September 18, 2017
Close to the gravel road, we were awoken at first light by traffic, including 18-wheelers. And as we climbed out of our tents, we got our first look at the site we'd called camp the night before.
It was glorious. In that "it worked" kind of way.
We each investigated in our own way, discovering the second site (occupied) next to us, the source of the daddy-long-leg spiders (the fire ring where we'd setup, not the trees), and of course the warnings to be careful. 18-wheelers or not, we were in bear country. (Note that we never saw a bear.)
After a bit of exploration and breakfast (which ranged from coffee to granola bars to a breakfast sandwich with fruit), it was time to get going, so the tents came down (dry!) and we all piled into our trucks, glad to be on the road and headed to our first planned adventure.
By 10:30 we reached Natural Bridge & Falls, where we all climbed out of our trucks, and aired down for the first time, in anticipation of the dirt to come. Then, we made the short trek over to Natural Bridge to check it out before continuing.
And then we were off to Independence Pass, our first trail of the trip. I was excited as well as nervous - not sure if my little (compared to the others) truck was up for the task - though I'd have to wait a little longer to find out, because as we neared the trailhead we were greeted by a friendly road flagger.
As we all photographed and chatted around the trucks, Monte got the low-down from the flagger. We had about another 30 minutes to wait here, and then an hour further up the road (where they were installing a culvert). And then, we'd have to stay on the trail that night because they were closing the road at 5pm.
Seriously. Closing a Forrest Service road. Can they even do that?
Discussion followed. Should we wait, get in some wheeling, and camp up the road for the night (where there might be snow), or should we look for another trail and not get stuck behind the construction?
Not wanting to throw off the schedule for the entire trip, and thinking we could avoid the snow (!) we decided to turn around and look for another option. Of course, much to our dismay, that meant airing up just 30 minutes after we'd aired down.
And with that, we headed back into Big Timber for fuel. On our way out of town, Monte came over the CB, "Devin found us a Jeep trail …depending on the reviews, it's either easy or really hard …it's hard to tell if the reviews are from trucks or ATVs." This wouldn't be the last time that Devin worked her Google-fu for us on the trip!
What more could we ask for?
But then, over the CB, @drr called for Monte to pull over at the next exit for a quick discussion. He'd gotten an email that we all knew could come but had hoped wouldn't - an email that said he had to be back to work at 9am the next morning. Such a bummer - to have driven from Seattle for a night of camping, no trails, and then the drive back to Seattle!
Goodbyes shared, we parted ways and soon found ourselves at the Benbow Trail, airing down and looking forward to some bumps.
And with that, we headed up the trail. There were lodgepole pines, rocks, mud, water, and eventually a bit of snow. For each of us, the experience was a bit different. On 35's, Monte and Devin were floating and choosing any line they liked. Zane and Mike on 33's were moving a bit more slowly, but were still quite comfortable. On 31's (with what turned out to be near no-lift), I had to be more careful picking lines, but was still doing just fine.
And then, trouble. It was trouble that we'd heard about. It was trouble with a name. Frankenstein.
As we pulled up to the top of the hill, we saw Frank in the middle of the road, hood raised. Monte was on the CB telling us that he had diff fluid on the ground and that his auxiliary battery was boiling.
"This is why I hate Frank," could also be heard.
To everyone else, this was pretty much par for the course - Frank breaks. This time, Monte wasn't super happy - he'd just had the front diff rebuilt, and it was still under warranty. So, as he pulled off the skid to get a look, and discovered that the tube for the diff breather had become dislodged, he was both pissed and relieved. The trail fix was to be a couple strategically placed zip ties, but it was too hot to fix immediately, so we waited.
And we ate cookies.
And eventually, Monte got Frank buttoned up enough to head back down the trail - because not only was it starting to get late, but it was also starting to snow, and we weren’t sure of the trail conditions or when we'd reach camp if we continued on. All we knew was that it the snow and mud were getting thicker.
And then, we were on our way to camp. We'd arrive at dusk, having driven past the two campgrounds (that had been open just a couple weeks before on the trial run) to find a large spot on the side of the road that easily fit our rigs.
We all got to fixing dinner. Having prepped mine before leaving, I feasted on chicken and mushrooms and a fresh salad. And this of course got me a bit of ribbing. But it was all in fun, and frankly totally worth it… 'cause I was the one eating chicken and mushrooms.
Mike broke out two things this night: the propane fire ring of course, but also some of his homemade salsa - a favorite amongst the group, for obvious reasons - it's delicious! We'd have the salsa during several meals on the trip, each time just as tasty as the last.
With dinner behind us, we again chatted around the fire late into the night, all the time hoping that the light rain would stop - if not before we went to bed, at least before morning so that we could put our tents away dry. The conversation (perhaps obviously) centered around trucks and trips and got especially lively when Mike and Monte recalled different details of the same trip, some 5 years earlier.
"Five years," I thought to myself, "I can't remember details of 5 weeks ago."
In the end, the discussion of "facts vs. what's in trip reports" went unsettled - perhaps on purpose. Because really, everyone just had a great time with the fun-loving debate! Plus, by leaving it unsettled, we were able to bring it up many times over the remainder of the trip, any time there was a disagreement about just what unfolded some time ago.
Of course, that will never happen with the De-Tour - since it went so perfectly to plan, I'm sure we'll all remember it identically. And if we don’t, we'll all know that this trip report is fact.
As we wrapped up around the fire and climbed into bed the rain only got heavier, lulling us to sleep.
And it rained all night.