Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Yosemite and the Axle Seal

What is it about a place that makes it magical? This isn't the first time I've seen towering mountains of granite. I've seen cascading waterfalls. I've seen rushing streams. I've seen lush green meadows. So how is it that these things, despite the throngs of people, rushing cars and rumbling shuttle buses, are somehow more awesome and inspiring at Yosemite National Park than anywhere else?

Driving into the park from the south we had over an hour of winding mountain roads through which to coax Gigantor's ample hips. A tunnel looms ahead, Garmin chimes out its "low clearance" warning, the light at the end grows larger and reveals...Yosemite Valley. It's all I can do to keep my eyes on the road and steer into a parking space. I've heard of these sights, even seen them in Ken Burns' documentary, but wow...El Capitan...Bridal Veil Falls...the Half-Dome...they take my breath away...

1st view:
Unfortunately the view wasn't the only thing we saw when we alighted from the truck at the overlook: we also saw smoke wafting from the right rear wheelwell. A look underneath at her unmentionables revealed an oily mess radiating out from the axle over the surface of the inside tire. What to do? We're in Yosemite Valley, over an hour from camp - we decide to ignore it for with later...hope to make it back to camp without a catastrophic failure...

...tearing ourselves away from the overlook, we rolled downhill into the valley for a closer look. first stop: Bridal Veil Falls. I grabbed our raincoats on a whim, and we joined the masses on the trail up to the base of the falls. The stream fed by the falls was raging, tumbling and roaring over its banks, luminous in the sunlight filtered through the trees. As we proceeded the trail became wet, then it was covered by a film of flowing water, getting deeper...we put on our raincoats. As we approached the falls air and water merged into one. The deafening tumultuous cascade of water pounding onto the rocks generated a massive cloud of spray, blown by the winds in waves of rain.

We were instantly soaked. In between surges of water I yanked the camera from my raincoat pocket, captured a photos, and jammed it back in. It was amazing, and cold, and we could hardly breathe! We retreated to watch from a distance. Then moved on up the valley, stopping to admire...

...El Capitan. Such a looming, formidable edifice of stone. Upon closer examination, through binoculars, I was able to spot several groups of rock climbers, looking ridiculously small and insignificant clinging to the sheer surface. I've rock climbed, but holy chalk bag Batman, that's one tough nut. I wonder how long it takes to climb bottom to top.

We parked for the day, planning to ride our bikes all around the valley. But, what's this? My burly mountain bike tires are nearly flat! And my pump is back at camp! Crap! Discouraged, I put the bikes back in the truck and we caught a shuttle to the Visitor's Center. But on the way there I saw the park garage, and there right up front was an air station! Back for the bikes! But wait...foiled again! My bike has presta valves and the air station only inflates shraeders. I won't take "No" for an answer: there's also a "shop air" type nozzle, usually used to blow off debris from a work piece. Somehow I managed to fit it over the valve and inflate my tires. Yay! So we ultimately were able to tour Yosemite Valley by bike, quietly and leisurely enjoying all of the breathtaking scenery that makes this place so special.

Yosemite Falls:

Mirror Lake:
The Half Dome:

Yosemite is truly an amazing place.

Back at camp I had to face the reality of an unscheduled truck repair. First thing in the morning I started calling around and eventually found a shop that could take the truck right away. I threw the bike in back and drove the 9 miles over to nearby Oakhurst. The bike ride back to our camp in Coarsegold started out OK, riding the first 3 miles uphill on little back roads that the mechanics told me about. But the rest of the way, albeit downhill, was on route 41, which is a narrow, winding two lane, heavily trafficked, and sorely lacking, in many places, any hint of a shoulder. So, the cars had very little room to give me space. I kept my tire on the white line which put my handlebars over a foot into traffic. It was hairy as hell, and when a big utility truck passed so close that it's bow wave shoved me to the right, then the suction from it's passing pulled me back to the left, it was truly terrifying. My dislike for road riding has been renewed to an acute level - give me a serpentine single-track trail through the woods. I begged a ride from the campground hosts the next morning to retrieve the truck from the shop. (Thanks Walter and Nancy!)

We found a really nice trail along a roaring stream tumbling through a series of waterfalls. It was on National Forest land, so Toby could come along, and was able to be off-leash most of the time, which he loves:

On the way back we stopped for groceries and as well pulled in to park I heard a new noise. The mechanic's shop was right around the corner, so we went right over and one of the owners, Mike, hopped in the truck bed and listened as I cruised around a quiet back street. He heard what I heard and immediately set about figuring out what it was (a bent brake shield) and putting it right. Grateful, we got our shopping done and headed back to camp. But Oh! No! Will it never end? Stepping out at camp we are dismayed to detect the same smell that we encountered at Yosemite, and the same smoke wafting up from the right rear wheel! Ugh. Back to the shop 1st thing in the morning. Again they immediately set to work on it, uncomplaining. The wheel, brake and axle assembly had to be completely dis-assembled once again in order to insure that there was no new leak. They confirmed that it was indeed just residue from the initial leak still burning off. It was a lot of additional work, but we all felt better knowing that the repair is good, and I drove off satisfied. Thanks to Mike and Doug at Elite Auto Service in Oakhurst, California for a job well done, and for their patience and time in the aftermath. Also, if you happen to have a Toyota 4Runner that you want to trick out for serious off-roading, check out Doug's website Savage Off-Road.


  1. Of course you managed to post about Yosemite before I did. Sickening! ;-)

  2. Hah! Well, I may have caught up to you in posting, but we can't seem to catch you on the road! Not stalking, though...really...You're just doing an excellent job scouting our route!