Beginning today, my blog posts that are about family and friends will be password protected. Blog posts about exploring, whether Eastern Oregon, or elsewhere, will be visible to the public. These will still have personal anecdotes, but will focus mainly on the roads and views along the way. Friends and family may email me and I will give them the password to the personal posts.
It was a fruitful year for exploration here in our part of the world. Eastern Oregon is one of the most beautiful, remote and interesting parts of Oregon. It is also often invisible. I have lost count of the times folks from other states and countries as well as Oregonians refer to Oregon in terms of the Willamette Valley and the Oregon Coast. Indeed, these areas of Oregon are stunningly green and beautiful. However, over half of the state falls outside of that description and that is the part of Oregon that I will typically focus on. But, before I begin to post stories about different highways and byways, I would like to share some tips that I have learned from the locals and from trial and error. Some may very well elicit a “well duh!” response. Too bad. I’d rather share these common sense tips with the hope that folks who have no experience traveling in remote areas will be prepared for whatever adventure occurs.
So, let’s get started with the car. If you have a new car that you do not want to get dirty, don’t go. Low slung cars will require you to seriously consider whether you wish to take any gravel or dirt roads. If you are concerned, don’t take the road. I drive a Honda CRV. There are times that I will turn back as well. There is no loss of pride in being careful of your vehicle. It is your first safety concern to be able to get out of what you get into. Make sure your car is ready for rough roads and extreme temperatures. Check your tires, oil and other fluids. Make sure your vehicle is ready before you start out. Carry a spare and jack. I am unable to change a tire due to back issues, so, I carry fix a flat as well. Most people have cell phones and expect them to work anywhere. That is not the case over here. Verizon gives the best coverage, but even they do not reach everywhere in these parts. No insult intended to AT&T, but they are not the best cell providers out here. Your AT&T cell will catch a bar sometimes on the tops of passes, but usually not elsewhere. I know, I had AT&T and got out of the contract for this very reason. I have Verizon now, but am planning on getting a CB radio as even my cell doesn’t reach out in many places. Channel 9 is America’s universal emergency channel on CB. I also carry basic tools and something to lay on if I have to roll under the car to check on the undercarriage.
Before you leave: know where you are going and when you will be back and let someone else know. If you break down, or hit a large animal, that person may be the person who rescues you. If you change plans mid trip, let your contact know. My family does this for every trip, whether we are off the highway or not. Check in with TripCheck for any extreme weather and/or fire warnings. Know that it does snow in the summer sometimes up here in the mountains. And, it gets cold at night, so be prepared! If you are exploring, enjoy your Onstar or GPS device, but don’t trust it as your only guide in the back country. We have people stuck in snowbanks and other tight spots all of the time because they blindly followed those directions. Buy a compass and learn how to use it. It’s easy. Get Forest Service maps of all forests that you will be exploring. This will require some forethought on your part as the Forest Service is open only during regular business hours.
Pack your car carefully. I use plastic tubs and secure them with bungies to handholds and hooks, so if I do roll the car, I won’t get buried in my own stuff. It pays to pack in such a way that you can reach maps, food, water and other essentials easily. It’s no fun to explore if you are constantly frustrated by your own packing job, so take a few minutes to do it well, or you will find yourself out by the side of the road repacking! I know! I’ve done it a couple of times! :-)Carry emergency triangles rather than flares, (not allowed most of year due to fire danger), something to break your window, if you have electric windows, a good first aid kit, blankets and/or space blankets, warm clothes, basic tools and a fire extinguisher in addition to plenty of food and water and any outdoor “toys” you are taking. Don’t forget a flashlight with fresh batteries, matches and a couple of emergency candles and your camera!!!!
Now, let’s talk some safety. Need I tell you to always wear your seatbelt, even on gravel or dirt? I hope not! If you or your car has an issue that requires assistance, try to pull off the road, turn on your emergency flashers and raise your hood. When pulling off the road, be aware that the shoulders over here are often soft. Try not to pull off under rock cliffs or walls (rockfall).If you don’t raise your hood, folks might think that you are taking a “rest stop.” If, for some reason, you can’t get off the road, get those emergency triangles out and set up. Try to call out. Sometimes, 911 gets out, but don’t call 911, unless you are faced with a real emergency. If you have a windshield shade that has “Get Help” or some such thing on one side, put it up. Now, about those road signs warning about corners or wildlife. I love to drive fast, but I learned quickly that when the sign says 30 mile corner, it means just that. Perhaps you can take your sweet little zippy cars around that corner at 60, but can you stop in time to not hit the rockfall, wildlife or herd of cattle just around the bend? Think about it. Most of the roads that I will take you along have all of those very real possibilities. Drive a speed that will allow you to stop safely. If you are on a motorcycle, be extra vigilant watching for rocks. They fall all of the time, but more often after a dry spell, then rain or winter. And, everyone, those wildlife warning signs? No kidding! There are more deer, elk, antelope and cattle over here than cars. They don’t watch for you. You watch for them. The locals told me that the best rule of thumb to avoid wildlife is “don’t drive after dark.” It is good advice. I’ve lost count of the herds of deer and elk that I’ve come across after dusk/dark in the past two years. If you must drive after dark, watch for the blue flash in deers’ eyes along the road. Don’t expect the same warning from Elk. You are more likely to see the shadowy bulk of their bodies. They don’t seem to look up like the deer do. Also, a lot of the roads that I’ve traveled have fairly deep banks. I have seen whole herds jump right out of seeming nowhere up those banks. They can also sail over a guardrail faster than a blink. When you are driving on gravel, do not drive at high speeds. Gravel is unpredictable and will slide right under your tires. My rule of thumb is no faster than 40 on the straights, 20-30 on most corners. You must be vigilant for other cars coming around corners on the wrong side and wildlife and cattle. It takes much longer to stop on gravel, so if you are beginner, drive slowly and even if you know how to drive gravel, don’t get cocky. Cocky can mean dead.
Less than pleasant topics: human waste and garbage. Pack a folding shovel, garbage bags, doggie waste bags, hand sanitizer and toilet paper. You can find rest stops in some places, but it is rare. Look for campgrounds and parks: they usually have basic pit toilets, but sometimes, especially during peak off season use, they do not have toilet paper. Just take yours with you and that way, you will not be unpleasantly surprised. If you are in an area with no campgrounds or parks, you will have to make roadside stops. Be cautious when letting dogs, kids or yourself go off the shoulder to “do business,” or explore. Rattlesnakes, red ants, and other creatures live over here. Toss a stick or pebble into bushes or around rocks to startle off snakes. Look at the ground for stinging ant or other insect nests and steer clear of them. If you dog does not obey commands, keep it on lease until you feel the area is secure from snakes! If you must have a bowel movement, take your handy folding shovel and bury your waste and paper. If you are in a wilderness area, do not do this. You must pack out all waste and I will not address this, as I typically explore by car. If you are just urinating, put any waste paper in a doggie waste bag, tie it and place in another garbage bag. Don’t throw dirty disposable diapers by the roadside. Do the same thing with them. I do not police dog waste along the roadside, since my dogs are trained to go away from the road to eliminate. However, I do pick up human garbage left by Cretins, and put it in a garbage bag to dispose of at the next available garbage can. Once you are done, use that hand sanitizer and go on your way knowing you did not leave ugliness in this beautiful country. smokers, do not flick your ashes or butts out the window. Why? Because this region is extremely dry a good part of the year and you could very well cause a fire. I saw two such fires this summer. If you do not like using your ashtray, use an empty pop or other metal can with a bit of water in the bottom. That way the smoke is out and you can throw the nasty thing away in the first available garbage can. Remember, if you cause a fire due to throwing burning materials out your window, you will be fined. Just don’t do it.
And now, the local wave. Over here, you will often meet oncoming cars and see four fingers upraised and moving in a languid wave. To accomplish this wave safely, place one hand at about twelve to one o clock on the wheel. Place the other hand at nine or three o clock. When waving, keep you thumb firmly gripped and raise the four fingers, waving them as you see fit. :-) Now we’re going to have some fun!