Great Explorer

Legends are made this way.

Legends are borne in the small, tiny stories, the kind that stick year after year—where there is always more to tell, but you cannot get there because this particular part is just too good.

In the crazy days of four young kids bustling about, I somehow manage to carve three nights away with two dear friends. We set to hike an ambitious part of the Northwest Coastal lands. Prepping involves gathering permits and gear, and checking in on one another in feverish texts. With each buzz of my phone, I feel giddy. Adrenaline rushes, propelling me to fantasize about the unknown.

The dining room table is now in puzzle pieces made of zip lock bags, trail mix, water purifier instructions, bear spray, a luxury French press coffee cup, and flash cards of instructions for various emergencies. There’s trusted gray duct tape, a first aid kit, and a compression sack, which I’m debating if I need. My two friends are here, buzzing about the kitchen, shouting back and forth: “Do we need two bear canisters or three?” And, “Which tent should we bring?”

Our hike will take us out of cell phone range and social media interruptions. We will leave the car at the Ozette trailhead, and a driver will pick us up at Shi Shi beach. We’ve carefully budgeted time, food, and money. On the drive to Ozette in the early morning, I roll down my window, and the sunny morning breeze hits my face. I smell the salt water, which sticks to my ruddy cheeks. I welcome the freshness.

With our trail passes, tide charts, and bear canisters, we pound the established trail to the south end of the Ozette coast, singing, the buzz of our adventure mixed between us. It’s misting rain, which isn’t ideal, but it will surprisingly improve. I don’t have time here to chronicle the miraculous weather; the tide crossings up to our waists; the seal, bathing like a king on a lonesome beach; the sea urchins, puckering up for our cameras; and the three goofy hikers we later meet, who become lasting friends. There isn’t space to tell the story of my fishing success.

We will have to wait for those stories.

The misting rain helps me focus on my footsteps—the wooden boardwalk is slick. I don’t want to fall. I try to keep my eyes up. Each crest of a tree, the needles of ferns, bring me to my body in a way I cannot be amidst four children clambering for my attention. Slugs pass under my hiking boots; they have the right of way.

As we descend to the beach, we take a right, and the rain has turned to wet mist—fog settled against the gentle waves. The tide is coming in, and we hike another mile south along the coast. Our permit gives us range and we struggle with an awkward tent. (Imagine and laugh and giggle at what story is here that I don’t have space to tell.) Finally settled, dinner brewing, I take off my shoes.

The largish tan grains of sand fit nicely between my toes. I scrunch them together, inhale deeply and swoon at the ocean’s fierceness.

Tired from the day, I lay my body down inside the tent. Sprawled out in the “middle,” my head will eventually lie between two pairs of feet. I can distantly hear one friend snoring on my right. The other is lying absolutely still on my left. I don’t dream, but sink into a rest from bustling life, and let myself believe I’m more than I’m allowed to be back home. Heavy eyelids close. Distant waves rock me to sleep.

A guttural growl grows in my belly. Huffing loudly surrounds me. Large feet plant themselves on the outside of the tent. The sniffing, then the growl from inside of me; it erupts in terror, from my innermost parts. It’s the sound of survival howling. I tell myself, “Shut up! There’s a bear outside of the tent! Why are you screaming?!”

Startled at my response, I sit straight up and realize my friend on the left is howling with fury at the bear outside our tent. Her screams are caught in my chest, too. I feel them erupt again and again, like a volcano of lava blowing steam from inside of me. Not wanting to make any more noise, I whisper her name, “Friend!” I shake her legs. “Be quiet! Where is the bear spray?”

No response.

I scramble for the spray and realize it’s just outside of the tent. A lot of good it does us there, I think.

“Friend!” She’s quieted. The huffing continues. Our hearts are beating together now, both in terror, both in awe that we are unscathed. The friend on my right hasn’t moved. She is still lightly snoring.

I drift between fits of heartbeats, and grin at the sound my friend could make that made me feel it was coming from inside of me. The ocean repeats its rocking. We settle in. This is one of those good parts, I think.

To be continued….

Danielle S. Castillejo grew up in the swirl of a mixed identity, with a German father and a Mexican mother. With her four children in school full time, she applied to graduate school at The Seattle School of Theology and Psychology. Before her second year of graduate school, she was invited to explore her story through a Story Workshop at The Allender Center. She went on to complete Levels 1 and 2 of the Certificate in Narrative Focused Trauma Care and the Externship. Since our culture has experienced such an intense ripping and cultural identity crisis, Danielle addresses internalized racism and its effects personally, in her family, and in her community. She encourages other healing practitioners to do the same. Danielle began this process with her MA in Counseling Psychology and studies at The Allender Center. Danielle loves the anticipation of spring and summer in the Pacific Northwest, with the return of long days and sunlight absent in the dark winters. You can easily find Danielle out on a trail or working in her yard. You can also find her online at