The Great Outdoors

Over the past several weeks, we’ve been exploring some of the Pacific Northwest, a great area with a lot of fun things to do. I think we’ve crammed in as much backpacking as we can for the summer and fall. It won’t be long before the snow flies (we actually got some flurries already) and we plan to be in Utah for the early part of winter. Things are quieting down and there are less travelers out which is a good thing and we have found some fantastic camp spots lately.

Awesome campsite at John Day Fossil Beds

Once we left Seattle, feeling confident that the truck coolant issue was definitely solved (yippee!), we headed north toward Anacortes to check out the seaside once more. We stayed at a town park on the peninsula with a campground so that we could be near to coastal bike paths and walks. While in the area, we got Pacific oysters, our favorite, whenever we could find them in the stores and cooked up several nice dinners. While we don’t prefer regular campgrounds because they feel too crowded, we do stay in them if there is something in particular we want to see or do. This campground was nice but we probably picked the wrong site because one morning the police showed up and hauled our neighbor away in handcuffs… I read an article in Outside magazine that talked about America’s homeless & drug problem, especially on the west coast and how many needy people have taken to or have been sent by staff of overfilled shelters to the parks, forests and campgrounds to find a place to live, even if it is in a tent or camper. And this was before Covid. This part isn’t great. Nonetheless, we hope to come back to the Washington & Oregon coast to explore more.

Up high in Mt Baker area where everything grows slow. Chest high trees like these can be pushing 100 years old!

We moved onward to Mt Baker area and N. Cascades National Park, a place we’ve been wanting to see for years. Full of incredible mountains, plenty of bears and loads of berries, we hiked many miles, backpacked into gorgeous meadows, made pies and crisps from the berries we picked and we got in a few icy cold swims too. We’re so happy when we’re in these beautiful places; it gives us great solitude too. Jon is always telling me that for years we’ve pretty much lived outside and I guess he’s right. It gives us a huge buzz.

North Cascades National Park
Historic Copper Ridge Lookout tower, a park ranger cabin now

Every national park works a little differently, especially when it comes to backpacking permits. It feels burdensome to learn the ropes for each new one but if you don’t plod through the website to figure it out you won’t get to do what you want to do. In a way, Covid has been beneficial because more permits are being issued online rather than walk-up which can save the in-person hassle of waiting in line. We managed to schedule 2 different trips on opposite sides of the park in the areas we wanted. One was Copper Ridge, which followed a high ridgeline sprinkled with lakes, an historic lookout tower manned by park service personnel and plenty of high hillsides to spot bears on. Some of the campsites were spectacular with great ledges to sit on and watch the sunset and marmots kept us company several times. I love marmots. They seem so happy to bask in the sunlight and take in the view and in the morning they stand upright facing the sun as if they’re enjoying a cup of coffee with us. No deer made off with our salty boots or poles but we had some close calls! We hiked some parts of the PCT, a trail I have wanted to do for years in its entirety, but now realize is really beyond our reach and maybe even ambition! But meeting and talking with people on the trail is fun.

Egg Lake on the Copper Ridge Loop, N Cascades NP
Hoary Marmot
Another view of Copper Ridge

I was very keen to see the Methow Valley on the Eastern side of the Cascades. This is where the bulk of the fruit orchards are and I had visions of what it might look like. Plus the pear and apple harvest was in full swing and we were already enjoying sampling them. Once on the eastern side of Washington Pass, the land was significantly drier, a pretty shade of gold rather than green and it was much warmer. In truth, I remembered that commercial farming has a different feel and look to it rather than the picturesque small farm or orchard of my vision. Nonetheless, it was interesting to see the sheer magnitude of that mass production and the valley itself was beautiful. We stopped for a few days in the Winthrop area where our great friend Heather grew up and explored a bit. One of the hikers we met while backpacking told us we had to bike on the vast trail network in Mazama, outside Winthrop. This organization- Methow Trails- maintains over 120 miles of trails for both winter & summer fun. We spent a day biking all over in full summer like heat and another walking trails and hanging out by the river wishing we had tubes to float down it like everyone else was doing. Can we fit a pair of these into the truck???? We really liked the town of Winthrop and its western feel with a river running through the center and we had a great national forest campspot right in the middle of some of the best trails. Apparently I didn;t get any pictures of this area.

We were almost going to do another backpack to the Sahale Glacier in NW Cascades but we scratched that when we managed to get the permit for the Enchantments. That was when the smoke from the fires started to affect us. We determined it was OK to hike in, but we ultimately packed out from the wilderness early, concerned that the truck might become in danger and we wouldn’t know it being up so high and out of internet range. Once we descended, we started trying to drive away from the smoke. We headed eastward to Spokane, where we were to pick up an REI order. Along the way, we had to pass through a current burn. The air was putrid and equalled the thickest fog we’d sailed in off the coast of Maine and the intense smoke we encountered sailing through Indonesia when they were burning the forest for palm oil except that this time, we felt a little like we were suffocating. Our truck doesn’t have those snazzy modern recirc filters that insulate you from what’s going on outside. So our throats were irritated and our eyes were burning. Yuck! The sun was barely visible and the landscape nothing but charred hillsides. Then we got to REI and it was closed, no wonder.

This isn’t fog on Lake MacDonald in Glacier, its smoke!

The next day we made a beeline to Glacier for better air. With only one entrance open at Apgar this year, the best of Glacier wasn’t accessible but we spent a couple of days doing the more common trails and viewpoints on the park road while we got organized for another backcountry trip. We like to be up high and we’re keen to hike a lot of miles to get there. So we got a loop to Fifty Mountain and started shuttling the packs to the trailhead using the motorbike because RV’s over 21 feet aren’t allowed on a good deal of the Going to the Sun park road. We got some odd looks and a thumbs up for Jon carrying me with my pack up and then going back to get his before we could set out on the trail. Thank goodness we have the motorbike though since its great to get to trails or scope out an area before we take the truck in. It gets good mileage too and we’ll be perfectly normal in developing countries with it since there are only 2 of us on the bike, not 4 or 5!

Near Fifty Mountain, Glacier National Park
Near Fifty Mountain Backpacker Campsite
When we weren”t backpacking, our campsite with the truck was right on the river.

Anyway, the day we packed in to Fifty Mtn campsite was through an old burn from the 1990’s and not our favorite scenery but it gets you up to the curve in the loop that starts the spectacular part and we’d done it years ago. We met 2 different park staff that day- one on the trail up and one camped at our campground and it felt like all day we were talking about grizzlies and of course all while we’re hiking, we’re calling out to alert them of our presence. But we hadn’t seen any, just about 50 piles of scat including one in our campground. Then we were in our mummy bags for all of about 30 minutes before one came crashing through our campsite, knocking over rocks and pulling at stumps. Then he clomped down to the bear box where all the food and smelly pack items are stored in the cooking area before moving on to the guy in the campsite further down. Nothing happened and he moved on to other things but I didn’t sleep much that night. Apparently, years ago, a girl was killed because she couldn’t get out of her sleeping bag fast enough! I kept mine unzipped that night!

There is a 70 mile rail trail in the C’ouer d’Alene area of northern idaho and this was gthe fanciest bridge.

After Glacier, we moved down to the C’ouer d’Alene area in northern Idaho because we wanted to bike on a rural rail trail there. At first we were going to do the whole thing but then realized it ran too close to the highway so we camped at Heyburn State Park, a very old park, and did a section of it. It was a pretty and peaceful day of biking. We learned from the signage along the way that this was a big mining area years ago, the rail was built to carry the ore and they used the tailings for the railbed. Therefore, the whole area is recovering from the abuses of all the heavy metals although there has been a big effort at cleaning it up. But that explained why the lake looked rather unhealthy.

Glacier Lake in the Eagle Caps Wilderness around 9,000 ft
Mary & David and I up in the Elkhorn Mountains in Oregon

Then we moved on down to Oregon to visit Mary & David and we camped near the barn in a primo camp spot with power, water and plenty of sheep to keep us company. We did a backpack together- this time up into the Eagle Caps wilderness to Glacier Lake, we shot off rockets, went paddleboarding & kayaking at Wallowa Lake, cooked nice dinners, went out for take-out and did some projects on the truck on some quiet days. The replacement floor for our kayak finally arrived and so now the kayak is much more comfortable to sit in and we are excited to use it more. Among the many animals, Frosty the cat is my favorite and I love how he likes to relax!

Frosty the cat in one of his favorite postures. He really does have front paws!

The truck is still getting presents. We now have another shelf for odds and ends near the entry door to the habitat, the engine preheat system is almost complete (this allows us to use our habitat heater to prewarm the truck engine in cold weather), the motorbike winch now has high strength line & another block rather than noisy cable on the drum, the front sway bar bushings are replaced (they were dried out and clunking), there is a new gasket around the hood which was important for not getting dirt and bugs into the air intake, and we spent most of a day replacing all of the gray water hose in the camper. The original we installed last year turned out to be permeable and smelled. Jon also succumbed and put in a subwoofer for our stereo because the sound was lacking. What an improvement! We also sprung for some front leaf springs. They are on the way from Germany. We couldn’t be sure that the old springs are doing their job properly, the lower one appears to have an upward bow in it, we both wince when going over washboard and most bumps and we are anticipating much worse roads in our future when we can eventually head onward and outward of the US. We are so happy with the new rear springs that we figured it didn’t make sense to not try and improve the front also. No sense shaking things apart unnecessarily.

The Vermonster! We’ve met a lot of people by virtueof this unusual truck. And it’s a fantastic home to us.

We celebrated Jon’s birthday with a white cake with white frosting (his request) before going backpacking to Glacier Lake and he ordered a drone for his present so now we’ll have some pics from a different angle soon.

Some people get better looking with age!

No sooner had we gotten back from Glacier Lake, we had an impromptu invite to meet up with Mark & Anne at a wilderness airstrip not far from where we were in Oregon. So we gladly re-packed our packs and hiked in to meet them and 2 new friends we’d made at a previous fly-in in July. This time was at Red’s Ranch, a quiet and beautiful spot in the Wallowa Whitman wilderness. It feels like going back in time, the caretakers hauling next year’s wood on an old horsedrawn wagon down the grass runway in such a pastoral setting. And the mules set out to graze freely on the airstrip at night so they come over to eat and chew beside our tents. Its such a lovely experience and another way for us to approach places from a different perspective, off the beaten path which is what we like to do. Someday, we’d like to have a plane and probably, as much as I can’t stand the thought of another project, it would most likely be one we (mainly Jon) would build ourselves. Because this is how we roll. We’re scheduled to tour the KitFox factory next week, based near Boise. For now though, we really hope borders open up soon so we can move on with our dream to explore the places we built this truck for.

Red’s Horse Ranch airstrip in Oregon with Mark & Anne
There were 5 planes and we all sat around the campfire together. There was frost on the tents in the morning!
The caretakers of the backcountry strip, using a wagon and mules up and down the airstrip to move wood. Very picturesque place.

Meanwhile, we headed southwestward in Oregon a few days ago to the John Day Fossil beds and the Painted Hills, a fantastic area especially this time of year with all the contrasting fall colors. On the first night, we watched & listened to a large herd of elk before finding a pretty riverside campsite on BLM land just off the road. There were turkeys clucking outside our door. But that’s a story for next time. It’s a great life in the great outdoors.

Unknown artist, but pretty funny given all the picking we did this summer and all the bears around where we’ve been.

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