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.

Pacific Crest or Pacific Coast

When I first blogged about going on an epic adventure, I mentioned the Pacific Crest Trail, but I have since discounted the PCT for two reasons. The first reason is silly, but still real. Whenever I’ve mentioned the PCT, people invariable tell me about Cheryl Strayed, and I want my own adventure, not a poor imitation of someone else’s. If I really wanted to hike the PCT, being forever overshadowed might not be a consideration, but the truth is, the PCT isn’t a walk in the park, and I like walks in the park. Or any sort of walk. What I’ve recently discovered is that I’m not fond of hiking.

WheLow tiden you walk, you are light and free, just swinging along, your body in perfect rhythm with its surroundings.

When you hike, you have to pick your way along often uneven terrain, sometimes on narrow trails that are eroded in spots, sometimes on logs that pass for bridges over shallow ravines or waterways. That would be bad enough, but generally you are also carrying a heavy pack (even a light pack — under twenty pounds — is heavy for one who is used to walking unencumbered). When you thru-hike the PCT, you have weather considerations and seasonal changes, such as winter, so you are on a stringent schedule. An ice axe is recommended and in many areas a bear canister is required. (An ice axe is to help you self-arrest if you start sliding down a snow-packed slope, which presupposes you have the strength to hang on, which I don’t. A bear canister is for protecting your food in bear country.) And this year, so I have heard, PCT hikers have been chased by killer bees and are having to deal with detours due to certain parts of the trail being burned out. Eek. So not my idea of a fun outing!

What I’m considering instead is walking along the coastline. Although there is no Pacific coast trail, all three Pacific states are in the process of creating one, mostly by connecting existing multiuse trails, bike paths, and boardwalks. Although the coast walk is partly urban, it also incorporates wilderness and desolate areas. And one 50-mile stretch goes along the shoulder of a highway. I suppose in a way a coastal walk would be even worse than hiking the PCT because not only would you have the possibility of meeting untamed creatures of the wild, you’d also risk meeting untamed creatures of the city, such as feral dogs and brutal humans. (Sounds to me as if I need to add pepper spray to my list of necessities.)

Walking such a variety of terrains is different from hiking in the wilderness. In the wilderness, making a pitstop is as easy as stepping behind the nearest bush, but such freedom does not exist on public beaches. In the wilderness, you can pitch a tent almost anywhere there is room, but on the coast you’re more apt to find yourself stealth camping — camping in undeveloped areas — if there’s no official campsite. However, there is a lot more activity along the coast than the crest, especially in beach areas, so food and water might be more accessible.

By definition, a coast walk includes water. Not potable water, but salt water, and a salt water soak is good for aching feet.

So when/if it comes to a choice between coast or crest, I’ll opt for coast.


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.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.