Puzzling Through the Impossible Dream

I had lunch with a friend today, and she mentioned wanting to walk the Pacific Coast Trail, which was one of the trails I’d researched during my original research for an epic hike. She said the problem is that the trail is still two decades away from being completed, and by then she’d be too old to have any interest in doing it. Since that was also my reaction to the trail, we talked about how to do the trail anyway, such as taking the Greyhound around unfinished places or possibly Ubering.

One big problem of an epic adventure, assuming of course that the other problems such as being able to carry a pack, go the distance, and various other minor matters, is the necessity of hitchhiking to town to replenish supplies and returning to your starting point when you finish the hike, which is not something I would ever do. But Ubering into town? Along the coast? It might be doable, especially on the more populous parts of the trail where there is no camping.

Unlike the Pacific Crest Trail, which is a continuous trail through the three coastal states, there is no real Pacific Coast Trail. There is a California Coastal Trail, which connects various walkways, boardwalks, multiuse trails, and roads all along the coastline (well, except for the places where there is no place to walk) and there is the Oregon Coastal Trail, which as I understand it, is completed. In both cases, tides have to be taken into consideration, because there are many spots that are only traversable during low tide. And the trail is narrow, steep, and rocky in other spots.

I have hiked small parts of both coastal trails (very small) and the beauty is only matched by the difficulty. But still — a wonderful, if impossible dream.

So far, I have not found any map or website for a Washington State Coast Trail for hiking, though there is one for biking. (And you do not want to hear me talk about the problems about walking on cycling trails. Yikes!)

But this gives me something more specific to aim for. Best of all, I don’t have to worry about as many ticks as on other trails (I don’t think I do), and perhaps not as many mosquitoes. Since I am dreaming impossible dreams, starting at the northernmost area and working my way south could be best way of doing it — begin in the summer at the coolest part of the hike, and hike the warmer spots in the fall and winter.

Forgetting for the moment that I lack the necessary physical stamina (which might — might — be offset by frequently Ubering into town for supplies so I don’t have to carry as much), I wonder if I would have the mental stamina to do this. To just throw myself onto the world and see what would happen. (And then, there is the problem of what to do with my car while I’m gone. Unless I park, hike back to where I last parked and then head back to the car? Or walk ahead and Uber back to the car? Or forgot hiking and just drive the coastal road?)

I sometimes (well, all times) think I am foolish for continuing to think of such an epic adventure, and yet, for a person who loves puzzles, this is one of the greatest puzzles I have ever encountered — how to move one sluggish older woman several hundred miles along a trail without destroying her.

***
Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

My Oceanside Adventure

It’s a strange thing, this adventuring. Sometimes what is supposed to be a big adventure turns into a small jaunt, and sometimes a small jaunt turns into a big adventure. And so it was on Thursday.

I’d checked the tide tables and found that low tide came in the morning rather than late in the afternoon, so I planned a small jaunt up the so-called California Coastal Trail. (The tides are important because, as I have learned, it’s a heck of a lot easier to walk on the wet sands of receding water than the dry sand of high tide.) Wet sand forms a hard surface that allows for a nice easy stride, and I expected a nice easy walk along Pelican Bay.

And that’s what I got.

At least for a while.

No one else was on the beach, and I marvelled at being alone with the gulls and the waves, the unending sea on my left, the Tolowa Dunes on my right. It was the sort of experience I’d hoped for when I considered walking the entire coastal trail, and there I was, plunked down alone in the middle of my dream.

I’d planned to walk four miles then cut inland on one of the dune trails to a road where I could be picked up, but I couldn’t find the trail. At least I didn’t think I did. I did find one steep dune with sandy indentations that might have been footsteps, but it didn’t seem like much of a trail. So I continued walking along the beach.

After a while, I saw houses up ahead and I figured if necessary, I would sneak through someone’s yard to get to a road. I walked the mile to the houses, but found that they were beyond reach, on the other side of the Smith River. This waterway was not a small stream I could wade across, but a full flowing river. (The photo below with smooth water is the river.)

Oh, my.

That left me with two choices — go back the way I came (a five or six mile journey) or walk along the river bank and hope I could find the dune trail that went from the river to the road. I chose the river, thinking there was no way I’d make it back along the ocean — it was simply too far.

I walked about a half mile along the river before I found the trail. Or a trail — l still don’t know if the trail was the right one. I walked for at least a mile (“walk” in this case is a euphemism for slip and stumble and slide) along the shifting sands and entangling beach grasses of the dunes, unable to get high enough to see where I was going. Although the map showed a single trail, I kept finding all sorts of similar trails cutting off the trail I was on. All seemed more like accidental trails — trails that are accidentally made when one or more people set out cross country — rather than official trails, and I had visions of being lost forever in those inhospitable dunes.

So I took whatever trails I could that headed off toward the ocean. Some parts of these trails were barely passable, heading up steep dunes, but I kept struggling, and finally came to the ocean.

Well, sort of. I could see the ocean but couldn’t get to it since I was standing at the top of a steep dune with no way to maneuver the decline by foot. I ended up sliding down the dune on my behind. Inelegant, but it did the job.

I saw footprints leading up to me and then angling away, and it shocked me to realize those were my footprints. The trail I descended had been the very trail I’d checked out a couple of hours earlier. Even if it had been the right trail, I knew I wouldn’t have been able to find the road midst all those unmarked paths. At least, walking along the bay, I knew where I was. I just had to trudge those many miles back to my starting point on the dry sands above the incoming tide.

I took a break first, sat on a piece of driftwood, nibbled on some cheese, drank water, changed my socks and knocked all the dune sand out of my shoes. Then I headed back.

I don’t know how many miles I covered in all those hours, but I do know it was at least eleven. I wasn’t particularly tired, just achy — mainly my feet and the calf muscle I’d wrenched a few days previously. And my feet were wet from sneaky waves that found me even beyond the high water line.

But I did it. Had lost my way and found it. Hiked for six hours. Managed to get back safely. Ah, adventure!

I took it easy yesterday. Only walked a couple of miles on city streets to work off the lingering stiffness, but there seems to be no lasting effects from that oceanside adventure.

Did I learn anything from this particular adventure? Probably not. Adventure is about being, and I certainly had plenty of time to simply be, as if I were just another piece of driftwood keeping vigil on the shore.

***

(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)

***

Well, I Did Want an Adventure

My latest hike was supposed to be an easy one — a walk through meadow, dune, and forest, then along the ocean for a few miles.

Easy? Oh, my. The meadow trail was either shifting dry sands, which is hard to hike on, or beach grasses, which is even harder. The dry tips of the stiff grasses are sharp enough to poke through clothes, and the long blades wrap around ankles, tripping even the most wary. I high stepped it most of the way, but still often stumbled when the grasses caught my feet. And once I even fell.

I wasn’t hurt by the fall, at least not much, just a dull ache in my calf that felt like a cramp, so I continued walking. By the time I realized the ache wasn’t going to go away, I was at least two miles from any potential rendezvous point. I didn’t want to go back the way I’d come and risk further injury, and I thought turning right at the ocean as I’d originally planned would give me the shorter walk because after a mile and a half, I could tramp a quarter of a mile inland across the beach- grass-covered dunes to an old dirt road where my friend could pick me up.

The California Coastal Trail, which in this case meant only the edge of the sea, went many miles beyond the old road, and it had been my intention to hike much of that trail, so I knew from my map about one narrow section of beach that came close to a lagoon, but I’d checked the tide tables (me, who’d never have occasion to check a tide table in her whole life!) and saw that I would be traveling past that area long after high tide.

So, looking forward to being done with my painful hike, I tramped the mile to the small strip of beach connecting lake and sea. I stood on a small sandy cliff and stared down in disbelief. There was no trail, just hugely dangerous waves slamming into the placid lagoon.

I laughed. Couldn’t help it. It seemed so silly to have walked such a long way with expectations of bringing my hike to an end, to discover I now had to walk at least three miles to the nearest rendezvous point. (I’m sure this is why this beach is often empty — there is no easy access. In fact, at one point the beach felt so empty it seemed as if I weren’t even there, so I turned around to see if I were following behind, but all I saw were my footprints in the sand.)

I sat for a bit on a driftwood log, eating a snack and drinking water (though I wasn’t thirsty. Walking along a cool ocean is a lot less dehydrating than hiking in the excruciatingly hot desert).

In life, grief, adventure there often comes a time when, no matter what you want or hoped for, the only thing you can do is endure. So after my rest, I gathered up my endurance and headed back the way I came.

Cold winds had come up, so I hobbled as fast as I could to keep warm, but the warmth blew away faster than my body could manufacture it. I’d passed the trail where I’d entered the beach, when I encountered a family from Texas, who stopped me to talk. (Unlike the hush of the forest, where it seemed almost sacrilegious to speak, the thundrous ocean made additional noise seem incidental.)

I asked how they had walked to the beach, thinking there might be a shortcut that wasn’t on my map, but they had taken the trail I’d hiked a few days before. By then, fog was obscuring the beach ahead, so I took that inland trail. I was grateful that someone had mowed this path so there were no treacherous grasses to deal with, but still I slipped and slid and sunk into the deep sands of the trail. But protected from the ocean breezes by trees, I felt warm.

I reached the parking lot where my friend had dropped me off and, relieved that my ordeal was over, I took out my phone to send a message telling her where to pick me up, but the message didn’t go through. I had no signal.

Laughing at the absurdity of my situation, and using my trekking pole like a cane, I set out along the road. After about a quarter of a mile, some folks hauling a trailer stopped and asked if there was a place up ahead for them to turn around. After assuring them they would have plenty of room, I asked if they had a signal. He volunteered to call my friend, but the call wouldn’t go through.

So, with a wry smile, I continued on down the road. After an interminable distance, my phone pinged. My friend had gotten the text and was on her way.

Well, I did want adventure, and adventure is what I got. What I didn’t expect was that I would find such misadventure amusing — it seems out of character.

It is ironic, though, for someone who wanted an injury-free adventure, I sure am beset by mishaps — dog bites, wrenched calf muscle, and mosquito bites galore. All minor injuries, but still ironic.

p.s. The ocean photo below is not the ocean but the trail between the ocean and the lagoon. Looks even more impassable in the photo than it did in real life.

p.p.s. In case you’re interested in the disposition of my calf muscle, it’s much better today. Whenever I woke during the night, I stretched my leg and flexed my ankle, and that seemed to help.

***

(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)

***

Journey to the Center of the Universe

Yontocket is the center of the universe, according to the Tolowa Dee-ni’ people, the place where the Master of the Universe created the first people. This area is now the Tolowa Dunes State Park, a place of dunes, forest, and sea.

Invasive beach grasses were planted by settlers to keep the shifting sands at a standstill. Those grasses crowded out native vegetation, so much of the area no longer looks the way it did when Yontocket existed, but the forest and ocean seem timeless, as if they haven’t changed during the centuries.

I walked through the forest to the sea, and then along the edge of the world — the land-based world anyway. (The imaginary pathway alongside the water is part of the California Coastal Trail, so completely different from the wooded section of the trail I’d experienced.)

Having lived a land-locked life, it seemed odd and awesome to be walking miles beside the ocean, as if it weren’t me out there alone on the beach, but if it weren’t me, who else could it be?

***

(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)

***

Coastal Trail Adventure

Unlike the Pacific Crest Trail, there is not a unified Pacific Coast Trail. There is the Washington Coast Trail, the Oregon Coast Trail, and the California Coastal Trail, all in various stages of completion. But I don’t need the entire trail — a few miles here and there are sufficient to get a taste, and oh, what a taste!

Some of the existing trail isn’t really a trail — just a walk on the beach — but I was given the opportunity to hike a bit of the mountainous, non-beach part of the trail. And it was a hike — every step had to be carefully scouted and placed, and it would have been nigh impossible without a trekking pole. Though in most places the trail was easy to see, long grasses grasped my ankles, tree roots snaked across the path, and moss-covered planks bridged small chasms. In one steep case, I even had to walk down timber stairs.

I only caught a few glimpses of the ocean, but always the sound of the surf kept me company on my solitary hike. I started high at a popular lookout point with a fantastic view of the ocean. Everyone else turned left and took the short, sidewalk-wide path down to the beach. I, of course, turned right. The long trail I took was definitely less traveled, not a journey for the faint of heart. Parts of the trail were eerily gothic, other parts primordial. If Bigfoot were nearby, quietly munching wild blackberries, I would never have seen him/her.

When I finally made it down to the beach, I shot a photo of the densely forested hills I’d just hiked, and tried to imagine myself alone in that distant wildness. My imagination couldn’t stretch that far — it seems impossible I’d been wandering in that mass of trees, unseen, for all those hours. Well, two hours.

I’d never meant to write a travelogue, but so far, I haven’t really learned anything from my awesome but rather tame adventures. Haven’t had any grand insights. Haven’t made any self-discoveries. I certainly haven’t managed to pull back the veneer of life to see what if anything lies beyond the natural beauty. Still, beauty exists in and of itself. Beauty is its own reason for being, and I’ve been privileged to bask in beauty’s aura.

***

(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)

***

Letting the Day Fill Me

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)

***

When I woke this morning, it struck me I had nothing to do — no dance classes, no computer to work with or play on, no obligations — and I wondered how I would fill the empty day stretching in front of me.

As it turns out, it wasn’t a matter of my filling the day but of the day filling me. And what a day!

I started out with a walk to Lake Earl at the end of the street. I was disappointed there was no way around the lake so I came back and checked in with my friend. The mile and a half round trip walk had barely whetted my appetite, so she drove me to a nearby nature trail, The Lake Earl Coastal Trail, and dropped me off.

And oh my. Only a few steps into the trail told me the truth: I wasn’t in the desert any more. Ferns, moss, towering tree canopy, plants with immense leaves made me feel as if I were in the forest primeval. I had to keep stopping to take in the sounds, the smells, the wonder of it all.

I’ve been talking for years now about doing some sort of through hike, but I realized today I couldn’t do it. Even if I had the necessary skills, even if I were physically capable of carrying a heavy pack for all those months, the truth is, I wouldn’t finish. Instead of eating up the miles, I would pause to take photos, to take in the ambiance, to be. And that I can do anywhere, even on a mile-and-a-half nature trail, even on the mile trip along the road back to where I am staying.

If that weren’t enough activity for one day, we went to the beach. I saw pelicans flying, and I walked a bit on the California Coastal Trail. To be honest, it’s more of a designation than a trail, but still, I was there. More importantly, I was “here” when I was there.

Being here now, not thinking of the past, not thinking of what is to come. Isn’t that what it’s all about?