Day Trippin' Dates on the Edge

South of San Clemente

South of San Clemente

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.

At first I virtually ignored her. She was always there but I was focused on faraway challenges at altitude. Yes, she had mysteries to solve but none of allure of an alpine peak standing tall and questioning my skill and resolve. She was legendary for her charm and beauty but invisible to me until I radically change my lifestyle and became a Carnomore. With this new perspective her magnetism was irresistible.

We had thirteen dates that were daylong dalliances on stretches of Southern California dream beaches from Coronado to Malibu. These were get-to-know-you, no commitment, escapes from the real world. We were opposites, which lowered my expectations even farther. I was a Colorado mountain-man attracted to curvatures, contrasts, hard effort, summit rewards and danger. She was California calm, peaceful, usually safe, inviting and casual. As we spent time together her rhythms and warmth comforted me like no mountain had ever. And like my beloved alpine settings, her natural, exotic beauty was breathtaking. Forever changing as daylight gave way to glowing sunsets, she radiated romance as she slowly revealed her secrets to me.

Each time we got together I always brought my best game.  My approach was to be open-minded, curious and ready for whatever challenges she posed. Early on she showed me that while being engaging and beautiful, she could also be cold, challenging and outright dangerous. Different personality, but she is just as unpredictable and hazardous as a 14er can be on a cloudless summer’s day with an approaching storm.

Who would have thought that danger and beauty could be so alluring? *

*Excerpt from “Steele Savage Takes the Edge” an imagined bodice-ripping saga revealing the sensuous secrets of its author, Charles Gandy.

Yes it did happen sort of like that, but with less bodice ripping.

In 2014, I sold my Jeep and became a Carnomore. I had many reasons to question my relationship with cars - the high expense of car ownership, pollution, lousy traffic conditions all over Los Angeles and the associated stress. I didn’t commute by car so I wasn’t a hostage everyday. But when I did drive around the city like everybody else I got caught up in endless traffic jams and delays, I often felt trapped, frustrated and impotent. Sitting on the 405 with thousands of other captives, idling and waiting for my turn to move forward a few feet then repeat the process over and over and over. I thought there must be a smarter way to get around SoCal.

Before I sold my Jeep and adopted a car-lite, Carnomore lifestyle I experimented with public transit and experienced the sharp contrasts to driving. It’s very much like the differences between suburban and urban living. Buses and trains are public while cars are mostly private.  Getting used to the circus that is living with random public encounters while riding public transit was a virtuous challenge that spiced up my daily routines.

I learned that the rhythm of public transit is different than driving and takes some time to appreciate. Getting to know the personalities of different train and bus systems helped me grow confidence and transit agility. SoCal transit systems are shockingly punctual, down to the minute. Due to decades of investment they reach more far-flung neighborhoods and trailheads than ever. And while service is not as frequent as systems back east, most waits are less than 20 minutes. And public transit is cheap. $1.75 gets me to destinations from Long Beach fifty miles up to Malibu or, in the other direction, to Orange County cities all the way down to San Clemente.

But isn’t it faster to drive? Yes, except during weekday commuting times, holidays when drivers flock to beaches and other attractions, and random crashes jamming up the system. Any of these conditions can make driving slower than buses or trains.

Intercity travel by bus and trains was my biggest Carnomore surprise. I could walk from my near beach apartment in Long Beach to the Greyhound bus station, board a bus equipped with wifi with a ticket bought the day before online, and travel to downtown San Diego for $11.00. I got there in about the same amount of time it would take to drive, without having to drive, without parking hassles, without spending about $80 on associated expenses.

Same outrageous cost and convenience difference with trains. From Long Beach I can drive to San Luis Obispo for $140 or take Amtrak for $41. It will take a couple of hours longer by train unless I try to leave Los Angeles under any of the conditions listed above. I get an amazing seat equipped with wifi and a million dollar view of California’s coastline in my “autonomous vehicle” that delivers me in downtown SLO within walking distance to everything, including local buses connecting to beaches up and down the coast.

Lastly, I’ll point to David Henry Thoreau’s insights when his friend the carriage owner challenged him to a race to a village about 10 miles away, driving verses walking. Thoreau reasoned that while his friend would arrive a about three hours before him, if the calculation included the amount of time needed to get ready for the race, Thoreau would be the obvious winner. The amount of time his friend would work to pay for various expenses of owning the carriage, fuel, maintenance, parking, etc. would negate his vehicle’s mechanical advantage.

According to AAA, SUV’s cost about a dollar/mile to operate in SoCal. So driving the normal 15,000 miles/year costs $15,000. Even the smallest cars cost in the $7,000/year range. That is a lot of time spent earning enough money for basic transportation especially when such cheap and attractive transit options are readily available.

As I mentioned above, less bodice ripping.

So my Carnomore day trips started with exploring the California coastline from Long Beach by running 15 miles south to Huntington Beach then returning on the OCTA 1 bus route that conveniently runs up and down the Pacific Coast Highway. This segment is mostly excellent hard packed wet sand and a beach bike path. There’s only about a mile of road south of Seal Beach.

My maiden section of the California coastline is a nice compilation of many of types of conditions. Beaches, trails, streets, and roads make up the route passing thru urban commercial areas, suburban neighborhoods, wetlands, bays, state parks, marinas, a military base, oil fields and crossing the San Gabriel River. With only about ten-feet elevation change along the entire route, it couldn’t get any flatter.

My favorite place in this section on the north end is going around Alamitos Bay Marina. Interesting boats of all shapes and sizes dock here and this marina is famous as the one used to film the opening scenes of Gilligan’s Island. “Just sit right back and you'll hear a tale a tale of a fateful trip, that started from this tropic port, aboard this tiny ship…”

At Seal Beach the US Navy stores weapons in camouflaged bunkers and usually has at least one ship docked there. Don't ask too many questions about any of this.

On the south end my favorite part is strolling into Huntington Beach’s downtown from the beach. Styled as “Surf City USA”, this town’s young at heart, hang loose attitude prevails over all here. I fit right in. 

So this first date was enjoyable and the Carnomore approach worked well. But I knew this was not the prettiest or most interesting she could be. Nor was I the best prepared. I planned for more outings.