Tag Archives: stuck

Stay in the damned ruts!

A pretty close to last minute super drive to Wyoming and back was an adventure to be sure. I left Friday morning, April 22nd, from Seattle and returned Tuesday afternoon.  Not too shabby to do 2,500 miles of driving, a 6 mile hike… and almost being lost forever on the top of a ridge surrounded by snow hours from anywhere… all in less than five days!

The reason for the trip is still a little top secret at the moment.  Let’s just say that I had to take some pictures of opals for a PowerPoint presentation I have to give to some very important people, and I didn’t have any good photographs.  The last time I had been to my claim I was too excited finding stones to stop, take a breath, and then take the camera out of my pocket.

I left Seattle under gray skies and the gray continued through to Montana, but it was warm. 60s and 70s the entire way.  Idaho and Montana were especially in the bloom of spring.  Everything was so lush and green.  Leaves popping, grass growing as fast as it can….  This time of year the Rockies look like Seattle does most of the time!

I stayed at a Motel 6 in Missoula.  What a rip off.  Someone hot boxed the entire third floor (my floor) and about the time I was climbing into my rock-hard bed the police we raiding my neighbor’s room.  Montana does not share Washington State’s marijuana laws to be sure.

I woke early, made my way to the Cracker Barrel next door for breakfast because I had never been to one before.  For those of you left coast, latte-sipping, Volvo-driving, diploma-having, elites, let me paint a picture as to what Cracker Barrel is for you: It’s Pier 1 Imports for people with aesthetically questionable taste who also happen to like NASCAR… with a Denny’s inside.  Rather than name their breakfasts things like “French Toast” they will call it “Uncle Earl’s Morning Favorite” or something.  The food was OK, at least they gave me real maple syrup, but the inside of their restaurant smelled like a potpourri of a thousand scented candles. Not really my thing.

I had another 600 miles of driving ahead of me so it was road time. Earlier when I stated that Montana was so lush and green, this is not true.  All of Montana is so lush and green except for Butte.  Butte is brown and depressing.  It is brown and depressing in August, it is probably brown and depressing all winter, and it is brown and depressing at the height of spring. I blasted passed the Berkeley Pit, over the Continental Divide for the umpteenth time, through thunder showers in Bozeman, passed Livingston (without stopping; so sorry, Josh and Jennie!), and through the most ironically named Montana town “Big Timber” which is in the grasslands of the plains and has about five trees all shorter than any of the houses in the area.  Finally I made it to Laurel, Montana where I left I-90 and turned South onto US310, this took me through some farming country and tiny little towns like Bridger and Fromberg (which I assume is named this because this is where people come ‘from’ but do not move ‘to’).  I peeled off US310 onto state highway 72 which quickly become Wyoming State Highway 296 (ominously named the “Black and White Road” whatever that means) complete with thunder showers galore.

I reached Cody, Wyoming for the first time since I was a child, it seems to have boomed quite a bit since then.  The town still plays up the Buffalo Bill Cody theme and has built civic centers and museums all over the place to celebrate the cowboy way of life.  Every time I am on one of these trips I wish I could stop and smell the roses and visit a little more with each little burg I come to, but alas, I am on a schedule.  On my way out of Cody I noticed that the entire Southern portion of the town is build around four circular/oval lakes.  Each of these little lakes was full of birds and reeds, but also had what looked like to be white salt deposits on the shore lines and no substantially sized trees surrounding the lakes.  Interesting… I decided that I would have to investigate this further at a later date as this could means billions of dollars to the people of Cody, and drove on.

Alkali lakes of Cody, WY
Alkali lakes of Cody, WY

At the lakes I turned South onto State Highway 120 and that takes me over lots of broken and cracked hills exposing many of layers of rock; as I drove further South past the little town of Meeteese these scarps started to reveal thin bands of coal seams.  The bands are not thick enough for anyone to commercially exploit, but evidence none-the-less that Wyoming is rich in everything.

Coal seems of central Wyoming
Coal seems of central Wyoming

The tan rocks and bands of coal began to give way to red rocks and what looked to be layers of gray/green ash resting atop of it.  If I had been blindfolded and dropped here I would have though that I had appeared in Southern Utah.  The landscape looks almost identical to the Red Navajo Sandstone and gray/green ash of the Monitor Butte formation of the area (with my brother Loch we made an awesome discovery of metallic petrified wood in this layer just outside of Boulder, Utah).  In the heart of the red rocks is Thermopolis, Wyoming.  Supposedly home to the largest mineral hot spring in the world.  It’s dinosaur museum is also home to the only archaeopteryx fossil outside of Europe.  I really need to take my time through here someday… Stupid schedules!

The highway ends and becomes US20 and then the drive gets awesome.  A hop over the Bighorn River which instantly becomes the Wind River the moment you enter one of the coolest canyons in the world.  Wind River Canyon isn’t just beautiful, but it is also a mind fuck.  As you travel up hill you have the feeling as though you are continually going downhill.  Your brain cannot accept the fact that the water is flowing in the wrong direction the entire time.  This comes from the way the entire Owl Creek Mountains have been uplifted. Coming from the North the block of sandstone slopes up gently from Thermopolis, so as you enter the canyon you have the feeling of going deeper into it as the cliffs grow larger and larger off in the distance making for the illusion that you are traveling down hill.  It will wrinkle your brain.

The Nothern mouth of Wind River Canyon looking toward Thermopolis
The Nothern mouth of Wind River Canyon looking toward Thermopolis

The canyon is fairly unique in that the river is much older than mountains are.  The river was there first, the Owl Creeks formed after.  So as the rock began to slowly uplift millions of years ago the river would slowly and steadily cut through the rising hills leaving the scar of the canyon.  At one point the cliffs are over 2,500 feet tall to either side of the river with giant boulders the size of homes strewn about the canyon floor.  If you look up you can see above you where the near-perfect cubes of rock broke out of the cliffs and came crashing down to the canyon floor below.  It must be stupefying to witness such a cataclysmic avalanche of rock.

Wind River Canyon
Wind River Canyon
Wind River Canyon
Wind River Canyon
Wind River Canyon
Wind River Canyon

Towards the head waters of the canyon you get a treat: some of the oldest rock visible on Earth, some 2.9 billion year old precambrian metamorphic rock, makes an impressive display.  This black stone is twisted and gnarled and provides for some dramatic scenery as both the highway, and the train tracks on the other side of the river, cut through antiquated, dripping black tunnels in the jagged cliffs.  As the Owl Creeks uplifted they finally cracked and pulled up this most ancient rock exposing it for the first time in billions of years.  If there are any minerals to be found here, this well cooked rock would be the place as it is seeping rust of all colors, and cross cut with countless quartz veins.

2.9 billion year old rock in Wind River Canyon
2.9 billion year old rock in Wind River Canyon
Ancient gnarly rock
Ancient gnarly rock
These tunnels are the blackest of the black.
These tunnels are the blackest of the black.

At the beginning of the canyon you will find the Boysen Dam and the Boysen Reservoir which is as alien a landscape as any.  The first town south of the canyon is Shoshone.  Sad to say, it’s a shithole in the middle of a desert.  The only nice building in the town is the school, everything else is collapsing and in disrepair, including the numerous motels all named “The Desert Inn” or some facsimile there-of (sometimes I wonder about people from these towns and if they will ever stumble upon my blog and think, “Screw that guy, I’m from Shoshone and it’s really nice there!”… and then I realize they would have to have the Internet to do that.  Zing!).  The highway gives another weird mental funk as the road makes you feel like you are descending into Riverton (my destination) when, in fact, you re gaining elevation as you reach Riverton.  It’s weird out here.  It’s as if physics doesn’t exist.

I rolled into Riverton about 8pm and headed for the Wind River Casino to get a room. It was Saturday night and they were booked. So, I settled on the Days Inn.  It was cheap, and the rooms were new. I dropped off my dinner and went looking for “The Bull”. The concierge (can you call the desk person at a Days Inn that?) said that it was the best restaurant in town and it was only a block away. Sweet.

Inside “The Bull” on one side of the room resided stragglers from a wedding party in pink chiffon gowns and in tuxes with pink chiffon vests, on the other side of the room were dozens of high schoolers dressed to the nines because it was obviously some fancy school dance that evening.  Word. If high school boys are trying to impress girls by spending their meager earnings on this strip mall restaurant then I came to the right place! I ordered a ribeye, split pea soup, mashed potatoes, steamed veggies, and anything else I could fit in me.  It was OK at best, bummer.  At least I was in the Rockies so I was able to gorge myself for like $20.

I went back to the motel and turned in for the night.  There were two other cars in the parking lot and I think those were my two neighbors.  The neighbor to the right was playing Adel’s “Hello” on repeat on some tinny stereo.  The neighbors to the left were going at it like pigs in heat.  Paper thin walls, oh joy.  When the sex couple was done, the man did give Mel Gibson’s speech from “Braveheart” word for world in a terrible Scottish accent: “…just one chance to come back here and tell our enemies, they may take our lives, but they’ll never take… Our Freedom!!”

Coitus and Braveheart I can understand.  Adel on and endless loop I cannot. I cranked the air conditioner and was able to drown her out and shivered myself to sleep.  Sunday was the big day!

I awoke, filled myself with continental breakfast, and drove into the hills.  On the drive out my hear sank.  For a week each day I would check the forecast and it would say repeatedly that it was going to be 70 degrees and sunny on Sunday, April 24th.  Well, it snowed. Riverton was in the 40s and raining, and I could see the huge escarpment rising off in the distance with its fresh dusting of snow. Gah!

Snow, oh the horror!
Snow, oh the horror!

Riverton sits at just about 5000ft elevation, my claim is at 7,200 feet.  Lame.  The moment I got above 6,500ft there was snow everywhere.  Where I turned off the highway is a dirt road at about 7,000ft.  It was covered in snow.  Not much, maybe four inches, but I knew that the dirt underneath was going to be slick and awful.  I paused there and had a thought.  It was time to weigh the risk and reward: the amount of time and money this trip cost me, and wondering when I would be able to repeat this long-ass drive again; verses the time-frame I need to get the PowerPoint made and impress some investors before the mining season is in full swing in the Summer; verses being trapped in the snow-covered high desert mountains… alone… until I die…

This way there be a certain chance of dying.
This way there be a certain chance of dying.

Fuck it, if my previous adventures are any indicator, I am indestructible apparently.  I drove on.  Holy cow was this road slippery! When I had driven in the past I just remember a rather long, flat drive along this plateau out to the oil fields where the opals were.  Well, snow makes you realize how many hills there actually are in a place. Each time I was at the base of hill I hopped the truck could make it up to the top.  Each time I was at the top of hill I would hope that I wouldn’t come spinning down like a hockey puck across the ice.  My one hope was that my truck’s tires would find some good ruts and stay in them.  Ruts are like train tracks.  As is the case with trains, they are fine so long as it stays on the rails.

Making ruts.
Making ruts.

Huge waves of mud would wash over my truck as it kersplunked into a deep hidden puddle.  My wipers were going like mad as I crawled along at 5-10 mph for then next hour. What had been fresh, white snow in front of me had become a poopy brown swath of destruction behind me.  I finally reached a point I recognized where a cattle pen was but I could no longer see the road.  The oil wells of my intended goal were still miles away off in the distance and I was not prepared for a snow hike. I did a lot of cussing.  I had to cut my losses and drive back and regroup… Well, as much as one man alone in the wold can “regroup”.

The view from the captain's chair.
The view from the captain’s chair.

The drive back was now just a mud mess. Down the teensiest little hill my tires broke with the trusty ruts and I did a donut.  I’ll admit, this scared the piss out of me… or almost did.  When I righted the truck, I got out and took a piss so as not to accidentally do so in the cab on the next 360 spin.  I felt better and made it back to the highway without further trouble.  I used some of my emergency water to wash off my headlights, and windows because I could not see a thing!  My thinking at the highway was this: I’ll hire a helicopter. It will fly me right there for a few hundred bucks, I’ll snap a few photos and then fly back.

I hauled ass back to town, parked in the lot of the Days Inn for their free Internet, searched for a helicopter service, and then drove to the airport.  When I walked in the person behind the Great Lakes Airlines counter looked at me like I did not belong there and asked how they could help me. I replied, “I need to hire a helicopter.” She looked at the security guard/TSA guy and and he said, “Darrel went out of business last summer.”  Well, shit.

I drove back to the Days Inn and sat again using their internet.  I located a phone number for helicopter charter and the friendly fellow on the other end of the line said that they would have to fly a chopper in 300 miles from Jackson that that it would only cost me $5,500 for three hours of flight time.  Well, fuck that idea.  I can sacrifice another 2000 F150 for much less.

I drove to the sports store, geared up for a snow hike, and then went to the Wind Rivers Casino Hotel and this time was able to get a room.  It was sublime! It was about 1:30pm, and I decided that I would do the drive and hike the next morning… until I checked the weather forecast: Snow in frustrating quantities was expected by 10pm.  Welp, It was 2pm, sunset was at 8:07pm, I had six hours to get to photograph some opals and get out.  Let’s do this!

This is what my truck looked like in the Casino parking lot.
This is what my truck looked like in the Casino parking lot.

I put on my new long-johns and wool socks, threw on a new nit cap, pulled on my Oakley Special Forces combat boots, and jumped back into my muddy beast.  When I reached the summit with the turnoff to the oil fields I was pleased to see that my mud tracks from earlier had managed to melt all the snow!  I settled the track back into the ruts and began run number two. After about 45 minutes this time I reached the cattle pen and the snow had melted enough here that I could see the road out to the oil fields where my claim is.

This part of the road was a clay-filled nightmare.  There really wasn’t much in the way of ruts for my tires to follow as it is my guess that no one had been out here since before the winter.  It’s hard to grip a steering wheel and cross your fingers at the same time.  I made it to the first oil wells and the road dropped maybe a hundred feet off the mesa.  This was covered in snow. I could drive no further.

I figured I was about a mile from my claim at this point (turns out it was more like two to three miles… Amazing how a lack of trees makes distances seem shorter).  I made for a quick pace, almost running. I wanted to get to the opals, snap some photos, and be back to the truck by 7pm at the latest so that I could get out of this god-forsaken place before sunset and before the snow showers began again.  By about 4:45 I had made it to the far oil wells where the boulders live. I poked around, snapped some photos and high tailed it back to the truck.  Round trip I was back to the truck by about 5:30.  I was beat.  I basically ran miles and miles over hills, post holing in the snow much of the way in about two hours.  The War Rig and I did a celebratory donut in the muddy parking lot of the oil field and headed back out.

The War Rig says, "Let's do some donuts in the muddy parking lot." "OK,' I replied.
The War Rig says, “Let’s do some donuts in the muddy parking lot.”
“OK,’ I replied.

This drive was a lot of me cursing at the mud and the truck. “Stay in the ruts, you SOB!” and such.  I had to stay in the ruts because the road had a ditch to either side.  If I popped out of said ruts I would lose all control of the direction the truck traveled and was subject to the whims of hydroplaning, mud-filled tires. So, of course, my tires popped out of the ruts and I spun into the ditch.  At first just the driver’s side tires were in the ditch and I was too far leaned over to try and steer back up onto the road surface, thus I concluded that the expansive desert was my best option. Before I could make my attempt the truck spun and all of a sudden my rear tires were in the ditch and my front tires were almost out of it.  It’s a wide ditch.  The truck would go no where.

Well, shit.
Well, shit.

I couldn’t back out because the trailer hitch would dig into the road, and I couldn’t go forward because, well, the mud wouldn’t let me.  The tires just spun.  I beat the steering wheel and cursed, as one is prone to do in such a situation.  I had achieved my goal, and now I was stuck in the middle of nowhere, 10-15 miles from a paved road, with darkness and snow on the way.  If I didn’t get out of this ditch life was going to suuuuuuuuck.

I stepped out and took out a shovel and the 128 feet of 2×2 claim stakes that live in the back of my truck.  I first tried to dig out the road behind my trailer hitch and then wedge the stakes under the wheels to see if I could back out.  Nope.  I then spent the next hour digging under the tires and wedging the claim stakes under them so that I could drive out and into the desert. This method go me about two feet of success and my front tires were now out of the ditch and my back tires were no longer at the bottom of the ditch.  Another 45 minutes and I was still stuck like this.

Well, shit.
Well, shit.
Shiiiiiiiiiit.
Shiiiiiiiiiit.

My brain decided on one last feat of engineering; I spun the tires deep into the mud (sounds stupid, but hear me out). I then dug out a little behind each tire with my pick and shovel and back the truck up about 6 inches.  This gave me a deep little channel in front of each tire.  I started laying claim stakes across the ditch and jumping on them breaking them in two.  I then laid these stakes perpendicular to the front of the tires about 1-2 inches apart and build little ladders of wood for the tires to climb.

Once my contraption was built I hopped into the truck and gunned it. With the greatest of ease the truck climbed out of the ditch like it was never stuck.  Asshole.

What success looks like.
What success looks like.
Sadly, also what success looks like.
Sadly, also what success looks like.

The entire cab of the War Rig was now caked in mud.  I decided that the road could suck it, I drove the most of the rest of the way back next to the road using sage brush for traction.  I made it to the highway at 7:59pm.  I had beaten sunset by 8 minutes!

Forget the road, just smush the sagebrush. It has better traction.
Forget the road, just smush the sagebrush. It has better traction.

I washed off the windows and headlights again, drove back to the casino, took a shower, and then went to the restaurant labeled “fancy dining” and ordered a filet mignon.  It was the size of a baby and could be cut with a spoon. “The Bull” had nothing on this lonely 10pm steak. I have never had a filet that big.  This must have come from some freak GMO cow and it was amazing!

My room was comfy, the bed sublime, the soaps and shampoos to steal from the bathroom were top-notch.  Wind Rivers Casino Hotel, you have earned yourself 4 stars! I checked out at about 9 am, went to the Wagon Wheel Family Restaurant, sat at the bar and ate an omelet, and then reversed my road trip.

My original plan had been to be out of Riverton by noon on Sunday and then take the leisurely drive back through Utah and Nevada, go back to the scene of my rollover to see if I could find any more of my belongings in the desert and then hit some hots springs.  The snow ruined these plans.  So the reversal of my original drive out had to be done; back through the canyon, and back to Cody.  I used this opportunity to stop at the lakes at the South of Cody and walked to theshore of one of them and poured some hydrochloric acid solution on the “salts” and just as I suspected the “salt” bubbled and hissed.  Cody is built on a giant kimberlite formation.  After reviewing satellite photos I can see at least three kimberlite pipes in and around Cody. Several more may be obscured by farming activity.

Wyoming always perplexes me.  They will gladly chew up their countryside for coal.  Destroy their ground water via fracking for oil and gas, but won’t do a thing when gemstones worth more than any of their dirty fuel sources are more easily obtainable and less damaging to the environment.  It boggles the mind.  Literally trillions of dollars of gems are in Wyoming: diamonds, rubies, sapphires, opal, emeralds, aquamarine, iolite, peridot, etc… and no one digs for them. Instead they spend all this energy on oil and coal and dirty everything up in the process.

I blew through Livingston again (Sorry for not stopping again, Josh and Jennie!), through Bozeman, through Butte (it still sucks) and stayed the night again in Missoula at the Best Western.  The room they gave me smelled like someone cleaned a fish in there, had no wifi signal, and was across from the elevators and next to the ice machine.  Lucky me.  I asked for a new room and they gladly complied. Slept hard, and was back on the road to Seattle by 9am and in Seattle by 4pm.  Got home, washed the truck, washed my Subaru, and washed my roommate’s car, ate a salmon enchilada, watched the Mariners crush the Astros on TV and went to bed.  A productive day!

Things to remember when trying not to die alone in the desert.

(Editor’s note: Many of you know already know what happened on this year’s ghost town trip.  This article was written prior to the ‘Event’ but I did not have Internet access to update the blog before my laptop was destroyed.  My hope is to maintain the feeling and emotions of the adventure at the time this was originally written and not taint it by adding to it my thoughts after my, yet another, near-death experience)

Range land in a plateau of the Ochoco Mountains.
Range land in a plateau of the Ochoco Mountains.

Day two, August 25th, Sleeping at the trailhead for Lookout Mountain was so peaceful.  Not a single bug.  Not one!  It was so quiet, the only sound was some hooved animal snorting every so often, and an owl in the distance from time to time.  The night sky was not like anything I have ever seen (and I’m an astronomer!).  The intense fire smoke filling the entire region had turned all the stars red. ALL OF THEM. Trippy…  Well, I guess it could have been all the gasoline fumes I was huffing due to my EPA certified “no spill” gas can spilling all over the place (thanks again, Grace).  Who can tell? All I know is that I slept well and forgot most of third grade in the process.

I awoke with the Sun and consulted my maps.  I decided to traverse the Ochoco Mountains to Pauline and gas up missing out on the Mother Lode Mine atop Lookout Mountain, nuts.  Shortly along my path I encountered a little derelict gold mill and an abandoned bunk house.  I have no clue what this place was named.  Nothing in my maps tells me.  It was beautiful in the amber morning light though.

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An old mill and bunkhouse
The remains of some mine in the Ochoco Mountains of Oregon, the name I have yet to discover

The drive to Pauline, OR was an example in the National Forest Services interesting choices in road construction and maintenance .  You go from dirt to paved.  Then back to dirt, then on to beautiful two lane with large shoulders… then to unmaintained gravel…  I don’t get it.  I got to Paulina about 8:30am to find one gas pump and four cute little cattle dogs climbing all over me.  I had about half a tank, but I wanted to be sure to have it topped off for the dirt drive to Burns.  I didn’t know it, but those dogs were in on the con; while I scratched and patted the flurry of fur and wagging tails, the lady pumping my gas (yes, Oregon does not trust average citizens with the responsibility of putting a nozzle into a hole and pulling a trigger) was ripping me off.  She exclaimed, “Wow, were you empty or something?”

“No, not even close.” I replied.  I then look up to see that somehow 11 gallons of gasoline has become 23 gallons.  My tank only holds 21.  What am I going to do about it?  She’s the only game in town and I pull no weight out here in the sticks.  I just bought 23 gallons of gas. at twice the market rate.  Lame.  Note to self, do not buy gas in Paulina, OR.

Back into the mountains I have a nice long drive through a boring pine forest.  I realized while turning the wheel and staring out the windscreen, that I really don’t care for pine trees.  They suck.  They are not pretty, they cover the ground in acidic needles that thwart undergrowth, and all of them looked like depressed trees just going through the motions.  They wish they had the rainfall and clout of a Pacific forest, but they don’t.  Instead every pine tree just looks like it is ready to die in a raging forest fire.  Like it WANTS to die in a raging fire.  The skeletons of charred pines look so much more at peace than the living ones.  Pine trees are like the emo kids of the tree world.  I can just imagine them chain smoking stolen cigarettes, listening the Sunny Day Real Estate on repeat, and writing poetry about how much they hate their parents.

Happy on the left, sad on the right.
Happy on the left, sad on the right.

In Burns I go to a McDonalds to steal their Wi-Fi only to discover that my laptop now wants to spend an hour “installing updates”.  cap this off, it is low on battery and the McDonalds doesn’t have outlets anywhere.  isn’t this a violation of some sort of building code? I hate everything.  Fuck it, I’ll drive.  I cross the street to the Shell station and top off the tank.  The attendants are talking about how Canyon City just to the north is no more, destroyed by fire. Shame, Canyon City and its neighbor, the famous John Day, make up a marvelous part of the old mining west.  Fire is everywhere this year.  History and the Earth are burning.

I leave Burns about noon and am off to bucket list #3, Leslie Gulch and the mysterious blue landslide I want to touch.  To get there traditionally I would have to drive around and around for hundreds of miles, or I could just off road and cut out the circuitous travel.  I leave Burns heading east towards Crane.  This stretch of Oregon is the absolute worst.  One giant, salty, flat, treeless, sun-baked, wasteland.  Everywhere along the route is half-finished ideas, and crumbling dreams.  Broken trailers here, roofless barns there…  Anyone thinking of living in this uninhabitable hell-scape needs to just fill their tank and drive until it runs out of gas.  Wherever you end up will be better than here.

At the end of the Pavement is Crane, OR.  Crane is a town, apparently, but all that seems to be there is a high school (“Home of the Mustangs!”), even the highway leading to there is sponsored by the “Crane Teachers Association”  There are no businesses, just a Post Office and a high school.  Weird.

Passed Crane the road is gravel and really nicely maintained.  Those who know me are aware that I drive like a grandma.  Dirt roads are no different (Editor’s note: yes, I am aware about how ironic the entire following piece is considering what happens the next day).  It may seem to the outside observer that I am driving like an asshole, but there is great strategy in this.  First rule of mountain or country driving: stay in the middle of the road except when going around blind turns or over hills with no visibility of oncoming traffic.  This way you are less likely to hit large animals like deer and cows as they are more likely to be on the sides of the road eating than they are just standing agape in the middle of the lane (the boys and I once drove for a hundred miles in the middle of a highway as we passed millions of deer on migration in the Oregon Outback east of La Pine for what seemed like hours in the middle of the night, surreal experience).  Rule two, if your rear wheels start to drift behind you, steer into the slide, this is to prevent a rollover (Editor’s note: yes, I am aware how fucking ironic this is, shut up).

I am driving through the “Stinkingwater Mountains”.  Like the salty flatness before them, they too are not that great.  More like long flat turds drying in the Sun.  Not even mountains really,  more hills of nothing worth noting.  Just basalt and some ash.  Boring!

Bombing the Crane-Vernator Rd, I eventually take Swamp Creek to the Crowley-Riverside Rd.  This road kind of sucks and after 20 bumpy miles I come to a locked gate.  Oof.  I consult the map and turn around and go back a ways, then head northeast on McEwen Rd, then East on the stupidly named Granite Creek Rd (there isn’t any granite within 100 miles of here, maybe more), then Shumway Cutoff Rd, to the singular Crowley Rd, to Antelope Flat Rd, to Unnamed road, to Unnamed road, to Unnamed rd, to no road at all… a horse trail really.  Everything in the bed of the truck is back to ping pong balls.

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This is a tame part of the road. Stupid wide angle cameraphone lense does not do it justice.

Driving such a 4×4 road requires intense concentration on what is 10 feet in front of you.  It is a good thing the surroundings were lame, otherwise I would have popped my tires and died like a raison in the hot Sun.

There is no one out here.  Every so often I find tagged cattle, but not much else.  This last dirt road I am on is requiring me to open and close barbed wire gates like crazy.  My hands are now full of splinters from these old, weathered gates.  I am chugging up this last hill, jarring large basalt rocks pop my truck back and forth and at the crest of the hill one of the most beautiful desert formations I have ever seen.  I see Red Bluff, the Owyhee River, and the crazy outcrops of the mineral-rich mountains surrounding Leslie Gulch.  I take it in.  So beautiful.  One last gate to open and then close behind me and then I descend down closure to bucket list item #3 of the trip.

Oywhee Lake.
Red Bluff, the Owyhee River, and the outcrops surrounding Leslie Gulch. I really wish my camera could capture how deep these reds are. Someday I will invest in a real camera.

Fuck me, this road is not a road.  It is a scar of dirt, large boulders, and one giant rut descending a couple thousand feet to the valley below. 4-low, 1st gear, and my white knuckles clinging to the steering wheel for life and I make my way down hoping not to die ricocheting about the cabin of my truck as it goes end over end to a place no one has tread for perhaps a decade, or more.  Once I make it 20 feet down there is no going back.  This is a one way trip, no truck is going to make it UP this thing as gravity will ensure it goes DOWN one way or another.  I am leaning out over my dashboard trying to get any look at what is about to pass under my tires.  This is fucked up.  I’m an idiot.

I don't know if you can tell from this image, but that is a 2+ft deep gouge between my tires as I descend a 25% grade down an unknown path, with unknown conditions below.
I don’t know if you can tell from this image, but that is a 2+ft deep gouge in the “road” between my tires as I descend a 25% grade down an unknown path, with unknown conditions below. Cameraphones never show how fucked up the situation really is.

An hour later I finally am out of the awful basalt layer and into the sweet softness of the ash.  The road is smooth as butter… for about a half mile.  Then it takes a turn from going straight down to a long traverse parallel to the ridge.  Who does that?  Now I have deeply carved dry wash after dry wash.  Going back up isn’t an option and driving over a 6ft deep gorge is not that much better.  This is fucked up.  I’m an idiot.

A road?
A road, or “erode”?

The third gulch in my path is deep.  Like really deep.  I put the truck in park and get out to survey the terrain.  I take pictures too, because this is what one does before doing something stupid, and plan my route.  The key to crossing a crack, crevasse, slot, or creek, is to take it at an angle.  The goal is to have at least three tires in contact with the ground at all times.  It is also much smoother.  I back the truck up so that I can approached this monster at as much of an angle as I can, shift it back into low gear and creep forward. The truck falls forward with a giant *crunch!* and I am no longer moving.  The front clip is now firmly impacted into the opposite bank and my rear passenger tire is now about 3ft off the ground.  I managed to achieve goal number one:  have three tires in contact with the Earth!  I can’t back up because the soft ash the front tires are in at the bottom of the gulch floor provides no traction, just puffs of dust, and the rear differential means that the passenger side tire in the air spins wildly while the rear tire sits locked in place.  This is fucked up. I really am an idiot.

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Where are you going? Fuckin’ nowhere!

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I am seventy miles from the nearest human, It is 3pm and approaching 100 degrees outside.  What I have going for me: gallons of water, food, extra fuel, rock tools.

I check my supplies:  Food: Soggy and warm, because I forgot to drain my cooler and get more ice. Way to go, moron.  Water: punctured while bouncing around in the back of my truck. Dipshit.  Fuel: The top popped off my leak-proof can and now there are gallons of fuel soaking most everything in my truck. Thanks, Grace.  Rock Tools: A little slimy with gasoline but ready to lever, pick, and dig.

The first thing I do is dig out the front end of the truck and give her a go.  Nope.  I them cram rocks under the front tires for traction. Nuh-uh…  I sit down, sweat already dripping from me even though I haven’t really done any work yet, and drink what little water I have left and start to engineer a plan.  I begin by rolling big boulders down the hill and into the gulch.  I make a several foot high pile of these rocks under the tire that is high in the air.  My god, it is hot outside.

Next I take one boulder and put it under the drive train of the front driver’s side.  I place my crappy little jack on top of this rock and start lifting the truck.  Unlike Lookout Mountain there are bugs here, and they love me.  The flies are buzzing and biting while I lay on my back, shirtless, under my truck spinning the jack a hundred time to watch it raise an inch.  Just like stuffing some coasters under the opposite corner of a wobbly table leg, I am now stuffing a jack under the opposite corner of my tire that is three feet in the air.  As the driver’s side front tire lifts off the ground the rear passenger side begins the settle on the pile of rocks I made.  Once I get the jack as high as it can go I stuff rocks under the now raised driver’s side front tire.  Along with these rocks I take a piece of plywood that makes up the shelf in the bed of my truck under this as well; like a ramp going up the embankment.  Once everything is in place I lower the jack and everything settles.  All four tires are now making contact and three of these tires are on rocks and not ash.

Two hours have gone by.  I am very eager to see how my engineering has fared and I climb back into the cab and turn the key, put it back in gear, this time 4-low and 2nd gear so as not to have too much torque and press the pedal down.  The engine growls and like a bolt of lightning the truck is up and on the top of the bank.  Smooth like butter.  I am no longer an idiot.  I am now a 4×4 god and genius engineer.  I dance while I throw my tools and plywood back in the truck.  I realize I forgot to document my genius with pictures.  Oops.  I don’t care that my bedding smells like a fuel dump.  I’m not going to die alone in the desert!

I drive forward 100ft and there is another gulch.  FUCK!

This time I am proactive and fill the gulch with boulders.  I drive over them, another gulch, another fill of boulders… another gulch, and so on, and so on. Finally, four hors have progressed from when I reached the bottom of the valley and began driving on the ash, I get reach the Owyhee River and to where I am going to cross, and the water level is high.  Too high.  There is no way I can get across (I knew I should have built a snorkel for my intake).  I have managed to find the only river in the West that is at a normal water level.  So much for planning.  Well, back to my maps because there is no way I am getting out the way I got in…

I find a trail that runs up the opposite side of the canyon (the East side) from where I came down, the trail sucks, but not as bad as the previous one.  Only two gulches need to be filled with boulder.  hooray.  The shadows are growing long, and now I am really driving like an asshole up a shitty road with one goal in mind: Get to cellphone coverage before my mother makes me a news story by reporting me missing in the Oregon Outback.  I promise her I will check in everyday I am doing stupid stuff alone in the toolies.  As she is fully aware that I have no sense and exhibit pretty much no fear when attempting morinic things in the name of exploration.  She witnessed my childhood.  She’s seen my medical files.

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I finally make it to US20 by 9pm.  That is about 60 miles of terrible “roads” in two hours (with two ditch fillings).  These roads should be treated at a crawl.  Again I am the most fortunate of idiots.  Also, thank you, Les Schwab tires for not exploding on me in the dark.20150825_192023

After placing a call to mi madre, the next goal was gasoline not in Oregon, but Idaho, please. I want to pump my own gas like a dignified human being.  Now here I sit in a Denny’s to use their Wi-Fi and then after 30 minutes they kicked me off the Wi-Fi and won’t let me log back in.  My shitty fucking meal hasn’t even arrived yet.  Kiss my butt, Denny’s!

Note, things I need for the truck:

  1. a high lift Jack
  2. somewhere outside of my tuck I can store a gas can, for the love of god!
  3. portable ramps… will add to list as I go.