The Things I’ve Learned from Hiking the Lost Coast

Starting off my life from 35 has already been an adventure.  Breaking into 36 with a crazy hike to the Lost Coast in northern California, I can only hope that bigger and better adventures await.  As I start to make my new lists for myself in this next trip around the sun, I know there’s not much moving forward without looking back on the past.  That weekend hike with Jenny not only has taught me a lot about pushing myself in my outdoor adventuring life, but also in other aspects of my world.

As far as hiking and camping, I am only inspired by this to take on more challenges like this.  There are a couple things I had learned, and for all those looking to try the Lost Coast for the first time, I thought I would share it.

PACKING

dsc09036Here’s what I brought with me:

  1. 65L backpack
  2. Bear bin
  3. 1L Nalgene bottle
  4. Sleeping bag
  5. Sleeping pad
  6. 2-person tent
  7. Camera with a spare battery
  8. Phone
  9. Small tripod
  10. Notebook and pen
  11. Rain poncho
  12. Ziplock bags
  13. Camp shovel
  14. Water sterilizer pen
  15. First Aid pouch (with a tick key and Advil)
  16. Bug spray
  17. Headlamp
  18. Mace
  19. Pocket knife
  20. Compass/whistle
  21. Sunglasses
  22. Long spork
  23. Bear bell
  24. Fuel canister with camp stove
  25. Small pot with 2 insulated cups
  26. Bag of wine
  27. Packets of freeze dried coffee
  28. Four packages of freeze dried foods
  29. Lantern/flashlight
  30. Boots
  31. Clothes (3 pairs of socks, fleece, tee, wool base layer top and bottom, tank, spare underwear, water-resistant pants, raincoat)
  32. Trail snacks
  33. Minimal personal items (tissue and lip balm really)
  34. Small bottle of poison oak/ivy wash

Of course, not all of this was in my pack.  Jenny and I packed our backpacks together the night before so we can make sure the weight and mass was distributed, for example: I carried the tent and she carried the bear bin.  Most of the clothes and the boots I just wore, so they didn’t take up any space.  My pack came to about 27 lbs when all was said and done, which was lighter than I expected but that does’t make it any easier.

In the photo, I do show my spare battery, which I opted not to bring in the end.  I didn’t have any phone service for practically all of our time there, so I could’ve done without carrying my phone as well.  The small tripod was swapped out for my larger one to save on weight, but it was such an unsteady piece, I couldn’t use it either.  I tried, but it wasn’t very helpful.

I also wish I packed a small, light mat as something to sit on.  You don’t really see chairs or benches on the trek, so sitting and relaxing isn’t really an option.  Even when we took breaks, they were mostly standing up as there was poison oak/ivy and elk poop everywhere.

WATER

A 1L Nalgene wasn’t really enough, but I had read that there were more streams along the way to fill up.  They must’ve been on the part we didn’t hike, because it was about a 7 mile stretch before I could refill.  I shared the water Jenny had, and was okay.  In hindsight, two things made this harder.  The first meal I made was a mushroom risotto, which required a crazy amount of water… and still didn’t cook fully.  I wish I had taken that into consideration when picking out meals, I was reading ingredients, protiens, and calories, but not the amount of water needed.  The second thing that would’ve made a difference would’ve been to investigate those water sources on a map or with the locals prior to hiking.  I did ask someone at the fire station, who said they were there and the important thing would be to treat the water before drinking.  I could’ve found out exactly how far those locations were because at one point I was taking minimal water as I was concerned we weren’t going to find any.

I brought the Nalgene instead of the Camelback as I figured it would be easier to refill, easier to treat with the sterilizing pen, and also easier to pour into the cooking pot, so I’m not sure that I would have changed what I brought.

FOOD

That mushroom risotto straight haunted me through the hike.  I can’t even put into words how much anger I feel right now as I even type about it weeks later.  Aside from requiring so much water and not cooking, we were eating and hiking, so cooking something to substitute was out of the question.  I had a couple bites, and we switched off carrying the bag of hard rice and water for the next 10 miles.  Those couple bites did nothing for my energy or strength.  I was having such a hard time on the hike, and was running on an empty tank.  I wish I had stopped to eat a real meal, but we were 4 hours off schedule (more on how that happened HERE) and racing to get to a campsite before the sun went down.

I should’ve eaten more snacks along the trail to keep me going, but I just wan’t thinking about that.  Lesson learned.

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Still holding that risotto, it has become our little “easter egg” in all the photos.

PHYSICAL CONDITIONING

I just wasn’t ready.

BREAKING IN NEW GEAR

For the most part, I went there with tried and true gear.  However, when we learned of possible rain in the forecast, I got stressed about my rain gear.  REI happened to have a sale going that week and I picked up some new hiking pants.  I even went to different stores to get my size.  The water-resistant pants fit perfectly in the store, and I wore them for the trek.  The elastic stretched and as much as I tried adjusting the waistband on the trail, it was no match for the constant wear against my pack.  Every step felt like my pants were falling.  It was the second most annoying thing next to the risotto.  I returned them right the next week.

KNOWING YOUR SEASON

After getting a tick on the trail at Point Reyes, I was glad to hear that it wasn’t the busy season for ticks.  They are there, so come prepared, but apparently the springtime brings LOTS more ticks to the area so beware.  Also, we had just missed the rut of the Roosevelt Elk.  September is their mating season and they can be a little aggressive then, so be cautious and don’t try to approach them and if you happen to see them on the trail just get comfortable and wait for them to move.

POLES

I didn’t realize I had bad knees until this hike, but I also underestimated how many literal ups and downs we would be hiking.  At a certain point, my knees hurt so much that I felt like I was taking baby steps on the downhill and getting more frustrated that I wasn’t getting anywhere with that.  The camp host, Doug, at the Needle Point visitor’s center was nice enough to diagnose my knee situation the next day and teach me how to use poles.  He also told me that he’s found lots of broken aluminum lightweight poles on the trail, so I should invest in the carbon fiber ones when I return. (Yes, I do plan to return)

MEASURING SUCCESS

This one is tough because everyone measures success differently.  I guess for me the Lost Coast was a lesson in how I saw my own success.  Is it enough that I made this goal for myself and put effort into making it happen?  Do I consider it a failed mission if I didn’t hike as far as I wanted to?  There are a lot of ways to measure the positives and negatives of this trail.  Generally, I know I can be a little hard with self evaluation.  In the last miles before finding the barn that we slept in, I wrestled with the thought of hiking the next day in the storm.  I thought about what my goal was and if I really did it.  Then I considered all that we just endured.  We were so broken and exhausted, and yet we were hiking that last mile in the dark…with a steady, fastened pace… not knowing where the end was… but determined to make it there.

That mile taught me a lot about my will and perseverance.  Some of life’s lessons are best learnt when you put yourself in the most uncomfortable of situations.  I know some of my biggest achievements (like childbirth) came from the toughest and most challenging experiences.  What is a difficult hike but another way to explain how life will throw all sorts of unforeseen and unfortunate events your way, and you may not see the end of it, but you know you are going to get there.  Maybe the mileage wasn’t the point, maybe it was always about the journey.

In the end we did it; we found the barn, found water, ate a full meal that didn’t consist of risotto, drank some wine, escaped the storm, and got an unexpected ride back to our car from a caring camp host.  Maybe it was a failure to some, but it was definitely failing up.  We may have had some bad luck around us coming into it, but it didn’t stop us.  I would consider that a success.

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Finding the barn was a change of luck, but seeing the Roosevelt Elk on the ride back was proof that we weren’t supposed to hike the trail back.

END ALL HIKES WITH HOT TUBS AND WINE 

Returning to the car the morning of my birthday felt like a new start.  We hobbled around the small town of Shelter Cove like we had just broken both legs.  We checked into the Inn of the Lost Coast, and sat in the hot tub on their deck watching whales along the coast.  We picked up more wine at the local pizza place, and just sat there for until it was dark.  The next morning, after watching the feeding frenzy from our room’s balcony, we headed back.  We admired the fog, the fall colors, and even the rain.  Jenny and I both caught a sign for wine and brandy tasting at the Jaxon Keys Winery and Distillery, and it looked like the cutest little estate so we had to stop in.  We sipped wine, ate snacks, explored the property, and just had some great time to unwind and laugh about how amazing the whole weekend was.  I’m so glad to have shared this with her, and know now that she was the perfect hiking companion for this Lost Coast adventure all along.

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Exploring the wildlife in Shelter Cove. 

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My version of doing some birthday window shopping.

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Fish ‘n chips and a couple of micheladas for Jenny and I.  This sweet lady at the Shelter Cove RV Campground Store & Deli was so sweet to even throw in a free birthday lemon meringue pie with our lunch. Birthday pies are the best.

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FaceTimeing my baby, watching whales, and drinking wine… all from the deck’s hot tub.

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Catching another beautiful sunset over the Pacific.  It never gets old.

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Morning feeding frenzy from the balcony while making the surprise camp birthday cake, a freeze-dried dark chocolate cheesecake that was delicious.

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Driving through the fog and the fall colors on the way back.

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Spending the afternoon at the beautiful  Jaxon Keys Winery and Distillery to end an amazing birthday weekend.

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