Every year, my family and I would do the same Third Beach hike along the Olympic Peninsula. In eighth grade, our family friends joined us on our adventure as we rose just after the sun, repacked our thirty pound hiking bags, hoisted them into our car, and drove off to the trail head. The hike would start about a mile from the edge of a bluff, coated in trees and moss that thrived on the buckets of rainwater the Hoh Rainforest provided each year. Eventually, the dirt and rock trail would weave itself down the wall of the bluff and to a beach laden with sand fleas and stacks of washed up logs. The hike would repeat this process for the final three to four miles, guiding us up and down bluffs, away from then back to the beach below. My dad always kept a heavy duty waterproof watch on his wrist and a sheet of paper in his pack. On the paper was the map of the tide, labeling the times in which the tide would be rising or lowering back into the Pacific Ocean. Timing was everything on that hike. For the most part, a good stretch of sand existed between the water and the rock wall of the bluff, but the final beach we had to trek across lacked that safety feature. The water, even at low tide, lapped against the wet sand only a few yards from the wall, until it widened at the very end, leaving room for the trail to pick back up at the bottom of the bluff, where rock became vibrant, orange clay. If our timing was off, we would never reach clay, but join the top layer of sand and the rocky rubble as the waves dragged it all back to the sea.
In the two years before, we had never had any real problem with the beach, because our timing was so meticulously measured out. This year was different. The additional people that came with us forced us to fill our packs with even more gear than usual. The extra weight sent our feet sinking deep into the sand of pebbles with each step, slowing us down, as if we were walking through thick, sticky molasses.
Halfway down the beach sat a fallen tree. It covered the entire width of the beach, meaning we would have to either crawl under it, or hop over it. As the base of the tree got closer to the rock wall and away from the water that inched closer with each passing minute, its trunk got lower to the ground, making it easier to climb over. However, that end was covered with branches, increasing the difficulty of the task. Closer to the water, there was just enough space to crawl under if you had enough speed to duck under while the water was sucking back into the sea, and run before it returned.
Each of us waited as one by one, the group slowly made it to the other side of the tree. The adults, with their height as an advantage, swept their legs over the top of the trunk with ease. Being just a few inches too short to do the same, I eyed the receding water line, crouched down, and ran. I held my breath as I felt the hump of my backpack scrape against the wood, threads catching then ripping free from splinters. At the same time, my feet began to sink into the wet sand, the moisture sucking my heavy hiking boots in, making me lag behind while I ran towards the rock wall as the waves quickly chased after me, licking against my heels as I went.
On the other side of the tree, I waited impatiently, watching as the rest of the group sped across the shrinking stretch of sand. We let our friends cut in front of us, allowing them to reach the safety of the wider portion of the beach, just as our spot decreased to no more than a few feet. The only people left behind were my mom and me, and just as the last person stepped onto the open space, a huge tidal wave came racing towards me. I watched as my mom, with her long legs, launched up the rubble-covered slope. Struggling to keep up, I scrambled up the rocks that collapsed and slipped out under me, the salty water spraying my ankles. In the same moment, a slab of rock came careening down towards me. With the beach flooding behind me, I felt panic take over with the realization that I had nowhere to go. All I could do was braced myself as the rock slammed into the middle of my left shin, drawing blood in the process. Finally, the water receded, preparing for an even bigger wake. With that, we scrambled back down the rocks, and sprinted towards the the rest of the group; towards safety and away from the stress of the moment.
Timing is everything to me. If I had timed my run up the bluff poorly, I would have been hauled into the ocean. If we had timed our hike more carefully, the situation could have been avoided all together. A lack of good timing can give deadlines the ability to creep up on you like a stranger in a dark alley, or tidal waves on a cloudy beach. With important assignments just around the corner, my sleep-state brain kicks into overdrive, trying to filter out the stress that surrounds it. The filtration system often times includes the recreation of the image of turbulent waters parallel to a rocky bluff, complete with some version of me being swept out to sea; me facing the consequences of poor timing. Each time this dream presents itself, I am reminded to keep on schedule, because punctuality can literally be the difference between life and a watery grave.