As we awake in northern California, thirty inches of snow has fallen in Seacoast Maine this late January day. Though the snow has stopped, life in New England has come to a standstill. Crawling highway traffic; backroads under siege; driveways waiting, and waiting some more to be cleared. It turns out that this blockbuster of a storm was just the first of a string of snowstorms during the epic winter of 2015; there will be more snow than we have ever seen in 33 years living on Chases Pond Road.
But that’s a challenge for tomorrow, for today we are more than 3000 miles away in California. Leaving Tree and Scott’s place after five days together, we drive south on the oceanside of the Pacific Coast Highway with its steep cliffs plunging hundreds of feet below us. Riding shotgun, I lean Hannah’s way as she drives the lofty serpentine roads; the white line is all there is to the shoulder on my side.
As we pass first through Sea Ranch and on to Jenner, Bodega Bay, and then Tomales on our last day in California, we are heading for Point Reyes National Seashore, some 45 miles north of San Francisco on the Pacific Ocean. Once down from where eagles fly, we mellow out as it takes us two hours to go 70 minutes on this section of the Pacific Coast Highway.
With our red-eye flight at 11P from San Francisco to Boston still on schedule, we drive through the small town of Point Reyes Station in the late morning. Taking a sharp right at the Bear Valley Inn B&B at Bear Valley Road, we motor an easy half mile to the visitor center.
There the ranger asks what we are looking for; they have 150 miles of trails. The Dan and Hannah prescription: Sunshine and three hours of hiking! The most popular trail to the Pacific Ocean is the Bear Valley Trail. The ranger provides a fabulous trail map with distances to the tenth of a mile. Being within an hour of San Francisco, Point Reyes gets two and a half million visitors each year.
The Bear Valley Trail begins as a gently rising fire road on this mid-week Wednesday in the sunny 60s. To our right, Morgan horses are sheltered and trained to patrol the park. Wide enough for four to walk abreast, the trail has couples with young children, women out for an afternoon walk, and retired couples.
We are crossing the San Andreas Fault where the earth’s crust is “floating on a sea of molten rock.” In 1906 the underlying rock moved 20 feet in less than a minute which caused massive devastation in San Francisco. It could happen again in 30 minutes or 300 years. Fortunately, it did not happen today.
The warm sun is just the sendoff we savor before returning to the snowy East. Just two-tenths of a mile into the hike, the trail turns shady, forest covered. Putting on our sweatshirts, we climb some 400 feet of elevation gain through the coastal mountains; beside us is a west flowing trail stream bracketed by ferns.
Spotting a young couple seeming to be struggling with the backpack for their ten month old, we are impressed that they are out miles from the visitor center this afternoon with their child. We ask if they need any help, but they just smile and thank us.
Coming across this bicycle rack two miles into the trail, we wonder what gives. What’s a bicycle rack out of New Jersey in the 1950s doing here? It takes me a while to make sense of this anomaly. Any idea why this bike rack is two miles into the wilderness? See below.
The trail map shows we have two and a half miles to Arch Rock now that we summit at the Divide Meadows. One last walk along the beach sounds pretty sweet. The gently rising trail means we can keep up a three mph pace heading to the ocean. Our hike only offers glimpses of sunshine through a Douglas fir forest, but it’s no sacrifice to be in shorts in dappled sun rather than be housebound due to the blizzard of 2015.
With Arch Rock on the Pacific in sight, we realize that the perch is 70 feet above the water, which makes the beach inaccessible from the trail. Checking out the coastline north and south from Arch Rock, we learn that the Arch itself is below us as we stand on the shoreline mesa.
There is a descending steep rocky trail to the river bed rocks and the arch. On the climb down, we grab the rocks to steady ourselves as we slip slide down to the creek. Through the arch we can see the ocean, but there is no way we can navigate these rocks through a very cold mountain stream. We lunch on our pb&js and dismiss the thought of any more rock scrambling.
As we climb out we see the couple with the bambino, not fifteen minutes behind us. We approach and say how impressed we are with their hiking with a baby. They smile. We ask where they are from. It turns out it’s Switzerland. This little hike is small potatoes compared to other alpine hikes that they have done before with their son.
As we head for the trailhead, we know that the snow is not going away and we are just going to have deal with it. Thanks to Nolan, we are able to drive into our driveway after the red-eye. Two days later, all is right in snowy New England world as we spend the morning with Owen and Max while Molly and Tip go out to breakfast.
And the bike rack? Trail bike riding is only allowed to a certain point. After that, bikes are prohibited; hence the 1950s Radburn (NJ) School bike rack.
Since our visit in late January 2015, tragedy struck at the Arch Rock of Point Reyes.
This recent hoto provided by Point Reyes National Seashore shows a fissure that has opened up atop Arch Rock less than two months after our trek there. One person died and another needed to be treated for life-threatening injuries after the bluff at the end of a popular hiking trail collapsed on Saturday, March 21, 2015. Two visitors were standing on the Arch Rock lookout point just before 6 p.m. when the bluff gave way. The pair fell about 70 feet and were covered with rocks and debris. One of the hikers was pronounced dead at the scene. The other was airlifted to a hospital. (AP Photo/Point Reyes National Seashore)
We hiked this trail and stood atop Arch Rock on January 28, 2015. The trail is no longer open to Arch Rock.
Click on this this link or copy and paste it to read more about the fatal rockslide. http://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/3703372-181/hiker-killed-in-point-reyes