Charlie's Angel

Charlie Gandy is section hiking the 1,200-mile California Coastline from Mexico to Oregon. Along the way he is sampling and telling stories about beaches and bluffs, food, culture, weather, personalities and poison oak.

One of the advantages of taking off time from normal life and thru hiking a gauntlet such as the California Coastal Trail is that your body gets tempered to the trail. After the first couple of days that backpack becomes less like a bag of rocks weighing down on your shoulders, hips and legs. The miles become rhythmic and routine. After a few days body fat seems to dissolve and muscles emerge. Daily mileage increases while overall fatigue decreases. Trail hardened and tempered, you become a lean, unclean, hiking machine.

But as a sectional hiker I squander these advantages and get to relive the pain of the first two days of hiking each time I start a new section. Little of the old conditioning remains from the last section. New blisters appear on at least three toes, muscle cramps return to my legs like an old nemesis, all this combines with fresh sunburn creating my complete overall misery. But by day three I find the groove described above and move on with minimal misery.  

                                  Pajaro River Crossing

                                  Pajaro River Crossing

Day three of this section from Carmel to Santa Cruz starts just north of Moss Landing on a wild stretch of beach. From my informal overnight on the beach I walked about a mile up to my first significant river crossing. On this morning the Pajaro River was spilling into the Pacific Ocean with a current fast and deep enough to dissuade me from crossing right there on the beach, so I walked upstream to find a flatter, wider spot that looked more tame. After stripping off my shoes, socks and shorts I pitched it all, along with my backpack, into my brand new 6-mill extra large trash sack, twisted the top closed and secured it with a mean slipknot.

My plan was to walk with the bag over my head until it became too deep to walk, and then float the bag while swimming to shallow water on the far shore. About a third of the way across water was up to my waist and still getting deeper. The current wasn’t much of a factor so all is good. At about half way across water was up to my chest but the river bottom was smooth and sandy and seemed to be leveling out. While I was prepared to swim, I really didn’t want to. Lucky for me as I kept walking the bottom leveled off and I gained passage without incident.

The Pajaro is the first of several rivers I will cross using this method as I head north to Oregon.  

Beached Shipwreck

Beached Shipwreck

Not twenty minutes later I am back on the beach and wondering where the next coffee shop/water reload might be. A gentleman about my age is out headed south at a deliberate speed while reading a multi-page document. I engage him and ask about coffee. He is helpful with directions to an informal place just about a quarter-mile ahead.

My new acquaintance asks about my journey and I fill him in, including my latest endeavor, crossing the Pajaro River. He intimates that the Pajaro holds invisible and sometimes very visible amounts of untreated sewage from upstream communities. He tells me some unsettling stories of the impact this sewage has on the ocean and his beaches. I told him I was writing about my travels on and invited him to keep up with me there.

Then he noticed something very interesting about our shadows and commented on it. I could see what he saw as was as surprised as he. We wished each other well and moved on.  

A few days later Pedallove received a nice email from this gentleman, his name is Rich Buckley. I will let him tell the story:

As I said goodbye to this sturdy sojourner, I then noticed how perfectly the early morning sun cast his shadow on the wet sand. It looked exactly like a shadow of an angel right down to the very wing-tip feathers.  

"Look there at our shadows. Your shadow is cast and looks exactly like an angel, wings and all....even the feathers," I said. 

"So it is. Like an angel," said Charlie.

"You seem to be on a mission assigned by a higher authority." I replied. 

We shook hands and bid each other farewell.

Charlie headed on north up the beach, carrying my fresh information on where to find food and water. I continued south into Pelican Point among several hundred seagulls and dozens of Pelicans. 

The river at the Point seemed clear of raw feces this time.

This beach is my sacred ground. And I just told a story to a soul who had walked 1000 miles of it after starting at the Mexican border forging chest deep across spring runoffs along his route. If you pulled his windy path straight like a string, it's probably even longer. 

Charlie writes for and plans to walk on to Oregon. Think I'll check out Charlie's posts. 

When Charlie said he was a writer, I immediately sensed he was an intended environmental voice so missing in California's many polluted coastal community waterways. 

Regardless of the community wealth, we are not treating our wastes sufficiently. Our inner harbors, our inlets, lagoons, and rivers amplify pollution signals on every sort. "Warning, polluted water. Do not enter this water"....blah, blah, blah...  

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out, that fertilizer field run offs, household detergents, phosphates, and raw sewage with floating feces make brown sea foam and smelly beaches. 

Often I've watched in sadness as every wave that washes up on the beach leaves a brown rim line. It's like washing your dog in the bathtub after it’s had a good romp in the mud.  

Among rebuilding our roads, cleaning our water, and stopping Chemtrails there are few to no organized voices. Officialdom and controlled media pretend it's acceptable.

When Charlie asked me what I sensed California Coastal Communities needed, a warm glow came over me as I unloaded my list of concerns. Maybe Charlie will be our oracle for truth. 

And then I saw his shadow on the wet sand. 

Thank you, Rich Buckley, for helping me to see clearer my opportunity to support the coastline’s health by listening to and amplifying your message. And the angel angle might just be helpful also.

Mile by mile as I moved northward the sand became much more hospitable. Less mush, more firm, better traction, less effort. The water from Denny’s yesterday is about gone and while I took seriously Rich’s directions, I didn’t find his informal neighborhood barista and water resupply. A few more miles and a quick incline up to the top of the dunes landed me at Sunset Campground where a very nice water fountain was waiting to satiate my by now considerable thirst.

A few more miles and it is time for some pizza therapy. Just before the Aptos River in Seacliff is an excellent little pizza place I think called Flatts Pizza. Not only is the pizza good and the diet coke cold, they have a small shaded porch with a power outlet to revive a camera/phone. It is a casual enough place to be comfortable with a weary wanderer resting for an hour or so while recharging his muscles and electronics.


Seacliff is pretty much the end of wide beaches for a while. The trail goes onto bluffs and into neighborhoods of Capitola, Opal Cliffs, Twin Lakes then finally Santa Cruz. Pocket beaches were filled with sunbathers and surfers on the Saturday I walked through here.

The capstone of this hiking section was walking into Santa Cruz along an unused but preserved railroad track. In the 1990’s I traveled around the US as one of the Johnny Appleseeds of trail building and integrating bicycling and walking back into car-crazed communities. Frequently I would show an image of a bridge on this rail line that had a cantilevered walkway attached on one side. This was a critical route for locals to access the Santa Cruz’s downtown, Amusement Park and other beach amenities, so the city partnered with the railroad to provide safe pedestrian and bike access.

Santa Cruz Amusement Park

Santa Cruz Amusement Park

This day I got to walk along a relatively new bike/ped bridge immediately adjacent to the old, now distressed path attached to the rail bridge. What a nice way to be reintroduced to and experience one of my favorite, progressive cities, Santa Cruz.