Family Bonding While Hiking California’s Mission Trail
Recently, I laced up my Nike Pegasus and embarked on an 800-mile walk to discover California’s 21 missions. I divided my peregrination into 12 months, taking four days each month to cover approximately 75 miles, with Amtrak as my chauffeur to and fro. Google maps and Ron Briery’s book, A Hiker’s Guide to California’s 21 Spanish Missions Along El Camino Real, were my compass. Prior to launch I sent an e-mail inviting friends and family to join me on any segment of the excursion. A surprising number said yes, including my two nephews — 11-year old Gabe, who is my brother-in-law and sister-in-law’s son, and 28-year old Pete, my sister’s son.
I love these boys as if they’re my own, especially since I don’t have children. Our different home towns keep us from seeing each other often — Pete’s in Philadelphia, Gabe’s in Seattle, and I’m in San Diego. Luckily, they both had free time in July to join their Aunt Mag and two friends — Jim Lutz and Bob Brunson — on the mission trail. Uncle Mike opted to stay home. Hiking isn’t his thing.
Day one, Jim, Gabe and I warmed up the path with a short nine-miler from Sand City to Marina. Work commitments kept Pete and Bob from joining us until later. The Monterey Bay Sanctuary Scenic Trail escorted us passed historic storage bunkers from WWII and original firing stations. An early finish allowed Gabe and I to explore nearby Monterey Bay Aquarium.
The second day Pete folded into the group for an 18-mile hike to Mission San Juan Bautista. California’s ubiquitous veggie and fruit fields stretched as far as the eye could see. Our seven hour walk was peppered with hypothetical questions…”if you had a time machine would you rather go back or forward 200 years?” Gabe and Pete voted to zoom forward so they could live in space. Jim and I thought the other option was more appealing.
With knees, legs, and feet throbbing, we reached the mission not a moment too soon.
A quick tour, then we stumbled to our hotel. Little Gabe’s mole skin wrapped tootsies were done for the day. A long soak in the tub was the perfect remedy. Dinner, a rousting game of gin rummy, and Eagle Scout Pete teaching Gabe knot tricks rounded out the evening.
Day three added Bob Brunson — Friar Bob — to the equation. He is a Third Order Regular Franciscan who pattern’s his life after Saint Francis Assisi. His piety is balanced by his witty sense of humor. The five of us started the day with mass at the mission. A few hours later we were ensconced in eucalyptus groves, wild berry bushes, and gentleman’s farms along country roads. By 5 p.m. Watsonville appeared on the horizon. Home for the evening. Gabe was doing amazing well with forty-six miles under his belt so far. Pete had wrapped he and Gabe’s feet extra well since blisters were starting to be an issue. A carbo loaded Mexican dinner pushed us over the sleepy edge.
Day four, the final day, we were all circling the drain. Pete had an inflamed sciatic, Gabe was requesting a new pair of feet, Jim had a blisterette, Friar Bob had the flu, and I battled with the usual painful toes. Breakfast at the hotel restaurant supplied the boost of energy we needed. The morning hike took us along San Andreas Road, which hugs the fault line. Yikes! Luckily the big one didn’t hit. Pavement turned to sand as we moseyed along the beaches of the Pacific Ocean. Hypothetical question of the day?…”what president, dead or alive, would you like to have lunch with?” Pete said Slick Willy Clinton, Gabe chose Teddy Roosevelt.
We arrived at our final destination — Mission Santa Cruz — a bit after 4 p.m., a total of 65 miles from where we started.
I kept a journal and took lots of photos while I walked. As the journey progressed my entries became more contemplative. I’ve complied everything into a book titled On A Mission, An 800-mile Walk to Discover California’s El Camino Real. It may be purchased on my website or Amazon.