Wednesday, July 19th, 2023, 0610-1920
Bluebill Lake to Cape Arago, Sunset Bay SP
10.5 miles, (plus 7 mile bus ride), Gain 500′, Loss 300′, elevation 260
I loved my little hole of a campsite by the lake. It was dead quiet once the ATVs went to bed and my tent was completely dry in the morning. The mossies did start to swarm me as I packed, then followed me down the trail a ways. They were the most aggressive I’d seen them yet. I was basically camped next to a giant swamp, so I was surprised they weren’t much worse. I reflected on how little animals had bothered me at night on this entire trip. I hadn’t heard anything walk by my tent or weird sounds going bump in the dark. Ironically, the areas around Cannon Beach and Nehalem far to the north had been shut down due to numerous mountain lion sightings. There was even a cat photographed on Haystack Rock, going after nesting seabirds. Yet nothing seemed terribly dangerous on the Oregon Coast, aside from other people (ATVs) and maybe the occasional dog.
Speaking of dangerous, I had a day of mostly road walking ahead of me, in order to make my way around Coos Bay. It’s a huge industrial port area with basically no good options for a small boat shuttle across. Every hiker I knew had ended up walking around, getting a car ride, or taking a bus. I planned to walk to North Bend, then take the $1 bus from there to Charleston. So first thing was to progress from my desolate little trail to the desolate beach road then to the crazy busy Trans-Pacific Parkway. Quite suddenly I was being passed by semi truck after semi truck. It was only 6:30 am but apparently the parkway went to an industrial and\or port area that was hopping so early in the morning. Commerce doesn’t sleep in, it would seem. I was only on the parkway for 1 mile but 20 some semis must have blasted past me in that time. I was walking along a causeway surrounded by the bay and it was very blustery, in addition to the truck blasts. I was surprised to find it so overcast and almost raining, since I’d woken to such dry conditions in the forest.
After the not so fun time on the parkway, I had the challenge of going over the McCullough Memorial bridge, at a whopping mile long. I had hoped getting such an early start would mean less traffic. Instead, I landed myself smack in the middle of the morning commute. There was a constant stream of vehicles going over the bridge and not a very wide sidewalk. It wasn’t the worst though and pretty quickly it was over. I made it to North Bend and relaxed for a bit at Mom’s Kitchen cafe, a classic greasy spoon that hit the spot on a dreary morning. The staff of 3 women were so nice. I was able to chat with the cook as she made everyone’s meal, that’s how cozy the place was.
I mailed some post cards at the PO and loitered outside the library until it opened. The security guard was quick to chase me off some steps leading to a side door, muttering something about the emergency exit. What he was really concerned about was me using the concealed area to shoot up or camp out, figuring I was one of the many homeless in the area. It must be an ongoing problem, as touchy as he seemed about it. I was just looking for a place to sit where I’d be out of the way. Picnic tables were conspicuously missing from these towns. After I’d used the computer for many hours without causing a stir, he was a lot friendlier. I guess by then he’d realized I really was there to use a computer and not to get high. As I was leaving, we made small talk about the weather and he wished me well on my travels. It’s so easy to get off on the wrong foot, especially in this area, where everyone seemed just a little on edge but were still really friendly at heart.
Numerous people had warned me about the Coos Bay area. Apparently there was a connection with Portland, with many of its transient population transferring here, perhaps for the lower cost of living? I actually had no idea why but it definitely seemed to be a problem. I saw quite a few people with signs of substance abuse and mental health issues throughout and some were viewing me with my backpack a little suspiciously, as though I’d come to join the party. I actually couldn’t wait to get out of town, which was why I took a bus through a 7 mile section. It’s kind of one of those industrial type areas that looks depressed or distressed and not quite sure what to do about it’s many challenges. It didn’t help that I visited all the usual types of places where you see the people most down on their luck…the dollar store, a half deserted mall, and Walmart. Something crazy had happened in the bathroom in the mall and it was such a weird place overall, like straight out of the series “The Last of Us.”
I visited a string of stores to buy some various resupply things. I really needed to get another fuel canister but Big 5 had only medium and large ones. I took a chance that the Walmart, over 2 miles away, might have the 100 g ones. This was a mistake, because they didn’t even have the medium canisters there. So I missed perhaps my only chance in quite a while to pick one up. Oh well, hopefully the trail would provide…but it’s not like there were hiker boxes anywhere. My main reason to go to the Walmart was to pick up the Blue line bus to Charleston. I caught the 5:15 pm one and as usual, there were some interesting characters onboard, seemingly members from all walks of life. Most surprising was how everyone seemed to know each other and were so friendly to the newcomers, including me. Despite being rough around the edges, I could see there was a real sense of community here. It was nice and definitely helped soften my lasting impression of the place. A pleasant bus ride, who would have thunk it?
I felt a little disconnected from my hike after the past 2 days. There had been some weird vibes, starting with the siren in the middle of the night, followed by all the ATV’s and industrial developments around the bay. I was really hoping for a return to the more natural and scenic areas along the rest of the coast. I walked a road towards Cape Arago, which would take me off the official route for awhile. The official OCT led down the Seven Devils road for 10 miles while my alternate route followed the shoreline to the tip of Cape Arago. The OCT was originally supposed to go over the cape (in fact, I later saw OCT signage out there), but there were some land rights issues not yet sorted out with the timber companies. My alternate made use of some private logging roads, which I was prepared to walk early the next morning so as not to be seen or cause a stir. A number of hikers seemed to have gotten away with it and I really didn’t want to do any more road walking with car traffic.
I took a detour out to Tunnel beach, adding some distance but enjoying the sand…I couldn’t go a whole day without a beach walk, after all. I got a glimpse of the Cape Arago lighthouse…the 7th I think. While I didn’t get to see much of it, I’d be hearing it all night long. I exited the beach into a campground that I later realized was private…for guests only. I walked through any way and rejoined the road. I was heading for Sunset Bay SP but there would be no sunset this day. It was still very overcast…not what the forecast had called for at all. On a whim, I followed a trail that my map showed going to the campground (later I realized this was the trail I was supposed to follow, the Bastendorff Bog Trail). I’d been looking forward to a shower at the hiker biker site but pretty quickly changed my mind. It was one of those enchanted forests that immediately put a spell on me. I wanted nothing more than to lay down peacefully beside the moss. Only problem was, I could still hear the nearby foghorn and some mechanical churning rhythmic sound, which I surmised were the spinning gears of the lighthouse head. How was it so loud I wondered? I hoped it would just become background noise, like the surf and birdsong. I would have heard it from the campground anyway, so why not pick my own spot and be away from the RVs and barking dogs?
As I anticipated, I found a beautiful little fairy clearing surrounded by giant mossy trees and ferns. These old growth forests had such a different feel. They were a mosaic of light and space, not claustrophobic in the least. I marveled at my luck, or maybe rather skill, in finding such a perfect spot. I felt drawn to my camp spots, almost as if they picked me and not the other way around. A shower could wait. I just really needed a quiet and peaceful spot this night, surrounded by so much natural wonder.