Four years ago this month, I quit my job and took a year off to celebrate my 40th birthday. Step one of my sabbatical was a 5 week backpacking trip on a section of the Pacific Crest Trail. My friend Sonia joined me for the first nine days. And we are still friends! Ha ha. If you can hang with someone for 24 hours a day for nine days and still buddies, you’ve got a good thing going on. Along the way we learned from the Through Hikers (the folks hiking from Mexico to Canada) that if you are hiking the PCT, you need a trail name. I became “Hummingbird” since I’m always hungry and Sonia became “Twinkle Toes” because after nine days of backpacking she magically never got a blister or dirt on her feet.
Last week Hummingbird and Twinkle Toes decided to hit the trail in search of adventure once more. Our destination was Catalina Island, off the coast of LA. A seven hour drive landed us in San Pedro and the port for the Catalina Express Ferry. While full of cars, the parking lot was weirdly deserted of people. As we were unpacking the car and packing the packs, a truck with shiny rims and blacked out windows pulled up and parked next to us. A man with mirrored glasses and slicked back hair stepped out followed by a woman with waist length black hair, heavy make-up, and the most gargantuan breasts squeezed into the tiniest, screaming red top I’d ever seen. We gawped for a minute and then looked at each other in alarm. “Oh my gawd.” Sonia muttered under her breath. “Can you imagine? It’s like having two bowling balls knocking together. You wouldn’t even be able to do anything!” “I wouldn’t choose that, but I guess I see why men do.” I pondered philosophically. I suddenly felt like a very small, uninteresting brown sparrow next to a peacock. We shouldered our packs and left the peacock tucking, primping, and adjusting. Being in the most remote corner of the parking lot that seemed to span several acres, there was a shuttle stop. We stood to wait. Suddenly, there was a loud blast of theatrical music and water fountains started shooting and spraying from a previously unnoticed pool. We looked around the deserted parking lot, slightly deafened by the show tunes and marvelled at the 10 or so fountains spraying and swirling in time to the music. It was extremely weird and a bit surreal. It felt like we were in Wally World.
As we boarded the ferry, Sonia drew my attention to the list of items not approved for transport. Some of the items included “acids, boxes, china ware, human corpses, household articles, merchandise, jewelry, private papers of extraordinary value, televisions (except portable), tires, typewriters, and wire”. I found this interesting on so many levels. First of all, if these items are listed, surely, it means that someone, at some point, tried to bring it on the boat. Second, human corpses and acid aside, who cares if you have a box, jewelry, or a piece of wire? So, we left our human corpses and bits of wire behind and boarded the ferry. The sun and wind and water quickly erased LA and we were treated to a visit by a group of dolphins who came to ride and play in the wake. I swear I’m not making this up as Sonia saw it too, but one of the dolphins was white! An albino? I’ve googled it and not come up with anything. We landed in the tiny spot of Two Harbors which boasts a restaurant, a general store, a bar, a few cabins, and an information booth. A tent site with a view of the ocean and a couple of glasses of wine further erased any memories of LA.
The next morning we lolly gagged, strolled the beach, had a long lazy breakfast, and chatted over coffee. We had only a five-mile hike to our next destination, Little Harbor which was named one of the best campgrounds in the west by Sunset Magazine. Five miles? Bah. We were used to backpacking three times that distance. Sonia had just finished the Seattle Marathon. So easy we only brought one bottle of water each and alloted the rest of the weight for wine. Oops. Turns out whoever made the trails on Catalina has never heard of switchbacks. We had to hike up and over the top of the island and the trail blazed straight up the mountain. And then down. And then straight up the next peak. And then down. And then straight up the next peak. And so forth. There’s also no shade or water sources. Zoot alors! Might we have to break into our wine to keep from perishing from thirst? We wondered. It took us three sweaty, huffing and puffing hours to cover 5 puny miles.
The Ranger at Two Harbors had told us we would be camping in site 7 at Little Harbor so we were a bit dismayed to see a group of young men already parked in site 7. I approached them and called out, “Hey there! Quick question for you..” One of the guys responded “If your question is, ‘do you want to party all night long’ then the answer is yes!” Turned out we had interrupted a group out camping for a bachelor party. Hilarious. They were actually a super nice group and the ranger had told us wrong as they did indeed have site 7. We set up in a lovely grassy area not far away and were greeted by a large, hairy local. Sonia and I scattered and people nearby laughed and took photos. He very rudely walked through our campsite and proceeded to poop near our tent. See below.
We decided to cool our heels in the ocean while waiting for our visitor to leave in his own sweet time. As we walked to the beach he dropped to the ground and rolled in the dust, waving all four feet in the air and gave a grunt of satisfaction. He seemed to be quite pleased with himself. Little Harbor was truly a delightful little campsite. The little bay is calm and protected. The water is so clear you can see all the pebbles and it’s a good 10 plus degrees warmer than the water in Santa Cruz. We swam and bobbed and washed all the trail dirt off, emerging feeling much refreshed, but perhaps in need of a glass of wine and some dinner. Happily the large, hairy local had moved on to inspect someone else’s campsite. We had arranged for a firewood drop in advance and enjoyed our dinner and the night air by a crackling fire. I slept like a baby that night from all the exercise, sunshine, wind, and wine.
Having learned from the day prior, the next morning we left earlier and packed more water. Our route today would take us to the top of the island and to a lunch stop at the aptly named Airport in the Sky. There is a tiny landing strip at the tippy top of Catalina. The airport is vintage-the decor to the music to the hangar. It felt like we had stepped back in time as we sat and ate and watched the little planes land and take off. The airport is famous for their home-made cookies and their bison burgers.
As we cooled off and relaxed who should file in but the bachelor party! The mood had grown somber, however as one of the guys had a pregnant wife who seemed to be having some problems and the group had decided to cut the trip short and go home. There was one party goer who wasn’t ready to throw in the towel and we got to talking. His name was Jason and he asked if he might join the Twinkle Toes and Hummingbird show. He was clean and personable so we agreed to adopt him. The three of us shouldered our packs and were once again shocked at how long and how difficult a mere 1.5 miles could be if you build a trail straight up a mountainside. This campground called Blackjack was the only one not on the ocean and it was deserted. We set up our tents and did a perfunctory exploration of our new surroundings. We found a tire swing, a table made out of old airplane siding, a make shift cold water shower (!), a bunch of cactus, and some bees.
We frittered the evening away cooking, talking story, and yep, you guessed it-sipping wine. At one point someone mentioned the possibility of a sunset. We all turned around and holy smokes it was going off but we’d have to get to the top of the hill and fast or we’d miss it. Think of the egg in a spoon races when you were a kid only substitute adults running up a rocky hillside in flip-flops trying not to spill glasses of wine. Much giggling ensued.
As we were getting ready for bed, Sonia and I took our food to the bear boxes provided. While there are no bears, there was a Channel Islands Fox skulking around the edge of camp, his eyes glowing like embers in the night. We opened the bear box and lo! A stash of goodies! Some other camper must have left them behind. Sonia and I rifled through the snacks exclaiming with delight. We called to Jason. “Come look at all the food we found!” “Yeah, that’s mine,” he called back. “Whatever, dude. We found it first. You can have some though.” “No, I mean I just took it out of my backpack and put it in there.” My cheeks blazed red and I tried to discretely put back the Snickers bar I had already stuffed in my back pack. We were so embarrassed I think we laughed for an hour.
The next morning after breakfast we said our goodbyes to Jason as he had to get back home and we had our longest hike yet ahead of us. We were headed down to the terminus of our trail, to the largest town on Catalina-Avalon. The name conjures up so many images we just couldn’t imagine what to expect. As we hiked the hot and dusty trail, a bald eagle soared over head.
Charming. Adorable. Like a tiny European Mediterranean town. That’s Avalon. White sailboats scudded across the water, yahts anchored in neat rows, colorful houses tumbling down the impossibly steep hillsides, fashionable folk strolling the pedestrian only main drag with gourmet shops on one side and the sparkling blue ocean on the other. We set up our tent outside town, got cleaned up and hurried to join in. We walked and people watched and ate ice cream and soaked up the sun. We decided to rent a kayak and explore and swim. As the sun started to sink we got an outside table overlooking the ocean and ordered a big plate of fresh ceviche, a glass of sparkling wine, and gave great sighs of contentment. What a fine way to end a backpacking trip!