Close encounters with the Pacific Ocean

I met the Pacific Ocean for the first time last month. I saw it a day after I arrived in San Francisco, but it was a couple of days later before I got to touch it.

The first part of the Pacific I saw, from the Marin Headlands

Jon and I were spending the night at Gold Bluffs Beach campground, near the Redwood National Park Visitor’s Center in Orick, Calif. Like the campground’s name, there were cliffs at the beach’s edge and I could hear the waves pounding at the coastline, past the grassy knolls where the campsites were.

The view of the ocean from our campsite

The grassy knolls and bluffs shrouded in fog

Jon and I made our way down to the water so that I could touch it. I stuck my hand down on the beach as a light wave approached us, and after my introduction to the Pacific, we moved back a few yards to watch the waves for a bit longer.

I’d read throughout my preparations for this trip to not turn your back on the Pacific, and we didn’t. We had turned sideways, and out of the corner of my eye I see a wave much bigger than the ones previous.

Before I could say anything, the wave was breaking at our knees. I shrieked and we turned to run away from the broiling sea.

We laughed, replaying the scene over and over. Jon had earlier suggested we go for a swim, which I declined because it was mid October. That wave got us wet enough that afterward, a swim, in my mind, definitely wasn’t needed.

My shoes dried the next day because I wore them for our hike in the Tall Trees Grove. My jeans weren’t so lucky, and neither were my socks. This happened on a Wednesday and they weren’t dry four days later, and I bet there is still sand from Gold Bluffs Beach in Jon’s car.

Encounter No. 2 was in Bandon, Ore., about two hours north of the California border. We stayed in a rustic room (more expensive rooms were much less rustic, I’m sure, because there were lots of renovations on the property) at Sunset Oceanfront Lodging, which I would totally recommend.

But we did not stop in Bandon for the hotel, though we could see the ocean from our room. We came for the coastline my guidebooks raved about, and the hotel just happened to be across from a spectacular grouping of sea stacks. (We could see these from our room, too.) These were free to visit with beach access from the hotel property, though there is a state park a mile down the road where there is an entrance fee.

Sea stacks on the beach across from the hotel

We climbed down the stairs on the cliff to the beach, which was strewn with these really strange-looking, tentaclly-like, ocean-growing plants that were many feet long. I wanted to touch them because they looked squishy, but I refrained from doing so. I also wanted to pick one up and swing it around, but I refrained from that, too. (You can check out a video, below, of the beach where you can see these plants strewn across the beach.)

We climbed around on the rocks, and while doing so, with certain waves, the beach on all sides of the rocks would flood and I was worried we would have to wade through pools on the beach. We managed to get off the rock without getting wet, but we didn’t leave the beach without another encounter.

The view from our climb up the rocks

Cedric the gnome with Salzburg at night

Jon was taking pictures of his Yerba Mate jar on the beach (just like I photograph my gnome Cedric) and I was filming a couple clips of the beach. And then, I see another wave. Another really, really big wave. And it’s time to run. Again.

The jar of tea gets left on the beach as we bolt away from the ocean. It’s gaining on us, practically nipping at our heels. And then, we realize we are running out of beach. The bluffs are approaching and the ocean is still coming at us. We climb up a pile of sand with almost no where else to go and the ocean finally ends its pursuit.

I only wanted to love the Pacific Ocean and it really was giving me a run for my money. We did, though, manage to safely turn our backs on the ocean for a photo.

At the beach in Bandon

I again turned down an opportunity to swim in the ocean, because it had already given me enough grief, and this time, it destroyed Jon’s container of tea.

We drove farther north on U.S. Route 101, which runs along the coast for the next couple of hours. We really weren’t in the mood for stopping, because we had other places to go and we enjoyed a lot from the view from the car. We drive past Coos Bay and past the dunes in Florence. Then we approach an area with the (supposedly) most photographed lighthouse in the U.S. My guidebook suggests heading down to an oceanfront park with great views of the lighthouse. It turns out that the great views are from the pulloff on the highway we’d already driven past, though we were able to catch a glimpse before our descent to the viewless beach.

Heceta Head Lightstation State Park, sans lighthouse, of course

Here, at Encounter No. 3 with the Pacific, Jon again asks if I would swim in the ocean with him. I finally acquiesce. We change into our swimsuits in a smelly bathroom and head to the beach.

We hurridly drop our clothes far from the ocean and run full force into the waves. Of course, there are lots of tourists standing around, and I’m sure we added a happy moment to their day as they thought: Look at those crazy kids running into the Pacific on a chilly October afternoon.

Once we entered the water we noticed we were swimming with a seal. Yes, that’s right! A seal! I thought it was driftwood, bobbing along until it reached the shore. And then I saw another brown head sticking out of the water, just like a submarine. There were two seals! We swam with seals!

The one closest to us seemed quite curious about the humans in their water. It followed us as we moved around. I wished the seal would bark at us, but that didn’t happen.

After exiting the water, one of the women on the shore asked if we went in because of the seal, and we had to admit that we didn’t know it was there until we were a stone’s throw away from the first one.

Jon says there are four types of fun. You can dread the activity and still hate it afterward, you can love the idea of something and hate it afterward, you can love the activity and love it afterward, and you can dread something and later love it. Encounter No. 3 with the Pacific Ocean would definitely be that fourth type.

It was dreading the swimming because the ocean was cold and it was cold outside. It wasn’t January and I wasn’t going to get hypothermia or pneumonia from a quick swim, is what I finally told myself.

Traveling is all about learning and trying new things. There really wasn’t an excuse for me to not go for a swim and I finally, begrudgingly of course, said I would take a dip. And what did I get out of this small step out of my comfort zone? A sweet story about swimming with seals! Jon was able to judge my character and he knew I would be able to handle the swim. And I don’t even remember him telling me, “I told you so.”

This entry was posted in North America, Planning a trip, Travel Narrative, U.S. and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Close encounters with the Pacific Ocean

  1. Caitlin M says:

    Love the photos! And the narrative! Happy Thanksgiving and I will try to call you sometime soon with definitive plans for the weekend:)

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