Monday, July 17th, 2023, 0830-1910
Florence to Umpqua River outlet\ North jetty
21 miles, Gain 100′, Loss 100′, elevation 10
I got a lot done during my NERO in town, but I still hadn’t worked out any logistics for getting across or around Winchester Bay. Worst case, or perhaps best case, I could split a ferry ride with Mike on Tuesday afternoon. It would just mean waiting around half a day or more, which wasn’t a big deal. As such, I wasn’t in too much of a hurry to leave town. Only problem was, I needed to cross the Siltcoos river near low tide, which was at 9 am this day. However, it was a negative low followed by a +5 high tide, which was not very much. I’d heard the river could be crossed at that depth, so I wasn’t too worried. Still, the earlier I got there, the easier it would be. Logistics abounded on the OCT.
I left the hostel and was immediately slowed down by a detour through the old town, along the river front. I’d had all day to see the town the day before and instead I’d mostly screwed around on my phone and the computer. I’m not much for window shopping but I had to admit, the waterfront was charmingly quaint and adorable. I wished I’d given it more time, but at least I got to enjoy it during a thru-stroll in the morning. I decided that I liked Florence, OR much better than my hometown of Florence, CO, but that’s mainly because it was something new and different. It sure looked a lot nicer, and was a decent sized city, by evidence of the Safeway and several stoplights.
I hopped across the Siuslaw river via one of the art deco era Conde McCullough bridges. He designed the 5 big ones in this area (Newport, Waldport, Florence, Reedsport, Coos Bay), so they all had the signature Empire State building looking columns and half-circle support spans. This one was my favorite yet, but I also really enjoyed walking over the one near Waldport. I had a hard time believing I was back on HWY 101, because it was so quiet this morning. I had time to take lots of pictures and was only temporarily harassed by a nesting gull.
On the other side of the bridge, I came across a hitch-hiker with a huge pack. As I got closer, I saw that he was a very clean-cut kid with flashy-looking hiking pants, so I started chatting with him. Turns out he was German and had come all the way across the Atlantic by crewing a sailboat, and was now traveling throughout the US. He was currently making his way to San Francisco. I love how adventuresome Germans are. I stuck my thumb out as we chatted, hoping to help score him a ride. I would have waited until I did but that darned tide was getting higher and higher, so eventually I had to move on. He’d already been waiting an hour, poor kid. I would have definitely picked him up if I were driving.
Almost immediately I turned off onto the beach access road, which was still 2 miles long. The German kid inspired me to try for my own ride, because why not? I could make up some lost tide time, if nothing else. I threw my thumb out at the first vehicle to pass and they stopped on a dime. Haha, I still surprised myself sometimes. Jack and Phil were the perfect ride because they were towing a side-by-side to go all the way to the beach. The pavement ended after about a mile and the rest was dunes walking…or riding. I figured they would take a long time to unload the ATV but they had it off the trailer in seconds and were ready to go, the vehicle already loaded with their fishing gear. These guys were well-practiced at this!
Unlike most ATVers, these guys had no desire to go bopping around the dunes. Instead, they were strictly interested in getting to the beach to cast their lines…pros. I crawled into the back and away we went. They even gave me a pair of earmuffs to wear…safety first! As much as I wanted to knock the use of ATV’s in the dunes and on the beach, I had to swallow a big piece of humble pie in accepting a ride from one. Jack drove really slow but it was still a lot of fun bouncing around in the sand. I can certainly see the appeal of such vehicles. I also admired these fishermen’s down-to-earth stance and it was a pleasure to meet them. It was good to see their perspective in utilizing one of these vehicles in getting to the beach, now that they were older and not as mobile. They simply loved to fish and the peace and quiet of this part of the beach was as appealing to them as it was to me.
The 2 mile transport got me back on track with my timeline, and I walked the gorgeous beach all the rest of the day. I’d officially entered the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area, a huge expanse of land. What a marvelous beach day! This stretch was by far the most remote I’d walked yet, and that’s saying a lot. Avoiding it on a Sunday was probably a good call, because on a Monday morning at low tide it was simply perfect. The few ATVs mostly stayed in the dunes and the waves drowned out their noise. I hardly saw anyone all day. The weather was perfect too. The wind had finally died down and the waves were so glossy and beautiful. Ahhh! I arrived at the Siltcoos by 11 am or so and found the crossing to be only shin deep. I caught up to Mike on the other side and we took a break at the bar, watching the seals play and stare at us as they tried to enter the river. We were almost surrounded by them, as there was another pod of about 30 laying on the beach just south of us. Later we walked just downwind of them and boy did they smell bad!
We walked together for another 5 miles or so. Mike shared a nice story about how he’d been vacationing near this very same spot years ago and had met an OCT hiker, who motivated him to give it a try himself. He had been struggling with his weight but had already lost a lot on the trip, and was continuing to build his fitness every day. Like so many thru-hikers I’d met, it gave me a lot of joy to hear his inspiring story of self-discovery.
Past the river, we entered an area that was closed to ATV’s and didn’t seem to have much or any public beach access. The only people we saw were the rangers monitoring the snowy plover nests. I saw lots of these cute but controversial little birds and even a few of their puff-ball chicks. Many people hate the snowy plovers, an endangered species that caused Fish & Wildlife officials to close huge sections of dunes and fore-beach areas along the Oregon Coast, giving them space to nest and raise their young. They are easily disturbed by dogs and people, and run over by vehicles. Having been an Audubon Warden myself, with the job of protecting similar shorebirds, I of course sided with the plovers. But even Mike and I were a disturbance this day, as we tried to take a rest on some driftwood. We thought because we were outside the signs and fencing that we were ok, but a ranger drove up and asked that we please take our break below the high tide line. Apparently we were close to a nest and with the warm temperatures this day, it was too disruptive to be that close to the dunes. The mother plover might abandon the nest and the eggs or chicks could overheat. I worried that if even we hikers were causing problems, what chance did these poor plovers stand against the rest of human society?
I left Mike at this break and crossed another small creek. He planned to camp at Threemile lake for the night and I wanted to go a bit further. I came to Sparrow road in the late afternoon with a decision to make. I could take this road 4 miles out to the highway, then walk 101 for 8 miles around the Umpqua River. Or I could walk 5 miles down the spit, staying on the beach and hoping for a boat ride across the river. If I couldn’t get one, it was a long walk back to the road and around. But like I said, Mike had a ferry scheduled for the afternoon the next day, so maybe I’d only have to wait for half a day.
I met 2 fishermen near the road, breaking down their gear and heading home for the day. Their corgi was barking crazily at me, so I kind of had to stop and talk to it and to them. One guy was overly friendly and I was a captive audience…was the corgi trained to do this I wondered? He offered me a ride all the way to Reedsport, which I was considering, until the guy quickly launched into a discussion about the end of times and the Flat Earth. I’d never met a Flat Earther before, so it was kind of entertaining, until the conversation just got really crazy and weird. I told him about how I’d navigated a ship across both the Atlantic and Pacific and even drawn Great Circle routes to most efficiently follow the curvature of the earth. He explained this away by saying I was only brainwashed into thinking I’d had those experiences, they weren’t real. Funny how brainwashing works both ways, because I could also see this as the case for this individual. The government no longer seems to be the main purveyor of brainwashing, that’s the internet and social media’s job now.
“Well what about the obvious shape of other planetary objects like the sun and planets and stars?” I asked as I pointed at the giant yellow orb over our heads. “We don’t know what those actually are…they were probably just put there by the government to confuse us,” he replied. Wow. There was no point in arguing with such lunacy. We live in a time when we all look at an apple, but half the people say it’s a banana. Some actually see a banana. This guy saw a piece of toast or a wombat. He was an army veteran, which really made me wonder. For the first time in awhile, I had to pretend that I’d gotten a text message to have an excuse to break away. I was now determined to walk to the end of the spit because I didn’t want to be anywhere near the road with him around.
Just as I was passing the road, I noticed a hiker sitting next to the dunes. I really needed to have a non-crazy conversation to get my mind off the previous one, so I went over to talk to him. To my great relief and joy, Tom was a kiwi hiker that had also done Te Araroa. It was a breath of fresh air meeting someone that had so much in common and we swapped stories on the beach for over an hour. I guess I was still a little undecided about the river crossing, but by then I’d heard back from the charter boat guy saying he could probably give me a ride the next morning.
I wished Tom good luck (and much later ran into him again in South Lake Tahoe, can you believe it!) and headed out for my last 5 miles on the beach this day. I really screwed up with my water situation, only carrying a liter and a half when I started in the morning. There was no potable water available from Florence to Winchester, so I collected water from Threemile stream, hoping I wouldn’t need to use it. I suspected it was pretty polluted but I’m sure I’d drank worse. I vowed to drink a ton ad carry more the next day…if I got a boat ride.
This was perhaps my favorite part all day because I did not see a single person. It was just me, the birds, and the tracks of a few deer. When I reached the jetty, I had to rock-hop along the large boulders because the dunes were roped off for the plovers. I actually saw adults and chicks in this area, so I tried to give them as wide a berth as possible…to my near peril because the rocks were encrusted with barnacles and had large gaps that would have sucked to fall down into. I was quite tired but managed a quarter mile of clambering and then some laborious walking in soft sand along the river. I spied the Umpqua lighthouse to the south, my 6th lighthouse this walk. It had a red and white flashing light…I make notes like this because it was what I was brainwashed, I mean trained, to do in the Coast Guard. It was probably actually a banana I was looking at. Who knows really knows? It’s all a big simulation, after all.
I followed an old path into the woods and found a lovely clearing under the pines. Someone had set it up as a camp a long time ago and I wondered how there had once been access to this point, as I felt like I was quite remote. Normally I’d be hesitant about an established campsite like this, but it was pretty clear no one had been around in awhile, so I settled in for the night.