An experimental trip up the Oregon coast
Story and Photos by Dave Zook
Photo at right: Glowing sunsets and water views keep the runners’ spirits high on the 186-mile journey along the Oregon Coast.
“That’s doable,” said trip master Ian Klepetar, after looking at a ratty map of Oregon. He made a round of heavy-handed back pats as if to say, “Are you ready?!” before he hit the ground for a few pushups to get loose.
He was referencing our first day’s 27-mile run, which would take us from Florence, Ore.—a town 60 miles west of Eugene—north to Yachats, Ore. After Yachats, we would have seven more days of running almost a marathon a day before reaching our destination of Astoria, Ore., 186 miles to the north.
A new kind of gas-free vacation
Ian had organized the running trip to test an idea: Since other forms of gas-free vacations like bike touring and backpacking are popular, he believed a running vacation could fulfill a similar need. The Oregon coast offered ideal geography for his experiment. It holds a lineup of metropolitan areas, each about 25 miles apart, with plenty of beaches and towns in between.
Scott Lommele and I agreed to join him. Scott is a friend from Alta, Utah, who has run the Grand Canyon’s 42-mile rim-to-rim-to-rim trail. I decided I could be into a good, weird trip myself, as I do enjoy recreational running and the Oregon coast.
All of us were new to this travel style, so we had to guess what kind of equipment would work best. We used a baby stroller to carry gear and a road bike to ride in case of fatigue or injury.
I began the run feeling fresh but harboring trepidation over the unknowns. Following Highway 101 virtually the entire way, safety was a concern and we had no plans for where to stay half of the nights. Additionally, our physical condition was questionable. Though we knew running too many miles too quickly would be a recipe for injury, we had trained very little among the three of us. But, we were already off and jogging.
Run, rest and run some more
A breeze, blue skies, a beachside highway and 70-degree temps in early May eased us into the grind. I relished the expansive views of sandy, windswept beaches and scotch-broom covered hillsides. We ran, rested, then ran some more.
We found Stonefield Beach after about 20 miles and I waded into the frigid Pacific while Ian went bodysurfing. While I liked the trip and the pace thus far, I winced at the short distance we had covered in the face of 186 miles.
As we entered Yachats, a chilly mist shrouded the small town (alas, we wouldn’t be showered with sunrays forever). Ian chatted up the ice cream parlor guy who gave us some thick and buttery ice cream to fill our empty stomachs.
Keeping bodies going and spirits up
We battled soreness in the morning, and we faced health issues in the coming days. My quads felt like steamed pieces of meat. Scott had increasing knee pain that running on pavement wasn’t helping. And, Ian had a stomach bug that left him walking, unable to sustain a run, the entire day on our way to Lincoln City.
Nevertheless, Scott remained opportunistic with risqué humor and Ian courted enthusiasm at the chance to spend all day in the outdoor arena.
In Lincoln City, we settled into a campsite right off the highway, Scott and I ate extremely average Mexican food and I downed a Tecate. Ian chose to stay at camp, eating Fritos and sardines, and chatted with our newfound South African traveler friend, Ernest, who was on his sixth year of bike touring. The campfire had us asleep without any struggles.
“Da-a-ave, it’s time to r-u-u-un!”
At 6 a.m. the next morning, Ian’s massive grin loomed a foot over my face: “Da-a-ave, it’s time to r-u-u-un, aren’t you excited for this?!”
I tried to ignore him and rest, but he was making tea and packing bags. His stomach, apparently, was feeling better.
Passing through the more populated zones of Newport then Lincoln City as well as the smaller towns of Depoe Bay and Neskowin, the diversity of Oregon towns was evident. They vacillated between kitschy, gritty and charming.
Peace of Mind
After Pacific City, 90 miles south of Astoria, we escaped the honking, logging trucks and the exhaust-heavy grasp of Highway 101, albeit temporarily. We opted for a 29-mile day that included a section of the Three Capes Loop to get to Bay City. It was our longest day, but the lack of traffic and multi-ton vehicles provided peace of mind.
After a steep hill that bordered Cape Kiwanda State Natural Area, we were emptied into miles of flat, bucolic pastures. If running does grow as a vacation form, it will happen on country roads like the ones between Pacific City and Sand Lake.
Lumbering into Bay City that night, we stayed with Warm Showers hosts, Bill and Dee. With dogs and gardens and chickens and work projects all around the house, they still found time to prepare three theretofore strangers a meal of grilled halibut, roasted beets, quinoa, a fresh green salad and a creamy sauvignon blanc blend. My faith in humanity was bumped up at their generosity.
A bike traveler from Ohio was also staying at the house, and she had recently begun a west-to-east trip across the country. She had never been to the West and considered the mountains of the Oregon
Coastal Range to be large. (I mused that the Rockies were going to come as quite the shock.) We offered her our best recommendations and wished her well.
Waking after a blissful day of rest at Bill and Dee’s, Ian was excited to get going, and the enthusiasm spread to Scott and me.
“Sometimes, it’s not what the body needs, it’s what it wants,” said Ian, suggesting that the body likes to be pushed past recommended amounts of daily exercise to find true rewards.
Details of a magical coastline
On the last three days we jogged a lot, gazed at the 235-foot Haystack Rock near Cannon Beach, and took in firs, deer, gulls and infinite waves.
Traveling on foot, we were invited to see into the cracks and under the rocks of a magical coastline in greater detail than I could have imagined. Gnarled roadside trees and miniscule slivers of beach—sights we regularly saw—would be missed entirely through a car window. Crossing a narrow bridge into Astoria, the “finish line” sensation began to settle into our achy feet.
We found our hosts—another pair of strangers-turned-friends—by the end of the evening. Ian made a Waldorf salad, and we brought some beers and whisky, actually contributing a little to this dinner.
Post-feast, with a setting sun, we biked across town to the Astoria Column, a decorated 125-foot pillar with surrounding views into Washington and down the Columbia River. Tossing balsawood planes off the edge and into twirling oblivion, we laughed that we were intact and still friends, with minds full of stunning imagery and gratifying experiences.
Maybe this kooky running-as-a-vacation thing has a future after all.
Astoria & Warrenton Area Chamber of Commerce: www.oldoregon.com
Cannon Beach Chamber of Commerce: www.cannonbeach.org
Cape Kiwanda State Natural Area: www.oregonstateparks.org
Florence Chamber of Commerce: www.florencechamber.com
Oregon Coast Travel Club: www.oregoncoast101.com
Oregon Coast Visitor’s Association: www.visittheoregoncoast.com
Travel Oregon: www.traveloregon.com
Warm Showers: www.warmshowers.org
Dave Zook lives in Lake Tahoe, where he learned to snowboard 20 years ago. He pursues powder turns, outdoor adventures of most varieties and aims to find an outlet to get those adventures into print.