Sonoma County presented to me both beauty and challenge along the roughly 65 miles of Coastal Trail. Although I had to walk more highway than I would have liked, I was still able to enjoy the natural beauty of Salt Point SP, Fort Ross and the Kortum Trail. And very soon I would be spending a day with family and meeting with leaders of the non-profit, Coastwalk California.
After hiking to Salt Point Campground and successfully preventing raccoons from eating my food (again), I was in need of some good old-fashioned family time. There was still one obstacle between me and them, the rain. That night a storm brought heavy rains and winds that lasted through the night and into the morning. So, while I waited for my family to drive up to the campground, I sat in the Salt Point bathroom in a desperate attempt to stay dry. When they arrived I could hardly contain my elation. Finally, after more than 3 weeks alone on trail, I was reunited with loved ones. My brother Sean, his girlfriend Cat, my sister Heather and my mom JoAnne, were all there to greet this lonely hiker. We moseyed down to Bodega Bay and ate a wonderful lunch of fish and chips (and an entire bread bowl for me), before they ushered me to a laundromat for some much needed cleaning. While I was doing laundry with Sean, the rest of the crew went to see the glory of Bodega Head, a site they could not miss, even if they had come to see me. (The family consensus was that Bodega Bay is a spectacularly beautiful area with rich history. We all recommend the trip). After finishing my laundry we sat and chatted at my campsite and enjoyed the company of family.
Note #1: My mother also brought loads of pictures and school work from my childhood. Among the many damning photos was one of me with bangs, pierced ears, and a collared shirt that hardly fit. I did not know whether to be nostalgic or embarrassed. I chose the latter. The reader will never see that picture of the author!
The short period of time spent with loved ones gave me a renewed energy and passion for my trek. I thank them for all the hard work they have done for me and the Toodles Treks hike. A special thanks is also in order for my mother, without whom I would be a lost hiker in this wide world. After a hearty meal and a shower, I bedded down and found it difficult to sleep because the next day I would be meeting with the leaders of Coastwalk California.
The next day I awoke as the sun began to rise in the east, showering the ground with light and ushering in a new day. But as quickly as the sun rose, the clouds formed ever quicker, blanketing the earth with a shallow grey that one could be forgiven for mistaking as nothingness. However, as I walked through Bodega Bay the day was ripe with expectation as I looked forward to meeting with the Coastwalk folks.
I waited at the Inn at the Tides restaurant until the first member of Coastwalk greeted me while I sat on a bench. With a warm smile he introduced himself as Gregory. He carried with him a gift, a Coastwalk hat! I thanked him and we talked until the others arrived. Among the group of seven were Director Jo McCormick and Executive Director Una Glass. I was particularly excited to speak with them, as they were both working diligently to help further the Toodles Trek for Tots cause. I was also eager to speak with them about the complications of hiking the trail, so as to help any future hikers who may take on the challenge of thru-hiking the California Coastal Trail.
Note #2: I spoke with Una and Jo about several things, but a few strike me as extremely important for the betterment of the trail. Firstly, the lack of campgrounds along the hike is a serious issue. There have been several points along the hike where the nearest campgrounds are more than 30 miles apart. To further complicate matters, several of these campgrounds are more than 5-7 miles east of the trail. As a thru-hiker, that worries me. An unassisted hiker is not going to venture forth on a 14 mile round trip venture to camp for a night (unless it was a true emergency). Therefore, we need to work to find a solution to this problem, whether it be by looking into prospective home-sharing (whereby kind individuals would let a hiker camp on their property or in their yard), by working with State Parks to create primitive campsites along the trail, or by building small huts in various places along the trail to house campers (that’s a long shot I know, but the idea came to me last week, and it works for the Appalachian Trail and the Kungsleden in Sweden).
The second problem is an extension of the first and the two go hand in hand. At this time no long distance permit is offered to hikers. A permit would, hopefully, allow a long distance hiker to sleep for free at the state and national campgrounds along the CCT route. A thru-hiker camping for 60 days and using a campground each night would spend over $400 before completing the 1,200 miles, and that is the minimum. (All ‘hike and bike’ sites cost $5 – $7, and private campgrounds often cost $30-40). I understand the complications with this. Working with over 100 jurisdictions and multiple governmental bodies is not easy, but without a thru-hike permit and a willingness to spend money, one would have to stealth camp (illegally camp) at multiple points along the route. Textbook examples of long distance permits include the Pacific Crest Trail, the Appalachian Trail, the Continental Divide Trail, the John Muir Trail, and the list goes on. Without this, the practicality of thru-hiking for most is almost zero. We need to work to offer a form of long distance permit for prospective CCT thru-hikers.
The third problem is trail identity. There are several sections that are in desperate need of maintenance. From Redwood National Park, to the Lost Coast, to Point Reyes, there is a lack of clear trail. Hundreds of trees need to be removed. Several areas have grass growing over the trail at heights of seven feet (especially the southern half of the Lost Coast). Government agencies often don’t receive the funding needed to employ those individuals who work so hard to maintain trails, so it is very difficult to assess how to remedy this problem. I believe that we will have to rely on the work of caring volunteers who show their love of nature through the kind act of maintaining a trail. Our goal can and should be to promote the trail and arouse interest to create the opportunity for growth in regards to awareness and funding. There are several more issues regarding the completion of the trail, all of which are as important as those listed here. To make the California Coastal Trail an adequate trail for thru-hikers and not just day-hikers (not to take anything away from the pleasure and validity of day-hiking), we must relentlessly pursue the objective of not only completing the trail, but implementing the necessary facilities and permits that arouse the interest of those solo or group hikers like myself.
While there is a significant amount of work to do to complete the CCT, none of this diminishes the massive body of work and efforts of those who have helped to make the trail a viable long-distance trail. All in all, it was amazing to spend a short period of time with the leaders of a non-profit organization that I believe serves the greater good of the trail through cooperation and education. I hope to work hand in hand with them to envision and attain new and defined goals so that anyone who wishes to will be afforded the opportunity to hike this pristine stretch of land. I also thank them for purchasing my lunch that day. That is the way to a hiker’s heart! Until next time, happy trails to all.
Derek “Toodles” Shanks