Point Reyes, CA
The three-day President’s Day weekend presented a perfect opportunity to enjoy the quiet outdoors away from the normally frenetic life of the Bay Area. “But the weather is terrible, as it just keeps on raining!” protests virtually all of my friends. In contrast, I am hoping it would rain, if only I could test out my cold-weather gear to the utmost extent before going on a planned 2-day expedition up Mt. Shasta the following weekend (which would ultimately be postponed due to unacceptable avalanche dangers induced by the same inclement weather). Bring it on!
Due to Saturday festivities with the aformentioned friends I actually don’t even decide on where to stage my overnight backpacking trip until Saturday night, when I finally get around to looking at my California Hiking book. I look for an overnight hike along the coast where I’d have to hike out approximately 10 miles just to get to camp. Also, I want it to be within a few hours driving distance as I’d only have two days with other things I wanted to do before returning to work on Tuesday. After 30 minutes of browsing through the book, I find the Coast Trail in Point Reyes. Perfect! Actually, the book calls for 16 miles of hiking with camping at Miles 3 & 10, but someone would have to pick you up at Mile 16. I don’t have this option as I have to go solo (since all of my friends didn’t want to brave the rain for some reason!), so I decide that I’d hike out to Wildcat Camp at Mile 10 and then hike on back the next day.
The day starts out dry, so I have the top down on my Z3 all the way until the Richmond Bridge and then some. I even stop at Point Pinole to to snap a couple of pictures. Hmmm, a nice secluded place to have a picnic, right next to the bay. Well, another day, another trip!
Point Reyes really isn’t all the far from my home in Newark (maybe 90 miles?), but Sir Francis Drake Road from I-580 to Highway 1 is slow. In all, it takes about 3 hours (including stops) to get to Point Reyes. Well, it is an enjoyable drive, especially Sir Francis Drake Rd., which is absolutely beautiful!
At 3:00 p.m. I reach the Bear Valley Visitor’s Center at Point Reyes, where I am EASILY able to get a $10 permit for a campsite at Wildcat Camp. I am surprised because when I tried calling the reservations line a couple of days ago, everything was booked for Saturday already. Granted, I am here on Sunday, but I expected the crowd to be about as great as Saturday.
So with my permit, off I go to the parking lot past the Youth Hostel, which is recommended as the starting point for the Coast Trail Hike in the California Hiking book. In the parking lot I quickly change into nylon rain pants and my Coolmax recumbent jersey. I am already wearing thermals, although it isn’t particularly cold. Rain isn’t even coming down yet, but the dark storm clouds looming above sure threatens it! I don my gaiters just in case. Finally, at 4:00 p.m., I start my hike!
Almost immediately I am greeted by friendly faces along the trail, though it seems like almost everyone is coming back. It’s actually about one mile to the sandy coast, where I hang out for a few minutes, just enjoying the crashing of the waves.
Ahhh… when was the last time I got to enjoy the ocean waves akin to this? Was it England? Or Italy? Most likely, it was during one of my other adventures in California, such as during a long bike ride, but Europe is well on my mind today. Music flows through my head to the tune of Andrea Bocelli.
Sadly, that would be about the last of the coast I see that day… darkness was setting in just too fast. I get to Coast Camp at Mile 3 with some daylight, where word goes around that the water there is safe. I take no chances, however, and bust out my new water filtration system. I need the practice. It is very windy by now and I am rapidly starting to cool down, so I don’t stay too long.
The rest of the hike to Wildcat Camp is very meditative. Darkness has set in, but the stars are actually out and the air smells wonderfully fresh. With my Princeton Tec headlamp, I have no problems seeing where I am going, although some of the trail markers are pretty confusing about where they are pointing to. During this portion of the hike I experience the sound of deer, crickets, running water… all without seeing them. Otherwise, I am in complete solitude, not encountering a single person… until I arrive at WildCat Camp at 9:00 p.m., where only ONE person was present. I didn’t expect so much solitude along this popular trail, but I relish it. In 10 miles of hiking, I probably only saw about a dozen people, most of them in the first hour of hiking!
First, I set up my new Sierra Designs Clip Flashlight CD tent (2-person, 3-season). It’s not free-standing (which allows it to be as light and compact-when-stored as it is), but is very easy to set up. I cut a ground cloth from surplus British military nylon to perfectly match the footprint of the tent at this time. I then attempt to cook dinner using my ultra-compact-but-primitive stove using solid-fuel. The problem is, it is so windy outside that I can’t even light a candle to get the solid-fuel burning! This problem is solved when I move the stove inside a food storage bin where it is sheltered from the wind. In 10 minutes or so I have a pot of water roiling to a boil which I use to make some chicken noodle soup.
At 10:00 p.m. I’m in the tent. Again, I am thinking of Europe. Using my beloved Palm M100 (better than pen and paper as you don’t need a flashlight to write, plus you can upload your entries to a computer later!), I write down some of my thoughts in the form of a poem.
Soon I am fast asleep in my cozy 0-degree sleeping bag… until about 3:00 a.m., when it is totally POURING outside! Temperatures, as they had been for most of the day, are still in the 50’s, but winds are incredibly strong, shaking up my tent quite a bit. I am a little concerned along with the ferocity of the rain would come a flood in the area my tent was situated in. It does occur to me that if the ground became so saturated that some of my tent’s stakes could rip out of the ground, leaving my shelter unprotected by its rain fly, or, worse, cause a total collapse of the tent. After 20 minutes of this with no ill effects I am satisfied, however, and quickly fall back to sleep. The rain would continue all the way until 8:00 a.m., when I’d wake up.
The Hike Back
When I rise out of my tent, I am surprised to see in the distance another group with their tents. Looks like a Boy Scout Troop or something… must have come in late. I take about an hour to pack things up and eat breakfast.
I am fully cloaked in rain gear again, completely expecting it to rain much like it did last night. I even have a rain cover on my pack. Surprisingly, it stays dry, and I’m on my way.
The hike back starts out surprising steep, about as steep as the last few miles of the hike to Wildcat. (Otherwise, the first 7 or so miles are flat or moderately rolling). My pack weighs 33 lbs., but I feel good going up. Hiking uphill uses my stronger cycling muscles a lot more than hiking on flatland, and I enjoy it.
Unfortunately, I miss the turnoff for the Coast Trail and keep on going on the Glen (?) Trail, but only realize this after I reach a marker showing how to get back on the Coast Trail. Hmmm, no wonder it seems like I was hiking uphill for so long. Anyhow, soon I’m back on the Coast Trail, and the Boy Scouts are not too far behind. They are very loud, which I doesn’t exactly please me. I pick up my pace to put some distance between them and me.
Aside from a few minutes, it continues to stay dry, though it sure is windy in some parts! Returning back to the parking lot seems to be quicker than coming to Wildcat Camp, as there’s more downhills than uphills it seems. It’s nice to be able to see everything around me in daylight, but really, I think I enjoyed walking in darkness more. There’s something surreal about walking under the stars, not being able to envision everything around you. In darkness the senses other than sight are enhanced, especially hearing. There is so much more that can be experienced when one is not just using his eyes, and this is much easier to do at night.
2 miles from the parking lot I decide to take a shortcut along some single track and am no longer on the Coast Trail. It is much hillier this way (most shortcuts usually are!), but equally enjoyable. I encounter a few smiling women along the way, presumably from the hostel. The parking lot is visible from half-a-mile away and, lo-and-behold, there’s my blue Z3! All this time it didn’t really rain (though I wanted it too), but literally 5 minutes after I am back in my car and am changing, it starts coming down. Now most people would think, “How lucky… stayed dry right until I got to the car,” but I was more like, “Darn… a little too late… and now I have to drive in these adverse conditions.” Actually, I was still happy regardless of how the weather panned (or didn’t pan) out. A wonderful weekend hike… highly recommended.