Riding the Dunes

This is the big day. The kids had been talking riding dune buggies — or better yet, ATVs if they could. We decided to go to the rental place sooner rather than later because we figured the demand might be lower and the wind wasn’t quite as strong as the day before. We arrived around 11 and Ryan and Cal were thrilled to learn that they were old enough and tall enough to ride in their own 250 cc buggy. Sue and Roby rented a 500cc two-seat buggy. And dad, being over the 170 pound limit for the single buggy, had to rent and ATV. The kids thought this was very cool because an ATVs is basically a four wheel motorcycle and they have a PS2 game that they love called “ATV Off Road Fury”.

As a group we had to read several panels of saftey and operation rules and then listen to a instructional tape. One of the employees then got us lined up in the parking lot and we headed off onto the dune access trail. It was quickly apparent that driving in the dunes was a bit trickier than we imagined. Just slogging up the hill was hard as the wheels spun or fishtailed in the deep sand. Unfortunately it also became apparent that Cal’s car had some mechanical problem. It would sputter and lurch and actually stalled on the way out.

We lined up on the top of a dune for our last bit of orientation from the guide. The key was to stay within a defined area — which wasn’t too hard given the size of the dunes. After the quick talk we were off! It was an amazing feeling to zip across the dunes. We quickly headed for a flat area that was basically a dried up pond which still had some puddles in it. The benefit of this area was a smooth ride plus good traction. As we ventured up and down the dunes we learned that the deep sand was tricky to drive through and the smaller cars (Ryan and Cal) easily got stuck. Cal got stuck once or twice, but part of his problem was his car was still sputtering and having problems. After all the build up, he was nearly in tears to have a bum buggy. Luckily the guide saw him having trouble and offered to excort him and dad back to the rental place to swap out his car. This took about 20 minutes to ride back up the hill, get a new car and then rejoin the group. But it was well worth it. Cal’s new car ran well and he was finally ready to keep up with Ryan and mom. When dad and cal rejoined the group, they were zipping up and down the dunes after getting used to navigating in the deep sand. Cal followed Ryan through the good routes and we all criss crossed primarily in the area of the hard flat area. We ventured out as we got to know the terrain but there was always a greater risk of getting stuck. At one point Sue and Roby got stuck in the deep sand and we had to lug the front of their car from side to side for several minutes until the back wheels came free.

Because of Cal’s mechanical problems, Cal and dad got an extra 15 minutes of driving time which they used zipping around in the same general area but expanding to a few different “bowls” as they made they way back out.

The overall assessment of the experience from each kid was “that was awesome!”. So, despite mechanical problems, and some time spend extracting the cars from the sand, driving dune buggies now ranks near the top of list of our vacation activities. Note to parents or others who may consider this on future vacations: this experience wasn’t cheap. Each car costs $45 per hour to rent. It’s basically the equivalent of a whole day of skiiing for one hour!

After leaving the dune buggy place we then discovered a small place just up the road which had go-carts. The kids were still jazzed up about their new-found driving skills so we stopped for a quick race around the track. This time it was a lot cheaper but still fun. We challenged each other around the curving (paved) track and jousted for postition around each turn. Some other, older, more aggressive kids bumped and pushed their way through to eventually take the lead, but we had a lot of fun.

We had lunch in Florence and browsed the shops for a while. The next new activity the kids wanted to try was sand boarding. Sue and cal rented a boat on the pond and Roby and Ryan rented boards to test out on the dunes. Sand boards are almost exactly like snowboards, but they don’t turn or “carve” as you can in snow. On Roby’s first attempt he achieved a lot of speed, but hadn’t figured out how to stop gracefully so he “beefed it” hard into the sand in front of a lot of people at the park. Being a bit more self conscious Ryan suggested that we walk to a distant dune to test them out with more privacy. We eventually ended up across the pond on a dune that lead to the pond’s edge. We groomed a ‘”trail” for the boards and after a few tries they were zipping down the dune and into the water. By this time Sue and Cal had joined up with us. Cal had several good rides down into the water. Mom and dad got to be the “pit crew” — drying off the boards after they went into the water and then waxing the bottom for the next run.

We finished up around five and then made the decision to do some driving at night rather that wait for tomorrow. We packed up all of our camping stuff, headed up 101, then over to Route 5 and north through Oregon, eventually through Portland, and then settled into a Comfort Inn in Kelso Washington about 11pm.

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