Memorial Day Weekend at Tillamook May 2011

Memorial Day Weekend in the Tillamook Forest.
A BSOTBAF kinda weekend!

Yep.  A number of meetings ago – John Lane made an eloquent appeal that Tamers just weren’t getting out enough to enjoy each other’s company and go wheeling together.  Between the economy beating up our wallets, and a general almost-weeniness about it being too cold, wet, crappy – or just a little too much work to go wheeling for a weekend – it sure seemed like he had a point.

So – Mary and I put our big girl and boy panties on and committed to making a weekend of wheeling in Tillamook State Forest SW of Portland this recent Memorial Day.  And we weren’t the only ones.  We were joined by Glen and MaryAnn, daughter Lauren and friend Jennifer, and Mark Elsen and son Chris, Roger and Jana, and Greg (Sellers, I think – since Greg Vanlandingham said he wasn’t at Tillamook.)  Older tall yellow CJ.  And dogs Lola (our beast, who has never really been wheeling before) and Glen and MaryAnn’s pup Max, who is an old hand at that sort of thing.

Sometimes, getting out of town is the hardest part.  Glen and MaryAnn and had talked about meeting up with us early early Friday, having taken the day off.  Mary had been working on getting all the camping gear in the van most of the week, and I’d had great plans to pack and load everything Thursday night, so Friday morning would only be a “turn the key and go” event.  That was a great plan – before it took me until about 9:00PM Thursday night to get enough crap off my desk at work to actually take a few days off.  By the time I finished dinner at 10:00PM – I only had a good night’s sleep on my radar screen.  Packing could keep a few more hours.

Oh well – it was meant to be.  Part of the plan to go early early was Lori Yates’ voice ringing in my ears, “You’ll never get a campsite if you don’t get there early.”  Thanks for planting that seed Lori – the farther the morning went, the more I just wanted to go back to bed, since there wouldn’t be a campsite anyway.  I was fighting some kind of bug I’d caught the previous weekend, and could easily just have given in.  But we kept checking back and forth with Glen and MaryAnn – and they were having about as much luck getting out of town as we were – so there was nothing for it but to keep plodding along.  They’d not been to Tillamook before – and in fact – of our merry band, I was the ONLY one who had wheeled and camped at Tillamook before – so I felt like folks might be depending on me a bit.

Finally 10:00AM, I think we actually started moving down the road, with the goal to meet up with G & M at Country Cousins restaurant near the outlet malls in Centralia for – breakfast?  Fortunately – they do serve breakfast all day down there, and the timing was meant to be – as we got there within minutes of each other, even though by this time it was about noon.

It was the first of many BSOTBAF experiences for the weekend.  And what does that stand for, you may ask?  Well – hearkening back to John’s appeal, we were darned and determined to experience the “Blue Sky Of Tamers Bonding And Fellowship” that happens when you get a bunch of Tamers together for a run, or campout of whatever.

South of Chehalis, we ran through a number of pretty noteworthy downpours – one that had so much ice and snow pellets in it, it covered the I-5 road surface in white for about a half mile.  Of course – we knew that this was just getting all that bad weather out of the way so we could be enjoying that “Blue Sky” kinda feeling once we got to camp.  Traffic was starting to pick up as we approached Portland, but never really got too bad.  We got through the right turn in Portland with little muss or fuss, then headed to the hinterlands to have the perfect wheeling weekend.  By the time we hit the Shell Station near Gales Creek approaching Tillamook State Forest lands, the sun had broken out in its glory, and Lola and I went digging for moles behind the store while Glen went in to pick up an ORV pass for his rig.

Now – I have been to Tillamook twice – and I think the most recent time might have been 8 years ago, and then 2 before that.  The old gray matter (I’m talking what’s left of my brains, not what’s left of my hair) just starts playing tricks on you.  I know we were heading to Brown’s Camp – which is where I thought we’d camped the 2 times before.  But the turn to Brown’s Camp was not on the side of the road I remembered it being, and we had just crested the top of the hill.  Hmmmmmm.  This just couldn’t be it.  On top of everything else, it was drizzling in a most convincing fashion, it was quite cold, the roads muddy and – the last straw – the campground was full.  (Thanks Lori!)  Apparently she was right – we hadn’t gotten there early enough.

So – trying to rip open the hermetic seal on a few more memories, I started cluing in something about “down the hill, Lee’s Camp store, right turn……. DIAMOND MILL!”  Whether it was the desperation to finally land after a long trip, or whether I was really recovering some memories – I said, “Let’s keep looking.”

Sure ‘nuff.  Another 10 miles down the hill, and it all started coming back to me.  There was Lee’s Camp general store.  The right turn into Diamond Mill ORV area.  The bridge was in the right place, but this time it was made of concrete, not wood like it had been.  The date stamp on the abutment of 2006 made sense out of that.  And – as we turned the last corner and headed down the last decline – there was the familiar camp – which we had almost entirely to ourselves.  We’re talking like a football field sized gravel lot with picnic tables, nicely cleaned forest potties, and a ton of space.  Best of all, we saw patches of blue sky, and all was right with the world.  Ah – bonding and fellowship…..

But I figured we’d better get word to Jana and Roger – who had also never been down to Tillamook.  I knew they were probably on the road by now.  So – I got Mary’s Jeep off the trailer, and then I went down the road looking for cell signal.  18 miles towards Tillamook (which is almost all the way) I finally got service, and caught R & J plodding through traffic in south Seattle.  And they said it was sucking bigtime.  So – I delivered the info to them as to where to find us, and they spread the word to the other folks on the way.  By about 10:00PM – all the Tamers had made it to the camp, and turned in for the night.

Well – with experience comes the heavy mantle of leadership.  Even not feeling all that well, I realized pretty quickly that if we were going to get out of camp and go wheeling – I was probably going to have to come up with a plan.  So – first plan – “Tamer Time” to the extreme!  I got a fire going, and started to check out the map.  The state or Oregon appears to have a much different attitude about the stewardship and use of its forests than we experience in Washington.  It actually seems to treat motorized users as a group warranting some respect, and has supplied wonderful maps, nicely worked out trails – and all I had to do was to get my map reading skills back in order.  I had recalled a trail where we drove under (through, actually) what I thought was a big cedar stump – and indeed – the Cedar Tree trail was on the map up near Brown’s Camp.  So – that was the starting point for the day.

I think it was almost after 11:00 AM (I told you we were raising “Tamer Time” to an art form) when we hit the road, heading up to the Brown’s Camp turnoff – and promptly getting lost on all of the logging roads in the forest.  Fortunately – all of the trailheads for all users were well marked – so you could check the trailhead name and number against the map, and you could figure out how lost you really were.  At the same time, Jana started figuring out the GPS they had loaded up in Roger’s Jeep, and it called out the road names, which helped a lot.  After about 3 TT turnarounds – we found the Cedar Tree trail – and headed in.

The trails are nicely marked with degree of difficulty.  For the group we had, “moderate” was like an easy walk in the park.  “Difficult” was more like it in terms of “don’t break your stuff” interesting challenge, and “Severe” and “Extreme” just made us all wish Tom Baker and Karl were with us so we could watch a Tamer having fun making impossible stuff look easy.  We didn’t even really consider the “easy” 4WD trails – we were there to go wheeling!

Again – that “gray matter” thing slipping by me again.  Somehow, I really thought I remembered it was a stump near the end of the trail, when in fact the cedar tree in the “Cedar Tree” trail was a fallen over tree the trail went under near the middle of the trail.  No matter – it was really cool anyway to drive under the tree along the trail.  That trail went by all too quickly – so we headed on to “Firebreak Five” trail – which was marked “Difficult.”  To borrow Dirtball’s words from an Elbe run once, I repeated in my head, “I don’t see what’s so difficult about that.”  There were some pretty good uphills and a couple of nice climbs, and a few really interesting downhills where you had to pick your way around mud and boulders and roots (a must for me, since I was driving Mary’s Jeep, and the lack of body damage to that vehicle is a tradition I wanted to honor and uphold.)  We entered Firebreak Five in the middle, and headed uphill until we got to one of the higher points in the coastal range.  Parts of the trail were covered in 2 to 4 feet of that wonderful ball-bearing granular spring corn snow, that generally provides little support and no traction – and a pair of wheelers ahead of me were doing their best to make the trail look impossible – being high centered with 35’s on a Cherokee.  The other thing I noticed was that the tires didn’t look like they had much bend in them, and apparently the meaning of the word “finesse” had not yet entered their lexicon.  It was all hard tires and right foot, making the easy look difficult.  So – once they got out of the way, I just crept through at 15 lbs and not much gas, and walked right along – as did all the Tamers in the line.  We crept up to the lip of the hill, where we saw the most incredible view of the valley bottom to the south, far off shining in the sun.  Well – until the snow/ice squall swept through.  Glen, MaryAnn and the girls were in an open Jeep and were totally ready to get off the windy, open ridge that was pelting them with snow and ice – so we ran back for the cover of the woods to get a little shelter from the storm.  Of course – to have empathetic solidarity for my fellow Tamers in their open Jeeps (because after all – this run was all about the Blue Skies Of Tamer Bonding And Fellowship) I made sure to roll down my window totally on my side of Mary’s Jeep so I could experience what they were experiencing.  Let’s see – that was just before I reached down to turn the temp knob all the way to the right, and kicked the fan up a notch on the heater……..

Dropping down the trail back to the north actually did bring us to blue skies, and we had to stop at a hill climb while a bunch of Toy Boys were doing their best to show off the SCAB driving method I so often notice employed by ‘Yota owners.  (If you aren’t familiar with the SCAB driving method, it means Smash Crash And Bash…..)  There was a regular solid axle pickup, then a flat bed, then a little bobtail – all of whom seemed to know quite a lot about RPM, but not much about the advantages of lowering your tire pressure.  I didn’t see much sidewall flex at all during lunge after repeated 5000 RPM lunge up the slicker slot, banging into door eating boulders and just putting on quite the show.  I really liked the flat bed when he got totally sideways in the slot, doing a great Austin Powers imitation of having nowhere to go front or rear.  (He had to get winched backwards to give the hill climb another shot.)  Since I detected no drinking going on – it wasn’t quite a “DO SOMETHING STUPID” moment – but it wasn’t pretty.  Fun to watch, SURE – but not pretty.  After the toys came a YJ with a little less need for the rev-limiter and flabbier tires – and he pretty much walked up.  But as the Romans used to demonstrate when they threw the Christians to the lions and gladiator on gladiator – the masses want mayhem.  Once the Toys disappeared up the trail – so did most of the spectators.  This YJ making a well executed path through the slot went largely unnoticed.

We headed down the same slot after it cleared, making a mental note that  we needed to come back some day to go the other direction on that particular trail.  But we were still in the “exploring” mode and wanted to check out more trail as we slowly headed in the general direction of camp.  To do this, we headed to the trails “Saddle Up,” “Airplane Hill,” “7-Up,” and “Hog’s Back” – all of which had sections ranging from “moderate” to “have you made a will yet?”  (We didn’t go on the latter.  It was scary just to even look at it.)

By this time it was late afternoon – and we figured we’d had a good day wheeling under the belt, and would get back into camp around 5 or so if we wandered through the forest roads so Glen didn’t have to do too much paved road driving.  So – after a few more turnarounds (we think we got to a record 7 for the day) we found Lyda Road and started making for camp.

And that’s when we really got lucky.

The roads just don’t feel that steep on the Brown’s Camp side of the hill – but you start coming down the other side, the roads are REALLY steep and the switchbacks are many.  Mary and I were slowly picking our way down the road, hoping my map reading skills would get us where we were hoping to be, with Greg in his yellow Jeep next in line, Then Glen and MaryAnn, Mark and Chris, Roger and Jana.  We were in that mode of “heading back into camp” satisfied feeling of a good day of wheeling, anticipating a warm meal and a cold beer when you kinda get into your own little introspective world of happiness.  I was just rounding a hairpin down to the right, when I caught out of the corner of my eye a really weird movement to my left.  Greg was passing me at what had become a pretty good rate of speed in the left ditch – went straight off the end of the hairpin, hitting an old rotten tree stump squarely on the front bumper, then as if in slow motion – the back of the Jeep rotated up into the air, and the whole thing landed upside down in a heap – wheels to the sky.

When you see something alarming and out of place like that – it takes a little to make sense of what you just witnessed.  I was even more concerned at first, because my brain was thinking “open Jeep” and somehow connected that with Glen and MaryAnn and the girls sitting in the back seat, and was totally freaked out that it was them with the potential of the back seat passengers not having so much protection.  It was only minusculy better when I realized it was Greg who had gone over – until we heard Lauren’s friend Jennifer (who was riding with Greg)  laughing (whether nervous or otherwise) and Greg out of the Jeep and appearing to be in one piece.  There were no sparks, no fire, the Jeep wasn’t going anywhere from all the trees pressing around it – and once we established that all that counted (humans in one piece) was going to be okay – I said to Jana – “GET PICTURES!!!!!”

In typical Tamer tag team fashion, we quickly got Glen and Roger on winch lines on the front of the Jeep, while Mark got a winch on a strap from the side over the cage.  We got the Jeep on its wheels in a few tugs, then pulled it up out of the woods back onto the road.  We collected the yard sale items (tarp, headlight trim ring, quart of motor oil, etc.) from the woods, tossing them back into the Jeep.  We weren’t that far from camp – so we decided to go get Greg’s truck and trailer and come back for the rig.  Roger and Jana and Glen and MaryAnn were going to wait with the rig in the meantime, and we were all happy that the biggest tragedy was that there was no beer to drink while waiting.  It was all back at camp!

Now – did I mention how steep the hills were?  Once we got Greg and his truck and trailer back to the turn, and had things loaded up, that was a very long, very slow, very deliberate drive back to camp.  Once we hit the highway – we turned left to head to camp, while Greg decided on a right turn, as he was ready to head for home.  I can’t say I blame him in the least.  He did yeoman work to keep coming down that narrow, steep road with his wounded Jeep on his trailer, and I’m sure more than a few “what might have been” thoughts going on in his head.

Once back at camp, meals were passed around, a few cold ones cracked, and we counted our lucky stars for things to have turned out as well as they did.  On Greg’s Jeep, one “booger-welded” hook had gotten knocked off, and he’d lost all his engine oil and tranny fluid – but other than that – it looked pretty okay.  Not really any bent sheet metal.  Not even a broken windshield.  Front hoop around the hood will need a little re-bending, as we had to put a winch on it in order to get the hood open, once the Jeep was back on its tires.  And of course – all the humans were just fine, if not adrenaline-enriched.  After all was said and done – we think the transfer case popped into neutral when he wasn’t expecting it, and off he went.

On Sunday, I figured our skillsets were now all pretty equal, so I abdicated my leadership position, and it was gamely assumed by Mark Elsen and his son Chris to pick where we would go for the day.  After many hours screwing around in camp getting a fire going with wet wood, we finally hit the road around 11 AM again, this time looking for trails top take up generally where we left off the previous day.  Again – most we drove, some we just looked at.  (Mark had some bad “wicky-wicky-wicky” noises coming from under his Jeep that sounded like a U-joint going, although visual inspection didn’t really show much more than maybe a loosening up CV joint in the rear driveline – so we figured going not too hard made sense.)  Like the one called “Can Opener.”  There were a lot wheelers camped out at the bottom of that one, but no one was driving.  Chris did yeoman work at orienteering by map, getting us to  “Archers Firebreak,” “Rocky Uphill,” and part of “Rock Garden” before heading over to “Roger’s Road.”  Which is peculiar, because Roger and Jana had actually elected to go into Tillamook for the day, so Roger did not get to drive on “his” road.

Rogers Road was really interesting in its own way.  It started from almost the main road, going uphill almost 2 miles – the first half of the trail through thick, tight green shrubbery pressing into the rigs from both sides.  We tried to tell the girls it was too bad we were driving through so much poison ivy and oak, and for a while, we had them believing they were in itchy peril.  Parts of the trail reminded me of going to Lake Isabel in the Reiter area, with its green and rocky up hills in some parts, with a scenic and not too threatening drop off on one side of the trail.  The top of the trail probably topped out at about 1,500 feet – where we got another good view somewhat similar to the mountaintop the previous day, as well as the obligatory ridge-top drizzle and cold wind.  Rather than drive fast 4 miles on logging roads back to camp, we decided to head back to camp down the same trail.  This time, the story we spread was the carnivorous plants pushing into the Jeeps from the trail – how the first Jeep through woke them up, the second Jeep pissed them off, and the third Jeep – well – the occupants were just toast.  Somehow – the girls made it back to camp unscathed.

Back at camp, we got the fire roaring (relatively speaking given the wet wood) started getting dinner ready.  Roger and Jana brought some cheese-curds back from tourist trap city at the cheese factory – but the cheese curds are fabulously cool because when you eat them – they make squeaky noises against your teeth.  Even though there were only 10 people at the fire that night, I will tell you many more Tamers were with us in absentia.  We talked about Ann travelling east (Ann – hope you’re feeling better) the many tricks played on Karl over the years (Karl – hope your sea duty is treating you well, and thank you for your good natured acceptance of all the Tamer love we show you) things built by Tom Baker, hostessing by the Lori’s, and many other characters we have in this club.  We recall it was Tillamook where I first remember Gina getting the nickname of Monkey Butt on a painfully muddy part of a trail she inadvertently sat down in after a slip.  And John – we hope you really had to work – because anyone who wasn’t there – you really missed the Memorial Weekend of Blue Skies Of Tamer Bonding And Fellowship.

A side note is that we got word that Mark’s transmission gave it up while he was driving home Sunday night.  Sorry Mark – guess we were wrong about the CV joint.  At last we didn’t waste any time doing trail repairs on it – or as Gary TJ is fond of saying – “Just drive it ‘til it breaks.”  Apparently – you took advantage of that sage advice.

But hey – there are more trails and more time to go wheeling and more chance of Blue Skies when Tamers get together.  (Father’s Day at Elbe coming up pretty soon.)  And you’ll just have to get yourself there.

Thanks for reading – and keep on wheeling!