Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Winter Storms make for Weird Sand at the Winchester Bay Sand Dunes

As we rolled out of the campsite, and headed for the dune access across the road,
I thought how great it was to get out in the dunes, no matter the weather, it was going to be a great ride. I checked to make sure my seat belt was latched, and familiarized myself with where the grab handles ( HOLY SH#% handles) were, in Jason's Can-Am Commander 1000 X, grateful he offered me to ride shotgun.
We crossed the road and entered the dune access road, whooped up as normal, I thought as we bounced through them at the posted speed limit. As the road opens into the first expanse of dunes I can tell the last few winter storms (some with 100mph winds) and wet weather has made some changes. The sand is wet fluff, and choppy but not too bad. I figured the whole group would meet at Banshee Hill, and everyone would make at least an attempt and most would go over the top no problem. We all met at Banshee, and someone made a run in a RZR XP 900 on paddles, he had to check up just before the trees, due to a couple quads coming down through the trees. When he tried to take back off, he threw some big roost but never moved. He started to back up and the dune started to take control attempting to turn him sideways and over towards the steep side hill. As he worked his way slowly around, the path was clear. My driver pounded the throttle and off we went, accelerating towards the bottom of the hill, I thought good speed, good approach, can't wait to see the view and get some pictures from the top. Just before we got to the trees it sounded like the engine started to bog a little and as we got into the trees, it felt like we ran into a bog of wet cotton balls. Momentum all but stopped and clumps of wet sand were sacrificed skyward by the tires.
After several of the side by sides tried and failed, a couple quads made the run and you could hear their engines bog in the same spot. We made a second run, getting 20 feet further with the same final result after backing down, we headed south east out into the dunes. The sand was wet and rough, especially where the main traffic was. As we cruised along the top edge of a dune I watched the sand on the south side. There were razorbacks, humps n' lumps and hard sad jut outs, nothing you would want to roll over at speed without checking it out first.
The "Backside" of a dune (photo by Chad Meyer)
As we reached the drop into a valley that leads to "buttercup" and the backside of Banshee Hill, we stopped and a bunch of the group ran the downhill / uphill loop ending their runs with nice jumps. The rain started an aggressive assault on us fun lovers, but we were distracted and able to practically ignore it.
 
Jason dropped in and we headed up and to the right towards "buttercup", running through a tight trail that leads to the sand groove that runs up and into "buttercup". About halfway up we ran into thick, wet, coastal fog. "Good time to turn around" he says, "for sure, I thought my goggles were just fogging up bad," I answered.

We headed out through the trails and made the climb out of the valley and headed further south to a big 3/4 bowl, and made a couple really good high marks. The sand didn't seem too loose or that "fluffy" here. We had good traction and no breakaways even on a high speed steep sidehill. We headed to another big climb and made it right to the peak before the sand won. Someone came up on our left and capped the dune. Judging by the amount of wet sand we both ate, they were running paddles. We backed down, ( I made a slight adjustment to his MUZZYS DigiTuner) and made another run at it, topping it with ease, as we headed down the backside there were drops with kicker humps and double kickers with sharp edges. I have never seen the dunes this ugly, rough on the backsides of the dunes, and as we ran towards some of the transition flats I notice the incredible amount of standing water and how rutted and rough the flats were. As a veteran of the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area I have seen a lot of weird conditions, but nothing quite like these conditions.
The rain was starting to cause some visibility issues and we started to head back. Spotting one of our comrades pulling out a tow strap we headed over to check and see what happened. Turns out my volunteer video camera man had knocked the air filter loose ( it sticks up between the seats) and got his jacket sucked into the intake, flooding the engine so bad it wouldn't start. He had a tow vehicle lined up so we headed back.
The trip back through through the flats and small dunes was a great high speed run, with Jason masterfully dodging a couple water hazards that appeared on short notice, and ran through a section of trails, on the west side of the dunes area, that are always fast and fun with high banked corners left and right, the only downfall being how badly most of the straight stretches were whooped out. We exited the trails, made one more speed burn ending almost at the entrance road, and as we slowed down, we reveled in how strange some of the sand conditions were and how whooped out the entrance road was.
Returning to camp and jumping out, we got a hearty laugh at how covered we were in wet sand due to the roost job from a yet unknown source, and how wet we actually were, head to butt, from the rain.
 
Although the sand conditions were not perfect, it was great to get out in the dunes, and provided me with a reminder of just how treacherous the conditions in the dunes can be, and how important it is to look BEFORE you leap, especially in the ever changing dunes.




Special thanks to : Jason , Save The Rides Dunes, Discovery Point RV resort, and all the GOONS in the DUNES !