On my long 50th birthday hike, would I be federally shut down?by andy altman-ohr
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When I planned my 50th birthday walk from San Francisco to Point Reyes Station, everything fell into place, from booking the inns to making sure I’d have enough trail mix for each of my five daily hikes.
My biggest concern in the 75-mile itinerary was the 21-mile stretch from Bolinas to the hostel at Point Reyes National Seashore — not because I was scared I couldn’t do it, but because it was going to be my longest hike ever. Who knew? Maybe something would trip me up.
Little did I know that it would be the U.S. government.
I was to enter the 33,000-acre national park on day three of my journey — which happened to be the first day of the federal shutdown. To say the least, this made for a very interesting day.
I planned to awake in my Bolinas hotel at 6:30 a.m., walk five miles to the trailhead, and then hike 16 more miles to the hostel (where I’d be staying with my wife, who would meet me there).
The night before, we heard the news about the shutdown on the radio.
Now what? Would the park be shut tight? Would people still be able to use the trails? Would the hostel be open?
I awoke at 6:30 a.m. and started making calls. The park, the hostel. Nothing. Finally, I reached someone at the National Park Service office in San Francisco — kudos for being there at 7 a.m. and answering the phone — but she had no info other than, yes, national parks were closed. I really didn’t want to tromp five miles to the trailhead only to be denied entry, so I went back to sleep.
A bit later, I called the park office at Point Reyes. No luck. Finally, someone answered at the hostel, telling me it was going to be closed to new arrivals. Damn! But otherwise, as far as they knew, hiking on the trails would be OK.
That was the good news. The bad news was that my dream of using only foot power to complete my 75-mile walk was over: a) My wife would need to pick me up at the hostel so we could drive to an inn, and b) since that was the case, I might as well just be driven to the trailhead, since it might be closed anyway.
Thankfully, when we got to the Palomarin Trailhead, nothing was closed and cars were in the parking lot. I even used the park service restroom. I had good timing, I came to find out, as about 15 minutes later barricades went up, closure signs were posted, and the bathroom was locked up.
Jazzed, I started on my long hike along the Coast Trail, leading me to one magnificent vista after another, including one with a gorgeous mountain lake and a long stretch of spectacular coastline in the same view. (Do not miss the Ocean Lake loop!) I drank it all in, blessed to be sure.
But were my high spirits about to plummet? As I hiked onward, I saw a ranger’s jeep rumble down a steep fire trail, then pull to a stop alongside me. A federal ranger got out.
I sensed what was coming next, and sure enough he told me that day-use hikers needed to exit the park ASAP. Just as he was about to direct me to the nearest exit point (well short of my destination), I started blabbering.
“I’m three days into a five-day walk from San Francisco! All the way to Point Reyes Station!” He was piqued but not bowled over. “I’m doing it for my 50th birthday!”
That did it. Suddenly his hand shot out to shake mine, a big smile lighting up his face. He, too, had tried to do a long hike for his 30th birthday, only to fall victim to a travel snafu. He didn’t want me to suffer a similar fate.
Government regulations be damned! He happily allowed me to continue.
Not wanting to get lost like I did in the Marin Headlands, or burden the reduced park staff in any way, I kicked it into high gear and made it to the meeting point at the hostel by 4:20 p.m. We stayed that night in Olema.
In those first three days I walked 55 miles, broken up only by the drive to the trailhead. And in the next few days, which included my birthday, yes, I was now unfortunately using a vehicle, but I tacked on a seven-mile hike and a 10-miler — plus one vigorous workout at Club One in Petaluma!
So what if my plans to walk 75 uninterrupted miles were altered? I’m proud of myself. At least I didn’t hit 50 sitting down. Now, where to next?
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