Planning vacations is one of my specialties.
In fact, I often do so much planning that the actual execution is kind of dull. When you’ve studied online reviews and Google maps and travel advice from five different sources in advance of arrival, the whole experience can feel like déjà vu.
Some destinations, though, no matter how much advance intel is acquired, offer surprises.
Like Las Vegas. Nothing prepared me for the grand scale and audacity of the Strip. Like Glacier National Park. Words and photos fail to completely capture the beauty and scope.
Like the hike from Ecola Point to Indian Beach on the Oregon coast.
Cooper, Katie and I recently spent a week in Oregon, first in Portland and then in Cannon Beach, not far from where Lewis and Clark first spied the Pacific Ocean in 1805.
For months in advance, I studied state parks and notes from hikers. On the must-do list: Ecola State Park. I read reviews of different trails and decided, with only slight unease, that we could handle the mile and a half hike from elevated Ecola Point to Indian Beach.
We drove into the park on a misty, foggy morning. The slow, winding ascent to Ecola Point was delayed for a meandering herd of elk.
We parked, I took photos of the rocks, hills, shoreline and lighthouse, then we started our journey to the beach.
The first clue that this may not have been the best choice: a posted sign warning “You are in cougar country” with a long list of suggestions should we meet up with cougars. It included tips such as “Do not run. Running encourages them to chase” and “Fight back if attacked.”
None of my advance research had revealed cougars.
The kids forged ahead, singing camp songs loudly, in hopes of scaring away giant cats. Cooper, our intrepid Boy Scout, led the way.
We followed a narrow, cleared path surrounded by moss-covered trees, overgrown ferns and blooming plants I’ve never seen before. Light mist continued to fall.
Deep in the forest, the trail turned steep. The early morning rain had turned dirt to mud. Our pace slowed as our footing became less secure.
At the steepest descents, Cooper would study the path, take cautious steps down, then coach Katie on where to place her feet. Katie would tell me the same, adding encouragement like, “You can do this, Mommy!”
My planning nature also makes me a worst-case scenario kind of person. As we inched along the trail, with not a single bar of cellphone service, I wondered how we would reach the outside world should one of us slip, fall and break a bone. (My biggest worries were no longer roaming bands of cougars.) Exactly how extensive was Cooper’s first aid training?
I kept these thoughts silent, of course, using my words instead to cheer for our tiny team.
We reached a break in the path, where the only option was to leap over a mud pit. Katie watched her long-legged brother struggle before landing on solid ground. She wouldn’t budge.
She began to cry. She rubbed her face. She wailed that she wasn’t going anywhere.
I had to use my stern mom voice to stop the impending spiral into an emotional abyss.
She eventually leaped, I followed, and we moved on.
We were occasionally rewarded with breathtaking views of the ocean. And then the trail would wind back in, where treachery awaited.
One section of the path was so angled and slippery that not even brave Cooper could find a way down.
“We have to slide,” he told us before he crouched down and starting careening toward the bottom of the hill. He had to steer right; on the left was an even scarier decline.
Katie did the same, though she scooted more on her bottom than on the soles of her shoes.
I hugged the nearest mossy tree trunk, took a few deep breaths, told myself over and over to veer right, not left, and then finally hunkered down and slid to join my children.
The worst was over, and within a few minutes, we reached Indian Beach and its blessedly flat land leading to the sea.
Cooper bubbled with confidence. He raved about the “team building” and “family bonding.”
Katie splashed in the waves. She declared that she would never do that again and that we should walk back on the paved road, not back through the forest.
I said a prayer of thanks for safety and for unexpected adventures that end well.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at email@example.com.
|One of the elk herd on our drive in|
|This sign didn't scare us one bit. Well, maybe a little.|
|Occasionally our path led to the edge of a cliff, with sweeping view of the Pacific.|
|Katie gathers her courage for one of many steep declines.|
|At last! Flat land!|
|Indian Beach is lovely. (In fact, you may recognize it from films such as The Goonies, Point Break and Twilight.)|