Our log entries for this adventure have spoken primarily of movement and the impressions gathered as a result of that movement. Little information has been offered regarding the mechanics of the journey.
For starters, just what exactly is a Melmobile? When last this walk was done, in 1996, the Ford Motor Company gave Coastwalk the use of a van. This time around we were on our own. There are 10 of us; we occasionally have a few day or section hikers, and Mel Savage is our driver. Thus, we determined that we needed a 15 passenger van. This could carry all of us plus haul our existing gear trailer, a Wells Cargo enclosed model. The Suntrek touring company routinely sells off its used van stock, and Richard Nichols and Linda Hanes looked over those available and chose ours. It is a 1997 Dodge Ram 3500 that has proven adequate to the task. We have had two major mechanical situations come up: the differential seal and plug were replaced and the front brakes redone. Other than these two items, it has been reliable. As has Mel, as a safe and courteous driver.
There are a lot of tasks and responsibilities associated with getting 10 people, 1200 miles on a fixed schedule. Diana Savage is overall on-site coordinator. Her responsibility is to make sure that we all get where we should be, at the right time. She does an admirable job.
Before we started Max Stein drew up a task list. From his past experience on many Coastwalks, he had a good idea of the sorts of tasks that needed to be done during the day. The 10 jobs on the list are rotated weekly.
So here is a typical day:
In the morning our work revolves around meeting either a 7:30 or so departure time if we must be transported to the day?s starting point, or 8:00 if we are merely walking out of camp. The breakfast prep person starts that work at 6:00. Burners are lit; the coffee pot and tea pot are started, and water for dish washing is also started. The plastic bin that holds most breakfast supplies is hauled out of the wagon. At the same time lunch prep is begun: we each make up our own lunches from supplies on the trailer. The lunch bin is hauled out. There are gorp, fruit, cookies, sandwich makings, leftovers, etc. to choose from. The 100 qt. ice chest is hauled out of the wagon to be opened. As they eagerly await the coffee, the rest of the walkers are either eating breakfast, making up their lunch or breaking down their camping gear.
In theory camp is completely broken down, lunch fixings put away and all the breakfast stuff cleaned up and in the trailer at the approximate same appointed time. This is generally 40 minutes before scheduled departure time. Max then climbs up onto the van?s roof rack and, in his role of permanent equipment handler, stows away our large duffle bags so they will not fly off as we travel along or get wet if it is foggy.
Once at the day?s starting point, we meet our day leader if we have one. This is a local person with knowledge of the trail we will be using. On some days, we have none, so one of our group leads, either from personal knowledge from perhaps having done a Coastwalk here before, or because we are in his home county. Sometimes we just head south with Richard and Bob?s book in hand and a prayer in our hearts.
Now, after a couple of months, comes the fun part. We walk. If we are using walking sticks, we retrieve them from under the van's second seat. We?ve reached the point where no one has problems with blisters or weary feet or shin splints, etc. That seemingly is now behind us. When walking, our moving average is about 2.8 miles per hour. Under Diana?s watchful eye, every hour or so we take a short rest, 5 minutes at most, and mid- morning and afternoon a longer snack break of 10 minutes or so. Lunch is a 45 minute stop at some picturesque spot. If we?re road walking this is a time when we try to get off the road. Now that we are down in the southern part of the state, shade is also desired.
While walking, the group stays between the day leader and the assigned ?sweep?, the last person in line. Leader and sweep have a radio for communication with each other. When road walking, we try to stay in a compact group and wear orange-safety vests for high visibility. On trails we tend to spread out so each person is able to walk at his own pace. When on a trail, each time we come to a ?Y?, the last person stays at this junction to pass on to the next person which direction to go until the sweep appears.
Our average walk is about 12 miles a day. If we have walked mostly on the highway, that means that by 1:30 or 2 in the afternoon we are done and ready to be transported to our new camp. If we are off-road and have to search out the trail, our time lengthens considerably. A few times we have ended at 5 or 6 PM. Our end point is predetermined, so Mel in the morning knows where to meet us and at what approximate time. Sometimes we go for a shorter distance, which is nice, and sometimes we are forced to go a greater distance. Our longest day so far was 17.5 miles. All of it was road walking, which is both physically and emotionally tiring. And we?ve had our share of 14, 15 and 16 mile days.
If our tents were dry in the morning, we take a 15 minute breather once in camp before we unload our gear, put up our individual tents and set up our kitchen area. If we had to put away tents wet with dew, the 15 minute rule is not in effect. About 5 PM it is time for the dinner prep and cleanup persons to begin their tasks. Wash basins are set out for washing dishes after dinner. Water is heated for dishwashing, tea and coffee; ice chests are removed from the wagon, and beverages are made available. Occasionally we have been fortunate to have showers in our campground, and people race to the showers to remove the day?s dust and poison oak oil.
So far we have been blessed by having volunteers come to us with wonderful fully prepared dinners of gourmet quality. On the rare occasion when that does not take place, we cook from our larder and left overs or, rarely, go to town for a restaurant meal. Dinner plates and pots and pans are then cleaned up. The last communal chore is to make sure all the edible items are put back inside the trailer, and the trailer closed up so that our four legged nocturnal friends do not have a feast once we are asleep.
Some evenings after dinner, we visit with our friends who brought food for us. Some evenings I read aloud to the group from J. Smeaton Chase, or Janette reads what she has written for her local newspaper. Sometimes, others of us have a poem, or bit of prose to share. Then early to bed, to sleep.
Ah! Sleep. As we rose with the sun, so do we also set with it. Thus we can meet the challenges of the next day with renewed energy. After all, our median age IS 62. (Jon Breyfogle; photos, Linda Hanes)
Left, Breakfast and lunch makings pour out of these containers; Right, J demonstrates some of the unforeseen hazzards of highway walking. Above, finding the trail can be a challenge.