Growing up, fly fishing was my escape into the great outdoors. In fact it was the desire to go further off the beaten path that spurred on the need for an off-road vehicle. In those days it was an old VW Baja Bug that I built to explore the abandoned forest roads in search of a hidden creek or quiet lake.
Back then the Deschutes river, was 100 miles away, had a spot down an abandon dirt road that lead to place few people bothered to go known as Mecca Flats. Mecca Flats was really just a dirt patch, a starting point from where I would follow a trail along the river, fishing riffles, runs and back eddies for the next five miles. Mecca Flats was base camp for my adventure.
For all that driving and hiking I would get to wet a fly line on one of the best blue ribbon fisheries in the west. Trout averaged 14″. Wild salmon and steelhead runs were always strong. World famous Salmon Fly hatches and year round Caddis Fly would bring the trout to the surface almost anytime of day.
Today the drive is closer to 300 miles. The long dirt road has been graveled, but just barely. The open dirt camping at Mecca Flats now has designated numbered camping spots with tables and fire rings. Day fishers have their own parking area and an outhouse. But thanks to strict regulation trout, salmon and steelhead still fill the river and there is a good chance you’ll be into one within minutes of wetting a line.
Fly fishing is still one my favorite escapes into the great outdoors.
With the ubiquitous scent of cypress and eucalyptus wafting through the open car windows, we mounted the 1 in Sausalito just across the Golden Gate Bridge and began our twisting climb toward the southern edge of the northern California coast. It had been a hard six weeks and even after planning this trip for several months, I wasn’t convinced my timing was right. I had already postponed it from the week before after fighting to make it fit into my calendar. As bad as my timing was, I wasn’t going to simply skip it. I just wanted to be in Northern California. Even if it wasn’t convenient for my career.
At 5 a.m. we woke, drove to Detroit metro, caught our flight and flew west. By 11: 30 a.m. we were landing in San Francisco on a perfect California day. At 12:30 p.m. we were in our car and headed north out of the city. By 1:10 p.m. we were making the turn off 101 and onto the 1 on a sunny summer Saturday afternoon in a single file parade of cars, vans, and motorcycles, each with seemingly the same idea in mind. It didn’t matter how many were in our parade. We were here. It was now. For the first time heading north in California, I was the passenger. This never happens. I am always the driver. I’m never the passenger. I’m always the one behind the wheel catching snippets of scenery between darting glances ahead, at the dividing yellow line, the sharp edge of a shoulder-less road, at the oncoming cars. I am never the one with her head on a swivel soaking up the scenery ahead, to the right and to the left noting odd signs, unique buildings, changes in the landscape and terrain, seeing people who don’t see me, a voyeur in a car. From the turn east off the 101 I was instructed to sit back and enjoy the ride and this trip was already amazing.
We climbed. As we climbed, we joked. Can you imagine riding a bike on this? The first biker passed us wheeling in the opposite direction within minutes of our comments. Then a group of three, then a couple. Then a mature woman who’d dropped her husband to attack the winding climb in her own zone. All moving from north to south on the narrow two lane road with no shoulder, no barriers, no promise that the next motorist behind them wouldn’t ‘go wide’ on the next blind curve they’d emerged from, not see them, and not hit them. I caught my breath more than once watching man, bike, car and road co-exist. The stunning determination of the cyclists whom I knew, knew what challenges they faced in the road ahead. How…? How. Again, I was amazed.
“This is incredibly like Ireland,” I murmured out loud, “save driving on the right hand side of the road.” I had once complained that the worst thing about Ireland was that it isn’t attached to the U.S. so we could get to it on the weekends. I realized now that maybe I was wrong. Maybe a piece of Ireland had been here all along and I just hadn’t known it.
As we emerged from around a curve, I sighted the ocean for the first time from the 1. It rose up from the end of a long valley between two mountains in a Vee of gray blue. “There it is!” I pointed and scrambled for my camera to get the shot that disappeared as fast as it had appeared. “Crap! I lost the shot.” I huffed, letting the camera and my hands drop to my lap, only to raise them again around the next curve when the view returned from a slightly different angle. I soon understood that these shots and that phrase would recur over and over for the next four-and-a-half hours. I settled back in my chair, watching. Waiting for the next missed shot and scheming my rebound strikes. We weren’t 20 minutes into this trip and I was captivated.
The road curved due north. At this point in the drive, the road is close, tight on either edge. The terrain is close. The land is steep and falls sharply on the west side of the road down into rocky crags to the ocean and up away from the water on the east side. I wondered if I could live here, thinking of the winding mountain passes in eastern Vermont and New Hampshire where suddenly towns pop up around tight hairpin curves. White church steeples with fresh black tiles topped with bright white crosses penetrate the evergreen blanket of the landscape to indicate that humanity lies ahead. No, I couldn’t live here, even with the expanse of the ocean opening up between each winding detour in the road that dents into the land and then snakes back out to the sea. The trees hover too thick. The walls of the mountains are too close. The absence of unfettered views. I couldn’t do this every day even if today I need it. Today I need the closeness of this place, my companion, and my thoughts. I need to be wrapped in the place that I am. Insulated, and for the first time in a very long time, wholly in the moment that I am. In this place on the 1, that is all that there is. This moment, my companion Stu, our car, this road, this terrain, the ever present scent of eucalyptus, the ocean, and me. There were no other things. There is no other place. There is just here. Just now.
I watch the road. I narrate the scene for Stu and he drives with two hands on the wheel and two eyes riveted to the winding narrow pass of road. I check myself from suddenly pointing and exclaiming, “look at that!” so as not to distract him. As we pass each new road leading to ocean access and beach entry off the 1, the other cars have begun to fall away. Past Muir Beach, Stinson Beach, the outlook at Gull Rock, the marsh and bird watchers at Kent Island, past Five Brooks to our first stop at Olema the traffic in turn reduces. At Olema, we stop as the few cars ahead of us turn inland. Olema is slightly inland too.
We park in the center of town, find our way to a long narrow restaurant and sit in the back garden under a pergola under the sun that is sliced into strips by the white lattice above our heads, tucked into a garden that is neither cool nor hot. The sounds of the road erased by the flora. People around us talk in quiet relaxed tones and we order our lunch. Two fish tacos, a plate of grilled oysters on the half shell with pesto glaze and assorted cheeses and crackers. For me, an iced tea. For Stu, a Laganitas Pale Ale. There we linger. The food is good and we savor it slowly, and when it’s done, we step back out on to the small space between the restaurant and the road. I duck into a deli for some chocolate, Stu waits outside talking to a man in his mid to late 60’s, a cyclist, about biking the 1. When the conversation ends, we mount our trail again toward Point Reyes Station and on along the edge of the beautiful Tamales Bay still nestled into the land and tucked into the road. I dub this section the Killarny section of the trip after the Ring of Kerry area in Ireland south of Tralee.
At the end of Tamales Bay, the world opens into broad pastures and the happy cows of California begin to dot the landscape. I watch as ranches begin to appear. First one or two, or three. Then five or twelve as we continue to move north. Horse farms and riding stables appear. I watch with both awe and jealousy as I realize that these bovine residents have the best views of any of the inhabitants of this land. I could live here where the angle of the land eases into plateaus of long, broad expanses of both ocean and ground. I could live here where the flora starts to change from cypress to thick pine and redwood. I could live here. Through the towns between Marconi and Elk, I think with the whimsy we allow ourselves when we completely let go, I could live here.
As we pass through Elk, I start to recount all of the places I’d found on Google Earth for us to stay the night; recognizing them from their signs and the websites I’d visited. We are nearly half way to our final destination and my driver is feeling the fatigue of a long flight and a challenging drive, a good meal and a delicious beer. I remind him that he’s only done it for three hours. I did it every day for seven days in Ireland. “Buck up mister. We’re almost there.” He bucks up with a smile and grips the wheel with new conviction.
We start talking more and sightseeing less. We talk about our friends that we love. We talk already about our next trip together. We talk about our kids and our work and the U.S. Open and the Tour de France. We talk about the music on the radio and about earthquakes and forest fires as we come upon a group of fire fighters battling a small blaze along the side of our narrow road that was surely not a controlled burn as nervous looking residents look on.
I remember with an “Oh, yeah. There is that here in California too…” The road opens again and we watch the houses on the cliffs in a private community that seems to stretch on for miles and wonder who lives there. We talk about a for sale sign that says, “1.5 miles of ocean front property and weigh the pros and cons of a property of that kind. I settle on the fact that morning walks with the dog would be utterly amazing. Our mid-point destination nears, but before we get to our hotel for the night and the plans we’ve made for the evening I have to take pause. I am glad we came against the odds of our impossible schedules. I am glad we came this specific route instead of driving with only our final destination in mind up the 101. I am glad I am here with Stu and I am content as I have ever been.
We stop at a light on the edge of Fort Bragg where I can’t hold it in anymore. It has been building up in me from the moment we mounted this amazing road 4.5 hours earlier and I just have to say it.
“If we turned around and went home tomorrow,” I say turning to look directly at him. “This trip up the 1 was totally worth it.”
Seattle, Quincy, Portland, Eugene and back. 892 mile loop. This has been my routine for several weeks in a row . 133 gallons of gas, over 50 of hours behind the wheel, countless suicidal bugs washed off the windshield and an oil change.
Monday finds me leaving Seattle’s busy metropolis along and racing to work in a little patch of farm land in eastern Washington known as Quincy. Posted 70 MPH, I90 is one of those interstates where you can set the cruise control somewhere above the speed limit and go. I pass through dense Ceders and Douglas Fur climbing up to the Snoqualmie Pass that divides the state into east and west. Descending from the 3,022 feet crack in the Cascade mountains, the thick rain forest gives way to stately Ponderosa Pines, eventually thinning out into groves of windmills towering a hundred feet over the scrub and sage brush. Olfactory senses that once enjoyed a hint of cool pine are now accosted by hot dusty dung. The smell of money to ranch owners everywhere in eastern Washington. The land becomes flatter and flatter until you can see for miles in any directions.
Temperatures race to the high 90s quickly with the summer sun filling a cloudless blue sky. The warm air lingers as the sun leaves and a lavender moon dominates the dark night. The little town of Quincy shuts down by 10:00pm with only one yellow blinking traffic light to remind you, you’re still in town.
By Friday the week’s work is done and it’s time to aim the car south for Portland (that’s Oregon, not Maine). The old state highway cuts through Washington’s cattle country, orchards and endless fruit stands. This is a much more relaxed journey. Seldom used gravel roads shoot off the highway every mile or two leading into the country side. The hills offer endless opportunities to explore if you choose to take any of the gravel spurs. The highway twists, turns and climbs the Cascades but the parade of RVs and trailers in front is going to keep it under 50 mph. There is little reason to rush.
Rest stops are the modern equivalent of desert watering holes. Scattered along a ribbon of pavement, rest stops offer views of geological wonders, picnic areas, a place to stretch your legs and the opportunity to relieve yourself of the 64oz gas station coffee concoction you grabbed an hour earlier.
While concrete and steel has replaced camels and sand, the modern day desert oasis remains a gathering place for travelers. Some folks are hurriedly driving from one place to the next. Others are slowly traveling across country taking in all the sights and sounds the country has to offer. And on any giving Saturday in fall you will find cars decked out in college colors and banners as travelers race to college campuses around the country to support their favorite NCAA gridiron team.
Dropping into Oregon I follow the Columbia River west down the gorge. The Dalles, Bonneville Locks, Multnomah Falls, Rooster Rock, the list of amazing sights goes on as the sun drops low on the horizon.
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. 24×7, the Original Hotcake House serves some of the best breakfasts and burgers anywhere. My mom would have referred to this as a greasy spoon… I call it chicken-fried-sausage-gravy-chedder-hash-brown love. This will kill you; but what a way to go… The eggs are healthy, right??!!
Anyone who know me, knows Oregon Duck football is a big deal. This brings us to the Eugene portion of the loop. There is something special about being at a college football game. Tailgating, rowdy student sections, ESPN trucks sending live broadcasts into the heavens, general fan mayhem and a chance to reconnect with with friends every fall makes the stand still traffic on I5 bearable.
If the calendar says Sunday it must be laundry night. This is after heading back up the I5 corridor to Seattle. Tonight my head will rest for the first time in seven days on my own pillow with all the familiar sounds of home. Monday starts it all over.
For anyone who loves the open road, this is the golden triangle. Dense forests, mountain passes, high plains desert, wide open gorge, beautiful sunsets and college football. Every time there is something different with new people to meet on the road that is more traveled.
Back in the 80’s Brad and I took a road trip to Yellowstone National Park. Miles from anywhere our car’s fuel pump gave out. We were stuck on a dirt road that maybe saw another car once every day or so. Fast forward to today and I can add a couple of dead batteries, several flat tires, black ice spin out, two snow closed passes and a blown engine to the list of things that have left me stranded on the side of the road in less than ideal conditions.
Changing a tire on a warm afternoon on a quiet level country road is no big deal. Changing a tire in the dark on the side of the highway when it’s 40 degrees and raining, lacks entertainment value. Over the years I have managed to put together an emergency roadside kit that takes the sting out being stuck on road and makes most bad situations bearable. These days I always have a emergency roadside kit in the trunk of all my vehicles even if I’m just going to the grocery store.
Our roadside emergency kit is easy to build up and is filled with items you probably have lying around the house.
Start with an old gym bag or duffel. Even your daughter’s pink “My Favorite Pony” school backpack will do. You just need something to keep all your supplies together. Once you have your recycled book bag in hand, gather up the following items and stuff them in.
Jumper cables – I’m surprised at how many people with a dead battery who have asked me for a jump, follow it by “Do you have jumper cables?”.
Wool blanket – Coming home from eastern Washington, WADOT closed the pass for avalanche control and I spent four hours waiting for the all clear under a warm blanket while the snow continued to fall. Wool retains it’s ability to keep you warm even when wet and is one of the most important items in the kit.
Household cleaning gloves – I’ve reached into mucky wheel wells to work snow chains around a tire and pulled crow parts from the grill. Waring long, heavy duty, rubber household cleaning gloves made it much less traumatic.
Personal first aid kit – No one enjoys driving with a throbbing headache or having you’re allergies kick into high gear as you drive by miles of hay fields. A simple first aid kit will let you take care of yourself (or one of the kids) and get you back on the road before it becomes a serious problem.
Duct tape – You can fix anything with duct tape.
Pocket knife / Leatherman tool – I’ve pulled out a pocket knife for just about everything including cutting duct tape in order to splint my finger after slamming it in door.
Bottles of water – You can go for weeks without food, but you will quickly start to dehydrate in dry conditions and can die within a few days without water. I’ve also grabbed a water bottle to wash dirt out a friend’s eye when the wind kicked up, swirling dust everywhere.
Road flares – Ever change a tire on the side of the road… in the dark? I have. It’s important to let on-coming traffic know you’re there. We like flare over reflectors since a flare can be used to start a signal fire in the wettest conditions if things really go south.
Safety vest – It’s not much of a fashion statement but the more visible you are the better. On the side of the road or from a rescue helicopter you want to be seen.
Whistle – Yelling for help will only be heard so far and eventually your voice will tire, but a whistle can be blown forever and is a universal call for attention.
Compass – Ff you do have to leave your vehicle and hike out, you want to know where you’re going. A compass will let you get your bearings and trek a straight line.
Plastic shower curtain liner – $7.00 at any Walmart and you instantly have an emergency shelter, ground tarp, rain poncho, oil catch, knelling mat for changing a tire in the mud, … There are no limits to what you can do with a plastic shower curtain liner, and it comes folded up in a neat little package that will take very little space.
Flashlight / headlamp (and batteries) – Be sides helping you look into the dark corners of your vehicle to find a fuse you dropped, a light waving by your side as you walk down the highway to a gas station will make you visible to traffic so you don’t become a roadside memorial.
Yard sized trash bag – From rain coat to dirty close bag to dead body disposal, the usage opportunities for a large trash bag rival that of duct tape.
Parachute cord – This is another one of those endless use items. Lashing down a loose tarp or turning that shower curtain liner into a shelter, in an emergency the uses are only limited by your imagination.
Toilet paper – If you’ve ever used leaves than you don’t need to ask why.
Lighters/matches/magnesium fire stick – You’ll need something to lite a fire if you are really in a bad situation and need a fire.
While these are the basics that should be in your emergency travel kit, there is plenty of room to personalize it with your own flare. Consider what your family needs are and plan accordingly to include other useful items such as: baby wipes, signal mirror, towel, travel pillow, rubber boots, work gloves or a good book to kill time while you wait for the tow truck. If you need other ideas take a look at the Red Cross’ survival kits.
Years of road trips have taught us that being prepared means being equipped with the proper supplies that you may need in the event of a road trip emergency or just a flat tire in the rain.
Sometimes the desire to take the road less traveled comes in a moment when you can’t take the road at all. Your only option is to imagine the trip for another day. This morning was one such occasion. The day was perfect for a road trip. It was not too hot or too cold. It was not too bright or too cloudy, and everything in view seemed as if it were as it was meant to be. I was traveling east on I-96 at dawn in Michigan heading toward Detroit when the desire to just keep on driving washed over me. I get it. I was already driving, so…?
To me, there is driving and there is driving. We drive to get where we need to go. That’s driving. Then we drive for the sake of the act of driving, for the sake of the road, and for the sake of what is possible when we are on the road. That was the kind of driving urge that hit me. I started to think of the highways that triangulate the state of Michigan and how in a relatively short amount of time I could take them all. Then I started to feel light and free. As the notion of the route unfolded in my mind, I realized the very real therapeutic value of such a trip and it became more than an urge. It became a need; a bonafied desire to hit the road.
Michigan has a relatively uncomplicated highway system that has a deliberate design toward getting goods and people from one end to the other efficiently. It starts with I-96, which stretches from Muskegon to Detroit, passing my neighborhood at its midpoint. Moving eastward, I-96 becomes one of my favorite roads, I-696. A cement royo cut through the base of the northern suburbs of Detroit, 696 is like a raceway for drivers who love a fast ride through a four-lane cement tunnel of over passes and narrow on and off ramps that look like stairwells designed to dispense new obstacles in the paths of the drivers already on board.
I remember the day that I-696 opened. I was so excited for it that I scheduled a meeting in Sterling Heights that day so I could be one of the first to drive it. I got up early and left at 6 a.m. It was a clear sunny day and when I hit 696, there was no one in front of me. It was just me and that beautiful new 4 lane track tunneling through SE Michigan. Acutely aware of its raceway design, I abandon all concern for the number of police cars that might be strategically hidden on those narrow merge ramp-wells and opened up. By the time I hit the first Dequindre Rd. exit sign, I was cursing at 120 mph with no one in front of me and no one in my rearview mirror. I chalked that drive up as one of the best days ever. It was beautiful. I am an hour and 5 minutes into my trip.
Where I-696 meets I-75 it becomes the bottom left angle of this equilateral triangle route I was dreaming of. I-75, is the grandfather of highways in Michigan; making I-94 the great and decrepit uncle. I-94 being too far south from my goal, was not a part of this open road fantasy, but I-75 was elemental with its Bi-polar attitude towards drivers and its role in moving traffic through Michigan. At this point, I-75 is narrow-minded and unforgiving. He is begrudging in his willingness to let vehicles pass along his corridors. Unpleasant and congested he dares one to mount his pavement and accept the challenge of navigating him. It is a challenge worth taking. The prize is reaching the point at which he opens up smooth, wide and passable, where the air changes north of Flint and you sense that you’ve just progressed across a new parallel where the air is clearer and cleaner and the views immensely more scenic. I-75 ends at the Mackinaw Bridge 4 hours north, where the apex of the triangle can be found. I stop and take in the view of the straights and recall the countless trips my gram and grandpa took us on across to Mackinaw Island when we were kids contemplating my route west to where 31 leads down the beautiful west side of Michigan. I won’t follow 31 immediately though because there is a better way.
There is M-119, arguably the most beautiful highway in the state. For a moment, I drop down I-75 south toward 127; the highway that dissects the state and the triangle of my route splitting it in two equal parts, until I pick up Levering Rd. to M119, the Tunnel of Trees. M 119 winds narrowly and delicately for more than 20 miles along the north east shore of Lake Michigan through Harbor Springs, around Little Travers Bay and into Petoskey where it meets 31. I am 7 hours into my trip, only because I stopped for lunch in Mackinaw City, Cross Village, Harbor Springs, or Petoskey to relax, refresh and watch the water for a moment while I stretch my legs. Along M-119 the curve are as succulent as a young woman’s body draped in a thin veil of leafy lace. Around which one is most likely to confront a cyclist, motorcycle, or narrow hidden drive.
31 is the left angle of the triangle. It too is lovely in the way it weaves through countless small, quaint northern Michigan harbor towns. This is the toughest part of the trip as it is nearly impossible not to stop at every single one or stop at an intriguing road side stand filled with pies, jams, or organic produce or bitter cherries in between. Like M-119, 31 is a narrow two lane highway that requires deft attention to the wheel and the road when the desire is to watch the view all the way to Muskegon, where I-96 meets me again. There are no 120 mph stretches here. I am now 11 hours in to my dive.
At 7:00 p.m. I arrive home, only because I stopped for a half an hour to pick up dinner. By now I have taken I-96 from end-to-end, and I have consumed the majority of the lengths, if not all of the lengths of the others as well. I have seen every corner of the state, save the southern border and traveled more than 600 miles. I’ve crossed the Zilwakee Bridge and seen the waters of the great lakes, but mostly, I drove. As I enter my home, no one the wiser, I imagine my family asking how my day was. I imagine myself smiling and telling them, “It was perfect.”
Why take a road trip from Tigard, Or. a little suburb of Portland, to the northeast corner of Idaho, turn around and drive back? Why drive a thousand miles in two days? Because we can… and this is where Kevin found a tool needed for his bamboo fly rod making company.
For people who enjoy the open road, a road trip seems to uncrinkle the mind and give the brain room to breath. It’s been awhile since my brain has had the space it needs to stretch out and consider the meaning of life. This is my chance.
It’s Friday noon. Kevin has the Land Rover packed and a little utility trailer hitched up for the long journey. One last look around the rig, double check the trailer and lock the garage before pulling out into traffic and starting this road trip adventure to a place well off the beaten path.
It always seems the longest part of any road trip is getting out of town to where the road opens up and traffic melts away. This road trip is no different. The flashing traffic sign reads accident nine miles ahead. A mile later we’re at a stand still on the interstate. Cars, trucks and 18 wheelers packed tightly, turning the highway into a parking lot as far as the eye can see. Every once in awhile we roll a few feet before applying the brakes again. We could bitch, honk the horn and pound the steering wheel like a few around us or we can relax, chat and accept the fact that we’ll be on the road a couple of extra hours tonight. Avoiding the road rage option we choose the latter and settle into our seats for the wait while we catch up on each others life. An hour passes as we finally crawl past the wreckage, tow trucks and clean up crew. Once again we are at cruising speed as our journey starts its ascent of the Cascade mountains.
The Cascades divide east from west and the Columbia River defines the line between Oregon and Washington state. 1,243 miles long and pushing millions of gallons of water from Canada to the Pacific the Columbia cuts a long, wide, meandering path. Interstate 84 follows the Columbia river through little towns long forgotten by the timber industry, past huge hydro power plants, along cattle ranches and over some of the richest salmon and steelhead rivers that feed into the Columbia. The gorge cut by the river over millions of years is now creating a new kind of farming community. Miles and miles of giant, white, streamlined windmills towering above the road with100 foot blades reaching out to grab the wind as it rushes down the gorge. The propellers spin hypnotically as we continue on our way east.
West of the Cascades the scenery is wet and green with tall Ceders and lush farm land. As we drive further east the land becomes drier and brown, covered in wheat and scrub grass. Crossing the Columbia into Washington state we’ve adjusted our heading to a more northerly direction. While our compass heading may have changed the only visible difference is the maximum speed limit as the long flat highway take us closer to Coeur d’Alene, ID., our destination for the night.
With no trees in the way, we can see for miles as the line between grey overcast sky and brown land blurs at the horizon. We pass field after field of recently plowed rich earth with small sprouts of green that foreshadow the bounty to come in the next few months. Into the darkness we drive, approaching Spokane followed by the Idaho boarder. Sometime around 9:00 p.m. we find a home for the night. An economically oriented (nice way of saying cheap) motel with the basics and several dining choices within easy walking distance to stretch out the cramps in our legs. The trailer and rig secured, our gear all stowed in the room, we eat and drink joining the locals playing pool and darts at a uniquely Irish sports bar.
It’s morning and driving in northern Idaho is an extremely rewarding experience. Ponderous Pines, snow covered hill tops, lakes, flowing creeks and wild life everywhere. Years ago little towns like Sandpoint may have only had a gas station, local grocer, bar, local hardware store and a Sears. These days art galleries, antique shops and Starbucks fill the main drag through town. Stopping the coffee and free WiFi at Starbucks is an oasis offering a chance to top off our caffeine levels and check emails before the final push north.
The reason for this road trip is to pick up a 1940, Sheldon 11″ thread cutting metal lathe. 500 pounds of metal tooling love perfect for turning bar stock into fly rod ferrules and custom real seats. Northern Idaho is a place where self-reliance is highly prized so the people there take care of the tools that take care of them.
When we arrived in Moyie Springs, a stones through from Canada and a few miles from the Montana boarder , George was holding court behind the gas/laundry/grocery store. George is the king of Moyie Springs when it comes to buying and selling stuff for his friends and neighbors in northern Idaho, including an old lathe. Gathered around George, several of his followers hang on his every word and do his bidding as he sends them off to fetch tools, or have them pick through boxes, cataloging items that could be sold on eBay. All the while George pontificates on what’s wrong with city people, how no one should pay taxes, or that government is taking away your rights and your ammo. But give George credit he is a survivor.
With the help of a tractor, tow straps and a few of George’s minions, a piece of Sheldon history is now resting securely in the little utility trailer. Of course there are still a dozen or so stories to listen too as George continues to negotiate and up sell us an antique lamp, case of .22 ammo, the odd tool and of course handmade pipes made from deer and elk antlers.
Aiming the Land Rover onto the highway we begin the long journey back to Portland. Each time we stop, we check the trailer and straps to ensure the 500 pounds of iron love hasn’t shifted.
Until now we’ve been ahead of the rains. Looking into the sunset we see thick grey haze ahead, watch as the outdoor temperature falls and start to count the rain drops hitting the windshield. Like a precision Indie pit we pull off to the side, engulf the trailer in a plastic tarp and secure it with countless bungee cords of all shapes, sizes and colors. The storm can’t dampen our spirits no matter how many state lines remain to be crossed.
The rain is hitting the windshield in sheets as we come down off the Cascades in the dark. Glare makes it impossible to see the dividing lines and the rig hydroplanes as Kevin hugs the shoulder of the Interstate. Although this nerve-wracking section does dampen the conversation we quickly pick it back up as the highway leveled off and the street lights of the big city bring back visibility to the dividing lines.
Kevin and I talk about the things most good friends do: family, kids, jobs, our last big fishing trip together and our next big fishing adventure together. We’ve known each other forever. Of course over the years life has taken us our separate ways. He served in the Air Force and raised a family. I moved my family all around. But we’ve always manage to come back together every so often and pick up our friendship as if the miles between us and years on the calender don’t matter.
I recently learned about Dunbar’s number and how people only have five to seven relationships that can be counted on no matter what. The are the relationships where the other person will drop everything to help you out. You can stop by without notice and they set an extra dinner plate and make the bed without asking why. You’ll lend them money and never ask for it back… those kinds of relationships. Kevin is definitely one of the guys in my Monkeysphere.
It’s a little after midnight as we pull into the driveway, disconnect the trail and unpack the Land Rover. A 1,000 miles in two days to retrieve a piece of equipment older than either of us and a long over due chance to catch up. Oregon, Washington and Idaho are amazing areas to explore even if it is done looking out the windshield on the interstates. As long as it’s done with a friend.
There is one thing that can be said about traveling across Ireland. It is that everyone should do it at least once. Even for the faint of heart traveler, this road trip can be accomplished in so many ways; there is no excuse not to. For me, part of the adventure is driving myself. There is something particularly fulfilling about having driven 600 miles on the “wrong side of the road” in the passenger seat. To me the only thing wrong with Ireland is that it’s not just off the coast of the U.S. and I can’t go there several times a year. That aside is it perfect, if you like lush, green, ocean views, friendly enough people, good food, historic sites, easy access to comfortable places to stay for any price range, and natural beauty. I digress into sounding like a travel agent but, it’s hard not to. Ireland is just that easy, or hard if you choose.
On this trip we drove. Our vehicle was one step up from the two door spec. This, to me was the especially thrilling part of the trip. Especially when reeling 60 KM per hour around a blind hairpin curve on a tight two lane road that might be 15 feet wide with a semi, tour bus or enormous farm tractor coming at you from the other way. Did I mention that there is no shy space or shoulder on either side of the road?
Close your eyes and picture this. You’re in the smallest vehicle imaginable north of a motorcycle, sitting on the wrong side of the front seat, driving on what physically feels like the wrong side of the road and in “your” lane, the lane you are naturally inclined to desire to drive on from behind a blind curve in comes an giant vehicle that consumes 2/3 of the road. Just inches from the passenger seat is a stone wall 4 feet high. Springing out from that wall are the fingers of age old vines and new spring growth that threaten to streak along the quarter and side panels of your car but not soften the blow if you sideswipe the wall. The suggested speed is far faster than common sense dictates and you’re going that fast. So is the oncoming vehicle that visually feels as if it is coming at you head on. It appears. You suck in an instant tense breath and shut your eyes for a split second, and grip the wheel a little tighter to stay your course, assuming that this time it is really going to hurt. By the time you release said breath, you’ve passed the aggressing vehicle unscathed and are rounding the next curve. Now repeat this over and over and over for 100 miles a day. It is no wonder the crotch of skin between my thumb and index finger was chaffed. Even for the most seasoned driver, it can be a gripping (pun intended) experience.
For the faint of heart there are several other ways to make the trek. Most noticeably in some parts of the country was travel by tour bus, privately hired buss, or van. Frankly, I don’t advise any mode of travel that doesn’t allow for a change of plans on a whim. There are too many opportunities to turn left when you’d originally planned to go right and see something you hadn’t anticipated. On this trip to Ireland, that was the plan. Just go. We’d decide in the morning what we were doing that day with an end point in mind and in ten days followed our plan to the letter never. We might chat with someone at breakfast or lunch and learn of a must do detour and do it, or see a road sign that lured us in and veer off course again. There isn’t a wrong way on this island. The only limitations when driving are water; you have to stop or go around it, too many opportunities to take a different path, and the date one must arrive at the airport to return home. There just isn’t enough time to take every opportunity, meaning, it will be a requirement to return.
For someone who likes to take the road less traveled a little slower there are always the bike and foot trails. Cyclists and hikers were prevalent, particularly in the south west region running north and south of Kilarney. The coast reaching all of the way north to Galway is in some places alluring and in others, breathtaking. I am an experienced road cyclist. Those I ride with are even more experienced. We agreed that biking (meaning bicycling) on these narrow curvy roads through the steep climbs of the Rhododendron forest on Highway Vee, around the curving stretches of the Dingle peninsula, Ring of Kerry, or along the cliffs of Mohr would be a thrill of its own kind. One borne of trust, as one would have to trust all other modes to not only be on the lookout but, many times to determine that you are more important that the paint job on the side panels of their car or the rims which hold their wheels.
Hiking is also an option. We saw many walking these fine roads. The trick would be to have your dive style perfected before you go. When coming upon packers and even those strolling along the roadway near their homes, my first thought was always, I wonder how many times they’ve had to dive over a hedgerow wall to avoid getting smeared right into it? Apparently for hikers and bikers, not many as we often ran into the familiar forms we’d passed earlier in the day once we settled in a town and began exploring on foot.
For me mode of travel is as important as the trip itself. I am never happier than when I am behind the wheel, handlebars, leaver, or trail map determining my own destiny. In Ireland, there is not wrong way. Even if Seri disagrees.
At Last Great Road Trip we pride ourselves on the fact that we not only go on some amazing off-road adventures but that we drive our Toyota FJ Cruiser there and back (hence the road trip moniker). So imagine our shame when Brian “Woody” Swearingen passes us on the way to Tahoe with our rig in tow.
Rubicon is seven of the hardest miles in the world to drive, but it is also nearly 2,000 miles of asphalt there and back from Seattle. We’ve been doing a lot… and I really mean a lot, of major modification to our Fj Cruiser (want a list: Ultimate FJ Cruiser), getting ready for the 25th anniversary of Rubithon. Some of them took longer than expect and we’d just finished up the last of them the week before, still not knowing if they would all hold together.
With no time to shake her down, new Metal Tech 4×4 tube doors installed (killing any idea of climate control through the wind, rain and heat) and the expectation of carnage that comes with running the Rubicon trail, we decided to take Mark up on his very generous offer of a truck and trailer to tow our FJ Cruiser to the event. (It Takes A Garage to pull these adventures off and we can’t thank Mark enough for the tow rig and Metal Tech’s help)
Life is good when you’re driving 14,000 lbs of internal combustion furry down the road, over the hills, though the desert and into Reno for the night. Despite a maximum speed of 55, the need to find parking for a 45 foot land yacht and 12 MPG on diesel, we are heading to Rubicon and nothing could rain on our parade.
Driving up into the Eldorado mountains of Tahoe in northern California, pushing a good 30 MPH on the vertical climb, we spotted a well built Toyota Wagon (80 series) blow by, sporting some very fancy off road stickers. The next thing I know, text messages are blowing up my phone from several folks wanting to know about the trailer… Woody had put the word out.
Google “Brian ‘Woody’ Swearingen” and what comes back is a very impressive off-road resume: Founder of IH8MUD.com, professional driver for the 2007 and 2008 Toyota Trail Teams, owner of rockcrawler.com, co-driver Baja 1000 (JTGrey Lexus LX 570 won the Stock Full class in the 45th Tecate SCORE Baja 1000 with Brian’s help) and Mint 400, TLCA member of the year, entrepreneur… the list goes on. Basically: Off-Road Rock Star!
When we arrived at the trail head in the morning to meetup with the others in our run, there was Woody, grinning ear to ear with a welcoming out stretched hand and the announcement to everyone that we should change our sites name to Last Great “Trailer” Trip if we weren’t going to drive the hard miles… I’m pretty sure, at that moment, I saw Hula Betty hang her head in shame, a tiny tear drop fall from her porcelain cheek and hit the dash as everyone chuckled.
Of course Woody gave us grief the entire week of Rubithon. But he also spotted us up some of the gnarliest sections of Rubicon including Little Sluice, keeping the Blue Bunny unscathed. Woody gave us tips on 4-wheeling and made it look easy in his Land Cruiser. He provided a ride back out on the trails to videotape other groups of rigs as they made their way into Rubicon Springs and kept us all entertained around the campfire every night with his tales, quick wit and sarcasm. In other words, Woody showed us why he is a legend in the world of Toyota motor sports off-road.
The price I paid in ribbing and ridicule for taking the road out of road trip was worth every moment for the chance to wheel with and learn from one of the best in off-roading. I wont swear we’ll never trailer our FJ Cruiser again… that is a very nice way to travel… but we will think long and hard before putting the Blue Bunny in tow again… I promise.
It’s hard to tell when wander lust first imprints itself on our soul. Maybe it starts with a favorite childhood story about a faraway place or a family road trip that sparked the desire to roam. For me it all began with the Vista Cruiser.
As early as I remember, my family had an Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser station wagon. From the impressionable age of five and for the next ten years my brothers raced quarter midgets. This meant summers were spent traveling cross-country in the Olds to nearly every state in the union, my dad often driving through the night to get us to a quarter mile race track. At the races, my brothers and I would sport white, pit crew jump suits with cool blue side stripes. My brothers would then don full leathers in 100 degree heat and race for the next two or three days.
While the boys raced, I discovered America. By day, I explored deserts, Mt. Rushmore, the Rocky Mountains, Smokey Mountains, Ohio River, Mississippi River, Hoover Dam, Las Vegas and the Colorado River. By night driving across the immense empty spaces of the central plains I laid face up gazing toward the sky through the angled glass of the back window. Speaking astronaut with my brothers, we watched the stars; often falling like rain in the sky. When we tired of staring off into space, we peered into the edges of the pitch black two lane highways in Montana, Nebraska and Wyoming as hundreds of eyes stared back at us. We spied bob cats, coyotes, rabbits, mule deer, skunk, fox, and raccoon. We were the generation dumb enough to get out of the car for a closer look at a road side bear in Yellowstone on our way to old Faithful. We were children in a then child un-friendly Las Vegas where we peeked through the well-guarded, adults only doors of the HoJo to watch Willy Nelson perform to a room that seated less than 50.
These summer pilgrimages, wrought with overheated radiators, truck stop meals, pit dust and little kids driving fast pint sized cars imbedded in me the desire to drive… freely exploring the open road. The races took me to places where people were not like me and I liked them anyway. It born in me the need to see places that aren’t home, exploring and comparing them to what I know as familiar. These days as I continue forward in my travels around the world, I can’t help but look back to where the desire to explore started, at the Pigeon Inn where a little oval shaped ¼ mile track expanded my world by thousands of miles.
First let me say… Hula Betty’s idea of roughing it is a room at the Four Seasons. Her idea of a hike to the top, is riding the escalator at Nordstrom and a cook out involves a waiter and sommelier. But sometimes it’s good to be treated like a king.
Evidently, I recently hit a birthday milestone. For this momentous event Hula Betty pulled out all the stops. No she didn’t have a dirt road named after me… better. No she didn’t have congress declare it a national holiday… better. It didn’t involve a tattoo shop or the words “long travel suspension”. Hula Betty took me on a road trip down memory lane and beyond.
Growing up in Portland, I would grab my tent, sleeping bag, fly rod, a sack of beef jerky and point my Baja Bug toward central Oregon. You can see I have a long history of packing up and taking off for parts unknown in search of adventure. Hula Betty took this theme and spiced it up a bit with her own style…
The sun was shining in a bright blue sky when we left Portland. Instead of the rugged Blue Bunny we’re cruising down I5 in Hula Betty’s rig, Toyota’s much more luxurious big brother. It’s the middle of the week and rush hour traffic is now pulling into their parking spots leaving four lanes of I5 commuter free. Music up load and the sunroof open we’re sailing (we’ll leave it at sailing so as not to incriminate ourselves here) down through Salem before turning east toward the Cascades of central Oregon.
Cruising alongside the Santiam river, Hula Betty endures my recital of each memory that is triggered by a bend in the river, a tree filled with fishing hooks or my favorite rest stop… Ok she liked the rest stop story since we were a couple of Starbucks into the morning by now. Passing Gates, Detroit, and Lost Lake we climb toward the mountain pass. Cresting the pass, dense Cedar and Douglas Firs give way to Ponderosa Pine forests that provide peekaboo views of jagged peaks and blue sky. The charred remains from the B&B forest fire a decade earlier still litter the mountain sides. The burn scars remind me how fragile the area is. But Mother Nature is resilient and beneath charred matchsticks is a new carpet of green with young saplings reaching up to the sun that now reaches down to them through the once dense canopy.
Just past the burn, after pulling off highway 20, we slow down to a crawl as we wind our way down to Suttle Lake. I’d seen the lake from the highway and driven by hundreds of times but never before stopped. As a youth, my budget could squeeze out enough for gas, camp site fees and a few flies with nothing left for luxuries like a cabin or even a hot meal. Back then Suttle Lake and its resort were beyond my reach.
Hula Betty had made all the arrangements and she spared no expense for me (or at least she said it was for me). A deluxe suite at the with it’s own fireplace, big feather bed requiring a step stool to climb up into, plush terrycloth robes hanging in the closet, complementary happy hour on the deck overlooking the lake and a sunset painted orange and pink with wide brush strokes… this is luxury I can get behind. The lodge will be base camp for the next few days while we relax and explore the area.
Sisters, OR. is a small artist community nestled between Suttle Lake and Bend, OR. When I say small community… traffic that was zooming down the highway is forced through this speed bump of a town creating a parade of campers, trailers and car-top-carries down main street that grinds to a halt every time some old cowboy decides to cross the street. I’m pretty sure kids cross back and forth just to see how far they can back up traffic… anything to keep the kids off drugs. As you would expert from an artsy commune, Sisters is filled with shops, peddling everything from artisan quilts to country antiques and of course the obligatory, newly expanded two location (across the street so they can watch traffic stop) log furniture store.
We wander the streets, explore the shops, stop traffic a time or two and pass the day chatting with shop owners and other visitors who apparently don’t have real jobs either or they are not willing to let their jobs get in the way of exploring the road less traveled. And in this little alpine ashram is Jen’s Garden. Jen’s Garden is a five course, culinary adventure that takes us from appraisers, fish and meat course to salad followed by a decadent dessert choice. The meal is designed so that you can eat through it and still come out the other side without loosing conscious. To help take the sting out of selecting the right bottle of wine to match this culinary diversity Jen’s Garden offers a five glass pairing of different wines selected to complement each of their courses.
I love dinners that last for hours… you get to focus on the person across the table and have a conversation that is more than a couple of grunts in between mouthfuls. We eat our way through the courses laughing and talking about the past, present and future before finally making the 20 minute drive back to the lodge, counting a dozen or so deer we catch staring into our headlights.
Fly fishing is a passion I’ve flamed since before I could drive. On our Arctic adventure I managed to cast a line to chrome bright salmon as well as arctic char. Look in the back of my rig and you will usually find a small duffle bag of fishing gear and a fly rod. The Metolius River with it’s skittish Rainbows, Dolly Vardens and crystal water has long been my spring creek of choice and remains a favorite destination.
Only 15 minutes past Suttle Lake, Camp Sherman, which sits at the head waters of the Metolius remains frozen in time with few exceptions. The only store here sits just past a few vacation cabins and marks the start of several state run camp grounds that dot the next several miles of river front. The antique gas pumps outside no longer deliver fuel but this little general store is still part grocery market, part post office and message board and part fly shop. Although these days the store’s wine selection is starting to bleed into the back where they keep the hand tied green drakes and #2 grizzly hackles, stepping inside, always transports me to the fabled shores of Lake Woebegone.
The upper Metolius is barbless hook only fly fishing with a well managed, healthy population of wild fish including a run of Kokanee that make their way up from Lake Billy Chinook. The head waters of the Metolius gush out from a crack in the mountain with amazing consistency, creating one of Oregon’s premiere spring fed fisheries. Ten miles or so below the head waters, as the river picks up volume and speed is the Wizard Falls hatchery.
Like pickers to a yard sale, I am drawn to fish hatcheries. It dates back to the first one my dad took us to on some long forgotten road trip to the Sierras or was it upstate New York. I still grin when I see a nickle gumball machine filled with Purina fish pellets and watch the water erupt as you toss a handful to the frantic schools of fingerlings. Even Hula Betty is cracking a smile at my boyish enthusiasm, watching the brood stock sip at the surface as I drop one pellet at a time from the observation deck to the giants circling below. And while not as enthusiastic as me, Hula Betty is clearly struck by the beauty of Wizard Falls… even if the falls are more swirling shades of blue and white foam than actual falls.
Allingham bridge on the upper Metolius has always been one of my favorite fishing holes. Quiet during the week, on weekends this little bit of water is fished hard and the native rainbows that live here are well schooled in the ways of detecting the differences between artificial art and real life. The run below the bridge is cold (40.7 degrees to be exact), clear, calm and about four feet at its deepest. The surface of the run, while glass like, is covered with transitioning currents that go in several directions at once making a drag free drift all but impossible. A smarter man would surely pass this run by for easier pickings, except that with the rhythmic consistency of a waltz, fish are quietly sipping the surface exposing their nose and flashing white as their mouth opens to draw in a caddis fly riding on the surface tension.
Walking into the water with only a pair of hiking shorts, I am stopped dead in my tracks as every blood vessel below my knees constricts at once in a painful reaction to the icy water. Slapping my thigh a couple of times to encourage the blood to flow and mask the agony I am experiencing at the thought of going in further, I muster the courage to inch my way into the current until the water is lapping at my belt. The clear water gives me a magnified view of the blue color my toes are taking on as I stand there tying a number 18, deer hair caddis to the end of a 7x tippet. Scanning the current, I begin to zero in on the steady rise of a fish focused on the surface. Cast after cast I lay the artificial a foot or so ahead of the feeding query, only to have the current drag it away.
This game of cat and mouse (not sure if I’m the cat or the mouse) goes on for several hours. I move up stream a foot or two and then back down in an effort to find an angle at which I can float my line without causing the fly to wake across the surface like a jet ski. Inevitably I scare down the trout, only to see another take its place a yard or two away.
The fly landed softly and floated six inches before disappearing into the dimple left behind in the surface as a trout mistakes my presentation for the real thing. Lifting the rod high, I set the hook and realize I’ve lost all feeling below the waist as I try to maintain a vertical stance, while working the slack in order to get the fish on the reel. Every fly fisherman will tell you the sweetest sound in the world is the click of the drag as a fish pulls out line in an attempt to put distance between the two of you. Even a small fish on a light line can make a reel sing a cappella more sweetly than any church choir.
A chorus or two of the reel later I am gently removing the barbless hook from the corner jaw of a bright 12 inch native. Releasing him back into the water I watch him dart quickly to freedom in the current below. Two more times I play out this epic battle before heading back to the resort to put on dry cloths and meet up with my dinner date who by now is relaxing with a glass of wine on the lodge’s deck.
While Camp Sherman remains mostly unchanged from my youth, the rustic little Kokanee Cafe and its renowned chef are newish, the cafe has only been there 20 years and change comes slowly to my memory. Inspired by their selections and our culinary adventure the night before, we decide to chart our own course through their menu. Chatting with our server Bell, we explain that we will be ordering several different selections over the next few hours, sharing some and individually indulging in others. Bell seemed to light up at the idea, making it a point to compliment us on our “European style” of dining and then shares stories of her and her husband’s local dining adventures with us. Throughout our evening the tables around us fill, empty and fill again. One group of 70 something women, provide entertainment as we eavesdrop on their shouting (note to self, when I get old carry spare hearing aid batteries). They discuss their adventures in town, grandkids and the men in their lives.
Hula Betty and I continue to work our way across the pages of the menu as the candles burn down. We argue the merits of a mountain cabin verses a beach cottage trying to settle the age old debate between lake, river and beach front property. Our conversations continue and the wine flows until close to closing when we finally thank Bell for helping make this night special and come to grips with the cost of ordering this way. Half a bottle of wine in hand (and a couple of empties left behind) we return to base camp and a waiting fire.
After three nights of rustic luxury, the next morning we leave central Oregon behind with its lodge, plush bath robes, artist community, fine dinning, fly fishing and spectacular sunsets. Hula Betty has taken me on adventure that started down memory lane and then explored a whole new set of roads in central Oregon. If it is true that girlfriends try harder… Hula Betty definitely attained girlfriend status with this birthday surprise.
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