After my buddy Mike and I left the Columbia River Gorge, we had to decide what to do with ourselves. The choices were: head north into the mountains of Washington State or head west to the coast and then south to California. Given the weather and our lack of knowledge and planning for the Cascades, we made the pilgrimage to the Pacific. It wasn't the longest drive in the world, but we didn't see much because of all the fog and rain. Keep in mind, it had been pouring rain on us pretty much the entire time at this point, so finally seeing the sun come out at Cannon Beach was a welcome change. When we saw Haystack Rock on the horizon, we turned off the GPS and worked our way towards it the old-fashioned way. Parking found, packs on, it was time for COFFEE.
NOTE: In case you weren't aware, I'm hopelessly dependent on caffeine and if I go without it, I'm barely even functional. I also have a freakishly high body temperature all of the time and I like my coffee ICED. The fact that I couldn't get an iced coffee at the place we stopped at made me furious on the inside. Not really, but a little.
Once we made our way down to the beach, I was blown away by the expanse of the sand. I'm used to the tiny beaches a few yards deep on Oahu and the crowded ones in New Jersey (BARF). The sand was flat and when the occasional wave would wash up the beach, it turned into a beautiful mirror that the clouds would reflect on .
We were still pretty tired from the previous few days of hiking in the Gorge, so we decided we would set up shop on the beach for the night. The sun had been out for most of the day so we figured it was a good idea. Right? It never rains unexpectedly in Oregon. Great Call! We worked on getting the fire going which actually proved to be ridiculously challenging because all of the driftwood we found on the beach was wet on the inside. Once we had a fire going nicely, we did a joint (that's what my buddy's dad calls smoking weed) and shot the shit about how awesome our lives were at this point and how road tripping is considerably better than "life" at work. I've felt that way for a while, but now being out on a long trip in a new place was really confirming it. I'm simply not made to be packed into a train full of miserable people to go to work at a shitty job in a city full of people that hate each other so that I can make a paycheck to buy the things I need to be able to go to the job that I'm working to buy more crap and feed the cycle. It makes me think a lot of things and none of them are good. We, as a society, are out of our minds.
It was around this time at the rain started. There wasn't much warning, it was basically nice weather, nice weather, nice weather, DOWNPOUR. It didn't stop for a long time, either. We walked our selves back to the Jeep and set in for another night of car camping with the sound of coastal wind and driving rain crashing against the windows. Still, a bad night camping is better than a good day at work!
Waking up, the situation wasn't much better. It was raining, and hard. We rearranged our luggage in the car and started it up without opening the doors, heading south along Highway 101 hoping that the weather would eventually clear. A bit about Rt. 101: it's not the kind of highway you find between two large cities with four lanes per side and people driving like lunatics with their hair on fire; it was a nice two-lane main road with the occasional town and traffic light along the way. Even though it was rainy, it was a slow pleasant and drive through Oregon shore towns all the way south. It took us about eight hours, but we eventually hit the place that I wasn't even sure we'd make it to: Boardman State Scenic Corridor.
What a place! The land meets the ocean in an array of gorgeous cliffs, tree-topped sea stacks and natural stone bridges. I've seen it in a few pictures but nothing that could ever do it justice in person. Simply stunning. Our first stop was Natural Bridges overlook. I wanted to see Natural Bridges ever since I started planning the trip, but I didn't think we'd actually be able to get there because it was so far south. Now, we were locking the Jeep and finding ourselves a path down to the rocks below. It took us a few tries, but we eventually found the right trail and before us stood one of the most amazing sites we had ever seen.
The waves were crashing hard against the rocks and kicking up an enormous amount of sea spray. It was beautiful! After working our way down a steep grassy embankment to grab a few pictures, we decided that we were going to walk on the bridge itself. A short and sketchy hike later and we were there. Mike went first and I shot a few more cool pictures of him (see above) and then headed down the last stretch of trail myself to get on the bridge. I have a serious fear of heights that I've managed to push through my entire adult life. I managed to get over it during my time in the Marine Corps when we were rappelling from helicopters and climbing down mountains, but it had been a while and the sound of the waves crashing below me, the steep down-climb and the wet rocks at my feet got the best of me for a second. I watched as my buddy stood on the rock bridge and I was torn: do I turn back and take the safe and easy way out of it or do I man up and work my way down the rocks? It's not impossible, he's right there! It took me a solid thirty seconds of reminding myself that I'd been in far worse situations than that to build up enough courage to finally finish the job and get across to the bridge. SUCCESS! It was like some kind of weird movie but as soon as we both stood on that spot in the photo above, it started to rain again. We embraced it and put the camera away to take it all in for a bit. Sometimes, this is the most important and positive thing you can do. Just push the world aside and enjoy what's in front of you. We succeeded.
At this point, I felt the best that I had the entire trip because not only did we find a cool spot and take some killer pictures, but I had pushed through my crippling fear for the first time in a while and I was getting a serious endorphine rush. I headed back up the steep hillside first and snapped a few more pictures on the way up. When we got back to the Jeep, we proceeded to execute the most epic, window-shattering overhand high-five that the universe had ever witnessed and start the engine as we decided the best way to end the night involved a drive to California. We crossed the border not long after and then, after eating an ungodly amount of Sushi, we aimed the Jeep back north and car-camped at a rest stop along the side of highway 101.
The next morning, we woke up and Mike thought it would be a good idea to check out the Jedediah Redwoods since the park was only 45 minutes south of us across the border in California. At first, I was pretty skeptical because I figured they were just trees! How cool could they actually be?
Let me be perfectly clear: I've seen some crazy shit in my 31 years. I've been to an active warzone; I've seen massive explosions and a plane crashing in the middle of a city; I witnessed 9/11 first-hand and lots of other historical/sentimental events. I watched as the Terminator was elected governor of California. Nothing in the entire world has rendered me as speechless as the old growth Redwoods in that forest. NOTHING. We were driving along a narrow road in the fog and then suddenly, they appeared: utterly massive giants that were so much wider than our vehicle and towering so far overhead that we couldn't see the tops of them through the clouds. And they were everywhere! They were so immense that I felt a feeling that I haven't felt since the first time I saw the Milky Way with my own two eyes. It was just so surreal. I thought we were on another planet. By the time I even knew what I was doing, I had already pulled the Jeep over on the side of the road and grabbed my camera bag. When I regained my bearings, I found myself walking quickly into the woods with my lens cap making it's way into my pocket. As I came over a small, fern-covered hill, I simply froze. I was officially on another world.
That large tree to the left was about three hundred feet tall. I couldn't believe what I was seeing. It took me a long time to realize that I should probably head back to the Jeep and get on with the rest of the day, but I couldn't do it. It took me a good 30 minutes to tear myself away from that spot. I tried my best to drag my jaw along the ground and get back on with my life, but it was seriously challenging. Mike took over driving duty for a while as we figured out our next move and drove around the park for another hour or so. We ended up hiking a five mile loop trail in an old-growth grove called the Boy Scout Trail. Along the way was another massive, two-thousand-year-old tree that had recently fallen. To get up and over it required about a 15-foot climb both ways. Simply amazing. I didn't take as many pictures on the trail because the sun was out and the lighting wasn't the greatest, but it was no big deal. The eery quiet of the forest really blew both of our minds, too. We both stood still and held our breath and for a while, we heard absolutely zero. I know I've never been anywhere like that before.
I still had one place that I wanted to find along the Oregon coast, so we devoted the remainder of the day to tracking it down. It was a beach that I remembered seeing from a.) The Goonies and b.) from a social media post. It's a really hard spot to find because there isn't an official name or trail that leads to it; the only way to really figure it out is to hike out along the high cliffs of the shoreline and align the sea stacks in the distance. It took us about five hours, and we actually had already given up when we found it. We had been poking around the shoreline way too far south to no avail, and then I accidentally saw what I had been looking for in the sideview mirror as we were driving north along the 101. As I had already done a few other times that day, I stopped abruptly on the side of the road to confirm what I had thought I'd been looking at.
"THIS IS THE PLACE! 100% SURE!" I yelled back to the truck after running over to the edge of the cliff. Mike--who was undoubtedly tired of my shit at this point--pulled the Jeep forward so we could scout one last ocean bluff.
We trudged along the trail, strung out from a long day--no--a long WEEK of driving and hiking, until we came to a clearing on what seemed like a narrow ridge sticking out into the ocean. It was no wider than 20 yards across and covered in grass and pines. Stepping into a gap in the trees, I saw exactly what I had been trying so hard to find: a gorgeous view south over some insane looking sea stacks and jagged rocks with a perfectly sized flat spot that was almost destined to be used for a tent. We decided then and there that we would stay the night and headed back to the truck to grab our camping gear. About a mile later, we were back at the cliff and working quickly to get set up before the sun disappeared behind the horizon. After a short time, the tent was anchored, the weather reports were checked, and we were cracking open a couple of Sierra Nevadas to this:
We sat at the cliffside, again talking about how great our newfound lives on the road were and how we were dreading the drive north for the airport in the morning. It would be nice to be back home with our wives, but I will always crave the feeling of waking up on the ground and not having any obligations to meet other than getting out of my sleeping bag and going whichever direction I choose.
The night was perfect: the only sounds we heard were the waves crashing against the rocks below and the wind grazing the walls of our tent reminding us that we were three hundred feet in the air on the edge of a cliff. We were dirty and sore but it was the best sleep I had ever gotten. As the sun rose, we packed up and carried everything back, making our best effort to ensure we left the campsite in better condition than we found it. Even though it was essentially over, the journey reminded me that our lives are a gift and we can either take charge and live them the way we want to or we can allow ourselves to get painted into corners working lame jobs that do nothing but enrich a select few other people and create cages for ourselves in the process.