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
7 thoughts on “Walking the Oregon Coast Trail, FINAL ENTRY”
Simply WOW, and Inspiring, great journey.
I live on the coast and will probably be doing the OCT as my first long distance hike next year. While there are a million blogs about the PCT, I have found, so far, TWO on the OCT. It’s been helpful to read about your journey. I can’t find much on camping locations, other than the hiker/biker campsites but there seem to be huge stretches between them and I’d rather not pay $6 everyday to camp. I have some questions for you! This post is almost a year old but I hope can help me out.
1. What would you recommend for figuring out along the way camping?
2. What would your biggest advice be that you figured out while hiking that research didn’t provide?
3. What would you do differently now that you completed it?
4. What gear did you bring that you wish you hadn’t, and what do you wish you had brought?
5. Do you think it would be safe for a late 20’s female to do solo? The fact that most of the trail is near populated areas actually makes me more nervous than if it was in the wilderness. I am afraid of people seeing me hiking alone, and trying to find me later. What do you think?
Note the stand-alone comment I left in response to your questions above. Should be directly below this one. -tg
In response to the comment above:
Here are a couple resources I used for my first thru-hike of the OCT in May 2015. Granted, I walked it backwards (south-north) and had to adjust accordingly, but the maps and information were certainly helpful. I also spent a lot of time using Google maps (satellite view) for way-points and gmap-pedometer.com for approximate distances. Also helpful. The third site is Bonnie Henderson’s blog. I assume you already found it…
As for your questions:
1. Camping on the beaches along the Oregon Coast Trail is pretty wide-open. It’s illegal on the Camp Rilea stretch between Ft. Stevens and Gearhart, but other than that you are theoretically allowed to camp anywhere that’s out of sight of public residences and not adjacent to State Parks. Still, however, you should be prepared to move if asked to move by an official. The rule is somewhat ambiguous, and though I never had to break camp like this, I was always ready to do so if asked.
There are stretches where beach camping is totally an option, while other stretches where you are on the 101 or some other backroad you need to be more creative (and careful). I camped in construction sites, in public parks, and even in people’s back yards. It’s amazing how invisible you become once the sun goes down. Just get up early and get out of there if you take such risks (I don’t advise you make a habit of it, but if you get in a pickle, it’s an “option”).
I recommend you use the state parks along the way as much as possible. I found the hiker/biker camps to be very peaceful, and you certainly can’t beat the fee of $6/night. Once I got stuck in Cannon Beach and had to stay at a private campground and paid $35 to pitch a tent. Makes six bucks seem like nothing.
If you are hell bent on paying nothing for camping along the way, I am certain you can pull it off. Just know that it’s probably the most risky way to go about it. It also eschews the state park system that is in dire need of your dollars. But it’s your experience and you need to do it in a way that works best for you.
2. Research did very little. Most of the online resources are either verbose or outdated. I knew that most of what I needed to know would present itself along the way. I can’t say that anything I learned was profound or enlightening. A few bits of advice about things I learned quickly: fill up your water supply every chance you get (even if you just filled it 5 miles ago), smile and be nice to folks you meet or else they will think you are a vagrant (some still will though), and don’t carry a ton of food–there are so many markets along the way you could probably get away with 2 days worth of provisions (max) except in the long dunes section.
You WILL encounter dangerous river crossings if you meet them at high tide. Get a free tide chart from any state park registration booth and use it. Fording is no joke and potentially lethal. Once I was forced to wait 5 hours for tide to go out and still got soaking wet. Another time I stupidly crossed at high tide and nearly drowned. Not cool.
Expect poorly marked trails. Not sure how much work has been done on signage in the past year, but I often felt led astray by the inconsistent markings. Additionally, note that some of the “trail” is broken and you’ll need to navigate to the following section on your own. It all works out if you keep the ocean on the correct side, but expect to miss trailheads on occasion.
Walk north-south, the winds prevail from the north and beach sections are rather difficult when you are being sandblasted.
3. For my second time, I plan to refrain from 30+ mile days and take it slow. There’s a lot to see, and a ton of experiences along the way to miss if you blast through it. I also plan to carry a smaller pack and carry less food. (Note: this 2nd time I’ll be recording notes and data for the book, so it’s bound to be slower-going anyhow)
4. I’ve been hiking and doing long backpack trips for 20 years now. I’ve got the gear thing dialed in. Gone are the days of ditching unnecessaries or wishing I had this or that. Not bragging, but it’s true. But your question is still a good one–much of the answer will be unique to your needs and determined based on your cumulative experience.
5. It’s a real shame that fear of others often keeps people off beautiful trails, but certainly it’s a worthy topic for consideration. My quick answer is yes, it’s safe. But shoot, who knows what’s going to happen out there? I did the hike early in the season and only met one other thru-hiker along the way. Lots of day hikers, mostly groups or couples, and nobody I would have considered sketchy. So much of the trail, when it’s not on the 101, feels remote.
The highway is where things could go wrong fast. Lots of beer cans on the roadside tells me a lot about the folks in the vehicles. Walk during the day, always against traffic and as comfortably on the shoulder as possible, wear bright clothing, and use trekking poles (amazing for so many reasons, including a haphazard self-defense weapon if need be). I’ve traveled around the world, often in strange and dangerous places. I’ve always believed that we need to embark on adventures with confidence that all will go right, then act honorably along the way. If stuff’s going to happen, it’s going to happen. But as far as the OCT goes, I think you’ll be good on your own if you are smart along the way.
Maybe check in with people as you go so that someone’ll miss you if things go south, God forbid.
I hope you do it. It was a fantastic experience in so many ways. I wish you the best and would be happy to answer any more questions you have as you prepare.
Thanks for your questions.
Thank you for the detailed response, it was very helpful!
You are welcome.