Saturday, September 13, 2014

Hiking Monterey

I head north in the predawn darkness towards the coast.
The air is clean and expectant, waiting for the coming sun. There is no breeze 
A large flock of crows celebrate their survival for another night in the trees above. The constant din sounds like the the screeching whine of metal against metal, as if a ship were being slowly wrenched apart. It's impossible to distinguish each crow's individual caw. They head of through the sky together towards the pier, descending on the unsuspecting tourists like a pack of motorcycle thugs

Seals lounging, back flippers pointed in the air as if they want to keep them out of the water. They lay across the tops of the rocks like they are doing the plank. They are waiting.

I pass a passel of divers socializing in their black neoprene, partially worn, the empty arms giving each diver an extra set of floppy appendages. They wait, they some smoke, others stretch, but mostly they wait, beings half human and half seal. I don't wait, I only observe as I pass through the wharf and marina of Monterrey.

The sky has lightened since I began. Its a gray morning. The sky casting a dulling silver tint muting the colors of all below its misty pall. The glory of the sun and the brilliant blue of a clear sky may have never existed here. It's hard to remember something as foreign as a clear sky. The cool air is tinged with specks of mist that instantly evaporate as they sparkle on my upturned face. The overhead power lines buzz and crackle as jillions of amps traverse the wire to feed the hungry electrical needs of the waking city. 
I am not alone. A homeless guy laying on the sandy beach shuffles around in his squalid blanket as he carefully avoids dropping his cigarette while flipping sand at the gulls that stand around him waiting for a handout in an ironic twist of roles. A team of Army personnel stand around in their PTs stretching and bantering with each other. Commanders and soldiers blended together into a single unit of will and competency. Fishermen lug their buckets and duffle bags filled with gear across the lot to their waiting boats bobbing in the languid translucent water of the harbor. I move on, never stopping, moving, stepping, almost striding. The path is long and I am in the first few miles of it.

Pacific Grove is jammed and blocked. It's triathlon day as athletes swim out and around big yellow inflatable triangular buoys. There are more spectators than participants. I think people feel healthier when they watch others exercise. They stand with their decaf soy latte in one hand and their other hand wrapped around a breakfast wrap. Cheering between mouthfuls. I pass through the crowd as I watch the first men exit the water and head for their bicycles. Stripping their wet suits as the announcer relates his own experience when he was a contender. Striving and practicing to remove his suit in ten seconds or less.
Riders pass me, some bent over with helmets making them look like lanky space aliens on wheels. Others are overweight weekend warriors who will be remembering their participation every time they move for the next two weeks.
It's low tide as I move along the coast. Heaps of decomposing seaweed lending the air a salty strong odor that is synonymous with spending a day on the beach. 

After a few hours tracing the coastline, sharing the road with cycling triathletes, I leave the steady constancy of the ocean and head up through the Del Monte forest. When in a vehicle, it's the Seventeen Mile drive through Pepple Beach. If you're walking, the route is sandy trails through pine forest interspersed with hair-raising walking on roads without shoulders as the rich and famous and those that wish they were rich and famous zip past in their cars. I pass by the homes and second homes of the uber- rich. If there is a place where I feel out of place this is it. I am the only one walking. I see signs, piles of horse pucky, that prove equestrians favor these trails but there are no other hikers. No pedestrians of any kind. Everybody drives, the lack of sidewalks or shoulders on the road confirms it. 

I reach Carmel in about five hours. I am wiped out. The muscles in my legs are bunched and knotted, they scream at me at every step, they refuse to take any step bigger than a small shuffle. I need to eat. I need to stretch. I find Neilsons Market and see that Mr Neilson is grilling hotdogs. 

A hot dog, power drink, and chocolate chip cookie later and I am heading down to the beach. I pass through the crowds of shoppers and gawkers perusing the wares of the downtown Carmelites. Where Pepple Beach is for cars. Carmel is for foot traffic. There are people walking everywhere and every which way. My way is to the beach. The beach is over cast, like everywhere else. It's sort of warm. The sand is soft and forgiving as I flop on to the ground. I lay in the sand and stretch my hamstrings. They are tight and achy. Slowly, slowly, with much gasping and sighing, they slowly begin to release. I am only half way. Now I have to go back. Fortunately my muscles don't know that. They are rested  and ready. Not realizing the punishing trail they are about to experience all over again.

The way back through the forest is not as confusing as the morning. But it's still confusing. Without the sun to use as a reference point it's easy to walk the wrong direction without knowing it. I intermittently use the mapping app on my phone to determine how far and in which direction is the next turn.

When I reach Asilomar beach for the second time today my pace is dropping and every step is an effort. I imagine a massage, a foot massage, a spa, with hot water jets, the muted roar of the bubbles and the pounding of the water against my tired aching feet. That doesn't help. Only makes it harder to keep walking. I stop at a bench and sit down. The cool breeze coming off the ocean feels good. Others are bundled up as if it's a frigid November day, it's technically still summer. I don't feel frigid, or even cold. Just very glad to be sitting down. There are still miles to go and I am running out of energy and daylight. I stretch my legs again and head north and then east along the coast. Where the road was blocked for the triathlon this morning it is now open. Cars with sightseers line the beach where cyclists zipped past earlier. I pass car after car with people sitting inside eating and looking out at the crashing waves. They only want to spectate. They don't actually want to experience the ocean, the wind, the sand, they just want to look at it.

Our culture has produced a crop of people who only want to watch. Preferably from the comfort of a warm comfortable chair and with some kind of food or drink in hand. We are used to that. It's what we do when we get home from work or school. Sit and watch. Sit and watch and push buttons. Working out the muscles of our fingers. It hurts and is uncomfortable to get outside of your comfort zone, wouldn't want to that, we think. 

But as much as I sit and ruminate, it doesn't get me any closer to my own comfort zone. I struggle to my feet and begin shuffling on. The waves crash, the rocks and tidal pools that were exposed this morning are under the tide now. The water is clear and effervescent. It sparkles and foams like champagne on the sand. It wraps the sand around the rocks and slowly slides it off again. It crashes and splashes with power and without effort. Unlimited energy to work and mold the coast line. To wear and grind the rocks into a fine powdery white sand. Where my energy is at an ebb, the ocean continues it work. Pound and slide, pound and slide, like thunder followed by cheering, Boom... Yay... Boom... Yay... Clap, clap, clapping... Boom

I eventually make it make to Monterey harbor and graciously my wife comes and pickups me up. Saving me from at least another hour of walking. Flopping into the passenger seat of the car I am amazed and overwhelmed with just how comfortable it is. I am moving effortlessly through space and time without using a single muscle. Thank God I live in a place in history where walking is a optional thing. It's going to take some time to recover from today, or perhaps it's time to get back into shape?

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