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 online sites that lay it all out on one page: roads, elevation, wind, precipitation, areas where the temperature is so hot, you can fry up breakfast on the hood of your car.
I do not like the heat. I describe myself as “like chocolate, because we both melt above 75 degrees.” I use an umbrella for the sun more than the rain. July is the worst month on Earth.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, there’s 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 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 with branches just thick enough to threaten paint damage. I wistfully fantasized about all the landscaping implements of destruction sitting idly back in my garage. Damnit.
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. The entire length offered only two choices: Heave our sweating carcasses over increasingly large trunks on top of the ridge in the full, pounding sun or risk death in the shade where the land fell away suddenly at 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 pressed the shutter, we could’ve baked cookies on our scalp. And not even the suggestion of a breeze.We chose Option C: picking our way cautiously along the cool-ish terminator line between forest and Hades. The cruel 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 blind 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, too. We would’ve missed them if we had been going any faster, so score one for heat exhaustion. Anyway, 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 and head back to check them out. Thankfully, Andy is just another sharp-eyed nature lover. 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 tiny 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 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 by roots and branches like spider monkeys.
I noticed 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. That vicious, prickly stuff was everywhere, there was nothing left to grab onto that didn’t want to make you bleed. We got 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 felt cool creek water seeping into his overheated boots and socks.
He had created a sort of muddy sluice for me so I sat my butt down and glissaded to the creek’s edge at warp speed. I imagined a sexier dismount, so I stood up towards the end of my ride, planning to land on my feet. That creek 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, 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… m-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 chortling, 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 nice 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 a wet 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: Fuck me runnin’! Did they model surgical instruments after this thing? You bleed a pint before you can even get out the “Ow, damnit!” It’s 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. Which made the trek back up the Furnace Ridge child’s play by comparison. Unfortunately, it had gotten even hotter in the interim, turning the still forest into a muggy, cloying sauna that played 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 and all the treasure within, we immediately set about scrubbing off our dirt/sweat/DEET body bisque with ice cubes. I absolutely recommend this, it’s sublime. So are 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 sandals, I realized 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 Zeus for soft 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 returned with me to scope out the best future access spot from the triangulation of our photography, parking spot, and the falls’ actual location. Turns out, Andy and I had actually done a spectacularly intuitive job of picking a starting point, we couldn’t have gotten any closer without ropes. We only missed Idiot Creek Falls by one tiny ridge.]
With the truck’s nose sticking out on Highway 6, I mentioned that ocean beaches were only half an hour away. Andy 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 straight 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, a place so named because 1880s pioneers used this beach as a highway and “hugged” this particular point with their wagons. 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 added some very fast memories to our memory cards and scurried back as quickly as sandals could go over a solid shag carpet of razor sharp barnacles. Bleeding seemed to be the theme of the day.There were holes at equal intervals in the rock above the wagon road, possibly for wooden poles that supported a makeshift boardwalk back in the day. Each hole was now a tiny aquarium decorated with green and pink anemones and shiny black mussels. While the barnacles handled the housekeeping below, limpets took care of the walls. They ranged in size from smaller than a fingernail to larger than a thumb.When you moved in 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 was creepy Gooseneck Cave. It’s my own name for a tight little fissure completely coated with Gooseneck Barnacles. The place looks so eerie and alien, it could be a Star Trek set.When the tide comes in they extend outward on soft, leathery-feeling “necks” several inches long and mouths of feathery cirri open to trap plankton and tiny crustaceans. I love photographing them. Up close, they look like menacing monsters that could swallow a Prius. I hear they are very tasty in a nice garlic sauce. My second favorite is Pink Cave. At midday, indirect light reveals reddish sandstone inside, but we missed that photogenic window. It’s a big cave, the largest at Hug Point, so you can walk all the way in and around a berm to capture the world outside in a reflective pool of water.One has to enjoy everything with a stop watch at Hug Point. Each cave is in another cove around another rocky point and all hope of evacuation is squeezed shut by the rising tide. Below, you can see the wagon road rising at an angle to the left, dipping down to a low point before wrapping around the rock out of sight. Waves are already topping it. In hours, it will be submerged.An armada of Brown Pelicans flew by in formation so low on the deck that when the waves heaved, they disappeared behind them. Finally, we explored Fall Creek. There’s something exotic about a waterfall that empties straight into a beach.The creek above the fall 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 strand, 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 gelid 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 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’ beach campfire 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 collapsing 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–BLACK! Plus, I hit that rocky creek bed so hard I actually ground a hole in the shirt tail that was hanging outside of my hiking pants. A week later, there were still rings of ludicrous colors in my flesh around ground zero that rivaled the Grand Prismatic Spring.
But not one bug bite. Woo-HOO!
July 16, 2010