Back in Astoria

Earlier this year, I tried to unclog a running lawn mower. It was a costly mistake that led to a pair of fractured fingers, nerve damage that remains today, and three months of physical therapy. It was, without a doubt, the dumbest thing I did all year.

Today, I did something that wasn’t far behind. But we’ll get there.

A few weeks ago, my buddy Tim suggested a day trip to Astoria after reading my trip report from earlier this month. I took him up on it, and today we set out to accomplish what I could not the first time around — lunch at Bowpicker Fish &  Chips and a hike to the end of the north jetty at Cape Disappointment. It turned into one of the most memorable days of my life. 

The great day started with a solid lunch. Whenever I’ve driven through Astoria on nice weekends, the lines outside the parked boat that is Bowpicker Fish & Chips have been a solid 10 deep. I’m a sucker for good fish and chips, so I was more than happy to see for myself what all the fuss was about. I’ve written numerous dining reviews as a professional journalist, so I’ll be as articulate as possible about the albacore tuna: It was yum yum for my tum tum. It was a nice change of pace from cod or halibut; the fish at Bowpicker isn’t flaky or greasy in the least.

From there,  we hiked up the Astoria Column. One of the more fun aspects of the Astoria Column is the gift shop at its base, which sells balsa wood gliders to launch from the top. Tim and I took two up and wagered a beer on whose glider would stay in the air longer. His best glider stayed in the air 36.92 seconds … and my best time was 36.75. Seriously. Less than a quarter of a second stood between me and free beer.

Then the fun really started.

Earlier this month, Edward and I had walked out onto the north jetty that separates the mouth of the Columbia River from the Pacific Ocean. We would have walked further if daylight hadn’t been working against us. So that was definitely on today’s agenda.

The top of the jetty itself starts as a gravel path surrounded on either side by giant boulders. It’s a solid 15-20 feet above the crashing waves below. But the path stops about halfway out, giving way to hundreds of yards of jagged, car-sized boulders. That right there should have been an obvious point at which to turn around.  As if that wasn’t bad enough, it was maybe 40 degrees, rainy, and windy. The boulders were soaked. And, as I found out later, there was a high surf warning in effect. You would be hard-pressed to come up with worse conditions for heading to the end of the jetty.

(This was the easy part. Also, notice how much more violent the Pacific Ocean is than the Columbia River.)

But none of that stopped Tim and I from crawling like Gollum on and around thousands of massive boulders. We were relying on loose rocks and slippery boulders to serve as sturdy hand-  and footholds, which seems especially insane in retrospect. Three or four times, Tim would point out how close we were getting and mention how much progress we had made. It went something like this:

What he said: We’re getting pretty close to the end.

What he meant: It’s dangerous, wet, and slippery out here. We should turn back and drink beer.

What I heard: We’re getting close to the end! Just a little further! Onward!

On it went. I was determined to make it to the end. It didn’t matter that I was soaked to the bone or that some waves were crashing within arm’s length on either side of us. All that mattered was getting to the end.

Deep down, I was scared, though. One slip-up, and one of us could have fallen 15-20 feet onto jagged rocks below or into the ocean. It wouldn’t have taken much for a sneaker wave to surprise us. It’s not that we almost died by any stretch, but we put ourselves in a very dangerous situation — a fact that was not lost on me for a second, even as I insisted time and time again that we continue.

I twisted my left ankle and jammed it between boulders on several occasions. I hurt my left wrist trying to prop myself up on slippery rocks and gripping jagged boulders. At times, I only had enough energy to hurl myself toward the next rock. None of it stopped me. The only thing that stopped me was seeing the end and realizing how much more dangerous those final 150 feet would be. The rocks were getting more slippery, the waves inching closer, my energy level falling, and the boulders themselves ever more tenuous to latch onto.

(There’s the end. Look at those boulders! Piece of cake, right?)

For the first time all afternoon, common sense prevailed. I stood up, saw where the waves were crashing over the jetty’s rounded end, turned to Tim and said “Let’s go back.” Tim obliged, pointing out that we had come so close to the end, we were basically there. Part of me loves that we got that far out; part of me hates that we got so close but didn’t go further. The story of my life.

But I don’t regret turning back. It was stupid to have been out that far in the first place. I’m just glad we made it as far as we did, even if I don’t fully understand why I was so obsessed with reaching the end. But I was possessed. Tim has always been the more adventurous one, leaving me as the comparatively uptight, reasonable friend. As recently as this summer, I refused to wade into a seven-foot-deep stream.

Not today. I don’t know what happened to reverse those roles. Tim realized early on how silly and dangerous our trip was, but I didn’t give it a second thought. I don’t know what point I was trying to prove or what led me to throw caution to the wind in such dangerous conditions. I don’t know where this “devil may care” attitude came from. I mean, some common sense on my part would have been nice at some point. I thought for hours after the trip how it got to that point — how I got to that point. I still don’t have an answer.

No matter. We worked our way back to shore and headed to Fort George Brewery for dinner and the best beer of my life. I spent most of the dinner in various states of disbelief, repeating variations of “I can’t believe we just did that!” and “What a great day!” For all the danger that came with traversing the jetty, it was one of the more memorable things I’ve ever done. Even an hour or two later, the adrenaline was still pumping.

From there, we met up briefly with Dave of Dave Knows Portland. I won Timbers tickets through one of Dave’s contests last summer, and we’ve since kept in touch via Twitter. It was good to finally meet up and chat about all things Astoria — a town with which I’m quickly becoming more than a little obsessed. Tim and I then headed to the Fort George taproom, where we enjoyed another beer, played foosball, and played the bean bag toss game. At that point, we were exhausted, giddy, sore, and in awe of the previous 10 hours. It was another memorable day in Astoria.


3 responses to “Back in Astoria

  1. Pingback: Since we last spoke … « I Gotta Shine·

  2. Pingback: Recapping a December to remember « I Gotta Shine·

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