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!