Monday, July 2, 2007

Twelve Mile Road

One of the most exciting times of the Summer 2007 Vanagon trip was when I went down Twelve Mile Road. This proved to be an unwise choice. I love to drive on backroads as much as possible. I use a GPS navigation system to aid me in this preference. I tell it to find the shortest route and it does that, which almost always uses the smaller roads. Then it guides me so that I don't have to constantly look for the next turn, and read a map. I can enjoy the scenery and driving and know it will tell me when it's time to turn. It has a setting to avoid unpaved roads, and I usually leave that turned off because I don't mind unpaved roads. As long as they're actually roads.

I was toodling along enjoying the scenery, like you see above. It was a beautiful crisp summer day in northern West Virginia, with sun but not too hot. I continued from Snake Rd onto Twelve Mile Rd. at a place called Sell, and I think this photo is near that place. If you are that interested, you can click the little map below and see what it looks like. The road was quite good and smooth and level, with nice fresh looking gravel on it. One could actually go pretty fast on the open sections where there were no blind curves. Fast meaning about 30-35mph in the Vanagon on gravel. A few miles down the road, a few driveways turned off, with "Private" signs on them, and the nice fresh gravel disappeared as the road went into pretty deep woods.

There's kind of what it looked like in there. (This is about at point #1 on the map below.) The road was pretty straight, following a small stream, and descending with it through the woods. Also you see in this picture the first obstacle I came to: The Sippy Hole. At this point I figured, I was just going to turn around and get out of there. I got out to take this photo and got a stick and probed the big puddle, and found it to be very firm on the bottom and not very deep. So I figured what the heck and went on. No problem with the sippy hole, and the road continued descending. I made note of places where I could turn around as I passed them. The GPS showed it was not far to where this road started having other roads branch off of it. I knew that it would probably be in the worst condition where it was used the least, I would pass that point, then it would get better, and I'd be out the other side.

Then I made a few decisions about continuing that were not so smart. Stupid really. I went past some things I was pretty sure I would not be able to go back up. A steep rocky down hill section was one. At one point the little stream was basically running down the "road" I was driving on. Here's the story on the Vanagon's off road abilities from my experiences. They can be really bad to lose traction and get stuck. I've gotten stuck on wet grass several times on hills that weren't really very steep at all. The good things about taking the Vanagon off road are that they have quite a sturdy suspension capable of withstanding abuse. And they have good ground clearance and short ramp angles front and rear. This means they can go over tall things without those things hitting the bottom of the van and making it stop.

So that wet section with the stream running down the road seemed like I'd never be able to do that uphill. Here's another section where a small tree was down and I think just out of view in the foreground was the broken culvert pipe I drove over. I also got out here and moved a big branch off the "road" so that I could manoeuvre over that small tree in the easiest way possible. The thing that made me decide to keep going was that I had passed these obstacles I wouldn't be able to go back up or over, and the fact that I knew I was close to where the conditions would improve.

It got worse. There were stumps in the "road" soon. There were big holes and mounds where other vehicles had been stuck and dug out or spun their tires. The terrain got flatter, and soon it was just impossible to manoeuvre the van around the trees that were increasingly *in* the "road." There had been a fork in the road a ways back that I think was actually Twelve Mile Road, but involved a stream crossing that was really hairy looking.

I had been thinking about how I would get my stupid ass out of there. I had cell phone, I had my bike and could easily ride out a couple miles. I came to a stop and got out when it was clear I could go no further. I was quite anxious. Excess adrenaline pumping made me feel like I had drank a java chiller or 2. I walked ahead about 100 yards and found the place where the road was nice and level and gravel. I couldn't get to it though. I was at about point #2 on the map below.

So I took my anxiety and excess adrenaline and decided to at least try to get out of there. I scouted a place to turn around 20 yards back the way I came. It was difficult. I couldn't see where the rear wheels were and they would hit a rock or stump and stop moving. Trees were close on both sides which prevented easy jockeying to the sides to clear those rocks and stumps. The ground here was softer and more soil and vegetation. I got the spinning tires thing going a few times and had to use momentum to overcome the slick spots. A big branch threatened to rip off my newish side view mirror. But I got the thing turned around. Going forward is much better for traction in the van because the weight transfers rearward when you accelerate giving more traction and less spinning tires. I started back up the "road" thinking to stay calm and keep the momentum up. It turns out the "road" was pretty rocky, and it was a sandstone that had a lot of friction. Even the wet parts were not very slippery. That tree across the road presented a challenge though. The uphill approach to it made it a much larger "step" from the level of the road. First try, the right tire hopped over it, but the left one hit it and the whole van slid to the left as the tire slid along it. No trouble backing up off of it. I got out and built a little stairway of rocks for the left wheel to get over it. 2nd try and it was just up and over. The right wheel took quite a bounce there though {foreshadowing}. After that it was surprisingly easy. The steep part came and went with little trouble as the sandstone rocks provided a lot of grip for the tires. When I got to the Sippy Hole I couldn't believe it. I was out of there. I was really surprised that I made it.

I learned a lesson on Twelve Mile Road and got that lesson cheap compared to what it could have been. There I am kissing the beleaguered rear wheel, who so gallantly propelled me out of harm's way.

Here's the Map of Twelve Mile Road if you want to mark it off of your route.

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