Thursday, February 24, 2011

Why I Didn't Go To The Rogue

Click on photos for full size image.
In my long litany of rivers a couple of posts ago you may have noticed the absence of the Rogue. So why didn't I drive down there? Well, it happened this way...

On Sunday after the retreat was officially over I decided to head east on Highway 42 to a bluegrass festival in Winston. My friend Pat, a washtub bassist who has numerous bluegrass contacts throughout the Northwest, gave me directions. I looked forward to some good photos and videos.

Just up the road I came on a long line of vehicles. The highway department was working to clear a slide. Coming in on Friday evening, in the dark, I had seen where they had cleared the road, but there was still a jumble of rock piled on the mountain side of the concrete barriers. Now they were clearing that out.

So I waited. At least I had something to look at, and I'm not talking about the sheep's butt.

They were letting only a few cars at a time go through. When it was my turn I saw two observers keeping a close watch on the mountainside and waving us through quickly. I realized I was glad not to have the job of operating that loader or sitting in that dump truck under an apparently still unstable mountain of rock.

I drove up to Winston and tried to find Grange Road. The directions I had been given seemed to have a fatal error. Couldn't find it. I stopped and asked. Went right where they told me to go. Couldn't find it. Based on my experience, and an hour spent driving around Winston, Grange Road does not exist.

I gave up and decided to head back and maybe go scout out the Elk. I bought an Oregon map and headed back west on 42 toward camp. I got back to the slide area and took my place in the long line of trucks and cars. The work zone was out of sight around a bend. I waited. They sent a few vehicles through; we inched forward. I waited. They sent another small group of vehicles through. We inched forward. I waited...

Then no movement for a long time. People were getting out of their cars and walking down the road to see what was going on. Then they were walking back and cars ahead of me began to turn around. Then a highway department pickup came driving slowly along the line informing us that the road was closed: rocks over the road. Apparently no one was killed.

So now I had a new primary objective: finding my way back to camp. At least I had a map. I congratulated myself on my foresight in making that purchase. I failed to remind myself that a man and a map can be a dangerous combination. I found a road that would get me around the slide and back to camp in no time. No sweat. Off I went.

A couple of other cars, fellow refugees of the road closure, had found the same road, so we drove blithely along together. All went well until the road began climbing into the mountains. Then we came to a road sign that said, "Road Not Maintained For Winter Travel." Yeah, no shit. It was snow covered. Wet, heavy snow. But there were a couple of tracks through it. Someone was getting through. Why couldn't we? I've got studded tires. I'm a stud. We ventured forward.

Long story short, we didn't make it. The car ahead of me lost traction on a grade and went sideways in the road. I pulled over to get out of his way and lost traction too. So I began backing up, trapped in that terrifying duel with gravity and snow, trying to maintain that balance between not going so fast that you can't steer without going into an uncontrollable slide, and not riding the brakes so hard that the tires lose traction sending you into an uncontrollable slide. I almost lost it once, teetering on the edge of the snow-filled ditch. My legs and hands were trembling from the adrenaline rush.

I finally got to a more or less level place with room to turn around. While I was doing that the car that had been ahead of me came back down. I don't know where the other car was. They had gone on ahead. Maybe they're still up there. The camp manager, when I told this story later, said--incredulously, "You tried to go through the mountains? People have died up there..."

I got back down to 42 and regrouped. Time for Plan B. Plan B, it turned out, was a long circuit north on I5, then west on 138 and 38 all the way to the coast, then down 101 to 42 again. Well over a hundred miles. I considered heading back west on 42 to see if maybe they had cleared the slide, thinking I would feel foolish if I made that long drive when I could have gotten through. But then I'd also feel foolish if I got there and couldn't get through.

So I gassed up in Rosedale and did some sightseeing. That's when I saw those rivers. Highways 138 and 38 parallel the Umpqua all the way to the coast. It was beautiful, but I was in a hurry so only stopped for this one photo of the Umpqua.

On 101 I crossed this bridge. When I got to 42 there was a big flashing sign announcing that it was closed ahead due to a rock slide. So I hadn't made the long drive in vain.

By the time I got back to camp I had been seven hours on the road. I knew I had a 12 hour trip home, and didn't feel like making any extra trips. So the next morning I got up early, crossed the same bridge, stopped for one photo op along the coast, and rolled on home.

So that's why I didn't go to the Rogue.

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