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.)
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.”)