Vernon was born in the Pacific Northwest and still lives in the shadow of Mt. Hood, near the small town where he grew up. Vernon has spent decades wandering the hills, hunting mushrooms, camping and riding motorcycles into the remotest nooks and crannies to be found in the region.
February 2011. I am not sure whose idea it was to go camping. I suspect it was Andy’s, but he will probably claim I talked him into it. The temperature was cold, well below freezing, but the sun had been out for a week and most of the snow had melted off the roads in the valley. A white mantle cloaked the ridges and mountains above us. We readied the bikes.
I had built a rack to carry tipi poles and my nine-foot tipi on my KLR. This was only the second time I had tried it, and the first time in the snow. I put the rack up high to prevent the poles from fouling the handlebar. Moving the center of mass up was a mistake. Steering effort increased to the point it was very difficult to change direction.
We turned right from my driveway and headed up Swyers Drive, continuing up the steep, rutted frozen mud after the pavement ended. When we reached Fir Mountain Road, I stopped to adjust my load. The poles kept slipping back. Note to self: skinny ends aft!
It wasn’t long before we went from gravel to snow-covered roads.
I imprudently ignored a suspiciously flat section; it gave way beneath the weight of my vehicle. The rear wheel sank into ten inches of muddy water. I almost made it across, but the front wheel broke through and I was temporarily stuck. I’m not sure how, but I managed to push myself free without unloading the bike and, more importantly, without getting soaked.
The ice on the puddle-lake was thick – nearing 2″.
I had to chain up a mile or two past here. The snow was up to the skid plate and the drag was enough I couldn’t get traction on the ice underneath.
Andy’s bike, with less load, didn’t need chains for this ride.
We stopped when the road dove down into a gully. Dismounting, we took a little hike to scout what lay ahead. See the rabbit tracks to my right? We also saw deer sign and some sort of paw print, small for a coyote, wrong for a raccoon, maybe a bob cat or something else as large as a medium sized dog. They weren’t real clear.
The trees shaded the road, and the snow was deeper. Lots of animal tracks in this canyon, with a frozen pond at the bottom where a small creek passed under the road. It looked like a good spot to camp, but a sudden storm could leave us trapped at the bottom of the draw.
We walked on, looking for a better spot.
The view was spectacular, but the snow-covered road was too steep for our bikes. Reluctantly, we retraced our steps.
I decided it was probably wiser to turn around and find somewhere lower to make camp.
We cut over to Huskey Road where there was less snow.
With evening fast approaching, we unloaded the bikes and set up camp.
The sun set as I finished putting up the tipi…
… and my brother got a fire going.
Andy waited for dinner as patiently as he could.
I made hoe cakes and a stew of boiled cabbage, onions, potatoes, and kielbasa. My brother thought I cooked enough to feed ten people, but I pointed out it was twenty-six degrees (-3C) and he would need the calories to keep warm. Deciding not to risk hypothermia, he managed to finish a generous helping, went back for seconds and almost finished a third bowl. I did my best to keep up.
After dinner, I took a shovel full of coals into the tipi and got a fire going. After a nightcap of hot bourbon, we pulled off our boots, crawled inside our bags and went to sleep. Every so often one of us would rouse enough to throw another stick on the fire. Between damp wood and contrary winds, the air got pretty close. Smoke filled the little tipi, coming right down to floor. we would poke our noses out under the liner to breathe.
Eventually the fire went out. It was seventeen degrees (-8C) inside the tipi when I woke up. Our water jug had frozen solid. I went outside to take a leak.
Mt. Adams was floating in a soft, pastel sky, catching the first glimmers of morning. The moon was setting.
Andy wasn’t enthusiastic when I insisted he get up to take some photos, but he did it. You got to suffer for your art, bro.
He went right back to bed. I puttered around the camp while he got a fire going inside, still wrapped in his sleeping bag. After a bit the water jug thawed out enough that he could make some coffee and my brother had a rosier outlook on the morning.
Once we had some caffeine aboard and the sun had risen enough shine down on our clearing, we left the warmth of our lodge and made breakfast.
I was pleased to find the eggs were still intact, packed safely in cornmeal.
Our morning repast consisted of bacon and eggs, fried potatoes, and corn pone drenched in honey.
Once again, it was more food than two fellows really needed, but it was still cold and breakfast is the most important meal of the day.
After cleaning up and putting our dishes away, we turned our attention to striking camp.
We took the tipi down. You can see how small the nine foot tipi really was.
Our gear formed a huge pile next to our bikes. It always seems harder to fit everything back on the bikes going home.
Somehow, we managed to get everything strapped on the bikes.
We doused the fire…
…hopped on the bikes and headed home…
…tired, happy, and smelling like a couple of smoked hams.