Monday, February 27, 2012

We Meet The WetWesties

The WetWesties are "A Pacific Northwest VW Camping Society" established in 1996 and currently numbering around 2,100 members.  The majority live in Washington and Oregon, but there are members from other states and Canada as well.  They are an eclectic bunch covering a broad range of age, occupation and economic status.  Most seem to have a Vanagon, Bay or Splitty but  owning a Westy is not a prerequisite to membership. The "organization" has no officers, no rules, and communicate mainly by means of a Yahoo Group.  A glance at their calendar will show camp outs and other events scheduled for every month of the year.
Check out the WetWesties web site
I joined the group, and in late October met with them for the first time at Manchester State Park, across the Puget Sound (and a little behind Bainbridge Island) from Seattle.  Rather than take the ferry across to Southworth,  I drove to Tacoma via I-5 (keeping to the right lante of course), then picked up Highway 16 across the Tacoma Narrows Bridge and up to Port Orchard.  By the time I arrived at Manchester late Saturday afternoon, they had already engaged in fun activities such as removing an errant Frisbee from a very high picnic shelter roof (without climbing up on it).  There was a lot of talk about Vanagons, and showing off of rigs.  I learned much there about various maintenance issues and picked up ideas about useful modifications.   A cadre of campers went for a walk on the beach and became temporarily disoriented.  They found their way back to camp by following the distinctive sound of Vanagon sliding doors opening and closing.

The group camp at Manchester is a large parking lot surrounded by grass and trees
Westly is second from left, the oldest van there and the only diesel
Photo by WetWesties member (if it's yours, please let me know for proper credit)
As night fell, the large picnic shelter at the group camp site began filling with platters, bowls, crock pots, and even a large electric roaster, all  filled with gustatory delights which were shared communally.  These folks really know how to eat on a camp out.  When we were all thoroughly sated, we gathered around the fire under a clearing sky for star gazing, talk of dogs, organic gardening, Westy lore, and idle banter.  We spent some time attempting to stump Siri but she made a good showing.

Later that night the cloud cover returned and we had a little rain.  Sunday morning our dampened spirits were revived while being treated to a hearty breakfast by the over-achieving event hosts.  We all pitched in to clean up and dispersed.

I didn't have to report for work until mid afternoon Monday, so directed Westly to Highway 3 through Bremeton and Poulsbo, across the Hood Canal Floating Bridge to State Route 104, and from there to Olympic Highway 101.  I wound around Discovery Bay and Sequim Bay and out to the Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge.  Camping there was closed for the winter, but  I promised to return soon for further exploration.

I returned to 101 and made my way to Olympic National Park.  The entrance fee for the park is $15, good for seven days.  The sun was far along it's western arc as I left Port Angeles and made for Hurricane Ridge.  It's a rather steep climb - sea level to 5,200 feet in 17 miles.  Westly was a trooper, holding a steady 30 miles per hour in third gear.  There were a few expansive views on the way up, but when I gained the summit the clouds had descended and all but enveloped the Visitor Center there.

Westly takes a well deserved break after making the
climb to Hurricane Ridge without complaint
Nevertheless, it was well worth the climb just to muse for a while in this wild open space.  Twilight was rapidly diminishing so I coasted quietly down the road and crept into Heart O' The Hills Campground.  I found myself quite alone in this small campground carved out of the rain forest.  Once a small campfire (wood courtesy of the WetWesties) was shining cheerily in the mist, I worked out some Neil Young on the guitar, then put out the lights for a peaceful rest.  

Westly in the misty rain forest
I know, I have to start using a better camera than my phone
Next morning Westly and I sadly bid goodbye to the Olympic Peninsula and began our trek home following much the same route, except this time I took Highway 305 across Bainbridge Island and then the ferry to downtown Seattle to save time.  Washington State Ferries require a neon orange tag be attached to your propane tank during the voyage indicating that you have shut off the gas flow.  

During this trip, Westly had a little mechanical issue.  His exhaust system had been somewhat cobbled together, I suppose at the time that his engine was upgraded.  Because a diesel engine tends to vibrate like a bowl of Jello on a card table in East Los Angeles, the entire exhaust should ideally be attached to the engine only, so the engine and exhaust can move in sync.  Westly's down pipe was of course attached to his engine, but his muffler was hanging from the frame.  A flexible joint was inserted in an attempt to dampen the difference in oscillation.  This worked for awhile, but somewhere on this journey, that flexible joint separated.  I always carry a coil of galvanized wire, about the same thickness as a wire coat hanger (used to  be known as baling wire down on the farm) .  I used this to wrap around the muffler and the flex joint, holding them together.  Unfortunately I backed into a log in the dark, thus separating them again, but a few more twists of the wire pulled them into proximity for the trip home.    

Because Westly did not have his original engine, there was no "stock" exhaust to be found.  I checked around with several shops and vendors, but the best they could offer was to "put something together".  So I added a turnbuckle to the wire which held them snugly and continued driving.  

This worked reasonably well, and was barely louder than before it broke apart although it did rattle some.  After about four months, when I could no longer endure the rattling, I stopped in at Sunnydale Muffler and Brake in Burien.  They said they usually don't work on "those things" but could weld it back together and guarantee it for a year.  What else could I do?  

Westly sports a new flexible joint and muffler
It still has the same hangers, so yes, it will likely break apart again.  I'll keep looking for a better solution.  


  1. Have you tried the bus depot? They are on line and have everything you need

  2. Yes, I like the Bus Depot. They've always been very patient answering my newbie questions. Thanks for your comment!