An Old Dog Learns New Tricks

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“You may get it a little scratched up, I have to warn you about that” he said.

“Oh brother,” I thought to myself. I can’t whine in front of my son, and besides that I had always prodded him into action with an old saying “Yachts weren’t built to be tied up to the dock, they were meant to be out on the high seas.”

So if you substitute “Jeeps, garages, and trails” for “Yachts, docks and high seas,” you can immediately see that I had absolutely no recourse but to say “OH, sure, no problem, when and where are we going?”

The “when” turned out to be in two weeks, and the “where” turned out to be a two and a half day trip through the Central Washington hills of the Quilomene and Colockum State Wildlife Areas, which border the west side of the majestic Columbia River as it heads south towards the Washington and Oregon borders and as it works its way to the Pacific Ocean. This particular part of the state is completely different from the “wet side” of the Cascade Mountain Range where the big cities on the coast are located. This area is very dry and the land quite high. Where the Columbia River is at about 800 feet, the top of the hill where the trails are located is about 5000 feet higher.

Our venture started with a collection point in Ellensburg for the 8 vehicles that were joining us to meet for the trip. So here I was, in my brand new Jeep with its very subtle, nearly iridescent GREEN paint job, surrounded by seasoned campers in their 7 Land Rovers, Range Rovers, and the aforementioned Defender 90.

“Oh boy, what have I gotten myself into?” The only other people I knew were my son, his wife Amy, and their two kids, Lucia and Cody. Everyone else was a complete stranger, and I was the “old interloper” (or so I thought). The group’s official name that joined us was the Northwest Overland Society, which sounds a little stodgy but belies the real character of the group.

After a delightful lunch, the entourage set off for the trail, heading north from Ellensburg. Along the way, I noticed how “funny” it is that a road can deteriorate so quickly. From pavement to smooth gravel to little rocks to, well, just the rocks that happened to be there when it was a wagon trail. About a mile up the road, we had to make our first mechanical “adjustment” – deal with an overheated radiator caused by a leaky seal on one of the other vehicles. This halt prompted a ceremony among off-highway adventurers called “airing down.” Everyone was out there letting the air out of their tires in a frenzy – except for me. I thought this was kind of like parachuting, you know, jumping out of a perfectly good airplane, etc. Heading to the wilderness and letting air out of the tires seemed counter intuitive, so I didn’t do it in all my senior stubbornness.

After all, this was just a drive in the country. Sure.

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