The Difference Between Lead and Light – Day 96: Indian Creek Campground to China Beach

July 26

We eat breakfast at the campground’s cafe. We walk into town and we resupply. We catch a shuttle to Cape Sebastian.

It’s almost over, I’m telling myself. We’ll catch a bus and then I’ll get back on the PCT. And that’s when I feel a lump of lead in my gut.

What..? My brain thinks. Hey, we have a plan…

I start running through the options.

Crater Lake? Lead.

PCT? Lead.

Hiking? Lead.

Lead lead lead.

Bus ride? Light.

What’s going on? I’m thinking. Is this a bad day? Are you just tired? Maybe you need a zero? Maybe you need some time alone?

My brain is trying to get a reason for it and my body has no answers. It just doesn’t want to go.

I spent most of my life trying to ignore these signals, sometimes still do. But they tend to be right. They tend to be smarter than me. I wish I trusted them more when they were subtler, so I didn’t have to get smacked by them in surprise, like today.

I walk and I try to listen to how my body is feeling. My confidence is a little shot, I’m realizing. I’m not sure when it started. But I have been letting myself be small. I thought I’d come to the OCT to repair that on my own, and instead a group found me, and we stuck together out of convenience. But it’s making me small. Since when am I a person who won’t do things alone?

We have dinner at an overlook with the waves crashing beneath us.

It feels like it takes me forever to get to the beach. We find a place above the high tide and set up camp. I see one of the most stunning sunsets I’ve ever seen. And all the while I’m asking my gut, are you telling me this is over? But my gut doesn’t have much in the way of answers, only one: we’re not going back to the PCT at Crater Lake.

Maybe I’ll sleep it off, I think, and try to breathe myself to sleep.

Heartache, Anger and Walking – Day 95: Humbug Mountain State Park to Indian Creek Campground

July 25

In the morning at breakfast Dexter tells me they have found the body of the missing hiker in the Sierra. Rika. Strawberry. I didn’t hike with her. Four people I did hike with were the last people reported to have seen her. The news makes me sad and circular in a way I can’t really name. My brother calls me. It adds to my heartache. I have to get off the phone in order to pack in time for the shuttle. The shuttle drives by just as we’re arriving. Damn. Dexter calls and they turn around to come get us, which is nice, although it’s clear they hate us now.

Most of the day is beach walking, and then a little road at the end. It’s one of our longer days, maybe 15 miles. I want real food, so I try to find a taxi but there are none. But there is delivery pizza, so we get that instead.

The OCT is coming to an end. It feels a little like it’s going out with a whimper. Not the trail, really – me. The trail was beautiful and a nice change. But I have the sense that I still haven’t gotten what I needed, haven’t found what I was hoping. What is it? I don’t really know.

I keep thinking over and over about Rika, and about the PCT, and about thruhikers and the culture of the PCT. And I realize I feel a little angry. We should have done better, all of us.

Rocky Point Puzzle – Day 94: Cape Blanco to Humbug Mountain State Park

July 24

I don’t feel like getting up early so I stay at camp and read my book. It’s nice to not be rushing, to not have a particular timeline, to be by myself.

I pack my things around 9 and see Sonia get out of her tent. She says I’m welcome to join her ride. Sonia is hoping we’ll meet up again before the end of the trail, she wouldn’t mind having people to hike with, but today she’s going a town ahead of us.

The people giving us a ride life at the campground either for the summer or year round, I’m not sure. They’re older and they live out of their van. It’s a nice set up, simple and uncluttered. Sonia and I sit in the back, which is their bed. We all go to breakfast and they share some facts about the town, tell us about their family, ask about our travels. And then they generously pay for our breakfast and take us on a tour around town. I wish more conversations happened like this in real life. I think about the PCT and how many conversations turned to gear, and miles, and how much someone did or didn’t do, and how little we talked about… anything else.

The couple drop me at the laundromat, where Dexter and Energizer Bunny already are. I say goodbye to the couple and Sonia.

We do our laundry. Energizer and Dexter are going to get a shuttle to camp but I want to hike, and also to be alone. They set off and I walk down the beach. It’s uneventful until I get to Rocky Point, where it’s a scramble over rocks large and small and the tide is still a little too close for comfort. I sit in the shade of some drift wood and relax for an hour instead, writing.

Rocky Point is fun once I get going. I have to be careful not to twist and ankle or scrape my shins, but the danger is limited. About halfway through I get to an area where there’s a mostly sheer cliff and a few rocks a little too far apart and I have to maneuvered my way across it, trying not to soak my shoes in the waves. But still, it’s fun. It’s a puzzle, a relatively safe puzzle, and I feel free and happy.

From the other side of the rocks I call Mark and chat with him as I walk the rest of the way to camp. It’s our 9th anniversary, the first we haven’t spent together. At camp I shower and someone has left their shampoo and conditioner in the shower and I use it instead of my Head and Shoulders and it is glorious.

Impatient for Low Tide – Day 93: BLM Campsite South of Bandon to Cape Blanco State Park

July 23

I wake up and write a long, picture-filled description of where the elusive BLM camp is located, and then Dexter, who wakes early and gets walking texts me: uh, we were in the wrong place. I quickly edit my post and take photos of the real camp. Hopefully that helps.

The sign for the real camp

It’s another long sandy stretch and then into the forest, glorious forest. We explore Blacklock Point a bit. An older man day hiking tells me some of the history of the area. Whenever we get out of the trees, the wind nearly knocks us over. I’d like to go further out into some of the rocks but they seem too narrow for the wind.

We continue down Black Lock Point and run into some other hikers – we’re going the wrong way, they say. They’d just done the same thing. We should have gone down to the beach from Blacklock instead of going down the trail. Oh, OCT and your confusing signage. We go back – luckily not far – and head down to the beach, where quickly we run into Sixes River. We’ve been told it’s only crossable at low tide (including from a helpful dayhiker familiar with the area) but I scout it out anyway, looking for the widest part, because who knows? And… nope. I get in above my knees and the river is wide and it is windy and cold and I decide I don’t feel like testing it any further. Instead, we sit and wait behind a wall of sand on the river bank to block the wind. The other hikers, two guys, are standing at the mouth of the river and look like they’re going to try it. They disappear for a little while and I start packing my things thinking they’ve made it across… until we see two backpacks bobbing back into view. It was too deep, they say.

For nearly two hours we all sit, and then I get bored. It’s still an hour or two until low tide but I pack my things and walk over. The mouth of the river spills into the ocean and the ocean washes in and adds an extra six inches of depth. I ask Dexter to take off her pack in case she needs to rescue me. The incoming waves freak me out so I try to cross more toward the river, but there it’s deep and I don’t feel great about it. I want to try to cross where the waves come in and recede but I’m trying to time in right when Energizer Bunny gets impatient and starts walking across. She’s half way when I remember that she almost drowned in the Sierra and that freaks me out, so I tromp in after her and we walk all the way across. It’s actually not that big of a deal. Nice. Dexter and the two guys follow after us.

It’s still super windy and it sometimes makes us go faster and other times nearly blows us away. We find a small trail at the end of the beach and follow it up, and then take the trail into the campground. Along the trail are wildflowers and they’re pretty so I pick a few, making my own bouquet. I also found a sand dollar earlier. When I get to camp I set them on my post. Home sweet home.

A woman hiker we haven’t met before, Sonia, is sitting at the picnic table. We start chatting – she’s hiked much of the PCT and other trails and always does it solo. I share some of my weird feelings about PCT culture and she has similar feelings but has mostly she’s been able to handle it because she has found a way not to care. I tell her my plans to get back on at Crater Lake and she approves.

Energizer Bunny and Dexter want to get up early in order to pass a section of trail at low tide… but I don’t feel like rushing. I tell them not to wait for me. Sonia says she had a ride into town and if I take a slow morning, I might join her.

Generous And Mistaken Strangers – Day 92: Bullards Beach State Park to BLM Campsite South of Bandon 

July 22

We’re supposed to wake up at 7am but I am not feeling it. I tell Energizer Bunny and Dexter not to wait for me but we still end up leaving around the same time. I stop by an Ace Hardware/RadioShack combo store, which I’ve never seen before, and get a plug, a cord and some batteries for my headlamp.

I meet Energizer Bunny and Dexter at the grocery store, where they are talking to Misty’s Dad. Misty is a trail angel who started the Facebook group for the OCT who lives in Bandon. I’m sad we won’t get to meet her because we’re just passing through.

I’m tired of trail food so I buy tortellini and pesto. The nice temperatures and frequent resupply stops are a real selling point of this trail.

Outside we’re packing our packs and Dexter makes a noise of despair. She’s dropped her marionberry pie all over the ground and her shoe. In that moment, she is probably the saddest hiker in the world.

Energizer Bunny and Dexter head out but I’m in no hurry and I’m still packing my food, so I stay and continue eating and packing. A woman comes up and says, “you look like you’re having a hard time” and tries to hand me money.

“Oh! I’m not homeless – I’m a hiker. But thank you!” She laughs a little and says, “I’ve just been having such a hard time myself that when I see someone struggling…” she doesn’t finish the thought. “Well, I hope it restores your faith in humanity a little bit.”

And it does. People on this trail have been generous in so many ways to us, and personable. It’s my favorite part of the trail. Not getting mistaken for homeless (both in positive and negative ways) – but how many surprising kindnesses I’ve been shown.

Bandon is awesome. There are awesome rocks and cool sand art and it’s just an overall pleasant walk. We walk a few miles and then we’re tired and we have to wait for low tide, so I set up my tent and take a nap. Genius. Dexter wraps herself in Tyvek and sleeps, too, and Energizer Bunny updates Facebook and basks in the sun.

We get moving. A fog rolls in and the sand keeps going and going. We’re walking on slightly softer sand because the firm sand is slanted steeply. We probably would have stopped earlier, but this is Snowy Plover territory, a type of bird that nests in the sand. There is only one camping area that we’re legally allowed to camp in and it’s a little mysterious and hard to find. A sign tells us it’s three miles away but there’s no real way to track miles and it’s hard to estimate when the sand is as tedious and slow as it is.

I call Mark and chat with him which makes me pay less attention the sand. Later I see Energizer and Dexter. “I think this is it,” Dexter says. When we climb over the fine there are a few flat spots and some other backpackers who are doing a section. It’s cramped, but we find spots. Well, I think I find one, and then realize it’s in the wind and tiny, so Dexter helps me move my tent over.

It’s too windy and sandy so we all eat in our tents instead of together. The tortellini is delicious and I feel like a genius. And then sleep.

Tired of Short Days – Day 91: Sunset Bay State Park to Bullards Beach State Park

July 21

It’s almost my three month anniversary of being out here. Holy cow.

We leave camp and it’s a road walk, but not the freeway, which is good. We’re walking the road because Dexter doesn’t want to hike 4 miles, which the trail says it is, and the road is only 2. This is a weird stretch that isn’t continuous – even if we were doing the longer roadwalks, we would have to backtrack down the road we came from and then walk 14 or so miles on a road to the beach.

We enter a small patch of forest and can hear seals or sea lions in the distance. We go in search of a viewpoint but don’t see one until we reach the main pullout for cars. We wish we had binoculars. We can see the seals or sea lions in the distance but not very well.

Today as I’m walking I’m thinking about how much I miss physical affection. There isn’t much cuddling going on between platonic hikers out here.

As I’m checking out the views, Dexter manages to score us a ride from an older man who gives us a ride back to town, 3 miles away. I was just going to buy a few supplies from the convenience store but then we get tempted into breakfast. I order a new ID, which I definitely lost, and a new credit card, too, because mine is coming apart.

We catch a cab – much cheaper than our initial laundromat cab, which I am wondering if was a scam – and then start walking the beach. We hadn’t caught it in time to hike at low tide so today we only have maybe 3 more miles to do. I am getting tired of doing short miles, itching to stretch my legs and get my heart pounding. I want to get back to the PCT, I think.

The hiker biker camp is nice. I go to plug my charger in and realize I can’t find my USB cord or plug. What the fuck. I’m losing everything. Between the lack of miles and misplaced items, I feel grumpy and antisocial. I try to do some yoga but it doesn’t help much, partly because I am stiff all over and so it just feels like another big struggle. My grumpiness tends to be noticeable, a bad vibe people can feel (I like to think it’s because I’m usually so cordial…) and Dexter asks what’s wrong and I tell her about my charger and she offers to let me use hers. I’m still thinking about walking to town, just to get the anger out, but instead I call Mark and we talk for two and a half hours about what to do with our lives which helps me sink back down.

When I get off the phone there’s a park presentation about some of the cool things you can find on the beach, jasper, agate, quartz, fossils. The man giving the presentation had to put his dog down today and he keeps apologizing for being out of sorts even though he’s just fine. He hands out goody bags of tiny stones.

Dexter stays to ask about some rocks she found but I go to bed, read, and fall asleep.

A Lucky Hitch – Day 90: Siuslaw Campground and Marina to Sunset Bay State Park

July 20

It’s raining when I wake up – I’ve slept in and have finally caught up on sleep. I like waking up to rain, especially when I don’t have anywhere I need to hurry to be. I get up, go pee, grab my notebook and my book and decide to go to breakfast. Dexter is going to shower and Energizer isn’t ready yet, so I head out. The first place only takes cash and I haven’t brought any, so I go to the next one. As I walk, my brother calls. I talk to him for a half hour. Family is hard. It is hard to navigate how to help, what is not helping, what is and is not yours to carry. 
We get off the phone and I go inside the cafe. The server and cook are happy and laughing and it’s a good atmosphere. I write. I want to practice writing free-flow, kind of like morning pages, see if I can find rhythm again. I miss writing poems. I have to get less self conscious, though, practice flowing. Stop drafting and deleting in my head.
At 9:30 I start heading back to the campground. I need to pack my tent (I hope it’s dry) and my pack – we have to catch a bus at 11:20. It’ll take us 50 miles, past big chunks of road walking and dunes. As Energizer Bunny and Dexter finish packing, I walk to a nearby bookstore hoping to find some poetry, but don’t find anything that jumps out at me and I run to catch the bus. We wait and wait and wait for the bus, but it doesn’t come. I call the transportation office and they say the us broke down and won’t be coming until 5 pm. Damn. 
We try to come up with another plan. How much is a taxi? $125. Too much. The bus was $60 for all of us. “Well, if we stay here all day we’ll spend an extra $20 each on food anyway…” Dexter reasons. But we decide to give hitching a try, though we haven’t had much luck sticking our thumbs out. And surprise, after only 15 minutes a man named Al Johnson, who is heavily involved with the trail, stops to pick is up. He takes us all the way to North Bend, where we can catch a bus for $1 to Charleston, which puts us only 3 miles from where we plan to go. 
I sit in the front (as usual) and chat with Al. He tells us some interesting facts about the area, he went to grad school the same place as Dexter, and he and I talk about creative writing – he was an English major.
I am realizing one of the most interesting parts of the trail for me is conversations with people who help us, even without entirely knowing what we’re doing. What makes someone stop for a hitchhiking hiker? Or offer us a ride at a viewpoint? Or share their campfire? I don’t think it’s that these are people who are always generous and altruistic – it seems to be a combination of right time, right place, right mood. They seem to pick is up because it offers them their own bit of adventure right when they need it.
Al drops us off. I peruse Goodwill for poetry but don’t find any, then I grab a burrito. The bus comes and we take it to right outside a deli called Davey Jones’ Locker, which I look at quickly and then hike on. I realize later that I should have looked closer, because I am low on food and 1.5 days away from town. That’ll make things interesting.
It’s a roadwalk to the Sunset Bay Campground. We’d initially planned to drop our packs and hike to and back from Cape Argo, but we decide to do it in the morning instead. 
When I go to pay for my campground I realize I’ve lost my driver’s license. I’m pretty sure I had it in my pocket with some trash and when I threw the the trash away the card went with it. Oops. I’ll have to order a new one. 

In Which I Wet the “Bed” – Day 89: Carl G Washburn Memorial State Park to Siuslaw Campground and Marina 

July 19

I dream that I’m peeing and then wake up to find that I am, indeed, peeing – all over myself. It’s 1:30 am. I crawl out of my tent and clean myself up in the bathroom, rinsing out my sleep pants. Cool, body.
I fall back asleep quickly but morning still comes too quickly and I hit snooze on my alarm several times. We want to get going early because we’ve planned for 15 miles. But as we eat breakfast, Dexter says her knee isn’t feeling good and I say that we haven’t done laundry in a while and also there is a tunnel coming up that the OCT association highly recommends not walking, and we begin to realize we won’t be hiking very far before hitching.
We set out, but the trail we’re supposed to take has a “closed for bridge repair” sign. We’re going to take the road when we realize the sign is from October. Surely it doesn’t take that long to replace a bridge…? I decide we should risk it – at worse we’ll have to turn around and it will have added 2 miles to our day. Instead, we find a perfectly intact bridge except for one board on the railing. 
We get to the light house and then walk down to the beach. Energizer Bunny and Dexter sit down and I start trying to ask for a ride. 

I strike up a conversation with an older couple and they say they’d be happy to take us to Florence in the back of their truck. Awesome! They go explore the beach for a while and when they come back we hop in. 
They drop us off at the post office. Energizer Bunny and Dexter get their packages and then we get Chinese Food and do laundry and go to camp. But I’ve been feeling tired and antisocial. Between being chatty with hitches and the socialization that comes with mostly hiking as a group, I’ve used up a lot of my extroversion. I walk around town by myself and download a book of poems and sit in the gazebo and write. I sit with Energizer Bunny and Dexter and we watch a man flying a remote control plane around – it’s the same man from the couple who gave us a hitch.
Just before dark, I go to the bathroom and start walking toward my tent. But then I notice the sunset over the water and start exploring a little, and I come upon a little sandy area with a gorgeous view and I just sit there and take it in. It is nice to be somewhere beautiful, by myself, with nowhere in particular to be.

A Little Headspace – Day 88: Beachside State Park to Carl G. Washburn State Park

July 18

We get a late start, waiting for Dexter to meet us and then for the ride to lower a bit so we don’t have to walk on wet sand, and then planning the rest of our trip on the OCT. Dexter is hurting and wants to get home for a birthday, Energizer Bunny wants to be finished by the end of the month, and I am feeling eager to get back to the PCT. I miss hiking without thinking much, and being away from town, and also I have checked my bank account and didn’t love what I saw. So we’ve made a plan to skip many roadwalks and even some beach walks that look dull. 

I got a little obsessed with trying to capture a wave splashing in the background

We get walking around 11am. I didn’t eat dinner the night before and it kept me up late and messed with my energy. I stop in Yachats while Dexter and Energizer Bunny go ahead and I buy a sandwich and a bag of pickles, along with a few resupply items. As I walk out of town I buy an ice cream cone. Hungry hungry hungry.
It’s not long before I’m off the road and walking through a forest. I forgot how nice it is to hike alone. It’s refreshing, and I’m looking forward to it on the PCT. I just hope most of the snow is gone.

The Amanda statue, memorializing a blind Native American woman who was forced to walk long distances to where her tribe was being “resettled” – her fate is unknown. Oregon has several informational stands along the coast and in the forests that have been nice background to the history of where we’re hiking 

I get to the top of the climb to where there is a drive-up overlook and text Dexter to see where they are. We’d planned to walk a few more miles and hitch from a scenic viewpoint, but there are some people at this overlook and I’m tempted to hitch here. I strike up a conversation with a couple, Fred and Yvonne, and pet their tiny dog. We chat a little and I tell Fred about the hike and the hitching and he says, well, is you’d like one, we’re happy to give you a ride. So I say yes. They tell me Fred has climbed the high point in almost every state in the US. They’ve been married 52 years. They laugh about Fred’s initial lack of interest in going on a blind date with Yvonne, how handsome Yvonne thought he was. It’s a nice reminder that these people who help us along the way are just as much a part of the trail, that they will be part of what I remember, too, beyond the vistas and trees and miles. When they drop me off they give me their business card and wish me well.
Energizer Bunny and Dexter are already at camp – they’d hitched from the same place I did. The other people in camp are all hikers, which is new – normally we see mostly bikers. I talk to a woman who has hiked big chunks of the PCT and the AT, and has hiked the Colorado Trail. A man named Maestro introduces himself. He is headed to Crater Lake soon to hike north to finish his Triple Crown. Maestro is very nice and talkative, but he is talking in the way that thruhikers do – miles and gear and tough sections – and I listen but I realize these conversations don’t especially appeal to me. I hike all day, I realize. I don’t want to talk about it, too. But it’s hard, because hiking is what we have in common.
We’re finishing up dinner when a camper, Jason and his son Jake stop by to say they’re having a fire soon and we’re welcome to join him. The offer is appealing and once we clean up Dexter and I head over. Maestro is already there, and a Canadian motorcyclist named Tessa. Tessa is talkative and a little brash – she asks about politics and money and age, all the topics you’re supposed to avoid with new people. She seemed to be trying to be diplomatic but didn’t seem especially practiced at it. I find it awkward but also nice, to not be telling the same stories over and over. 
We chat until around 10, and I excuse myself for bed. I fall asleep quickly.

Puddle Jumping – Day 87: South Beach State Park to Beachside State Park

July 17

I crawl out of my tent to go eat breakfast with Energizer Bunny and Dexter. They’ve been doing this since the beginning but I had a habit of eating breakfast in my tent before packing up. But I’m starting to like their morning ritual so I’ve been joining them. 
While I cook my oatmeal, Dexter is deep in conversation listening to a woman whose hair is wrapped in a blue towel and is carrying a small purse. I’m unclear whether Dexter is there willingly – she has the kind of stance that suggests she is about to leave, or trying to leave, but has gotten stuck. I wait and watch and she stands exactly the same and eventually I call out, “Hey, your oatmeal is getting cold” (which it is) to give her an out should she want it, but she shoots me a strange smile and continues to talk with the woman for another few minutes before joining us.
“So…” I say when she sits down.
“Hold on, I want to write something she said down.” And proceeds to write on her fuel canister in sharpie. It says, ‘As you give, so you shall receive.’ The woman told her she’d heard Jesus tell her this when she’d died during a medical emergency. I’m a little surprised Dexter took this to heart because she doesn’t seem to be into the God thing. 
The woman keeps coming back to talk to us, and it becomes clear she’s struggling with some mental stuff, that it’s unlikely much of what she’s telling us is true. She’s nice enough, and a good story teller. We start packing up and I give her the book I’ve just finished and she goes and talks to some bikers who are camped a bit away. 
As we leave, my brother calls. I haven’t heard from him in a while. Afterward I call my dad, then my other brother as I walk down the beach. 

When I hang up, I’m glad for some headspace of my own. I think about how scary it is to let yourself want what you want – a long hike, a different job, a life made up of art – and to go after it, to try to take it for yourself. 
The beach miles fly by, the road miles drag. We walk over the bridge and into Waldport, where Dexter gets a package from the post office and then we get spaghetti and pizza. All you can eat spaghetti. I can only eat one serving. 
From there, we keep walking until camp. Dexter stops a few miles before us to stealth camp because her knee is bothering her but Energizer Bunny and I make it to Beachside State Park. I take a quick shower and realize my foot has been bleeding. Long hikes are strange like this – at home a small sore would grab my attention and drag me with it, out here pain is part of the process and you bleed and shrug and move on. I try to call Mark, but mostly he can’t hear me, so we send each other voice text messages, back and forth until we say goodnight.