Thursday, January 26, 2017

Why, oh why?

Since going 'public' about my upcoming meander down Oregon's lovely coast, I've received a few different sorts of responses.  Quite a few of the "that's awesome! I wish I had the time do that.  It's something I've always wanted to try." sort.  Some of the "oh, I couldn't do that because of (insert ailment here)."  But the ones that catch me most off guard (and prompted this post) are the people that simply ask "why?"

Good question.

At first I didn't truly know.  Other than falling into the 'it's something I always wanted to try' camp, I didn't readily have a good answer.  Maybe that's enough of a reason... but I knew it was more than that.  The other obvious reasons I had were because the coast is gorgeous, because I would love to have a long-term opportunity to photograph the area, and because the potential health benefits of walking that far could certainly be a plus.

I've developed a fascination for thru-hiking - by reading of others who have done it.  I think I want to tackle the long trails, but feel it's better to get my feet wet in something less intense just to see if I *like* hiking like this.  I don't want to get out on one of the long trails only to find that after a week or two, it's not something I'm going to be willing to continue for weeks and maybe months on end.

I do want the challenge - both physical and mental.  I appreciate what it does for me, and the unexpected things I get back from pushing myself out of my comfort zone.  It worked well for me during the summers that I spent weeks at a time in work-trade programs - putting myself in a far off land, with people I didn't know.  Regardless of what I felt about the experience itself, I always had a new perspective on life afterwards.  It's this I love.

I also look at my potential future.  Unsure as we all are about where we'll be in a few years or longer, I only have to look within my immediate family.  My father suffers acute Rheumatoid Arthritis.  He progressed from zero to physically disabled in under 2 years.  He is still somewhat mobile, as much as possible with his pain and joint deformities.  He keeps upbeat about his situation, but wishes he was able to get out and do more.  I don't blame him in the least.  His regression has been difficult to watch... and I can't help but think about whether or not that's the direction I'm also going.  I've already inherited the knee problems, so who knows?  And the jury is still out on whether RA is hereditary - so there's always that lurking in the shadows.

Given Dad's situation, I decided a few years ago to get out and do as much with life as I am able. While it's possible. Before I'm in a potential situation where I can't do anything.  I'm thankful for Aaron's stance on these trips - he's my cheerleader, and I'm so appreciative.  I have completed some work-trade volunteer opportunities, which were amazing.  I'd like to go back and do that again.  And although it's not easy anymore, I still head to dance classes 1-2 days each week... because I'm still in love with it.  And I do like hiking - I've only done day and overnight hikes to date.  I feel like there's no better time than the present to head out for a taste of something grander.

This is my WHY.

My daydream... my 'someday.'

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

And I Enjoy Long Walks on the Beach...

I've hinted towards this, and discussed it a bit in more closed forums on social media... but realized I've yet to announce my grand plan to the graces of the world.

I'm training to do my first-ever thru-hike this summer!

Starting in early June, I intend to hike - from end to end - the Oregon Coast Trail (OCT).  It lists as being somewhere in the neighborhood of 390-425 miles total, depending on what you read.  The route changes some depending on Mother Nature and perceived safety to the public.  But essentially, it's a route from Astoria, Oregon (on the north end) to the California border, just past Brookings, Oregon (on the south end).  My initial research shows the hike time should range between 4-6 weeks - and given my grumpy knees, I'm estimating it'll take me closer to 6 weeks.

The 'trail' is a general term - there's actually very little trail.  It's a lot of coastal beach walking, and handful of forest trails, and a bit of road (to transition over larger waterways and areas that cannot be traversed by foot/boat).  So, really... as long as I don't lose that huge body of water on my right hand side, it's a pretty straightforward path to follow.

I've been interested in thru hiking ever since I stumbled upon Andrew Skurka's Great Western Loop hike back in 2007.  I'd followed his blog and updates for nearly the last half of his trip, but what really sealed the deal is when we were able to hear him speak at the local Travel & Adventure Show the following February after he finished.  Since then, I've learned and studied the more common thru-hike trails, and read the books (A Walk in the Woods, Wild, etc.). The 'big guys' like the Appalachian Trail (AT), the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), the Continental Divide Trail (CDT), and even more locally the Ice Age Trail (IAT).  The terrain on most of those freaked me out a bit - I mean, c'mon... flatland Midwest girl attempting traversing huge mountain terrains?!  What do I have to be concerned about...  :-P   That, and my ongoing knee issues have continually been a concern.  They've both been surgically rebuilt/realigned... and while they are better, they aren't perfect.  I still have daily pain and some mobility concerns.

So, I kept reading... daydreaming... and fantasizing about 'someday' trying a real thru-hike somewhere.  Until I came across an article online late last year about something called the Oregon Coast Trail.  Having been to the northern Oregon Coast a couple of times, loving the terrain, the scenery, and being close to the ocean, I began to dig a little deeper to see what it entailed.  To find out if I thought it might be something doable... by me.

And I think it is!  Here's why...

  • Again, it's a coastal hike.  With the Pacific Ocean as THE major landmark, the potential for getting lost or turned around seems highly unlikely.  
  • While there IS some degree of elevation change along the route, it's not as drastic as some of the big thru-hiking routes... staying somewhere between sea level and a few hundred feet.
  • The proximity to towns is a huge factor for a few reasons:
    • Resupply and groceries:  Everything I read has advised against packing and mailing resupply boxes (which is key in being able to do the longer trails).  It's not necessary on this route due to the closeness of towns along the route.
    • Assistance:  Should I have an emergency - medical or otherwise, I'll have a lot better access to help.
    • Escape:  And, shudder to think, if I finally decide that this whole long hike thing isn't working out (for any number of reasons), I have civilization nearby to help me get back.  Although, I really don't intend for this to come into play... if I can help it.
In addition to the convenience factors above, access to water is frequent and hiker campsites are plentiful.  And even if they're not, camping on the beach is legal (outside the view of residential homes, state park boundaries, and Western Snowy Plover breeding grounds).

While I joke about this being my "thru-hike with training wheels"... it's true, really.  Some might argue that it's not a 'real' thru-hike, but here's this:   I need an 'intro to thru-hiking' route where I don't have to be so concerned with logistics of route, logistics of food, etc... something to just get out and see if I like - and can physically handle - walking for days and weeks at a time.  I believe this is my answer.

AND, with successful (or nearly successful) completion of this route, I'll be significantly less hesitant about tackling one of the 'big guys.'  :)

From my 2014 trip: