Category Archives: Calcaneus fracture recovery

Bull of the Woods Wilderness: Big Slide Mountain

November 6, 2010.

Dickey Creek Trail > Tr #555 > short ‘shwack to summit and back | 15 miles | ~3000’ ele. gain | 7 hours

I set out again, alone and in the rain, to explore another bit of new territory. The Bull of the Woods Wilderness is sandwiched between Mt. Hood and the Clackamas River. The trailhead for this hike is accessed via 63 (near Bagby) and some overgrown gravel roads.

Based on the quality and quantity of signage, both on the way to the trailhead and on the trails, this is a well traveled place. However, I’d have the woods to myself for the next seven hours. The hike begins among large, beautiful trees. Almost immediately I had to cross a stream, and although the huge log draped across it looked passable, it was so high off the river I thought if I slipped and fell I might not ever get back up again. So I detoured about 20 yards downstream to a more sane crossing, and I was on my way.

The trail loses about 500 feet of elevation as it snakes its way down towards Dickey Creek. The scenery was distinctively autumn in Oregon. Mushrooms erupted through the forest floor both on and off trail. Moss carpeted the ground. Dead and dying deciduous shrubs turned an array of colors as they dramatically transitioned into winter hibernation. Newts awkwardly wriggled across the trail. I decided to count them as I made my journey today.

As I settled into a comfortable pace, I felt the understory closing in on me…I forgot my rain pants. I cursed every snowberry and rhododendron that brushed up against me with its wet leaves. Just before arriving at a beautiful pond, I had to walk through a very dense and overgrown patch of wet, leafy, and thorny shrubs. I was soaked from the waist down and I’d just barely gotten started. I began getting cranky, then got a glimpse of the beautiful lake, and calmed right back down.

The real elevation gain didn’t really feel like it started until I was almost halfway to my destination. The trail traveled up and down, east, west, north, south, as if it couldn’t make up its mind. I loved it; no one muscle group got very sore before I had to switch gears and activate another set of muscles. It only took an hour to get to the creek crossing at the 3 mile mark. I had to scoot across one log on my butt, then step across to walk across another log to get to the other side. With my pants now completely saturated I was ready to get the climbing started. At least that would keep my body temperature up.

But the trail seemed to take its time getting anywhere. I walked peacefully through moist woods until I finally came across my first shot at a view. “This must be the big slide!” I thought. I walked across a large jumble of rock left behind by an old rockslide and looked at the talus slope above me. Once across, the trail dropped back into the woods. Shortly later, I crossed another slide…and another. Finally I made it to the BIG slide, the one the mountain was named after. It sure was big; it rounded several corners and seemed to go on forever. Just after the slide, the trail to Big Slide Lake detours downhill and my route turned sharply uphill. I passed two more trail junctions before reaching the final stretch to the summit. The character of the trail changed from quaint old-growth to burly sub-alpine meadow. The soil was thin and rocky; the plants clung fiercely to the ground in every opportune location. The trail traverses steep meadows covered in grass, kinnickinnick and other rugged plant life. The views across the valley to adjacent ridges must be fantastic on a clear day. I walked until the trail took a sharp turn downhill. I hadn’t seen an obvious scramble trail to the top of the ridge, which was obviously back and to my left, so I had to make my own. I searched around for the best spot to angle up on wet, loose rock and dirt. A little bit of slick-as-snot slab was thrown in for good measure. I stuck to areas with the most preferable footing and solidly rooted vegetation for handholds. A few minutes of terror and I was atop the precipitous ridge. It was windy up there; the air was cold and drizzly as well. I looked around at yet another non-view and returned to the trail.

Once I was out of the wind and back in the safety and warmth of the forest, I continued counting newts, brushing branches off the trail, and admiring mushrooms. I noticed I was losing a lot of elevation that I didn’t pay attention to on the way up. The trail was graded so nicely that even the uphill sections felt like a breeze. With just about 2 miles to go, I stopped for a snack and clothing change and, apparently, a big yawn. I inadvertently swallowed something that must have approached the size of a hummingbird because it got so deeply lodged in my throat that a half mile of walking and coughing wouldn’t clear it out. I am glad no one else was out here hiking today to hear my desperate coughs. Whatever it was must be now laying eggs in my lungs and having a good laugh.

The last bit of climbing up out of the drainage was not as tiring as one would expect. It gave me one last chance to take it slow and appreciate the great diversity of fungus around me. It came in every color: red, yellow, orange, lilac purple, white, grey and brown. The various forms were dramatically different, from delicate coral-like clusters to thick, globular masses. Nascent fungi were just barely starting to poke through the soil, while older ones appeared to have been consumed by a cannibalistic mold. I was almost glad I didn’t have a camera because my hike would have taken twice as long.

Back at the trailhead, I tallied up my newt count: 15. I beat my goal by 5, ha! It was a fantastic hike, and I hope to return on a better weather day so I can catch some killer views (I’ve been saying that a lot lately). There are many hiking and backpacking options in this area that beg to be explored, as well as some fun, craggy little peaks to ascend.

Browder Ridge snowshoe adventure

October 30, 2010

Gate Creek Trail > Heart Creek Trail > summit out-and-back | 8.4-ish miles | 2100′ ele. gain | 5:15 hrs.

My camera is still non-operational, so there will be no pictures again.

This weekend’s hike offered two challenges for my mending foot and ankle: a backpack weighted with overnight gear, plus snow and snowshoes. I am working up to being able to do some winter camping trips so I decided to take advantage of the last storm’s dumping of snow to work on this challenge. Browder Ridge, located near Santiam Pass in Central Oregon, offered some peace and quiet away from the crowds.

I was surprised that there were a few inches of snow on the gravel road leading to the trailhead, and I was even more surprised to find a truck in the parking lot. Someone had beaten me to this one, damn! Sure enough, two sets of boot tracks led into the forest from the road. No matter, with my snowshoes stowed on my pack, I retraced my predecessors’ steps through the snow. At the bottom of the trail, as it makes several switchbacks up a steep, forested slope, the ground was intermittently studded with patches of snow. Eventually the snow blanketed the forest floor and began to deepen. Now I was grateful for the broken trail. I kept my snowshoes on my pack for the first 1.5 miles, until the boot path inexplicably ventured off trail. Due to the snow cover, the trail was admittedly difficult to follow in some places, but they had done a fairly good job of keeping on trail. I decided not to follow the tracks and instead snowshoe through unbroken snow. It was here that I started my excellent adventure.

I love hiking on summer trails in winter conditions. It’s like playing a game. It requires tuning into the environment, paying attention, and reading what the forest and terrain have to tell you. The trail is sometimes obvious, but sometimes it seems to disappear right before your eyes…

Shortly after venturing out on my own, I reached the alleged viewpoint, from which I could barely make out a valley and part of a wooded ridge in the distance. I immediately lost sight of the trail. But I knew I needed to continue up for quite a ways, so I skirted the forest edge in the open snowfield and then began following the path of least resistance up the ridge. I walked for what felt like quite a while before miraculously coming across the trail again. A drizzle had begun to fall, and it would rain on and off for the remainder of the day. From here, the trail ascended gradually through a pretty forest with little interesting topography and no views. Without many geographic clues, it was difficult to form a sense of place. I kept checking the map in the book and looking at the time to estimate my location. I would lose the trail now and again, but for the most part I stayed on track.

I was usually able to use clues from cut logs and the subtle dip of the snow covering the trail in order to figure out where I needed to go. I didn’t have a map of the area, but I did have the Sullivan guide with its hand-drawn map of the trail and very local geographic features. I also had my compass. I knew that I needed to find a trail fork (for the Heart Lake Trail). Getting worried that I’d miss the junction, I veered off the obvious trail up a moderately steep, somewhat open ridgeline that I thought would take me to the top. I had little visibility and knowledge of the area because the tree cover was so thick and the clouds were low. So, once I got on top of my ridge, the ground flattened out and I kept hitting dead ends.

Discouraged, I opened the book again and took out my compass. I needed to head NNE to reach the meadows at the end of the trail. According to my compass, I was walking SSW. It seemed intuitive that I was heading in the right direction. I have learned, however, to trust my compass over my intuition…and sure enough, the compass was right. A few minutes after adjusting my direction I found the trail once more. Yippee! It was obvious where to go from here, so I made good time along this section.

And then, suddenly, I found myself looking up at the base of a 150-foot rock cliff. Cool! According to the book, a half mile traverse across meadows would take me just below the summit, at which point I had to find my own way.

I followed the very faint line of travel below the cliff band and began side-hilling in my snowshoes across the steep meadows. Side-hilling sucks even with good ankles, so I ended up leaving the traverse early. I took a direct route straight up the steep snow to a patch of gnarled trees on the ridgecrest. The wind picked up dramatically here, and I got a little practice in steep snow climbing, which was great preparation for the real winter season. Once I made it to the trees, I climbed awkwardly over and under them in my snowshoes to a saddle in the snow. Now I had a straight shot up a gentler snow slope to what seemed to be a bald highpoint. The wind felt cold on the right side of my face as I slowly made my way to the summit. A small rock cairn sat there, as if to say, “you made it!”

I stopped moving for just a minute, and began to feel just how cold the wind and air actually were. There was no shelter here, so I decided to retreat to the comfort of the trees before enjoying my summit snack. The trip back through the gnarled trees and down the steep snowfield was treacherous. The snow was hard to read; some spots were quite deep and others were shallow. Below the snow could be jagged rock, slick beargrass or textured heather. The beargrass was evil because it was so slippery. At least the rock and heather offered some traction. The deep snow provided the best option because I could dig the crampons on my snowshoes in really securely before stepping down.

At one point I slipped and fell, bruising my thigh pretty good. I was glad to get off the steep stuff and return to the broad, mellow forest ridge. I quickly refueled and then started to follow my tracks. I wanted to find as much of the real route as possible, so on the return I tried to correct my errors on the ascent. I managed to do this successfully for about 95% of the ground I covered; there was only one small detour I made where I couldn’t find the actual route. I was really excited to find the actual trail junction between the Gate Creek Trail and Heart Lake Trail; there was a wooden sign laying up against the base of a tree where the two trails met. I was way off on my route in.

Besides the routefinding excitement, the return trip was pretty mellow. My foot performed nicely; the weight of an overnight pack didn’t seem to bother it any more than the other one. And although I predicted that snowshoeing would be very difficult for my left ankle, I found that I was able to maintain stability in the snowshoes right up until about the last half mile. I took one good fall forward onto my face, appreciating the softness and forgiveness of the snow.

I rather enjoyed this walk in the woods. There were no views, the weather was crummy, and there were large trees I had to step over. I had forgotten my gaiters and my pants were getting soaked. But somehow, the combination of routefinding, physical exertion, cold air, quiet, and novel surroundings made this an absolutely perfect experience. I enjoyed the challenge of finding my way, alone in the woods.

Burnt Lake and East Zigzag Mountain

October 16, 2010.

Burnt Lake Trail > Zigzag Mountain Trail > East Zigzag Mtn summit | 9.6 mi | 2400′ ele. gain | 4.5 hr with 1 hr summit break

On a cold, crisp, Saturday morning, I left town to set off on my first solo hike since my foot injury. I didn’t realize how much I missed solo hiking until I completed this adventure. Since my camera is still nonfunctional I will have to paint a picture of this hike using only words.

I’d been up to East Zigzag before but never from this side. The trail began at an easy grade, rambling through a spacious forest with enormous trees in every direction. There always seemed to be one creek or another meandering through the trees, occasionally making an appearance near the trail. The trail crossed the creeks at several locations, but the water was low and the crossings were easy. I walked along at a reasonably quick pace, since the trail was gentle and wide, and the air was quite chilly. The forest floor was decorated with a vast array of colorful and interesting mushrooms. To my left and right stood fire-scorched sculptures of trees that once were; several of the snags were hollowed out, while others were shaped into unique forms. These trees were simply gigantic. The cavity of one of these big, burned trees looked to be about 8 feet across. It would have made a nice camp site with a tarp thrown over the top of it.

Eventually the trail started gaining elevation a little more steeply. The trail got more muddy, and narrow, and at one point got a little dicey. The brush dropped away to the hillside below, leaving only a very small patch of irregular rock to cross. The upside was a tremendous view of the southeast side of Mt. Hood, the first view of the day. I paused a moment to let the image embed into my retinas. This view of the mountain was a different side than I was used to seeing, and it took some time to evaluate the glaciers, ridges, and other geological features.

I continued along the sometimes muddy and narrow trail until it led to a sign announcing the presence of Burnt Lake. I never have been a fan of visiting lakes, which are basically glorified puddles of water. I walked briefly down to the lake’s bank to take a gander. Yep, sure enough, it was a hole filled with water. In honor of the lake I took a sip of my own water that I’d carried with me, then turned and walked back up to the trail. There were posted maps of the day use sites and campsites located at and around the lake. It took my brain a bit longer than it should to figure out how to avoid the lake loop and choose the trail that would bring me up to the ridge. It seemed the signage could have been much clearer; that, or my brain should have been less foggy.

I successfully avoided a needless trip around the lake and instead began hiking, at a slightly more elevated grade, towards the summit of East Zigzag Mountain. I passed two guys and a dog, the first people I had seen all day. The upper section of the trail involved turning up many sharp switchbacks in order to gain the ridge. I felt really disoriented for most of the length of the trail, since it seemed like I kept turning towards the lake. But eventually it became clear that the ups and downs were mostly ups, and I reached a junction in the woods with the Zigzag Mountain Trail. Shortly after taking a right turn onto this trail I enjoyed expansive ridgetop views, including a front-row seat look at Mt. Hood. Ahead of me lay a bare, rocky ridgecrest with a clear path to the next bump, which turned out to be the endpoint of the hike. I walked in spurts along the trail, stopping to look up at the mountain, then down at the vibrant red fall foliage, and then back up again. It was a tremendous sight.

At the actual summit, a pile of blocky bits of rock provided an array of seating and napping options. I chose a comfortable spot, put on an extra layer and enjoyed a summit treat. The sun felt warm on my face. The air was perfectly still; it felt eerie to be sitting in the sun, high on a mountain ridge, on such a beautiful day in October. I had about 40 minutes to myself before another party arrived from the south approach. We chatted for quite a bit and then I took off down the ridge.

There were lots of excuses to stop and ogle the view before re-entering the woods. Once I returned to the trees, however, I turned on the afterburners and jetted down the trail. I figured I could test out the integrity of my ankle on this easy hike, in a relatively controlled setting. My ankle performed pretty well, and in 90 minutes I was back to my car. Based on that hike, I’m feeling like I can try taking on longer mileage as well as overnight pack weight. Next weekend’s goal is to do a backpacking trip…I’m just not sure how long or how fast I can move with a heavy pack on.

2.5 months post surgery update

October 9, 2010.

It is hard to imagine that just over a month ago I was unable to walk. Now, my life is seemingly back to normal. I still feel pain and restriction in the ankle on my affected foot, but I am able to do 99% of my ordinary tasks with no issues at all. It is mostly when I am doing unnecessary things (like climbing, for example) that my ankle difficulties become a hindrance. I am able to walk up and down stairs, move about at a normal speed, ride my bike, spend the day on my feet, and do yoga with minimal problems. I am looking and feeling healthy again. Interestingly enough, it is not the bone in my foot that is in pain, but the soft tissue comprising my ankle. I think that spending all summer on crutches, unable to bear weight on the injured foot, caused major damage to my ankle. And it is my ankle, now, that hurts, prevents me from making certain climbing moves, gets stiff, and makes me feel like I have a deficiency compared to other people. Not moving is really bad for the body.

Last weekend was a major test for me. I hiked up and down South Sister, Oregon’s third-tallest mountain. The nearly 5,000 feet of elevation gain didn’t cause problems. Even the long scree climb near the top was a piece of cake. It was the last two miles out that felt like murder. My ankle was in so much pain that I had to lean on my poles heavily to take the weight off that foot. I had to slow my pace way down and try not to think too hard about being finished. It was incredibly hot that day as well, which just made me feel more tired, but when we reached the trailhead at last I felt like I truly accomplished something.

This week I have been limping more than usual, and I think it is directly related to the abuse I put it through on South Sister. It was totally worth it. Tomorrow I am going on a short, mellow hike in the rain. Hopefully my ankle will appreciate the treatment and get back to feeling good again.

Table Mountain for the Clinically Insane

September 26, 2010.

Bonneville Hot Springs Resort > Table Mtn Summit > out-and-back with a small loop | about 9 mi. | 3200′ ele. gain |4:45 hrs.

What a difference a day makes.

On Saturday, the greater Portland area was treated to blue skies, 80 degree weather, and dry air. But, alas, my hiking partner had other plans so we decided to hike Table Mountain on Sunday. The forecast had a chance of rain in the morning and predicted clearing skies by 11 am. I should really know better.

Luke and I got an early start, leaving the Bonneville Hot Springs Resort parking lot just after 8 am. We followed the directions in the “60 Hikes” book to get to the Heartbreak Ridge Trail. The access trail began through some overgrown Himalayan Blackberry, Thistle and Stinging Nettle…a perfect day to be wearing shorts. Soon we reached a T-junction with what seemed like an old logging road. The wide path helped with keeping my legs free of thorns as well as staying dry, for now. Although the sky was cloudy there wasn’t much of a hint of rain yet. Up we climbed, amidst a lush understory of Oregon Grape, Sword Fern, Vine Maple, Wild Rose, and Duck’s Foot.

In an hour, we reached a signboard with a lousy map of the Table Mountain area and a signpost marking the start of the Heartbreak Ridge Trail. Luke led the way up the relentlessly steep path. We walked through the woods, eventually breaking out into some open areas that might offer up good views on a better day. There were some cool, cliffy sections to look at as well as a memorial to the woman who fell to her death from this trail earlier in the year. Soon, the path became even more open as it dumped us at the base of an old rock slide. We boulder-hopped up mossy, wet talus for a bit as the clouds spat rain at us. Fortunately, the talus was relatively stable; however I ditched the poles to use my hands to heave myself along and instead. At the top of the slide some very new and nicely manufactured signs directed us towards a “Gorge Overlook” and the top of Table. We walked along this very exposed and wind-blasted section of trail until a point where it petered out to nothing. This, we decided, was our summit. A couple of quick photos later, we turned around and hightailed it back to the last trail junction. The wind seemed to pick up here, whipping into us with a bit of vengeance for something we didn’t do. I felt more like a New Bedford fisherman than a hiker as I walked, sopping wet, through the wind and rain.

Once back at the signpost, we took the other half of the Heartbreak Ridge loop to keep things interesting (as if it hadn’t been interesting enough). To my dismay, the trail quickly turned into a messy rock pile, which threatened to slough the surface layer off with each timid step. The beads of water aggregating on my glasses made it extremely difficult for me to see and judge distance with any confidence. I proceeded slowly. Fighting this obstacle, as well as dealing with my recovering ankle, made walking a formidable and stressful task.

The excitement of the hike had turned to drudgery but I would not let my soaking wet feet, screaming ankle and fogged up glasses ruin my day. Regardless, I was delighted to re-enter the woods and feel slippery mud under my boots instead of slippery rocks. In this direction ,we passed two lousy signboards instead of just one. I wondered, if some organization would be so resourceful as to design and install a huge trail sign and map, why they wouldn’t do a better job at it. As we rejoined the PCT, we also passed a dedicated trail crew making improvements to the tread of the trail. It was an awfully miserable and wet day for that sort of business, so we smiled and said hello as we walked on by.

The remainder of the hike was a blur. The rain never let up one bit. We didn’t stop for food, or for any other reason, until we made it back to the parking lot. I was never so happy to feel my rain coat snag against blackberry bushes because that indicated we were mere minutes from the car. A refreshing change of clothes and the last half of my morning’s coffee (in a thermos, still warm!) made the ride back somewhat enjoyable.

Both times I have hiked Table Mountain I have been wet, cold, and had difficulty seeing through rain-spotted glasses. I hope the third time’s a charm.

11 weeks post-surgery

September 12, 2010.

It has been three weeks since my last post. I have been going to physical therapy and I am quickly getting back to my normal life. My bike has been a source of strength and comfort. Since my foot no longer holds me back on my bike, I feel like I’m riding faster and more confidently than just a few months before. I look forward to waking up before dark to get on my bike and ride downtown to catch the train to work. And at the end of the day, my ride waits for me in my classroom. Cruising down the streets and multi-use paths in the afternoon, rain or shine, I feel alive.

At the rock gym, I continue to push myself. Although there are certainly moves that I cannot do with my foot in its current state of recovery, I am able to climb nearly as well as I could before the accident. I am fearful of getting back on lead, and that is something I will have to work hard to achieve. Perhaps once my ankle is flexible and strong again I will take on that challenge.

I am almost able to walk without a limp. I move more slowly now than in my previous life, but each day I gain a little more speed. Walking downstairs and down hills is still difficult. I feel pain in the crease on top of my foot, in my ankle. I have to use hand rails and the rest of my body to make up for the deficit in the left side. And when I hike, poles are essential. Uneven ground is still very treacherous territory for me; I feel like this will be my greatest obstacle. I managed to hike Dog Mountain yesterday, which was a nice milestone for me.

My left calf is still weak. I can see and feel the difference from side to side. I cannot do a single calf raise, instead, I must keep both feet on the ground. My right foot helps with balance and also with supporting some of the weight. I think I’m able to get about 90% of my weight on the left side. But it is difficult for me. My balance is really pathetic on the left side as well. I have been modifying yoga poses for myself when teaching classes after school :). All of these things just need more focus and work. Based on other people’s stories I shouldn’t be walking right now. I feel tremendous joy that I have been able to overcome this devastating injury and that I have been making such quick progress. It’s my stubborn attitude and focus that, I’m sure, has something to do with it. I have much more to accomplish in the coming months. My next goal is to be ready to climb South Sister in one month. This means I have to bolster my ankle stability significantly as well as build up endurance and power in my left leg. It can and will be done.

Next…I get my (hopefully) final x-ray on Friday. Stay tuned.

8 Weeks post-surgery: Back on my feet again

August 23, 2010.

Last Monday I went back to the doctor’s office to get x-rayed after babying my foot for 6 weeks. According to the PA, the x-ray showed a nicely healed bone with the subtalar joint surface intact. Woohoo! This was good news. She recommended walking as tolerated, using the boot, crutches, and/or poles to help ease the transition back into the ambulatory world. Finally, I was happy to leave the office with a smile on my face. Watch out world, here I come.

I plodded slowly around my apartment when I got home, using the crutches just barely, feeling what it was like to use both feet and legs. My sorry calf muscles on the left side were very angry with me, wondering what possessed me to torment them in this way. My foot muscles concurred, and the whole left side of my body was sore before long. But, hey, I was walking again! I spent the week testing the waters. I used hiking poles if I knew I was going for a longer walk or if I was going to walk on a trail. I shuffled slowly along in parking lots, stores, and sidewalks. I felt a sense of loss without the crutches or other external visual cue that something was wrong with me. People weren’t talking to me anymore, letting me cross the street, holding doors, or asking to help. It was just me, a perfectly healthy looking young woman who just happened to be walking like a jackass. I wonder what people thought now. Sometimes I think I subconsciously exaggerated my limp just so people would understand that I was injured. It was an odd feeling.

Going back to the climbing gym was possibly the most exciting of my endeavors since re-entering the walking world. Just one day after I began walking I hit the gym for the first time. I started on the easiest climb in the gym, a 5.7, and felt pretty good. I warmed up on a few more, then bumped it up to a 5.8, then a 5.9. For the grand finale I jumped on a 5.10. Although I hadn’t fallen on any of the other climbs, this one really put me to the test. I had to fall back on the rope twice. On the easier grades, it was easy enough to cheat around moves that would have overly stressed my left foot and leg. Now, I was forced into doing the moves that were designed into the climb, so it became more difficult for me to ascend without falling. No problem, it still felt pretty amazing to be getting on a 10 on my first day back! Several days later I returned to the gym to climb again, and I still felt great. It was easier than walking, that’s for sure.

This morning I saw my physical therapist for the first time and I’m sure happy I did. Now I truly feel on the road to recovery, and I’ll be back in the mountains before long. It’s going to take some work, and I am ready to go for it. My next goals are to walk without a limp and to be able to do a one-legged calf raise. Plus, I should be in shape enough to ride my bike to work next week. Yeah, I’m starting to feel like myself again.

Oregon Coast: Old Growth and Darlingtonia

August 1, 2010.

I awoke several times during the night for some strange reason. It was fitting that I got up and at ’em earlier than usual on this, the last day of my week-long adventure. There was one short hiking loop 2 miles up the road from where I was camped; this was the real benefit of camping here. I had no idea that I was in for such a treat.

I arrived at the Pawn Old Growth trail head before 7am and ate breakfast there. Taking heed of the “No Shooting” sign I left my weapon in the car and began my hike (kidding). The trail crosses a bridge over a lazy stream, passes by a large, mossy rock face and switchbacks up to an incredibly diverse parcel of old growth forest. The understory consisted of hundreds of plants, only a few that I was familiar with, and many interesting ones worth photographing. I had seen many of these new plants along other hikes that week, so they were starting to look familiar. But I noticed many other flowers and herbaceous plants that I had not noticed before. Many spring flowers were blooming late; I couldn’t believe that there were Bleeding Heart flowers along the trail! There were also pink and white foxgloves, maidenhair fern, lady fern, monkeyflower, manroot (with spiky green pods!), hedge nettle, Solomon’s seal, and on and on… There were also loads of massive trees as well as a charming little river down a steep embankment that paralleled part of the route. The forest was pleasantly quiet, with the occasional chirping chipmunk in distress, and I greatly enjoyed my walk through it. I took my time, taking pictures everywhere, and being mindful of my sore and tired knee. The friction of the crutch and the scar line on my knee was just too much. I would be happy to have some days of rest when I returned home.

Next, I returned to the main highway and stopped at the Darlingtonia Viewpoint. I had seen these unique carnivorous plants in Northern California years before, but now I was about to see them at the northern end of their range. These plants are gorgeous, even when they are dying, because they start developing speckles of red and taking on more twisted and convoluted shapes. I ogled the plants for several minutes and chatted with a Corvallis-to-San Francisco cyclist before hobbling back to the car and driving off.

My next hiking stop was the Trail of Restless Waters in the Cape Perpetua Scenic Area. A 0.5 mile loop led to a viewpoint of Devil’s Churn, connected with a spur to a beach, then returned to the parking lot. I got some funny looks from the unhealthy group of people milling about at the top of the trail before ambling down to see what Devil’s Churn was all about. According to my guidebook, this was a narrow, rocky inlet that funneled seawater into it, causing dramatic crashes of waves and picturesque views. It turned out being a little less impressive than advertised, but it was worth the walk nonetheless. From the dead end I continued along the entire half mile trek, which most visitors apparently do not do, seeing lots of wind-sculpted trees, flowers, dense thickets of coast vegetation, and a wide, sandy beach.

The drive along 101 offers countless opportunities to stop and pull off the road to see one sight or another, but I hadn’t even come close to seeing all there was to see. I was beginning to feel really tired, and consulted my book to choose one last stop before heading east. Sullivan describes Ona Beach State Park as “rank[ing] among the most scenic spots on the Central Oregon coast” so I thought that would make a nice ending to my coastal explorations.

At the park, I walked down a paved path, crossed a bridge, and reached the beach. It was nothing special. Actually, it was one of the uglier and more boring walks and viewpoints I’ve experienced throughout my entire trip. Sullivan has never let me down before; he must have been paid under the table to endorse this little piece of non-paradise. Defeated, I returned to the car ready to get back to Portland, stop driving, learn about the wildflowers I’d seen, and eat some fresh produce.

In summary, my week on the road turned out to exceed all my expectations. I was able to walk further and longer than I anticipated. I found excellent spots to camp away from crowds of tourists, even near the coast. I saw beautiful birds and wildflowers. I balanced driving time, walking time, and resting time in a way that kept me happy, fulfilled and refreshed. A great sense of hope pervaded my sometimes glass-half-empty brain; broken foot or not, I can still accomplish more than what most people with two solid feet do in a day. And when I got back, I started to think: “well, where do I go next?”

The photo set from the entire trip is on Picasa.

Oregon Coast: Port Orford to Florence

July 31, 2010.

I awoke eager to begin another day of coastal exploration. My outdoor breakfast experience took me to the parking area at Cape Blanco, where I enjoyed another simple cup of granola and milk. The Cape was totally enshrouded in fog and the air was very cool. When I arrived there was only another car or two sitting in the lot. But as I worked through my granola, loaded RVs and cars pulled in, dumping their obnoxious human cargo out onto the land. It was then I decided to leave.

My plan was to drive towards Coos Bay, stopping first at Shore Acres State Park. I walked out in front of the Observation building where I soaked in astounding views of the offshore rocks and undulating coastline. From there I walked over to the Botanical Gardens. This was a neatly manicured place with hedges and benches and carefully arranged flowers. It all felt so civilized. There were some really beautiful flowers there but the feeling wasn’t the same as coming across wildflowers unexpectedly along the trail. I found the shortest way out and hopped back in the car.

From there I followed the sounds of sea lions up the road about a mile where a marine wildlife organization had set up their viewing scopes at a roadside pullout. I checked out the marine mammals in an up-close-and-personal way, much like watching a David Attenborough documentary. Sea lions and seals were heaped up on top of each other, flopping around and making a fuss. As more people arrived I ducked out of there and continued to Cape Arago.

The trail I chose at Cape Arago quickly became too steep and muddy for my and my aluminum leg so all I could do was hang out at the paved viewing deck and look at the water. I had a long conversation with a physical therapist about my iWALKFree, which she hadn’t seen before. Sigh. My injury is making me into a minor trail celebrity.

Back on route 101 I drove angrily, stuck behind idiot RVs and speed changers. Sigh, it was the weekend for sure. I managed to get a couple of good high speed passes, otherwise I still would be driving home today.

I wanted to stop somewhere in the Oregon Dunes that was new to me, didn’t allow ATV access, and would be easy enough for the peg-leg to handle. That left me with pulling off the road at the Oregon Dunes Overlook, according to the Sullivan guide. I took off down (of course) a paved path that led to the dunes. Ahead lay a large, gently rolling surface of sand. I crossed it smoothly and methodically, just as if climbing a long snowfield. Next I traveled across the “deflation plain,” a place where the forest is taking over the dunes. To think that the dunes here would be gone in 100 years was baffling to my brain. I walked along slowly, with surprisingly few people crossing my path, until I reached my first glimpse of the beach. Hooray! I had made it one mile and was rewarded appropriately, with a huge beach and big ocean views. There were a number of people here relaxing, playing frisbee, and testing the water, but it was nothing like being on the beach on the East Coast. I found a little plot of sand for myself, took off my crutch, lay flat on the sand, and enjoyed this small respite from my hike.

As I lay on the sand I noticed the breeze and chill in the air disappear. Heat radiating from the sand warmed my resting body. The granules of sand felt comforting against my skin. Before leaving I did a little light stretching, strapped on my crutch and returned to the trail.

The trip back was slow and relatively uneventful, save for a few conversations with folks heading out. One particular little boy totally made my day. The interchange went something like this:

“What happened to your leg?”

“I broke my foot.”

“How?”

“Rock climbing.”

“I hope you feel better soon.”

“Thanks!”

“Welcome.”

He was so cute. No other kids spoke to me the whole trip; they only stared.

I reached the car exhausted and searched my map for the nearest camping options. Free, of course, I wouldn’t dream of paying the out of control State Park camping fees to camp next to 70 families and their RVs at the beach. So, I ended up at the North Fork Siuslaw Dispersed Camping spot off rt. 126 outside of Florence. I had to drive a ways down a road to nowhere to get there. It was almost exactly what I was looking for. There was one other family there but for the most part they were quiet; although, they did spy on me when I was trying to get to sleep. The site had a fire pit but no picnic table and there was some trash strewn about the site and down the little trail leading towards the river. Is it really that hard to pack out your trash when CAR camping? Geez.

I was too lazy to put my tent up, and so with no threat of rain I decided to just sleep out. The mosquitoes were back, but I found that by wearing a hooded sweatshirt and swearing at them, they didn’t really bite.

The photo set from the entire trip is on Picasa.

Oregon Coast: from the southern border to Port Orford

July 30, 2010.

I had pretty low expectations for this leg of the trip. Miles upon miles of dealing with miserable tourons, stopping at a billion little waysides, and choking on sopping wet air did not seem very appealing to me. I could not have been more wrong.

I drove straight from camp to Brookings, where I stopped at a cheesy 24-hour “Family Restaurant” for breakfast. It smelled like old people in there. I had a plate full of refined carbohydrates and grease, plus I ate the raw kale garnish just to get a fresh vegetable in my system. Dipped in extra maple syrup (more likely, corn syrup) it didn’t taste that bad.

The sky was overcast and dripping with moisture as low clouds clung to the treetops. It was chilly–in the 60’s– and I even had to use my window wipers. My first stop of the day was Harris Beach State Park. This was an impromptu stop not highlighted in my book, so I just took off down the little paved path that appeared to be going towards the beach. What at first seemed to be an ordinary access path turned out to be a collage of colorful wildflowers. I whipped out my camera every thirty seconds to take pictures of each new flower I encountered. My minimal knowledge of forest plants and flowers helped me identify just a small percent of the flora along the path. I studied each and every new plant, committing details to memory so I could look them up later. It was an exciting romp down the trail.

I exchanged pleasantries with a few people coming and going on the path. As I was still descending, a woman coming up from the other direction said something like “OMIGOD it’s sooooo far down;’ at which point I knew that I couldn’t be far. Sure enough, I was soon in view of the beach. The pavement turned to sand, and lots of downed trees and rocks blocked me from going any further. Of course, I’d left my poles in the car. No problem, there were lots of gorgeous flowers right there.

I ambled slowly back up to the car and made a few other short visits to waysides before stumbling across the real gem of the day: Indian Sands. From a large, circular parking area with only two other cars, I walked steeply down a wide, soft trail into the woods. The trees were tall and widely spaced apart. The forest floor was blanketed with salal, sword ferns and mushrooms. Ten minutes of walking brought me to an abrupt change from coniferous forest to sandy scrubland. I picked my way around various user paths to find the best way to move towards the beach on my robohiker peg-leg. After crossing the sand I was treated with breathtaking views of of the sand, meadows, and rugged coastline. No one else was in sight. Lupine and paintbrush, familiar friends from the alpine, colored the sand. Lots of unfamiliar plants clung to the sand and rock as well, their twisted, low-profile forms evolved to withstand the harsh conditions of the Oregon coast. Waves crashed violently on the rocky shore, leaving streams of water to trickle down the uneven, igneous surfaces into the pulsing sea.

I took off my crutch and found a relatively comfortable perch with a killer view. I didn’t bring any food or water so I wasn’t able to stay long. Reluctantly, I returned towards the woods, taking a slightly different route, then prepared to face the seemingly immense uphill push at the end. It was a major workout getting up there on one good leg.

For lunch, I stopped at the Arch Rock viewpoint, where I crafted a one-of-a-kind peanut butter and marshmallow sandwich on Shasta whole-grain bread. I had to defend my prize from a curious gull, but it was well worth the effort. The sun had finally made an appearance, and it was time to move on to the next stop.

My final attempt at a hike began at the Pistol River State Park Viewpoint. I put on my sunglasses, loaded some water and a book into my backpack, then started out across the sand. The wind was blowing in a fierce way. Pellets of sand hit the side of my face at warp speed, threatening to exfoliate inches off my skin. I kept going, thinking maybe I could find a sheltered spot up and over the next dune. That didn’t happen. The wind seemed to get worse, and the sand grains being driven into my skin seemed to be purposeful in their action. Defeated, I turned back and jumped back in my car.

I dreamed up a new mission for the afternoon: find who’s selling the catch of the day, load up on fresh produce, and go make a slammin’ meal for dinner. I did just this, buying supplies in Gold Beach and Port Orford, then traveling 20 miles east to set up camp at the Butter Bar Campground, yet another free, primitive, Forest Service operated camp. I proceeded to get some good coals going in the fire ring and orchestrated an exquisite feast: snapper with lemon, shallots and bell pepper on a bed of wilted spinach and pistachios plus grilled corn on the cob. I washed it all down with a bottle of Southern Oregon red wine. It was the perfect conclusion to a good day on the Coast.