Category Archives: Overland & Trails

Stories about local 4×4 trails and overlanding trips we explore when there is just enough time to get away for a month.

cartoon toyota fj40 dirt

Micro Trail Run

Recently we were down in Newberg, OR. to get our custom Metal Tech sliders installed… but that’s another story (FJ Cruiser slider installation).

When it was all said and done… it was time to play. And as Hula Betty is fond of saying, we’re all just little boys at heart… so of course we played in the dirt, although I prefer to think of it as a micro trail run.

Behind the shop the land lord is filling in a riven, so he can pave paradise and put up a parking lot. But in the minds of little boys with really cool toys, the piles of dirt are the dunes of Little Sahara, Moab’s Elephant Hill, or a Championship Off-Road Racing (CORR) short-course.

For those keeping up with the program, Mark is in the Pollux Orange FJ Cruiser and LT brought out the big dog, his OD, 76 FJ40 running on Propane.

The guys were patient with me and helped me get up and down the hills… Who knew these things had a second gear for running up the hills. Thanks guys for all the fun in the dirt, I’ll have my mom call your mom and see when we can play next.

Gallagher Head

Day After The Night Before aka Gallaher Head Lake Trail

roslyn cafe an oasis fj cruiserThe morning of the off-road adventure could not come soon enough. I have read a number of trip reports and was looking forward to meeting the guys behind the Back Road Drivers (BackroadDrivers at Yahoo). The alarm finally went off and I bounced up like a kid on the first day of school with all the anticipation of making new friends, learning something cool and seeing what everyone has been talking about.

After checking out and gassing up I had a mandatory stop that dated back to July 12, 1990. That was when Norther Exposure premiered on TV. The show was set in the tiny outpost, on the Alaskan Riviera, Cicely, Alaska, which was shot in our own Roslyn, WA. The real life town is a little get away where you can find memorable moments from the series including “The Brick” and “The Roslyn’s Cafe” made famous by the quirky TV town folks. The town also holds a spot in my heart since it was one of the first stops in Washington when I drove cross country on my Michigan exodus a couple of decade ago. It has remained an oasis in my soul when thinking of places on the road that have brought a smile to my explorer off road trail

After a quick photo opp it was on to Ronald, a town that makes Roslyn look like a thriving metropolis. The Back Road Drivers were meeting up at the Old #3 in Ronald for coffee and check in. It was here I met Jerry for the first time. Jerry has been running the Back Road Drivers for a decade now. Walking into the diner, bar, post office I received a greeting from Jerry like I was an old friend and was introduced to the others around the table. The group included Brian & Cindy from Gig Harbor, Rob from Yakima, Terry, Missy, Mason and Piper (pup) as well as Randy from Meacham who road shot gun with Jerry. This was a great bunch of folks from all over the Northwest.

None of us had ever run this trail before so when we got to the trail head it was time to line up the rigs in order to ensure we had winches and radios front, back and in the middle. That gave me an opportunity that I welcomed with a little nervousness. I was asked to lead the group up the 4×4 trail to Gallaher Head Lake. I usually sit in the back of the pack which allows me to watch the lines others take over obstacles and than learn from what they have done. That security of watching others comes at a price. That price is you spend the day eating everyone’s dust. Leading the run gives you an amazing new dust free perspective which is way worth it.Gallagher Head fj cruiser

Leading a group of rigs up a trail is a big responsibility and I appreciate the trust that Jerry and the other placed in me on this day. The Fortune Creek Trail, 4W301 (Cle Elum 4×4 Trails map), was perfect to start on. It was an easy, well marked trail that allowed us all to easily navigate the obstacles and work our way up the hills of loose material. Winding up the trail only took an hour or so as we made good time to Gallaher Head Lake. The lake is a beautiful little oasis in the forest. The trail opens up into a valley nestled between several mountains with its little lake sparkling at 5627 feet above sea level. This time of year the area was painted in browns and greens which gave a wonderful contrast to the brilliant blue sky. Another advantage of a late season visit is the absence of bugs.Gallagher head lake

Arriving at the lake we all settled in for lunch. The lake is equipped with a nice little camp area which offered some bench seats to eat at and soak up the sun. While a few folks pulled out all the fixings for a gourmet picnic lunch, I dug out the foot long Subway and chips. Chatting over lunch, everyone shared stories of their children, grand kids, jobs, and dogs. I enjoyed watching Mason run around and dig in the dirt as only a toddler can and remembering when my kids where that age. Than I remember what else came with that stage in their life and was glad they are now past the diaper changing road lunch break

The lake is a popular location and as we packed up a few motorcyclist swung by to say hi on their way to another trail along with some hikers who planned on spending the night. Around 3:00 p.m. we decided to head back down to the towns below and get back to our lives which we had escaped from on this off road adventure. The decent was uneventful and before you knew it we were back at the Old #3 for a soda, saying our good byes and airing up for the drive back.view of the road from drivers seat

The great thing about the northwest is there are deserts, mountains and sea within a few hours of each other and the drive back took Hula Betty and me back through the Snoqualmie pass, down to the Seattle Bainbridge ferry and across the Puget Sound. There are not many better places to watch the sun set behind the Olympic Mountains than on the front of the ferry.

puget sound sunsetAs we drove off the boat and back to the little town of Poulsbo, I thought… This was a good off road adventure filled with fun trails, great views and new friends. It is one that will stick in my memory for years to come. Maybe even one to repeat next spring when the lake’s meadow is awash with wild flowers.

building sign art

The Night Before The Day Of

I always get a little anxious the night before an off-road adventure. It’s that feeling a school boy gets as he walks across the hall to ask a girl to the home coming dance. You know that feeling filled with worry, anticipation and an entire world of possibilities in front of you if you can just do it.

Tomorrow I will be meeting up with a group of drivers from Pacific Northwest Backroad Adventures for the first time to explore some 4×4 trails. We will be driving the trails up to Gallaher Head Lake and exploring some old abandoned mines along the way. I have been a member of the PWBA Forum for a while, reading a number of their trip reports that sounded very interesting.  When this off-road adventure popped up I jumped at the chance to go along, which bring us to tonight.

With the meet up in Round at 9:00 am I had two choices. One, get up at O’ dark thirty, catch the 5:20 a.m. ferry and drive for three hours to the Old #3 Restaurant or spend the night in Cle Elum about 10 minutes away and enjoy the evening exploring this sleepy little town. I oped to option two.

The great thing about little towns is that everyone has a story and if you ask they will tell it too you. The hotel I picked is the Timber Lodge Inn and it turns out Mia, the woman who runs the place spent time exploring Nepal. Sure Cat Stevens may have sung about Kathmandu but she had walked it streets, toured the temples, and flown over Everest’s base camp. I listened to the story as she described the sites, smell and people she met including a National Geographic Photographer. You could see the sparkle in her eyes as she retold the story and tried to paint the pictures for me that filled her mental Rolodex. Mia also knew every restaurant within miles and sent me to best pizza around. And of course she was right… Although, Mia did not mention how warm and friendly the crew there was. And when crew at Sahara Pizza saw I was eating along, they came over and kept me company, telling me their stories.

So tonight I sit on the balcony of my hotel room under the glow of a big moon writing this story, excited about tomorrow’s off-road adventure, looking forward to meeting more new friends and exploring the back roads of the Cascade Mountains. No matter what tomorrow brings, I’ve already had a great time.

driving dirt road to huricane ridge

Just Betty and Me

olympic mountains eveningOff-road adventures come in all flavors. This one, came in what I like to call, iced quad vente, seven pump vanilla, caramel sauce top and bottom, light ice, half cream half virgin soy, extra whip, white chocolate mocha with peppermint sprinkles and just a hint of Madagascar cinnamon.

Like a personal coffee order designed to test your barista’s patience and stamina, when it comes to off road adventures you can’t please everyone… so you got to go by your self. While sitting in the Toyota dealer’s service center I put together this run which would be a solo nighttime adventure through the high country of the Olympic National Forest out to Obstruction Peak. Of course by solo I mean with Hula Betty, she is after all stuck to the dash.

Betty and I left for the peninsula around 7:00 p.m. cruising over the Hood Canal and jumping onto highway 101. As we followed the highway bypass, that now diverts you around Sequim, I sifted through the mental rolodex pulling up memories of trips with the kids that always ended at the Hi-way 101 Diner, a retro 50s diner that serves just about everything including burgers, grill cheese, pizza, meatloaf, real malts and ice cream sundaes served in old fashion glass boats topped with chocolate sauce and a cherry. The kids still tell me the 101 Diner is the best. It is amazing what they remember from when you were three.

The road to Hurricane Ridge starts on the outskirts of Port Angeles. Another ritual the kids and I would follow on winter sledding trips was to stop at the Olympic National Park Visitor Center. Betty and I made that stop. Not to look at the exhibits or get trail condition reports, but to check the lugs, verify fluid levels and test the lights before heading up to the Heart O’ the Hills, the North East entry point into the park.hurricane ridge obstruction point road sign

Last winter’s record snow fall has played havoc on the roads. The normally placid tarmac from the entry to the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center is in the middle of a complete face lift. Navigating to the top involves moving from asphalt to gravel, from two lanes to one and back again. Luckily at 8:30 p.m. traffic was off the mountain and we zipped up to the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center parking lot. Pulling into the lot, I immediately spotted one of the reasons I picked this trial, dear. Several of them were wondering the meadows as the last rays of the sun filtered through the surrounding peaks. Gazing over the blanket of wild flowers Hula Betty and I watched as the last visitors and the sun left for lower elevations.

I’ve hiked from Dear Park to Obstruction Peak, I’ve driven the dirt road that takes you to Obstruction Peak, I’ve even snow shoed a portion of the way. But I have never gone that way in the dark, by myself. As the tires slowly rolled from the tarmac onto dirt, the clouds only yards above us, began to release their hold on the moisture captured from the sound a few miles away. Rolling down the dirt trail with a lite rain, soft breeze and only our own lights to guide the way, gave Hula Betty and I plenty to think about.

This is not a technical drive. This was my opportunity to clear my head and enjoy the sights and sounds of the night. Keeping the speed down to avoid the dear who occasionally bounded up the hill and across the road, reminded me how lucky I am to live within an hour and half of this magnificent forest.

As we (yes I know Hula Betty is not real, but she is a great listener) rolled past the PJ Lake trail head I smiled at the memory of lunch with the family at the lake nearly 10 years back. Easing past the trail head we started to climb above tree line and came upon a turn out that allowed us to look down and see the lights of Port Angeles below and the faint glow of Victoria, Canada in the up snow field at night

Winding little switchbacks took the rig higher where we spotted patches of snow clinging for life in the shadows of the slopes. The last few block of the dirt road feel like a moon scape in the dark. You wind back and forth, up and down the hills that take you up to Obstruction Peak, 6,450 ft above sea level where we started.

There is no over night camping at Obstruction Peak, but the parking area held a dozen or so all wheel drive cars and trucks belonging to backpackers who had escaped into the hills. The trail head signs talk about bear and cougar that frequent the area and although I had seen a number of dear, no carnivore sightings. Hoping to catch a glimpse of a bear I wondered about looking across the high meadows to the cloud covered peaks when the rain started to gain strength driving me back to the shelter of the rig and Hula Betty’s company. It was at that point I realized I had driven and walked around for six hours without exchanging a single word. My thoughts, memories and the natural sites had me engaged throughout this little Zen meditation run.

Heading back down the 7 mile dirt road, gravity and a foot on the gas ramped up the tempo to a brisk drive. The lights provided visibility, which seemed to reach around the corners, allowing us to scoot down the road at a healthy pace. Healthy enough to set off the yaw detector alarm once.

fj cruiser night off road lightsThe dirt road quickly came to an end as the Rig returned to the Hurricane Ridge parking lot we started at a few hours earlier. Letting gravity control the pace, the drive down to the Hart O’ Hills entrance ebbed and flowed with the steepness of the decent. Entering Port Angeles’ city limits, the lights I’d seen from above were now the hustle and bustle of McDonald’s, Safeway and the other trappings of ordinary life.

The drive home continued the casualness that marked this evening. Rolling over the Hood Canal Bridge the water sat still in the glow of the bridge reflecting the billows of the clouds above. The last turn off the highway signaled the return to home. Pulling into the drive way I lingered in the driver’s seat for a moment or two enjoying the moment and planning the next off road adventure drive. Dear Park at night could be fun.

2007 toyota fj cruiser arb bumper

Thin Line Between Saturday Night & Sunday Morning

black fj cruiserThe Northwest FJ Cruiser Club out of the Portland area was going to run the Tillamook Forest OHV trails at night and it seemed like the off-road adventure to try out our lights from Baja Design. It also presented an opportunity to meet up with my old buddy Kevin and introduce him to all the craziness of my mid-life crises.

Pulling into Tigard, Kevin and his family welcomed me with open arms. They always keep my favorite couch ready for just such an occasion, no airing down 4x4 tires fj cruisermatter how late I show up. These are the kind of friends you can drop in on after a long absence and it feels like you were never disconnected. You know, those guys you stay up late chatting with, sharing stories of your kids, work and the fishing trips you planned but never got around to taking. That is Kevin and his family.

Browns Camp is in the Tillamook State Forest filled with moderate rated 4×4 trails connected by logging roads and perfect for a long night of wheeling. We caught up with the club at a little dinner, Coleman’s Shady Rest, a few miles from the trail where we ate, gassed up and introduced ourselves.

fj cruisers on trails in woodsAt the trail head everyone settled into the business at hand, airing down tires, double checking equipment and comparing rigs. Bernd, who we met and wheeled with on our FJ Summit Adventure, was going to be our leader with Jim, the club president, as tail gunner.

The rest of us… settled into the pack as we saddled up for this off-road adventure. I choose the last slot just in front of Jim so I could watch the parade of FJ Cruisers through the woods.three fj cruiser hill climb in woods

Bernd took the group out around 5:30 pm so we could get in some trails while the sun was still shining and ease into wheeling on the dark side of the moon. This turned out to be a good thing since we had the opportunity to assist a motorcyclist stranded on the side of the trail. Those guys don’t have a lot of room for gear and he needed a socket to pull his spark plug.

Our group pulled together, found the right socket and helped get him back on the trail. You never know when you’re going to need a little trail Karma so we took the opportunity to make a deposit into our Karma accounts.

fj cruisers backed up on 4x4 trailKevin and I have gone all over the west chasing salmon and trout with a fly rod but this was our first off road adventure together. As navigator Kevin was responsible for ensuring we didn’t get lost and photos. Kevin is a great photographer. He sees the angles and opportunities others miss. The photos on this post… All Kevin.

Toyota fj cruisers waiting on 4x4 trailWomen will tell you size matters and they are right when it comes to off-road lights. When we turned on the roof lights the folks in front got a sun tan and a few planes started to divert from their approach at PDX . In fact for the trail run we only needed our Soltek lights down on the bull bar since they put out so much light and throw a nice wide patter. But lets be honest here, we turned them all on just so we could signal Bat Man and feel our testosterone levels spike each time we hit the switches on those bad boys.

toyota fj cruisers tail lights on 4x4 trail at nightRunning at night on tight, sometimes really tight, trails is a whole different animal. Night runs give you the sense your in another world with ET lurking just outside of the light’s reach. You definitely focus on the trail since there is none of that beautiful landscape to distract you. And when you do stop to rest, the Milky Way Galaxy seems to spill out of the rig with you, bathing everything in light while still hiding the mysteries of the forest.

This run was definitely a hit. I opted out of a few obstacles since I’m still in practice mode with the more technical trails and I’m ok with building my skill level before tackling the extreme stuff. I did get an opportunity to see how others picked lines and they made it look easy. When it was all said and done, we met some great people fj cruisers on 4x4 trail at nightwho enjoy wheeling and we found out we had a lot more than rigs in common. With any luck I’ll be running more trails with this group down the road.

The long night didn’t get any shorter as Kevin and I decided to pay homage to Boy by stopping at, you guessed it, Denny’s for a late night, early morning burger before pulling into the homestead sometime around 2:00 a.m.

Long days, good friends, new trails… not a bad way to spend a Saturday night.

jeeps and FJ Cruiser tahuya 4x4 trails

Tahuya Trails and New Friends

fj cruiser tahuya forest jeepLooking through the forums I read “Novice Tahuya Run Saturday May 3rd”.

Here was an opportunity to wheel off-road right in my own back yard. More exciting was an opportunity to make some friends who enjoy wheeling. We have a number of expedition type wheeling adventures under out belt, but need a little more technical trail experience. With that in mind, we set off for the Tahuya trail meetup. A number of folks showed up for the run, some in FJ Cruisers and others in Jeeps. These folks traveled from Edmond, Olympia and everything in between to try out the trails.

This was a novice run led by Laurence and John. There was never any pressure to try a trail you felt uncomfortable on or force a bad line rather than backing up and trying again. We also had the opportunity to watch the more experienced folks work more difficult lines including this short video of Laurence guiding John up and down a tight little incline.