It was summer, and some friends invited us on a last-minute trip to the Oregon coast. I’d been itching to do more camping, and as a bonus we’d never been to the area before.
I was excited in the way that I always am when I have the chance to see somewhere new. Not because this part or Oregon had been calling my name (I mean this figuratively, but I also can borderline obsess over some places until I get to go there). And we’d be camping, and with friends, so all good.
What you can probably feel me leading up to, that I never expected, was that this would become one of our new favorite parts of Oregon.
On the way in, we stopped along Highway 101 in Florence to get some food for the weekend. But I couldn’t see how they’d even managed to build a grocery store here, because right behind it was a massive sand dune. I mean, it really seemed like you could walk out a back door and climb right up this dune.
I really wanted to climb up that friggin dune. How hard would it be? What could I see from up there? Was there just more sand over the other side, or could you just bop around back there and then slide back down the hill before picking up your groceries?
But the sun was setting and we still had to get to our site to set up camp.
And what a site, too. It was sort of tucked down a hill away from the camp road, so it felt really private. Plus there were thick rhododendrons all around, making a great barrier between neighboring campsites. Car camping ambience just can’t really compare to the backcountry, but with our nicely tucked away site and running water in the bathrooms (no pit toilets here! hooray!!) I was definitely not complaining.
That weekend we climbed some dunes and did some kayaking, and our puppy started learning that she might love swimming. She gave total approval to running up and down sand dunes, that’s for sure.
We liked the area so much that we decided to go back for our anniversary weekend — which happened to also overlap the peak of the Perseids meteor shower. If you’ve never heard of this meteor shower/taken the time to see it, make a note somewhere for next year. It happens every August (I think everywhere in the northern hemisphere), and it’s so cool. As long as you can get somewhere dark enough, and the moon’s not too bright, you’ll see tons of meteors.
The year before we’d just happened to be in the Colorado Rockies at this same time of year, and got to watch the Perseids from a mountain pass near Keystone.
And several years earlier, we made a trip up to Yellowstone to see them (and, uh… also to see Yellowstone).
Anyway, we knew that it was worth staying up for.
For this meteor trip, we decided we’d head down a trail that starts in Tahkenitch campground. The trail goes all the way to the coast, but we didn’t go the whole way (we had our puppy, and dogs aren’t allowed on this beach because of nesting birds). Instead, we were just looking to scope out a flat-ish spot in the dunes where we’d have wide views.
Our puppy was super excited about this massive sandy playground, and on our daytime exploratory hike she found a little paradise when we started throwing a frisbee down a big, sandy hill for her.
We were there for a while, throwing her frisbee and zipping our little drone around, and during that time we saw tons of people taking on the full trail. It looked kind of exciting, these individuals and groups emerging in the distance from this vast expanse of sand. I felt tempted to wave at them, a welcoming back to shade and firm ground.
But the truth is that as they got closer, and especially as they neared the top of this hill we were perched on top of, just about every one looked pretty miserable. It was clear that a midday summer hike over hills of sand is definitely not for the faint of heart. Or anyone not carrying water.
After a while, we meandered back to camp to make some dinner and wait for it to get close to sunset. Then we headed right on back to watch the sun lower over the ocean.
This time, though, it was a different experience. I mean, obviously — it was darker out. If I were by myself, I’d probably be way to creeped out to stay out there after sunset. So much of the pre-dunes part of the hike is closed in, trees and rhododendrons, skittering noises and strange shadows from my headlamp.
We got back to the top of that memorable hill, and stayed to watch the sunset.
Then we tromped on down, half sliding as gravity pulled us along.
We’d plotted out where we wanted to go earlier, so after following the trail for a little while we veered to the side and wound our way through some clumps of brush. The clearing was perfect — hardly anything tall to block our night sky views, and so very dark out here on the relatively unpopulated Oregon coast.
It was cold, too. As hot as that sand was when the sun was shining, it was now holding only chilly moonlight. But we were prepared, and we hunkered down into our bundled layers.
To be honest, I don’t remember an particular meteors so much as the feelings of being out there and little moments across those hours. There were rounds of howling in the not-so-far distance. Maybe coyotes hunting those protected birds on the beach? Our warm puppy curling up into blankets at our feet. The humidity almost tangible. The salty fishiness of the ocean wafting towards us with the sounds of waves crashing onto the nearby shore.
Then Andy scared the crap out of me.
He just sort of jumped up and started shoving things into his pack, saying we had to get out of here and fast. Images of those howling coyotes circling us started flickering through my head.
We packed up our blankets and gear in moments, my heart racing without any real clue what was going on. Our puppy didn’t seem worried (but she was also very sleepy, so I wasn’t sure if she was a great gauge).
Then, as we threw our packs on, I finally understood: A wall of fog was moving in on us.
If we were in a cartoon, this fog would have a leering face, eerie cloud arms slinking out along the ground, clawing itself forward.
We scurried back towards the trail as quickly as we could through deep sand. Around the brush, trying to avoid the delicate-looking foliage, along the trail, and back to that hill. Climbing up, each step pushed us back down half again. But it was a relief to be getting up higher, further from that soupy rolling fog bank.
At the top, we didn’t pause long to look back before launching into the woods for the longer haul back to camp.
I’m not saying I wouldn’t do it again. But if I save just one person from being lost in a fog bank in a relatively remote stretch of coastline at night, then… well. Don’t let that stop you, either.