The Travel Queen: A Trucker’s Eye View of the Road

The idea was to tour the best backcountry spots and resorts on the West Coast, picking up and dropping off riders along the way-a kind of Green Tortoise of the mountains. We planned to live out of the mobile home and entertain ourselves in the backcountry.

After a week or so on the road, we called our ride, simply, the Queen. Its 35-foot, metal-sided hull was powered by a temperamental 440 Dodge V-8. A trailer carrying two snowmobiles stretched out another fifteen feet past the tail, bringing the grand total to approximately 50 feet of recreational vehicle. The Queen came equipped with a television, VCR, refrigerator, stove, oven, microwave, kitchen sink, bathroom sink, toilet, shower, and a cabin still pungent with the scent of old people. An extra-large split-seam windshield provided the driver a trucker’s view of the world-high enough to see over guardrails and snowbanks and to marvel at any terrain visible from the road.

The plan worked ideally in a place like the Newberry Crater Area, Oregon, where the riders rolled out of the sack and onto snowmobiles, already at the back step of the backcountry. Or Mt. Rose, Nevada, where from the door of the Queen it was just a short ride to secluded kickers. It was the in-betweens that got us-the kidney-wrenching experience of getting the Queen from here to there. When our third set of snow chains busted during a storm and began beating against a wheel well like spoons in a garbage disposal, the entire trip felt like a cruel form of carjacking.

The Stealth Effect

The third of February, the first riders boarded the Queen-Tommy Czeschin, Jeycob Carlson, Neil Goss, Matt Kass, and photographer Torey Piro. They were so stoked at the idea of the West Coast tour, they imagined it having a kind of celebrity. Our tour might be something like the ’94 Oscar Meyer tour, during which a giant pink wiener on wheels was driven cross-country by girls who gave out wieners and balloons. Imagining welcoming fanfare at each destination didn’t seem such a big leap to the guys on the Travel Queen. At least, they thought, there’d be friendly people and hospitality. But in actuality, the Queen stirred little attention.

And after a few stops, the guys began to feel let down, abandoned, and finally, invisible.

Since waking to the boom of avalanche cannons in Mammoth Lakes, California, we’d slept outside a Reno supermarket, in the Squaw Valley parking lot, in front of the Truckee DMV, and behind a 24-hour casino in South Lake, where we found ourselves gambling and sleeping at intervals. No cops or questions asked.

For the most part, the propane heater worked like a dream, and with a TV, VCR, and a complete kitchen, our crew soon reveled in our aloofness. We found a certain pleasure in traveling unnoticed by outsiders, like Bedouins, poaching the best riding each stop had to offer. Around this time the stealth theory developed. Just as people walking downtown never look up at the skyscrapers above them, no one ever looked up to see the Queen. It was just too big to be seen, a monolith. On the basis of this logic, and other shaky bits of evidence, the Queen traveled with a certain magical transparency. When anyone asked where the Queen should be parked for the night, someone invariably piped up, “Who cares, no one can see it anyway.”

The next day, four miles from the road and on the top of the ridge, the roof of the mobile home could be seen bulging just above a dirty snowbank marking the highway. From the same spot where Tommy Czeschin, Nathan Parks, and Matt Kass built their kicker, Lake Tahoe and the Nevada desert were clearly visible, though miles away. The group had snowmobiled in a couple of miles and hiked a pitch in waist-deep snow. At the top, we built a kicker from a wind-buffed hip, and sessioned big straight airs until we discovered a fun roller just below the hip’s landing. Matt Kass, the only East Coaster on this West Coast tour, started a game of “match my backflip” off theoller, and all the variations followed.

About that time, Jeycob Carlson parked at the highway intending to meet up with the crew. Following some tracks over the snowbank and up a hill, he thought he’d find us at the track’s end. First, he ran into Blaise Rosenthal and Wille Yli Luoma filming with Mack Dawg.

“Nope, haven’t seen ’em,” they said. “Try over there.”

Over there, another long hike away, the Hatchett brothers were filming Kevin Jones and Brian Savard off another straight jump. Unable to find our group, Jeycob ended up watching yet another film crew-this time Fall Line-work on their flick. “I got to see the circus,” Jeycob laughed. There was more motion photography going on in that remote corner of Tahoe than at MGM Studios, yet none of them had seen the muddy hull of the Travel Queen.

Parked outside a supermarket one day, Tommy, Torey, and I shopped inside, and then cooked our dinner in the Queen. The six-foot antenna stood tall-almost proud-and the generator (loud as any VW) rattled away in the back. Tommy flipped through television channels looking for the Olympics. I ran back into the store for some catsup, and walking out, I barely recognized the loud, cackling monster the Queen had become. It took up more than two parking spaces, every light in the thing was on, the generator sputtered, and an antenna shot out of the roof. I could hear the Olympic theme song blabbering out of the TV. A supermarket employee milled about collecting grocery carts, unaware of the party going on inside the Queen.

A few nights later, the mobile home became loaded down with bodies. After an out-of-bounds session at Sugar Bowl, several guys crashed out in the Queen, each of them wrapped in a mummy sack. The night grew brisk, and then bare-ass cold. Most everyone pulled their sacks’ hoods over their heads, cinching them up, and leaving only a small hole for breathing. In the blue light of the cabin, the mobile home looked like it was filled with cocoons, each steaming from a hole at one end like a spout.

The Queen had broken down two days earlier-we’d coasted into the parking lot as the fuel pump petered out. At first it wasn’t a big deal. We had sleds, the snow was great, and although it snowed at night, Tahoe was seeing some of the first clear days of the month. Coming back to the Travel Queen in the afternoons, we’d noticed the plow man cleared the parking lot around it. What the hell, the Queen was invisible.

But that night had finally become too cold to sleep. Someone shouted out of the hole in his mummy sack, “Why is it so f-king cold in here?” And then we realized-the propane had run out, and the propane heater was dead. That’s when it happened. Flood lights shot through the windows of the mobile home; mummy sacks sat up in shock. The sound of the plow truck roared, and its lights came directly through the Queen’s windshield. We heard the plow drop its bucket against the concrete and begin to slide toward us until, bang! it bashed into the Queen. The intruder reversed, then slid forward, bang! Rammed it again. The plow struck us a third time before anyone could get out of his sack. Then, honking the horn, it drove away.

“What’s going on?” Tommy asked.

“I think the Queen’s stealth shield went down when the propane ran out,” Matt said. The next morning while chiseling away at the mountain of snow plowed up to the Queen’s windshield, Matt concluded, “Man, we gotta get more propane.”

You Are Only As Bored As You Are Boring

Mt. Bachelor was boxed in, no one was heading up. An impenetrable cloud cover visited the city of Bend, Oregon, giving the town all the ambience of an auto-parts warehouse. Parked in the Queen, the boys played their umpteenth game of gin rummy. The smell of something rotten filled the cabin. Matt Kass wouldn’t let the masturbation jokes die: “If your Uncle Jack got stuck on a horse, would you help your Uncle Jack off?” He continued: “If I jumped on your back, would you beat me off?”

Two weeks with Kass felt like a lot longer. Remember, this is the guy who at age nine, instead of making the bank deposit like his mom asked, had slipped the teller a note that read: “Give me all your money.”

The football muscles in Jeycob’s neck flexed visibly each time Matt cracked a joke. I thought there would be a slaughter. Luckily, Torey noticed a handrail across the street. Lit by a spot of sun, it looked perfect for sliding. The problem was, this particular handrail led up several steps, almost to the doors, of the Deschutes County Courthouse. “That’s not a problem,” Torey said. “It’s Sunday.”

Doing our best impersonation of city workers, we casually walked shovels across the street to the courthouse steps. Jeycob was posted at the end of the block with a hand radio. Snow covered the courthouse lawn, but it’d been removed from the steps and the walkway. Building a takeoff on one set of steps and a runway down a walk to the handrail, we made the act of heaping snow from the grass onto the pavement look like a natural Sunday chore. Cars drove by, and no one blinked.

It wasn’t long before Matt and Jeycob had strapped into their boards balanced on an overturned trash can supported with snow. This led down a set of snow-covered steps to the runway, the municipal rail, and the street. Matt went first with just enough speed to hit the handrail, slide, and eat it in the street. He then made some adjustments to the takeoff. Jeycob ran down the street to a bar and came back with a cup of salt for the runway. Soon enough, Matt and Jeycob were sliding the courthouse rail like it was a public jib in a small-town park.

The Land Of Nipples

Tomi Toiminen, leading a group of snowboarders up a ridge skirting Heather Canyon, paused when he heard the sputtering of a single-prop airplane flying nearby. The group spotted the airplane below, and the view from above it gave this trek on Mt. Hood the feeling of plodding up a 11,000-foot tower.

“We’re on a mountain looking down on an airplane,” Tomi said. The plane floated over intermittent forests and snow-filled clear-cuts, a patched rug expanding off toward Mt. Jefferson, the next volcano south. The sulfur inside Mt. Hood seemed to be leaking out, judging by the smell. Loose snow on the ridge had been windblown into diamond patterns, but the snow in the bowl remained untracked. The sun’s setting cooled the shadows from white to blue, and then lit the snowfields a soda-pop orange. Following Tomi, the group of us dropped into the bowl and waited midway down for Mike Estes to drop a rock at the edge of it. Then we enjoyed well-deserved turns all the way down into Heather Canyon.

Volcanoes are a breeding ground for windlips almost made for jumping. Jeycob and Matt began to realize this after reaching Mt. Shasta, the first nipple on a northward string of them. After Mt. Shasta is Bachelor, Three Sisters, Hood, St. Helens, Rainier, and Baker-a blanket of terrain geologists call Cascadia.

Traveling north through Bend, Oregon, Matt and Jeycob picked up a couple cardboard cutouts-Tom Cruise as Jerry McGuire, and one of Jim Carrey-from a video rental store. After so many monkey dances with the cutouts, they’d become part of the crew and made it with us to some of the more prestigious windlips on the trip. At Mt. Hood, someone planted Tom Cruise at the top of a windlip quarterpipe. Everyone who hit the QP jumped over his head. From one vantage, Tom was the only visible part of a bizarre scene; the cut-out man standing in the wilderness talking on a cell phone, the pitch of Mt. Hood rising above him. “What would Tom say if he could see himself now?” Torey wanted to know.

Below that particular windlip is White River Canyon, a gorge that extends all the way up to Hood’s peak. After sessioning the quarterpipe, the crew grabbed the celebrities and descended into the canyon, which runs out to Highway 26, a short hitchhike from Government Camp.

Sweeter Than WineTwo weeks with Kass felt like a lot longer. Remember, this is the guy who at age nine, instead of making the bank deposit like his mom asked, had slipped the teller a note that read: “Give me all your money.”

The football muscles in Jeycob’s neck flexed visibly each time Matt cracked a joke. I thought there would be a slaughter. Luckily, Torey noticed a handrail across the street. Lit by a spot of sun, it looked perfect for sliding. The problem was, this particular handrail led up several steps, almost to the doors, of the Deschutes County Courthouse. “That’s not a problem,” Torey said. “It’s Sunday.”

Doing our best impersonation of city workers, we casually walked shovels across the street to the courthouse steps. Jeycob was posted at the end of the block with a hand radio. Snow covered the courthouse lawn, but it’d been removed from the steps and the walkway. Building a takeoff on one set of steps and a runway down a walk to the handrail, we made the act of heaping snow from the grass onto the pavement look like a natural Sunday chore. Cars drove by, and no one blinked.

It wasn’t long before Matt and Jeycob had strapped into their boards balanced on an overturned trash can supported with snow. This led down a set of snow-covered steps to the runway, the municipal rail, and the street. Matt went first with just enough speed to hit the handrail, slide, and eat it in the street. He then made some adjustments to the takeoff. Jeycob ran down the street to a bar and came back with a cup of salt for the runway. Soon enough, Matt and Jeycob were sliding the courthouse rail like it was a public jib in a small-town park.

The Land Of Nipples

Tomi Toiminen, leading a group of snowboarders up a ridge skirting Heather Canyon, paused when he heard the sputtering of a single-prop airplane flying nearby. The group spotted the airplane below, and the view from above it gave this trek on Mt. Hood the feeling of plodding up a 11,000-foot tower.

“We’re on a mountain looking down on an airplane,” Tomi said. The plane floated over intermittent forests and snow-filled clear-cuts, a patched rug expanding off toward Mt. Jefferson, the next volcano south. The sulfur inside Mt. Hood seemed to be leaking out, judging by the smell. Loose snow on the ridge had been windblown into diamond patterns, but the snow in the bowl remained untracked. The sun’s setting cooled the shadows from white to blue, and then lit the snowfields a soda-pop orange. Following Tomi, the group of us dropped into the bowl and waited midway down for Mike Estes to drop a rock at the edge of it. Then we enjoyed well-deserved turns all the way down into Heather Canyon.

Volcanoes are a breeding ground for windlips almost made for jumping. Jeycob and Matt began to realize this after reaching Mt. Shasta, the first nipple on a northward string of them. After Mt. Shasta is Bachelor, Three Sisters, Hood, St. Helens, Rainier, and Baker-a blanket of terrain geologists call Cascadia.

Traveling north through Bend, Oregon, Matt and Jeycob picked up a couple cardboard cutouts-Tom Cruise as Jerry McGuire, and one of Jim Carrey-from a video rental store. After so many monkey dances with the cutouts, they’d become part of the crew and made it with us to some of the more prestigious windlips on the trip. At Mt. Hood, someone planted Tom Cruise at the top of a windlip quarterpipe. Everyone who hit the QP jumped over his head. From one vantage, Tom was the only visible part of a bizarre scene; the cut-out man standing in the wilderness talking on a cell phone, the pitch of Mt. Hood rising above him. “What would Tom say if he could see himself now?” Torey wanted to know.

Below that particular windlip is White River Canyon, a gorge that extends all the way up to Hood’s peak. After sessioning the quarterpipe, the crew grabbed the celebrities and descended into the canyon, which runs out to Highway 26, a short hitchhike from Government Camp.

Sweeter Than Wine

“You gotta be careful at truck stops-people disappear from these places all the time,” Torey said while pumping gas in Washington. The Cascades were struck with a serious case of fog. An ash-color sky lent the Northwest a solemn character. The only sights lie below the cloud blanket: a trucker walking his yellow poodle between the forest and the white line, sea planes landing like ducks in Pugent Sound, and snowmobiles emerging from Stampede Pass during whiteout conditions. Martin Gallant first met the Queen in Tahoe, but left shortly afterward for an exhibition trip to China. He found her again, a month later, planted in the mud of the Whistler/Blackcomb parking lot. Banging on the door, he entered with a look of amazement, his hair jutting out like a young Albert Einstein. In his heavy French-Canadian accent he said, “Dog, it’s all they eat in China. Dog for breakfast, dog for dinner-they must eat their weight in dog.”

Whistler is the kind of place people gravitate toward, a last post at the edge of B.C. wilderness. We’d heard a group of Australians had bought cheap cars in the U.S., crossed the border, and were living out of them in and around Whistler Village. It’s easy to poach showers and hot tubs at the posh resorts, and including knowledge of a few techniques for sleeping inside the confines of any automobile, the situation sounded flawless. “Yeah, man,” Martin said, “I lived out of my car ‘ere for two years.” It seems to have paid off, Martin knows the 7,000-acre resort as well as he must have known the car he lived in.

Along the fifteen-minute sled ride into Whistler’s backyard, pitches at either side of the logging road we traveled on became more and more sheer. Cliff bands streaked across the horizon separated only by obvious avalanche routes. From the trail we could see a chunky soup of recent avalanche debris settled at the bottom of several chutes. The sun overhead illuminated a white-blue length of cornice, topping the most-dominant peak like a ribbon. Snowmobiling in this peak’s shadow a few more miles, we came to a place where several slopes met, and stopped to check out an area of powder fields. The trail led up and continued around the back for the best access we could have asked for.

We’d come up the ass end of an 80-kilometer snowmobile trail the Whistler locs call Around The World. We didn’t know it then, but this trail accessed the same virgin pitches heli-ski operations advertised to Japanese visitors in Whistler Village. Just the idea of plundering those lines before helicopters we couldn’t afford showed up would have put us there. But it took a few hours of sessioning the lower slopes before we realized the potential that lay above us.

Only a few days ago, we’d left Seattle, where the Queen had picked up Bobi “The White Whale” Rey, and continued north to Canada, past the fog belt, and into some sunny days. Now standing up to our bellies in powder at the rise of one pass, Bobi, Torey, and I watched as Ben Betz climbed a ridge to an overhanging cornice.

“Have you seen that movie Alive?” Bobi asked. “You know that scene, where the survivors are hiking in the Andes with rags bound to their feet? They would climb one peak,” he reached back and pointed at the peak Ben was hiking, “only to reach the top and see that.” What Bobi pointed to next was a sea of mountains pouring away to the horizon. Reaching the fifteen-foot cornice, Ben hucked off, landed his base on a rock, and ragdolled 500 vertical feet out of sight. As Ben trudged back up to the cornice to do it again, Bobi said, “I can’t imagine hiking over all those peaks.”

As it happened, the journey occurred during one of the most turbulent months of snowboarding-a deck of storms dumped on the West Coast, snowboarding entered the sphere of Olympic sports, and a seemingly invisible crew of riders traveled along some of the most beautiful stretches of road in the world. Standing there on the pass it became apparent-the Travel Queen, tthe vessel, wasn’t meant to be seen. What was were these mountains grinding out to Pugent Sound, the sights from the road, the small shimmering lake at Paulina, the brazen white nipples of the Cascades.

It’s also possible that we were meant to see our cable chains wrapped around the Queen’s axle like dental floss, and the shards of an exploded rear tire clinging to the hub-but like a man at a Truckee auto-parts store confided to us, “One day you’re eating chicken, the next it’s the feathers.”ou gotta be careful at truck stops-people disappear from these places all the time,” Torey said while pumping gas in Washington. The Cascades were struck with a serious case of fog. An ash-color sky lent the Northwest a solemn character. The only sights lie below the cloud blanket: a trucker walking his yellow poodle between the forest and the white line, sea planes landing like ducks in Pugent Sound, and snowmobiles emerging from Stampede Pass during whiteout conditions. Martin Gallant first met the Queen in Tahoe, but left shortly afterward for an exhibition trip to China. He found her again, a month later, planted in the mud of the Whistler/Blackcomb parking lot. Banging on the door, he entered with a look of amazement, his hair jutting out like a young Albert Einstein. In his heavy French-Canadian accent he said, “Dog, it’s all they eat in China. Dog for breakfast, dog for dinner-they must eat their weight in dog.”

Whistler is the kind of place people gravitate toward, a last post at the edge of B.C. wilderness. We’d heard a group of Australians had bought cheap cars in the U.S., crossed the border, and were living out of them in and around Whistler Village. It’s easy to poach showers and hot tubs at the posh resorts, and including knowledge of a few techniques for sleeping inside the confines of any automobile, the situation sounded flawless. “Yeah, man,” Martin said, “I lived out of my car ‘ere for two years.” It seems to have paid off, Martin knows the 7,000-acre resort as well as he must have known the car he lived in.

Along the fifteen-minute sled ride into Whistler’s backyard, pitches at either side of the logging road we traveled on became more and more sheer. Cliff bands streaked across the horizon separated only by obvious avalanche routes. From the trail we could see a chunky soup of recent avalanche debris settled at the bottom of several chutes. The sun overhead illuminated a white-blue length of cornice, topping the most-dominant peak like a ribbon. Snowmobiling in this peak’s shadow a few more miles, we came to a place where several slopes met, and stopped to check out an area of powder fields. The trail led up and continued around the back for the best access we could have asked for.

We’d come up the ass end of an 80-kilometer snowmobile trail the Whistler locs call Around The World. We didn’t know it then, but this trail accessed the same virgin pitches heli-ski operations advertised to Japanese visitors in Whistler Village. Just the idea of plundering those lines before helicopters we couldn’t afford showed up would have put us there. But it took a few hours of sessioning the lower slopes before we realized the potential that lay above us.

Only a few days ago, we’d left Seattle, where the Queen had picked up Bobi “The White Whale” Rey, and continued north to Canada, past the fog belt, and into some sunny days. Now standing up to our bellies in powder at the rise of one pass, Bobi, Torey, and I watched as Ben Betz climbed a ridge to an overhanging cornice.

“Have you seen that movie Alive?” Bobi asked. “You know that scene, where the survivors are hiking in the Andes with rags bound to their feet? They would climb one peak,” he reached back and pointed at the peak Ben was hiking, “only to reach the top and see that.” What Bobi pointed to next was a sea of mountains pouring away to the horizon. Reaching the fifteen-foot cornice, Ben hucked off, landed his base on a rock, and ragdolled 500 vertical feet out of sight. As Ben trudged back up to the cornice to do it again, Bobi said, “I can’t imagine hiking over all those peaks.”

As it happened, the journey occurred during one of the most turbulent months of snowboarding-a deck of storms dumped on the West Coast, snowboarding entered the sphere of Olympic sports, and a seemingly invisible crew of riders traveled along some of the most beautiful stretches of road in the world. Standing there on the pass it became apparent-the Travel Queen, the vessel, wasn’t meant to be seen. What was were these mountains grinding out to Pugent Sound, the sights from the road, the small shimmering lake at Paulina, the brazen white nipples of the Cascades.

It’s also possible that we were meant to see our cable chains wrapped around the Queen’s axle like dental floss, and the shards of an exploded rear tire clinging to the hub-but like a man at a Truckee auto-parts store confided to us, “One day you’re eating chicken, the next it’s the feathers.”Queen, the vessel, wasn’t meant to be seen. What was were these mountains grinding out to Pugent Sound, the sights from the road, the small shimmering lake at Paulina, the brazen white nipples of the Cascades.

It’s also possible that we were meant to see our cable chains wrapped around the Queen’s axle like dental floss, and the shards of an exploded rear tire clinging to the hub-but like a man at a Truckee auto-parts store confided to us, “One day you’re eating chicken, the next it’s the feathers.”