July 23, 1997
Hell(not a place - an experience), Washington, USA
Shorty after departing Dallas and Joys home, I met a fishermen out in the middle of the river. "What are you looking at?" I asked the fisherman.
"Theres a family of otters over there on the bank..." The man replied.
I moved in to get a closer look. From twenty feet away I watched four youngsters wrestling over a dead fish, while two larger otters, who I assumed were parents, kept their eyes on me. Five minutes later, and ten feet closer, I was no longer a welcome visitor, and they retreated to their home inside the muddy river bank.
As I continued down the river, a head-wind developed, and the current began to flow against me. From then on, nothing interesting happened until mid-afternoon. As I was fighting my way through a remote and heavily forested section of the river, around the corner appeared a pirate ship with billowing sails. It felt like I was in a day dream. There were pirates swinging on ropes above the deck, and possibly even a sword fight or two. Then I remembered Mik(the dude from Seattle) telling me that he knew a guy in Aberdeen who owns a big old ship, which he uses to entertain tourists. I figured it must have been that mans ship. Nevertheless... It was a freaky experience!
As I drew closer to Aberdeen, the current got too strong, so I paddled off into a slough, and took a nap in the tall grass. I found it difficult to sleep sitting up in my kayak, so after half an hour I headed off again. A short time later, I reached the town of Aberdeen, which marked the end of the Chehalis, and the beginning of Grays Harbor.
Grays Harbor is massive. I was going with the tide... but the wind was in my face, causing big standing waves. I remember trying to eat my supper between paddle strokes - struggling to keep my bagel from getting wet, and my bottle of Snapple from rolling off my cock-pit into the harbor.
The sun was going down, and I began to look for a place to camp for the night. Wherever I was going to stop had to be within walking distance to a phone. I had told Bill that I would call him that evening to confirm our surfing appointment, which was supposed to take place the next day at Westport.
A half hour out of Aberdeen, I pulled off the water to take a photo. Ten minutes later, getting back on the water was difficult. In that short time, the water level dropped five inches, and I had to wade shin deep through twenty feet of pudding-like mud. As I paddled away, I got a strange feeling inside, but I couldnt figure out why. I was too busy thinking about where I was going to stay the night. The longer I stayed on the water, the farther from shore I needed to go to find deep enough water. When the tide is completely out, three quarters of the water in Grays harbor disappears. When the sun hit the horizon, the water I was paddling over was only a foot deep, and I was a quarter mile from shore .
Watching the sun go down frightened me. I wasnt sure why, but I just got scared all of a sudden. Something was different. A short time later, I realized I had an entirely new experience without knowing it. I have lived on the East coast all my life, and that was the first time I had ever seen the sun go down over water.
That was a turning point for me. I was frightened by the fact that it would soon be dark, I was cold, and there wasnt a place to land in sight. What made me more anxious, was that I finally realized I was alone in foreign territory, and for the next three years, it was going to stay that way. No matter what the situation... I alone had to deal with it; and when I cant... I need to make a friend who can.
At around 9:30pm, I finally found a house with lights on a mile or so ahead. My spirits rose, I dug in harder, and landed out in front of the house a half hour later. Unfortunately, between the house and myself was 300 feet mud-flats. Having been in my kayak for over 12 hours, I was totally exhausted by the time I had pulled my boat across the mud.
As I appoached the large house, I remember thinking, "I hope they dont have a dog!". I knocked on the door, but no one answered. There was a barn with the lights on inside, so I walked over and peered through a thin crack in the door. There was nobody inside there either. However, I decided to abandon my search promptly, after my eyes fell upon a big white sign with red block letters stating... "Guard Dogs On Duty!!!" I figured if there were guard dogs, they would have found me by then - but I didnt want to be wrong.
There was another house down the tracks. Nobody was at that home either. It was 11pm, and there were no other houses around for miles. Even if I could get to another house, it would be too late to knock on the door. I decided to call it quits.
After unloading my gear, I discovered what I had left behind on the shore five miles back - my new dry bag. Disappointed with my carelessness, I put on my running shoes, and started down the railroad tracks of Hell. It was midnight, I was starving, and I was going to teach myself a lesson. I remembered seeing railroad tracks at the place I stopped for a photo. If I followed the tracks, I knew they would eventually lead me to that spot.
The tracks looked like they had not been used in forty years. I ran through swamps, thorn bushes, raspberry bushes, thistles... it seemed like every thorny plant God ever created grew on those tracks. In several places, the railroad ties were totally submerged under an inch or two of water - leaving only the steal rail remaining. In the past, whenever Id walked down rail road tracks, Id always walk along the rails to test my balance. I always wondered if I would be able to do it if I had to. I guess the practice paid off.
My scariest experience on the Rail Road Tracks of Hell took place while crossing a small gorge. At one time, there was a culvert in the middle of the gorge, with gravel over it, which formed a bridge for the tracks laid to on. The bridge has since washed away, leaving only the rails and ties remaining - suspended 15 feet above the brook below, and spanning a distance of 20 feet. The moon was high in the sky. I could see perfectly. With one foot balanced on the rail and the other precariously placed on a tie, I gingerly stepped across the gorge one foot at a time - ready to catch myself at any moment if a tie were to let loose.
When the tracks came to a spot which ran parallel to the highway, I got off and ran on the pavement. Whenever a car approached Id stick out my thumb. People usually sped up when they saw me. Its a good thing no one picked me up anyway; I probably would have over-shot my target. An hour and a half after setting out, I found what I was looking for just as I had left it. I arrived back at my tent at 3:30am.
I woke up this morning around 10:00am. It is a hot sunny day. The wind is blowing from the west and the tide is coming in. I am still tired from last night, and have decided to hold off until the tide changes later this afternoon.
This morning, as I was watching two deer walking on the tidal flats, a man called out to me from the railroad tracks above. "Hey... what are you up too?", he questioned. Five minutes later, I was in his house using the phone, listening to Bills answering machine. I assume the surf lesson is canceled.
The man has a large field full of tall-bush blueberries. "You can have all the blueberries you can eat..." He told me. "If you dont eatem the crows will!". For the next hour I did as he suggested. What a treat! Im still stuffed.