First Spontaneous Entry: Inn-to-Inn Trek

Woo-Hoo! I get to write about the first spontaneous entry to the List of 65.

If you have scanned the List under the header Challenge, you will find the entry Camino de Santiago. The Camino is a 500-mile pilgrimage across northern Spain where you carry your worldly possessions on your shoulders and spend each night in an albergue (spanish for pilgrim inn).

Cheryl had the brilliant idea for a shakedown run of our selves, equipment, and shoes before we began the Camino untested. She found an inn-to-inn hike in Marin County that was challenging enough and mimicked the type of trail and terrain we would encounter along the way. The loop route is three days long from downtown Mill Valley to Stinson Beach to Muir Beach and back to Mill Valley.

Reservations at the inns were made and the weather forecast consulted. That determined whether we would pack rain gear or not. Early morning fog and blue-sky afternoons were predicted for perfect hiking weather. We packed the amount and type of clothes we thought were needed for the Camino and our packs weighed in at 10 and 17 pounds without rain gear. These are typical of what one would carry on the pilgrimage based on 10% of your body weight.

Sunday morning, after a chai and fat pill (a crispy, fried apple fritter) at Sebastopol’s world renowned Hardcore Espresso, we drove to Mill Valley and parked just above downtown. When packs were checked and water bottles filled, we set off. Two minutes later I was back at the truck to make sure I locked it. Great start!

I’ve hiked all over the Mt. Tam/Marin Headlands area, so the only part of the trail I was unsure of was the beginning. How to get from Mill Valley to the Matt Davis Trail that would take us to Stinson Beach? The book said to take the Dipsea Trail from the park but that trail starts with almost 700 stairs in three flights in less than a mile. Not my idea of an out-of-the-gate start to a ten-mile hike. According to my map, the Zig Zag Trail would put us on the Matt Davis without climbing any stairs.

The first problem arose when we walked passed the trailhead by ten minutes and had to turn around. The second problem was not reading the fine print on the map legend. Zig Zag was noted with the lowest level trail symbol on the map legend – something on par with a deer track.

Zig Zag was very steep, rutted, and overgrown with tree roots. It was less than a mile long but took over half an hour to climb. So much for my orienteering skills.

After that, it was a pleasant walk to Stinson until the lower end of Matt Davis where we encountered groups of young hipsters returning from Stinson. Most had parked up mountain and walked the 4 miles down for a beer or two or three, and were returning when we passed. Youth, what an accessory to have.

We celebrated our own arrival in Stinson with a cold Lagunitas and Guinness and a plate of hot calamari on the front porch of the Sand Dollar Bar. We traveled 11 miles in about 4 hours gaining 1700 feet in elevation. Eleven miles and 1700 feet may seem slightly formidable, but that’s pretty much a rest day on the Camino. A good day's hike there is 18-20 up and down miles.

The next day’s walk was a bit shorter but still included stairs where the Dipsea Trail starts to climb. Not as many as Mill Valley, but harder because of the irregular distances between treads dug into the earth. At the trail’s crest, we veered south to the Coastal View Trail that would take us into Muir Beach. We passed more hipsters and families out for a stroll, and wondered why they were out on a Monday.

We reached our destination after 9 miles and many stops to enjoy the coastal views. The British style Pelican Inn is the only place for food and a room in Muir Beach, and the bar and lawns were packed with hipsters and families eating and drinking. It was then we remembered it was the MLK Holiday. While they enjoyed themselves, Cheryl and I took a nap waiting for them to clear the bar.

The best part of the Pelican Inn was the Snug – a private reading room for guests with a cozy fireplace where we relaxed with feet up and drink in hand. The worst part were the very short doorframes that found the crown of my head more than once. Anyone above 5' 9" beware.

The next morning started with a traditional British breakfast and tea before heading out. Another short day put us back at our truck 3 hours later with a Peet’s latte in hand.

So, as a spontaneous experiment, the inn-to-inn trek was a success. A total of 26 miles over several days did not have a devastating effect on our feet or psyche. No sore muscles, no blisters, and no rain. The equipment and clothes we carried were sufficient for what we encountered. Best of all, the Camino seems not as daunting as when we first decided to go.

Buen Camino, amigos.

From the Dipsea Trail looking back to the Muir Beach trail.

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