Gear Review: Ruffwear Approach Dog Pack

DSC00775

I have used these packs exclusively for 3 years and hundreds of miles with my two border collies. Kye is a 34lb female and Cody is a 40lb male.

When first buying these packs I bought the small for Kye and the medium for Cody, according to the measurements and weight guidelines on the website. Despite this the medium pack really was too large for Cody and I had it cinched down as tight as possible to make it fit. The panniers themselves were massive on him. Recently I replaced his medium pack with a small and it fits much better and has smaller panniers.

P1000153

What I love about these packs is how they fit and carry on each of my dogs. The weight is carried over their shoulder and is not suspended from their back like other bags. This creates less fatigue and rubbing.

The fully-adjustable 5-point harness of these packs means that they do well on any shape or size of dog (assuming you get generally the right size), and as long as they are adjusted correctly I have seen absolutely zero chaffing, rubbing or hair wear during or after our backpacking trips. The key to this is not having the harness too tight; it needs to keep the pack on the dog NOT keep the pack in place on the dog. Keeping the pack in place is achieved by correct placement and balance of the pack’s contents, much like the panniers on a pack horse. I have seen several dogs with packs hanging to one side…this is uncomfortable for the dog and causes chaffing and fatigue.

20170907_143104

The panniers themselves, on a size medium, have the capacity to carry about 3-4 days worth of regular dog food (about 2 cups per meal) on each side. I usually only have my dogs carry two meals on each side due to weight more than capacity.

The fabric of these packs has held up extremely well. My dogs generally stay on trail with me but they have been through boulder fields and up talus trails, through scrub, under and over trees, between rock faces and more. The only wear, after 3 years of use, is along the very bottom of the panniers where have often rubbed against rocks, trunks and tree limbs as the dogs have climbed over or around them. Even snagging on large branches has not affected the fabric.

20160527_164315

These packs also feature a grab handle (useful when Kye almost fell between two boulders on Jackass Pass in Wyoming) and a leash D-ring if you don’t want to use their collar (which every dog should be wearing on the trail). The positive aspect about the leash connection on the pack is that a leash is less-likely to get wrapped beneath the panniers than if using their collar.

20160528_175410

All in all these are great packs, they fit well and my dogs love them. Highly recommended. The only packs that I have seen that are comparable in quality and fit are Groundbird Gear Dog Packs but they have a long wait period and are much more expensive. Ruffwear dog packs are readily available in REI and at online retailers.

Advertisements

Colorado Trail, Collegiate East Section Hike, June 2018: Part 2

Day 3 – Frenchman Creek Campsite to Silver Creek Campsite (9 miles)

Kye startled me awake this morning with a few barks at 6:30. Kye rarely barks and it had me on edge not knowing what it was. I called out “what’s out there” thinking it was a critter if some kind. A voice answered back “it’s just me”…like I would know who “me” was. Either way the voice confirmed it was a person although I hadn’t expected to have another person walk through my campsite so early in the morning. It was only later that I realized there was another trail (French Creek Trail) that went right by where I was camped.

So we were awake and despite the cold I got out of bed, pulled on my puffy jacket and started packing gear. I set a new record and was out of camp at 7:50am. I was happy for an early start as we had a big day of hiking ahead of us.

DSC00791

The first half of the day was a few ups but mostly downs. We swiftly covered the miles and we ran into several day hikers heading for Harvard Lakes which were half way between camp and the trail head, and just outside of the wilderness boundary so I was starting to see bike tracks and run into some cyclists…they looked like they weren’t having much fun with the steep climb.

We reached Silver Creek trailhead by 11am which is what I had been hoping for. I wanted to fill up on calories and take an hour break before attempting another steep climb.

During our lunch break two ladies who were section hiking, Clara (from Colorado) and Stacy (from Arizona), stopped and chatted and then decided to also eat lunch. We talked a little longer and then I headed up the trail at noon. It started out fairly moderate for the first 3/4 mile but soon got ugly and steep and I was counting steps, always trying to reach 60 before pausing. It was tough and was the steepest grade we had done yet on this trail. It didn’t help that the trail was mostly in the sun and we were pausing in the shade of each tree on the way. We passed several day hikers on their way back down (I forgot it was a Saturday) and got a report from each about much further it was to each data point I was using as reference. With the trail so steep (including to the side) it was impossible to step off the trail with the dogs but everyone was very gracious about it and they still got lots of compliments.

DSC00798

I had only packed a liter of water as I was expecting to find a water source at 1.5 miles up the trail. I never found the location the data book meant but we managed to reach the creek at 2.5 miles with a little water to spare. I’m still amazed that we didn’t run out.

I had originally planned to hike over the saddle below Mt Yale but after seeing where the trail still had to go, with another 800ft gain over a mile, and feeling completely exhausted I gave up on my plan and found a campsite along the creek.

Less than 30 minutes later Clara and Stacy showed up with their massive 40lb packs (I thought they would take longer with that kind of weight to haul) and set up camp next to me in the small and only camping area. It was nice to share the afternoon and evening with others for a change and we chatted, ate dinner and chatted some more until the sun disappeared behind the mountains and the mosquitoes came out to feast. Cody and Kye certainly got their fill of attention and love for the day.

DSC00794

With our mileage falling short of our plan tomorrow would be a longer, albeit easier day with the last 800ft to the saddle being our only major climb. I am certainly looking forward to being on the Collegiate West where the trail doesn’t constantly go down steeply to trailheads and then back up again just as steeply.

Day 4 – Silver Creek Campsite to Dry Creek Campsite

Another early morning started at 6:30am again. I had not slept well the past couple of nights and believe it was due to the altitude (both campsites were around 11,000 feet). I also managed to break yesterday’s early-start record by 5 minutes this morning and was on the trail at 7:45am.

I knew what was coming…800ft elevation gain over a mile to a saddle below Mt Yale. We took our time, and being the first climb and activity of the day it was a lot easier than I was expecting and took a little under an hour. I was also expecting to come out on an exposed saddle above the beaver ponds as that had been the trail I had seen yesterday…and my reason for stopping so early. However this was not where the trail went and I wondered if I could have made the climb the day before. It all worked out for the best though as I had thoroughly enjoyed my evening with Stacy and Clara.

I passed a couple with a dog. Another one of those irritating “he’s friendly” dogs who didn’t listen well and wanted to get up close and personal with Kye and Cody. The couple moved on but we soon heard them behind us again…apparently they were wanting to summit Mt Yale and had missed the trail turn off on the saddle ridge…that’s a whole lot of extra elevation they did there.

I stopped at the top and snacked on some cashews while I waited for Clara and Stacy. We exchanged numbers as they were hiking to the top of an exposed knoll and I asked them to send me a picture as I was on a bit of a mileage crunch and didn’t want to make the detour.

DSC00796

The first mile of the way down was just as steep as the way up but it soon mellowed out and we were cruising well for a while….right up until I rolled my ankle, again. (I had twisted it a month prior to the hike when I stepped on the edge of a hole in a friend’s yard). I had rolled it at least once a day so far but this was the worst and I hit the ground with my left knee as pain ripped through my ankle…I wasn’t sure I would be able to put weight on it. I stood, gingerly, and was happy it could hold me. We were still a couple of miles from the trailhead and we took it VERY slowly and carefully down the steep and rocky trail. I was determined this wasn’t going to put an end to my hike.

DSC00797

Once at the bottom we took a break at Middle Cottonwood Creek and then checked the data book. The trail was moderate for a while with limited downhill and mostly level. I was willing to risk another 2 miles on my ankle and to see how it did. It did fine although it was tender and I had to be careful where I stepped.

With another climb ahead of us we took a long 90 minute lunch break at South Cottonwood Creek where the dogs snoozed and I took advantage of the water to clean some pretty grimy feet…again. I also wanted to fill up on calories for the climb ahead.

I had planned on a 2 hour break but after an hour and a half I was bored and getting chilly so we set out on the climb. The climb up to the saddle/ridge below Bald Mt. Was 1200ft over almost four miles…almost so gradual you didn’t know you were climbing most of the time and that was a nice change. It was also a positive thing as we needed to hurry…a massive storm was coming over the top of Mt Yale and headed straight for us. I hoped no one was at the top of the mountain, or even on any of the ridges when that hit…it looked ugly although it did not appear to be a thunderstorm. Thankfully it skirted us and headed east over the valley. I was definitely thankful we didn’t get caught in it and I was constantly scanning for trees (and not lone ones) to shelter under.

DSC00800

With the saddle reached the trail leveled out considerably and we made really good time, stopping for an occasional water or pee break (both me and the dogs). The views were pretty typical of the trail…looking out over the valley and Highway 24 with looming peaks in the distance…nothing special after four days but still pretty nonetheless.

DSC00792

We crossed two creeks, the second with a campsite that was already occupied by several backpacking tents and I could pick out at least one Tarptent and one YAMA Mountain Gear Cirriform. I said “hi” to two girls but moved on as I still had another 2 miles to go…I wanted to be as close to Mt Princeton Hot Springs as possible for the morning…a place that meant a shower, burger and beer(s).

We camped at Dry Creek, which ironically is listed in the data book as a “guaranteed” water supply, meaning it is always running! I checked out one campsite, discarded it, went back across the creek to check out another that had no flat spots and returned to the first which, while dusty, had a nice flat spot for my tent.

DSC00802

As I was clearing up around camp and getting ready to check out the information for the next day I realized I had misplaced (ie they had fallen out of my pack pocket) my data book pages…pages that give me detailed information about water, elevation gain or loss, campsites, trail junctions and other important things on the trail. I hiked back a mile along the trail but couldn’t find them which was frustrating, and the whole thing a dumb mistake on my part.

Thankfully with Stacy and Clara having texted me pictures earlier I was able to contact them (the whole Collegiate East section seems to have good cell service) and have them take pictures of the pages of the data book I needed to get me to Monarch Pass. Trail magic indeed! (I did find the pages at the BOTTOM of my pack at the end of the hike but have no idea how they got there as I had them outside my pack and I had been looking at them that day).

DSC00803

Day 5 – Dry Creek to Mt Princeton Hot Springs

I slept in a little this morning (compared to others) but was still out of camp before 8am. Cody wasn’t looking great and was limping slightly but I couldn’t find anything in his paw and there was no swelling but I gave him a baby aspirin anyway. Either way we didn’t have a choice but to hike and we covered the two miles of single-track trail and two miles of road to our first resupply point at Mt Princeton Hot Springs at the 50 mile mark. Cody was doing okay but still tender every 20th step or so which meant I didn’t think it was a joint or muscle issue.

I washed clothes, took a shower and washed more clothes in the bath house sink with whatever soap there was available. With all the cleaning done we crossed back to the lodge and Cody was limping a lot more. I was having serious doubts about our ability to continue and was going over various options in my mind.

But first priority was food and I ate…ordered a burger and salad with a side or two of beer. It was soooo good. The dogs were tied to my pack under a broad pine tree and slept and enjoyed every minute of their down time. The kids of the gardeners played with them for a while and I’m not sure whether the dogs or the kids enjoyed that more.

I ordered a third beer (yeah, I’m a lush so deal with it but I needed calories…lol) and went to hang out under the tree with the dogs while I waited for the last few items of clothing to dry. I rechecked Cody’s paws and found a not-so-serious crack in one of his toe pads. It looked minor and I went to find some superglue to close it up and see if it would help…it did, but only slightly.

After taking the dogs into the rough grass to take care of business and watching Cody struggle to put weight on his leg/paw anywhere that was spiky I knew my hike was done for a while. Taking my dogs is a risk and I have to hike their hike. I can push myself when I get hurt because I have a choice and I know why I’m doing what I’m doing but I won’t do that to my dogs.

So with Cody’s well-being in the forefront of my mind I paid for a shuttle back to my truck. I was bummed to have come so far only to have to quit but my dogs’ health also takes priority over everything else. They love being on the trail and I often stop to let them explore a scent trail or stare at a squirrel as that is what they enjoy about it, and they have to enjoy it as much as I do…even if it is for different reasons.

Colorado Trail/ Collegiate East Section Hike, June 2018: Part 1

Prologue

I was beginning to think someone didn’t want me hiking this trail. Two mornings my truck wouldn’t start due to the cold and higher elevation. Then my backpack broke after I had already loaded it and stored it in a tote for the next day. I had to make a 120 mile trip to Colorado Springs to buy a replacement during which time I also got a nail in my tire. It was definitely an ordeal getting to this point, but two days after I was supposed to start we were finally on the trail…on the summer solstice aka Hike Naked Day (and no, I did not).

20180620_185013

Day 1 – Twin Lakes TH to Clear Creek Campsite (10.5 miles, with detour)

After a quick call to the Leadville Ranger District about leaving my truck at the trailhead at Twin Lakes we set out on the Colorado Trail for the first time. As per usual for me we managed to take a wrong turn right off the bat and headed toward the other trailhead. So with an extra mile under our belts by 9am we finally got back on track and followed the southern edge of Twin Lakes for a mile and a half before the Collegiate East trail (official Colorado Trail) and Collegiate West trail (official Continental Divide Trail) diverged.

DSC00776

A short steep climb soon leveled out and we hiked through scrub, pines, aspens and sage brush. We passed another couple who had backtracked to the lake for water as they thought the seasonal creeks had no water. We chatted for a while and then I headed up the trail.

It was a gorgeous day but the sun was definitely starting to heat things up and we were glad for the shade. All seasonal creeks were flowing which meant the dogs had consistent access to water and I didn’t have to ration mine so much (we would have run out). An extra hot climb along a powerline road was the least fun part of the hike, but it was fairly short and there was a fast flowing creek the dogs made excellent use of.

DSC00777

With the trail at lower elevation there were not many views but eventually we climbed over a ridge to see views of some of the Collegiate Peaks we would be climbing over the next few days.

The whole trail was very well sign-posted (loved it) and the first day on a mostly level trail was much appreciated.

DSC00778

We ended up back at Clear Creek Reservoir where I had camped the night I realized my backpack was broken. It was a short 11 mile day and we camped in a very private and secluded location next to the creek, and had camp set up by 2:30pm…definitely too early to be camped when there is nothing else to do but there was no way I could have made the 3500ft climb that afternoon as it was another 6 miles to the next water source.

DSC00779

The dogs played in the water, cooling off after our long, sun-exposed hike down to the lake and I tried to fill my time as best as possible. I kept an eye out for the couple behind me as we had leap-frogged fairly constantly most of the day and I figured I would see them at the lake and invite them to join me. But as hidden as I was and with my limited view of the trail I missed them. I did run into another solo female hiker while out walking on the trail with the dogs but she was making for the next water source as her time on the trail was more constrained than mine.

DSC00781

DSC00783

Day 2 – Clear Creek Campsite to Frenchman Creek Campsite (11.8 miles)

Today was brutal.

I was up early, for me, at 6:30am  with the sun already warming my tent. With the day already getting hot I was on the trail by 8:15am. I stopped and chatted with the couple I had met yesterday but they didn’t think they’d make it to the creek crossing I was planning for as my camp site for the night…the elevation gain seemed too much.

When I say “brutal” I mean we started an ascent that climbed over 3500ft and never felt like it would ever end. It was barely 5 miles but that was the longest 5 miles of my life. I started out well but quickly lost steam and it took us 3 hours to do 5 miles. I had absolutely no energy to give…maybe something to do with just a granola bar for breakfast and a bag of chips (I just couldn’t eat and had no appetite).

I passed a handful of backpackers coming down and almost all were doing the Collegiate Loop in the opposite direction to me (I’m trying to save the best (the Collegiate West) for last.

DSC00786

By the time we reached the top of the ridge which sat below Mt. Waverly I was done and I stuffed cheese sticks, some jerky and the other breakfast granola bar into my mouth before resting for a half hour…I was in a serious calorie-deficit but I still wasn’t feeling hungry. Sadly the wind picked up, the sun went away and my nap didn’t last very long. At least the dogs got to rest for a while and get some sleep.

We were finally going down for a couple of miles and the trail was great. I was really appreciating not having to go up for a while.

DSC00788

Pine Creek was at the bottom of the descent and I had planned on trying for a nap again there but again the wind picked up and the sun hid behind clouds…it had been gorgeous not 10 minutes before. Rain spattered briefly so I hunkered down under a tree for a few minutes and ate a bag of cookies to try and give my body some much-needed calories.

I loaded up with water for another 1500ft climb and took a moment to enjoy the engineering feat of the beavers who had built a pretty impressive dam just above the bridge. Again we started off well and the trail was moderate but got steeper and rockier the higher we climbed. I was making it 100 yards before having to stop and it took us two hours to reach the top of the ridge below Mt Harvard. I also got my first glimpse of some wildlife…the rear end of a cow elk disappearing into the trees.

DSC00790

A mile from the top I met a couple who were thru-hiking the Colorado Trail (or as much of it as was open with the fire outside of Durango) a mile from the top. The guy had the same pack as the me (my ZPacks Arc Haul not the Osprey I was currently carrying) and in the same color. We chatted about the broken stays in my pack and they were also surprised that they would bend. We parted ways after they informed me I still had a mile to go and another 400ft if elevation gain. I groaned inwardly. The worst was the false summit I reached…those things suck!

But we finally got there and this time at the top we were rewarded with amazing views of Mt Harvard and Mt Columbia and the valley below us. You certainly can’t get those views without a little work.

DSC00789

Finally we were on the home stretch and we cruised the last 3 miles to our campsite above Frenchman Creek, winding down the valley and being completely awed by the towering peaks just above me. The guide stated there was camping 200 yards from the bridge that crossed the creek and we found a flat a secluded piece of dirt to pitch the tent well off the trail.

With the clouds looking like they might be threatening rain, as they had been doing on and off all day, I quickly got the tent up. The clouds moved on to places where, like those before them, they dumped their load further east…I was grateful!

Dinner, as has been the norm with my “home-made” backpacking meals, left a lot to be desired and was much more food than I could eat (again, just not hungry) and so I shared with the dogs who happily wolfed it down (glad to have them have the extra calories when it’s just rice, chicken and peas). I am going to have to rethink my meal plans for future trips as it would really help to have something tasty.

Three Days on the PCT, June 2018

Day 1 Cascade Locks to CG2032 Road Campsite

I believe today was some new version of hiking torture. In order to do a loop that incorporated the PCT I had to make some sacrifices and spend at least half my time hiking gravel roads and ATV trails…all of which I had to do today and half of tomorrow.

I left my truck at the home of a trail angel who had offered a safe place to park it and who then dropped me off at the junction of Ash Lake and Blue Lake Road. I had camped at the top of Blue Lake Road the night before so I already knew how steep the first climb was.

20180603_172245

Within a mile I had already taken a wrong turn as there were no signs for any roads. I pulled out my trusty DeLorme InReach and relocated myself before backtracking a 1/4 mile. The gravel road quickly became an ATV two track which at least felt somewhat like a trail. There was little to see but green trees, green bushes and green grass and it soon began to look very unused and I was hoping it wouldn’t peter out altogether.

DSC00741

Another unmarked juntion at the top of a climb had me pulling out my GPS again, despite my maps. I was on the right trail and it soon looked well-used again. Views over the Columbia River Gorge were few and far between.

20180607_134858

DSC00745

A brief stint on a well-maintained gravel road, used extensively by logging trucks, took us to another turn off that lead us below the powerlines…and then the road ended. It looked like there had been a landslide of some kind so we picked our way carefully over the torn-up road, and then the path REALLY ended. I could see where we needed to be…1000ft straight down, though some very ugly brush, branches and countless trip hazards. One misstep here and you wouldn’t stop until the bottom…unless you got impaled on something.

Exhaustion quickly set in with the steep descent and constantly risk of falling but we eventually made it to the bottom. I was once again reminded of how much goat my dogs must have in them! My legs felt like jelly and I’m sure the dogs’ did too…they were definitely panting hard. We finished the last of the water, took a short break and then headed up and then down the road to Rock Creek.

After crossing the bridge and climbing down another short steep slope I ditched my pack and pulled the dogs out of theirs before continuing to the creek. There were swing ropes hung from the bridge over a deep turquoise pool that looked incredibly inviting. The creek itself was gorgeous, cold and refreshing and we took a 1/2 hour break while I filtered water.

DSC00755

Soon we had to continue up the gravel road (such uninspiring hiking) but after the treacherous down-hill climb my legs just didn’t have any more energy and it took us an hour to go a mile with all the stopping. My map showed a permanent creek and I was hoping it WAS a permanent creek as one I had crossed earlier in the day was dry…and that doesn’t inspire confidence in the rest of the so-called permanent creeks (as opposed to seasonal creeks).

Thankfully the stream had good flow and we bypassed it in the search of a campsite. I didn’t need water but I knew I would for the morning. My first campsite of the year certainly left a lot to be desired as it was just off the side of the gravel road and the ground was impossible to get tent stakes into…I ended up having to hunt down and make use of rocks and trees, and I was glad the wind wasn’t too crazy as I doubted some of the smaller rocks would hold.

DSC00751

Dinner was a homemade freeze-dried meal concoction made with ramen and the remaining freeze-dried food stash from my camper (that which I hadn’t sold). While it was still warm I refilled all my water containers…it was looking like the next day would be a long dry stretch, especially if not all creeks were running.

Twenty minutes after I finished writing today’s entry there was a lot of snapping of twigs and other noise through the trees and behind my tent. Not knowing what it was, although the dogs were definitely interested, I made a fair amount of noise and calling out to let whatever it know that there were humans around. I grabbed my camera thinking it would just be a noisy dear but as I watched a large black bear emerged from where I had been refilling water less than 30 minutes before, and only 100 yards from camp. Thankfully he turned away from us and ambled up the road. I was definitely a little spooked and nervous and hurried to hang my food (which I actually hadn’t planned on hanging) all while continuing to make a lot of human noise.

Finally enough time passed that I felt more relaxed and didn’t feel worried that the bear would return to bother us. I actually slept fairly well. I generally don’t worry about bears…unless they are close to camp with food around or spooking them on the trail. Bison, from my perspective, have always been the one animal I have been most wary of.

Day 2 – CG2032 Campsite to Rock Creek

The dawn chorus woke me at 4:30am…and there was no way I was getting up THAT early. I pulled my hat over my eyes and went back to sleep for a couple more hours. The sleeping bag that had been way to warm at the beginning of the night wasn’t too bad by 3am (still a little warm, but not unbearable).

The day promised to start well despite the 3 liter water carry as we walked up on a doe and two very new fawns. Sadly mom took off into the brush and one fawn ran for a while before also turning off the road. The second fawn, however, took off down the road. I waited so that I didn’t spook it further if it came back, and come back it did…straight towards me. It stopped and the dogs and I watched her. She moved towards me again and stopped within about 15ft of us. She had a nasty shoulder gash but it didn’t seem to hinder her. Mom jumped onto the road and apparently spooked her again as she went around us, standing in the middle of the road. Cody unfortunately chose that moment to give into his instincts to chase. He didn’t go after her but it required a lot of yelling his name on my part…something I’ve never had to do and he was definitely disciplined quickly.

DSC00752

We continued up the road now the fawn was behind us and I hope the mom and baby were reunited.

DSC00753

That incident was the only decent thing about the day. We hiked up more depressing gravel roads, incessantly up and up and up, 2500ft up to be exact and it was miserable; my legs were feeling pretty burned-out from yesterday’s steep descent and the going was slow but we kept plodding along. With only two more miles expected to finally connect with the PCT the road ended…abruptly. No warning, nothing. There was no more road. I checked with the GPS…I was in the right place and even THAT showed a road. It wasn’t even as though it looked like there HAD been a road there at some time. I was pissed. I have always been the kind of person to double check Google’s directions and maps, and hiking trails elsewhere and everything told me there was supposed to be a road there. I had just climbed and would have to descend 2500ft and cover 10 miles extra miles all because of a stupid glitch.

DSC00757

I dumped some of the water I was carrying as I knew we’d be crossing Rock Creek again, and could fill up there, and so we made our way back down the mountain.

After 6 hours of hiking with nothing accomplished we arrived back at the pretty creek with the rope swing under the bridge. We  took an hour long break to allow the dogs to sleep and get some rest…I definitely envied them. I soaked my feet in the water and filtered a couple of liters. The one benefit to having to come back was that I could get a photo…a benefit I could really have done without.

DSC00754

Our only option now, other than calling for a ride and quitting, was to hike another 5 miles up yet another gravel road to where the PCT intersects with Rock Creek. It was a long, hot walk but at least the road remained fairly flat and we made it in 2 1/2 hours with many stops for water.

DSC00759

I located a very pretty campsite next to the creek, just off the gravel road and a short way before the PCT. The tent was quickly up so it could dry then I cooked dinner, fed the dogs, hung the food bag and went to bed. We were all sore and limpy and should never have had to hike so much. I am looking forward to finally being able to set foot on the PCT tomorrow despite knowing it should have been 18 hours prior.

DSC00760

Day 3 – Rock Creek Camp to Cascade Locks

Today started off so promising. I had slept well and woke up at the late hour of 7:30am. It looked to be a warm and beautiful day. I packed camp as quickly as I could but still wasn’t on the move until 9am…I’m still not sure what takes so much time.

DSC00765

And finally I set foot on the PCT, and got off the gravel roads and on to single track. It was perfect. It was green, level and the footbed was perfect. My legs were still suffering from the steep downhill descent and the extra miles but I felt pretty good even loaded down with 4 liters of water.

DSC00761

The climb started moderately and I knew we had to climb about 2000 ft over 5 miles…not too bad…but I swear that climb went on forever and it felt a lot more than 2000ft. Massive slugs covered the trail and that was about all the wildlife I saw.

DSC00764

And while very not LNT this cute little gnome scene in a rotting tree stump gave me a smile and perked me up a little. I shouldn’t condone it but I enjoyed the surprise and imagination that went along with it.

DSC00766

And just when I thought there was no more uphill…there was another 400ft to go up, again and again and again. By the top I swear we were just a few more steps to heaven. Thankfully most of the morning we were hiking in the shade of massive pine trees but of course this meant few views and it was just one long uphill, green tunnel. Eventually we were rewarded with some impressive views of Mt Adams and Mt St Helens as well as the valley below.

DSC00772

Finally when I swore I couldn’t go another step upwards and was begging the trail to go down, it did. And that was almost worse. I moved slower but took a lot less breaks and my legs were screaming. I was miserable and could barely appreciate the views of Mt Hood that rose before me…but it was pretty spectacular, especially when thinking of it Middle Earth terms (it looks JUST like the Lonely Mountain from The Hobbit). At least there were views but that also meant we were in the sun a lot more and the dogs were getting hot. It didn’t help that the trail went from good dirt to rocks and talus.

DSC00773

It was about the 15 mile mark I decided I was done. Cody was sore, I was in agony and there were no campsites to be found. I just wasn’t enjoying it…and I don’t hike to torture myself, I do it because I enjoy it. I called the lady who had dropped me at the Blue Lake turn off (where I started hiking) and after a lot of back and forth I finally got a ride back to my truck, although with the amount of walking I had to do to meet her, and the time it took her to find me (even with provided GPS co-ordinates), I should have just finished the hike despite the pain and exhaustion.

DSC00773

I parked for the night not far from where i had camped before the hike and cleaned up with copious amounts of baby wipes (so easy and love them) and crawled into bed. I was ready for my bed but the night was rough and restless and sleep did not come very well partially, I think, due to being somewhat dehydrated. I left the organizing and unpacking for the morning.

I was extremely glad I had been picked up as the following day I could barely move for hurting, but I hobbled around and got packed up to hit the road and head for Canby, Oregon for the renaissance faire. After looking at the weather and the three days of predicted heavy non-stop rain, especially on Saturday, I sadly made the decision to fore-go the faire (the only one I could have made this year) because despite the fact that I won’t melt…my leather gear doesn’t particularly like water. So I headed out and started my drive to Idaho

Exploring Oregon – Part 2

Newberry National Volcanic Monument

We departed Bend on a Sunday after four amazing days exploring the town and its brew pubs/ breweries. One place of note that is very close to Bend but that we had avoided during our stay since I wanted to devote a day to it on the way out was Newberry National Volcanic Monument. This was one I’d never heard of but since it was so close and the map promised some interesting possibilities I wanted to make a day of it.

20180506_083454

I was up earlier than necessary, as always, and was on the road way to early. We stopped for some groceries at Walmart and then got fuel before heading south.

Our first stop, Lava River Cave, didn’t open until 10am and we were an hour early. I backtracked to the visitor center which was on limited hours since it was still the shoulder season (late April). I took a short hike up the on-site lava cone and followed the paved path through the lava fields. The great thing about these short walks are the many signs that explain everything you are seeing. I got great views of Mt Bachelor and the Three Sisters, and I stood in a lava valley where lava had once flowed through. It was pretty intense and very impressive to see that plants and animals can still make their homes in such a harsh and unforgiving environment.

20180506_083745

20180506_084618

10am was fast approaching and I headed to the gate of the Lava River Cave. I arrived a few minutes before it opened. I tried to park in the shade as much as possible for the dogs, but as long as I pointed the nose of the truck into the sun’s direction they would always have shade under the tool box. I grabbed two flashlights and a warm jacket and headed to the orientation point.

The rangers emphasize the importance of not wearing any clothes into the cave that have been worn in any other cave system. The reason for this is the dreaded white-nose syndrome, a fungus that is wiping out bat populations across the US.

20180506_100829

After the orientation I confirmed that I had a pass and then rented a lantern (definitely recommended) before heading down into the cave. I was the second person in and I’m glad I was. I hiked alone, with only a high-intensity flashlight to help me see. As soon as I was in the lava tube the temperature dropped immediately and ice could be seen below the metal cat walk where daylight was still visible.

20180506_102012

The Lava River Cave is a lava tube, and in some places a double lava tube, that runs for more than a mile (although only a mile is accessible) more than 50ft below the surface. It has a constant temperature of about 42* and my hands were definitely feeling it after a while (I would certainly recommend gloves as well as a warm coat).

20180506_102038

About 10 minutes into the hike I turned off my light. I don’t think I have ever experienced such encompassing darkness. I was glad to have the light I rented ($5 at the entry kiosk) especially when I tried out my own flashlights…I would have missed a lot if I had relied on them alone…they just weren’t bright enough.

The cave was impressive and I constantly stopped to look around. Being one of the first into the tube I pretty much had the place to myself on the way in and I loved that…it was definitely worth being early for. The way out felt shorter and I ran into many groups coming down which definitely impinged on the feeling of the cave a lot.

20180506_101159

Climbing out of the cave I walked into the heat of the day and found an immediate need to remove many layers. I let the dogs out for a few minutes before heading out.

Our next stop was the Lava Cast Forest. What was supposedly a short drive on a gravel road ended up being a smoke-filled journey on one of the worst washboard roads I have ever had the misfortune of being on. There was a prescribed burn happening at the lower end of the road which wasn’t much of a problem and actually kind of interesting…the problem was the cheese-grater washboard road…absolutely miserable. However we did eventually reach the top in one piece…my chair sleeve was in tatters, however, since Cody hates roads like that and took it out on the sleeve. At least it wasn’t the chair!

20180506_114207

I left the dogs in the truck and did the mile-ish long walk through the lava field. I was expecting tall lava casts in tree shapes…what I saw was still interesting but not expected. Lava casts are where the lava enveloped and encased trees. As the trees decayed and rotted under the lava they left holes, casts of their trunks in the lava. Some casts were upright and looked like large pole holes and others were horizontal from trees that had already fallen before the lava covered them. It was worth the drive, despite the rough road.

20180506_121920

20180506_122340

With the lava forest and cave done I was hoping to drive up to Newberry Crater, Oregon’s largest volcano but the road was closed for the winter. I made do with a quick stop at the South Ice Cave about 30 miles east of La Pine. I had seen other ice caves before and didn’t find this one any different, but worth a stop if you haven’t seen any others.

It was time to find a place to stop for the night and I located a decent spot on BLM land with good cell service.

20180506_155410

Driving south the next day I drove by Fort Rock, an old lava cone that used to be surrounded by an ancient lake. It is an Oregon State Park and looks like the fortress of something out of Morder; it looks slightly out of place in the rest of the flat landscape. I paused to take a couple of pictures but didn’t take the trail into the caldera where one side had been eroded away.

20180507_071448

20180507_075034

The road continued south and I stopped to check if the road I wanted to take was open. Two state road construction employees confirmed that it was but warned that it wasn’t the smoothest road to take to get to Klamath Falls. I wasn’t in a hurry and wanted to take the scenic route. The map had the road shown as paved, and apparently this is what is classed as a paved road:

20180507_090540

A quick shower in Klamath Falls and we were off to find another campsite before heading to Ashland. Freecampsites.net had one listed along the lake nearby and we went to check it out but the mosquitoes were horrendous and it didn’t take me more than three minutes to decide it wasn’t for us…not to mention how busy the location was. We did find a gorgeous campsite in the pine trees not far up the road that had zero mosquitoes and much better cell service.

20180507_160650

20180508_080515

The next day was a quick stop in Ashland, where I had planned to spend a couple of days but didn’t, and was followed by a pause in Medford to buy two new tires for the rear of my truck as they were almost bald and probably no longer legal. That put a hurt on the wallet! The rest of the day was a scenic drive, and a very long and frustrating one, to a gorgeous creekside campsite where someone had left some cut wood and plenty of fire-starter…so I had a really nice campfire, drank some beer and played in the creek with the dogs. No cell service but it was such a pretty place I found plenty to keep us occupied.

20180508_142249

I made a brief stop in Crater Lake National Park to see how it looked in early May compared to the last time I had visited it in mid July…definitely a different place with snow at the Rim Lodge still 10+ft high in places. It was cool to see but I didn’t stick around long and headed out. Before heading north again to look for a campsite we stopped at the Rogue River Gorge, a short but slightly-scary canyon where the Rogue River careens through a narrow cut in the rock. It was gorgeous but as always the overlooks made me slightly nervous when looking down into the cauldrons of boiling water beneath me.

20180509_105348

20180509_105051

20180509_095015

There were few options for campsites with cell service in the area and we ended up at one of the worst and least impressive sites I’ve ever had the misfortune of camping in. Of course in taking the dogs for a walk up the road I found a pretty nice large campsite in some trees but I was already set up and didn’t want to move…it was really only a place to sleep. We left early.

20180509_143639

Our last Oregon stop was at White River Falls State Park, a small recreation area with some interesting history in regards to harnessing hydro-electric power and some pretty waterfalls. It wasn’t a large place but it was a nice place to take a break before heading to a county fairground campground for $10 a night and taking a shower.

20180511_131115

20180511_131121

The last couple of days were spent driving back through Washington as I returned to my friends’ place near Olympia to house-sit for two weeks while they were on vacation.

20180512_195457

20180514_131140

Exploring Oregon – Bend

The first time I came “through” Bend was in 2015 after my friend’s wedding in Washington. I stopped at Walmart (obviously), didn’t see much beyond your standard large American town and kept driving towards Madras. Apparently this was a mistake…but a mistake made up for by giving me the chance to spend a few days in the town.

I follow a handful of vloggers on YouTube, and one of them “Keep Your Daydream” (well worth watching their videos, they are a lot of fun) raved about Bend when they visited last year. Apparently I had completely missed something on my last trip through.

So, with their love of the town and their raves reviews in my head I had decided to give Bend a few days all to itself on this trip. And I’m glad I did.

I arrived in Bend Wednesday morning after getting a shower in Redmond and immediately followed the signs to the downtown area. I was amazed that I had missed such an amazing place last time, even though I could not then have given it the time it deserved.

My first stop (a must) was to the visitor center where I was given pamphlets for all the off-leash locations around town for dogs, sheets for several recommended hikes and the Bend Ale Trail guide. So much to do, so little time.

Bend, Oregon is famous for its prevalence of great craft breweries and as such the tourism board has put together the Bend Ale Trail that highlights 16 of the microbreweries in the area. The aim is to visit each one and get them to stamp your Ale Trail guide in order to receive a prize at the end. You don’t have to drink at each one, but what is the point of doing an ale trail if you don’t sample the wares?

20180502_113810

I wandered downtown briefly with an armful of papers, sheets and pamphlets but not everything was open and I headed back to the truck. With my stomach grumbling and an hour left on my free 2-hour parking I decided I would pause for an early lunch at McMenamins Old St Francis School Restaurant and Brew Pub. A decent plate of ravioli and a really good red ale is what got me started on the Bend Ale Trail with my first stamp.

With my belly full I went to check out the Old Mill District which is now a large outdoor shopping mall along the Deschutes River. It still retains much of its character and reminded me more of English downtown shopping areas than a US mall. Of course, being me, I had to check out REI…always a bad move if you have a credit card…and I walked out with two dog bowls and some extra tent stakes. (I realized I had bought the same dog bowls already and returned them later). From there we headed to one of the recommended dog parks which was unfortunately closed…we still went in anyway so the dogs could relieve themselves.

20180502_133755

The day I arrived was also the first day of the summer’s Farmer’s Market and I wandered for a bit. It wasn’t large although I suspect it gets bigger as the summer goes on. I did find some raw frozen marrow bones for the dogs which were inexpensive and I got them one each.

By that time it was pretty warm and I did a little research online to find out which of the brew pubs on the ale trail had dog-friendly patios or gardens. So with a couple in mind, and bearing in mind where our chosen campsite for the night would be we checked out Crux Fermentation Project followed by 10 Barrel Brewing. Both beers were good but not as good as the red from the Old St Francis School.

20180502_142009

Bend’s city limits reach almost to the edge of the national forest so it isn’t much of a drive to find a decent camping location. I took a chance on the first right turn I came to and found a decent, albeit slightly busy parking spot that I would use for the rest of my time in Bend. It had limited cell service but with as busy as I had been on my first day in the city I knew it wouldn’t be an issue.

20180505_075142

I took the dogs for a long walk down to the creek where we ran into a few cyclists (Bend is very popular with mountain and road cyclists alike) and then headed back to the truck as dusk started to settle in.

My aim the following morning had been to hike Tumalo Falls, one of the recommended hikes I had been given, but I wasn’t loving the cold and most of the trails were closed to dogs…and the upper falls viewing platform was also closed due to a maintenance issue. So I enjoyed the view of the waterfall from the parking lot and then we headed back into town

20180503_075503

We headed for Walmart to get some groceries, killed more time at one of the dog parks until it reached a decent hour to check out any one of the numerous brew pubs I still had to check out.

I started at Sunriver Brewing Co with a red ale that was one of their award winners…and it was pretty damn good. There was enough shade for the dogs, and the wait staff provided water for the dogs. Sitting in the shade was slightly chilly with the breeze…but better to tolerate that than to overheat, or worse yet drink hot beer.

20180503_131724

From Sunriver I had no particular plan in mind but we paused at the river to let Kye and Cody have a little wander off-leash. Sadly it was pretty busy and I had to keep them close and under tight supervision. We didn’t stay long.

I had seen a used outdoor gear store earlier in the day and wanted to check it out. I pulled into the parking lot and inadvertently pulled into the same parking lot as another pub on the list, Immersion Brewing. It also had a patio and filled bowls of cold water for the dogs. I briefly checked out the outdoor gear store which didn’t have anything I needed, or wanted, and then grabbed the dogs to go have a beer. I loved that so many of these brew pubs were dog friendly.

20180503_144710

By this time it had been a tough decision about which beer to order since I was only trying one per brewery and I had started to ask about the award winners at each place…can’t go wrong if you order the beer that has won awards. At Immersion I ordered their Little Fawn and it was definitely the best tasting beer I had had in a LOOONG time. It truly was amazing. I chatted with an older guy who also had his dog with him and who recommended which places he liked and which places to steer clear from.

From Immersion I headed to Good Life Brewing Company. It had a beer garden very reminiscent of English pub gardens but I had to go inside, without the dogs, to order a beer. A very kind older gentleman offered to hold them for me while I went an got a brew. As always they got lots of compliments when I got back.

20180503_161135

I sat at one of the picnic tables while the dogs dozed and watched a game of cornhole being played by some middle-aged men. By this time a young kid had wandered over, with the normal inquisitiveness of a 2 year old, to pet the dogs. I nodded my consent to the worried parents and told them both Kye and Cody loved kids. It was a great evening spent chatting with the couple and watching the boy feed Kye and Cody with very bland Cheerio-wannabes (I asked the dad to check the ingredients for the dogs’ sake). It was a much needed social evening in the otherwise lonely life I lead on the road.

20180503_164529

Farewells were made, the last few sips of warm beer were downed and I headed back to camp.

The next couple of days were spent doing much the same thing. On Friday I started at Monkless Brewing, a brew pub that specializes in Belgian-style ales only, and enjoyed the company of a very cute 10 week old puppy by the name of Meg. The beer was decent but not as good as I had tried at Sunriver and Immersion. We went to the dog park again (it was open this time) and wandered the massive 14 acres which was huge for a dog park.

20180504_121447

20180504_123941

A trip to Boneyard Beer was next although they only have a tasting room and serve only 4oz tasters. The first is free and they are a $ each after the first, or you can try all nine for $8. I tried four for $3. They were good but so far not the best, despite everyone telling me how good they were…maybe I just chose the wrong beer.

Boneyard was followed by Silver Moon Brewing who sadly had a cooling-system malfunction and the only beer available was one of two they had canned. The beer was good and the conversation with the very cute bartender was enjoyable, but sadly not my favorite place.

20180504_132352

20180504_141231

I paused in at Deschutes Brewing to get a stamp but did not stop for a beer as I was already familiar with their offering. I had already picked up their mixed 12-pack in stores when I was looking for beer to take to camp (and good beer tastes better warm than other cheap beer). The last stop of the day was Bend Brewing Company where another beer garden played host to myself, the dogs…and their apparent appeal…and I spent the evening talking with four lovely ladies from San Francisco who had come up for the weekend. At this point I was feeling the slight effects from the beer and took a short walk before driving back to camp.

20180504_155105

The last day in Bend was spent buying a couple of pairs of new backpacking trail runners and returning the pair I had bought from REI. I like bright colors on my shoes and the REI pair just weren’t cutting it…too bland. I also checked out Dillon Falls, a rapids-like section of the Deshcutes River off the Cacades Lakes National Scenic Byway.

20180505_091953

20180505_091640

I had finished the Bend Ale Trail the day before and headed to the visitor center to claim my prize; a silicone beer mug and Bend Ale Trail window sticker (now in my windshield).

20180505_123224

With not needing to fill the trail guide any more (I wouldn’t make the 16 for the “extra” prize) I decided to return to Immersion Brewing for another Little Fawn. Again it did not disappoint and I still think that it is one of my favorite beers of all time. I could have bought a case of the stuff. Another stop at another dog park and then onward to check out a couple of the breweries on the ale trail I hadn’t tried. I started at Worthy Brewing but wasn’t impressed; the beer was cold but nothing to rave about and the atmosphere just didn’t feel right for a craft brewery. The food looked decent though and they did permit dogs on the patio, and there were certainly a lot of them.

The last place I stopped was at the place that the guy with the dog at Immersion Brewing had said was “shit”. Well I’m glad I didn’t listen as the beer at Cacades Lakes Brewing Company was really good and I caved on my healthy-eating road-trip diet and ordered a fabulous cheeseburger. I also ordered a 6-pack of beer to go which sadly wasn’t as good as the beer I had ordered that was on tap.

And that, in all its alcoholic glory, is Bend. Beautiful scenery, wonderful and friendly people, great trails and outdoors possibilities, and most importantly SO MUCH GOOD BEER.

While the Bend Ale Trail was fun to follow there are many more craft brew pubs and micro breweries in Bend that I didn’t get the chance to check out, but several of the locals certainly recommended others in town that were better than those on the list. For atmosphere and beer gardens I loved Bend Brewing Company and Good Life Brewing the most. As far as beer went my preferences were for Immersion’s “Little Fawn”, Sunriver’s Award-Winning Red and Cascade Lakes IPA (of which I can’t remember the name).

There is so much more to Bend than beer of course but with only so much time and money to spare I made certain decisions about my priorities. I loved Bend and the people and it felt like a small town vs a large-ish city (90,000) since I focused on the downtown and Old Mill districts.

 

Exploring Oregon – Part 1

Compared to my last month-long trip into Canada and Washington and struggling to find things to fill my time I figured 18 days in Oregon would be easy to fill…and the first 10 days were.

I headed over the mountain on Highway 12, and south of Mt Rainier…the few clear views I had of the volcano were certainly impressive. The day had weather predictions of 60* and rain but once I got over the pass and onto the west side of the Cascades things quickly warmed up.

20180427_134003

We stopped for lunch and a walk, and in the warm sun it smelled like summer. What does summer smell like to you? To me it smells of two things, depending on where I am, but summer predominantly smells of sun-warmed pine trees…there is nothing like that smell to let you know that winter is done and that there are adventures ahead.

We stopped for gas and beer in Yakima before heading east to one of favorite campsites (cell service and solitude) near Vernita Bridge and The Hanford Reach, on the Columbia River. I started in the location I had camped twice before but the rapidly rising water (a millimeter a minute) forced me to move my truck twice before I felt comfortable. A millimeter a minute on a river the size of the Columbia is A LOT of water.

20180427_181828

I was in a hurry as I was trying to reach Walla Walla for a meet-and-great with Steven Amell (of The Green Arrow fame) but when I arrived at the location I discovered it was a VIP event and ticket-holders only…and very expensive tickets they were too. I was disappointed that while Steven Amell had mentioned the event on his personal FB page he had failed to mention it was a ticketed event.

With a failed celebrity encounter behind me I headed out of Walla Walla in search of a campsite. Sadly, while it was good National Forest land, most of the back roads were covered in snow and the air temperature was not conducive to wanting to camp (or at least be outside the truck, and there was no cell service). I eventually found a gorgeous campsite alongside a creek that made for a pleasant evening despite being damp.

La Grande was the next town along the road and finally being in Oregon (no sales tax) I got a much-needed oil change. I am very thorough with my vehicle and after reading some reviews on the place I double checked my oil level…two quarts high. I took my truck back and had them drain some of the excess oil until the level was reading correct. The guys were accommodating and courteous and made things right but an over-fill of two quarts can ruin an engine (as evidenced by a previous Google reviewer).

La Grande was a neat little town and I spent a few hours exploring the downtown area, including a pretty decent outdoor store, Blue Mountain Outfitters. With a six pack of good beer in the cooler I headed up to the free campsite above town and on a lake where I found a lovely gravel camping location along the lake shore. While pretty and free, the place is very popular and busy…and probably more so in the summer.

20180429_160111

I put La Grande in my rear view mirror and headed south and west once more, not quite sure where I would stop for the night. The road I followed, was absolutely stunning as we followed it through the Umatilla National Forest and past the Bridge Creek Wildlife Area. I didn’t see many signs for hiking trails but it would have been a great area for day hikes or even an overnight or two.

The views never disappointed as we turned south at Ukiah and then west again at Long Creek towards Kimberly, Service Creek and then on towards Mitchell. There were definitely some great camping spots alongside the river but unfortunately all of them were BLM pay-to-stay sites and I had run out of cold hard cash. I finally located a beautiful campsite at the mouth of the Black Canyon, just north of Mitchell, after guessing which road it was on from a very pixelated Google map (no service). And while the site had no service the view was stunning and we were surrounded by amazing red cliffs and canyons.

20180430_171942

A gorgeous night was followed by a chilly morning and all thoughts of hiking the canyon disappeared from my mind as we bundled up and hit the road early, heading west again towards Prineville. The views continued to be stunning and we stopped for lunch at Smith Rock.

Again the lack of cash was catching up with me as Smith Rock (well worth a visit, and about 45 minutes NE of Bend) required a $5 day use contribution. Still, I enjoyed lunch and took a few pictures while walking the dogs before we headed out to look for an early campsite.

20180501_124342

Freecampsites.net once again listed a great location just west of Terrabone with some fantastic views of the Three Sisters and Mt Bachelor, as well as the Deschutes River canyon. There were dozens of campsites to choose from, some with better views or better cell service than others…and all were sandy.

20180501_161537

We picked a remote site with decent cell service but no view since we arrived early in the day, and then went for a long walk around the access roads in the area. I dropped a Google pin that pinpointed the truck and set out…this turned out to be a great decision as it would have been very easy to get lost and disoriented with all the winding roads, and we almost did.

20180501_200439

The following day a quick, chilly but very cheap shower was found at the Cascade Swim Center before we headed south into Bend, Oregon…but Bend deserves its own dedicated post.

Washington and Canada – Exploring Washington

After crossing back into the US we headed for the town of Oroville to fill up with gas and head south. I had only spent 10 days in Canada and had crossed back into the US April 1st (there’s some great April Fool’s joke in there somewhere). I still had until April 19th before I would head back to my friend’s place near Tacoma…that was almost 3 weeks to fill and Washington isn’t that large.

We followed the Okanogan River south to Tonasket and then to Omak where we stopped for lunch and other groceries before heading through the Colville Confederated Tribes Reservation. This is somewhat barren desert land but to me it is still a more forgiving and prettier environment than Arizona (or at least the NW part of it) which I hated.

The highway through the reservation was pretty and we were soon surrounded by pines and spruce and small patches of snow. We paused briefly so the dogs could get a nice long walk before we headed down the pass towards Coulee Country, an area of central Washington well-known for it’s deep ravines with long lakes and sheer basalt cliffs. With the contrast of blue water and black rock the views were certainly stunning as I drove.

20180401_142407

I constantly use an app called freecampsites.net and have found it invaluable (I think I’ve mentioned it before and should probably get paid for advertising at this point), especially in the late winter/ early spring months to find free camping locations. I was relying on it this time also but the locations it pulled up left a lot to be desired in this area. Washington has a permit system that uses the Discovery Pass, a $30/year permit that allows free access to any state land, including camping (except RV parks in state campgrounds). The only decent place I could find to camp (with an iffy outhouse) was on one of these permitted sites…and knowing I would probably make use of it I drove up to the state park and bought an annual pass. (I have since made use of it more than a dozen times making the cost plenty worth it).

20180401_160844

With permit in hand I found a pretty albeit windy place to camp for the night on the north shore of Blue Lake. It was chilly but we had some protection as the location I had found was hidden between two rock pinnacles and was somewhat protected. The dogs and I made do and bundled up on the leeward side of the truck and in the sun and enjoyed the gorgeous views, not to mention that the location was quiet.

20180401_161450

The next few weeks were spent campsite hopping, with way too much driving in between. We saw Coulee Dam, a huge monstrosity at a half mile wide behind which were the beautiful blue waters of Banks Lake. We spent several days in and around Richland, Kennewick and the Hanford Reach (an old nuclear reactor involved in things similar to the Manhattan Project) and enjoyed walking in several of the off-leash wildlife areas.

20180401_135427

Campsites included a chilly and slightly public place in the midst of several man-made lakes near Quincy with some views that would rival the Grand Canyon, a couple of stays by Vernita Bridge across the Columbia River, a boat ramp on the Columbia River more than once (and once where we almost got blocked in) and at least one casino which was probably my least favorite (no surprise there).

20180412_163627

20180402_191813

20180404_135524

20180406_072228

The trip involved way more driving than I intended and we covered a lot of miles but we also got to see some beautiful country. My favorite place to visit on the trip was Pendleton, Oregon where I did a tour of the famous wool factory and thoroughly enjoyed a tour of the Pendleton Underground.

20180407_152839

The Pendleton Underground tour covers an approximate single square block of the town although the original underground town (and it still exists) covered 16 square blocks. Many of the tunnels under the town have now been blocked off and filled in under the roads due to safety issues and collapsing roofs. There was a lot of history to be learned about the area including the involvement and importance (and harsh treatment) of Chinese workers. The non-profit organization that runs the tours has done an amazing job of recreating bath houses, laundry facilities, butcher cellars and ice cream freezers…it is well worth the $15 fee. Reservations are required and it is a popular tour. Follow the link here for more information and to book tours: Pendleton Underground Tours

SONY DSC

The other highlight of the month was the town of Chelan, famous for the long lake to its west. Chelan was small, not too touristy (at least for mid April) and quaint. I loved it. Sadly the weather wasn’t ideal and while we spent time in the state park and the city park (for the dogs), I enjoyed the brewery and the coffee house more. The stores were fun to poke around in and the museum was worth a couple of dollars in donation to explore; the history of Lake Chelan alone is worth a dollar or two.

My final hoorah of the trip was treating myself to a wine tasting at Tsillan (pronounced Chelan) Cellars which was then followed by dinner. The wine was sublime and I found myself (regrettably, or maybe not so much) buying a couple of bottles of the wine…it was extremely good. I justified the cost by knowing that I would have spent $10 on the tasting and another $15 for a couple of glasses of wine at dinner…so I really only paid for one bottle! (I have to keep telling myself that).

20180416_173644

Sorrento’s Restaurant is a beautiful Tuscan-inspired villa that is attached to the winery and part of the complex. I had made an early dinner reservation for myself and I chose mushroom-based pasta dish, which was absolutely sublime and I enjoyed every single mouthful…slowly. I also enjoyed my wine. And then I had desert. I never have desert…but they had TIRAMISU…and it was AMAZING and I ate it ALL!!! I can’t describe in words how much I loved this place. They have a beautiful outdoor patio surrounded by trees and flowers and waterfalls that I enjoyed looking at but could only be enjoyed in warmer weather. I highly recommend this place as a treat if you are looking for one and the prices weren’t completely unreasonable; with wine already purchased from the winery I only paid $37 including tip for the meal.

20180416_174241

With the road trip winding down I headed for the last couple of campsites for the trip…the last one, sadly, infested with nasty, tiny deer ticks…two of which I found on me, two in my bed later, one on my driver’s seat and two on the dogs. (I can just about deal with dog ticks as they are larger and much easier to see. Deer ticks are about the size of a grain of rice and much more difficult to see, although not as tough to remove as the squishy soft-bodied tick).

20180417_123818

The second to last night was spent at a paid campground at the county fairgrounds in Monroe as I couldn’t find a decent place to spend the night for free (the only one anywhere close had some seemingly-sketchy people there and several dogs), but at least I got a shower. The second was in the aforementioned tick-infested Capitol State Forest…beautiful views but not the greatest choice of camping locations due to the ticks.

With a month of travel behind me I headed back to Yelm for a week to recoup, refresh and be a bum for a week while celebrating my friends’ kid’s birthday.

Washington and Canada – Victoria to Osoyoos

Poor Cody struggled with the ferry ride from Port Angeles to Victoria. The water was rough and there was a lot of movement in the boat that Cody didn’t understand. He was allowed in the passenger compartment above the vehicle deck so he could stay with me but he was constantly up and down and very stressed. There was little I could do for him. Kye, on the other hand, did just fine and slept most of the way.

20180323_094121

Customs and immigration in Victoria was the toughest I’ve been through and apparently my answers didn’t inspire confidence in the Canadian Border Agents as I was told to pull aside and wait. Eventually I was asked more questions. Without a fixed address and permanent job in the US apparently I come across as a possible illegal immigrant (2-3 weeks planned in Canada without permanent ties to the US other than a passport and 90% of my belongings still in Washington). The border agent was perfectly nice and just doing her job and after a quick search and a few more questions we were permitted to go.

I let the dogs run free at one of the many off-leash dog parks along the coast and then headed inland a way to see the city. I parked the truck in one of the free parking garages in Victoria and left the dogs to sleep. Sometimes I wish I had a van for roadtrips but when it is hot out the truck is better for the dogs as they have shade under the toolbox. The only spaces were on the fifth level and it certainly took some maneuvering to get around some of the tighter turnings to get there with such a large truck and my vertical height was pushing the limit…I kept ducking involuntarily when the beams got close. I wandered downtown and the harbor area and eventually stopped at what looked like a very British pub for lunch…sadly it wasn’t as English as it looked and certainly didn’t list any kind of English/ Irish/ Scottish food on the menu.

20180323_121748

With the weather looking pretty unpleasant I decided to make the longer journey north to Black Creek rather than wait it out in a local Provincial Park. The three hours north on the Inland Island Highway was fairly unpleasant due to the constant rain and dark clouds. I stopped briefly at Cabela’s for a short break and debated staying but was completely over the constant rain and continued on.

An old friend of mine from the UK had put me in touch with a friend of hers on Vancouver Island and it was to their place I was heading. I arrived just as dark was settling and I drove past the place once. The house still had lights on and I had been told to “head on in” when I arrived…which I did. It was chilly but very homey and I quickly got a fire going in the wood stove to drive out the damp chill.

The house was wonderful and reminded me of several places in the UK, and my host was a great collector of fabulous clocks. I made myself at home and drank a couple of local beers…something I enjoyed very much after a stressful drive. The dogs made themselves quite at home with the massive dog bed in the living room.

20180323_210007

20180324_131456

My host arrived home and we spent a couple of hours talking, drinking and getting to know each other, and talking about fond memories of a very special friend. It was a wonderful evening and I completely felt at home…probably too much so. I went to sleep that night in one of the most comfortable beds I have ever laid in and passed out into the most wonderful dreams.

The next week passed in a blur. Andy and his girlfriend, Emily, took me to dinner at a fabulous Chinese buffet one night and I was introduced to his daughter, Kelda, and her boyfriend. They were wonderful hosts and great conversation for the evening. Over the next few days I explored the local beaches with Emily and the dogs, the city of Campbell River, and a really great brew pub with a whole lot of very cute bearded lumberjack-types eating dinner…it was a good time.

20180324_181455

I checked out a couple of hikes to waterfalls in the area. Elk River Falls near Campbell River was the first I did as it was close to Andy and Emily’s place. A mile long hike from the parking lot, it was easy to find but the path was certainly steep once past the first half mile. The views once out of the trees were incredible and the roar of the falls was deafening. To get the best view of the falls you have to cross a slightly-scary suspension bridge that moves A LOT; not recommended for nervous dogs or people with a fear of heights. Even for someone without those fears it was a slightly disconcerting experience but the up close and personal overlook of the falls was worth a few uncomfortable steps.

20180328_122755

20180328_122735

20180328_122627

All too soon a week was gone; I didn’t want to overstay my welcome and I headed out. I made a brief detour to Port Alberni, driving past/through Cathedral Grove (the place was way too busy to make me want to stop) with the intent of camping in the area. However I didn’t find the town too inspiring and we didn’t do much except play in the park and check out the boardwalk.

On the way back from Port Alberni we stopped at Little Qualicum Falls. It was a lovely two mile hike that followed the river up one side and down the other and crossed a couple of bridges. It was a dog friendly trail although not as easy to navigate with dogs on leashes, which is required, and my two are used to being able to get out from under my feet and climb rocks without a 6ft limitation.

20180330_131459

20180330_131442

The last set of waterfalls we stopped at I did alone and left the dogs in the truck. Englishman River Falls. The most notable thing about the upper falls on this river is that it flows sideways into one of the narrowest waterfall canyons in British Columbia. The narrowness of the canyon also makes it difficult to establish the exact height of the waterfall but it is somewhere between 75-100ft. It is an easy hike and below the lower falls is a great swimming hole that is popular during the summer.

20180330_154429

BC has a nice website to show camping locations and I found one not too far from Naniamo where I would be taking the ferry from in the morning. I camped one night in a horse camp before hopping on the ferry to Vancouver. Thankfully this was a much bigger boat and I asked for a top level location to park the truck; I was able to stay with the dogs and the vehicle, but being larger the ferry had so much less movement that Cody didn’t care.

20180331_105052

Vancouver was a brief stop for lunch and to let the dogs out and play before we headed for the Canadian crossing of the Cascade Mountains.

A decent campsite outside of Princeton, alongside the river, was our home for the night. I gathered some great firewood and got a wonderful fire going in the afternoon and kept it going as dusk came upon us. With bed in mind and as darkness fell I dropped off some extra firewood I had collected to the people in the Class A that had pulled in behind just behind me and was invited to join them for a fire. I made the mistake of grabbing an extra beer as I thought they would be social for a while but alas they hung out for 20 minutes and then headed inside….and I was no longer interested in finishing my beer.

20180331_181635

I awoke with the sun to a light dusting of snow on the ground and on the truck. The dogs’ water bowl had a decent layer of ice on top of the water. I dismantled the truck camp quickly in the cold and was ready to head down the road. It was a beautiful albeit cold and damp morning as we headed for the US border in Oosoyos and covered some amazing terrain.

The border crossing in eastern Washington back into the US was far less painful than the crossing into Canada. I think that the minor border crossings are far less strict and worrisome than the major ones and would highly recommend finding the less-busy locations, especially in the height of tourist season or weekends. Of course I am a US citizen which makes it a lot easier to cross this way than the other.

Washington and Canada – Yelm to Port Angeles

Mail always seems to take forever to show up when you are waiting on something specific, in this case a new day pack. It was something I needed to take with me.

Now that the RV and most of my belongings had been sold it was just back to the dogs and me in the truck on the road and we headed out on a beautiful Monday afternoon. I bid my friends farewell and headed south from the Mt. Rainier area towards Portland. A quick stop at the bank and to grab a salad for lunch from Safeway was all the break I took on the way to Astoria, Oregon. Scenic views and port river bridges provided the background to the country music on the radio I listened to as I drove.

20180319_153959

A less-than-pleasant bridge across the Columbia River dumped me on the Oregon side of the Columbia River and we followed Hwy 30 for an hour before reaching the quaint town of Astoria.

20180319_170755

When I reached Astoria a sign pointed me to the Astoria Column and I thought “why not?” and drove up some crazy-steep hills and followed roads that weren’t well sign-posted (sound familiar?) to finally find the column and the 30 acre city park. There was an entry fee that I didn’t think was worth paying just to look at a carved column and the view so the attendant permitted me to drive in to turn around. I shot a few pictures of the column which was built in 1926 with financing by the Great Northern Railway and Vincent Astor, the great-grandson of John Jacob Astor, in commemoration of the city’s role in the family’s business history. Patterned after the Trajan Column in Rome (and Place Vendôme Column in Paris), the Astoria Column was dedicated on July 22, 1926. In 1974, the column was listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

20180319_181453

After checking out the tower I parked along the main road and headed to the local brew pup for a pint of the local ale which was a pretty decent IPA although slightly too citrusy for me; I could have drank another but decided it was time to move on. I wandered downtown briefly but saw little of interest and then followed the river back to the truck, pausing to take a couple of pictures of yet another dreaded bridge that would be taking me back into Washington and the massive ships on the river.

20180319_182627

20180319_183007

The rest area we spent the night was not ideal but it was a safe place to park. I got some sleep but it wasn’t the greatest…too much traffic and we were parked on an angle. As soon as it was reasonably light I was packing up and driving again. The fog made for some dreary driving but it made for a pretty amazing sunrise over the river.

20180320_074425

The clouds finally lifted near South Bend and it was nice to pause to allow the dogs to run for a while. Even the cobwebs on the trees looked amazing in the sun.

20180320_113725

I hadn’t planned on driving so much but there was little to do with the colder weather, and there were few to no camping locations along the coast…at least no free ones. I continued to drive north, taking a break at one of the beaches with the dogs…their first time to experience the waves of the ocean. I kept them back from the surf as the waves were pretty hefty and I didn’t want them to get dragged in. I let them run for a while and pose for pictures on some driftwood before heading back to the truck.

20180320_131504

20180320_131720

A quick detour through the Hoh Rainforest in Olympic National Park was gorgeous but the trails didn’t feel particularly inspiring and I just played with the dogs in the picnic area. The highlight was the herd of elk along the highway that were happy to pose for a couple of close-up pictures.

20180320_144150

From the Hoh we headed to Forks (home of the dreaded “sparkly” vampires of Twilight) where I grabbed a bite to eat and drink beer before heading to a campsite near Beaver Lake. It was a wonderful quiet night even if it was chilly and I slept well.

20180320_184841

I was up later in the morning and had slept better than the night before, but we were still back on the road by 8am.

We passed the beautiful blue Crescent Lake and found ourselves in Port Angeles much earlier than expected. I found the ferry terminal and the lady recommended I book my ticket online as it was cheaper so I headed back to the truck and booked my ticket for Friday morning.

20180321_084735

I spent the rest of the day exploring the local area and visited the Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge where you could look down from the bluffs to the sandy beaches. I didn’t make the hike along the sand spit to the lighthouse but I did make the drive to the town of Dungeness and saw the lighthouse from a beach there. We also headed to Port Townsend and then to Ironwood County Beach Park where we took a long walk on the beach…it was a great time for the dogs and they could get out and stretch their legs after being mostly stuck in the truck for the better part of three days.

20180321_111244

20180321_132554

20180321_133134

I ate a terrible BLT in Sequim before heading to the best campsite yet above Blyn. Rain threatened so we hunkered down in the truck for a while as it sprinkled a few rain drops on the roof as we listened to the radio.

The morning dawned chilled and damp as we packed up and headed back down the rough dirt road and headed for Port Angeles. I checked in with the attendants early and then went in search of a mail box to mail my sister’s birthday card while I was still in the US. It was definitely chilly and a guy almost ran us over as we crossed a street, honky and yelling at me despite the fact that I was in a crosswalk and had the right of way. Some people are just jerks.

Soon it was time to head back to the truck and get ready to take the dogs on their first boat ride.

20180323_074403