Dan and Hannah Hike the Bluff Trail at San Simeon Point, California

Central California coast

Central California coast

Waking before dawn at the Mariner’s Inn in Cambria, some 200 miles north of Los Angeles on the California coast, Hannah and I meditate together for 15 minutes. With first light appearing from the mountains to the east, we take our pre-breakfast walk by the Pacific.

Cam Pfe boardwalk at sunrise

Sunrise at Moonstone Beach

It’s not just any walk; we have the serpentine boardwalk along Moonstone Beach here in Cambria.  This mile foot-soothing walkway of planks takes us to the edge of the cliffs with the beach sand below.  The continental breakfast at the Mariner’s Inn with dark roast coffee, pastries, croissants, and bagel rolls comes from the local Acola Bakery.

Morning boardwalk at Moonstone Beach

Morning boardwalk at Moonstone Beach

Packed and ready for a morning of bluff trail hiking, we drive north on the Pacific Coast Highway just eight miles to the William R. Hearst State Park, directly across the highway from the entrance to the Hearst Castle.  William Randolph Hearst was the Donald Trump of his era – rich beyond belief with an ego that demanded he get what he wants.  His life story was the inspiration for the Orson Welles film, Citizen Kane.

Morning Hannah at Moonstone boardwalk

Morning Hannah at Moonstone boardwalk

It is widely believed that his newspapers invented sensational stories, ran phony pictures, and distorted real events.  This chicanery is often referred to as yellow journalism.  Baby boomers may remember his granddaughter Patty Hearst who was kidnapped by the Simbionese Liberation Army and later fell under their spell.

Turning left towards the ocean into the parking lot of the Hearst State Park, we see elementary kids from Paso Robles, CA field-tripping to check out the marine life of the area.  Of late, stray elephant seals have come to the San Simeon Beach, 4 1/2 miles south of the main spawning grounds with hundreds of elephant seals at Ano Neuvo State Park.

Elephant seal

Elephant seal

As we cross the beach, we chat up Cubby, the kayak tour guide and unofficial guardian of these errant elephant seals.  Most willing to fill us in, he tells us that the five behemoths here on the beach today weigh some 1000 t0 1500 pounds less than mature adult males.  Locals call this area “Loser’s Beach,” for these smaller males have not been able to establish their “real estate” at the main beach.

San Simeon Beach

San Simeon Beach

He cautions us to give them a wide berth for they have established their “territory” on this beach.  By law we must be 100 feet away; it turns out that these blobs of nature could out run us over 30 yards.   As we carefully observe from a distance, they don’t even budge .

Trail between the bluff and Hearst Estate protected with barbed wire

Trail between the bluff and Hearst Estate protected with barbed wire

Winding our way by these marine mammals, we soon climb the hill at the end of the beach on to the private land of the William R. Hearst Estate.  Barbed wire sends the message that Billy’s heirs do not want us on their property.  By California state law, the public has a right to walk these bluffs some 30 to 50 feet above the water through pines, cedars, and cypress.

Cam Pfe 3AA H on beach bluff trail

We take a wide farm lane along the peninsula perpendicular to the beach as we are the only ones out today on this mid-January Thursday.  The Day Hikes on the California Central Coast gives us the information that this two and a half mile round-trip hike has but 50’ of elevation gain.

Cam Pfe 4A D at point

As we bluff walk, we talk about why we hike.  One, hiking in January lets us take a bite out of Maine winters.  Two, Hannah learns what traveling teaches her about herself.  Three, I look forward to learning and experiencing things that I have no way of knowing will even happen.  The unexpected  joys of travel.

Cam Pfe 4B H at point

Four, the hiking we do complements our back home walking and exercising at the gym.  It keeps the gym from being tedious.  With balky knees, we do need an alternative exercise after having run the roads in Arizona and Maine for 30 years.  And five, I love having travel adventures to craft into blogs; I love the drafting, the revising; taking pictures to complement the text.  I post my blog to connect with others.

Cam Pfe 4 H climbing down to SS Point

At the San Simeon Point, we descend a sandy path down to the rocks below.  This video gives you an idea what we feel as we touch the ocean and have the waves lap at our feet.

Back on the bluff, the trail gets dicey.  Walking along the cliffs, we see the trail just disappear over the cliff edge in places.  At this point, we head inland through the tunnel of eucalyptus trees.  And then back again once more to the cliff’s edge.

Cam Pfe 6A D on cliffs

As professional athletes say, Father Time is undefeated.  Well, on the coast of California everyone plays second fiddle to Mother Nature.  With the sandy cliffs being eroding by the relentless sea, we wonder how much of this trail our grandsons Owen and Max will have to hike.

Cam Pfe 6B H on cliffs

Eventually the trail runs just out over one more cliff and we double back.  And we are soon back talking to Cubby, who once was a guide for groups to see the elephant seals.  I like him and am impressed that he is making a living outdoors as a small business owner doing what he loves.  He is living the dream.

Rich is next to Hannah in the front and Steve is behind Rich in the red shirt and hat

Rich is next to Hannah in the front and Steve is behind Rich in the red shirt and hat (c 2008)

He reminds me of my entrepreneurial college roommates, Big Steve and Rich Meyer.  While my career was working for local government as a public school teacher and later as a professor at Division 3 universities, Steve and Rich made careers constructing their own business, taking all the risks themselves.  With their wives, Steve as a printer with Amelia and Rich as a photographer with Mary, they only get paid when they deliver the goods.

Cheers to Steve and Rich, True Californians.  We salute them from the bastion of creativity and risk taking – the Golden State!

Dan and Hannah and the Elephant Seals on the Pacific Coast Highway

es coastal cali map 3

After finding a bluff hiking jewel at Montana De Oro State Park near San Luis Obispo (See over60hiker blog for March 15, 2014), we drive north on the four lane route 101 from Pismo Beach.  We are in search of one more coastal bluff trail somewhere near Big Sur.

pch map 1

There are three popular routes to drive from Los Angeles to San Francisco.  I-5 lies in the center of the state and makes for an express ride north or south.  Between the coast and I-5 is the quite direct 101 highway with a little more curves and a little less traffic.  Today we leave Pismo Beach on the 101, but once we hit Morro Bay we will take the third option, Route One, the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH), north.

pch 6 farmland

It’s mid-January and the PCH passes through farmland on the way to Cambria.  Athletic couples bike the road which at this point has ample shoulder for comfortable riding.  Seems like a rite-of-passage kind of bike ride.  Something you always said you would do.  Some twenty miles later the PCH turns into a winding, harrowing, plunging and rising trek with shoulders a thing of the past.

Hannah on the Pacific coast

Hannah on the Pacific coast

Once at Cambria, some 250 miles south of San Francisco, the PCH becomes a two lane road, but we encounter little traffic on this Saturday morning.  We pass right by the entrance to the Hearst Castle since it is outdoor exercise in warm weather that is at the top of our agenda.  (We just don’t exercise outside in the winter in Maine because of our dis-affinity for the cold).  We see signs for the elephant seals rookery at Piedras Blancas, which is free to the public.

Elephant seals aplenty

Elephant seals aplenty

Rolling into a parking lot with forty cars and room for more at 10A, we discover the breeding grounds of up to 20,000 elephant seals.  Come late November adult male seals come to this part of the coast of California to establish who’s Da Man for the upcoming breeding season.  Eventually an Alpha male, often weighing 5000 pounds and up to 16’ long, emerges through battle and becomes Papa.  There is a subset of small “a” alphas that also play a role in the breeding season.

ES 5 seals and seashore vista

While most females are still out to sea after carrying their pregnant young for some ten months, they return in mid-December and form harems around the alphas.  Delivering their 70 pound pups, the moms nurse their young for four weeks.  During the fourth week, the females mate a few times, abruptly wean their pups who have quadrupled in size, and then it’s see you later alligator for the Mamas; they hit the road, or in this case the open sea, and family life is over.

(My cameraman is in fact an intern.  Hence the finger in the picture.)

ES 3 people watching seals

Fortuitously arriving during the mid-January breeding season, we take to the viewing platform some 300 yards long.  Basically the large seals lie around all day, flip sand on their backs, flop here and there, and get one helluva tan.  On this 75 degree day, the grunting noise from the competing seals punctuates the landscape.

es 7 lounging seals

Only since 1990 have seals been coming to Piedras Blancas.  One pup was born in 1992; twenty years later 5000 were born.  Heavily hunted in the 18th and 19th centuries for the oil in their blubber, the elephant seals saw their number drop to 50.  Today they number  approximately 175,000.

PCH 1A gorda sign

Thirty minutes of big, floppy seals is quite enough, for it is exercise that is at the core of our being.  So it’s north on the Pacific Coast Highway, a road that requires patience and a gentle California state of mind.  Fact is, it’s just slow going.  Climbing the serpentine roads of the coastal facing mountains of the Los Padres National Forest, we arrive at Gorda; fortunately we need no gas.

Look closely at the price per gallon of regular

Look closely at the price per gallon of regular

Earlier in the day gas at Pismo Beach was $3.79 per gallon.  Our WAZE GPS no longer works and, please, cell phones become useless electronic appendages.

California's Pacific Coast Highway

California’s Pacific Coast Highway

In many places the highway has such hairpins that we make turns at 20 mph or less.  The driver has little chance to enjoy the scenery while keeping in line on the narrow road.  But to paraphrase Jerry Seinfeld, the Pacific Coast Highway is real and it’s spectacular.  Crashing surf and shoreline vistas impress us to the west.  Being mid-January the traffic is light and we are usually the slowest one on the road anyway.  And then we are dead stopped for 25 minutes.

Waiting in line on the Pacific Coast Highway

Waiting in line on the Pacific Coast Highway

Once the Monterey County sheriff’s department sends us through on one lane, we see a jazzy sports car literally resting half over the cliff, 2oo feet above the rocky shore.  Fortunately, driving north we are always on the mountain side of the road and away from the sheer cliffs.

Later in our trip north of San Francisco. we will return to the PCH at Jenner, CA and our GPS will tell us that it’s 71 miles and it will take two hours.  In disbelief, we scoff.  Oh, but it does.  The twists and the turns make it turtle-like slow going.

PCH 5 ocean view

In the future we would only travel 100 miles per day on the PCH (and that’s still three to four plus hours of driving).  We’d take more time to hike its trails and explore its beaches so we are not car-bound for hours on end.

All the signs are pointing to a return to California.  And soon!

pch sign