August 3, 2017.
Mornings were becoming routine. Beautiful sunrise, tasty breakfast. Such a tough life.
Of course, we suffered through it as we talked about the day ahead. While the previous day had been one of our longest (distance-wise at 180+ miles), today was going to be one of our shortest - only 110 miles or so, since we'd tackled 20 already after hitting Granite early - ending near a small town that even the locals (when we stopped for gas) - had never heard of: Kamela, Oregon.
There's a spicy sausage in that breakfast sandwich. Yum yum!
And then we were off.
Within 20 minutes, we arrived at what would be our first extended stop - Desolation Butte Lookout. And as we pulled up, we each looked at each other knowingly - parked there, under the lookout, was another Tacoma.
Of course. Of course the only other vehicle we'd seen on the trail was a Tacoma. This one, a 2011.
As I backed in next to it (for a pic of course), Mike, the lookout dude was just coming down the stairs and called down, "Hey, don't park on the grass."
My window already down to greet him, I waved, said "No problem," and then muttered to @mrs.turbodb as I backed the truck in over some gravel, "Off to another good start with the lookout resident."
But then, when he got to the bottom he introduced himself as Mike and explained that the fire danger was so high that he didn't want to risk the bottom of the truck catching anything on fire, before telling us that we were free to head up the lookout while he used the out house. As we were heading up, he beelined for our truck to give it a look, and asked what year it was and what we were up to. Turns out he was on his 9th Tacoma, of which he still owned three.
Once at the top of the lookout, it was clear that the smoke from BC was going to make the rest of the trip one of local views, rather than grand vistas. Mike described to us how unusual it was to have these northerly winds, and how visibility here was usually 100+ miles, but today we could only see two.
We chatted for an hour - both sides happy for the company, and Mike happy for the chocolate @mrs.turbodb had brought him. He pointed out several previous fires, answered all the questions we had about the lookout and forest management, and we had a good chuckle over his amazing NPR reception in the tower ("It's great, I don't even get this at home," he said!)
After 45 minutes we signed the guest book, discretely left a couple more chocolates (since he'd long finished the first several), and headed down the stairs. As we pulled away, I turned to @mrs.turbodb and said, "OK, he's restored my faith in Tacoma owners." It was an interaction that brightened our already great morning.
After making our way down, down, down from Desolation Butte, we found ourselves crossing the North Fork of the John Day River and following it down to the town of Dale, where we hungrily filled up on gas, having struck out the previous day in Granite.
This time, it was @mrs.turbodb who said, "Let's take a picture of the three of us."
'atta girl! (when you gonna get your T4R?)
As usual, history along the route was thick - this old cabin was over a hundred years old.
After a short gas stop, where the owner started with, "Where are you kids headed?" followed by, "Kamela? Never heard of that!" (it was less than 75 miles away at this point), and waved with a "You kids have a great time!" as we pulled away, we continued on, back up the North Fork of the John Day to the longest hill climb we'd encounter.
As we ascended the first couple miles, we were worried that the climb would become another ATV track (because it wasn’t on the map), but as we crested the top of the first section, the track joined another road that was significantly wider.
We kept climbing, then hit a paved road for two miles (so nice) up what ultimately turned out to be Tower Mountain, pausing to enjoy the smoky (but still amazing) views of the Umatilla National Forest, and just in time for lunch.
When we hit pavement for two miles, the mountains were covered in a blanket of new, bright green trees; the old burned ancestors beckoning them to grow taller.
Just before Tower Mountain Lookout, we passed through a Lodgepole Pine grove. These trees don’t have much commercial value now, but you can see why they were so prized by early settlers - with straight, narrow trunks, they were perfect to cut down and stack into a quick log cabin.
Dual battery setup at the lookout. Don’t let the Tacoma see, it might get jealous!
We ate lunch with a woman from the Forest Service who just happened to show up at the lookout a couple minutes before us - "I needed to get out from behind the desk for the day," she said. We traded stories and talked a bit of forestry (where several times, she asked if we wanted her opinion or the Forest Service’s 🙂 - of course, we wanted both!)
We also, for the second time on the trip got some cell service and our phones went crazy. We may have even stolen a few minutes reconnecting with the rest of the world before setting off again.
By early evening after a re-route around an ATV trail (that wasn’t on the map), we made it to Kamela.
Kamela it turns out is a town that is nearly smaller than the railroad crossing that passes through it. As we passed over the tracks and I got out to take a picture, @mrs.turbodb also go out - to wait on the other end of the crossing "just in case."
With no reason to stop, we took a quick look at the route beyond Kamela and spotted a couple places that could be great spots to camp for the evening. Back in the truck for an hour, we passed through golden fields on our way to a ridge overlooking Summerville (barely visible through the smoke). There, we camped in the middle of the road, knowing that we were highly unlikely to be in anyone’s way given that we hadn’t seen any other vehicles on the trail for 6 days.
Dinner was our best of the trip. Three-day-marinated flank steak, mashed potatoes, and fresh salad. And, it was the first day we’d put Coke in the fridge, so we had cold soda as well.
And of course, sunset during dinner.
As we dozed off, we looked forward to tomorrow - our last day on the trail, and possibly the day we were headed home!