Rather than venture north over the bridge this weekend, we opted for a shorter commute down to Mori Point in Pacifica. At just under three miles, the loop took us up onto the hills overlooking the township to the north and the wilds to the south. Looking more for the wilds than the town, we seldom looked northward.
The trail wound its way along the cliff, overlooking the ocean.
For you Harold and Maude fans, Tucker and I got this view of the cliff in the ending sequence along the trail:
It really hasn’t changed much since it was captured on 35mm half a century ago:
I am always astonished at how far from civilization you can feel in the bay area while only being a mile or two away (look very closely in the upper right.)
Long ago people banded together to protect the wild spaces within and around the city. It is what makes the area so special: not just that the land is protected, but that its residents care so much about the place they call home. Tucker thanks them immensely.
It’s not just the land, but the sea and sky that lend itself to the full beautiful picture.
As we headed south, the trail became rockier, feeling more like an ancient burial site than the lush grassy fields only a few hundred yards northward.
And perhaps that is why people make mediation circles here. There is a spirit in the sky and land.
It why I love this place so much: although I may be forced to live within civilized urban society, it is a society that respects and loves Mother Earth. The inhabitants are like me: we have a need for our feet to tread soil, our nose to take in the salt sea breeze, and our eyes to watch the sun set over the infinite ocean.
Since Tucker and I missed out on an actual beach on our last adventure, we decided to spend a few hours, and about seven miles walking, on another one: at Point Reyes.
Tucker seemed pretty happy to be there.
There was plenty to climb on.
And even a stick to chew on.
From beach to bluff, there was plenty to sniff.
We had the entire beach ourselves. Or so we thought. As we took a break, resting and taking in the ocean air, I looked over and thought, “Huh, that rock sure looks like a giant seal. Weird.”
A few minutes later, when we resumed walking and went by it, I realized the large lump on the beach was indeed an actual elephant seal!
It sneezed and wipes its eyes. Finding another human on the bluff trail, I asked, “Is that seal okay? Does it need help?” thinking it was beached. To which he responded, “No, they just hang out up here and sunbathe. She’s fine.” That would explain this notice in the parking lot:
Tucker and I continued down the empty beach, occasionally climbing up onto the bluff and back down again, when it finally became clear that Tucker was indeed all tuckered out.
I let him rest some, and since he was content not to get to the overlook, I accepted this as the end of his trail.
After he rested and I took in the saltwater air and beauty of the solitude and ocean, we headed back toward our trusty steed, almost three miles away.
From atop the bluff on our way back, Tucker smelled his kindred spirit, and suggested that he keep her company for a spell.
Although he wanted to be closer, I decided this distance was much safer. I’m used to living with a being who doesn’t know the sheer force of his weight and damage he could potentially do with it; I didn’t need him to meet his match.
And so Tucker lie as next to her as I allowed, shadowing her position. I hope the two of them communicated in some way, perhaps on a dreamlike plane of existence, where they shared their stories as they dozed in the warmth of the sun, listening to the waves crash upon the shore.
I discovered that the bluff trails were easier on Tucker as he was exhausted from walking in the sand, so I awoke my sleepy kid and we went back up on the hill, making our way back to the parking lot.
There was still plenty to enjoy, as the ocean's scents and stories carried on the wind.
We didn’t get to the lighthouse on this trek, but it was my first time ever experiencing an elephant seal this up close and personal. I imagine it was the same for Tucker (although he hasn’t been forthcoming with his adventures prior to meeting me so I could be wrong.)
I say Tucker is a beach dog as he enjoys it, but really what he loves is the scents and sounds of the ocean more than the beach itself. He needn’t run through the waves as other dogs do, or race headlong across the sandy beach. But to lie and listen to the sounds of the sea is pure bliss. I couldn’t agree more.
Pirate’s Cove was the first hike I bookmarked when I preparing for our San Francisco gig. A 3.6 mile hike along the cliffs at Muir Beach, it is a part of the Golden Gate Recreational Area—one of the most dog friendly of the federal lands. And then the government shut down the federal lands over a disagreement on budgets. Although Mother Nature never truly “closes,” roads can be blocked and chained off and parking lots closed. With an hour’s drive to get there, I wasn’t going to risk being turned away.
That hour’s drive took us over the Golden Gate bridge and out from under the clouds that had covered the city for much of the week. It’s been said of New England, “If you don’t like the weather, just wait a minute.” Here is the Bay Area, “If you don’t like the weather, just go about mile in any direction. It might not be better, but it’ll be different.”
And so it was on Superbowl Sunday. As we crested the meadows outside of Muir Forest and drove down the switchbacks to Muir Beach, the grey clouds parted and sunshine lit up the landscape. The parking lot was mostly empty. The town to the north was just a few streets, huddled up to the seaside, its nearest neighboring town many miles away over hill and dale. It made wonder if people who first settled here came from the inner regions and found it so beautiful, they chose not to return, or if they came from the sea and decided there couldn’t possibly be anywhere better to live than here.
Tucker and I crossed the bridge and headed along the dirt path that ran alongside the beach. There were a few families playing the in sand and chasing waves, but it was no southern California beach party. The beach here is more Oregonian (if just a word can exist.) The dramatic rocks, the cold, harsh waves: it’s not a beach you lie in the sun and catch some waves; it’s the kind of beach you sit and admire the awe and power of nature.
The trail to Pirate’s Cove was clocked at only 3.6 miles, so I suspected this to be a two hour hikes tops. I was wrong. We did walk along the well-marked trail, but we couldn’t just walk. I felt a visceral need to simply stand and look out at the water and land, the crashing waves, the curves of the bluffs: to stand in awe of nature.
I didn’t even reach for a camera each time. I just let it all wash over me, let the wind bustle through me. Off in the distant, I spied Colt Tower—all the way in San Francisco, worlds away from this magical place by the sea.
The trail wound around the side of the puffy pillows of land, and eventually led to the final descent. There are few times I have turned around during a hike. Like Tucker, I am goal-oriented. Or perhaps, it is Tucker’s need to push every boundary that leads him to not stop until he has reached the end of the trail. But here, 350 feet from the promised land, I had to turn away.
Dog on leash plus skull & crossbones pictures doesn’t fair well. Looking down at the trail, it was more mountain erosion than an actual trail. The mud and muck with boulders and rocks combined: I knew I couldn’t get down it and back up it safely later, even without a dog at the end of a leash. Perhaps had we come at a more drier time of the season it would have been doable. But for now, I had to content myself with all the experiences I had already had.
Certainly it was not a waste. The hike was a beautiful walk along the sea. The waves crashing upon the rocks and the birds riding the winds above were magical to see. I wish we had been able to go those last few feet, but I had to consider safety over everything else.
And so we turned around, Tucker accepting that this, not the beach, was the trail’s natural end for us. We started the trek back up and over the meadows, looking northward to all the potential of the open ocean.
The skies above the hills showed us we need not make a dangerous descent in order to experience beauty:
Pirate’s Cove was just the name of the trail, not the destination. For the journey is always the destination, and we arrive the moment we put one foot in front of the other.
Travels with Tucker
I'm not John Steinbeck and Tucker is certainly no Charley. But after our first year together travelling over 14,000 miles, criss-crossing America, hitting 17 states, I thought it was about time we started documenting our adventures.