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.”

Lost In The Woods – Twice In One Day

This really happened.

Twice in one day. Twice.

It wasn’t bad enough to get lost once. We did it twice…..in¬†one day.

This happened before the move.

My husband and I love the outdoors but not so much that I want to spend an unplanned night there.

We used to go to Hanson Creek; a spot off Interstate 90 near Snoqualmie Pass, our old haunts. It’s known for it’s quartz crystals and is quite popular among amateur gem hunters. We’ve been many¬† times and this trip started like any other.

You take an exit off the interstate, drive three or so miles up a pretty precipitous forest service road and park along the road at the barricaded remnants of a dirt road. It’s about a mile and a half steady climb before you come to a clearing with a hillside made up of mainly reddish dirt on your right.

You start to see very steep trails going up and splitting along the way leading to numerous “digs”. Many go under trees, some¬†very¬†deep under trees where the crystals tend to lodge among the roots.

People take all sorts of excavating implements and sifters to do their mining. Sometimes they’re left behind for the next person to utilize.

We quickly set to digging and sifting. My husband almost always finds the best and biggest specimens but I found a ginormous one the last time we went that I made a necklace out of.

You move around on the hillside with your tools, sliding and trying to keep your footing while trying not to knock down rocks and debris that might go tumbling and injure someone below. You look for the “hot spots”. The more adventurous, or more foolish (as it turns out applied to us), climb¬†way¬†uphill beyond most of the quarries to seek new sites.

My husband and I left our backpacks at a spot on the hillside and decided to go farther up. Usually we keep an eye on the lower hillside to keep our bearings but this time we didn’t watch closely enough.

Sure enough, at one point, we looked downhill and couldn’t spot anything familiar. I started to get a little nervous and suggested we go back down. We turned around and headed downhill but still didn’t see anything we recognized. We continued on as I grew more and more concerned until we finally realized; we were lost.

What direction do you go when you lose your bearings? You just give it your best guess and conference about it. We started hiking and after an hour or so, it really dawned on me that we were in the woods not knowing where the hell we were; for real.

We hiked for hours, trying to listen for the interstate. We tried to walk towards the sound of traffic in the distance. I was hungry and thirsty. We had left¬†all¬†our stuff back on the hillside including our phones. Brilliant. We climbed down hillsides, over logs, through brush as I grew more and more weak. It’s amazing how little time it takes to miss food and water. And the fatigue.

I don’t know how much time had passed when we came to a juncture, a place we recognized. The Iron Horse Trail. I was¬†so¬†relieved! But we had to make a decision. Which way to go from there on the trail. I argued for right and my husband insisted on left.

Thank God I listened to him.

My way would have put about 5 miles between us and the Snoqualmie Tunnel; an old decommissioned train tunnel that went 2.2 miles under the pass. That would have made for about 7.2 miles before we emerged on the east side of the pass close to civilization. And the tunnel…I’ve been through there several times during the day and it’s nothing but 2.2 miles of complete and utter¬†blackness.¬†And cold.

Thank you husband for making the right decision!

We walked about a mile or two of the trail before we came to the trestle that spanned the forest service road that lead up to the parking area. Relief like no other. We descended to the road and walked the mile or two back to our car.

There’s nothing like seeing your vehicle after being lost all day. Nothing. We stopped and ate a cold can of spaghetti and meatballs but we still had to hike back up to the mining area and retrieve our backpacks.

It was getting close to dark though. We didn’t have much time.

We hoofed it back up the hill as fast as we could as the sun sunk towards the horizon. We had our car keys and all of the rest of our gear in those backpacks including our phones.

It was dusk as we approached the hillside and we hurriedly climbed up to where we’d left our backpacks. I quickly called our friends to let them know what had happened and where we were but it was getting dark fast. Too fast.

We set off down the hill again. We expected to intersect a trail that ended near the bottom of the hillside, but as we continued down, keeping sight of each other, we realized with horror that we must have overshot it.

Oh no.¬†I couldn’t believe it as it dawned on me that we had managed to do it¬†again.¬†

We were lost; for the second time.

This time we quickly decided that we weren’t about to keep walking in the dark only to stumble over the edge of a cliff, not to mention moving farther and farther away from a landmark. We decided to stop, make a fire and call 911.

We hunkered down and proceeded to build a small fire to keep warm. Thank God we were at least somewhat  prepared in that we brought our cell phone chargers. That saved our asses. We recharged a phone and called 911. They told us to keep our phone on so they could triangulate our position and said to hold on while they sent out a party.

We just sat by our little fire and waited: me hungry and thirsty again. I think I was in shock too. Search and rescue called us a couple of times to let us know they were on their way. I couldn’t wait. We didn’t know where we were so we were surprised when we finally saw lights approaching from¬†up¬†the hill rather than down. Shows you how disoriented we were. Good thing we stayed put.

They came down the hillside like angels. Our saviors.

The rest of the events unfolded in a kind of fog for me. That’s what makes me think I was in a state of shock. They immediately gave us food and water and had a very reassuring demeanor. I don’t know how many there were of them. Maybe 10 or so; men and women.

They gave us head lamps, put us between them in a line and shepherded us up and out of our unplanned day out to hell. I was completely disoriented as we climbed hillsides and crawled over logs before we got to the main trail and even then the experience felt surreal.

We reached the main road and walked the trail going down to the parking area where they made sure we were in our car and pointed in the right direction before we bid farewell. We thanked them profusely before we headed home.

This is where it gets interesting. I was driving out to the interstate and gaining my sense of reality when I noticed that my pants were spit all the way down my rear all the way to my ankle. Nothing underneath. It was then that I realized with horror that on the journey out of there, climbing up hillsides and over trees, that my backside and privates were completely open for everyone to see! NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO.

It was then that my husband told me that the rescuer behind me was privy to¬†all¬†of the¬† nature I had to offer. Inches from his face. As soon as my husband saw what was happening, he quickly inserted himself between the rescuer and myself for everyone’s sake.

We made it home without getting lost again and the next day, I looked up the unit that had rescued us and wrote another big thank you to them and apologized for the extra exposure they’d witnessed. I was so embarrassed.

Incidentally, my husband said the guy who was directly behind me chatted me up a storm on the walk back to the car.

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.