Beginning of The Valley Of Death

We drove out of Vegas early Sunday morning and made good time heading north towards Carson City and Reno. After around 80 miles we turned left heading for Death Valley National Park. This is one of the iconic drives in the USA that motorheads must do similar to the historic Route 66. It is supposed to be one of the hottest areas to drive in although I had some doubts about that after being in Pakistan and Australia. Bridget started out well with no misfire or hesitation. Approaching the turn to Death Valley I thought I had fluffed the gear change when there was a grinding of gear cogs, but then I found it extremely difficult to shift into any gear. I pulled over and sprung the bonnet catch. Getting out and lifting the bonnet I removed the top of the clutch master cylinder. Sure enough it was almost empty! When on earth did I last check the level? Apologising profusely to Bridget for such behaviour I fetched the clutch fluid from the boot and topped up the cylinder. I crossed my fingers it would not require bleeding. However it became obvious that it would need to be bled but I hoped we could at least get to San Francisco before having to do it. We passed the original Nevada desert nuclear testing site and the morning’s temperature was rising. Bridget’s temperature gauge stared climbing and whenever there was an incline it was going into the red. Not being able to change gear easily was making things difficult. As we passed Bad Water, a huge salt lake, there was a signpost warning of ‘Extreme Heat for the next 20 miles’. It was not exaggerating and to make things a little more difficult we had to climb a couple of thousand feet before dropping down the other side and then doing it all over again. Half way along this road there is a water stop, comprising of public toilets and a water supply for radiators but not for drinking. I decided to stop in the shade of a tree and allow Bridget’s engine to recover. There was a old Ford camper van already there and the occupants where a young couple from Torbay in the UK who are motoring around the states for six months. With there assistance I tried a quick fix bleeding of the clutch master cylinder which didn’t work very well, but improved things enough for me to decide to continue to San Francisco. Bridget will be due another service there and I will fix the clutch at the same time. Death Valley lived up to its reputation as being extremely hot and Bridget’s engine was at the very maximum of her temperature range several times. I had to nurse her up the hills in third gear which helped bring the temperature down just enough to continue but it was touch and go. Several miles further on we drove through Kern River Canyon which is stunningly beautiful. The mountains tower over the river on both sides as it meanders down the canyon floor with stretches of white water. It also looked so cool. We arrived in Bakersfield at 5:00pm and will strike out for San Francisco in the morning. The drive to San Francisco was interesting in that it meant driving through the American Fruitbowl area. This is just mile after mile, after mile, of apple, orange, and lemon trees. There are vast acreages of grape vines, for California’s wine industry and also large areas producing almond nuts. Road and weather conditions were good and Bridget ran reasonably, with her gearbox almost back to normal. We arrived into Frisco at 3:00pm. My first impressions were that this could be a fun city and that is what I found to be the case. There are the famous names such as Alcatraz, Fisherman’s Wharf and the Golden Gate Bridge and it has more than its share of ‘characters’. I made contact with the North California MG Owners Club and immediately received an invitation to dinner by a couple who are members and are planning a trip in their MG to Europe. Craig and Kim supplied wonderful hospitality as well as helping me out by changing Bridget’s oil which because of disposal is always a potential problem for me. Whilst driving over to their home I was on highway CA-24 and became aware of a white saloon keeping pace beside me. I looked over expecting the usual photo opportunity and saw two lads in the front and a girl in the back. They waved to me which I happily returned and then without warning the girl ‘flashed’ me. I’m warming to this city already. Bridget now has fresh oil, new spark plugs and all the fluid levels have been checked. The clutch now seems fine and I have re-adjusted the carburettors again because she was misfiring slightly. On Friday I contacted the local MG Specialists “Collins Classics” to see if I could get replacement gaskets for the carburettor float chambers. Not only did Tom Collins supply and fit them he also kindly replaced a couple of other parts in the float chambers, adjusted the height of the floats and then balanced the carbs for me as well. To top it all he wouldn’t take anything for his efforts, what a top guy, thanks Tom. On Sunday we start the trip north to Canada. I am reconsidering the route from Winnipeg as I am now back on time and might to Chicago then onto New York and ship Bridget home from there, or possible stay in Canada and drive over to Toronto. I will just have to see what takes my fancy.

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