Ft. Stevens State Park to Astoria (actual date Saturday 6/14/14)
It took me 21 days to walk 423 miles on (mostly) the Oregon Coast Trail and I planned on it taking taking 25. And though I was left with some time to kill, I wasn’t motivated to do too much. I stayed at Ft. Stevens for the 3-day state park max, then took a bus to Astoria to drink celebratory beer and stay a couple nights in a hostel. By the time I made my way to Portland to swap out my camping gear for my MFA residency things, I was squeaky clean, well-rested, and already fattening back up. I feel like the space between these two big events was an extension of my walking adventure so I’ll use this final post to capture it in snapshots. Some might be blurry but for the most part it’s pretty interesting.
I dream of a man named Giggles McGillicuddy. He’s a Scottish musician. He is visiting my town in North Carolina and stops to eat at a local Indian restaurant. After the waiter takes his order, Giggles asks the waiter, “Excuse me, but might you tell me how many species of tiger there are in your country?” The waiter cocks his head, bites his lip then says, “Perfectly none, Sir.”
I profile him as a redneck. He’s walking from his RV to the public bathroom. So am I. Our paths converge at the entrance and I say, “Good morning,” to which he responds, stone-faced, “Yes it is.” His clothes fit his body like skin, his denim Wranglers his exoskeleton. Through the top of his leather boots I see the outline of his toes, his toenails even. He wears a greasy Vietnam Vet hat and a patriotic tee. He reeks of cigarettes. We both head to the two stalls and know intuitively whose is whose. Our moves are practiced. Choreographed and synchronized. Once inside, he takes forever to get situated. His effort sounds like a man peeling away his own flesh. I’m nearly done by the time his body finally crashes down on the seat and his belt buckle bangs the concrete floor, resonating like a Tibetan singing bowl. Never, never in my life have I heard a guy breathe as hard as he does while taking a dump.
I walk from the campgrounds into Hammond/Warrenton and find a library with books for sale. The librarian tells me the building used to be part of the fort and served as a barracks for soldiers during, she thinks, WWII. She insists that I look at their newly remodeled bathroom and even walks me to it so I can peek in. I tell her it’s nice and she nods. She’s worked here since they opened, 23 years ago. Back then the sale books cost $.25. Just last week the board decided to raise the price to $.50. I buy two. As I leave she asks if I’ve seen any whales. I tell her yes and she tells me that earlier this season, while her husband was sitting on their porch overlooking the Columbia River, he saw two California Grays swimming upstream. He jumped up from his chair and shouted, “Thar she blows!”
I buy a book by Dan O’Brien because I have him confused with Tim O’Brien. “Brendan Prairie,” however, proves to be a fantastic read and page 154 makes me cry. A man teaches his daughter how to hold a newly-captured falcon and says, “Hold him like you love him.”
While walking back from the library, a twenty-something girl with long blond hair shouts at me from across the street, “Hey! Hey you!” I recognize her from my visit to the KOA “Kafe” last night so I cross over and say hello. For 15 minutes she buckshots me with a fantastic amount of random information, including (but not limited to) the following:
1. Today was her second day on the job and she thinks she just got fired for flirting with a coworker’s husband.
2. Last week she returned to Oregon from Las Vegas where she was homeless for 3 months.
3. She’s been married five times. Three times legally and twice, unofficially.
4. While she was in Las Vegas she fell off the back of a Harley going 90 mph and broke her ankle. She says, “Well, I thought I broke my ankle until I realized there is no such bone as an ankle bone, it’s actually my tibia.”
5. She once worked as a carney and was constantly covered in lice.
6. She’s quite familiar with the process of cooking meth and knows recipes and ingredients to make it without exploding things.
7. She’s adept at giving herself tattoos on her arms and legs. She shows some to me and they are all upside-down.
8. She aspires to be a screenwriter. Or a war journalist. She says she can totally see herself dodging bullets in Iraq.
9. She’s cheated on many lovers, but never knowingly. She says, “Usually it’s the men who have a wife but they don’t say so.”
10. She tells me that the town of Hammond is actually Warrenton, but Warrenton is not Hammond.
11. Her name is Randy.
12. I notice that her hands are abnormally large, red and wrinkled.
13. She tells me she hasn’t moisturized in a while.
14. She tells me I look like one of her ex-husbands.
Another man I’d again profile as an RV-driving redneck decides to use the hiker-biker area as a dog run. With a launcher he hurls a tennis ball into my campsite while his large dog sprints to retrieve it. Each time the dog runs past me with the ball in its mouth, it growls at me.
I hang my final paintings. Definitely not my favorite ones.
I note in my journal that I was better at writing (but not a better writer) back when I would loiter at cafes for hours and write with abandon. It was a much more natural process. Now it seems I try too hard. But I feel like I’m circling back and this is a good thing.
I catch the local bus at the entrance of Ft. Stevens, en route to Astoria. The bus stops at a WalMart and picks up an old fellow with a giant backpack whose been trying to score fare for the past two days. Today he has the eight bucks needed to get him to Kelso, Washington. His bills look like a handful of trash. He’s pretty jazzed to get on the bus and when he does, he stops in his tracks and points at me saying, “I know you!” He tells me that twice he saw me walking the 101. Once at North Bend (on Day 8) then again near Waldport (on Day 13). He motions like he’s walking with trekking poles then says, “I remember seeing you disappear off the trail and eat lunch on the railroad trestle.” This rings a bell and suddenly I remember passing by him as he sat on his tall pack with his thumb out. He tells me he’s been living on the road for 17 years and doesn’t regret a minute of it. He tells me that when he was my age he walked everywhere too. I ask him how old he thinks I am and he says 30. The driver chimes in, looking in the rearview mirror, “Yeah, I’d guess 30 also.” I’m 42.
In Astoria I stop at the Visitor’s Center and meet a very helpful volunteer named Nancy. She recommends a few places to stay and eat and, overall, puts off a vibe that makes me feel good. Before I leave she gives me an Astoria hat pin and tells me it’s a finisher’s prize. I stay at the Norblad Hostel, eat at the Blue Scorcher, and put away three beers on an empty stomach at the Fort George Brewery Taproom. I drink an ale called The Spruce Bud, a cask-pulled Vortex IPA, and their 3-Way IPA. I’m pretty buzzed. While walking towards the river, a car full of teenagers pulls up alongside me. A boy with a peach fuzz mustache leans out the side window and shouts, “Bob Dylan all the WAY!” This, while “Like a Rolling Stone” distorts through the crappy stereo of their banged up Civic.
I’m feeling sentimental as I lean on a steel rail along the Columbia. A D’Amico dry cargo ship is anchored in the river, probably full of forest products headed for the Mediterranean Sea. I watch it and wonder, where might I go next?
One of the the final comments I wrote in my journal asks an interesting question. “Can robins actually hear earthworms?” For the life of me I do not recall why I wrote this. It’s a curious question so I did some research. Seems that no, robins cannot hear earthworms. But closely watching the earth and feeling the subtle vibrations in the soil provides them with everything they need to survive.
Thanks for following along on this journey. May we all stop trying so hard. I wish you peace. -tg