This essay is part of an occasional series highlighting Phil Decker’s journeys hiking through what he calls the Salem National Forest. Follow all of his adventures on his blog.
I recently Googled “how long hike Pacific Crest Trail,” and I learned that the journey takes about five months. It has taken me about five months, plus a year, to hike to The Border along Salem’s State Street Trail. This isn’t because I’m hiking barefoot or because I packed too much gear. Rather, it’s because life happens — the day job, cutting the grass, going out to eat, renting a Redbox movie, posting pics on Facebook, visiting with family. However, I won’t call it quits; I’m still determined to complete all twelve miles of the State Street Trail.
Before attempting the dangerous feat of crossing The Border at Cordon Road — the line that marks the boundary between rural and urban Salem — I knew I had to be well-prepared and in tip-top shape. As a warmup, I embarked on one last rural training hike. I parked my car at the turnout at Bethel School and headed west.
I was surprised at how easy it was to get back in shape. Maybe it’s because there were so many shapes around.
The following Sunday morning, with renewed energy and confidence, I approached The Border at the intersection of State and Cordon. I was greeted by a red light, which gave me time to catch my breath and get my bearings.
The serenity I experienced on the rural stretch of the trail was lost among the crisscrossing cars, traffic signs and bright utility warning poles. When the little white walking man illuminated, I hurried across the intersection. I made it!
Once safely across The Border, I navigated the trail on the edge of the road, sandwiched between trucks and a steep rain ditch. Good thing no bicyclists came by!
Although I was now hiking the urban stretch of the trail, I was glad to see signs announcing natural wonders.
Yet, as I turned into the park, there were no pin oaks in sight.
Still hopeful, I spotted this viewpoint. I was looking forward to wandering under rows of fruit trees and resting in their cool shade.
Nope — just a row of arborvitae at the end of a parking lot.
By then, I felt quite disappointed. The sunlight shining on another sign caught my eye. Although I was still having trust issues, I gave it another try.
Lo and behold, two tall cedars framed the entrance to Cedar Park!
It seemed as though the clouds parted and the wonders of the urban State Street Trail were in full bloom.
On the mile-long stretch between Cordon and Lancaster Drive, I found many marvels, including an open meadow by the power station …
signs of wildlife …
a rare occurrence where church and state were not separated …
the shade of a giant cedar …
beautiful shapes, shadows and textures on the giant tree (OK, Phil, get back on track. You’re hiking the trail, remember?) …
a tall couple hugging behind the United Market …
a deluxe campground, with access to air conditioning …
and the enticing shade of a willow tree in front of a duplex village.
As I approached Lancaster Drive, the largest commercial strip along the State Street Trail, I enjoyed patches of exotic wildflowers in bloom.
Behind Walgreens, I noted a large tract of land still for sale in the Salem National Forest. I’m sure the money from the sale must be earmarked for expanding wilderness and wildlife preservation.
At the corner of State and Lancaster, I cautiously approached one of many vast oil fields within the forest, seeking the gift shop that sells bottled water, prepackaged snacks and weak coffee.
Crossing The Border from rural to urban Salem offered challenges beyond the curious looks of motorists wondering why in the world I was walking around and taking pictures there. In our urban landscape, it can be hard to find the solace of nature, and we need to look closely to spot the trees, waterways and wildlife that have survived.
Thanks for coming along on this hiking adventure. Full steam ahead until we arrive at the mouth of the State Street Trail, where it empties into the Willamette River.
Phil Decker is a documentary photographer and facilitator of the Salem Photo League. You can see more of his photos on his blog, “Hiking Salem National Forest,” or on his website. If you see Phil on a Salem National Forest hike, wave and rest assured that he’s OK, searching for photos and nature in all the “wrong” places.