Oregon Back Country Discovery Route: Part 2
Typical Seattle weather greeted the morning of our departure. Grey skies and a light rain covered our home in Everett, WA. The reports showed the clouds lifting and the weather clearing once we crossed into Oregon and nothing but blue skies starting tomorrow afternoon for the rest of our trip.
This is exciting news considering we picked these dates almost 6 months prior in order to plan everyone’s time off from their less adventurous jobs. We also had to choose these times with educated guesses to avoid lasting snow lines at upper elevations or the wild fires later in the season. So far it sounds like we couldn’t have timed it better!
The vehicles were packed the day before, gassed up and cleaned. Last things to do were a quick route brief, roles of each vehicle on the way down and to test communications one last time.
Everything checked out and we hit the pavement Sunday morning. The LR3 would be the lead vehicle at this time since it would not be leading the rest of the trip and could manage the basic navigation. We placed the Landcruiser in the middle since it had the heavier tools in case of a breakdown and the largest CB antenna to relay any messages (This would prove useful). The FJ Cruiser took a break in the back since it would be leading for the next 5 days.
Finally, we were on our way, months of planning routes, servicing vehicles and installing new parts had come together. This may seem a little overkill for a trip to Oregon, but once you cross over a certain amount of days of avoiding main roads and towns the logistics begin to become more difficult. Also, the worst thing that could happen is a breakdown or major damage. Since everyone took a large amount of time off from work to do this trip, we didn’t want to have to end early due to a simple maintenance failure.
The Almost 9 hour road trip from Everett, WA to Coos Bay, OR would prove itself to be a valuable last check before the vehicles went offload the rest of the week. We decided to try a couple solutions for heated showers on this trip. The LR3 placed a Coleman solar bag inside of its spare tire on the roof and used a basic wheel cover to protect it on the drive down. This cover was tied down using basic bungie cords. Somehow the freeway speeds got under the cover and began to tear it apart, looking like a giant tan octopus hitching a ride to Oregon. This was quickly remedied by pulling over and ditching the cover.
The next small issue to pop up was the mount we fashioned for the LR3’s CB antenna. If you own an LR3/4 and have tried to mount an antenna you know there are not a lot of options readily available. Using a couple of bent pieces of metal it was bolted to an exposed bolt inside the rear hatches jam. A 4ft Firestik 2 then stuck up straight past the spare fuel tanks on top of the Front Runner Rack. At 60mph there must be intense airflow coming around the fuel cans, as that antenna began to sway left and right about 5 feet! This not only looked ridiculous to passers-by, but also threatened to crack the antenna mount we had just made. If that happened the LR3 would lose all CB comms. The Oregon BDR is known for its winding roads and many splits, losing communications would definitely slow the pace and increase the chance of getting lost. Secondly a tail light bulb seemed to be intermittent. It was like the Land Rover was just testing us one last time to make sure we could handle the next week. Luckily we had plenty of spare bulbs and straps. So temporarily tying down the antenna and replacing the bulb took not even 5 minutes.
Back on the road again, everything felt solid and we knew that from here on out there would be no issues. As we continued eating up pavement a few key differences began to appear between the 3 vehicles. For starters, gas mileage was a big difference. The Land Rover easily ate up the miles and sipping fuel well over 65mph. Where the Landcruiser and FJ felt like dragging a parachute down Mt. Washington. The FJ usually has great freeway manners with it’s gearing, lower weight and 4.0l V6. But adding the rooftop tent and a few hundred pounds definitely showed at anything over 70mph as you could literally watch the gas gauge move towards the expensive end.
We arrived at the Red Lion Hotel in Coos Bay late afternoon. We chose this location due to price, the acceptance of dogs and it was only a few miles from the trailhead. Cloudy skies once again covered our view of the area, but I’m sure this old logging town is absolutely amazing when the weather lets you see the landscape. Final supplies of water, ice and snacks were purchased here before getting our last night of sleep in a comfortable bed. Tomorrow the adventure would truly begin!
Quickly packing the vehicles and a quick brief about the day before checking out of the hotel. There was nothing but smiles on everyone’s faces. Turning off onto Larson Way and then quickly hitting dirt on 3000 road we began to follow the maps of the BDR. Conditions overall were good and visibility was much better now that the fog and cloud cover had lifted. An immediate layer of muck was left over from the previous rains creating a very slick surface. We decided to air down at this point and I’m glad we did.
Even after airing down the FJ tires were still losing a bit of traction on the uphill portion winding through the forest and the LR3s all-terrain/road mix ended up having to be aired down even more in order to get confident traction. Of course the advanced systems of the Land Rover still was easily getting to the top of the hills, there is nothing like taking the precaution and adding the confidence before something happens that makes you wish you did.
The Duratracs mounted on the Landcruiser really proved themselves on this section and the rest of the trip. I truly believe this is an underrated tire after seeing what it can do over just about every type of terrain. It has great sizing options, fair cost, low noise, excellent traction and looks mean too! I trust this tire enough to put it on Alyssa’s LR4 recently and will be replacing the Discoveries on the FJ next year with Duratracs as well.
We set a lofty goal of 1000 miles through Oregon in only 5 days with all of that being offroad. Which means we would need to average 200 miles each day to reach our goal of exiting the trail in Wala Wala, Washington. During this section of the BDR it seemed we would be on track, even with planned stops at about 5pm to setup camp and enjoy the evening.
But just as we thought we might make our goal, we discovered that the BDR would teach us a lesson on being too optimistic and proper planning.
When planning the trip we knew choosing to go early to avoid the fires would have its own challenges. Such as lasting snow and uncleared trails. The later would prove to be very problematic and time consuming. We came across our first downed tree half way through the day. Stepping out of the vehicle revealed a large tree that looked like it was knocked down in a recent storm. It was still partially rooted and stretched across the entire road with quite a bit of debris. The positioning and size showed it would be difficult to drag off easily so we chose to break out the chainsaw.
We all love our tools and jump at a chance to use them, but we wanted to save the fuel in the chainsaw for later in the trip and avoid having an oily mess. Unfortunately we had to break it out much sooner. Making quick work of the tree, we were able to drag the logs safely off the road and clear the debris for any future travelers. What remained to be seen was if this was a one off tree that had fallen or would it lead to much worse conditions throughout the week as we climbed in altitude and became more remote.
Getting back on the road, we began to eat more miles, stopping for lunch at nice Ridgeline that had enough room for us to pull off and out of the way. The view was both beautiful and cluttered at the same time. We could see miles and miles away, soft rolling hills of western Oregon, but the foreground was littered with recent logging. Hoping for more remote and complete views we packed up and kept heading down the trail.
The western sections of the Oregon BDR definitely remind me of the Northern Cascades. Lots of fast forest roads covered in gravel or hard packed dirt. They lack the open views that seem to pop out of no where like the Washington BDR does, but they wind nicely up and down through lush forest. When conditions are good you can definitely cover a lot of ground here in a vehicle or on a motorcycle. There is definitely no technical ability needed here and even a 2WD truck or a moderately highly AWD car could pass through with no problems.
The Gaia GPS running on a 10in iPad mounted to the dash proved to be incredibly useful. The articulating arm allowed Alyssa to move the screen to her liking and guide the vehicles through all of the different possible roads. We opted to pay for the “Premium GPS” version and this was well used. Tate in the Landcruiser was also using Gaia but at the lower level paid subscription and the LR3 was running the free version. Alyssa and I were able to download more layers and satellite views of the trail to the iPad before losing service than what the other two could. Since the GPS points were not a perfect representation of where the trail actually was this meant we could compare the route to the satellite imagery and stay on track. Sometimes the points would be more than 100ft off, but the route shape always lined up to what we were actually driving on. This can be problematic if you just have a basic topo and are coming up on a fork in the road. You could easily find yourself running a parallel road for many miles before realizing it’s not correct and have to back track. We managed to avoid this entirely with the premium subscription.
4:00p.m. we realized that we were definitely not on pace to make our 200miles for the day and decided to start looking for a campsite. Sitting around 4,000ft we were faced with a lot of single lane slightly broken roads with no chance of a pullout area to safely camp. Using the GPS we came to a few forks in the road and drove the FJ down them to probe for what looked like campsites without bringing the entire convoy down them and then attempting to turn around. Eventually we found a fairly level spot at the base of an old rock pit with a beautiful view of the mountains poking through the gaps in the trees. Driving up to higher ground on one of the rock piles regained our communication with the CB and we gave the green light for the other two vehicles to make there way down. This saved us a couple miles of driving.
This was the first time we would have all 3 vehicles together to setup camp. After leveling the FJ using traction boards, we learned something about our setup. The rear awning on the FJ and where the tent unfolded makes a nice right angle, and the larger awning from the Landcruiser fits perfectly inside that gap. Pulling the two vehicles up side by side meant we could have on large covered and protected area! The LR3 blocked off the front area of our camp to try and push any early morning winds coming from the valley around us.
We always try and face East when we setup our camp so we have a beautiful sunrise to look forward to the next morning. This spot had a nice “V” shape cutout, like a window that inspired you to just sit in silence for a few minutes and take in the Oregon landscape.
Setup happened rather quickly between all 3 vehicles and before long we had dinner being made and a nice fire going. Bringing portable water cans allowed us to place all of the required items near the fire ring just in case we needed them and we didn’t have to take anything from the main tanks.
Coming up short on our miles didn’t stop us from laughing and sharing thought from the day. Stories of previous adventures made their way in as well. Staring into the flames, we could finally remember why we all do this. Enjoying great company, amazing stories and feeling accomplished sitting next to your machine as you reach places few people get to see.
This was just the first day of our adventure. After looking forward to this for so long a weight began to lift off our shoulders and we could settle into it. We fell asleep quickly that night despite the anticipation of what challenges and rewards awaited us the next day. One thing is for sure, the images we all had in our head had for what this trip would prove to be vastly different from the memories we would bring home.
Thank you for getting through part 2! We hope you enjoyed it and will join us for part 3 where we continue to make it through the Oregon BDR!
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