Big Sur(prise)

We went to Big Sur to do a lazy, flat twenty mile hike with hot springs at its middle, but we ended up hiking 25 miles, climbing the steepest mountain on the west coast of the US and going higher than the Grand Canyon is deep. Surprise!

Since finishing work for the year, I’d spent four days pulling Ramsie apart and putter her back together, all to try and stop her leaking coolant. On Christmas Day, I thought I had it, but a leaky hose broke my joy on Boxing Day. She needed a test drive and the trip to Big Sur was a bit much to ask so Dan’s van it was. Having been home for so long, we were both ready to escape. We got up Thursday and packed everything into our hiking packs and set off just before lunch.

It felt like a super long drive south on the 101 and once we hit the ocean it went even slower thanks to the inevitable traffic. Dan rightly said that it is the best road to be slowed down on, there was no shortage of stunning views. We stopped for a Subway lunch but otherwise drove straight through until we reached Big Sur Station, the trailhead.

As far as I had researched, the trail to Sykes Hot Springs was open but I had a niggling feeling in the back of my mind it wouldn’t be. The barriers across the car park were the first bad sign, the threatening posts about $5,000 fines and 6 months of jail time were the nails in the coffin. Assholes. Of course it wouldn’t be clearly posted on a National Forest website that such a popular trail was closed.

Fuming, I went into the visitor’s centre to find answers while Dan took Cleo to shit on their lawn in disgust. The old man ranger behind the counter soon put me in my place quoting multiple websites that stated the trail status as a footnote at the bottom of an article and I asked him for an alternative. He suggested a loop another 45 minute drive south which I wasn’t excited about since it was already 3pm and we were supposed to get a couple miles in today. Since it appeared to be the only option, I humored him and asked more about it. It sounded better the more he told me about it, but I was still pissed. He really got me going when he wrote my name on a piece of paper that served as my camping stove permit, because you need a fucking permit to operate a stove now?!?!?! Thanks very much. Outside, I found Cleo and Dan and they were cool with the change of plan. As Dan reminded me, we are the masters of winging it.

We left the crowded car park, Dan driving calmly as I bitched about the stupid forest service and their trail closures. We were soon driving along the ocean again and I was calmed.

Dan made good time and we soon came upon Kirk Creek Campground. Obviously full, it was perched right on the cliffs with nothing but ocean in front and road out the back. It would be a gorgeous spot to park up, tent up and pull out a comfy chair and a book. Not for us though, we parked across the road with a small line of other cars at the trailhead of the Vicente Flat trail. There was a perfect van-sized space left for us and we took it.

Already packed, there wasn’t much for us to do but head off. Cleo was ready to get out of the car but she had no idea what was in store, but then again neither did we really.

It was 4pm when we started up the trail. We’d considered sleeping in the van for the night and starting in the morning but we came to camp and camping is what we would do!

The incline started immediately, though it was steady, the views improved exponentially as we climbed. We were in awe of the wide blue ocean as soon as we saw it above road level.

We could see the whole of the populated campground below us and we easily picked out the best site, despite knowing we’d probably never stay there.

Cleo was happy, scouting for critters and going to the bathroom as she pleased and our packs felt pretty light on our backs.

The fauna lining the trail was everything you’d expect to see by the ocean and made us feel very much like we were heading into the wilderness, even though civilization in the form of the busy road below us remained in view.

An hour in, the sun started to set behind the band of thick fog on the far horizon. In our imaginations, that was the mist thrown up into the air by the waterfall at the end of the flat earth.

We didn’t have to stop to admire the slow descent of the orange sphere because we had a brilliant view as we walked and it kept getting better.

Not long after we saw the last of the bright ball dip behind the fog, we started aggressively searching for camp. We weren’t interesting in hiking a single step in the dark and based on the ranger’s information, we would only have ocean views for the first couple miles. Based on this, the three mile camp wasn’t going to work so we’d been scouting for a flat spot.

We hadn’t seen a single possibility until we came around a corner and the trail widened and flattened out just enough to make us think a tent site was possible. Yes it was right in the middle of the trail, but there was plenty of room for other people to get by, not that we expected anyone to come up behind us.

I was tempted to carry on and find something a little bit more flat, but Dan was adamant and rightly so. As we started out from the trailhead, he’d demanded a camp with an ocean view and this was perfect in his mind.

We didn’t hurry to set up the tent, we just sat, stood and enjoyed the view as it faded into the dark. We could hear the waves crashing against the cliffs below and watched the red and white lights wind along the road for miles. It was perfectly peaceful.

We could barely contain our excitement to set up camp. This would be our first time using our doubles air mattress and sleeping bag. We’d bought them after the Thanksgiving hike, determined to camp comfortably as a family without being cold. We’d tested out the combo at home and found the mat and sleeping bag were plenty big enough for the three of us to fit but this would be the real assessment!

We happily discovered that the air mattress took up the entire footprint of the tent and took me only 3m20s of effortless foot pumping with the inbuilt pump to get it up to our comfort level (Dan timed me). The sleeping bag had seemed huge in the house but inside the tent it was reasonable. We went without the fly, wanting to have a view of the stars above us and so, we were set up! Dan and Cleo climbed straight in and didn’t get out the rest of the night.

I sat by the tent and made us dinner in the form of a dehydrated meal followed by some hot chocolate, both served to the campers in their comfy bed.

I climbed into the tent at around 7pm and we spent a good couple hours looking up at the impressive sky. I saw no less than three shooting stars, which made me thankful to be exactly where I was.

At around 9pm, just as we were nodding off, both Cleo and I heard voices. Huh? Cleo let out a low growl, which we quickly hushed so we could listen. Sure enough, we heard two male voices nearby accompanied by a couple of head torches not far away. We were stunned. Hiking at this time of night seemed ridiculous, considering all the views those people were missing. Of course it is illegal to camp outside of established campgrounds, which made Dan fear that he should hide his ganja, but I was confident rangers would not be on this trail in the daylight, let alone now. And so we waited for them to reach us, keeping Cleo quiet as best we could so we could appear surprised at their arrival.

When the two guys and their dog rounded the corner they were predictably surprised to see us and sorry to have disturbed us. Cleo was going crazy trying to protect us as the other dog sat quietly right at our tent door. The guys eventually got their dog, Kayley, to follow and they were on their way. That was an unexpected bit of excitement! Not long after that, Cleo settled and we all fell asleep.

Midnight came and Cleo alerted us to intruders. Yet another group of hikers was coming through. What?! These people need a lesson in how to enjoy hiking!! This time it was a group of four and they moved silently and swiftly past our camp, keeping us awake for only a few minutes, enough to observe the change in the stars before going back to sleep.

In the end we didn’t have the greatest sleep thanks to the incline that kept sending us down to the bottom of the tent (and towards the cliff), the bright moon that rose over the mountains at around 2am and the wind that picked up a couple hours before sunrise. Everything was totally worth it for the camp spot.

Just as the sun’s glow started to appear over the ridge line, we were surprised by yet another set of hikers – this time a trail running foursome – one of them running so fast that he put a foot on a corner of our tent! They were soon out of sight after some muttered “good mornings” and “sorrys”. That was my queue to get out of bed. It was nice to stretch out and stand tall, especially to appreciate the new take on the view infront of us.

Dan and Cleo didn’t make any moves towards the outside of the tent they were so comfortable, especially with one human space cleared. That meant hot oats served in bed!

I sat alongside the tent and we shared the bowl, watching the sky turn blue in front of us. There was no traffic to observe at this time of the morning so it was only the sound of the waves to keep us company.

Thoroughly satisfied with our first camp, we de-tented and packed up. Having gotten out of bed at 7am, we were ready to go at 8:30am. Not that we were running on any particular timeline, it was nice to do things at our own gentle pace. Bye camp!

After half an hour of walking we were out of sight of the ocean. We looked for more camp spots but there were slim pickings and none of them with the view of ours. Nailed it! In the forest we found evidence of another trail camp before reaching the first official camp at the three mile mark. It was buried in the forest without a view or water source and it was occupied so nothing much appealed about it.

After about 2 miles we found our midnight boys camped by the trailside, all four of them packed into a flyness tent, sound asleep after what must have been a 2am finish. We quietly crept passed them and I was surprised when we dropped into Vicente Flat campground almost immediately after. They couldn’t have known they were so close to an established campground! That’s what you get when hiking in the dark.

Vincente Flat had plenty of huge sites, some right by the creek flowing through it and others nestled underneath giant redwoods. There were a couple tents hidden within the trees and so we kept it quiet as we stopped at the creek crossing for a water top-up.

It was a beautiful little spot and also the first place we found tics on Cleo. We should have expected as much and so we began inspecting on a regular basis – both Cleo and ourselves.

Filled up with water and free of tics we carried on along the trail, turning right along the river. There were even more campsites here in an open green valley with fire rings all around. Just as we left the campsites, I realized that this was a crucial time to check the map since we were at the start of the lollipop loop of the hike and we were supposed to be going clockwise on the advice of the ranger. We turned around and righted ourselves as Cleo did her first bush bash at high speed through the yellowing forest. I concentrated on the map as I heard her rustling nearby and was happy to find a sign pointing in all the directions we needed. That inspired me with confidence! After Cleo found us again, panting with a big stupid smile on her face, we got going in the right direction.

It was cold in the forest so we were happy to come back out into the sun an hour later, the perfect time for a morning tea break and tic inspection. There were plenty on Cleo but thankfully they were all small and hadn’t buried their heads into her skin, instead they were just nestled in her fur. We kept her on the trail with us and out of the bush as we dug into some trail mix and apples, happy to have our ocean view back.

We crossed another creek after another mile or two, Cleo helping herself to a drink but we weren’t in need of a top up. Finding even more tics, we tried covering Cleo with bug spray that Dan had brought. She didn’t like it much, but we were hopeful.

The whole day we steadily climbed, never at a big incline, but enough to feel like we were doing work. We started under redwoods, moved into a forest of shorter pine trees and trickling water, through a garden of Christmas trees, then out into the grass-covered mountains that let us see the trail cut above us on the next ridge.

There was always plenty to look at but we were most happy when we were in the sun. We found a beautiful moss covered old tree on a small rise that would have been perfect for a tire swing except for when I weighted one of the branches it fell clean off! Hmmm, guess I’d be a terrible structural engineer.

It was approaching 1pm and we were both hungry for lunch, resolving to stop at the next spot of sunshine we could find. Cleo ended up finding our spot for us, sprinting off into a valley chasing who knows what and showing us a peak of the ocean view. When she eventually returned, I noticed her collar was gone. We were sure we hadn’t taken it off figuring she must have broken it off in her pursuit of squirrel glory. Sigh. We folded out the fly of my tent and sat for lunch (fearing tics getting at us from the ground).

We were having hummus and tuna wraps without capsicum because I’d left it in the bloody car so there would be no crunchy texture. Cleo wasn’t interested in her food so she simply stood watch as Dan failed at opening a can with a multi-tool. Sigh. Aside from that, it was a nice, long lunch. Just before we left, I thought I’d have a look for Cleo’s collar and to my great surprise, found it not far from our lunch spot. She must have got it snagged on something and broken the clip but she must have been going at great speed for that to happen! We kept the collar though it was pretty much useless – she was determined to be a free dog!

After a decent hour we got going again and soon found out that we’d stopped for food just a little too soon. We were out of the trees and back on top of the ridge lines, back by our beloved ocean. The sun was warm on our skin so we dawdled soaking up the views, standing in the dry grass.

We found the perfect lunch spot at a four-way split in the trail. There were so many places to explore around here that people had made tracks, most of them leading to the tops of peaks or to flat pieces of ground. We peaked up on a mound with 180 degree views of the ocean and 360 degree views of the valleys surrounding us. It was barely windy which I guessed was uncommon, but very welcome.

With such a good vantage point, we shouldn’t have been surprised when Cleo went off on another super sprint, but we were because we couldn’t see anything. When we saw the big black bobcat/mountain lion run out of some bushes and across the open plains it made sense but didn’t ease our minds at all. One swipe from that thing and she was toast – it was at least the size of her, maybe even bigger and it looked very much at home while Cleo looked like Forrest Gump getting his legs for the first time and running blindly towards a target. When the bobcat retreated into some trees, probably in preparation for its attack, Cleo finally listened to our calling and returned to us, very, very slowly. It had been a long run. She didn’t seem to mind having not caught the thing, I’m sure she was secretly relieved to have her honour somewhat intact.

We were both feeling tired towards the middle of the afternoon but there were no trail camps in sight and so we resolved to push on to Goat Camp. Just under two miles away, we had a little more climbing to do, but thankfully nothing too steep. it promised a water source but I expected to be in the forest without views.

It was in this last hour or so that Dan found our first embedded tic and it wasn’t on Cleo. He felt it on his arm and instructed me to swiftly remove it. I did so, getting the head and all but he wasn’t impressed, ewwww!!! A tic bite in his skin! We were at a loss as to how it had made its way all the way up inside his long sleeve shirt, but it had and he had no interest in wearing that shirt any longer. He switched out for another long sleeve with a zip up collar to deter further attack.

Onwards, we could hear the water and see evidence of its trail in the form of bright greenery through a valley and that spurred us onwards. Dan’s knee was aching and about a half-mile out, we both declared our readiness for camp. When I saw the trail cut into the next ridge high above us, I sincerely hoped I was reading the map right and wouldn’t have to tackle that incline until the morning.

When we found the water, I was impressed with the steep flowing creek but also disappointed with the lack of camp. Maybe I had read it wrong! A quick check of my map though and it promised to be just around the corner so we didn’t bother filling up, we carried on, with our eyes wide around every corner.

We were both elated to see the flat open space sporting fire rings, tree cover and – bonus – another ocean view. Especially special was the lack of other human beings! We had the place all to ourselves…. for now at least.

It was barely 4pm, a perfect time to stop, de-pack and relax. I went to fill up with water while Dan set up the tent, excited about the prospect of soft flat ground to properly test out our double set up.

With our chores done, there was nothing left to do but sit and enjoy the view, watching the sun set beyond the closest mountain.

We couldn’t even see the road from here so our only hint of civilisation was the planes flying overhead every now and then.

With the light fading and nothing but time to kill, we gathered some dry wood and had ourselves a fire. It was a beautiful way to spend the night, even Cleo put her fear of the flame aside and joined us while I cooked dinner and we toasted our limbs. We kept the fire small to conserve wood, looking over our shoulders for the inevitable group of hikers that would interrupt our private camp, but they never came.

We must have been in bed by 7 or 8, fly on for maximum warmth, Cleo happily down the bottom of the sleeping bag and passed out immediately. We’d managed nine miles, which is more than I’d planned for us to do in a single day, but we were all happy to be where we were.

It was a tough night for Cleo, which meant it was a tough night for us, having issues with being thirsty, needing to go to the toilet and generally waking up to make a fuss every two hours. I also got my first tic bite right on the back of knee which didn’t help things. Dan was the parent throughout it all, taking her for underwear hikes to the creek and keeping her company while she found a patch to shit on. Honestly, what a princess. We kept saying that we were just learning and we would figure it out eventually.

Despite the interruptions, we woke up feeling pretty well rested. Still no other tents in site, we wondered whatever happened to the midnight boys and the other gangs of hikers we’d seen. The sky was just as dramatic as it had been the night before, now framed with tall trees and a valley for extra intrigue.

It was enough to get me out of bed, the other two stayed in just a little longer while I went to top up our water for breakfast.

It was a real treat to be camped so close to water not only for the supply, but for the splash of cold in my face in the morning and the gentle sound of water carving its way down to the ocean. Back at camp, we had ourselves a morning fire over breakfast and broke down camp very slowly. I can’t emphasize enough just how nice it was to take our time in this lonely wilderness.

The sun was shining into our camp just as we were ready to set off, so we could get in a good soak of warmth before making our way onto the Gamboa Trail.

There was a lot of red on the incline map which explained the high cut trail I’d seen the day before, but thankfully all the hard work was at the beginning of the day. Dan’s knee was already feeling better thanks to some rest so we were feeling good. Cleo sure was itching to get going, waiting for us at the edge of camp as we packed our final things as if to say, “Hurry up guys! Let’s get going!”

More ocean views, lucky us, we weren’t getting sick of them, even as we tackled steep switchbacks, Cleo making short work of all of them. We slowed our pace to manage the incline as we turned our backs on the big blue and crept through bent over into a dry forest that wound over our heads to make it a dark place.

After half an hour of steep, dark, we were rewarded yet again with the ocean. We stopped at the high clearing where we found a trail sign and mused about whether people had camped here. As Cleo made to carry on, I lingered and sat myself down on a big fallen log to admire the view. Dan joined me and we decided this was the perfect place for our future house, though we didn’t really focus much on the design of the house, just the massive deck that would stretch out into the valley.

We both imagined sitting out there never getting sick of the view. We could see the southern crest of the coast off in the distance, a highway bridge right at the lowest point of the valley and of course the shining, deserted ocean. We discussed logistics of the build, how we could use the materials already up on the hill and perhaps build a hidden chairlift for regular access. We must have sat there dreaming for at least half an hour.

When we left, we wouldn’t see the ocean again until lunch. We crossed over a ridge and started walking on the dark side of the mountain. This was a beautiful place maybe because of its stark contrast to the ocean-facing mountains we’d been crossing. Thanks to the lack of sunlight, there was less ground growth, more moss-covered trees and more broken rocks underfoot.

It was nice to descend a ways after all the climbing but we still had more climbing to do before we reached the ultimate peak of the hike. We admired the opposite side of the valley and gawked at the huge redwoods that cut across the trail, chainsawed in place so that we could pass through easily. We counted the rings on a few and determined ages of over 300 years, burnt and fallen to the ground. One particularly burnt and hollowed out specimen scared the shit out of Cleo for some reason, the hair sticking up on her back something fierce, it took her a few attempts just to walk by it.

Dan took joy in finding the next trail sign at Trail Spring camp which, suitably, had a steady stream of water for us to collect from. Nestled at the bottom of a valley, this small camp was covered in yellowed leaves and offered a couple of flat patches for tents. Nothing like Goat Camp though and it was bitterly cold! We scoffed some trail mix but didn’t stay long thanks to our cold hands from the water. We were in need of sun and Cone Peak was the only place we would get it!

One last climb.

We trudged, slowly but surely, up the rocky trail, admiring the trees, the moss and the shale rock that had fallen from endless heights. We screamed and shouted as the incredible wind threatened to push us off the trail, we couldn’t believe the cold! We were expecting cold winds to come off the Pacific Ocean but this side of the mountain was pushing wind up straight up the valley and over towards the coast. We kept our heads down, held onto our hats and thought of the inevitable sun that would come.

As we hiked ever higher, we found ice on the ground! Grown like crystals in the hollows of the hard ground, it was obviously cold enough here to solidify the water that ran just underneath the surface.

My excitement began peaking every hint of sun I could see around the corner. The higher we got, the closer we came to warmth and hopefully a break from the wind. I remained determined in my shorts but I’d made the wrong decision, it was bloody cold!

Finally, I could see where the trail rounded a corner towards the top and I saw a pair of trail runners, our first people sighting in over a day! I called Cleo over and waited for Dan to join us before we climbed over the last rise together. And what a view we came out to, as well as an instant drop off in the wind, turning into just a slight breeze.

We were nearly 5,000 feet high, which is similar to the depth of the Grand Canyon and wow did it seem like it. To the east, the grand bright ocean and its curved coastline to the north and south. West, the mountains extended from the water into what looked like dry desert. We could see all of this from the base of Cone Peak which was another quarter mile and 200 feet of hiking away from us. Based on the current view, we decided we didn’t need that and sat down for lunch.

We hadn’t stopped much all morning because there hadn’t been the amazing view points of the day before and so we enjoyed out sit down now. It really started to become apparent that I hadn’t brought enough food for this level of strain on our bodies, thinking we’d be able to share dehydrated dinners was a mistake, but knowing we had nothing but decline ahead of us for the next day and a half, we splurged and ate a little extra food.

Cleo enjoyed the break as much as we did, lying down on the warm ground for a snooze and some heat. We were so happy to be at the height of the hike and just couldn’t believe what we were seeing. Of all the ocean in front of us, we only saw one tiny boat occupying its space. Places like this made you forget about the Bay Area’s insane population.

After a solid hour, we started considering our path forward and could pinpoint the trail cut into a few mountains below us. Packs back on, we were under a little pressure to make it to the next water source before camp, which would make it an 8 mile day. Cleo, ready as ever, led the way as we began our descent.

The view over the mountains improved as we rounded Cone Peak and it made us happy that we hadn’t made the extra trek up to the lookout building. Though we’d enjoyed the change in scenery on the opposite side of the ridge, it was nice to return to the coastal-alpine bush, my favourite style of which was a snow-gum like tree with beautifully smooth, skinny dark red trunks and vivid solid dull green leaves. I was happy to see them solitary among the bushes as we passed them.

About half a mile in, we were navigating some long switchbacks, enjoying the ease at which we could put one foot in front of the other without much effort when Cleo made off on another sprint. She was just in front of me and though she stayed on trail, she soon disappeared around the corner. I didn’t worry, I assumed she’d seen a ground-rat of some sort, but when I heard a human “Ooohhhhhhh…. Nooo!!!!” I picked up my pace and yelled, “It’s ok! She’s friendly!!” When I came up to the poor guy, Cleo was playing around his feet and he was white as the moon. I would have been scared shitless to see a pitbull running full tilt straight at me too! I apologised profusely and he recovered but I could see the remnants of his fear. He’d just been enjoying a solitary hike in this beautiful area and then, BAM! Raging pitbull! Whoops…. Dan caught up to us and he apologised as well as the hiker asked us about the trial ahead and told us of his two friends following behind.

We met the two friends without incident a bit further down and after about an hour of descent, we crossed over a ridge line and away from the ocean once more. We kept seeing more hikers and joined onto a forest road that we’d been expecting which was very easy going on our weary legs and feet. It was nice to walk side by side for a change and we enjoyed the westward view of the stretching mountains as we slowly descended.

I asked a couple of hikers about the next water source and they confirmed it was at the Vicente Flat campground which we’d passed on the way up and also helped ease the mind of a chick trail running up to the top of Cone Peak, disappointed that the ranger had told her it was a 14 mile round trip when actually it was more like 20. We quickly got the impression that everyone was going up to Cone Peak and back which we couldn’t understand. Without doing the loop, they would be on forest road for over two miles and miss the bobcat views we’d had the day before.

Dan’s knee starting giving him annoyance as we neared the end of the forest road and so we slowed our pace considerably. We would survive on the water that we had for the night but it was ideal to camp nearby it like we had the previous night. He was happy to carry on, just taking it easy and so we did. Unfortunately the last two miles down to Vicente Flat was the steepest of the hike and it was the downhill that was really hurting him.

Similar to the day before, we could hear the water nearby as we trudged down the steep switchbacks. We heard voices in the forest of other hikers and trail runners though we didn’t see many more people. Water meant camp. When we joined the river, there was no camp but we expected to follow it into Vicente Flat. I inspected a couple of camp candidates but didn’t find anything suitable until we came across a small flat patch right between the trail and the creek. “Camp!” Dan declared and I was happy to make it so.

While he rested, I dug a rock out of the ground to clear space for the corner of the tent and perched our shelter perfectly in the space we had. We were right underneath massive redwoods and the creek was rushing right next door.

Dan took dinner duty while I made up our bed (only 3 minutes, 15 seconds to pump up the bed this time!) and got our packs underneath the extended fly, expecting a dewy night.

The chick who’d been chasing Cone Peak came running down the trail as the light faded and said a quick hello, as did a few others that passed us by. Thankfully, no one seemed to mind us camping trailside. We had a Cleo-plan for this evening and so far it was working. After a drink in the creek, she was in bed for a pre-dinner nap while we ate and stayed in when we crawled in. I filled a big pot with water and put it next to some dog food right outside the tent for easy access and promised Dan I’d be on parent-duty for the night. As Dan’s head hit his pillow (around 7pm), he let out a long sigh and declared “Doing something makes doing nothing feel so good!” Rightly so, he was soon snoring.

I read my book for a couple of hours and each time Cleo made a move, I let her out to look after herself, which she did, going to the bathroom, drinking gulps and gulps of water. She got up every few hours in the night, drinking each time, going off to the bathroom a couple times and having a midnight dinner. Dan at least had a solid eight hours, while I had the same, only interrupted. I was happy with that, especially when we heard a family hike past us around 9pm with a crying baby…..?

The next morning, Dan was almost fully recovered, his knee feeling stronger than yesterday, so much so that he was out of bed before me and making me breakfast! Cleo snoozed with me in the tent and stayed in even after I got out – apparently she wasn’t feeling fully rested. We packed up slow again after breakfast, feeling very light on food – something I swore would never happen again.

We continued the steep descent following the creek, enjoying the moist atmosphere and the quiet of the morning. We came across an elderly couple hiking with day packs, the husband with a compass in his hand. He was happy when we told them they were on the right track. They must have started in the dark to be here so early in the morning, I was happy to see such fitness in older people! And he was doing it with a compass!

When we approached Vicente Flat campground, we came first up on the familiar Cleo-sprint territory before crossing over the creek into the main campground. Here I was thankful for Dan’s knee – we had avoided the chaos. After finding only a couple of tents here a couple of days earlier, the place was now packed. Cleo unsuitable peed right in front of someone’s campground as they were getting breakfast organised when we were trying to stalk discretely through. Sorry! We were now back on the trail we’d come in on so knew exactly what to expect as we rose out of the campground.

During our approach to the hike, I contemplated how easy going the last few miles would be with the ocean views in front of us but I’d forgotten about the mile or so of uphill to get out of the valley and back onto the ocean ridge. It didn’t matter, it was actually better for Dan’s knee this way.

We took it slow, knowing we only had four or five more miles to cover and we had plenty of the day left.

A few times I waited for Dan walking behind me so we could walk into the ocean view together, but it took a few times of me being wrong until we actually came out into the full sun again. Yay! Shorts! T-shirt!

The coastline was looking a little different today, there was a mist in the air and we could see fresh water from the valley rushing into the ocean mixing with the big blue. Dan was sure he saw porpoises floating around in the swirling water but we would find out later that it was just floating natural debris carried through from the forest.

We were happy to be near the end, but also cherishing these last views. We stopped to talk to a few more hikers and saw a whole lot of dogs on the trail, it’s obviously a popular choice because they’re allowed off leash.

We descended the familiar switchbacks with Cleo happily following, it seemed all her sprinting was done. We stopped often, taking an especially long break when we came upon our first campsite. It had only been three nights ago but it was already worth a reminisce.

When I told Dan we were only a couple miles away from the van he was shocked! He was looking forward to that nothing after doing something.

The last mile went quickly and our pace subconciously quickened. The sound of crashing waves started being overshadowed by the sound of cars on the highway and soon enough, we could see the van’s solar panel sitting proud marking the end of our 25 mile hike. We shouted, we whooped like idiots, Cleo was confused but we were joyous. Oh! The van! So nice to see her again in all her filth.

Dan went straight for the cold beers in the fridge and was soon sitting back in his revolving chair, shirtless, cold one in hand while he watched his girlfriend have a shower out the back of the van. Happy Dan.

We didn’t stick around long. It was just past noon and our stomachs were hungry for a big meal. I took the wheel and took us north back home along the coastline we’d spent the last few days admiring. It was different down here at tourist-level, we felt special to have observed it from up high.

December 27, 2018. 35°59’24.6″N 121°29’41.5″W.

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