Twig Adventures

PCBCRT Day 2: Variety is the spice of life

Thursday, July 6th, 2023, 0715-1900
Sunset beach to Tillamook Head Backpacker Camp.
16 miles, Gain 1365′, Loss 600′, elevation 780

I slept like a total rock, it was so amazing. I was finally on trail and my mind was at peace. The distant hum of the surf drowned out all else. I heard nothing until the birdsong in the morning. I noted the fog right away but it didn’t feel very moist or clammy, in fact I was convinced I was completely dry until I felt my tent walls. Yep, condensation nation, but more so on the outside. This should not have been surprising, given my location on this notoriously moist coast. But I was hoping for a miracle under the pines. Instead, they were collecting the fog and dripping on me. Still, I was so grateful for my beautiful little spot, completely protected from view at least. I felt comfortable sleeping in a bit and lingering to calmly sip my coffee. I was in no rush this day, as I only needed to go 16 miles.

Once I left the pines, I realized how much shelter they had provided from the fog. I immediately felt tiny water droplets gathering on my body and had to put on my rain jacket. It was like a very slight drizzle. The beach was very low visibility but even still, cars were whizzing by so early in the day. I entered the highway, with no lanes or markers, a free-for-all for drivers. Since I had no control over their trajectory or speed, I conscientiously decided not to worry about them. It’s like when I’m around motorboats in my kayak…they either go around me or not, nothing I can do about them. So the vehicles streamed past and I ignored them. I imagined that some drivers might be irate that I dared to walk their beach…what nerve! But mostly everyone was courteous and gave me a wide berth. Most were also driving slow, appropriately in the fog. I guess they have to worry about hitting other vehicles too.

The last bit of beach leading to Gearhart was off limits to vehicles but then I still saw one truck driving past. It had some state seal, so was probably an official beach patrol making sure other cars stayed out. I also saw a stuck SUV at the last road over the dunes. Vehicles need a running start and must maintain momentum through the soft sand, otherwise ooops! I smiled to myself at the vehicle’s demise, a small victory for footsteps over mechanized wheels. Is that petty? Maybe so but satisfying nonetheless.

I had to leave the beach to get past a small estuary and outlet, the first of many yet to come. It was a very pleasant walk through the quaint beach town. On the guidebook’s advice, I took a short path leading behind some houses. It was like walking through the backyards of cutesy cottages in England. Most structures here on the Oregon Coast have wood shingle siding, giving them a very rustic and charming appearance. Such material has its downsides, as my hosts found out the hard way at their beach house in Manzanita. A neighbor hung a crystal in their window and the concentrated beam of sunlight caused a reflection burn through their wood shingles. They were lucky it didn’t set the house on fire! Who knew such a thing could happen???

I reached hwy 101 but only had about half a mile to go on it before turning onto a side streat in Seaside. From there I headed to the library, wasting several hours on the internet. Again, no hurry. I could get used to type of hiking. After, I went to Safeway to get some items for dinner (packed out a tray of sushi because why not?) and then had a huge burrito at a taco shop for $8. I’d heard that things were very pricey on the coast, but so far I’d found food to be pretty reasonable. I knew I’d be spending a lot more on food this trip, given all the convenient restaurants and cafes along the way. So my strategy was to compensate by spending less on hotels. I could take hot showers at the hiker biker camps for much cheaper. Lodging is by far the most expensive spending category on a hike, and without a partner to spilt the costs, it can take a huge cut from a budget. I rationalized that I could have 5 to 10 yummy meals for the cost of one hotel bed… priorities!

In town, I saw a hand-painted sign that read: No soliciting. We are broke, We love Jesus. We know who we are voting for. Unless you are giving away beer, GO AWAY.

I thought it was funny. I also admired all the kitschy beach shops, swan-shaped paddle boats for rent, and the Lewis and Clark “End of Trail” monument. Some white dudes made it all the way to this point many years ago…but only because a smart native woman showed them the way. Naturally, Sackajewah wasn’t pictured in the monument…go figure. I continued on down the beach, finding a small gray whale carcass. Earlier I’d seen a dead male sea lion washed ashore. Despite the smell, the marine biologist in me required a close inspection of each. I’m an expert beach scavenger. It’s one of my favorite pastimes…and now I turned it into a long distance hike!

In the distance, I set my sights on my destination for the day, Tillamook Head. It’s the first prominent headland that a hiker comes to. The only choice for these is to go up and over. But they make for a nice change in pace and scenery from the sometimes monotony of beach walking. This is where things truly become a trail, moving through lush coastal forests of Sitka spruce and western hemlock. Most of these headlands are protected from logging and have old growth forests, so I was walking among some giants of the tree world. Many of the spruce were 10 feet wide! The trail was soft and loamy but got pretty boggy at the top. My new shoes quickly became covered in mud…oh well.

I climbed over 1,200’…just because I was hiking along the coast didn’t mean it was going to be flat. The trail was also quite overgrown in places… nothing I hadn’t easily dealt with before but I could see how those new to this would find it difficult. In several places, social trails led off the wrong way. My gps kept me on track, because there certainly weren’t blazes or markers regularly. At last I reached the designated backpacker camp, one of only a few on this trail. It was complete with 3 AT-style shelters, a fire pit, toilet, and covered picnic tables. I considered a shelter for about half a second then pitched my tent in a perfect flat spot nearby. I needed to dry it anyway and the shelters were reported to be ridden with mice. There were 4 youthful and exuberant campers sitting around the fire : Veoko, Olivia, Tim, and Erin.

Olivia was German and had been hiking the PCT for a spell. Her visa was about up and she wanted to see the coast before she had to go home. She walked with me to check out the high bluff overlooking Tillamook Rock Lighthouse, which sits just 1.2 miles offshore. From the guidebook: “Also known as “Terrible Tilly,” this deactivated lighthouse was officially lit in 1881 after 525 days of harrowing construction, making it the
most expensive lighthouse to construct and maintain on the West Coast. It earned its
nickname due to the variable weather conditions and treacherous commute, not to mention
the isolation the keepers were forced to endure. Due to the cost of maintaining it, the
light was deactivated in 1957, and it is now a refuge to more than 12,000 nesting birds. Near
the viewpoint you will also find a World War II bunker that is being reclaimed by the forest.”

Once again, it had been a full day of touristing and I was famished. But I still stayed up late to hang with my fellow hikers. They had all come up from the south side, a mere 1.5 miles from a parking lot. I wouldn’t be seeing them again but it was fun to be in the company of mostly non-thruhikers, much like many of my shelter experiences had been on the AT. I retired to my tent in the forest, surrounded by the huge trees.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: