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Encounters at the Edge of the Continent

A city slicker challenges herself to a solo camping trek up the North Coast.


Shortly before crossing the border into Oregon, Angela DeCenzo stopped outside Crescent City to take in the sweeping Pacific views.

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When nerves hit on the trail alone in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, DeCenzo would pretend the trees were her friends. “That sounds silly, but it’s comforting when you’re out there.”

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She encountered herds of elk while camping at Gold Bluffs Beach. “It looks like a big deer, but definitely has a different presence,” she says. “I was very aware that we are in their territory and we have to live harmoniously with each other.”

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One of DeCenzo’s first stops was Patrick’s Point State Park, just outside Trinidad. As she was exploring the Rim Trail, the tide pools, cliffs, and majestic views brought her back to her childhood along the Oregon coast. “My family ended up moving to Florida,” she says. “I remember thinking when we’d go to the ocean in Florida how this is not nearly as exciting as the West Coast.”

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DeCenzo brought along creature comforts, including a percolator, her favorite mug, and a camp stove she’s owned for nearly 25 years. It’s accompanied her on trips in Florida, Georgia, and all over California. For sustenance, she had banana bread, made from her grandmother’s recipe. “I really wanted to at least feel like mealtimes were special and not only nourishing but also comforting.”

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DeCenzo never managed to spot an elk in the Elk Meadow in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, though she did snap this photo of a deer—which turned out to be one of her favorite moments of the trip. “I wasn’t meant to see elk,” she says. “I was just meant to take this picture.”

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DeCenzo’s route.

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The bears were a concern, sure. As was the somewhat vaguer threat of weirdos lurking in the woods. But the thing that tugged at Angela DeCenzo as she set out from her home in San Francisco for a four-day drive to and from Portland was the worry over loneliness.

DeCenzo, a freelance photographer, had decided to solo camp her way up the coast to Oregon, where two of her friends were due to give birth. “I kind of needed a little bit of a reset,” she says. “I needed a different kind of challenge.”

Ultimately, the trip provided enough distractions to keep the reflexive mind from wandering too far afield. Instead DeCenzo reveled in the wild and rugged beauty of northernmost California. North of Trinidad, while camping in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, she stumbled across herds of elk, took in views of the mighty Pacific, and hiked through groves of majestic and towering redwoods. “It does have a different feel to me,” DeCenzo says of the far North Coast. “The ocean is just so much more powerful up there.”

When she set out, DeCenzo thought camping alone would make her feel “either completely defeated or completely empowered,” she says. “And you know, I came home feeling very empowered for taking on the challenge.”


Route: Highway 101 from San Francisco north to Newport, Ore.; stopped to explore the coast between Orick and Coos Bay, Ore.; turned inland at Newport via U.S. Route 20; I-5 north to Portland.
Distance traveled: 1,350 miles
Necessities: Percolator, camp stove, favorite mug, cloth napkins, two sleeping bags for extra warmth, tent.
Accommodations: Camping at Gold Bluffs Beach and Elk Prairie, both in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park in Humboldt County; camping at Fowlers Campground near Mount Shasta; crashing with friends in Portland (but would have happily stayed at McMenamins White Eagle Saloon & Hotel).


Originally published in the August issue of San Francisco 

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