Sunday, May 24, 2020

Hiking the OCT--maybe--in 2020


UPDATED MAY 30, 2020

Oregon is starting to reopen. That means that hiking the Oregon Coast Trail may be possible in summer 2020 after all. Here are some things to think about as you consider your plans.

Most, but not all, coastal state parks are set to open June 9, but HIKER-BIKER SITES WILL NOT BE OPEN INITIALLY. Check Oregon State Parks FAQ page for details; even if a park is listed open, keep reading to see if hiker-biker sites are open. I would not advise undertaking an OCT thru-hike unless all the hiker-biker campsites are open.

Restrooms may be limited. One of the things that's been done to keep Covid-19 from spreading is closing public restrooms. Access to public restrooms is pretty important on the OCT. But in many places, if the restrooms are closed, portapotties have been brought in.

Be prepared to carry water. With many restrooms closed, access to potable water may be more limited than usual, so you may have to stock up more. Unknown when that may change.

Boat shuttles should be happening! This is the key, IMO, to a successful OCT thru-hike. Jetty Fishery at Nehalem Bay has reopened and is shuttling hikers across Nehalem Bay. Garibaldi Marina isn't quite there yet but hopes to be offering ferries across Tillamook Bay by July; it may be just 1 or 2 people at a time per boat, however, to maintain distancing. Winchester Bay Charters is in business and available to shuttle hikers across the Umpqua, and they're still offering to connect hikers with outfitters in Coos Bay for shuttles there. I don't know if they have done that yet (it's something Annalisa said she'd be happy to try at the end of last season), but give her a call: it would beat many miles of highway shoulder and sidwalk through North Bend-Coos Bay.

Grocery stores are open. Plan to wear a face covering into the grocery store. Coastal restaurants are slowly reopening, though many are still takeout-only.

Lodging is reopening in many places. Coastal innkeepers would love to have your business.

Basically it looks like an OCT hike will be doable this summer, particularly if you live nearby and don't have to travel too far to get here (which is still being discouraged). But I would think in terms of starting no sooner than July 1. Make sure Oregon State Parks has reopened all of its coastal campgrounds. It should go without saying that you should stay home if you feel ill or have been exposed to anyone with the virus, but there, I said it. Carry and use hand sanitizer and a face covering when you enter grocery stores or any indoor spaces. And keep your distance from folks. Don't be a spreader, and don't get sick yourself. If people keep following the rules and there are no new outbreaks, it could be a great year for an OCT trek after all.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Should you hike the OCT this year?

Hiking from Lincoln City to Depoe Bay in early March--back before everything changed.

UPDATE 3-23-20: after hoards of vacationers descended on the coast for spring break, cities and counties all along the coast took action to close hotels and vacation rentals and order tourists to return home. All campgrounds are closed--public and private. Basically, it's time to "stay in your own terrain," as this article in High Country News puts it.

This changes everything.

How might the covid-19 pandemic affect your Oregon Coast Trail thru-hike plans this year? Spending a month walking on the beach and over coastal headlands rather than cooped up at home probably sounds pretty awesome. But the Pacific Crest Trail Association is recommending hikers postpone or cancel their thru-hike plans on that trail this year, to keep themselves and the community safe. That’s probably good advice for the Oregon Coast Trail too, at least early in the hiking season. (Governor Brown would definitely prefer you stay home.)  Here are some considerations specific to the OCT:

FOOD. Typically OCT thru-hikers resupply in grocery stores along the way rather than sending supply boxes ahead. Grocery stores are open and that’s still possible, but it requires you to come into contact with people who could be carriers of the virus.

MORE FOOD. Part of the fun of the OCT is being able to stop at cafes, restaurants, brewpubs along the way. At this time all these establishments are closed in Oregon except for take-out. No idea when that might change.

TRANSPORTATION. A big part of the OCT experience is getting boat shuttles across bay mouths or, alternately, taking a bus or cab around the bay to avoid a long highway shoulder walk. Some of these small outfitters might still welcome your business, but some might be shut down, and again, contact with people=risk. Also bus schedules are being cut way back.

CAMPING. Another major feature of an OCT thru-hike is the opportunity to camp at hiker-biker sites, mainly in Oregon State Park campgrounds. But they’re all shut down at least through May 8. Get updates from Oregon State Parks.

GOING  COMMANDO. With careful planning, carrying plenty of food/fuel, and doing all your camping on the beach (some of it not exactly legal) or dispersed on public lands such as the Oregon Dunes, you could maybe pull off a thru-hike with minimal contact with other humans. But that means you'll be shitting on the beach or in the dunes, not to put too fine a point on it. Restroom accessibility, on a trail that is constantly ducking in and out of civilization, is part of the OCT's charm, but restrooms all along the beach are currently closed to keep from spreading the virus. A bunch of OCT hikers crapping on the beach would not be charming. 

Wow, thanks being such a bummer, Bonnie! Hold up. No one knows how long these virus-related restrictions will last. It’s possible things will ease up in mid-summer, or late summer, or September. The PCT is a five-month undertaking, but a fit hiker can easily finish the OCT in under a month. It's quite possible you could still pull off an OCT hike this year, just later in the year. Certainly you will be enthusiastically welcomed by coastal cafes, campgrounds, etc. once they reopen. North Coast Land Conservancy still hopes to undertake its annual CoastWalk Oregon three-day walk in September; cross fingers!