Origins of the Watts Trip


“No one ever said it was going to be easy.” – Everyone has probably said this.

Watts Trip
noun : \ˈwäts\ – \ˈtrip\

1. An adventure, hike, or trip which is altered by bad luck or misfortune.
2. An opportunity to overcome adversity, through tenacity and endurance.
3. The superstitious idea that hardship can and will occur at any moment.

After hours of driving, and the tires left the asphalt, we started heading up the long dirt road that would lead us to our camp. It was a late hunt, reserved for the younger generations of hunters so they didn’t have to compete with the crowds. My brother and I had never been elk hunting before, and the anticipation was excitement enough to keep us awake as our dad drove on through midnight. Rounding a turn in the logging road, the truck abruptly came to a stop. There was a rather large uprooted conifer tree across the road. We had a chainsaw and we had the determination to get this obstacle out of our way without much of a problem. We did not know, however, that this tree represented the beginning to our laborious and sleepless night of chopping and removing hundreds of trees from the road in order to reach camp. Our knuckles raw, our eyelids heavy, and our clothes soaked, we went on the next day to fill both of our tags.

“The Cut-In From Hell.”

This was neither the first, nor the last time we had a rough night in the outdoors. Every trip had its own lesson to be learned and hardship to be overcome, and we began to label these adventurous chapters “Watts Trips.” Every time we strapped our boots on and got out on the open road, we were at risk for a Watts Trip to take place. This never deterred us from our love for the outdoors, however. The most unlucky, most uncomfortable, wet, tired, sleepy, painful, and angry I have ever been can come to fruition, as they so often do, and we always come crawling back. Why? Because we were successful in what we set out to do.

As a kid, the trips were naturally smaller and so the level of Watts Trip acuity followed suit. Being young and without much responsibility, this really only meant that we strolled into camp a little later than planned or that we just had to change the goal of the trip on the fly. These Watts Trips may have been a little stressful at the time, but the end result was a bunch of fun and a good story to tell. In my childhood, I was lucky enough to never experience a time where I felt in danger or like the situation was out of control. I attribute that sense of security to my father, and can’t commend him enough for his ability to get us out of the craziest situations. That being said, these moments of bad luck taught me from a very young age that part of being prepared included being able to roll with the blows.

Soon, as my brother and I were becoming teenagers, the trips got bigger and lasted longer. Naturally, the calamity of the trip grew with it. Eventually, the stars aligned the right (and wrong) way, and the Watts Trip to end all Watts Trips was born: Odell Lake. Odell was a fishing trip, and amid the boat pulling the bumper off of the truck on the highway, getting into camp at 3 am, waking up to the one foot of mid-June snow that we didn’t pack for, and never feeling so cold in all of our lives (still, to this day), the trip itself was ridiculously successful. We caught 99 fish in two days.

Snow? I wasn't told that there'd be snow!

Fast forward a bit to 2009. Though many impressive Watts Trip events like The Cut-In From Hell, The Shot, and The Rogue River had taken place (nothing really bad happened on the Rogue, just a bunch of great stories). None of these trips, however, were without my dad. June 2009 was the summer that Derek and I decided to climb the 3rd largest volcano in Oregon, the South Sister. This was our first real backpacking trip and the first 10,000 ft. mountain we had climbed. This trip was also a mile-marker for the least prepared I’ve ever been for a trip and the worst outdoor trip that I’ve ever been on. Despite the pain, stress, and struggle, I was hooked. As the story goes, the South Sister was covered in massive amounts of snow from the trailhead, making us post-hole our way to our campsite, and later up the mountain. We packed too much, ate the wrong food, wore the wrong clothes, and got massive 2nd degree sunburns on our faces, but we endured and conquered. The best part? I brought my camera.

This was a quickly abandoned project of where I wanted to tell the story of the South Sister disaster described above, and most of the video and pictures were captured on that trip, but I never completed it due to school and work.

Since then I have made it my goal to never let anything that terrible happen on my outings again. Now, a safe and perfect trip isn’t always in my control, but I do try to have the right equipment, training, and backup plan to minimize the damage of a recurring Watts Trip adventure. There is always something that doesn’t go according to plan, but its how you deal with it, turn it around, and pull through that makes the best kind of story. In my opinion, the best trips come with one part disaster and three parts success, making them Type 2 fun. Presently, that’s what I like to think that a “Watts Trip” has evolved into, not terribly fun to experience in the moment, but lots of fun to tell others about later on. Come to think of it, I’m pretty sure that I’m about due for another one…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *