The last day of any camping trip is bittersweet for me. I mean, there are some trips where I’m really looking forward to the end because I’m hurting or exhausted, but even then, I often wish I could stay in the woods longer (or on the beach). Still, I had some motivation to get moving. If we got down fast enough, we’d get breakfast at the Big Creek Lodge! But also, if any trees had fallen across the road, then we’d need to figure out a way to get past that. 

The plan was to eat some bars that we had leftover, and then make all haste to the car. The minute we ran into a road obstruction, we’d make hot breakfast at the car and then take care of it. But if we didn’t run into any obstructions… Big Creek breakfast. 

We might have gotten ready faster on this morning than any other morning. And I know our packs were lighter than they’d been the whole trip. At just after 6 in the morning, we were ready to go. 

Ambrose took the lead again. I followed behind, trying not to let him get too far ahead of me. With his pace going downhill and my need to stop to take pictures in the morning’s dim light, that was harder than I’m used to. He kept pulling way ahead and then I’d have to rush – and take less photos – to catch up. 

There was one large log down across the road.  Easy enough to step over for us, but it would have been tricky getting a vehicle past it. A motorbike could probably get hauled over it, but not an ATV. 

The morning was cool but not cold. My feet were cold enough not to ache from the abuse I’d put them through over the last few days, but warm enough not to ache with the cold. I continued to marvel at how much stability the Softstar boots gave me on that rocky road. I felt the rocks more, but that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. I’d rather feel rocks under my feet than twist an ankle. 

The road led us quickly back down to the big switchback. I was surprised but pleased that we got there so fast. Then we crossed over water bridged with a railroad tie. It looks like it should be super slick, but it gives good traction. 

From the switchback, we hiked on to the Werdenhoff Mine, where we paused for a brief break. Mostly, I needed to take my jacket off and take a couple pictures. Then we started down the Smith Creek Cutoff Trail. 

Despite my hopes, no one had yet cut out the large log across the trail. It’s only like 10 yards from the start of this end of the trail, but alas, we had to go around it again. At least it has a go around that’s easy to use. 

The bear grass was still in bloom. When we came up the trail for this trip, it had just rained, and the some of the bear grass blooms were bent over with the force of the drops and the weight of the water. Now, they’d either re-bloomed or successfully straightened up. I saw no more droopy heads. 

Not that I had much time for sightseeing. Ambrose was setting a good pace, and I was inclined to keep up. Every step was one step closer to a potential Big Creek Lodge breakfast. Food prepared fresh just for us, by people we’ve come to know over the years. Hot food! And COFFEE! 

Not to mention flush toilets and hot showers. Every step made it just a little easier to be leaving the woods. The conveniences of modern life are seductive. And yet, I still want a place with a yard so I can sleep outside whenever I want. I’d love a cabin in the woods, to combine some modern conveniences with proximity to the wild. 

The cutoff trail bought us to a steep series of switchbacks. I like that section of the trail, because you can look down or up and see someone ahead of you or behind you. I like taking pictures there because it so clearly illustrates how steep the trail actually gets. 

We fairly scampered down those switchbacks. It was as if the closer we got to the car, the faster our feet wanted to go. I know that I wanted to get to the car for some snacks. I was thinking in particular about a baggie full of Cheerios that I knew were waiting for me in the front seat. I know that’s not the most exciting food, but I felt that it would help settle my tummy, which had been feeling off since eating that unrehydrated rice the day before for lunch. 

The cutoff trail seemed to stretch and compress time. It both took forever and was over before I thought it would be. On the one hand, the switchbacks were eternal, but on the other wait a second, we’re at the dilapidated cabin. From there, the trail is pretty much flat. Just a few more logs to step over and then, there she was, right where we left her, the car! 

I must admit to feeling relief to see it unharmed and unmolested. Way out here, the concern wasn’t so much vandalism by people as by animals. And vandalism isn’t really the word, but I guess a mouse grabbing up residence where my windshield wiper fluid supply hose lives is a kind of vandalism. That didn’t happen this time; no creatures were in the car. They don’t like the smell of mint oil any better than I do. 

Taking off the pack for the last time on a trip is such sweet relief. By that point, I’m well resigned to the fact that the trip is over, and I’m ready for some pampering. Although, in this case, I was also eager to see if we were going to need to clear logs off the road before getting to Big Creek. 

We didn’t take too long to get going. Well, it would have been faster, but I urgently needed to dig hole. I thought about waiting, but I didn’t want to take a chance that I’d need to get out and move things off of the road with a poop knocking at my door. Because even if there wasn’t a log across the road, there could still be obstacles in the road that I can move to make our journey more safe. For Ambrose and I, small object clearance is the job of the passenger, so any debris clearance needed would fall to me. 

After my hole digging adventure was complete, we drove off. I barely had time to fasten my seatbelt, though at the speeds we were going it didn’t make all that much difference. We wouldn’t be exceeding the speed at which the car doors automatically lock for a good thirty, forty minutes. I think the trigger speed is 12 miles per hour. We were moving between 3 and 8. I enjoyed the sight of the sun through the tree branches, and tried not to panic on the narrow parts of the road. It’s a little nerve wracking for me to have the car on this road, but Ambrose drives very well. I trust him to get it out and back safely, and to know when to turn back for the sake of safety. 

Slowly, laboriously, but safely, we made our way along Smith Creek Road. Not long after we got started, we heard the roar of an approaching vehicle. Ambrose nudged our Crosstrek as far to the side of the road as he felt he safely could, but there wasn’t much room. Luckily, the ATV saw us and gunned into reverse. Ambrose brought us forward and we saw the Big Creek Ranger pulled up high on the embankment. I would have been nervous as heck to be in that vehicle, leaning at unnatural angles. We drove past with a wave, continuing the careful progress. 

The first time we drove out, it took about 60 minutes each way. Ambrose knocked that time down a little bit when he drove us out for the backpacking trip, and on the way back, he knocked it down a bit more. He was getting used to the rhythm of the road, figuring out where he could push things a little bit harder than he had the first time. Exploring the limits presented to him by this particular combination of vehicle and terrain. 

He pulled in and parked at the Big Creek Trailhead, where the pit toilet was just being vacated. Perfect timing! I waited in the car, paying a little attention to the large numbers of vehicles, people, and tents populating both sides of the parking lot. This was a heck of a lot of activity for way out here. And the group on the side of the pit toilet appeared to be government affiliated. 

Ambrose emerged and finished driving us over to the lodge. We parked there, figuring to claim a campsite after breakfast. Then we walked in together. I made a beeline for the restroom, leaving Ambrose to make greetings after claiming our seats. 

We ate a delightful breakfast. We took showers. Then we got the tent set up, campsite claimed and spent time hanging out. We also had lunch at the lodge, a delightful leftover lasagna from the night before. Plus we had dinner reservations for that night. 

This particular day, the planned last day of our trip, was the anniversary of the day Ambrose and I first met. It’s the date we celebrate in our relationship, more so than the marriage anniversary. Our friends at the Big Creek Lodge knew about this, and they made a cake to help us celebrate. That cake is a decadent delight, and I could have eaten way more than the one piece that I ate. Sometimes, there’s music in the evening at Big Creek, but not on this night. I would have loved to have participated in some music making, or even listening, but it was also fun to talk music a bit with the innkeepers. 

Ambrose and I went to bed fairly early. I’d pitched our backpacking tent, but used our car camping sleeping pads, which are foam instead of insulated inflatables. I used those mostly out of laziness. I didn’t want to unpack either my pack or Ambrose’s, and, quite frankly, our inflatable pads stunk. The foam ones were much cleaner, just like we now were. It was a great way to end a camping trip, with full bellies and warm hearts. 

We drove home the next morning, after one last Big Creek breakfast. 

One last selfie – Ambrose nailed it, but I needed to be standing on something.

Well, someone came through while we were out and cut this one.

Down the big switchback.

Across the rail tie bridge.

Made it to the Werdenhoff Mine.

Log across the trail and blooming bear grass.

One last mountain view.

Getting down to the switchbacks.

Nearly to the car!

I like this old dilapidated cabin.

Final stretch!

A sign selfie. A signfie, if you will.

We made it!

Ah, the Big Creek Lodge.

Falling from that tree crossing over Hand Creek left an impressive bruise two days later.

Got the tent all nice and pitched.

And a pretty nice pitch if I do say so myself.

It tasted even better than it looks!

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