Saturday, August 27th, 2022, 1035-1900
Bogachiel State Park to Diamond Rock–Pacific Ocean, WEBO mm 1208.6, Section10 Olympic Coast
24.3 miles, Gain 2050′, Loss 2290′, elevation 2′
It was a boring day of walking connector roads but at least it ended spectacularly. As such, I wasn’t in a hurry to leave the hotel room in the morning. It would have liked to spend a whole day, or at least until checkout, if it weren’t for the 24 miles that needed to be walked. I had to be at the mouth of the Hoh River in order to make a low tide passage early the next morning. Tides dictate everything along the beach section of the PNT. I’d known this beforehand and was looking forward to the challenge. It reminded me of my humble beginnings on one of my first long distance trails: Te Araroa. I’d only had one mishap timing the tides on that hike but nothing that stopped me, just required a longer reroute around an estuary. My understanding was that there weren’t really bypasses around certain choke points on the Olympic beaches…one just had to wait for the tides to go down. This could be a long time because the tides were often mixed, with 2 high and low tides of different size every day. Often only one of the low tide periods was actually low enough to make a safe passage past a headland…and that could occur in the middle of the night. Other hikers had gone to great lengths to make this possible, such as hiking in the dark, waiting a week for better conditions, and flipping their direction of travel to hike the remaining 40 miles south. Fortunately we had very favorable morning low tides for the week. I hadn’t planned for it, it’s just what worked out. Serendipity.
Costanza and I got 2 quick hitches, one to get to the other end of town and the second, back to the state park. It was from a couple driving a Subaru who had given us a good look the first time and couldn’t resist a second chance when they saw us at the edge of town. The guy worked for the Park Service and so we chatted about the goat removal project. He recalled goats flying through the air, dangling from a helo, as they transplanted the ones they could. I would’ve loved to have seen that.
We loitered at the state park for a few minutes, then reluctantly began our day of road walking. When planning this trip, I’d considered skipping this part. The series of logging roads had some negative comments: tainted water sources, irate truck drivers, sketchy characters, etc. But I’m glad I persisted through this road walk because it made me fully appreciate finally arriving the ocean… after walking all day through the dust and for the past 2 months… 1200 miles…like a slow build up. To see and smell and touch the reward: the sea.
I knew of a PNT hiker from the previous year who’d never even seen the ocean before walking to it. Imagine what that first moment must have felt like. To have gazed along such a spectacular beach after crawling through so many difficult but magnificent mountains. To feel the waves crashing and smell the salt air. Though I had ample exposure to beaches from all over the world, it was a special event for me too…a homecoming of sorts. My first sailing forays had been on and across the Atlantic Ocean, but the vast majority of my days at sea had been on the Pacific. I’d had the pleasure of riding fishing boats out of Alaska and Hawaii, then my NOAA ship to some of the most remote points on the globe: the Northwest Hawaiian Islands, Wake Island, Samoa, Palmyra atolls, Baker and Howland islands (where Amelia Earhart was presumed to have gone down), Guam, Saipan and the rest of the Mariana chain. For my final big cruise, I’d piloted the NSF research ship Point Sur some 10,000 nautical miles from Monterey, CA to the Antarctic peninsula, making port calls in Mexico and Chile along the way. I’d covered some vast expanses of the Pacific but walking so many miles to arrive at its shores somehow felt like more of an accomplishment.
The miles on the logging roads passed by and Costanza and I drifted in and out of each other’s company. It was nice to have someone to share the long day of road walking with and I wondered where the other 3 hikers were. They’d stayed at the State Park overnight and gotten an earlier start. We expected to find them at the beach, also constrained by the tides. After lunch, Costanza dropped behind a bit and had the fortune of seeing a black bear cross the road…he even got a picture of it. I’d seen so many on this trail but still didn’t have a picture of one… I hoped for one last sighting on the beach. Mid-afternoon, a motorcycle came from behind and the rider stopped to offer me a Gatorade…so kind and thoughtful! He knew my name, as he’d just talked to Costanza. He invited both of us to stay at his nearby cabin and have a huge feast with him and his buddies that night. It was very tempting and a generous offer, but when we looked at the map to see that his place was a few miles in the opposite direction, we realized it wouldn’t work. Costanza had connected his footsteps thus far and couldn’t accept the guys offer of a ride the remaining 5 miles to the beach the next morning. But it was too far to walk that distance and also catch the early low tide. Nope, we’d have to stick to our plan.
Once we reached the paved Oil City road, our goal was nearly in sight. I could smell the salt and our pace quickened. This was such a great moment for me, finally coming to the sea. The river provided a few early views towards its opening, giving me a warm fuzzy feeling…it helped that I’d packed out a beer in celebration. We’d had a taste of the ocean walking through the Puget Sound but this was at last the real deal. I could look across its vast expanses to picture the next stops…the 2000 mile Hawaiian chain of the main islands and lesser atolls of my dreams like Lisianski, Laysan, Midway, Pearl & Hermes, Kure, Wake Island, the Marianas, Japan and finally Siberia. What an adventure it had been to visit some of those places. But now I had effectively connected them all with my steps alone, no ship. What a feat…with just my feet.
A brief stop at the carpark brought another serendipitous meeting with a PNT alumni and his girlfriend. He was out to share with her just a piece of the magic he’d experienced along the beach. They promptly shared with us some quality IPA’s and told us the location of some choice campsites. We hiked the remainder to the beach with them and found a spot just up the sand from their tarp site. Our selection was complete with “beach furniture”, the kind made of interesting driftwood and beach rubbish that is so common to the area, and providing a suitable windbreak for Costanza’s cowboy camp. I set up my tent for the simple reason of a grand photo op. There was no sign of the others. The sun proceeded to provide the most spectacular sunset along this stretch of paradise. Friends, I can tell you, I’ve had the privileged of seeing some of the most spectacular ocean sunsets and beautiful beaches on the planet but this one seared an indelible image into my head. What a blessing that I had several more days of this to look forward to, and so as I sipped my IPA, I pondered that this might just be the most incredible ending to a thru-hike. Born to a land-locked state with some of the most striking and considerable mountains on earth (Colorado), my life had fittingly been enhanced and greatly lived along and on the sea. What a perfect thru-hike to exemplify such origins. I was silenced in awe and slept a deep slumber to the rhythmic pounding of the waves. They’d been sent from the distance realms of where I’d once set foot. My circle was complete.