Join Date: May 2009
Location: Vancouver, BC
Thanked 2 Times in 2 Posts
Part Two: Preparations.
Day T minus 1
Did I previously mention we had a number of lists? Ok, so we spent a fair amount of effort to prepare ourselves so we could enjoy this journey as a vacation, to the extent that is possible, and not have a series of problems. While some of the details I mention below may seem overly technical or trivial to you now, some if it does connect to the surprises we did have later on. So, I take the time to mention them to set the story.
Knowing this trip was coming I had our tow vehicle, a 2014 Touareg TDI (V6 Turbo diesel, 240 HP, 406 ft.lbs) serviced in January. It was a major secheduled service, all filters, oil, as well as a new battery, 4 wheel alignment, and brake fluid flush. I also had the VW emissions fix performed and (another) adblue tank heater replacement all on VW’s dime.
On craigslist I picked up a used set of 265/60/18 Nokian Rotiva All Terrain tires on rims for the Touareg. These set the vehicle about 1 cm higher, were quieter, were winter rated, and more heavily constructed in order to deal with potential sharp rocks in Death Valley. I had the idea that we wanted to access some of the back country in Death Valley. Death Valley is known for ravaging tires and is very remote so it seemed like the prudent thing to do. I also planned to take a spare 18” on an OEM rim as a full size spare. While the A/T Nokian’s were larger than the OEM tire size by 5% this spare should do the job much better than the inflatable donut spare. I was very happy with how the Touareg felt with these tires.
I also ordered a fairly inexpensive Husky weight distributing trailer hitch and installed that on the tent trailer. Our pop-up tent camper is the off-road variety and has a very beefy frame and a front ‘toy-hauler deck.” While the weight of the trailer is only about 3300 lbs the tongue weight is about 420 lbs before adding water and any cargo on the trailer deck or in the trailer. At some point I wanted to be able to safely load my motorcycle on the front deck so I committed to getting a WD hitch set up. WD hitches are a no-no according to the VW Touareg owners manual; however, there have been many Porsche and VW owners before me doing this without any issues. I did want to make sure we had a level load for this trip and for the most part this hitch was helpful with that and wasmeasy enough to get installed and adjusted.
To prepare the trailer I spent a great deal of time trying to locate like-for-like replacement tires as the current all terrain tires were 12 years old, well past their calendar life. It turns on the 275/65/15 size is fairly dated and hard to find now. I ended up finding new Chinese manufactured all terrains for a decent price but not at any of the regular tire shops though, I found them on craigslist again through a mom and pop tire shop. Upon lubing the trailer axles it was noted that the trailer brake shoes were cracked and due to the age it was preferable to replace the entire brake drum and backing assembly and…naturally the 12 year old brake drum backing plates were a problem to remove. There was lots of “grinding” late at night but the young lad doing the work for me got it done on the 2nd try. All in all I spend about $1000 on trailer tires, brakes, bearings, grease and labour. I also made a new trailer brake break away cable and tested that as well as de-winterizing the camper just and freezing temperatures came back to our area. I hope the pipes don’t freeze before we get to the hot desert.
So with the Touareg and the trailer set for the journey we finalized the rest of our extensive lists consisting mostly of clothing, meal plans, sightseeing and activities, electronics, and routing.
Route planning was a big deal and in the two weeks leading up to the departure date I was checking weather and road conditions and changing our plans almost daily. I wanted to avoid taking the slightly longer and much more boring I5 corridor south all the way to the LA area and then going east into the desert. I wanted to go diagonal (Pythagoras anyone?) as much as possible and check out the scenery in central Oregon and Nevada. Five days before departure central Oregon received a huge dump of snow that stuck to primary and secondary highways for 2 day before melting causing many travel advisories throughout the region. Between Portland and Death Valley our route traversed 10 or more mountain passes. It could be risky if a late winter storm was on track to pass through again. The last thing I wanted to do was tow a trailer through an unexpected snow storm while trying to keep a vacation schedule. Only 1 day before departure did the weather firm up and the route plan come together. The the sun came out again in Oregon, temperatures increased and it became quite clear that cutting across Oregon would be low-risk in late March.
The day before departure on my way to and from work the Touareg TDI began strain a little more slowly. Then the next day it got worse and on the afternoon of our departure the symptoms became worse again. Seemingly the engine could barely start. Uh ohh. What to do? Afternoon rush hour was just starting to lighten up and our plan was to dash for the USA border and begin a 18 day journey. Three months of planning, extensive lists and hour one and we had vehicle problems…What would grandpa have done?
2014 White/Saddle Exec/R-Line TDI