Thirteen years ago, while working a horrible summer job at Linfield College, I had a day off and nothing to do. None of my friends had the day off with me, so I hopped in the trusty old family minivan and resolved to go wherever the wind took me. I headed toward the coast because…well, when you’re only an hour away, the gravity just naturally pulls you in that direction. A few miles outside of Lincoln City, Oregon, I saw a teeny tiny sign that said “Drift Creek Falls next left.” I am a huge fan of waterfalls. That probably sounds the same as saying “I am a huge fan of breathing,” because who doesn’t like waterfalls? Nobody, that’s who. Everyone loves falling water. I turned left and headed toward destiny.
It’s about seven miles from hwy 18 to the drift creek falls trailhead, and all seven of them are beautiful. It’s a single lane road with frequent turnoffs built into the shoulder, so it feels a little risky at times. When I was 19, it felt like freedom. Part of the drive is heavily wooded and dim, like a gorgeous tunnel made out of rainforest. Then all of the sudden the sky opens up and you can see a rolling sea, thick with evergreen trees, before diving back down into the lush, ferny dreamscape. Thirteen years ago, every mile I traveled seemed to remove a burden from my shoulders, until my heart felt so light, I thought I could fly.
When I finally reached the trailhead, I was ready for an adventure. The signs stated that it was about a mile and a half to the top of the waterfall, with another quarter mile to reach the bottom. Being overweight but moderately fit, this seemed like a perfect distance. I stepped into the trees and let myself be swallowed up in the freshness of the forest.
The walk is mostly downhill, but not steep. It is a well-worn trail, but it felt to me like uncharted territory. I was deep in the hills of the coastal mountain range, and I was an explorer on a mission. At about the one mile mark, I hit drift creek and a series of small bridges followed as the stream meandered back and forth across my path. The sound of the water grew louder, and a tiny tricklefall decorated the forest floor to my left.
After a little more walking, after the roaring water started to grow, I came upon the treasure of this hike. Not only was there a beautiful waterfall plunging 73 feet down from my vantage point, but there was an incredible suspension bridge taking my trail to the other side of the chasm, allowing for beautiful viewing of the falls at pretty much any angle. I stepped onto the bridge, in awe of the experience. It was incredibly sturdy, but in the middle, you could feel it swing from side to side. I may be afraid of speaking large groups, but a perfectly safe suspension bridge 100 feet in the air that gives the false impression of precariousness is right up my alley for excitement.
I could have stayed on the bridge for hours, watching the water blast down the beautiful mossy rock wall, but the pool below looked tempting on that hot summer day, and lured me down with its siren call. Another quarter mile down the path and I was diving into the gorgeous fresh mountain water. I had never felt so free. All thoughts of cleaning dorms and serving food to high school soccer camp kids vanished from my brain. It remains one of my favorite memories ever.
One last thing I remember from that day was that as I walked my dripping self back uphill to my car, the closer I drew to the trailhead, the more yellow jackets started to swarm around my damp clothing. By the time my car was in sight, I was literally running, and waving my hands in the air like a mad woman, trying to shoo away the vicious vermin. I ran straight to the restroom, locked myself in, and breathed a sigh of relief! I didn’t get stung, thank goodness, but I bet I got quite a few strange looks as I ran to the bathroom!
I can’t believe that 13 years have passed since that day. This trip with my family isn’t my second trip to the falls, but my fourth. In my younger years I took a few friends up there, since the place was too beautiful not to share. As Mr. Spreadsheet parked the car, we made one last comment about how it took 1o years and 2 kids before he joined me at my special place. With Key on Mr. Spreadsheet’s back, and Lock by my side, we took pictures, we played “I Spy,” we talked, we laughed, and I saw the waterfall through the eyes of my family.
Lock was thrilled by the suspension bridge. I could see the same look of trust and excitement in his eyes that I’d had so long ago. As for Mr. Spreadsheet…well, he asked me a dozen times if Key was still safe in his carrier, and begged Lock not to lean on the side of the bridge!
There are six tiny bridges on our way to the main suspension bridge, and Mr. Spreadsheet and I have an old tradition of kissing on every bridge we cross. Twice. That made 28 kisses. When Lock caught on to what we were doing, he decided it was gross and needed to be ceased immediately. He wrapped himself around our legs, trying to push us apart and jump up to put his hand between our lips. He’s a little too young to know the force of true love. Not even a single-minded, high-strung 6 year old can tear love apart. He’ll learn.
One thing that really cemented the amount of time that had passed was the look of the waterfall. In 2010, the whole face of the rock wall collapsed, leaving a jagged surface rather than a smooth wall carpeted in moss. Instead of plunging into a swimming hole, the water now slices through a massive pile of jagged stones–the largest being 60 feet in length. The place looks completely different. It will never be the same. Neither will I. Time changes all of us. We are worn down by time, circumstances, and huge landslides. I will never be that carefree 20 year old again, but if I were that same person, I would probably still be broke, lonely, totally unreliable, and searching for meaning. Today I’m still sanding down my jagged edges, but I’ve got a pretty good idea what life’s all about; and today, embarking on an adventure that’s simultaneously old and new, I couldn’t be happier to have my family by my side.