possible. Now, with the pain of the loss fading and our trip to New Zealand coming up…tomorrow…I feel compelled to share just a bit of our rich experiences and the very few cell phone pictures we managed to scrounge together (thanks to Ned and our Israeli friend, Ilan). So, lets consider this a mini-blog (by Ned and Kat standards), just a little taste, and we will carry on as usual with lots more stories and better photos from New Zealand!
August 1982; Haifa, Israel
The ship pulled away from the dock, and I watched, tears streaming down my face, as the beautiful Mediterranean city of Haifa grew smaller and smaller. This time, my impatient, itchy feet had led, not to adventure, but heartbreak. I was on a two-month, solo backpacking trip through Europe which had landed me, eventually, in Israel, where my sister had been living for the last year. The plan was for her to leave Israel when I arrived, so we could travel through Greece together. The hitch was – she did not want to leave yet, and after just a few days in Northern Israel, I grew restless. I booked myself on a ship out of Haifa for the following week. During that week, however, something changed – I fell in love with Israel, the people, the history – and have been trying to get back ever since…
Free Wheelchair Mission – My favorite charity…
For me, what could be better than putting wheels under less fortunate people like the many I have encountered in my travels?
I first learned about FWM back in 2003 when it was a two-year old nonprofit, struggling to deliver its first 1,000 wheelchairs; I have been a staunch supporter ever since. For $78.90, the equivalent of an overpriced dinner for two, one can change an unfortunate soul’s life and the lives of his/her family forever. This past summer, Free Wheelchair Mission gave away its one-millionth chair, thanks to the generosity of thousands of donors over the last sixteen years! To learn more about it, click here: www.freewheelchairmission.org.
Kat and I donate monthly and have attended numerous fundraisers over the years…and have been gifted, in return, with glimpses of recipients during our travels, going about their lives, sitting in their chairs, from Vietnam to Peru. But the best rewards have been the two distribution trips we have participated in; one to El Salvador in 2012 (read the story our Charlottamiles website) and one to Uganda this past winter.
The trip to Africa is the subject of this blog. To see these people up close, to touch them and be touched by them, to view their despair, to smell their lives, to hear their cries, to observe their pain, is an experience beyond humbling. To be able to lift them off the filthy ground and place their havoc-racked bodies into a wheeled contraption, then witness the transformation on their faces as they realize the freedom they have just received, see their pain be slightly relieved and their dignity slightly restored, is priceless. To see the relief on their family’s faces as they roll their burdens away, back to their cardboard-shack neighborhoods, no longer having to carry a son, daughter, brother, sister, grandparent, gives one a different perspective on things to whine about in our cushy American lives.
Africa is magical and the Ugandan people, captivating. Nowhere have I wanted so much to be friends with someone I just met. Their vibrancy, humor and just plain happiness, is something I find missing in the western world. Being with the Ugandan people was like a journey into the soul of what human”kind” should really be all about.
Kat and I spent just ten days last February with these wonderful people. It took four more getting to and from their small, landlocked country in central Africa. We spent three days assembling 250 wheelchairs and two more gifting them to pre-selected recipients, documenting details of their lives and fine-tuning the chairs to fit their new owner’s specific needs. After these intense days, we unwound at Murchison Falls National Park, viewing amazing African wild animals, sleeping in comfy beds and eating abundant, delicious, tourist food. The contrast to the real Uganda we had been immersed in was not lost on our traveler’s psyche. Tourist attractions never reveal the soul of a country.
We apologize in advance for the blurry, fuzzy photos. Our poor, old, trusty, point-and-shoot camera, which faithfully shot all of the Americas, decided to pack it in on this trip. We’re lucky we got the shots we did to share this incredible experience with you. Enjoy…
Welcome to all of you who are new to our blog!
Ned and Kat (and Charlotte!) are happy to announce the publication of our second book, Charlottamiles South and North, Nevada to Argentina to Alaska – A Circuitous Sojourn in a VW Syncro. As most of you know, in December 2013, we took off in Charlotte, our 4×4 VW Vanagon, and spent fourteen months driving to the southern tip of South America. Then in 2016, we racked up another two months on the road, making it to the top of the continent, Prudhoe Bay, Alaska. This book is a compilation of our entire blog (which we posted along the way) and has been formatted into an enormous eBook! It is 2,187 pages and has 2,300 color photos. It is so large that our publisher said we could only offer it through Amazon Kindle or Apple iBooks. Apologies to those of you who still love paper books, but we really are thrilled to offer the blog in a much easier to read format. There are so many large posts that it has been difficult to navigate the blog site! We had a lot of fun reliving the adventures as we went through the publishing process, and for any of you who would like to do the same, just click here for Kindle and here for iBooks.
Both of us feel strongly blessed to be in a position to travel and would love to share our adventures with as many people as are interested in riding along. Please help us “pay it forward” by sharing and writing online reviews.
Below is the published book description:
Follow Ned, Kat and Charlotte (an intrepid 1987 Volkswagen 4×4 Vanagon) as they wander the Americas, turning the 10,000 crow-fly miles from Ushuaia, Argentina to Prudhoe Bay, Alaska into 40,000 circuitous ones. With no route planning, no internet research and a penchant for bush camping and remote, dirt tracks, Ned and Kat’s experiences and unexpected encounters while living on the road will leave you breathless. With 2,300 fascinating photos and plenty of exciting, unpredictable and electrifying stories, you will find yourself along for the ride of a lifetime.
“At 6am, December 21st, right on schedule, Ned and I looked at each other in the pre-dawn dark of the bus, gulped a couple of times and said goodbye to all the comforts of home. The future was now an immense unknown. I felt this crazy fluctuation of feelings bouncing around somewhere between the anticipation of elated excitement and the apprehension of sheer terror. But how incredibly fortunate we were; the road ahead was not so much a black hole as a blank canvas.” Excerpt from Charlottamiles South and North
From the vivid color and vibrancy of Mexico, to the jungles of Central America and the soaring elevations of the Andes, Ned and Kat delve into a rich diversity of people, culture and food with honesty, humor and insight.
“Following Charlotte and her human counterparts, Ned and Kat Bacon, through the Americas is to live a vicarious adventure. Their plan was to “have no plan at all;” simply travel south until they reached land’s-end. During this multi-year trek the trio navigates, in a zigzag kind of way, a gauntlet of third-world challenges with the prowess of a kayaker through Class-V rapids. They seek out the roads less traveled, immerse themselves in foreign cultures, and savor the aroma of street food cuisine. I am inspired by those who step away from the norm, take adventure into their own hands, and let the trip take them in the direction that the wind blows.” Chris Collard, Editor-in-Chief, Overland Journal
While we are shamelessly promoting our books…don’t forget our first one, Saving Charlotte, Fumbling Across America with a Reluctant VW Bus, the story of how we found Charlotte in Hartford, CT and brought her home. This book is more widely available at booksellers like Amazon in both paper and eBook formats and is shorter, but a lot of fun. Below is the published description:
“We drove away in an unlicensed car that we did not legally own, complete with a bashed in front end, a badly cracked windshield, and a headlight propped in with duct tape, a tree branch and a piece of foam found lying on the ground. It was not an encouraging way to start our 3,000 mile journey!”
Ever dream of buying a one-way airline ticket to purchase a sight-unseen, salvage titled automobile and drive it across the country? Join Kat and Ned as they “rescue” Charlotte, an unlicensed, reluctant, but endearing VW Syncro bus who drags her wheels at first, but eventually really gets rolling. Kat and Ned had a vision of building up a Syncro into a cool, capable overland adventure vehicle, dreaming of the advantages of “bus living.” But would the dream turn into a nightmare?
The adventures and mis-adventures are hilarious, turning a four day drive from Connecticut to Nevada into a two week escapade of mysterious mechanical issues, cop-dodging, heat waves, torrential thunderstorms, missing credit cards, and Mississippi mud baths.
Can’t get out of Hartford…Can’t get out of Buffalo…Can’t get out of Elkhart…you can’t imagine what can go wrong on a trip like this! Charlotte balks, spits, sputters and lurches but never stalls, while Kat and Ned persevere, finding that, in spite of her VW idiosyncrasies, Charlotte has a truly endearing soul. They also find that their dream of “bus living” has become an addictive reality.
“Only in a VW Bus would somebody attempt something like this…and get away with it! What a great story! A must-read not only for the VW Bus crowd—but for the wanna- be’s too!”
S. Lucas Valdes – GoWesty Campers
Happy trails for now! Stay tuned for more adventures!
Ned and Kat
Monday June 6, 2016
From my comfy position, propped up on pillows in the back of Charlotte, I can see the spruce and birch lined gravel road wind ahead of us with Ned, always the road warrior, driving…and driving. The ice capped mountains of Alaska have given way to the endless rolling forests of the Yukon Territory in northwest Canada. The occasional lake dots the landscape, and if I look hard enough I swear I can even see giant mosquitoes whizzing by my window. We are rolling along, heading southeast, on the beautiful, lonely, 350 mile long, Campbell Highway.
East of Ross River (where our infamous Canol Road ends), the Campbell Highway turns to smooth, graded dirt and is one of the quietest and best roads we have ever driven; in fact, last night around 9:30 (yes, the sun was still up) we pulled into a big, flat gravel area next to the road but behind some trees to camp for the night. We spent a peaceful night, got up leisurely, ate breakfast and did exercises. Ned even changed Charlotte’s oil and rotated her tires, and in all that time, not a single person drove by.
Now, back on the road, with a lot of uninterrupted miles ahead of us, this is a great time to reflect back on our trip and write this blog.
Overall, our travels through Canada and Alaska have been, not only gorgeous, but also pretty easy compared to Latin America. The countryside is so wide open that finding places to camp every night has been a breeze, and while we were consistently in bear territory, both black bears and grizzlies, we didn’t have a single close encounter. We were aware that a bear smelling food in Charlotte would be capable of tearing her doors off to get inside, so our best (honestly) preparation was to park facing outward with the key in the ignition, ready to climb in front and drive away if we were awakened by any suspicious noises. Not a single four legged (or two!) critter came sniffing, though, and every night was perfectly peaceful. There were also (unlike Latin America) plenty of opportunities to do runs and hikes, but the threat of a charging mama moose or a hungry grizzly kept us on rather short leashes, and we never did more than a few miles.
The other comparatively easy aspects of our travels north vs. south were language and drinking water. It felt odd but effortless to be talking to new friends without straining to converse in Spanish, and almost everywhere we went, the water was great out of the tap; either well, spring or filtered river water. In Latin America, English was rare and finding good drinking water (to buy) was a constant concern.
Heading to extreme northern climes in May was a bit of a risk, and while many businesses along the way were not yet opened for the season, it turned out to be wonderful for several reasons. First of all, it had been a light winter up here, so the snow was already mostly melted. Secondly, because it was so early we spent most of the time bundled up in winter clothes, which, under normal circumstances would not have been on the plus side. Obviously, we would rather have had the comfort and ease of summer clothes, but I am here to verify that every rumor you’ve ever heard about Alaska’s mosquitoes is true! It really should be their state bird. They swarmed and attacked with lightning speed, some of them nearly the size of hummingbirds (well, maybe not that big…). Winter clothes left it unnecessary to slather up with DEET, for which we were extremely grateful. Having to crawl in bed every night without a shower, covered in sticky, smelly, toxic slime would have been awful!
The final benefit of traveling through Alaska in May was that there were relatively few tourists and not many other vehicles on the roads; by the time we left Alaska in early June, the motor homes were literally pouring in.
Despite the mosquitoes, the scenery up north is absolutely stunning and well worth fighting off the pesky buzz bombers. I could go on and on about the beauty we enjoyed, and I do have lots of photos to show below, but first I want to share our biggest “takeaway” from the trip.
Alaska is rich in history, albeit a rather short one, and the many stories of settling, mining, and homesteading in such an extreme environment got me thinking of our unique American history. We heard tale after tale of brave men and women crossing massive ice fields and glaciers to reach gold claims, of rebuilding entire towns after devastating earthquakes, and of building huge railroad bridges in the middle of winter in record times.
To me, Alaskan (and even northwest Canadian) history embodies the true spirit of our entire country. From the Revolution to wagon trains; from the Wild West, gold rushes and hard working immigrants to the influence of native cultures; I can’t think of another country that can match the American experience, and it has shaped us well. We are free thinkers who cut our teeth on freedom and liberty, and unlike other countries, we have been given the priceless gift of being born into a culture ripe with individualism and a sense of self reliance. Traveling always makes me aware that taking pride in our history and keeping the stories alive for future generations is the best way to pass down our legacy of freedom and preserve our American way of life.
Now, on with our story.…follow along as we take a wildlife/glacier cruise, go dork fishing (us, not the fish), visit a historic copper mill, fly over massive ice fields with a bush pilot, and finally, suffer the worse border crossing ever…
Before we headed to Alaska many friends asked us what we were going to do up there. Many offered wonderful suggestions of great places to visit and things to do. As usual, we didn’t pay enough attention, study ahead or make many plans. Our only goal was to drive to the top of the continent. Since we’ve driven as far south as one can go in the Americas, we figured we just had to drive as far north as allowed just to balance things out.
We decided we’d get this northern itch out of the way first, and then, if Charlotte was still willing, we’d check out what else this State has to offer. We first stopped in Fairbanks in the center of the State. It is the third largest city in the Alaska with a whopping 32,000 people. We hung out a couple of days, wrote the previous blog and stocked up on provisions for the big 500 mile trek north to Deadhorse and Prudhoe Bay.
I can’t get Johnny Horton’s song “North to Alaska” out of my head as we roll along, passing incredible snow capped peaks, crossing huge rushing rivers and gawking at large critters who seemingly pose for our camera.
Ned, Kat and Charlotte are on the move again. Having spent a restful but restless year at home in Nevada after returning from our sojourn to the bottom of South America, we are now rolling to the top of North America – the top of Alaska. Our destination is the outpost of Deadhorse and Prudhoe Bay, which is as far north, we are told, as one can drive up the Dalton Highway out of Fairbanks. We are in Fairbanks as I write this, having just spent the last two weeks driving 3,580 miles from Minden, Nevada. From here we get on the dirt for the last 500 miles to the top. Unlike the “big one,” our 30,000 mile, 14 month odyssey south, this trip is a quickie – just two months and maybe 9,000 miles. But, if you go to one end ya gotta go to the other, so follow along as we tell the tale thus far…
April 24, 2015, Hanalei, Kauai, Hawaii
“So, Em, ummm… your Dad and I were kind of thinking of getting married while we’re here…what do you think?”
Silence. Then Emily, Ned’s 26 year old daughter, wisely said, “You guys don’t really love Hawaii that much, right? And besides, you’ve been together for ten years, and I already think of you as married. Don’t have your wedding here on my account. Go somewhere more fun for you!” She was right. We were only in Hawaii now to celebrate Ned’s niece’s wedding. Ned and I are desert rats after all. Hawaii would never have been our first choice. Had being at our wedding been more important to Emily we would have happily done the deed just to have her with us, but it wasn’t.
So no Hawaiian wedding. After ten years and thousands of miles traveled together, Ned and I had finally decided to tie the knot. But where? How? In the entire fourteen months of driving to the tip of South America in Charlotte, not one place materialized as a fun/unique/romantic place to get hitched, not even our favorite foreign country, Mexico. What could we do, where could we go that would be special in a “Ned and Kat” kind of way?
In the meantime, I had asked Ned to take me out to the Black Rock Desert in northern Nevada to camp at the hot springs in Charlotte for my 55th birthday, which was on May 7th. So far, we had two couples joining us, Leonard and KC and Segis and Kathy, and I couldn’t have been more excited. That’s where I belong, where I’m the happiest, the Nevada Desert.
Suddenly, while sitting on the front porch of our lovely rented house there in Hanalei, with the sultry air caressing my skin, the exotic smell of flowers tickling my nose, the surf providing a soothing backdrop (none of which I was appreciating nearly enough), my mind turned to the Black Rock Desert, and I knew.
“Yogi!” I said excitedly. “Let’s ask Leonard to get ordained so he can marry us out on the Black Rock! Wouldn’t that be perfect?” Ned’s eyes lit up. I could see his wheels spinning. And then he said slowly, still thinking, “Yeaaahhh, Boo Boo, that could work!”
I immediately called my friend, KC (Leonard’s wife), who became instantly and infectiously elated with the idea. I asked her to speak with Leonard and to text me right back. Ten minutes later the text came…Leonard not only agreed, but was also very enthusiastic. Wow, what a dream. I had visions of wearing my new dress (having bought the blue flowy, flowery concoction for the wedding we would be attending here on Kauai) right on the “playa” of the Black Rock Desert. White playa (picture an immense, dry alkali lake), blue sky, me in my gypsy dress of gorgeous blues and hints of white. Barefoot. Yes, how perfect would that be?
Arriving back home on April 30th, we confirmed our date for the weekend of May 15-17, and began asking other friends to join us. Between the short notice and the rough camping venue, we had no other takers. Then it occurred to Ned that he had his best Porsche buddy, Leonard and his best VW Vanagon buddy, Segis (owner of GoWesty), but he did not have a jeeping buddy. That’s when we thought of Jim and Tona. But how could we ask them to drive up all the way from Southern California and then out to the Nevada desert for a 3 day event? Well, not only were they totally excited, but they even cancelled other previously arranged plans so they could join us. This was going to be fun. None of the three couples had ever met before, but we knew that all six people were exceptional and that it would be perfect.
With only a week and a half to prepare, the only plans we made were for food to bring for the camping trip/wedding party. We didn’t even plan which day to get married, trusting that it would happen when the mood struck us. Would it be Friday, when we first arrived, or Saturday after we’d had time to settle in? We later joked that we put more time and energy into planning jeep events than we put into our own wedding, but I guess that’s just who we are. The only thing we decided for sure was that we would have a Mexican taco and tequila feast for the wedding party and steaks for which ever turned out to be the other night.
Then two things happened that put a little damper on my exuberance. First, watching the weather, we could see that it had been raining out in the Gerlach area and that more weather was heading in. That meant not only wet camping, but also that driving on the (usually) dry lake was impossible. No blue skies and white playa to go with that frilly dress. To make matters worse, if we could not cross the playa from Gerlach to the hot springs, it would require an additional three hour 4-wheel-drive go around to get there. We prepared everyone for the worse while also informing them that the three hour detour would pretty much guarantee that we would have the hot springs to ourselves. With Burning Man having taken over the Black Rock Desert for one week a year, the hot springs were no longer a secret. And the go around was a beautiful wheeling trip through the desert. The bad weather just might turn into a blessing in disguise.
The second thing that had me momentarily sobered was that in sharing our upcoming nuptial plans with all of the friends and family that could not be there, it occurred to me how fortunate we are to have such close relationships with so many amazing people. In all of my life, I have been of the odd opinion that any wedding of mine needed to be very private between just the two of us. Even in my twenties when I married the first time, I did not want the 30-people-wedding I eventually agreed to. But here I was in my fifties now, finally understanding the importance of community, and I felt a little sad, a little selfish. I also know how Ned and I are, and having a wedding that would be special to us in our own private way was essential. I let the revelation bathe me in gratitude for having such a rich life, full of fantastic people and inspiring experiences and focused on the upcoming wedding weekend. I knew it would be perfect.
Yes, we know. It has been six weeks since our last blog post and many of you are wondering what the heck happened to us. We have been home in Nevada for over a month already and the reality of regular life sure has a way of jumping right in and taking over. Several times in the last couple of weeks Ned and I have looked at each other and said, “did we really go to South America?!!”
Despite the high expectations of exploring the Chilean side of Patagonia and the Carretera Austral, Ned and I couldn’t shake our slightly deflated feelings of the trip being over. Having reached our “goal” of driving to the tip of South America, our journey back north again to Santiago was definitely wrought with Short Timer’s Disease. To top it off, my mother was dealing with serious health issues, and the pressure to get home was immense.
Nonetheless, we made the most of the drive back up to the closest port from which we could ship Charlotte home. Our amazing friend, Sebastian was already working on Charlotte’s ship passage from Valparaiso to Long Beach. It took us 18 days to cover the 2,000 miles north, and as usual, there is a lot to tell about! Please enjoy this blog as we rattle down more bad wash board roads, do four ferry crossings, chase pigs, fix broken Charlotte parts, don Gore-Tex in rain forests and, of course, enjoy more spectacular scenery.