After the Northwest Overland Rally, we found ourselves a short drive to the north section of the Washington Backcountry Discovery Route. 6 years ago, Eric had a hair-raising rollover on a seemingly harmless section of this route. That’s when he lost his beloved 80 series Toyota Land Cruiser. 6 years later, being so close to the trail, we believe this is the time for a comeback.
We entered the Washington Backcountry Discovery Route north from Cashmere. After airing down behind the farmland, we let the emotion set in.
Soon we reached Chumstick Mountain. There was a group on the top of the mountain. We waited a bit. They didn’t seem to have any plan to move or keep going. So we turned around to continue our route. On top of Chumstick, you find yourself in a divide – to your East, is an endless plateau; to your West, are layers upon layers of mountain peaks.
I’m in year 2 since my rollover. Eric is at year 6 since his. Although very different settings and styles of rollover, the emotional burden lingers in the same way. For anyone who sees their vehicle as a trusted partner, losing one would make you mourn for years. So on top of navigating the PTSD of getting back on the trail, you’re also struggling with grief.
There’s nothing tricky about this route. Most of the time was spent on slow driving to maneuver the twists and turns on this single-lane track. Traffic died down as we drove toward the North.
Passing Ardenvoir, we continued back into the trail and took the first “Now And Then” photo.
As we drove closer to the accident spot, memory started flooding back to him.
“The trees are taller now,” he said lightly, confirming the location of the last photo taken of his 80 series before it was upside down. A sense of bittersweet started creeping into me.
Looking back at the past 6 years, how life would’ve been different had things gone other ways. Had the vehicle rolled down the steep, never-ending hill, death could be painless to himself but what about the family? What if he survived but with a life-altering injury? That would be a totally different life now. Then, what if there was no accident? Completing this trip just like the countless other trips he had done with this cruiser. Would he still have this trusted friend around? Would this trip be as memorable? Thinking about “what ifs” always sound pointless. What we’re left with is endless gratitude towards the partner who sacrificed their life to save ours. And the guilt for letting this happen. The Land Cruiser had never let us down, not even till its last breath. He died. So we could live on…
When we climbed back in the car, his lips were shaking: “Just trying to keep it together.”
This is my first time seeing him showing the soft side towards this incident. Every time he tell this story to others, it was all lighthearted laughs. But being in the exact location brings him right back to the moment 6 years ago. The pain can no longer be masked. Soon after this, we will be approaching the rollover spot. This section of the trail looks similar in every meter. He didn’t have Gaia GPS back then. Leaving us no specific waypoint to drive towards. All we have for reference is his memory and a few pictures.
We went passed the spot and turned around. Got out of the car to scout on foot. Each holding a phone with that photo of his 80 series upside down. Eventually, we were able to reference the 2-peaked mountain in the distance and a dead tree down the hill that looks like a demon with a welcoming arm.
A deeply emotional moment for him. I was never good at comforting people. I didn’t know what to do when someone expressed their raw emotion or unintentionally slip out feelings. Tho I do realize, I am witnessing a man being vulnerable. A rare silver of tenderness in this 5’11’” body.
Thank you, my friend.
At least, we’re alive.
When we finally gathered ourselves to continue the trail. With all the adrenaline and emotions used up at the rollover spot, we were tired and hungry. All the campground around Chelan was full. We even tried looking up hotels. No luck. So we were left with only one option: sticking with our original plan.
We merged back into the BDR north of Mason and soon found this little camp spot with beautiful wildflowers around.
The sunset was unbelievably magical. Pastel color over the layering mountain lines. Fire red cloud slowly flowing pass above our head.
Another day to be alive.