Hiking the Coast from Hostel to Hostel

Jessica Gauvreau provides notes on her 2008 walk of the CCT north to San Francisco with a day pack and hostel stays.

There are a fair number of hostels along the California coast, and many hikers have taken advantage of them as they have walked the CCT. In winter of 2008, Jessica Gauvreau hiked most of the Trail from Imperial City, south of San Diego and about 2 miles north of the Mexican border, to San Francisco, staying in hostels when possible, and on her walking days taking a bus to trailheads or to return to her starting point, with an occasional ride she got from a fellow hostel resident or traveler. Without regard to the daily direction of her walk and walking about 10-12 miles a day, she managed the trip with time out for sightseeing and layovers on rainy days. This might not be a tactic for the committed through hiker, but it might be just the thing for those who would enjoy a few days walking the coast without a support vehicle or heavy backpack. She had her gear in a backpack but used it primarily on bus trips between hostels.

From San Francisco, Jessica went north and walked portions of the Oregon and Washington coastlines. Given the housing and transportation broadly available in Southern California, it is not remarkable that she completed her trip successfully, but she does mention that she didn’t see the same as being as readily possible in the north.  Of course, there were uncompromising tides and buses missed, and a few over-budget hotel-stays. Jessica’s hostel-to-hostel hike is the story of how one person, experienced in hiking but new to coastwalking, learned about the worst and best: rogue waves and friendly people. Jessica has provided some notes below on the logistics of hiking the coast from hostel to hostel.

“In preparation for my walk, I read Hiking the California Coastal Trail, volumes 1 and 2…knowing I wanted to familiarize myself with what the terrain would be like and possible camping/sleeping spots.  I am a member of Hosteling International and through the HI booklet and various websites it occurred to me that the California coast has several hostels.  I started my hike knowing I could take up to a year to hike the coast (as that is what my employer was offering), so I flew out to the west coast on a one-way flight, having no clue as to how much time I would actually take.  I printed off a list of hostels that I had composed by combining my research on the Hosteling International website, the Hostelworld website, and hostelz.com.  I listed the name of the hostel, its physical address, and a phone number to reach each one.  I grabbed four pages out of an old USA road atlas…showing the coast of Southern California, a page with Northern California, a page with Oregon, and a page with Washington.  I folded these atlas pages with my computer printout sheets into a waterproof kayaking roll-up chart carrier, and attached it to the outside of my pack.

Each morning, I would wake up, review the Hiking the California Coastal Trail book and figure out what terrain lay ahead.  I used free bus schedules that I would get from the many tourist information shops, hostel lobbies, and online (when I checked my email at public libraries or Apple Stores).  I would look at the hiking route, compare it to the bus schedule and figure out where I could realistically walk in a day…and what time I would need to arrive there to meet the bus.  Many of the routes I would need to take only had buses passing by twice a day (once in the morning, once in the evening).  Then, I would pull out the tide charts and figure out if I could really do it.  This allowed me to hike the coast with just a day pack at times…knowing I could hike there and then bus myself back towards the hostel.  The next day, I would take a bus to where I had left off yesterday and then hike farther….doing a constant leapfrogging.

There were even times that I hiked a section more than once.  For example, leaving Morro Bay, I hiked from Morro Rock towards Cayucos; then I turned around after getting lunch in Cayucos…and walked the beach back again.  I stayed in the Morro Bay home hostel.  The next morning, I loaded my pack on my back and since the bus schedule was not favorable, I hiked that same stretch once again from Morro Rock to Cambria.  I realized after trying this for a while, that I quite preferred the social aspect of hanging out in a hostel each evening provided, along with the fact that I could average more mileage with day hikes.  So, I continued doing such.  I would hike primarily from 8 or 9 am until about 3 or 4 in the afternoon.  Then, I would return to the hostel, explore the city, update my blog, get something to eat, and make new friends.  I would go to sleep while people in the hostel partied at night, and would wake up before they were awake, to begin my next hike.

I felt like I was on a great big vacation instead of a hike, because I still had the hostelling experience, saw things most people would visit if they were visiting those places, but also I would spend long hours on the beach by myself getting to know the coast intimately.  Knowing where hostels were and having the knowledge of the buses was a way for me to feel more secure about the fact that I was undertaking this hike alone.  I knew each morning, that if something went wrong like bad weather, the tide coming in, or if I was hurt, that I could always take a bus from these seemingly remote places I was hiking to the nearest town or hostel.  It eliminated the anxiety about where my next camping spot would be, because I always told myself if it got dark or the tides turned, I would just bus myself to the hostel, and then return to that spot the next day.  That way I could enjoy the scenery and hike at any pace I wished…knowing I had a makeshift support system.

It was actually sort of funny that I knew the bus schedules so well, because I would often arrive back at the hostel and tell people there…oh yeah, just take bus # 169 to the # 87…that should get you there.  I don’t know if most people hiking the California Coastal Trail would want this type of experience…but it does provide the ability to do day hikes (for those not thru-hiking) in a one-way direction…instead of looping back…plus you can take the bus farther ahead to get dropped off 12 or so miles away  “and hike back to your hostel.”

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