Walking the Oregon Coast Trail, Day 11

Jessie Honeyman State Park to Carl Washburne State Park, near Florence (actual date Tuesday 6/3/14)

In my reoccurring dream, I try so hard to keep up with a man walking ahead of me, but it’s impossible.  The small shine of his white hair moves farther and farther away until it is a flashlight on a distant island, dancing around as if illuminating shells that lay like bones in the flotsam line.  I am meant to be near him and my struggled steps in the deep sand only make me stare at my watch, its second hand unchanging.

Being disconnected from the feel of the ground and from the tapping light of the sunrise, I overslept and didn’t get going until 9:00am.  If I hit Florence today I’d be half-way through this trek.  I crossed the Suislaw River and stopped at Safeway for food.  Never before has a store-bought, only slightly-chilled kale smoothie tasted so damn good.  But really, it didn’t taste good at all.  I need veggies, and with a vengeance.

The side streets wind for at least 6-miles, making it seem even longer.  Rhododendron Road to the North Jetty was a shoulderless hump with very little traffic.  But the traffic that did pass wasn’t used to pedestrians.  I had to bolt out of the way of texters or RV drivers at least a half-dozen times.

Today the pain in my hip is gone.  Numb, maybe.  The ache in my back is also mysteriously absent.  But now my left big toe is a nuisance.  Every time it bears weight I can feel the joint grind as if lubricated with fine sand.  I’m learning that the pain never completely goes away, it just goes somewhere else.

Once I finally got to the beach I find a line of hard sand away from the juking whitewash.  I am hyper-aware of the possibility of sneaker waves and it’s impossible to heed the advice of the countless signs.  Something to the effect of “Never stop paying attention to the ocean.”  I have visions of me zoning out, then suddenly finding myself trying to resurface while being pulled under by the weight of my pack.  I struggle to undo the cords as my life flashes before my eyes.  Briefly I wonder what happened until I realize that I had stopped paying attention.  Bad way to go.

Far away I see a man on a mountain bike approaching.  When he nears, we acknowledge each other, then he doubles back and rides slowly alongside me, striking up a conversation.  He tells me I am only the second guy with a backpack he’s seen on this beach in his ten years here.  The last guy reached the creek ahead and refused to get wet.  So the hiker headed east through the dunes hoping to hit the 101.  But instead he got bogged down in swamps and lost his way for hours before finally getting back on the beach, exhausted and raw.  The man on the bike says this is when he found the guy.  He tells me, “That dude was a bum with a bag, not a backpacker.  All he had to do was take off his shoes.”  When we reach this creek he points out the last remaining vertebrae of a humpback whale that washed up a couple months ago.  Gulls stood in a wobbling line waiting for their chance to scrape a final bit of flesh from the enormous bone.  The man rode off and I sat on a log to remove my shoes.  I got my feet wet.

Far ahead I can see Haceta Head lighthouse.  But like everything on the beach, it’s not as close at it seems.  After a few more hours of walking it seems even further away.  When the beach runs out at a rocky point, I find a ragged trail through the dunes leading back up to the highway.  The view at the top is majestic and it gets better as I climb.  Bald eagles swoop past and I swear I can hear their wings slicing through the afternoon.  One eagle seems unbothered if not amused by the aggression of two crows who take turns dive-bombing and talking some serious shit.  Jealousy is often embarrassing, even in the animal kingdom.

Another bicyclist, a woman this time, stops on the highway and quickly inquires about my trip.  Before answering, I notice her worn bike, the simplicity of her bags, the tan of her hands and the smile on her face.  I ask the same and learn seven years ago she retired and started biking.  She’s been non-stop and around the world since then.  This is her life and her lifestyle now.  My trip feels silly in comparison and I say so.  She shakes her head saying, “Better be careful.  Once you get started well…Watch Out!”

As I approach the Haceta Head tunnel I remember the advice from books and blogs I read while planning this trip.  The tunnel doesn’t have a shoulder and pedestrians are encouraged to hitch a ride.  Didn’t take long for a fellow to scoop me up.  Thank God it was a short lift.  After less than five minutes in his truck layered with fast food wrappers he was starting to look at me funny.  After twice asking him to stop he seemed surprised I wanted out.  I only needed a ride through the tunnel and had told him so from the start.  As I got out he told me he was in a band called The Benchwarmers and that I could find them on Facebook.  I wondered why it was called The Benchwarmers but chose not to ask.

Haceta Head lighthouse was up next and offered fantastic views and assistance from helpful rangers who guided me to the OCT trailhead.  The winding trail, known as the Hobbit Trail because of it’s dreamy and canopied wandering, led to multiple view points, each one better than the last.  At one overlook I was at eye-level with the magnifying glass, mesmerized by the revolving beacon.  The lighthouse is said to be haunted by the ghost of an old lady named Rue.  Apparently she watches people from the upper reaches of the tower.  It’s tough to see anything through the thick and angled glass.

The Hobbit Trail reached a fork and my route required a machete which I didn’t have.  It crossed the 101 and led past beaver dams and a known elk habitat.  I saw neither, but I did see another red spotted garter snake.

Around 6:30pm I made it to Washburne State Park.  A ranger checked me in and insisted he drive me in his golf cart to the hiker/biker camping area.  He said I seemed like a nice guy and deserved a ride after walking all day.  I had the place to myself until two cyclists, Lam and Jeff arrived.  Lam and Jeff, brothers-in-law, canoed the length of the Mississippi River last summer.  Lam said there was a third guy that started this cycling trip with them but, in his words, “He was a weenie, and got insulted when I told him so.  So he left.”

When he and Jeff were off showering, two crows landed on their picnic table.  The birds investigated their gear and managed to pull a bag of Cheetos from Jeff’s pannier.  I sat and watched as the two crows methodically tore into the bag of snacks.   Maybe I should have stopped the thieves, but I didn’t.  And even when Lam returned from the shower frustrated by the glowing orange mess I didn’t feel bad.  Especially when he told me this had happened every night since they started.  “Hasn’t it ever happened to you?”  he asked me.  “No man.  Can’t say that it has.”

Another memorable twenty miles.

Today’s art drop

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After coming off the beach

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The view from the trail leading to Haceta Head

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From Haceta Head

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Haceta Head Lighthouse, haunted by Rue

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