It’s Thursday, our FJ Cruiser, the Blue Bunny, is fully packed and sitting out front of work like a beacon to the weekend’s off-road adventure. Punch the clock at noon and I’m out the door to jump start the long weekend adventure. This is going to be great.
By 12:05p.m. I’m on I5, stuck in traffic trying to get out of Seattle. The speedometer registers 10mph… when we’re moving at all that is. A cool breeze is caressing my face, uninhibited by the Meta Tech 4×4 tube doors that hang in the space once occupied by factory sheet metal and glass. Other drivers wave. Some inquire where we’re going. I smile and shout back to each probe; “Heading off the grid in central Oregon.”
2:30p.m. and the traffic snarls of Seattle, Tacoma and JBLM are a distant memory. This is going to be great.
Just south of Olympia, Washington the speed limit jumps to 70 MPH. It is at this point the clouds unload. A few drops at first. Then a bit stronger. A mile further we’re driving in a monsoon with winds pushing rain sideways through the large opening to my left and right. Every 18 wheeler that rolls by creates a mix of water, oil and road grime that washes into the cabin. An inch of water is pooling in the floor mats. I’m wiping down the inside of the windshield with a towel, everything I own is getting wet.
This adventure is not off to a great start.
By the time we reach Portland, Oregon the rain is a manageable sprinkle but commuters desperate to return home have created gridlock. All ODOT message boards read: “Congested Traffic Ahead”.
I’m wet, in need of fuel and looking at cranky in the review mirror. Wilsonville, Oregon means a stop for gas and a quick howdy to family who offer a dry towel.
You really can’t say a quick hello to family who live 300 miles away. There is the obligatory one beer. Stories of the girls soccer game. How’s work going questions and the polite chit chat that follows. The clock reads 8:00p.m. and I’m starting to fidget. We have to get on the road. It’s still another four hours to our destination.
Despite being off schedule, the time spent with John and the girls is exactly what was needed. The rain has let up. The traffic is light again and the sun is casting its late evening colors across a darkening sky. I’m dry (ish) and heading south once more. This is going to be great.
You don’t normally consider hypothermia a threat while driving down the highway. Cruising up the mountain passes the temperature is quickly falling into the low forties. Add to that the windchill factor of tube doors, combined with a general dampness that clings to every article of clothing and you can see how the gods have conspired to lower the entertainment value of this trip. I man up, one hand on the steering wheel while the other is perched over the open heater vent until it is warm enough to take its turn on the wheel.
I spent a great deal of my youth camping, fishing and exploring the headwaters of the Metollious River. In those days, I never had reason to keep going. These days, if you want to get away, you have to keep going.
Google map’s directions call for a right onto a forest road before Camp Sherman. According to Google, forest road 1400 makes a few turns and intersects with FR 1490. The problem is Google’s directions, the forest road numbers and my vague memory aren’t lining up. Drive a mile or two down the gravel road, look at the directions, check the map, turn around try the other direction… It’s 1:00a.m.! Emotional turmoil does not begin to describe this mess! It’s time to stop!
Camp ground after camp ground along the headwaters and all spots are occupied with trailers, RVs and blaze orange tents or worse, big “reserved site” signs. Since when do they take reservations here!! Oh my hell, it’s the middle of the week, don’t these people have jobs??!! The one open spot I can find in the dark is next to the outhouse, across from the garbage bins with ground that slops down hard to the left.
The night is black as ink, misty and cold. No camp niceties tonight, just get the tarp up and sleeping bag down so i can warm up and grab a few winks.
The trip may have gotten off to a rocky start but morning brings a renewed vigor. Armed with a couple maps, my sidearm, and the desire to get off the grid we orient and motor past the general store, by Wizard Falls and beyond lower bridge where the pavement ends. Twenty five miles of dirt road, not recommended for passenger cars, trailers or anyone concerned with their suspension separates us from our destination.
Crushed red lava rock gives way to exposed football sized stones and washboard as we endeavored to persevere This is going to be great.
The Metolius River’s head waters gush directly out of the mountain side. It is a site that seems to contradict conventional thought. By the time the Metolius reaches Lake Billy Chinook, the gentle spring creek has turned into a raging river. Camp Monty sits where the two waters collide. No cell coverage, no electricity, no potable water and no one else here! This is going to be great.
For the next few days we venture out exploring unnamed two tracks. A few clouds break up the blue sky. The sun’s rays warm our face and a light breeze is at our back. Song birds sing their tune. Ground squirrels dart back and forth across the trail ahead of us. Our pace is slow, we’re in no hurry. Each time we round a bend, the trees open up to valley views that stretch for miles before us. In the distance Mt Jefferson and Black Butte make their presents known. And still we haven’t seen anyone else. This is a great adventure!