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.”)