Hiking to Stinson Beach, California
The next moment, we are running down the track, hopping and leaping over muddled patches of dry mud, extruding roots and small, unsettled stones. We hesitate at meeting points, letting others pass; those who have been trekking uphill, an effort far greater than our own. We have taken the leisurely scenic route, cantering downhill along the Matt Davis trail towards Stinson Beach. Passing slower-paced hiking companions, there is a liberating freedom to the downhill descent. Running in hiking boots that do not cushion our knees, but grip the ground as it seems to flow at speed beneath us. Giggling, rolling with the rock ‘n’ roll curves of our descending path, we are running towards our midday target; the promise of nachos and beer at Coast Café (so long as we arrive before 3pm). We are going to make it, and although it is warm and sweat has long begun to stick the cloth on our backs to our skin, the idea of an ice-cold beer urges us on.
Within a few hours we have been transported from the open, bright and beautiful apple green hills, whose crests are kissed in the distance by white, sun-lifted clouds. A yellow path, reminiscent of the famous brick road stretches out before us, echoing the gentle curvature of the hills, rolled out in front of us; beckoning us towards the shaded canopy of the sloping forested canyons. An adjacent path coaxes us seaward, revealing the astonishing view previously ignored by our blinkered vision; the gleaming skyline of San Francisco City peaking its brow over cartoonishly perfect hills. Only then does it become clear how astonishingly blue the sky is on this utterly perfect day. Made more perfect from the liberty that we feel, stealing time away from the city to explore the bay-side trails. A rustle of leaves at my feet distract my thoughts, and I see the outline of a small Coast Range Fence Lizard; only distinguishable from the ash grey, rough-textured bark of a fallen branch on which is sits because of its darker tones. I take my time admiring its diamond-like, textured skin; wondering how it would feel to run my fingers backwards over its scaly body. The voice of my friend walking with me calls me onwards, drawing us back to our original path.
We enter through a clearing in the trees and are soon absorbed into the foliage and its cool shadow. The air is clean and we inhale it into our lungs, energising our spirits; entranced by the near invisible tendrils of hanging mint green moss and lichen. We continue in silence, only interrupted by the odd rustle of squirrels and small birds in the decaying vegetarian scattered either side of our path that has been well-worn by the feet of others before us. A knocking sound echoes around us, and eventually our ears and eyes hone in on a woodpecker in the higher canopy; balancing on the bark as his bill knocks repetitively, relentlessly, by reflex into the tree. One more step and our vision of him is blocked by the foresty around us, masking its wildlife from intruders such as us.
The trek clears my mind, as I focus on placing one foot in front of the other; enjoying breathing, simply moving and exploring. I am but a few miles from the bustling roadway of Stinson Beach, packed with tourists and beachside revellers, and yet here I choose to share my experience in the outdoors with only a few other adventurers. Likeminded people who, travelling uphill, will not see the walk the same way that I do. They do not share my experience. And although we exchange an occasional nod, smile and greeting en route, we are all too busy making our own memories to care for one another’s odd intrusive presence in what is otherwise an entirely personal exploration.