Tsunami a surprise ending to beach retreat

The Gift of Solitude—A Week at the Beach with a Surprise Ending
by Olivia Rossi
Your Personal Trainer

It had been on my calendar for two months. A week alone at the beach to retreat, reflect and renew. Seaside. I left on Monday with no plans, no computer, no watch and no schedule. I took all my food so I didn’t have to shop. I also brought my classical guitar and my favorite Christopher Parkening CD, and, of course, my running shoes.

It was March. On my first day, I ran on the beach with a little wind and a little sun. The next day there was a lot more wind and a lot less sun. Okay, none. I ran south along the Prom, fighting the wind all the way, the sleeves of my wind-breaker fluttering like a spinnaker—good resistance training! I came back along the water’s edge where the sand was packed and the wind was behind me, the return trip taking only half the time, giving new meaning to the term “wind sprints!”

I continued to the end of the beach where the Necanicum River flows into the sea and churns it brown. I love to say that name—“Necanicum, Necanicum, Necanicum.” When I turned around, I met up with a mighty gust of wind. I had to stop, turn sideways and hunker down so as not to get blown over. It made me think of the fire command: “Stop, drop and roll.” I had visions of being blown over and rolling like a log along the beach towards the Necanicum River (I just wanted to say it again). I couldn’t stop laughing.

I made it back to the beach house, sand in my socks and a smile on my face. Have you noticed how everyone smiles at the beach? Even dogs! As I headed back up through the beach grass, amidst a scattering of tiny, broken shells, I found a perfect sand dollar for my mom. Then I looked up as a seagull soared into the wind, appearing motionless, suspended by an invisible string. Incoming breakers broke, gray-green and sudsy in the eternal rhythm of the sea. That’s why I came. The sound of the surf is the ocean’s applause. You can’t hear a single wave—you hear them all in nature’s roar of approval.

On Wednesday, I didn’t go out at all. Tillamook Head had disappeared and the wind was whipping along the beach, gusting to sixty miles an hour—a Nor’wester. I watched from the cozy den where, outside, a sturdy little tree flailed frantically in front of the rain soaked window, stopping to rest only between gusts of the wind’s fury. Rivers of sand rippled across the beach, leaving no trace of yesterday’s footprints. Strains of Christopher Parkening’s guitar blended in perfect rhythm with the wind and the sea for my own private concert. It was a perfect time to write down my reflections on my favorite laptop—a yellow legal pad with the choice of two writing apps—a pen or a pencil. I wrote a six page letter to my son, long hand, cursive . . .

My time at the beach was coming to an end. I knew I would be taking a small piece of the beach home with me, the sand in my shoes and my sand dollar. I would also be taking home with me the peace of the sea in my soul. I had one day left. Thursday night, I went to bed around 10:30 and read for awhile, then turned out the light and dozed in and out of a restful sleep until the phone rang at 12:40 am. It was my cousin. She had been watching the news. I had not turned on the TV or radio all week. “Olivia,” she said calmly “there’s been a massive earthquake in Japan. A tsunami warning has been issued for the entire west coast . . .”

I had kept things orderly all week so it didn’t take me long to pack my belongings and venture out into the night. I left at 1:30 am in the first wave of evacuees before the sirens were sounded. Already a steady stream of cars was heading out of Seaside for higher ground along Highway 101, many lining up for gas. It was a harrowing drive home due to patches of fog and a stretch of icy road near the summit where a car had skidded into a ditch and was upside down on its roof. Traffic was crawling. Drivers were careful and courteous. I was dreading the detour through Vernonia because I knew the tunnel would be closed . . . but it wasn’t. I hadn’t heard. Construction crews had moved out and made room for the unusual midnight exodus. Thank you.

I say it was a harrowing drive. It was unexpected and it was tense but I had a 4WD and plenty of gas. I got home safely. Many people in Japan did not. My heart is aching for them. We lived in Japan for four years and experienced many earthquakes, all of them scary but none like this one. I never would have guessed when I made my plans to spend a week at the beach that I would be there during a tsunami warning. It was a week I will never forget.

Yours in fitness,
Olivia C. Rossi, RN, MSN
Certified Clinical Exercise Specialist, ACSM
Certified Personal Trainer, ACSM