Thursday, July 27th, 2023, 0700-2030
Tolowa Dunes to the southern end of Crescent Beach
15 miles, Gain 100′, Loss 100′, elevation 90′
My tent had a lot of condensation in the morning but I actually expected worse. I tried to mop some of it up with my pack towel but there’s only so much one of those can do. I’d ended up going to bed in this went tent at the end of the day, since I never took the time to dry it…that’s how it goes sometimes. The beach was so much nicer than the day before. The wind finally died overnight and the tide was lower. A person’s experience on these coastal routes has everything to do with the tides…low is almost always best.
The first thing I found as I set foot on the beach was a dead baby seal…what a downer. It seemed to have just perished, as there were tracks from its mother leading back into the ocean. I couldn’t tell what happened to it because it looked perfectly normal. I found a handful of dead birds also washed ashore…maybe because of the rough seas the day before? The ocean holds a bounty but is also deadly.
The most prevalent thing on the beach were all the dungeness crab shells. I passed by hundreds every day, all along the Oregon coast. Usually the shells were all that was left, stripped clean by a myriad of scavengers. I didn’t know if it was normal for so many to be on the beach. One could infer that the population is healthy, because there are so many both alive and dead, or that it is not, because they are dying in large numbers. The gulls, eagles and sand fleas seemed thankful for the scraps, at least.
I made it several miles to a small headland and the end of the beach. I reflected on how much this final long beach walk had reminded me of my very first beach walk from Fort Stevens State Park on days 1 & 2. The sand was quite different but the dunes and isolation were very similar. I followed quiet Radio Road around the airport to some more beaches, then Pebble Beach drive past all the cute and brightly colored beach cottages fronting the bluffs. I hadn’t heard the greatest things about Crescent City, so I was pleasantly surprised by my initial impressions: it was a beautiful and quaint little beach town! Of course, all the money aligns along the coast, so I was seeing the most affluent parts first.
Because it was such a nice morning and I felt so good, I decided to walk all the way to the Battery Point lighthouse. It was the official northwestern terminus of the Bigfoot Trail. I wasn’t starting the trail for another few days, but I figured I should visit the point while I was already walking by. I took my starting photo, which I would add in the blog for day 1 of that hike in a few days. This was my only lighthouse in California, but was the 10th that I’d seen on this trip…the lighthouse tour hike. It seemed fitting that it was the transition to my next named trail. I’d suggest that it could also be an OCT hiker’s goal for a more thematic and ceremonious finish: A final long beach walk, reminiscent of the first beach walk, leading to a picturesque backdrop, followed by a town with decent public transportation and connections. I highly recommend the extra miles!
I was enjoying the morning so much that I went another mile and a half to the end of the breakwater. There were these ginormous concrete jacks piled at the end. I couldn’t tell if the were repurposed from another project or purpose built for the breakwater (the visitor center informed me that its the latter). They gave the area an interesting modern or industrial art look. Over an hour past when I thought I’d hit town, I finally rolled into the Paragon coffee house at 10 am. A woman on the beach had told me about the place the day before, and it did not disappoint. The coffee was excellent and the manager offered me a free refill. The best thing about discovering good places in Crescent City was that I’d be visiting the town a second time, after completing my spur trip to the Redwoods.
Another bit of trail magic occurred at the coffee shop, as a lady asked about my thru-hike. I was surprised that she even recognized me as a hiker. I explained my goals and she was so impressed that she pulled out a $20. I thanked her for the offer but said I didn’t like to take cash from people. My hands were full with the cup of coffee and my trekking poles, so she stuffed the bill into my skirt pocket. Well, I couldn’t really throw it back at her, so just accepted the generous offer. I promised I’d use it to buy food, which I did later. Her name was Vickie and she seemed like a fun and adventurous soul, certainly kind. Thank you!
As I was sipping my coffee and contemplating lunch, I got a text from Meryl, my kayaking buddy from the day before, asking if I wanted to join them for lunch. Perfect timing! I replied yes and we arranged to meet. I finished my coffee just as they arrived, and we all drove over to the Charthouse on the edge of town. It was a seafood restaurant with a great view of the harbor. I treated myself to half a crab sandwich and cup of clam chowder. Three of the ladies made the smart order of a kid’s sized plate of fish and chips for only $9. It was a lot of food, way more than my $20 half sandwich and soup. I thought I would be applying my unexpected gift from Vickie towards my lunch but Gail, Carol, Judy, and Meryl literally ripped my check out of my hands. Another unexpected and greatly appreciated bout of trail magic. Thank you ladies! What a pleasure it was to meet them.
They dropped me off at the visitor center and bid me farewell, with the hope I might possibly see them again by Lake Tahoe. It was very good for my soul to have a meal with some friends. It had been a lonely trail as of late, and was only about to get lonelier. I think perhaps what made it seem so lonely was seeing people everyday but barely interacting with anyone, because no one was doing anything remotely like me. I missed seeing other hikers on the trail.
As I spoke with the lady at the visitor center, it became apparent that I wouldn’t be seeing many hikers in the Redwoods State and National Parks, either. The lady didn’t know about the ‘Coast Trail,’ even though it showed prominently on all the park maps. She also couldn’t issue me permits for the backcountry sites…I could only get them online. When I mentioned something about Fern Canyon, she kind of scoffed and said something about it being booked for weeks ahead. I thought I needed a permit to hike it but no, a parking permit is what’s needed. I thought I’d been very clear that I’d been hiking along the coast and was continuing through the parks, but I guess she assumed that I must have a car. I mean, how does one get anywhere without one? It’s the American Way. I guess having my backpack on everywhere I go just makes me look like a tool…like I must take it out of my car trunk to wear into various establishments to look cool or something.
I’ve found from visiting many National Parks, mostly on foot, that many are geared more for drivers and not so much for hiking and backpacking. For instance, Yellowstone is a driver’s park, while Canyonlands and Glacier NPs are more accommodating to backpackers. Of course, there’s a little bit of everything for everyone…the Going to the Sun road is an immensely popular drive through Glacier, but I can say with a fair degree of certainty that the best parts can only be seen on foot.
Redwoods is an odd park, as there are several areas that are state parks and one that’s a National Park, but they coordinate resources and are generally considered as a whole. As the park brochure outlines and emphasizes, there are many scenic drives through the park. A list of very short hikes are outlined, then there is a small blurb about backcountry trails and camping. It says there are over 200 miles of backcountry trail but camping is not allowed anywhere but in designated sites, of which there are only 7. If you do the math, it’s clear there aren’t enough backcountry sites. Then again, there are hardly any backpackers, so why dedicate resources to a user group that isn’t even using the park? It’s kind of a chicken and egg thing.
I had less of a clue about my hike through the park after the visitor center, so I decided that winging it was the way to go. I would just follow Buck30’s journal entries. Next I went to the Grocery Outlet, as it was the nearest grocery. I had no idea what the place was, expecting Dollar Store type offerings. What I discovered was the best hiker grocery store I’d ever seen! They had an amazing array of nuts, dried fruit and powders, all at incredibly cheap prices. There was a lot of stuff I’d never seen before…heaps of Keto, gluten-free, and vegan options. I had to laugh at how much it fit the California stereotype but still couldn’t make out how it was so cheap. I spent over an hour in there and bought way way way too much food. I just couldn’t help myself. I almost wanted to move to Crescent City just so I could go shopping there all the time.
I had to get out of town before I acquired much else. Since I’d be returning, I really wished to leave some extra stuff somewhere, but wasn’t sure where I could. There were so many transient people meandering around with bags and luggage, I didn’t figure any establishment would be willing to hold my ‘stuff’. The place just had a really different vibe as compared to a small town in Utah, where I’d been able to leave extra food and resupplies, no problem. I stopped in one of the hotels to inquire about staying there and leaving a small bag to pick up later, but the lady looked at me like I was crazy. So no.
Finding a bathroom was again another problem, so I went to the other visitors center, which was across the street from the National park one. I guess this center caters more to the broader region and offers advice specifically for Crescent City. The staff were very friendly and I met one in the bathroom as she was trying to clean it at the end of the day and I was awkwardly trying to clean up a bit. I desperately needed a shower and laundry but had decided to postpone a hotel stay until I got back from my spur trip. I figured she might assume I was one of the many homeless in the area, just trying to take advantage of a free bathroom, which I guess I kind of was. But instead she asked if I was hiking and we started chatting. She was so sweet.
I left as they were closing, heading to the library for one last top-off on my electronics. I’d mastered the art of town in and outs, whereby one goes into a town early in the morning and leaves at the end of the day, negating a hotel stay. If a town has the right amenities (library, restaurants, and a laundry facility that also had a shower), one need not ever stay in a town. I guess I’d also mastered the art of stealth camping nearby towns, but I knew better than to try that with this one. There were many homeless encampments all around the outskirts, which I didn’t want to have anything to do with. I knew I’d need to walk at least 5-8 miles to have a chance of finding a spot where I wouldn’t be bothered or seen.
As I started towards the south end of town, I actually found a sign about the Coast Trail in Crescent City. It said when complete, the trail will stretch 1200 miles along the coast. Given the cost of coastal reality combined with the onslaught of sea level rise, I’m not holding my breath about such a trail coming together. Some people have hiked the whole coast, but especially in CA, I think it involves a lot of road walking. The OCT already had plenty, and it has by far the most established and developed coast route of any of the 3 states. But a trail does exist at least through the Redwoods Parks. I started off on a marked multi use path, which was vary nice.
Just as I was about to leave the last vestiges of town, I hear someone calling my name. I looked back towards an RV park to see Sarah waving, the lady I’d just met in the visitor’s center bathroom. She invited me into her friend Chris’s trailer, where he was making dinner for everyone. Suddenly I was invited to join and we all had a lovely evening chatting and singing songs. I learned a lot about the city and their lives there. Sarah was new to the area, somewhat displaced from her hometown of Paradise after the horrible fire that had engulfed it in 2018, same year I was hiking past on the PCT. Chris had ended up homeless after his wife died and landed here, all the way from Arizona. He’d gotten his feet back under him and was now involved in helping other homeless people. They had such amazing stories of loss and reinvention, I was in awe. I reflected on all the events of just this one day, the myriad of people I’d met and how they’d shown me such kindness. It’s true, Crescent City was rough around the edges but there were diamonds in that rough.
Just before leaving, Sarah offered to take some of the extra food I was reluctant to lug around. This made me very happy, not just because I got to drop weight but also because it gave me an excuse to meet up with her again. I offered to buy her a beer at the pub, since it’s no fun to go to a pub alone. I bid farewell to my new and unexpected friends and started walking again well after 7 pm, somewhat concerned for where I would land this night. I always find a place, so I enjoyed a beautiful beach walk as the sun set. I reached the end of the beach just in time, found the beginnings of the coast trail, and popped under and behind a low pine. I was sad to crawl into my still wet tent but my heart was full from a day spent with some beautiful people.