Walter Mencken 7 p.m., Dec. 10
Why would I want to walk 14 miles to the beach? Because I can! Having never lived on the coast, I’ve always wanted to “walk to the beach” and today I did it. I walked 14 miles from Escondido to Carlsbad. Southern California, normally exhibiting very mild weather, decided to show its winter side on Dec. 22 with extremely strong arctic winds blowing constantly from the west and smatterings of heavy rain. I could see the angry black sky in the east and the blue to the west, so I knew the rain couldn’t last long. Should I go for it as planned? Yes, that was me with my golden umbrella in the soggy morning. How wet could I get? Armed with my Power Sox, a power bar and a higher power, I headed out the door just after 7:00 am.
Another reason for doing this was just a personal challenge for me. A goal of endurance, a test. I walk daily but those exercise walks are just that: exercise. There’s no destination involved. With this walk I set my sights on an end point.
A very obscure inspiration is Richard Henry Dana, Jr., who wrote “Two Years Before the Mast” (and for which Dana Point is named). Yes, his book was written to emphasize the hardships of seamen in the early 1800’s, but he also recounted his adventures along the wild California coast, before it was California. The natives would catch wild horses for the sailors to ride inland from the shore. Can you imagine that? Grab a horse, and when you’re done, just let it go.
Dana was dealing with untouched wilderness, wild sage, underbrush, gullies and arroyos on the west coast of a young America, while I would be dealing with traffic lights and sidewalks. I wanted to get a sense of what he might have felt, endured and smelled. I wanted to experience something different than a viewpoint from a speeding car.
My first mile was my usual residential route, with those black clouds blowing toward me. My first pit stop was at the local CVS because the rain was bucketing down and I thought I could wait it out. I was the only customer and the young clerk wondered what I was doing out in this unusual weather. When I explained, she definitely looked at me as though I were mad, but kindly said for me to let her know if I made it safely. Sweet.
Something I noticed were the great amount of deflated Christmas decorations in many front yards. They look great at night when they are inflated and sparkly, but on a soggy morning, laying in a muddy yard, it looked like a major Christmas massacre. Also, so many For Rent, Foreclosure, Bank Owned, Short Sell signs. So many empty houses. Sad.
My second pit stop was a 7/11. But much to my horror, there was no public restroom. Why would a 7/11 with a gas station, not have a restroom? Does each franchisee decide if their restrooms are public or not? They told me there was one in the restaurant next door, but of course the sign there said, ‘Restrooms for customers only.’ Once the waitress saw my distressed look, she nodded toward the back. I’ll have to go back there for breakfast sometime to pay for my deposit.
I soon crossed the Sprinter railroad tracks and was entering San Marcos. When did they turn off the fountains in front of City Hall? I guess it’s because of our water shortage, but it looked very sad. And have you noticed the nubs on the hand rails? I would imagine that is to discourage skateboarding tricksters.
It was reassuring to check off each milestone, knowing I was getting closer to my goal. I did a survey on how I was feeling. My feet felt good, socks not too soggy. My pants would dry with that constant wind. I felt warm enough. All systems go.
The straight shot along San Marcos Blvd. was uneventful. I love those giant Christmas ornaments in front of Restaurant Row. The traffic seemed heavy and constant. I felt invisible. I really don’t think drivers see anything beyond their immediately limited peripheral vision. I came to be very dependent and trusting on all the pedestrian traffic light buttons. They really do work and make it less scary in heavy traffic areas. And I could do a bit of calf flexing while waiting for the green man. One of the lights in San Marcos has the pinky of the red hand flickering off and on. Well, I guess it’s a good thing it’s not the middle digit.
When analyzing this walk before I started, I read that most golf courses are between 4 and 6 miles long. That would mean I would be walking about 2 1/2 golf courses in one go! I was also recalling “The Stand” by Stephen King, when the virus survivors were walking throughout the country to get to a specific destination from their dreams. Once cars broke down and fuel ran out, their feet were all they had. “Just put one foot in front of the other,” was a phrase I kept hearing.
Viewpoint Drive at the beginning of Palomar Airport Road is named that for a reason. You can actually see the ocean from there! That is something I never noticed when in the driver’s seat. And it meant I was at the halfway point of my journey.
Remember Carlsbad Raceway back in the day? Now that little valley is filled with lots of business parks. Much building has stopped and many buildings are empty. Palomar Airport Road, once just an insignificant 2 lane road with farmland on both sides, is now a multi-lane thoroughfare with bottle brush and pepper trees lining the roadway. There were a few empty, undeveloped areas where I did get the scent of sage, that used to be overpowering in California. But that winter wind was blowing so hard, it was impossible to get a true smell of the territory.
There was one area along my path that was about 50 yards wide and full of cigarette butts! It was like they were multiplying there. How did they get there? Was it a dumping ground for car ashtrays, a place where every smoker would flick his ciggie? It was really disgusting. Sadly, when we are all gone, the only thing on earth will be cockroaches and cigarette butts for eternity. From my viewpoint as a walker, I was filled with dismay at the rubbish of all kinds on the side of the road.
Just before getting to El Camino Real, at the rise of Palomar Airport Road, I was able to see my destination: the tower at the Encino Power Plant. It was reassuring knowing that I was getting close enough to see it. It helped me to ignore the twinge in my back.
As I crossed El Camino Real, I saw a VW hubcab in the middle of the road. It took me a few seconds to realize that it would be a good idea to pick it up and place it on the side of the road, as it was a hazard that would soon be dodged and/or destroyed by traffic from all angles. How often do we see this from the safety of our cars, but never take the risk of removing the obstacle? I felt I’d done my good deed for the day.
Have you ever seen the water slides that are coming down from Palomar Airport? Not really water slides, but large pipes running off the landing strip to aid in drainage so landings are safer, I would imagine. The airport has spiffed up its look lately. Has a new restaurant, The Landing, some outside seating with umbrellas, and the terminals look a bit upgraded. There is also a cool sundial overlooking the commuter parking lot. I don’t know how long it’s been there because you don’t see it when you drive by. The time was correct (and reminded me that I was an hour behind my schedule) except it had not made the time change that we did in November.
Do you remember seeing the pond as you pass the airport? Some schools use it to get good photo shots in a park-like setting as well as random wedding photos. I never realized it was a koi pond. The sun was out, the wind had calmed momentarily and I was able to happily do some stretches, knowing I was nearing Mile 12. My feet were beginning to burn and I feared a blister or two might be rising.
It was an inspiring relief to reach the flower fields and the Pea Soup Anderson windmill, though there were no flowers at this time of year. I could see the rough and cold winter ocean and knew I was so close.
The power tower was getting bigger and soon I could see my husband and son waiting for me at the end of the road. There was no parade or finish line tape to break, but what a welcome sight to see them! I know it wasn’t a marathon or a 3-day breast walk, but now I know a little of what is experienced in those participants’ long journeys, their aching bodies and triumphant sense of accomplishment.
Richard Dana would not have walked our coast on a wintry day like today. The severe winds would have pushed his ship to the rocky shore, so his captain would have made sure they stayed safely out at sea. The sensations I experienced on my walk may not have been as clear as his, but I managed without ear buds and felt I had an awareness of everything around me. I reached my goal, I proved I had endurance. I walked door to shore. A great way to celebrate my birthday!