When yet another head-on crash closed Highway 101 just a half mile north of my home in South Beach, Oregon, Saturday, I worried about getting to church to play piano at the evening Mass. There is no other road. Back in May, I sat for hours behind a similar accident. It was miserable, but I had nowhere to go but home. Now, as I listened to the sirens and checked the news, I wondered: Should I try to walk to Newport?
It was a sunny afternoon, ominously quiet without the usual highway noise. Those stuck in line no doubt shut off their engines to save gas. I read on News Lincoln County that one woman was running out of oxygen and put out a 911 call to the fire department. One crash victim was being loaded on a Life Flight helicopter. Another would be transported by ambulance. Photos online showed debris all over the northbound lane. It would take forever to clean it up.
Should I walk? I put on my comfortable shoes and loaded up a bag. But I hesitated. The accident happened at 12:50 p.m. It was 2:30. Emergency responders were working on clearing the road. Tripcheck.com said it would be closed for up to two hours. Maybe the road would be open. My music books were awfully heavy.
In the end, I took a chance on the road being open. When I ventured out in my car at 3:30, traffic was moving. Cars were backed up all the way through Newport to the north and back to Beaver Creek to the south, but I arrived at church on time.
After Mass, I was itching to find out whether I actually could have walked it. After dinner, I tricked Annie by taking the garbage out and then going on down the road. Soon I was on Highway 101, cars whooshing past too close for comfort. The four-foot bike lane felt far too narrow.
The road rapidly becomes a tunnel of trees and cliffs on both sides, mud, grass and dirt along the road littered with coffee cups, cigarette butts, and other debris. I felt conspicuous in my pink shirt walking where people don’t usually walk. I envisioned getting mowed down by a car. I’d make the news as an “elderly woman” with no ID, just a cell phone and a key attached to a whistle.
The road goes uphill and down, in and out of a tsunami zone. On the east side, water trickles under the ferns and fir trees. In an opening on the west, sun rays beamed through the trees on a swampy area filled with blooming purple foxglove. It would have been pretty but for the lethal vehicles flying past me at 60 mph. I decided I would only go as far as the Newport airport.
The road widened out at the turnoff. At 7:30 on a Saturday night, the airport was deserted. Two small planes and an orange Coast Guard helicopter sat on the tarmac beyond the chain link fence. In the light breeze, the windsock pointed due north.
Feeling small in that big area of buildings and runways, I snapped photos and started back, humbled about my earlier plan to walk to town. This was only a little over a mile, and I felt tired. It was four miles to the bridge, six miles to church. I pictured myself sitting on the ground in a puddle of sweat, defeated. Walking on the highway is not like walking the dog in the woods, stopping here and there for her to sniff and pee. It’s a forced march on concrete, expecting to get killed any second.
I couldn’t help thinking about P.D., the main character in my Up Beaver Creek novel. In the story, she and Janie walk much farther than I did. They are younger and in better shape. But there are also no moving cars.
In my imagination, I picture Highway 101 wide open, with couples, singles, and families with kids and dogs safely strolling on a pleasant summer night or making a pilgrimage during the heat of the day to get food and water. People would talk to each other, maybe even sing. Perhaps someone could install a few benches to rest. The trash would get cleaned up once people saw it up close, and the road could become a pleasant gathering place.
But commuting to work would be tough. And what if it was raining or snowing?
Yesterday morning, driving to church, I passed the airport in my car. It took about two minutes, compared to my 45-minute expedition Saturday night.
Could I walk to town in a pinch? I could. It would take an hour and half to two hours, and it wouldn’t be pretty. I’d be sore for a week, but I could do it. When the tsunami comes, it’s quite possible our cars will be useless. We will need to seek alternatives. I’m thinking I need a bicycle or a horse.
I have not been able to find out much about the accident victims, but it was a bad crash. Keep them in your prayers. Please stay safe out there!
Annie is still waiting for her appointment with the surgeon to fix the torn ligament in her knee. She wants to go on long walks in spite of her gimpy leg, but she’s not up to it these days. For me, walking without her is just not the same. Give her a few months, and she’ll be back at it.