Leaving Guinea was easy. Crossing into Guinea-Bissau, however, was a little more interesting. Firstly, the official wanted 55 CFA/visa (~90 USD). This was expected. Secondly, he then charged us an additional “police fee” of 10 CFA. However, he didn’t provide any information about what this was for but did say we would get a receipt. (Guinea-Bissau is Portuguese, and I spoke my pathetic Portuguese, thinking this would help with rapport during the immigration process.)
Unfortunately for him, and no disrespect or humor intended, his job presented two challenges. Firstly, math. On a slip of paper, he wrote down the summary problem:
Well, since I wasn’t sure about the legitimacy of the 10 CFA fee anyway, his total of 110 CFA was fine with me. We barely had the cash anyway, and we wanted some change for unexpected costs (say, a toll or something).
Secondly, his eyesight was failing him (perhaps he is over 50 like me), so he couldn’t easily read or write without glasses, of which he had none. He asked his deputy to read our passport numbers while he entered them into the computer. Then, after stamping the passports, he asked each of us to write in the date. The compensation techniques were clever but surely made his job difficult for him.
With those details complete, he put our papers and the money, minus the 10CFA, into a sealed envelope and told us we were required to have an immigration official accompany us to Gabu, which was 3 hours away on bad roads. In Gabu, the official would hand over the envelope and complete the visa process. Unfortunately, the combination of luggage and our uncomfortableness carrying an official who might give us arbitrary regulation problems of their own choosing, we decided our car only seated two people. Sure, we knew we could put bags on the roof if we were willing, but we weren’t willing since we weren’t sure about the legitimacy of this. (We found no prior trip reports documenting it.) Unfortunately, if we didn’t provide transport, they required us to pay for transportation for the official via scooter. We pushed the bags aside and agreed to allow him to sit in the back. But no, he informed us that the official policy was that he needed to sit in the front. What?? I’m all for being a servant and giving up privilege, but this was getting ridiculous. I refused and told him to sit in the back or arrange his own ride, which I would not pay for. He sat in the back and mostly talked on the phone for the 3-hour journey.
Upon arriving in Gabu, we completed the immigration process, and everything seemed legit, including the 10CFA fee. As we came to find out, but it wasn’t clear at the border, the fee was to pay the official to accompany us. That said, before leaving, the official asked us for money to buy food. What? I refused, and we parted ways.
By this time, it was dark, and finding a campsite was challenging. The one we had marked seemed too close to a village and on a used side road. We decided to cut off into the dense bush and push far enough through the brush that, with lights off, a casual passerby wouldn’t see us, certainly not from a scooter—at least we hoped that was true. We also set pre-sunrise alarms so we could be on the road before folks were up.
We slept undisturbed and continued on our journey before dawn.
We actually did know there was an election, and we did make an attempt to leave before the borders closed. More on that shortly. First, regarding the elections. We saw tons of political activity throughout Monrovia in the days prior to the elections. Unlike in Gabon (where we got stuck last time), there was significant involvement from all parties.
More importantly, all the hotels are full of election observers from the African Union, the Ecowas Election Observation Mission, the European Union, and more. We have a strong sense that they are not holding back on trying to make this a fair election. Furthermore, the city is buzzing with election activities. As reported afterwards, 78.86% of around 2.4 million registered voters participated.
In the end, and announced a week later, Liberia’s electoral commission scheduled a presidential election run-off for November 14, after results showed that the two frontrunners, who had failed to secure majority votes, tied instead with percentages of 43.83% for the incumbent and 43.44% for the opposition. In the end, in spite of getting trapped for four days in Gabon following elections there, we decided to risk staying through the elections here in Liberia based on a number of factors. Firstly, we have a great garage that can work on our car, and it’s able to get parts. This is likely the last high-quality garage before Dakar, Sénégal, more than 2,000 km away, or Northern Morocco, more than 4,000 km away. We would even be tempted to stay for 2-3 days and get everything on our list addressed except the garage suggested we leave out safety concerns based on previous elections. Staying a day or two, however, was probably fine since election results aren’t expected for a few days. Also, by staying, we will hopefully have time to check in with Global Fingerprints, whom we were unable to visit in Gemena, DRC, as we ran out of time. In summary, we are staying through the elections.
At 2 a.m. this morning, Benjamin and I bolted awake at the sound of men approaching. I jumped out of the tent (we hadn’t put up the ladder) just in time to greet them when they arrived. There were about 15 men, ages 18–30, each with machetes and one with a rifle. I greeted them in English and reached out to shake the hands of those nearest me. There was lots of animated conversation in what I’m guessing was mostly Dioula with smatterings of French for my benefit. I didn’t understand a word, and they didn’t understand me. More speaking and gesturing continued, devoid of understanding. They circled the car, tried opening the doors, and tried looking inside the windows. They kicked the wheels and the bumper and tried to look up into the tent where Benjamin was lying as flat as possible. All guesses I have for them being there result in nefarious judgments. However, after we de-escalated the situation, they resigned to just requesting they take me to their chief. I denied comprehension. After a while, they handed me a phone and had me talk with someone who spoke broken English. He explained that they wanted me to choose between leaving now or going to see the chief and leaving in the morning. I responded with perplexity. The phone was handed back and forth a couple of times. They asked for money. I waited patiently. At last, after about 30 minutes, one man gestured that all was okay. I shook his hand. Everyone started heading back down the trail, packed in a couple of cars, or returned to where they had come from. Benjamin and I waited until they had gone before closing up the rooftop tent. We would sleep the rest of the night in the front seat of the car. By 6 a.m., we left. Upon reflection, we never felt truly threatened. However, it was certainly disconcerting to be woken up at 2 a.m. by so many people brandishing machetes. What the hey! It is hard to come up with any explanation that justifies the number of people and the weapons they carried besides something unsavory. Also, we were very amazed that they saw us. We arrived in a torrential storm when no one was around. Before stopping for the night, we checked satellite maps and saw no villages nearby. And we were quite a ways off the road and difficult to see at night, or so we thought.
The school yard we are camping at borders the Madina market, where I have been on the hunt for various car parts: container for Starlink Satellite, 12-48V DC converter, an auto-battery charger, a power strip, dinner, etc. So far, all I can find is good food, but that makes everything better anyway, so… Plus, I find walking around open-air markets fascinating, so I don’t mind.
As we approached our destination for the night, the Drill Ranch., we were stopped by three drunk men demanding we pay a “youth free.” In accordance with best practices for unofficial stops in Africa, Benjamin kept driving. About 15 minutes later, however, the same men were chasing us on a motorcycle, along a narrow dirt road, and yelling at us to stop. We increased speed in the hopes that we would reach our destination and have someone there that could navigate the conflict before it escalated too far. While the men didn’t have any guns, two of them carried beer bottles. In the hurried chase, we missed our turnoff and, after going deeper and deeper in the forest, on a smaller and smaller road, we eventually conceded and stopped. The men approached the car and started demanding payment. They claimed to be youth leaders and that we each owed a youth tax of 5 Naira. After a bit of confusion, anger, and fear on our part, we regrouped and had Benjamin expertly take the lead negotiation. Tension ebbed and followed as the conflict ensued. They threatened to slash out tires and tapped their beer bottles on our window threatening to break them. If reasonable conversation could have occurred, we might have made progress, but as they were all drunk, reasonableness was not a priority for them. Eventually, they agreed to meet us at the Drill Ranch, where Zach, our host and someone they knew, would help work things out. We drove to the Drill Ranch. Once there, only Benjamin got out to meet with Zach and the men (see picture). 30 minutes later, everyone agreed to continue the conversation back in the village tomorrow. And, after another 30 minutes, the men left via the motorcycle they came on. No payment was made but the situation was only temporarily resolved. In the morning, Zach went to the community to speak with the community leader. The leader then came to meet with us and let us know that this was just youth being drunk and this is not normal. He requested that we look past the event as a one-off and be sure to not discourage people from visiting. It wasn’t exactly an apology, and didn’t leave us with any confidence that the youth had been dealt with such that the problem wouldn’t occur again, but the community leaders effort to come and meet with us was appreciated. (2023-09-12)
UPDATE: We heard of another overland couple visiting in the last week and they said no youth tax was demanded. Supposedly, Zach spoke with the village chief and the tax has been removed. (2023-09-24)
We had just started driving when I saw a young girl out of the corner of my eye scream while looking toward the back of our car. She had suddenly appeared from around the front bumper, such that it would have been impossible to see her. The girl was screaming because her friend, whom I later learned was 3-year-old Aisha, had just emerged from near the rear wheel of our car and was now lying on the ground. Oh no! What had happened?
I jumped out of the car and ran back to Aisha, picking her up from the ground and holding her. She was screaming, but there were no visible injuries. Her dad took her from my arms and rushed her on a motorcycle to the clinic. I followed on a different motorcycle taxi and arrived shortly after. They rushed her into a room, and the nurse started to examine her. She was still screaming, but the nurse was unable to find any broken bones. She gave her an injection that I later learned was an antibiotic (Jawaclox). I approached and carefully spoke with Aisha and encouraged her to hold my finger and point her toes. My hope was to determine superficially if anything was broken. She quieted down at the site of a white man gently coaxing her to move her joints. Benjamin arrived shortly after.
There were lots of conversations in a mixture of Arabic and Kugama (also known as Wam or Gengle). I didn’t understand a word and couldn’t quite figure out what was going on. I eventually turned to the nurse and asked about her assessment of Aisha. In sign language and very broken English, the nurse confirmed for me that Aisha was okay. There was nothing broken. More Arabic and Kugama ensued with lots of gestures. Eventually, Aisha’s mom entered and held Aisha briefly before handing her to a different woman to hold. Next, an Imam entered the already crowded room and examined Aisha in the same way that the nurse and I did. He came to the same conclusion, that she was okay. Aisha wasn’t quite so sure and continued to cry uncontrollably save for a moment when she declared to her mom that she would stay away from cars in the future. Everyone laughed quietly.
Next Aisha was taken to a different room with a trained health worker – Dr. Sule. Everyone who works in a Nigerian clinic, at least every male who works in a Nigerian clinic, is called a doctor – regardless of the amount of official education that is commonly associated with that position in the rest of the world. Dr. Sule concluded that Aisha needed some medicines from the pharmacy: children’s multivitamin, Ibuprofen (Philoxicam), a type of heat rub, and a pain reliever (Diclofenac). I was sent to go with the motorcycle taxi to purchase the prescribed items. The first “pharmacy” didn’t have them all but I rounded them all up between the three “pharmacies” I visited (I use the term very loosely to mean a shop that sells mostly over-the-counter medicines. Back at the clinic, I re-entered Dr. Sule’s office, and he explained the prescriptions to the mom and then instructed me to pay the equivalent of 6-7 USD for the antibiotic injections – which would continue for two additional days.
Next, I went on a motorcycle taxi to the police station to fill out a police report. However, the police were on break so I could return and wait at the car. However, I was informed in no uncertain terms that everything was okay and I was no one was in trouble. In less than 15 minutes I went back to the police station and was ushered into a small room. The father was asked to be in the room as well, along with several others on the police staff. In broken English I was asked to share my perspective I said there was no need, what had happened everyone had seen, and the father was welcome to share his perspective first. Following the father’s explanation, the child was called for and the father went to fetch her while the official asked me for all my particulars and carefully wrote them down in his notebook. When Aisha appeared she was examined again, this time by the head of the police. Again, lots of conversation ensued but eventually, the head official informed me that everything was in order, and I was free to leave. There was no problem or further concern. He only requested that a picture be taken of the father and me in front of the vehicle.
Neither Benjamin nor I, nor even Terry or Graydon from the car behind us, were certain exactly what happened. For some time, however, the situation was very tenuous. From stories of African accidents, never mind Nigeria, it was my understanding that when an accident like this happens, the community gets riled up and decides the fate of the driver regardless of guilt or innocence. After Aisha’s health, this was my greatest concern. However, none of these fears materialized. In fact, while scary at the time, in the end, I am very grateful nothing more serious had happened and for the seemingly just system to handle the accident.
I am very grateful that foremost, there really was nothing critically wrong with Aisha. I confirmed this fact the following day when I reached out to Dr. Sule to check on Aisha. Codiwomple has big wheels, and it is a horrific thought to consider what could have happened.
I’m astounded that there was a healthcare facility in such a remote location (at least a day’s drive from even a small town) and that (aside from the antibiotic) they had some practical options for Aisha’s care. I was assuming I would have to drive Aisha to a hospital many miles away. Again, I’m so grateful that there were no broken bones.
This was an easy scenario where a Nigerian scam could have occurred and the situation blew into epic proportions in order to gain financial advantage. This never happened. I was quite happy to pay for the prescriptions and the medical care.
I was baffled by the lack of care from the mother. She barely even held Aisha much once she arrived at the clinic.
The police department was remarkably just. They wanted to hear both sides of the story and create a police report based on both party’s perspectives. In the end, they assured me that everything was fine and I was free to go.
Before leaving, I had a local walk me to Aisha’s house, where I bid farewell to Aisha and gave her some money (remember, she is 3, so while I put it in her hands, it wasn’t going to her). However, I was glad to give it into the care of the women in the household at the time (there were at least 10 gathered) and not to the father. (While the father might have put the money to good use, women in poverty are far more likely to be good stewards of money than men are.)
On Friday, we needed a part for Codiwompler. Unfortunately, the soonest our mechanic (Grimm’s Auto) could get it was Thursday, delaying us by another week. Stink! Last week, while visiting Philakade (https://philakade.org/) I met Cindi, who is married to Andrew, the CEO of Toyota South Africa (yes, really). After mentioning my trip, she offered Andrew’s help if I should ever need it. I was grateful for the offer but brushed it off. Surely the CEO of Toyota, South Africa had more important things than Benjamin and my trip through Africa.
Fast forward a few days and I need a Toyota part that Grimm’s Auto can’t get hold of. Wait… I might have a connection? I reach out to Cindi to verify permission to contact Andrew. Andrew connects me with Jakkie, who then begins to do some research. A few hours later he finds one, also in Jo’burg. No problem, Judy is flying out to meet us in Cape Town so she can bring the part. Things are coming together.
However, Judy is only allowed one bag at 7kg (15.4 lbs) and Jakkie doesn’t think it is a reasonable ask of Judy to carry car parts in her luggage (I wasn’t as considerate, obviously). Instead, he is going to use Toyota’s distribution system to have the part at Grimm’s Auto by Monday morning. Wow!! Really?
Yes, really… Grimm’s Auto calls me on Monday at 12:30 and reports the part has arrived. We drive the car over and they do the installation, along with an oil change. The car is ready to go by 5 PM.
When Judy arrives she informs us that we, “Are guarded by Angels.” 👍
I have been working on our vehicle, the Codiwompler, with significant help from others (especially Albert Merkel) since December. However, this last weekend was a scramble to get all the last-minute adjustments made to our rig and I’m very grateful for all the help: Mark & Marianne, Josh & Meshach, my neighbor Mark, Benjamin, and Elisabeth.
It was a scramble, but by 9 PM, I was ready to drive off for the port of Vancouver, BC, where I was shipping the vehicle from.
There are a only a couple remaining items left when the car arrives in South Africa. Firstly, the turbo is leaking. Secondly, I want to add some mosquito netting to cover the gaps in the canopy walls so that we can cook under the canopy and not get carried away by the mosquitos once we travel further north.
In June 2022, when our overlanding Africa in 2023 idea first emerged, I started perusing the Internet for a vehicle. I considered all types: Land Rovers, Jeeps, Unimogs, Mercedes trucks, Sprinter vans, etc.
In the end, my uncle Rob, who is a Land Rover expert and an experienced African overlander as well, recommended we take a Land Cruiser. What? Why would a Land Rover expert recommend a Land Cruiser? Simple, they are less finicky and you can get parts anywhere in Africa. And so, I narrowed my search to a Land Cruiser with the following features:
Left-Hand Drive (for right-hand driving like in the USA)
No new-fangled electronics that I couldn’t repair while off-road
Unfortunately, this still left me with countless possibilities. The first Land Cruiser was made in 1951 and there have been numerous models since and innumerable options and variations on each model. Also, I came to find out that there were no diesel Land Cruisers in the United States. No such car was ever manufactured here. I continued to scour the Internet. I contacted a seller in the Phillippines and looked at shipping from there. I connected with an Overlander in the UK and even met up with him in Scottland (when my family happened to be there) to take his Land Cruiser for a test drive.
During our trip through the UK, I connected with a seller in Sandpoint, ID who happened to have a vehicle that met all the above criteria (well, except the double cab). I informed him I was interested but that I couldn’t see the vehicle until I returned in a couple of weeks. He told me to check in with him when I returned.
Lo and behold, it was still there when I got home and I went up to check it out over the weekend. Eric Edmonds accompanied me as my advisor. (Elisabeth pre-approved any decision I might make – making her obviously exceptional.) The fact that I found a unicorn, a 1996 manual, diesel 80-series Land Cruiser, so close to home, was remarkable. Furthermore, it had been outfitted for Overlanding, with a rooftop tent (RTT), lifted suspension, flood lights, and numerous other enhancements. The car had been imported from Honduras. In addition, it had recently returned from traversing the TransAmerica Trail (TAT). (“… a 4,253-mile (6,845 km) transcontinental vehicular route, intended as a recreational pathway across the United States using a minimum of paved roads, traveled by dual-sport motorcycles, off-road vehicles, or touring bicycle.”)
All this to say, I’m now the owner of a diesel 1996 Toyota Land Cruiser HDJ80L which I have named the Codiwompler. Codiwompler a derivative of coddiwomple, “to travel in a purposeful manner towards a vague destination” – a very apt description of my traveling style.
This is the vehicle we have chosen as our trusty steed as Benjamin and I traverse cities, towns, villages, deserts, forests, mountains, storms, mud, rivers, more mud, and so much more in our Overlanding adventure across Africa.
Last week, I purchased flights from my home in Spokane, WA to Cape Town, South Africa, and then returning from Brussels, Belgium back to Spokane – 5 months later. To get from Cape Town (the Southernmost point in Africa) to Brussels, Benjamin and I plan to drive along the West Coast of Africa to Tunis, Tunisia (the Northernmost point in Africa), through 20-28 countries, across two deserts and numerous areas of unrest/conflict along with many other challenges.
Lest you think the route is more defined than it is. My initial route was a printed-out map of Africa that I drew a line on along the coast. For the updated version above, I asked Google to map a route from Cape Town to Tunis and then dragged the route around to avoid areas where I know there is conflict, the route is impassable, or based on my intuition of what I thought might be “interesting.”
Why you might ask? Well, my son (Benjamin) just graduated from college, and before he does something responsible (like get a job) or irresponsible (I’ll let you come up with your own examples), he suggested we go on an adventure. Driving across Africa seems like a good example of such an adventure, so that is what we are planning.
Hanna and I flew to the Southern Tip of Baja California Sur, Mexico this week to continue learning to kiteboard. Last year, at the same time, we went to Punta Chame, Panama for the same. We arrived Sunday evening with the plan to start sailing Monday but there was no wind. We settled instead for a beautiful sunrise and a slack line. The latter seemed like a good practice for balancing on a kiteboard.
Hanna (of course), made it across. I was less astute at the task. Regardless, given no wind, we decided to go exploring West, on the Pacific coast side of the peninsula.
We parked just above Playa Bonita, near the construction of a new resort (The Palm) and I was surprised at how deserted the beach was. It stretched for miles but there were only a few cars and accompanying visitors. From there we hiked North along the coast for less than 2 miles, up and over the rocks looking down on Playa Las Tinajas. Remarkably, there was no one there. Literally, in the entire time we hiked, we only saw one family at the start and then no one. (It’s not like we were on the Eastern Coast of Madagascar or something.)
There were pelicans and seals a little way out from the beach – having a good little laugh at the joy of beach life I expect.
When we returned back to the car we drove to Playa Los Cerritos and stayed a little way out of the new construction area at Cerritos Beach Inn. We chose this location to be the night we splurged for accommodations with an ocean view room. (In hindsight, there wasn’t much point because we loved sitting downstairs overlooking the beach so basically only used the room for sleeping. We appreciated it nonetheless.)
In the morning, a father and son walked along the beach for 40 minutes to the hotel to have breakfast. Upon calling the rest of the family to drive over and join them, the dad realized he had the keys. Whoops! I offered to drive him back, picking up gasoline on my return to the hotel.
We left the hotel around 11:30 heading to Pozas Budistas (translated Buddhist Pools). This was casually recommended by the Kartchner’s – who neglected to mention details like, it’s a 4-wheel drive road, be sure you have a full tank of gas, don’t forget to take lots of water as you are going to be in the high desert for several hours, and oh… by the way, when you get there you won’t find any signs. (Admittedly, they told us to count the 11 water crossings but we missed this detail.) All this to say, the drive was wonderful, but not exactly a paved road.
Not only was the drive an adventure, but the pools themselves were (mostly) great as well. We hike in at one of the upper pools (rather than from the bottom), and so the first pool was a slide. Awesome! That is except for the fact that I took the first slide and when I emerged I was freckled with baby leeches. Yes, really!! What? Who recommends this to their friends I wonder? (The rattlesnake wasn’t a big deal because although we wore sandals on our hike, we didn’t see the rattler until we were back in the car.)
Regardless, not to be deterred, we hiked down the creek jumping along the giant boulders until we reached the main pool. And, since it was hot, Hanna volunteered that I test this pool for leeches as well. It was clean, refreshing, and cool. We swam. We were in a high desert and swimming. It was wonderful.
Zorro Falls…. wait what? A waterfall and freshwater swimming hole in the middle of the desert? Really? Yes, really! It was stupendous.
In the evening (Wednesday night) we stayed in the ecolodge, Rancho Ecologico Sol De Mayo, just above the falls. Internet was only available at the entrance, not at our cabins, and there was no cell service. They do have a restaurant, but it was closed while we were there. If you visit, bring your own food though, as they have a great cooking setup with a grill (they provide the charcoal) and a kitchen with dishes. Rather than staying in the cabin, in fact, you can camp. In addition, they have a host of animals from peacocks to pigeons, and rabbits to horses (no relation to dinner). I loved the atmosphere of the ecolodge and, best of all, it allowed you to access the waterfalls after hours. When we went down in the evening, and had it entirely to ourselves. In the morning, I visited as well and took a glorious swim while the sun came up and shone into the pools. It was stupendous.
The wind was forecast back at La Ventana by 11 AM Thursday morning, so we headed out, a 1.5-hour drive. Unfortunately, wind is not as reliable as that and, while Hanna got out, I didn’t. Furthermore, Hanna spent the morning in the water as there wasn’t quite enough wind and she wasn’t able to actually get up on the board – though it was exhausting nonetheless. In the afternoon we headed back to the hotel for a nap and to catch up on work.
Astoundingly… Friday it was too windy. Wow… this sport is picky about the conditions – at least for beginners like us. Not to be bored, however, we took the opportunity to drive to Playa Balandra – which was beautiful. Unless you hike in, it is only open for entry at 8 AM and 1 PM and we timed it just right to make the 1 PM entry. (We were towards the back of the queue but we still made it into the park.) There is an overlook from which you can see both the inlet and the beach of this epic location. Down in the water, you can walk the entire area with the water below your waist. (I expect the sunrise is spectacular and I’d like to hike in early one morning if I’m ever back in the area.)
Back in La Ventana, we stopped by the natural hot springs at El Sargento. The timing was great because the tide was still coming in so we made a pool in the hot springs (which were too hot to start), and then waited for the tide to come in to cool it down.
Afterward, we headed to dinner. The restaurant was empty and the owner informed us that the menu didn’t correspond with the food available. We told him that suited us, and we welcomed him to make us something great – just not anything Hanna is allergic to. We both enjoyed our dishes and then switched so we could sample each other’s. Unfortunately, after switching, Hanna’s dish now had some unknown substance that triggered a significant allergic reaction. She took the necessary immunotherapy but it’s especially disconcerting when you are so far from significant medical facilities. Furthermore, while the medicine is life-saving, the after-effects are an unpleasant experience, to say the least.
On Saturday, we finally had wind, not too much and not too little. It’s about time! We watched the usual sunrise from our bedroom window – yes, it was like that every morning we stayed in La Ventana. And, around 10 AM, we watched as the wind blew in from the North. You could see it in the water. And, by 10:30 AM, it was time to sail.
We sailed from the Elevation Kiteboarding School and took the jet ski option – which meant they took us upwind via jet ski and then instructed us as we sailed (or struggled to sail) around the bay.
After the morning session Hanna was exhausted while I decided I deserved another afternoon of the sun in my eyes, water up my nostrils, and saltwater “hydration.” And, since we couldn’t catch an early flight out in the morning on Sunday, we may as well try again in the morning before rushing out for the 2-hour drive back to the airport.
Needless to say, we are close, but at the end of a second week (18 hours in total for me and 12.5 hours for Hanna) we still aren’t quite independent kiteboarders yet. I expect next time, but that’s what I thought last year so….
This weekend some friends and I took an off-road trip on the Washington Back Country Discovery Route (WABDR). We debated all winter on where to go and what route to take but, with all the recent snow, and some logistics around a couple of participants wanting to leave a day early, we settled on starting in Ellensburg and heading South and then North.
There were seven of us in all:
Eric Edmonds and Josh Dahlstrom driving a 2020 Tundra
Albert Merkel with his daughter driving Mitsubishi Montero
Michael Stokesbary driving a Jeep Wrangler, and
Benjamin and I taking up the rear in a diesel 1996 Toyota Land Cruiser (HDJ80L)
The main purpose of the trip was to test-drive the Land Cruiser which, thanks to Albert’s help, has undergone some major improvements including regearing the differential, upgrading to bead-locked wheels, rebuilding the brake system, installing rear differential lockers, re-doing the auxiliary power, replacing the auxiliary fuel tank with a 42-gallon tank, and installing new storage draws in the rear.
Our drive to Ellensburg was flawless and we filled up the auxiliary fuel tank with 18 gallons of diesel there. We then took the circuitous route (I think we turned around four times), before arriving at the start of the rugged version of the WABDR. We initially started on the route via Umptanum dirt Rd. within a few meters, Albert decided to take the more “rugged” route so we turned around one more time and began our adventure. The road wound around and down into the valley at Durr Road Campsite but this was not for us. We started up the other side which was quickly covered in snow. We all down-shifted to 4×4 low and headed up with Albert in the lead and Stokesbary taking up the rear.
Unfortunately, after about 15 miles, Eric radios us that the Tundra is stuck. Hmmm… We wait at the top as attempts are made to continue. Eventually, Mike makes his way around Josh and joins us at the summit and the Land Cruiser (which needs a name – suggestions welcome) heads down to try to help. After a couple of attempts, however, and the interruption of another car (not in our party) descending, Josh and Eric give up and start heading back to Ellensburg to purchase some chains.
On the way back, however, they radio us and suggest we camp at the Durr Road Campsite. This works for the rest of us and we head back down to the campsite for the night.
We set up camp and Benjamin, with Josh’s guidance, cooked a stew for dinner in the Afghan pot. Excellent!!
We awoke with a beautiful sunrise and Benjamin’s, again with Josh’s guidance, cooked an egg souffle – albeit this time in the dutch oven. Mmmm!
Rather than head back South, we decide to drive through Ellensburg, pick up chains for the Tundra, and then drive over to Cashmere – to try our luck traveling North on the WABDR. Alas, it was closed for exclusive snowmobiler access, so Albert lead us to a different trail. We started out on dirt with a caution sign – what we assumed was just a suggestion – and then progressed to mud.
At this point, we all aired down. (I took the Land Cruiser down to 9.5 PSI thanks to the fancy new bead-locked wheels that Albert installed.) However, the mud didn’t last for long as we were shortly driving on three to four feet of hardened snow. I was impressed with the lack of concern, but everyone seemed undeterred, so we continued up the mountain. In spite of the newly acquired chains, the Tundra got stuck, but Josh successfully was able to get it moving again on his own.
It was this next stretch, however, where the adventure really started – and we stopped. Albert was in the lead, Stokes and Josh next, while Benjamin and I took up the rear. Josh gets stuck. Yay! It’s about 3:30 PM. Time to pull out the winch, shovels, and recovery boards.
Overhead on the radio, “I think we have reached the end”, says Albert. “Yup, we are a little stuck.” Mike and I are going to go radio silent for a while as we figure this out.
We pull out the winch and start helping Josh. No, go! We tried angling (pun intended) off a tree but the Tundra would not budge. Recovery boards… nope. Shovels are out and we start digging. The Land Cruiser, while not stuck, didn’t have sufficient traction to pull Josh out. Thanks to suggestions, we anchor it to a tree. More pushing, shoving, digging, etc. Still no luck. It is starting to get dark. Benjamin volunteers to cook dinner.
There were a few less-than-ideal details:
Josh doesn’t have the correct fitting to undo his spare tire.
The Land Cruiser was missing the handle for the bottle jack (details).
The connection on the winch controller was failing and the winch was failing to activate.
It was getting really icy as the evening went on.
The Tundra was so close to the cliff side that you couldn’t enter/exit from the passenger side as the door couldn’t open.
The Montero blew a fuse so Albert had to jerry rig it directly to the battery (fuses just require replacing anyway).
In an attempt to descend, the Jeep skids perpendicular to the trail.
The Montero is high-centered and there are no nearby trees to anchor to.
Focusing on the Tundra, and in desperation we allow the winch to pull the Tundra to the side with a little extra vigor and the beading gives out and its tire goes flat. Stink! This truck is completely high-centered to the point that even taking out his spare tire from under the vehicle is challenging. (Benjamin continues cooking dinner with Eric’s accompanying conversation.)
After some hemming and hawing, Josh decides to attempt to reseat the wheel with gasoline and a lighter. Yes… this is the time for Macgyver-type measures. And, what do you know, it works the first time. Wow!!
Yeah… it’s been 4.5 hours and we finally have the first car unstuck.
Josh and I reverse down to a “passing” spot, Josh stays on the trail and the Land Cruiser passes by off-trail. No getting stuck. we head up to the next rig. Here we find Mike’s Jeep rotated 90 degrees on the road. And after pulling his rig out (another few hours), we again switch spots and the Land Cruiser heads to the top to find Albert’s Montero. We tried with the winches (the Montero also had a winch), and some raw pulling. Regardless, the Montero didn’t budge. To reduce the likelihood of the Land Cruiser getting stuck, we drop the air pressure down to 4.5 PSI. And, while it came close, it was always able to self-rescue. Yes!!!
Eventually, we take to digging, rotating, and digging some more, slowly pulling the vehicle around.
At 3:30 AM, 12 hours later, all cars are unstuck and we head down to Josh and Mike’s car to camp for the night.
In the morning we wake up fresh and ready for a new day. It doesn’t take long, though, before we all decide to head home. We’ve had all the practice we need for this trip, all concentrated into a single 12-hour block. Although the Tundra got stuck one more time, we all knew the digging drill and were able to rescue it without much ado.
Once off the trail, we head to Cashmere Riverside Park for a picnic. Josh whips up dessert in the dutch oven (yes, really… it was wonderful). A great finish to an adventurous trip!!