One of the most epic adventures I've taken part in was on the Lost Coast Trail in northern California. I knew this trip was going to be like no other because from the very moment my friend Heather and I arrived in the parking lot, our plans began to change drastically.
The Lost Coast Trail is a one-way hike that spans 25 miles. We had made reservations with a shuttle service to take us to the top of the trail where we would start our adventure. The day before the hike we called and confirmed that our reservation and everything was set to go, so you can imagine our surprise when we reached the parking lot at the arranged time only to find out that the shuttle service had overbooked and told us that we were out of luck.
Hiking the Lost Coast Trail
We sat in the parking lot, angry and stunned that we were left behind. We now had to figure out how to get to the top of the trail some other way, but first thing's first: We ran along the black sand beach for a while to cool our heads. After we soaked in the fresh, salty air, played fetch with the pups (Kyla and Rasta), and took some photos, we started noticing hikers coming down the coast line. We decided to talk to a few of them and get a better picture of the adventure we were missing out on.
A few of the hikers looked beat and we could tell they were exhausted and very excited to get to their vehicle. To their dismay -- and our favor -- they left their car keys in the vehicle they'd parked at the top of the hike. They needed to get back to the top and so did we!
We figured out that Heather and I would drive them up to the trailhead in my van, where they would retrieve their car and then drive my van back to the bottom of the trail so that when we finished the hike my van would be there. Now, leaving your vehicle with strangers is not the smartest thing (it's actually quite nerve-racking) but at this point it seemed to be our only option, so that's exactly what we did!
Luck was on our side now and after a slight delay we were finally on our way. The stunning views of ocean, lighthouses, and wildflowers immediately made all my worries of leaving my van with strangers disappear. We spent the first night at Sea Lion Gulch, where we had the most amazing view. We were elevated on the side of the mountain, overlooking the coast. There was a huge rock off the coast covered in sea lions (hence the name) and all night they sounded like groaning bears off in the distance, which was a little eerie at first and also quite foreshadowing.
The next morning, the top of my ear started hurting. I initially thought it was just from wearing a hat all day, so I just let it be and focused on our second day of hiking. This day was filled with abandoned bath tubs, the dogs chasing an otter into the ocean, and me finding out that my ear actually had a tic on it, which had been sucking the life out of me.
That night we set up camp at Kinsley Creek Campground where we had a strange, homeless-seeming lady stumble upon us. She only had a duffle bag and as she walked over to our camp she fell in the creek and got soaking wet. She didn't say much to us, but instead walked up the creek a little ways and set up camp by wrapping herself in a tarp. I was pretty worried about her, but by the time we woke up the next morning she was already gone.
Our next destination was called Shipman Creek. One of the hikers we talked to told us this creek had the prettiest campsite and that we absolutely had to stay there, so we made sure we worked that into our plans. We got to the campground around noon, which gave us all day to set up camp, explore, and do a little relaxing in the hammock.
As the day went on I would occasionally check to see if any backpackers were headed our way. A few came and went, but none of them stuck around. Once the evening came the high tide would prevent anyone from coming in, but would also trap us from going out until the next morning. We had camped next to people on both of the previous nights, so we were excited to have this gorgeous place all to ourselves... or so we thought.
Night had fallen and the weather was amazing with a calm breeze blowing through the trees. The ocean could be heard in the distance and the vibes couldn't have been better. Heather and I sat around the campfire laughing and enjoying each other's company while we snacked on beef jerky and the dogs fell fast asleep from the day's hiking. During our campfire banter I would occasionally hear sticks breaking just beyond the campfire light. This isn't anything unusual when you're out in the woods, so at first I just brushed it off. But after I heard it a couple more times I decided to go take a quick peek. I stood up nonchalantly and walked around the campfire as the conversation continued. Once on the other side of the fire I shined my headlamp into the bushes and there I saw what I thought were golf-ball-sized eyes staring straight back at me.
"Uh, I think there's a bear over here," I exclaimed, knowing fully well there actually was a bear over there. I repeated my statement and headed back to the other side of the fire. I then heard the bear start to circle around our camp. This is when the fear set in. I had never been so scared in my life, knowing that this bear was only about 15 yards from me and could easily eat the jerky out of both my hand and belly if he wanted to.
In a frightened state, I picked up a couple sticks and began hitting them together, yelling at the bear when he disappeared out of sight into the brush. At this point in time my brain was going a million miles an hour trying to figure out what we should do. The beach wasn't too far away and at least we would be out in the open where we could see what's around us.
I yelled for the dogs. Kyla came trotting over while Rasta woke up from his sleep in the tent. We then realize that Rasta was zipped up in the tent -- which really sucked because he was much closer to the bear at this point than I was -- so I decided to just leave him and save myself. Juuuust kidding, I couldn't bear to leave him (pun intended). I carefully walked over, unzipped the tent, and we slowly made our way to the beach. Once there, we were able to start a fire from a lighter and camera lens cloth. We ultimately decided to spend the rest of the night sleeping on the beach.
On the beach to escape the bear.
Laying on the beach next to a big fire, trapped between the high tide and a bear, I realized there was no other place I would rather be in that moment, and literally in that moment I looked over and saw a giant black scorpion walking towards my legs. That's when I knew mother nature wanted me dead.
Astonishingly, we made it through the night and I actually had the best sleep of the trip so far. We finished the hike, my van was still there, and we were alive. The Lost Coast put us through the ringer but we came out on top. In hindsight, I never could have imagined the journey that was in store for us on the trip, but I will always be grateful to mother nature for being the ultimate teacher.