Text and photos by Morgan Vissali and Jocelyn Enevoldsen of MoJo Coastwalk
We are perched on a coastal mountain ridge, surrounded by a cathedral of towering redwoods, feeling dwarfed by the endless Pacific Ocean crashing on the cliffs below. Tired after the steep climb, we drop our heavy packs to rest and appreciate the view. To the north we see how far we have come since the Oregon border, over coastal sand dunes and wildflower meadows, across rocky headlands and cobble beaches. To the south, we see many miles of coastline left to explore on our long walk to Mexico.
We are Mo and Jo, and together we’re MoJo Coastwalk–two women adventuring for a cause. We’re thru-hiking the California Coastal Trail (CCT) to help raise awareness about the CCT and jumpstart a movement to get the trail completed. The CCT is a ribbon of coastal protection stretching 1,200 miles down California’s magnificent coastline from Oregon to Mexico. At present the trail is about halfway complete. If you have been to the beaches of California, you have probably visited an existing segment of the CCT, which includes paths ranging from the Lost Coast Trail to the Venice Beach Boardwalk. The dream is to connect these fragmented segments into a braided network of public walking and biking paths spanning the entire coast.
We began planning our expedition nearly a year ago, when we first heard about the CCT. Over the past few years, we have been hard at work, buffing up our skills in marine science, policy, and conservation at the UC Santa Barbara Bren School and as California Sea Grant State Fellows. When we learned about the dream to build a trail along the entire California coastline we were instantly inspired, and knew it was time to put our knowledge and skills to work to find innovative ways to make this dream a reality. We connected with the California Coastal Trail Association, and applied for a grant from the California State Coastal Conservancy to map our route and collect trail information to help future hikers along the CCT.
As we thru-hike the trail, we are sharing the story of our journey in hopes of inspiring a generation of coast lovers who share the vision of a completed CCT. The message we’re spreading is one of coastal stewardship, protection, and access. The coast is a fragile resource threatened by development and pollution, and the CCT is a tangible way to conserve open space, and to draw people to the beaches, coves, and bluffs that inspire the need for protection.
Experiencing nature is a critical part of being human, and trails connect people to nature. Our days along the CCT have been full of beach walking and tidepooling, whales breaching at sunset and elk grazing at sunrise. Walking has allowed us to slow down and appreciate the big and the small, from the vast, breathtaking coastal scenery, to the tiny shells and wildflowers at our feet. We feel rejuvenated by mother earth, and challenged by her, too. It hasn’t all been sunshine and whales! It has also been rain and poison oak, blisters and wind, being lost and tired and sore. We have arrived at our campsites hours after dark, completely exhausted after walking thirteen miles through soft sand dune labyrinths with heavy packs. We have bushwhacked through thickets of prickly thistle, thorny blackberry, and stinging nettle, while sliding down muddy mountain slopes. And because the CCT is not fully complete, we have hit fences, “No Trespassing” signs, been routed along dangerous stretches of highway, and been forced to skirt around rocky points at low tides. Most of our days are dictated by the tides, as many stretches of beach are impassable when the water is high. So through it all, we are living by the moons and the tides; getting in sync with the simplest rhythms in life.
It’s been a crazy ride! It’s been really hard and really beautiful, and we’ve been getting our butts kicked. It’s been about getting stronger and getting closer. We’re working really well as a team, using our different strengths to help drive us forward. It takes a lot of brainpower and physical power to keep the expedition moving south, from planning to actually moving ourselves from place to place. But this is what adventure is about: getting outdoors, testing our limits, being resourceful and self-sufficient.
This adventure has also been about people, and about the coastal communities that the CCT connects. When we have needed it the most, people have been there – offering food, beds, helping hands, wisdom, encouragement, and stories of the sea. We have met so many fellow coastwalkers, sea sisters, ocean freaks, and beach lovers, and their passion has motivated us to keep walking and to keep spreading the word about the CCT.
We’re 200 miles into our 1,200 mile journey down the CCT and we feel energized and nourished by our time on the coast. Come join us on our California coastwalk! Let’s all get out on the trail, reconnect with mother earth, absorb some of her wisdom, and give back to this amazing planet we all inhabit.