Category Archives: Trail Runs

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

Toyota BJ60 big red stuck in snow

Sunday Stroll In The “Tillamook” Park

Toyota BJ60 airing downWe took a light Sunday stroll through parts of the Tillamook State Forest, west of Portland. Joining me in Big Red (a 3B-powered BJ60) on this rainy President’s Day eve, is Chris “Young Turk” Pesek. The outing is long overdue; over the past year, we probably haven’t wheeled three times between us. (Let us pause for the compulsory moment of mourning and handwringing.) If that wasn’t bad enough, Old Man LGRT has been on our backs, threatening to strip our LGRT team status if we didn’t address our Nature Deficit Disorder “with all due haste”. YT (naturally) is in better shape than me, getting some time in on his dual-sport cycle. And his cycling buddy Eric is along for the ride in Big Red. (Eric has the wheeling bug now as well, and is furiously in search of his first wheeling rig. Feel free to post your vehicle suggestions to LGRT.)

After picking up ATV permits at the Shell station along Highway 6 (near milepost 42), and a few whacks on Big Red to free up a recalcitrant parking brake, we fly straight past Rogers Camp trailhead on the way to South Fork Road (just past milepost 28, on the left). We’d planned to do a route we’d done many times before: head up South Fork Road (through Lyda camp) to the Hoodraiser and nearby Hogs Back trails, follow C-Line Road southeast near the south boundary of the park to Firebreak Five, and then run Cedar Tree top to bottom (and north) on the way out to Rogers Camp and Highway 6.

deford hoodraiser trailHoodraiser is a nostalgic favorite. Chris and I cut our wheeling teeth with the Northwest FJ Cruiser Club, which had adopted Hoodraiser when we were members. (And had FJ Cruisers. The FJ Cruiser has proven itself a notoriously effective gateway drug. Eric, take note.) With our friends in the NWFJCC, we’d spent many many happy hours maintaining the trail.

Hoodraiser is an easy drive with few turns, traversing up and over many swail berms, hence the trail’s name. On the second half of this warm-up trail, the snow depth steadily increases as we climb, until at last there are no recent tracks. On one of the last climbs, Big Red scoots up nicely, but I lose momentum and come to an inopportune stop midway in the climb. The loose, wet snow on top gives way to ice on a couple of quick tries to right matters. It’s early in the day, and the path of least resistance is to back down, turn around, and carry on.Young Turk radio

Carrying on (according to plan) involves following South Fork Road uphill, parallel with Hoodraiser. With (now) expected results. We are prepared for this, but after a good stretch of additional rain and warmer temperatures, none of us really expected the amount of snow remaining. (NOAA weather reporting on local snow levels was also off; it would be snowing down to about 1500′ all day, whereas the reported snow level had been 2500-3000′.) On reaching the intersection of South Fork and C-Line (Hoodraiser exits at the top on C-Line), we’re in axle deep, or deeper, snow.

Over the years, Chris has displayed an impressive ability to throw his vehicles into snow with innocent abandon. And true to form, Big Red is soon — wait for it — stuck. A quick pull later, we proceed to saw and crawl the rigs to a nearby bare spot under some some tree cover.BJ60 strapped up for recovery

Decision time take two. Air and chain up for the several miles drive along C-Line to get to our chosen next destination (Firebreak Five or Cedar Tree)? Or head back down South Fork to Highway 6 and head to the trails from Rogers Camp? Once again, we opt in favor of an earlier arrival at the (next) trails and limp back east on Highway 6 to the Rogers Camp exit.

The forest has been eerily quiet this Sunday. So far we’ve seen just a trio motorcycles in and around Hoodraiser; we’ll see just a couple trucks along Cedar Tree, running in the opposite direction. The number of trailers parked at Rogers Camp trail head also seems surprisingly light for this holiday weekend.

Our attempt to reach our destination from the east is rewarded. Though the snow gets deeper as we climb, we’re easily able to get to Saddle Mountain Road and to the top of Cedar Tree. Trail ho!

Turning in, we can see some recent tracks through the top of the trail. But Cedar Tree — named for the signature fallen cedar on a lower section under which many (but by no means all) rigs can pass — has a pretty dense canopy, so there’s not a ton of snow on it in any case. This is simply a great Pacific Northwest trail, twisting and turning up and down through the trees and vegetation. There’s not a lot of tricky stuff here, just enough to keep you sharp and provide opportunities for dusting cobwebs off basic skills such as seeing the trail over the hood, good tire placement (and general line picking), and left-foot braking. All in all, this is one delightful drive through the forest.D90 lining up

The biggest challenge today comes along a bottom section, with a tight squeeze between some rocks and an inopportunely-placed tree. You know the sort of thing: impending carnage from a downhill-side tree pushes you towards the rocks, while crawling the rocks on the uphill side tips the truck and its external bits into the tree. Rock. Hard place.

Through use, perhaps helped along by the recent spate of wet weather, these particular rocks have become much more dug out — certainly more than we can recall in about ten years of running Cedar Tree. So much so that some very recent, “creative” attempts to avoid the obstacle have widened the trail by cutting an undesignated bypass on the uphill side. It’s hard to know whether to attribute this to ignorance or disregard. But the governing principle here is pretty clear: if you’re unable or unwilling to stay on the trail through an obstacle, carefully turn back. Put another way, if there’s no designated bypass, don’t make one. Far from an exercise in ego-boosting, this is a simple matter of protecting trails so that we all can continue to enjoy them. Tread Lightly out there, kids!

BJ60 approaching the treeSizing things up, we make it over the obstacle relatively unscathed — the stock rear bumper assembly on a NAS Defender 90 enjoys asserting itself — with some light spotting and complete this delightful trail. By now it’s about 3:00PM and I have a good several hours ahead of me to make it back home north of Seattle. And so it’s back to the trailhead to air up, check things out, and head out. Any day wheeling….

Bonus travel-brochure notes

If you don’t already know, the OHV areas in Tillamook State Forest comprise a most excellent off-road trail system, with (according to the 2014 guide and map) more than 250 miles of OHV trails at all skill levels, for everything from motorcycles through four-wheel drive buggies. Managed by the Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF), TSF OHV areas also include multiple campgrounds and trailheads to help make the stay even more enjoyable. As with OHV areas elsewhere in Oregon, the ODF actively partners with clubs and other volunteers for trail maintenance and more should you and/or your club want to become involved as stewards of this considerable resource.

See the links below for additional details:

In addition to being a multiple-use facility, TSF is also a working forest. So while roads and trails are generally well marked, junctions might come and go.

Pictures by Young Turk and Other Paul and Eric Hedaa

man on fj cruiser roof

Overland Travel Washington’s Naches Wagon Trail

fj cruiser stuck between treesWe’ve gone across the Rubicon Trail in our FJ Cruiser twice without so much as a scratch… well without noticeable body damage.  But it is the relatively easy Naches wagon tail that seems to always cause us problems.  Sure we have followed the Naches wagon trail dozens of time to cross over Washington’s Cascade mountains but it’s this easy trail that has caused all of our body damage.  And this time we captured it on video!

We all have those places we cherish and this trail remains one of our favorite ways to spend a day.  You’re hard pressed to find a trail with more spectacular scenery.  There is just enough hill climbs, off camber and bumps to keep it fun along with several tight squeezes that prevent you from thinking this is walk in the woods.

Maybe it’s karma, maybe it’s just bad luck, or what ever that this wagon trail we love caused us so much pain.  Will it stop us??!! Absolutely not!   We really do love this place.

toyota bj60 and toyota fj cruiser

Camp Monty, End Of The Road

driving fj cruiser with tube doors in the rainIt’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.”fj-cruiser-overlanding-long-gravel-road

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.cup of coffee

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.

camp montyYou 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.overlanind young turk

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.camping breakfast partner steel

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!

noha tarp camp shelter prayer flagsCamp 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.Lake Billy Chinook

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.Mt Bachelor

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 fj cruiser long forest road

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!

2007 toyota voodoo blue fj cruiser tree

Exploring Ripplebrook Ranger Station

rear toyota fj cruiser two track roadWhen I was young I would follow the Clackamas River up into the mountains looking for a quiet place to wet a fly and spend a night under the stars.  One of my favorite areas was around the Ripplebrook Ranger Station.  Once again I find myself in Portland with my FJ Cruiser,  a free Saturday  and a desire to head back up the river to explore my past.

Late fall and the traffic is sparse as the river narrows and I close in on the ranger station.  I pass familiar camp names like Roaring River, Rainbow River and Alder Flats.  Not much has changed in the sparse camp sites.  Their only amenities  are a rustic hand pump for potable water, heavy wooden picnic tables, fire rings  and a couple of outhouses.  What they lack in creature comforts they more than make up for in natural surroundings.

Even 30 years later there is still room to explore up here.  The endless unpaved backroads go off into the hills, climbing over passes and dropping down into valleys filled with tumbling streams and small shimmering size lakes.   Views of Mount Hood and the sound of moving water seem to be around every turn.  It’s the water that draws me back here.  The sound of moving water causes a cascading flood of wonderful memories: Fly fishing for small, native Cutthroat and Rainbow Trout, camping along a babbling brook, quiet nights alone by a fire, exploring unnamed forest trails…  The water reminds me that life is best experienced by letting it wash over you and drinking it in fully rather than battling the currents in a rush to get out of its way.

fj cruiser two track roadAs darkness overtakes the day, I find myself sitting next to a small lakeside fire, listening to the forest as the flames push back the high mountain chill.  I’ll head back down into the hustle and bustle of PDX soon but for now I’m content to appreciate one of the places that taught me the value of looking beyond the next bend in the road.

land rover d90 toyota fj cruiser mt jefferson

Exploring The Cascades

voodoo brad head shotWe love solo off-road adventures but exploring with a team of friends can take it to another level.

We’d put in a day of wheeling, over the historic Naches Wagon Trail, to get to the eastern side of the Cascade Mountains.  A week earlier the weather was hot and dry but now a summer rain storm has cooled everything down and it’s wet.  On a solo adventure the rain would have us crawling into our sleeping bag early but on this adventure Young Turk extended the awning and we are all burning the midnight oil.

I put together this team (Other Paul, Young Turk, Voodoo Brad and his son MJ) knowing each person’s skills and personality to ensure a good match.  On the trail everyone had each others back.  We all rushed to support Young Turk’s experimental physics mishap involving kinetic energy, a Hi-Lift, his rear window and about ten tons of force.  toyota bj60 duct tape rear window repair

We all kept an eye on each other as our trucks crossed over the narrow bridges making sure no one misplaced a wheel as the old wooden beams creaked, clattered and groaned under the weight of the trucks.

Around camp everyone is sharing stories and laughing into the wee hours.  Friendships are being cemented and a group of individuals are forming a bond that will carry them through this off-road adventure and on to the next.

other paul - man making funny faceA team has a different pace.  You can’t control every detail and you must trust what each individual brings to the group. But what you give up in control, you pickup ten fold in support and comradery.  These individuals have come together and are a team I trust on any off-road adventure.

land rover defender 110 camel trophy

NW Overland Rally 2015

northwest overland rallyThe NW Overland Rally (NWOR) is currently being crushed under the weight of its own success, but don’t let that stop you.

It’s hot. Death Valley, hurts to inhale, no shade to be found, zombie face  melting hot. fj cruiser gauge pod 106 tempAt one point the temp read 106 Fahrenheit.  In the center of a hay field, hundreds of people are shoehorned into 20×20 sqft spaces to park their truck, erect their campsites, arrange their adventure trail and  attempt to manufacture shade. I’ve had more privacy camping in the Walmart parking lot.  The upper 2 fj cruisers nworsection has become tent city where all the dual sport guys are lined up tent to tent with motorcycles stacked one after another.

The NWOR’s premire sponsor is Touratech, a big deal in the dual sport motorcycle world and their marketing budget can be seen in the professionalism of the two wheeled events. nwor dual sport motorcycleThere is an offroad course where PSS Off Road provides hands-on beginner and advanced rider training (for a fee).  Professional led moto sessions addressing everything from bike field repair to readiness inspections.

The four wheeled side of the house is supported by volunteers (we helped with the advanced recovery session).  Outstanding support from the volunteers but hardly comparable to guys who are getting paid to be there and plan out the details.  For example: when 70ish trucks showed up for a morning scenic drive everyone did their toyota fj cruiser voodoo 4x4 trailbest to divide up the convoy into more manageable groups but that is a lot of trucks at once.

The intermediate drive didn’t fair much better.  It took several hours too long when the large group had to be held back while a dozen trucks at a time were lead up andmen in safety vests back down the last half mile.

The campfire MC worked the crowd like an MTV spring break party at Fort Lauderdale. Not the campfire experience we were looking for.

There were numerous interesting sessions packed into two days.  In fact with all the overlap of sessions, it felt like there was too much and no way to see all the sessions I was interested in because of the overlap.dan cronin northwest overland

If you came to wheel or if you came to spread out… you were sorely disappointed. But that is not what NWOR is really all about.

The overlanding world is filled with amazing, friendly, warm, welcoming people and this is why you come to NWOR! NWOR is about community and making connections with those who share a love for exploring the road less toyota fj cruiser cementtraveled.  We reunited with a few old friends we’d not seen in years.  We met several new folks who like us are always looking to see what is around the next bend in the road or over a distant mountain pass.  We shared stories.  We talked travels and exchanged ideas.

We did manage to sneak off on our own to get a little wheeling in.  We escaped the heat, temporarily, down at the river and enjoyed dining out in Levenworth’s air conditioned cruiser jeep 4x4 trail

In just five years NWOR has gone from dozens of attendees to hundreds.  To say the least they are going through some growing pains and like a case of teenage acne they will get past it.  The event will continue to attract fabulous people who want to spend a long NWOR friendsweekend sharing their stories with others who love the road and can’t wait to explore areas unknown.

We’re already planning to go back next year!

land rover defender 90 off-road

Cline Buttes Off-Road Trails

kamp karma voodoo alterCentral Oregon is a stark contrast to the wet, muddy, forested off-road areas of the western coastal side of the state.  High plains, filled with sage, juniper and scattered Ponderosa  pines growing in reddish brown pumas sand, from not so extinct volcanos, fill the land scape.  Cold in the winter, hot in the summer. Clear dry skies most of the year.  Central Oregon is a great option for off-road adventures.

Searching for an alternative to Oregon’s Tillamook Forest off-road area, we set out to explore Cline Buttes’ new(ish) 4×4 trails.  The 32,000 acre Cline Buttes  recreational area has been established to serve all types of outdoor adventurers.  Large chunks of land have been carved out for motorizes and non-motorized trail use as well as blocks for those who prefer to travel on two feet or even four hooves .

fj cruiser interior driverFive miles east of Sisters, nine miles north of Bend and a short drive west of Redmond Oregon, Cline Buttes is easily accessible from just about any direction (Cline Buttes recreation area).  Its proximity to these iconic western towns allows those who’s idea of roughing it involves room service to find all levels of lodging and meal options.  When it comes to sitting around a camp fire and looking up at the stars, Cline Buttes offers plenty of dispersed camping options.  (The area does get dry so be sure to check the fire restrictions before you go).

cline buttes recreational area mapA staging area in the north east corner provides plenty of parking and an outhouse.  Everything else will need to be packed in, and packed back out.  From here an easy 4×4 off-road trail takes you out into the heart of the off-road area connecting to several options.

camp fire cookingThe 4×4 off-road trails are categorized as easiest, more difficult and most difficult.  Most stock, high clearance 4x4s are more than a match for the easiest and more difficult trails. Drivers would be well served to have a lift, taller tires and rock rails before traversing the most difficult trails.  Additionally there is a “play area” where cross country travel is permitted.

We explored the Cline Buttes OHV area in late November following a week of warm torrential rains.  What we found amazed us.  The lava sand and rock trails were well drained with only a few scattered puddles on Barr Road.  No mud or slippery rocks that can take the entertainment value out of navigating tail obstacles with open cruiser cluster gages

The down side of wheeling under clear blue skies this time of year in central Oregon is that it gets cold, really cold.  The mercury barely topped 24 degrees Fahrenheit at lunch time and dropped into the teens as we climbed into our sleeping bags.  The upside of the cold weather…  We never saw another truck on the 4×4 off-road trails and we covered a good chunk of most of them over two days.snowy mountain pass road

Maybe it was the outstanding weather, maybe the great trail conditions or just that it had been awhile since we’d explored something new, but Cline Buttes has definitely moved into the top 10 list of great off-road adventure locations.

blue sky sunrise through the trees

Exploring the Olympic Mountains

man in front of FJ Cruiser with prayer flagsSay 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.

toyota fj cruiser and toyota fj60 off roadOver 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.

olympic peninsula trail mapImproved 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 cooking camping breakfast

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.

man checking cameraThe 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 tprayer flags tarp tent campinghe 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 fj40 and toyota bj60

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 cruiser prayer flags camping

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.

historical naches wagon trail sign

Wagons Hoe The Naches Trail

defendor 90 naches passThere 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.govenment meadow pacific crest trail

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.defender 90 naches wagon trail trees

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.

Read more about the Naches Basin in our previous Naches wagon trail 4×4 adventures, including runs to Moon Rocks, Funny Rocks and video of the adventure.

man standing next to hanson rock

I Hope This Goes Somewhere

overgrown 4x4 trailI’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):

  • suitable equipment
  • desired experience
  • appropriate expectations

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.Jeeps and land rovers

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.