Mission to Devil’s Tower

Mission to Devil’s Tower

A S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Mission

Lately, inspired by the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. meme and youtube Chernobyl adventures (e.g. here and here), I’ve become fascinated by the idea of scouting “exclusion zones”: places that are off-limits to the public which may contain spooky ruins, strange artifacts, unusual people (“Stalkers”), wild nature and anomalous phenomena. My recent Salmonberry River mission gave me a taste for this kind of adventure; looking for another one, I remembered “Devil’s Tower”: a ruined cement factory near the town of Concrete, Washington that is known as a gathering place for artists, explorers, vagrants and weirdos. I visited the place about five years ago and there didn’t seem to be much security, but apparently authorities have been cracking down and ticketing trespassers due to injuries and deaths that have occurred there (doing things at your own risk isn’t good enough for governments). Intrigued by the challenge of exploring the Tower with the heightened security, I travelled to the area with fellow Scout Raven to investigate.

Day 1: Forbidden Zone Recon

The first day we drove up from Concrete to do some recon of the zone. The main access road passes through a closed front gate with warning signs and a guard station; it looked far too paranoid to approach. There was also a back entrance that was gated but probably a better option. From forest service maps I found a third possible approach: an abandoned forest road less than a half mile south of the tower.  Raven dropped me off there to scout the route, and as I passed the no trespassing sign and concrete road blocks I got an immediate surprise: a mannikin sprawled out on the ground behind the blocks, clothed and clearly meant to look like a corpse. It was either a rather dark joke or a warning; either way, it was an ominous start to my recon of Devil’s Tower!

A warning message at an entrance to the forbidden zone?

That wasn’t the only surprise; a quarter mile in, the overgrown road opened up ahead and there was a large parking area, many trucks and a large hangar-type building. It was some kind of construction site, and I couldn’t see the tower which should have been just beyond it. Where was it? I started to worry that the tower was either already demolished or in the process of being demolished, and this whole mission would be a waste of time. As I watched a truck drive up the road away toward the tower area it was clear that the area was very active and I wouldn’t be able to get to the tower by this route, so I headed back to the car.

We drove to the back entrance to the access road, which was also gated off and signed, and there were a few people at the nearby boat launch. It looked doable, but risky. We decided to return a few hours later with our e-bikes, which we rode up from the town of Concrete so we wouldn’t have to park a possibly suspicious car anywhere near the forbidden zone. We waited until the two or three people at the boat launch weren’t paying attention and quickly pushed our bikes around the gate and pedaled up the dirt road and out of sight. The short ride was very scenic, with spectacular views across Lake Shannon toward mighty Mount Baker to the north. We soon approached some fencing and gates that closed off the construction site to the left, and to the right…there it was! The front wall of the old factory, with a huge painting of a skull and graffiti scrawled all over it. Devil’s Tower still stood!

We studied the wild art and graffiti in the crumbling remains of the out building, and I placed an idol of the demon Pazuzu in the rubble as an offering, noting the synchronicity that someone had painted “I (heart) Pazuzu” in two places on the walls. Still thinking this was all that was left of the tower, I got a pleasant surprise when I walked over to a ledge and noticed that the whole factory complex was still there, hidden below in the trees and covered in crazy graffiti. I got another surprise when I noticed that sitting down in the ruins was a young redheaded “stalker”, who looked up and calmly greeted me. I talked to him for a few minutes, and he told me that he lived there for now, wanted to be a prizefighter, didn’t have too much trouble with security, along with some odd personal details. The dude seemed a little off, possibly from drugs or schizophrenia, and had an air of physical menace about him.

Things got weirder when he suddenly appeared up on the bank near me, motioning for me to come over to the edge to look at an “apple tree” and to show me some kind of “portal” he’d made in the bushes. I changed the subject and told him that I needed to go talk to my buddy, who had disappeared by now, probably spooked by the guy. I left and found Raven riding his ebike up the road on the other side of the fence, and I quickly joined him. We both agreed that we should come back the next day to explore the tower, hoping that the stalker would be gone. We rode out the front entrance this time, past the guard shack and the gate and didn’t see anyone, then down to Concrete. Here’s a video I made of our first day recon mission:

Day 2: Into the “Dojo of Pain”

The next day we returned to the back entrance to the zone on foot, but there were people near the gate so to be more discreet we bushwhacked to the access road. The construction zone was closed and the tower area was clear of people, so we were able to explore it thoroughly. It was an incredible place, covered in the most bizarre and colorful graffiti, like the scene of a post-apocalyptic rave or cult temple. The main building had several floors, with large holes that could be death traps, and an amazing elevated tunnel that led to an overgrown and graffitied tower. This was the highlight of the mission for me: walking on top of the tower, with spectacular views over the lake and mountains, eldritch symbols and artwork painted on it, with a walkway high up in the trees, made me feel like the sorcerer Saruman atop his tower in Isengard in  Lord of the Rings. The tunnel itself was like an anarchist art gallery, with spray-painted murals along the walls and holes in the floor that could drop the unwary far down to the forest floor below.

I walked back down the tunnel and made a dangerous crossing over to main building; I trusted two thin pipes stuck in the ground to keep me from tumbling down the steep slope to the lake. Then I entered the main building at the basement and went back up to the main chamber. As I was admiring the scene, I heard a noise, and as I turned around, there on a platform was my red-headed stalker friend from the day before! I pulled off my mask and said hello; he suspiciously greeted me and asked me what I was doing (my tactical clothing made him think I was a cop). After a tense conversation we both calmed down, then he said rather dramatically: “welcome to the dojo of pain”. I liked his name for the place; it really did look like some kind of dangerous dojo, or as I called it, a “temple of chaos”. We talked for a few minutes then I took off, having seen the whole site and not wanting to push my luck by sticking around.

The resident stalker, who said his name was “nobody”, surprises me in the “Dojo of Pain”.

This was one of my favorite missions to date. I’m glad I got to see the tower again, because I have a feeling that the place is going to be demolished before too long. The place has  a combination of chaotic energy, natural beauty and impressive ruins that you don’t find very often. The encounter with the stalker was a little disturbing, but appropriate for this weird “forbidden zone”. Here’s a video I made of day two of my mission to Devil’s Tower:

Scouting an Abandoned Railroad and Ghost Town in Northwest Oregon

Scouting an Abandoned Railroad and Ghost Town in Northwest Oregon

I recently travelled to northwest Oregon to explore an abandoned railroad and ghost town on the Salmonberry River. The section I explored is part of the 86 mile long Tillamook Bay railroad that was damaged and abandoned in 2007 after a heavy storm. My mission was to hike five miles from an access road down the tracks to a ghost town called Enright.

From my research, I learned that there are plans to develop the railroad into a rail trail that will allow cyclists to ride from the suburbs west of Portland all the way to the coast at Tillamook. I also learned that the trail has been recently closed to the public; apparently it became a hip place to go after some internet posts a few years back, and the authorities were concerned about public safety. They had been allowing people to visit at their own risk, but that was no longer good enough for the government, who apparently acted after someone’s dog fell 180 feet off a bridge and died. Wanting to see the route before the rail trail tamed it, and not worried about restrictions that were probably unenforceable and designed to keep non-Scouts out, I packed up my Scout bag and headed south.

I began my hike from the confluence of the Salmonberry and Nehalem rivers; the more popular starting point is at Cochran Pond 16 miles up the tracks, but I was intrigued by the ghost town and wanted a more discreet access point that was less likely to be monitored by authorities. The tracks at the access road looked almost normal, like you’d see at any rural railroad crossing, but that would soon change. I ignored a sign saying the area was closed and walked quietly past several houses near the tracks, feeling rather exposed in broad daylight.


Fortunately the tracks soon became overgrown and the houses ended as I passed into one of the wilder sections of the route. The tracks ran along the Salmonberry river, which was a beautiful clear turquoise that looked very inviting as the day warmed up. Half a mile down the trail I ran into three friendly loggers, who warned me about some lines they had put in place two miles further down but didn’t seem concerned about my presence at all. I crossed trestles and an impressive bridge, which was built in 1922 but still looked very solid:

The next notable sight was a piece of track hanging in mid-air from where the storm had washed out the bank beneath it:

I also caught my first glimpse of the fiber optic cables that ran along the tracks, which were laid in the early 2000s to connect Portland to transpacific cables going to Asia and Australia. Apparently they were also damaged by the 2007 storm and abandoned.

A few miles in the going got more difficult, as the tracks became overgrown and swampy and I was forced to bushwhack, jump and machete my way through. It was impressive to see how quickly nature reclaimed the abandoned tracks, and it made me realize that if they don’t develop the rail trail and keep the area closed, this route might become totally overgrown and unhikeable in a few years.

The trail opened up as I approached the location of Enright, and suddenly looming over me on my right was a huge, rusted tower that looked like a giant teapot:

I assume it was a water tower, thought it might have held something else that was loaded onto freight cars at this stop. There was a rusted ladder running up the side, which I quickly started climbing, wanting to see if I could get inside the tank. Halfway up, the ladder started to get wobbly and I decided that it wasn’t worth risking a dangerous fall in the middle of nowhere. So I unfurled my shadow sun banner instead and claimed this tower for the Shadow Empire.

Moving on, I soon came to a no trespassing sign on my right. Investigating, I saw that it led to a house with a large lawn that had been mowed recently. Retreating back to the tracks, I walked quietly past the rustic house, which appeared to be empty but well maintained. It was a creepy scene, like some post-apocalyptic country home where you might encounter mutant hillbillies or zombies or whatever disturbing thing you want to imagine.  Fortunately I didn’t find any of that and soon moved on. I passed a long line of overgrown rail cars that had apparently been stranded here after the storm, which added to the end-of-the-world vibe. Then I came to a second house, also empty but with a large well maintained yard and some rather aggressive signs warning trespassers:

Who was mowing these yards and maintaining these houses, miles from civilization down a rough trail? Were they owned by the railroad? Were they planning to turn them into rental cabins? Your guess is as good as mine.

Near the second house, I came across this piece of artwork on one of the rail cars:

The artist presumably favors keeping the Salmonberry river wild and opposes the rail trail, and I can’t disagree with the message.

At this point I had seen what I came for and decided it was time to head back. I did some more Scout rituals to symbolically mark the area, then began the long trudge back to civilization.  On the way back I did a little ninja training, using my grappling hook on the rail to climb up and down the steep railroad embankment and climbing on top of the bridges.

This was a magical expedition into a beautiful post-apocalyptic world, which I will definitely be back to explore further in the near future. Here is a video I made of my adventure:

Scouting the Lost Bunkers of the Pacific

Scouting the Lost Bunkers of the Pacific

I recently travelled to the far northwest corner of Washington state in the Makah nation to look for three World War II observation bunkers located on the Pacific coast: at Anderson Point, Portage Head and Wa’atch Point. These bunkers are more obscure than the Camp Hayden fire control structures on the Strait of Juan de Fuca, such as the Camp Hayden and Agate Rock bunkers I scouted previously. I’d never heard of them until a local informant sent me some interesting documents published about 30 years ago by a local military historian. By studying these documents and some old topographical maps I was able to determine the approximate location of the bunkers, though the exact routes and conditions of the trails were unclear. The trail to the Anderson Pt. bunker was shown on a 1960 topographical map, but it was removed from all later maps. I couldn’t find a trail to the Portage Head bunker on any maps, so I assumed I would have to bushwhack the third to half a mile up the bluff to the bunker location. The Wa’atch Point bunker was at the end of an old forest road that was still on maps, so I didn’t expect it to be too difficult.

For this mission I met a local informant and fellow scout named “Dabquatch”; we made a base camp in the Makah fishing village of Neah Bay and spent two days exploring the area. We eventually found all three bunkers, but I don’t want to give away too much information about how we did it. The tribe seems to want to keep their locations obscure and I respect that; I wouldn’t want to see them become too easy to find or turned into tourist attractions—better to leave them to the Scouts.

After finding the Anderson Pt. bunker high up on a bluff, we couldn’t locate any trail to the Portage Head bunker; all obvious traces of the old access road were gone. The bushwhack looked very difficult and we were on the verge of giving up when a local Makah scout that I recognized from a youtube video happened to come rolling down the trail in an ATV. I told him what we were doing and he very helpfully guided us to the vicinity of the old road to the bunker. It was totally overgrown and very difficult to see; if we hadn’t run into this local we would have missed it. He asked us to bushwhack in from the side to keep the location of the road secret, which we happily complied with. We hiked up to Portage Head and got spectacular views from the top of the bunker down to rock formations near Shi Shi beach and west across the Pacific.

The next day we drove north past Wa’atch point where another observation bunker was supposed to be located at the end of an old access road. This was an easy hike but the bunker was buried under a mound and I didn’t see it until I walked down to the cliff beyond it and turned around. The views here were also spectacular, as you would expect at the site of a Pacific coastal lookout.

Here is a video I made of this scouting mission:

At the entrance to the Portage Head bunker.
Admiring the view from the Wa’atch bunker.
A “No Roads” Bug-Out Mission

A “No Roads” Bug-Out Mission

A Bug-Out Mission

I recently decided to do a bug-out mission on foot, travelling from my house to to a wooded area on the other side of town. To simulate dangerous bug-out conditions such as civil unrest or a fugitive situation (i.e. the police are at my door), I would be avoiding all roads. I worked out a route in advance using google maps and gaiagps that would enable me to get to my bug-out location via trails, woods, fields and urban environments such as parking lots, shopping centers and parks. I would be passing through several private properties, and the bug-out destination was in an off-limits wildlife refuge, so I would need to be as discreet as possible.

A “No Roads” Mission

This mission was inspired by the popular youtuber Geowizard, who pioneered “straight line missions” a few years ago with his Mission Across Wales series, wherein he attempted to cross the width of Wales in a completely straight line. He has since attempted crossings of Scotland, Norway and Wales again, spawning dozens of imitators in the process. With his latest video, he has pioneered another genre of adventure video–the “no roads mission”:

This is a clever idea; Geowizard combines urban exploration and straight line missions in an attempt to cross between two towns using no roads–just alleys, parking lots, wooded areas, canals, rooftops, shopping centers and whatever else is available. It puts an urban twist on off-road missioning, where instead of obstacles like angry farmers, hedgerows, brambles, rivers and cliffs, he faces spiked fences, filthy canals, junkie hovels, industrial areas and crazy locals.

I was fascinated to watch this; it’s basically what I call “Shadow Scouting”, or travelling by “Shadow Routes”: obscure routes that aren’t known or frequented by the authorities or general public. For example, my recent power line mission was mostly a “no roads mission”; I used a power line corridor to travel between towns, except in a few places where it wasn’t feasible.

Mission Results

My no roads bug-out mission ended up being a 7 mile walk to the destination camp site.  I bushwhacked, evaded homeowners, followed game trails and stealth-travelled across forests, fields, highways, brambles, private property, parking lots, parks and wildlife refuges. I walked another 1.5 miles to the coast to do some recon for a future scouting mission to a forbidden island. It was a fun adventure; I highly recommend trying something like this in your area. Here is a video I made of the mission:

Power Line Scouting: P.A. Station to Deer Park

Power Line Scouting: P.A. Station to Deer Park

I’ve posted before about “shadow routes”, which are stealthy routes that aren’t frequented by authorities or the general public. There are many forest roads, hiking trails and bike paths in my area, but some are popular and not really off the beaten track. That’s why I like to scout power line corridors, which often have access roads or trails allowing foot or bike travel for miles, but are never crowded.

Mountain bikes are excellent for scouting power lines in some locations.

One reason for their unpopularity is that power lines often run through private property—farms, ranches, yards, industrial areas—where you might have to deal with fences, owners, dogs, etc. Another reason is that the lines are laid straight from point to point, and don’t have much regard for topography and terrain. Lines may go up or down very steep slopes, across rivers, swamps, brambles and other difficult  terrain. As a Shadow Scout I don’t let those obstacles stop me; in fact I see them as a challenge and an opportunity. 

I recently decided to scout a section of power line corridor near my home to see how well it would work as a stealth travel route. I first reconned the route on Google Earth, which gives a detailed 3d view, showing houses, fields, fences, forests, ravines, creek crossings and other challenges I would have to deal with. The street level view on Google Maps showed close-up images of some of the road crossings to give me a better idea of which areas I might need to bypass; Gaia GPS maps showed me forest roads and trails I might be able to use for detours. I thought about conducting the mission at night for greater stealth, but decided to do it in the daytime because if you run into a property owner you look far more suspicious if you’re creeping around at night.

The mission turned out to be very interesting; I was able to travel several miles without any major obstacles, passing through private properties without encountering any hostile owners. I did have to detour twice; once using a main road and once by a long side trip down an abandoned forest road, across a creek and up a steep bushwhack back to the road on the other side. I could have stayed on the power line corridor the whole way if it I absolutely had to, but in broad daylight some of the properties were too exposed and had too many fences to safely cross. I learned that his section of the corridor has good potential as a shadow route in a stealth travel/bug-out scenario; I will be returning to where I left off to continue scouting this power line corridor soon.

Here is a video I made of this mission:

The Domino Vendetta

The Domino Vendetta

The Domino Vendetta, published in 1984 by Adam Kennedy, is the sequel to his excellent 1975 novel The Domino Principle, which I previously reviewed here. It continues the saga of everyman Roy Tucker, a working class murder convict who was sprung from prison by a shadowy cabal of powerful men in return for carrying out a high-level assassination.

Vendetta continues where Principle left off,  as Tucker, following the grim ending of the last novel, is still in Costa Rica and under attack by agents of the cabal. Tucker survives the assault, then proceeds to burn down his villa, dump his attackers’ car in the ocean and take off on foot, their identity cards and cash in hand. Using those, Tucker flies to Brazil to hide out and figure out what to do next. But the cabal soon finds him and tries to frame him for a murder, which Tucker narrowly escapes.

Meanwhile, everyone involved in the assassination plot is being killed off, including Tucker himself, according to a newspaper report. Tucker decides that he’s through running and returns stateside to take the fight to the cabal. The problem is he has no idea where to find them or how to take them on. He turns to the last person alive who can help him, his long-time lawyer and close friend from his Vietnam War days, Robert Applegate. Applegate has gone into hiding, but Tucker manages to track him down and get him to talk.  It turns out that Applegate has some inside information about the conspirators who enlisted Roy for his hit on the American ex-president. The description he provides of the cabal and their agenda sound all-too plausible, even more so today than in 1984:

The group, which calls itself Interworld Alliance, admits that it aspires to a position of high-level international influence, something apolitical, extra-political, a kind of world government outside government that speaks the language of business. Profit and loss, expansion and growth, acquisition, manipulation, and planned obsolescence. Brave New World, Man and Superman, business is business, money talks.

We learn that Interworld’s chief military advisor, an American general named Reser, has a devious scheme to get permanent control of Middle Eastern oil. We also learn why Interworld targeted an ex-president for assassination and enlisted Tucker for the hit.

Roy Tucker, being a common man motivated by common emotions, doesn’t much care about this larger conspiracy. He simply wants  violent revenge for the wrongs the conspirators have done to him and his loved ones, and in particular, revenge against Reser. Ever the cunning redneck, Tucker prepares a trap to bring the Interworld men to him so that he can get to them. The novel moves quickly toward a dramatic climax, as Tucker makes his way to New York, where Reser is scheduled to address the United Nations and announce his “peace initiative” in the Middle East. Tucker uses his natural ninja cunning to get close to his target, and like the first novel, this one ends with a violent, dark twist.

Vendetta was a worthy sequel to The Domino Principle; though not quite as riveting and a little slow at times, it was a well-written, tightly plotted continuation of the Roy Tucker saga. It fleshes out the events of the first novel, not only with regard to the assassination conspiracy, but Tucker’s early life, the events that landed him in prison, his time in Vietnam, and the love of his life, his late wife Thelma. The tough, resourceful, poor country boy convict from West Virginia is a sympathetic character, like a more human and likeable Jason Bourne, on the run from sinister power players but determined to survive and get revenge. This series is definitely worth your time if you enjoy classic assassin/conspiracy thrillers along these lines.

Get a copy of The Domino Vendetta here.

The Peking Target

The Peking Target

 After the over-the-top novel Chant, I was in the mood for something more realistic and better written, but with many of the same elements: 1980s action, a sinister Eastern mystic, martial arts assassins, and an ultra-skilled Western shadow warrior who takes them on. The Peking Target, published in 1982, fit the bill nicely; it’s the tenth installment in the brilliant Quiller series by Elleston Trevor (writing as Adam Hall).

As the story opens, “shadow executive” Quiller is watching a body being fished out of the Thames river, which we learn is that of a fellow Bureau operative who had just arrived from Peking with a most urgent and sensitive message for his superiors. Unfortunately, the agent was murdered on his way from the airport and his secret message died with him. Quiller himself is nearly killed when a car rams him as he’s leaving the murder scene. It’s apparent that something very sinister is going on in Peking, which someone is willing to kill British agents on their home soil to protect. So the Bureau sends Quiller, still banged up from the hit attempt, to China to investigate.

The assassinations escalate dramatically after Quiller arrives in Peking under cover as a security man for the British delegation. The British Secretary of State is blown sky high right next to Quiller during the funeral of the Chinese premiere, his body absorbing the blast and saving the agent from serious injury. Then the American ambassador is taken out, and Quiller evades another murder attempt on the streetonly his superior martial arts skill saving him from death at the hands of his skilled assailant. Two more agents are killed just before Quiller can get the information they had about the assassins, one found dead in the coils of his own pet boa constrictor. While all this is going on, Quiller learns that a mysterious figure named Tung Kuo-feng is involveda Triad leader who commands a team of elite assassins but whose whereabouts is unknown. After the beautiful Li-fei is sent to kill Quiller, thinking that he killed her brother, a Triad assassin, Quiller learns that Tung is holed up in a former monastery on a mountain in a remote part of South Korea.

The novel shifts into overdrive for the final third as Quiller begins his set piece mission: to air-drop near the mountain before dawn, make his way stealthily to the monastery, infiltrate the grounds, take out Kuo-feng and get out without getting killed by his retinue of assassins. It’s a tall order, but Quiller is the late 20th century British equivalent of a ninja, so if anyone can do it he can! The mission is further complicated by the assignment of a female guide who is a skydiving expert, mountaineer and fluent Korean speaker, as Quiller normally works alone. As usual with Quiller missions, things go sideways almost immediately and the executive is forced to improvise. Without providing too many spoilers, Quiller faces some brutal adversity but manages to get to the monastery, where he discovers that other world powers are involved who are using the assassinations to spread chaos for a nefarious geopolitical purpose.

This was probably the most fast-paced, action-packed Quiller installment I’ve read. Quiller is a real ninja in this one, who showcases his impressive range of skills: he kills men with his bare hands (he never carries a gun), evades pursuers by floating under debris on a river, air-drops into enemy territory by night, evades and ambushes a sniper, sends cleverly coded messages to deceive his captors, escapes a cell, sneaks around a well-guarded enemy compound, creates a diversionary explosion, flies a helicopter, and gets into an incredible mental battle with Kuo-fong in which the Triad leader showcases his impressive “ki” powers to try to control Quiller. Though never cartoonish, this one is slightly over the top by Trevor’s standards. I suspect he was influenced by the success of Eric van Lustbader’s blockbuster 1980 novel The Ninja and similar works of that era, and decided to turn up the ninja elements in this one. There was something in the zeitgeist of the early 1980s that produced a lot of great spy/assassin/ninja thrillers, and this is another one to add to the list. Great read.

Get a copy of The Peking Target here.

Scouting the Elwha River Road

Scouting the Elwha River Road

For this mission I scouted a closed section of road along the Elwha river and visited the Glines Canyon Overlook, site of a former dam. The dam was removed by 2014 to allow salmon to return to their spawning grounds and to restore an ancient ecosystem—the largest dam removal project in history. The road going to the dam has been closed to vehicles since early 2015, when the waters released by the dam removal washed out a section of the road, forcing the closure of campgrounds, a ranger station and other facilities.

From the trailhead it was a short ride to the road washout, where the awesome power of nature compared to the works of man is on full display:

The river washout that destroyed the road and closed this area to vehicles.

To get around the washout, there is a rough bypass trail which I was able to walk and ride my bike on without problems, passing a few of the massive old growth trees that the Olympic National Park is famous for along the way. Back on the road, I passed a few hikers and a guy with two pack llamas before arriving at the abandoned Elwha Ranger Station. The station and several other large buildings were all well-preserved but empty; there were even two trucks in a garage, stranded on this side of the washout with no way to get back to civilization. There was a young family of three there, including a little girl who had a magical presence. The whole scene was a little eerie, like something out of a post-Apocalyptic film where almost everyone has vanished and the survivors are wandering around on foot.

One of many unusual sights on the closed Hot Springs Road.

When the family left I decided to symbolically claim the site for the Shadow Empire by rolling out my “shadow sun” banner and briefly meditating on the transience of all human constructs before the power of the Shadow World:

Meditating at the closed Elwha ranger station.

I continued up the road, crossing a bridge over the Elwha river and admiring the crystal clear, turquoise water. An easy climb brought me to the Glines Canyon Spillway Overlook, site of the former dam. This was a spectacular place. From the top of what is left of the dam I could look straight down into the canyon at the blue-green river, now rushing freely through the chasm where the dam previously stood. On the other side there was a wide view of the former lake bed, now a rocky river plain where vegetation is growing back and bears are known to roam.

The remains of the Glines Canyon Dam.

I walked over to the edge of the dam, hoping to climb down onto the huge metal spillway and get a better view of the canyon. But the rock face above it was too high and vertical, so I settled for looking down from the top of the canyon wall. I unfurled the shadow sun banner at this spot and again meditated on the impermanence of all forms. Then I walked back to the top of the dam and carved my Scout Sign on a light post to mark my visit.

The view of the old lake bed from the Glines Canyon overlook.

The ride back was an easy cruise, mostly downhill and uneventful. I took a dip in the river to cool off, then had another encounter with the little girl and her family at the road washout. She had an interesting presence; I included our conversation at the end of this video I made about the trip, so you can hear for yourself:

Chant

Chant

In the 1980s, Asian martial arts and mysticism were a very popular motif in men’s adventure books and movies. I have entire shelves of novels from that era about lethal ninja assassins, sinister Eastern mystics and Western martial arts masters trained in the East, usually combined with a larger geopolitical narrative involving payback from World War II, the Vietnam War, or the ambitions of  modern-day Japan or China. I am a big fan of this sub-genre, so when I learned about an obscure three-book series about a Western martial arts master and shadow warrior called Chant, I decided to give the first book a read.

“Chant” is the alias of John Sinclair, an almost superhuman character who is like an ultimate 1980s action hero cross between Jason Bourne, Joe Armstrong (American Ninja) and Rambo. His backstory is a familiar one in ninja fiction: a Westerner raised in post-World War II Japan, trained in the most lethal martial arts by Japan’s greatest masters, a man so gifted that he is taken as an apprentice by Master Bai, the sinister Sensei of a sect of ninjas who harness the power of the Black Flame—the inner darkness and passion that breaks the bonds of traditional martial arts honor to produce the ultimate human killing machines. Later, Sinclair enlists in the U.S. military, where he becomes an elite commando who puts his skills to work killing Communists behind enemy lines in Southeast Asia. In the process he becomes a revered hero of the Hmong people of Laos, who are fiercely resisting the brutal Pathet Lao guerrillas. For reasons that are unclear, Sinclair is betrayed by his own commanders and attacked by CIA assassins, but he manages to kill them and escape. From that point on, Sinclair is a Jason Bourne-like fugitive from shadowy elements of the US government—a master assassin who has become expendable.

A decade and a half later, Sinclair learns that some of his beloved Hmong have immigrated to the USA, where they are being enslaved and terribly abused by a very nasty family of rich industrialists called the Baldaufs. With his strong sense of honor and loyalty to the Hmong, who saved his life during the war, Sinclair goes on the warpath to destroy the Baldaufs and free the Hmong from their tyranny. Sinclair begins hunting down and killing off the industrialists and their henchmen using his superhuman martial arts skills. He employs the clever stratagem of approaching the head of the Baldauf family in the guise of an operative of a secret US agency that wants Sinclair dead, and is willing to help Baldauf for a fee. Sinclair essentially hunts himself with Baldauf’s cooperation, while in the process gaining inside knowledge of the industrialists’ operations so he can more effectively sabotage them.

As all this is going on, Master Bai arrives on the scene, having also been hired by Baldauf to find and eliminate John Sinclair. Bai brings with him three gigantic henchmen and his beautiful granddaughter Soussan, who is as lethal as she is seductive. Chant finds himself irresistibly attracted to Soussan, despite knowing that she is probably Bai’s ultimate weapon to destroy him. Because Bai is not simply out to kill Sinclair for rejecting the Black Flame cult, but to prove its superiority by defeating Chant in an elaborate mental and martial arts contest. The whole thing gets a little ridiculous at this point, as Chant is challenged to defeat Bai’s henchmen, Soussan, and Bai himself, on the threat of his Hmong friends being killed. What follows is a series of staged combats with each henchman, interspersed with Chant’s inner confusion about whether Soussan is a sinister seductress or a sincerely changed woman who wants only to be with Chant and leave the Black Flame behind. The twist ending is violent, melodramatic, ridiculous and mystical, much like this book.

Chant is well-written pulp fiction that reminds me of an Eric van Lustbader novel of that era, at a fraction of the length and with the unnecessary subplots and pretentious writing stripped out. Which should make for a good read. And Chant is a pretty good read, if you don’t mind characters who are too over the top, too skilled, too good and too evil to take seriously. Sinclair is very impressive, but he lacks charisma and never really makes you care about him—he’s like a colder, more brutal and inhuman Mack Bolan. I mean, Mack has no compunctions about blowing away bad guys Dirty Harry-style, but Sinclair takes it to another level, gruesomely murdering people (even puppies!) in a manner usually reserved for villains. He may have a sense of honor, but he also has a streak of Master Bai’s Black Flame still burning in his soul that allows him to kill without mercy. Anyway, if you’re a sucker for this genre like me you’ll probably enjoy this book despite its flaws.

Get a copy of Chant here.

Meditations on the Shadow World to Come

Meditations on the Shadow World to Come

{ This post is a bit of a philosophical diversion from my normal content. Don’t worry, I will be back to book reviews and scouting reports soon. }

In addition to scouting the physical world around him to see what resources, routes and forces it holds, the Shadow Scout reconnoiters in a more metaphysical senseinto the future, the past and the darker places of his imagination to see what scenarios he may need to prepare for.

With the apparent recent uptick of pandemics, forest fires, extreme weather, infrastructure collapse, social unrest, political conflict, etc., there are many potential dark scenarios taking shape on the horizon. We are entering an age, it seems, where many forms of chaos threaten to disrupt settled life, and the powers that be face an increasingly desperate struggle to maintain order.

These are not abstract, remote concerns. I recently experienced a freakish heat wave in Washington state that brought power outages and deaths; highways and regions of the state are experiencing unprecedented closures due to existing or potential forest fires; as I write this, the air is hazy with smoke from some of these fires; there have even been protests around social issues and covid measures in my normally quiet community. As the hobbits of the Shire discovered in The Lord of the Rings, no place is safe from the chaos when the Shadow begins to fall.

The Shadow Scout, who strives to keep his mind unclouded by hysteria and see the world clearlyespecially when it is growing dark, dangerous and disturbingfaces these prospects with equanimity. He prepares himself mentally, physically and spiritually for the dark times, knowing that they always come eventually, that no order is eternal and that nothing gets better forever. Most indications are that darker times are directly ahead, which is one of the reasons I began calling myself “Shadow Scout” and writing these posts. It’s why I started scouting the resources, routes and conditions in my area, travelling long distances on foot and bicycle, exploring, stealth camping, caching and leaving signs for others—to see what’s actually going on in the world outside the Matrix, and to develop some agency over it. It’s also why I like to scout ruins, wastelands and sites of natural and human catastrophes: to remind myself of the impermanence of all things and the futility of all forms in this doomed world. Scoutings can be like pilgrimages to the power of chaos and destructionto the shadow world behind this world of illusions that will ultimately engulf all.

Meditating in the White Sands National Park, once the site of lakes, streams, grasslands, and large mammals. A preview of the desert world to come?
Meditating by a ruined bridge during my Spada Lake scouting.

In a society such as this one, dominated by Protestant, Freemasonic and Progressive ideals, which believes itself a shining city on the hill with a destiny to bring light to a benighted world, such ideas are anathema. There is something un-American, even evil, about a fascination with collapse, decay and darkness. This despite the fact that the establishment of America brought incredibly dark times for many, such as the natives who faced the eradication of their ancient ways of life, the animal species who were hunted to near extinction, and the great trees that were razed to make way for the new nation. I personally feel no particular allegiance to this entity called the U.S.A., though I was raised on its propaganda and taught to be loyal to it from birth. Nor do I look to any other government, political movement or religion for hope. I am like a stranger passing through an increasingly strange world, seeking my own path in the shadows.

I use symbols to externalize this mentality, such as the banner in the picture below, which I like both for its Japanese aesthetics and its image of a black sun casting its shadow across the world. The juxtaposition of the beautiful creek and green forest next to myself in black attire, calmly meditating by the black solar banner, somehow captures my spirit. I also wear a mask to symbolize my stranger status, and to prepare for a dystopian world where one is always needed to protect from viruses, intense sun, smoke particles, Orwellian surveillance, and the Tao knows what else.

Meditating by a creek near my home with my “shadow sun” banner.

In this way I set myself apart from the present world and its delusions, while communing with the deeper realities of nature and the shadow world behind it. This way of thinking is unlikely to make me popular with my neighbors, but it’s essential to the mindset of the Shadow Scout, who gives his allegiance only to the eternal natural and metaphysical realities behind all fleeting human constructs. I suspect there are many like me, and there will soon be many morewho feel a profound alienation from the Matrix of illusions that has been built around them like an invisible prison, who are ready to go out and find the others, experience freedom and see the world as it truly is, in all its doomed and fading glory.