Oregon’s 4-Wheeling Gem

Oregon’s Tillamook Forest  Off Highway Vehicle area offers off-road adventurers one of the best 4×4 areas in the west.  250 miles of trails that range in difficulty from easy forest roads to sever, you’re going to have to trailer your rig right to the shop and everything in between.  While the 4×4 trails are open to all, there are several trails designated for motorcycle and quad use only allowing everyone to find the off-road experience they are looking for.

The off-road trails are well marked and the Oregon Department of Forestry puts out  the Tillamook Forest OHV area map clearly identifying all the trails, their difficulty level and vehicle usage. This area is a working forest and occasionally sections will be closed for logging.  Trail closures are posted on the OHV trail report along with lots of other useful information.  To help ensure this area remains cared for and open for recreational 4×4 use a permit sticker is required for each vehicle using the OHV area and can be purchased at many of the local stores along the highway in route.

The Tillamook Forest OHV area is very family oriented with day use and large improved camping areas such as Browns Camp or Jordan Creek.  If you enjoy a little more rustic experience, you will find numerous secluded dry camp areas throughout the OHV area.  As you would expect camp sites fill up quickly on the weekends while you will have your choice of sites during the work week.

With so many trail options, the Tillamook Forest OHV area is the perfect location to build up your driving skills, and there is nothing that can replace seat time behind the wheel when it comes to off-road adventures.  Because of the hours we’ve spent driving trails like “Firebrake 5”, “Hog’s Back” or “Cedar Tree”, when we came to a washout that had completely destroyed the route, on our Baja off-road adventure, dropping into a boulder filled dry river bed felt comfortable and allowed us to keep going.  In fact many of the situations we run into on our more secluded, solo overland style off-road adventures, present little worry because of the hours of practice we’ve put in driving all levels of 4×4 trails in OHV areas like the Tillamook Forest.

Only a couple of hours from Portland, Oregon and even less from the Oregon coast this area provides endless opportunities to wheel hard all day and still enjoy the many other sights and sounds of the pacific northwest.  The Tillamook Forest Off Highway Vehicle area is truly Oregon’s 4-wheeling gem.

BFGoodrich’s KM2 Mud Tires First Impressions

Our off-road adventures take us to places where AAA is not an option.  On our adventures we drive our FJ Cruiser over dirt, boulders and rocks that eat tires for breakfast.  In addition we usually have to cover thousands of miles of asphalt to find the end of the road.  Well built, tough as nails tires are not an luxury, they are a necessity.

A few days back we received a set of BFGoodrich Mud-Terrain T/A KM2 tires to test out on our off-road adventures.  The KM2 is BFGoodrich’s second generation of their toughest “E” rated off-road tire.  The KM2 protects against punctures with three layers of polyester and two more belts of steel.  In addition BFGoodrich wraps the KM2 with three ply sidewall construction to resist cuts and bruises in order to take the edge off of rocks and other off-road hazards.

We chose to mount the 285x75x17 KM2 tires on our Walker Evens beadlock wheels and balance the mud tires with Dyna Beads.  The first thing we noticed is that these tires look good on our Toyota FJ Cruiser.  Aggressive tread blocks and 34″ stance, these BFGoodrich KM2 tires seem to weep testosterone.

In order to get a good first impression of these BFGoodrich tires we decided to leave the state and head over to Browns Camp Off-Highway-Vehicle (OHV) area in Oregon’s Tillamook Forest.

Mud tires are notoriously loud on the highway however BFGoodrich’s KM2 Mud tires were surprisingly quiet and smooth as we motored the 300 miles of highway down to Browns Camp.  The tires provided good road feel as we navigated the twisty asphalt that leads through the foot hills of the coastal range to the trail head.

At the trail head we aired down allowing the tires to soften the bumps and ruts of the trails.  On the dirt and gravel we easily made our way as the KM2 Mud tires dug in and carried us over the 4×4 trails.

When it came to the tougher rock crawling sections of firebreak 5 we discovered that we had left way too much air in the tires.  At 28psi the tires could not conform and grab the boulder’s edges.  The smart thing to do would have been to bleed off 10 psi and let the tires work for us…  that would have been the smart thing to do.  We kept the tires at 28 psi, worked back and forth through the steep boulder infested hill and climbed to the top.

For this initial impression we drove 600 miles of highway and spent a full day driving several levels of trails (easy, moderate and difficult, we stayed away from the extreme and sever rated trails…  after all we still had to drive home).  Our first impression is that the KM2 provides solid performance on and off-road.  The KM2s are well behaved on the road and deliver good footing off-road (next time we’ll give firebreak 5 a try with 18 psi). Over the next few months we’ll count on these tires to take us on several more off-road adventures and we will let you know how they perform.

Surviving A Roadside Emergency

Back in the 80’s Brad and I took a road trip to Yellowstone National Park.  Miles from anywhere our car’s fuel pump gave out.  We were stuck on a dirt road that maybe saw another car once every day or so.  Fast forward to today and I can add a couple of dead batteries, several flat tires, black ice spin out, two snow closed passes and a blown engine to the list of things that have left me stranded on the side of the road in less than ideal conditions.

Changing a tire on a warm afternoon on a quiet level country road is no big deal.  Changing a tire in the dark on the  side of the highway when it’s 40 degrees and raining, lacks entertainment value. Over the years I have managed to put together an emergency roadside kit that takes the sting out being stuck on road and makes most bad situations bearable.  These days I always have a emergency roadside kit in the trunk of all my vehicles even if I’m just going to the grocery store.

Our roadside emergency kit is easy to build up and is filled with items you probably have lying around the house.

Start with an old gym bag or duffel. Even your daughter’s pink “My Favorite Pony” school backpack will do.   You just need something to keep all your supplies together.  Once you have your recycled book bag in hand, gather up the following items and stuff them in.

  1. Jumper cables – I’m surprised at how many people with a dead battery who have asked me for a jump, follow it by “Do you have jumper cables?”.
  2. Wool blanket – Coming home from eastern Washington, WADOT closed the pass for avalanche control and I spent four hours waiting for the all clear under a warm blanket while the snow continued to fall.  Wool retains it’s ability to keep you warm even when wet and is one of the most important items in the kit.
  3. Household cleaning gloves – I’ve reached into mucky wheel wells to work snow chains around a tire and pulled crow parts from the grill.  Waring long, heavy duty, rubber household cleaning gloves made it much less traumatic.
  4. Personal first aid kit – No one enjoys driving with a throbbing headache or having you’re allergies kick into high gear as you drive by miles of hay fields.  A simple first aid kit will let you take care of yourself (or one of the kids) and get you back on the road before it becomes a serious problem.
  5. Duct tape – You can fix anything with duct tape.
  6. Pocket knife / Leatherman tool – I’ve pulled out a pocket knife for just about everything including cutting duct tape in order to splint my finger after slamming it in door.
  7. Bottles of water – You can go for weeks without food, but you will quickly start to dehydrate in dry conditions and can die within a few days without water.  I’ve also grabbed a water bottle to wash dirt out a friend’s eye when the wind kicked up, swirling dust everywhere.
  8. Road flares – Ever change a tire on the side of the road…  in the dark?  I have.  It’s important to let on-coming traffic know you’re there.  We like flare over reflectors since a flare can be used to start a signal fire in the wettest conditions if things really go south.
  9. Safety vest – It’s not much of a fashion statement but the more visible you are the better.  On the side of the road or from a rescue helicopter you want to be seen.
  10. Whistle – Yelling for help will only be heard so far and eventually your voice will tire, but a whistle can be blown forever and is a universal call for attention.
  11. Compass – Ff you do have to leave your vehicle and hike out, you want to know where you’re going.  A compass will let you get your bearings and trek a straight line.
  12. Plastic shower curtain liner – $7.00 at any Walmart and you instantly have an emergency shelter, ground tarp, rain poncho, oil catch, knelling mat for changing a tire in the mud, …  There are no limits to what you can do with a plastic shower curtain liner, and it comes folded up in a neat little package that will take very little space.
  13. Flashlight / headlamp (and batteries) – Be sides helping you look into the dark corners of your vehicle to find a fuse you dropped, a light waving by your side as you walk down the highway to a gas station will make you visible to traffic so you don’t become a roadside memorial.
  14. Yard sized trash bag –  From rain coat to dirty close bag to dead body disposal,  the usage opportunities for a large trash bag rival that of duct tape.
  15. Parachute cord – This is another one of those endless use items.  Lashing down a loose tarp  or turning that shower curtain liner into a shelter, in an emergency the uses are only limited by your imagination.
  16. Toilet paper – If you’ve ever used leaves than you don’t need to ask why.
  17. Lighters/matches/magnesium fire stick – You’ll need something to lite a fire if you are really in a bad situation and need a fire.

While these are the basics that should be in your emergency travel kit, there is plenty of room to personalize it with your own flare.  Consider what your family needs are and plan accordingly to include other useful items such as: baby wipes, signal mirror, towel, travel pillow, rubber boots, work gloves or a good book to kill time while you wait for the tow truck.  If you need other ideas take a look at the Red Cross’ survival kits.

Years of road trips have taught us that being prepared means being equipped with the proper supplies that you may need in the event of a road trip emergency or just a flat tire in the rain.

Dreaming of the Road Less Traveled

Sometimes the desire to take the road less traveled comes in a moment when you can’t take the road at all.  Your only option is to imagine the trip for another day. This morning was one such occasion. The day was perfect for a road trip. It was not too hot or too cold. It was not too bright or too cloudy, and everything in view seemed as if it were as it was meant to be. I was traveling east on I-96 at dawn in Michigan heading toward Detroit when the desire to just keep on driving washed over me. I get it. I was already driving, so…?

To me, there is driving and there is driving. We drive to get where we need to go. That’s driving. Then we drive for the sake of the act of driving, for the sake of the road, and for the sake of what is possible when we are on the road. That was the kind of driving urge that hit me. I started to think of the highways that triangulate the state of Michigan and how in a relatively short amount of time I could take them all. Then I started to feel light and free. As the notion of the route unfolded in my mind, I realized the very real therapeutic value of such a trip and it became more than an urge. It became a need; a bonafied desire to hit the road.

Michigan has a relatively uncomplicated highway system that has a deliberate design toward getting goods and people from one end to the other efficiently. It starts with I-96, which stretches from Muskegon to Detroit, passing my neighborhood at its midpoint. Moving eastward, I-96 becomes one of my favorite roads, I-696. A cement royo cut through the base of the northern suburbs of Detroit, 696 is like a raceway for drivers who love a fast ride through a four-lane cement tunnel of over passes and narrow on and off ramps that look like stairwells designed to dispense new obstacles in the paths of the drivers already on board.

I remember the day that I-696 opened. I was so excited for it that I scheduled a meeting in Sterling Heights that day so I could be one of the first to drive it. I got up early and left at 6 a.m. It was a clear sunny day and when I hit 696, there was no one in front of me. It was just me and that beautiful new 4 lane track tunneling through SE Michigan. Acutely aware of its raceway design, I abandon all concern for the number of police cars that might be strategically hidden on those narrow merge ramp-wells and opened up. By the time I hit the first Dequindre Rd. exit sign, I was cursing at 120 mph with no one in front of me and no one in my rearview mirror. I chalked that drive up as one of the best days ever. It was beautiful. I am an hour and 5 minutes into my trip.

Where I-696 meets I-75 it becomes the bottom left angle of this equilateral triangle route I was dreaming of. I-75, is the grandfather of highways in Michigan; making I-94 the great and decrepit uncle. I-94 being too far south from my goal, was not a part of this open road fantasy, but I-75 was elemental with its Bi-polar attitude towards drivers and its role in moving traffic through Michigan. At this point, I-75 is narrow-minded and unforgiving. He is begrudging in his willingness to let vehicles pass along his corridors. Unpleasant and congested he dares one to mount his pavement and accept the challenge of navigating him. It is a challenge worth taking. The prize is reaching the point at which he opens up smooth, wide and passable, where the air changes north of Flint and you sense that you’ve just progressed across a new parallel where the air is clearer and cleaner and the views immensely more scenic. I-75 ends at the Mackinaw Bridge 4 hours north, where the apex of the triangle can be found. I stop and take in the view of the straights and recall the countless trips my gram and grandpa took us on across to Mackinaw Island when we were kids contemplating my route west to where 31 leads down the beautiful west side of Michigan. I won’t follow 31 immediately though because there is a better way.

There is M-119, arguably the most beautiful highway in the state. For a moment, I drop down I-75 south toward 127; the highway that dissects the state and the triangle of my route splitting it in two equal parts, until I pick up Levering Rd. to M119, the Tunnel of Trees. M 119 winds narrowly and delicately for more than 20 miles along the north east shore of Lake Michigan through Harbor Springs, around Little Travers Bay and into Petoskey where it meets 31. I am 7 hours into my trip, only because I stopped for lunch in Mackinaw City, Cross Village, Harbor Springs, or Petoskey to relax, refresh and watch the water for a moment while I stretch my legs. Along M-119 the curve are as succulent as a young woman’s body draped in a thin veil of leafy lace. Around which one is most likely to confront a cyclist, motorcycle, or narrow hidden drive.

31 is the left angle of the triangle. It too is lovely in the way it weaves through countless small, quaint northern Michigan harbor towns. This is the toughest part of the trip as it is nearly impossible not to stop at every single one or stop at an intriguing road side stand filled with pies, jams, or organic produce or bitter cherries in between. Like M-119, 31 is a narrow two lane highway that requires deft attention to the wheel and the road when the desire is to watch the view all the way to Muskegon, where I-96 meets me again. There are no 120 mph stretches here. I am now 11 hours in to my dive.

At 7:00 p.m. I arrive home, only because I stopped for a half an hour to pick up dinner. By now I have taken I-96 from end-to-end, and I have consumed the majority of the lengths, if not all of the lengths of the others as well.  I have seen every corner of the state, save the southern border and traveled more than 600 miles. I’ve crossed the Zilwakee Bridge and seen the waters of the great lakes, but mostly, I drove. As I enter my home, no one the wiser, I imagine my family asking how my day was. I imagine myself smiling and telling them, “It was perfect.”

Tomorrow, I ride.