Category Archives: Overland & Trails

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

fj cruiser climbing rock face

Naches Run Day 2 (The Pre-Run)

fj cruisers on clif edgeMoon Rock…  Funny Rock… sounds more like Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” than an off-road adventure destination.  But that was exactly where we were going to scout out off-road trails.

Sleeping under the stars means there are no shades or curtains to keep the sun from crashing in on you as soon as it crests the mountain tops.  First things first after shaking off the chill and relinquishing my grip on the idea of sleeping in, was digging through the meal sack for breakfast… doesn’t camp coffee always taste better?  I know Starbucks can build you a custom double tall, half caf, skinny, mocha, macchiato with just a hint of Madagascar cinnamon. But somehow water boiling on a camp stove that is pored into a crusty tin mug filled with two scoops of instant seems to taste that much better when its mixed with a stick from off the ground and sipped sitting on a rock.sliver fj cruiser black fj cruiser

The club planned on running trail six something or another, I’m terrible with numbers.  So today the plan was to explore the trail making sure it was passable and poke around some other trails to see where we could find some interesting obstacles to tackle.

The trails in the Naches area are tight and keep your attention.  But when they open up…  they really open up.  Wheeling the west side of the cast Cascades means mud, tree roots, and hills.  Wheeling the Naches area gives you plenty of deep rutted hills and exposed roots but it also gives you rock…  the kind of rock that you can test your flex as you crawl up to the top.  Funny rock was exactly that.  The wide open meadow filled with shale and wildflowers pointed the way to a fun rock climb.voodoo blue fj cruiser funny rock

There was even a shelf that has caused its share of carnage.  Although Brandon attempted the shelf, after several tries and a few tippy moments he decided this one might be better left unfinished.  After all tomorrow is another day…  and we would be back.

By the time we rolled back into camp the rest of the club had arrived.  Camp fires are where the bonds of friendship are forged.  This night there were folks from Coeur d’Alene, Seattle, Portland and a few places in between…  engaged couples, married couples, brothers, cops, software engineers, entrepreneurs and even an old guy or two on a weekend pass. Before long everyone was telling stories and explaining how in the world they got into wheeling.  If you ever wondered… No, no one goes into the dealership and says… “I’d like to spend $30k on a really nice rig, dump another $10k in mods and than put my it in harms way”.  Usually the stories that came out were more like “I wanted a 4×4 rig to go camping and fishing…  but I met up with the club and started doing more and more difficult stuff”.

voodoo blue toyota fj cruiser metal tech bumperBut no matter who they were or how they got here…  having everyone around the fire made the evening amazing.  Of course as usual, the crowd thinned out, the sky got darker, the stars shined brighter and the conversation deteriorated.  It wasn’t long before talk turned to man-mellows, man camp, and host of other topics that seem funnier 10 beers into the night.

In the glow of waning embers we said our final good nights and headed for the cot, knowing tomorrow we would have the chance to spend time on the trails with some of the nicest folks around and just maybe get a few more pictures to share and some video of who knows what.

Here are a few more pictures from today at off-road adventures on Flickr

camp site kelty shelter

Naches Run Day 1 (Grab The Good Camp Site)

whistlin jack lodgeWhen it is raining and grey in the northwest, hang out on the NWFJCC Facebook page is a great way to keep your spirits up.  Reading a post for a camping and wheeling trip planned for the Naches area caused my heart to leap. Of course then the waiting… May… June and a good chunk of July passed before the run was here.

The Naches area is on the east side of the Cascade Mountains where the sun shines, the trees are tall and the sky is clear blue. It is also in an area filled with 4×4 trails, camping sites and a redneck hot-spot or two. Getting there is almost as spectacular as the area itself. Hula Betty and I drove the route through Enumclaw, past Greenwater and around Mt. Raineer on highway 410.  Even the sunshine seemed a little warmer as we crested Chinook Pass leaving the snow and Mountain views in our rear view mirror.  Past Whistlin’ Jack and the next turn…  Little Naches River Road… then into camp.

By the time we rolled into camp a few members of the club had secured several nice sites for the group and before the dust could settle on our rig we were unpacking and  setting up our little shelter tucked into the trees on Crow Creek.  For me, these days, camping is not exactly roughing it. Kelty carport, lanterns, camp table, extra large cot and a layer of two inch thick foam to rest our bones, makes for a very cozy weekend Shangri-La.  Who ever said roughing it easy was a bad thing.

Since we had arrived a day before the “official” start of the run only a couple of us were sitting around the camp after dinner.  Of course it didn’t take long for someone to mention night run.  Night runs always make for a good time.  Dancing shadows, moon light and countless stars can turn even simple trails into an amazing off road adventure….  and we get to use our Baja Designs lights.  There is just something about turning night into day with our lights that screams “this is fun stuff”.

Although we were out for just an hour or so, the night run was the perfect start to what is shaping up to be an amazing off road adventure weekend.  Now if we can just fight off the excitement long enough to fall asleep under the open sky and wait for the rest of the club to roll in, in the morning.

fj cuirsers 4x4 trail green water washington

Should Have Taken That Left Turn At Albuquerque…

men examining the mapThe best navigators are never really sure where they are going until they get there…

6:45 a.m. and the sun is screaming at me through the blinds, yelling to get up and go on this off-road adventure…  We were already late if we were going to be in Enumclaw by 8:30 a.m.  The drive to a trail run meetup for us is always a combination of caffeine, anticipation,  iPod shuffling and mental spring cleaning.  This was no exception.four fj cruisers on 4x4 trail

It has been awhile since we’d run with the NWFJCC…  with anyone for that matter… and this was going to be and easy day of exploring forest roads with several new folks who’d be making their maiden run with the club.

The plan was to head up forest road 70 and than see what happens.  Maybe take a side road that looks interesting or head up to a lookout station or two.  What wasn’t planned for was snow!  After all this is June and we were only at 2,500 ft.  But the snow was there and it marked the end of exploring 70.  Now we were going off the map.

voodoo blue fj cruiser rocky hill climbOff-road exploring is fun…  lots of stops and starts, heading down a trail spur only to find out it dead ends 100 yards from where it starts and turning around a parade of FJ Cruiser on a two track.  The poking around paid off as we found some hills, great views and a little mud.  It also let us spend time with everyone comparing rigs, discussing the merits of this mod or that one, hearing stories of ex-wives, kids, family dogs and the tails that are on each persons must run check trd fj cruiser mud

If you follow the blog (and I hope you do) you may remember the Greenwater area from our winter dog sled adventure.  It rests in the shadow of Mount Rainer offering post card photo ops of the snow covered mountain with swaths of green filling the hills and blue sky above.  The Naches trail cuts through the hills but remains closed until mid-July leaving us to only dream as we crossed it several times during the day.

Even though we spent all day on the back roads exploring, club runs always seem too short.  With the sun still warming the hoods of our FJ Cruisers, we said good bye to our old and new friends as everyone realized dinner time was approaching.voodoo blue fj cruiser driving through snow 4x4 trail  The drive home gave us time to reflected on how lucky we are to be a part of this club and also start planning to attend the next club run of the Naches trail.

Want to see more pictures… Greenwater off-road adventure pictures

toyota fj80 tahuya forest 4x4 trail

Training Day (aka this side of youth)

jeep tahyua forest yellow jacket trailIf a mid-life crisis is about recapturing your youth than there is one sure fire way to do it…  No it is not getting a big Harley, driving a fast sports car or dating younger women… Sure those all seem like good ideas and definitely worth a try, but  if you want to recapture your youth, spend some time teaching kids about the things you love… off-road adventures.

Remember learning how to drive…  Remember learning how to wheel on fire roads and than taking to the 4×4 trails?  Seeing the world through the eyes of the young and experiencing those firsts all over again is what keeps us young at heart.

So when we got a note asking if we wanted to go wheeling with a buddy who was teaching his boy to wheel, we jumped at the chance.  Turns out everyone learned a few things.

There are few things more inspiring than watching a father teach his boy or the look of pride on his face as his girl begins to wheel like they have been doing it all their life.  The off-road adventure in the Tahuya Forest may not have been the most demanding, it didn’t cover new unexplored exotic land, and didn’t toyota fj80 driving through waterlast more than a few hours.  But getting out out and seeing a young man learn to drive 4×4 trails at the side of his father will live in my heart for years.

We may not have recaptured all our youth, but this day gave back a little of the excitement experienced the first time we all put a wheel on a dirt road so many years ago.

voodoo blue fj cruiser rock pile tillamook forest

Smile, I’m On Hidden Camera

closeup fj cruiser tire rocks tillamook forestThe great thing about going on an off-road adventure with a bunch of friends is that these days, everyone has a video camera. And thanks to You Tube everyone is a video producer and their own distribution company.

Remember the black Friday Browns Camp off-road adventure? Turns out when we weren’t looking one of the guys in the group caught us going through a few obstacles in the Tillamook State Forest ORV Park. I’m usually behind the camera so it isn’t too often I get to see how I look on the trails when where out just having fun.

Definately want to thank Kurt for sending us the video links.

I think he captured my good side… And yes we really do go by Blue Bunny on the trail

marron fJ cruiser hogs back

Black Friday Off-Road Adventure

4 fj cruisers tillimook forest in woodsCan I drive…  no. Really, can I drive…  No.Come on… let me drive… NO!

Oh #$%^@…  Never mind, I don’t want to drive.

You take 1 part rocks, 1 part mud and 2 parts gravity shake them all together and you have the 3rd annual Black Friday run.  Every year the Northwest FJ Cruiser Club (NWFJCC) holds its off-road 4×4 trail run through the Tillamook State Forest and this year I had the opportunity to introduce a friend to the sport of off-road adventure driving.

black fj cruiser muddy 4x4 trail tillamook forestThe club is about family fun and drivers show up with all skill levels.  There are folks in the club who have wheeled for years as well as those who are just starting out.  Everyone pulls together to get each other through the obstacles and ensure we all learn a little something on each off-road adventure.  As you can see by the map of the Tillamook State Forest OVR Park, the forest has a little something for everyone with trails ranging from easy to don’t try this at home, rip your rear axle off, extreme.  It even has fun trails for a friend on her introductory run into the sport of wheeling… as a passenger.

silver toyota fj cruiser muddy 4x4 trailPower Line is an easy to moderate trail with tight squeezes through the woods, an occasional bump and dip as well as a bunch of twists and turns with great views.  Power Line is the usual warm-up 4×4 trail for the club and this run was no different.  The week had its share of rain but today the sun was out and the rigs were all running good as the drivers got into wheeling mode, exercising their low gears and traction devices for the trails to come.

marron fj cruiser hogs back tillamook forestFire Brake Five is where the rocks, mud and gravity come together.  Fire Brake Five is also where the stock rigs usually take the bypass.  The skinny peddle is not my favorite wheeling tool but when mud makes everything slick, momentum is king.  Since you have no traction, keeping the momentum up and sticking to the high side of the rocks allowed us to slip over and past the differential grabbing rocks.  Although a couple of rigs got bogged down, a hi-lift jack and a few well stacked rocks made sure everyone made it through unscathed.

snow fj cruisers tillamook forestThe trails are connected by logging road that take you over the hills of the Oregon Coastal Range.  Although the sun was out this day, we still managed to find a little snow hinting of the holiday season.  Unfortunately for the us these same roads led the crew to a number of closed trails  including the club’s own “Hood Raiser”.  A big blow down made the trail impassable and means the club will be back with chainsaws and heavy equipment to clear it’s adopted section come spring time.

silver fj cruiser hogs back tillamook forestHog’s Back is one of those climbs that provides lots of off-road fun in a compact package.  You come at it on a short hill climb with a chunk of dug out slab rock at the top.  Keep your momentum, find the high-side of the dips and ride it out and over the top.  It isn’t until you’re at the top looking back down that you realize just how capable the FJ Cruiser really is.  With nothing more then stock tires, A-trac and rear e-Locker the 2010 stock FJ Cruiser in the group (only 400 miles on it) conquered Hog’s Back.  It is nice to see how well Toyota built these rigs.

hula bettys manFor some black Friday congers up over-caffeinated shoppers standing in dark department store doorways waiting to push, shove and edge out each other for the perfect Christmas stocking stuffer at 70% off.  For me, the NWFJCC, Hula Betty and my copilot Janet, it means wheeling with friends, picnicking on the trail and a chance to explore the 4×4 trails in the Tillamook State Forest.

And no…  You can’t drive my rig on Fire Brake Five…  Really, NO!  But maybe next time you can take it out on the logging roads.  See, I’m learning to share my toys.  Baby steps…  baby steps.

toytoa fj cruiser rock garden tillamook forest

You Want Me To Do What! Really… REALLY….

fj cruiser looking Back wooded trailSo how do you become an internationally recognized off road driving, winching and safety trainer? Well if you are Bill Burke you start with a resume that looks like:

  • One of 2-person team to represent America in the Camel Trophy, a grueling 1200-mile rally across Africa (1991)
  • Developed and presented Camp bill burke winch cable managementRover West, now known as “On the Road…”, practical driver training seminars and guided trail rides for 4-wheel drive/SUVs and their owners
  • 4-Wheel Drive Training Editor, 4WD Toyota Owner magazine
  • Teach 4-wheel drive techniques and environmental awareness to U.S. Forest Service and Department of Interior including U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), Inter-agency Fire Response Team, U.S. State Department, Bureau of Land Management (BLM), and Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) on an ongoing basis
  • Instituted Toyota Technical Center 4-wheel drive training program for Toyota Motors’ Worldwide in-house Certification
  • toyota 100 series 4x4 trailProvided 4×4 safety training to managers who are responsible for mining exploration and operations in the Andes through Mark One S.A., Lima, Peru
  • Provide input to Toyota engineers on FJ Cruiser design

What Bill’s 4×4 adventure list doesn’t even begin show is his skills or easy going, no nonsense, hands on approach to training.bill burke sitting rock

Did I mention there is a bit of unconventionality in his methods.  Let me explain…

Bill had us drive on a course he laid out that weaved across the trail, down the ditch, squeezing between the log and that big sharp snag on the right, back over the ditch around his rig, over the other log around the other side of the trail, past the bush pile and finally squeezing through the rock and log back onto the trail… BLIND FOLDED!driving silver fj cruiser blindfolded

And when we all made it safely…  Bill had us do it again in REVERSE…  BLIND FOLDED…  Welcome to spotting and trusting your spotter…  Use the Force Luke.

This off road adventure was put together by Paul (the other Paul) from the NWFJCC so except for Dwon from Oregon Photo Safaris: Photography Training Oregon Geotoursim and Bill everyone was getting to know their FJ Cruiser a little better.defender 90 under Ceder Tree

A big part of the training involved running the trail without A-track or rear lockers in order to keep us focused on picking the right lines and thinking about traction aids as tools to be used when necessary not crutches for bad line selection.

So you own a hi-lift jack.  Any idea how to use it correctly?  Do you know how to set it up and use it as a winch?  We do now…  fj cruisers power Line tillamook forestand a little tip…  carry a rolled up magazine so you can shorten a winch rope or tow strap.  Once you know how to use a hi-lift jack correctly, they are not so scary and open up a truck load of options for getting yourself unstuck.

We ran a number of winching scenarios in order to practice assessing the situation, working with the driver, coordinating help, setting our rigging, hand signals, and getting the rig through the obstacle.hi-lift winch setup

Bill runs a Land Rover Defender 90, but as part of the initial Toyota FJ Cruiser prototype test drivers he provided feedback to the Toyota engineering design team.  His knowledge of the Toyota FJ Cruiser is very deep.  Bill effortlessly rattled off FJ Cruiser ring and pinion gearing, electrical schematics, suspension geometry and drive train specs followed by explaining how the components affected our wheeling capabilities.

Whether on the trail, around the camp fire or during a lunch break, Bill shared his knowledge in a way us mere mortals could understand.  Over the three days course Bill never seemed to run out of good information to share with all of us.voodoo blue fj cruiser rock pile tillamook forest

Done right wheeling can provide a lifetime of learning and Bill Burke’s training was a big step forward in filling the mental rolodex with information that can ensure we get back home safely or avoid trouble all together.

Of course there are more pictures… Bill Burke 4×4 training photos on Flickr.

land rover wilderness first aid tumbnails

The CPR Run To Blue Lake

nw overlander range rovers 4x4 trailI drove the legend that started it all…  more on that in a minute, but first…

Picture yourself on an off-road adventure in the middle of nowhere, cell coverage is non-existent, the stars are beginning to poke through the night sky and your group is settling in for an evening around the camp fire when across the way you hear one of your mates crashing down the hill… then nothing.

women demonstrates CPROff-road adventures are a great and allow us to get away from it all by exploring the road much less traveled.  But with that isolation comes the very real danger that someone may get seriously injured in a place where dialing 911 is not an option (don’t think it could happen to you than read “Trouble Off-road In Moab“) .  So how do you prepare for minor scrapes, cuts, and broken bones as well as life threatening injuries?

Andy, a paramedic and member of the Northwest Overland Society put together a three day trip, centered around teaching CPR and wilderness first aid so we could be better prepared to help out in an emergency on the trail.  cpr dummy attaches man

If you have taken CPR or first aid, you know this material is dry  at best and down right mind numbing in the hands of a monotone instructor…  but Andy managed to make it entertaining, keeping the group engaged and ensuring we all walked away with the skills necessary just in case he is the one who takes a fall on the trail. The training started out in Tacoma, on the campus of Pacific Lutheran University.  And although this portion involves CPR manikins, they are just not as much fun as you might imagine.  But despite the Ken Doll Dummies, we did manage to learn 30 and 2, Check, Call, Care and enough key points to all pass our CPR test.

blue lake from camp siteAlong the way Andy slipped in some of the major issues we may have to deal with in the wilderness.  He also discussed how to get comfortable in the role as leaders out on the trail.  Leadership in a crisis is hard to prepare for and any time you can practice, the time is well spent.

After we said goodbye to the CPR dummies, some in the group having more trouble letting go than others, it was onto Blue Lake for the wilderness first aid portion of the training.

toyota land cruiser 4x4 trail hill climbThe drive to Eastern Washington took us over the Snoqualmie Pass and into the Yakima Valley.  Even from the highway the view is amazing and foreshadowed what was to come on the trail.  We made our last stop in Yakima to gas up and collect stranglers before heading to the trail.

This is the first run I’ve had the opportunity to take with the NW Overland Society.  The crew included: Craig (leader of the NW Overland Society), Andy (our trip leader), Todd & Scott up from PDX, Dan, the other Scott, Dave, Joe & Daria as well as Isaac visiting from New York. Blue Lake is near the Rim Rock area, a high mountain desert around 6,700 ft. above sea-level where the days are hot, dry and windy followed by nights in which the mercury plummets, even in August.

dashboard hula doll ukuleleBecause of… lets just call it a lot of friendship renewal time, our start on the trail was a bit late.  But that meant we had the opportunity to do a little nighttime driving which is one of my favorite activities.  Even before the sunset, visibility was at a minimum from all the rigs kicking up a thick layer of fine Eastern Washington dust into the air.  The trail in was easy enough even in the dark and before you knew it we were at the lake pitching camp. land rovers roof top tents camping

By the time I tossed out my sleeping bag and bivy sack, many in the crew were putting the finishing touches on their roof top Shangri-Las.  Plush, easy to pitch and high on cool factor, roof top tents represent the ultimate roughing it easy of over-landing.  I got to look into getting me one.

practicing wilderness first aid head injuryCold nights mean one thing to friends on the trail… fire side BS.  Although I’d never run with this crew before, they have to be some of the best guys around… welcoming me into the group as if I’d been running with them for years.  We were all up until way past late laughing, telling stories and having a great time by the fire trying to stay warm.

Of course the morning came crashing in hard as the sun hit my bivy sack…  I guess those roof top tents come with blackout curtains since they didn’t pile out for another couple of hours. That day Andy showed us the proper techniques for dealing with cuts, bruises, dehydration, broken bones and bleeders.  But more importantly Andy worked with us to understand the choices we would be making as leaders in these situations. wilderness first aid wrist splint

No one wants to stop a trip halfway because of an injury, have a person ride out the rest of the trip in pain or sit by their friend and hold his hand as they pass but accidents happen.  As the group leader we may have to make the hard decisions.  And while you can never be fully prepared, Andy provided us with the tools we may need to hopefully make the right choice when the time comes.

land rover driving dusty 4x4 trailDiscussing blood and guts all day can be a stop sign to a good time, but with the sun going down and another fireside session the crew was back to laughing until all the wood in camp was gone.  This is definitely the way to remind yourself why you take the risks of going out to the middle of nowhere. The last day found the crew packing up after breakfast which came sometime around noon…  did I mention those roof top tents fold up as fast as they pitch. looking out over valley and mountain

Ok, all first aid and no wheeling makes Jack a cranky boy.  This crew was made up of folks of all different wheeling levels so we talked a little about the trails choices that would allow everyone to challenge themselves a bit without over doing it for anyone. We took a couple of 4×4 trails out to some amazing vistas.

Jeep wrangler climbing 4x4 trailThe trail provided good practice helping some learn about their rig’s capability and the proper line choice as well as giving others the chance to choose the more difficult lines.  At the top we were rewarded with panoramic views of the cascades and rim rock in all their glory.  Up there… if you couldn’t hear God talking to you…  you weren’t listening. Dan’s rig is the Land Rover Defender 90 series, outfitted for going just about anywhere.

defender 90 backing down 4x4 trailHanding me the keys and letting drive was a chance of a life time.  This is the rig that the English explored the world from, or as close as you’re going to get these days and driving it was everything you’d expect.  It is British…  Utilitarian and full of personality…  Sure there are quirks about Land Rovers you need to accept, but if you want to experience the ultimate exploring rig, just climbing behind the wheel and driving the dusty fire roads will put you in the right state of mind… Many of us explore the remote trails looking to find places visited by only a few and to share a camaraderie with those who make the journey with us.  land rover discovery 4x4 hill climb

Although this adventure was primarily for training, I hope the bonds of friendship that were formed can remain in place until I have the chance to meet up with this crew again on the next run. One of the books Andy recommended that everyone carry is the “Mountaineering First Aid: A Guide to Accident Response and First Aid Care “. You may want to pick up a copy before your next adventure.

Bonus Pictures from the run on flicker… there are a lot… just click through to see them all in a slide show on our off-road adventure flickr account.

voodoo blue fj cruiser mountain view

An Off-Road Adventure Down Memory Lane

voodoo blue toyota fj cruiser mount hood logging roadsGrowing up in Portland OR, my formative high school days as well as my heavy drinking college years were spent chasing one thing…  Ok maybe two things but the one I’ll write about was the chance to go out, explore off-road, getting lost on the logging roads above Estacada OR.

I would drive my old Baja bug, held together with spit and bailing wire, looking for out of the way places to fish and camp.  In those days, and we won’t do the math to figure out tree blocking two track 4x4 trailjust how long ago that was, the creeks were filled with little 6″ native Cut Throat trout and the gravel roads shook under the traffic of the big logging truck.

Recently I had the chance to chase those elusive logging roads to their end once again.  This time however the FJ Cruiser gave me much more off-road confidence to go beyond the gravel and venture onto the two tracks…  sometimes down the no tracks… just the hint of a trail that lead to views seen by only a few others and maybe not seen for years.

I was off the map…  I was exploring what was around the bend, over the hill and what just might be next…  Driving those old roads (now mostly abandoned by the logging companies) provided a sense of peace and solitude for Hula Betty and I, that seems to be more and more difficult to achieve in a life connected by email, cell phones and text messages 24×7.wild mountain daisy

The years change things…  not for good or bad, just change.  The rustic state camp grounds I knew now take reservations and the scarred mountain sides were once again green with the promise of a new crop of lumber.  The logging trucks don’t thunder down the mountain and the mills have closed leaving ghost towns in their wake.  But the mountains still stand tall in all their majesty as the sun sets on cruiser meadow mount willson

The saying is “you can never go home”…  and you really don’t want too…  but every once in a while it is good to take a look and see the changes.  Who knows, you might find a little bit of your past and a lot of your future out there on an off-road adventure down memory lane.

And if you have the chance, drive up the Clackamas River, past Ripple Brooke Ranger Station and turn left off into the woods.

young man getting into black fj cruiser

Off-Road Trail Bonus

Remember the Lady’s Off-Road Adventure?  I know you do… it was the previous post… While the women grabbed the spotlight, one of the moms got a surprise when she looked back and it was her son in the drivers seat of another 4WD rig coming up the trail.  And Mother like son, he did a great job…  but probably aged a little when the FJ Cruiser looked more like the space shuttle pointed to the moon than a truck driving on a off-road adventure.

And you can see how a good trail boss can walk you out of anything…  Nice job Jacob sticking with it and working through a though off-road obstacle.