Hales Grove, CA
In my cursory planning for this trip, one section I had been particularly anticipating was the walk along California’s Lost Coast, a stretch of high cliffs and undeveloped beach at the foot of the loftiest peaks on the American coast. It’s meant to be wild, desolate, and – at this time of year – windswept, barren, and very wet. As I fought through the late December rains in Southern Humboldt, I heard the adult voice in my ear telling me that this trip was better completed with safety and wisdom, rather than martyrdom. Reluctantly, I parked my Thoreauvian fantasies and decided on walking the shortest route to the coast, a 28 mile stretch over the hills from Leggett to Westport that would take me two days to complete. I set off early, ecstatic to be walking in the sunshine.
The road twisted up and over the hills, passing through second growth redwood and fir forests. I had recharged my iPod with new music gathered from my Dad’s computer, and I nestled it in my breast pocket with the tinny speaker angled up to my ear. As I walked, I listened to Paul Simon’s Graceland – fantastic pilgrimage music – and sang about moonlight on a midnight lake to the turkey vultures overhead. I walked down the center line, drifting between the two narrow shoulders to best avoid the infrequent traffic. At a roadside stop, I bumped into Steve, a fellow Canadian on a long distance trip documenting sustainable enterprises on the Pacific Coast. He was on his way to Costa Rica from Vancouver. We sat for a while and ate some almonds.
Google conjures nearly 140,000 results for Hales Grove, California, but try as I might, I couldn’t find anyone among the decrepit buildings (and believe me, I looked everywhere). I sallied forth through the roadside redwoods, eventually deciding to pitch a tent in an S-turn of the highway. After sunset, the road was silent, and I sat outside my tent to watch the stars and to try to fix a gas supply problem in my cookstove. I stashed my food bag in a roadside container to avoid attracting bears, and I lay down in my tent clutching my knife in one hand and my pepper spray in the other, convinced that this would be the night that I would be called upon to fight off a mountain lion. An abrupt sound woke me in the middle of the night and shocks of fear rippled down my spine as I listened intently to the sounds of an animal crunching branches seemingly near my tent. Too petrified to even peek out my tent flap, I decided that the best approach was to scare the predator-to-be with some form of loud noise. I shouted ”who’s there?” – as if I expected a response! – but my voice came out raspy and flat and the branch-breaking sounds continued unabated. Instinctively, I clutched for the iPod in my breast pocket and, after scrolling through the albums, I selected Synchronicity by The Police for its aesthetic appeal to the situation, although, frankly, I wasn’t sure how the cougar (or whatever) would react to the synthesizers. I made it two songs in, the sounds stopped and I let Sting serenade me back into sleep.