Month: March 2017

OCT Journal, Day 2: A Ride to Whaleshead

OCT Journal, Day 2: A Ride to Whaleshead

We need a lot more of these moments: When we put aside labels, when we remember that we are all human, and when we realize that we have a lot more in common than we think.

Harris Beach State Park to Whaleshead via Samuel H. Boardman State Scenic Corridor, supposedly 9 miles

At the end of our second day on the Oregon Coast Trail, my friend and I were freezing and exhausted. We had trudged about 11 miles, carrying 50-plus-pound packs through relentless, driving rain. My friend’s feet were starting to suffer the ill effects of constant wet weather. We were about 2 miles away from where we intended to stay that night, and the sun was about to set. We could do it, but it would suck.

OCT Creek Crossing
Our day had involved a whole lot of sideways rain and creek crossings.

We walked into the Whaleshead Viewpoint, partly in order to get a respite from walking along Highway 101, and partly in the hope that we could ask someone watching the sunset if they would give us a ride down the road.

The viewpoint was empty, but soon a large pickup truck pulled in. The truck was driven by a high school-aged girl, and her parents were riding along. I approached the truck, asked them if they would be alright with giving us a ride down the road to Whaleshead, and emphasized that I didn’t want to rush them. If they were there to watch the sunset, my friend and I would wait until they were done. They kindly accepted, and, at my insistence, they did take a short walk down to the beach first.

When they returned, they helped us to load our gear in the back of the truck, and began asking us about our hike. Meanwhile, I was doing the math: There were four seats, and five of us. Before I could ask what the plan was for that, the tiny woman sat on her husband’s lap so my friend and I could both ride in the back seat. They cheerfully joked about how we shouldn’t worry too much, even though their daughter was driving and she just had a learner’s permit. As we drove down the road to Whaleshead, it became obvious that the daughter was a good driver, and we all continued to chat about running and hiking.

The mom expressed interest in the endurance aspect of what we were doing. She is an avid runner, it turns out. Then we learned that her daughter runs track. I asked her what events that she did, and told them that I used to coach and compete, myself. The dad talked about his days backpacking Sky Lakes Wilderness and said he still does some hunting in that area. I expressed that I still really need to spend more time exploring Southern Oregon; it seems beautiful.

Soon we arrived at the Whaleshead RV Resort. (My friend and I were hoping we might be able to rent a cabin there, since all of our gear was drenched and I was worried about my friend’s feet.) The husband kindly helped us unload our packs.

Only then did I notice all of their bumper stickers: “Infidel,” “Proud to be everything liberals hate,” “God bless Trump,” etc.

I am glad that I hadn’t noticed those stickers earlier, and that that therefore wasn’t my first impression of this family. I also felt sad realizing that I would have been really tempted to flip off a truck like that if I was driving past them – but in this case, I would have been rude to a little high school girl and her nice family!

I still stand by my beliefs and my political views. I still do not like Trump. I still have to wonder if this family would have treated my friend and I differently if we weren’t white, or if she and I were a couple. They didn’t say anything like that during our interaction, but given the current administration’s stances on a host of social issues, I have to wonder.

But bottom line: This family helped us out when we needed it, they were pleasant to talk with, and we had a lot of common interests. I am thankful for their help, and I would be happy to hang out with them if we ever crossed paths again.

In this highly polarized political climate, I think we need a lot more of these moments: When we put aside labels, when we remember that we are all human, and when we realize that we have a lot more in common than we think.

OCT Journal, Day 0: Greyhound Bus Conversations

OCT Journal, Day 0: Greyhound Bus Conversations

Before I even began my hike, I heard some thought-provoking life stories on the Greyhound.

Day 0: Busing from Portland, Oregon to Smith River, California. Will begin hiking tomorrow!

My Big Ol' Pack
My big ol’ pack. 58 pounds according to the scale at the Greyhound Station. © Jenni Denekas

The adventure began before I even walked a mile on the Oregon Coast Trail. Traveling from Portland to the southern terminus of the OCT involved about 14 hours on a Greyhound to Medford, and then a small local bus to Smith River, California. A good friend joined me for the start of my journey, and we passed the time on the first leg of the journey by making strange faces in the background of some unwitting college kids’ selfies, sharing tasty snacks, and, well, napping.

When we arrived at the Medford Greyhound station, we had some time to kill before getting on our next bus. After an annoying, unending monologue directed at us by a weird guy who seemed to think he was an expert on hiking, we decided to investigate the library across the street.

We found a nook where we could sit and charge our phones. As we were getting settled in, a young couple pushing a stroller approached us. They were curious about our big packs, and we explained that we were setting out on the OCT. They enthusiastically told us about their own journey on the OCT a couple years prior, and provided some helpful tips. We were smiling from this friendly encounter as we headed back to the Greyhound station to meet our connecting bus.

The friendly driver ushered us onto a small bus emblazoned with a Southwest POINT logo. Inside were comfortable seats, which outnumbered the passengers significantly. We gratefully sprawled out in the back, leaning on our packs.

As the bus trundled out of the Greyhound station, the few passengers riding with us began to ask about our big packs (they are clearly good conversation starters), and we again explained that we were about to begin hiking the OCT.

Hike selfie
My friend and I, bright and early on our first day, ready to set out!

A strong-looking, quiet man with slightly weathered features began telling us about his parallel journey on the Pacific Crest Trail, the 2,600-mile route from the US-Mexico border to the US-Canada border. He was taking a short hiatus from the trail in order to attend to a business matter. He owns his own business, and had left a friend in charge for the duration of his hike. The man explained that he checked his phone calls and emails whenever he came upon towns, and would periodically bus home as needed, and then rejoin the trail where he left off.

This was interesting enough, but then he began to open up further. He explained that he had recently been diagnosed with cancer, and that he was fulfilling a lifelong dream while he could. Again, this man was somewhat quiet and understated about his story, but he seemed to imply that he didn’t have much time left. Nevertheless, he was logging 20-30 miles a day, and living off beef jerky and bars. He explained how he had adjusted to eating on the go, and no longer ate the standard three meals a day that he was accustomed to at home.

My friend and I were left in awe of this man’s quiet strength – mental and physical. He said a lot with few words, sharing a fascinating story that inspired us at challenging moments on the trail in the ensuing days. I’ve often found myself wondering since then if he is alright, and wishing I could remember his name.

A younger man, probably closer to my and my friend’s age, had a very different demeanor, but an equally interesting story.

At first, he simply seemed like a cheerful, happy-go-lucky person. He was alternately singing along to the radio and animatedly chatting with the bus driver. I noticed that his gray t-shirt and gray sweatpants seemed brand-new, not unlike his pristine, white sneakers. That was a slightly odd detail, but I didn’t dwell on it.

Soon he moved towards the back of the bus, and continued to alternate between singing and chatting, this time with the other bus riders. He talked a while with this high school-aged kid who was apparently trying to become a professional surfer. Eventually he began asking my friend and I about our big packs, and he expressed interest in doing a big adventure like that one day, too.

As we approached Cave Junction, the happy-go-lucky guy began describing an amazing jerky shop just up the highway. He hurried to the front of the bus again and asked the driver if we could make a quick stop there. After some negotiation, he finally convinced the driver to give us a few minutes at this shop. A group of us tried a few delectable, free samples, and the cheerful guy ended up paying for everyone’s jerky. He even bought some for the bus driver. We thanked him and returned to the bus.

The final stage of the drive was filled with more chatter and singing from the happy-go-lucky guy, and a bit of nausea and car sickness on my part. I laid out across the back seats of the bus, with my head resting on my pack and my arms over my eyes. I listened to the lively banter, smiling slightly.

As my friend and I neared our stop, we heard the cheerful, gray tracksuit-clad guy tell the high school kid to not make the same mistakes he did. That today was the day he was released from jail, and that he was headed home and going to turn his life around.

No wonder he was so happy!

I don’t know what he did, and I don’t think that I want to know. I just enjoyed his happy-go-lucky demeanor, and was intrigued at the fact that my friend and I encountered him at such an interesting, pivotal moment in his life. Also, I had chosen to do the OCT partly due to an assortment of unbearable challenges in my own life, and this served as a good reminder that I actually have it pretty good – at least in some ways.

Mostly, however, I was just glad to learn about these people’s stories. I have thought about both of these Greyhound bus buddies a fair amount since then, and I hope that they are happy and well.

Jump to the next day’s journal entry.

Read more about the Oregon Coast Trail.

Learn more about Oregon Coast Trail Transportation.

Is Deciding to Go an Accomplishment?

Is Deciding to Go an Accomplishment?

Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it;
Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.

– Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

The response to my announcement that I will be hiking the 367-mile Oregon Coast Trail has included a lot of “congratulations.” But congratulations for what? I haven’t done anything yet; I have simply decided to do it. Congratulations should only come when I finish my hike.

On the other hand, I am not just daydreaming about a hike: I have interrogated myself to make sure that I wouldn’t be making a frivolous announcement and then, soon after, retracting my embarrassing words. I have meticulously schemed for weeks before unveiling my plan. I have built intricate spreadsheets for everything from mileage to supplies. I am walking and hiking and lifting weights in preparation. I have recruited some hiking buddies. By the time I made my announcement, I was committed.

I suppose that combination of commitment and creativity deserves some congratulations. I have put in a lot of work to be ready for this trip. Moreover, deciding to embrace a dream is both a good choice and an uncommon path. To be clear, it is a path that everyone can travel, if they put their mind to it, but it is not the path that everyone chooses.

Some of my discomfort with being congratulated stems from the fact that what I am doing shouldn’t be so uncommon. I think that everyone should pursue what sets their heart on fire and sets their soul free. It doesn’t matter if it is a hike the entire length of Oregon, or cooking gourmet meals, or creating beautiful paintings. What matters is that you know who you are and that you pursue what allows you to shine.

When someone is pursuing their passion, it is beautiful. But is it brave or worthy of congratulations? I’m not sure. It is important, of course. Vitally important. Because it is what one needs to do to live. I’m not talking about breathing oxygen and exhaling carbon dioxide and going to work and punching the clock and going home to watch TV and falling asleep on the couch and waking up at 6 am to do it all over again. I’m talking about living – authentically, unabashedly, and fully. In this vein, to me, a long solo hike isn’t scary, but the idea of getting to the end of my life and finding that I did not live how I wanted is terrifying.

I am doing this long walk because I need to, and I want to, and I don’t have anything holding me back. In fact, I have something pulling me towards this hike. I have honestly no choice but to go.

I cannot imagine another way to move forward from the challenges I have been facing. I cannot imagine what else I would spend my time on in the next 45 days. I cannot imagine feeling like myself again without this hike. Nothing other than this 367-mile path will do.

So yes, I am choosing a healthy way forward. I am pursuing my truth. I am happy I have made these choices, I am excited to begin my trek, and I am thankful that I have a lot of people in my life who are happy for me. But it was a natural decision for me, and to be congratulated for doing something that feels natural is an odd sensation.

So thank you for the congratulations, but the best way to show appreciation for what I am doing is to find your own path, and to experience it fully. It doesn’t have to be a literal path, though those are always a good way to get your head straightened out. My point is simply this: Go forth and live.