HIKING THE CALIFORNIA COAST FROM BORDER TO BORDER

August 14, 2004 12:00 am
Phil Heiss, left congratulates Thomas Bane while Corbin and Dane Heiss look on at end of coastal trek. (The Pilot/Marjorie Woodfin).
Phil Heiss, left congratulates Thomas Bane while Corbin and Dane Heiss look on at end of coastal trek. (The Pilot/Marjorie Woodfin).

Pilot story by MARJORIE WOODFIN

Photos courtesy of Thomas Bane

When Phil Heiss and his sons, Corbin and Dane, rushed down to the California border July 29 to pick up Phil's nephew, Thomas Bane, they expected to see a worn and weary traveler, but they were surprised.

The 26-year-old Bane, who had just completed a two-month hike along the Pacific Coast Trail, from the Mexican border to Oregon, appeared to be in good shape and great spirits.

When asked about the motivation for the trek, Bane said, "I like adventure, and I like walking, and I wanted one last adventure before I have to settle down and find a real job."

Since his 2001 graduation from University of California, Los Angeles with a degree in geology, Bane has had several adventures: a train trip around Europe visiting 17 countries in five weeks, a trek through England, traveling the U.S. by bus to visit 48 states in 45 days, and a lot of walking during those travels.

But the California Coast Trail hike that he just completed was the most physically challenging, he said.

To make sure he walked the trail from border to border, Bane, whose home is in Pine Grove, Calif., took a bus from Sacramento to San Diego, a trolley to the border, a taxi to the coast, and walked a mile to the coast fence to begin his hike.

He walked away from that fence on May 31 and walked all the way to the "Welcome To Oregon" sign. Bane said some hikers cross the waterways on the trail by boat, but he managed to walk around them "I wanted to walk every inch of the way, and I did," he said.

Heiss received a call he had been expecting on July 28, when Bane phoned to tell his uncle that he was in Crescent City and should reach the border the next day.

Bane said the trail was on beaches whenever possible, but in some cases he had a lot of climbing up and down. The worst of the climbing near Big Sur where he climbed 1,000 feet up and 1,000 feet back down several times.

He kept his pack as light as possible, 40 to 45 pounds, with the greatest weight being drinking water. He carried no stove, but said because of the proximity of towns along the way, there were only three days when he didn't have at least one hot meal. It might have been only a microwaved taco at a service station or a toasted bagel at a hostel, but most days he had at least one hot, or warm, meal.

He rarely carried more than one day's food supply and snacks, peanut butter, pop tarts, bananas, and protein bars.

Bane spent the night in campgrounds or a hostels, except for five or six nights when he just threw his sleeping bag down on a beach.

"The hostels were great," he said about the dozen hostels he found along the way.

He said that high tech, in the form of his hand-held GPS (global positioning system), probably saved him from getting seriously lost. The small GPS helped to keep him heading in the right direction one foggy night when he lost the trail going over the Point Sal ridge traveling from Lompoc to Paradise Beach.

"I was on the edge of a steep slope in bushes and I fell a couple of times and my head lamp went out," Bane said. "Finally, after midnight, I made it over the last ridge and camped on the beach."

That was his longest, a 40-mile day. Bane said he allowed himself a rest day when visiting an aunt in San Luis Obispo. He averaged a little more than 20 miles per day on the 1,212-mile hike.

Even though the Lost Coast was one of the most difficult parts of the hike, it was also a favorite and one of the most beautiful, he said.

Other favorites included hiking through the redwoods in Del Norte County, Patrick's Point camping area and Big Sur.

"I liked the area around Monterey and Point Lobos," Bane said.

The worst part of the trek was around Long Beach and the Los Angeles Harbor.

"It was the ugliest part of my trip, and the place where I felt the most unsafe," Bane said.

He said he was never afraid of the animals he might encounter. He saw lots of them on the trail but, thankfully, no bears or mountain lions, although he did see bear tracks once.

Getting around the U.S. Marine Base at Camp Pendleton was difficult because, since 9/11, hikers can no longer walk through the base. He said he may have broken a law, but the only way he could make it on foot was to wait until about 2 a.m. when there was little traffic and walk along the freeway.

"I stayed pretty much close to the guard rail and in the bushes. I kept pretty well hidden," he said.

He also had a big detour farther up the coast, around Vandenburg Air Force Base.

Near Bodega Bay he met a couple from the Netherlands hiking from Oregon to Monterey. They were using the same book he was carrying, the first volume of "Hiking the California Trail."

On the beach at south Cape Mendocino, Bane passed a couple that he later recognized as hikers who were featured on the sports page of the Pilot in mid-July, who were hiking south on the Pacific Coast Trail. His uncle had saved the clipping for him.

One of his surprises was meeting a man he thought to be between 60 and 70 years old, several times at different campsites along the trail. Bane said it was interesting talking with the man, "Arthur," who lives on disability and hitchhikes the coast, living in campgrounds.

After spending a week with his uncle and cousins, Bane headed home on the bus, preparing to look for that real job. The two months spent hiking the trail has certainly not dampened his enthusiasm for the wide-open spaces, beaches and forests. Although his degree is in geology, Bane said he is thinking about looking for employment with the U.S. Forest Service.