The Oregon Coast Trail (OCT) is a 382 mile trail that meanders along the coast of Oregon. A while back, Jon and I decided to hike a section of the trail between Seaside and Tolovana Park, just south of Cannon Beach. After a night in Portland, we made our way to Tolovana where we planned to park Jon’s truck and catch a bus to Seaside.
We arrived at Tolovana Park about five or ten minutes before the bus was supposed to pick us up. It had been sunny and warm just days before, but the weather didn’t consider us on this day. It was raining. Really raining, and the wind was blowing the rain at an angle. We made the bus with handfuls of unpacked things waiting to find a place on our person. The twenty minute ride allowed us to secure all of our belongings, layer our bodies and prepare to enter the awaiting elements.
The bus dropped us off at the Seaside hospital. Bundled up in waterproof packaging, we stepped out under the raining sky, which would be our only world for the next 24 hours. As we marched through the empty, wet streets of Seaside, I recalled the sunny days when I had been there as a child. A small beach town, tourists flock there for salt water taffy, sand and rentable surrey bikes that accommodate four people. Today was different. Grey skies, grey sidewalks, grey ocean. We rounded the corner of the main street and onto the boardwalk headed south. There before us, the top of Ecola State Park hid behind low, lingering clouds. Our destination for the day. Our journey had only just begun yet the sight of what lay ahead seemed daunting and already we were soaked.
I am a very determined and persuasive person, but it was at this point when I started to question whether or not we should continue. I doubted myself and my plan I had put together. Maybe this was a bad idea. Maybe we will be miserable. Maybe this will be the last time Jon ever trusts me with a plan again. The option of finding a hotel room and the vision of enjoying clam chowder and watching the rainy, misty ocean from the windows of a warm room entered my mind. I even threw it out there to Jon, with some small hope that he might bite. I was afraid I was making him miserable, but he finally said, “We came here to do this so I’m going to do it.” All of the doubt along with the reality of what we were doing made me laugh. I could not help it. I just kept giggling and asking “what the fuck are we doing?!”
So instead of watching the water fall from the sky, we became a part of the water falling from the sky. There was nothing else that we could do. Step by step we pushed through the wind. Slowly but surely, the doubt started to dissipate. The fear of what rested ahead diluted itself with the stream of cold, muddy water that glided down the root-covered trail below our feet. Below our bare feet. Jon had decided to take off his shoes before we had even gone one mile up the forested trail above the Pacific Ocean. I followed suit and barefoot we climbed upward for some time in silence, navigating our way through ankle-deep puddles, mud holes, rocks, bark and the “waterfall” that cascaded down the trail. Eventually I couldn’t feel my feet because they were so cold. I would not have noticed had a small stick punctured my foot or a rock torn the skin. When I checked the bottoms of my feet every so often, I was surprised to not find blood. Instead, small shavings of wet bark clung to the wrinkled skin. At some point they became too cold, so Jon held my arm to balance me as I pulled my thick wool socks over the dirty, icy feet and then slid them into my hiking shoes. Despite the damp socks, the warmth that encompassed each foot was almost as gratifying as pulling on socks fresh out of the dryer.
Since I had trudged through puddles of gunk with my bare feet, walking in fat-soled shoes through puddles didn’t phase me anymore. I had become a part of the earth. An extension. I had surrendered to the cold. To the wet. I no longer tried so hard to keep as dry as possible, because I was already as wet as possible. It was liberating. When Jon finally put his shoes back on, we moved faster across the floor of the woods, inching higher and higher into the clouds. My eyes moved across the ground quickly scanning each part to find a spot to plant my next step. It became a game, a mission. An obstacle course of vine-like roots and shallow ponds. I learned the land. I knew the land. The trail required our full attention in order to avoid twisting an ankle or tripping over any of the roots that snaked across our path, but every so often we would stop and gaze around us to admire the canopy of green overhead. The silence of the space we shared with nature. There wasn’t much room for thoughts of anything else except what we were doing at that exact moment, and I guess this is what it means to be “present.”
The forest felt tropical. Every single centimeter of my vision was covered in green moss or ferns or trees or bushes. I removed my hood when I grew warm from my own movement. The cool air dusted my cheeks with fresh mist, quenching the thirst of my skin. What had at first been something I worried about became the very thing I enjoyed.
We arrived at Hiker’s Camp just before dark, where we were surprised to find a troop of boy scouts. There had been not one soul along the way, and we were a bit disappointed to discover all three Adirondack shelters taken and the troop leader unaccommodating, though it was apparent we could have used some dry shelter to warm up and dry out. Instead, we set up tent under the cracking trees blowing in the wind. I was convinced I’d be crushed by a falling branch in the night. In the darkness, Jon said he had really enjoyed the hike and thanked me for the experience. With happiness, a bit of whiskey in my blood and his warm body next to me, I fell asleep quickly.
We took our time the next morning. It had rained all night, but our tent was a safe haven. After packing up and checking out the view of Tillamook Head Lighthouse, we began our journey towards Cannon Beach. Though it was cloudy, there was no rain on this day. The ocean slowly grew closer as we wound our way around the trail, which stretched South and declined through the forest.
As we walked and talked, I could see the process of me getting to know Jon better, like I was watching it happen. I’d find myself making a realization and then putting it into words aloud for some reason, and then letting it sink in. I’d think “ohhhh, okay so he’s like this” or “he’s like that.” And the more I get to know him, the more I am realizing he is everything I value in a friend. Even more so, a best friend. I have many best friends. Each one is different, but each one is a best. It has been a while since I have made a new friend that became my best friend. Years I would say. Until now. It’s delightful, to find another human being that naturally understands me a little bit more than others do, as though we are on the same wavelengths. Someone I can unleash my whole being to and still feel accepted. Perhaps I haven’t gotten to the point where I have unleashed my whole being. That’s probably for two reasons. One, there’s a whole lot of whole being stuffed into this here being and two, this best friend happens to also be my boyfriend. I can’t scare the guy away too fast should he turn out to actually not be a best friend.
But I’ve never been wrong about best friends before. Either I’m very lucky or I have an eye for finding quality human beings, because they flourish around me. I appreciate rich, honest, real friendships. I am fortunate to have found them in every place I have ever lived, even short term. Friendships change, and the nature of friendships change. Throughout my life, I have had and will continue to have several different relationships with each one of my best friends. There are periods or phases, and then there are permanent transitions. All real. All beautiful. We enter and exit and move through so many periods of our own lives while our close friends do the same. It is natural that our interactions with each other will fluctuate as well.
I’d say there are two best friendships I have “lost” in my life and can never have again. My two ex-boyfriends. The hardest part of a breakup is not the loneliness or the bruised ego or the sense of failure. It is the loss of your closest companion. The loss of your best friend. There are times when each of them crosses my mind either in the form of a funny memory or a shared interest or introspection, and I get a feeling of nostalgia for not being able to ever again know that person that I was once the closest to for a period of my life. I will always have love for both of them, even if I haven’t spoken nor ever will speak to them again. I know each of them. And each of them knows me. We have a piece of each other’s history. Our story. Our life story. And we play significant roles in that life story. Am I in love with either? No. Would I ever want to be with either again? No. Would I want to drink wine and talk about memories and life and anything and everything in between? Of course. I want to do that with all of my best friends. But I won’t do that, because they are not my best friends anymore, and I don’t believe we can be best friends with our exes. We can’t. So instead, I remember them as they were in my life at that time. How I was in my own life at that time. I can draw from it. I can remember it until it feels surreal and confusing, almost the same feeling I get when thinking about space or death or when staring at the face in the mirror for too long. Who is that person?
Jon and I reentered civilization in the quaint beach community of Cannon Beach. We weaved through families strolling the streets that Saturday afternoon, their clothes clean, their bodies showered. Our muddy shoes, damp clothes and black trash bags on our backs didn’t exactly blend us in. We chose to stay outside while we ate at the first pizza parlor we saw. A family exiting the restaurant stopped and asked if we were the two they had seen walking through Seaside in the rain the day before. They had seen us and couldn’t believe we were out there walking in that weather, and had wondered where we were going. I felt proud. Someone else had recognized what we had come through. After we chowed down an entire pizza and picked up a couple cups of local Sleepy Monk Coffee (Monastery blend), we continued onward.
The final part of the trail back to Tolovana was much different than what we had just covered. There on the edge of America’s west coast, we trailed a cusp. Not quite land but not quite sea. Sea. Land. SAND! The famous Haystack Rock rose from the water’s edge as though it was welcoming us to the finish line. Again, Jon removed his shoes and walked barefoot through the wet sand.
Our portion of the OCT ended back at the truck in Tolovana, but our journey did not. Water again started to fall from the sky, but not before we had enjoyed a Spire hard apple cider while sitting in the back of Jon’s pickup, reflecting on our experience. We just so happened to be parked in the parking lot of the Tolovana Inn, right on the ocean’s shore, and we ended up getting a room for the night. I thought it was ironic that though we were dirty, tired and cold and had wanted to shower, we first headed to the chilly beach where we raced each other by sprinting across the sand. Next was a rejuvenating break in the hot sauna, a sit in the hot tub and some swimming in the salt water pool before finally showering and putting on dry clothes. We made our way to Mo’s restaurant next door and enjoyed chowder, fish and chips and a cold beer while watching the falling rain from the windows of a warm restaurant. We had made it.
Here I am building another of these types of best friendships, one that could so easily be one day lost or given up out of necessity. In order to move on. There is a chance that this one will end up like the others, and one day I won’t know this person at all. I will think back to this exact moment I am in right now and recall the funny inside jokes that are starting to develop, the long drifting conversations that we never seem to tire from, the calm that blankets me the closer I am to him or the way my soul feels magnetized to his. And I will miss it. I’ll remember my eyes finding his face and body, always being struck by how handsome. It is absolutely possible that this could end in nothing and we will move on to others, just as I have moved on from the ones before, still taking with me everything.
Despite the chance of loss, I’m diving in. Despite the unknown of what lies ahead, I’m moving forward. We can’t worry about what might happen, so much so that we miss out. The future does not control the present. The present controls the future, and it is our own personal decision to grasp the now. If I’ve learned anything from the past, it’s that the people we share the most with are the very ones that change our lives for the better, regardless of whether it is short termed or long lived. Just one day more with this new best friend is better than never having his friendship at all, even if I end up with a broken heart. It is worth it. It is worth the chance. He is worth the chance.