Catherine Ryan Hyde Catherine Ryan Hyde is the author of more than 25 published and forthcoming books, including the bestselling When I found You, Pay It Forward, Don't Let Me Go, and Take Me With You.


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Vicarious Hiking, Anyone?

Catherine Ryan Hyde

Today I got to do, for the fourth or fifth time, what I consider to be the world's best hike. This is a highly subjective rating system. Granted, the Big Sur coastline is world-class scenic. But I'm giving this hike big points for ease of getting to the trailhead, and comfort of accommodations at the trailhead.

You see, the trailhead is my front door.

Every once a year or so I like to walk out my front door about 15 minutes before civil twilight (about an hour before dawn) and keep hiking until I get all the way up the coast to the Ragged Point Inn. It's about 20 1/2 to 22 miles, depending on whether I follow the shoreline out onto the point(s). Today's hike was about 21 miles.

People ask me all the time how I hike 21 miles in one day. I have several answers.

Answer #1: I walk down the hill to the ocean, make a right, and keep putting one foot in front of the other until I see the Ragged Point sign.

Answer #2 (a bit more detailed). I pack two lunches. Fill a 3-liter water bladder with homemade sports drink. Put a few essentials in a daypack. Put on sunscreen, Coolmax sock liners, LL Bean smartwool extra-heavy hiking socks, my boots, and a highway safety vest. I also have a bike flag that can stick up a good four feet over my pack. Because a good part of this hike has to be done on the highway shoulder.

If that sounds anything less than quaint and scenic, rather than continue picturing whatever highway you're picturing, picture this one instead:



I walk out my front door and down Moonstone Beach Drive by headlamp. By the time I run out of Drive, and have to get on the highway for a stretch, it's civil twilight. 

Going through Hearst Ranch country, I pass a lot of cows, horses, and...sometimes zebra. Hard to imagine, I know. But they're a leftover from the original Hearst zoo. Today, sorry. No zebra.

I pass some seals:

And then some even more interesting elephant seals (please see video for much more on the elephant seals):

When I get to the lighthouse, I'm about 2/3 of the way there. Unfortunately, that leaves about seven miles left to go.

San Carpoforo Creek (the site of the actual land feature of Ragged Point) is always a welcome sight, because it means I only have a mile left to go.

Now for the bad news. It's the hardest mile in the history of the world. It goes sharply uphill, which, after 20 miles of hiking, you tend to feel. It has no shoulder to speak of. Very little margin for error. This is where the flag and the vest come in really handy. This is where I say a little prayer that the drivers are paying attention.

And then there's the most beautiful sign ever, and the first blue sky I've seen all day:

It's a nice place to sit and wait for my ride. And my friend Nancy brought my Ugg boots (the hiking boots have got to go after 21 miles) and a blanket to wrap up in (it was surprisingly chilly):

But, for those of you who still don't get how I do 21 miles, here's answer #3. I don't ever tell myself I can't. And I just don't stop walking.