Hula Betty vs. I5

“Focus on the journey, not the destination. Joy is found not in finishing an activity but in doing it.” -Greg Anderson

I don’t know who Greg Anderson is but he could not be more wrong.

When I’m moving at 5mph on I-5 North through Portland, just ten miles away from the bridge that will get me to my home state, there is absolutely no joy in focusing on the journey. There is road rage, but not joy.

Maybe I don’t like focusing on the journey because it is too predictable. I know the drive from the University of Oregon campus to my house in Poulsbo, Washington like the back of my hand. I know how long it should take me to get to certain landmarks along the way, I know the top speeds I can get away with driving at, & I know that the destination of home is much better than this 5 hour journey.

I’ve done this same back and forth drive up and down I-5 for three years now and it doesn’t get better. The most pleasure I get out of it is when I break a personal record in the amount of time it takes me to get from school to home or vice versa.

(I’ve made it in five hours flat, my goal is to shave twenty minutes off of that time.)

Another game I like to play is testing how successful I am at weaving through traffic, changing lanes at the right time to pass a certain car/truck I’ve picked out of the crowd. This is my entertainment, my distraction from thinking about the journey.

I know this blog is about road trips- great ones, last ones- so me bitching about least favorite ones seems a little pointless, right? I am not writing this to deter you from taking future road trips. I am writing this to encourage your automotive travels. Even though I hate the drive from college to home to college, I still do it as often as I can.

Why put myself through this? Because the destination is worth it, and much better than the journey.

Road trips can be a lot of fun and you can learn a lot from them. But the next time you are stuck in traffic, angry at the world, remember this: Focus on the destination, not the journey. It’s worth the cramped legs and expensive gas prices.

New Definition of Red – Day 6 UTBDR

I finally broke my slumber, rolled out from the hug of a soft bed and wondered down for the free motel breakfast…  You know the one, rubbery scrambled eggs, greasy bacon, biscuits and grey gravy the consistency of runny jello with a thin yellow film gleaming under the glow of heat lamps, tubes of sugar disguised as breakfast cereal and the crowd pleasing make your own waffle station.  The guys had been down there for hours discussing my pied piper tendencies and their inexplicable desire to accompany me along this journey, regardless of how ridiculous it might get at times.

Well into the central Utah section of the back country discovery route, the threat of rain is gone and sun is smiling down on us.  Ninety degrees in the shade, if there was any shade and we were still  two hours away from reaching noon.  Leaving behind a short stretch of highway, the route returns to dirt entering the canyons where breeze is forbidden as we enter the oven.

Even in the 100 degree heat, life abounds. Lizards, snakes and turning the corner a pair of big horn sheep dance from ledge to ledge on the canyon walls. This land is hard to describe. The landscape feels foreign and familiar at the same time. Hostile and welcoming but mostly unbelievably hot.  I have a desire to just sit and stare in an attempt to make sense of the canyon’s confusing power…  But Moab remains a long ways away calling our name.

The route that once twisted and turned through the canyons has now stretched out straight as far as the eye can see.  Yes our FJC has air conditioning, but standing in solidarity with the Other Paul in his D90, we left the windows down and embraced the hot breeze that streamed in as we moved down the trail.  Dust devils dance across the land and the smell of sage filled the cabin as we drive the route.

The Utah Backcountry Discovery Route takes you to places you will be hard pressed to find on your own.  The route brought us through the flat sage, over several sets of hills and into another amazing canyon. The scene turned from brown to a Christmas red.  Floor to ceiling the dirt and walls were a new shade of fire engine red. Not the dull brick red that I knew from Oklahoma, but a crimson that puts a Dexter blood spatter scene to shame.  We motored along slowly soaking in the brilliant color. A small creek that meandered through the length of this red paradise seemed to lower the temperature with water showering the side of the rig as it crossed our path every 1,000 yards.

We made camp in the heart of Moab.  Soft sand surrounded by large slick rocks defined the camp ground with only a single, roofless outhouse that made no distinction between men and women.  We set up camp knowing this would be home for two nights. With time and the early evening sun on our side, we pulled out all the stops to display our colors as we established Kamp Karma.  The word “slickrock” was derived from early settlers whose metal-shod horses found the expanses of barren rock slick to cross. Off roaders, mountain bikers, and hikers find just the opposite since when dry, the naked sandstone is as coarse sandpaper and easily climbed.

The day’s heat had taken its toll on the team.  After cleaning up our dinner mess, the guys decided to leave me and an armada of  dive bombing bugs circling the lantern, for the comfort of their bed rolls.  While the guys snoozed in their racks, I worked deep into the night: editing photos, recording notes on the day and posting a few highlights on Facebook to let everyone know we were still alive, despite a close encounter with a very large black scorpion only minutes earlier.

Work complete, still wide awake and looking to put some distance between the scorpion, I hiked up one of the slick rocks behind camp to take in the night stars.  Stretched out on my back, the taste of midnight and a fine cigar still on my lips, the texture of her voice the loudest sound in my head and a million points of starlight pricking my skin.  I laid there contemplating my place in a universe spread out before me in the dark. Life is a series of small moments that we cannot hold onto but this night, like so many before, will be carried forever in my heart.

Walking back down to camp in the dark I felt the rush of knowing tomorrow we’ll get a chance to test steel and skill.  Tomorrow we wheel Moab.

Next : Utah Backcounty Discovery Route Day 7

Cowboy Up – Day 5 UTBDR

We were saying good bye to Currant Creek Camp sometime around 10:00 a.m. A new personal best.  This clear morning, the sun is out strong and the temperature climbing as we make our way around the reservoir, up to the Utah Backcountry Discovery Route trail.

The Utah backcountry discovery route is filled with unique visual experiences.  We found ourselves motoring off-road though the hills, where teams of loggers were actively working the stands of Ponderosa Pines and ranch filled valleys with magnificent green pastures.  But around noon we came to the truly strange and beautiful.

There is a reason this is called a discovery route…  we found ourselves rolling through an isolated canyon that put us in the heart of an alien land.  Canyon walls towering hundreds of feet directly above, giant slabs of rock littering the floor to remind us of the cliffs’ fragility. Limestone spinnakers shooting up to the heavens with alternating yellow, brown and white bands as the clouds sailed by. Although we would experience other canyons in the days to come, this was our baptism to a new world of the canyon floor.

Leading up to the start of this off road adventure the news was filled with stories showing Colorado ablaze.  Towns and resorts evacuating, smokejumpers building firebreaks and  waterbombers attacking the treetops.  The news failed to mention Utah’s Church Camp fire which burned over 4,000 acres. Unbelievable desert heat, bone dry trees and kindling for ground cover it is easy to understand how fire quickly devours everything in its path.

This stretch of the route skirted along the edge of the still smoldering, charred remnants of the Church Camp devastation. Ravaged by fire and defined by steep cliffs, driving through the narrow valley brought concerns of flash floods erasing the path we’re on.  We kept one eye on the distant clouds as we gave witness to the devastation of past floods.  Scarred cliffs were water had cascaded down the removing everything in its way. The route through the valley was carved up with swales designed to funnel the floods from one side of the trail to the other with minimal damage.  For the next twenty minutes the swales presented themselves like Tijuana speed bumps to our little convoy.  We’d go from 30 mph to a 5 mph as the rig’s dove in and then climb up the other side of a swale every mile or so.

Coming around the bend in valley, we ran square into history. When our first ancestors wanted to express themselves, they didn’t use paper and pen.  Prehistoric people scratched their history on the valley rock.  The Utah Backcountry Discovery Route winds through Nine Mile which has several significant petroglyphic sites.  Not tourist traps with souvenir shops, t-shirt stands and little petroglyph shot glasses, just cliffs adorn with ancient rock carvings on the side of the route, allowing you to pull off and explore rock faces, as well as the more recent abandon homesteads.

Today we experienced the flatter, hotter, stranger side of Utah before finally rolling into Wellington, the end of the day’s leg and found our way to the Cowboy Kitchen.  Dirty, sweaty and parched (not the worst looking patrons in the bar) we ambled into the cool, air conditioned room and grabbed a table.  I  have been to the Great Wall of China, I have seen the Pyramids of Egypt, I’ve even witnessed a grown man satisfy a camel. But never in all my years have I witnessed something as improbable, as impossible, as what we witnessed here today, a giant basket of greasy, undercooked fries with hair!  Dinner was not the highlight of the day.

Around the table the conversation turned to where we would rest our heads tonight, peppered with memorable quotes from Stripes, Dodge Ball, Animal House and a half dozen of the classics.  We may be the only ones laughing out loud but clearly we’re not the only ones in the bar as locals through odd glances of disapproval our way.  But we’re loud, proud and heavily armed so not much was going to stop us from celebrating our day of wheeling.

The little town of Wellington is not overrun with camping or hotel options.  After ruling out the Pillow Talk motel, we double check our iPhones and found Green River filled with options.  Only 30 miles as the crow files and the next fuel stop on the Backcountry Discovery Route. A little wrangling back and forth, and we decided to cowboy up to Green River, even though it was approaching the nine o’clock hour.  Tonight…  We Wheel!

Less then 20 minutes down the route from Wellington and the sun is gone. The only light as far as the eye could see is coming from our rigs and the stars above. Motoring easily on a comfortable, wide, straight, well graded gravel road, cruising speed, 40 mph. We’ll be bedding down in no time. Then the route turned left.

Apparently, we had not accounted for this section of the route turning into a 4×4 trail.  Flat desert at night on 4×4 trails presents a unique challenge.  No markers to follow, no reference points or land marks visible in the dark night, navigation was limited to tracking our progress against the GPS waypoints. Each turn, fork in the road or disappearing two track was checked against the GPS.  Pick a trail, go 50 yards, and see if we’re still on track or turn around to try another direction. We opened and closed cattle gates, drove through washouts, climbed in and out of swales and crossed land bridges where our wheels hung over the edge.  We drove on, into the sage brush, as we made our way through the desert night.

The crow may fly a straight line to Green River but the Backcountry Discovery Route meanders back and forth to keep you off the concrete. In stead of 30 miles, we’d already logged 60 miles of sand, gravel and 4×4 trails…  and we were pointed away from Green River.  This is where you separate the men from the boys, the wheat from the chaff, the awkwardly feminine from the possibly Canadian.  Did I mention we were on movie quote roll.

Desert nights are cool, still, dark and full of sound.  We were stopped at another cattle gate, passing from one ranch to another and we could feel the sense of adventure we’d taken on. Driving off road in the dark is like taking a trip down memory lane.  You can’t see anything outside the glow of the lights and your brain starts to fill in the blanks.  Memories of past road trips, long lost thoughts of a child’s first step, your embarrassing high school date and fallen friends filled the dark shadows beyond the reach of the rig’s lights. Closing the gate behind us and saddling back up in our rigs, we knew we could cowboy through whatever else there was between us and Green River.

Sometime around 2:30 a.m., six hours and 87 miles from when we started, the glow of Green River came into view.  Driving by the state camp ground and up to the Holiday In Express we bargained with the front desk in order to get the, you know we don’t have a reservation, AAA, its your last chance to rent these rooms to anyone rate.   Hot showers, soft beds, electricity to charge up batters and WiFi to check in…  not a bad way to end the longest day of this off road adventure.

Next : Utah Backcounty Discovery Route Day 6

Look At Me Ma… No Hands

A couple of months back we were tweeting #ridendirve and rubbing elbow with the big guys at the Cooper Tire Ride-n-Drive.  I know we told you it was all fun and games hanging with rock stars like Brian “Woody” Swearinger and Scott Brady, dining out on Texas size steak, bar hopping, and checking out San Antonio…  But thanks to the Z-Girls who just sent over this video…  There is proof that I really was working my ass off.  I think they got my good side!

We really do need to thank the folks at Cooper Tire for inviting us to the Ride-N-Drive event.  We had a great time and learned a lot more about what goes into making a great all terrain tire like the DISCOVERER AT3

Road Hard, Put Away Wet – Day 4 UTBDR

The sun came up and the air went out. Laying there on the cot under a shadow of doubt… Not knowing what time it is but certain I’m late…

We’re not greeting this morning well.  Tired and still chilled…  The drug of choice, caffeine.  We shuffled slowly about camp,  steam rising from our tin (ok titanium) coffee cups.  Breakfast was the left overs from dinner.  Sleep still stuck in the corner of our eyes, we are communicating through grunts and groans when from behind the trees we hear, the silence of the lambs.

Cellophane wrapped chops in your butcher’s freezer make a slight squeaky sound as the white Styrofoam bottoms scratch against one another.   An entire flock of sheep descending on your camp as the sun rises over the hills makes an incredible racket. Rams snorting as they mingle, the dams grunting and blatting to their lambs who respond with the familiar bleating at the same volume a two year old uses to express their unfulfilled desires at 2:00 am.  All around our camp the forest is alive.  Sheep everywhere advancing like an army taking the high ground.  We’re awake now.

If you follow our adventures…  and you’re here so you must…  then you know, we may be up early…  but get going occurs sometime after 9:00 (ok 10:00) am.  That may have to do with not wanting to leave this beautiful spot but more likely it’s the hassle of packing up camp.  We keep experimenting with different shelters and sleeping configs looking for the perfect compact, lite weight, easy up, easy down combo that barely separates us from elements.  The current Noah tarp, bivy sack, down bag and supper compact cot seems to be easy enough but that’s still 20 minutes we’ll never get back.

The day before we pulled 30 some extra miles so this should be an easy day on the trail….  But math doesn’t work that way.

Toyota built the FJ Cruiser choosing to use a independent front suspension (IFS).  The weak point on the IFS is the CV joint.  A CV joint is a collection of bearings and cages that allows significant axle rotation and power delivery on a number of different angles but requires vigilance on an off-road adventure. Checking the shafts on the rig’s morning walk around, it became apparent one of the inner boots protecting the CV was oozing lube.  Grey joint grease was escaping from the boot because of a loose retainer.

Now we have choices:

  1. pull the half shaft and replace it with the spare in the rig (don’t wheel an IFS rig without carrying a spare!!!)
  2. bandage it up and hope the leaking stops

The grease was fresh so we probably caught it early but there was a bunch of it. No chirping sounds indicating metal on metal grinding of the CV. Until Moab we don’t expect too much stress on the CV.  Deciding on the first aide approach, we grabbed a trash bag, zip ties and duct tape.  The idea was to wrap the leaking area with the plastic trash bag, zip tie it and the boot where the lube is oozing and than secure it all with duct tape. Now keep a close eye on it and hope for the best.

The route this day took us back into the higher elevations.  Through the ponderous pines, aspens and up above treeline cresting somewhere around 10,000 feet.  Until now the rains had always been off in the distance but as we approached the top, the clouds unloaded. Thunder and lightning announced Mother Nature’s anger as she lowered the boom.  The temperature plummeted to 40 degrees. Rain fell like a cow pissing on a flat rock.  The sound of hail hitting the rig resounded through the cabin like gravel tossed on a tin roof.  Mud immediately took on a consistency of slippery goo as we serpentined along the mountain’s edge. This was the first time we engaged four low to ensure  everything stayed under control as we kept going at a snails pace to avoid sliding off the mountain. Through all of nature’s furry we stat dry.  The Oher Paul is experiencing this storm in his Defender 90 with only a canvas top for protection as the water blew in the sides. An hour later we had moved off the mountain, left the rains behind and found the Other Paul mostly dry as we took a break for lunch and some free WiFi.

This is why we love Metal Tech 4×4  Somewhere in the eye of the storm I devised a longer term plan for the leaky boot.  Having a little cell coverage in a clearing, I quickly sent a text to Metal Tech asking if they could get a half shaft or boot kit over to Ouray, CO where we planned to meetup for their party.  A couple of texts back and forth, and Mark was running over to pick up a boot kit that he would drag with him across the country for us…  Yeah lots of shops are helpful but I don’t know any shop who truly cares about customer the way Mark and LT do…  And we’re not the only ones with a Metal Tech story like this, one includes Mark pulling a shock off their truck and handing over to a customer so they could make it back home a couple hundred miles away.

After we’d eaten, dried off and put a few more miles behind us, the adventure began to transition back into a lazy romp through hills filled with cattle and the occasional dear. The miles seemed to effortlessly roll by as we made our way to where we would call home for the night.  The sun was high in the sky and the ground bone dry as we dropped off the route heading down to Currant Creek Reservoir to find a camp site.

Sitting around a camp fire with friends has to be one of the best things in life.  With summer in full swing and the fire danger set at beyond extreme (Colorado is on fire) we’ve been sitting around the camp lantern at night.  But this evening we were having a fire (approved by the camp host in designed fire pit).  Before this adventure, Brad and the Other Paul didn’t really know each other well.  However by the time the fire and whiskey were just about done, we were all peas in a pod. I sat by the glowing embers with a smile knowing this off-road adventure was already a success, now as the two of them teamed up to direct their sarcastic wit in my direction. Something about my spelling, arbitrary punctuation and random missing words…  but they still keep reading the my stories…  I personally like to think my “writing style” allows the reader to fill in the blanks and create their own story.

Currant Creek Camp sits right on the reservoir at 8,000 feet elevation tucked into the hillside. Still early in the night, the long day had us ready to hit the bunks.  The Other Paul headed into his tent while Brad and I crawled into our bags under the stars. Earlier we’d decided to doubled down and test our luck, deciding to go without tarp above us so we could now drift off under the twinkle of the stars.

Next : Utah Backcounty Discovery Route Day 5