They say that when threatened by fire, one should head towards water. If thatís the case, then hiking five days along the ocean shore was the best thing I could have done while a swarm of fifty forest fires wreaked havoc among the peaks of the Northern California Coast Range.

After contending with multiple highway closures and valleys clogged with smoke, I escaped the blazing forests and drove to the mouth of the Mattole River where the fifty-three-mile Lost Coast Trail began. I had always wanted to backpack along this remote and rugged coastline. Four-thousand-foot mountains rose straight out of the ocean here, steep enough to defy the ambitions of the nationís best road builders and developers. Highway 1 had to be constructed twenty miles inland because of the challenging terrain, and this rerouting preserved what is now the most primitive segment of the entire California coast.

The dunes near the trailhead were too soft for easy travel, so I began my journey at the oceanís edge, on the ever-shifting border between sand and foam. The damp sediments were firm enough to support a human with a forty-pound backpack, which increased my speed significantly. But I always had to be wary of the waves. I was forced to play an endless game of tag with the surfÖ a one-sided version where I was always the chased, never the chaser, and getting tagged would have left me with a pair of wet boots for the rest of the night.

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