Anniversary Coast Trip Part II
I’ve been trying to write about our anniversary hike up Cascade Head for a week, trying to strike a balance between the joy of ascent, hard work, and achievement with pain, suffering, and aging. It was a beautiful hike and all’s well that ends well, I just didn’t like how hard the hike was on my body, and I waver between “suck it up” and “badassery” and “when did I get so oooold? It’s made me rather grumpy I must say.
I have friends who can walk further and faster and higher and harder, and some part of me wants to do what others can do, wants to keep up, wants to do what I used to do. I want that body back (though I didn’t much appreciate it then).
Our miracle studded Neskowin Beachwalk earlier in the day was about three miles, and after a rest I felt good enough to climb Cascade Head, a short way south of Neskowin. I’d read a little beforehand – it was called a “moderate” hike. But alarm bells went off when I heard steep steps, steep slopes, steep roots. But then I also heard old growth, rain forest, breathtaking, gorgeous, stunning vistas. I supposed “steep” and “vistas” go together, and what the hell, it was worth a try.
We started at the Knight’s Park trailhead on the Salmon River estuary, and followed a path that skirted private properties and a public road before entering the forest. We passed the entrance to the Sitka Center for Art & Ecology, which I’d heard of, but now have this stunning location on my radar for a future writing workshop or even an “intergenerational” arts class to attend with my granddaughter!
The trail was well cared for and the signage clear, so I didn’t have to think about which way to go or whether a trail would peter out into the woods. I appreciated that as I
labored hiked upwards for two miles, spending every ounce of energy avoiding tripping on the enormous roots, hoisting myself up too steep steps, trying not to think about my twinging knees and aching joints, while pushing aside thoughts about the trip back down. And once again, where were my hiking poles? Doomed to be left behind forever it seems.
We came across several vigorous young people, unfazed and moving fast. I nursed my doubts about the suitability of the trail for me, but stopped often to take in the beauty or move aside on the narrow path to let people pass. “I’m just pretending to need a rest,” I told them as I stepped aside, panting. “This is why we go to the gym,” I told Alan. “Not because we like going to the gym, but because we like hiking.”
The wild 270-acre area was set for development in the ’60s but money was raised for the Nature Conservancy to preserve this rare ecosystem which includes some endangered butterflies and rare flowers (none of which we saw, nor the herds of elk that are seen frequently). Now, ironically, it’s threatened by so many visitors that they close trails off for part of the year, and don’t allow dogs.
After the climb through the gnarled and beautiful old growth rainforest of Sitka spruce and western hemlock, the path opened up into open grassland where most of the flowers had a summer’s end faded look. There was Queen Anne’s Lace, goldenrod (coast or cascade?), bull thistle, a few mountain asters, and a couple fading foxgloves. By the way, wildflowersearch.org is a fantastic resource.
By that time we’d come upon several older folks, some worse off than me. We shared our water with one woman who looked like death, so I did feel a bit like a badass. At least on the outside. I’d like to stop comparing myself to others, but it seems to be a bottomless well.
But then there was little time for comparisons or wildflowers. Here were the promised views, breathtaking, gorgeous, stunning, just like I’d heard, but even those words fell short. Firmly grounded yet above and away from it all, perched on the edge of the headland, the ground fell steeply away below toward the river and ocean, as a cool sea breeze fanned my face, like I was flying. I could have stood there for a very long time, resting and reveling.
It was clear enough to see a long way off to the south, as far as Pacific City, and enough fog-tinged sea air to feel good. Cascade Head was formed by a combination of ancient basalt lava flow and seismic uplifting, so familiar along the central and northern Oregon coast. There below us was Oregon’s wild seemingly-untouched beaches, rocky land formations, and wide open empty space; it’s rather miraculous after dwelling in city and suburb for so long. The Salmon River stretched out below, a sandy estuary and its confluence with the ocean. Further south a large rocky protrusion called God’s Thumb jutted out, another steep hike for another day.
The way down was as challenging as I feared. A few mantras hummed in my brain to get me down each painful stair step. We caught up to that tired older woman toward the end, thankfully looking much better.
But the view was forgotten and all I could think about was getting off my feet. I walked a total of eight challenging miles on my four mile body. Every muscle and joint berated me and the anti-inflammatories barely took the edge off. I even woke that night, screaming in a dream! But we were going home to a grand massage, and I wasn’t planning out my next hike, that was for sure.
Once recovered, it felt glorious to have seen what I’d seen and done what I’d done, conquered doubt, and did the best I could. I recently read this, and am hoping/planning to take it to heart: “true wellness is living as fully as you can within your circumstances.” I will probably never walk the Camino de Santiago or the Pacific Coast Trail, but I’ll keep looking for new places to go to soak in what the world has to offer, and try to push myself to do a little more than I think I can. After I pretend to rest a bit.