Okay, post your experiences!
First off, I hope a few others made it down the canyon. My son and I got off a lot later than I wanted and the drive was _a lot_ longer, despite extending the speed limit further than the law allows. We never made it down the canyon, never saw any HF members, and barely made it back alive to tell the tale. This is our story.
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It was a dark and lonely night. Heavy rains had been falling all week and low, dark clouds filled the sky as far as the eye could see. I had just returned home from a conference in Nevada and had only a little time to pack my bags for the weekend hanging. Only my 7-year-old son was willing to join me on what was to be the most harrowing ride of our lives.
We arrived at Forest Road 81, south of Happy Jack around 4 PM. The first quarter mile of the dirt road was deceptively easy driving, but the road quickly turned treacherous, taking a beating from the weeks' long rain storm. Our small, low-clearance, front-wheel-drive sedan was doing all she could to miss the deep ruts and mud bogs. My son and I felt like passengers in a very bad theme park ride as we sloshed through the unforgiving terrain.
As we neared the final stretch, the FR81E turn off, I noticed we were fish-tailing a lot more than normal so I found a spot where we could pull over. To my great astonishment, our tires were caked with nearly two inches of mud and layers of pine needles. I was secretly panicked, but held a good face for my 7-year-old. I scraped what I could off the wheels but knew we had to push forward, hoping beyond hope we could reach the trailhead before it got any darker.
The road continued to deteriorate and I finally had to stop the sedan as the rocks gave little clearance; in addition, I had absolutely no traction with all the caked-on mud. I pulled off into the grass and decided we had no choice but to hike the rest of the way down. Maybe we would meet a better-vehicle-equipped HF member who would find us wandering the muddy roads. None came. I took some time to scrape off what mud and debris I could off my tires and wheel wells so they wouldn't lock my vehicle in the mud in the morning.
It was hopeless for us. With nearly 2 miles to hike and twilight already upon us, we wouldn't be able to get far. At first, I tried to hike quickly, but a 7-year-old with a loaded pack is not something to rush. At last, I admitted defeat. We had to find a place to stop, make camp, and prepare dinner. We had hiked nearly a mile, but that was about all we could do before it was dark. The low clouds and mist magnified an already somber mood. A look at our shoes and you would think we'd been in the brick pits, slowly churning clay and straw into mortar. Mental note: pine needles make an excellent brick additive.
We had set up camp near Dukey Tank. We quickly found an appropriate place to set up our hammocks, bunk style, maybe 200 feet from our proposed kitchen site. My son was eager to help set camp and we began immediately prepping our site and unloading gear. We had both packed light, so-to-speak. My pack weight was 15 lbs and my son carried 12 lbs, although to my son, this represented nearly 25% of his body weight, which likely felt considerably heavier than what I carried. He never complained.
Dinner included fresh tomato, basil, and mozzarella salad; steamed rice with broccoli; and chicken tenders. We forwent dessert (Snickers) and decided to turn in and watch a movie (UP! by Pixar) to lighten our spirits. We never made it through the movie (too tired), but we did make it to bed.
We both slept wonderfully warm and cozy and woke at 6 AM ready for breakfast. It had rained nearly all night, but the rain was gone by the time we were ready to get up. My one thought: the road _out_ will only be worse.
Breakfast consisted of fresh toast, hot cocoa, and a home-made omelet with bacon. After clean-up, it didn't take much convincing that our best option would be to return to our car and attempt an escape while we still had a car to return to. While we were disappointed we wouldn't make it down the canyon, we knew our first priority was saving our own lives. Plus, there had been no evidence of any other HF member; perhaps they were smarter and stayed home?
The slosh back to our sedan left our shoes, again, caked in layers of mud and pine needles. Any attempts at scraping the mud off was futile as the next step put a new layer mud and needles back on. Our only consolation was that there was only so much mud and debris that would stick to our shoes.
We prayed as we started the car and made our way out. The roads were much worse and it was all I could do to keep the sedan on courses as we narrowly avoided undercarriage-crushing stones and wheel-well rubbing ruts. Fresh pools of water awaited us and sprayed their tempestuous sludge on our windshield, mocking us as we drove through.
The forest road wound on and on without abatement. Crisscrossing roads intersected our lane tempting us to turn. I had to constantly spray the windshield in a vain attempt to keep it clean. We both strained through streaked mud, my knuckles turning white as I gripped the steering wheel making sudden turns to avoid hazards that only returned with reckless abandon.
Finally, the paved access road appeared and the first quarter mile of "good" dirt met our muddled tires. I said a little prayer, thanking God that we made it out alive.
The food was good. The companionship excellent. But we will think twice before ever attempting a forest road, again.