Heavenly Valhalla by Gerry Feehan

The Oregon Coast – by Gerry Feehan

“It might rain a little,” cautioned a friend familiar with the Oregon coast in November. That prophecy shall rank high in the annals of understatement.

It poured every day — and most days, most of the day.

We arrived in Astoria, Oregon from Washington State via a 7-kilometer-long cantilever bridge spanning the Columbia River. Earlier that day we had braved a light (hah) drizzle and bicycled to Cape Disappointment, WA. A coast guard helicopter training mission was in session. I thought they’d warn us away as we peddled up but the crew was welcoming and chatted with us convivially about the rigors of cliff-side helicopter rescue.

One of the recruits asked if he could check out my Trek 29er. He asked me about its specs — composition, weight, gear ratio, etc. As he cradled the bike with two fingers, a few meters overhead, the whop-whop of rotor blades thundered loudly, dangerously. It was a fun morning and fortunately Cape Disappointment did not live up to its moniker.

Before our trip, I asked friends for Oregon recommendations. Many said, “Cannon Beach is a must.” Others suggested exploring the seaside State Parks. Someone else insisted we should not miss the unique lighthouses that dot the clifftops. I’m not a fan of lighthouses; you’ve seen one you’ve seen ’em all. But if it’s pouring rain, one may as well climb some steep spiral steps to a high dry lookout — if only to stare into a gray wall of drizzly emptiness. There are 11 of these old sentinels situated along Oregon’s 580 kilometers of coastline. They are all still operating and necessary. Pounding waves arrive unabated from Japan 8000 kilometers away. Gigantic stacks of rock, eroded from the mainland, lay in stony wait for the unwary mariner. When facing shipwreck, even with GPS, a guiding light is a welcome friend.

Lighthouse maintenance is a weighty matter.

The Oregon shoreline is so scenic, unique and alluring that we hardly noticed the incessant showers and did not let the marginal weather spoil our fun. And on those occasions when the sun did shine, like the glorious afternoon I golfed the famous Links at Bandon Dunes, our appreciation for the rugged winding beauty of Oregon’s coast was enhanced, magnified.

A great pleasure of oceanside touring is the prospect of fresh seafood. Oregon’s salty waters overflow with nature’s briny bounty. At Barnacle Bill’s roadside stand in Lincoln City we could not decide between fresh Dungeness crab, Yaquina oysters, albacore tuna or smoked salmon cream cheese; so we bought ’em all — and before leaving Barnacle’s parking lot we were gorged to overflowing.

Deep dark arrives early in the November woods of Oregon: around 5 pm, and light does not return until 8 am. Cell phone coverage is spotty. Wi-Fi is non-existent. Forget TV. What to do for six hours before bedtime? Talk to your spouse? Get serious. What did our ancestors do in the dark?

They discovered fire. A roaring blaze removes cold, fear, woe, all sense of time — even worries about the taxman. Amazing how, with a little kindling, a stack of wood, matches — and perhaps the friendly company of a beverage or two — one can be entertained for hours, contentedly watching a fire burn… while spending quality time with one’s loved one, of course . Availability of amenities varies greatly in Oregon campgrounds. The private ones typically have great services but are costlier and usually less appealing. The State Park campsites are beautiful, cheap and spacious but often lack the basics: showers, power and water hook-ups.

My morning cup of Joe is as important to me as life itself. One State campground had no electricity and prohibited use of generators. Thus, I had no way of firing up the coffee-maker. In my early-morning panic I smuggled the appliance into a bathroom with a plug-in, locked the door — and brewed to my heart’s content. Desperate times call for desperate measures. Man I enjoyed that John Joe.

Perking the ‘John Joe’.

In late November you can fire a cannon through an Oregon campground. The places are empty. Even Cannon Beach, bursting at the seams in August, is nearly vacant. The strand in front of iconic Haystack Rock became our semi-private realm. And we had the coves and tide pools of nearby Ecola State Park completely to ourselves.

Haystack Rock.

An anemone-filled tide pool.

Oregon’s northern shoreline consists mostly of steep cliffs, with an occasional sandy beach. But as one meanders southward the craggy vistas give way to remarkable dunes. These kilometer-wide sandy barriers guard terra firma from the pounding, invading surf. At Bullard’s Beach State Park we scurried up a mountainous dune, dwarfed, like tiny crabs summiting a sandcastle. We would have run freely down the sandy escarpment but ATVs blew by in all directions, spoiling the serenity. (I admit to a touch of FOMO watching the lunatic drivers crest sandy hills, whooping and hollering before disappearing into the next hummock).

Then the weather cleared, the winds calmed — and I teed it up at Bandon Dunes. After negotiating a ‘travel writer’ discount, I treated myself to a caddy. (Bandon Dunes is a traditional links-style golf course so players must walk — no carts are permitted.) On the signature par three, overlooking the Pacific, I invited my caddy, William, to hit a shot. His ball flew out over the precipice and disappeared into Davey Jones’ locker. William and I have a couple of things in common: we are both ex-lawyers and mediocre golfers.

(photo 710 – no caption)

Our Oregon road trip was nearly over. We returned to Bullard’s Beach for one last night. As we set up camp, I spotted a large bird waddling through the brush. A wild turkey. Americans celebrate Thanksgiving on the last Thursday of November. (We Canucks of course carve the turkey the second Monday in October – probably because by November’s end any bird north of the 49th is frozen solid.) I consulted my calendar. Black Friday was a week away. The turkey emerged from the woods, smugly picking through the remains of an old campfire, blissfully unaware that very soon millions of his fellow Toms would suffer a crispy fate in ovens throughout America.

The serene, rugged beauty of the Oregon coast in November is wonderful, unique, exhilarating. But after a few weeks of pounding surf, salt air, wet feet and the claustrophobic darkness of giant ancient trees, I was ready to go home. To Alberta winter and our cold endless horizon of blue sky and dry snow.

In a few short weeks, it would be time to thaw a turkey for Christmas dinner.

Gerry Feehan is an award-winning travel writer and photographer. He lives in Kimberley, BC

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