Category: Oregon Coast Trail

367 miles of beach, trail, and a bit of 101

“You’re Out Here Alone!”

“You’re Out Here Alone!”

Hiking the Oregon Coast Trail While Female, Episode 57, Day 26

Earlier in this gray, 10-mile day, I had reached the (approximate) halfway point of my hike: Waldport. I was trucking along on the short segment of Highway 101 that I needed to reach Driftwood State Park, and beach access.

I was not too happy about being on 101, especially after a pickup truck driven by a young male asshole swerved towards me and honked, apparently just for laughs. I tried to scratch his paint with my trekking pole. I was frustrated but not shocked. I had already been through this scenario before (which is why my right trekking pole didn’t have a tip protector on, so I was ready for maximum paint-scratching).

I sighed and pushed forward, knowing the best thing to do was to move quickly so I could get off the highway as soon as possible.

I was on a roll when I spotted a cyclist cruising towards me a half-mile later.

As he approached, he slowed to a stop. He looked incredulous.

He blurted, “You’re out here alone!”

Immediately I responded, with the same tone of voice, “You too!!!”

“Yeah, but, you’re… Never mind.” He seemed to think better of finishing his sentence.

We chatted for a couple of minutes. It turned out he was cycling to San Francisco on 101. I pointed out that that, to me, was crazier than what I was doing! I mentioned the truck that buzzed me a little while ago and said ruefully that I wouldn’t want to be on the highway that much.

He started to say, in that incredulous tone again, “But you’re out here by your-“

“You are, too. I guess we’re both crazy!” I kept my tone light but firm. He laughed and dropped the subject.

We shook hands, wished each other luck, and continued on our separate ways. He was going south, I was heading north.

I was glad that, only the day before, I had brainstormed snappy replies to people commenting on the fact that I was a woman hiking alone. This cyclist didn’t seem like a bad person; he seemed like the sort who probably just hadn’t thought about this issue much before. He was one of those cases where a comment like mine could, hopefully, get through to him. I sincerely hope that I made him think. I hope that I made him consider that he shouldn’t be amazed by a woman alone. I hope that when he regales his friends with stories from his trip, that I am just another endurance athlete, not an anomaly.

Bottom line: Women belong outdoors, out pushing ourselves, out experiencing the world, just as much as men do. HUMANS deserve these experiences. Male, female, trans, gender-non-conforming, all races, all abilities… WE ALL DESERVE ACCESS TO NATURE.

It starts with each and every one of you, dear readers: What will you do to make the outdoors more accessible and comfortable for all? See the Pitch In page for ideas!

Photos: OCT Section 1: Smith River, CA to Gold Beach, OR

Photos: OCT Section 1: Smith River, CA to Gold Beach, OR

The first 40-some miles of my trip were stunning. In this span, sea stacks and dramatic cliffs are interspersed with beautiful, quiet beaches and coastal rain forest. The lovely towns of Brookings and Gold Beach are great destinations.

There are many state parks along this stretch. From south to north: Pelican Beach State Park (California), Crissey Field State Recreation Site (Oregon), Harris Beach State Park, Samuel H. Boardman State Scenic Corridor, and Pistol River State Park. Indian Sands, located in the Samuel H. Boardman State Scenic Corridor, is on the National Register of Historic Places due to its archaeological significance. Learn more nitty-gritty details about the OCT South Coast.

I also was lucky to have a wonderful friend join me for my first four days on the trail! Thanks, dude!

The OCT: Why I Went and What I Gained

The OCT: Why I Went and What I Gained

Why hike 367 miles, enduring exhaustion, vertical rain, diagonal rain, and even horizontal rain?

There were many factors that reinforced my decision:

  • 2017 is the fiftieth anniversary of the Beach Bill, the law signed by Governor Tom McCall that expanded protections for Oregon’s public coastline. (This law allows the Oregon Coast Trail to exist.)
  • I have always been intrigued by connecting landmarks on foot.
  • I have always wanted to do a thru-hike.
  • I love Oregon and its beautiful coast.
  • I love land use (the innovative statewide program that, again, makes the OCT possible).
  • I enjoy challenging myself.

Underneath all of these good reasons to go was a much simpler one, however: My heart was broken and I needed to heal.

A lot of challenging events happened in quick succession in the months leading up to my hike:

  • The man who I thought I was going to spend the rest of my life with cheated on me. I found out three days before Christmas. Bah humbug.
  • I was let go from my favorite job, without an explanation. Not being allowed to say goodbye properly was a cruel twist to an already disappointing and unexpected outcome.
  • Soon after, a significant family emergency happened, and that has been an ongoing saga of awfulness.

The bright side of seemingly everything crashing down around me was that I had a lot of time on my hands. So I defaulted to what I often do when I am hurting: I made plans to escape into nature for a while. It was time to realize a long-standing goal: To complete a thru-hike.

The Oregon Coast Trail, specifically, appealed to me because of the reasons that I listed in the first paragraph of this essay. On top of those reasons, the timing wasn’t quite right for any of the other thru-hikes I otherwise may have considered. In particular, I have always been interested in the Pacific Crest Trail, but I was already anxious to start in February, and this winter was a record-breaking one, yielding a massive snowpack. I heard many PCT hikers were delaying their starts. The OCT, on the other hand, didn’t need to thaw out (well, aside from that snow that fell in Gold Beach a couple weeks before my hike).

Another consideration was that I hadn’t done a real thru-hike before. The most noteworthy point-to-point excursion I’d done prior to the OCT was the Salkantay Trek in Peru, but that doesn’t count as a thru-hike in my opinion, because it was glamping (it was a great experience, though; I do recommend this trip). My longest backpacking trip prior to the OCT was seven days, and my longest solo trip was a weekend overnighter. Granted, I had done those two amounts multiple times, but it still was quite a leap to plan a multi-week solo trek.

I also figured that the 367-mile OCT was a nice, moderate amount of distance and time for a first thru-hike. The frequent proximity to towns and to Highway 101 would also help to ensure that I could get any supplies or assistance that I might need along the way. Bottom line: It seemed like the most reasonable, crazy-impulsive decision I could make.

As it turns out, the OCT was, indeed, a good introduction to thru-hiking. It was both challenging and manageable, and I finished feeling healthy and strong.

And what did I gain? This is an incomplete list, in spite of its length:

  • I saw incredible scenery, experienced many lovely small towns, and met many wonderful people.
  • I learned how to hitch hike (thanks, Dani).
  • I gained new perspective and my problems now feel a lot smaller.
  • I have built a lot of mental and physical strength.
  • The awesome staff at Seven Devils Brewing gave me a rad, warm hat.
  • I found cool rocks and shells.
  • My friend Stacey and I learned that beagles and sea lions sound about the same.
  • I marched for science in Newport.
  • I read some good books (including one I got at the awesome Gold Beach Bookstore).
  • I saw tons of velella velella.
  • I got super sick, recovered, and managed to finish strong.
  • I finally, completely, cut out my ex, which has paved the way to greater healing.
  • I made new friends and strengthened already-existing connections.
  • I gained new levels of appreciation for my wonderful parents, got to hike my final day with my dad, and celebrate with my mom and dad at the finish line.

In short: Was the OCT worth it? Absolutely. I gained a stronger, better version of myself, in addition to regaining my faith in humanity, deepening my relationships with people who actually matter, deepening my relationship to my beautiful home state, and enjoying an awesome adventure.

Was the pain that led me to do the OCT worth it? Sort of. What happened in the months leading up to my trip was unacceptable, and in some cases, unforgivable. But that pain pushed me to do an adventure that has strengthened me and enriched my life. It’s also the only reality I have, and the only life I have. I have chosen to make the most of it.

I encourage you to make the most of it, too, and to get planning your own OCT adventure!

Read all of my OCT-related blog posts, or go to my OCT Journal page.

What is your reason to thru-hike? Share in the comments!

OCT Accommodations: Planning Versus Winging It

OCT Accommodations: Planning Versus Winging It

The Oregon Coast Trail weaves in and out of towns and passes through many Oregon State Park campgrounds. Thru-hikers therefore have the opportunity to enjoy a range of accommodations, but this also presents a dilemma: How much should you plan ahead? More specifically, should you reserve accommodations in advance, or are you comfortable winging it?

I will begin by sharing my own thought process, and then offer you some key questions to ask yourself as you begin planning your trip.

I chose to reserve nearly all of my accommodations in advance. There were a number of reasons that I did so, including:

  • Regulations/Availability: Although the entire Oregon coast is public, it is only legal to camp on the coast in certain areas. I’m admittedly still unclear on some of the rules governing this, but my understanding is that you cannot camp anywhere within sight of homes or the highway. In Oregon State Parks, you can only stay in designated campgrounds, and obviously it is prohibited to stay overnight. Furthermore, places to stay overnight are few and far between on some spans of the coast, for instance, along the Samuel H. Boardman State Scenic Corridor. This combination of factors inherently reduces lodging options, and I wanted to make sure I had somewhere to stay each night.
  • Timing: My first week on the trail coincided with spring break for most Oregon schools, so I knew people would be flocking to the coast. My hike was slated to end in early May, when the weather would be improving, so I assumed (correctly) that it would be crowded then as well.
  • Risk/Reward: I did not like the idea of completing a long, tiring day of hiking, only to find that where I wanted to stay was already full, and that I would have to continue on. I have heard stories of PCT and AT hikers in this situation, and while you have to do what you have to do, I decided I would prefer to avoid this if possible.
  • Personal Style: I prefer having a well-thought out plan in advance.
  • Safety: It is generally a good idea to leave a detailed plan with a trusted person whenever embarking upon a hike of any length. Since I was hiking 367 miles solo, this was especially important. Having a route and lodging planned in advance would make my whereabouts clear, in case anyone needed to come looking for me.

In many ways, my system worked well for me. The main upsides of reserving in advance, in my opinion, were:

  • Peace of Mind: Why add more uncertainty to an already-challenging hike? Knowing that I had a place to stay each night made me feel more comfortable. Knowing for sure when I would be in certain towns also helped me to plan my resupply strategy and thus feel more secure about my food supply.
  • Motivation: Sometimes the basic necessity of having to push through to get to where I was staying was what kept me going at the end of a hard day.
  • Having a Good Place to Stay: I typically selected my in-town lodging based on reviews, as well as proximity to stores, laundromats, restaurants, and so forth. Doing this research in advance helped my zero days in town to be more restful and productive.
  • Coordinating with Friends and Family: Since I knew where I would be and when, it was easier to coordinate with friends and family who wanted to visit me.

However, there were some definite downsides to making my hike this structured, including:

  • Lack of Flexibility: When I ran into a couple of significant snags, I essentially had to choose whether to divert from my plan (which would necessitate re-doing reservations and returning home later than I intended), to get a ride to make it to my next destination, or to suck it up and shuffle on (which, in a couple of cases, would have likely ended my hike prematurely by exhausting, sickening, or injuring me). All of those options are less than ideal, and having a more flexible schedule would not have forced me to make these choices quite as often.
  • Additional Expense: Reserving online, whether it’s campsites or hotels, typically means transaction fees. Additionally, reservable campsites are typically $17-$21, not including transaction fees (prices subject to change, of course). On the flip side, if you do not reserve in advance, it’s possible you may accrue unexpected expenses due to limited choices. But in my case, there were definitely times I could have saved money by just walking in to the $5 hiker-biker camps.
  • A Lot of Work: Personally, I love both the process of planning trips and also the results: Having detailed itineraries and peace of mind. But it obviously requires a lot of work up-front. For me, it wasn’t a problem, because I had plenty of time to dedicate to planning my trip. But I recognize that not everyone has that luxury, and that not everyone is wired in the same way. For some people, detailed planning could cramp their style.

Indeed, a lot of this has to do with your personality. So now that you understand my thought process, I would suggest asking yourself these questions as you plan your own trip:

  • Personal Travel Style:
  1. Am I more comfortable with having a firm plan and controlling my circumstances, or with being flexible and responsive to changing situations?
  2. Do I want to have a rustic experience, stay in hotels, or a combination?
  • Budget:
  1. How much am I willing to spend on lodging? i.e. Will I focus on staying in the $5 hiker-biker camps (not reservable in advance), do I want to indulge on some nice hotels (reserve in advance), or a combination?
  2. How much money do I want to set aside for unexpected, last-minute changes to my plan?
  • Fitness/Mileage/Goals:
  1. How much mileage do I plan to make each day?
  2. Do I have a defined end-date (i.e. Something I need to return home for) or am I flexible?
  3. Is that realistic for my fitness and for the lodging options available?
  • Legality: Am I more comfortable with staying in purely legal spots (designated campsites and/or motels) or am I comfortable with the idea of “stealth-camping” if need arises? NOTE: This will also, in some areas, influence daily mileage goals. Read more about the legal/practical lodging dilemma, and about specific lodging suggestions throughout the OCT.

Ready to dive further into planning? Get more tips here.

OCT Journal, Days 24-25: Friends Old and New

OCT Journal, Days 24-25: Friends Old and New

So many wonderful people have made my past 36ish hours great! Definitely feeling thankful – and warm!

Day 24: Harbor Vista County Campground to Baker Beach Trailhead, then Heceta Head Lighthouse to Carl G. Washburne Memorial State Park.

Day 25: Cummins Creek (southern side of Cape Perpetua) to Beachside State Recreation Area.

Baker Beach Friends
My friends were a lovely bright spot in a stormy day. © Joe Dudman & Charissa Yang

Amidst wet and windy weather that sometimes blotted out the headlands and lighthouse only a few miles in front of me, I trudged through a hike that my guidebook said was 5.5 miles, but was actually 8. I was on my way from a campsite in Florence to the Baker Beach Trailhead. I was not only eager to get out of the rain, but I also was hurrying because I had a planned rendezvous with two friends who were driving back to Portland on Highway 101 – after their wedding!

It was awesome to see them and offer congratulations in person (I had watched their wedding online in Lakeside, Oregon earlier in my trip). They were also kind enough to give me a ride between the end of Hike 1 and the beginning of Hike 2, sparing me from walking a scary stretch of highway which included a tunnel (This is one of the areas that I strongly recommend skipping).

Inside Heceta Head Light
The spiral staircase inside Heceta Head Lighthouse. © Jenni Denekas

Then my friends and I visited Heceta Head Lighthouse together. Constructed from 1892-1893 and lit in 1894, Heceta Head is now owned by the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department. Oregon State Parks volunteers conduct tours of the light on a daily basis.

The volunteer who conducted our tour was curious about my big pack (it is a good conversation starter), and I explained my trip to her. It turned out that she was going to be at the same campground that I was planning on staying that night (Carl G. Washburne Memorial State Park). We commented on how it was a small world, but I just left it at, “Cool, hopefully see ya later!”

Heceta Head Viewed from Above
Heceta Head Light viewed from the trail uphill. © Jenni Denekas

I bid farewell to my friends and headed up the hillside from Heceta Head Lighthouse. It was a beautiful and steady climb. I was starting to wear out as the day drew to a close, but chewing on a couple of sweets from a Ziplock bag that my friends gave me me yielded a new burst of energy. I smiled thinking about their visit, and continued to trudge on.

Meanwhile, the volunteer from the lighthouse got to camp well before I did. When she arrived, she told all the other volunteers at the camp about me. One of the other volunteers paid for my campsite, and someone else brought wood to my site, and so forth. When I arrived, soaked, cold, and exhausted, I was so pleasantly surprised by this kind welcome. Can anyone say “trail magic?!”

PLEASE NOTE: THIS WAS AN ACT OF KINDNESS AND IS NOT SOMETHING YOU SHOULD EXPECT OR FEEL ENTITLED TO. That is the nature of trail magic; read more thoughts on kindness and entitlement on long hikes.

Cape Perpetua Trail
Sunny, lush forest greeted me on Cape Perpetua the next morning. © Jenni Denekas

I was happy to wake up to sun this morning. I was so tired the night before that I had been a bit lazy about getting my gear dry, even though I was rapidly becoming an expert on drying wet clothes in the backcountry. My gear was soaked, and unfortunately, so was my firewood. It was pouring too hard the night before to light a fire, and keeping the wood under my rain fly didn’t keep it dry enough. I appreciated the gesture, regardless. But at any rate, lollygagging around the shaded campground didn’t seem to offer me much opportunity to dry my gear.

Nevertheless, the sun lifted my spirits. What lifted my spirits even more was that I finally met the woman who paid for my site! I thanked her profusely for her kind gesture. I learned that she recently retired and began volunteering with Oregon State Parks. She asked more about my trip. We exchanged stories for a while.

When I asked her about how big the shoulder was on 101 between the camp and my next trail, she immediately offered me a ride. I gratefully accepted.

While we drove to the Cape Perpetua Trailhead, she told me how happy it makes her to see young women who believe they can do anything, because when she was growing up, there were so few “acceptable” options for women. We talked about how there is still a ways to go, but that the world has changed a lot in the past few decades. It was a good “girl power” moment. I bid my new friend farewell and set out into the sunny, lush forest.

Cape Perpetua
The view from Cape Perpetua is stunning, and I was thankful for a sunny day to enjoy it. © Jenni Denekas

When I arrived at the Cape Perpetua Visitor Center on foot, I met this volunteer who had a great story about a friend of his accidentally pooping on a skunk (and that ended about as well as you might imagine). That, of course, reminds me of this awesome page.

While I was eating my lunch at the visitor center, a newly retired couple visiting from Washington started chatting with me (again, my backpack proved itself a great conversation starter). This couple used to backpack a lot and were fun to “talk shop” with.

They ended up offering me a ride to my camp for the night, which was super sweet and a huge help. Though I was reluctant to miss out on the trails on the north side of Cape Perpetua, I was grateful to get into camp early. That provided me the opportunity to string a clothesline and dry out everything that got drenched yesterday. So I’ll be warmer tonight, and more comfortable tomorrow, thanks to their generosity!

My new friends even gave me their card, so I can contact them if I need anything else in the next couple of days before they head back home. I appreciated the thoughtful gesture, but I figure unless I run into significant trouble, I won’t bother them. I am keeping the card, though, because it includes their mailing address. They are getting a thank-you card later! As are the volunteers that live at the state park I stayed at last night!

Then this evening, while at Beachside State Recreation Area, some of my camp neighbors came by and introduced themselves. One of the women said that she noticed that I was camping alone, and invited me to join them for dinner and drinks. I had already cooked up some of my coconut curry and started a fire, but I was glad for the company and went to sit with them.

It turned out that they had caught crabs and bought mussels earlier, and were boiling them all over their fire pit. My eyes got round, as I am always hungry, now that I am hiking every day. I added these succulent treats to my curry, gratefully sipped a beer, and enjoyed listening to their hilarious and adventurous stories. One couple talked about how they had road tripped to 49 states before having a baby (who had just settled down for the night in their yurt). The wife then revealed that she had actually been to that 50th state before, as a kid, and her husband expressed good-natured indignation that she was holding out on him. We all laughed.

We shared stories and chuckles until late, and I excused myself so I could get some rest before the next day’s hike. They wished me luck and I left with a smile.

Now, tucked into my tent with dry clothes, I am reflecting on how so many wonderful people have made my past 36ish hours great! Definitely feeling thankful – and warm!

Jump to the next day’s journal entry.

Check out the previous day’s journal entry.

Read more about the Oregon Coast Trail.

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.