Thursday, August 28, 2008

Capitola to Manresa

Coastal Trail
Village to Manresa Beach
Distance: 7 miles
Hiking Time: 4 hours
Jo, Jan and Julie

The 3 J’s decided to tackle the next section of the California Coastal trail from Capitola to Manresa. Jo and I had a lot of discussion trying to decide how to coordinate the car shuttle. When it was only three of us we decided to meet Jan at the Soquel Park and Ride. There was a parking lot somewhere in Capitola but we couldn’t exactly remember where it was or how long you could park there.

We drove to Manresa Beach and left Jan’s car there. Jo and I didn’t go down to the beach. Since we had been there the weekend before we figured we would recognize the staircase at the end of our hike.

I drove us back to Capitola and we parked in a neighborhood above the village. It turns out this was really close to Jan’s house, so it was ironic that she had driven to Manresa when she could have just walked to meet us! Oh well.

We followed the railroad tracks into the village. The trestle crosses the river and gives you an interesting view of Capitola Village. It is a cute little town and fun to see it from a different angle. The trestle is high, but there are walkways on each side so it’s not too scary. Jo didn’t like the way the boards gave underfoot and was glad when we were on solid ground.

We followed the tracks towards New Brighton Beach. As we crossed Monterey Avenue we saw the parking lot – it had 12 hour free parking! Now we know where to park next time.

Jan really enjoyed walking on the tracks and I told her about my various railroad hikes following the tracks out to Davenport and to Felton. She decided she wanted to more track walking. I warned her that the only problems are a) it is illegal trespassing - but who pays any attention to that - and b) that you might meet unsavory characters. Right when I said that a large group of people appeared on the tracks in the distance. Uh-oh. As we got closer we could see it was a family including parents, grandparents and young kids. We joked about being able to “take out” the five year old if he gave us any problem.

Above New Brighton Beach there was a dirt path down to the beach. In the distance you could see the cement ship at Seacliff Beach. Once we reached the beach we walked along the surf – Jan and I barefoot and Jo in her running shoes. It was a steep angle to the water with a short breaking point for the waves. Even though I had rolled my pants above my knees, I was soon soaked. Oh well, par for the course. I got wetter on this hike than any of the other sections.

This stretch of beach is the most populated with houses most of the way. Seacliff stood out because of the cement ship. Jo knows this beach very well, since she used to spend lots of time here. There is an RV campground right on the beach and Jo plans to come and spend the winter here when she retires and moves back to New York. It did seem awfully sweet to be right there in a cozy little camper.

We kept walking past different houses and towns trying to figure out where we were. Is this Rio Del Mar or La Selva? Hard to know. We found a less populated area and sat down to have lunch. Although we hadn’t walked that far, it felt like we had.

After lunch we kept walking. We came to an area that didn’t have houses and then far up ahead we could see another populated beach. We had much discussion about how far we had left to go. We asked one woman and she said, “Manresa – that’s in Watsonville, almost all the way to Moss Landing”. We asked another man and he specifically pointed down the beach and said those buildings right there. We chose to believe him, since he was telling us what we wanted to hear. It was still a long way to walk and both Jan and Jo were starting to feel it in their feet and ankles.

Since Jan had never seen the staircase, she would ask with each one we passed, “is that it?” Jo and I discussed whether there were houses near the staircase. The weekend before we had focused on just getting to the beach and heading south. I didn’t remember any houses being nearby.

We finally got to a beach with a lifeguard and asked him how much further to the Manresa staircase by the campground. I believe we were at the beginning of Manresa State Beach, but forgot to ask him where we were. He pointed well down to the beach to the point we had already surmised was our destination. It took awhile to get there, but we finally saw the familiar staircase. We took a break to let our feet dry and to look at our accomplishment. It was a long way back to Capitola. Not that you could tell where Capitola was exactly...

Manresa had lots of people at the beach, especially down by the campground. A banner warned of “dangerous rip currents.” Nice to know after walking in the surf for four hours!

We asked the lifeguard to take our group photo. Turns out that it was the same lifeguard whom we had asked for directions. He said, “So you made it.” He was impressed when he found out how far we had come and said, “That’s a wonderful walk”. We wondered if he had ever walked it. More likely he has driven it in his lifeguard jeep.

This section wasn’t as interesting to me because of all the houses and people. Even so, there is something calming about walking on the beach. The sand gives you a natural pedicure, the cold water washes your feet, and the rhythm of the waves is soothing, until a rogue wave gets your adrenaline racing. The sun sparkling on the water – blue sky and clouds. It is just hard to beat a day at the beach.

We climbed the stairs to Jan’s car. Jo and I laughed to see a whole housing complex next to the staircase. Neither of us had noticed it the weekend before, we had been so focused on getting to the beach and knowing we wouldn’t be back that day. Talk about oblivious!

As we drove out of Manresa I could see my Victorian Mansion on the hill for sale. Sigh. It is a beautiful house.

Jan dropped us of at our car above Capitola Village. She had too many things to do, so she opted out of the post celebratory drink. Jo and I went to the Over the Hill Saloon which was in our old Pleasure Point neighborhood. They had $2 happy hour drinks from 4-7 p.m. even on a Saturday. Now that’s what I call a happy hour. The bartender, an older woman, was extremely friendly. We talked about the plastic life size horse that used to be out front – but it had been vandalized and set to pasture out in the country. There were photos of it.

Since we were in the old neighborhood, we decided to drive by the old beach cottages we used to rent. Jo and I had both lived there for seven years. Sadly the property was abandoned, boarded up and overgrown. It was a bittersweet moment for both of us, seeing our old homes in such a state. We remembered the good times of another lifetime. It was a reflective way to end a day of good walking.

Lessons Learned: It’s not the distance, but the conditions that count. It’s easy to not pay attention. Life moves on.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Manresa Beach to Zmudkowski Beach

California Coastal Trail
Manresa to Zmudkowski
7.1 miles
Hiking time: 3 hours
Julie and Jo

Josephine and I decided to try another leg of the CCT. We got a bit of a late start, since I lost track of time. Jo followed me in her car to Zmudkowski beach.

The exit for Manresa is San Andreas Road which we passed before we got to Watsonville. I kept looking for the turnoff to Zmudkowski. I've seen the signs off Highway One and thought I had been there years ago. When we entered the Moss Landing city limits I was sure I had missed the turnoff.

Then right before the gas station I saw the sign. Struve Road. It was confusing because I turned on the road, but it actually was the gas station. I drove through with Josephine faithfully following behind. Then we drive down a narrow little street where farm workers lived. Then out into the fields. The road just kept going and getting narrower.

As Jo said, "who needs to go to the farmer's market?" First there were strawberry fields, then broccoli (we think) next, artichokes and finally headd of iceberg lettuce - already harvested - just waiting to be picked up - or so it seemed to us.

Zmudkowski has a dirt parking lot out in the fields. We climbed the sand dune to see the beach and find markers so we would know when we had reached our destination. There was pole stuck in the sand and the entrance seemed obvious.

We hopped into my car and headed to Manresa. It was a deceptively long drive back. With point to point hiking you wonder if you are ever going to see your car again. "Just how far is this hike? " The car shuttle took a long time, though we did stop to check out the walk in campsites at Manresa. We were on the trail head or beach head, I should say, at noon.

This beach walk was much more populated than the week before. We walked past Manresa, Sunset and Pajaro Dunes. Only a few stretches were isolated. The Moss Landing power plant was always in the distance - the twin towers looking like a castle in the fog (in my imagination) but like a power plant when it cleared.

It looked like there had been a sand castle contest at Manresa. There was an elaborate sand sculpture of a fish. Jo is posed amidst the pyramids. You can't see in the picture - but they had built a whole littel civilization with different pyramids and roads and canals connecting them

Josephine quickly spotted dolphins offshore. Different schools of them accompanied us on almost the whole hike. There were lots of birds chasing the tide: the small snowy plovers, the larger pipers and a larger one that had a huge long arched beak. We also saw several dead birds on the hike, all of the same kind which we couldn't quite identify. We didn't see any living birds that looked like them so they must be migrating through. Josephine later went to a bird identification and identified them as a "Sooty". I'm still not sure thats what they were.

As we walked along the beach we saw lots of big jellyfish washed ashore. Usually it is just little pieces of them in the sand, but here you could see whole ones.

As we approached Sunset Beach we could see crowds of people. It was a popular beach full of activity. There were fishermen, folks digging in the sand with shovels, tents set up, surfers, kite flyers and just regular beach goers. There were odd driftwood structures that looked like drying racks.

We had lunch once we were past Sunset. We could see Pajaro Dunes in the distance. As we approached we saw a fisherman approaching us walking in the surf dragging something. It was a BIG fish he had caught. It made Jo want to start ocean fishing.

Pajaro Dunes starts with beach condos that all look the same. As you walk further, the houses become quite different. There were all sorts of modern designs, weird shapes, a wooden "castle" and other with strange geometric designs. It was interesting to look at the varied achitecture.

I knew the Pajaro River was up ahead. I wasn't too worried after our experience with the Salinas River the week before. We crossed an open area and then came to the river. There was indeed a river. It was a narrow channel - but it was hard to judge how deep it was. We kept walking toward the ocean trying to find the narrowest, shallowest crossing. It seemed that the tide was coming in. We finally decided to take a chance and plunged into the river - only to discover that it wasn't even midcalf deep. The water was warm.

On the next section of beach Jo found some unusual crystal rocks. Early in the hike she said, "I'm not going to pick up any more rocks or shells. I have too many already." But these were pretty unusual so she kept them. I found the inside of a sand dollar. It was the lower half with a beautiful pattern etched into it. It was extremely delicate and even though I put it on the outside pocket of my backpack it was crushed by the time we reached the end of the hike.

We were getting close to Zmuddy. A young couple and their child approached us to tell us there was a sea lion on the beach ahead. They said they had crawled really close to it. They didn't want us to scare it or mistake it for a lot. That reminded me of Teresa's close call with the sea lion at Gazos Creek.

I asked Josephine if she wanted to crawl and cuddle up to it and she gave the proper response - "are you crazy?" I did get this picture of the two of them. Jo was actually much closer than she appears in the photo.

Before we knew it we were at our starting point. It was much too soon for me and I would have liked to keep going. Jo had had enough, though. Jo really liked this beach we agreed when we do this next segment - Zmudkowski to Moss Landing. We would do an out and back hike and then hang out at the beach and have a picnic.

We drove back to Manresa after harvesting a few roadside vegetables. There is a beautiful Victorian for sale at the entrance to Manresa. A giant white house with columns - it looks like a plantation at the top of the hill with beautiful ocean views. We stopped to look at the price: 2.5 million. A car was in the driveway, so I didn't peek in the windows. What a house!

We stopped at Manuels for our post celebratory drink and chili rellenos. Another enjoyable day at the beach and another segment of the CCT knocked off!

Lessons Learned: People can be quite creative with sand. There are all sorts of fun places to explore tucked away in your own backyard.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Moss Landing to Marina Beach.

California Coastal trail
Moss Landing to Marina Beach
Distance: 7.25 miles
Hiking Time: 4 hours
Tim, Carly, Julie

It was a last minute decision to do this hike. Tim had done it in March, so I wanted to go with him. Also, being a sailor I figured he would know about the tides and such things. I knew this segment of the California Coastal Trail was tricky because you have to cross the Salinas River.

The California Coastal Trail runs from the Oregon Border to Mexico. "Trail" is truly a misnomer, since for sections north of Santa Cruz the trail consists of walking along Highway 1 when the coast is inaccessible. Not exactly my idea of a good hike. I am also paranoid about being trapped against cliffs by a high tide or having to race incoming waves to get around rocks. The section between Capitola and Monterey seems pretty open.

My goal was to hike the coastline from Capitola to Monterey by the end of the year. This would be done in increments - not as one long hike. This first hike was a test to see if these hikes were doable and enjoyable. Turns out they are both.

We met at the Whole Enchilada in Moss Landing at 9:00 a.m. and dropped one car at Marina Beach. We drove back to Moss Landing, got a cup of coffee and a tamale (which took way too long) and were on the trail head by 10:00 a.m.

We wanted to reach the river at low tide. Tim had initially described the river at "easy to cross" buy the more we heard about the last crossing - rushing water at mid thigh height - the more concerned I became. Tim said, "we can always swim it". Since I don't swim well and have a lot of respect for rivers and the ocean - this wasn't going to happen. I confirmed that we wouldn't be up against any cliffs. Tim knowing about my "getting trapped" fear suggested we purposely trap ourselves so I could have the experience of swimming out and seeing how easy it is. Then I would overcome my fear. I don't think so! I began to wonder about Tim as tour guide. :-)

When I left Lompico in the morning it was sunny and clear. I wore a sleeveless top and almost didn't bring a jacket and fleece. At the last minute I threw them in. When I drove into Santa Cruz it was completely foggy and it stayed that way all the way Marina. The fog never lifted on the whole hike - though it wasn't windy at all. It was extremely pleasant hiking in the fog. I'd gotten enough sun the day before.

Carly and I hiked barefoot in the surf. I had brought tennis shoes - but ended up doing the whole thing barefoot - one of my favorite things. It's the longest I have ever walked barefoot. Being in the cold water felt good on my ankles. Walking near the water also has the advantage of having harder sand to walk on. Tim kept his shoes on for the whole hike. He had to run from the waves a couple of times, but he was able to keep his shoes dry.

As we started out, I thought "this may get monotonous, just sea, sand, fog. No trees or variation of landscape." Yet it was very peaceful walking in the surf. The ocean is always varied. We passed some fishermen and a housing development. A surf patrol drove by in a jeep and busted some fishermen for not having licenses. There were tire tracks in the sand, but we didn't see another person for two hours.

The snowy plover - those cute tiny birds who chase the surf on their little twig legs - nest in this area. They are an endangered species and the upper portion of the beach was fenced off to protect their nesting area.

I loved that it was a cloudy, "Julie Day". The waves looked steely gray in the misty light. The further we walked in the solitude, the more it felt like escaping into another world. When can you on the beach for hours and not see another person?

Tim described it as "a beach of life and death". It is nature in all it's glory and horror. We saw several dead sea lions, an otter and gulls. A group of turkey vultures huddled on the beach, then flew over to snack on some of the decomposing bodies. There were flocks of brown pelicans intermingling with sea gulls. I loved watching the pelicans take off. They look so prehistoric in flight.

The river crossing was weighing heavily on my mind. The longer it took to get to it, the more rushing a torrent I pictured. We finally came to a sign saying Salinas River National Wildlife Refuge. I figured the river would be close. We kept walking and walking and walking. Always seeing it up ahead of us.

We were getting hungry for lunch, but I wanted to have the river crossing behind us before we stopped. We came upon an old rusty barge that was grounded. We walked awhile further and then Tim said - "I think we are past the river". I'm sure that the barge was after the river crossing. It turns out that the area not far past the sign was where the river flows in the winter. During the summer the river doesn't reach the ocean. What a relief.

We quickly found a spot to have lunch and sat down next to a log to eat. It got colder as we were sitting, though it still wasn't windy. We started hiking and came upon a "sand dredging" operation. There were rusted old scoops and a small lagoon where sand was brought up and than transported to be processed or so we assumed. We couldn't really tell what they were doing, but they were doing something.

Carly wanted to run and roll down some sand dunes. Tim had started hiking up the in the hills. He pointed to where we were down in the water and we could see a school of bottle nosed dolphins swimming close to shore. There were still protected Plover nesting areas, so it took us awhile to find a good sand dune.

Right before Marina we found one. Nice and steep. First I ran down it. then Carly rolled down it, then Tim and I rolled down it a couple of times. Talk about dizzy - we lay sprawled at the bottom for a minute afterwards trying to regain equilibrium. Sand was everywhere - ears, hair - but it was invigorating. We found a piece of cardboard and Carly tried to slide down, but it didn't quite work.

I was worried we might "miss" where we parked the cars, but all the people on the beach quickly clued us in we were close. There is also a building and a hang gliding ramp. As we walked back we saw a para glider sailing above the beach. We had never seen a contraption quite like this one. Rather than being belly down - superman position - he was sitting in a what almost looked like an "air kayak" He was sitting and his legs were encased in what looked like a sleeping bag. Looked a lot easier than hang gliding, though I didn't get to see him land.

Thus ended our first segment of the CCT. It had been a great day and I am now inspired to do the whole Santa Cruz to Monterey portion by the end of the year. It was fun to spend time hiking with Carly before she heads out for a South American adventure and it's always a pleasure hiking with Tim.

Lessons Learned: Beach hikes are anything but monotonous. You can hike a long way barefoot if you're in the surf. Don't fear the crossing, because it may not come.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Carmel River Trail

June 2008
Carmel Valley Backpack
Distance: 8 miles
Elevation: ????
Julie and Bill

I had trouble posting this before I left in July, but now that this area has been burned, I thought I would put up some of the pictures. When we looked at a map of the fire - it looked like this area had been badly burned. Which is really sad, because it was such a wonderful camp. We'll have to hike in and see what's left.

This was a 3 day back pack that Bill and I did in June. The Big Sur book described it as "easy and good for children". We figured being only 4 miles out, if it was terrible we could just turn around and head back out. We took the "easy" too much to heart and packed incredibly heavy packs for two days. Nothing is easy when your pack is too heavy.

Carmel Valley is so close to Santa Cruz that this is an ideal weekend getaway. You start at the San Pedro dam after driving along Carmel Valley Road past multi million dollar houses and through the "slums" - a dilapidated old trailer park right before the trail head. We got a late start at the trail head, so we were hiking in the heat of the day.

It took us much longer than we anticipated to hike the 3 miles to Bluff camp. Elevation, narrow trails, unmarked trails in the beginning, the heat of the day and heavy packs made it a long hike. You start out crossing the dam and hiking above the reservoir. The trail is narrow with steep drop offs. We came upon an "unofficial" campsite, which we thought was Bluff Camp. When we got to Bluff Camp we thought we had reached River Camp and decided we would stay even after we realized our mistake.

Photos of the actual campsite didn't come out too well, but it is a large campsite with sites on both sides of the river. The trees were beautiful and varied. Large groups could be accommodated in both camps. No one was there on Friday night except two guys coming in late. On Saturday a large group arrived.

The camp is right on the river. We day hiked up to River Camp the next day and didn't like it nearly as much. It was dark and the mosquitoes were extremely heavy. I took a quick dip but then we headed back to Bluff camp. There was a swing in Bluff Camp made of rope, which wasn't comfortable, but I took a couple of swings on it.

We headed out Sunday morning and it was a quick hike out, now that our packs were much lighter. We decided that this would be a great quick weekend getaway. Loved the place. Now who knows? We stopped and took this picture at the Whole Enchilada in Moss Landing. It was a great little trip.

Lesson Learned: Appreciate what you have before it goes up in smoke!