Monday, June 17, 2019

Long Walks On The Beach

Throughout my college years, I worked a summer job as a lifeguard on Lake Michigan's beautiful shores. I lived about 100 yards from the beach. While the campground was a wonderful place to live and work, sometimes I needed some quiet time away from friends and coworkers. I took to walking on the beach - sometimes north, sometimes south. These journeys gradually became longer - sometimes over fifteen miles walking the water's edge. On one occasion, I was forced off the beach onto a paved road because of a jetty protruding into the lake - and ended up burning the bottoms of my bare feet on the black asphalt. Ah, good times.

"Dating Service", via xkcd
Over the course of those summers, I grew more comfortable hiking longer distances. I dreamed of someday walking the entire shoreline of Lake Michigan - from the Straits of Mackinac all the way around. That hasn't happened (yet), but from the get-go, even before I hiked the Appalachian Trail or headed out to Utah, beachwalking was integral to my hiking DNA.

Wait, You're Doing WHAT? When last we spoke, I had reached Torrey, Utah on the RIB. Not only was the snow not melting - the result of an abnormally cool and wet spring - but more of it was on the way. In the month of May, many sites across Utah actually added to their snow depth totals. Clearly, I needed to take some time and let it melt out. But what to do in the meantime? This sabbatical is temporary, unlikely to be repeated, and therefore extremely precious. I need to use my time wisely. Three weeks of sitting on the couch is hardly a worthwhile endeavor.

But what to do? June is a tough month even in a normal snow year. The desert is too hot, the mountains are snowed in - where do I go? My answer was the coast - an ecosystem I had never really explored outside of my college beach forays. I settled on the 410-mile Oregon Coast Trail, running the length of the Pacific coastline through the state.

Thank You, Sixties Legislators: Unlike, Michigan, where the limits of public property are defined as the "ordinary high water mark" - e.g. your feet need to be on the wet sand (ish - lawyers can nuance as needed), Oregon in 1967 passed the "Beach Bill", which grants public access to the entirety of the beach up and down the Oregon coastline. Before roads were built paralleling the coast, the beach itself was often the easiest north-south travel route through the area. On my walk through Oregon, about 40% of my miles were on the beach - the same travel corridor that Lewis & Clark used on their 1803-1805 exploration and by the Indians for centuries before them. The beach is beautiful and generally makes for easy travel.

The Flip Side: When the Oregon Coast Trail isn't on the beach, it generally follows US 101. Everyone knows what Route 101 is - it's the worst road in the world. About 40% of the OCT is on pavement - mostly on 101 - and there's no way to whitewash this - it just plain stinks. Most of the time there's a decent shoulder to walk on, but not always, and when you throw blind curves into the mix, the result can be a bit terrifying. I bought a day-glow vest to make myself more visible to distracted drivers, and I did hitchhike a couple short sections (including through a tunnel) where I judged that walking the road was simply too dangerous.

Leftovers are the Best: If you're keeping track, we've accounted for 80% of the OCT miles. The other 20% were trail miles - honest-to-goodness trail miles. Most of those miles are found in the network of state parks that dot the Oregon coastline - and many are extraordinarily beautiful. In my mind, those miles made all the terrible miles on 101 worth it. The trail often climbs a beautiful trail from the beach, travel over a cape or rocky headland, and then return to the beach. These trails were the quintessence of "Pacific Northwest" - green, rocky, and cliffy.

On the OCT, the surface type (beach, road, or trail) determined almost everything. Roadwalk days were largely unpleasant, beach days were great, trail days were slow but exceedingly beautiful. Sometimes I hit soft sand, overgrown and terrible trail, or desolate and pretty road - but those were the exception rather than the rule.

How Thru-hikers Take Vacation: Sure the OCT was 400+ miles of walking. But it was also a vacation. You know there's something wrong with you when your "beach vacation" involves more walking that most people will total in a year. But a vacation it was, and as such, I had the opportunity to visit my uncle Paul & aunt Cathi. I had never been to Oregon before and it was a cool opportunity to see them and get a taste of their lives. I also saw my friends Corona and Debbie - fellow Utahns who recently moved to the Oregon coast. I now understand why.

In addition to social time, my vacation involved a lot of eating. I passed through at least one town every single day, and never carried more than a day and a half of food. I consumed at least one 55-gallon drum of diner coffee, along with deli chicken (which, pro-tip, packs out very nicely in a ziplock bag). While I wouldn't ordinarily trade in my wilderness for town convenience, it's certainly nice as a break from a demanding route like the RIB.

What's next: I'm itching to get back to the RIB - just as soon as I can figure out how to get a ride to Middle-Of-Nowhere, Utah I know that there will be snow left. Hopefully, it will be a little more manageable this time around. Stay tuned!

1 comment:

  1. So glad we were able to see you! Hope you make it back soon -you are always welcome. Wishing you safe travels on the RIB.