Given two paths to choose from, I am generally drawn to the Path Less Taken. “What’s over there?” I wonder. “What fascination lies that way, yet to be discovered?”
As we continued up the central Washington coastline, I note that the main route, Highway 101, diverges significantly away from the coast in a number of areas. Zooming in on electronic maps I can see there are (small and diminutive, possibly unimproved) roads that clearly connect where we are to where we’re trying to go up north. Once again, I’m drawn to the Path Less Taken.
And so we go.
This part of the world is host to a number of Native American reservations. Our maps are fuzzy on where these start and end, as is signage along the byways, making it hard to tell whose territory we’re on at any given time. A few miles down the road I misread the road signs and we detour into a local town.
Curious to catch a glimpse of rural life in these parts we drive through town rather than turn around as soon as I discover my mistake. We are clearly off the beaten path, and tourists in these parts are probably rare, judging by the lingering, noncommittal gaze of the locals. We pass a building labeled Tribal Courthouse and Law Enforcement, and that removes any doubt as to whether we’re on “The Res” or not. I quite suddenly find myself a complete foreigner, unsure about customary or acceptable behavior. I drive us into a dead end and Kirstin doesn’t want to get out to ground guide me as I turn around. I don’t blame her. I jack knife, but not so badly as to break anything. We amble out of town, smiling broadly at everyone we pass, hoping to avoid any untoward attention.
At the edge of town I turn back north. The US Highway we had followed up to this point now turns into a State Road with the same number, and the road surface turns to gravel. There’s a big sign that says “No Trespassing Tribal Beaches Closed To General Public”. Kirstin voices her concerns that this is a bad idea. “No problem,” I tell her. “We’re not going to the beach.” There’s a second sign that says “Unimproved Road No Further Warnings”. “Like what? Sudden cliff ahead?” I joke.
We continue. Kirstin again expresses her concern that this a bad idea. It’s a good road, I tell her. Much better than some of the roads we had recently traversed in the National Forests by Mt. Adams. “Put on your adventure hat,” I cajole. She glares.
The road gradually narrows down to one lane. I notice that our onboard GPS no longer lists it as a State Road, but instead labels it as a BIA (Bureau of Indian Affairs) Road with the same number.
The road quality gets gradually worse. I note that there are far fewer vehicles out here than we had seen in what I would have considered remote areas of the National Forests. Fewer because there are none here at all.
“Well, we finally got away from all those other RVers,” I attempt to lighten the intense mood permeating the vehicle cab. “Gee, it’s beautiful. Pristine.”
We’re traveling slowly now because of constant potholes, and are many miles and approximately 2/3 of the way from the where the gravel started to our projected reunion with Highway 101. I feel like we’re on the home stretch. The overgrowth along the roadsides starts to choke in on us. Up ahead there’s a patch of road that I can’t make out because of the shadows. Kirstin dismounts to check it, comes back and says it’s okay but that she can’t tell about further ahead.
We start down a muddy hill. After a few hundred meters we discover what that sign back at the beginning had meant. The sign about “No Further Warnings” about the road. The road is gone. I walk it to see if there’s any way through or around. There isn’t. Remains from some unfortunate vehicle or vehicles litter the hillside that slopes away from where the road had once been. A tire here. Maybe a bumper over there. Possibly a truck tailgate.
My stomach sinks down past my groin to somewhere around my ankles. We’re not in any immediate danger, I tell myself. We have food and lodging for several days, because we’re towing a travel trailer behind us. Right here at the bottom of this muddy hill. …Does AAA send tow rigs to these parts? Could a recovery rig even get in here in such a way as to be able to recover us? It’s a moot point as we haven’t had cell reception for miles.
Kirstin is now well past the point of looking daggers at me and can’t even look me in the eyes. I think that had there been a table at the road’s end in front of us labeled “Tribal Courthouse”, complete with an official looking person seated behind it, she would have in that moment applied for and received a summary divorce judgment.
I put on my brave face. “We’re going to have to back up the hill,” I say. Kirstin nods and walks behind the trailer to guide us back out of this mess. There was a wide spot in the road near the top of the hill. I hope that we can get there, and that once there it will be navigable enough that we can turn around. At this point I’ll settle for just getting back up the hill and will thankfully back the trailer up for miles and miles if I have to in order to reach somewhere we can turn around.
I put Ruby into 4WD Low. If it was just the truck I wouldn’t worry even a bit that we might actually be well and truly screwed. Ruby could handle this with ease. If solo. But I’m pretty unhappy about the reality of having to push a trailer backwards up this muddy hill. In the middle of nowhere. While very probably trespassing. I do my best to conceal all of this and project strength and confidence.
The foliage is so dense that I can’t see anything behind us and have to rely on Kirstin yelling directions. We start slowly, inch by inch. Ruby in 4WD Low grips like a rabid tomcat on velcro curtains. And with Kirstin yelling directions we edge it bit by bit, dodging around the logs and tree branches that protrude into the road, until we finally, blessedly, come out evenish near the top of the hill.
Okay, as long as I don’t get us stuck trying to turn around now, we are alright. Have you ever seen the Austin Powers film where he manages to get a golf cart stuck sideways in a corridor two inches wider than the vehicle is long? I do my very best approximation of that scene. After about 20 turns I’m worried that now, after having backed all the way up the hill into the safety of “good road”, I may have instead stuck us sideways for good.
We survey the situation. We consider and then reject an option of dropping the trailer, repositioning the truck and then reattaching.
I go back to the Austin Powers micro turns.
Inch by inch we bring it around just enough that finally I’m able to drive over a stump on our uphill side, trusting Ford’s Off Road package and skid plates to protect Ruby’s precious underbelly, and we are free!
I stop the truck, wait for Kirstin to get in, and then solemnly express to her the deepest apology of which I am able, from the bottom of my soul. I promise to never, ever disregard her warnings again. And I tell her that for the rest of our journey, she gets final say on all navigational choices.
She reminds me that back at the beginning of the trip she had foretold that there would be a point somewhere on our journey, where I would end up backing us out of an unpleasant situation.
We’re only two months into our Big Adventure. I most fervently hope that this was the one and only time.
Sometimes there is a reason that the Road Less Taken is the Road Less Taken, my wife gently schools me. Noted, my love. Well and duly noted.