Itching To Get Out

After months of snow, we can’t wait.

The advent of Spring has left us dying to get out; maybe go on a hike on solid ground. My husband and I love the outdoors and we live in the woods but we’d like to see some different trees for a change.

Morel mushroom season is approaching but not fast enough so we settled for a drive up the road to DNR (Department of Natural Resources) land near us the other day.

The area is cross-crossed with dirt roads threading through forested hillsides and mountains. There are a couple of silver mines, plentiful sources of wood that some hardy locals take advantage of to make a living (they are a special breed), and hidden huckleberry patches known only to some inhabitants.

A local promised to take us out to pick but we have been warned that bears love huckleberries also. We’ll be sure to bring our bear spray The Man, the Bear and the Truck.

While in town the other day I stopped by the Colville National Forest ranger station for some advice as my husband has been chomping at the bit to go on some overnight backpacking trips. I asked if there were really Grizzly bear in Washington state and in Stevens County and the answer was “yes”.

The ranger said they hung out closer to the Canadian border and at higher elevations so I think we’ll stick to the lower areas. If we have to use bear spray, the ranger told us to spray in a half-moon pattern horizontally in front of us to create a sort of wall. I would have just sprayed straight ahead.

I asked about Morel hunting in previously burned areas of the forest where they thrive after fires. The staff told us there are hidden holes and the danger of falling trees so I think we’ll stay away from those. There’s plenty of mushrooms out there as it is.

When I asked about road conditions the ranger recommended a phone app called Avenza. It’s a free download that shows road and recreation maps of various sections of the national forest. You can also use them off-line. We could have used that a couple of years ago when we got lost in the Snoqualmie National Forest Lost In The Woods; Twice In One Day.

There is wild asparagus coming up although I have yet to find a single sprig. Crawfish are fun to catch (and delicious to eat) although I don’t know where to find them on this side of the mountains. We knew the back roads and where to look for things where we used to live (except for the time we got lost) but here is a new story. We’re still plying the locals for their secrets.

Lastly, I have gold fever again and have been all over our property crushing and breaking rocks. I dug a hole right into what I believe is the location of the fault running across our property. Imagine having your own private fault line? Take a look at the photo that shows its location. ūüôā

The back of our SUV is crammed with prospecting equipment just in case. If you look for gold in Washington state, you have to keep a copy of the Fish and Wildlife pamphlet with you. It has the rules for prospecting in it.

Let me close with an example:

“You can pan in the northwestern upper corner of the easternmost part of whatever creek as long as you use a sluice no longer than your arm but no shorter than the length between your elbow and your hand. You cannot dig more than three feet past the upper waterline of a hundred-year storm nor under the lowest point of a hundred-year drought on Saturdays and Sundays and only on tributaries to every river in Washington state except Snohomish County. You may wear only bright purple and use a shovel rather than a pick ax unless you are driving a Suburu in which case, you may wear purple with polka dots. This only applies to prospecting done during leap years.”

Tinkham Campground

The last stop on our journey to a new life.

The summer we lived in a travel trailer between homes was memorable.

We spent the first month up the Middle Fork county road outside of North Bend Washington but there’s a two-week limit on how much time you can stay in the national forest. As a result, we were under pressure to keep moving. The county Sheriff patrolled the area regularly and didn’t hesitate to tell people to move on if they exceed their limit. It was tricky to keep two paces ahead of them and we became forest outlaws for overstaying.

One day the sheriff told us to move so we had to spend a week at a hotel at the pass to burn up the prescribed amount of time before we could go back. It cost us an arm and a leg but it was nice to be able to shower and the beds were comfortable.

When we returned, we opted for a pay campground to take off the heat. Denny Creek near Snoqualmie Pass was a nice place but the caretaker was anything but.  He was an older gentleman who took his job way too seriously. He would literally look at his watch when we came to pay.

After that, we camped in an undesignated area before checking into Tinkham Campground – another pay site. We lived there for almost a month before we closed on our property and left for our new home.

Tinkham was a breath of fresh air. The hosts were super friendly and didn’t run the place an internment facility. It was located halfway between North Bend and the pass. As we were still living and working near our old home, we could commute back and forth to Snoqualmie with relative ease. It was a beautiful drive.

Our spot was on the river side of the campground with our own semi-private trail to the river. Denny Creek fed into it a mile or two up the road and was known for having gold.

I spent a¬†lot¬†of time at the beach. We got our water there, prospected, or just played around. The leg-breaking terrain was littered with giant rocks that were difficult to walk on but someone had begun to build a trail from the tree line to the river’s edge.

I seized upon the idea and spent many hours over the following weeks adding to the trail. It was like building a patio. I would find the flattest rocks, dig shallow holes for them, lay them in, dump sand between them and pack it down. It looked pretty cool in the end.

Working on “my” trail became one of my favorite pastimes. It was symbolic to me. The flattened walkway that threaded its way to the water might save someone a broken ankle and was an invitation to enjoy the river. I hoped people would use it for months –¬† maybe years ahead. I wondered if others would help to maintain it. I’d like to go back someday and see if it’s still there.

The great solar eclipse happened while we were at Tinkham. When the sun fell into darkness, the shadows on the ground deepened in a surreal fashion. The light dimmed, and we headed to the beach. I took my camera and my husband brought three pairs of sunglasses to watch. I teased him about it.

I couldn’t get a good shot with my camera but the multiple pairs of sunglasses my husband brought allowed us to see it clearly. Go figure.

We went prospecting at Denny Creek but had the usual bad luck in finding any gold. By that time, I was beginning to realize gold is heavy.  It sinks to the bottom of the gravel and sand till it hits either bedrock or clay. You have to have the right equipment and experience to know how to get to it. Lesson learned.

We were able to stay for the rest of our time in the mountains at Tinkham because the hosts were cool. Being an older couple, they suggested we clean up the fire pits in exchange for some extra time. We spent three days cleaning up fifty or so campsites.

In mid-September, we closed on our property. Winter was approaching and we now had somewhere to go – somewhere to call home. It was time to go.

On the evening of September 17th of the year 2017, we loaded up the trailer and hitched it up to the truck in the pouring rain. We pulled out of our spot and stopped on our way out to say goodbye and thank you to our hosts.

We pulled onto I-90 knowing western Washington was now a part of our pasts, most likely for the remainder of our lives – but a new adventure awaited us ahead.

 

The Great Outdoors: A People Magnet

Settling into our new life on the road and the people we met.

All kinds of people are drawn to the woods. There’s something for everyone there:

  • The simple beauty and serenity
  • A brisk thirty mile hike to some peak starting at 5am while training for the decathlon (super achievers)
  • To get stoned and totally enjoy nature (screw the decathlon)
  • A place to forage for wild mushrooms to sell at the city market
  • To ditch and burn a stolen vehicle (I’ve seen that)
  • A place to get naked and go swimming or soak in a hot spring
  • To hide a body (Gary Ridgeway or Ted Bundy)
  • A place to live when you’re homeless
  • A place for target practice with your antique musket and your rifle
  • To take the dogs out for a nice romp
  • A simple camping trip or picnic
  • For gold prospecting or to hunt for gems
  • A teenage barf fest wherein someone’s soiled tent or sleeping bag is inevitably left behind.

For us it was a mixture of some of the above (minus the body dumping, car burning and decathlon training), and it was a place to live for the summer between homes. Wherever we parked the rig was our home for the months ahead.

We had the trailer parked at the Taylor River campground along the Snoqualmie River for our first few weeks on the road and were just settling in to our new routine when one day, I saw a limousine driving down the seriously pot-holed road. There was a particular spot going over a bridge near us where you had to maneuver through carefully at an angle in order to avoid bottoming out on the edge of an especially deep pothole.

I cringed as the long black vehicle approached the “hole” and to my surprise it glided through unscathed. It was the end of the navigable road however and it slowly pulled to a stop.

A stretch limousine fifteen miles down a narrow dirt road, forty five miles from the nearest city. Weird. I tried to look busy and watched out of the corners of my eyes.

It pulled over and a man got out, then another. The second man was dressed in what looked to me like yachting attire. The first man appeared to be his help of some sort. The man in the boat clothes just walked around for a few minutes and had a look around then they got back into the limo, turned around, and drove off, back up the road the way they came.

What?

Then one day the motor home pulled in.

It was kind of junky looking but nothing unusual for out there in the woods. Every kind of people came out here from the city folk with their Subarus to the teenagers from the burbs out for a wild night of partying. Some people lived out here (like us) but I don’t think they had any choice. We saw people out there who were clearly living¬†there. It felt sad to me.

The people in the motor home turned out to be colorful folk. It was an older gentleman, probably in his sixties, his wife, and their daughter and her boyfriend and kids. One dog too. I didn’t get the impression they were out for a weekend camping trip. The motor home had a definite lived-in look.

One or more of them liked the bottle. Colorful became vivid when they drank. I don’t remember what it was about but the first time they had at it, they had at it. Yelling, throwing things, slamming things, and at some point, the younger couple got the boot. They sped off down the road leaving a plume of dust, rocks spitting out from under their tires.

That was the first time. It became a pattern. We began to dread the now expected daily skirmish. We moved to the other side of the road then across the bridge to get away from them. Then one day they were gone. Thank God.

Back to the usual city dwellers with their pooches, Birkenstocks, and ergonomically designed hiking poles mixed in with the pickup truck-driving, gun-toting types and their mystery mixed breed dogs.

All was well again as the ear-shattering sounds of gunfire rang through the air.

On The Road

Eluding the forest police.

We were on the road in our little trailer from sometime in May to September 19th of 2017 while we shopped for a place to live.

We spent most of the time in the Snoqualmie National Forest on the west side of the Cascade mountain range. You’re only supposed to spend a total of two weeks at a time camping there but we bounced around for a couple of months. We didn’t have a place to live, after all.

A lot of other people didn’t either. We met quite a few who made the forest their temporary home. Ours was by choice – I don’t think many of them had one.

The areas are well patrolled by sheriffs and we had to play a kind of a game of hide-and-seek to keep them at bay. In the middle of summer, we had to stay at an inn at Snoqualmie Pass for a couple of weeks to burn up our “not allowed” time before we returned to camp.

We stayed in designated and undesignated sites (which is allowed) and moved from the north side of I-90 to the south side to keep a low profile.

Camping was the cheapest and most viable option for us. The hotel cost us an arm and a leg. Until we found some land to buy – the road was our home.

When we finally found a place, some paperwork got lost in the mail and things dragged out for weeks longer than we anticipated. Our agent got pissed at us because things were taking so long.

I reminded her that someone¬†else¬†lost the paperwork, and although I was pissed at her we had to smooth things over as it’s one of those relationships that you have to maintain in your own best interests and everyone knows it.

We stayed at a couple of pay-by-the-night campgrounds. The first featured an ogre and his wife; the kind who watches every move you make from his RV. He would literally look at his watch when we would come to pay for the day, as if he was counting on us to be late. He was just a rude asshole. I felt sorry for his wife.

The hosts at the second campground we stayed at were very friendly and we actually worked out a deal with them to do the final cleaning of the fire pits in trade for a few days of accommodations. My husband and I scooped and cleaned out about thirty to forty fire pits for the close of the season.

In general, we kept the lowest profile as possible until we could get out of the forest and to a place we owned where no one could tell us how long we could stay or what we could do.

And I could dig as many holes as I wanted at any time of the day I wanted. ūüôā

The Man, the Bear and the Truck

If that man had woken up…..

We camped in the national forest near Snoqualmie Pass during the summer of 2017 while we looked for property to buy. It was a popular area and most of the spots were full at that time of year.

Every now and then, a bear will discover that food is readily available in these places and will take advantage of the smorgasbord. One had been seen going up and down the road so the Forest Service had posted warning signs.

My husband and I were driving back to camp one afternoon when we spotted a truck parked just off the road with the tailgate down. At the end, and supplies at the end.

We pulled over. The bear took off and I very carefully crept up to the truck hoping I wasn’t about to see a blood bath. I got close enough to peak into the back and into the shell.

There was a man asleep but very much alive in the back! His feet had been mere inches away from where the bear had been destroying his goods. I woke him up and told him what had happened.  Can you imagine if he had woken up while the bear was at work? He would have had no where to go.

Our family has had our own bear encounters.

One year one kept coming into our campsite so we moved our food to the car with the exception of some canned goods. We learned that cans don’t stop bears when we woke up to find it with a can crushed in its mouth, enjoying the contents through the holes it had bitten.

It continued to cruise the campsites so we called Fish and Game. I don’t know what they did about it.

We now carry bear spray wherever we go.

Recently, two men who were mountain biking near North Bend, not far from where we used to camp, were attacked by a cougar. One of them ran, and was subsequently killed. . This was just months ago.

Cougar Attack

We now live in much closer proximity to predators.

A couple of years ago, a bear attacked a neighbor’s dog in her carport and she beat it away. There are wolf packs in the area that are being tracked for conservation efforts. They have been killing livestock which has lead to ongoing friction between the conservationists and the ranchers.

Be prepared if predators may be around: make noise so you don’t surprise an animal, be aware of your surroundings, store all food away from yourself, and carry a firearm or bear spray.

If you’re not careful, you may not be as lucky as the guy in the back of the truck.

 

Hitting The Road

Picking up the trailer and we’re off.

pexels-photo-696680

The evening we picked up our temporary home – our new/used travel trailer – I hadn’t pulled one in years.

We had closed on our home were headed out of town and into the foothills of the Cascade mountain range where we would live until we found a place to set down anchor.

After a final inspection to make sure everything was buttoned up tight, I climbed behind the wheel and pushed on the gas. With a gentle lurch, we pulled forward and were on our way.

I was a little nervous hauling a rig for the first time in quite a while so both me and my son kept looking out the back window to make sure the trailer was still behind us. It became a joke to say “it’s still there”.

Out and away from town and into the foothills we drove – trailer still behind us.

There was a truck stop near the entrance to the county road that led to where we were camping. It had showers for only fourteen dollars a pop, a laundry, and a gift shop with everything a trucker might want to ease their travels – or us, ours.

We stopped to fill the water tanks then pulled out for the last leg of our day’s journey. It was getting dark and we wanted to get to the campground before late.

The county happened to be paving the dirt road out and had placed a billion red cones smack in the middle for the entire length of the narrow road. I had to maneuver the trailer carefully around every single one of them. We took a couple of them out – on accident, of course.

Then we came to the bridge.

It was also under construction and had been temporarily made into one lane. I slowly rolled up to it, sizing the situation up in my head. It looked like I would have about five or six inches to spare on each side of the trailer. Some skill would be needed – or stupidity.

What if we got the rig stuck halfway over the bridge? I didn’t want to think about it and rolled forward, my son cheering me on. Gritting my teeth, my fingers practically breaking the steering wheel, we moved forward at a moderate speed. I figured a little momentum would help if things got too tight.

Yes, speed would help us in a jam.

We “narrowly” made it through the tight squeeze without losing any exterior trailer parts and continued on to our destination. One more challenge awaited: backing the trailer up into the parking pad.

I’ve never been good at that. Turning the steering wheel right makes the trailer go left, or right, or something. The next thing you know, you have completed a two-mile per-hour jackknife.

Tonight, we got lucky. I didn’t take out any trees or picnic tables and we settled in without incident for our first night on the open road.