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Falling Into the Sea

Landslide at Ecola

I'm scrambling to explore every cove, beach, and headland of Ecola State Park before the whole coastline slumps into the sea. Last winter was one of the rainiest on record, and Ecola, one of the most spectacularly beautiful places on the planet, was beset by landslides, collapsing roads, trail damage, and downed trees.

Today, while running through the remnants of a typhoon, I watched erosion in real time: geologic change not in eons but in each blast of wind, in every towering wave, in each onslaught of rain. Last winter I ran every day I was in Cannon Beach; this winter, if I stay healthy, I will do the same. When weather-ravaged roads in Ecola and other parks shut down, I will run on the closed roads into those stormy paradises to escape the madding crowds. I crave the worst weather because typhoon running, aside from providing immersion in nature's fury, offers solitude--something as rare on Oregon's crowded North Coast as sun.

Typhoon running also serves as good training for tsunamis. This winter, titanic winds will topple century-old trees, storm surges will bash crumbling cliffs, rainstorms will lubricate hillsides, and what seems like stable ground will give way beneath my feet. As I run across the coast's shifting terrain, dunes will slough, slopes will slide. And the ocean will serve up sneaker waves that reach out of the surf to snatch unsuspecting victims and pull them out to sea. When I first arrived on the coast, a store clerk looked me in the eye and gave me two pieces of advice: "Never turn your back on the ocean, and never trust the land."

Ecola's collapsing coastline could offer a small preview of the apocalyptic destruction caused by a Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake and tsunami. Prudent tsunami preparedness starts with packing an emergency kit, but the kit only works if you escape to high ground.

When the oceanic plate and the continental plate of the Cascadia Subduction Zone settle after several minutes of shaking, roads may be impassable due to chasms and debris. After about fifteen minutes of calm following the earthquake, the tsunami will hit.

The signs are all around us, in a trickle of sand moved by the tides, in a mud slope that melts in a flood. No ground is truly stable, and everything in time falls into the sea. Earth's 4.6 billion years of geological change is seldom interrupted by long periods of stasis. Enjoy the solid earth under your feet while you can, and always be ready to run.

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