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I’m currently in Portland, OR, hanging out at my old roommate’s place. For the last couple of years, the three of us (me, Evan, and her) traditionally went to the coast for a few days at the end of June. We missed out last year while we were hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. And this year money has been tight. So instead of getting a pricey hotel room and sitting on the beach mildly bored for three days, I invited my friend to backpack the Ecola State Park/Tillamook Head section of the Oregon Coast Trail.
Our friend has never backpacked before, mostly camped with a little bit of hiking in between, but she jumped at the opportunity. We planned, we pulled some of our extra gear out of storage, we bought bus tickets, and we brought her partner on the adventure as well.
We couldn’t have had better weather. Sunny, warm, the occasional bit of overcast with some sea mist. There were some hiccups, of course. Evan is experiencing bursitis on his kneecap right now, and we’re unsure on what to do in regards to our big Sierra hike coming up. It seems to be improving, so we’re optimistic.
The road walk to the trail head in Cannon Beach was approximately 2 miles, then another mile and a quarter on trail to Ecola Point. We hiked through the point and on to Indian Beach, stopping to take pictures and bask in the glory of the Pacific. Evan and I cruised on ahead, feeling free and limitless, back in our old stomping grounds with stronger legs and wider ambitions.
And then we came across a landslide that washed away the trail, and covered it with a tangled mess of tree and rock.
It was outright gone. Washed into the sea. I was shocked. There was a small trail that had been formed by bushwhackers that lead down to the rocky beach that Evan went and scouted. But it was impassable with our current equipment. Day hikers may have had better luck without our heavy packs.
So we turned around. While disappointed and bummed, we were not thwarted. We had only hiked a mile into this last section, and there were still options available to us. Ecola point is in the middle a short dead-end road that empties out at Indian Beach, where that last section of trail was leading us. Road walking is unpleasant, yes, but if it’s the only way to reach our destination it may as well be paved with yellow bricks.
The road added a third of a mile to our overall hike. I blasted Woodkid’s ‘Run Boy Run’ and pounded the pavement. 4 miles into the hike with a 30lb (maybe? I never weighed it) pack, and I felt pretty good. Emotionally, I was elated. This is what I missed so much. Having a destination on a map and having so many ways to get there. The neon green trees were electric, putting a hop in my step and a sparkle in my eye.
I came upon the beach at the end of the road, picked up some trash in the parking lot, and made myself at home in the sand. This wasn’t camp, but it was early enough to take a lazy break by the waves while we waited for the rest of the party to catch up.
I joked to Evan: There’s backpacking, and then there’s a backpacking vacation. Dang, this is nice. I ate some oily string cheese and waved down our friends from the cliff. We rested, collected water from the creek, and chased off a rogue child who decided my trekking poles were toys.
5 o’clock approached, and we were getting crispy. Time to get going. Our destination for the night was the Hiker’s Camp close to the summit of Tillamook Head; 1.3 miles away and up almost 800 feet. One of the steepest and longest climbs in this section.
Along the way, I passed a group of 12 hikers, all from my home state of Michigan. These encounters are exciting, but as the years pass I find less and less to talk about with folks I share a birth state with. Especially when I’ve been away for almost 6 years now. I don’t like talking about my hometown because I can barely speak of it in a positive light. I’m just glad I got out.
I estimated I’d get to camp in 45 minutes, and I was pretty close in the end. Around 6 pm I walked into camp, 2nd in our party of 4.
The primitive Hiker’s Camp is 3 Adirondack cabins with 4 bunks each, a large fire ring, and a gazebo with a picnic table. It was like coming home. This would be the third time I’ve stayed here. However, as we learned the first time we stayed here, we did not intend to sleep in the cabins. I honestly don’t know how anyone can. We were harassed by mice and raccoons all night.
We pitched our tents in some clearings behind the cabins and were joined by a traveler by the name of Brice, and two 2013 PCT thru-hikers named O’Leary, Key Lime, and their beautiful long haired black Labrador retriever Shasta.
We wrapped up piles of seasoned jackfruit, fajita seasoning, and sliced peppers & mushrooms and cooked them in the hot coals of the fire. Sleepy and full, our tents beckoned and we retired. I left the fly off my tent that night, and was watched over by a sea-dragon-shaped tree as I rested.
Different from other backpacking adventures, we had no destination on day 2 of 3. The plan was to do… nothing. Or whatever we wanted. And we did.
Our friend hiked down to Indian Beach to enjoy the waves and collect water for the camp. Her partner stayed at camp, watching our gear and enjoying a good book while he rested his knee. Evan and I, feeling our Sierra adventure looming, decided to hike the 6 miles down to Seaside, OR and Safeway, collect food for dinner, and then hike back.
It was overcast and chilly, but I felt good. I slopped through patches of mud and climbed over huge blow-downs. We stopped for a break just before the 1,000 foot drop to the beach, just long enough for me to pull out my stove and cook up some trail ramen, which is more or less brought to a boil and then steeped in hot water until the noodles are soft. I added some dehydrated mixed vegetables from home and half a vegetable bouillon cube. Oh, it was good. And I got to use my trail chopsticks finally! Sick of trying to eat ramen with a spork, I picked up a pair of child-sized chopsticks at the Chinese Gardens in Portland. They’re a perfect addition to my cook kit.
The trail down to Seaside was rocky and slick, steep and rooty. Soft clay peppered the ground, deceiving our balance and shifting us in awkward directions. But we made it down in one piece, and sitting on the bench at the trailhead I realized I left my bra at camp and was about to enter touristville.
We walked the 2 miles to the store (owww), gathered some potatoes, onion, and herbed butter, fetched Subway for our friends at camp, and put our spare change together to get some food at Taco Bell for ourselves.
We hiked back with packs awkwardly full with fresh foods, obscenely heavy submarine sandwiches, and water. Back down the 2 miles of road, up the 1,000 feet of muddy trail, and another 2.5 mile of trail beyond that. In my headphones I played the Lord of the Rings soundtrack (The Two Towers, specifically) on repeat, feeling like I was on a journey. I must deliver the subs to my friends!
3 years ago when I originally hiked this trail and attempted that 1k climb, I had to stop every 100 feet or so to take a long break. Just a day after my first episode of diagnosed asthma I didn’t know how to regulate my breathing, or how to properly use trekking poles to reduce energy waste. It took me 2 hours to climb that hill.
Now? 1 hour. Not a single sit-down break.
Credit to my inhaler of course, but I feel so strong and confident. I’m ready for the Sierra Nevada. I can do this.
It rained that night, but only on my tent. Guess I was lucky I put on the rain fly before town and was too lazy to take it off.
We made leftover potatoes in the fire that morning as we packed up. Today we went home, but our bus out of Seaside wasn’t until almost 7 pm that night. The previous evening as we had dinner a pair of men joined us in camp, but immediately turned in and made themselves at home in a cabin. We didn’t see them again until morning when we realized how odd it was that they each carried a trash bag and were wearing jeans. When they emerged from their cabin, they spun a story of being robbed and losing all their gear and food. I offered them my instant espresso and creamer.
Later, some other men arrived that knew them. I was down at my tent, but Evan was near the cabins. He overheard something about the two being on the lam.
We started packing a little faster.
You meet some interesting people on the trail.
Around 12, camp was broken and packed up, and we hiked north to Seaside. Today was sunny and warm, a lovely contrast to yesterday’s drizzle. I took the lead for once and confidently cruised along the trail. I thought about how I’m going to spend the next month doing exactly this but in a wild and alien landscape. Instead of crashing waves and cold humidity, I’ll be among granite and a never-ending sky.
Though apparently, the mosquitoes will be just as awful.
Mid-afternoon we made it to town and the sun was still shining. The four of us walked the beach to the bus stop, taking our time and enjoying the surf. My friend and I followed the edge of the water, and found two live sand dollars! Shocking! Today you are safe from the seagulls, Dollars. We chucked them back into the sea.
Seaside has showers along the beach for swimmers to rinse off sand and salt. I stood under the frigid water, fully clothed, and rinsed away the hiker stench I accumulated over the last 3 days. Tourists stared. I smirked.
Ah. Hiker trash.
Just before our bus arrived our friend bought us all take-out teriyaki. We drove back to Cannon Beach in just 8 minutes.
But… but we just walked that distance… over 3 days…
I thought back to these bus rides from the coast in previous years, and specifically about our 66-mile hike of the coast in 2016, our first long-distance adventure. As we rode back to Portland I stared out the window and quietly cried, unsure of my place in the world. I didn’t want to go back to the mess that is society; bills and social media, politics and shopping malls, prejudice and injustice. What’s the point of it all? Why bother?
And then I thought about my friends, 2 seats ahead of me. Were they in the same boat that I rode just a few years ago? I felt almost guilty. How dare I introduce them to this, only for them to go back to ‘normal’ life.
What have I done?
I can only hope that I planted the seeds of inspiration that allows them to get out into the wilderness more often, where they’ll find peace with themselves or at least with their place in the world. For them to find something bigger than themselves that’s worthy of love and passion.
Or otherwise, figure out what the point of it all really is.