(Editor's Note-This is part two of a three-part series documenting the adventures-and misadventures-of Four Wheeler Technical Editor Sean Holman and Senior Editor Ken Brubaker as they wheeled an '05 Hummer H2 SUT 3,698 miles from California to Illinois. Their nine-day, nine-state journey included camping and an off-highway foray each day.)
7:45 a.m., Ridgemark Golf and Country Club, Hollister, California: We haven't even started our trip yet and Brubaker is already injured. While loading the H2 SUT, he briskly walked into the open rear passenger door and split his eyebrow above his left eye. Holman quickly noted that it must've really hurt, judging by the loud crack, and then he checked the door for damage. Meanwhile, Brubaker sprinted for the motel room with blood gushing down his face and promptly ran into the door frame. Holman begins to wonder if this trip is really a good idea.
11:20 a.m., Hollister Hills SVRA, Hollister, California: The H2 is loaded, the last Top Truck Challenge award has been handed out, and Brubaker has finally managed to control the bleeding. After a brief stint in front of the fourwheeler.com video cameras, fellow Primedia staffers and Top Truck Challenge competitors bid us farewell as we point the H2 toward the Hollister Hills SVRA loop road to get a token trail in for the day. This will be our only trail of Day One because we have over 600 miles of driving to do before nightfall. If we're not in North Bend, Oregon by 10:00 p.m., we get locked out of the KOA Campground. Who's the idiot who put this itinerary together? (Ahem, that would be Ken.-Sean)
2:50 p.m., Chevron gas station, Williams, California: While Holman pumps fuel, Brubaker enters the store, grabs a Coke, and leaves without paying for it. Store staff are stunned at the boldness of the theft and warily approach Brubaker at the pump, where he's cleaning (bugs) from the windshield of the H2. Brubaker blames the oversight on head injury and on having to listen to Holman drone on for the last 210 minutes. Holman snaps into Cop Mode (he was a Criminal Justice major) and defuses a tense larceny standoff. As we leave, Holman once again wonders if this trip is really a good idea.
10:06 p.m., KOA Campground, North Bend, Oregon: The campground is still open, and ATVs are swarming all over the place. We set up our Coleman tents by the light of our Hummer genuine accessory roof-mounted lights. Surprisingly, we set up camp for the first time with minimal embarrassment. With shelter established, we spend nearly four hours in the laundry room writing, and slowly sending our first blog for fourwheeler.com via dial-up connection. We are determined to find high-speed connections from now on. The H2 has taken us 663.2 miles so far.
8:32 a.m., KOA Campground, North Bend, Oregon: The first thing we see when we emerge from our tents is hundreds of ATVs of all colors. (The first thing I saw when I woke up was Ken, the epitome of a morning person, having a Coke for breakfast.-Sean). Fritz Gross, the owner of the KOA Campground, has heard that we are around, and he stops by our camp to pay a visit and invite us to breakfast-on the house. We're amazed at this cool campground (www.oregonduneskoa.com). Most impressive is that Fritz had the vision to create this campground out of a sand pile. Not only does it offer top-drawer facilities, it also has neat stuff like daily pancake breakfasts in the summer. Most importantly, it's a stone's throw from the Oregon Dunes ORV area.
9:30 a.m., Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area, North Bend, Oregon: We enter the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area at the Hauser access point, which is just a short jaunt behind the Oregon Dunes KOA campground. Even though it's Saturday morning, we're surprised to see very few ATVs and no four-wheel-drive rigs. We poke each other to see if we're dreaming (Actually, I poked at Sean to wake him up. He isn't exactly Mr. Personality in the morning.---Ken). As we motor the H2 through the deep sand, we see wind-sculpted sand dunes towering in every direction dotted with beautiful woods comprised of Douglas fir and Sitka spruce trees. We also see a number of beautiful lakes and ponds scattered throughout the dunes. The trails to the beach are easily marked, yet Holman chooses to take the H2 down a different path, which winds us deep into the middle of nothingness. Eventually, we pop through a sand dune onto the beach, where we're rewarded with a virtually empty beach bordered by the awesome Pacific Ocean, which Holman had to explain to the landlocked Midwest Bureau Chief Brubaker. We wheel, we gawk, and we leave the H2 in the water too long for photos, and it almost becomes a permanent part of the beach. According to the Forest Service, the Oregon Dunes (which is part of the Siuslaw National Forest) is over 40 miles in length, and about half of that is open to OHVs. A red flag and an Oregon OHV permit are required for entry. We would like to stay longer, but we have to be in Yakima, Washington, by nightfall. We swear we're going to come back some day.
12:40 p.m., somewhere south of Portland, Oregon: Holman offers verbal analysis of windshield bug splatter while driving. When received with blank stare by Brubaker, Sean switches to life story.
2:10 p.m., somewhere east of Portland, Oregon: While driving, Brubaker regales Holman with life story. Holman falls asleep (again).
7:30 p.m., KOA Campground, Yakima, Washington: One of our lightest days of travel logs only 443.1 miles on our H2's odometer. Because every move we make seems to be carefully watched by other campers, we try to set up camp deftly, so as not to look like idiots. Most campers seem to be stunned by the sight of two guys showing up in a Hummer that's packed full of camping gear. Holman decides that each night, camp setup should be a timed event. Brubaker groans. We're quickly becoming huge fans of the battery-operated Coleman QuickPump, as it allows us to inflate each of our Coleman air mattresses in less than a minute. After much contemplation of zipper mechanisms, Brubaker has managed to zip two Coleman Colossal sleeping bags together to create a more pleasant sleeping environment for his big frame. (Hey, I'm not a skinny runt.-Ken). He's very proud of this achievement. Holman is annoyed with this development because Brubaker refuses to unzip them before packing them in the H2. Instead, Brubaker just jams them into the back seat of the H2, hogging valuable space. Holman has begun calling this seemingly growing fabric the Mega Blanket, and he'd like to see it go away. This is the first undercurrent of discontent among our happy campers.
10:00 p.m., Seattle's Best Coffee Shop, Yakima, Washington: We're getting kicked out because it's closing time. We're bummed because we're not done uploading our blog for the day. On the upside, while pretending to work we met Four Wheeler reader Ryan Clifton, owner of a '79 GMC 4x4 pickup. He's from Yakima and loves stickers.
11:03 a.m., leaving Yakima, Washington: We're getting a horribly late start due to having to complete our unfinished blog from last night using a slow dialup connection. Nonetheless, we're chipper because today's trail is less than an hour away.
11:50 a.m., Naches, Washington: This area is mostly treeless and dotted with large hills. Our plan is to explore a dirt road that's shown on the atlas going north from Naches. The map indicates that it crosses over the mountains to the town of Ellensburg, Washington. We booted up our Garmin GPS 10-equipped laptop and exit Highway 12 onto Wenas Road. The nRoute and topographical software is showing loads of cool dirt roads branching off of Wenas Road, which after 15 minutes is still boring blacktop. For no particular reason, we make a turn onto Black Canyon Road. The entrance to this dirt road is posted with signage indicating that it falls under the authority of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. It also shows a color-keyed system that indicates whether or not a given trail was open to vehicular travel. It indicates that it is indeed open, so we head in and promptly come to a closed section at 1.28 miles. We shrug our shoulders and turn around. Another try down another trail has the same result. Why would a trail be posted open and then immediately closed a short distance later? Aggravating. Back to Wenas Road.
11:59 a.m. Wenas and Observatory Road, north of Naches, Washington: We finally get our wish when Wenas Road makes the transition from blacktop to dirt. A short 2.84 miles after it turns to dirt, we point our Hummer left onto Observatory Road, which is really a dirt two-track trail. Our Garmin software is showing gobs of trails in this area, so we go exploring. The trails aren't hard-you could do them in a stock SUV-but they offer a fascinating look into the Washington backcountry. The terrain is rolling and pine trees abound. We are quickly falling in love with the Garmin topographical maps because of the mind-boggling amount of info they provide. The beauty of the system is that you can easily toggle between the street-oriented nDrive and off-highway-oriented topo maps, depending on what type of info you need.
The trails are marked extremely well in this area. At mile 4.12, we pass yet another sign with a green dot, which indicates that it is OK to explore. At mile 5.22, we come to a "T" in the road and we continue following Observatory Road instead of turning left onto Mud Flats Road. Eight miles in, we pass the observatory that-with our keen, scientific, computer-like minds-we figure was coming. About .75 miles past the observatory, there's a bypass trail that is more rugged than the main trail. At the top of this little trail there are great views to the east at an elevation of approximately 3,919 feet.
We continue on Observatory Road, eventually turning left onto Hanson Road. This road is far more rugged than Observatory Road, with rocks and ruts being prevalent the entire length. Our Hummer's Rod Hall genuine accessory remote-reservoir shocks do a stellar job of damping the heavy H2 on the rough trail. Approximately 7.5 miles past the observatory, it becomes evident that we're getting close to the town of Ellensburg. We end our dirt foray at Manastash and Strande Road. According to our Garmin GPS 10 trip computer, we've averaged 11.8 mph from the observatory to Ellensburg, and the total driving time was about 30 minutes. We've had our dirt fix for the day.
5:40 p.m., Washington-Idaho state line: Holman comments that the interior of the Hummer has developed a bizarre aroma. A quick investigation reveals that the trash bag storing dirty clothes from the Top Truck Challenge Tank Trap has come partially open. Inside, it's apparent that water- and mud-soaked clothing is beginning to coagulate and burble. Notably, the soiled garments seem to be conspiring with the Mega Blanket to overtake the front seats and its occupants. We agree not to show fear.
6:00 p.m., KOA Campground, Coeur d'Alene, Idaho: With 1,391 miles under our belt, we roll into this stunning campground located east of Coeur d'Alene. Amazingly, the first person we meet is a Four Wheeler reader. Race Bingman is a transplanted Alaskan who works at the KOA and drives a '99 F-150. He must be psychic because one of the first things he mentions is that there's free laundry soap in the laundry room. After we set up camp, Brubaker does laundry while Holman begins working on our daily blog. At every opportunity Holman points out that he set up his Coleman Crestline tent in a record 12 minutes flat.(Ken is still setting up his tent as you read this.-Sean).
6:45 a.m., KOA Campground, Coeur d' Alene, Idaho: Temperatures dip to the upper 40s overnight. California-dude Holman is not a happy camper, and is convinced that this trip wasn't a good idea. He emerges from his tent dressed in layers, while Brubaker, donned in shorts and a muscle shirt, mocks Holman's thin beach blood. In what has become standard operating procedure, Brubaker breaks camp and loads the Coleman camping gear into H2 while Holman thaws out with a hot morning shower.
9:39 a.m., Mullan, Idaho: One of our goals for H2our was to 'wheel in snow. Naturally, we enlisted the help of the North Idaho Trailblazers. This Coeur d'Alene-based club is comprised of honest-to-goodness snow experts, and they have the knowledge and rigs to get it done. We've witnessed these folks in action at their annual Cabin Fever Run, and it seems like no snow depth is too deep to be traversed by these folks. We meet up with club members Mark Tihonovich, Brett Skavland, and Jim Taylor in Mullan and trek out of town towards the Coeur d'Alene National Forest, where they guarantee us there will be snow. Skavland is driving his '86 350ci-powered CJ and Tihonovich is piloting his '65 350ci-powered CJ. Both rigs are locked front and rear. We follow Willow Creek Road until we come to an old railroad bed. From here, we enter a two-track road that slowly winds upwards into the mountains through thick, pine-scented forest. The trails are steep in places, which requires the use of 4-Lo. The area shows signs of being heavily logged in places, and scores of trails sprout from the main trail.
10:45 a.m., somewhere near the Idaho-Montana border, on top of a mountain: It's spitting snow and we're stuck in a 3-foot-deep snowfield. Holman (driving) is becoming very agitated due to Snow Expert Brubaker's nonstop verbal haranguing of the errors of California-dude Holman's winter driving skills. Our friends from the North Idaho Trailblazers are wondering why they ever volunteered to take a day off work and help these magazine psychos who are clearly on the verge of a jihad. The first patches of snow appeared innocently at an altitude of 6,048 feet, and by 6,347 feet, the snow cover was constant. We know we were going to get stuck, and since we hadn't stretched the winch cable on our new Hummer/Warn XD 9000i winch, we'd stretched it using Tihonovich's CJ as an anchor before we went in. It's a good thing, too. The snow is of the soft, mushy variety, which swallowed our big 35-inch-diameter BFG A/T tires whole at the first sign of wheel spin, dropping the H2 to its framerails.
11:15 a.m., still stuck in the snow, somewhere in Idaho: We've accomplished our goal and wheeled in snow. Now we need to get going. Unfortunately, the Idaho Mountains are saying "not so fast, homeboys." We've been winching for 30 minutes and we're still trying to get the big H2 turned around. The winch has stalled. Holman has begun to only refer to Brubaker as "a damn Yeti!"
11:30 a.m., almost out of snow and patience, somewhere in Idaho: Just when we thought we were out of the cursed snowfield (whose stupid idea was it to wheel in snow, anyway?), we get stuck again. Holman has snapped. Our friends from the North Idaho Trailblazers are firmly convinced that one of us isn't going to arrive at our destination in Illinois. We winch out our H2 one last time, and then barrel down the mountain at light speed. As we distance ourselves from the snow and begin to roll over honest-to-God dirt again, Holman begins to pull himself together, mumbling about something to do with dry dirt trails in the desert. We say goodbye to our friends from the North Idaho Trailblazers in Mullan, and then we jump on Highway 90 and head towards Kalispell, Montana.
4:55 p.m., Kalispell, Montana: We feel ragged. The H2 is filthy, but running great. Conversation is minimal. We're sitting in a fancy-schmanzy coffee house, uploading our daily blogs using their Wi-Fi. We hear that back in Primedia HQ, bets are being made that one of us won't make it all the way to Illinois. At this point, this trip is about survival. Mind games are beginning to come into play.
In Part III, the adventure enters a shocking new phase as Holman and Brubaker plunge into the vast emptiness of Montana and North Dakota before making their way into Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Illinois. Will the boys ever be the same after meeting a colorful ferryboat-driving old lady with a bad attitude? Will they survive an all-night thrash across Montana without hitting four-legged critters? Will the H2 emerge unscathed from the Trail Ride from Hell near Williston, North Dakota? Will the mosquitoes carry them off in Wisconsin? Next month, we'll tell all.
For even more photos of H2our De Force as well as our daily blogs, get to fourwheeler.com/H2our. There you can read about our trip as it happened and see photos taken by our seriously disturbed pair of travelers.