Ft. Stevens South to the OCT North Trailhead/Columbia River (actual date 6/13/14)
I am up at 5:30am and brave the cold rain en route to the public restroom where a young guy I met yesterday, Soren, is shaving. Today is also his final day and he wants to look good for it. I, however, have no such aspirations. We chat for a minute then continue to do so even after I enter a stall with a book.
Soren reeks of OFF. I don’t fault him for it – the mosquitoes are relentless here. He tells me he’s a jesuit-educated psych student at U of O and is in the throes of trying to “figure things out.” I refrain from telling him that he never will. Soren expresses his frustrations with how people have been responding to him during his solo cycling trek. It bothers him a lot when folks give him the shine. After I explain why I am doing this walk, the echoing room fills with silence and all I can hear is the scraping razor removing his patchy scruff.
Soren bangs on the door as he leaves, saying farewell. I respond with, “talk to you around,” which is a shabby and unintentional combination of “talk to you later” and “see you around,” the sort of language I speak readily after so little verbal practice during my three weeks out.
Back at the tent I listen to the pounding rain while eating a can of peaches and two granola bars. I put away a sleeve of Oreos and Nutter Butters while wasting more time reading ingredient lists and looking at maps of Ft. Stevens. By 10:00am I am going stir crazy and decide that the rain can’t stop me from hiking. A half-hour later I’m out in it and the sky begins to show hints of blue. Before long, my parka is tied around my waist and I’ve removed two layers.
I detour to the Ft. Stevens Historical Area where the US military had outposts protecting the mouth of the Columbia River from the time of the Civil War through WWII. I also learn that Ft. Stevens sustained a Japanese torpedo attack in 1942. The Japanese hoped that the fort would fire back and reveal positions of their mounted guns (they didn’t return fire). I am shocked to hear that also during WWII more than 9000 hot air “balloon bombs” were deployed by the Japanese. These bombs were sent into the jet stream to float east over the Pacific until they lost strength over North America, exploding on impact. More than 300 detonated on US soil. Most accounted for in the west, but some as far east as Kansas and Michigan.
I return to the Jetty Road and walk a few miles past various beach access parking areas. I turn into the northernmost one and easily find the starting point for the OCT, southbound. There’s a strange, anticlimactic moment during which I want to shed tears of joy. But I don’t. I actually try to get emotional, but I can’t. I’m happy. And pretty fucking proud of myself too. But ultimately I am also happy to put a cork in this thing and move on. So I set up my camera for a couple selfies, snap them off, and just like that the digital screen dies. I am both fascinated and relieved that this happened. After some inspection, however, the camera seems to still take photos, but I won’t know how they look until I upload the entire trip next week.
At the Columbia River South Jetty there’s an outlook structure built by the Army Corps of Engineers. A sign here states, “WARNING: Structure not designed for public use.” More than a dozen people are on it with cameras and tripods, personally witnessing the chaotic confluence of river and ocean where hundreds of well-seasoned ships and sailors have been buried through the centuries. With each crashing swell the structure rumbles. Occasionally a wave hits just right on the protective pile of boulders and a finger of salty mist reaches to touch my cheek.
I take lunch here (tortillas and beans, what else?) and note in my journal the few songs that have been on a loop in my head. Phil Collins’ “One More Night” (as in, I need to stay at the state park for one-more-night). Bush’s “Machine Head” (it has been on mental repeat since I climbed over Cascade Head). Paula Abdul’s “Opposites Attract” (“two steps forward, two steps back,” ugh). Finally, (and I am wicked embarrassed to say this), Debbie Gibson’s “Shake Your Love” for reasons I simply do not understand and cannot explain. As much as I have loved this adventure, and as thrilling as it has been in all its shapes and forms, this playlist rivals one used in Guantanamo Bay’s torture sessions. I am certain it was constructed in hell and I will be happy to see it go.
I return to my tent and shed some clothes. The sky is clear and I could wear shorts again if I didn’t mind the mosquitoes. I walk to the main entrance of the state park, cross the street to the KOA where I am mildly irritated by all the K-words that should start with C. I sit in a rocking chair by the blacktop bonfire as one of the workers tells me that they have space for more than 500 RVs. “Sometimes check-in backs-up a little. The fire is a place for folks to relax.” I agree, write in my journal, and read more Larry Levis.
I manage to pass enough time so that my return to camp is at sunset. Back at the hiker/biker area I hear voices. Three folks have parked their touring bikes and are sitting at a picnic table, already a few beers into their case of Bud. As I approach I say, “Howdy,” then keep on walking to my tent. I overhear one of the the guys whisper, “Well, I guess he’s not too chatty.” Yeah, I guess not. Not tonight anyhow.