September 5: Rockaway Beach to Pacific City

I got going just before sunrise—I had a boat to catch in Garibaldi. My legs felt sore and heavy, but soon warmed up. I ran along the beach in a heavy mist, enjoying the low, repetitive moan of the fog horn on the tip of Barview Jetty. I came to love the sound of the many fog horns up and down the Oregon Coast. You can listen here.

From the jetty, a road wound past a campground to the train tracks. Once part of the Southern Pacific and Port of Tillamook Bay railroads, the tracks now belong to the Oregon Coast Scenic Railroad, which trundles sightseers between Rockaway and Garibaldi. The official route of the OCT runs along the narrow shoulder of the 101 here, but the guidebook and the innkeeper in Rockaway both suggested I follow the tracks instead. Tight turns, no shoulder, big logging trucks. Enough said. Since the tracks parallel the highway, I didn’t think running them would alter the mileage or experience much. I had a hard time finding a rhythm on the railroad ties, but I enjoyed the novelty of running train tracks.

The Tracks to Garibaldi

The Tracks to Garibaldi

I arrived at the marina well ahead of my 8am shuttle. I felt conspicuous in my flashy running clothes among all the Carhartts and waders, but the proprietor, Jeff, welcomed me in. We visited for a while about the route ahead. He pointed out landmarks to watch for on a map. I bought breakfast from his shop and sat down to wait at a picnic bench on the dock.

Garibaldi Marina

Garibaldi Marina

OCT thru-hikers now have two choices of how to proceed from Garibaldi. The original route follows the narrow shoulder of Highway 101 around Tillamook Bay. However, both the guidebook and Oregon.gov recommend scheduling a short—less than 10 minutes—boat trip across the bay to Bayocean Spit. Both safer and more scenic, this option keeps the OCT on beach and trail. I wasn’t about to miss Bayocean Spit anyhow.

Now a public park, Bayocean Spit once housed a turn-of-the-century resort town, complete with dance hall, grand hotel, swimming pavilion, cottages, and more than 2,000 residents. What started as a getaway destination in 1906 had completely washed into the sea by 1960. I can tell you there is nothing on the spit now but trees and sand. The idea of a whole community slowly slipping into the ocean held a macabre fascination as I jogged along.

Bayocean Spit Today. Historical Photos from OregonEncyclopedia.org and TillamookCoast.com

Bayocean Spit Today. Historical Photos from OregonEncyclopedia.org and TillamookCoast.com

Bayocean Spit runs right into the next segment of the OCT at Cape Meares Beach. The guidebook says, “At the south end of Cape Meares Beach, the tide may thwart you from accessing the summit trail.” By the time I arrived, waves were already crashing into a low, rocky promontory jutting into the sea. Fortunately, I had no trouble scrambling onto the outcrop, from which I could see the trail on the other side of a short crescent of beach. The tide had swallowed most of the sand, but a wide rind of cobbles remained. I sprinted across the stones to where the trail started up a steep, muddy hillside. After a confusion of dead-end spurs, the path widened and entered a forest of first alders and then Sitka spruce. I hiked up and up carried by the thrill of beating the tide to this lovely trail.

Approaching Cape Meares

Approaching Cape Meares

At the top of Cape Meares I skipped touring the diminutive Cape Meares Lighthouse, having seen it once on vacation, and instead stretched out at a picnic bench for a long lunch and rest. I drowsed in the sunshine, letting my socks and feet dry out. We had picnicked once here as a family. After awhile, I packed up and continued past the Octopus Tree and onto the road. Later in the trip, I would grow accustomed to road running, but this section scared me with faint shoulders and heavy traffic. I was relieved to reach the beach at Oceanside.

Looking South from Cape Meares

Looking South from Cape Meares

Once again, OCT runners have a choice at Netarts. The official route follows the road to Cape Lookout State Park, but the guidebook suggests hitching a short boat ride to Netarts Spit. The Netarts Boat Ramp was a busy place, even on a weekday. A lively group of local crabbers ferried me to the spit; it took about five minutes. Their merriment was infectious. They had been out on the bay all morning and had a cooler teeming with fresh-caught crabs to show for it. One of the women said, “If you had a way to carry it, we’d give you one.” I gave them beer money instead.

While some people might find any sort of mechanized travel antithetical to an FKT, coastal environments present unique challenges (e.g., large bodies of water). The two ferries today did not shorten the overall route or make it easier—I would argue sand running is harder than road running—but they did allow me to explore more of the coast and less of the road. I also got to interact with local folks and the maritime culture fundamental to the trail. I would recommend future runners make use of these ferries, as well. The first is commercially available by calling Garibaldi Marina a day or two in advance. The second can be found by asking around at Netarts Boat Ramp.

The Deserted Netarts Spit

The Deserted Netarts Spit

Netarts spit was stunning—and absolutely deserted. I got to run five beautiful beach miles without seeing a single person. The spit brought me to Cape Lookout State Park, where I filled up water and lounged on a patch of grass near the park’s cabins. I had already covered more miles in three days than I normally run in a week. I was learning something about endurance. Pains that might cause me to worry on a short run—a sore hamstring, a tweaky hip, a stiff knee—disappeared with more distance. My legs would ache one hour and feel fresh and fast the next. Weird, huh?

Beautiful Craftsmanship on the Cape Lookout Trail

Beautiful Craftsmanship on the Cape Lookout Trail

One of the best maintained trails on the OCT, the footpath over Cape Lookout took me up and down through a lush forest and spit me out miles later on a secluded beach. I jogged south snacking on a burrito, past a section of beach popular with OHVs, to the churning mouth of Sand Lake. Typically fordable only at very low tide—and sometimes not at all—I had hoped to luck out this late in the season with lower water levels. Nope. I tried to cross at a number of spots, but the lake got deep quick. I briefly considered asking a couple paddleboarding nearby to ferry my pack and shoes while I swam across, but this seemed against FKT standards. If I were to do the OCT again, I would bring a small dry bag for my phone, chargers, and warm layers. I didn’t trust my ratty Ziplocks to keep things dry.

The Mouth of Sand Lake (Deeper Than It Looks)

The Mouth of Sand Lake (Deeper Than It Looks)

I walked along the north bank, looking for a solution. As the shore curved, I began to see the enormity of the lake. Dang. I chatted briefly with a kayaker, who confirmed the lake was much too deep to wade. He told me about a store at the junction of Galloway and Sand Lake roads where I might pick up more food for my long detour to Pacific City.* I was down to ginger chews and M&Ms. I came to a little picnic area, where I changed my socks, double-checked my maps, and psyched myself up for far more miles than I had planned. Already evening, I knew I would have to run into the night to make my motel in Pacific City. There was nothing to do but get going.

I followed a road from the picnic area, passing a campground. I could hear kids playing and smelled food cooking. The familiar sounds and smells made me miss my family. I thought about how nice it would be to bed down in that campground if I were on a more leisurely schedule. Instead, I turned onto Galloway Road, which rolls east for several miles. The countryside became more bucolic the farther from the ocean I ran. I passed tidy farms and horses grazing in the late evening sun. When I reached Sand Lake Road, I found the ramshackle country store already closed for the night. I peeked through the front window just in case. The owner stuck her head out the door. She was sympathetic, but had already shut down the till. We talked for a bit anyway. I bought a Pepsi from the battered vending machine outside the store—only $0.75. The sugar and caffeine perked me up. From there, I had eight miles on the shoulder of Sand Lake Road into Pacific City. My legs were sore. I walked. Once the sun went down, though, I got my third, or maybe fourth, wind of the day. Suddenly I could run again.

Sunset from Sand Lake Road

Sunset from Sand Lake Road

Near the tiny hamlet of Tierra Del Mar, I tried to rejoin the OCT on the beach. A thick marine layer hovered near the water’s edge, reflecting my headlamp’s beam back back into my eyes. I couldn’t see a thing! I debated which was safer: running the road alone at night or bumbling around in the fog. I chose the road (which for FKT purposes parallels the beach section of the OCT here), though both options felt equally creepy. Just outside Pacific City, the innkeeper of the Surf & Sand motel called to check on me. I assured him I was on my way. I would find caring innkeepers all along the coast. I also called Brady, who was with my mom and Jim and Cheryl. They were following my tracker online. That felt comforting.

Once again, I had booked a motel at the south end of town (eye roll). I ran past closed shops and restaurants, a party on someone’s front porch (it looked fun), and neighborhoods tucked in for the night. I crossed a bridge over the Nestucca River and saw the gleam of a Shell station, like an oasis in the night. I wonder what the clerk thought of me. I wandered through the aisles dirty and dazed piling my arms with all the calories I could carry. From there it was a short walk to the motel. I had never covered 44 miles on foot in a day before. I felt tired, but proud too.

Fine Dining from the Shell Station

Fine Dining from the Shell Station

*FKT Notes:

  1. I used Natalie Larson’s self-supported FKT of the California Coast Trail, which won #4 FKTOY, as a precedent for how to navigate a “described” coastal route like the OCT. Natalie notes many instances of using inland roads to bypass obstacles made impassable by high tide or other conditions. I did the same here and again later in the trip.

  2. My watch battery died right at the junction of Galloway Road and Sand Lake Road. I tallied the mileage from there to my motel using Google Maps. I also have tracker data to verify the miles.