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Jeeping the WABDR: Clear memories on dusty roads

By on March 29, 2018 in Outdoor Fun with 0 Comments

By Guy Miner

The WABDR, or Washington Backcountry Discovery Route, is a roughly 600-mile journey — mostly on remote, dirt roads — running from the Bridge of the Gods over the Columbia, to the Canadian border crossing at Nighthawk.

These are memories from several WABDR trips over the past four years:

n We sat around the hiss of the propane fire in the evening, during the summer of 2015. It had been hot and dry, and conventional campfires were banned on National Forest lands.

Our group was mixed, and ages ranged from 20s to 70s. We were dusty from several days on the long and dry route. Everyone was grinning, listening to stories, and savoring our own experiences. This was one of the many rewards of the WABDR.

This was our last night to camp. We’d started nearly a week earlier from Hood River, Oregon. Some of us knew each other, and introductions were made for the rest.

Tad Johnston led the first few days of the trip, for even with GPS, local knowledge of the route and nearby attractions was important. I’d led the northern portions of the route, well familiar with the Forest Service roads.

Our vehicles were as individual as the owners. Jeeps old and new, a pickup, a family in a Suburban. Each vehicle was well set up for the off-pavement route, with sturdy tires, tow points front and rear, and a CB radio to communicate along the way.

Over the days and evenings we’d grown closer, enjoying each other’s company. Jack’s hearty laugh. Rich’s quiet wisdom. Russell’s intriguing views. Tad and Chuck’s ability to fix anything.

A good meal and a cold beer, satisfied our hunger, cut the dust and quenched the thirst. Sitting in a camp chair, I grinned, contrasting this relative luxury with the austerity of backpacking.

Alice was our best cook. Jovial, wanting to feed everyone. She left the driving to others, but her wonderful smile and unstoppable drive to feed us all made her the most popular person in camp.

In the morning, rather than settling for boiling a little water and quickly making a cup or two of oatmeal, she’d instead have steaming skillets of hot eggs and potatoes flavored with diced onion and pepper.

I made sure to accept her invitation to breakfast, along with probably half our group.

n Stuck! Stuck deep in the snow far above Lake Chelan, on a north-facing slope. It was June 2014. How could I possibly be stuck in the snow?

Up on Slide Ridge, the snow had been slow to leave the north facing slopes. I was scouting the route for a trip we planned to do later as a group. I’d seriously underestimated the depth and slipperiness of the lingering snowdrift.

Two hours of shoveling, building a “lane” of rocks for my tires, and using the winch seven times, and the Jeep was finally free.

Ruefully, I remembered that my tire chains were in the garage, in Wenatchee.

n Methow Valley, summer of 2015. Our route was blocked by slides after the devastating wildfires a year prior.

We lingered by a small lake, fascinated, watching a pair of bald eagles take turns diving on a small family of ducks. The ducks would wait till the last moment then change course, or dive under water to escape, but the eagles were getting closer to success and it appeared that they’d done this before.

We knew it was only a matter of time before another duckling disappeared.

n I woke early one summer morning, camped at Haney Meadows. Camp was silent. There was just enough light to see. I wandered over to the edge of the meadow and was rewarded with the sight of three elk in the tall green grass.

As I watched them, I so badly wanted to share the experience. Finally young AJ came shuffling away from his family’s tent and I showed him. His jaw dropped.

He hadn’t expected to see elk in the wild. We sat and watched the elk as they gradually moved off into the timber. By full light, they were gone.

n On a 2016 trip, I’d picked a scenic, rugged campsite with an extraordinary view of the Wenatchee River valley far below. It was windy, exposed, and wonderful — to me.

Libby’s mom pulled me gently aside and mentioned that the 10-year-old really wanted to rig a hammock, and to camp near trees. I glanced hopelessly around. Sagebrush, but no trees.

We packed everyone back in the vehicles, and drove another 30 minutes to a wooded ridge, flushing a couple of grouse. Tents, stoves, and the mandatory hammock, were set up, with smiles.

Libby’s camp was the best of the trip and has been so-named.

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