The urge to explore the new and unknown can be nearly primal in its intensity. While societies demand unswerving routine to often mindless automation as the price of civilization, the inexplicable need to push the envelope, to crest new horizons, to discover sights and sounds not previously experienced is always lurking there in the minds of men. Such is the stuff of adventure.
And it is precisely this idea of adventure that draws so many people to the world of four-wheel drive; the idea that with such a vehicle, places become accessible that would not otherwise be so. Images of vast landscapes, unpeopled vistas, and even potential danger so far from the beaten path infect the minds of nearly all those who get drawn into this pastime.
So, it was with great expectation that we joined ARB this past summer for what was being heralded as an overland expedition through Oregon's vast, beautiful wilderness. It smacked of old-world adventure, and we arrived in Bend, Oregon, ready to set out at once. Granted, our mode of travel would include neither the horses nor wagons that our forebears relied upon, but the modern, exquisitely-built 4x4s we climbed into that bright summer morning served precisely the same purpose. Spirits were high.
The first leg of our journey took us to the Lava Butte region of central Oregon, a foreign-looking place with cinder cones that spring red and hard from the earth all around. The cinder crunched loudly beneath our tires as we wound our way through the strange landscape, and by the time we emerged from the area into deep green forest, there was an odd sense of relief to be back on more familiar terrain.
With a total of 15 rigs, ranging from Jeeps and Toyotas to Rovers and Isuzus, the company made very good time. In all, we had allowed ourselves five days to make the entire trip, stopping only at night to either camp or take advantage of some remote lodge with hot showers and soft beds. Camping beneath the open skies was a real pleasure and seemed much more in keeping with the intent of our journey. Each night out, the skies seemed to blaze with stars fixed against an inky blackness that was utterly undimmed by towns or cities. For us, sleep was peaceful.
As we worked our way through open country, along trails that seemed rarely crossed these days, we connected with the historic Oregon Trail. Once known as the gateway to the Pacific, this section of the Cascade Mountains once teemed with settlers striking out on their own adventures. While the trail offered little challenge to our machinery, it was interesting to imagine how the trail must have looked to the settlers who faced the hard-edged Cascades with wagons and horses, knowing that they had no recourse if things went wrong.
The level of challenge rose considerably as we began making our way through some of the more remote areas of the Tillamook State Forest. The trails were steep and narrow, with many being deeply rutted and canopied by heavy overhanging branches. None of the vehicles ever got bogged down or caught up on the rocky precipices, but had there been even a hint of rain, the going would have been much slower. As it was, though, the dry ground provided good traction, and we climbed to several peaks that offered astounding views of the vast surrounding forest. On Day Four, we left the deep woods and headed south on Pacific Coast Highway to the small town of Florence, Oregon. This tiny dot on the map is famous for one thing: it sits right at the edge of the Oregon Dunes Recreation Area. This vast stretch of sand is one of the largest and most extensive in North America, with dunes rising to heights of 500 feet. For us, it was a veritable playground. Four-wheelers who had spent the previous four days crawling along remote trails were suddenly given the opportunity to unwind and go racing along the dunes.
It's odd, but driving at speed through the sand gives you a sense of invulnerability, as if such a soft, giving surface could do no damage to you or your rig. Of course, sand carries its own challenges and dangers, but once you have a feel for it, you can easily spend days just playing around.
Unfortunately for us, the real world came beckoning, and our five days were at an end. Somehow, though, the days seemed to have lasted much longer. Even now, in our mind's eye, the journey looms large and we begin to realize that it is the adventure that counts - not the time taken to experience it. Maybe next summer will bring as much and the adventure can go on.
On The TrailAl ColebankMan-A-Fre80-series Land Cruiser
Bill Burke4-Wheeling AmericaRange Rover Classic
Charles D' AndradeRover AccessoriesLand Rover Discovery II
Marc BowersRogue River Trading Co.Isuzu Rodeo
Joel SnyderStage WestGrand Cherokee ZJ
John LawrenceCherokee XJ
Al VanderveldeCanadian 4WD magazineCherokee XJ
Doug ShipmanShip's MechanicalSeries-II Land Rover
Dennis MeekLand Rover D-90
Glen WakefieldRocky Road OutfittersJeep Liberty
Dave HarritonAmerican Expedition Vehicles (AEV)Jeep TJ Brute