Tuesday, July 18th, 2023, 0720-1730
Umpqua River outlet\ North jetty to Bluebill Lake
19 miles, Gain 50′, Loss 50′, elevation 40
Sometime in the middle of the night, I was woken by a siren from across the river. I was instantly awake and terrified, assuming it was a tsunami warning. I’d read that when the ‘big one’ hits, it could take as little as 15 minutes for the subsequent tsunami to reach the shore. I tried to think of what to do with my half-asleep brain and all I came up with was just to keep laying there. I hadn’t felt an earthquake, so this made me less afraid. I’d actually thought about it the day before, realizing I was in the worst spot to reach high ground. I basically didn’t stand a chance in my current location, so my fate was sealed. It was 5 miles back up the beach and then who knows how far inland on Sparrow road. Or I could try to swim the river towards town…in the cold and dark…. yeah right. It had been a long time since I swam in triathlons and I knew all too well how quickly a swimmer becomes fatigued when not in shape and \ or is overwhelmed by cold water…not mention the anxiety caused by a gigantic wave bearing down.
The siren stopped after about a minute. A few minutes later, I heard police sirens, so I surmised that it had been a call to the local first responders. Surely they hadn’t been just testing the siren, not in the middle of the night? But then, how stupid was it for a coastal town to have a fire siren when the entire rest of the coast was strewn with tsunami sirens??? WTF? Surprisingly, I feel right back asleep but was plagued by nightmares of giant waves washing over my tent. When I woke another time, I could hear the surf crashing alarmingly close. The noise became a part of my dreams and it was hard to separate what was real and imagined. I was relieved to finally wake in the dawn to find my tent completely dry…not even any condensation! What a night…and yet I still felt well rested. It’s amazing the things one can sleep through when the body is so tired from exertion.
I slept in a bit, figuring I was just going to be waiting around for a boat for awhile anyway. I walked the shoreline up the river for half a mile, trying to figure out the best place that I might get a boater’s attention. There was only one boat that I could see and miraculously it started coming towards me. Had this boat helped hikers before and therefore knew of my plight? Nope, it was just a coincidence. They passed right by without seeming to notice me. I could see the harbor entrance further inland, so I decided to keep going up river.
The jetty rocks finally ended and there was a flats area…and as my incredible luck would have it, there was also a boat beached there! It took me awhile to reach them but as soon as I started talking to the couple, they offered to give me a ride. I’m pretty sure it was the same boat that went by earlier but this time I was directly across from the marina and it was easy for the man to drive me across while his wife waited with their 2 dogs on the shore…otherwise we probably wouldn’t have all fit. I couldn’t believe my luck! This had been the year of boat hitches, from rafts on the Grand Canyon and now several rides on the Oregon Coast.
I again tried to offer the man a $20 for his troubles, but he wouldn’t take it. Thank you Captain! Not expecting to get a ride so quickly, I had to take a break to figure out my plan for the day. I could make it to the end of the beach, provided I could get past another low-tide water crossing. As usual, I might be pushing it but it didn’t sound like that big of a deal. I continued on toward the south jetty, marveling at all the RV campgrounds. There were more than a dozen, each with tens or hundreds of sites, all looking very busy and full. This was ORV central it seemed, the most highly targeted area for them on the entire coast. They were allowed to roam for miles inland on the huge dunes, on the fore dunes and on much of the beach. I was not looking forward to this stretch and in retrospect, out of all the sections I walked, this would be the one I’d recommend skipping. There were just too many people and especially too many ATVs.
I did take advantage of all the infrastructure to stop at a campground store for some snacks. I passed right by, so I couldn’t resist. The place had laundry and shower facilities, as well as a fast food counter, which wasn’t open yet. The prices were high, so I only grabbed a few things and moved on. Still, this might be a nice resource for future hikers to check out: Winchester Bay Plaza.
Returning to the beach, I was struck by how windy it had become so early in the day. I watched a beach ball roll past me and in minutes it was just gone, miles down the beach. I had my umbrella out for a bit but it became far too windy for that too. So I just rolled along as well, coming to Tenmile creek a few hours after the low. It was still mostly knee deep but there were a few times that my foot sank into the sand, almost like quicksand. My default of just going really fast worked in this case. I’d learned that you can’t slow down or you will sink even worse.
The rest of the afternoon passed as a blur of sand, waves and ATVs. The tide turned high and the beach became a chore to walk on. I was basically confined to the slanty and steep bank of sand, constantly dodging the waves. Going higher on the beach meant walking in all the tedious ATV ruts and possibly getting run over by one. Even as I hugged the edge of the waves, a couple of quads drove way too close to me. It seemed like a lot of them were being operated by kids, so it’s no wonder they were such inconsiderate drivers. I wondered how many collisions there were in the dunes on a daily basis. I even saw rescue vehicle drive by, apparently on call to aid in accidents.
I broke up the afternoon with a long lunch break. I needed to get out of the sun, so I cautiously headed into the dunes, listening intently for the hum of vehicles. I crawled under some tiny pines, desperate for some shade. It was a good rest, helping me face the last few miles, which passed quickly. I headed east on Horsfall road, missing the last couple of miles of beach since I needed to get around Coos Bay. There was no reliable boat shuttle option, given the size and industrial nature of the bay. I was glad to be done with the beach for this day anyway. On a whim, I turned onto a trailhead and went more than half a mile in to find a great stealth site by a pond. The dunes south of the road were off limits to ATVs but I could still hear them churning away in the distance. It sounded like there was a race track nearby, but at least the surrounding woods were quiet and peaceful. I’d had great luck earlier in the day and there were a few nice moments throughout, but this was by far my least favorite day thus far.