(Words: Andy Wade; Photos: Vernon Wade & Andy Wade)
Half the fun of camping is scouting new places to go. Any time we get out on the hacks and head to the mountains is a good day. Our expedition the week before was, as usual, a blast. Riding through Underwood and out toward Willard, our tires oscillated between grabbing bare pavement, then suddenly spinning as we hit patches of snow and ice. The shade-dappled pavement made spotting the ice patches challenging, but only heightened the excitement of the ride. At the Willard junction, we stopped to confirm all was good, then turned right and headed into the forest. The bare patches of pavement finally gave up pretending as the road turned solid white. As the snow plowed banks alongside the road deepened, the Gifford unfolded before us as a snowy wonderland.
A four-to-five-foot snowbank greeted us at FS66 and it became obvious that we wouldn’t be camping at any of our regular spots. “Perhaps we can get up to Oklahoma campground” Vernon suggested. I’m not sure if his friends would describe him as an optimist, but when it comes to camping, Vernon’s enthusiasm seems to have no limits. Minutes later we faced another wall of snow. Well three walls of snow. We were surrounded where the snowplows decided they’d had enough and turned around. Two snowmobile tracks stretched out toward the campground – there was no going forward for us. Turning around, I was filled with awe as layers above the snow-covered road were bows bending beneath the load, the tops of the trees pointing to a brilliant blue sky, all with a stunning frosted mountain majestically serving as a backdrop.
“If we skip the cocoa and rum, we can probably make it up Fir Mountain before dark,” Vernon optimistically suggested. That’s all the encouragement I needed. We were off! Back down the snow-blanketed road, through Willard, and onto the rollercoaster ride as we skipped from bare pavement, to clumps of snow, to patches of snow and ice and back to bare pavement. As I toyed with the throttle, sliding sideways like a car drifting around corners, I briefly thought about how easy it would be to high-side if I unexpectedly hit pavement at just the wrong time.
It wasn’t long before we traded the thrills of snow and ice for the grated metal bridge deck crossing the Columbia. Hang lose and let the bike do its thing – all will be well. We’ve crossed this bridge enough times that only the view of Mt. Hood looming up the Hood River Valley is still a thrill. Before long, we were climbing up 35 and turning off to Fir Mountain Road.
Soon we were back on snow-packed roads, sliding through trees laden with snow. Our route had been plowed to the junction of Huskey Road, and Huskey had been plowed about a mile in, to where the county had bid out a logging contract. The road was slick and steep, but we stayed on the throttle and made it to where they had turned the plow around. There were some flat clearings here suitable for a camp. We made plans to come back with our camping gear the following weekend.