Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Driving Backroads!

RV'ers complain that Forest Service and BLM roads are narrow and unsuitable for RV's.  Now, I can understand this since almost ALL Forest Service roads and MOST BLM roads are designed for this rig.  So, if your rig is larger than this, I can understand your concern.

One difference between your rig and this logging truck is that the logger knows exactly where he is going and who he is likely to meet along the road.  Oh ya, he thinks he's a better driver than you; but that is open for debate.
When I started working for the Forest Service in the early 1970's they actually taught you how to drive on mountain roads.  So, I will share a few tricks with you.

When my wife and I moved to Washington state in 1980 the dirt road to our house was posted with a large sign stating "PRIMITIVE ROAD NO WARNING SIGNS".  Now the sign is rather funny; but it has an underlying truth to it.  On paved roads, engineers put up speed limits, advisory signs, and even warning signs.  They also use neat tricks with designs and landscaping to slow you down.  Your driving reflects those conditions and you can drive faster or slower depending upon what is ahead.

All those signs and design features are missing on most BLM and FS roads.  You are alone and need to make those judgements.  Not a big deal.  Drive slow enough to stop before any hazard can occur.  DO NOT try to drive through snow.  Snow, down trees, and soft shoulders can cause real navigation problems; but we will leave them for later.  The important part is to drive slow and be aware of potential  hazards.

For several years, I did presentations for Life on Wheels in Moscow, Idaho and I would always ask the question  "What is an inter-visible turn-out".  Nobody knew.  But almost every FS and BLM road is designed with inter-visible turnouts.  Look at this picture.

This is not a parking area, it is a turnout to avoid head-on collisons!  Basically, on FS and BLM roads you are driving from turn-out to turn-out.  The Honda is in one turn out.  Look way down in the distance.  See that indent in the right side of the road?  That is the next turn out.

Next time you drive a backroad look for the turnouts.  They will usually be on the downslope side of the road, constructed of fill material.   They are not parking areas they are PASSING areas on one lane roads!!  Drive from one turn-out to the next turn-out and you will safely reach your destination.

Once you get use to driving on one lane roads with turn-outs life will becomes much easier.  What if you're too big to fit in a turnout?  No problem, as long as the other guy can; and in most situations this is the case.

Scout your roads before you drive them with your big RV, if possible.  Knowing about turn-outs will also make you more comfortable when driving in new areas.  On most backroads, there is little traffic and nearly everyone passing by will be willing to help you out when you have a problem.  Start slow, pay attention to turnouts and soon you will be driving the backroads like a pro, maybe better.

Take advantage of backroad travel. Roads like this are out there waiting for you to find them.



Anonymous said...

In the Siuslaw National Forest near Oregon's coast, some of the forest roads are beautifully graded for RVs, but ridiculously narrow---barely a single lane. I ended up on one and there were no turnouts for miles! I don't know what would have happened had I encountered any oncoming traffic. I later found out the road was an old railroad grade---very common in that logging area.

Vladimir Steblina said...

There are many old railroad logging grades that have been converted throughout the West. When traveling these roads keep your eyes open for the old logging camps. Back in the 1970's they were still fairly complete and "unlooted". I suspect those conditions have changed.

I am surprised that there were no inter-visible turnouts along that stretch of road. The Suislaw was a heavy timber forest and they ran lots of logging trucks on those roads.

Once I ran into a guy with my trailer and he had a horse trailer. Somehow we got between those inter-visible turnouts. We finally cleared each other by an inch. I stood next to the trailer and slowly gave directions. Not fun.

Anonymous said...

I just had my first experience with a Forest Service road and look-out. Amazing! Where can I find maps for more?

Vladimir Steblina said...

The public lands are just great for exploring. The expression "Freedom of the hills" just fits.

Here is more information on Forest Service maps in a previous blog posting:

You might want to go slowly through the entire blog. There is lots of information on maps and how to use them.

Hope to see you out somewhere!

Anonymous said...

I drive Siuslaw NF a lot, and yes many roads are very narrow, much narrower than in the Willamette National Forest, and often have no turnouts. These are not intended for RVs, they are intended for trucks. I use a passenger van and I do fine; but it is expected to pull onto the shoulder for passing. Generally one side will have a shoulder, but it is usually overgrown with thimbleberry or salmonberry. Often there are giant holes in the road, too; if your vehicle barely fits on the road, plan to drive out (however many miles you drove in...) in reverse because if you can't maneuver, you can't get around these holes. The reason is the ocean moisture, it just causes a lot of heave and then sinking. The gravel roads are actually more likely to be passable if you barely fit than the paved roads, because pavement is short-lived on the coast.