South to South Beach

We knew we had a pretty easy day ahead. Sometimes the mileages of legal camping opportunities mean a long day, sometimes short.

We took more time than usual to explore and enjoy the coast. Schooner Point was a delight to hit at lowish tide.

Sometimes the coast is just especially interesting and I thought this area had character. It also helped to be sharing it with our two new friends.

Throughout the day I watched Yaquina Head get bigger and bigger. Soon we went up and over and then into Newport where we got food.

We crossed a huge bridge and made it to South Beach State Park, where Blade’s friends just happened to drive by us. Wild. What are the chances?

It was an odd night, because we shared the hiker biker campsite with a drifter who built a fire late at night to cook crabs. He did not seem dangerous at all, but it was a weird vibe.

1st 2 days of 4

From the Cape Kiwanda area, Julie and I met up with Blade and Savannah who were just ahead of us. We walked a cold, crazy-windy morning together.

We hung out in Neskowin and ended up camping together at Devil’s Lake State Park near D River that night.

In the morning we took a bus to bypass a long haul on Highway 101. We got dropped off right at Gleneden Beach where the trail picks up. It was super easy and helpful.

The weather, however, was not. The howling wind and misty rain were pretty miserable. Luckily we were near Depoe Bay where we stopped for lunch.

By afternoon the rain stopped and after climbing Otter Crest we detoured to see Devil’s Punchbowl before a final beach walk to Beverly Beach State Park.

It was a lovely hiker biker campsite.

Capes Lookout and Kiwanda

In the morning we had to summit Cape Lookout by road because the trail to the summit was wiped out by landslides. I was hell-bent on getting a ride to the top, but not a single car passed us. Good thing we weren’t sitting at the bottom waiting on a hitch. We luckily had a trail to descend, and the views of the cape were amazing once we got back to a beach.

I loved hiking past Camp Merriweather, where Elliott once spent time. The beach was quiet and gorgeous. (Until we reached where the OHVs were allowed. Then it was loud.)

As afternoon approached, we had a tough decision. We had to either ford the Sand Lake outlet or walk 6 miles on roads around it. We had heard mixed reports on fording, but we were not hitting it at low tide and did not feel safe taking the chance. We began the roadwalk, and it was so hot, with very little shoulder and quite a lot of traffic – big rigs and wide vehicles.

A mirage turned into an oasis in the desert as a small store flickered into existence. There we met Taylor, who so kindly offered us a ride to get back to the trail south of the Sand Lake outlet. A true trail angel. She lifted our spirits and helped our feet.

On the beach again we could see Cape Kiwanda in the distance!

We had to climb that!

It was so hard climbing up the sand but it was also really fun.

From the top we descended to a Webb County campground. It was fabulous. There were bunnies!

Almost heaven?

Two capes

When it was time to return to the trail we caught an Uber to get us where we needed to go. The trail in this area is a little challenging because it requires a boat shuttle at high tide (unofficial route) and the official route is almost exclusively on Highway 101 which the guidebook encourages us to skip.

The bright side of being able to bypass certain unappealing sections is the ability to spend more time enjoying the parts of the trail that do call to us. Like Cape Meares. I had time to hike a trail to see a giant Sitka spruce and I’m sure I would not have taken the time for that trail if we had been worried about connecting our footsteps precisely.

What was fun about Cape Meares was not only the really cute and tiny lighthouse but the fact that my partner Elliott was here when he was a kid – he now works on the North Shore of Minnesota at Split Rock Lighthouse. So it was fun to see one of his earliest encounters with a lighthouse.

I was also excited because out in those Waters is a federally designated Wilderness Area!

We were there really early in the morning so there was nobody else around.

We also made the obligatory stop to see the octopus tree. From there we walked through a couple of small towns and ended up on a pretty busy road to get us to Cape Lookout State Park where we got a Hiker Biker site.

Our experience at Cape Lookout was not amazing due to how overcrowded it was and how understaffed the park was. We just happened to hit it on a weekend when temperatures were soaring and everyone in the state was trying to get to the ocean. One bright side of our time there was getting to watch a spectacular sunset. It was also here I realized that I hadn’t actually touched the ocean yet so I made sure I did that.

Bays, trains, and beaches

The day started out perfectly with elk near the campsite and an easy walk to Nehalem Bay. There we took our very first boat shuttle across the water. The folks at the jetty were incredibly helpful and we enjoyed a rest break with ice cream and a cat to keep us company.

PCO Julie

This was one of the more unique days of the trail because it not only required us to go by boat, but there was also an option written in the guidebook to take a scenic train in order to avoid a stretch of Highway 101. First we had to get there.

We walked some train tracks, long out of service, then got back on the beach until Rockaway Beach. There we had lunch and met up with two hikers who we met the night before at our campsite. It was fun to see Blade and Savannah again and I was sad that they were not taking the train with us.

The train was a fun way to spend an afternoon and we enjoyed avoiding the highway. When we arrived in Garibaldi we had time to look at some older trains on display and to hike out onto a really long pier.

From there we took a bus to a motel we had booked in Tillamook, as there was no affordable lodging in Garibaldi and it was time for a day off.

Our day off in Tillamook was restorative and much needed.

Up and down, rain and shine

I took very few phone photos this day due to rain and being an obstinate late adopter of phone technology (I’m out here for a reason). The great part was that the rain didn’t start until we had gained most of our elevation. I suspect we were just in a cloud.

We climbed up Cape Falcon and there was typical headland mud to deal with but also crazy overgrowth. I wonder what the trail will look like in even 2 weeks. We had to part the vegetation with hands and poles.

The trail meanders a lot in this area and we took a few breaks to help us get through it, mentally as much as physically. But it stopped raining and that was awesome.

Soon we were descending, our day made easier by the closed Neahkahnie Mountain. This mountain is the high point of the OCT but has been closed since a 2020 storm. We instead hugged Highway 101.

Getting back on the beach, we could look north to see all of Neahkahnie and where we had walked. Cool.

We reapplied in Manzanita and made it to Nehalem Bay State Park’s hiker biker camp. It was superb.

Ecola continued, Hug Point, and a long hot climb

The day started pretty perfectly with a descent down Tillamook Head to a beach where several movies were filmed.

We again encountered epic mud, though significantly less elevation gain, so it was easier to get through. I still was alarmed by the environmental damage. Luckily, after a short roadwalk connector, we were back on the beach.

Cannon Beach was hopping, but not as busy as I had feared. Generally the beaches have not been crazy busy.

Our challenge of the day was to time our beach walk with the tides so we could get through several pinch points only accessible with low water.

The most noteworthy is Hug Point, where the trail is on the last remnant of an old coastal road blasted into rock. This spot needs to be crossed within an hour of low tide. We made it, and took a deep breath. The alternative was to backtrack to a highway and get through that way. Ick.

Julie found sea urchins.
Life along the coast is fascinating.

We made great time the whole way on the beach, enjoying the sights and the relief of navigating Hug Point.

We left the beach at Arch Cape to begin the climb to Cape Falcon. We originally missed the sign for an important turn, so Julie hacked down the weeds obscuring the sign. There are rarely signs on this trail but in a few crucial places they exist. (In other crucial places, they don’t.)

At this point in the day, I was hot and tired, running low on water, energy, and sanity. Given a complete lack of legal camping in the area, making it through is really hard.

We definitely didn’t stealth camp at a very established backcountry site in Oswald West State Park. But if we had, our day would have been about 17.5 miles.

South to Seaside and Tillamook Head

We awoke to more rain but that meant we got Peter Iredale to ourselves. It was a lot of beachwalking today and it did finally clear up. It was even nice by the time we reached our hostel.

PCO Julie

It was good to get out of town the next day. We had a lovely walk to Tillamook Head. Not all of the Oregon Coast Trail is flat or easy! We often have to ascend heads jutting out into the water. Here, gentle switchbacks slowly turned into epic mud.

It was simultaneously glorious with spring flowers, draping moss, and an occasional overlook… and heartbreaking to be in mud pits which would take years or decades to rehabilitate. At least half the trail to the summit is located violently unsustainably. Boardwalks were once constructed but have rotted and are now causing more harm than good. None of this is written to shame Ecola State Park, which is surely underfunded, or the Oregon Coast Trail Foundation, which is merely piggybacking their trail onto existing trails. Hopefully these organizations can partner to help solve the mess.

The top of Tillamook Head is magic – a WWII missile bunker is hidden under decades of lush growth. And the view of the lighthouse isn’t bad either.

There we met Casey, a northbound hiker, and Leslie who was southbound. We all opted not to camp in the shelters as they are no longer waterproof and host rodents of unusual size.

It was a day filled with pretty places and meeting interesting people.

Early days on the Oregon Coast Trail

It has been a diverse set of experiences in Oregon so far! By some miracle, despite a delayed plane and quick connection (Julie) and a toddler with a medical emergency during plane boarding (Jo), we and our $4 thrift store suitcases made it to Portland.

We took light rail to a few blocks from our hotel and got much needed sleep.  In the morning we walked to Union Station and took a bus to Astoria.

In Astoria we packed our bags, donated the suitcases, and took the most delightful cab to Fort Stevens State Park where the trail begins.

All told,  that was almost exactly 24 hours to get me from Willow River to the Oregon Coast Trail.

We climbed the observation tower, took lots of pictures, and began our hike. Due to the late start for the day, we only went about five miles to the hiker biker camp at Fort Stevens.

Hiker biker camps are the best idea ever – open spaces where there is always room for another, where no hiker will be turned away. We shared the site with an awesome biker and about 47 children from adjacent campsites whose parents felt like it was appropriate for the children to run all around our tents screaming.

It rained pretty much all evening and all of the night and was very cold but we didn’t die.

The plot twist

I don’t really want to hike the Continental Divide Trail.

When I accepted my previous job in 2015, I was planning a Continental Divide Trail hike. The job meant delaying the hike indefinitely, and for six years I used every bit of vacation time to hike shorter trails in the west or south to become a well-rounded hiker. I needed to meet the west on foot because I had spent over a year backpacking in the east – it was the west’s time. I hiked in western mountains, in western desert, in western bentonite clay, and in western smoke.

I went on my spring trip this year because I wanted to knock a few trails off my list (check!), see if I can still do the things I need to do (yes! but now featuring slightly more pain!), and I wanted to visit the Appalachians.

I had forgotten how much being in the east feels like going home. It had been eight years since I last hiked in those lush mountain forests. I love them. I have missed them. They made me ask: Why hike the Continental Divide Trail? Because I feel expected to? Every hiker eventually gets there? It’s an impressive achievement? Because I wanted to in 2015? Those don’t feel like good enough reasons.

I am not sure I want to be in the west for half a year. I also don’t want to be away from family for so long. On top of that (and I know this really does not matter, but it somehow does) I want to finish whatever I start. I have some unfinished trails already (thanks, COVID!).

My summer hiking buddy Julie and I concluded that we would have more fun on a trail I had never envisioned hiking: the Oregon Coast Trail, a 425-mile trail from Washington to California. We should also have time to hike the Timberline Trail (circling Mount Hood) while we’re out there. Later in the summer, I’ll head to Montana and Idaho via train to roadtrip to national parks with friends.

“But Jo, you just wrote about loving the east yet you’re going west?” Yes, but for 7 weeks this summer, rather than 5+ months of CDT. I will come home in late summer to visit loved ones and regroup.

Then I will return east, back to my beloved Appalachians, back to the mountains where I feel at home.

September might bring me back to this rock.
Or it might not.