Gold Bluffs – A Beach Off the Beaten Path

Dear Diary,

Oh my goodness. How do I begin to describe a trek with sea mammals, land mammals, live animals, dead animals, and 10 miles of mostly inaccessible beach all served up on a plate of adventure? Easy.

Gold Bluffs Beach.

The deadline I gave myself for The Next Big Thing had to be moved up a month…which means I am almost in the month it was moved up to (August). Whoa there time, I’m not ready!!!!!!

I have yet to spend a night with all of my new fancy shmancy backpacking equipment. Or for that matter even hike in it. In the wild. By myself. With wild animals.

So there are many questions to be answered, nonetheless is the top one on the list – Can I even walk 8 miles a day in the sand?

I had an ulterior motive in camping on Gold Bluff’s Beach in the Prairie Creek Redwood State Park. I had to know the answer to that question. If the answer was no, why bother with any of the rest of it?

If the answer was no, I would simply dig a hole in said sand, and bury myself in it. Because where am I without hope? I didn’t want that to happen, so failure was not an option. Or so my personal coach self says.

The Lost Coast Trail (my next big thing) is just south of Gold Bluffs Beach, so I set aside one of our 3 days there to make an 8 mile trek (4 miles there and 4 miles back) along the beach.

I set out with the 10 essentials which consisted of my navigation equipment (compass, GPS on my iPhone, and iPhone charger this time), safety equipment (the bear spray I had forgotten the day before), lunch, layer of clothing (a puffy vest), matches, flashlight, sunglasses and cap, 3 liters of water, emergency shelter (one of those .69 cent foil looking things all folded up to about the size of a wallet in plastic, I have never actually opened it), and parachute line (I have no idea what that’s for) on my back and a great deal of optimism.

You have to have optimism when your only survival skill is finding parking in Los Angeles.

I also brought 3 different cameras. If I didn’t make it back, at least there would be some good film footage of whatever ate me.

I took off down the beach with some familiar companions; the very vocal personal trainer self, who keeps me focused from distracted by shiny objects self and whiny that’s good enough self.

Yes, they all reside inside my head.

The pain from my dark passenger (that’s what I call my Mixed Connective Tissue Disorder with Autonomic Involvement, formerly known as the Lupus Link) is real. I wondered if it would rear it’s ugly head, but it usually waits until after the personal trainer self has gone. I was feeling pretty darn good after my trek in the Redwoods the day before.

And Jesus of course. Jesus is real too. He’ll prove it once again on this trek.

I looked ahead to my destination…the end of the beach. Way down there where the land curves out to meet the sea.  Or 4 miles towards it anyway. I was giving myself 8 hours to make it happen. I told my daughter to not call the cavalry until after 10 hours.

Not that easy to discern where the end of the beach might be in this photo, but you get the idea, don’t you dearest? Destination

The weather in Northern California in July is simply divine. A perfect 79 or so degrees and with a little cloud cover, who could want for more?

Besides, getting to spend the day alongside my favorite (the ocean) would mean I could handle a lot worse than this. Ok, maybe a little worse than this.

Within just a mile or two, all sign of human footprints were long gone. When I looked behind me, the only thing I saw were my own. Now we’re talking.

footprints

Gold Bluffs Beach is only accessible from a few places, none of them are easy to get to (ok, 6 miles down a dirt road is relatively easy, but I mean by LA standards), and those were gone once I left the campground. I didn’t expect to meet anything or anyone along my way, but I would be pleasantly wrong in short order.

Another noticeable change was the cloud cover was completely gone. It was then that I realized I had not applied nor packed any sunscreen. DANG IT! That is one of the 10 essentials with sunglasses and hat. This would be extremely problematic since I am as fair as fair comes. I already have a million sun kisses (freckles) from tangling with the sun in my youth. I have no wish to burn today.

And there is a second, more deadly reason. That pesky dark passenger gets easily awakened by the sun. I DO NOT WANT THE DARK PASSENGER AWAKENED! The dark passenger does permanent damage when it is fully awake, and it is too hard to get it back to sleep.

I couldn’t bear to go back though. A lot was riding on this trek, and I should be replicating what I would be facing on the Lost Coast Trail. I wouldn’t have a camp to go back to then.

So I did the only thing I could think of, break out my puffy vest and drape it over the arm that was taking on the most sun. It was sleeveless so wearing it was out of the question. But I was on-trend.

I let down my hair to save my neck, and carried on. Soon the sun would be directly overhead though.

I noticed something in the water as I walked along. I stopped and waited to see if it would come back up…and it did. Up and down, up and down, over and over. Only skimming the surface to move farther up and down the shallow water. I thought at first it was a seal, but it was too small.

It was a sea otter. Oh my gosh what a treat! His little head finally stayed up long enough to get a photo, but not long enough to zoom in! Click for a closer look. Aviary Photo_130832156696986887

This completely took my mind off of any other little thing and shot me full of joy adrenaline. There were about 3 or 4 of them I think. I stayed and watched them hunting for awhile, they need to eat 30% of their body weight a day to survive. That’s a lot of crabs! The evidence of their handiwork was strewn all along the beach. I picked up a large claw that had just washed up from being discarded by the otters and packed it away for my daughter’s bf.

I’m a giver that way.

So merrily on my way I went. Then distracted by shiny objects self and the dreaded I must save the planet self made themselves known by taking on a peculiar habit I was unable to break for the entire trek. And that was picking up any and all trash that I found washed up on the beach and place it far above the high tide line.

Plastic shall be the death of Earth. Oh sorry…that was I must save the planet self butting in on my post. Ahem. Moving on.

Evidently this new habit was just fine with my personal coach self. It never said a word, but I detected the whiny that’s good enough self faintly and prudently protesting that I probably should be saving all of those steps for the trek. Poor “whiny”, nobody ever listens to her.

I was up to 3 miles now and to my left I sensed something larger than a sea otter popping up regularly, but every time I turned to get a better look, it was gone. I finally took my camera and while still facing forward, managed to catch my curious companion in the shot. A California harbor seal! Again, no time to zoom on this one. Seal and arrow

As it turned out, this little seal would follow me for the whole rest of my day, but for now I just felt blessed that I got to see another ocean mammal on my adventure. I hadn’t expected such happy luck. When I would look over he would dive, but very soon he realized I was no threat.

In fact, I’m sure he thought I was the slowest swimmer in the world. Curiosity got the best of him though, he couldn’t let me out of his sight. I loved that.

The sun was straight down on me now. I moved the vest back and forth over each arm, trying to temper what I knew was coming in short order.

On my right I saw two humans a little farther up. I could see they had spotted me and had walked into my path, clearly waiting on me.

Well now. I hadn’t banked on this either. I finally made my way up to the couple and we exchanged hellos. They asked if I had come from Fern Canyon. I said no, I had come from a little further down the beach at Gold Bluffs Beach Campground. They said they had braved a long treacherous descent down the cliff from the Coast Road to get to this point looking for Fern Canyon. I told them they could get there from here, but that it would be about a 6 mile round trip from this point. In the sand.

This was clearly not good news for the female of the couple. After all, they were at least my age and had already had a long steep descent and a bit of a walk to get to this point on the beach. The male half was determined to see it though.

I asked them why didn’t they just drive down there?

They both looked at me with gaping mouths. The man said, “You can get there by car?”. I said yes and gave them the instructions. They were downright giddy.

Here’s where the Jesus part comes in. I blurted out, “you wouldn’t happen to have any sunscreen would you?”, without even thinking. This is so far out of character for me, it couldn’t have BEEN me. I can’t ask for help normally. I just can’t. I don’t know why.

The woman said, “yes I do” and promptly handed me some Neutrogena sunscreen out of her purse (yes, she trekked with a purse…I can respect that).

I was saved. Just in time to hopefully keep the dark passenger in check. Thank you God for that. I wasn’t greedy, but chose to take just enough to cover my arms. I would take my chances with the rest.

We cheerfully parted ways, each of us getting what we needed just in the nick of time. And people say there is no divine intervention. I most humbly disagree.

I carried on, knowing that my destination was just ahead. Then I came upon something so curious for a city girl. I didn’t know what it was at first but quickly realized it was the hide of an elk. Elk Carcass

My city girl self immediately said “yuck”!  But my silver lining self quickly followed up with “just think what it looked like before it was reduced to being Davy Crockett’s blanket though”. I love her.

About 20 feet down the beach I found a couple of it’s rib bones and a couple of it’s spinal vertebrae bleached clean and white from the sand, water, and sun. I packed those up for my scientist daughter.

I told you I was a giver.

And off I went, picking up random trash, and checking for Sammy the seal along the way. Yes, I named him. Don’t tell anyone.

I noticed a large (and I mean large) white thing on the beach. Not moving. No threat. So I approached with caution. All the while I could hear my whiny that’s good enough self  saying “why, why, why?”. Faintly.

Poor thing, nobody ever listens to her.

When I got up to it, I knew it had to be a ginourmous fish of some sort but like city girl self said, “how in the world would I know what this is?”. I was both horrified and intrigued at the same time. I took a photo of it to be identified later. You know, in case I should ever run across something like this again. Riiiiiiiiiiight.

Turns out it is a Triggerfish. Who knew? I would have put my pack down as a size comparison, but um…no way. Not in this life.triggerfish

Before I knew it, my handy dandy little GPS app chimed out…4 MILES.

Yahoo! I made it! My ankles and knees were definitely feeling the effort of trekking in sand, but I was good to go otherwise. Fatigue was not yet a factor but I was beginning to be a little weary. No sweat. Time to turn around and go back.

Then my personal coach self demanded to be heard. “Look how close the end of the beach is or at the very least, an impassable bunch of boulders. You mean to tell me you are going to quit when you can go another mile and be able to say you did it?”. End of the beach

Whiny that’s good enough self said, “Yes, that’s exactly what I’m going to do. I only agreed to 8 miles there and back. Not 10 miles”.

“Fine. Then you don’t get to eat lunch.” my personal coach self fired back. Gosh, she can be such a bitch.

But all of my selves like lunch, so onward I went.

Almost there, I noticed a large rock that provided some shade on a meadow next to the beach. It was the only shade I had seen all day. I headed toward it to eat my lunch and give my legs and feet a little break. Rock by beach

As I climbed over the small high tide bank and toward the rock I saw something coming into view that seemed to be staring back at me. Something large. Very large. What the heck?

I grabbed onto my pepper spray and tried to grab my courage, but couldn’t find it.

I wanted the shade damn it. I cautiously moved forward, it did not move. But it was looking at me.

As I was able to see it a little more clearly, I believed it to be a Roosevelt Elk laying down in the meadow. Don’t be impressed, I learned it on the internet while researching the area.Elkandrock

I dropped to my knees in awe. I didn’t want to scare it away, or be any closer for that matter…this thing is huge.

As it turned out, kneeling down where I was turned out to be quite the error in judgment. I was in a sea of some of the worst stickers I have ever experienced. They were in my knees and the lower part of my legs I was sitting on, not to mentioned what happened when I tucked my shoes under my butt. Not good.

I needed the shade more than ever.  Luckily the sense of awe helped temper the screaming pain suffered by the stickers in my skin through the “moisture wicking” paper thin pants I had on.

I stood up into a bent position and slowly but doggedly “made for the shade” if you will.

When I finally got there I looked over and realized there was a herd of them eating and relaxing in the meadow. Oh my gosh. herd

There were more to the right, but to get a good photo of the entire herd I would have had to advance. Nope. Not going to do that.

I needn’t have been worried about scaring them. They were entirely indifferent.

How many people can say they lunched with a wild herd of Roosevelt Elk on the beach? My personal coach self can….and does. She never lets me forget that if it wasn’t for her pushing me (and denying me lunch), this wouldn’t have happened. She is intolerable. But right.

What magic!

I soon enough finished pulling those wicked stickers out, eating my apple and half a PB&J sandwich, and was back on my way. The end was in sight.

The boulders were indeed impassable, in fact where I climbed over to get to the impassable rocks was probably not accessible during high tide. I caught a glimpse of the shadow of myself when I was climbing to get a photo of what was on the other side.

I had already gone native. In just a few hours. I had completely forgotten that I’d picked up some pelican feathers and stuck them in my cap. Pocohantus

The view on the other side. Beautiful.

beachonotherside

But I had to go. Even my personal coach self was satisfied.

The end of the beach gave me a glorious send off.

Roughsurf

I looked over toward the meadow to say a mental good-bye to the elk when I nearly came out of my skin. One of the elk had moved directly onto the beach. I’m not going to lie, it scared me a little. Elkonthebeach

Maybe she was just bidding me goodbye in a glorious fashion as well. Thank you for that Jesus.

There came a truck driving down the beach gathering drift wood and unless they have an exclusive agreement with the State/National park, that would be illegal. That’s not what made me really really mad though. In many cases, the trash I had so neatly piled above the high tide line was right next to the drift wood they were collecting, but they never bothered themselves with the trash. Even now all I can do is sigh. I wish I had brought a trash bag so I could have taken it myself. Maybe I’ll make that the 11th essential. Never mind.

I was gong to get mad about the tire tracks ruining my photo shots, then my silver lining self pointed out what a gift (from my trekking partner Jesus no doubt) they were. They were so much easier to walk on. I thanked him but didn’t use them. I wouldn’t have them on the Lost Coast Trail.

If not for Sammy, the trek back would have been rough, but he was ever there. Sometimes swimming ahead, sometimes just staring at me while bobbing up and down or diving into a breaking wave. But never still.  Always moving. Which helped me do the same…er samey. What the fatigued mind comes up with is frightening isn’t it?Aviary Photo_130832169777237671

My little otter (no name) was on the beach this time, digging for sand crabs. He didn’t appreciate being interrupted.SeaOtteronbeach

When I finally headed into camp, I was elated, but more than a little sad.

Don’t get me wrong, I was over the moon that I was not only able to do the 8 miles, I could do 10 on my first try. But I was sad that an end had come to a most magical day.

I handed out my “gifts”, enjoyed a much earned hot meal, and headed back out to get a closer look at the sun lower itself into the sea.

And I gave tribute.

Sunset Until next time dearest.

 

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