The “Road” to WA Overland Rally

So it’s about 5 1/2 hrs drive time from Portland, OR to Plain, WA, a small town just north of Leavenworth. That assumes you take the highways and drive the speed limit, neither of which we did. When I refer to we I’m talking about David Priddis and his Defender 110 and me in my Sportsmobile. The goal was to make it to the Washington Overland Rally for happy hr on Thursday night, but take the most direct route possible to the event site. It ended up taking us a full 17 hrs of driving time, not including one night of camping (the middle flag on the map below), to cover about 400 miles of secondary roads, highways and lots of dirt tracks of varying degrees. We made it to WA Overland Rally, but it was 12:30 am Friday morning and the journey ended up being a bit epic.

Portland, OR to Plain, WA generally as the crow flies.

A close-up of the many interesting trails we found in the woods of WA. This really doesn’t even do all the loops and turn arounds we did justice. You can see however that there was some big gradient changes throughout our course!

Skid marks from a Defender 110 pirouette!

The first mini epic happened on the drive around Mount Saint Helen, on pavement. David managed to do a 180 degree pirouette at about 40 mph on a curve in the road, and not hit anything or roll his Defender! David had just got the clutch and flywheel replaced on his Defender in Portland, by a very well-known high-end Land Rover specialty shop, which required them to remove the engine. They happened to not tidy up the engine bay much at all, as there were a number of hoses that were not properly fastened back in place. The first issue that appeared was the diesel return line not being attached all the way which made diesel pour out all over the engine and splash along the undercarriage and rear wheels. The now wet and narrow rear wheels of the Defender, as well as wet pavement, made for a quick release of traction in the corner which David was luckily able to steer through and then stomp on the brakes after getting it lined up backwards. A little luck was on his side as he managed to not hit anything or go off the bridge that was less than 10′ behind the Rover when it stopped. David is also a good mechanic and quickly sorted out his trusty Defender.

We encountered more than one of these signs, and they about summed up our day.

We didn’t even make it off the pavement before we were making detours due to road closures on forest service roads. Once we got off-road we used a topo map, handheld GPS and an automotive GPS with little success. We kept running into dead ends, gated fences and road closures due to flood damage. At one point we decided to proceed by clearing a few logs across the trail, building a small rock bridge over some flood damage and ignoring the sign. As we started to work on the first obstacle I had this funny feeling and went for a scouting mission down the trail. I didn’t make it 100 yards before the trail dead ended into dense forest. Again we turned around and looked for another route through the forests of Washington.

Seriously steep terrain just above where we turned around on the most difficult stretch of off-road we tackled. I believe we could have made it, but it was a big risk I just didn’t want to take with my 5 ton home!

We also ran into some serious off-road obstacles on a few sections of trail and some quite narrow unused sections as well. We tackled many of these obstacles and had some good “fun” getting my big Sportsmobile through some NARROW spots, and finding some alternate routes around some REALLY narrow spots. Only one section of off-road turned us around (see above photo). It was a big steep section that started with big rocks and roots and ended with a STEEP long exposed incline of loose dirt in some deep tracks. I’m happy that I decided to turn my house on wheels away from this one. It was probably doable and would have been a blast in a small agile 4×4, but a little too much of a pucker factor for me with my 5 ton van.

There were a few key holders to this gate, we weren’t one of them:(

Some of the forest roads were freshly graded fine dirt, which created a bit of dust:)

The Elk are big in this neck of the woods!

That is a crack on the front upper torsion bar. NOT cool when driving MANY miles off-road! David spotted it when we were looking for something creating a LOUD screeching sound from the front end while moving. Ended up being a pebble in the brake dust shield. Screw driver fixed that issue.

Some of the better trail we found up high on the mountains, but it still had some gradient.

The sun was setting fast on us, but we still had a long way to descend into the valley below.

David ponders the best way to tackle this “fun” scenario.

The final epic of the trip was when I drove the Sportsmobile off the road. Narrow trail and just plain tired driving in 2wd created this little scenario. No excuses really:( At first no big deal with 1 1/2 tires off the edge of the road, but then I drove into a worse position. I hopped out to lock the hubs and was greeted by a 6′ rattle snake in the ditch, the first one I’ve seen in the wild after over 4 yrs of living on the west coast. Once I had the entire van in low range and resting on the axles more than half off the trail I realized there was no chance of driving it out on my own. After much deliberation David and I devised a plan that worked, but wasn’t pretty (as seen in the video above).

Some narrow seriously rutted trail before we found some pavement.

This trip was all about a fun little off-road adventure on the way to WA Overland Rally, a great little get together of the overland and off-road tribe of the Pacific North West. In the end it was another great shake down trip for my Sportsmobile, off-road navigation test, wildlife viewing opportunity and good times with friends. I’m looking forward to exploring more of this country’s back roads and trails.

See you on & off the road;) -Bryon Dorr

The sun setting literally as we found pavement.

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