I hiked barefoot to reach this spot above Chapman Point and stepped in so much dried elk dung the soles and sides of my feet turned a dark ochre. It started out as not-on-purpose, I was pushing my way through narrow thickets of salal where it was obvious I was on a game path but the path wasn’t so defined I could look down and see my feet. It was hiking by Braille, you could say. The first time I stepped on a big dried ball of poop with a squishy center I protested a little but then it was like firewalking….you just block out the pain. The worst part was later: I had black toenails for a couple days. Ewww. The elk up here have wandered through the woods from Ecola State Park, where they’re a fairly common sight.

I had the compulsion to post these pictures (from August of last summer) because during my kayaking class today someone mentioned Cannon Beach in passing and so it was on my mind. This spot is most definitely not a secret but it’s not a view the vast majority of visitors to Cannon Beach ever experience. I’ve brought a couple friends up here over the years in an effort to show them a quieter side of Cannon Beach. I don’t advise walking here barefoot. I’d made my way down the beach all the way from town (after fording Ecola Creek) and when I got to the headland that separates Chapman Beach from Crescent Beach I had the notion to walk up barefoot as an experiment. The first part was on really steep dirt through trees, and the views back toward Haystack Rock were so good I kept going. I’d been up here plenty of times before, but doing it barefoot made it seem new and adventurous. The bare dirt gradually gave way to gorse-like prickers and  pokey salal. It was never bad enough to make me turn around. I kept thinking “this is really not very smart walking barefoot up here but I might as well keep going!” By the time I reached the elk dung, my feet actually welcomed walking in soft poop. So I kept going.

The headland is eroded and undermined, trying to reach the furthermost point is risky. I always stop right here.

Well, today was Kayaking 101. I’d describe the class as a generally productive experience. I feel a little roughed up. I swallowed a gulpful of Lake Sammamish while paddling upside down, so any day now I should be starting the South Beach Forceful Diarrhea Diet. I’ve been wanting to lose more than a few pounds, so really: There’s a silver lining in almost any situation.

I spent half the class without my hearing aid on, that put a pretty major dampener on things. Earlier in the week I asked the owner of the school about a private lesson (advertised on the school’s web site along with regular course offerings) but he encouraged me to take the group class because he thought I could benefit from exposure to other students’ questions and mistakes. That’s not bad advice for the average person and I went along with it because he immediately struck me as a no-nonsense type who didn’t have time to be giving a greenhorn like me private lessons and I suspected if I was a deaf mute paraplegic he would have probably told me the same thing. I suspect it didn’t help my case that I was accompanied by Adam, who was peppering him with questions about whether or not a bilge pump could be used to suck up grass. The guy got either so bored or frustrated with us he started pulling weeds while I was sitting in one of his boats for sale, that was probably not a good sign. It turned out he didn’t even teach the class today, which I didn’t find out about until this morning at the lake. More than a little disingenuous of the school, if you ask me, since the marketing for the program trumpets the fact you’ll never have a better instructor than Mr. Impressive Credentials Guy. Our actual instructor, although capable and mostly professional about the class, started the morning off with an aw-shucks announcement he had exactly six years of experience kayaking.

The class went about how I thought it would go: I received valuable insights on technique and got dunked often enough I figured out my instincts jibe with common survival sense. Most of the day amounted to watching an instructional video on Youtube while wearing a virtual reality suit.  That’s not necessarily a knock on the instructor: During the times I could actually hear, the class met my expectations.  I resigned myself most of the time to watching everyone else and mimicking what they did, which wasn’t entirely effective because we were often paddling in opposite directions. After a while I got a little blase about the whole affair and went overboard testing the limits of bracing and turning, which resulted in capsizing twice. The second time it happened, the instructor wondered if my boat was too small for me and offered to switch me to another kayak. At that point, the class was nearly over and I told him I’d just gut it out. There was no use in robbing anyone else of an actual educational experience (my classmates were all very nice people). I was in pain by that point, both of my knees were bent up way too high and there was no room for my feet. But by that time I’d already flipped my boat twice when I went to launch (i was nervous about being watched and I went too fast) and I was worried about turning into a time-suck for the instructor, so I just hummed my favorite song and tried to be as invisible as possible the last hour or so.

Turns out, I did have actual contact today with the kayaking school’s big kahuna dude. We wrapped the day up and I was getting my boat ashore. My kayak had taken on approximately 7 gallons of water and I was doing my best to empty it through the bow, which any freaking idiot knows is not the way to tip your boat. Mr. Impressive Credentials Guy interrupted his work with the advanced class he was teaching and came over with a look of pity and explained to me things would work much easier if I hadn’t donated my brain to scientific research before I was dead.  To suitably cap the day off, moments later he noticed I was having trouble with the wrist sleeve of my dry suit (a rubber gasket sucking my skin like a leech) and came over to help me get out. The worst part of it was he looked at me not with disgust, but actual sympathy.

So anyhooooie…….I gained extremely valuable insight while pushing the envelope with a kayak in a controlled setting. I peed out of my drysuit without injuring myself (in fact, i set a personal record for peeing only three times all day). I embarrassed myself in a public setting. One consolation is I have well-placed confidence in my judgement, that’s always something I’ve had on my side. And that’s why the class was still valuable for me, even though it didn’t measure up to what could have been. I’m looking forward to taking small incremental steps toward more adventurous trips. My dream of paddling the Inside Passage is still alive and well.

2 thoughts on “firewalker

  1. Enjoyed the Cannon Beach pictures. Do you think you’ll try barefoot hiking again? I recently picked up a couple pairs of minimalist shoes. I’m having issues (read: pain) with one of my feet again. Not sure now is the time to be venturing into barefoot activities.

    Appreciate your write up about the experience of your kayak class. You should be proud of yourself for doing this! I’m thinking something like this might benefit me – although I also think we might be able to learn on our own in controlled conditions – this summer (when it’s warmer), yes?

  2. The only reason I was hiking barefoot to begin with was my walk started off as a sandy beach stroll! Barefoot walking is fine around the house or in the yard but that’s about it for me. It WAS interesting how I was suddenly much more attuned to the landscape- every rock and lump of dirt took on a painful new meaning, haha! Sorry to hear about your foot, you’ll have to tell me more about it later.

    I’m definitely game for us to conduct some practice sessions getting in and out of our boats in the water, self-rescue, partner rescue, etc. I think it will be fun in a way. I may have been a flop at the class, but it gave me a lot more respect for being as self-sufficient as possible if a hairy situation comes up. It also gave me a greater appreciation for “knowing my boat” (i realize the obviousness of that probably sounds silly…..but i’m a landlubber). The reality is it’ll be quite awhile before I put myself in a position where I have to worry that much about coming out of the boat. But you never know, yadda yadda…

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