Friday, December 20, 2013

WABDR Adventure Ride Day 2

Day 2

Day 2 began with us packing up our sleeping bags and tents and getting our gear properly placed back onto our bikes/bike racks. Though it’s not a terribly difficult task, I really dislike this part of each day. I would rather just leave my tent/sleeping bag behind and just ride off unencumbered by my “gear”! Oh well, 20-25 minutes later we were ready to head down the road.

The weather was nice…clear blue skies and the sun coming through the trees, though it was a bit cool. We headed east on highway 12 to connect up with our next dirt road that would move us North. At the top of White Pass, we decided to stop and get some breakfast…fill up on water and fuel up…correction…we had fueled up the night before, so no need! There was pretty much one place on White Pass to accomplish these things and it was all in one place. It is a Fuel Station, CafĂ©, Convenience Store kinda place, that everyone going East or West tends to stop at for one reason or another.

We parked the bikes and went in to get our respective necessities. For Jim this would be coffee. We grabbed something to eat, filled up on our water and sat down for a bit to contemplate the days ride. While there we observed quite a variety of people coming and going…A State Trooper was chatting with one of the gals at the counter…you could tell he was a regular, or the store was on his regular route. There were a few “granola” types…looking like they were coming or going from a nature hike. A couple of folks that came through the doors weren’t even speaking English.

I discovered that there was a very small bathroom…with an accompanying very long line. Hmmm. I really don’t like not taking a shower, or washing my face etc….before beginning my day…no matter where I am at. It doesn’t need to be a hot shower…heck, it could be (and has been) a dip in an ice cold river or lake, a cold shower, a makeshift “bath” by way of a canteen full of water…hiding behind a tree in the snow and using yesterdays t-shirt as a wash cloth….doesn’t matter what method, I just don’t feel “ready for the day” until I have cleaned up.

I saw this tiny bathroom as a big opportunity, so when the line dwindled and Jim and Brandon were enjoying a makeshift breakfast and some coffee, I entered the bathroom…which could not be locked. It had a small sink, a urinal and a toilet. I took off my shirt, grabbed some soap and as quickly as possible, I washed my hair, my face and my torso….as people came in/out of the bathroom, a few of which probably wanted to wash their hands! Sorry kids…I gots to be clean!!!!
A few minutes later, I am walking out, fresh as a daisy…with a few people in line wondering if there was a shower in that bathroom! Ha! I walk out to where Jim and Brandon are sitting and Jim says (with some jealousy I’m sure) “someone took a bath”! Yes…yes I did! A couple bottles of juice later and I am ready to hit the road!

We take off, westbound, on Highway 12. There are a couple of turnouts that offer some really nice views of Mt St Helens and at one point we turn off to get a look. As we roll up on a picnic table near the visitor viewpoint, we see a rather unusual “memorial” of sorts.

There on the picnic table is …well, you know what?...I will simply post the photo so you see the “memorial”, just as we saw it when we rolled up. Interesting to say the least!! I will leave you to your imagination.

We take off again and find our turnoff onto a dirt road, where we see a few other riders making their way north. We stop and chat with a guy and his wife, who are riding “two up” on a large adventure bike. They are here from Canada if I recall correctly?? They ask us about the trail, but since we have yet to experience it ourselves, we are unable to provide much information. They set off as we wait a bit, so that we don’t catch up with them right away. We discuss how uncomfortable we would be with all that weight…two persons, very large motorcycle etc…when trying to navigate the rough stuff. Oh well, more power to them!

We head out and are soon enjoying a rather leisurely ride/gradual hill climb. The dirt is well packed and there are smatterings of gravel but it is all pretty simple stuff as we make our way to the top of a hill that provides a beautiful and panoramic view. There are a couple of Jeeps up here and their passengers are taking in the view as well. We stop for a photo or two, and head out after the Jeeps that had just left.
 It is not long before we catch up and pass the slow moving Jeeps. We wave as we pass them and continue up another gradual hill, cresting Bethel Ridge about a mile or so up the trail. It is a great southern panoramic view. We met a few other adventure riders at this point, so we conversed a bit, had them take what I think is the only photo with all three of us in it, and we are on our way again.

The riding at this point is still pretty simple. Hard pack dirt, ruts, some chunky gravel, a few deep puddles…but nothing difficult. We enjoy the views from the ridge we ride for the next hour or so. It is perfect for Brandon, as it is just the right mix of good conditions to allow him to get some experience, but still enjoy riding.

A while later we get to the Cleman Mountain area and at this point there are a few steep hills covered in fist sized, jagged rock, about a foot deep. This stuff is never fun and the only way to really deal with it, is to attack is with some throttle! We catch up to the “two up” riders we spoke to earlier at this point. As we watch them start up this 100 yard long, rock strewn mess, we couldn’t help but think….”no way”!?!

Well, they start up the hill, and as they slowly make their way, we figure, “ehh maybe they are fine”! So Jim hammers up the hill, getting past them and I tell Brandon he is up next. I tell him that he will need to get moving and then point the bike and really get on the throttle to get up on top of/power thru and over these large rocks. I can see in his eyes, he is not terribly comfortable with this, and I don’t blame him. If you make a screw up, and slow down/stop, you are going to tip over onto the rocks…and it’s gonna Hurt!

So Brandon gets moving, but I can tell its not fast enough. He is coming up on the “two up” bike midway up the hill, who has since gotten “stuck” in the deep, jagged rocks. I think having them block part of the trail causes him to slow a bit and sure enough….ohhh, ohhhhhhh…there he goes, falling over onto the rocks. Ouch. He gets up, and tries to get moving again in the deep rocks. I forgot to tell him that if you have to start on a hill, in big, deep rocks, that it is going to be really hard! Oops! There he goes again…he’s down. Brandon finally gets moving a bit and is able to safely, though recklessly, get up to a leveled off spot at the end of this hill and the beginning of another equally challenging hill. The “two up” crew had made it to the same leveled off place, after the female passenger had dismounted the bike to allow the man to ride the large bike (barely) up the rest of the hill.

With the trail clear, I hammered the Super Sherpa up the rocky hill…getting sideways and throwing jagged rocks back down the hill at waiting riders. It wasn’t pretty, but bam…I am up the hill. We left the “two up” crew at that level spot and Brandon motored up the next stretch with a lot more vigor and was soon atop the hill looking back at the rock quarry he had just conquered. He did a great job climbing that second steep hill and I know it felt good for him. I followed him up where we met up with Jim and a couple of Jeep drivers that had the pleasure of watching the last few riders bang their way to the top. In hindsight, we should have stayed a while and videoed some folks coming up, as it would have showed the tenacity required to get up that section of the trail. Oh well, off we went…we had a lot of miles to cover.
For the next hour or two, we rode pretty much north/northeast and we cold literally feel it warm up as we headed into Eastern WA. The riding was scenic, relatively easy and very enjoyable. Brandon commented on how much he was enjoying the ride that day, as it was perfect conditions for gaining some experience. It wasn’t long before we were into Eastern WA and headed towards beautiful Umtanum Ridge. This is a large ridge that we would ride for a while enjoying the views of the valley some 2500 feet below us.

We had made good time on our ride, and as we hit Umtanum Ridge, we were really towards the end of the days ride, as once we descended, we would be riding a dirt road into Ellensburg. Umtanum had a few rather steep and rocky (More like loose gravel) sections that were 100 to 150 yards long. Now, by this time, we had ridden for several hours and had really put a strain on Brandon, who had never put in this kind of seat time, let alone in 80-90 degree weather. We knew he was a bit stressed here and there, but I think we under-estimated the impact that his “holding on for dear life” grip on the bike had over the entire day. He was tired, very tired and when you get tired on a dirt bike, you start getting sloppy, no matter how good a rider you are.

We hit a few hills, rocky but not too steep. Brandon was getting sloppy and was having a hard time literally holding onto his handlebars. His arms and shoulders were exhausted and as I followed him, I began to really notice it. We all stop and talk. We figure about 30 minutes on the ridge, up and down some hills and we would be on the easy gravel road that would lead us to Ellensburg, where we would stop for the night. We even agreed to just get a motel room so as to get a good nights rest etc. and ease tensions.

We have been simply following the GPS track on Jim’s GPS at this point. We had not needed to pull out a map or anything, as this track had been checked/double checked and updated by many adventure riders before us. We had decided after looking at the GPS when we hit a small radio tower, that we should proceed east along the ridge. That’s what the GPS said..
Brandon takes another spill as he climbs a longgggggg and rather steep hill, with loose gravel. He picks up his bike and Jim helps get him to the top of the hill, but after picking up his bike, taking the falls, and the long, hot day’s ride, it is obvious he is running on empty. I make my way up the hill and we head out…Brandon’s face is anything but happy at this point, but he soldiers on.

We have one last hill in front of us according to the GPS, and after that, it shows us descending down towards the dirt road towards Ellensburg. Jim climbs the hill, parks his bike and stands up on the hill to help guide Brandon up. I tell Brandon to take the left path up, as there are some patches of dirt that he can grab some traction on, before hitting the rocky parts of the uphill.

Brandon says “ok”. His tone betrays his exhaustion, but he points his bike up the hill and heads up. He gets about ¼ the way up, hits some loose rock and goes down. At this point, it is not even an issue of skill, he is simply just too tired. Jim walks down and advises Brandon to just walk up the hill and he will ride his bike up. Jim comes down to the bottom of the hill where I am at, slipping and sliding Brandon’s bike all the way down the sloppy gravel. He tells me the trail is “a bitch” and that it goes on for a distance greater than it appears, so keep on the throttle once I get moving.

I take off up the hill, letting the throttle do all the work, and climb to the top…passing a slow walking Brandon about halfway up. I pull next to Jim’s bike and Jim comes flying up next to me hooping and hollering! Seems he realllly likes Brandon’s bike and is having a blast screaming up the hill on it!

Click Here To See Video   (Choose 720p for best results)

 We turn to see Brandon cresting the long hill...helmet in his hand, tired...and the first word that came to mind seeing him slowly stumbling towards us was....dejected.  I took this photo of him as he crested the long hill.

I tell Jim that we really need to get off the ridge and onto some easier stuff as Brandon is spent. (Which is going to affect his riding)  He agrees and says, “according to the GPS we should be heading left and down the ridge up ahead”. Famous last words.

Jim decides to scout the route that descends off the ridge. He comes back a few minutes later and looks perplexed. According to the GPS we should be taking a left, down the hill, but it appeared to have dead-ended? We decide to ride east a bit more…and we again, dead-end at the edge of the ridge?! Now, we are not on empty at this point, but I calculate we have less than a gallon of gas each and we can’t be messing around too much looking for routes off this ridge.

Now it should be noted that Jim and I both consider ourselves expert at land navigation, map reading, terrain association and the like. Jim is a member of our Search and Rescue Team and I spent 12 years in the Army doing land navigation and reading maps routinely. We are both familiar with old school map reading, back-azimuths, route planning and everything to do with finding one’s way in unfamiliar terrain/geography.
The only map page that we do not have, is the page that covers this particular area, and we are using a GPS that does not appear to be “updating” or working correctly on this ridge! Jim turns the GPS off and on, resetting it. It simply keeps telling us to head North off the ridge. Hmm, I scout the trail that seems most likely to be correct. I travel about 2 miles on this trail and it descends in a Northerly direction consistent with what I expect would get us where we need to be. I head back up the trail and tell Jim and Brandon, it looks as good as any other trail heading North….so we head out.
About 2 miles down the very well established dirt road/trail…we hit a dead end. It simply stops. Brandon is very unhappy at this point, as he was physically done about an hour ago. We decide we need to get back to a known position (top of the ridge) and get our bearings before committing to another trail.

Well, the ride back up to the ridge is rocky, loose and a bit challenging. Brandon is so tired he stubbornly rides with almost reckless abandonment…and actually rides better! We backtrack on the ridge and then turn back East to again, follow the little line on the GPS that has the pre-loaded track for this ride. We head out and the GPS tells us to go left, down the ridge, very near where we had just tried.

It is smoking hot, we are tired, Brandon is whatever comes after dead-tired and we are getting low on water and fuel. We are also a good hour or two behind schedule and we will lose the sun in about 2 hours. I do not even remember how much time we wasted on that ridge…but it was at least a couple hours of riding here, turning back…going down hill, coming back up the hill. Here is the kicker…we are in Eastern WA! I mean, I can literally see 40 miles in damn near every direction! I can see a small town below us to the South, I can see 30 miles to the East…I believe I can actually see the main road a few miles to the North of us, that we will need to use to move NE to Ellensburg! We are not lost, we just cant get to where we need to go! It is sooooooooooooo frustrating!

At one point, we see a sign that tells us it is illegal to go further East on the ridge. We seriously consider disregarding this and blazing a trail off the end of the damn ridge! But, we decide against it. We finally decide to trust/follow what the GPS says. We take the nearest trail North off Umtanum Ridge, and we all agree we will need to commit to this trail as we won’t have the fuel, or time to screw around looking for an alternate trail.

I am sure Jim was as frustrated as I was, trying to figure out what we had done wrong…though this “trusting the GPS” thing is something neither of us liked. In fact the same GPS unit had thrown us for a loop or two on our previous TAT Ride.

We headed down and off Umtanum Ridge, and followed the trail for a mile or two as it became more and more “primitive”. Bad sign, as this trail should be very well travelled. It isn’t too long before we run into a roadblock…literally. Blocking Jim’s way is a very large tree fall traversing the entire trail. Unbelievable. That was not the word(s) that we used to describe our feelings at this point, but I try to keep these posts G rated. Brandon is ready to explode…I see it in his face, but he keeps it in.

We look around, and we can see we are entering a “draw” that is following a dried up creek . (A “draw” is simply the downhill low spot, bordered by a steep hill on either side…with both slanting downhill) It is going the right direction and we are losing elevation, so we simply commit to moving forward. We drag our 300 lb. motorcycles up and over some large tree’s/logs, then under another one. Given how hot and tired we are, this required a bit more energy than I care to admit. We mount up and ride slowly along the dry creek bed, hoping we don’t run into any more dead-fall. Another ¼ mile down the trail…yep, another dead-fall (trees that are mostly dead that have fallen)

Well, we are committed come hell or high water, so we half drag, half throttle the bikes over this latest obstacle. Another ¼ mile…another dead-fall. It is kicking or butts. At one point Jim has to wheelie his bike over a couple logs, after we drag the bikes under some more deadfall. He then has to wheelie Brandon’s bike up and over. I decide to sloppily wheelie mine to save Jim the trouble.

Hope that is the last freaking dead-fall….1/2 mile further…an even bigger dead-fall. Huge trees completely blocking the trail. we literally are laying our loaded motorcycle on their sides and squeezing them between the ground and the trees, dragging them across the ground for 10-15 feet at a time. It is so tiring and so ridiculous, it is almost funny! This is the only photo I took of our tedious journey down that draw...until we would stop for the night.  The look on Jim's face is a good representation of how tired we all felt. 

We continue along the trail and this goes on for another hour or so. It is grueling. It is starting to get dark and I keep wondering if we could just motor up the very steep sides of the ridges on either side of us. I ask Jim about it, and we agree, it would be a last resort, as someone might get hurt trying to escape in this manner, as the ridges are very, very steep. If someone fell, the rider and bike would tumble right back into the “draw” we are in.

By this time we are not even starting the bikes up; we simply let gravity pull us down the draw until the next dead-fall, saving gas. We are all out of water at this point and we are all sweating like crazy as we push, pull and try to ride our bikes under, over and across these damn fallen trees. We are all a bit dehydrated. The mood is less than joyful.

A bit further down the trail (we are making or own trail at this point, moving thru saplings and overgrowth) we hear the slightest trickle of water. We look off to our left and sure enough there is a tiny little stream…not even a stream. (It looked like someone had not completely shut the water off in a front yard hose) We decide to filter some of this water and drink/load up, even though it was going to take up more time. Jim gets the filter system out (brought it as a back up) and we start to fill up our respective camel packs. About 30 ounces in, the filter stops working. Are you kidding?!! We spent 20 minutes trying to fix it/figure it luck.  It is a stupidly simple siphon system…I don’t know how it could possibly not work!?!?

Brandon says he is done for the night. He will camp right where we stand. Jim says it would probably be a good idea to bed down in place for the night. I am not ready to do that. I hate not completing a plan and I was certain we could get out of this if we pushed on. I really wanted to continue, but when you are with a group, you have to consider the groups perspective/ideas. We grabbed some water and decided to simply boil it to use for our dehydrated meals. I had brought Iodine as a back up…to the back up, but it would be quicker to just sanitize the water by boiling it.

I wanted to see if we were close to getting out of this “draw” we were in, so I grabbed my flashlight (it was dark by now) and headed off to see what would be in front of us. As I walked, I ran into a few smaller trees across the trail, but there was room in each case to ride under or around these trees. about a mile later, it cleared up significantly, with just some scattered saplings and thick weeds in the “draw”. I was tired and not having seen an actually “end” to this “trail”, I turned back and reported my findings. If nothing else, it was good to know that we would not be facing the same type of large dead-fall that we had dealt with the past couple of hours.

As Brandon fired up his revolutionary (and admittedly cool) cook stove, that uses anything for fuel (sticks, leaves, wood whatever) and uses heat to actually move an induction fan to act as a bellows....I could not help but wonder how the hell we are lost in the most wide open part of the damn state!!?? It is terribly frustrating and a blow to one's ego. I mean, this is basic stuff!!! It was humbling to admit that we had navigated ourselves into such a silly situation. It reminded me of a couple TV shows I had seen where one or two tiny mistakes, led to someone being seriously lost, or dehydrated or injured etc. We were far from that kind of thing, but this was sobering...and embarrassing!

Oh well, deal with it in the morning. The one thing that we were not, was unprepared. We would toss up our tents, throw our sleeping bags in, and then boil up some water and get some food into our belly's. While the fire was being started, Jim, who had a splitting headache/wasn't feeling too good, lay down for a bit. I sat next to Brandon, staring at his hi-tech cook stove/fire maker! We had given him a lot of crap for buying this fancy shmancy thing, but I admitted right there and then that it was very nice to have. A fire of any kind/size, just seems to take the edge off at the end of a challenging day.
I moved to get up and wham....right quadriceps cramps up. I groan like a lame old man, and try to relax and sit back down to alleviate the pain. Hmmm, appears we are all suffering a bit from some mild dehydration. The whole situation is ridiculous, and admittedly a bit funny. Brandon an I chuckle about how stupid it is to be sitting in a ravine, hopelessly lost...while civilization is a mile or so away!

We get some food in us, and coax Jim out of his tent. He still feels like crap, likely just dehydrated, as I think he did the most work in helping get the bikes over and under stuff...and a couple times riding all three bikes around the toughest obstacles. We convince him to get some food down, and within the hour he is back to normal.

It is a beautiful night, and we sit around and talk about the days ride, but mostly about the last few hours. We talk about how if Brandon had brought a gun on this trip (He usually does)...that Jim and I would likely have been left for dead some miles back!  We talk about the fact that we must be close to getting out of draw we are in. We talk about people finding us dead 30 years from now...while they are hiking around. It's a light hearted discussion, even though an hour or two before we were all pissed about one thing or another.

It was relatively early so we sat up a good while before retreating to our tents. At this point, the days ride was at an end and we had re-hydrated and were setup for a decent nights sleep. Heck, tomorrow would be a new day, we will figure it out in the morning.

ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ...I wake up about..ohhh 2 am or so...need to relieve myself. I grab my tiny flashlight and I swear I hear something. Is that someone talking??? Hmmm, I listen....nothing. I stumble out of my tent into the pitch black darkness thinking maybe I heard an animal or something, as there were game trails all over the area we are in. I listen....still nothing.

I walk a few yards away, and I hear Brandon start to yell!  I am thinking, “what the hell”?? I shine my flashlight over at his hammock, which is easy to see as it is exposed and simply tied off to two trees some 10 yards away. His hammock is moving and I start to wonder if there was an animal, maybe a deer or something over by his hammock. Brandon starts to thrash around, yelling and mumbling like he is literally fighting with someone or something...but I dont see anything around him, nothing!

A few moments later, all is quiet. Bad dream? I don’t know, but he scared the hell out of me! I forgot I had to pee! I finish my business and I go back to my tent. I think Jim says something to me, after hearing the commotion. I tell him, I think Brandon was dreaming or something. Who knows. As I crawl back into my warm sleeping bag, I can't help but laugh..what a weird and crazy day it had been!

Tomorrow will bring some answers and some revelations, but it is lights out for this longgggggg day. More to come.

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