Keith’s Blog: The Thin Line Between Day-Tripping and Tragedy

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At $21,414 as tested, the Impreza delivers value. Its 2-liter, 4-cylinder engine puts out 148 hp, which meant that fifth was really just for cruising on the level, and fourth was the gear of choice over Mt. Hood. While I would have liked a little more power, the Oregon Highway Patrol officer who stopped me for going 80 mph (just a warning this time, thank you very much) thought that the car was certainly fast enough.

The back seat had plenty of room for Bradley and all of his toys, and Wendie and I appreciated the heated front seats.

The Choice

Coming home, my favorite shortcut involved taking Highway 22 to Detroit Lake, then going on to National Forest Road 46 to OR 224, which brings us into Portland via Estacada. The 78-mile stretch cuts 16 miles off the highway route, and saves 15 or 20 minutes. More important, it is a fantastic two-lane road.

DSCN1222(It’s the afternoon bike ride of choice for Alex and me in the summer time, me on my Suzuki SV-650 and her on her Ninja.)

We asked a gas station attendant about the road, and he said it was plowed, clear and dry all the way to Estacada. I filled the Subaru with gas (it was getting over 30 mpg at that point) and made a quick call to SCM Legal Analyst John Draneas, informing him that I was taking the shortcut home, and that I would call him when I reached the other end – just in case something happened to us.

You see, in 2006, a family took a wrong turn on a now-notorious Oregon Forest Service road, and got stuck in the snow. Seven days later, searchers found the wife and two children in the car, but the husband had died trying to walk out for help. With that tragic story still fresh in my mind, I was conscious of the inherent dangers going off the beaten track in the winter time.

The dry pavement lasted about five miles, and then there was snow on the road. Just a little at first, but then more and more. Soon we were in two ruts, the only way to get down the highway. The all-wheel-drive on the Subaru had no problem maintaining traction, but as the snow got deeper, the body itself began to make contact with the rising snow between the ruts.

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In the Range Rover, this wouldn’t have been an issue, especially with its recent two-inch lift kit. But it was troublesome in the Subaru.

The deeper the snow got, the more frequently the car bottomed out. From my experience on various Rover Club trail runs, I knew that once a car or truck is high-centered on thick snow, getting it unstuck is extremely difficult.

At this point we were 12 miles into the 78-mile road. The snow was getting deeper, it was two in the afternoon, and the outside temperature was 37 degrees. We hadn’t seen another vehicle our entire time on the road, and the ruts were not fresh.

I had a vision of getting stuck, and having to walk the 12 miles, uphill, back to Highway 22—with Wendie and Bradley in tennis shoes, jeans and street clothes. We hadn’t brought severe outerwear with us, and we didn’t have any water or food.

I kept thinking about the family on Bear Creek, and how a pleasant trip to the coast had turned into a tragedy. If they had simply turned around when they got lost, before they got stuck, they would all have survived.

So I looked for the next wide spot in the road, managed to get the Subaru turned around (no simple task, as it meant leaving the ruts and carving my own path through the depth of snow). My Rover experience came in handy, and soon enough we were headed back up the hill.

We were 45 minutes late getting back to Portland, and I have never been so glad to be late. This all reinforces the notion of how a series of minor bad decisions can end up leading to tragic situations. There was nothing to be gained by trying to prove my prowess, and by taking the Impreza on roads it was never designed for.

Two hours later, we were at our favorite pizza parlor in Portland, Bella Faccia Pizzeria, enjoying an exceptionally good bottle of a Columbia Valley red blend – a vastly better outcome than trudging my family through the snow, cold and getting colder, as the day grew darker and darker.

Keith Martin

Keith Martin has been involved with the collector car hobby for more than 30 years. As a writer, publisher, television commentator and enthusiast, he is constantly on the go, meeting collectors and getting involved in their activities throughout the world. He is the founder and publisher of the monthly Sports Car Market and bi-monthly American Car Collector magazines, has written for the New York Times, Automobile, AutoWeek, Road & Track and other publications, is an emcee for numerous concours, and has his own show, “What’s My Car Worth,” shown on Velocity.

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