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!

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