When my buddy Ernesto invited us out to explore the Columbia National Wildlife Refuge, I have to admit, I was a bit skeptical. I was worried about Big Blue and his 1WD handicap that all 2WD Vanagons face. I was confident, however, in the fact that our clearance was good and I was really looking forward to testing out our General Grabber AT2s in some sandy/rocky off-road terrain.
The trip did not disappoint. One of my fondest memories of adventuring was getting stuck just past midnight on the night we arrived. Our non-aired down tires and reckless enthusiasm to explore in the dark did us no favors as we succumbed to the soft, ash-like sand that is common near the lower lake entrances of the Columbia National Wildlife Refuge. It was a test of patience, gear, and - above all - character as those situations tend to reveal one's true character and it's resilience to adversity.
If it wasn't for Ernesto's recovery equipment, especially the MaxTrax, that weekend could've been a lot different. Despite that fact it took multiple recovery methods to get us out, looking back, we would've been able to do it with just the MaxTrax and airing down...it just would've been 45 inches at a time. :)
Even now, this is still one of my favorite trips. It's the trip that represents a simpler time where we just went with what we had (before we fell into the "gotta have that" gear trap. It's the first trip that really gave us a taste for overlanding. And, it was the start to a fantastic, rewarding friendship with two amazing people (and some of our favorites), Ernesto and Taisa.