I am an introvert. It’s a wonder it took me so long to embark on a solo journey. By no means am I saying that I don’t enjoy good company (keyword being “good”), but once in a while, I just need some time alone.
I’ve done some camping on National Forest land, but I haven’t camped on BLM land before. On my map of Central Washington, there’s a patch of BLM land just east of Wenatchee and that’s where I find myself today.
Along the Duffy Creek trail are a series of cattle gates that I have to open, drive through, and close behind me. There’s nobody else around and it feels as if this land is all mine. Public land is a great thing.
This is where the Cascade foothills end and miles of pancake-flat farmlands begin. I find a suitable area to pull off the trail and set up camp for the day. There is absolutely nobody else around; solitude.
Toilet paper is quite unruly in windy conditions.
What is one to do alone in the middle of the desert? Take off my shirt and play Pandemic, that’s what. The wind is a huge nuisance I’m forced to use paperweights to keep the game from flying away. However, despite my valiant effort, I fail to save Europe from the unstoppable epidemic of the Blue Plague. Pandemic wins again.
Rather than deal with playing another game in the wind, I read Trespassing Across America on my off-the-grid, solar powered reading device. It’s a memoir of a guy who hiked across America along the path of the Keystone XL pipeline, border to border. Pretty cool.
Lucky for me, there are no clouds in sight and no moon to wash out the glimmering stars. I identify the Big Dipper, the only constellation that I can recognize, and crawl into my sleeping bag for the night.
In the morning, I continue following the trail as it leads me down into a gulch. The path becomes narrower as the brush encroaches on both sides. Accompanied by a symphony of branches screeching against sheet metal, I press on. The deeper I go, the more overgrown the trail becomes.
Nobody has been through here in a long time. God forbid that I puncture my radiator on a branch down here. What if I get stuck here? I’d be the idiot that left his SUV at the bottom of a ravine. That’s not gonna be me.
“Turn around.” I say to myself out loud and make a fifty point turn to go back the way I came, doubling the scratches I’ve accumulated so far.
I return to my campsite to refill my water bottle, quiet the “what-ifs” running through my mind, and let my heart rate drop down to a normal pulse. That could have been bad.
I need to be more careful about where I go, the risk is too high when traveling alone. I should just stick to roads.
Slack Canyon Road tracks along the bottom of a rocky canyon and I keep my eyes peeled lest I be ambushed by Sand People.
Douglas Creek winds along, and sometimes across, the path of the road, adding some water-crossing fun to the drive. There are a lot of spots to camp here, it would be fun to come back with friends. This road is nice and easy and it even has some fun obstacles.
I crawl down a steep rocky descent in 4 low, careful to avoid any big rocks from hitting my undercarriage. All my gear is being thrown around behind me as the Xterra steps down the rocky staircase. Though I can go down these steps, I doubt I can go up them. The Xterra, with wide open diffs, is no rock crawler. God forbid there be an impassable obstacle ahead of me.
Further along the way, the road climbs up a ledge with a cliff on the left. And on this ledge is a washout, with a large rock on the right; leaving a path too narrow to pass. Luckily, there is an alternate route that split off behind me and rejoins ahead. I think I can get by this, if I had to, by bridging part of the washout with my Maxtrax. But I’m not gonna risk it. I wouldn’t want to be the idiot that rolled off a cliff in his SUV and died.
I take the alternate route and it brings me to the foot of a hill up to rejoin the road. This hill didn’t look so steep from above. I engage 4 low and start up the hill in 1st. Part way up the hill, the engine bogs down and stalls. Maybe I need a running start. After an uncomfortably long ignition period, the engine comes back to life. I’m fine, I can do this.
I back up and drive at the hill with some more speed. I make it about a third of the way and I hear the tires slipping as the Xterra slides back down. Okay, it’s okay. I need more throttle.
In an act of semi-controlled desperation, I gun it up the hill and make it half way until the Xterra stops climbing and its wheels start spinning. I give it some more gas and all it does is spin the tires loose. I bring the Xterra back down as careful as I can and pause for a moment.
Fear and panic overwhelms me like a tsunami as I desperately search my mind for a way out. What do I do? I have no cell reception here and no way to drive out. Should I leave the car here and hike out to find help? I could try getting past the washout.
I calm myself down as best as I can and drive back around and up the ledge to the washout. With my arms out wide, I measure the distance between the left and right tires and size it up against the path. It’s too narrow, but I just might be able to make it wide enough with my Maxtrax.
I place some wedge-shaped rocks along the edge of the washout and stack both my Maxtrax over them. I check the stability of the make-shift bridge with my weight and try not to look over the edge of the cliff. It’s a long way down. I get back in the Xterra think to myself, “Is this how I die?”
I grip the steering wheel with white knuckles as I creep towards the gap. The front passenger tire finds the rock, climbs up a little bit, and slides down on its sidewall. The pucker factor is huge on this one. I creep forward steadily while suppressing images of the Xterra going over the edge.
The rear slips left as I feel the Maxtrax sliding and I punch it.
OH THANK GOD!!! I let out all the air from my lungs as I pry my death-gripped hands off the steering wheel. I’m through!
That was stupid! So stupid that I dare not think of the “what-ifs” on this one. I will, for sure, be leaving this part out when I tell my parents how much fun I had.
I hope that’s the last of it because I’m ready to go home now. But I’m not out of those proverbial woods yet.
I crest a hill, and down in the valley are farm houses and paved roads. “Thank God!” I exclaim aloud in humble gratitude.
Can one have too much adventure? I think so. All good things in moderation they say. And whoever they are, they are right.
I learned an important lesson today. Lesson: don’t climb down something you can’t climb back up. I should change the name of this blog to Idiot with an SUV.
I don’t know what I would have done without my Maxtrax. Thank you Maxtrax for making such a great product. Thank you Mule Expedition Outfitters for selling them to me. My stupidity got me in, Maxtrax got me out.