Every day, locals and visitors wind up and down the trails to Trinidad State Beach. As I walked to the break in the red curb at the end of the parking lot off Stagecoach Road, I anticipated some killer views. It is Trinidad after all. What I did not expect was a close footpath that broadened into a freshly maintained trail with a magnificent view of Pewetole Island.
The path, made by foot rather than by plan, can lead you to beautiful places. I've walked the trail to the beach before and passed up this first right turn, thinking it was a nipper path, a shortcut with twists and steepness that requires nimble feet and a thorough tick check at the end. But its closeness deceives. A few yards in, a restored path tilts and opens up to a striking view of the Pacific Ocean.
The Trinidad Coastal Land Trust stewards miles upon miles of trail, stitching together easements through 26 properties to secure public access to beach and forest. The American Hiking Society stewards the countless trails that crisscross our sprawling nation. Each year, the partnership between the two nonprofits brings a team of 10 vacation volunteers to Trinidad. Backbreaking physical labor is not what comes to mind when planning a vacation. Yet from July 12 to 16,, these dedicated individuals spent their off time maintaining trails in Humboldt's backyard.
Once a work site only accessible by foot, the project's targeted 300-foot section of trail is now a clean line on the hillside. "A hard slog" is not even close to describing the sheer effort that it took the out-of-town volunteers to wrest it from the wild fauna and gravity trying to obscure and obliterate it.
We sputtered to a halt, taking in a sweeping coastal vista. Sunlight held the bank of fog at the edge of the bay, Pewetole wreathed in swirling enchantment. I was momentarily distracted from my admiration of hard labor. After a long look, I returned to the contemplation of hardcore trail maintenance. I have cleared paths myself and recall how pride can give a boost to tired muscles at the end of the workday. And the honest exhaustion reached after hauling tools uphill (always up at the end of the day), consuming that last bit of energy.
"Hand tools!" my spouse muttered, acknowledging the effort required to achieve a level path. He, too, has dug anchoring roots out of a windswept hill. A hiker passed us, nodding and wheezing their way up into full sunshine. Wildflowers and saplings and invasive plants had all been tamed, if only momentarily. Their growth will soon soften the raw edges and reach up to nibble at the view. A bee sunned itself on a leaf, utterly ignoring us. Another hiker strolled by as the wind stirred the trees. On the beach far below, a happy couple played with equally happy dogs as the surf crashed on the sea stack behind them.
We returned to the path another day, taking it from the bottom up. There was no glorious sunshine that day but who cares? Surf Camp was in session, a line of bright boards on the dark sand. The students ran in and out of the water, much to the amusement of an elderly couple perched on beach chairs. I scanned ahead, looking for the lower trailhead at the mouth of Miller Creek. At first glance, the tumble of stones looked like any other tumble but a man heading down to the beach revealed the way.
As we headed up the switchback path, mighty Trinidad Head was reduced to a mere bump under a swirling shroud. As a sailboat tacked through the rocks, I was grateful for the foghorn and lighthouse. The fragile white sail was a wisp in the fog. We paused to speak of the brave souls that ventured out before lighthouses, foghorns or GPS. The terror of sea and fog did not hold them back. I, on the other hand, shudder at the mere thought.
We wound back up the hill to admire the volunteers' sweat equity. American Hiking Society volunteers give up their vacations to maintain trails that are too far away for them to hike regularly or maybe ever again. How cool is that? This year the vaccinated volunteers came from Arizona, Illinois, Texas and parts of California. These hardy workers are not pampered, either. Campsites graciously provided by Patrick's Point State Park gave them a spectacular setting for slumber but no turndown service, no mints on pillows. Despite sore muscles, the volunteers persevered, with expert guidance from two State Parks staffers and one or two from the Trinidad Coastal Land Trust. After completing the section with four days of tough toil, the team then removed invasive English ivy from Baker's Beach. Fortunately, it was not all hard graft. The volunteers looked for common murres and peregrine falcons on a relaxing naturalist hike — a prime example of a postman's holiday. The cherry on their cake was a special tour of Trinidad Lighthouse's viewing area and its breathtaking view of the California Coastal National Monument.
As my partner and I rambled back down to the beach, I found myself overcome with gratitude. For those of us who must hike, paths like this are our life's blood. Visit www.trinidadcoastallandtrust.org for a map, and to learn more about the dedicated community organization that keeps this staggeringly valuable private/public partnership network of trails available for our enjoyment. The land trust's Stewardship Work Days are ongoing, a fabulous way for high school students to gain experience. Sign up as a family and spend the first Saturday morning of the month (through December, 9:30 a.m. to noon) giving back to nature. During Coastal Clean Up Month, the land trust will coordinate volunteers at Houda Point and Moonstone Beach on Sept. 26, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Their worthy goal? To clean up all the beaches, trails and parking areas between the Little River and Trinidad. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to add your name to the roster. Or, if you wish to explore America's trails with shovel in hand, visit www.americanhiking.org to volunteer. Hikers like me will be forever grateful.
Meg Wall-Wild, freelance writer and photographer who loves her books, the dunes of Humboldt and her husband, not necessarily in that order. When not writing, she pursues adventure in her camper, Nellie Bly.