We spent about two years slowly preparing for the expedition. This included long days modifying the vehicle's drive train, interior and exterior so it would withstand the grueling journey around the two American Continents. It also included long nights writing to potential sponsors and drinking beer while fantasizing about the expedition.
Bed Support Structure
Constructing a storage/bed structure.
Top of Bed
James cutting the top portion of the bed.
This construction would serve as a bed and a storage compartment.
The bed structure finally ready. This is how we'd sleep for 7 months.
Refurbishing the electrical system
Cables for electrical converter
Placed under the passanger seat is a power converter that would supply elecricity to recharge our laptops and phones.
Connecting the cables to the power converter.
V6 Chevy Engine
Lots of work done here.
Just finished spraying a protective anti corrosion coating.
Installed a third seat complete with a seatbelt.
Expedition Vehicle Winter 2013
We are on our way of putting things together- this is how our van looks at the moment. Most of the mechanical issues have been resolved. Now we're placing our sponsors' logos.
This was a virgin excitement of just starting this mind boggling journey. We imagined many scenarios but really had no idea of what was waiting for us.
Sunrise in Minnesota
Rolling hills of North Dakota. Day 2
North Dakota, farm
First Impressions of Canada
We have only 9!! days to drive from Chicago to the North tip of Alaska in order to catch the last permit to see the Arctic Ocean. We were not entirely sure if we could pull it off.
Spent one night at a church parking lot
That's the church
Welcome to Alberta
Welcome to Columbia
Beautiful nature in western Canada
Driving North on Alaska Highway
The beauty of Alaskan Highway must be experienced. Photos don't do it justice. The road is well-kept, the drive is comfortable and the surrounding nature will take your breath away.
The Wildlife Along the Alaskan Highway
A moose traveling the Alaskan Highway alongside of us, a herd of wild buffalo grazing on both sides of the road, gorgeous scenery- this is a great start of the expedition!
Day to Day Hygiene
This trip is done on a shoe-string and thus spending each night in a hotel/motel is out of the question. Besides, during a good part of this trip there were no such accommodations around. Here we found a crystal clear creek where we wash up, brush our teeth and clean our dishes. The water temperature is surprisingly cold.
Night Sky in Yukon
Couldn't fall asleep last night looking at the beautiful night sky. I took these around midnight I think...could have been a little earlier. Notice the light above the horizon never disappears.
Here the northern forest is giving a way to the arctic coastal tundra. Our photos don't do justice to the beauty of this land yet one can still appreciate this awesome environment.
Coldfoot and Wiseman
Two small gold mining villages located high above the Arctic Circle in the middle of nowhere. Coldfoot was occupied briefly before the minders got "cold feet" and retreated south. The village of Wiseman is still inhabited and very picturesque.
The Dalton Highway
This is arguably the most dangerous road in North America, often featured on the reality show Ice Road Truckers. There are very few gas station, no service on long stretches of the road and the surface is largely unpaved.
The Atigun Pass mountain range divides the two ecosystems. I noticed even the scent of the air I breathed was noticeably different. On the south side the weather might be agreeable, wheres the north side may feature a snow blizzard.
One More Day to Dead Horse
Our race to the Arctic Ocean was almost over. These photos were taken around 10PM as a heard of Muskox strolled by our parked van. We froze our butts off that night but looked forward to seeing the Arctic Ocean the next day!
The Arctic Ocean
We froze our butts off the night before camping in the Polar Tundra and on this day we froze our feet :) The water temperature was said to be 34F, about 1C.
In front of the ocean.
Bus that brought us to the ocean.
The oil companies do not allow travelers access to the sea except for this bus.
Oil facilities in the background.
Made new friends
Hunters above the polar circle.
Hiking/Kayaking Around Kanuti River Above the Polar Circle
We canoed in an inflatable raft on the Kanuti River, then climbed a couple of hills, cut and tore our way through jungle-like forests, stumbled through treacherous marshes and succeeded at avoiding bears. Moving through this terrain is very difficult and slow. There are no paths, no easy way to get from A to B. You are completely on your own. If you injure yourself, you're screwed.
Joe Walking on Water
Kayaking the Kanuti River
Millions of blueberries
Reaching the Arctic Circle only a few days after leaving Chicago was a huge milestone and success. It proved we could move fairly quickly across North America and felt like we achieved a first goal of reaching Alaska. Now we had to get through the infamous Dalton Highway in two days in order to make the very last available date to visit the Arctic Ocean. There was no wiggle room; we could afford no major time delay.
Ice Road Truckers
Driving back south on the Dalton Highway there was such a dense fog at night I could see only about 5 feet ahead of my vehicle. Got lucky and found a small rest area on the side of the road where we spent the night. I saw the trucks passing by without noticeably slowing down and I thought, how do they do it? Aren't they gonna crash? The next day the weather cleared and we could see the carnage
Stuck in mud
Slid off the road
That's what happens when you drive fast through thick fog
Chena Hot Springs
Yesterday, Friday 13, we spent relaxing in Chena Hot Springs. Now if you are like me and thoroughly enjoy long and very hot baths/showers, this is the place for you. The temperature of the water ranged from about 105F and much hotter. We got in the water at 5pm and didn't leave until midnight. The three pics in water I took with my little Go Pro camera. The rest are with Cannon T2i.
Thinking about exchanging our ride for this one
We tried to build a private pool for ourselves
Driving to Denali
Old Train Station in Nenana
Ice Melting Lottery Triangle
Denali National Park
Albeit relatively short, our Denali Park was truly enjoyable and relaxing. We saw our first Grizzly, hiked a bit, had fun scaling a couple of rocks and did perhaps the more difficult thing in the park: we took photos of Mt. McKinley.
Mt. McKinley in the background
Sailing South of Anchorage
Took a boat ride from Seward unto open sea as well as the surrounding fjords exploring the sea life and the glaciers.
Fjord of Sewerd
Spent a couple of days in the "Biggest Alaskan Village", as some people in Fairbanks informed us the largest city in Alaska really was. The city center is clean and focused at tourism. Its weather is tempered by the ocean, meaning the winter or summer temperatures tend to be moderate. Wheres Fairbanks may have 80F in July, for example, Anchorage will stay around 60F. Its close proximity to the many fjords, glaciers and national parks make it an ideal launching point for exploration.
Fishing Towns and Glaciers
Our last few days spent in Alaska were exploring the picturesque towns of Seward and Wittier and doing some hiking to the Exit and Byron Glaciers.
Mayor of Whittier
Spent one night here
Top of the World Highway
How drastically things change within one day of driving! A beautiful green forest turns into a fire devastated wasteland, the sun disappears behind thick clouds and a moderately warm day turns very cold.
Gold Mining in Chicken
Just before entering the Top of the World Highway we drove through the town of CHICKEN. This is a small gold mining community that has been around since the turn of the 20th century.
A town far north in the Yukon territory where a great majority of the old buildings and boardwalks survive until this day.
White Horse to Prince George
Documenting the beautiful drive south from the town of Whitehorse in Yukon Territories to Prince George in British Columbia.
Prince George to Vancouver
An old Indian battleground and more black cuddly teddy bears.
On the way to Vancouver we stopped at a few places, notably the town of Hope, where the original Rambo movie was recorded. The nearby creek and river were full of salmon that migrated there to reproduce. The Othello Tunnels, a remnant of a railway no longer in use, were also utilized in the Rambo movie. I hope you can see from the photos that they make a beautifully picturesque setting for an afternoon stroll.
Vancouver is one of our favorite places we've visited so far. This is the "Evening/Night" album showing the pleasant atmosphere and scenery of the city. We really enjoyed watching the unicycle hockey and chatting with the goalie- Julien Hart. Can't wait to see the video recording of the game!
It's hard to believe the city has a million rain jokes when all we had was sun and blue skies. This is truly one of the elegant cities in the Western Hemisphere. And what can beat "all you can eat sushi"? :)
Driving south from Vancouver we crossed the border back to the lower 48 and soon entered Seattle. It was a cloudy day with intermittent rain. After being awed by Vancouver on a sunny day this was a bit of a let down. But I still enjoyed going to the top of the Space Needle and the EMP Museum. In spite of offering sparse inventory in contrast to its grandiose exterior, it allowed a sci-fi nerd like me the opportunity to see Captain Kirk's command chair and other Stargate/Star Wars memorabilia. The next day we started driving towards our next destination, the Yellowstone National Park.
Well it wasn't actually in the Boiling River itself but in a "lagoon" where the underground hot mineral water river gushes to the surface and then in a series of waterfalls and cascades falls into the cold "normal" river. Approaching the site where the two rivers meet I noticed fog in the distance created by the mixing of the very hot mineral water with the cold mountain river. We arrived in the late afternoon finding very few people there and they soon left. Joe wasn't in the mood for a dip so in the end I was left completely alone. At first it is difficult to navigate through the cold river to the area where the water is pleasantly hot but once in the correct spot it was heaven. The hot mineral water falling down into the small lagoon created a sense of being in an gigantic jacuzzi bubbling around and massaging my skin. The sun was setting and as the outside temperature fell to the lower 40's F the fog built up creating a sense of other-worldliness. Sitting in the warm area all I had to do to cool off is to move a few feet towards the cold river where the water temperature suddenly changed to about 40F as well. Watching the sunset color the adjacent hills, listening to the sounds of the birds and the falling water, absorbing the unique ambiance of the magical place I felt it was to date my favorite experience of the expedition.
We arrived a day before the park closed due to the government shutdown but we didn't let that stop us. We parked the vehicle away from the general traffic and went off hiking to the Shoshone lake.
Montana, Colors of Yellowstone
Here are a few photos of the rich colors created by the thermal activity in the Yellowstone Park along other pictures we took while driving to the park.
After getting kicked out of the Yellowstone National Park, we started driving toward Salt Lake City and on the way stopped in a huge valley called Jackson Hole (Jackson being the name of the town). It's a place fully focused on extracting as much money out of the tourists passing through to the two adjacent national parks as possible. We spent an extra day at the local recreational compound relaxing in a sauna.
Salt Lake City
Did a day long stop at Salt Lake City walking around the Olympic Stadium, the city center and mostly the lavish base of the Mormon Church. It is a very impressive compound with the main temple being its center. There are weddings taking place about every 15-20 minutes.
Salt Fileds in Utah
Driving to Lake Tahoe from Salt Lake City we passed by some beautiful natural formations of vast salt deposits coating plains in the foreground while in the distance bordered by rising mountains.
Spent wonderful time exploring the Lake Tahoe area while being hosted by our friend Corrina.
One of our favorite scenic drives. These were breathtaking views of the ocean surrounding cliffs.
From San Francisco we took the beautiful coastal Highway 1 through Santa Barbara, Santa Monica and Malibu to L.A. where we visited the observatory that had a great view of the city and of the Hollywood sign, drove through Rodeo Drive (yeah just drove- we're two guys, remember) and walked around Hollywood Boulevard a bit. Then we took off for Las Vegas.
Mojave Desert, Death Valley
We were blown away by the raw beauty of the Mojave desert. The rich spectrum of warm off whites and pastel colors was a challenge to capture in photographs. I did my best and you can judge the results :)
Las Vegas was a lot of bling and little substance. The best thing about Vegas was that by chance we ran into Karl Bushby, one of the travelers that we admire the most. If there was a king of long distance travelers, it would be him.
Amargosa Opera House
Somewhere in the middle of the Death Valley is a road junction featuring a dilapidated motel and an opera house. 400 people used to live there, now only 2 do. I found it curious that this nowhere place in the middle of the desert has an opera house. The story goes that in the 40's or 50's (I don't remember) a popular ballerina from New York named Martha Becket got a flat tire there and while waiting for its repair she walked into the building and saw an old theater and fell in love with it. She put a $1 down-payment and started painting it. It took her her whole life to paint the theater as well as the motel and all of its rooms. She still performs in the theater, although she cannot dance anymore. The service desk person at the motel lobby left for a moment and so I took the opportunity to walk through the empty building and into all the rooms that were open taking these photographs. The paint and stucco are slowly peeling and falling off. There is mold that the two caretakers hide in vain. The paint reflects the deterioration of the dancer's body. But I am sure when the old lady walks on stage she is transported to an older time when she was young and pretty and the world was at her feet.
The Hoover Dam is still an impressive feat of engineering and construction, even roughly 80 years after its construction.
While the national parks were closed we decided to go to an Indian Reservation that still granted access to the Grand Canyon. It was well worth the time and money. Seeing the Grand Canyon in the evening should be on everyone's bucket list.
San Diego was our first entry point to Mexico. We appreciate so much that our friend Eva Ngelina showed us around San Diego (we forgot to take our cameras with us so some of the photos are shot on iPhone), took us through the Mexican customs for the first time, helped us procure our vehicle entry permit, helped us get through Tijuana, treated us to lunch there and hosted us in Ensenada.
San Diego was our first entry point to Mexico. We appreciate so much that our friend Eva Ngelina showed us around San Diego (we forgot to take our cameras with us so some of the photos are shot on iPhone), took us through the Mexican customs for the first time, helped us procure our vehicle entry permit, helped us get through Tijuana, treated us to lunch there and hosted us in Ensenada. We thank her for her selfless dedication to our well-being! :) Thank you Pamela Orozco Zuniga and her dad for housing me in Ensenada. We both had an amazing time there!
In Ensenada we were told it would be faster to get to Guadalajara if we returned back to the U.S.A. and drove to Tucson. The highways are straighter, the desert cooler and the hills flatter. So instead of passing through Tijuana we took the "libre" (all the better roads are paid and safer to travel) to Tecate border crossing. The Americans confiscated our bag of oranges (it didn't help arguing with them that we bought the fruit in San Diego) and on we went to Tucson. Slept in the middle of nowhere in the desert and the next day without a problem entered Mexico through Nogales. Driving through Sonora was depressing- everywhere garbage and poverty. We hit a roadblock policed by rebels sporting long machetes. Thankfully they let us pass, although all the commercial traffic was indefinitely stopped. Spent the night in a sex motel in Sinaloa- we didn't feel safe just sleeping along the side of the road and the rates were cheap. The next day in the late afternoon we arrived in Guadalajara. We had an address for a contact person where we could sleep but it seems street numbers are not taken seriously and after driving across the city a few times we gave up on maps and gps and after asking plenty of people we finally arrived at our destination. Joe helped me do a mechanical check of the van and the next day I said goodbye to him at the airport as he flew to the Czech Republic. Guadalajara was my longest rest stop, I spent about a week there.
When I got to Mexico City I picked up my new companion my father Pavel Stauber- who would accompany me down to Belo Horizonte. The first two days after their arrival we explored the center of the biggest city in the world.
On the way from Mexico City to Veracruz we stopped at epic Aztec ruins of Teotihuacan. The area is dominated by the huge pyramid of the Moon and even more imposing pyramid of the Sun. The whole complex is tied together by the Avenue of the Dead. This was some grandiose urban planning.
Veracruz was the entry point to the Spanish territories in Mexico. Through here much of the American gold flew to Spain. Here I spent 4 days sweating and hallucinating in bed battling Denge Fever.
Ciudad del Carmen-playas
Ciudad del Carmen was an industrial oil rig mining town on an island we drove to over a long bridge. A few miles passing the town we parked by the ocean and spent two days having the beach all to ourselves.
Our next stop of significance was Chichen Itza, an ancient Maya capital.
We did a mandatory stop at Cancun, a tourist central, a place filled with concrete hotels, bellboys and taxis. Every sleeping accommodation seemed to be out of our price range so in the evening we drove to Playa del Carmen where our out-of-date Lonely Planet guide informed us there was a camp. We discovered there was none and under a heavy tropical rain we drove to a gas station where they let us park in the back and sleep for the night.
The next day we drove to the small town of Tulum where after some asking around we found a local guy Max who owns a narrow strip of land with access to the beach. The place had a toilet, a rudimentary shower, something of a kitchen and a shack where he slept. More importantly, it looked like a paradise. There were no concrete hotels, the beach was clean, with few people and apart from Max we had it all to our selves.