Mountain Loop Hwy Feb 2004

My Soul It Sings of Wheeling…..

You gotta know, that there is not much better than a late winter run on a sunny Saturday in February, to stir the soul and make you think that most anything is possible. So started the February club run in the morning at the Buzz-Inn at Smokey Point, where many of the usual Tamer suspects lined up for an excellent adventure on the mountain loop highway at the north end in Darrington. Mike and Staci and the kids were in attendance, driving Staci’s YJ this time around. Mike Grecula and son Jonathan (man Mikey – you’ve been feeding him again – he’s like – grown into a big ol’ teenager!) Moosenstein and me, of course were there (where else would we be?) Terry and son were out trying out her new wheels, a white YJ. John and Gina were in attendance. Too bad Gina was having trouble lifting her left hand, since John had placed a big old (actually a bunch of big old) rocks on it. (Congratulations, kids!!!) Dave, having also gotten the white YJ memo, was there in his rig. And lo and behold, here was Jess Ritch, in his despite all threats not yet sold CJ sitting on the trailer, awaiting a better day of wheeling than the previous trip here. In fact, the last time I wheeled with Jess, I think it was on this run 2 years previous. That time, he had just brought it out from a rebuild, and ended up springing a leak in the gas tank. At that time, as much as Gary TJ and I wanted to drop a match in the gas trail at the end of the line to see how long it would be before Jess and Jeep lifted with a “KRUMPH,” we restrained ourselves. Jess’s leak was so bad that time, he turned around and headed for home early. I hoped for a better ride for him this morning.

So – sun blazing, we hit the road, and headed for Whitehorse, where we gassed up, and Jess freed his waiting steed from its restraints – ready to hit the road. On we went through Darrington, and we headed into the great north woods. I was pretty sure we would see no snow on the loop, as it was pretty warm, and hadn’t snowed in a long time. Also – I’d heard tell that the winter rains took out part of the loop – I just didn’t know whereabouts this might have happened. As we headed up the road, a sign said it was “closed at Bedal,” wherever the hell Bedal was.

Well – we went up the main drag for a ways, going to where the pavement ended, and continued on the mud and gravel road, turning left onto a promising looking side road that might get us up into the snow. As we started up this hill, I was trying to figure out where all the fog was coming from. In fact, Mike Grecula kept appearing and disappearing into what looked like an autumn SeaTac fog bank. All of a sudden, it foggily became clear what was going on. Jess’s bad Mt. Loop luck had followed him into the woods. He was laying down a smoke screen that would have made James Bond (in the Goldfinger movie) proud. If he’d added machine guns and an ejector seat, you’d scarcely have been able to tell his rig apart from 007’s Aston Martin. Whether uphill or down, the longer Jess was running, the more oil he was sucking in from somewhere, and the more smoke he was blowing out. To cut everyone a break, he pulled over to let us pass, and bring our oxygen levels back up a bit. Then – he went to start up again as tail gunner, and found his starter quit working. Good thing Jess was having bad luck – otherwise, he would’ve been plum out of any luck at all. I felt really bad for him, because I can imagine how frustrating this all is. In his honor, I just couldn’t restrain myself from breaking into song….

To the tune of “On Top of Old Smoky”
My rig was running so smoky
It was burning some oil
It made me so angry
My blood it did boil

Then my starter it died
At the mouth I did foam
Went to my trailer too early

Or to Hendrix’s “Purple Haze”
Blue oil haze surrounding me
I’m dismayed, how could this be?
Rebuilt my engine, last time it died –
‘Scuze me – grown man ain’t supposed to cry

Blue Oil haze, floating through the woods
Baby, baby this just can’t be good
Mosquitoes and Tamers, stay away from me,
Whatever it is – my rig’s – put a spell on me

(Help me, help me, oh no, etc….)

Well – indeed – Jess did break from the group and headed backed to the trailer. I haven’t heard in the news of any flagrant cases of Jeep-a-cide yet – so hopefully, the problem will be easily fixed, and we’ll see him on the trail again. The rest of us headed upwards, and promptly found a scenic dead end – so we did a Timber Tamer turnaround. Except for the donuts, it was now an official Tamers trail run. We headed back down to the Mt. Loop highway and continued east, heading into the great unknown. Just after passing a substantial road numbered “49” we indeed saw a sign indicating we were in the booming metropolis of Bedal – which consisted of a Ford pickup truck on the shoulder, and a few closed camping loops complete with privies. Onward we pressed for another half mile – where we came face to face with an abyss that not even a Timber Tamer dare to attempt to conquer. About 30 feet down from the road surface to the now pastoral clear waters of the north fork of the Stillaguamish River, a few hundred feet of road had disappeared, scattered here and there downstream throughout various gravel bars. Being in the shade of a hill, it was too cold to linger here long. While a little idle chatter speculated on how we could get past the break, more practical thoughts prevailed, and we decided to go up the 49 road to see what we could find.

Now – THAT was the best choice of the day. Because the road started to ascend into the mountains to the north. We came along past large, old trees, past house-sized boulders, past avalanche chutes, this time devoid of snow. Then – we started seeing the telltale signs – a patch of snow here, a little ice there. Finally, the bare gravel road diminished, leaving us with ever deepening snow to drive on. While there were tire tracks ahead of us, no one had been in there before us that particular day. The snow was well packed, and warming up nicely, and easy to drive on. It was a long time in the snow before we even had to air down and engage the 4WD. We kept on until we came to the Bald Eagle horse camp – a lovely little bowl with mountains all around, rising majestically towards the now warm sun. We had a large parking lot with about 4 feet deep of snow to play in – and play we did! Some of the littler dogs got stuck quickly, and the big dogs got stuck a little later. As usual, John had to play us a little RPM harmony out of his 360, and got perfectly frame deep buried in the snow, like a quadra-old faithful spouting 4 columns of snow off his SSR’s.

We pulled up, shut down, and got out. Kids, young and old, played. Even though we had deep snow around, it became too warm in the sun to stay in jackets and sweatshirts. Off came the wraps, with kids climbing through snow forts and tunnels, with adults hanging out and telling tales, and a mom or two, failing in their attempts to keep their kid’s clothes dry. Me? I came prepared for just such a setting, and pulled out my lawn chair, a cigar, and a little nip of bourbon, and just hung out, taking in the majesty of the mountains, the forests, the sun, and the Bombay Sapphire Gin blue of the sky. This was truly, a wheeling day at its finest. Oh – and to make sure it became an official Tamer trail run, a box of powdered sugar donuts appeared, and made the rounds.

Unfortunately – I had to leave a little early, having made a few commitments to the lovely Mrs. Moose as to a grownup type cocktail party we were going to later Saturday evening. This is in line with the folk wisdom that says:

“He who stops wheeling early, at the request of his spouse – gets to stay far away from the wheeling doghouse….”

I knew that Sunday (following story) was going to be another prime day for wheeling, and I had my eye set on making it a 2 for 2 wheeling weekend.

So – at 2:00PM, being that only Moosenstein and Mike Grecula weren’t stuck, I started getting around yanking folks out. First Terry – who was only a little stuck. Then John, who was frame-in stuck like he had been superglued into place. Then, Scrambler Mike, who got high centered on a pile of snow. And last but not least, Dave, who had half-heartedly tried a little digging – but then realized that there is a reason we’re a wheeling club, and not a shoveling club.

After that – I started for home, taking what became 3 hours to get from the horse corral to the Moosenstein corral in Kenmore.  On the radio, I picked up more hints of more stucks, and more fun being had as everyone started to head for the trail out.  It was a supremely satisfying late winter day on the trail.  A bad day wheeling beats a good day doing about anything – but a good day wheeling – ah – now there’s a day in paradise!!!