2011-09-15 43 -118

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2011-09-15 43 -118 night.JPG

Thu 15 Sep 2011 in 43,-118:
43.2325165, -118.8349738

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In the Malheur Wildlife Refuge, about 25 road miles SSE of Burns.



This was kind of an archetypical geohashing expedition, combining the best elements of everyday adventure and mild madness.


The Expedition started from the town of Burns, and I took my time getting started too after having driven many miles already to get to my motel. But as I started out for the hashpoint, about twenty-five miles away, I noticed that the sun was already rolling over the horizon. This seemed strange, but it’s September and I’d been spoiled by longer days, and for that matter was pressed up on the eastern edge of my time zone.

By the time I turned off the highway, it was quite dim, and when the road turned to gravel it was really quite “night.” But I continued on. The track that led up to the hashpoint turned out to be mostly two ruts with a high center; I drove up it perhaps a half-mile but got to the point where going further without four-wheel drive seemed like a bad idea. That left me with about 2/3 of a mile to go. I made a 43-point turn to get the truck pointed in the right direction, and started walk/jogging up the track.

At the top of a long rise, there was some sort of large water tank, and the final eighth of a mile required going overland through a mix of waist-high prairie and clear patches. Hoping not to step into any holes or onto any rattlesnakes, I kept following the GPS until it told me I was in the right place. From the hashpoint, no lights were visible except a thin streak of fading sunset, a lightning storm way off to the east, and a passing small plane in the distance.


I feel a certain sense of urgency when I’m pursuing a hashpoint which is all the stranger for being so very, very artificial. I relish the blend of planning, problem solving, and creative visualization that makes for a successful expedition. On difficult hashes, there’s a complimentary sense of braving and surviving mild danger, which is always a rush. But is it rational? After all, there were any number of points on this night’s venture that could have left me, though probably not dead, at least profoundly uncomfortable and unhappy with myself.

1) Why did I not turn back when I realized the sun was setting? At the hashpoint, I was in an empty grassland at night. I used the tracking feature on my GPS to get back to the little road, which was at least somewhat visible. What if my batteries had gone dead? My odds of getting back to the truck before dawn would have been… good. But not great.

2) Once back in the truck, I was really counting on the engine to start. It did. If it hadn’t, I would have been up a trail, up a gravel road, maybe eight miles from the nearest known building with people in it.

3) And it’s interesting that I’m taking the truck on wilderness roads again, so soon after I had a flat tire deep in the woods.

4) Rattlesnakes.

5) And even once I was back in the truck, my worries weren’t completely over. After twenty-seven miles of driving, I got to the nearest service station. My receipt said that 11.999 gallons went into my 12-gallon tank, and although of course you can get a little more than 12 gallons into a 12-gallon fuel system, I couldn’t have had more than about a 15-mile margin of error. That’s cutting it way too tight in such a remote area – except, I hadn’t wanted to fuel up at the beginning of the expedition, once I realized I was running out of light.


Is it maybe a good, life-affirming, self-empowering thing to occasionally put oneself into a situation of calculated risk, in a society that has genuinely minimized certain forms of danger and deeply deludes itself about most of the others? Or is it irresponsible foolishness, blatantly unfair to everyone who depends on me and anyone who might have to face the inconvenience of assisting me, to willfully put myself in the possibility of harm’s way?