Le Grand Détour


Death Valley

22 July 2017

Weather report from Death Valley. It is hot! And I do not mean what my fellow citizens consider hot, i.e. 30°. In Death Valley, the temperatures creep up over 50° at times. But around 45° during the day in the summer is pretty common.


Plains near Death Valley National Park. A fun land!

Why would a Dane wish to travel into this area? I am not sure, but I was not the only one. At a Shell pretrol station, I met a group of Danish people. When I first spotted them, I had a hunch they were Danish. I know how to spot Danish people abroad. Then they began speaking, and I was confirmed in my suspicion.


The car is warm, but not as warm as it is about to be.

But I did not manage to answer the question, because they mostly wanted to know why and how one would bring a car on Danish plates to North America. The heat that the area is known for made me curious. But mostly I wanted to see how my car would manage the heat in the valley.


How can this brush manage the heat? It does not have air condition.

The short answer is: The car coped. Even if at times, I got nervous as the coolant heat indicator kept creeping towards the red line. But the coolant is one temperature, the other is the oil temperature, and that is the true indicator of overheating.


The temperature of the coolant fluid. Yeah, it got hot. But notice the oil temperature remains steady.

There was a sign instructing drivers to turn off their air condition, because it might cause the cars to overheat. Remember, while the air condition may cool the interior of the car, it does not cool the engine. Indeed, it might actually heat the engine. If you wish to force a cooling of your engine, you can use the heater. Simply turn it on full heat and full blast. This will help cool down the engine, if your coolant system is otherwise broken.


The outside temperature climbed up to 50 degrees Celcius. The button next to the hazard lights button is the climate control button.

However, my coolant system is not broken. I have installed new engine coolant fans. A new coolant liquid container. And I have replaced the regular coolant fluid with Evans waterless coolant fluid, meaning that the coolant fluid can tolerate far higher temperatures without expanding like water does. This prolongs the lifetime of the coolant system, as it endures less pressure, even while driving in Death Valley.


Full speed past these rocks.

Death Valley itself is a sight to see, but boy is it hot. And it quickly gets very uncomfortable, where you do not wish to stay outside for long. You park the car, run out, take a few photographs and then get back in the car and crank up the air conditioning. When you are going downhill, that is.

Death Valley is more an experience than a sight to be honest. Hence why I focus more on the experience than the imagery I saw. One might wonder how any life grows here, but I also wonder why I did not see more cars parked on the side of the road, surrendering to the heat. [1]


[1]I did see some cars with an open bonnet, and some very sweaty driver standing next to it. Although, I have only seen one car on fire, and that was back home in Denmark. And that was a Citroën C5! Hilarious.


21 July 2017

When you see the name 'Yosemite', you might be keen to think it is pronounced 'yos-might'. But since English is dumb, that is not how it is pronounced. [1] As Wikipedia points out, it is pronounced yoh-SEM-it-ee. I mean, Americans maintained the 'e' sound at the end of 'Yosemite', but apparently forgot it at the end of 'coupé', they pronounce it like 'coop'. Amazing that they do not pronounce 'résumé' 'resume'.


Wet meadows in Yosemite.

But regardless of how Americans pronounce words, they have an incredible natural beauty. And Yosemite National Park is another location like this. I met a hitch hiker - from Poland - on my drive through the park, and it became clear to me that people would spend weeks if not months in the park. I did not spend an entire day there.


A creek!

I must make a confession. I did not see as much of Yosemite as I probably should have, but I do not regret my trip there. But mostly this was on my way from Reno to the next's day location. But it would be a mistake not to see Yosemite on my way. On my way to Fresno of all places.


The smoke. It is everywhere.

And I had the fortune to meet a friendly Pole, who apparently comes here quite often. Hearing from people who visit the park and hike around the park, was more interesting to me than seeing the park itself. Plus, she got to finally see a car from the old world again. A little bit of home.


The car hiding in plain sight.

As with near Lake Tahoe, the national park was also covered in smoke due to a nearby forest fire. I have yet to actually witness one, and I hope I do not have to. Besides, near Los Angeles, I do not believe there are a lot of trees.


[1]Full disclosure: Danish is also dumb.

Virginia City

20 July 2017

You may have heard about the US state of Virginia. But did you know that they named a city after it in Nevada? True story. They called it... Virginia City.


United States Postal Office in Virginia City. Postal offices have become a rare sight back home, but not in the United States.

Virginia City was a mining town. And not just any mining town, it was a silver mine. And it was booming. For two decades during the 19th century, Virginia City was the largest city in the US West of the Mississippi. Then San Francisco took over. Then they had a little accident in 1906. And today, Los Angeles is the largest city West of the Mississippi.


Old Washoe Club in Virginia City.

Today, Virginia City is but a tourist trap. Filled with pretend Western-like atmosphere, where its decline is almost sad to behold. The United States actually have plenty of history, but the quality of their showcasing of said history varies greatly from place to place.


Back home, we mostly know Bonanza from some advertisement for a children's drink back in the 1990s.

I am not entirely sure why I am spending an entire entry talking about Virginia City, because its current incarnation does not stimulate enough content. And yet, this place is exactly the kind of place I wanted to experience. A true American tourist trap, where there might be a genuine affection for the past.


My tour guide insisted on a picture of me in jail. I was more fascinated by the cheap bars they had used. Do not worry, I got out.

Perhaps if they had not modernised the town, it would have worked a lot better as an outdoor museum. But Americans cannot help themselves and modernise. And they do not do modernising well.

Tahoe, Lake

19 July 2017

After having stared at classic vehicles for a few hours, we decided to go to nearby Lake Tahoe to sort of squint at it. Because wildfires in the area was making the skies quite smokey.


Smoke over Lake Tahoe.

During winter, this area - and I use that term very generously, and vaguely - saw a lot of rain. Rain means plant growth. And plant growth means fuel for the fire during the summer. And thus, forest fires are cropping up all over the Western United States and Canada.


Fun fact: There is a lake behind the brush in the foreground.

Indeed, after I left British Columbia, I kept hearing on the radio how the forest fires were picking up, and basically all the areas I had driven around there were now going up in flames. As if I had left some sort of hellish scorched earth in my tracks. Full transparency, my car has Michelin and Goodyear tyres on front and rear wheels, respectively.


Looking down from a rock.

So far, I have not seen an actual forest fire, as I have tried to avoid them. But the smoke is real. And I did not get a good look at Lake Tahoe. I hear it is pretty. I will have to take their word for it.


Looking over at Crystal Bay, from California. I think, the state border is not an exact one around here.

Speaking of things I will have to take their word for; the California-Nevada state border. As the settlers and whatnot made their way out into the West, the rolled out big pieces of paper, where upon geographical landmarks were drawn. And looking upon this paper - which was sometimes described as a 'map' - the powers that were, decided to draw some fine straight lines around the Western territories.


Californian Lake Tahoe, somewhat visible through the smoke.

I mean, why spend money on having survers go out and check what the local topographical situation is like when you can just draw easy to draw lines on a piece of paper (i.e. map)? Only problem is that at some point someone will have to actually survey that line, which may cut through some rather difficult to cross terrain. Such as Lake Tahoe. Unless you have a boat.


A road cutting through the forest by Lake Tahoe. This time definitely in California. You can tell by the lack of casinos.

So California send such an expedition out to clarify the border, and lo and behold, they managed to survey the border 800 metres to east. Effectively giving California more land. So some buildings were built near the border, thinking they were in California, but then it turned out they were in Nevada.


The forest around here is quite young, since it was cut down to build the mines in nearby Virginia City.

At least in Europe, we settle border disputes the old fashioned way that people can agree on.

All the way to Reno in a French car

19 July 2017

R.E.M. sings "all the way to Reno" in their song about being a star, or becoming one. While it is unclear from what location the person in question originates, driving to Reno will always be a bit of a drive, regardless of from where one starts. Unless one is already in Reno. Or Sacramento or Carson City. Or some of the several other locations somewhat nearby, of which most people outside the area have not heard.


Reno from Windy Hill.

But in Reno, technically, but rather near Reno, I had the pleasure of meeting John Peterson of the Panhard and Deutsch-Bonnet Club in the US. What is Panhard, you might ask. [1] Some brief history.

Panhard et Levassor was a French automobile manufactor established in 1887. In 1891, they showcased (and later patented) the Systéme Panhard which consisted of four wheels, front-mounted engine with rear wheel drive, with a radiator in front of the engine. This may not seem radical now, but this layout became the standard for the next 30 years, and the front-mounted rear-wheel drive layout would be dominante in Europe until the 1970s and in the US until the 1980s.


A 1896 Panhard et Levassor at the National Automobile Museum in Reno.

But actually, this new standard approach to building an automobile may not have been Panhard's and Levassor's biggest achievement. When automobiles began becoming a thing, all these vehicles were built to measure. Panhard decided to build cars without a customer, and instead sold them as standard vehicles. In short, they created the first production cars. This was around 1895.


The term 'dashboard' or 'dashing board' comes from a horse carriage, to protect the driver from the horse's dashing.

Additionally, these two entreprenuers wanted people to get excited about cars, but also to see how reliable they were. A lot of people today, think of automotive racing as purely a competitive sport for entertainment, but up until almost the 1950s, racing was used to promote vehicles and their reliability to the general public. In 1895, Levassor came first in the Paris–Bordeaux–Paris Trail of 1178 km, which took him 48 hours.


A proper rotary engine.

It is not without reason, that a few petrolheads have managed to get quite an interest in Panhards. Panhard continued to innovate in automotive technology up until 1967, when they were absorbed by Citroën. You may have seen John Peterson before, because another petrolhead that is interested in Panhard is Jay Leno, who has a video about his Panhard wherein Mr Peterson also makes an appearance.


Non-skid tyres, obtained the functionality by simply stating it on them. Manufacturers should just have written 'safe' on their cars rather than invent airbags. At some point, I presume, people caught wind of this.

He showed me the National Automobile Museum in Reno, which is a collection of cars, that was previously owned by a wealthy man, as it so commonly is over here. Well, at this point, I might argue everywhere. The Harrah Collection, as it is also known, have generously donated some of the cars to pay off the wives and ex-wives of Mr Harrah when he passed away.


Why is the windscreen gone in the painting? I think we all know why. Windscreens were hard to paint. Glass, how does it work!?

It was quite an impressive collection, but quite frankly, I just want to see more Citroëns, and the collection was a bit short on them. I am too biased, I live in a Citroën bubble, where I can only recognise Citroën's greatness. These are the exact issues that they warn us about, that websites are appealling to one's views and you will not hear the other side of the story.

Well, at least I got to hear about Panhards. And some Stanley steamers. And some early American innovations. Yes, there was a time when Americans used to innovate. Crazy times.


[1]For the purpose of this entry, we will not get into details about what 'Deutsch-Bonnet' is. But it is related.

Another Citroën meet and an oil change

16 July 2017

Rendezvous in Saratoga Springs, New York (not to be confused with Saratoga Springs in California, which is quite near Santa Cruz) may be the largest Citroën event in North America, but it is not the only one. I also had the fortune to attend Lon Price's Citroën event in Santa Cruz at his garage.


Citroëns prefer Total oil. Not that I have used Total. For the record, the Xantia prefers 5w/40 oil, which is not that common over here.

As luck would have it, my friends also turned up briefly for this event, and I gave them an opportunity to see some classic Citroëns and talk to the kind of people who are interested in them. And there was quite a variety of people, from a Ukranian who had grown up in French occupied Austria to a Californian who had never been to New York City despite being over 60.


It is always fun and games when Citroëns meet up. And do not spill their LHM all over the place.

The day after the meet, Lon Price offered to change the oil on my Xantia, because I believe he is one of the few people in North America who would be interested in attempting that. I had brought an oil filter with me, and while we were working on the car, he commented on the state of my drive belt. Comment: Not good.


Quite a line up for this smaller event in Santa Cruz.

Fortunately, I had also brought a drive belt. Yes, I had been quite proactive. In a span of three hours, we had the oil changed, the drive belt replaced and a seal on a rear sphere replaced. And my Xantia was good for another 15,000 kilometres. So far, my Xantia has travelled 10,000 kilometres since its arrival in Port Newark.

Of course, since we had to remove the ECU to replace the drive belt, the car did drive a bit unusually for few hours. And it seems to settle when I park it now, but that should solve itself as the ECU gets used to being driven.

Thank you again, Lon Price for the service on my car. And I know he appreciated the opportunity to work on a Citroën he had never worked on before.

Silicon Valley

13 July 2017

So far, I have not had a reason to mention the fact that professionally and as a hobby, I work with computers. I am a software developer. Now, cars are also a hobby of mine, as you might imagine. But so are board games, video games, roleplaying games (tabletop), history, politics and writing.


The view from Stanford Foothills, looking down at the San Francisco Bay. Try to avoid going there when it is really hot, like we did.

During my time at university, I studied computer science. And while I still work back in Copenhagen (when I am not driving around North America), at least one of my friends from that time had been employed by Apple. What was doubly nice about this, is that I finally got to speak God's own language again: Danish.


Two tourists taking pictures of a wildlife advisory.

I stayed in Sunnyvale in this region that has obtained the nickname 'Silicon Valley', even though it does not have this name officially. The valley, the name refers to, is Santa Clara Valley. And while the chip-making industry that gave the area its name have moved out of the valley in previous decades, there is still a lot of sand, of which silicon is a major component.


Me explaining something. With my fist. This may be the first picture of me on this journal so far.

My friend, who worked for Apple, [1] invited me and his wife, who were also there for this month, to eat at the Apple campus. Now, I do not know how much I can reveal about my experience from this facility, but I will reveal this much: Apple has not figured out to manage queues. That food court was a crowded mess.


Look at that handsome dashboard! Oh wait, I am in Silicon Valley, should probably show some images of that.

One would think that a company like Apple would be able to solve something like queueing. I know the British have not, but they are proud of queueing. And I believe solving queueing means getting rid of queues, or at least reducing their time. [2]


I got the opportunity to have a picture taken of my Xantia in front of the main Apple campus on Infinite Loop.

After enjoying sightseeing seeing Apple and Google compounds (and other tech industry names), we went to the History of Computer Museum. This was a pleasant surprise, actually. My friend and I both feared a gimmick, but it was laid out as a regular museum, focusing on a thematical history, so it was chronological and thematical at the same time.


A DVORAK keyboard. From a better time. I think, I did not live in the 1970s.

Silicon Valley is a strange place. I guess I can understand why similar industries mingle in the same area, but it always yields a strange sense observing it. It is sort of like Las Vegas, an incredibly sight, and - if you really have nothing to do there - quite an odd one. Like a picture just slightly out of focus.


[1]I really wish they had not abandoned the 'Computers' part of their name as it just feels awkward saying 'Apple' alone like that. Like working for a fruit.
[2]Fun fact: The person I stayed with in Montréal had been a researcher on a documentary that had just been released called Taming the Queue about - you guessed it - queues and the theory of queueing.

Highway 1

12 July 2017

You may think I have been very critical of US infrastructure, and while there is plenty to be critical of, there are things I like. For starters, I like the route number assignment system. Routes with odd numbers run North-South and routes with even numbers run West-East.

I also like that signs are pretty clear on when you are reaching a new route (there will be so-called junction signs) and the signs will show you which direction on that route you are heading (North or South, or West or East). Indeed, speaking of signs indicating roads or streets are great. It is very easy to spot which road you are meeting at any junction.


Some beach along the West Coast.

So why are there both a highway 1 and a highway 101? Well, the former of these two is a California route while the latter is a US route. But even though the routes are on two different levels, [1] they avoid giving the routes the same number when in close proximity. And in the US, they are not shy of re-numbering routes (the famous Route 66 no longer has the number 66).

From highway 101, you can switch to highway 1, which I assume is the older route, and parts of highway 101 used to be 1. Highway 1 is a lot more winding than 101, most of which is dual carriageway.


I met an MG near Eureka. And I also met its owner.

I stopped in Eureka along the 1, where I met two others interested in classic cars including Citroëns. Even though the Xantia is not yet a classic, it gets quite a bit of attention amongst these people. Perhaps primarily because it has made its way so far, but also the suspension spike people's interest. Not on the roads, mind you - they would not know - where I do get a lot of looks from other motorists.


The Carson Mansion in Eureka.

Another thing I like about US roads is that their exits are numbered according to the distance from the beginning of the route. The only unfortunate aspect is that distance is measured in miles, but the principle is good. This means that long distances between exits can yield quite a number of missing numbers amongst the exit numbers.

But it also means that you can use the exit numbers alone to know the distance to your exit, if you know on which exit you are leaving. Now if only someone knew what a mile was, it would be incredibly useful.


Rocks along the West Coast.

I particularly enjoyed highway 1 compared to highway 101, because of its far more challenging roads. Not as challenging as roads I have driven in Europe, because Americans' lower threshold for a hairpin turn is a lot softer than Europeans.


Just one rock. Ignore the other rocks.

Of course, the views continue to impress. And also gets me feeling a bit nervous at times, because crash barriers are not that common in the US as they are back in Europe. You better be awake on these roads.


Swirving roads along 1.

It has been a lot of fun driving along these roads. And while I do have a dashcam in my car, recording my driving along these fun roads, I must admit that reviewing these videos, they do not look as impressive as it was driving on these roads. Always disappointing getting told by your own evidence.


[1]There are four route levels in the US: County, state, national and Interstate.


11 July 2017

When we think of the United States back in Europe, we often think of its politics. We may think of the stereotypes that we portray them as, and that US citizens on occasion confirm. And if we are trying to think of it as a travel destination, the first thing that spring to mind are its large cities, like New York City or Los Angeles.

But the United States mostly contains non-city. Indeed, at 9,798,320 km², the contiguous United States + Alaska is just shy in area of what is recognised as Europe at 10,180,000 km². But with Europe containing 742,452,000 people as of 2013 compared to C-US+AK's [1] 307,416,900, more than double, Europe has far more density, both in population and in urban areas.


These are trees in the United States, specifically in California. These trees are not redwood trees, but they are nearby the Redwood National Park.

That is not to say that Europe does not have much nature left, but rather that the United States can offer a lot more. It also means that doing a road trip in North America means you will find yourself driving for days on end, without really seeing much of interest.


Driving along the West Coast, particularly in Northern California and in the Bay Area, fog is a common sight, particularly in the morning.

It comes as no surprise to me that the concept of national parks largely originated in the United States, Australia and Canada. New found tracks of land, that had not had centuries of history to cultivate most of the land already. National parks as a concept would later their way to Asia, Europe and beyond.


Highway 101 passes through some of the redwood forest, but not the parts that are technically part of the national park. Fortunately, there is a scenic alternative to the 101.

And as such, I found myself in another national park in North America, this time the Redwood National and State Park, named after the trees that make this park famous. I am usually not a big hiker, and I certainly do not have the equipment appropriate for hiking, but in this park, I wanted to walk a trail.


Several times on my trail, I found old logs maintaining their form enough to maintain a recognisable shape and even carry their own weight. But due to the tree's death, its insides had been composting away, now allowing for new tree life to grow in its place.

'6.3 km' the sign said (yes, it actually also had metric), I should be able to walk that in 40 minutes. I should soon learn how wrong I was. And particularly how badly planned this was as I forgot to bring a bottle of water.


The most predominant characteristic of this national park was trees.

So far, the lowest temperature I have experienced over here - and keep in mind this is the summer - have been 10°C. But in this park, it was a consistent 28 degrees. Fortunately, there was a lot of shade inside a forest, but not enough from keeping me slowly dehydrating, particularly as the trail climbed higher than the highest point in my home country. [2]


Most of the benches along the trail were cut outs of trees. Some were simple cut outs like this, others were fully realised benches where the trace of the log had been removed.

Over one and half hour into this trek, I was becoming delirious, questioning my mental situation and whether life had always been a forest. Had I only imagined my life up until this point? I could not fully recall when I had entered the forest. Or if I had entered at all.


Some debris were blocking the trail. There was a lot of hints around the forest of past weather having knocked down trees.

Coming down the ridge that went through the park, I lost my footing and then my balance, and soon my face met the ground. I considered for a moment to stay in this position, until I felt my body slowly sliding down the ridge. As I got up and carried myself through - this time maintaining a slower pace - I soon heard other people.

No, I had not been some cave man living in the woods. And soon I was reunited with my car. And while my car was ready to go - as it always is - I was not. I would go on a trail again, and I would love to come back to this national park with friends. But next time, I will bring some water. Remember that when you hike.


[1]Please note that no one has used the abbreviation 'C-US' to be a shorthand for the 'contiguous United States of America',
[2]Which is not saying much, because the highest point in Denmark is Møllehøj at 170.86 metres.

Highway 101

10 July 2017

They say Americans want three things out of a road: No traffic, no nonsense and no bends. It is just unfortunate that a lot of their primary routes (which they may refer to as 'highways') fulfils none of these requirements.

Driving down the West Coast of the mainland United States, you will note the lack of these three aspects. While you have a decent chance of finding several kilometres of no other traffic on these roads, some slow moving camper van or mobile home will eventually be in your way.


Looking through my windscreen on Highway 101. The satnav hanging in the windscreen has its UI appropriately in Danish, and you may notice that it tells me that the local speed limit is 89 km/h.

But in a sense, that is OK, because the view from this road is something you want to enjoy. So rather than looking for a way to overtake these slow moving vehicles, just find the nearest appropriate spot and pull over. There will likely be an excellent view.


Look at these houses on the Oregon Coast. They too have a great view, maybe even a view of me taking a picture of them.

The problem with the second requirement - no nonsense - is that none of their roads fulfils this aspect. There is always some nonsense to US roads, as I have discovered. It is hard to a finger on, but they never seem quite as sensible as European roads. But I may just be biased because of my belief in European supremacy when it comes to infrastructure. And we have had a lot of infrastructural challenges to overcome in Europe.


My Xantia looking at me as I am taking a picture of it. Always maintaining the same expression.

Some primary routes in the United States will to a significant degree confir with the American motorist's third and last desire: No bends. However, a coastal road - like US 101 - does not. The topography of the area forces the route designers' hands and - even though they really want to just built straight roads - they are forced to add bends.

Which is a problem, because this is why these roads also violate the first requirement. US motorists are not keen on bends. Particularly not if they are driving a larger vehicle, which most of them are.


The southern part of the Oregon Coast is known for its dunes, seen here being upstaged by a sign.

Of course, my car was built for roads like this. These are the kind of roads my car long for, which is why I always end up catching up to other vehicles on my travels on these roads. I recognise that these roads are American roads, but it is a shame that the same people - who I will consider the owners of these roads - are not able to fully experience them. For that, they will need a foreign car.