I wanted to go camping; I wanted to hike; I wanted to drink. I originally planned on doing this at Point Reyes, which I've only ever been to once. But the logistics of going there after work on Friday, and getting back on Sunday in time to pick Jared up at the airport, were daunting. Worse yet, the only camping is backcountry, which wouldn't work for Friday night --- and while there's a hostel, that would rule out drinking.
So I punted to a second plan: spend the weekend camping in Santa Cruz, my ex-home-town, hiking around, drinking at night, generally having a blast. In the process I learned definitively that Santa Cruz is no longer home; while it is comfortable, and pleasant, and I feel safe and cozy and warm there, it ceased being home some time ago, and i've only just now learned it.
I drove down Friday night after work. There isn't any officially sanctioned camping in Santa Cruz itself (and, while i'm not above just slinging my hammock in the trees somewhere, it's harder to camp illegally when you have a car which will get noticed), so I went camping at New Brighton State Beach, in Aptos. Which meant that, even though I left work an hour early, I got caught in the mother of all traffic jams: the nightmare that is highway 1 at rush hour, where from the time I entered the HWY1/17 intersection (known to locals as "the fishook") to the time I got off the freeway in Aptos --- a distance which I have walked in 90 minutes or so --- took 70 minutes.
It almost would have been faster to walk. But then where would I have left the car?
I checked in to the campground. Hammocks-in-trees not allowed, alas; there's a rule prohibiting slinging anything in the trees, and the guard at the kiosk wasn't helpful in explaining the background. I was disappointed; this is only the second place i've camped since being converted to hammock-sleeping which hasn't allowed it --- and the other place was the mass tent city next to the Coachella music festival, where there simply were not any trees to be had. Still, the campsites were forested, on a bluff above the water, with the sound of the waves crashing against the beach lending the sound of serenity.
I walked into town: a seven mile walk along beachfront roads (plus a mile of walking around inside the campsite --- back and forth between my site and the kiosk, taking care of administrative business). It was a good walk, and I walked at unusually high speed, as I was hungry; i'd skipped lunch. But the wind off the water bouyed my mood, and the music from my ipod kept it bouyant. When I arrived in town I made a beeline for Mobo Sushi, one of my favorite sushi places, and ate a dinner consisting primarily of such strange things as the "Guido", a roll with cream cheese, garlic, basil, and macadamia nuts.
Then I went to see a movie. "Babel", because it looked interesting and starred one of my favorite cute twentysomething actors; it was alternately brilliant and boring. Afterwards, I went to grab some beer --- not possible in downtown Santa Cruz after midnight, unless you're at a bar --- and walked back to the campground, drinking as I went. As I passed Schwan Lake, already quite drunk, I intersected with a bunch of drunk high school skaters who were on their way to play in the waves; we chatted a bit, then I was on my way. :)
The detour added a mile or more to the distance for the trip, so I closed out Friday night at sixteen miles walked.
Saturday, I woke up around 10 --- it's nice to be somewhere quiet where you can sleep late, something I can't do at home. I stretched a bit, then set off for Capitola Village, where I had the worst latte i've ever had (and learned that I no longer like eggnog!). I perambulated towards the bus stop at the Capitola mall (2 miles, plus one in the campground, for a total of 19), then took the bus into Santa Cruz. On the way I passed a pizza place, and pizza smelled unusually good, so I got two slices of pizza at Pizza My Heart before starting the main event for the day.
I walked from downtown Santa Cruz up to UCSC, then through the upper part of campus to where the fire road intersects with Empire Grade. (Five miles or so, for a total of 23). It's been so long since UCSC was home that I no longer feel any disappointment or shock at the realization; I crossed that threshold eight or nine years ago ... but it was slightly strange walking through the upper campus as a foreigner, instead of a native. I hadn't been up there in, oh, ten years or so --- and while the place hadn't changed at all, my relation to it had.
Then I crossed over Empire Grade into Gray Whale Ranch. Back when I was regularly walking through upper campus, this wasn't possible; Gray Whale Ranch was privately owned and there were no trails. But now there are trails which connect through to the beach, as Gray Whale Ranch is part of Wilder Ranch State Park; and I followed one. It descended down to an open meadow with a georgeous view of the westernmost parts of Monterey, and the bay, and the open land north of the bay. It's not like the view from the "Great Meadow", which looks out over the city and its suburbs; this was a view almost entirely of wilderness, undeveloped and natural. Breathtaking.
The path descended back into trees, and the late afternoon light filtered through them; it was a perfect day for this walk. But I was growing tired, as I made my way down; while I do walk between an hour and two almost every day, it's always on flat land, and I was unaccustomed to the elevation gain and loss. Still, I pressed on, and I was rewarded; I emerged from the forest into another meadow at just the right time to see the brilliant orange sky over the dark blue bay before me, and the shining magenta of the most beautiful sunset i've ever seen over the meadow to the west.
Ahead of me, a biker had stopped to watch; as I passed him, he turned to me and, speaking of the sky, said only one word: "wow".
It was dark by the time I crossed highway 1; i'd gone 9.3 miles up from downtown and then back down again, for a total of 12.3 for the day and 28.3 since arriving in Santa Cruz. I followed a bike path along the south side of highway 1 until I arrived in town, then walked down towards natural bridges state beach. I followed the trail along west cliff, then, to the lighthouse, for another four miles (13.3 continuous / 16.3 day / 32.3 weekend). I was happy as a clam; the evening air was cold and crisp, the sky was clear, and I had a nice buzz from five hours of walking.
I stopped to call Jared, sitting on the grass in front of the lighthouse, and we talked for twenty minutes or so; and then i gathered myself to walk into downtown for dinner.
The next two miles took approximately an hour to walk: my legs were having none of it. Stopping for twenty minutes may have been a mistake; it gave my muscles time enough to decide that they were done.
I went to El Palomar, my favorite Mexican restaurant, which makes fantastic tortilla chips, for dinner. I had planned, afterwards, to go see another movie and then walk back to the campground; but this was clearly out of the question. So I sat at the bus stop for forty-five minutes, reading, waiting for the bus which would get me closest; and then I shambled back to the campsite, trying to walk as gingerly as possible.
My legs were happy again this morning; the complaint was a passing one. Still, I have not pushed today; I dismantled the campground and drove into town, and hung out downtown for a bit, enjoying the ambience. But I will save further walking for tomorrow.
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