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Wild to Magical Moments on 120 Miles of Oregon Coast Commuting, Part I

Published 09/18/21 at 10:16 PM PDT
By Andre' GW Hagestedt

Wild to Magical Moments on 120 Miles of Oregon Coast Commuting, Part I

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(Oregon Coast) - For some 20 years now, it's been my job to wander the Oregon coast, even starting before this publication existed. I'm a professional beach bum. I get paid to go the beach. Bummer gig, right?

For many of these years that meant zipping up and down the coastline from Astoria to Florence, although usually it was regular, slow commutes between Seaside and Newport on exploration and photo expeditions. These always had a variety of magical moments, filled with a variety of discoveries, sights and sensations.

This is part I of this travelogue / memoir. See What It's Like to Commute Over 100 Miles of Oregon Coast, Part II

At one point I was living part time in Newport and in Manzanita, along with Portland, and these crazed commutes would start out either on the central coast or north coast, after spending a couple of days wandering and shooting.

Many of these jaunts often started out after dark. During the months of spring through late fall, this would include more daylight explorations, but for some reason these impressions are not as memorable.

If I started south, this trip meant first zipping northward around the cliffs north of Newport, where the beach was a constant companion. Otter Rock (also the name of the headland), a long, black chunk of stone in the distance, had various moods in the dark. Sometimes the tide could not leap over it and simply lapped against it, like a timid pond. Other times, gargantuan banks of white frothy stuff would wash over it in the moonlight or beneath the dark gray skies of winter at night, barely visible in the gloom almost a mile offshore.

The beach disappears from view as you head up the hill towards Cape Foulweather, and pops up again briefly just after the cape, and then as you zip through Depoe Bay. Continuing north, you get into Lincoln City, where the waters are largely invisible at night. Beyond that, there's the 15-miles stretch between Lincoln City and Pacific City, where you've entered the dark, dense forests behind Cascade Head and Neskowin, and a road that's winding, hilly and slightly white-knuckled. The ocean briefly explodes in front of you at Winema Point between Neskowin and Pacific City, and then doesn't really appear again until you get into town, about where Cape Kiwanda is.

Another mile and a half northward, the Pacific really makes an impression, as you emerge from thick forests and more winding roads. You encounter it from the top of the hill, as you gently descend towards Tierra Del Mar. Plenty of times I got out and waded in the water at Tierra. One late August, I distinctly remember the unsettling sensation of feeling little stingy things on my feet as the tide washed over me. I had this happen a few times on the north coast as well, and eventually figured it was tiny mole crabs, which sometimes scrape across your skin if they're in great abundance in late summer.

Shortly after Tierra Del Mar, you're deep in dense forests again and inland as this part of the Three Capes veers east along the Sand Lake Recreation Area.

From here I'd usually take Sand Lake Road to 101 just south of Tillamook, if it was nighttime. But during daylight hours, I'd savor the trip with stops at Neskowin, maybe Pacific City, and often Oceanside or especially Bayocean.

The nocturnal trips sometimes meant stopping in Tillamook for grub, and then hurrying along again.

The big pleasure, especially during winter, came at Tillamook Bay, when you just started to see the big ā€œGā€ completely aglow at night at Garibaldi, in the distance. About here, the bay became the prominent feature, and the most spectacular sight was always the massive, billowing banks of fog or low-lying clouds that meandered around the bay. They looked like giant ghosts wandering aimlessly and bumping into each other, often fusing and melding into other shapes. I almost always slowed down to enjoy this sight as I wandered around the bends of the highway.

Shortly after, Rockaway Beach offered brief glimpses of the ocean, and then you vanished behind the lush canopy of the Nehalem Bay as 101 rounded that feature. This is always where the excitement grew to a fever pitch, because I knew I was nearly home: nearly to Manzanita. The first encounter was Wheeler, which filled me with tons of glee and a huge sense of relief. Nehalem and this inland portion of the highway was a mix of annoying impatience and familiar friend until I finally reached Manzanita, where the sea pummeled the beach in the distance, visible from Laneda once you got far enough down the street.

The surf was always a welcome noise as I opened my car door and began unloading stuff into my pad there.

Part Two looks into what the drive was like going south. What It's Like to Commute Over 100 Miles of Oregon Coast, Part II

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Andre' GW Hagestedt is editor, owner and primary photographer / videographer of Oregon Coast Beach Connection, an online publication that sees nearly 1 million pageviews per month. He is also author of several books about the coast.

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