Locations: Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park in California, the Oregon Coast via 101-N from Brookings to Cannon Beach, Boardman Corridor, Alfred A. Loeb State Park, Gold Beach, Port Orford, Bandon, Coos Bay, Sunset Bay State Park, Florence, Yachats, Beverly Beach, Newport, Lincoln City, Tillamook Cheese Factory, Cape Kiwanda, Cape Lookout, Hug Point
In honor of our four-year anniversary and my thirty-fourth birthday, Brie and I embarked on a five-day Oregon Coast trip. We drove from Portland to the northernmost point of the California Redwoods and followed it up with a three-day drive up Highway 101 to Cannon Beach. I love a long drive. I like to feel like I’m really going somewhere. I love Portland, my hallowed home, but I’ve always got one foot out the door.
Day One – Wednesday, March 2, 2016 – Brookings, Oregon
We had a six hour drive ahead of us, mostly on I-5 south. The drive through the Willamette and Umpqua Valleys, a drive I’ve done many times, was beautiful but I only had one thing on my mind: Redwoods. I know I visited them once on a road trip with my family as a kid, but all I remember is driving through a massive Redwood carved right over the road and a giant Paul Bunyon and Babe the Blue Ox with Redwood-sized balls (to my young imagination). We stopped as little as possible. When we reached Grants Pass and hopped on 199-S, aka The Redwood Highway, I kept my eyes peeled despite knowing it would probably be an hour or so before I saw a huge Redwood. We dipped into California for a minute before catching 101-N up to Brookings where we’d be staying in a rustic cabin for two nights at Alfred A. Loeb State Park. I kept asking Brie, “is that a Redwood? Is that a Redwood?” It was only a moment before I realized I didn’t have to ask. It was as if we turned a corner and passed through a veil revealing massive Redwoods towering over us on all sides. There were Redwoods and Spruces and Alders all together and I was amazed at how they could all be trees when the Redwood is like a whole planet unto itself. People had Redwoods in their yards! How do you just a have a Redwood in your yard?
It was starting to get dark with awful pissing rain. Rain or shine, we’d be hiking in the Redwoods tomorrow and I was asking the Universe for a birthday wish of, at the very least, no rain.
Day Two – Thursday, March 3, 2016 – Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park
Waking up in a Myrtlewood grove to the rich turquoise water of the Chetco River right outside our cabin door, under a clear blue sky, was the first of many miracles I would experience that day. Myrtlewood is strange. It smells so good on the breeze, peppery and slightly astringent, but if you pluck a leaf and hold it to your nose, it smells like cherry codeine cough syrup and something putrid. Nothing could have prepared me for that first view of the Redwoods and what it would be like to actually explore them. I had a similar feeling the first time I saw the Painted Hills or hiked the Eagle Creek Trail. Like insanity and magic and every good thing that’s ever happened to me all mixed up into something so impossible feeling, but there I was right in the middle of it. I got to be there. Gratitude. We drove less than thirty minutes to a back entrance of the Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park. We were in gorgeous coastal farmland the whole way and just like the day before, we turned onto a road and BAM. Redwood drama, light beams, perfectly illuminated spiderwebs and the greenest ferns carpeted all around us. It’s the off season and there was hardly anyone around. We’d stop the car in the middle of the road and I’d tell Brie to stand here, there. We kept that up all day. We drove up to the trailhead for the Boy Scout Tree Trail, beside ourselves with joy. Childlike and alive and held and light. So, so light. If you ever need to feel like a speck of dust in the Universe, inconsequential but still somehow a part of everything, go to the Redwoods. The mystery of those trees… some of them are literally thousands of years old. Think of all they’ve seen. Do you think they communicate to each other? I don’t mean to be silly. Those woods are abuzz with thick, shimmering energy and to bask in it is a gift I will hold onto forever.
Outside our cabin, the Chetco River
The trail was fantastic, one of the best I’ve been on. Nice rolling inclines and declines and it appeared as though the trees got bigger and bigger the further in we went. After our turnaround point at Fern Falls, we got goofy on account of some hiker fails. We didn’t eat enough beforehand and didn’t bring enough food. We were tripping over our feet and cramping despite it not being at all difficult. About a mile before the end, Brie twisted her ankle badly and our moods went south fast. When we finally got to the car we ate lunch and chocolate and were remarkably high on life again even as Brie’s ankle continued to swell, but that’s what Ibuprofen’s for. We drove down to Stout Grove, one of the crowning jewels of Jedediah Smith Redwoods SP. It isn’t the largest grove of Redwoods, nor does it even have the biggest trees, but it’s so incredibly striking, super accessible and away from most of the bigger tourist attractions. The Redwoods do not quit.
(Click – Boy Scout Tree – for trail write-up)
The coolest photo ever taken of me.
We decided to treat ourselves to dinner in town at Wild River Pizza, a funny place that kind of reminded us of where we work (we both work at the same local brewery, at two different locations). Being service industry workers, we always tip well, but we always tip a little more when we’re out of the city and the people at Wild River Pizza acted like we made a Christmas miracle happen. Excellent pizza, beer and service. We headed back to the cabin in the dark, another day phenomenally flying by us. We stood on the pitch black shore of the Chetco River and identified constellations. We tried to find Pisces on account of my birthday the next day, but couldn’t. We played a few card games (I annihilated Brie) and crashed the fuck out.
Day Three – Friday, March 4, 2016 – my birthday! – Brookings to Coos Bay
Nothing could be better than waking up on my thirty-fourth birthday in a beautiful coastal town, in my beloved Oregon amongst the Myrtlewoods and Redwoods, the Chetco River and my forever home, the Pacific Ocean. When you’re a triple water sign, sometimes you need a river and an ocean. I was full of love and hope and reflection. As we began the drive up 101-N, I thought about family and my mama, the crux of my clan. Growing up, I only saw her, scarcity-driven workaholic she is, for a sliver of time on the weekends. Sometimes, she’d look at me stricken with love and say, “Jenny, you’re so different. You’re so special.” I love her so much for that. It was another gorgeous day that was supposed to rain. I felt lucky, blessed. I don’t know how else to put it. I recalled a moment yesterday when I hugged a Redwood and through my heart I tried to send it this message, I want to give you some of what I have right now and I want some of what you have and let’s keep persevering because despite all odds, we are doing it so well. If you’ve never hugged a tree, I dare you to go to the Redwoods and try to resist.
Me hugging a Redwood in Stout Grove.
Fallen Redwood in Stout Grove. Looks like an eye.
We spent the day stopping at nearly every viewpoint along the way to Coos Bay. It was a two-hour drive that took about six. The entirety of the Oregon Coast is remarkable, but the southern coast is astonishing. Brookings, the Boardman Corridor, Gold Beach, Port Orford, Bandon, etc. Natural rock arches, dunes, etc. Giant oceanic rocks that look like faces, whales, houses, etc. I was doing exactly what I wanted to be doing on my birthday, seeing all that I could of this state I have loved so much for thirteen years with one of the people I love most.
We arrived at Sunset Bay State Park as the sun was setting. It’s your standard large campground, but the best part is it’s proximity to this amazing cove. We stayed in a yurt and were surprised by all of the tent campers this time of year. Brie and I only stay in parks during the cold seasons, in yurts or cabins. In summer we prefer a more dispersed tent camping scenario. I just can’t imagine tent camping in winter, or early spring as it may be. Or snow camping?! That’s a thing! I totally understand thru-hiking in poor conditions because you work your body so hard all day you’ll be able to just crash out at night in a good 0-degree sleeping bag, but I don’t get it any other way. Not to imply judgement because, honestly, I can’t say I’m not intrigued. We set our stuff up and hopped back in the car: my baby was taking me to dinner for my birthday. She said I could have anything I wanted, but I only wanted a burger and a beer. Back at the yurt, she gave me my birthday presents: a beautiful necklace crafted out of silk yarn by a Portland designer and an incredible pen and watercolor art piece she did of me hiking in the likeness of my tarot birth card, The Hermit. I sobbed. I felt so seen.
Day Four – Saturday, March 5, 2016 – Coos Bay to Beverly Beach
Magic fades… or, at least, our luck with the weather did. It poured all day with awful wind, but it was the best day for it because from Florence on, we were already familiar with that stretch of coast. We stopped infrequently, though we spent a good few moments in one of my very favorite places, Yachats. Thor’s Well, Cape Perpetua, Devil’s Churn, Smelt Sands, etc. I chose Beverly Beach State Park for our last night for nostalgic reasons. It was the first yurt I ever stayed in. I don’t think I even knew what a yurt was before then. I had only been camping a couple of times and thanks to Brie I was on the cusp of turning into the biggest nature dyke. Look at me now! The beach there is gorgeous. All of those fossils in sandstone! We had dinner at one of our favorite spots, Kam Meng’s, on 101 just north of the park.
Day Five – Sunday, March 6, 2016 – Beverly Beach to Cannon Beach to Portland
We loved being on the road with no agenda, no responsibilities and seeing everything we possibly could. I didn’t want to go home. We stopped at all of our usual haunts. Thrifting in Lincoln City, the Tillamook Cheese Factory for an ice cream cone and a thousand cheese samples. We spent a little time at Cape Kiwanda because I’m pretty sure it’s illegal not to. Cape Lookout and Hug Point. Skipped Ecola Beach and Oswald West because we’d been recently. Had lunch in Cannon Beach at Bill’s Tavern and then it was time to hop on 26-E home.