Coastal Trail


June - Sept 2003


Chapter TWELVE.

Published September 5th 2003.

Each week Janette writes to us about the difficulty of the trail, the obstacles to coastal access, the amazing beauty of the natural elements and the people who color the journey with their views and personalities along the way.  As the day that the hikers will pass through Laguna Beach draws near, she can’t help but wonder how it will be perceived by her more objective fellow hikers...

Friday, (8/29)

     On Friday, September 12th, our expedition will start at Balboa Bridge in Newport Beach, continue through Laguna Beach and finish the day at Aliso Beach.  I'm writing this article while we are at McGrath State Beach Campground in Ventura County and I'm trying to imagine how I will feel as we walk through Laguna Beach, my adopted and beloved hometown.  Will the flowers bloom as profusely as I remember?  Will the concept ‘messy diversity,” which we embraced in our Vision Process, show the unfamiliar traveller a vibrant town of people with diverse personal beliefs, who tolerate a wide variety of designs in architectural and landscaping responses?  Will we seem like a visitor friendly place which also has not forgotten that the first reason for its existence is a town for those who choose to live here?  Will my fellow hikers see beyond our urban issues? (Competition for space, dwindling resources and lack of foresight in land planning seem to be constant themes since we left Del Norte and Humboldt Counties.) Will they feel the spirit of our town?  Will they understand why a Lagunatic can become so impassioned by our extraordinary community?  From my cursory view of towns passed through so far, I sense that Laguna Beach addresses more issues and often finds more creative solutions than some places.

     In Santa Barbara County we have pitched our tents adjacent to the railway tracks and some nights we are squeezed between the tracks and the freeway.  We have sat on the pavement to eat lunch under the only shade available - a freeway overpass, next to Rincon Beach.  We have waded in waist high ocean swells to get around the huge rocks which protect the gardens of the Miramar Hotel.  One of our hikers who lives in Sonoma County asked me to explain what people find so appealing about Southern California.  My best answer is that for many folks California is about going somewhere to do something and it’s not really about the journey.  No one can convince me that driving a motor home is fun.  Maybe the fun in driving is anticipating the fun at the destination, after the rig has been leveled and expanded, and the alarm clock set to ‘beat the traffic’ on the way home.

     Oh!  I did forget to mention the weather.  We have been so fortunate ever since starting at the California State Line on June 3rd that I am now taking for granted these glorious smogless sunny days of true Southern California sunshine at the beach.

     Before I write more...I want to go back to Point Sal, located just inside the Santa Barbara County line and overlooking the long, curving beaches of Vandenberg Air Force Base to the south.  Bill Denneen is in his late seventies, a retired biology professor and local legendary environmental activist.  He has offered his home and mini farm as a hostel for the past 20 years.  His place is located on the hill above Guadalupe, near Brown Road...  He’s not a member of ‘Hosteling International’ (H.I.), and anyone who has visited would have no difficulty understanding why.  He says it’s because he enjoys a glass of beer and would not wish to keep his hostel alcohol free.  But more than that would be his very lax attitude to housekeeping, and routine maintenance gets short shrift, too.  The grounds surrounding the house are overgrown and overflowing. Recycling bins are much in evidence.       



    But...I ventured out to his garage and saw more than a hint of what interests him.  A modern surrey, complete with a fringe on top, bearing a ‘made in Tennessee’ plaque, was the largest horse-drawn vehicle.  Behind, were three other vehicles, not so grand, a bit dusty, but still in roadworthy condition...  I knew we wouldn’t be hitching up the surrey - we had come to walk and Bill had repeated excitedly how much he was looking forward to taking us on his favorite hike.  A journey he had not undertaken for two years because he could never find anyone willing to accompany him.

    So the next morning we all rode in the ‘Melmobile’ along West Main Street, which parallels the San Luis Obispo/Santa Barbara County Line to the dunes at Guadalupe Beach.  We walked along the broad deserted sand, past Mussel Point to Paradise Beach.  Here we started an arduous scramble over the dunes.  Climbing ever higher with each step, walking up and down the loose sand as it flows around one’s feet, is a most energy intensive activity.  The dunes roll up and down and the end is elusive.  To scramble down one really steep trail (it seemed almost straight down to me!) we were aided by a 200 ft. rope attached to an iron spike.  So I slip, slipped down and laughed at the bottom.  But every step down obliged us to go up again.  Our highest point registered EL 1200 ft. on J’s GPS.  Eventually we reached the gradual descent of an abandoned road and glimpsed, through the fog, the beautiful beaches along the coast of Vandenberg Air Force Base to the south.  

The hiking was broken up by welcome and interesting rest stops orchestrated by Bill.  Unbeknownst to us, Mike had carried Bill’s tape player, so at lunch time we sat and listened to the words of Thoreau as we gazed northward across the miles of beaches and dunes we had traversed.  Had it not been for the fog, we would have gained a rare glimpse of Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant, with Point Buchon just beyond.

     The nuclear power plant was originally scheduled to be built at Point Sal, but Bill and other local activists fought so long and so intently to keep it from the place which is closest to Bill’s heart, that they eventually ‘won.’  The plant is now out of public sight, between Montana de Oro and Avila Beach, 30 miles away.  When I asked Bill if the relocation was really a win, he replied, well at least it’s not at Point Sal - this place is protected forever.’ I decided not to push the discussion.

     A delightful, energetic old man can rest easy.  We reluctantly said ‘good-bye.’  

This summer we are travelers, he is the homebody.

     That evening we were guests of the Surf-rider Foundation at the Guadalupe home of John Moule.  Philip Teresi played his guitar and we tried out ways to adapt ‘I love to go a-wandering’ to ‘I love to go a-walking down the California Trail.’

     So, everyone, remember Friday, September 12th, the day the Coastwalkers hike through town.  Join us for a few steps or a few miles. All are welcome."

After passing through Laguna Beach will Janette have a story to tell about an encounter with a singular individual who provided a service to the group?  Will seeing her town through the eyes of her companions put some of our problems in relief or serve to emphasize our blessings?  Will coastal access be a breeze all the way through or will it be necessary to pound the pavement here and there?  Will the aforementioned fellow hiker say that they now understand exactly what it is that people find so appealing about Southern California?  What do YOU think - when is the last time you got a really good look at our town without the rose-colored glasses of familiarity?

Jennifer Erickson