Tag Archives: overland offroad adventure

driving dirt road to huricane ridge

Just Betty and Me

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2007 toyota fj cruiser arb bumper

Thin Line Between Saturday Night & Sunday Morning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

sun fusion fj cruiser yellow

Day 7 Rolling Early, Rolling Long

fj cruisers under rock ledgeAnother early run schedule for 6:30 am turned into a completely different run at 7:00 am. You ranchers in the crowd will appreciate that herds need to be moved from one pasture to another. Well, today from dawn (5:00 am) until noon the local rancher was going to be moving his sheep herds on the Ophir Pass. Sheep have priority over FJ Curisers when it comes to forest service land so we needed a new run. Luckily we slid into the Imogene Pass run.

Boy liked this off-road adventure, there were a number of water crossings and big splashes. The trail also had some interesting obstacles. Being in the back we were able to see others try the obstacle and see what worked and what did not. One obstacle was particularly challenging with even a few rigs backing down and taking the bypass. With the benefit of watching others we were able to walk up and over with ease. Yeah the testosterone level went up a little after that.sun fusion fj cruiser water crossing

Starting early means the trail is pretty empty. Cresting a pass at 10:00 am means going down when everyone else is coming up. Just over the top on the Telluride side of the mountain we found rigs, motor cycles, hikers, snow boarders and a number of tour operators. Weaving in and out of the mess took about an hour to go 5 blocks. You really see people’s true colors when everyone is in a hurry and no one is going anywhere in a hurry and unfortunately some of those colors do not understand that everyone is allowed on public land and their particular usage of the land is not the most important one to everyone else. Tolerance of others extends to even heavily congested mountain trails.toyota fj cruiser snow

After weaving through the maze we descended into Telluride for lunch. Boy picked out a pizza, taco, bagel, sandwich shop. We rolled with a pepperoni pie. We also hooked up with Bernd and his family as well as Vince and is father. After a little window gawking (notice not buying), Bernd’s, Vincent’s and our rig headed back to Ouray over Ophir Pass. Those of you paying attention will notice that is the trail we were bumped off of earlier.

We notice something was wrong after about 40 minutes. We had missed the turn off. 80 miles later we were on the trail and we were going to make up time. We boogied on this trail like it was the Baja 1000 race. Unlike the Baja, this was on the side of a mountain with edges and hair pin turns. Easy at 5 -10 mph. Not so much at 30 but we were still riding the testosterone buzz of the day. In the end this 80 mile detour earn Vince and Bernd a bunch of Last Great Road Trip tees.voodoo fj cruiser woods

Back at the hotel a quick shower and we were ready to roll again in time for dinner than back to the room and Boy crashed. I moseyed to a little whole in the wall bar with some new friends. It is always fun to hang out with the vendors when they are away from the event. You get the skinny on what is what. But since Boy was alone and child services could have seen, I headed back around midnight… If only I had my room card key.

Do you know how pissed a hotel manager can look when you wake them up to get a new room key. This was after banging on the door and window trying wake Boy. No one was waking him out of his sugar coma. After getting a new key I had to call it… knowing we could sleep in since there was not a run on Sunday… and we did not need a picture of our rig in the group photo. Not at 6:30 am.toytoa fj cruisers

Barbie: You can edit anything of mine you want… I usually finish it around 2:00 am and it is all I can do to see the key board. But from now on, I’ll email it to you, give you a call and let you press the publish button… you can have that done before morning right?

Joyce: The kids get their coloring from me… their good looks, brains and everything else came from their mom… And at least I hope their coloring came from me… If I remember the mailman was Hispanic too.

sparkling toyota fj cruiser

Day 6 Blue Bunny

fj cruiser metal tech 4x4Day 6 stats

  • Start Ouray, CO.
  • Finish Ouray, CO.
  • Miles 127

This was a long day on the trail with our off-road adventure exploring Alpine Loop. We started at 6:30 am and ended at 4:45 pm. We saw blue sky, rain, hail and snow… Had the time of our lives.

Those of you who have met Mark and LT from Metal Tech understand that they know cruisers and wheeling… But did you know what great guys they are? Our run today was lead by Tom who has spent years in these hills. Mark and LT were the tail gunners. The trails took us through unbelievable scenery and we drove up into the nose bleed seats on engineer pass and cinnamon around 13,000 feet above sea level. We were in the middle of no where when we found the ultimate mountain retreat. This was a 3 hour drive on rough trail… but I’m pretty sure I saw a helicopter pad next to the solar panels.mountain cabin

But what made the day great was seeing Boy crack up at the stories Mark told around the lunch table. Mark definitely has a way of putting people at ease and making them feel like an old friend no matter their age. What Boy is most proud of is the ribbing he took for his lunch; a quart of Blue Bunny ice cream and a Mountain Dew… hey before you start, get off my back its a road trip, he’s allowed. He started off strong enough, digging into the ice cream with the wild abandon only a teenager could have, but as the sugar buzz kicked in and fizz of the Mountain engineer pass trail signDew settled, that quart of ice cream got the better of Boy and he had to call it quits before reaching the bottom.

It was at that point, Mark looked at me, looked at Boy, looked at my voodoo rig and looked back at me, then announced: “Everybody, Paul’s new CB handle is Blue Bunny”. Boy earned my rig a name and he was pretty proud of himself for that. Every time someone called out for Blue Bunny over the CB, Boy cracked a car wash girlssmile. There was a little chatter of adding a blue Nestle Quick bunny to my tattoo but I told everyone the Boy would be getting that one someday and telling the story of running the FJ Summit with his dad.

But Karma has her way and when Mark climbed up a little snow field to make a snow angle, the look on his face  was priceless when he came sliding down 20 feet into the road. To show there were no hard feelings… Boy and I ran up the snow field and slide down, grinding snow and ice into place snow and ice was never meant to be, and laughing all the way.boy skating pool

My wife has been telling me to get rid of the box of tee shirts in our closet for 9 months now… Not that the rig was that dirty, but we could not pass up the chance to support a good cause. The Ouray High School Girls Volley Ball team came over to the FJ Summit to raise money with a truck wash. A quick chat with their coach and before you know it there were several team members in Last Great Road Trip tees washing our rig. When the All Pro rep, who sponsored and arranged for the truck pool skatingwash, saw all the activity, he followed up by giving the girls All Pro shirt and had his own photo opp. The girls walked away with funds for their team and some nice vendor swag. They loved it. Boy did not mind it either.

The weather finally came around for Boy and we raced to the skate park. He still has not acclimated to the heat and altitude so there were a lot of breaks while he tried to catch his breath and hydrate. Despite the shortness of breathskatebording pool he had a great skate session and performed some amazing feats on a little piece of wood with wheels in a 10 foot deep bowl.

I don’t actually think the laws of gravity apply to Boy.

After Boy’s lunch of Blue Bunny, I thought we needed a nutritional dinner ( parenting in action) so we stopped at the mini-mart, grabbed a couple of polish dogs, chips and yes… ice cream (I didn’t say it was good parenting) before heading back to the room. skateboard dropping in pool

I don’t know if it was the double sugar buzz, staying up late and getting up early for the last five days, the great skate sessions or the altitude, but Boy is out like a rock. I swear when I look over at him asleep he is still smiling and mumbling blue bunny.

father sonI’m facing down 1:30 a.m. still trying to post up today’s story and pictures.  The TV blaring in the background and Boy snoring creates a level of white noise that allows me to consider the day’s events and I realize as long as fathers and sons can have off road adventures together, there will always be another Last Great Road Trip.

fj cruiser snow

Day 5 Known As The Black & Blue Run

old mining townDay 5 stats

  • Start Ouray, CO.
  • Finish Ouray, CO.
  • Miles 68

The off-road adventure started out at 5:30 a.m. getting ready to run California Gulch and Corkscrew Gulch lead by Chris Nelson of Dirt Toy School. Chris was a great trail leader with years of experience on trails. He made everyone feel comfortable with their skill level and pointed out a few of the sites along the way. All the rigs on this run were black or voodoo blue with a great bunch of drivers and passengers. This is the first time we’ve participated in anything this organized and well run, so it took a few moments to settle in and enjoy the fact that someone else did all the hard work for us. This is something I can get used too.fj cruiser colorado 4x4 trail

Boy hated it for the first hour… mostly because he was going on 3 hours of sleep and the rig was tossing him around as he tried to sleep as well as having the cliff edges on his side. Once his blood started flowing and we got above tree line, he cracked a smile and started saying things like “that is cool” and “I really like the bumps”. Everyone knows I have fun on these trips. I enjoy seeing the country side, meeting new folks, hearing other people’s stories, and getting out in the middle of no where. ice on mountain lake

While I enjoy the off-road adventures, what I really love is that Boy came with me. He is 14, he enjoys skating, going to punk shows (we’re hoping that’s a phase), hanging out with his friends, and being 14 on summer break. He gave it all up to to drive 5,000 miles, run off-road trails at the FJ Summit and hang out with me, his dad. He continues to tell me he is having fun and it sound believable. He is the best boy I have (only boy I have) and I love him for this (of course I’d love him no matter what but this helps). skateboarderAnd, after investing 14 years of work into him it is a little late to start over.

The rain broke as we finished our trail run around noon so we made a bee line to the hotel where boy grabbed his board and helmet than off to the skate park. For 20 minutes Boy was in the zone. The little town of Ridgway’s skate park has the stuff he likes, bowls and abstract street (like I know what that is).

jersey barrier skatingThe rain came back and ended the skate session for the day but the clouds cleared up allowing for more swimming in the pool back at the hotel. Boy and I had the pool to ourselves while most of the other guest were out on the later runs.  Yes I got wet. Since we were alone no one went into hysterical blindness when I pealed off my shirt. I swam in my fur coat so you wont be seeing any pictures… I’m sure everyone is thankful for that and we don’t want PETA to boycott the website.

skater working jersey barrierTurns out Ouray has a great burger joint. Although the FJ Summit event puts on a dinner spread we decided to spend a little father son time over burgers and ice cream. Walking around town gave Boy the opportunity to repeat over and over and over his favorite quotes from the movie Dumb and Dumber. Now that is a treat you just can’t experience at home.

As we made the late night rounds through the vendor tables I stop at the ALL PRO table. As we chatted I looked down and saw John had a stack of posters that were the 4WD Toyota Owner magazine cover with his rock crawling rig and a picture of us from skating jersey barrierour Arctic Circle adventure. They let us have a bunch so I’m thinking of wall papering the office with them. I’m sure my wife, Boy’s mom, will know what color goes best with magazine cover glossy.

Joyce: Off-line others tell me that your comments make the stories.  If only you could put together a guest writer piece for the website…  Oooh that’s right!

jeeps and FJ Cruiser tahuya 4x4 trails

Tahuya Trails and New Friends

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

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

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