Big rocks, big water

Posted by Ken Campbell January 18, 2009 0 Comment 720 views

The wind is not dying down. If anything, it’s getting stronger. The inky sky is awash with stars and the quarter moon is almost bright enough to read by. It’s five in the morning and I’m by the side of the road in Nehalem, Oregon. I guess I could have figured it might be breezy… it is January, after all.

I drove through Cannon Beach in the dark last night, so I still haven’t seen the place. Perhaps later. The coffee is brewing in the van and the comforting morning smell mixes with the other fragrances blowing on the night wind: salt brine and evergreen, that low tide funk off in the distance somewhere. Soon the sunlight will be spilling over the low hills off to the east and the day will officially begin.

I’m here to get the lay of the land, to do a little recon for a trip I’ll be doing in this Fall. There’s a group of ladies that book a three-day trip every September and so far, it’s been 8 years of the San Juan Islands, but they want to come down here this year. I thought it might be a good idea to familiarize myself with the options.

After the coffee is done, I’m back on the road. Highway 101 again, heading south. The houses and towns glide by as the sky lightens and it isn’t long before I’m at Cape Meares. I walk the trail to the point to see the water. The swells are arranged in sets, easily seen even from here, high on the cliffs. The strong offshore wind holds the waves up, spray unfurling from the peaks in silvery arcs that glow in the low-angle morning sun. It’s hard to say for certain how big the waves are, but I can hear them all the way up here, so they are not small. Paddling out through those breakers would have consequences.

I’m looking for launch points as I drive, noting possible start and stop points for this September’s visit. I drive out onto the dike on the south side of Tillamook Bay, to the end of the road, get out, and continue on foot. Sandy trails cut through the shrubs and stunted trees; I follow one out to the beach. Above the grassy dunes, a kestrel swoops and dinks on the gusty air, looking for a mousy morning meal.

The waves here are rowdy and less organized than the ones I had seen earlier. The wind is still offshore, but there are no discernable sets and the break is ragged and undefined. It’s big water, though. Dumping big water. I loop the trail back to my starting point and get back in the van again, driving north.

Nehalem Bay reminds me of southwest Washington, Willapa Bay, or Gray’s Harbor. Big rivers, muddy and swollen, emptying into an estuary and from there, across a bar and into the sea. Low islands laced in driftwood hover in the stream, gaining and losing definition with the whim of the tides. I putz through the roadside communities at Sunday morning speed, looking for something good.

Before long, I’m at the Sea Shack in Wheeler, eating clam chowder and watching the NFC Championship game. The battle of the birds – Eagles at the Cardinals. The flabby waitress is exceptionally surly and has the gutter tongue of a drunken sailor, but the beer is cold and the view is downright territorial.

From here, I’m going north again, looking to get out on the water for a twilight paddle, maybe somewhere around Nehalem.

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