Coastal Trail


June - Sept 2003



Chapter SEVEN.

Published July 25th 2003.

     As Janette and her companions move south, the effects of higher population density become more noticeable.  There is more traffic on the roads and there are more pedestrians on the trails.  However, as Janette so astutely points out, there is a very important difference between the CTE hikers and the people they encounter.  This difference is about their purpose - whether the goal is the destination or whether the journey is an end in itself.  For Janette, and probably most, if not all, of her companions, the journey for its own sake is what matters, while for most people she encounters, the journey seems to be little more than a way of getting to a chosen destination.

     But does it matter why people are using a trail, as long as they use it?  Of course it does!  People who simply want to get from point A to point B care not so much about the atmosphere of the route or the scenery around it or its tranquility or lack thereof, as they do about how fast and efficiently it will get them to their destination.  But those who care about enjoying the journey care very much about atmosphere, scenery and tranquility.  However, in the best case scenarios both groups of people can benefit from the preferences of the others, people there for the journey may benefit from the ease of a well-trodden path, while those who are on their way to a destination may actually “stop and smell the roses,” from time to time and appreciate some of the beauty of the route itself.  Sometimes compromises can actually work out for the better.  For us, Laguna Beach is a “journey,” in that we are in the “process” of living here, while for tourists it is a combination of destinations and ways to get to destinations - the beach, the Festival of the Arts, the restaurants, the shops...the trick is to accommodate people of all persuasions...

     In addition to her reflections about the way communities and the people who pass through them co-exist and interact, Janette, also (as she often does) ponders concerns more personal in nature about the daily routines of the hikers on a more mundane level, and about the capacity of one’s physical endurance and mental stamina on a more existential level.  Hopefully, you get a sense from Janette’s notes of the very real way in which the parts of our lives we often consider to be separate are inevitably intertwined. Our physical and mental abilities affect how we function as we go through our daily routines.  And whether or not we spend time contemplating our existence, our strengths, our preferences, etc., affects how we perceive ourselves and how we perceive those around us, which in turn affects how we act.  The more we understand what we are doing, how we are doing it and why we are doing it, both at the individual and community levels, the better we will all be able to overcome obstacles and create lasting compromises.

Monday (7/14)

“In the last couple of days the weather has become noticeably hotter and the trees, shrubs and wildflowers more similar to those in the Laguna Coast Wilderness Park.  Except for Sea Ranch, as I have commented before, we rarely have encountered hikers on the trails.  But yesterday completely changed that.  We made a short detour to eat lunch on a high, flat top, rocky prominence jutting out beyond the adjacent bluffs.  It affords vistas both up and down the coast.  I was surprised to find a well-beaten path with lots of folks walking to and from the rock.  Few carried water, or anything else, and judging by the young children who gaily followed their parents, the parking lot could not have been for out of sight.  Again I reminded myself, trails are often used to get to a destination… we travelled on, climbing the hot exposed hillsides up then down, then up again.  We stopped at a walk-in campsite but were the only humans present.  Then, about two and a half miles from the parking lot where we would end the day’s hike, we came to the turn off of a large lake.  We had been told it is a good place to swim and that became evident.  The trail became wider, dusty and quite crowded, by now it was around 5 o’clock and seemed strange that so many young people were walking in both directions.  And they too (as those mentioned above) seemed ill-equipped for any kind of hiking.  We made inquiries - one young man replied, ‘I come here on ever day I’m off from work.’ Someone else said, 'The lake is really fun, you meet lots of nice people there.’ So once again, we find a trail as a link (pathway) to a destination, not a place to enjoy the journey (process) for its own sake.  At the trail head parking lot we counted just over 100 cars - that gives some idea of the popularity of a meeting place where a self-selected group may find each other, and this one is more than 2 hour’s drive from San Francisco, most of which is along a narrow, very winding road.

     Today we encountered the first beaches that could qualify-for any concept of crowded.  As I walked along Brighton Beach adjacent to Bolinas Bay, I felt for the first time that I was the voyeur, walking on someone else’s turf and watching them doing their thing.  “Their thing” could be nothing more than simply lying on the sand and letting the hot sun add more bronze touches to already tanned skin.  Or for the more energetic, the activity of choice was keeping up with the constant demands of adoring and dedicated canines to throw the ball into the waves.  And here I come, stepping as gracefully as I can, in spite of the loose sand which wants to hamper my every effort.  And I feel somewhat ridiculous in my hiking outfit, my body and head covered against the effects of the sun.  The sleeves of my turquoise, sun-inhibiting shirt are long enough to cover my hands. The wide brim of my hat keeps all the rays of the sun from reaching my face and parts of my neck not already protected by the upturned collar of my shirt.

     No longer am I the quiet, appropriately clad human, gently traversing a narrow ribbon of trail within millions of acres of open space.  I feel I am considered by those who watch me as really weird (in my arrogant moments I think it could be most people, which of course it is not, they are far too busy enjoying themselves).  I’m walking across their turf like aliens from another planet.  Well, get used to it, I tell myself.  Southern California is only a few steps away.     This thought becomes abundantly clear as we walk over the Golden Gate Bridge.  In a prior newspaper article we were referred to as ‘Walk Stars.’  Now I really feel like one.  Cameramen are running in front of us then turning around to capture an image of the bridge with our group dwarfed by the structure.  Since I have a bright yellow wind breaker, our leader has asked me to walk at the front.  Already we are learning to pose for the pictures and show off our team.

Thursday (7/17)

     As I complete this report, I'm sitting on a bench by Fisherman’s Wharf.  Last night we had the privilege of sleeping aboard the three-masted clipper ship Bulclutha.  She was built in Scotland and made the sailing around Cape Horn five times on journeys from the UK to California.  I selected the chart house as my cabin for the night, and through the open door I was in direct line of sight to Alcatraz and its intermittent beam of aviation warning light.  The little room is delightfully set up with fine paneling and red velvet upholstered benches.  There is a companionway directly down to the spacious Captain’s quarters.  A plaque on the polished mahogany chart table tells of the Captain’s wife also using the room for her sewing machine and enjoying looking forward onto the ship’s activities.  A delightful & romantic night for me - a dip into the past...

Tuesday, (7/22)

     When we walked across the Golden Gate Bridge a few days ago and officially arrived in San Francisco my joyous thoughts of earlier, that I was ‘coming home (‘coming-home’ to Southern California I mean) became tinged with doubt.  The close to 500 miles we had hiked to get to the first big city had been so picturesque and varied, I felt reluctant to journey on.  Why not turn around and hike north up to the Oregon state line again?  We had walked maybe 100 miles on highway shoulders but I knew that the traffic we had encountered would be little compared to the noise, vibrations and noxious emissions to come.



     Daily, the population density has increased & so has the traffic.  We left Pacifica and walked 12 miles of almost uninterrupted highway shoulder.  This was the first day that I felt less than delighted.  Is there no place to escape vehicles -- cars -- trucks?  Why am I bothering to ask?  This is California, USA, if you can’t keep your pedal to the metal, you can at least put one foot in front of the other and proceed, so as you can imagine, the day progressed, the fog lifted, the sun showed its face, the wind blew less like a gale and the ‘Melmobile’ came into sight.  We have been rewarded by camping at Cascade Farm, a working farm, owned by the Park Service and eventually will be opened to more visitors.  We will stay here three nights, a real treat to leave our tents up for the duration.

    We have all become rather fond of our tents.  As we hike we change places, talk to varying companions and spend the day in social ways.  We hand out pocket flyers to anyone along the route who seems interested so they can read a lithe about Coastwalk and its objectives.  And we gather close when we eat the usually delicious dinners brought in by local Coastwalk volunteers.  But soon after dinner we each retire to our individual tents.  Eight o’clock is often bedtime - much to the amusement of our one member, Steve, who keeps much later hours & seems to cat nap every time we stop to rest during the day.  Our tents are the one place we can enjoy alone time (excluding potties!) and we are all benefitting from long hours of sleep.  Tired as we all may be at the end of the day, we appear bright and ready to go the next morning.  When I sat at home last spring, and tried to visualize how I would be ready (and able) to hike for days on end, I just had to give up and say ‘I’ll do a leap of faith on that one.’  And that is how it’s turned out. So I am somewhat in awe of my body’s ability to keep my spirit moving ahead.

Wednesday (7/23)

     Walking the Coastal Trail and/or Highway 1 offers few opportunities to gather news.  Since I’m spending the summer in this activity it naturally follows that I am little concerned.  The world, out town, my house will all be there when I return.  However, we do sometimes walk by a village grocery store, and lately a few latte hang-outs have offered a refreshing interlude.  Just like ranchers from a century ago, who went into town to exchange gossip and gather news, so it happens that I glance at newspapers and follow the Tour de France in tiny fragments.  Lance Armstrong is reported to have said ‘I am not the one to beat.’  ‘Really,’ I say to myself, never imagining his comments could just be media spin, as a fellow hiker has suggested.  I take the sentence to heart and the thought travels with me.  Lance is no quitter: Could he have insights into his own physical potential and be honest enough to express them?  ‘Could simply be faking out the competition,’ my friend offers.  As I write this, for all I know the Tour may be over and the winner already crowned.  But who wins is not the object of my interest (of course; I am routing for Lance). It's the concept of being in tune with one’s physical potential that fascinates me.

     During the first few weeks of this journey, at the end of each hike I stumbled into camp, wishing my tent would erect itself so I could fall inside and go to sleep.  I had inhaled food all along the trail, like it would never be available again, so even the prospect of a calorie laden dinner had little sway over my desire to lie in bed.  But our daily routine has increased my fitness, so now, whether we walk 12 miles or 17, when we get to the end of each hike, I may feel tired, but I know I could walk further if need be.  This understanding of my physical ability is a new insight for me.  In the past I have attempted physically demanding activities, but without being so well prepared, as I am for this summer’s journey.  Before, dogged determination forced me on, but there is little pleasure in such a way of going.

     Now I can walk the miles in happy confidence.  My feet are comfortable in whatever footgear I choose for the day, and my body keeps a favorable temperature by varying my layers of clothing. (We haven’t experienced much really hot weather yet, so I will keep you informed on the aspect!)     

    For the first time in my life I believe I have gained a connection between my body and my mind in which my physicality is in tune with my mentality.  Surely this is what athleticism is all about?  Thank you, Lance.  I won’t be hopping on a bicycle tomorrow, but I will be stepping down the path with an expanded vision of joyfulness.

     We set off this morning from Pigeon Point Lighthouse.  We walked on Highway 1 at the beginning and end of the day, but most of the 11.8 miles was along the beaches or the trails directly above.  Often our leader would stop to impart his version of just how the Coastal Trail should be.  When I heard buzz words like ‘developer credits’ or ‘bicycle paths’ I knew I would hear another variation of how nothing short of a footpath always adjacent to the beach is an acceptable solution for THE Coastal Trail.  I chose not to offer thoughts on the beneficial effects of compromise and cooperation by competing interests.  All along the coast, I have seen magnificent results by groups acting together to gain mile upon square mile of our coastline for all to enjoy.  There is much to be done but we can still rejoice in what is happening now.

     So many times today I was able to sit on a rock or a tuft of bunch grass and gaze across the ocean.  Four cormorants are standing together on a rocky outcrop.  One flies away, makes a lazy circle and sets down almost beyond my field of view.  The remaining three turn their heads, but seem otherwise unconcerned.  The waves are even, the sound rhythmical; the sun is breaking weakly through the thin clouds.  I'm enjoying being the unconcerned observer on a natural order which requires no orchestration on my part.

     When I was younger and traveled to distant lands I always imagined I would return.  Life and time seemed infinite.  Now, when I gaze on even the simplest of happenings, even those so close to home as the San Mateo County coastline where we were today, I embrace the finite nature of life.  Will I ever again see the northern elephant seals basking on the beach at Ano Nuevo State Reserve?  Maybe... I do not know.  What I do know is that I can be engaged in the present and relish the ability of my mind to recall this journey long after I have worn out all these shoes.”

     Whether your goal is the journey or the destination, I hope you are enjoying this trip along the California Coastal Trail as we hike vicariously through Janette’ Heartwood’s journals...

Jennifer Erickson