“Oh my god,” I breathed, bouncing on the balls of my feet. “Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god!” Before me stretched a swath of pristine sand, enclosed on three sides by looming sandstone cliffs and by the clear blue water of the Pacific Ocean on the fourth. The waves crashed in roaring sequence onto the little beach, spilling over each other in their eagerness to come ashore, the thunder of the tide echoing off the cliffs. The sun beat down, the brilliance in the sky reflected in the tumbling crystalline waters.
I ran on to the beach, my hiking shoes sinking in the sand and slowing my progress around the cove. Joy bubbled in my belly, rising up and up through my throat and bursting from me in peals of laughter that echoed off the cliffs.
I was alone save for the gods that reside in the cove. They were as restless as I, and I could feel their energy in the incoming tide. I wanted to stay and give them the proper worship they deserved, but with the waters rolling closer and closer to the rocky outcropping upon which I stood, I knew I wouldn’t have time to both praise the energetic forces and also make it back to solid ground out of the ocean’s hungry reach.
I bounded from rock to rock as if I hadn’t spent the previous two hours hiking up and over a wooded mountain and along seaside cliffs in the direct sunlight. The water bottles bouncing in my pack reminded me that I should rest for a moment and rehydrate, that I should conserve my energy for the remaining six or seven miles of the loop I had set out to complete, but there was far too much spiritual electricity in the air for me to sit still long enough to take a drink. I did slow down long enough to take a few pictures of the cliffs that loomed above me, and to reflect upon the journey I had ventured thus far.
The mountain path I started on immediately threw me deep into the coniferous forest, a climate I have missed intensely since moving from lush Washington State to the drier, more varied California hills. Ferns had brushed at my ankles as I picked my way over roots that sprawled into the narrow path, and I kept my sweater on whilst under the canopy of trees, surrounded by greenery and mist. Breaching the top of Mount Whittenberg, I found myself in an open meadow of the variety that I believed only to exist in storybooks, surrounded in a wide, uneven circle by the state’s famous redwood trees, broken here and there by the occasional fir. The trees opened up along the aptly named Sky Trail that followed the ridgeline, and as the sun began to warm the earth, the mist and clouds that clung to the mountain began to dissipate, affording me incredible views of the seashore below.
Instead of following Sky Trail to its campsite (although I did mentally log its location for later ventures), I turned down Woodward Trail and wound my way through dense undergrowth. The path was narrow, but empty, and I had the freedom to run or walk or skip as I saw fit. Abruptly, the trees came to a halt, and I found myself picking down the rocky, arid backside of Mount Wittenberg towards the shushing breath of the ocean that stretched below. The occasional buzzard soared overhead as I warmed in the direct sun, and I deeply inhaled the strange scent of the scrubby, unfamiliar flora that stretched at waist-height along the hills that rose to the north and south of me.
The Coast Trail zigged and zagged along the cliffs, always in view of the ocean but never alongside it. Occasionally, it ran into a small ravine, where I would find relief from the sun in a grove of small trees, and then I would be lead back into the open air. After reluctantly departing from Sculpture Beach and the spirits that reside within the secluded cove, I returned to Coast Trail and followed the path, careful not to step on the many lizards sunning themselves, for a couple more miles before turning on Bear Valley Trail, where, as suddenly as the forest had ended previously, it began again.
The music of Bear Valley Creek accompanied me for a little over a mile before the stream veered off. This trail, unlike the others, was wide and well-groomed, and as such, was more populated with all types: day-hikers, campers with tents upon their shoulders, elderly couples out for a stroll, middle school running teams, and more. Although I felt the human element detracted from the natural beauty of the four miles I paced back to the point at which I had started, I still found myself enjoying the lush greenery and occasional meadow, and was thankful for the lack of severe incline, as my hips and knees had begun to furiously ache.
Back at the starting point at Bear Valley Visitor Center, I rested for a few minutes over a bottle of water. In five hours I had hiked over thirteen miles, a feat which would have daunted me at the beginning of the summer. I had set out to do one of the longest hikes I’ve ever done, and although the particular route I had taken was certainly not for the faint of heart, it was a far less demanding hike than I had anticipated. On the drive home, I began planning for a return to Point Reyes, complete with backpack and tent, so that I might stay overnight and spend more time exploring the lush mountains and ravines, the arid and vast hillsides, the gorgeous surf and sandy beaches, and so much more that was offered to me.