Tag Archives: overland offroad adventure

fj cruiser packed up

Ten Things, Don’t Leave Home Without Them

airing up fj cruiser 4x4 tireAs I’m getting ready for the next off-road adventure it occurred to me there are certain things I wont go without.  Some of these are practical, some are personal but for me these things make all the difference in the world when it comes to dealing with issues I may encounter and adding to the fun.

  1. First on the list, my head!  Don’t go Freud on me here.  A big part of my preparation for even a little off-road adventure is to wrap my head around what I’m going to be doing.  I’ll review the maps, run through my mental checklists, and consider the situations I may run into.  This includes thinking about the things that could go wrong.  Since I often go out alone I know that I wont have the perfect piece of equipment for every situation and getting out of a jam is going to be up to me.  This is why I always make sure one person knows where I’m going, when I’ll be back and what to do if I’m late.  Being in the right frame of mind makes all the difference to me and helps ensure I enjoy the adventure no matter what happens out there.
  2. A big part of these off-road adventure trips is capturing and sharing the adventure with others.  I always grab the photo and video equipment including the tripod, microphones, lenses, extra batteries, chargers and video tapes.  All this equipment takes up space and it becomes a trade off with what other stuff I’ll leave at home (see #9).  But when I get a comment telling me how much someone enjoyed the story, pictures or video it brings it all home for why I do what I do.
  3. Water. Lots of water!  Way back in the day, I was out on a long hike and did not bring enough water.  The migraine and weakness of dehydration I experienced was enough to ensure I would never run out again.  I carry plenty of fat reserves around my waist to go without food for longer than I would like.  In fact a cleansing fast would do me good.  But water is an absolute must.
  4. New to the list is my iPhone.  Not that I count on cell coverage, but with all the apps. available these days I find the chance to play  Texas Holdem or listen to a few songs can be relaxing after a long day on the trail or on a lunch break.  There is even a little app that turns your iPhone into a level that can be handy when trying to make sure the rig or camera isn’t listing to one side.
  5. Of course I have my recovery gear.  This includes tree savers, snatch blocks, yank straps, shackles, shovel and hi-lift jack.  I’ve also added a new item, Maxtrax recovery system that makes for easy sand recovery.  I’ve seldom had to use the recovery gear on the trail, but I often pull it out to practice and check that all the equipment is working correctly.
  6. My tool kit is basic but has what it takes: box wrenches, sockets, pliers, box cutter, wires, fuses, crescent wrenches, screwdrivers, zip ties, duct tape, mallet and other bits. I grew up working on Baja bugs where there was nothing you couldn’t fix with a screwdriver and a big hammer.  I also count the air compressor as a mandatory tool for airing up and down as we travel between tarmac and dirt.
  7. A fold up stool…  Yes that is right a fold up stool.  My brother-in-law gave me this little gem a couple of years ago and I did not fully appreciate what a great gift it was at the time.  Every time I’m bent over airing up, peering into the front hub or checking the brakes I thank Mickey for the support!
  8. I have a bucket of fluid bottles in the back just in case something starts to leak or runs low.  Although I do a thorough pre-run check (daily on long trips) the fluids include motor, transmission and gear oil, coolant, brake, steering and windshield.
  9. Kamp KarmaIn the overnight gear department, I’ve attained a Zen like minimalist approach reducing the cooking, sleeping and living gear to what fits in a small bucket.  A bivy sack and tarp replaces the tent, a tea kettle, a small pot,that doubles as a cup, a second cup (it all fits inside itself), a compact stove that puts out enough BTU’s to contribute to global warming, a spoon, head lamp w/ extra batteries, fire starter, fuel and small repair kit.  There is also a hand full of nuts, chicken broth base and enough green tea to relax in the evening as well as get started in the morning.  The grocery list may increase on long trips, but really that is about it for an overnight adventure.
  10. I don’t always know when I’ll get to go on an off-road adventure.  Sometimes it comes down to grabbing the gear and go.  This means all the gear needs to be packed and ready…  Always ready.  All the gear is stored in a few canvas tote bags.  Each bag with its own category of gear.  The last bag is filled with the miscellaneous stuff that falls under the “just in case” title.  Here you’ll find a first aid kit, work gloves, jumper cables, wool blanket, tarp, duct tape, flash light, bungees, parachute cord, and a pair of coveralls. I dipped into this bag a number of times helping others out of a jam including jump starts and the donation of a bungee cord to keep tension on another rigs tire chains.
  11. I know I said ten things… and this is eleven…  this one is my confession of what I don’t carry that I should.  Spare parts!  It is hard to predict what is going to break but there are some basics I still have to build a kit around.  Starting this week I’m building up my parts kit to include: Axle shaft (IFS is a weak point  and no one will have one that fits…  remember the TC long travel build), belts, hoses,  nuts, bolts and …. Your ideas are welcome and encouraged.  What parts do you carry?

This is my top ten and for me it works.  I don’t expect that it will work with anyone else but I hope it will encourage you to think about what you need to be prepared and enjoy your adventures.  Leave your recommendations and help everyone including me build a better kit.

man video taping fj cruiser

Not All Glitz And Glam

fj cruiser down hill 4x4 trailYou may not believe me but going on off-road adventures, driving 4×4 trails, performing mods and conducting gear reviews is not as glamorous as it seems.

Take our upcoming article in 4WD Toyota Owner magazine.  The first set of action shots for the article showing the Total Chaos front end working on the trail… not so good.  That meant I had to go out again and get to work.

Work you say…  How hard can it be doing what you enjoy, driving 4×4 trails?  Well, driving is the easy part.  The hard part is documenting it all and not sounding like my third grade “Summer Vacation” theme that Sister Mary Knucklebuster turned into her year long example of how not to structure a sentence.

And while I’m sure hanging out with Cosmo glamazons at a Sports Illustrated swimsuit photo shoot has its perks, our photo shoots mostly involve me crawling around in the dirt trying to get the right angle.  But unlike stiletto healed Victoria Secret models in nothing but a pair of angle wings, the FJ Cruiser looks sexy wearing full trail gear and is not so high maintenance.close up fj cruiser lifting rear wheel 4x4 trail

I always liked the show “Survivor Man“. It’s entertaining to watch the host, Les Stroud, survive in the middle of no where for a week on his own, but the cool factor goes way up as you realize Les is not accompanied by a film crew, sound engineers or a team of producers.  He really is out there on his own, humping all his camera gear, setting up, tearing down and filming, all the while trying to keep his cameras dry and survive with nothing more than a paper clip, four feet of twine and half a stick of chewing gum.

In our videos, what you see is the rig coming down the trail or driving over an obstacle and than heading off into the sunset.  Like Less, what I do, is pull off the trail out of the way, run up ahead with equipment in tow, plan the shot, set up the video camera, check sound levels, press record and run back to the rig… drive down the trail… than pull off the trail, jump out, run back, stop recording, tear down and load the camera and tripod back in the rig and head off to the next obstacle and do it again.  I could seriously hurt myself…  for your entertainment.

After a day on the trail, its back at the office to look through about two hours of video tape hoping to yield five minutes of usable stuff.voodoo blue fj cruiser rocky 4x4 trail

So the next time you read one of the stories, watch our videos or enjoy our pictures thinking I have a great job, remember…  There is nothing I would rather do! It is so worth it and how lucky am I to be able to share with others the fun we have out on the road of life.

Dad always told me “You’ll appreciate it more if you have to work for it” and I wouldn’t want it any other way.

baja mexico desert hills and mountains

Never Say Never, Baja 20??

vulture on cactus in bajaThe best laid off-road adventure plans of mice and men still depends on luck and it looks like ours is running a little short.  Based on the US State Departments Travel alert and some conflicts with team members’ scheduling we are putting our Baja trip on the back burner

Hopefully as things settle down we can get this trip back on track.  In the mean time we are working to fill the travel calendar with NW adventures and club runs.

——– follow up ——–

No the situation did not change in Baja.  But we threw caution to the wind anyway and decided it was a good day to die.  We took off on our Baja Off-Road Adventure.  It was so worth it…  don’t ever let fear of the unknown hold you back. Be cautious but move forward.

silver fj cruiser voodoo blue fj cruiser in clearing

2 Pauls, 2 FJs and 1 Great Day

paul toyota fj cruiserThe great thing about the Internet is that no matter how obscure your obsession, there is someone else out there like you looking to get together and have some fun.  Paul sent out a note asking if we (Hula Betty & me) would be interested in exploring the Tahuya State Forest ORV trails in a pre-run for an upcoming off-road adventure he would be leading soon.  Since Tahuya is really in our backyard, we jumped at the chance to wheel and put the new suspension through it’s paces.

fj cruiser approaching rocks tahya forestThe little town of Belfair is just a stones through away from the trail and the standard meetup place for groups heading out to the Tahuya Forest. Pulling into the Safeway parking lot and hopping out to grab a quick Starbucks, we could see that Paul and his dog Tucker, had grabbed an early ferry and were already there waiting for us.  A few good mornings and a short drivers meeting than off to the trail head to air down and go exploring.

The morning was amazing; clear, sunny and 27 degrees as we hit the trail following Paul, his frozen exhaust hanging in the air as we climbed the first frosty hill.  It had not rained in a number of days and the trails were that perfect combination of soft moist loose dirt and axle deep, ice covered puddles.

Paul lead us up and down the hills through the forests as we settled into driver mode.  When you take your rig off-road you accept a certain amount of risk and each scared tree we passed reminds us of the carnage that 4×4 trails can extract on anyone’s rig who is not focused on the job at hand.voodoo blue toyota fj cruiser hill climb

Regardless of how much you read and talk about there is nothing like seat time to teach you how the rig will interact with obstacles on the trail.  We were reminded of this as we came to a tight little obstacle.  You come down a steep short hill, take a hard right hand turn and come upon a puddle where you squeeze past a stair step guarded by a tree on the passenger side while climbing up and over a large set of roots on the drivers side.  We watched as Paul walked up and over, placing his rig on the correct line.

toyota fj cruiser icy poolTaking our turn, we showed all the poise and grace of a bull in a china shop and as we prepared to work through the obstacle, our rear wheels slid down the wet roots only to fill the cabin with the sound of metal and wood introducing themselves to each other.  The rig had slid into the scar covered tree standing as tall still as a marine sentential on the right side of the trail…  This is no trail for old men… and we scooted back a little, re-lined the rig, engaged the e-locker and climbed over the mass of roots that had made us its bitch only moments earlier.

Pulling off past the obstacle, it was time to look and see the price of this lesson.  Turns out our installation of custom rub rails on the metal tech sliders was a life saver.  The rails did there job perfectly and kept snarled bark and tree sap inches from the rigs exterior skin avoiding any physical damage and minimizing the emotional seizures.

other pauls silver fj cruiser tuhya forestTurns out Paul spent time at Bill Burke’s off-road courses and learned well the skills needed to spot us through various obstacles.  When we came to Tahuya’s rock garden Paul, Tucker not so much, helped me pick an easy line through the boulders.  Paul clearly understands how help others, less capable then himself, gain the skills and confidence needed to safely navigate trail obstacles.

There is an official Tahuya Forest Map, but the map does not show the dozens of spurs and cross trails that interconnect, putting any good corn maze to shame.  We explored the area for hours wondering down anything that looked interesting and occasionally going in circles but always coming back out onto a new and interesting trail section.

It was over lunch that I really had the opportunity to chat with Paul and share the stories that brought us to this place in each others lives.  Turns out Paul and I share numerous similarities including careers in tech, family backgrounds and a stint in the state of Michigan.  And while wheeling is always fun, it’s the chance to make new friends that is my favorite part of these outings.voodoo blue toyota fj cruiser hill climb

After lunch we climbed back in the rigs to find mud lake.  Looking up on the dash to get the go ahead from Hula Betty, the outside air temperature now read, 29 degrees as we headed for the trails.  Despite looping back and forth through the forest, we never did quite find the lake, but enjoyed exploring spurs that brought us in and out of the sunshine and rambled over several new sections.

After a full day on the trails we made our way back to the parking lot to air back up.  With the rigs back in street shoes, we bid goodbye to the trail and each other as our two rig caravan worked its way back up the highway to our separate homes.  With any luck we’ll have several more opportunities to spend time with Paul and Tucker on the trails, down the road.

voodoo blue fj cruiser driving through snow 4x4 trail

Snowpocalypse Weather Watch

FJ cruiser in snowKnowing what you’re getting into on an off-road adventure and planning for the weather is a big part of finishing an off-road adventure safely.  Currently the Northwest is experiencing cold, snow and ice that is a little more than usual.  Before we go out on a trail run we usually check with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

NOAA can tell you what to expect just about anywhere in the nation and have a number of good educational resources to go along with all their maps and data.  And when the weather gets really bad, they put out special reports to explain exactly what your in for.  NOAA’s NW region put out this December 20-21 weather advisory.

Snow and extreme weather can add to the fun of an off-road adventure creating an additional challenge to an otherwise easy trail.  It can also turn a fun trip into a ugly mess if you’re not prepared for what mother nature throws at you. Be prepared before you go out and check with NOAA and stay safe.

fj cruisers on rubicon trail

Everyone Was A Noob Once

Brian “Woody” Swearingen and Last Great Road TripOver the last couple of years I’ve had an opportunity to wheel with a number of experienced guys who have forgotten more than most will ever know.  And because of those opportunities my abilities have improved.  But I am still working on the basics.

When we started this off-road adventure idea I would read and talk to anyone who would take the time to chat, then go out on easy logging roads to test what I learned.  Luckily I found a number of people willing to teach the new guy (the really great overlanders, are eager to help others).

Although the Toyota FJ Cruiser has a lot of technology such as A-TRAC and E-Locker to help you out, it is important to get comfortable with the right approach to an obstacle in the first place and know which technology best fits the situation.  You will also want to learn the low tech items including building a sand anchor or safely operating a Hi-Lift jack.

When I looked through some of the archives, I came across a few resources that stand out as belonging on everyone’s reading list:

And when you’re ready for the complete manual on all things overland adventure, be sure to read “Planning and Leading An Overland Expedition“.

If like me, you struggle with dyslexia and reading quickly looses entertainment value, check out the videos from Bill Burke, Getting UNStuck and Getting PREpared.

This reading list will not substitute for practice, but it will provide you with a solid understanding and a strong foundation.  To really go further and get the most from your 4×4 experience, consider joining a local 4×4 organization such as the NW FJ Cruiser Club or Rising Sun Four Wheel Drive Club of Colorado. A club will provide an opportunity to wheel on trails where members can teach you the finer points of picking a line as well as demonstrate moving over, through and around obstacles on the trail.

We were all noobs once and every time I get together with experts to chat I’m reminded of just how much I still have to learn.  If you’re starting out, read everything you can, join a club, find a mentor and hang in there.  Before long a newbie will be knocking on your door asking for a little advice.

toyota fj cruiser ARB bumper snowy road

Mt. Baker Back Roads Run

snow covered mount shuksanWhen you grow up in Oklahoma it is hard not to eat, breath and sleep Sooner football.  This also means you dedicate Saturday’s to the gridiron and make sacrifices including pushing off family reunions, funerals, and off-road adventure opportunities.  Well with Oklahoma positioned for the national championship, it was time to celebrate with trip into the back woods.

I’ve long wanted to return to the Mt. Baker area and see the mountains as they take on that first coat of snow.  The cold weather usually keeps the crowds at bay when there is not quit enough of the white stuff to ski down.  And I knew there would be an old logging road or two to explore along the way. It was just a matter of getting a little Barbie Doll size coat for that Iconic dashboard copilot of mine, Hula Betty.

The morning started out as you would expect in November, dark and drizzly fog with a chance of rain and clouds the rest of the day (note to self: change the rubber on the windshield wipers they’re getting loud).  The first leg of most adventures for us is by ferry over to the east side of Puget Sound where the rest of the state of Washington begins.  The ferry boat ride is also great time to grab a cup of coffee, wake up and double check everything is where I thought it would be.  And as my wife will tell you I always forget something.  This time it was tire chains (more about what that cost me later).washington state ferry car deck

Only thirty minutes later and we were driving back onto to dry land, heading north on I5, where in Bellingham we shoot east on 542 heading to Mt. Baker.  As soon as you get off I5 you start to feel the change in time as strip malls are replaced by little country stores and swap meets.  You also trade in the straight gray concrete for the winding tarmac that follows the bends of rivers with names like Nookshook, Iceberg lake or even Thompson creek.  And as we wound along these living, breathing, moving water ways the road began to feel like our own with only the occasional car passing the other way. The rest stops on the back roads have all the cool stuff, including one of the largest Western Red Ceder stumps. thuja plicata gian arborvitae

Twin Lakes is a beautiful base camp area set just below Winchester and Mount Larrabee at around 5,200 feet  Having scrambled up these two in the past I knew the road up was a fairly well maintained logging road that can get washed out but usually remains passable.  As we turned off 542 and hit the dirt the drizzle stopped and day was looking up.  The road was as I remembered and we made good time for the first 4.5 miles or so as we passed the Tomyhoi Lake/Yellow Aster Butte trail head. The forest service describes the next section as “not maintained for passenger vehicles. Those persons with a 4-wheel drive high clearance vehicle may be able to continue the remaining 2 miles to Twin Lakes”.  It was here that we came out of the trees into the clearings and the wet damp turned into icy crust.  The snow that remained had clearly been thawed compacted and refrozen a couple of times forming crunchy ice that immediately slowed us down.twin lakes road sign

Motoring on through the white crunchy stuff we came to the switchbacks.  It was at this point we start to understand physics as the rig moved more sideways than forward.  Progress became, back up a few feet, drive forward ten feet and repeat.  Remember those chains I forgot… Hula Betty’s view from the dash gave her a clear sense of how steep the drop was as we would slide toward the down hill side of the trail.  I swear she quivered in fear a little.

With no chains, no other rigs around and the trail getting steeper we decided to call it.  But that meant backing down the steep trail to that last turn in the switchback in order to point the rig in the right direction. Oh those big beautiful mirrors.  We worked our way backwards to the turn, then facing correctly down hill, headed back following the tracks we laid coming up.snow covered hills tree view

On the way down we had the good fortune to make some new friends. We met up with a family, who had come up to see the snow…  for the first time.  Mom and one of their sons recently arrived from the Philippines and this was a chance for the whole family to enjoy making snow men and pick out a Christmas tree.  They all seemed to really enjoy spending time together and I enjoyed hearing how they met had on the Internet and recently wed.family photo in snow

The rest of the ride down the trail went quickly with a few stops to enjoy a the sites and sounds of the woods.  Once off the trail it was on to the ski area of Mt. Baker.  The winding tarmac leading up the mountain was lined with poles set by the Department of Transportation to mark the edge when the heavy winter snows come.  Arriving at the top we were treated to amazing views of Mount Shuksan as I sat by the frozen lake (Hula Betty opted to say in the rig).  The bench by the lake provided a short moment of solitude to contemplate how similar we all are in our desires to raise a happy healthy family.  Staring up at a glacier covered rock the size of Manhattan, you can’t help but put life into perspective.mount baker off road adventure topo map

On the way up we spotted a little back road leading off to no where, so on the way down we added it to our list of places we would explore.  This little dirt road went on for a couple of miles with clearing offering views of Cascade peaks hidden from view previously.  And as a bonus, it ended in a place with a nice wall climb.  It wasn’t the climb that presented the challenge, it was the landing at the top, which was just large enough to almost hold a rig.  Once on top, it took a little maneuvering to point the rig back down without getting too off camber.  The little climb gave us back the machismo lost on the snow covered switchbacks.

frozen lake snow covered mountainDriving back to the ferry Hula Betty reminded me (I know she not real but it is better than talking to myself and she is stuck to the dash so she is not going anywhere) how lucky I am to have the opportunity to explore this area and meet others with diverse backgrounds and stories of their own.

black toyota fj cruiser 4x4 trail

Wheeling Tahuya Forest OHV Park

fj cruisers at mud pitWe met up with the club for an off-road adventure through the Tahuya State Forest.  The crew included the likes of seriousactualist, amaintaylor, kurtfriedrich, Marsh, Macleod, conversejohn54, The Shocker, and ropedrag.  We all met up in Belfair at the local Safeway.  It is amazing what locations become the standard meetup spot and for Tahuya this is it.  When Hula Betty and I arrived the parking lot was full of FJs and Jeeps.  A couple of old friends 1TUFTOY and LA were there readying to go out with another group of Jeeps we had wheeled with a year back.

A quick stroll through the Safeway deli to grab a box lunch and it was time for the drivers meeting.  This was going to be an explores run since no one had been here in years and the trails are always changing.  After a quick forest service map review and CB check, we were ready to head out to the trail head, ten minutes from town.

The trail head parking lot provided a good place for all of us to air down and double check the gear.  It also gave us a chance to see the other FJ’s and their various mods. The great thing about off-road adventures with the club is that it is family oriented. Moms, dads, kids and friends all show up to go out and get dirty.silver toyota fj cruiser 4x4 trail bushes

Although we are getting better at driving 4×4 trails, we still have a lot to learn and the Tahuya Forest is a good classroom.  Most of the trails are relatively easy but you can find some real traps if you’re looking to test the limits of your skill and your rig’s metal.  Everyone escaped this off-road adventure unscathed but we’ll all have to wash our rigs when we’re done.

Brazil has the Amazon, Florida has the Everglades and the Northwest has it own rain forests.  The rain had been coming down all week and mother nature was not done yet.  The trails were filled with puddles deep enough to test our scuba mods and although there are no piranha or alligators, the muddy puddles do hide rocks and roots that keep your hands tight on the wheel.

sun fusion fj cruser rock crawlingWe followed the trails over the hills and through the woods, down to the mud lake for a little surf and turf.  The lake is great place to through a little mud high in the air but don’t let it’s placid surface fool you…  the middle is deep and sticky.  Unless you want to test your recovery skills you stick to the sides, which still come up to the fender wells.

After lunch the group headed to a muddy climb that when you walk it, you see the broken glass left behind from other rigs who have attempted this tricky little stretch in the past.  Thanks to the spotting of Jerry and Marsh everyone made it up and over without a scratch.  From here we doubled back and headed to a rock pile where Jerry showed us what an FJ is capable of with right setup…  and good spotting.yellow fj cruiser rock crawl

The drive back to Camp Spillman was more of the same fun stuff and by 2:00 we were aired up and heading home.  This was one of the few runs where we were the only FJ Cruiser not checking the ferry schedule.  Hula Betty and I wound our way back to Bremerton through some old logging roads just for the fun of exploring a new drive home.

cartoon toyota fj40 dirt

Micro Trail Run

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

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

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

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

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

Gallagher Head

Day After The Night Before aka Gallaher Head Lake Trail

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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