I blame Stacey.
It was Saturday in Anacortes. I was at the Rock Fish Brewery with Julie, both Craigs, Craig’s dad, Mike, and Stacey. We were waiting for our food and talking about Mike’s upcoming trip down the WABDR to the rally. He was planning on meeting up with Jay partway down the trail on Tuesday, but the first day and a portion of the second day of travel he would be solo in an area that may or may not have cell service on roads that may or may not be well traveled. I could vividly remember the email I got from my wife after I told her about my little snow and mosquito experience on Mt Baker (you did WHAT?). I could also see the trepidation on Stacey’s face. I started doing the mental figuring. Mike was planning on hitting the road on Monday. My wife was scheduled to arrive in port in Seattle on Wednesday. If I went, I could go until Wednesday afternoon at which point I’d have to bail.
I was in.
I let Mike know and then began the mad dash to get ready. I still had to clean house, pack up, grocery shop, and mow two lawns. Sunday was a long day and as it wound down I realized that I still didn’t know a lot about what the plan was. I gave Mike a call and he was able to allay some of my concerns.
Monday morning was here before I knew it. I woke up around 0400 going through my mental checklist. I managed to fall back to sleep til about 0500 and then realized that it was hopeless. I decided to do a bit of reading to try and not think about everything that could go wrong. “South” by Ernest Shackleton is not the book for that. I gave up on that too and went through the stuff that was still waiting to go into the truck. Finally it was close enough to my jump off time that I finished loading up the truck, locked up the house, and started up the truck.
I was off.
A quick stop to fill the tank and pick up a spare air filter and then it was onto I-5 heading south listening closely to every sound that the truck was making. My wife called and we were able to talk for the first time over the phone in several weeks and I managed to blow right past the Cook Rd exit in Burlington. I doubled back and found a parking spot at Starbucks right next to Mike’s Toyota. Craig rolled up a few minutes later in his Rover and we ducked inside out of the weather. We talked about the route and the drive out, dialed in and tested the FRS radios, and then saddled up. We hoped to leave the cold and rain behind as we crossed the cascades.
The drive out was uneventful. We followed highway 20 out to Winthrop where we stopped for a quick bite. Then it was back on the road, bound for the town of Oroville. We stopped for fuel and then started looking for the road that would take us to Nighthawk. Which leads us to a short discussion on navigation. Between the three of us we had the WA DeLorme Gazeteers, the official WABDR route, a printout of the GPS tracks and two GPSs. Mine is a Garmin eTrex Vista HCx with the topo maps for the west coast loaded. I’m not sure what Mike was running. They all had significant downsides which we were soon to discover. Downloading the GPS tracks and putting them on the GPS would have been the easiest way to follow the route but it would have taken a lot of the teamwork, fun, and challenge out of the trip. After looking around a bit we realized that the road that we needed was literally right in front of us. Off we went again, though with slightly different scenery.
We finally, finally, finally hit dirt just past Palmer Lake (after a wrong turn), aired down and enjoyed the view.
A short drive later brought us to Chopaka Lake and our first camping spot of the trip. It set the bar pretty high:
We were able to scavenge enough unburnt firewood from the other campsites (all of which were empty) to build a nice little fire
We stayed up waaayyy too late sitting around swapping stories and trying to figure out what kind of animal was making the awful racket in the bushes. We’re still not sure what it was but it stopped as soon as we shone a bright light in its general direction. In the morning we were up with the sun and back on the trail just after 8am.
We took a scenic detour that was a fun road but wound up dead ending. It looked like it may have gone through at one point (and it looked like the road shown on the official map), but those days were definitely in the past.
As we were heading back down we received a text message from Jay during one of the brief spots of service. The plan was to meet with him in Conconully later on in the day. The text said he was in Oroville. That led to a series of texts as we tried to coordinate a new meet up point while we were on the road. We finally stopped for an early lunch at North Fork Camp and sent a new message saying where we would be. After eating we began to get a little antsy to get back on the trail, so I called out on the HAM and lo and behold, there was Jay answering. We realized that he wasn’t really all that far away so we decided to go for a short hike while he made his way over.
After the hike we returned to the rigs, but no Jay. I tried contacting him on the HAM but no luck. We were trying to decide on our plan B when a govt plated truck pulled up and a woman jumped out. She asked if we were waiting on a guy in a white xTerra. They had just run into him and he was on his way up the road we had come down to get to the camp. I hopped back on the HAM and was able to get him on the first shot. I brought him up to speed and then drove over to the intersection where we both arrived at the same time.
And then there were four.
We moseyed on down the route with a quick detour up to the top of Skull and Crossbones Ridge where we admired the view and wondered about the name. We dropped back down off the ridge and then began working our way back up to Lone Frank Pass. The trail meandered through a burnt out section of forest that was quite a bit of fun.
It was nice road from the top of the pass down into Conconully where we stopped to stock up on ice and make some check-in calls from a payphone (remember those?). Then we were on the road headed out of town. A quick u-turn later, and we were back into town, making a left turn, and then taking the correct road out of town. We detoured from the official route a little in search of roads that looked more rugged on the Gazeteer. Instead of going through Ruby, we headed towards Rock Lakes where we stopped to see if it’d be worth camping at. The lakes were far below the campsites and we decided to push on. We followed Rock Creek until we met up with Highway 20 near Spaulding Lake. We decided to take a look at the campsites there and headed over. The lake was beautiful, the camping not so much. It looked like there were quite a few people who were taking advantage of the 30 day limit for camping and a few that looked like they had overstayed their welcome.
It was starting to get late and we were still trying to find a good place for the night. We decided to get back onto 20 and head west towards Twisp. On the way we came across Sweat Creek camp near Sweat Creek. One look around the campground and we were sold. I wasn’t feeling all that great from a combination of things and wound up turning in for the night right after I ate dinner. I slept like a log til early the next morning. It was nice to wake up to the sound of the creek burbling past the camp and the birds and squirrels in the trees.
And that’s where I’ll leave it for tonite (: