III: The Logging Road Two-Step
Copyright (c) 1997 by Ronald Bourret
The main highway took us out of town. While I watched the endless forest slip by and Paul slept in the back, Ben tried to reconcile our maps. The tourist map containing the caves showed two solitary roads in the shape of a wishbone. The logging road map of the same area looked like a clump of hair stuck in a bathtub drain.
We crossed an apple-green stell bridge and turned to down a side road. It wound through rolling hills covered with secondary growth and over numerous small creeks. Ten minutes later, it turned to gravel and crossed a set of railroad tracks. This matched our directions to the caves and we were certain they lay just around the corner.
Instead, the road climbed slowly out of the forest and up the side of a broad valley. I stopped at the base of a steep section that had washed out and been repaired with large, sharp rocks -- a sadist's vision of a cobblestone street.
Unsure if the overloaded Honda could even climb the grade, much less clear the rocks, I gunned the engine and aimed for two parallel ridges. The car hit bottom and bounced to a stop. We crept forward expectantly, but there was only the sound of the engine and the silence of the passengers. I drove on.
At each fork in the road, Ben marked our position on the map with his finger. This worked at first, but we soon passed overgrown spurs leading into the thicket. Were these also roads? Who could tell? Ben compensated by boldly announcing that this one was a road and that one was not, like a general who believes that the flags on a table mark the position of troops in a real battle.
He was saved at the next junction. Our directions stated that the road to the caves was well flagged, and there, marking the right-hand branch, was an optimistic cluster of pink tape. For Ben, it was as if we were standing at the entrance to a cave. I was skeptical -- flagging tape is as common in the Northwest woods as unemployed loggers -- but the alternative was steep and rocky. I happily turned right.
The road grew rougher and I weaved among the potholes, wondering how much further we had to go. I glanced at the map, where Ben's finger was creeping toward the cheerful red stars marking the caves, and saw that we were close. In anticipation of our arrival, Ben read us the description of the parking area.
"A turnout, a track on the left, and a path and a cairn on the right."
The use of two distinct words -- path and track -- struck me as curious and I asked what the difference was. A path, opined Ben, was a small trail and a track was even smaller, but still larger than a game trail. I thought a track was an overgrown road, I replied, vaguely remembering that this was how the term was used in Britain and assuming that the meaning had crossed the Atlantic with the Scottish accents in Port McNeill. Paul disagreed with both of us, stating that a track was bigger than a path but smaller than a trail.
Not surprisingly, we decided that the very next wide spot in the road matched the description. A grassy spur led to the left and a hint of a trail led to the right. Although the area lacked a cairn, we pinned our hopes on the multi-colored wads of tape splashed across the trees, ignoring the fact that half the trees in the last mile had been similarly decorated.
Just to be sure we were in the right spot, we continue toward Square Corner. Our directions stated that this was on the far side of the caves and it was visible on both maps -- a well-labeled intersection of four main roads. Finding it, we reasoned, would confirm our position.
I accelerated up a steep slope, then swerved to miss two rocks on the left. There was a sickening screech, followed by the irregular clank of something dragging on the ground. I got out of the car and looked underneath. The muffler had been almost completely severed from the tailpipe.
While Paul and I forced it back into place, Ben disappeared into the woods. He reappeared ten minutes later and told us that, although he hadn't found any caves, he had followed several well-traveled and well-flagged trails. They undoubtedly led to the caves, he said. We climbed back into the Honda, still intent on Square Corner, but the muffler fell off two bounces later.
"I'm positive we're in the right place," Ben proclaimed, thus abandoning our search for Square Corner.
Considering the condition of the car, I hoped he was right.