Tag: OCT Southern Coast

OCT South Coast Lodging, Section 2: Humbug Mountain to Bandon

OCT South Coast Lodging, Section 2: Humbug Mountain to Bandon

In this segment of the Oregon Coast Trail, accommodations are easier to come by. Continuing north from Gold Beach, you will pass through a lot of areas with solid lodging and camping options, which are, for the most part, spaced out evenly. There are also plenty of options to connect your destinations via the south coast’s surprisingly good transit system. Furthermore, after my first week, I was feeling stronger and more capable of logging higher mileage – likely you will, as well!

As I mentioned in my first lodging list, please note that your needs and preferences may differ from mine for a variety of reasons. Your budget, timeframe, daily mileage goals, fitness level, and a whole host of other factors will also determine where you stay and how long you remain there. Read about considerations to keep in mind as you plan your OCT lodging.

Jump to OCT South Coast Trail Data to figure out your daily mileage goals.

I listed prices for the places I stayed so that you can get an idea of what you may expect to pay, but please note that: a.) I did the OCT in the spring, rather than during the height of summer tourist season, and b.) Prices are subject to change. Please only use this information I provided as a general reference, and do your own research as to current prices.

I also experienced a bit of a snafu in Port Orford. As a result, my phone ended up in Davy Jones’ Locker, so some of the photos in this section are from Creative Commons. I specify the photographer in each caption. After the snafu, I had to leave the trail for a few days, and rejoined the OCT in Coos Bay. Therefore my descriptions of lodging north of Port Orford are based on a trip I did the summer prior to my 2017 OCT trek. The locations that I visited in 2016, rather than 2017, are marked with an asterisk (*). Though I researched each of these destinations thoroughly when planning my OCT trek, and researched them again when writing this post, and though I have been to some of them, please take the asterisked information with a grain of salt.

Night 7: Humbug Mountain State Park

Humbug Mountain State Park
View from the north side of Humbug Mountain State Park. Photo Credit: Mark Hillary, Creative Commons

I hiked north from Gold Beach and met a friend who was visiting me for the weekend. After a visit to the Prehistoric Gardens, an awesome dinosaur-themed highway attraction, my friend and I drove to Humbug Mountain State Park, a pleasant, forested location where we camped for the night. Lodging options within the campground include: Hiker-Biker ($5, cannot reserve in advance), reservable campsites ($17 plus online transaction fees ), and RV sites ($22, could be useful if you have a support crew following you!). NOTE: There are no yurts at Humbug. It was apparently unnecessary to reserve a spot, because there were still open campsites when we arrived on a Friday evening, but I was glad for the peace of mind.

The park was beautiful and quiet, and the restroom and shower facilities seemed to be new and well-kept. We built a nice campfire with a $5 bundle of wood that we bought from the camp hosts. It was a pleasant stay and I will gladly visit again!

Remember: Any time that you camp or hike anywhere, please practice Leave No Trace! Keep our Oregon State Parks beautiful!

Alternatively, you could choose to stay in the small town of Ophir (the end of the hike from Gold Beach before you’re forced onto Highway 101) and bus north the next day, or stay in Port Orford (see my recommendations below) and bus south to Humbug the next day to complete your mileage.

Night 8: Port Orford

Port Orford
Port Orford. Photo Credit: Jim Oliver, Creative Commons

For a small town, Port Orford sure has a lot of great lodging options, as well as nice restaurants. My friend and I stayed at the Battle Rock Motel ($75/night). I chose Battle Rock due to its price, positive reviews, and location. It is pretty much literally right across the street from the Battle Rock State Wayside, which is the end of the hike from Humbug Mountain State Park to Port Orford. It also was a short walk from Redfish, a delicious restaurant that we visited for dinner, and Hook’D Café, a delicious diner that we visited for breakfast the next day.

Our room at the Battle Rock Motel was basic, but clean, quiet, and really spacious – the latter three are what I care about! We enjoyed our stay and would be happy to visit again. Yet again, I had reserved this in advance, but they still had vacancies when we arrived – even on a Saturday. I wouldn’t count on that, of course, and I don’t spend much time in Port Orford, so I can’t speak to how common that is.

Alternatively, one of my dream destinations is the WildSpring Guest Habitat in Port Orford. They have luxurious outdoor hot tubs – which would be so satisfying after a lot of hiking! This place sounds ridiculously nice, but I decided it was a bit too expensive this time. Hopefully one day!

Again, there are quite a few options in town, and if neither of the places I have mentioned strike your fancy, I would recommend checking out the Chamber of Commerce website.

* Night 9: Cape Blanco State Park

Cape Blanco State Park
Lighthouse at Cape Blanco State Park. Photo Credit: Rick Obst, Creative Commons

North of Port Orford is stunning Cape Blanco State Park, the next stop I would recommend along the OCT. Cape Blanco is the westernmost point of Oregon, and is home to Oregon’s southernmost lighthouse. The park features sweeping ocean views, in addition to a nice campground.

The campground offers the following options for accommodations: Hiker-Biker ($5, cannot reserve in advance), reservable campsites ($17 plus online transaction fees ), cabins ($41-$51 plus online transaction fees), and RV sites ($22, could be useful if you have a support crew following you!). This park also has a horse camp.

As mentioned above, a snafu in Port Orford caused me to miss a few days of my trip, hence the asterisk. I am writing this description based on a brief stop I made here the summer before, thus the reduced amount of detail.

* Night 10: Awesome Remote Spot!

North of Boice Cope
The beach north of Boice Cope County Park. Beautiful, quiet, and not a soul around. © Jenni Denekas

North of Boice Cope County Park is what some people consider the most remote spot on the Oregon coast. In this area, Highway 101 bends inland. The highway is separated from the beach by farmland (including some cranberry bogs), and then the farmland is separated from the beach by a river that parallels the shoreline for several miles. The two main access points to the beach in this area (Boice Cope to the south, and China Creek to the north) are about 15 miles apart. In between, this relatively pristine beach is quiet, isolated, and most likely, all yours.

In summer 2016, my then-boyfriend and I spent a weekend on the southern coast. We spent our first night at Boice Cope County Park, which I also recommend. It was a nice campground, right next to Floras Lake, and sheltered from the wind. Although it was pretty crowded, which isn’t my preference, we had pleasant interactions with our fellow-campers. We also enjoyed learning about the windsurfing and kiteboarding that goes on at Floras Lake. However, in my opinion, you might as well continue up the beach to a truly remote and magical spot!

The next day, we walked 7-8 miles up the beach to that magical place: The most isolated spot on the coast, according to the guidebooks and websites I consulted prior to our trip. We were out all day, and only saw one other person. As luck would have it, it was a guy hiking southbound on the OCT! He broke into a wide grin as he approached us, because, apparently, he hadn’t seen anyone else for quite a while, and we stopped to chat. I don’t recall your name, mystery-hiker, but thank you for sparking my interest in the trail!

Snowy Plover Closure
A fair amount of dry sand is roped off during snowy plover nesting season to protect this endangered shorebird. Please respect these closures. © Jenni Denekas

Please Note: This area is prime nesting ground for the endangered snowy plover. As my then-boyfriend and I joked, these birds are not very good parents, because they dig shallow nests in the dry sand, where their eggs are in danger of being stepped on by humans, and they readily abandon their nests when humans approach. Though they would probably increase their own species’ odds of survival if they improved their parenting skills, this does not mean you are off the hook. We humans must be responsible visitors to this beach, and you must respect area closures in place to protect nesting snowy plovers. Stay off the dunes, stay out of closed areas, and please camp in the area directly between Boice Cope and China Creek, the only spot where it is legal to stay overnight. Even if you stop early, please note that the beach is wide enough that you can pitch a tent well away from the surf, while still respecting snowy plover habitat. We can all be winners here. So don’t be an endangered-species-killing loser. K thx.

Alternatively, in this area, you could also stay at Floras Lake House Bed & Breakfast, located near Boice Cope. I haven’t stayed there, but it looked really nice when we drove by, and you can’t beat the location!

* Nights 11 & 12: Bandon

Bandon
Beach in Bandon. Photo Credit: Bill Reynolds, Creative Commons

Bandon is a beautiful small town, with tons of sea stacks offshore. I have visited a few times and am always eager to return.

As mentioned above, a snafu in Port Orford caused me to miss a few days of my trip, hence the asterisk. I am writing this description based on a trip from the summer before, as well as a lot of research I did for my OCT trek.

In summer 2016, my then-boyfriend and I spent a night at Table Rock Motel. It was a pleasant and quiet motel, albeit the room was a bit small and basic for the price we paid. However, I’d be happy to stay there again, eventually.

I elected to book a room at a place that didn’t hold memories for me when I was planning my OCT hike. I reserved a room at Bandon Inn ($99.50/night, including tax), which, based on my research, seems really nice. I also chose Bandon Inn due to their central location, within gimping distance of a lot of restaurants and shops – perfect for a tired hiker! They were also really understanding when I had to cancel my reservation. Please note, however, that I haven’t actually been there, so I can’t fully attest to what this place is like.

I had planned to spend my second night in Bandon at Bullards Beach State Park, on the north side of town. This was the starting point for the next day’s hike, so that made logistical sense to me, as well as financial sense (obviously camping is cheaper than hotels and motels!). Lodging options within the campground include: Hiker-Biker ($5, cannot reserve in advance), yurts ($41-$51), horse sites ($19), and RV sites ($26-$29, could be useful if you have a support crew following you!).

If these options don’t appeal to you, I would encourage you to check out the Bandon Chamber of Commerce website. There are a lot of places to stay in town!

The only place near Bandon I will say that you SHOULDN’T STAY is the Bandon Dunes Golf Resort. They have a problematic history with trying to weaken protections for Oregon’s public shoreline and trying to expand their resort in ways that would (and did) negatively impact coastal habitats and parks. Read more here and here. And if you think the battle is over, think again: It shifted north instead. And they’ll try again. Trust me.

North of Bandon, there is a pretty significant breakdown in lodging options, and in the OCT. I elected to bypass this area and rejoin the trail in Coos Bay. From Coos Bay, I took a day trip to the beautiful trifecta of Oregon State Parks: Sunset Bay State Park, Shore Acres State Park, and Cape Arago State Park. Though arranging a visit to this area without a car seemed a little daunting, it is ENTIRELY WORTH IT. As in, you are doing something wrong if you don’t go there. I explain how to visit this must-see area in more depth here.

I will discuss lodging options near Sunset Bay, in Charleston, and in Coos Bay in my next OCT Accommodations post. Stay tuned!

Go back to OCT South Coast Lodging, Section 1: Smith River, CA, to Gold Beach, OR.

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OCT South Coast Lodging, Section 1: Smith River, CA, to Gold Beach, OR

OCT South Coast Lodging, Section 1: Smith River, CA, to Gold Beach, OR

There are some significant gaps in terms of lodging and camping options along the southern Oregon coast. Creativity and/or high-mileage days will help you garner places to stay in this span. Here I’ll list your options, but with a heavy emphasis on what I did. That’s partly because I can only speak to what I have experienced myself, and partly because there aren’t that many other options.

Please note that your needs and preferences may differ from mine for a variety of reasons. First of all, I was northbound, and therefore this was the first part of my journey on the Oregon Coast Trail. Seasoned southbound hikers would likely be able to hammer out more mileage, thus bridging some of the gaps in lodging. I also took some long rests in a few towns, which I personally benefited from, but you may not need. Your budget, time frame, daily mileage goals, fitness level, and a whole host of other factors will determine where you stay and how long you remain there. Read about considerations to keep in mind as you plan your OCT lodging.

Jump to OCT South Coast Trail Data to figure out your daily mileage goals.

I’ll list prices for the places I stayed so that you can get an idea of what you may expect to pay, but please note that: a.) I did the OCT in the spring, rather than during the height of summer tourist season, and b.) Prices are subject to change. Please only use this information I provided as a general reference, and do your own research as to current prices.

The Night Before: Stay Near the Border

Lodging Options: Solid (A few choices, good reviews)
Camping Options: Non-Existent
Jenni’s Recommendation: Casa Rubio (0.3 miles south of the border)

There are NO CAMPING OPTIONS right by the Oregon-California border and Crissey Field Station. Google Maps claims that there is a US Forest Service campground by Crissey, but that is NOT TRUE. So your options are to:

  1. Stay a little farther north, in Brookings, and bus/hitch (or walk) to the border the next day, or
  2. Stay a little farther south, in Smith River, California, and walk (or bus/hitch) north from there.

Since I didn’t want to miss a single inch of Oregon and wanted to actually walk across the border (and take a picture with the “Welcome to Oregon” sign), I decided to find a place in Smith River. I originally hoped to stay at Casa Rubio, 0.3 highway miles from the border. My friend and I ended up staying at Sea Escape Oceanfront Lodging, 1.6 miles south of the border ($108/night). I found this place on AirBnB. (NOTE: The motel does not list its name on AirBnB, and the address/location is incorrect so I initially THOUGHT this was Casa Rubio, and I was a bit disappointed to find that it was actually farther south.) When I realized my mistake, Casa Rubio was already booked, so I kept my reservation at Sea Escape.

Our cozy motel in Smith River
Sea Escape Oceanfront Lodging.

Sea Escape was fine; our room was cute and cozy, and we had a small kitchen area with a stovetop, refrigerator, microwave, sink, and dishes. The room had a slightly odd, musty smell, but we weren’t there long enough for that to be an issue, even for me (I’m like a canary in a coal mine with my asthma!).

A big plus: We were able to just walk out the door the next morning and get down to the beach.

These formations were beautiful but treacherous. We cut up to Highway 101 to circumvent this.

However, after only about a mile, we had to cut up to Highway 101 because we ran into a big, rocky headland. Since the cliffs overlooking the beach in this area were all covered in private homes and vacation rentals, we had to climb someone’s staircase and cut through their yard to reach 101 (sorry!). This is another reason that I would have preferred to stay at Casa Rubio: It would have been more straightforward to walk into Oregon. It would have been an easy, short jaunt on the highway, or an easy, unimpeded beach walk, based on my Google Earth observations. Casa Rubio also has good reviews, but I can’t personally speak to what it’s like to stay there, of course. From a purely logistical standpoint, however, I would recommend Casa Rubio.

How to get there: My friend and I took the Greyhound from Portland to Smith River ($98). After Medford, we left the official Greyhound bus and traveled the rest of the way on a local bus that collaborates with Greyhound (included in the $98 Greyhound ticket). Local buses on the coast are really laid-back, and we were able to request that the driver drop us off right in front of our motel. That was awesome! Read more about transit on the southern coast.

Night 1: North End of Brookings

Camping at Harris Beach State Park
Home sweet home, night one. A skunk visited us!

Lodging Options: Great (Many choices, good reviews)
Camping Options: Harris Beach State Park
Jenni’s Recommendation: Harris Beach State Park

My friend and I camped at Harris Beach State Park (pictured, top and right), on the north end of Brookings. This is a stunningly beautiful park featuring sea stacks, beaches, and coastal rainforest. Lodging options within the campground include: Hiker-Biker ($5, cannot reserve in advance), reservable campsites ($20 plus online transaction fees ), yurts ($43-$53, could be useful if you want to save pack weight and not bring a tent), and RV sites ($28-$30, could be useful if you have a support crew following you!). Since I began my trip during spring break for most Oregon schools, I didn’t want to risk not having a spot at the end of the day, and chose to reserve one of the $20 campsites online. The campground was pretty full, but the hiker-biker camps always seem to have spots available, so it was probably unnecessary to do that. I was glad for the peace of mind, though.

One thing I’ll note is that my friend and I were careless about storing/hanging our food that night, and a skunk ate some of our oatmeal. When I tried to scare the skunk off, he was completely unimpressed. I retreated into the tent so I wouldn’t get sprayed. That was definitely our bad for being careless, but it does seem as though skunks are habituated there – based on our experience, as well as conversations I had along the trail. Please do your part by being diligent about how you store your food. This will be better for you, as well as for the next people who pass through the camp.

Alternatively, you could choose to stay in Brookings. There are a lot of options in town. From a purely logistical perspective, I would recommend staying on the north end of town so that you do not have as much mileage to do the next day. There is only one official place you can stay the next day, and it’s about 9 hilly miles away from Harris Beach. When I was at the start of my trip and trying to get back into backpacking shape, that was a lot!

Night 2: Whaleshead

Lodging Options: Only One, Too Expensive
Camping Options: Gotta Get Creative
Jenni’s Recommendation: Stealth Camp

There are two options in this area: One legal, and one illegal. One is expensive, one is free (unless you get caught).

Legal Option: Whaleshead RV Resort, which has cabins for rent (the cheapest seems to be $169/night) as well as RV spaces (again, potentially useful if you have a support crew following you). I called in advance, and was told that they didn’t allow tent camping on their property. I was also not interested in paying so much for such a basic cabin. (However, they redeemed themselves in my eyes when they let my friend and I sit in their lobby for a little while to warm up and dry off at the end of a brutal day of sideways rain. Thanks again!)

There isn’t a place to stay other than Whaleshead for the 16.9 highway miles (20 or more trail miles) between Harris Beach State Park and the campground at Pistol River.

This nice, open, flat, grassy area would hypothetically be a good (albeit illegal) campsite.

Illegal Option: The alternative in this area is “stealth camping.” Note that the entire Samuel H. Boardman State Scenic Corridor is officially day-use only. It is illegal to camp. If you DO follow through on this, DO NOT blame me if you get caught. DO be aware of the consequences. Most importantly, DO NOT TRASH THIS BEAUTIFUL PLACE. Put the “stealth” in “stealth camping” and make sure that you practice Leave No Trace techniques to a “T.” If you are unfamiliar with LNT, read more here.

I would hypothetically consider the day-use area at Whaleshead, which is nearly directly across the highway from the Whaleshead RV Resort, to be a good spot for some “stealth camping.” The OCT emerges from the forest into a lovely, shaded, grassy, flat area that is set back from an outhouse and a parking lot far enough that one would have some privacy if one were to set up a small tent there.

Morning at Whaleshead
Morning at Whaleshead.

This spot is right next to Whaleshead Creek, which we did pump some water from as we passed through. This area seemed quiet at night (it’s officially day-use only and is down a steep, gravel road that seems to discourage many from driving down), and would be really beautiful, hypothetically, to wake up to. There are some picnic tables in the vicinity, too. Again, this is NOT LEGAL to do. I’m simply stating that if a hiker was hypothetically desperate for a place to sleep, and didn’t want to pay an absurd amount for a cabin, this seems like a good, safe spot for a hypothetical camp. And again, if you ever are to do this, please practice Leave No Trace – in fact, you ALWAYS should when you camp, no matter where you are!

A seasoned hiker could blast through this area in one day, but 9 miles of ups and downs in brutal weather was enough for my friend and me on Day 2. By the trip’s end, I probably could have done Boardman in one go, but certainly not at the start!

Night 3: Pistol River, Stealth Camping, or Gold Beach

Lodging Options: OK (Gold Beach has a lot of options, though you’ll have to backtrack the next day)
Camping Options: One Legit Option (Pistol River)
Jenni’s Recommendation: Pistol River Campground

Pistol River
Looking north from Pistol River State Park, towards the river itself, and Gold Beach Beyond.

There is no evidence of this campground online, but there IS one at Pistol River State Scenic Viewpoint. It’s across Highway 101, away from the ocean. My friend and I didn’t stay there, but we saw the signs for it! Logistically, I think this would be the best option for the pace/mileage we were doing. What I would envision is hiking from Whaleshead to Arch Rock Viewpoint (about 10 trail miles) and then getting a ride to Pistol River (otherwise you have a lot of highway walking ahead of you). This would put you in place to hike about 15 miles into the town of Gold Beach the next day.

Alternatively, there is a spot called Secret Beach near the Arch Rock Viewpoint in the Samuel H. Boardman State Scenic Corridor. Word is that it has been used for camping before. I would be cautious about using this spot, though, especially in the spring and fall, when waves are driven higher by storms. During the time I was doing the OCT, that would not have worked out. Also, please note, again, that Boardman is OFFICIALLY day-use only. Camping there is illegal, but hypothetically could be done with discretion.

I suppose one could also hypothetically camp at the Arch Rock Viewpoint. There is a relatively large, forested area a little ways off the highway where one could pitch a tent. There is an outhouse and there are picnic tables. Just note that, again, this would be illegal, and that this is a very popular tourist stop, so you would need to arrive late and leave early to avoid detection. And again, if you are to “stealth camp,” then BE STEALTHY and LEAVE NO TRACE. Review LNT principles here.

Another option would be to get a ride at the end of the day from Arch Rock to the town of Gold Beach. The next day, you would have to backtrack to the Pistol River to complete the 15 miles of the OCT between Pistol and Gold Beach, but that would be easy enough to do by bus or hitching. See the entry below for my Gold Beach recommendations.

Nights 4, 5, & 6: Gold Beach

Lodging Options: Great (Tons of good places to choose from)
Camping Options: Two Good Spots
Jenni’s Recommendation: Pacific Reef Hotel

Gold Beach Books
The view from the second floor of Gold Beach Books.

Gold Beach is an adorable town, and a great place to spend a day or two resting and resupplying. There are two grocery stores, McKay’s Market and Ray’s Food Place; an Ace Hardware Store, where I bought a really nice knife after realizing I forgot to pack mine; a laundromat; some delicious restaurants; Gold Beach Books, an awesome bookstore that offers free shipping (useful when you want to buy everything they have but don’t want to fill your pack with books); and quite a lot of options for places to stay.

My friend and I stayed at the Pacific Reef Hotel ($75/night), which I would highly recommend. The room we shared was basic but spacious, clean, and comfortable. We had a microwave and a mini fridge. The staff were really friendly and helpful. They have an outdoor movie screen where they show a video about the southern Oregon coast each night (free), and at least when we were there, they also screened the adorable Pixar short “Lava,” which I recommend watching right now.

Pacific Reef also has a relationship with the Chowder House, which is literally next door. Guests at Pacific Reef are given a coupon for a free cup of delicious chowder, which was one of the most satisfying things ever after a few days of hard, rainy hiking!

There are quite a few other hotels and motels in Gold Beach, as well as some hotels and motels on the other side of the Rogue River in Wedderburn. There are also two camping options on the border of Gold Beach: Indian Creek RV Park (which DOES have tent camping), and Quosotana Campground, managed by the US Forest Service (first-come, first-served, 15 miles outside of Gold Beach).

Jump ahead to the next section: OCT South Coast Lodging, Section 2

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!

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.

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