Sunday, June 3, 2012

I'm Sorry, We Can't Help You...

One spring weekend following a splendid couple of sunshiny weeks, Van Kid and I planned an overnighter with Westly. After a full day of work and chores on Saturday, we headed South out of Seattle mid evening and decided to "Stealth Camp" at a rest area along the way.

This wicked van was in the rest area.  It says on the side you can
rent it for camping, if you're interested
Van Kid dozes peacefully at Maytown rest area
By early Sunday morning, the sky was threatening rain. As Seattle skies are known to follow up their threats with decisive action, we soon found ourselves in steady precipitation. Nevertheless, we continued on to our first destination. Departing company with I-5 at Hwy 121 (Maytown Road), we passed through Littlerock and followed the signs to the Mima Mounds (there's an excellent panoramic view of the mounds at this link).

View Larger Map

These 637 acres of grassy humps are a rather unusual geologic feature. No one knows for sure how they came to be. Every theory from glacial action, seismic activity and flood sediment to over-achieving pocket gophers has been put forth. No one that I'm aware of has mentioned anything about alien intervention, but that wouldn't surprise me at all. Thanks to volunteer efforts, the mounds sport their native grasses and wildflowers, rather than being obscured by invasive Scotch Broom. An interpretive display and short trail provide a wealth of fascinating information about the Mounds.

Van Kid was lackadiasical about viewing the
Mounds in the rain...
But revived after snacking
Leaving the Mounds, we figured if the rain was going to clear up we might visit the Coast. We wound our way down Mima/Gate Road to Hwy 12 and turned West. But by the time we reached Elma, a scan of the sky left no doubt that this rain was going to be an all day event. We turned back East on Hwy 12 along the Southwest boundary of the Capitol State Forest. This 91,650 acre forest has about 575 miles of dirt, gravel and otherwise "unimproved" roads - just perfect for exploring on a drizzly Sunday morning. So we exited the highway at Cedar Creek Road and began climbing up through evergreen forests, mist swirling between the trees. There were sections where log harvesting was taking place, but the loggers had the day off. We passed over hill and dale, surveyed dark forests, expansive vistas, and ugly clear cuts with heaping piles of forest debris. We pretty much had the place to ourselves seeing only three other vehicles all afternoon.

This area had been newly re-planted with
the baby trees being protected by biodegradable plastic sleeves
Some of the way was a little overgrown
We came upon this 1/2 mile of paved road amidst the dirt and gravel
Westly's Assuan Brown paint was a good match to the native soil color

Van Kid inspected a slash of clear cut...
And happened upon the mysterious B glove
Thank goodness for these
That kind of solitude could be considered a good thing. But not when you accidentally drive off the road and get stuck in a drainage ditch. Moreover, in this case "accidentally" could (and should) be replaced with "foolishly". We had come to a junction of two main lines. There was an intersection about 50 feet wide of relatively smooth, flat gravel. I went a short way up one road before deciding to turn back in another direction. I began backing, and figured with all that open road behind, I didn't necessarily need to pay attention to where I was going. Big mistake. Suddenly, Westly was listing precariously in a muddy ditch, his right rear tire four inches above the road surface and I was feeling rather chagrined.

It's no Syncro...
We clambered out and set about gathering rocks and scraps of wood from nearby. Using the jack, we raised the left front corner and used whatever we could find to slowly fill in the ditch. Eventually we raised the corner high enough so the right rear was again making contact with the road. I started the engine and began inching forward, then felt the van slide sideways ensuring that we were really stuck, front and rear tires in the ditch. Although your average rugby squad could have easily pushed us out, we just couldn't get enough traction. As the afternoon wore on, the quiet and solitude began to seem eerie and menacing. My cell phone dropped into a puddle of muddy water, but I grabbed it just before it sank into the murky depths.

With three bars on the cell phone, I rang up AAA. They had been so prompt in responding on a previous occasion. After explaining the situation and location I was told  "I'm sorry sir, we can't help you. You are too far from a paved main thoroughfare." I had been expecting this, as I had specifically asked about service in remote areas before signing up, knowing well my propensity for such travels. They did offer to connect me with a AAA contractor who could help if I payed. This sounded somewhat ominous, but I figured it was our best choice and was connected to JJ's Towing. After I gave the Friendly Dispatcher information about general location, make, model, year, color, etc. the conversation went something like this:

Friendly Dispatcher, in a cheery tone - "OK, a truck will be right out to assist you."
Me, slightly astonished - "But don't you need to know exactly where I am?"
Friendly Dispatcher, somewhat taken aback - "Sir, you just told me you are in the Capitol State Forest."
Me, trying hard to contain my incredulity - "Yes, but it's a big place!!" (39,992,274,000 square feet and Westly's footprint = 90 square feet)
Friendly Dispatcher, with an air of finality - "Well, you can give that information to the driver who will call you in a few minutes."
Me, resignedly - "Very well. Thank you."
Van Kid, hungrily - "I'm hungry."

We had a snack, took a little walk and waited around for over an hour and a half. The sky grew darker but the rain slackened for a while. I was just getting ready to call JJ's again, when I heard a noise - tires crunching on gravel. Someone was driving up the road toward us! An old Toyota 4X4 pickup came into view. By this time we were a little scruffy looking and muddy from digging, but I walked toward the truck as it approached. The driver slowed and looked at me somewhat askance. I wasn't at all sure he would even stop.  But his passenger, holding a small dog that looked like it might once have appeared in a Taco Bell commercial, made some motion for him to pull over. I explained the situation (Westly was there in plain sight) and asked if they could tow me out. The man never spoke but nodded, and pulled up ahead of the van. He remained in his truck while I wrapped a tow strap around the rear bumper, and fastened it to Westly's front tow loop. Quickly jumping in the van, I started it and gave him "thumbs up".  With tires clawing desperately on the loose surface, we lurched forward and guided Westly back onto the road. We were unstuck in less than 30 seconds - not even long enough to get a picture. As I removed the tow strap, the man came out of the truck for a smoke. I offered him some money for his help and he declined with a grunt and wave of his hand. The dog sniffed around a little, then they got back in the truck and left.

I added this 20,000 lb tow strap to Westly's emergency equipment
a few weeks before the trip, and it proved invaluable
Van Kid crashed after a long day of high adventure
We were alone again, but back on the road. I checked underneath to make sure there was no damage, then we headed back down the road to Hwy 12 and after a few more little side trips (including visiting a campground where each site had a picnic table, fire ring, a 20' X 20' corral and hay storage bin) returned home where it took a couple of days to get all the mud from underneath and inside cleaned out.

Still waiting for that return call from JJ's...


  1. WOW! That must've been quite a bit of an adventure for your kid! :-) I'm glad someone stopped to help. People in England are very helpful as well, but when I drifted off an icy road and landed in a ditch during my first winter in Germany (it rarely ever snows in England) more than ten people passed by without even looking before a man with a truck stopped and pulled me out almost an hour later.

    These are some blogs about vans and camping that I follow and I figured you might like them as much as I do:

    have a great week!

    - Dom

  2. Dom -

    In fact, Van Kid said later it was the very most fun trip he had been on - go figure! I think since so many have cell phones now, passing motorists just assume you have called somewhere and help is already on the way. How painful though to watch ten people pass by without at least stopping to inquire.

    Thanks for the links - I was familiar with a couple but Overlandia was new to me and I'm enjoying it.