It’s five days later, and I’m finally able to lay on my left side without uttering a stream of expletives. I’ve heard the phrase “black and blue” before but I never fully appreciated the human body’s ability to produce those colors until now. When I relayed the short version of my antics to a huge, bodybuilding paramedic friend of mine, his eyes got wide and he declared solemnly, “You’re nuts.”
Here’s the long version.
Being a combination map buff/weather freak, I naturally gravitate to the tasty online sites that can lay it all out on one page: roads, elevation, trails, precipitation, areas where the temperature is so hot, I can fry up breakfast on the hood of my truck. I do not like the heat. As a matter of fact, I hate it. I have always described myself as “like chocolate, because we both melt above 75 degrees.” I use an umbrella for the sun more than the rain. Having just (barely) survived a week of 90s and triple digits by making sweet love to my air conditioner and administering frozen fruit smoothies every four hours, I had serious cabin fever. So, I went online and started scrolling around for places where the color coded temperature maps gradually descended from flaming red to throbbing orange and finally into serene yellow. Along Highway 6 my eye caught something so bizarre, I actually did a double take and laughed out loud: There is an Idiotville, Oregon. And not only that, but there is an Idiot Creek and an Idiot Creek Falls, too. 140 feet of falls, to be exact, and no photographic evidence of it anywhere online. Yet, you can see it from space on Google Earth. Hmm….Twenty-four hours later, Andy and I are rumbling up several confusing forest roads with three cameras between us, multiple forms of DEET, and a cooler full of ice and victory beverages. There is a river of flying insects in front of us and a tidal wave of dust behind. Whenever we pull over to consult the maps, we become increasingly aware that whatever fool predicted “low 70s” for the day needed a sound thrashing. It was somewhere between “very warm” and “Fuck!” and it wasn’t even noon.
Triangulating a mysterious waterfall on intermittently named circuitous forest roads without a GPS is a battle. Our first attack was from the west flank on, wouldn’t you know it, Idiot Creek Road. Andy spotted our quarry with a keen eye as we whipped past a small break in the trees.
Close up on the Idiot:Guessing our way through half a dozen unmapped forks and intersections, we met a roadblock. Those branches may look spindly but they were just thick enough to threaten paint damage. I wistfully fantasized about all the landscaping implements of destruction I had back home in the garage. (sigh)
We backtracked and swung up the only other option, Drift Creek Road. Where Idiot Creek Road was circuitous, Drift Creek Road was positively labyrinthine. About ten speculations and one three-point turn later, we made a decision and parked in the shade. There was a hastily constructed wooden bench and a well-pounded trail into the forest, so we figured we were as close as we were gonna get to the sweet spot.
We sprayed each others backs with 40% DEET–hands down, the best decision of the day–strapped gaiters around our calves like armor, and cinched up our packs. At first, the trail was forgiving, an old access road slightly overgrown. Slightly became very in short order. Soon, we were scrambling over blow downs and doing slow motion snake dances around clusters of vine maple trunks. We had two choices, neither one palatable: Shimmy over increasingly large blow downs on top of the ridge in the full, pounding sun or risk death in the shade where the land fell away suddenly at alarming, femur-snapping angles.
The incline is far greater than the camera tells in the photo below. It was approximately 350 degrees Fahrenheit on the back of my neck when I snapped the shutter. We could’ve baked Snickerdoodles on our heads. We chose Option C: picking our way cautiously along the cooler terminator line between forest and Hades. The wonderful surprise here was that the Sword Fern and salal rose up to our belly buttons and hid all sorts of giant gopher holes and smaller, skin-ripping branches. Every step was a roll of the dice. Andy asks for the third time, “Can you hear the falls yet?”I managed to make it thus far with only dust, fir needles, and twenty spider webs clinging to me, but Andy was getting his trail wounds out of the way early. This is called a Dead Branch Tattoo. It’s even more exciting when you consider that, thanks to this handy, eight-inch-long entry point, he now had a stinging cocktail of dirt, sweat, and DEET coursing through his veins.
Arms weren’t the only things getting scratched out there. We found some pretty good evidence of bear activity. The patterns on this log were probably due to 300 pounds of ravenous fur scraping old bark away to reveal tasty grubs and such. That, or an ursine mani-pedi.
There were some weird saprophytes called Gnome Plants nestled in the undergrowth. We would’ve missed them if we had been going any faster. I find a slow pace opens up the world around a hike. I’ve spotted dozens of delights and had to shout at my friends up ahead to turn around to check them out. Thankfully, Andy is just another sharp-eyed nature lover like me. Between us, we didn’t miss much in that forest. We found all sorts of mysteries (What digs a colony of six-inch-wide holes in the ground?) and spooky demonstrations of nature’s power. (Ever see a small snake try to eat a giant slug?)
After about an hour and a half of cursing, laughing, and getting ever dirtier and sweatier, we heard the holy music of the creek below us. Man, that liquid beacon was magnetic. We wanted cold water on our legs so bad we could taste it. We were like tiny space ships getting sucked into a black hole of lust. And that probably should have been our first warning.
The thing about watersheds is, well, they shed water. Every forest overflow system from the tiniest drainage ditch to the largest gorge has the same topography: The closer you get to the actual flowing river, the more muddy, treacherous and unstable the ground beneath you becomes. And in most cases, the more vertical it becomes. We had been following manageable deer trails at a good clip but now we were lowering ourselves like spider monkeys by roots and branches.
I saw some giant leaves eighteen inches across down near the water and exclaimed that I had never seen Vine Leaf Maple get so big. That’s because it doesn’t; Devil’s Club does. The vicious, prickly stuff was everywhere, there was nothing left to grab onto that didn’t want to jab you in the finger and make you bleed. We got to about ten feet above the water and ran out of earth. It literally dropped away. And, suddenly, so did Andy. He skidded ten feet down to the water and did an ungraceful dismount in the middle of the creek. However, his forgiveness was swift when he realized how cool and refreshing that water was now that it was seeping into his overheated boots and socks.
He had created a sort of muddy sluice for me so I sat my butt down and descended to the creek’s edge at warp speed. I thought I would attempt a sexier dismount, so I stood up towards the end of my ride, planning to land on my feet. The rock was slicker than snot. My legs flew out from under me so fast, I wasn’t even aware they were gone until I heard the wet cracking sound. I fell straight down just to the left of my tail bone with a force so monumental, I actually saw stars. I felt the impact more than heard it as it traveled up my spinal column, blinking out all the lights one by one until I was on my hands and knees, half in and half out of the water, gasping for breath and staring at the muddy pebbles ten inches from my face, just trying to stay conscious.
I remember hearing Andy saying something but I couldn’t quite make it out. I couldn’t hear anything for a few seconds. Then, my sight came back like a fade in movie scene and I managed to mumble, “Gimme… minute.” I moved everything gingerly and–amazingly–everything worked. No pain, nothing broken or sticking out at wrong angles. I laughed. Andy probably thought I was nuts but I operate on the principle that if you are ambulatory and laughing, you’re ready for more.
I stood up and said, “Let’s go look at the falls!” It wasn’t the 140-footer we had targeted but it had two tiers and the bottom one had a double chute. I declared it Little Idiot Falls, the bottom part being Two Little Idiots. Take a guess why.
The march back uphill was going to be a bitch but first we had to locate it. We were, after all, sort of trapped down in our own little paradise with steep, muddy walls all around. Where there weren’t walls, there was Devil’s Club. Allow me to wax poetic for a moment on that remarkable plant: surgically sharp frickin’ prickers! It’s like Satan’s stubble. After two false starts, we made it up and over the lip of the mud using an advanced technique of near-panicked belly crawling and grabbing at anything that looked stable. That made the trek back up the ridge child’s play by comparison. Unfortunately, it had gotten even hotter in the interim, the kind of muggy heat that plays games with the stomach. I had never seen an athlete vomit from the heat before. Now I have. Thanks, Andy, always an adventure with you.
I think we were both pretty thankful to see the truck again. Between his woofing and my ass-crunching, it was anybody’s guess which one of us was going to have to carry the other one out. Once we had access to the Igloo cooler, we immediately set about scrubbing off our dirt/sweat/DEET body bisque with ice cubes. I absolutely recommend this, it feels sublime. So do fresh, clean socks and a dry T-shirt that doesn’t smell like rotten death. When I sat down on the rickety bench to change into my Tevas, I realized that I hadn’t made it out unscathed: I had a bruise on my butt the size of a grapefruit. It was swollen, rigid, and hot to the touch. Thank god for velour bucket seat cushions.
It wasn’t a hard decision at that point to put off bagging the elusive Idiot Creek Falls until another day. I had a friend with a GPS who later helped me scope out the best future access spot from the triangulation of our photography perch, our parking spot, and the falls’ actual location in the near future. Turns out, Andy and I had actually done a spectacular job of using our intuition to pick a starting point, we couldn’t have gotten any closer without ropes. We only missed Idiot Creek Falls by one ridge.
With the truck’s nose sticking out on Highway 6, I mentioned to Andy that the ocean beaches were only half an hour away. He needed no deliberation: “Let’s go!”
We made a beeline for the coast and swung north to the overlooks at the base of Neahkahnie Mountain. On the way, we got a nice view of Saddle Mountain and some kayakers in Nehalem Bay.Neahkahnie Beach was serene near low tide.
The water was as calm as green glass at the rocky shore. We could see right through it to the undulating kelp beds beneath. Now would have been a good time for a pod of seals or whales to slide by. Or Jaws.Andy snapped off some shots but didn’t like the glare of the late day sun.
I, on the other hand, had a ball playing with my polarizer for the first time. I loved the quicksilver play of the waves. It looked like the whole ocean was made of liquid mercury.
We explored the sea caves of Hug Point while the tide was out. Hug Point is so named because pioneers who used this beach in the late 1880s as a highway had to “hug” this particular point at low tide to get around it, even after blasting a niche in the rock. You can stand in their historic wheel ruts.
By the time we made it to the north end, the waves were beginning to rise, so we took some very fast photos and started back as quickly as sandals could go over a shag carpet of razor sharp barnacles.Some of those barnacles were sizable. They blanketed almost every square inch of ground and were hard as a rock. You minced along, half afraid to crush them, half afraid they were going to bleed you if you stumbled and fell. (Oh, wait, I already did that.)
There were holes at equal intervals in the rock wall above the wagon road, possibly for wooden poles that supported a makeshift boardwalk or railing back in the day. Each hole was now a tiny aquarium decorated with green and pink anemones, barnacles, and shiny black mussels.
While the barnacles handled the housekeeping below, the limpets took care of the walls. They ranged in size from smaller than a fingernail to larger than a thumb.When you got up close for inspection, you could make out thousands of light grey infant barnacles coating the rock around them.We inspected caves, some deep and dripping, others shallow and leading nowhere. My favorite is creepy Gooseneck Cave. It’s my own personal name for a tight little fissure absolutely painted inside with eerie Gooseneck Barnacles. The place looks so wonderfully alien, it could easily be a Star Trek set.When the tide comes in they extend outward on soft, leathery-feeling “necks” several inches long. Then, open “mouths” of feathery cirri trap plankton and tiny crustaceans. I love photographing them. Up close, they look like menacing monsters that could swallow a Prius. On the other hand, I hear they are very tasty in a nice garlic sauce. I think I’d rather have an acre of them as pets.My second favorite cave is Pink Cave. The light was too far gone for us to pick that hue out but if you get there at midday, you can enjoy reddish pink sandstone. It’s a big cave, the largest one at Hug Point, and you can walk all the way in and around the pink berm until you are looking over it back at the world outside. I discovered a reflective pool of water and caught Andy ogling the view.We had to enjoy everything with a stop watch due to the rising tide. Each cave was in another cove around another rocky point and they were all being squeezed shut by the encroaching surf. Below, you can see the wagon road rising at an angle and wrapping around the rock to the left. It dips down to a low point just before it rounds the bend and the waves are already beginning to cover it. By midnight, it will be submerged.An armada of Brown Pelicans flew by in formation. They were so low on the deck that when the waves heaved, they disappeared behind them. Finally, we explored Fall Creek. There’s something exotic about waterfalls that empty right onto a beach.The waterway above is sweet and docile and flitting with little butterflies. By now, the tide had completely cut off the route behind us so we lingered on the main beach, searching for the ultimate Mole Crab. Our greatest catch was four inches long!After all the sweat and heat of the day, playing around in the frigid surf felt pretty good.
How To Exfoliate Toes Naturally:
1. Let wave rush in.
2. Allow sand to do its magic.
3. Let wave rush out. Rinse. Repeat.
Fog banks rolled in and nestled themselves against the shores to the south. Castle Rock began to grow dim in the distance.In the descending gloom, Arch Cape took on the lovely gradients of a watercolor painting. I was mesmerized by the glassy flatness of the beach. Waves spread themselves across the sand here like wet coats of varnish….…and fashioned themselves into stained glass windows.Our last view before the light went out was Arch Cape’s lovely jumbled rock garden.We warmed ourselves at some friendly folks’ campfire in the sand before heading home but I was so tired, I don’t even remember the drive. However, I do remember the zesty Garden Herb Triscuits–Thanks, Andy!
Just before I crawled into bed, my curiosity got the better of me and I tugged down the waist band of my yoga pants to inspect the damage to the back of my front. I had no idea human skin could turn so dark so fast. My ass was black. Plus, I hit that rocky creek bed so hard I actually ground a hole in the shirt tail I had been wearing outside of my hiking pants. A week later, there were still rings of various colors in my flesh around ground zero that rivaled the Grand Prismatic Spring.
But not one bug bite. Woo-HOO!
July 16, 2010