Adventure on the Coast
(A short novel in 10 chapters that will thrill and amaze you)
The idea is sprung
My wife says too many of our vacations are marathons of activity when, in fact, a vacation ought to be more about doing less.
It's true that when we go somewhere we've never been before I'm always itching to go over the next hill or look around the next bend.
Last week we returned to the Oregon coast -- to the town we have been visiting for 30 years. It is a splendid place, and we love to go there. And it's somewhere familiar, so we don't have to do a lot of gallivanting.
The third day we were there, my wife said after breakfast, "You haven't asked me what I want to do today." So I asked. Under the circumstances, you would have done exactly the same thing.
What do you want to do?
"I want to go to the sand dunes and rent dune buggies."
First aid arrives
Imagine the shock to my system. Conjure the effect, both mental and physical, of such a proposal.
Dune buggies? Where your life is in peril every second? Where bones can be snapped and vertebrae crushed?
As soon as my wife saw I had gone into shock. She applied first aid: "I meant ride them on the beach."
Oh. Well. That might not be so bad.
You can't ride dune buggies on the Oregon beaches just anywhere. Besides, most dune-buggy enthusiasts prefer the ... dunes. But we found our way to an outfitter who was open in October and willing to rent us each a minirail to ride on the beach.
A minirail is basically a lawn mower engine mounted on a tubular frame with four wheels, a bucket seat and a steering wheel with a trigger for the throttle on the right and a trigger for the brake on the left. That's it.
"I'll give you our newest machines so you won't have to worry about any mechanical problems," said the friendly outfitter. (In novels, this is known as foreshadowing, so pay attention.)
What did you expect?
The outfitter is about three miles from the beach. To get to the beach, you must cross the sand dunes. There is a road called a sand road. It is a never-ending series of moguls (look it up -- I didn't know what it was either).
The only difference between a sand road and the thousands of acres of dunes is ... as it turns out, there is no difference.
The outfitter showed us an aerial photograph of the area. "Follow this tree line for a ways, and keep this big dune over your left shoulder," he said, "and you'll get to the beach."
Our host led us to a staging area in the dunes, pointed thataway and took off for home. I suggested that my wife go first so I could keep an eye on her. (More foreshadowing.)
She took off, never looking back, and immediately took a fork in the sand road. The wrong fork. A couple of miles later, after climbing tree roots and avoiding a marshy pond, we were -- I thought -- generally back on the trail. My minirail stalled, which meant disentangling myself, climbing out and restarting the motor. My wife went on.
I managed to catch up, sort of, and saw her go around a bend just as my minirail came to a dead stop with the engine going full blast. I looked in the sand behind me and saw the broken drive chain.
Odds of never being found
The outfitter had said he would come look for us if we didn't return in a reasonable time span.
How reasonable? "A couple of hours."
How would you find us? "We always do. Eventually."
I wondered how long it would be before my wife discovered I wasn't following her. Over the next 25 minutes, I got my answer. She made it to the beach and waited for me. And waited. And waited. Finally, she came back to find me sitting on my broken-down minirail.
We tried to figure out who had the best chance of not getting lost trying to go for help. She remembered some landmarks. I remembered we had come the wrong way in the first place. Finally, we decided I would go on the theory that if I got lost, I'd survive longer.
Folks, one sand dune looks just like another sand dune. I thought I was staying on the sand road -- which, by the way, looks like all the sand dunes around it.
A couple of times, my minirail wouldn't go up a steep dune. Minirails don't have reverse. So I had to get out and gun the throttle while trying to turn the vehicle around. In sand. On a hill. While lost. Really lost. (In novels, this is known as making sure the reader understands the predicament.)
Finding the way
During the summer, there would be so many dune buggies around that it would be easy to ask for directions. The outfitter said Labor Day weekend brought out 20,000 dune-buggy riders. On this day, there were two.
I finally decided to take the least likely path. It turned out to be the right one, which ends at a paved road at the bottom of a steep, mogul-filled hill. This, I learned, is not the time to find out if your brakes work. Mine didn't.
Fortunately, no one else was around. I made it to the outfitters and told our host that my original minirail was stranded two miles out, about a mile from the beach, with a broken drive chain.
"That's a mighty strong chain," he said.
The expression on my face made it clear I didn't think this was a good time to discuss the relative merits of drive chains. I was immediately transferred to a smaller, easier-to-navigate minirail so I could return to my wife, and our host promised to send another minirail by trailer so we could still enjoy the beach.
The surf at last
As it turned out, we didn't have anything else to do, anyplace else to be, anyone else to worry about. So my wife and I waited about 20 more minutes until the truck came with the second dune buggy. And off we went.
Imagine, if you will, miles and miles of Pacific Ocean sand beaches with dunes on one side and surf on the other. And nothing else. No one else as far as we could see in any direction.
I don't know when we've had so much fun. We raced, We made circles in the sand. We went up. We went down.
And then we set off to negotiate the sand road back across the dunes to where we started. We made it without a hitch.
Just as we reached the paved road again, three large dune buggies with tour-guide drivers, each carrying about 20 riders, passed us on the way to the dunes. At the outfitters, a big tour bus was in the parking lot.
Isn't this late in the season for such a large group?
"Yeah," said the outfitter, "but this group comes every October just like clockwork. They're from Elderhostel."
My wife and I couldn't look at each other, afraid we would burst into laughter, and the poor outfitter wouldn't know why.
But surely he saw my white hair.
Really white hair.
Needless to say, I did not ask my wife what she wanted to do for the rest of the vacation. One day I found her looking at a brochure for jet boats on the Rogue River.
And who knows when bungee-jumping might have popped into her mind?
Who is this woman?
R. Joe Sullivan is the editor of the Southeast Missourian.