John Wayne! Got to love him! Today John Wayne came to our rescue as we hiked on the Fort to Sea Trail to the Pacific Ocean. Though THE John Wayne died, can you believe it, 37 years ago, a latter day incarnation saved our hike today. Let me explain.
Hannah and I have come to as far north and west in Oregon as you can to hike with Hannah’s college amiga Patty and her hubby Kent near Astoria. On this first Sunday in June, we will hike from Fort Clatsop National Monument to the Pacific; the original fort was built by Captain Meriwether Lewis and Second Lieutenant William Clark, .
Commissioned by Thomas Jefferson, Lewis and Clark were to search out a land route to the Pacific, to strengthen American claims to the Oregon territory, and to gather information about the indigenous inhabitants and the country of the Far West. They built Fort Clatsop in three weeks to survive the winter of 1805-1806. As a parting gift, Lewis gave Fort Clatsop to Coboway, the chief of the Clatsops
More than a century and a half later, we have come to Astoria, a funky little town where it seems if you want to get away, you can get away. It seems like a place where it would be easy to have the freedom to be yourself, tattoos, dyed and/or long hair, living in a van, and part-time work to give you enough time to feed your artistic or athletic passions.
At the Fort Clatsop National Monument Visitor Center, our Senior Pass (a $10 lifetime pass for those 62 and older to all National Parks and Monuments) is good enough for us four to get our admissions waived.
The Fort to Sea Trail is a classic two-car hiking trail. Initially, we drive our two cars to the “Sea” part of the trail at Sunset Beach and leave one car there. Piling into our rented Kia Sportage, we four return to the trailhead at the visitor center.
The trail begins in the Oregon forest of towering cedars and trail hugging ferns. Pairing up, Hannah and Patty lead the way while Kent and I catch up on life, kids, challenges, and journeys.
The trail is well-marked with signs to Sunset Beach at regular intervals. Hilly without being mountainous, this 6.5-mile trail has us loving the cool coastal weather. While we hike in the mid-70s, Portland, Oregon, 95 miles inland to the southeast, suffers through 102F weekend temps. For the first week of June, the normal high for Portland is 72F.
On this hazy day, the humidity is not an issue, but our views to the forest below and to the ocean are, well, hazy. The trail of hard-packed dirt and boardwalks is easy on the feet and the four of us pair off in a variety of ways to vary our conversations.
Two miles into our six plus mile hike, a lean half-marathoner runs by on his way to the Pacific. As runners for 30 years, Hannah and I smile at a time gone by in our lives. Running for us is no longer an option. Paraphrasing Max Ehrmann’s Desiderata, “we are gracefully surrendering the things of youth.” Click here for the full text of the Desiderata.
At the four mile mark we leave the forest for farmland and pasture hiking. Crossing under Alternate US 101, we have a grassy 8′ wide right-of-way skirting the hay and cow fields of coastal Oregon. Crossing Neacoxie Creek on a footbridge, we follow the fence lines across open pastures of grazing cattle.
As we are within a mile of the ocean, the aforementioned runner returns and says that he can’t get through to the ocean. It seems there is one large ass cow protecting her calf smack dab in the middle of the trail. The runner tells us that he tried to wait them out, but Bessie and Little Bessie were not moving.
If Cupcake and her calf don’t move, we have a dilemma on our hands as our path through the farms is protected on either side by rusted barbed wire. That is not good news as it would mean we have to hike a mile back to Alternate US 101 and take a two-mile detour along the highway to the beach. This is where John Wayne (Kent) steps in.
With all of us wondering what lies ahead, John Wayne, without blinking, strides purposefully towards the wooden gate where the mama cow checks him out. He waves his hand and yells out, Get along. We’re coming through. The mother cow looks up, as if to wonder, Who made you the boss of the apple sauce? and stays put. As an experienced farm hand, Kent is not dismayed in the least.
Striding John Wayne-like, he never wavers as he moves forward with me in tow, a latter day Gabby Hayes. As Kent approaches the opening between the wooden gates, what do you know? Elsie and kid just start to leave towards the barn in the distance. Kent just walks up to the belly of the beast (figuratively) and the beast backs down. While Hannah dubs him John Wayne, the aforementioned runner is equally impressed and now scampers by on his way to the beach.
Winding through swampy terrain over the last half mile, we arrive after a little over two and a half hours of hiking at the parking area trailhead at Sunset Beach. Retrieving the cooler from Patty and Kent’s car, we toast our John Wayne with a cold Dos Equis and feel we are in the presence of a modern day hero.