Published June 27th 2003.
As life on the CTE takes over the lives of the hikers, Janette's days on the "walk" (not to say "run"), much as ours here at home, tend to alternate between those that are pared down to simply performing routine tasks and overcoming daily obstacles and those that allow more time for reflection and philosophical contemplation. After the last note from Janette (excerpted in this newspaper two weeks ago), she wrote only a brief note on June 10th, emphasizing daily tasks and practical concerns, and then did not write again until June 19th. But this last letter was worth the wait as it is full of description and poignant observations, the more poignant perhaps because of the laconic style of it's predecessor. To read one after the other, keeping in mind the period of silence between them, is to get a feeling for the emotional swings of life on the trail.
So, to the field with Janette.
Tuesday night (6/10).
"We are staying for the second night at Patrick's Point State Park. What a gift not to take our tents down in the morning and put up again in the evening - such a simple pleasure.
The hiking has been 12 miles minimum every day, since we crossed the State Line - walking in loose, gravel type sand is the most challenging. In fact - a paved road (pavement) is welcomed - if it doesn't have a lot of traffic.
I'm getting used to my tent and getting more efficient at the daily routine - but still feel like I am scrambling to catch up. We arrived a little earlier (4pm) in camp today, so I thoroughly brushed all my footwear and left it in the remaining sun to dry out.
There has been a change in the weather. Still foggy in the AM but not so damp at night. My one prayer (if I believed in the power of prayer) was for no rain - and so far we have had no rain. I would rather carry state of the art rain gear, than actually use it!
It will be some days before we actually get a whole day off. I'll write more then."
Thursday night (6/19).
"Our days have been so filled with the efforts of hiking, often more than 12 miles each day, followed by the challenges of camping, that I have been too tired to devote energy to writing.
The hiking is glorious. Days filled with the joy of just putting one foot in front of the another and traveling with purpose through the landscape. One of my desires in doing this long journey is an attempt to understand, by personal experience, a way of being alive in the present, with my mind free from thoughts beyond the immediate chosen direction.
Before leaving home as I visualized doing this I imagined how I could feel connection with people who lived a nomadic life in wild places. But now I think of my walk with a technically efficient, small day pack, with my state of the art water deliver system (one suck on the tube and liquid is passing through my lips, freshly moistened with lip balm in a convenient pocket sized tube purchased from Sav-on, from the bag of clean water which I so conveniently filled from a tap at the last campsite, and realize that I am not even close to replicating the conditions of my imaginary kinfolk. If they are hunter-gatherers they would be familiar with the terrain and their eyes would be focused on opportunities to gather food. My lunch is all in my back pack, safely stored in a container which I filled from the offerings put out on the table adjacent to the breakfast fare.
My eyes are most often focused on the ground. I try to look ahead and place the contours of the terrain in my very short term memory, and let that guide my next dozen steps, while I sneak-a-peek at the view. Often I say to myself, ‘The snag with walking is, it’s too damned fast!’ Walking needs to be punctuated with plenty of stops just to allow the majesty of these places to reveal themselves. But then I reply to myself ‘I like to hike at a constant rhythmical pace.’ That’s part of the joy - sensing my feet touch the ground with my body propelled forward in a (hopefully) effortless motion, (helped by appropriate footwear and a lightly loaded pack, I may add).
Anyway, I have modified my idea of how to experience this long hike. I will give up the nomadic connection and think in terms of passing through this land with a light step and an unencumbered heart.
I have not forgotten my promise to write about issues in other places which seem similar to those in our town and how locals here have addressed them. But Coastwalk is about walking the coast, staying as close to the ocean as possible, preferably on the beach, or a nearby coastal trail and not traversing urban places. So far there have not been many urban areas which encroach on the ocean in the way Crescent City and Eureka do, but further south the reverse will be true. Climate and geography have dissuaded many people from residing where we have been walking. Roads and freeways are built where people want to live & work. So the more primitive roads dissuade more would be settlers, and the population remains sparse.
Each day we interact with one or more new guides, and locals who come to share their expertise around the camp fire. These are the good Coastwalk people (so far all women) who volunteer to cook and bring in our evening meal and the boat folks who propel us across rivers when the waters are too deep, too rapid and/or too wide for us to ford.
Each community seems to harbor a healthy bunch of environmentalists save the forest. . . save the wetlands. . . stop the developers type activists. They seem to know each other and each other’s groups but are not so aware that their efforts are part of a necklace of activists all along the coast. Even in Laguna Beach, Orange County, I see the same approach. But the efforts are having a combined effect. It is possible to walk among the indescribably majestic redwoods in the Redwoods State Park and be unaware that the remaining trees are only a fraction of their former acreage.
We rarely encounter other hikers on the trails. But it is not my purpose to encourage others to follow in our footsteps. Those who arc drawn to this way of spending part of their life will be choose to do so, and find a way to make it happen. I will see the light filter through the trees and hope my memory will allow me to recall these images long after I do not return here."
(Note to avoid reader confusion: The next few paragraphs follow the preceding paragraphs directly in the context of Janette’s notes and are not out of order. However, while they do describe a previous section of her journey, Janette, in a poetic way, lapses into the present tense as she recounts the experience... )
June - Sept 2003