Tag: Human Connection

Eagle Creek Fire: How to Help

Eagle Creek Fire: How to Help

*Archive Post! See Eagle Creek Fire: What Now for the most recent updates on the fire and how to support restoration efforts*

As of 7:00 pm on Friday, September 29, the Eagle Creek Fire encompasses an estimated 48,831 acres on the Oregon side of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area. It is 46% contained. The Archer Mountain Fire, which was sparked on the Washington side by the Eagle Creek Fire, is still burning, but 100% contained as of September 13.

It’s been raining intermittently since Sunday, September 17, and all evacuation orders have been lifted at this time. However, as they said on InciWeb, “Conditions have significantly reduced fire behavior, though it will continue to smolder or creep within the fire perimeter, producing smoke for some time. Significant growth is not anticipated, but soaking rains will be necessary to fully remove heat from the fire.” With the rain, there is also landslide danger, which is exacerbated by fire damage. We’re not done yet, and the Gorge will still need to be restored. We still have lots of work to do.

NOTE: I’ll try to keep this page updated as much as possible, but for the most up-to-date and accurate information on the Eagle Creek Fire, visit: https://inciweb.nwcg.gov/incident/5584/

Eagle Creek Fire
Trail runners watch from the Washington side as the Oregon side of the gorge burns, on Sunday, Sept. 4. The fire has since spread to the Washington side. © Jeff Fisher & Jennifer Love

The destruction of this beloved landscape is heart-wrenching. I have not been able to tear my eyes from the news since the Eagle Creek Fire exploded.

It is easy to feel devastated and helpless in this situation. I’ve been feeling that way since the fire began. But as much as we can, we need to pitch in and support the fire fighting and evacuation efforts – and eventually, the restoration efforts.

My best recommendations so far are listed below. I will keep updating this post. Thank you for doing your part to help as this tragedy unfolds.

Donate to Search and Rescue

Donate to the Fire Crews

Eagle Creek Fire
The Eagle Creek Fire on Sunday, Sept. 4. © Jeff Fisher & Jennifer Love

Before I get into specifics, please note: Fire crews have requested that folks STOP bringing donated items to them. In particular, they have enough bottled water – which is awesome, because that need was filled really quickly! Thanks to those who did that.

Also, unless you have to, please do not go to the Gorge. No gawking, no dropping off donations. Do not make the area more crowded – or the situation more complicated – for the first responders. Give them room to do their thing.

OK, that said…

Donate to emergency services at the epicenter of this disaster:

  • Cascade Locks Fire and EMS. At the bottom of their homepage, there is a “donate” button. Cascade Locks is being hit hard by this fire, and it is not in a very populous or affluent county. They need all the help they can get.
  • Skamania County is fighting the Archer Mountain fire (sparked by the Eagle Creek fire) and has been supporting the Stevenson Red Cross evacuation efforts. Like their neighbors across the river, Skamania County is not a very populous or affluent county, and they need all the help they can get. The county is asking for monetary donations to support their fire and other emergency services. Contact Sarah Slack at 509-427-3980 to contribute.

I’m still looking for a complete list of the groups that are fighting the Eagle Creek Fire, and links to donate to them. Please comment on this post if you have information! But so far, at least, I know that the following crews are involved:

  • Albany Fire Department: They have contributed some of their fire fighters to battle this blaze, as well as the Chetco Bar Fire on the southern Oregon coast.
  • Corbett: Fire District 14: This fire crew is battling for their backyard.
  • Forest Grove Fire and Rescue: They have contributed fire fighters to battle this blaze.
  • Hillsboro Fire Department: They have contributed fire fighters to battle this blaze.
  • Gresham Fire and Emergency Services: They are part of the crew protecting the historic Multnomah Falls Lodge from the blaze (and did so through the night, from Sunday, September 4, to Monday, September 5, when the structure was first threatened).
  • Northwest Interagency Coordination Center: They play an integral role in planning fire responses and also make information on fires and air quality available to the public on their awesome website.
  • Oregon Department of Forestry: Their Fire Protection program is an integral part of the fire fighting effort. Since it’s a state agency, we probably can’t donate to them directly, but please, in the future, vote to support funding for them!
  • Oregon Air National Guard: They are assisting in many ways with the fire.
  • Oregon National Guard: They are assisting in many ways with the fire.
  • Portland Fire and Rescue: They have contributed fire fighters to battle this blaze.
  • US Forest Service: They are assisting in a variety of ways, and are one of several agencies that coordinate the Interagency Hotshots. Some Hotshots are helping with the Eagle Creek Fire. Since it’s a federal agency, we probably can’t donate to them directly, but please, in the future, vote to support funding for them!

Again, unfortunately, I don’t know all the agencies and fire crews involved, and I don’t have links to donation pages for those in the second bulleted list. Please let me know if you have any information as to how to donate to these groups putting it all on the line for our beloved Gorge. It is an understatement to say they deserve our support!

Additionally, the Multnomah County Sheriff recommended donating to the Wildland Firefighter Foundation. Their mission, as stated on their website, is “to help families of firefighters killed in the line of duty and to assist injured firefighters and their families.” Donating to this cause has less of a direct impact on efforts to combat the Eagle Creek Fire. However, as I said above, it is an understatement to say that wildland firefighters deserve our support! These brave folks are heroes and honoring the fallen is important.

Support Those Who Helped with Evacuation Efforts

Eagle Creek Fire
The Eagle Creek Fire on Sunday, Sept. 4. © Jeff Fisher & Jennifer Love
  • The Red Cross operated shelters for evacuees in Stevenson, WA and at Mount Hood Community College in Gresham, Oregon. Donate to the Red Cross, specifying either the Cascades division or the Disaster Relief Fund. The latter also supports those affected by the hurricanes, and more.
  • Skamania County is fighting the Archer Mountain fire (sparked by the Eagle Creek fire) and supported the Stevenson Red Cross evacuation efforts. The county is asking for monetary donations. Contact Sarah Slack at 509-427-3980 to contribute.
  • According to this post by KGW News, Gone Towing was helping to evacuate residents in Level 2 and Level 3 areas, free of charge. Call (503) 602-2626 to donate to support their efforts. Any additional funds will be donated to the Red Cross and local fire departments. They also deserve your future business!

Support Restoration Efforts

Eagle Creek
Punchbowl Falls along the Eagle Creek Trail, near where the fire began. I hope it can be as verdant again one day. © Jenni Denekas

This will be part of the long game, but eventually we will restore and rebuild our beautiful Gorge.

Support Our Awesome Gorge Towns

Thunder Island Brewing
Thunder Island Brewing © Christopher Muhs, Creative Commons

Once it is safe to do so, please help these towns recover economically by patronizing their awesome businesses! I’ll also update this section if/when opportunities to donate to evacuees and to rebuilding efforts arise.

  • I love Thunder Island Brewing in Cascade Locks. They have a great location, great food, great drinks, and support the iconic PCT Days celebration each summer. Then on top of it, they opened their doors to fire crews, providing them free meals, at the start of the Eagle Creek Fire. They deserve our business!
  • Check out the Columbia River Gorge Visitors’ Association for more awesome businesses to support!
  • Go to PCT Days next year! Located in Cascade Locks, this event is a way to provide both moral and financial support to the small town at the epicenter of the Eagle Creek Fire. This event celebrates the Pacific Crest Trail (which also has been impacted by the fire) and is an opportunity to hang out with PCT thru-hikers and connect with the local outdoor community.

And More Broadly… Fight Climate Change and Climate Change Denial

Hurricane Harvey
NASA has been watching Hurricane Harvey from satellites and the International Space Station. © NASA, Creative Commons

NOTE: If you don’t believe the facts, please shut up and find a way to help with the Eagle Creek Fire that DOES gel with you. Don’t waste time arguing about reality when so much else needs to be done.

From Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, to the catastrophic fires throughout much of the American West, we are starting to reap what we have sown. It is imperative that we intensify our efforts to combat climate change.

First, I’ll list some nonprofits you can donate to. Second, I’ll list some suggestions for reducing your own carbon footprint.

Climate-Change-Fighting Organizations

  • Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is a fantastic organization that is taking a multifaceted approach to combating climate change and raising awareness. I’m linking to their Get Involved page so you can access a whole host of ways to contribute. Then just click on the large Donate button in the upper right corner if that’s the route you’d prefer to take.
  • The Union of Concerned Scientists is also a reputable and awesome group. I’m linking her to their Global Warming Solutions page, so that you can read about various ways to help combat climate change. You can also just click on the Donate button in the upper right corner if that’s the route you’d prefer to take.

Combat Climate Change in Your Own Life

Most of these suggestions are Oregon/Portland Metro-specific. I’m just speaking to what the majority of my audience will find relevant. For a whole host of ideas on how to combat climate change no matter where you live, I advise checking out NRDC’s Get Involved page and the Union of Concerned Scientists’ Climate Change Solutions page.

Sherman County Windmills
Windmills amid wheat fields in Sherman County, Oregon. This growing industry not only allows farmers to turn a larger profit on their fields, but also helps contribute to combating climate change. © Sam Beebe, Creative Commons

I want to remind you that this list is a work in progress. I welcome your input. Please post your (well-researched) ideas in the comments below!

Again: Up-to-date and accurate information on the Eagle Creek Fire is available here: https://inciweb.nwcg.gov/incident/5584/

Banner Image: The Eagle Creek Fire, viewed from the Washington side of the Gorge on Sunday, Sept. 4. The fire has since spread to the Washington side. © Jeff Fisher & Jennifer Love

Building a Positive and Comfortable Community at Oregon Country Fair

Building a Positive and Comfortable Community at Oregon Country Fair

Nestled in the trees, teeming with positive energy, and showcasing stunning local crafts, Oregon Country Fair is an amazing experience. Held annually since 1969 in Veneta, 15 miles east of Eugene, this fun and funky event is an Oregon tradition.

I finally took part in this tradition in summer 2017, spending a long weekend camping near the fair with friends and my boyfriend. OCF far exceeded my expectations, and I highly recommend attending. The best part, to me, was the atmosphere.

Welcoming and Positive

Oregon Country Fair Stilt Walkers
Stilt walkers are a common sight at Oregon Country Fair. © Jenni Denekas

The atmosphere at Oregon Country Fair was consistently welcoming. From the moment my carpool pulled into our camp, we were told, “Welcome home!” When I was introduced to friends of my friends, I was enveloped in hugs. Passers-by greeted each other with, “Happy Fair!”

The conversations that occurred were generally upbeat. One of my friends kept steering us away from political discussions, reminding us that the fair is a special place, removed from the rest of the world. Focusing on the positive infused our experiences with a joyful, relaxed vibe.

Free expression abounded in various forms. People wore a whole array of unique outfits, adorned their camps with vibrant decorations, and passed their time with silly games. The fact that everyone was accepting and non-judgmental helped to make this possible.

A Supportive Community

Oregon Country Fair sign
Oregon Country Fair is a bit of a maze… an amazing one! © Jenni Denekas

A lot of people chose to use recreational drugs, but no one was ostracized for indulging – or for abstaining. I do not use drugs at all, and felt a lot more accepted and a lot less judged than I was expecting. As someone said, in reference to my energetic demeanor, “I take drugs to feel as good as you seem to feel naturally!” Essentially, as long as you were friendly and having fun, you fit in just fine.

Even when someone was having a hard time, they were supported. Indeed, the community atmosphere of OCF was apparent when folks helped those who were having a tough “trip.” More relevant to my personal experience, folks were also quick to help if you got lost in the labyrinthine fair.

I also saw the community spirit of OCF in action on our final morning at camp. One of my friends shouted out that it was my boyfriend’s birthday, and everyone sang to him. Afterwards, one guy gave my boyfriend the “key to his new age.” Later in the day, my boyfriend and I re-visited one of our favorite stalls. The man running the booth presented my boyfriend with a birthday grapefruit. This was apparently one of the “best grapefruits in the world,” no less.

Indeed, impromptu giving was common at OCF, and the atmosphere was welcoming and respectful. I sincerely hope this was the case for everyone in attendance.

But I want to note that, as a white woman, my appearance may have influenced how I was treated and therefore what my experience felt like. In other words, it’s time to talk about privilege, race, and cultural appropriation.

Race and Cultural Appropriation

I could see how a person of color may feel less comfortable than I did at OCF. Cultural appropriation abounded, including some people who shouldn’t have been wearing feather headdresses. (Alas, they were.) Some booths showcased traditional crafts made by people who were not part of that culture. On the plus side, there was a display about local tribes, their culture, and the genocide rained upon them in the 1800s by white settlers. I’m not trying to excuse the appropriation that I noticed, but I am glad that there was some acknowledgement of the tribes and their history, at least.

My boyfriend and I also noticed that there were not many POC at the fair. Obviously, Oregon is not the most diverse state, but the attendance at OCF still did not seem to reflect the state’s population – and I have to wonder why. Perhaps cultural appropriation makes it unappealing. Perhaps the referral system for campgrounds (which I will delve further into in a moment) means that long-time white attendees invite their white friends, thus creating a cycle. Perhaps something else is at play. On the plus side, I did see a “Black Lives Matter” poster in the fair, and my boyfriend (who is half Japanese) said he felt comfortable and welcome at OCF. Again, I’m not trying to excuse the problems I noted; I’m just pointing out some positives.

A Comfortable Space for Women

A moss peace sign near the Community Village in Oregon Country Fair.  © Jenni Denekas

On the other hand, it was really comfortable to attend the fair as a woman. This especially struck me when I went to the large bonfire/drum circle, and was dancing in a crowd of joyful hippies. I realized OCF was the one and only time in my adult life that I have danced in a crowded place and not been groped. Although that is a sad commentary on our society as a whole, it is a positive commentary on what OCF is like – at least, in my experience.

Of course, I can’t speak to everyone’s experience – and if anyone has something to share, I would be happy to help bring it to light. I did notice flyers by some of the restrooms about reducing the rate of assaults at OCF, which implies that that does happen. And of course, once is far too many times for that to occur.

However, what I experienced and witnessed suggests that it was a relatively safe space for women.

For instance, I was pleasantly surprised that I never saw any of the many topless women being catcalled, mocked for not having a “perfect” body (whatever that means), or otherwise treated any differently than anyone else. Folks seemed to maintain eye contact and treat these topless women with just as much respect as anyone else. I also was glad to see diverse body types baring it all. It seems that body positivity is alive and well at OCF.

There also was an awesome area set aside specifically for women at the fair. This space is the Moon Lodge, a magical den among lush vine maples draped with diaphanous fabric. Filled with comfortable nooks, this space provides a welcome escape from the bustle of the fair. Visitors can read feminist books, draw, chat with other awesome women, test out various tinctures, listen to a talk, or participate in a ceremony. The Moon Lodge also offered information on sexual assault and domestic violence, and free tampons and pads. It is an all-around great resource for women and girls. I was also glad that I didn’t feel the need to retreat into this haven due to anyone’s bad behavior; it was simply somewhere that I visited voluntarily, and enjoyed a lot.

Referral System for Camps

Camp at Oregon Country Fair
Home sweet home in the trees, at a camp near Oregon Country Fair. © Jenni Denekas

So how does this great atmosphere come about? I think the safe and welcoming vibes at OCF stem from the fact that the camps require referrals. For instance, to stay at our camp, one had to be invited by someone who has camped there before. Then each guest still has to fill out an application in order to be approved. Additionally, at our camp, they would throw out troublemakers and whoever invited them. By relying on networking and on strict consequences, the camps help facilitate a safe and enjoyable atmosphere.

However, as I previously mentioned, I wonder if the referral system perpetuates a lack of racial diversity at the fair. I recently heard of some discouraging statistics that indicate that 75% of white people in the United States do not have any close friends who are people of color (link here; get ready to be sad). If that is the case, then the white people who already camp near OCF will invite their white friends, and the demographics of this event will not change. Referrals will not fix this situation, obviously, so it seems necessary to implement new strategies to address the lack of diversity.

Though there are some potential areas of improvement, I was overall impressed with the atmosphere at Oregon Country Fair. Indeed, the vibe was the best part of the entire experience. I can understand why a lot of people consider it a home-away-from-home, and keep coming back.

Ready to plan your visit? Check out my Oregon Country Fair page, or visit the OCF official website.

Have you been before? Share your OCF experience in the comments!

Having Empathy when a Hiker Makes the News

Having Empathy when a Hiker Makes the News

It is inevitable: After someone dies or is maimed in an outdoor accident, online hiking forums are filled with conversations about all the mistakes that person made. Someone goes on about how inexperienced people shouldn’t be out there. Someone goes on about how they shouldn’t have been alone. And so forth.

Though of course we can learn from these tragedies, it makes me uncomfortable to talk about those who have died in a way that implies it was their fault. Accidents happen. I speak from experience: Even when I’ve been well-prepared, I’ve found myself in sticky situations. I am sure we all have. Many of the tragic accidents that make the news are, in fact, highly relatable for those of us who hike, climb, and run. So why the lack of empathy?

I think denial is at play when we blame those who die in outdoor accidents. We are afraid that it could be us next time, and therefore we try to distance ourselves from the situation. When we criticize the specific hiker, and emphasize the mistakes he made, we try to make it feel less likely that it will happen to us. We argue that we are smarter, more skilled, more invincible.

That is cruel, obviously, and it also puts us at risk. Explaining why we’re better and safer isn’t going to change the fact that outdoor recreation is inherently dangerous. This is another reason that empathy is important: Tragedy breaks down our sense of invincibility. It personalizes the problem, and, ideally, forces us to pay attention to what we could do better.

Which brings me to the next reason that some people discuss hikers that make the news: Learning from their misfortune. These conversations are important, but some can make me squirm a little due to their callousness. Looking at a tragedy with empathy is not only the right thing to do, but it also makes it easier to learn more from a situation.

After all, the basis of both empathy and of learning is humility. When we are willing to learn something, that means we were humble enough to recognize that we were deficient in that area. When we ask for instruction, we are acknowledging that the teacher knows something we do not. When we realize that we could just as easily have made the same mistake as that guy, we can start to see the complexities of what happened and why. This is the gateway to a more complete understanding of how to stay safe in the wilderness.

So let’s discuss what we can learn. Obviously, each situation is different, and I encourage you to delve deeper into specific scenarios to learn as much as possible. I also want to repeat that my intention is not to criticize anyone. Rather, I think that the following points are worth mentioning for the purpose of making ourselves safer:

  1. Leave an itinerary and always check in with someone when you return. Communicating your plan makes it more likely that you will be found. Simple as that. It is also important to be thorough. What if you told someone where you were going, but not when to expect you back? They may not notice as quickly as they ought to that something is wrong. What if you said you were going to Mt. Hood, but didn’t say where exactly? It takes hours to search one river bed properly. How on Earth could you expect search and rescue to comb an entire mountain? SAR is primarily conducted by volunteers, and is often tied up in multiple rescues. They’ll do their best for you, but you should also try to make it easy for them. It is critical to be clear about your plans – and to place your trust in people who are responsible enough to take action if you go missing.
  2. Bring the 10 essentials and know how to use them. There are many different lists of ten must-have items out there, and the specifics are not important to me. You probably know better than I do what you need for the types of outings you do, after all. That is why I recommend the systems approach. It is a conceptual list rather than a concrete list, which allows room for adjustment based on the type of trip and the expected conditions. Regardless of your specific gear preferences, you need: Layers/shelter (exposure can kill you in a matter of hours), a means of obtaining clean drinking water (dehydration can kill you in 3 or fewer days), a means of obtaining food (starvation will kill you in about 2 weeks), a means of addressing any injuries, and a means of finding your way home (e.g. a map and compass). And don’t assume that you are going to magically learn how to use your gear in an emergency. Take it out of the packaging, experiment with it, and know how to use it.
  3. Last but certainly not least, you need knowledge! I highly recommend becoming a Wilderness First Responder. Take a survival class. Get avalanche certified. Do your research. Know your intended route and the terrain. Read books like Mountain Rescue Doctor. Be thorough and be smart.

I’m not trying to imply that those who die in the wilderness are stupid – though arguably those who try to take selfies with bison aren’t the brightest. I’m not trying to imply that those who die are inexperienced – although in some cases that is a factor. A huge component of survival comes down to luck – and thus we should exercise humility and empathy when it comes to addressing how others have fallen prey to the elements. Don’t be proud that you have survived; be thankful. Don’t condemn others for failing; learn from them. Don’t be afraid to get out there, but do be aware of the risks and prepare accordingly.

Good luck out there, and happy hiking!

Learn more survival tips on the Nitty Gritty page.

Read more human interest stories on the Moments page.

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.