Coastal Trail


June - Sept 2003


Chapter TEN.

Published August 22nd 2003.

     If you have been following Janette Heartwood’s progress on the CTE03, you already know that she is a keen observer, not only of her own actions and reactions in relation to her surroundings, but also of the people, places, animals, ideas and structures she encounters.  Depending on Janette’s level of involvement, the observations fluctuate between those that are somewhat objective and those that are quite plainly subjective.  Where she has knowledge and experience, her commentary is colored by her opinion, while at other times she simply passes along items of potential interest.  Of course, there is still a bias here since Janette’s selection of items deemed “of potential interest” must to some degree be subjective.  As with all of us, she is predisposed to remarking on certain aspects of her environment, while others may go unnoticed.  Some of us will see a bug on a leaf, others a leaf that happens to have a bug on it, and yet others will see a tree, maybe some leaves, and what bug?  This is where personality comes in.  And isn’t a story more interesting and compelling when told by someone who has a “take” on it, than when told dryly and solely for the purpose of transferring information?  Well, Janette definitely has a “take” on this whole coastal trail thing and here is the latest installment...

Sunday, August 10 -

San Simeon State Park Campground-AM

     “This grand journey has afforded many opportunities to hike in some of the millions of acres of open space that adjoins Highway 1.  Traversing the 72 miles of Big Sur coastline, we have been obliged to walk 49 miles of these along the highway shoulder.  Fortunately, my memory retains little of the unpleasant, occasionally frightening, juxtaposition of our frail bodies with the sheet metal and fiberglass behemoths that roar past.  I remember most vividly the gorgeous, ever changing colors of the ocean, the vistas across many miles of coastline, the elephant seals we see basking on the beaches, and the trails which lead to secluded oak studded meadows.

     I have driven this coastal road a few times, always glad of the lodgings and services available.  I have parked at “Vista Points,” toured Hearst Castle more than once, and enjoyed delectable meals in some of the regional eateries.  None of these activities will be featured on this coast-walk.  Instead, we will look down on Highway 1 from more than a thousand feet or walk for hours without hearing the sound of a vehicle.

     Last Sunday Tom Biggs and Henrietta Stern came down from Pacific Grove and lead us up over and down the Old Coast Road (previously the main road before the 1930’s).  The unpaved rood is well-graded and little frequented, or so I thought, until the afternoon when we started to be showered in dust from the mostly pick-up trucks that now blazed past (most of these are surfers who drive part way up to view surf conditions).  More than once we remarked to each other how glad we are to be early risers when all the drivers seem to have spent their mornings in bed, at church or savoring a leisurely breakfast!  I enjoyed the easy walking, although the bright sun made for hot conditions when we left the infrequent shade.

     Tom and Henrietta told of their love for hiking the trails in the back country and of their small home in Pacific Grove.  Many lots (but not those along prime coastline) were laid out in the early 1920's for tent camping and are 30 ft. x 60 ft.  Tom and Henrietta's place is an early tent ‘replacement,’ a small redwood, framed and planked bungalow, which, like some of their neighbors, they endeavor to keep in useable and charming condition.  Just like Laguna Beach there is the ongoing dialogue of what constitutes a ‘mansion,’ and how big is appropriate for a new box on a single lot.  One of our visitors offered that her house occupied two lots (maybe her way of addressing mansionization?).  Henrietta pointed out that real estate values have risen so much that many folks could not afford to live in Pacific Grove (starting prices comparable to ours I believe) had they not purchased more than a decade ago.  All the same issues we face (lack of affordable housing, balancing resident & visitor needs, mansionization, traffic/parking, increase in vacation homes resulting in decrease of residents who are involved in the civic process...)  - I hardly need to reiterate them.  Nor did I hear any solutions from which we might learn and benefit (sorry!).

     When last Wednesday came I was very glad I had declined one of the two consecutive days of highway walking.  (Actually, it was a day when we didn’t move our campsite, so I used the time to write my last article.)  So I felt bright-eyed and light of foot for our next adventure, described as a 14-mile day with numerous elevation gains, the highest of which would be two thousand feet, with a few (!) miles of poorly defined trail in the middle of the day.  As a prelude, the first three and a half miles would be along the highway.

     Sometimes we encourage each other by saying, ‘Today's not the weekend - traffic won’t be so bad!’  Since we have few facts (vehicle counts) to back up our theory, we simply smile and move ahead.  One passerby commented that we look like a cross between Cal-Trans and the Sierra Club.  A reference, no doubt, to our bright orange safety vests, our wide-brimmed sun hats and well-stocked day packs.      

     The day is hot, even as we start out, so I carry little other than plenty of water & food.  When we turn off Hwy One onto the Cruickshank Trail I am extremely glad I chose to wear my high-top Lowa boots today.  The altitude gain is rapid, even with all the switchbacks.  The footing is firm, but still I find scant chance to glance at the ocean, now mainly at our backs, as the trail progresses up the canyon wall, perpendicular to the ocean.

     We are being led by Park District Trail Coordinator, Gary Nelson, assisted by two members of his trail building team, Mac and Forrest (the later were featured cooks at a try-tip barbecue the night before, held in our honor). The Cruickshank Trail, and the last part of the Buckeye Trail leading down to Salmon Creek at Highway 1 are used and well defined. It's the part of the Buckeye Trail in the middle which provides the tracking challenge, and our tracking crew is on hand as guides as well as recorders of current back country conditions. Poison oak abounds and contact with the bright red-tinged leaves of three is unavoidable. We would be unable to discern the trail on our own. Gary pushes on through rough, rocky, dusty hilly country and when we reach what he determines is our highest point for the day, J's GPS reads an altitude of 2,261 ft. I drank a quart of water before we started hiking (so I could leave empty bottles in the Melmobile) and have been careful in my consumption of the two quarts I'm carrying in my Camelback. I do not want to rely on re-watering at a spring which has been talked about.

     After hiking since 8 am. we finally reach our lunch stop, Buckeye Campsite, a little after 1 pm. We have enjoyed short rest breaks during the morning but I am really glad to sit beneath the shade of of a huge live oak tree and look across at the dry, sun drenched grass of the meadow beyond. I'm tired and feel discouraged when I learn that the GPS shows our moving average, over the difficult section, to be little more than one mile an hour. I remind myself, 'Go at your own pace. Stop and look around. This is a hike, not a competition.'

     So I get up from lunch feeling refreshed and with a change of heart. As the pack moves out, I select a place closer to the back and announce to those behind that they are welcome to pass me. Our leader speaks of 'mostly' downhill from here. Mostly and downhill are open to interpretation, I have learned from past proclamations.

     I would not remember this day as so special until we turned a left hand corner and there, in all it's breadth lay the blue Pacific Ocean. Not a cloud in the sky, not a ripple on the water. The turn in the trail took me by surprise and I commented to a friend behind me of how much the sensation reminds me of riding on a trusted horse and as the horse walks around an outside corner, high up on a cliff, his ears, which are more than a yard in front of me, travel a wide arc, duplicating the sensation at the top of a  roller coaster. Like being fooled into believing my path will follow the circle of his ears and dump me into the canyon far below. The fear would be momentary. My body is actually behind by horse's front legs, so the rounding of the curve is actually quite gentle and safe. So it is with my feet, they follow the turn of the trail but my eyes are glued to the view.

     Is this what draws people to climb mountains? Have I just experienced a sensation with which others are joyously familiar? I hate the speed of roller coasters and rock climbing doesn't appeal to me. My upper body strength in no way equals the strength in my legs.

     We move on down the cliff face. The trail is narrow, well used but steep, rocky and strewn with dead leaves which render the footing slippery. The sun beats down, and the heat is only briefly tempered with the occasional overhanging shrub or sparse tree.

     I'm reluctant to give up the mountain. All my senses are engaged. My mind feels like a tuned instrument. My legs, which in years past, I considered 'too big in the calf' feel like able, worthy propellers of my body. And through my feet I feel the earth make contact with my boots at every step. My mind is free of all distractions.