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Monday, April 14, 2008


Well, that was ill-advised

On Saturday the sky over western Oregon shook its seemingly perpetual cloud blanket and the temperature climbed to over 70 for the first time in nearly six months. Rather than take this opportunity to chop down the jungle of grass and weeds outside my cabin or lounge around on a pub porch somewhere, I went and did something stupid. I climbed a mountain instead.

I do this sort of thing a few times a year and I'm not talking about Everest here. I'm a big fan of the trails around Nehakahnie Mountain, which is basically an overgrown hill north of Manzanita that overlooks the Pacific Ocean. Typically I cheat by starting from a trailhead halfway up but last summer I ran into an elderly couple on the mountain. They had climbed from sea level at Short Sands Beach and had managed to reach the peak. Round trip: 8 miles. Despite having reached the peak a few dozen times over the years,they made me realize I had never truly climbed this damn thing.

That day a gauntlet was thrown down. If they could do it, so could I. I accepted this self-imposed challenge on Saturday. So what if I was out of shape and hadn't been on a hiking trail since last fall? I tossed a few Cliff Bars and a jug of water in a backpack and off I went.

The path leading up from Shorts Sands to the 101 is a gradual climb. Nothing too serious and there's a fun "bouncy bridge" ala Tom Sawyer's Island along the way. This tree is also fairly Tolkien-esque and photogenic.

The path across once you cross the typically elk-free Elk Meadow and the highway is another story. What seemed like a pleasant walk through the woods became a hellish uphill slog. I typically take the much easier and shorter route on the south side of Nehakahnie. The mountain was crowded on Saturday, which meant every 10 minutes I ran into people coming down from the peak. When you're covered in sweat and when your knees are on fire and when you've begun questioning why you didn't just buy a six-pack at the Arch Cape Market in order to make a feeble attempt at recreating a Corona ad on the shores of Cannon Beach, the last thing you want to see is a joyous church group singing camp songs as they practically fly back down to the parking lot.

Oh, and there were snakes. Did I mention them? They were all over the place. Small and harmless (hopefully) but snakes nonetheless. I nearly stepped on one that was sunning itself in the middle of the trail. It must have been Slither Day on the mountain. I swear, every twenty feet one of them, no doubt startled by my huffing, puffing and muttered bitching, would suddenly spring up in the underbrush near my feet and bolt to a spot a few feet away. They did help break up the monotony but, honestly, I prefer the rabbits that can sometimes be spotted along Nehakahnie's trails. Further adding to the danger factor: muddy conditions and numerous trees downed by last winter's wind storms. I made sure to wear my Indiana Jones-type fedora on the hike. I look more like a dork while wearing it but the snakes might have gotten me if I hadn't brought the hat along.

I reached the top 140-minutes later. I'm a casual hiker, if that, so my mud-covered shins were convinced we had just conquered K6. I broke out a Mexi-Coke and, despite being lukewarm, it was the best damn soda I've ever drank in my entire life. Everything they say about Coke tasting better when it's made with sugar instead of corn syrup is true. I loved that Coke so much we were later married in a small ceremony at dusk near Haystack Rock. This might have been a worse idea than climbing the mountain. I don't think the state of Oregon is going to let me add the Coke to my medical plan, let alone get a tax break.

A few days have passed and my knees still feel like they're filled with battery acid. My feet and I still aren't on speaking terms. I guess I should probably cancel those plans to hire a few Sherpas and hit the Himalayas this summer. Mountain climbing is a major pain in the pass. Who knew?


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