We woke before dawn and quickly broke camp saving breakfast for last. It was a hearty meal since it would be so long before we would arrive at the trailhead let alone our planned lunch spot. I’m a bit nervous because I hadn’t trained well this year, I tend to get sick on the trail, and there would potentially be a lot of people around. (The trail system allows for 60 people a day on the trail.)
We arrive at the parking lot where we would be meeting the shuttle right on time as the sun is just peaking over the ridge. The lot is full of cars but we only see a couple of people bleary eyed and stumbling about getting their gear together. We pull our gear out and lock up the car to stagger over to the shuttle stop. Before long others make their way over. The line for the bathroom lengthens. When the driver arrives we are given an orientation about the trail and sights to pinpoint upon our return. Excitement builds palatably.
The shuttle ride is long and on tight twisty dirt roads. Luckily our driver is entertaining and points out fun sights along the way. One he stops in front of to explain and let us look. It is a full sized truck hung in the trees to look like it is either crashing or flying. There is a dummy driver and a few other things in it as well. We are told that a doctor built it to stave off boredom.
Finally we arrive at the trail head. I am both surprised at the quality of the trail head and thankful that we didn’t drive ourselves out here. The road would have been rough on our cars and the campground is full of camping families. At least the campground we stayed in had showers and a restaurant close by.
The driver points to a gate and says that the trail starts there. The ocean is visible but a distance away with a sand dune cutting us off from the ocean. Everyone piles out of the bus; half go to the outhouses the other half collects the supplies. The driver gives a bit more information while we all start to strap on our gear. I start with putting both knee braces on, eat a quick apple (the last fresh food item until we finish the trail), and make sure my water is easy to get to but won’t fall out. I have decided to try water bottles instead of using my water bladder. I feel I drink water better this way.
We are off trudging down the trail to the ocean shore. We have been told to hike close to the water for the firmest soil. At first I hike without my poles, but it doesn’t take long for me to realize that I won’t last long without a little help. The sight is something to behold. A bank of clouds off to the west, sun and blue skies above, and a growing bluff to east. We head south; at least navigating will be easy – the ocean to our right means we are heading the correct direction. I breathe deeply smelling the salty air. Before long, we see that our buss mates are hiking on a trail closer to the bluff with a lot more speed. We head to that trail and do much better.
The miles feel like they are going by quickly even though we average a mile an hour. The sights change constantly transitioning us from beach to trail to bluff to cliff edge. It all is a new experience. A few times I feel like my balance is off, and when we arrive at the Punta Gorda Lighthouse and remove our packs, I confirm that it is. I can’t walk straight and feel like I will tilt over easily. This forces me to forgo climbing the lighthouse, something I had planned on doing. But with an open ladder, I couldn’t take the risk. I know that for the most part this balance issue is because on the pack. It happens to me on every trip for at least the first day.
We eat lunch, stretch, and enjoy the sights. I take pictures and watch the seals and sea lions on the beach and just off shore. We have just passed the first of the high tide points during high tide without even knowing it. We had no problems getting to the lighthouse. Now we continue on to get as close to the second point as we can to avoid having to get up at 3am to hike on the rocks and pass the dangerous points. We hike on the bluff and on the beach off and on throughout the day taking breaks when we want. We aren’t going to push ourselves to make a time line or distance quota. We want to enjoy ourselves.
When we get to the creek we had planned to camp at, we are disappointed that it is a tiny creek and we would have to camp up on the bluff. After a water refill and brief break, we continue on again. On the beach once again, we look for creeks that would be good for camping; it’s close to dinner time and we are getting tired. After two curves around the bluff, we come across a densely rocky creek with trees, a deep inlet, and multiple campers. Apparently this is a popular camping spot. We hike in and join the others. Setting up camp and refilling water is first priority. Then I go and sit on a rock to soak my feet in the cool water while Damazon takes a brief nap. The icy water is just what the doctor ordered and my feet feel great. I’m relaxing, taking pictures, and watching people when a tiny snake swims up to the rock my feet are next to. I fly out of the creek and grab up my shoes without dropping my phone. Out of the water, I feel a little braver and creep up to take a picture of the snake.
Back at my tent, I set about getting dinner, scalloped potatoes and ham. I bought the potatoes but dehydrated the ham myself. It is a great dinner and very satisfying. I eat a little dried fruit for dessert. At this point, I realize that I didn’t get sick during the hike. I did have a brief period where my stomach was a little upset, but it didn’t last past lunch. I also realized that I had gone through four liters of water, another big feet for me.
We watched the sky darken and the moon rise before going to bed. We were within the high tide zone, and I kept watching for high water that never came. I thought the creek would be cut off but we could go beyond the creek both ways. Maybe during the deepest part of the night the water would have been higher, but I don’t believe it was quite as high as we expected. I slept well that night with good physical exhaustion.