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.