Our man Jonathon Ramsey is driving a Jeep Wrangler Rubicon on a 14-week, 14,000 mile journey across North America. Check out his first, second, and third installments.
Port Orford, Ore. – On arrival at Battle Rock, just off the southern coast of Oregon, I had completed the (other) Trans-America Trail. It's a worthy Bucket List endeavor even before you get to the bits that challenge a Jeep Wrangler Rubicon. The first tests came in western Oklahoma, tiptoeing through and around swampy farmland. Once I got to Colorado, the difficulty scale increased with each day's driving. By the time I hit wildfires and constant detours in Oregon, I was ready for the trail to end. Here are a few more notes from the last half:
- When I filled up in Columbia, North Carolina just before getting to Oregon Inlet, the odometer showed 12,294 miles. When I filled up in Port Orford before heading north to Seattle, the odo read 18,008, for nearly 6,000 miles in three weeks. GPSKevin says his trail covers 5,184 miles, but detours are an unavoidable part of the experience.
- Utah wins my vote for the widest variety of beauty. Crossing into southeastern Utah from Colorado, the landscape is full of desert farms and endless visibility to mountains at the ends of the Earth in Monticello. It's plush high plains greenery on the way up and down Geyser Pass, then the rocky red pioneer-killing cauldron of The Spanish Valley and Moab. Scrub-filled rock formations stretch to Salina, then back up to verdant forests in both halves of Fishlake National Forest. A final rocky stretch west of Sevier, Utah fell into a rolling golden land past Black Rock, another trip into sparer mountains, then the final comedown to Baker, Nevada. Moab gets all the Jeep love, but there's plenty of fun all over the state.
- In Ely, Nevada I met a Harley rider headed east out of Oregon who told me, "It's all on fire. Whole state. On fire." The haze began not long after leaving Ely. By the time I departed Battle Mountain, Nevada hills showed their own scorched-earth scars, and science-fiction gray skies hid entire mountain chains. Detours were already longer and lengthier in the West because of closed roads, locked gates, and "No Tresspassing" signs. Now fire-centric detours and turnarounds joined the routine.
- The last day on the trail in Oregon, a 114-mile route from Glendale, through the Rogue River Siskiyou National Forest to Port Orford, was the hardest. Because the TAT runs though working logging areas, whole trail roads disappear. In the mountains above Glendale I had to pick my way out of a maze on trails that didn't show up on my Garmin nor on the Jeep's navigation. Later, about 20 miles from the end of the trail, I ran into The Peak of Fallen Trees – thick timbers lie across the trail for no obvious reason. I spent two hours winching trunks out of the way, chopping a couple in half with My Mighty Axe, and picking my way over and through the rest. Then I got to the rocks, where a chunk of mountainside had slid into the road. That was the end of the TAT for me. I had to turn around and find the long way out, an 80-mile detour run with a light foot on a low tank of gas.
- I met fewer folks in the west, yet as in the east, everyone was memorably kind. In Coaldale, Colorado I stayed at the Bighorn RV Park and Campground, recently purchased by an industrious family who – as far as I could tell – just wanted something else to succeed at. They already run a successful farm in Elkhart, Kansas, have a small Airbnb operation, and led the effort to bring industrial hemp farming to Kansas as a way to conserve water and promote sustainable industrial goods. They were also thoroughly kind-hearted and attentive, even as their personal home in the canyon above the park was threatened by flooding severe enough to wash away cars.
- The hamlet of Lakeview, Oregon is the perfect setting for a sequel to the movie Roxanne. I camped at the fairgrounds and met Kerry, who'd brought his Les Schwab company truck to get a whole lot of water. His wife wanted a proper lawn, and the grass wasn't coming up easy. When he wished me good luck on my trip, I said I think my trip is easier than his Green-Thumb-ing. After giving me the skinny on where to eat, he explained that Lake City's in a dark zone, and gave me directions to a nearby mountain to check out the night skies. The next morning I met Heidi, who suggested the Roxanne similarities. A former East Coast designer with a resume that includes the latest Viewmaster, she gave up all the NYC rat race to become a rural appraiser, driving a Chevy Silverado with a camper kitted out as a mobile office. We met when she asked me if my water was brown, too; the whole city had brown water that morning and no one had any idea when it would be fixed. Because Roxanne. While workers built the rides for coming fair in the paddock next to us, my long chat with Heidi about the big city and the big country included her tale of meeting "The Mayor of Nasty Flats" – a real person, a self-appointed title, his nicknamed suburb. Because Roxanne.
- If you want to try the Trans-America Trail, there are two ways I know of. The hardest, which I don't recommend, is downloading the GPX track from the Internet. My guess is that it's one of the first tracks Sam Correro made, when the TAT route was free. But the TAT is a living thing, changing every year. My maps are from 2016 and need plenty of revision. The much easier way is to purchase maps from either Sam Correro for the original TAT, or GPS Kevin. Correro's maps are more expensive – the entire set costs $234, portions run from $8 for just an SD card to $28 for roll charts and the lot. I paid $42 for the other TAT bundle from GPSKevin, including an SD card, and small and large maps breaking the journey into day-sized bites.
- The Jeep's still a goer, but it's feeling lived in. Something rattles mildly under the vehicle on the driver's side. I hear the tiny creaking of a tiny spring in the driver's seat belt tensioner. In the cargo area, it sounds like a piece of hard plastic trim bangs against the sheetmetal when I hit a big bump, but I can't locate the source. I emptied the cargo area and found a bolt, but I couldn't figure out where the bolt belonged. At a gas station I opened the driver's door to its stops. When I got in and pulled the door closed, I heard the unmistakable sound of two glued panels just beginning to pull apart. Nothing major, but the door armrest doesn't appreciate how much I pull on it.
- The LED headlights work fine, but a good portion of oncoming traffic thinks the low beams are brights. I wasn't using the brights because they don't throw light further down the road. Instead, for reasons I can't fathom, they light up the upper portion of the landscape. Now I use the brights so I can make a show of turning them off, and oncoming drivers know I'm not thoughtlessly trying to blind them.
- The trail took so long that I'm skipping the Alaska sightseeing I had planned – I'm ready to get into driving that needs a Wrangler. From here I'll skedaddle to Seattle, reorganize and get an oil change, then shoot up through British Columbia and the Yukon to Fairbanks and Deadhorse. After one look at the Bering Sea, I'll turn around and race back to British Columbia and line myself up at one of the serious Canadian trails – I'm thinking MacKenzie.
Then we'll taste blood. Hopefully not mine. Or not too much of mine, at least.