Moss Beach Part 1: Thoughtful Travel

Starting Mileage My love and enthusiasm for travel has never wavered. Since being bitten by the bug nearly 20 years ago, thanks to Emmett, it’s safe to say I haven’t met a trip—or a potential destination point—I didn’t like. Sure, some trips have been better than others—maybe more scenic or more adventuresome or more tasty or more historical or more whatever (and I have definite priorities—Maui is higher on the list than say Cleveland) but I’ve never left a place and thought to myself, “Well that was a waste of time and money.” I like to think that it has more to do with my outlook and attitude than the particulars of the destination point, but it’s probably a combination of the two. There’s always something to be learned, experienced, or enjoyed regardless of where you are. Plop me down in the middle of a cornfield in Nebraska and I’m pretty sure I’d find something interesting to take away from the experience (well, that might be a stretch, but you get my drift).

Last year was a particularly active travel time for me. I was gone nearly once a month and it felt like I was unpacking from a trip only to repack for another one: Costa Rica, Philly, San Fran, the Mendocino coast, Mineral King, New York, Pinnacles, Vancouver and Seattle, Wrightwood, Savannah and Charleston, Morro Bay. And while I certainly am not complaining about the plethora of travel opportunities, I did feel a bit breathless and burned out by the end of the year. We were supposed to pack in a trip to Australia in November and when we had to cancel it at the last minute because of Emmett’s work (and because his back went out due to said work), I readily admit that I sighed with relief (and immediately began rescheduling everything for February!).

Below is my 2009 Travel Map.


So this year, 2010, I made a promise to myself: thoughtful travel. I don’t want to imply that any of my 2009 travels were un-thoughtful. That’s not how I operate—with travel or life in general. No, I just mean that there are a lot of things on my “to do” travel list that I really, really want to do but keep pushing off to the side because other wonderful travel destinations present themselves. Thoughtful travel means that not only will I think twice about saying “yes” to any and all destinations just for the sake of travel, but that I will also MAKE HAPPEN getting my butt to places I really need to be.

And that’s where Half Moon Bay comes in. For years I’ve wanted to visit this area, which is known for its hiking trials, tidepools, dramatic coastline, scenic drives, and water activities (kayaking, surfing, sailing). Anyone who knows about Northern California’s big-name coastal communities—Point Reyes, Big Sur, Mendocino, the Lost Coast—would say that these places offer the same things. One could argue, in fact, that if you’ve been to these other places (which I have!), you don’t really need to see Half Moon Bay. But what Half Moon Bay does offer that the others don’t is the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve. And that was what ultimately compelled me to make this “thoughtful travel” destination happen.

Fitzgerald Marine Reserve in Moss Beach, Calif.

The Fitzgerald Marine Reserve (FMR), technically located in Moss Beach about seven miles north of Half Moon Bay, is 32 acres large and consists of a three-mile stretch of beach, tidepool habitat, and bluff-top hiking trail through a cypress and eucalyptus forest. The tidepool habitat has long been prized as one of the best in Northern California, and, in fact, has been designated by the state as one of 34 places with “Special Biological Significance.” The location of the reserve is what makes the diversity of the tidepools so amazingly rich; it is the farthest north most southern species will be found and the farthest south most northern species will be found. The incredible reef that makes for great tidepooling (both because of size and shallowness of the shelf) was created by the Sea Cove fault that runs through the area (and eventually hooks up with the San Andres fault farther north in Bolinas). In other words, the FMR is a “perfect storm”: a collision of just-the-right physical location with just-the-right geological formation. Nature is amazing that way.

North end of FMR Horseshoe Reef

Tidepools have been a fascination of mine since I got to truly experience one up close and personal with a park naturalist while on a trip to the Olympic National Forest in Washington waaaaaaay back in my 20s (I still have on my wall an 8x10 photo of two Pacific star fishes that I took during that particular tidepool exploration!). Living in Minnesota, there weren’t many tidepools around to feed my growing passion so when I moved to Southern California, I recognized my chance to seize the opportunity. That being said, I never really set out to find and explore tidepools. If I happened to stumble across them, that is to say if I was at a beach with rocky shores, I’d wander over, take a peek, and go all marine-geeky for a while. But my obsession with hiking in the mountains (another thing I couldn’t do in Minnesota) tugged stronger at my soul and tidepooling took a backseat. Besides, tidepooling requires more than spontaneous action. You have to find a specific environment (rocky shores with a shallow shelf) and be aware of the tide schedule (you can only tidepool during low tides, preferably a minus one, which doesn’t happen but a few days a month, if at all). Hiking only requires that you put one foot in front of the other.

South End of FMR Main Beach

With many of our hiking destinations checked off our list (some of them more than once), I turned my attention to a tidepool vacation, which lead me to Half Moon Bay and eventually to Moss Beach. I had a certain amount of expectations for this trip, which I tried desperately to keep in check since expectations can lead to huge disappointments. The last thing I wanted was to spend a week alone, frustrated and with a heavy heart. So I simply armed myself with a tidepool guidebook and tide schedule, had in mind a few inland hikes should the weather turn really bad on the coast, found a little cottage right next door to the FMR, and set my sights on rolling with the punches when I got there.

Me and a Giant Pink Star

I am home now, with a few days under my belt with which to fully absorb the experience. Because that is what those nine days in Moss Beach did to me—filled me up. With what, I’m not sure, which is why I’ve remained in seclusion in our little house in the hills of South Pasadena for the past four days (with Emmett, of course…after all, he is the best bartender this side of the Mississippi River!). I’m allowing myself to mentally, emotionally, and physically sort through everything and find the right places to store it so I can recall it when I need to. I am more full than I’ve ever felt in my life. I don’t know what that means but I know what it feels like: alive, aware, right...and strangely pre-historic. This trip tapped into something in me that is “of the before”—before me, before my ancestors, before the dinosaurs, and maybe even before earth itself. At the very least, I can say it comes from something old—and yet feels very new and fresh.

Perhaps this is nothing more than my own personal “perfect storm.” Maybe this trip came at a time when the combination of everything—of the person I am today with all my cumulative experiences, of finding just the right little cottage in just the right location, of having unseasonably warm and sunny weather on the coast—could only result in something that felt so alive, aware, and right. And that pre-historic feeling…well, that’s probably just me feeling the effects of being on the verge of turning 40!

Regardless, I’m basking in the glow of whatever glorious gift I’ve been given and I look forward to sharing my photos and experience over the next few days.

Hope you enjoy. (Next up: Moss Beach Part 2 - A Girlfriend Visits)

Ending Mileage