Sometimes things don’t go as planned… (Part 1)
Updated: Nov 28, 2022
A spontaneous journey exploring Wallowa-Whitman National Forest solo in August 2020.
I did a lot of wandering this past summer. There’s much I could write about, but I’m going to focus on one trip that had a really big impact on me. That probably sounds a little crazy and somewhat cliche, but it really did.
(Go to the bottom of this post for my disclaimer about my posts where I talk about my wanderings, so you aren’t disappointed by information I don’t share.)
Monday, August 17, 2020 For my 21st birthday I wanted to do a solo backpacking trip and decided to do it in the Wallowa Mountains. I drove to my grandma and her husband’s home near the north side of the mountains. It was a 6 hour drive. I spent two nights at their place.
The backpacking trip I was planning to do started on the southern side of the mountains. So on Monday morning I woke up at 4am and started my drive soon after. It was still pitch black outside. I kept my eyes peeled for deer and cows in the road, but didn’t come across any. When I was coming around a sharp corner I saw something in the middle of the road and swerved quickly to avoid hitting it. It was a large skunk that I narrowly avoided hitting. At least I assume I didn’t hit it because I didn’t smell any smells and didn’t feel a bump.
I got to see an incredible sunrise, a first of many over the next few weeks. I actually stopped the car to take pictures I was that impressed by it. The last hour before getting to the trailhead was on gravel roads. I came across multiple cows in the road that I had to pass around. They were easy to spot since it was light out.
I got to the trailhead at 8am. I was feeling nervous, tired, and semi-nauseas. I was also feeling achy due to chronic illness. I got my backpack on, filled out the permit and started my way down the trail. The backpack felt painfully heavy and the weight was really making my injured knee hurt. It felt like a chisel was being driven behind my knee cap every time I stepped down on it.
After making it to the river and going 0.18 miles I turned around and went back to the car. I was on the edge of tears. I was so tired and just didn’t have the energy. I didn’t want to push myself and injure my knee more.
Looking back I can say that I was pretty burnt out after everything else I’d done during the summer. The sections of the Wonderland Trail and the Timberline Trail I did earlier were both demanding. It was on the Timberline Trail that I injured my knee and it wasn’t healing up fast. (It’s February 2021 when I’m writing this and it still gives me problems sometimes.)
I had my Spot satellite messenger so I sent a message to my mom. The closest area with cell service was Baker City which was over an hour away. The forest was too dense at the trailhead to send the message so I drove down the road to a dispersed camping spot with thinner trees and tried to send it again there. It takes forever to send messages, like 6-15 minutes.
My brain was going 1,000 miles per hour with all the ideas about what I could do. I felt like shit. Going out was supposed to be about me enjoying it. The backpacking trip was out of the question. I considered day hiking, but decided that for now I wasn’t going to plan on it. I tried to sleep in the car, but gave up pretty quickly when I couldn’t.
I decided I was just going to drive some backroads and explore. I’d find a place to pull off and camp that night. Then I’d figure out what I wanted to do tomorrow.
I drove down one of the main forest service roads, exploring pull offs and roads that went off it. I didn’t run into very many other cars. I love eastern Oregon. There really is something so magical about the towering hills/mountains, sage brush, and dusty air.
I found some pretty cool dispersed camping spots. I marked them on my map as places I could come back to camp that night if I wanted. I saw a lookout tower on the top of a hill in the distance. I looked at my maps and it looked like there was a road going up to it, so I decided to try and get there. The road was narrow with drop offs, but in good condition. I made it to the trailhead and decided to hike what I thought was a short distance to the top. Check out my post on Summit Point to read more about this excursion.
After I finished my hike I was overheated and overexerted. I’d injured my knee sliding on the loose gravel on the way back down to the parking lot. I could tell a thunderstorm would be coming within the next 3 hours with the storm clouds off in the distance. I drove into a small town called Halfway. I felt overwhelmed and decided to drive to Baker City which was an hour away.
I ended up driving through the most crazy thunderstorm. It was a heavy down pour and there were huge wind gusts that drove the rain sideways. The rain was so powerful it was like a little creek running across the road the entire time. I was hydroplaning and saw lightening bolts. It was so crazy! I felt like more of me let go and felt renewed driving in that thunderstorm. I pulled over and briefly put my hand out the window. It was instantly soaked.
I made it to Baker City while the thunderstorm headed straight for the Wallowa’s. I got supper, some food for the next few days from the only Safeway within a few hours, and filled up with gas. I called my mom and told her what I was doing.
I drove back into the mountains. The thunderstorm had passed and I was to the point I was starting to race daylight to find a place to camp. There was a very large, downed tree across the road someone had recently cut. I was worried I’d run into more. I saw lots of recently downed trees near the road, but not across it. On this stretch of road I saw a mud slide and a few small rock slides.
The one road I was planning on going down was blocked by a fallen tree, so I went the opposite direction to a pullout I remembered seeing. It was already taken. I drove further up the road. Thankfully I found a nice spot to park and camp. I was actually excited about car camping. The place I found was in a meadowy area near a river.
I got the car all set up for sleeping, cleaned up, and organized. I journaled and listened to the sound of the river. It was almost 9pm and I was so exhausted. I laid down to go to sleep and fell asleep rather quickly. Sleeping in the car was uncomfortable, but I made it work.
I was so proud of myself for being spontaneous, flexible, and taking care of myself. It was really hard to let go of “the idea of what I was supposed to do and expected of myself.” It was very uncomfortable and challenging, but I’m so glad I did. I really enjoyed the day and I wouldn’t have if I’d forced myself to backpack.
This is the only time I’ll say I’m thankful for a bum knee. It screamed at me when I wasn’t listening to what my body and my soul wanted/needed. It was my messenger that made me stop and re-evaluate what I was doing. It’s a new experience taking every single moment of each day one step at a time. It’s crazy how having no plans can feel so freeing.
There are a few things I mentioned in my Mossy Forest Wanderings post that I’m going to repeat:
Wandering: moving from place to place without a fixed plan. (Dictionary.com)
Wandering is how I’ve found some of the most incredible places and lesser known views. It’s also how I find some of the most epic dispersed camping spots. They end up feeling like they’re just mine. So if I write about my wanderings I won’t be sharing the location of where I wander or of the places I find. My goal is to inspire you to wander and discover your own places. That’s what makes them so special—they feel like they’re yours and yours alone.
My Wild Adventure is not responsible for your safety, any possible injury, or anything that happens if you choose to follow anything on this website. Maps are not intended to be used for navigational purposes, but to give an overview of the route taken. By going outdoors you are solely responsible to know your strengths and limitations, be aware of current conditions and proceed with the appropriate caution. My Wild Adventure is not responsible for your choices and the outcome. Reference my disclaimer for more information on being responsible outdoors.