The Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) is the universal symbol of freedom. Somehow, three little letters evoke a strong need to fly to the coast, rent a convertible and let our hair whip around in the salty ocean breeze. I’ve explored much of California’s PCH, but was told Oregon’s is different – it’s more wild and less Laguna Niguel. So Luke and I set out from Portland to explore Oregon’s untamed coastline.
We wind through rolling hills and farmland, past a mix of rusty shacks and majestic log cabins. Finally, we reach the PCH at Tillamook, but cruise right on past it toward the coast. The highway doesn’t start hugging the coastline until you get past the Nestucca Bay National Wildlife refuge, about 20 miles south of our stop at Cape Lookout State Park.
The plan is to spend two nights camping near the beach in Cape Lookout, then drive down the PCH for about 120 miles to the dunes of Honeyman State Park near Florence.
Camping on the coast feels very different from the kind of camping we’re used to. Pine needles and mosquitos are replaced by sandy grass and the occasional banana slug. The sound of waves rolling onto the shore lulls us to sleep at night. The stars overhead are rivaled only by the night sky I saw in the Badlands last year.
Once we get our site situated, we head down the road a few miles to hike the popular Cape Trail. We follow the path through an old-growth forest as it soars high above the Pacific Ocean. Bright blue water peeks through the cracks in-between trees, reminding us that where we are is unlike anywhere we’ve been before. As we go up, the trees thin out and eventually fade away to open sky and a narrow ridgeline hugging the cliff. The trail ends abruptly, dropping away into the shimmering, silver waves that flow straight into the horizon.
We hike back to our site, throw some firewood, beer and snacks into our backpacks, and head to the beach. The wind is whipping wildly down the coastline and the sun is just beginning its golden descent as we search for the perfect spot to build a campfire. About a mile down, we find a small fire ring someone created with collected stones and driftwood. I play in the shifting tide and hunt for sand dollars while Luke gets a campfire started.
Just as the sun is about to set, a mist rises off the water and hangs in the air, softening the lines of the dark cliff to the south. I look back toward the dunes and easily spot Luke – we’re the only two people as far as the eye can see. I grab a beer and a seat on a piece of driftwood and toast the sun as it sinks into the water, thanking it for another wonderful day.