Manzanita Beach to Cannon Beach (actual date Tuesday 6/10/14)
It was a restless night. Walking more than 100 miles in three days will do this to a guy. But the full moon was a redeeming factor for my many wake-ups. Set against a strangely clear sky, it glowed like a protective street lamp, illuminating the clearing. When I got up to pee I could feel the white light wash over my face. Even the guylines of my tent cast shadows.
This morning I am counting my blessings. Thinking about how fortunate I am to have the opportunity to do this walk. I am trying not to take this indulgence for granted – and there’s no doubt it is, in fact, a luxury. If I dwell on it, it creates some internal conflict. But when I get right down to the root of things, traveling like this is what fuels the mortal fires in my belly. It keeps me from getting too comfortable, from getting stuck in a rut. It reminds me what’s most important and gives me time to ponder the things I want to work on. It’s never an easy journey but it’s always worth it. I once had a dream in which someone told me that everything I need to know can be found by staring at an apple. For now, this trail is my apple.
I leave the clearing at 7:00am and immediately find a rainbow-colored hat on the side of the highway. I’m not sure, but I think this weekend is pride weekend and there’s no doubt that someone’s bummed this is missing. On the far side of the 101 I find the OCT trailhead for Mt. Neakahnie. I drag my tired legs up its 1700 feet to the best viewpoint on the trip so far. I see multiple jutting points to the south and am overcome by the fact that I walked them all.
Call me crazy, but as I leave the summit of Neakahnie I have another encounter with a talking tree. This time an enormous cypress tells me to place my hand on its bark. I do as I am told. It says, Do you feel how strong I am? I nod, yes. Do you know why? No. It’s because I keep things simple – my food, my wanderings, my exploits. Look at those trees with wandering vines – do you think they will be around as long as me?
The OCT crosses the 101 and enters Oswald West State Park. It winds along a picturesque coastline offering the sort of views I’ve come to take for granted. Then it crosses a wooden suspension bridge before curling towards a large parking area filled with day hikers and surfers. I stop for lunch at a picnic table. Two men, Hank and Johnathan, wander up and ask about my pack, and then about my hike. Hank is a newly retired LA Sheriff after 36 years of service and his son Johnathan is a computer guy. The rest of their family joins them and before long we’re all chatting. This is the most I’ve spoken to anyone in three weeks and I stumble over simple sentences. Hank says a prayer for me as he leaves. As Johnathan pushes his baby’s stroller away he tells me he hopes to do something like this too. One day, he says. One day.
When I get back on the 101, miles tick away slowly while my energy level rapidly wanes. Sometimes when I am in the thick of big-mile ultra training I find myself nodding off mid-run. Today I battle this for an hour and imagine I must look like a drunk trying to walk a straight line. A half-mile tunnel affords me a chance to scream my guts out and shock my body awake again. By late afternoon I’m nearing Cannon Beach. I can see the iconic Haystack Rock – basalt remains of an ancient, volcanic coastline.
I veer off the 101 into downtown Cannon Beach. A volunteer at the visitor’s center tells me that the only state campgrounds are still more than 5-miles away but there’s a private facility, Sea Ranch, less than a mile away. Sea Ranch reminds me of the sort of place my folks took us kids in the 70s. We’d pick a spot, pop the top of our orange Westy and “camp” for a couple nights. The camp stores always had cheesy trinkets and the hikes we took were probably no more than a mile. Sea Ranch is the younger cousin of these places in my memory.
There is nobody in the registration trailer and I am greeted by a very nervous lap dog. Something feels weird. After a few seconds I call out, Hello? and I swear I can hear someone. But there is no response. I lean into the counter to ring the bell and am startled to see a woman behind it, laid out on the floor and breathing erratically. Her legs are in an unnatural position and one arm and shoulder are stuffed in a small trash can that’s spilled over, its contents scattered about. Her eyes are open and tearing, she’d drooling, and her head is resting heavily on the rug. With my pack still on, I rush behind the counter and try to talk to her. I call 911 from the office phone. While I talk to the operator, the woman sits up and is able to have a broken conversation with me. The operator prompts my questions. Nothing happened. She remembers nothing. The dog tripped her. She’s fine. No, she’s not on drugs. Everything’s fine. There’s no problem. Within minutes the ambulance arrives and the Sea Ranch comes alive. RV campers and dirty kids rubberneck the scene. I slip away and set up camp in the tent area. An EMT flips the office sign to CLOSED and the woman is taken away. Turns out she was severely dehydrated. A few hours later, her replacement tracks me down and I pay for two nights at $37 per. What a gouge considering I’ve been shelling out $5 max for state park campsites with far better accommodations.
I return to camp after walking back into Cannon Beach to find a market. I crash early. I fall asleep looking at my thumbs. They are tan. Probably for the first time ever. Their dark yellow shade is like brown sugar. It reminds me of donuts. Maple bars. Some cravings take longer to go away than others, apparently.