For the past several years, my husband and I have been spending the Memorial Day weekend at the Queens River Trailhead. It’s a lovely site, with few campgrounds. We hike out of there in season, but for Memorial Day weekend, we generally just hunker down in the tent while it rains (as is tradition). Maybe a bit of a hike and searching for morels. But, the last two years, the site has been infested with people who have a very different idea of what constitutes a good time camping. Ambrose and I like to keep to ourselves, keep quiet and try not to interfere with anyone else’s good time. These people like to drink to excess, fight with each other, and shoot guns towards a roadway for fun. When I found myself afraid to walk past their campsites to go use the bathroom, I knew that the time would come that we would need a change.
That change came this year, as we decided to go on a road trip through Oregon instead. No real set plan. Just head west and see where we ended up. Maybe the coast, maybe not. We do both love the ocean but that’s quite a bit of a longer drive. We started off on 84, but left that highway at Baker City to try and take roads we hadn’t taken in a long time or ever.
We made our way to Bend, and then, based on the gazette, decided to head towards Mt Bachelor and see what we could see. I was surprised that the ski lifts were visible against the snow even from the road, little tinker toy black sticks tracing a line up the snow. We thought about turning back as we discovered that snow covered the ground to the tune of a couple of feet near the highest point of the road. But then it started to clear, so we tried a spot near Elk Lake for camping. There were other people there, including several dozen tents that were from a Boy Scout troop. So we figured it would be fine, even though the site wasn’t technically open for the season yet.
I got the tent set up (since Ambrose had driven, I got camp chores), and we enjoyed the crisp air and started to settle into the tent. It began to rain, but we weren’t worried. Rain wouldn’t hurt us, not when we were all snug in our tent.
The rain turned to snow. Wet snow. Heavy. It weighted down the roof of the rainfly, pressing it against the mesh roof. Still, we were content to stay and watch the pretty flakes falling. Until Ambrose went outside to relieve himself. When he came back to the tent, he slipped and fell on the bird seed bag I had put out as a door mat. I went out next, using my umbrella for protection from the snow, and when I got back, he insisted that it was time to leave.
See, we could spend the night in the snow, no problem. It would be pushing the limits of what our gear could handle, but we could do it. The problem would be in getting out the next day. If it froze overnight, which it seemed likely to do, then the dirt road we had come in on might be impassable to our Ford Focus. Not to mention the high part of the pass near Bachelor. No, if we were going to get out for sure, it had to be now.
So we left. It snowed while Ambrose drove with care. And then, when we got lower down in elevation, the snow gave way to rain. And the rain just wouldn’t quit. It poured while Ambrose drove and the last of the day’s light left the sky. It was difficult to see the lines on the road, center or side. And there were puddles to cross, and other cars that seemed to think going faster in that weather was just fine. We were both incredibly tense as we tried to find a hotel with vacancy, but it was Memorial Day weekend and raining cats and dogs. There weren’t any rooms. We made it to a rest stop and spent the night in the car.
The rest stop had several other cars and trucks in occupancy. I had a decent sleep, but my body felt all sore and achy from the contortions involved – ideally, I’d sleep stretched out in the back seat, but the car was too full of stuff for that, so both of us were in the front, half sitting and wrapped in our down quilts for warmth. I will say I was not cold. The rest stop also was apparently home to a cliff, with quite an interesting warning sign for dog owners.
We headed off to find another campsite to spend the night. I picked one that we had passed by on the way in and set the Google Maps to tell us the way – but not the exact way that we had come. We were exploring, after all, so we took a new route.
That route started to take us right through a cloud – better than the previous night’s rain, but posing its own visibility challenges. But we emerged into some very pretty countryside. On the way, we found one possible campsite, but decided to keep going to places that were closer to towns. Ambrose wasn’t in the mood for cooking, and preferred that we get meals from restaurants, which I didn’t protest.
We made it to Dixie Campground and set up for the night. It was cool, but not cold, and not nearly high enough altitude to snow. Though it was decently high, good for acclimatization. We ate lunch at a diner in Prairie City and then went back to the campsite, where I made good on a promise to myself and went for a run. It was actually my longest run in quite some time (39 minutes, 3 miles, uphill and downhill).
Then back to Prairie City where we were on the hunt for some barbecue that we’d heard about when we ate lunch. Prime rib sandwiches and jojos (battered, fried potato wedges) – deeeelicious. Then back to the tent where we just hung out. I read, Ambrose napped, then we both slept. I had a really good night’s sleep. So good that I didn’t even look at the clock to protest when Ambrose decided it was time to get up. Of course, by the time we got into the car and started to leave, it was before 6:30 in the morning, so maybe I should have protested a bit.
We almost had a problem leaving the campsite. See, it had rained pretty hard overnight. The road was muddy, and one of the trees above the road had decided it was just too slippery to hang on. It fell all the way across the road, blocking the exit in sight of the highway. I got out to assess the situation, see if I could maybe drag the thing around enough for us to pass. When I grabbed onto the end of the tree and began to pull, it surprised me by breaking off about halfway across the road – just enough room for us to pass. Ambrose didn’t have to (get to?) bring out the hand ax.
We drove on to a little town called Unity and found a place to get gas and breakfast. There was only one person working there who had to handle the register and cook, so it was a bit of a wait, but the food was quite good. Ambrose got the biscuit special, which was like biscuits and gravy but with added sausage patties and eggs. That made him pretty happy.
Then we made our way back to Boise, taking one more scenic route through the Wallowa-Whitman forest, where we drove up and then down a pretty high pass. It was gorgeous, even if it was still cloudy.
We headed out with no plan, and found a bit of adventure. Overall, a success.