Wednesday, July 26th, 2023, 1500-1940
Harris Beach State Park to Tolowa Dunes
10 miles, Gain 20′, Loss 20′, elevation 10′
There was a lot to do this day. I needed to buy some things in town, namely a fuel canister, finish the OCT at the OR\CA border, then meet with a kayak guide, Carl, to get a ride across the Smith River. I’d read the tip about his services from Buck30’s blog. He and Steady had finished the OCT and continued to hike about 100 miles of the California Coast Trail. To stay on the beach and avoid a long road walk around the Smith River, they rented a kayak to ferry across. Since the next section of my hike, the Bigfoot Trail, departed from Crescent City, my goal was to do the same. I’d been looking forward to this option from the beginning, so was very excited to confirm that Carl was still in business. Not only that, he had a tour scheduled this day and also offered to pick me up in town.
I woke with an ambitious plan to walk a few highway miles to town, then maybe some more road miles to the border…8 total. Some hikers call the OCT quits at the end of the Boardman corridor, since the remaining 10 miles to the border is pretty much all road walking. There is a beach section for a mile or 2 at the very end, but there’s a tidal restriction and river to cross, so often people just stick to the roads. It’s a pretty anticlimactic finish and since my big PCBCRT hike was continuing on, I wasn’t all that vested in the OCT finish. My main consideration was meeting Carl for his 10 am tour. The plan was to join the tour, then be dropped off on the other side of the river.
Just as I was about to leave the campground, I started chatting with the Dutch couple again, Berry and Marissa. They shared fresh ground coffee and their breakfast with me, which was so nice. They had a rental car, so an Ashland trail angel had loaned them some extra things like a cooler and coffee making set. Berry was taking a break from the PCT because he had plantar fasciitis…and he was also a physical therapist, so he knew his body. It was so nice to be in the company of other hikers again, and we could have chatted about the trail all day. But I had lots to get done, as I outlined to them. The trail always provides, because at the mention of a fuel canister, they pulled out a new one to give to me. I tried to give them money for it but they wouldn’t take it. They simply wanted to repay all the trail magic they had received. I thought about the pile of canisters currently sitting in my closet at home, which I kept on hand to give to Florida Trail hikers when they got to Miami. So I was a part of the circle.
Because I was so short on time, the couple offered to drive me into town. I actually could have bypassed the whole kayaking thing and gotten a ride with them all the way to Crescent City, as they were going to see the redwoods. But I love kayaking and wanted to walk the beach to Crescent City. I sure cheated the hell out of the last road walk and finish of the OCT, though. After thinking about it overnight, I figured I probably wouldn’t have enough time to road walk to the Smith River before the tour began, so I accepted Carl’s offer to pick me up in town and visit the farmer’s market. My only condition was that we stop at the Chrissy State Park visitor center so that I could take my OCT finisher picture there. It’s the unofficial spot, since there’s no signpost or memorial at the southern OCT terminus.
Arriving the terminus by car was the most unceremonious and disingenuous way to finish the OCT. I actually felt pretty bad about it. But I rationalized that 1. It wasn’t the end or even halfway point of my overall hike, 2. I was making up the miles with all the bonus beach and coast walking I planned in California, and 3. I had probably walked more OCT miles than most other hikers I’d met and the accomplishment deserved some recognition. Plus, my priority this day was to be in alignment with the kayak logistics. You do what you gotta do.
I ran inside the visitor’s center and quickly signed the registrar and got my picture taken. The ladies were so nice and excited to see me. I noted that the last hiker to sign in was 4 days before me. The visitor’s center was really nice, consistent with Oregon’s beautiful interpretive signage placed all along the coast. I was going to miss reading those signs ever day. I cajoled Carl into also stopping at the CA border so I could get my “Welcome to California!” picture. We made it back to his place just in time to welcome his clients for the tour: Judy, Meryl, Carol and Gail. Having worked as a kayak guide myself, I kind of jumped into the role again, introducing myself and helping Carl load boats and organize gear. He was charging me a very reasonable price, basically just for the shuttle, so the least I could do was help out as best as I could. Actually, I love being a kayak guide, so I was happy to do it.
The 4 lovely ladies were all high school classmates only a few years short of their 60th reunion! One had paddled before but the others were all new to the sport. Meryl was the most apprehensive and preferred a tandem, while everyone else was leaning towards singles. So I offered to paddle with her, which worked out perfect since I would be departing early and Carl could just fill in my spot, towing his single back across the river. The tandem also had just enough room for my pack. I put it in a trashbag to protect it from splashes and prayed we didn’t capsize, since I didn’t bother to fully waterproof it.
Once on the water, everything sorted out perfectly. Meryl was my captive audience, so I tried to marvel her with all my marine and nautical knowledge. Carl was also a marine naturalist and obviously more well versed in the local ecosystem, so it was great to learn some specifics about the river. We got an earful about the dairy and lilly bog farmers, whose effluents have seemingly caused a pretty severe and noticeable algae bloom in the river…that was sad to see. Carl has been fighting the good fight to hold them accountable, so I hope things get cleaned up.
After an hour or so on the water, it was time to say goodby to my newfound friends and continue my lonely journey south on the beach. I think the ladies were somewhat concerned about leaving me seemingly stranded on the other side, even though to me it was just another routine step in my adventure. Bless their hearts, they were so nice and accommodating for including me in their outing. I got Meryl’s phone number, since they would be in Crescent City the next day and maybe we could meet up for lunch.
On the beach, I didn’t make it very far before stopping to have lunch and then playing with my phone for far too long. In fact, I took my break in a little driftwood fort that was right where I’d gotten off the kayak. I didn’t get started walking until after 3 pm…my first miles of the whole day! I had about 15 miles to go to reach the outskirts of Crescent City, so I didn’t want to walk too far this day and end up without a good quiet place to stealth camp. I probably shouldn’t have wasted time early on, since by the time I started, the tide had come up quite high. The beach was steep and slanty with soft sand, making it a grind. Initially there had been a light breeze out of the south, a rarity, but the wind had shifted almost 180 degrees to blast out of the NW, as usual. Instead of subsiding as the late afternoon wore on, it seemed to get stronger. Suddenly the ocean seemed very turbulent and a lot of sea foam was spraying across my path by the end of the day.
It was still a very lovely beach, which I basically had all to myself. I saw only handful of people in the vicinity of Pacific Shores and then no one past lake Tolowa. I crossed over the dunes at several points, just to scout for trees on the other side and to get away from the angry ocean for a spell here and there. There was a road running parallel for a bit and then I just walked cross country along the flats near the end of the lake. Finally I came to some low trees, which were just enough protection from the wind. Earlier I’d passed a tent and RV camp where the tents were being flattened by the strong winds. Not my tent! I pitched it behind some low trees in high grass, which at first I wasn’t keen about but it ended up being a great site. I had a really lovely view of the sun going down over the dunes and I could hear nothing but the surf. Ahh, beach camping.