Coastal Trail


June - Sept 2003


Chapter FIFTEEN.

Published September 26th 2003.

     Just as one has a certain sadness at the end of a memorable vacation, or upon finishing a beautifully written and engrossing novel, so it is with some of that same sadness that I present the final notes from Janette.  Those of you who have been following Janette’s progress, sharing her musings about the people and places she encountered and partaking in the long journey vicariously through her warm and honest commentary, are no doubt also a little sad to see the adventure come to an end.  Hopefully, the knowledge we have gained remains.  Perhaps our ears and eyes will be more alert to issues about California’s coastline, and perhaps we may be able to enter into dialogues about proposed plans of action from a better informed perspective than before.  If so, then Janette’s reports will not only have helped to inform us about an event that has passed, but may also enable us, through increased awareness, to help shape the course of events yet to come.

Tuesday, (9/16) - Tuesday, (9/23)

     “A short drive from Laguna down the I-5 is a place where, if conditions are favorable, you can walk for miles along a wide sandy beach and count on one hand the few people you will meet.  It is protected from all sounds, except those of the pounding waves, by a continuous wall of high bluffs, making it possible to imagine oneself transported to many of the wild coastlines we have hiked along in our 1,200 mile journey.

     The place is San Onofre State Beach, and to enjoy the illusion as our group of Coastwalkers did, you will need to select a foggy weekday morning.  Use the north entrance station (at Basilone Road) and start walking (with the ocean on your right - just like we have done all summer).  In a mile you will reach the passage to our fantasy. A one lane, concrete channel forms the first line of defense against the ocean waves for the coastal retaining wall of the nuclear power plant.  A uniformed guard will allow you to squeeze past his parked vehicle and after a couple of pleasantries are exchanged you can walk on.  Squeeze past the other guard’s vehicle parked at the far end, then step into a new world.  Do not look back.  Ignore the occasional lifeguard tower, the trash cans set at infrequent intervals, and the tire tracks of a service vehicle.

     You will have the beach practically to yourself.  Maybe a woman with a couple of big dogs will jog by, or you will pass a few fishermen silently tending their lines.  The waves will be the playground of more dolphins than the odd couple of surfers who appear in the distance.  The erosion of the high bluffs remind one of Bryce Canyon in Utah, except the color is not so intense.  The vertical crevices in the soft sedimentary bluffs rise 60 feet, and in place nearly 150 feet.  They are fantastic.  A fine example of nature’s natural beauty.  What a gorgeous stretch of wilderness!  But remember, select a morning when other folks don’t relish a trip to the beach.  At lifeguard station #5 you will find the path up the cliff to the trailhead.  This is the parking lot at the southern end of San Onofre State Beach.  Beyond is a locked gate, marking the entrance to Camp Pendleton.  As the fog burns off, the waves will be claimed by a procession of surfers.  Not to worry, the beach has already delivered its fog-enshrouded fantasy.  The sun will bring pleasure to a new group.

     Our long walk has not always been so serene.  In fact, the highway miles have been many.  Some were along quiet country roads, like those in Humboldt County where dairy cows and moose were often the only witnesses to our passing.  But usually it was the noise, exhaust, pollution and tremors along the pavement which orchestrated our highway strides.  Crossing the Port of Long Beach Bridge is where decibel levels reached heretofore unheard of assaults on the eardrums.  There are no provisions for pedestrians on the Vincent Thomas Bridge over the main channel at Los Angeles Harbor, so Mel drove us across in the Melmobile.  He let us off at the first turn-out and we stepped into another world.  Huge container transport trucks passed within a few feet of our diminutive human chain.  We wore our Cal-Trans style safety vests, and some drivers honked as we waved up to them.  Reaching the pedestrian cage which has been crippled onto the side of the mammoth bridge over the Long Beach Harbor was like a double-edged sword - relief to feel encased within a sturdy, though vibrating, perforated metal cocoon, was countered by the heightened awareness of just how high above terra firma we were actually suspended.  I am not afraid of heights, so I looked around in wonderment at this huge shipping facility.  Who can possibly need all these imports?  Silly question - it’s eons since need drove the salesman’s pitch.

     Soon we are at Shoreline Village.  The Queen Mary, the Aquarium and the Convention Center all vie for visual attention.  The tourist shops are filled with goodies, most “right off the boat” I presume.  Needed? … no.  Desired? …presumably.

     So began our march southward.  For days we walked along wide, flat beaches with adjoining hinterland, similar to that which we experienced in Los Angeles.  Campgrounds are scarce, so for three nights the Park Service (who are one of our sponsors) granted permission for us to camp on the beaches (tents up after dark and down at first light).

     Seal Beach, according to a note I wrote to myself gets top prize for displaying the most degraded residential blight along the Orange County beach front. Judging by the hordes of vacation rental signs the reason is obvious. No one resides here, no one seems to care. I suppose the rent checks roll in anyway.

     The further south we walked, the more beautifully tended the houses appeared. Gardens displayed the individual talents of their caretakers and the escalating prosperity of ocean front home owners grow more and more apparent.