Say western Washington and most people think Seattle, Mt. Rainer and the Cascade Mountains. All worth exploring but if you want to find a little small town ruralness that offers more seclusion and unlimited exploring than keep heading west until you run into the Olympic National Forest. The forest buffers the Olympic National Park and remains vehicle friendly.
Over the years I’ve spent a little time exploring the Olympics on foot tackling trails, summitting a few peaks and glacading down Elenore. Now I can add driving the back roads to that list.
Improved campgrounds dot the hood canal and state forest, offering family camping right along the pavement. But venture down the numerous forest roads exploring the two-track spurs and you will find endless possibilities for primitive, dispersed camping. No outhouses or running water. This is camping in the dirt.
In the summer months you don’t need massive tires, lockers or 4WD to explore the back-roads. In fact you’re more likely to come across a Subaru forester or VW micro-bus than built up 4×4 as you pass the countless hiking trails drawing backpackers deep into the Olympic Forest from the north and east.
The hardest part of exploring the forest roads that encircle the Olympic National Park is consistently finding fuel. While the northern section brings you close to many larger communities, the little towns along the rest are just as likely as not to have “out of order” signs hanging from their pumps. Although fuel may be scarce, local color is everywhere. Stop at any of the little general stores and start up a conversation.
The eastern side is popular with the day hikers, backpackers and mountaineers. The west side offers an opportunity to explore rain forest, light houses, Indian culture or the sea caves of Cape Flattery, the most northwest point in the continental U.S.
Along the north the you find more choices to explore. A drive to Obstruction Peak is the one road that puts you into the heart of the Olympic National Park. The Dungeness Spit is a birders dream. Deer Park camp ground is perfect for those who hope to catch a glimpse of deer, bear or even cougar.
Cooking on trail, sleeping under the stars, exploring unlimited forest roads is hard to beat. It is also hard to beat ending an off-road adventure with a cold drink, good burger, fries and funky 50’s style. The Hiway101 Diner in Sequim, is our go to joint for milk shakes and great food anytime we’re close.
Need a day, a week or a month away and want to explore an area that few people know? Pack your bags, load your truck and head to the Olympic Peninsula. You wont be disappointed.
There are times when I want to reconnect with friends, get outdoors and simply enjoy a simple, uncomplicated off-road adventure. For me the Naches Wagon Trail is just that. This 4×4 trail follows the historic pioneer route over the Cascade Mountains and intersects the Pacific Crest Trail. Filled with spectacular views, interesting terrain and the occasional historic land mark, it is exactly what the weekend is made for.
For the last five years the Northwest FJ Cruisers Club has put together an overnight on the eastern side of the Cascades in the heart of the Naches Basin. Besides the historical trail over the pass, the Naches Basin is filled with forest roads and 4×4 trails to explore including routes to Moon Rocks and Funny Rocks. Every year in July the NWFJCC goes out exploring.
But this off-road adventure was planned as a relaxing jaunt over the pass with Other Paul. He in his legendary Defender 90 and I in the Blue Bunny. We were not in a hurry. Our goal was to simply arrive in time for dinner and spend the evening around the fire with old friend.
The 4×4 trail over the pass can be tight in places but the two of us easily picked our way over the rocks and debris, squeezing past trees and through the narrow gullies. The easy pace and quiet of the forest provided time to contemplate the journey that must have seemed endless to the pioneers who’s entire life was stuffed into covered wagons that had to be dragged over these mountains. These days with 250 plus horses under the hood the journey almost seems effortless.
I enjoy Other Paul’s company on these adventures. He is a extremely bright, articulate and a truly thoughtful individual. Always looking out for others and effortlessly sliding into the role of a leader for those less experienced around him. His philosophical mind constantly challenges me to a mental debate without point out every flaw in my logic. Easy going and resourceful, Other Paul is the friend I have come to count on.
We arrived at the club’s base camp to find them still out exploring the trails. Pitching his tent and I, my bivi and prayer flags, we quietly went about our business of setting up and preparing dinner before we spotted the first of the club’s rigs returning. First one, then a another and before long the group was back and we were exchanging greetings with old friends and introductions to new folks.
Maybe it goes back to our days in the cave or maybe its just in our DNA but it seems to be universal. A campfire is for cooking hot dogs and roasting marshmallows. Its heat draws everyone in close on a cold, clear, star filled night. Its a beacon back to camp after a trip to the outhouse. It is the center of the conversation and the focus of silent stares. Its flames keep us safe from the wild and it’s smoke stays off the mosquitoes. Hissing and popping a campfire speaks volumes and its last glowing embers announce the time turn in. A campfire is magical.
As I said good bye to Other Paul in the morning I joined a few others from the club returning back home on the wagon trail heading west in an effort to extend the weekend’s adventure for a few more hours.
A casual off-road adventure, good friends and a campfire. Turned out to be just what was needed. The Naches Wagon Pass is one of the must do trails in the northwest that everyone should take the time to enjoy.
I’ve never regretted a day on the trail. Until today. Now, I haven’t been wheeling all of my life. I haven’t even been doing it for a full decade. But as with any set of complex skills that require learning by doing, I’ve had my share of “bad days” on the trails. There are many things I would have done differently. Different lines. Different execution. Different attitude. But not once did I seriously wish I’d been somewhere else.
That’s all changed. I made the trip from Seattle to Portland to spend some time with an old friend in my favorite offroad area, the Tillamook State Forest. I was hoping too, also make some new club friends as I joined them in exploring an area of the forest in which I’d never been.
The day started out promising with a short, middling 4×4 trail to get warmed up, followed by some forest roads — including crossing a few of the sizable snow fields that remained. The rest of the day was spent engaged in serious, nearly non-stop vehicular bushwhacking through massive overgrowth down The Road (much) Less Traveled.
I can see the eyeballs rolling. Pinstripes. Big deal. This is just part of the bargain, wheeling forest trails in the Pacific Northwest. But this was different. This was not (now) a trail so much as a glint of a promise of an opening through birch and fir groves. Neither was this a matter of the occasional stripe. Imagine, instead, an automated car-wash in which the brushes have been replaced by (say) blackberry — or angry wolverines. Or maybe, think of polishing your truck with a line trimmer. You get the idea. And then there are the ragged stalactite limbs of blow-down triangulating on the trail, threatening to tear through the soft top. Ten hours of driving (round trip) to take a beating like this on a mostly unmaintained trail? I don’t think so.
Well, so, why? Why continue? That’s a terrific question, for which I don’t think there’s a single answer. Part of it, I think, is the lemming-like inertia associated with finding oneself in the middle of all of this, in the middle of a pack, with no easy way out. But more on this later.
Another part of it has to do with trust, or better, with charity: with the idea that, however bleak things seem at the moment, it can’t go on like this. And, further: there must be some fantastic trail or vista or other compensating good not otherwise obtained.
These expectations were soundly thwarted on all fronts. It could go on like this — and did. There was no other trail; this was the trail. Happily, the trail did lead to a quite spectacular view, which but for the marine layer, would have afforded a view of the Pacific, as well as Mounts Hood and Rainier and St. Helens. But this very view could have been easily obtained, minus the risk, by a mere 13 or so miles of forest road capped by a few hundred yards of significantly less overgrown and clearly much more frequently traveled trail.
And so the path taken was unnecessary for attaining the splendid vista, and along the way presented but one or two brief sections that posed much technical challenge. (Whatever else it might be, the challenge of separating paint from body by navigating through heavy brush is not itself a test of driving skill. Avoiding obstacles lining the narrow trail while tending to the distraction posed by overgrowth is another thing entirely.) But then the certain risk of even cosmetic damage was wholly disproportionate to attaining that wonderful view. And of course there are many other trails in the Tillamook State Forest OHV system that offer vastly more technical bang for the buck (and across all skill and experience levels) as well as providing spectacular vistas.
Certainly the journey is at least as important as the destination. And some destinations are very fine indeed. But not just any route is warranted by the destination, however fine. And some routes, perhaps, are less traveled for good reason.
OK. Deep breath. Now, exhale….
Venting has its place (and not just with brake rotors), but one of the things that’s always appealed to me about wheeling is the pace. And it’s a pace that — or me, anyway — lends itself well to reflection. And both in, and after, this experience, I’ve reflected a bit on the relationship between trail leader and participant.
Of course, the role of the trail leader is not one but many. (These many roles can effectively be distributed across multiple individuals in a group, as it’s a rare individual indeed who can do them all well. But that’s a story for another day.) And these roles involve trip preparation as well as situational thinking at run time. Among the former are to ensure, so far as reasonable, that prospective participants have (among other things):
for the trail(s) to be run.
Tuning expectations could be as simple as noting in a pre-run email — or at least in a drivers meeting before hitting the trail — that the route to the run’s destination hasn’t been maintained since Land Rover stopped producing Series trucks, and consequently that on a pinstripe scale from 0-5 (5 being the worst), this one goes to 11.
This sort of informative, relevant pre-run communication is simple, cheap and relatively painless. Leaders can use follow up email (as needed) to further probe prospective participant’s level of preparation and experience. Prospective participants can use the information to gauge interest, self-assess their own preparedness — following up with the run leader as needed — and, perhaps, to opt out.
On this run, alas, the information that would have been most salient for me went without saying. No content rich pre-run emails. No real drivers meeting. Nothing of note communicated over the radio during the run. I do remember, however, before we launched into the warm-up trail (which was completely bereft of pinstripe opportunities), the trail leader strolling past the truck and saying something about enjoying pinstripes half under his breath. I didn’t know then what was to come.
Salient for me. For me. That’s it, isn’t it? Where am I in all of this, as a participant? I’m not at all shy, really, of the realities of wheeling in the forest. And yet on this run my expectations were dashed, with all of the side effects that ensued — not the least of which was a thoroughly unenjoyable day.
So what’s my role in this unhappy chain of events, or, at least, what should it be? Well, pretty clearly the right model of the leader/participant relationship here isn’t an active – passive one. This is sometimes easy to forget; it’s can be seductive to leave the “work” to others and just settle in and cruise. Ultimately we are responsible for ourselves on the trail (as elsewhere): picking a line, recovery, trail repair, food and water and shelter — and speaking up when things seem sideways.
As with trail leadership, this can start well before ever setting rubber to dirt — e.g., by asking questions when relevant bits of information haven’t been explicitly provided:
What trails will we be running?
What specific challenges and/or risks should I plan for?
What can I expect more generally?
If something comes up on the trail, stop and say something. Don’t let it pass over in silence and just hope it works itself out.
The bottom line is, participating on a run is no more passive than leading one. (And leading one responsibly isn’t at all passive, and it’s certainly more than providing an opportunity to play Follow the Leader.) Really, we are all collaborating on a successful run, even as we play different roles.
I wrote above that I find the pace of offroading to lend itself nicely to reflection. This reflection, in turn, can lead to self-discovery. For myself, on this trip I learned that sometimes there are limits to what I’m willing to endure; and that sometimes (as in other areas of my life) I can be too passive and less than sufficiently assertive (which of course isn’t a license to be a tool ;). Perhaps this doesn’t resonate for you. Good. But if it does, then as Gibbs once told DiNozzo, “Don’t be like me. Learn from it.”
Note about the Author: Paul Martin, often referred to as Other Paul on this website contributed this story. Other Paul has years of experience wheeling Toyota FJCs and 80 series and these days pilots a Land Rover Defender 90. He has been a key part of many of our adventures including the Utah Backcountry Discovery Route, Washington Backcountry Discovery Route and many local trail runs. Every opportunity to wheel with Other Paul is an opportunity to learn.
This is not a flash back tribute to 80’s rocker, Pat Travers. It’s the annual Northwest Fj Cruiser Club’s midnight 4×4 trail adventure. And like most things that go bump in the night, this off-road adventure had its ups, downs and a bang…
The NWFJCC Bad Moon Rising off-road adventure is held every spring under a full moon. 4WD rigs descend from all over Oregon and Washington, driving 100’s of miles to participate in this annual event that offers a chance to explore some of the Tillamook State Forest trials (TFS) before and after the sun goes down.
For a while now, work has really put a cramp on our off-road adventures… long work weeks spilling into the weekends and travel, have left little time to explore the road less traveled. Not that we’re complaining about having work, since many folks out there have it much worse. But it was time to get out and wheel.
The meetup for TSF runs is a local McDonald’s parking lot just outside of Portland where everyone gets the chance to catch up with old friends and meet new members. Rolling up early, we were happy to find a few old faces in the parking lot who immediately greeted us with an extended hand and a smile, reminding us of past good times with the club.
After a few Big Macs were gobbled down and everyone accounted for, it was time to move the convoy to the trail head, further down the highway toward the coast.
No matter how hard you try, it doesn’t take long for a dozen rigs to get strung out. Once on the highway, we shouted “cop on the left” over the CB but the folks in the back didn’t get the message and in their hurry to catch up, set off the all sorts of speed trap alarms and police cruiser lights… Tail Gunner was busted! Luckily a clean record and good speeding Karma allowed Curtis to drive away with just a cautionary word and soon caught up with the convoy some 20 miles down the road where everyone was fueling up and purchasing OHV permits.
Some folks have the misconception that four wheelers, rip through the woods, tossing out beer cans and tearing up bushes as they trash the trails…. Nothing could be further from the truth. Most of us are responsible wheelers, sticking to the designated trails and keep a trash bag handy to pick up litter in an effort to preserve the land for everyone to use. The club takes great pride in its adoption of the Hood Raiser trail and the first hour or so of this event was spent working on the trail to clean up debris and maintain the water-bars that keep the trails well drained.
We’ve wheeled TFS a number of times… previous night runs, Bill Burke training, Black Friday runs… but it is never the same. Dirt and rock give way and shift each year as the northwest rain and snow work against the earth. And for some reason this time TSF seemed to perplex me on several of the trails.
Hog’s Back is a short steep climb ending with a rutty dug out obstacle before cresting the hill. The line I picked this time put our wheels in all the wrong places for going up and over the last twenty feet. After another failed attempt, I gave a shout out for a spot and received the guidance needed to make it to the top. The other drivers made it look easy.
Driving off-road in the dark is unlike anything else you will ever experience in a 4WD vehicle. Amazing twinkling starts, trees glowing in the moon light and the sound of the night. But the dark can also masquerade obstacles. making holes and ruts disappear into the shadows like monsters hiding under the bed. The great part about going out with the club is the support you get from others when you need help to get unstuck. One of the rigs, about half way through the convoy found one of those holes hiding just behind a tree root and in front of an incline. Pinned up within inches of a tree, the rig could not move forward or back without risking carnage from gravity’s effort to close that final inch between quarter panel and tree.
The getting unstuck procedure is simple: The driver remains in the rig, maintaining control over it, while others assess the situation and determine the best course of action. With headlamps adorned, spotters kept an eye on the tree as others had the driver turn the wheels back and forth to see if a simple tire repositioning might deliver the needed traction, without impaling the rig on the tree. The rig was stuck… and stuck in a spot on the trail where pulling it out with a strap was not possible.
Ever wandered why off-roads carry those big hi-lift jacks? It is not the best tool to change a flat tire or crack walnuts. It is however, the perfect tool to lift a wheel high into the air so that you can stack rocks or downed tree limbs under the tire to provide better traction and drive out of a deep whole. But lifting the wheel high enough to stack rocks under it, when mud is all around and the rig wants to lean into a tree can be a bit unnerving. Careful coordination, several logs stuff under the wheel and the efforts a few veteran spotters had Jeff cautiously easing his rig forward, without injury.
Further down the trail, fortunes were turning for the worse. The BJ60 is a shortish wheel base rig but Toyota gave it an extra long ass hanging off the back. Following Chris in his BJ was exhilarating as he skillfully pirouetted his diesel rig through the tight twist and turns. The rig’s long travel allowed it to gracefully sway as it lifted and dropped its wheels over the rocks. But as I watched him take the rig down through a tight obstacle, the rear wheel went bump and the tail end went bang… just a little… but enough. The back end of the quarter panel found a tree trunk leaning out into the trail. Just a ding, but still a scar that will need to be pulled out and painted to bring the old BJ60 back to her original beauty.
Looking to avoid combat with that belligerent overgrown fern, which now had a taste for paint and metal, I moved the Blue Bunny as far to the other side of the trail as possible. If the tree was the frying pan, than where I put the rig was hell’s own inferno. The rig was moving slowly down hill as the passenger side started to rise while the driver’s side began to dip. Each forward revolution of the wheel put the rig further off camber until it was clear that if I didn’t change this line, the situation was going to get catastrophic.
Time slows down as the brain goes into survival mode. By now Hula Betty had a severe lean off her dashboard perch and my pucker factor meter was somewhere up in my throat, cutting off the air supply to my larynx making it impossible to express out loud all the four-letter words that were racing across my brain’s synapses.
Still rolling forward, gravity was pulling over on the rig as I turn hard into the off camber lean, trying to come down off the passenger side obstacle. I don’t know whether it was clean living (it’s not that clean), the prayer flags or sheer dumb luck but the rig began to slowly right itself as we maintained the steedy downhill turn. Back on level ground, I took a breath, double checked my shorts and took stock. I had picked a bad line and it almost cost me. You can’t take anything for granted on the trail.
The remainder of the trail was uneventful as the convoy of rigs motored back to the parking area where we everyone chatted about the trails, aired up and started to plan the next wheeling event.
After midnight and the fog had closed in, holding all of us in a cold damp bear hug as drivers milled about saying their final goodbyes. The original plan was to camp over in TSF. Some might say I was trying to recapture my youth by reliving my all-nighter college road trip days. But between the damp chilly air and overload of adrenaline coursing through my veins, driving through the night back up to Seattle seemed like the thing to do. Besides, the thought of a warm bed and clean sheets was hard to shake as I looked around at the muddy ground. Jeff decided to follow my lead and drive up to Seattle with us, insuring there would be conversation over the CB to fight back any tired feeling.
I5 from PDX to SEA is pretty barren in the wee hours and we were cruising at an steady pace. When we hit Centralia, WA the Denny’s sign called us in with the promise of pie. You can’t really go to Denny’s and not order breakfast, so pie gave way to some sort of bacon, sausage, scrambler mix with hash browns… Oh I love those Denny’s hash browns. Jeff and I talked over coffee and late night (or early morning) breakfast. We shared a few tales of our past, talking about this, that and what not. I enjoyed a good breakfast, achieved a little caffeine buzz and learned a little more about one of the good guys I know, but never did get pie.
40 minutes farther north on I5, Jeff and I parted as we both made our ways home. By the time Hula Betty and I pulled into the driveway, the sun was up, birds were singing and early church goes were pulling out of the neighborhood. Laying my head on the pillow I thought about how lucky I was… Not for avoiding a roll-over (yes that was really, really, really, really, lucky), but for the good friends I have, my family and the fact I’m able to have an off-road adventure when so many others are doing all they can just to make the mortgage.
Special thanks to Tilly for several of the photos posted here.
Most people know “Black Friday” as the biggest shopping day of the year… That day after Thanksgiving, where half the population is sleeping off a tryptophan hangover and the other half is engaged in an assault on the local mall with the surgical precession of Eisenhower’s invasion of the Normandy beaches.
Holiday music, snowy decorations, half prices sales, unimaginable crowds… dogs and cats living together… mass hysteria! And although this could be the next big spectator sport, we prefer adventures that don’t create an occupy dressing rooms movement or watching sales clerks referee winner take all, customer cage match battles for the last 80 percent off, flat screen in stock.
The Northwest FJ Cruiser Club (NWFJCC) holds their annual alternative to a shopping hula palooza. Their Black Friday run, held in the Tillamook State Forest (TSF), is full of dirt, off-road adventure, good friends and fun times.
Back in the day… not that long ago… when I started out in 4×4 adventures, I knew very little about driving off-road. But I did know that a good local club can help anyone learn how to enjoy wheeling safely, improve skills and get unstuck without loosing an appendage.
The Northwest FJ Cruiser Club is one of those organizations where all skill levels and rigs are welcome. They have events that include trail runs, beach dunes, overnight camping and even a starlight run or two. And most importantly they help members improve their skills without ever making them feel bad or forcing them to try something beyond their comfort level.
The meetup was just off highway 26 and from there we all convoyed west to Brown’s Camp in the heart of Tillamook State Forest.
There is a little seldom told secret about 4wheeling… there is a lot of waiting around. We waited at the meetup… We waited for permit purchases at the mini-mart along the way… And at the trail head as we all air down and made last minute checks of our rigs.
Done right, this time in the waiting place is when you get a chance to meet new folks and catch up with old friends. This is the time to see who has worked on their rig since the last event and how they’re doing in the real world. We took advantage of this time to hand out LGRT stickers to anyone who wanted one.
The turn out on this run was eight rigs and a dozen or so folks. The count made for a good convoy size to cover lots of trails and still have time to enjoy the beautiful NW scenery and snap a photo or two along the way.
A week earlier, snow covered the hill. Since then, rains and winds pounded the area like a cow peeing on a flat rock, knocking down trees and washing away anything not nailed down. Today, sunshine, blue skies, 50 degree temperatures and trails that were in great shape. Most of the trials were dry(ish) with just a few muddy spots and we even managed to find a little left over snow before the day was done.
After pulling out of the staging area we wound through the wood and up along Power Line. Worked our way up to Hog’s Back. Made sure to run down Hood Raiser (NWFJCC maintained trail) and drove through Ceder Tree. The group cleared a blown down tree, got one of the rigs unstuck, fixed a flat and tested skills over a few obstacles.
Around 4:00 pm we found ourselves back at the trail head airing up for the drive home. Everyone shared their thoughts on the run and swore to get together soon.. at least before next years run. We said good buy to our old and new friends and caught a glimpse of a few rigs showing off their LGRT stickers as they pull away. The sight of our stickers on a rig always brings a smile to my face.
Have you ever wondered how club trail runs come together? Someone puts in a lot of time pre-running the trails and checking conditions. Someone spends time watch the weather reports, working the forums and sending out invitations. Someone puts together the list of attendants and ensures a balance across the group’s skill level. Someone sets up the meeting place, puts together directions and maps. Someone basically works their ass off. And that’s before the run.
During the run someone takes the trail boss role, deciding what trails are acceptable for the whole group, makes the call on position in the convoy and keeps everything moving along. Someone spots folks over obstacles and keeps the group safe. Someone works very hard to ensure everyone has fun.
On this Black Friday run that someone was Paul M (aka the other Paul). Paul is an outstanding trail boss and generally a great guy who we’ve gone out wheeling with a number of times. We never say it enough so let me say it here… Thank You Paul! Thank you for making this run another successful Black Friday where no sales clerks were hurt in the making of this off-road adventure.
Bonus feature: video captured of our run up Hog’s Back
The Colorado landscape is amazing. Driving the off-road trails that crisscross the continental divide we encountered groves of aspens, wide open meadows, tall jagged peaks, remnants of snow filling the shadows and patches of colorful wild flowers. We saw deer, marmot, countless birds and chipmunks. And we saw our friends.
We (Hula Betty and I) were invited to join Metal Tech at the fifth annual FJ Summit in Ouray, CO. and more importantly I was allowed to drive their rig on the trails. If you don’t know, Metal Tech has been developing a rear long travel for the FJ Cruiser and this event was their rig’s coming out party. Sure on the ramp you can see all that articulation with 14+ inches of travel packed into the rear shocks and springs. However what really counts is putting your butt in the seat and driving.
WOW! Amazing! Wholy Crap! none of these begins to describe the agility Metal Tech’s rear long travel delivers. I was cautiously motoring over the trail when I heard LT say “Let it Go”… I picked up the speed and aimed for the obstacles. The suspension responded without hesitation. The wheels climbed over rocks and dropped into cracks with the rig maintaining a smooth level ride over everthing. The other rigs on the run we were leading came over the CB with mixed messages… That was E’ffing amazing to watch… but slow down we’ll never be able to keep up.
This is what suspension is supposed to do! I’m pretty sure I got so excited by how well the rig behaved that I wet myself and Metal Tech cool new seats too… although that is another story.
When I finally climbed out of the driver’s seat and handed back the keys, I was hooked. The rest of the trail was me asking LT and Mark to explain everything about their rear long travel and how they managed to get so much flex, travel and handling while retaining all the on-road manners. We talked about the squat and anti-squat characteristics, progressive springs, longer trailing arms and the math that went into it all… Butt time in the seat is what counts.
As we lead this off-road adventure, the 4×4 trail exposed unbelievable views. We stop to explore long abandon mines and old, ghost filled, home steads. We checked out the old dwellings and got a sense of the harshness this land must have presented to those hardy pioneers who settled this area long ago.
For the rest of the day of wheeling and exploring, my mind was a buzz working up how I would rationalize to Hula Betty why the Blue Bunny must have a Metal Tech rear long travel upgrade! I’ve played the mid-life crisis card a couple of times already so this is going to take a little more creativity.
While not recommended, letting your thoughts drift as you drive down the highway is a favorite past time for many. On the trail, letting your attention drift usually results in carnage or at the very least, dings and dents. At times on this off-road adventure I swear it seemed like we were driving on a wide hiking trail rather than a 4×4 trail (not to worry my Tread Lightly friends, it was a marked 4×4 trail… just a very narrow one).
Awhile back we played in the Naches area camping and wheeling with friends. Coming back we took the historic Naches Wagon Trail over the Cascades. There is something about wheeling on historic trails that gives you a sense of how lucky we are to stand on the shoulders of the men and women who came before us. Living in the Pacific Northwest is a blessing often taken for granted by those of us who did not endure the hardships of getting here. While I try to honor the past and the accomplishments of others, I can only hope my children will stand a little taller because of the legacy I leave behind… what ever that maybe.
But in the mean time we will focus on our driving and squeezing down the trail. Be the camel… naa naa naa naa naaaa.
When we go on a 4×4 off-road adventure the video camera is always on… After three days with the NWFJCC in the Naches Area we had hours of video. One of the great things is that we get to see all the fun times and relive the off-road adventure. And even though we watched all the hours, we know you don’t want to… come on be honest… you can only watch rigs and listen to us babble so long before the drone of engines and voice overs puts you into a catatonic, schizophrenia, give me a gun suicidal state of mind.
So here is ten minutes, of three days in the Naches Area… be sure to check out breakfast and see some of the cast of players on this adventure.
The shortest distance between two points is a straight line… And yes for all you math majors in the crowd I know a line is straight by definition and a straight line is redundant but that is just how the saying goes.
Late last night around the fire we came up with the idea of a fancy sit down breakfast… Eggs, bacon, english muffins, patties of foil wrapped butter, jam in little single serving tubs, OJ in glasses, endless pots of hot coffee, real dishes, silverware and waitresses who magically appear when your water glass is empty. Half a dozen rigs descended on Whistlin’ Jack lodge. It wasn’t a pretty sight. Sure we’d washed off the top layer of dirt the night before, but this was still a pretty ragtag looking group.
Over the sound of clinking glasses, knocking dishes and silverware, ten different conversations were going on at once. Couples telling the stories about how they met, their pet names for each other like “funny retard”, who was looking for a new job and what was planned for the rest of the summer. Turns out this was the lodge where Curtis and Maryalice were married at not that long ago so we thought about honoring them with a moment of silence… not that we did… but we thought about it.
Eventually the conversation turned to the drive home… Some would be heading east, a few west and a couple south. For the Seattle bound crew the idea was pretty simple… Rather than head around the mountain on highway 410, lets go straight over taking the forest roads back to Greenwater. Now all we had to do was pay the tab, head back to camp, pack up and go.
Have you ever noticed how long goodbyes take when you are having a good time with great people. No one really wanted to go, but home was calling and sooner or later the realities of life would pull us all back in, leaving this weekend as only a fond memory in the minds of all. But we still had the drive over the mountain to look forward to and with four rigs we would make good time, see some beautiful views and stay off the blacktop a little longer.
We headed out cruising west through the woods kicking up dust and making good time as we turned onto Forest Road-1913. And than a little trail sign caught our eye… The Naches Wagon Trail is one of the historic trails carved out of the hillside by the pioneers as they dragged their wagons over the mountains looking for a better life in the Pacific Northwest. Abandon by the wagon train bosses when easier passes were found, today the historic trail is kept open as a 4×4 trail. Opened again to seasonal traffic the day before, this was a sign from the off-road adventure trail gods… so left it is.
Sitting in a rig with padded seats, independent suspension,12 inches of flex, 135 horses, loads of torque and you’re still digging your fingers into the steering wheel as you climb long steep hills of loose rock gives you only the slightest idea of what the early pioneers must have endured to drag their wagons up and down the trail. Although marked as an “Easy” section… the trail is definitely aimed at the motor cycles and narrower rigs as we squeezed by the scarred trees. There were times we’d of thought it was a wide hiking trail if not for the signs.
Even though the trail had just opened the day before, traffic was light with mostly the two wheeled guys working around us as we motored our way through the woods. Reaching the pass, the trail opens up to what can only be described as god’s country. Wide open lush green meadows that must have inspired the pioneers to push on to the valleys below in the land of milk and honey. We stopped to take it all in, pee.. again… and give the blood a chance to flow back into our white knuckles.
The maps say “More Difficult Steep Down Hill” ahead. What the maps don’t say is steep down hill with a giant gnarly stump sticking out of the hill side, its sole purpose to inflict damage on body panels that pass. The paint, wood scars and broken glass give testimonial to the stumps ability to inflict pain. Sensibility had been thrown out long ago, stories remained to be told, Hula Betty was dancing on the dash and there were still one or two tricks to teach these old dogs. Hey this is the historic Naches Wagon Trail and we ain’t had enough fun yet. We drove on.
At this point I need to bow and pay honor to Brian. I only thanked him a million times but it still feels insufficient. We looked at the stump sticking out, the dip in the trail that throws you into the stump, the up hill slide of loose dirt that throws you into the stump and small foot print size rock that may hold a tire and the fact that as best we could tell, gravity still worked… in the stumps favor. Think camel and eye of the needle… Putting our faith and mental well being in Brian’s hands we followed his spotting directions without question.
Get as close to the stump as you can… By close I mean fold your mirror in, push the driver’s side front tire sidewall into the stump, INCH your way forward. Listen for the pop as your front tire passes by the stump and regains its shape. At the moment your tire clears the stump you will have just enough room to pass a wisp of paper between your door panel and the stump… HOWEVER, if you’re on the line, your passenger’s side front tire will drop ever so slightly. Now turn into the stump… yes into the stump and hope your rig flexes ever so slightly away as you keep inching forward and pass your door and quarter panel by before you rub your rear tire against the stump and pop around… Thank you Brian, Thank you… thank you… thank you! Brian managed to work all the rigs pass unscathed… Even ours with it’s extra width front and rear.
There is a certain euphoria that takes over after successfully negotiating an obstacle that appeared impassable. Sure the rest of the trail was filled with branches that added some pin striping to the rig. But nothing that wouldn’t buff out and hell… It adds character. At least all the sheet metal was straight. We continued to move down the “Steep Hill” testing the rig’s flex and working through a couple more tight squeezes… But nothing like that stump… Finally we popped out onto Forest Road 70 where we had played only weeks before in the snow. We managed to complete the 25 mile run from camp in just under five hours with four rigs and not a single dent or ding… knock on wood. This deserved a celebration… And we still ain’t had enough fun yet!
You drive enough off-road trails and you notice one thing… There are a lot of Jeeps out there… a lot. CJs, YJ, JKs… lots of cool rigs that folks modded up for the 4×4 trails. Let’s face it, a lot of the trails are open and available to all of us because of the Jeep guys and the work they have done to keep them available to the wheeling public.
So when you see a dozen Toyota FJ Cruisers on the trail, lined up like pretty maids all in a row, you get a second or even a third look from folks. One Jeep guy we passed going the other way even gave me a high five (there is not much room on the trail to pass so yeah you can touch) as he exclaimed, “Cool… looks like a Toyota commercial”. Yup this was a FJ Cruiser take over… and one hell of a good time.
A lot of folks from the club came out for this run with a wide range of skill levels. In order to keep the groups manageable our tail master had arrange to split the group into two. One group would explore the fire roads and easier trials while the other tackled more complex stuff. We decided to go with the latter.
The complex stuff meant some heavily rutted areas, Aardvark Hill and some mud bogs that had the consistency of wet cement and smelled like a high school football teams rancid jock straps stuffed into a gym bag and left in the trunk on a hot summer day. Don’t ask how I know… just take my word on it… it stunk.
Aardvark Hill was the first challenge where the crew thought it best to get out and walk the hill. 100 plus yards long on a steep incline, filled with roots and dug out ruts. Most of it looked pretty straight forward but there was one area where you could see getting stuck was a real possibility and the only thing more ominous than getting stuck half way up was going to be in reverse and backing down. If you choose that route it was make it or winch over… just don’t go back.
The nice part about going on this run was that Bernd was able to join. You might remember Bernd and his son from our Rubicon off-road adventure. Bernd is one of those guys who has a confidence on the trail that comes from years of wheeling, knowing his rig and knowing how to drive it. Bernd looked at the hill, looked at the problem in the middle and decided if he came at it staying to the left and put is front bumper into left side of the hill, his momentum would carry his back-end up and over putting him on the line for the rest of the climb. And sure enough watching him make it look easy inspired the rest to give it a try. Bernd had paved the way, the rest of folks followed his line… Like I said, it was nice that Bernd could join the run.
When it came to the mud you could go left, hug the edge and than pop up on to what was left of a bridge or you could face it straight on. Either way you were going to stir up a swarm of angry mosquitoes.
We worked our way back up to funny rock where we met up with the other group and played on the rocks again. We also worked over to moon rock to take a peak at some of the other rigs. We sat on the sidelines at moon rock where it was more of a spectators sport leaving it to the truggies and rock crawler rigs. You have to remember… some guys build their junk to trash on the rock and driving over your buddy’s hood is just another day on the rocks.
Three days of off-road adventure trail dust, smokey fires, sweaty cloths, sleeping bags, bug spray and it was way too clear… everyone was getting a little campy. We STUNK like a dead skunk in the middle of the road (remember that song… you got yer dead cat and you got yer dead dog. On a moonlight night you got yer dead toad frog. Got yer dead rabbit and yer dead raccoon. The blood and the guts they’re gonna make you swoon! Ok back to the present). Luckily the Crow Creek camp was named that for a reason… cold running water, a little soap, yes biodegradable, and a quick dip… Bright, clean and neat ready to dress for dinner and another night around the camp fire.