West Coast Challengers was graciously invited by our Northern brethren, NorCal Challengers, to accompany them on their annual Yosemite Cruise.

This trip has been in the planning stages for some time and met its fair share of delays (one requested by myself due to Mopars at the Strip). Nevertheless, working through everyone’s schedule, the date was set for the trip — May 21, 2011. We decided to make a weekend out of the trip out of it due to the distance.

Leaving the Friday before the cruise, we decided to meet up near Castaic Lake and caravan together from there. We had made reservations at the Mariposa Lodge, about 80 miles south of where we would meet up with the NorCal Challengers contingent.

Five and half hours of cruising through the rural farmlands of California via Highway 99, we arrived, incident free, at the Lodge at about 4:30 p.m.

I had already mapped out and found a coin car wash in anticipation of us arriving in Mariposa with our cars being covered in bugs and highway grime. The fact that it was a coin car wash AND a laundromat AND a pet groomer should have given me an indication of what would come.

We checked into our rooms at the Lodge and decided to head over to the car wash to get that out of the way before dinner. Upon arriving, it appears to be a normal coin car wash. We put in our $3 and begin spraying off our cars. To my surprise, no spot free rinse. Well, it was there but the label had been removed. No doubt because it was too expensive for the owner to keep refilling. So, I came up with the brilliant idea to blow dry the cars via a quick drive back to the Lodge. Color me stupid. By the time we got back to the Lodge, just a few miles away, my car was completely coated with water spots — a hard water car wash, go figure. Try as I may, the spots will not come out. Now my car looks worse than when I brought it the car wash. I go to bed dejected and knowing I’ll be driving a black and white Zebra on the cruise.

Morning comes early, and we set out to meet up with NorCal Challengers for breakfast. Having brought along my Motorola radios so that we could communicate on the trip, I had forgot that I had already tuned them to the channel which NorCal Challengers was planning on using for the cruise. We agreed to meet NorCal Challengers at the Moccasin Fish Hatchery a little ways away from Groveland where we would stop for breakfast. I had programmed in the address for the fish hatchery into the navigation unit, but, of course, the navigation unit doesn’t see through water and took us to the other side of the lake from where the fish hatchery was. As we passed by the fish hatchery, oblivious to it even being there, we began to head up the hill when we hear NorCal Challengers come over the radio and tell us we had just past them. That kind of surprise me, someone being on our exact frequency, until I remembered that I had tuned into their frequency. We made a U-turn and headed back down the hill. Finding the fish hatchery, NorCal Challengers was all lined up and waiting for us, having already made two stops before meeting up with us. After some introductions and a little briefing of the day’s itinerary, we all headed out to Groveland for breakfast together.

In Groveland, the multi-colored Challenger pact rolled into the parking lot and grew a lot of attention from locals. We overwhelmed the restaurant a bit by unexpectedly walking in with about 20 people, but they managed to get all of our orders out. People that came in behind us were not so lucky as they were made to wait longer than they were used to for their weekly Saturday morning breakfast.

Having finished breakfast and little behind schedule, we got in our Challengers and hit the highway. Next stop Yosemite.

The radios crackled with humorous commentary on the way to Yosemite. Everyone was in great spirits and ready to enjoy the scenic beauty that awaited us in the park.

Mike aka Fyrdude of NorCal Challengers was the lead car and knew Yosemite like the back of his hand. His knowledge of the park impressed everyone in our group. People should be so lucky to have such a knowledgeable guide with them on such a trip.

Arriving at the entrance of Yosemite, we all paid for our daily pass, and headed off to our first stop in the park — El Capitan.

Now, the morning before I left on the trip north, I checked all of the fluids in my car. I have the Moroso stainless steel overflow and power steering tanks. The Moroso tank doesn’t allow for viewing your fluid levels unless you remove the cap and peer inside. Having done that before I left, it appears that I tightened the radiator cap but not locked it all of the way into place. Some 400 miles later, not having a pressurized system, the water in my radiator began evaporating. Once reaching Yosemite and meeting its elevations and hilly roads, the radiator finally gave up the ghost, and at our first stop, I shut the engine off and was still inside of the car, changing lenses on my camera, when I heard a violent gurgling/bubbling sound, a sound I was all too familiar with — the radiator dance gearing up to overheat. Sure enough, steam began spewing from under my hood.

Car overheating and making a mess

Car overheating and making a mess

Opening my door and stepping into a puddle of coolant running down the hill, I knew I was about to ruin the trip for everyone. Prior to the stop and overheating, the gauge seemed to be working fine and was well within normal operating limits of 212 degrees and no lights came on prior to overheating so I was perplexed. Looking things over under the hood and finding no hose leaks or anything out of the ordinary, I let the car cool down for about 10 minutes and popped the radiator cap — the water level was wayyy low. Refilling the tank and twisting the cap back on, I realized at that exact moment that I hadn’t screwed the cap on all of the way before leaving on the trip (it still had a 1/4 turn to go before locking into place). I got in, started the car, and watched the temperature drop and breathed a sigh of relief. Heading off to our next destination — Mariposa Grove, I monitored the temperature closely. Upon reaching the grove, I popped the hood and made a cursory inspection and after finding everything in order, everyone in the group breathed a sigh of relief. Tow trucks in Yosemite are not that common and the towing charges must be astronomical, so I’m glad I’m just stupid (for not tightening the cap all of the way) rather than poor (had I needed a tow out of Yosemite).

Now that I had accomplished getting everyone’s hearts pumping, we all stood in a relaxed awe of the giant redwoods with snow at their base that surrounded us. Mike, our guide, took the group on a short hike to see some fallen giant redwoods. I stayed behind to have a soda and take some pictures of the trees. Looking around, camera in hand, I noticed several deer coming out of the forest following a game trail that paralleled the parking lot.

Bambi making an appearance

Bambi making an appearance

While waiting for the group to return, a raven stopped by to play and see what food he could pilfer from the tourists.

A raven come to play

A raven come to play

We all saddled up and headed off to our next destination — Bridalveil Falls.

After Bridalveil Falls, we trekked off towards Yosemite Falls, one of the worlds largest free falling waterfalls. To see it from a distance and hear it thundering waters is something that absolutely defies the written word. To see it up close is simply awesome, and with the clouds now clearing leaving a bright blue sky and puffy white clouds, the weather Gods were with us and they allowed for some spectacular pictures.

Yosemite Falls

Yosemite Falls

The road through Yosemite National Park is a drive in itself. The loop within Yosemite might take you 2 hours if you drove slow. I think it took us over 8 hours. Now, I have driven for longer periods of time before but never have I truly “driven” as much as I did through Yosemite. Twists and turns everywhere. Non-stop turning of the steering wheel and using the brake and gas pedals, and rolling through the gears (auto stick). Very intensive driving, with something new to see around every corner. Physical endurance coupled with visual sensory overload.

Mike knew the park like the back of his hand and took us to places not on the beaten path. We had 10 cars in the group, 9 Challengers and 1 Charger Super Bee, and NorCal Challengers did a great job of keeping everyone together despite weekend traffic in the park.

So, as if overheating wasn’t enough excitement for the day, here we are cruising along and we come to a populated section of the park with all of the tourist information booths and restrooms. We are putt-putting along in a line and see two park ranger trucks sitting off to our left with one ranger out of his truck talking to the other. Then this little blue Corolla pulls up to the road and — just guns it — right in front of a tour bus coming one way and more importantly, right at our line of Challengers coming the other way. I’m last in line and let him in front of me, else watch him get plowed over by a tour bus. The ranger sees this all go down and runs back to his truck, throws on the overhead lights and comes after us. Now, I’m not certain if he is coming after me for no front license plate or the Corolla. Being from Southern California, I’m used to people driving like the Corolla, so what he did didn’t really strike me as being anything out of the ordinary. The ranger, lights flashing, comes up behind me, I let everyone know I’m getting pulled over via the radios we had with us. So, the whole line of Challengers pulls over, as does the Corolla in front of me because he can’t get around the line of Challengers pulling over (not that he didn’t try). We pull over and the ranger pulls in behind me although I left enough space for him to pull behind the Corolla but he didn’t, so I instantly think I’m getting the ticket. The radios all light up with everyone trying to figure out who and why we got pulled over and during our radio exchange, I hear the ranger say something over his P.A. system. A second later, I hear “Black car move forward.” So, I move forward, as does the Corolla. The ranger repeats it, and I move forward again, as does the Corolla. Then I hear, “Blue car stay where you are, Black car you’re free to go.” So, I start to pull out and the Corolla tries coming with me, so I just pulled along side his car and blocked him in. The ranger took it from there.

Later, while at one of our stops, that same park ranger came up to us and apologized for scaring us. He also apologized for calling our cars “Mustangs,” which he called them when he made the first broadcast over the P.A. (apparently he said “Mustangs can go” and no one moved). I told him that it was probably a good thing we didn’t hear that cuz themz fighting words right there. He was nice guy and said not to worry, he gave the Corolla a ticket for us and told us how the driver had plenty of excuses about why he didn’t deserve the ticket — none of which worked.

As the sun began to fall behind the mountains of Yosemite, we left the park and headed back to Groveland for dinner at the Pizza Factory. After dinner, we said our good-byes and thanked the NorCal Challengers group for their hospitality and for such a great adventure.

Still more than an hour away from the Lodge, we needed to find a gas station desperately, and amazingly, this one horse town had several still open. After getting some gas, we hit the road again only to pull out of the gas station and run right into the NorCal Challengers group passing by and heading home themselves. We followed them to our turn off and again said our good-byes via the radios.

We took Highway 41 back to the Lodge, which was a pretty hairy drive even in the morning when we passed through, but a night, I truly expected to turn a corner and find a deer standing in the road. We drove rather slow and reached the Lodge safely without incident. Once at the Lodge, I booted up the laptop to check in with the guys in our club and let them all know we made it back safely and to tell them what a great day we had. I fell asleep while actually writing that three paragraph post only to wake up about an hour later to click the send button. I was exhausted, in a good kind a way if there is such a thing.

As everyone knows, I am not a morning person, and morning seemed to come fast as the alarm clock went off and I slept right through it. Thankfully, I did manage to wake up on the second go around. We loaded up the cars, got our morning coffee, and set off for home.

Now, the story might ordinarily end there; however, not an hour away from the Lodge, I’m leading the pack and pass a Highway Patrol car with side radar. He passes us and immediately hits the overhead lights and hangs a U-turn. I know I’m screwed but don’t slow down much and it takes the officer quite a while to catch up to us. Getting in between the pack of Challengers, he blocks and corrals us both over to the side of the road. Damn. The officer comes up to my car first and asks the “standard” question, “Do you know how fast you were going?” I, of course, tell him that I have no idea. He tells me that he clocked me at 72 mph and that section of highway is posted at 55 mph. Oops. Sorry. Damn Dodge for making such a fast car. Long story short, the officer was extremely nice and let us both off with just a warning. Whewww. Dodged that bullet.

For the rest of the way home, we did 5 mph over the speed limit, but got spooked at even doing that because the cops seemed to be out in force and were staging themselves on center medians and on on-ramps waiting for the speeders to just fly into their law enforcement web. I believe we saw literally dozens of Highway Patrol cars set up to snag speeders on the trip home. In one instance, a car passed us at a high rate of speed and the officer came from the on-ramp and had the speeder pulled over in less than 500 feet, as if the cops were acting in unison and he knew the speeder was coming. Even with all of the law enforcement out for the drive home on Sunday, we managed to get home faster than it took us to get to Mariposa — and thankfully arrived home without a ticket and with memories to last a lifetime.

Below is a great video montage of some pictures that we took on the cruise. You can also view the individual photographs in our club photo gallery.

Special thanks go out to NorCal Challengers for graciously inviting us along and helping make it such a great trip — and to the Highway Patrol officer who cut us a break and let us off with a warning.

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter
  1. […] write up on the trip which includes a link to a great video and some kewl pictures we took. […]