Monday, November 22, 2010

Oregon

       This is probably going to be a mistake, but I’m going to try to cover my entire travels through Oregon in one post.  I have left my readership entertainment deprived over the last few weeks, but I’m going to try to make it up.  I think I’ve also left some readers confused as to exactly which coast I’m on.  One day it’s pictures from the east coast and the next it’s a video from a beach on the Pacific Ocean.  WTF is Ryan Fuller???
       Ryan Fuller is in Gold Beach, Oregon.  My journey in this state started in Astoria, at the mouth of the Columbia River.  The nickname for the intersection of the Columbia River and the Pacific Ocean is a good lead in to the general vibe one gets when walking along the Pacific coast, especially when winter is approaching.  It’s called the Graveyard of the Pacific.  I’m sure I’m not the only visitor to this coast that came with the mindset that a beach is a peaceful place - somewhere to take long walks and contemplate the finer things in life.  The beaches here aren’t of that variety.  Many carefree souls have no doubt found themselves trapped in a cove in high tide with monster waves crashing in on them, hundred pound logs being tossed around like sticks, anything and everything being smashed into the rocky walls of the shore.  Oh and here’s something else you won’t find in any travel brochure: a tsunami can strike the coast at any time.  Fun fun.

       At a museum in Astoria, I read about some of the hundreds of shipwrecks that have occurred near the Columbia River Bar.  Sometimes it’s human error, sometimes it’s mechanical failure and sometimes it’s the weather just takes over.  On one occasion, a ship just drove straight into the coast.  Apparently, the captain had been drinking and let an unqualified person take over the wheel.  The craziest part is that the unqualified person that was forced into taking over had their license suspended for longer than the captain!  That’s like a dad getting smashed on a family vacation and telling his learner’s permit son take the wheel at night during a severe thunderstorm and then punishing the kid more when he drives into a ditch.  On another occasion a Russian boat was sinking and the captain refused to be rescued at first for fear of what the consequences would be when he got home.  I’m sure he was given a pat on the back and a, “Oh I’m sure it wasn’t your fault.  Better luck next time!” but for some reason he was never heard from again.
       Also near Astoria is Fort Stevens State Park.  The military site originated when the US government realized in the mid 1800’s that one ship could basically take control of the entire western part of the country.  Granted, it was a very remote area at the time and very far from the major US cities, but I’m glad the military decided losing half the country was worth preventing.  This site also has the honor of being the first place in the mainland US to receive fire from a foreign country since the war or 1812.  A Japanese submarine during WWII was the attacker.  Probably to the dismay of all the soldiers there who spent months and months of doing nothing but drills, the commander of a nearby US fort that had a clear shot did not allow a shot to be fired back for fear of giving away their position.

    A day or so later I was at a Siuslaw National Forest coastal campground.  It took me probably twenty minutes to set up my tent because the wind was blowing so hard.  It was the most wind I have experienced while setting up my tent on this trip and I had a good deal of trees around me.  Finally, after I set it up and watched anxiously at how much the wind was shaking it, the campground host approached me and told me that a bear cub had been spotted walking around the campground that morning.  At the beginning of my trip I probably would have packed up and gotten the hell out of there, but after all the wildlife I’ve slept around, I was okay with it.  A golden retriever puppy ran into my campsite and bounced around like he was having the most fun in the world.  The owner came over and talked to me some while the dog pooped near my picnic table and then shook water all over me after playing around in a large puddle.  The owner and the dog were nice, so I wasn’t bothered by it.  While I was cooking dinner, it started hailing.  One might think that the accumulation of these natural disturbances would cause me to rethink camping, but I must have built up some kind of mental tolerance over the last few months because I never really considered not sleeping in my tent.
    The next morning arrived.  No bear cub.  I took a walk on the beach and saw a seal swimming twenty yards out.  I tried to get a good picture of it, but did not succeed.  I did take some pretty nice pictures of dead seagulls if anyone is interested.  Dead things are easy to shoot, what can I say.  I did manage to get a decent shot of some seals the next day, however.  Later, on the dead bird shooting day, I pulled over at one of the hundreds of places to do so along the Oregon coast and saw a lighthouse farther down the coast.  I walked over to get a better angle on it and heard, “AR AR AR AR.”  I looked over the edge of the cliff along the road and saw a few sea lions swimming in the ocean.  Just down the road from this I saw probably the biggest tourist trap there is on the Oregon coast: “World’s Largest Sea Lion Cave”.  I debated in my mind whether this was something I wanted to do.  I had seen wild sea lions from a distance; I had seen them up close at an aquarium.  Here was a chance to see them up close in the wild…kind of.  As I was walking in I saw a couple walk out with popcorn in hand and knew this probably wasn’t going to work out.  The gift shop there was larger than the gift shop of the aquarium and they were charging only $3 less there than the aquarium for an entrance fee.  Three dollars and a few hundred species less than the aquarium.  I turned around and walked out.
    A couple nights ago I camped on the edge of the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area.  I didn’t even realize what kind of dunes I was camping near until I walked amongst them the next day.  There’s a strip of them along the coast, about two miles in from the ocean and they are quite tall.  Some of them are around 500 feet tall and pretty challenging to climb.  I heard some buzzing sounds in the distance and walked to the edge of an area where ATV and four wheeler tracks were everywhere.  There were about a dozen of them riding around these hills of sand and a few made it as close to the bottom of the hill I was standing.  It started to rain and all of us headed out.
    Today, after a nice walk along the beach where another dead animal was photographed (seal), I decided to give my healing blisters a run for there money and hike a three mile trail up a mountain.  The hike was nice although it was a little foggy when I got to the top.  I think my ability to hike uphill is diminishing (not that it was ever anything great), so I’m glad I got a chance to work on my conditioning to prepare for a long hike in the near future.  On my way down near the bottom, I ran into a family of about ten and saw something that was definitely a hiking first for me: the dad in the rear was smoking a cigar.
    Oregon has taught me a few things about traveling.  The first is to learning to enjoy one hour of sun/non-raining period at a time.  I can’t remember ever feeling so guilty for being inside when the sun was shining than in this state.  November isn’t Oregon’s best weather month (like most places in the Northwest, you often hear, “From May to October it’s absolutely beautiful here.  The rest of the year?  Oh, well we usually fill it with alcohol, sex and anti-depressants.”  Kidding!)  but the ocean is still here, the lighthouses are still here, the beaches and the rocks are still here, seals and seal lions are all around and to be honest, you really don’t want to swim in the ocean any time of the year so why not visit when the coast isn’t jam packed with people staring at the ocean while they’re driving or letting their fifteen year old drive because they started getting drunk after they spent over $100 at the world’s largest sea lion cave.
    Well, I hope you enjoyed my Oregon tale.  I didn’t capture everything, but I think I covered most of the highlights.  Next up is Redwood National Park in California.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Ryan Meets the Pacific



I didn't have to walk along the Pacific Ocean very long before I realized it was a very different animal from the Gulf of Mexico.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Hiking in Glacier National Park

    A few days ago I was cooking dinner in Two Medicine Campground in Glacier National Park.  I was the only person there, in the heart of grizzly country and it was a bit scary.  It would be my third night in a row sleeping in a tent in grizzly country.  The first involved hearing a coyote howl in a field right next to me and the second involved being the only person in the campground.  I had also gone on a four or so mile, very cautious hike alone.  When you put all these experiences together along with the knowledge I gained from a ranger during a twenty minute question drilling session, I guess you could say I was only 95% of the way to being piss my pants scared as I spread the wonderful aroma of grilled cheese and vegetable soup throughout the giant forested mountains around the campground.
    I had driven to the other side of the campground from where my tent was set up to cook (yes, it was downwind), but I was still pretty concerned.  Right as I was about done eating (this wasn’t a sit down and have a nice picnic dinner, but more of a spin around in circles constantly looking in all directions panicky dinner) a car pulled up near a lakeside parking lot.  A guy got out, tried to open the ‘closed for the season’ bathroom door, and then got back in his car and drove off.  I thought he had left the campground for good, but turns out he had just gone to set up his tent.  Hurray! Company!
    Normally in these circumstances I would just leave him be as most people come to the woods to get away, but seeing that I was in grizzly country, I just had to talk to another person to feel that unwarranted, illogical sensation of security that comes with knowing another human being is nearby.  I talked with him for a bit and we figured out that we were both planning on going day hiking alone tomorrow and eventually we decided we would hike together.
    The next morning we set out on a trail to Upper Medicine Lake (about 4.6 miles one way).  He got me to lead at first because he thought I’d be faster (maybe in certain situations, but I take my time in grizzly territory).  After about twenty seconds of hiking, this giant set of antlers rises up from the grass about forty yards in front of us.  “Whoa.”  I stopped and lifted my hand.  We watched the moose for a couple minutes then decided to detour over a small hill along the mountain we were hiking next too.  After a few minutes of bushwhacking, we got back on the trail and not two minutes later we came to three moosettes thirty yards from the trail.  Crazy.  All of them lazily watched us and then kept on munching.
    The trail was mostly flat which gave us plenty of time to look at the 9000+ft peaks around us.  It was around freezing early that morning, but we didn’t even need jackets in the late morning sun.  We came upon a good sized herd (at least 15) of elk walking in the same direction we were about fifty yards from the trail.  In an avalanche path (where you don’t want to be at certain times of the year many more reasons than a bunch of snow heading for you) we saw a large bird in the distance which he said was probably an immature bald eagle.  I guess he must have been some kind of bird expert to be able to tell both the species and personality type from such a distance!
    The highlight of the hike was when we got to a small pond before the lake.  There was a male moose drinking at it.  It was of the skiddish variety because when we were within fifty yards it galloped away.  Every once in a while, it would stop, snort and then gallop fifteen or so more yards.  About fifteen minutes later we were both eating PB&J’s on a log along the lake and we heard a clatter of brush and some birds fussing.  We both figured it was the moose, but we didn’t have a lot of visibility in that direction so I hopped over the log, pulled out my pepper spray and unlatched the safety.  This was the first time I’d ever done it in the wild thinking I may need to use it (I had half suspected the moose might have ran because of something besides us before).  When the guy I was hiking with saw how ready I was he was very surprised and said, “Man, you were a gun slinger in a previous life.”  Very likely.
    We hiked back using another path, didn’t see much wildlife (and not complaining either since we had seen so much and if we really asked for more we might see the type we really didn’t want to) and eventually got to a suspension bridge that was disassembled (only the foot and hand cables remained).  We thought about what to do for a while and he climbed on a cable, but had trouble balancing and then had trouble hanging on, so he decided to go downstream and cross at a narrow gap.  I thought about it some and then decided I would cross using the cables.  The river was about twenty-five yards wide at that point and the cable hung around fifteen to twenty feet over the water at its highest point.  At first, I put one foot on each of the main bridge cables and held onto the two support cables above them with my hands.  I was able to slide one foot at a time, but wasn’t moving very quickly.  When I was just about to be above the water, I decided to change tactics and only use the left side cables.  I put both feet on the bottom cable and held on to the top cable and found that balancing was going to be very tricky.  I made another split second change (all of this is happening at about six feet above the ground) and decided to hang on from underneath the bottom cable only by hooking my crossed ankles on one side and then pulling myself forward with my hands on the other.  After a couple foot-slips where I barely managed to hang on with one foot, I made good progress, going about one foot per pull, but having almost all my weight plus the weight of my pack supported by only one arm was starting to wear on me.  About halfway through I tilted my head back and saw the upside down shore.  I slowed down my pace which helped my arms but the fatigue of it all was starting to wear on my fingers.  The guy I was hiking with still wasn’t on the other shore yet which I don’t know if I’m grateful or not for.  I kept looking back, wanting to make sure I was fully across before I let go with my feet.  Finally, I dropped to the ground when I was about four feet above ground.  I then walked over to a stump, tossed my pack aside, and chilled out for a minute or two, wondering if I would do that again if I’d known it’d be that hard.
    The rest of the hike went really well.  You get to know someone pretty well when hiking in bear country because it’s important to keep the conversation going.  He was a very interesting guy and we talked about a lot of cool things.  Maybe I’ll write more about it later.
    At the end of the hike, he drove into town to get some coffee and I sat on a bench along the campground lake and reflected on the hike.  As we were walking into camp I had jokingly said, “Wouldn’t it be funny if we hiked this whole ten mile loop without seeing a bear and then ran into one at the campground.”  We had a good laugh about it then.  But while I was sitting on this bench I heard a very distinct growl and leapt up and made a few quick steps toward my car.  I walked around a little bit, but didn’t see anything.  I think next time I’ll be a little more careful with my post-hike jokes.