Day 1 was a miserable start to what will be an amazing adventure. As I awoke, a tempestuous storm littered my campsite with rain and hail. Undaunted, I pushed north to the northern terminus of the CCT. The California Coastal Trail is unique in that it does not have a defined terminus, so I drew a line in the sand with my trekking pole, marked the occasion with a picture, and started walking south along the beach to Crescent City, CA.
I was unprepared for the beauty that awaited me as I entered Tolowa Dunes State Park only 5 miles from where I began. The Tolowa Dee-Ni people referred to this place as “The Center Of the Universe”, and as I walked beside the lush meadows and rolling hills, I began to understand their undying respect and admiration for this land.
A nice gentleman ushered me to the trailhead at Tolowa Dunes SP which lies past Smith River, California’s largest un-damned River. If you have not seen its crystal blue waters, it is a site to behold. It is also certain that a ford is not possible. I tried several times to contact a boat to ferry me across, but alas I was unsuccessful in my efforts. Struggle, much as it is to every living organism, is a reoccurring theme along the California Coastal Trail.
As I continued my trek, the rain was unrelenting and drove me into a frame of mind that allows only for one to keep their head down and continue walking. As I emerged from the swampy green fields of Tolowa, I reentered the beach just as the sun peaked through the clouds for the only time of the day. Only 7 miles were left to reach Point St. George but the long stretch of beach seemed endless, almost cold in it’s nature.
As I reached Crescent City and the end of day 1, I was reminded of something a friend once told me. Anything good and worthy of effort contains within it the inevitable struggle and suffering that all animals are to know before they die. Truer words could not have been spoken and I awaited the challenges of the rest of this section.
Day 2 Crescent City to Redwood National Park (Damnation Creek Trail):
Day 2 was a stark contrast to day one. The sun was shining as I entered the beach and saw a sign marking Redwood National Park. What a relief it was to know that soon I would be walking next to the towering Redwoods, out of the sand and into the forest. This is where I feel at home.
I continued along the DeMartin Section of Redwood National Park just as it began to rain again, the first reoccurring theme of the hike. The first challenge of the trail met me here, a 1000 foot ascent in less than a mile. To put that in context, it rivaled some of the gains I encountered in the Cascade Mountains of Washington State along the Pacific Crest Trail.
Up I went, sweaty and tired and with a feeling of great accomplishment. Finally, as the sun descended, I found myself at the Damnation Creek trail. I would not normally have taken this route, it just offered me a convenient place to camp out of sight. Oh yes, this was not a campsite and there were none for 4 miles. Although I do not recommend that anyone camp in undesignated areas, I relished my closeness with Mother Nature. After eating and hanging my food, I retired after what had been another rewarding day along the California Coastal Trail.
Day 3 Damnation Creek Trail to Requa Inn:
Day 3 left me with two undeniable impressions: first, that Redwood National Forest is a place of natural wonder and beauty, rivaling any trail I have hiked to date. Second, that this was a true California winter, and the rains were not going to yield to the demands I made. As I awoke, broke down camp and ate breakfast, the rain began again. Unrelenting and furious it was, but I knew that a warm room awaited me if I so chose. So I began walking at a marathon pace, not wanting to spend another hour in the cold winter rain. From the Damnation Creek Trail I had roughly 15 miles to Requa Inn.
I made it to the mouth of the mighty Klamath River and the Requa Inn around 3 pm. Not caring how much it cost to stay the night I said hi, introduced myself and handed the nice innkeeper my debit card. Thankfully, one can rent a room for around 99 dollars, a near steal considering breakfast was included (It was huge, and it was awesome.) As I dried myself out and relaxed in the living room, the innkeeper and myself conversed about life and the trail. Her connection to this land is deep, as she is a member of the Yurok Tribe, whose roots date back here hundreds to thousands of years. We spoke about immigration, peace, politics, all the while speaking about a nation so transfixed on Americanism that it seems all of us have lost our connection to the natural world.
After saying good night and crawling off to rest my tired muscles, I remembered a story she told me during our conversation.
She said a couple had come to the Inn and told her that they felt as though something was telling them they needed to learn an important lesson from the innkeeper. She responded that although she appreciated the sentiment, one can learn so much and gain understanding in every second and through every interaction in life.
So true. Myself and all of us would do well to remember that every moment is precious and affords us the opportunity to mature. Finally, I realized that my urge to hike, my need to raise money for children to hike, my hope for the future generations of Americans comes from every experience and interaction she spoke of; that because of the past, the present and in all likelihood the future, I am exactly where I should be, at exactly the right time…for now that is. 🙂
Happy Trails to all,
Derek “Toodles” Shanks