August 12th, 2002

The Premiere OnLine Magazine for the Fly Fishing Enthusiast.
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Lost!
By Mark Mckenzie (tail_swinger03), Tigard, OR

A few months ago, my wife and I decided to get away for a weekend, just for us. It had been a stressful time. We were both in between jobs, I had just been discharged from the military early due to medical problems, and we had other smaller problems that had been eating away at us. We'd hardly had any time alone together, and were starting to get short with one another. We needed a break. My wife called her mom, and made arrangements for our daughter to spend the weekend with grandma. Nicky and I decided to take a drive into the mountains for a few days, to relax, fish, and find each other again.

Our camping gear was, to put it nicely, insufficient. We didn't have a lot to spend after paying bills from my last paycheck, but we had some money we could afford to spend on ourselves. We picked up a couple cheap tarps, an axe, a hundred feet of parachute cord, a couple blocks of ice, 6 gallons of drinking water. Put the ice in the cooler, some food from the fridge, grabbed some cookware and eating utensils, and threw it in the car. If the weather was nice, we'd rig a rain fly out of the tarps and parachute cord, and sleep on the ground on the other tarp. If the weather was poor, or was too cold, we'd sleep in the car.

We hadn't really decided exactly where to go when it was time to leave, we had a full tank of gas, and a car that had enough stuff piled into it so that we could hardly see out the back window. (We're habitual over-packers. We always take 3 days worth of clothing, and wind up not changing once. We also took 2 heavy blankets, plus our pillows, two nice camp chairs, and other junk I don't even remember using.) Of course, we also had the fishing gear. I'm bad when it comes to fishing trips. I can never (well, almost never) get away from home without at LEAST 2 or 3 rods. This particular trip, I found myself packing away enough rods for 3 people to each have a rod and a backup. I had my 3 wt, 4 wt, and 5 wt fly rods, an ultra light spinning rod, a medium spin-casting rod, and an old Eagle Claw fly rod that I use as a jig pole. Then, there was my backpack, filled with the fly fishing stuff (fly boxes, leader material, extra tapered leader, forceps, clippers, pliers...) and a tackle box. Somewhere in the car, we also managed to fit the dog and his necessities.

We hit I-5 around 10 am, heading south from Oregon. We'd done this same type of thing early last spring, before I left for the Army. We wound up car camping in the mountains above Green Peter Reservoir. We caught no fish that trip, but I did get my wife hooked on fishing again. She also got hooked on my ultra light spinning rod that trip. This time though, we weren't sure if we were heading to Green Peter, or Detroit Lake (Detroit Reservoir, technically). We had also been thinking of staying on the Santiam River, at a campground I'd visited a couple years before. We wound up driving through many back roads and a few dead ends trying to find that campground on the river. Never did find it. Finally, around 6 pm that night, we decided to go to Detroit Lake, about 15 miles up the highway.

We pulled into a state campground at 7:00pm or so, only to find it all full. Checked the other campgrounds, nada. So, the idea to head to the other side of the lake popped into our heads. We drove further around the east end of the lake, trying to find the road to the campgrounds on the south side of the lake. We found a road that looked promising. It paralleled the lakeshore for a couple miles. Then the road got nasty. The westbound lane was closed, slid down the hillside. The road itself was still open, so we figured we were in for an adventure. A few miles further up the road, we saw some campers. This was a free camping area. There were half a dozen groups there, so we drove further. The pavement gave way to gravel, and a steep climb. My wife was getting anxious. The road on our right side had a fairly steep, long drop off. I kept plugging away. We scouted a few good looking spots, if we couldn't find anything further up the road. It's amazing how well a Ford Contour sedan handles old, rutted, gravel logging roads. That car has gone places that I've never seen people with more rugged SUVs try. That's probably because it's owners border on insanity.

We continued on farther, the terrain getting rougher, and narrower. If we'd had the windows down, tree limbs would've smacked us in the face. Then, the brush cleared a bit, and we thought "coolness." Around the bend though, was a little tree fallen across the roadway. I figured we could get over it, no problem; it was no taller than a speed bump. My wife, however, wasn't as confident in the car as I was, nor was she quite as adventurous at that point. (Maybe being pitch black by now had something to do with it too.) So, I backed up, and turned around. We went a few miles back down the logging road to a nice wide, clear spot on the hillside above a stream. We made camp there, in the light of our car's high beams. It was fairly cold out that night, but clear. My wife elected to sleep in the car, so we cleaned out the back seat, and reclined the front seats. I gathered rocks and made a fire pit. Together, we gathered wood for a fire. Nicky arranged the chairs and put on some warm clothes while I got the fire going. Half an hour later, we were roasting hotdogs and looking up at the stars. We could finally relax, just us.

The next morning, I gathered more wood, finished chopping up the big log I'd started on the night before, and got the breakfast fire going. Food always seems to taste a little better cooked outdoors. I didn't even have to season the eggs, because they were cooked over open flame. After finishing breakfast, we extinguished the fire thoroughly, and started breaking camp. Heading down the road, we came to a nice stream we hadn't noticed last night. It was very pretty, with a nice slow deep run. I strung up my 4 wt, while Nicky tied on a rooster tail. It was her first time fishing moving water. Neither of us caught anything that day, but Nicky learned some good fishing lessons. She became quite adept at the art of dislodging snagged hooks. She also became good at placing her casts. If only the trout had been cooperative. We tried the stream a bit further down too, but with the same results.

Around 2 that afternoon, we decided to head back to the lake, but couldn't exactly remember which turn in the road we'd made the night before. So we crossed the stream on a wood and concrete bridge, and headed up another logging road. Funny, I didn't remember so many twists in the road...an hour later, we realized we were nowhere near Detroit Lake anymore. We also managed to find ourselves a few hundred feet higher in elevation than we'd been the night before. Half a tank of gas left, no idea where we were, or how to get back to where we had been, we were lost. No biggie though, we pushed on. We'd eventually hit civilization, right?

Another hour past, and we hadn't hit pavement yet, but suddenly, rounding the bend, a truck, with people! That gave us a big boost, spiritually. A few miles down the road, and we'd hit pavement. There were no signs, except for deer or elk crossings, but we were on pavement by gosh. Then, a stop sign! And there, to the right, an information kiosk! We pulled in the gravel lot, and left the engine running so the fan would cool it off a bit while we looked at the map. The big red "Here you are!" dot made our jaws drop. We were only about 10 miles away from Green Peter Reservoir, and almost 30 from Detroit Lake. So, back we headed, toward roads we knew. We had a great talk on the way back. And we felt connected again. Refreshed. We still had another day to kill, if we wanted to. We didn't have to pick up our daughter until late the next day. So we drove, no particular destination in mind. Talking, enjoying each other's company.

We found ourselves in Canby, OR that afternoon. Stopping in at a Fred Meyer store, we looked at the fishing tackle. Nicky checked out the rooster tails, and I looked for a new tackle box, because the latch on ours broke off. I picked up a good clear Plano box, made to be used in one of the big "tackle storage systems." After that, we found ourselves back home, already thinking about our next outing. What mattered most though, is that we had found each other again. ~ Mark Mckenzie


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