Thru-Hiking the Oregon Coast Trail, Part 3
By Audrey Jo Mills
Published: 09/16/2012  Updated: 08/08/2019
Audrey Jo Mills

I had every intention of hiking the Oregon Coast Trail in one fell swoop, but I ran into a big obstacle: The Grand Canyon. My boyfriend met me at Sunset Bay State Park the same evening that Pepe and I came hiking in. We hadn't seen each other in a little over two months as we were on our own adventures: While I was road tripping around the West and hiking the OCT, Paul had been instructing an Outdoor Adventure course for Prescott College. Needless to say, Pepe and I were both ecstatic to see him and to catch up on life with each other. Then he popped the question: Would I be interested in joining him and his students on their backcountry permit for a five-day backpacking trip through the Grand Canyon? I had never been, and didn't see another opportunity any time in the near future, so I said YES! That five-day trip through the Grand Canyon was simply fantastic, indescribable really, but by accepting the offer, I had to break up my OCT hike. I knew I was setting myself up for trouble. With little time remaining until I deployed for my job in Greenland, I was going to have to finish the OCT during the month of March. Not exactly the best time to be walking down the Oregon coast...

So with less than a month before I left the US for a six month work stint in Greenland, I set out on the road with Pepe and one of my best friends, Cedar, in order to finish the last 100 plus miles of the OCT. Fueled on espresso, red bull, and the hint of spring in the air, we road tripped from Winthrop, WA southwest to Sunset Bay State Park, OR. Short lived, that glimmer of spring faded as Cedar pulled up to the Cape Arago Pack Trailhead and stopped the car. Pepe and I got out and donned our packs in blustery winds between curtains of hail and rain. Welcome to March on the Oregon Coast: Hiking solo ill advised. We waved goodbye to Cedar, who grinned and shook her head as she drove off, as Pepe and I started up the trail, reacquainting ourselves with the OCT. This was going to be a hard day, regardless of the weather. The section of inland trail between Cape Arago and Seven Devils Wayside doesn't exist on most maps, so Pepe and I had to find our way along old unmarked trails and forest service roads. Though successful in route finding, we ended the day exhausted, hypothermic, and in pouring rain at Bullards Beach State Park.

The next day started as the previous had ended, cold and pouring rain. Only one day in and I was beginning to question my decision to finish the trail at this time of year. Needless to say, Pepe was also questioning his momma's mental abilities. The Southern Oregon Coast is infamous for rugged coastline, cliffs and bluffs, for its long isolated sections of trail, and for an unparalleled beauty that can only be truly experienced and accessed on foot. I kept repeating these points to myself as we anxiously approached the mouth of the Sixes River. In the summer, according to my sources, this river can be safely walked or waded across; in the very early spring, not a chance. Pepe and I reached the river and my heart sank. We were either going to have to back track several miles or find a way to cross further up river. We started walking up river and soon found ourselves in the swampiest mess of a cow field I've ever seen! I was post holing up to my knees in swampy turf and cow pies. Dusk was settling on us, the temperature was dropping, and Pepe and I weren't making any progress in crossing the Sixes. Eventually we made our North towards a farmhouse in the distance. No one home, but at least we had made it to solid ground. Not only were we covered in mud, wet, and cold, but we were now walking a road north. As darkness began to fall, a friendly woman pulled up and offered us a ride to the next campground. We lucked out, our destination for that evening, though only a couple of miles south of the mouth of the Sixes River, was now nice miles by road. We would have never made it that night if not for that kind woman's assistance!

Now having a feel for the river crossings and after a conversation with the park ranger, Pepe and I decided to head back towards the highway in order to safely cross the next big river. Highway walking was not as enticing as the beach and forested trail the previous day, so when a car pulled over a head of us, and the driver offered us a ride into Port Orford, we took her up on it! That ride was the beginning of a friendship I will value all my life. Under no other circumstances, would Kathy O'Davis and I have ever met, and that is one of the things that makes our relationship so special. Several of the North American Long Trails, such as the Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail, have what is known in the hiking world as "Trail Angels". Kathy O is my Trail Angel. She opened up her home to Pepe and I, fed us, drove us to trailheads, showed us around the sights of Port Orford, and introduced me to several of her friends and local townspeople. It was a whole new level of experiencing the Oregon Coast. With a huge storm forecasted over the next several days, Kathy O talked me into staying with her and having her drive Pepe and I out to drop-off points and meeting us at pre-determined pick up points so that we could hike the OCT sections. Without Kathy O's kindness and support, Pepe and I would have been constantly miserable and wet, and there is absolutely no way we would have finished the OCT on schedule. Port Orford is now like a second home to me, a place I know I will always be welcome and a place I will always keep dear.

Though bittersweet, it was time to leave Kathy O and hit the trail hard again. We said our good byes and Pepe entered a long anticipated section of trail, the Boardman State Scenic Corridor. This little slice of heaven, weaves for 27 miles between the highway and buttressed cliffs overlooking the ocean, through old growth Sitka spruce trees, with views of natural rock arches and occasional access to secluded beach coves. It was raining hard and the wind was at gale force, but the forested trail protected us from the brunt of the storm. You would never even have the slightest inclination that such beauty exists while driving through this section of highway. You have to get out of your car and walk to it, find it, and breathe it in.

One more day, and we would be at the state line, the end of our journey. Due to the continuous storm, we were advised to steer clear of the beach, so Pepe and I walked along the sidewalks of Brookings, enjoying my last hot double espresso mocha in the rain. As we walked, I thought back on the other small towns along the coast where Pepe and I had enjoyed the bliss of simply being together outside, taking in the gorgeous Oregon coast views, hiking, and sipping a warm double mocha. The walk down the coast had brought to life for us places and people we never would have met or been if we had been simply cruising down highway 101 in a car. We had been privilege to the true character of each community, the charm found in their quirky differences, the romance of hidden cove beaches, the spellbinding silence and shadows of the forested headlands, and the lure of the ever present sea.

We continued along the highway, with less traffic than usual, but still in a constant downpour, until we reached the state line and the Chrissey Field State Recreation Site. Pepe and I both took off our packs, and sat under the awning of the OPRD building, soaking in what we had just done while at the same time trying to escape the rain. We were pretty proud of ourselves and I found myself having a sense of accomplishment, unlike anything I'd felt in a while. While the OCT isn't the longest, and certainly not the hardest hike, it is something, something beautiful, rugged, and in many ways untouched. And now it's a part of me and my story. An adventure I crafted, where I bonded with myself and my dog, and an adventure that was molded by the people I met, and the landscape itself. Everyone should have an adventure like that. Go find yours.

Read excerpts from Audrey Jo's OCT Part III journal.

Read about Audrey Jo's Thru-Hiking OCT Part II

Read about Audrey Jo's Thru-Hiking OCT Part I

Thru-Hiking the Oregon Coast Trail, Part 3